It’s a tragedy to be sure. We saw her self-destruct before our very eyes since, well… since she broke out. As of this writing, the cause of death is unknown, but my money is on her becoming another casualty of too successful and no way to deal with the pressure.
She’s not the first member of the infamous 27 Club, and I doubt she will be the last.
But the rest of us writers, singers, composers, and artists need to be careful to not fall into the trap of thinking this was inevitable. As artists, we already have a reputation as loners, weirdoes, and self-absorbed misanthropes. We don’t need the world thinking that we need the sweet release of cold death to make us go out in a blaze of glory.
There’s a misconception that real art is indefinable. That a tortured artist is the truest type of artist, a man or a woman who creates something no one truly understands because they lack the artist’ genius, is the stereotype many attribute to our community. That being said, most people really don’t understand art. I’ve written about this on MANYoccasions.
But the point I’m trying to make in this little rant is that if you create something no one gets and you see this as proof of your genius, you’re not a genius. If your art doesn’t speak to SOMEONE, it didn’t do its job. Art does not exist in a vacuum. If you do happen to create something that touches millions, something that says or shows something we haven’t seen before, the pressure to perform and create something better can be overwhelming. I’ve been there. The urge to create clashing with the need to perform can turn anyone into a quivering pile of humanity.
That being said, I would appreciate it if people stopped drinking themselves to death or shooting their brains out because they feel they can’t even try.
You know what? Art is hard. If the next attempt isn’t as good, is it still good on its own? I recently heard one of my friends say that everything the Red Hot Chili Peppers made after their drug years was crap because it wasn’t as good as their early stuff. That’s a matter of taste between the funk and thrash of early RHCP and later, more melodic music, but it shows the kind of mentality that we adopt when we rate things based on a curve.
Did Winehouse kill herself over the need to be something larger than she was? As of now, I don’t know. If she did, it’s a tragedy, not only because a talented artist is gone, but because we have another example of an artist who, instead of stepping up to the plate and at least trying, went on a slow suicide binge.
And even if it was just an overdose and an accident, I’m still mad at her.
Okay, this is going to be brief, but I have some advice for all your writers and artists out there struggling to get the next paragraph out. I know you’re staring at the computer screen, or the easel, or something else and you think that if you stare at it hard enough, it will write itself.
Get out of the house.
This morning, Mary and I went to do a little field work. To be honest, I was getting a little burned out on Charcoal Streets. Things started to sound flat. It didn’t pop like it used to. Things just read, well, boring.
I’d wanted to go downtown and take pictures, walk through the border, and experience the sights, sounds, and smells of border culture. Three hours, one hundred degrees, and three hundred pictures later, we had some incredible shots to work with for both photomanipulation and as final works themselves.
The smells of the streets, the feeling of being utterly exhausted in the heat and still feeling accomplishment at everything we did, energized me more than I can explain. People-watching is a wonderful tool for artists, and this trip offered a lot of notes, images, and memories.
We found a church that was bricked up down to the windows. The door was rusted shut and nothing, not even a sign, told us anything about it.
Another church had a beautiful metal cross… though one quarter was rusted and falling apart while the rest remained almost pristine.
Mansions and former elegant homes dot the city, and many have been turned into offices for lawyers and others. Some, however, are empty, overgrown shells that wouldn’t look out of place in a Silent Hill game.
I haven’t sweat like that in years, not since I worked door-to-door sales in a cotton uniform in the middle of July. I still feel hot despite having drunk cool water since we got back to the apartment, but I’m sure it will pass.
Every artist needs a booze break. Whether your drink of choice is a shot of pure agave tequila, bourbon on the rocks, absinthe (if you can find it), or a chilled beer, you just want to longue back and relax, look at notes, or otherwise zone out into a chemical haze for a few minutes. Nothing wrong with that.
Of course, the opposite is also true. Sometimes you need to jump start the creative juices. Sometimes you really want to just get going and not stop until you finish. An exercise routine is good to get your blood flowing, but with a hectic schedule, you might not have time.
Enter caffeine, the savior of writers, painters, and artists everywhere.
Look, I‘m not naïve. I need me some hot or cold caffeine in the morning sometimes. However, your delivery system, like your delivery system for alcohol, must suit your needs. Not all caffeine is created equal.
Red Bull, Monster, 5 Hour Energy Shot, whatever. Take your pick. The truth is that a lot of these drinks have a lot of sugar and other things you don’t really need. If you don’t have the time for a cup of coffee or tea, you really need to rethink your schedule. These things don’t have any more caffeine that a cup of whatever else you might want to enjoy, so why not just have something that won’t pack on the sugar?
Plus, let’s face it. Most of them taste like crap. If you really, REALLY want one, though, I recommend Monster Low Calorie. At least don’t get diabetes while you’re drinking these things.
I’m going to get a lot of people upset but…
I can’t stand coffee.
The smell is just… I don’t know, but I’ve never liked it. I’ve tried it black, with cream and milk, and other ways, but I just can’t stomach it. Other than all that, though, coffee tends to linger on you for a long time. It stains your teeth and, unless you make it yourself, expect to pay something like twelve bucks for a cup of overprized foam.
I’m sure coffee has its fans, but I’m not one of them. Moving on…
Dark, delicious, with a delicate flavor of herbs that both soothe and wake up with that jolt of energy… This is my favorite, hands down. Black tea can be just as pungent as coffee, but I actually don’t mind its flavor. Irish tea, which is pretty stout and bitter, is my favorite for a day when I know things are going to be hectic. It’s bold enough to wake me up and packs enough caffeine to get me through the morning at least.
Unlike coffee, though, black tea rarely leaves a lingering smell anywhere. That’s a big plus, I think. You don’t want to be smelling coffee all day. Trust me. My sister worked at Starbucks and as much as she loved coffee, having half her clothes smell like it really put her off the stuff for a while.
And speaking of tea…
South Texas is hot. I mean really hot. I mean… let me put it this way. It’s 9 PM and I’d rather stay inside because it’s still freakishly hot outside. When the wind blows, it feels like someone has a hairdryer aimed at your face. A hairdryer filled with hellfire. That’s wielded by a fire primordial.
Once summer gets here in full swing, though, things get downright nasty.
That’s why I get a pitcher, put four green tea bags in there, and fill it with hot (not boiling) water. Stick that bad boy in the fridge overnight and the next morning you have delicious iced green tea. It’s like liquid energy and awesomeness. A little sugar helps if you think tea in any form is too bitter, but I prefer it straight.
Like alcohol, though, be careful. I’ve actually cut my caffeine intake these last few months to maybe a cup or two a day if I need it. I was getting too jittery and on-edge. Cutting back meant a few days of sharp headaches as I detoxed from caffeine. I’ve also gotten into the joys of brewing the tea in a cast-iron pot my grandmother gave me. I could kill a raptor with that thing.
All in all, it’s a moderate tool that should be used with care.
And I type all this while on my second cup of tea for the day…
Wow. And they said it would never happen. I remember hearing rumors about Duke Nukem Forever since… well, they’ve always been there. It looks like this is it… and I still can’t finish Diego’s Story. See you Wednesday!
If you're offended by the picture, you should really question your life decisions.
April 13, 2011
Let’s get something out of the way before I start a nuclear-powered rant.
I love words. The written word, or even the spoken word, is the greatest tool at our disposal for the dissemination of emotions, opinions, and points of view. Visual art can sometimes do a better job, but the right construction of words, the right application of grammar and syntax, is a beautiful thing.
That being said…
To the far right movement in America… suck my electronic text, you slopped-forehead evolutionary throwbacks.
The internet, for all its faults, is a forum where anyone, ANYONE, can post an opinion, a piece of art, or just use the combined electronic advancements of the last fifty years to watch cats do funny things.
Three small, almost innocuous incidents caught my attention this morning. My dear enemies in the Far Right (oh, where would this site be without you) did three things that showed me that not only are they getting craftier, they are now intruding on the realm of words, the aether of logos, and I am going guns akimbo on them.
Basically, he wants to make sure the Far Right phrases things in the context of “they must WANT to be gay.”
Among the more tasteful terms they wish to use to refer to homosexuality are – “Same-sex attraction,” “Same-sex intercourse,” “Sodomy,” and “Unnatural vice.” There could a whole article just on each of these, but let me say this.
“Gay” is about as dirty as “homosexual.”
If we need to just go back to scientific terms and refer to people as “homosexual,” “bisexual,” or whatever, fine. We’ll strip ALL the propaganda and tone form the conversation. Let’s see who wins.
And if we’re going to go around branding this graphically, allow me to be the first to stand up to the Caucasian vaginal penetration agenda.
Senator Jon Kyl has a very… interesting concept of the standard debate. After getting in front of the Senate and stating that we must defund Planned Parenthood because abortion is well over “90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.”
I won’t go over the fact that this is a horrendously erroneous statistic, but whatever he might have said (he could have claimed ants invented Telemundo), the fact remains that the crux of his argument was the statistic. His office, though, responded by saying that his argument was not meant to be factual.
But the statistic was meant to illustrate a point…
But the point was the statistic…
But the statistic was made up…
I’m going to stop before I get sucked into a Möbius strip of stupidity.
Let that sink in for a moment. The argument that hinges on a false statement is still valid because… the statement was made. Yeah… I’m going to go ahead and state that Kyl is a pedophile who can’t get an erection unless he kills a dog, because, while not factual, it is relevant to my overall argument.
Ride the Tubes!
The Tea Party is getting some training in internet guerilla warfare. Watch:
Basically, they’re being told to blog, give out negative reviews to liberal films and documentaries, and otherwise clog the internet with as much conservative cholesterol as possible. This is not only a dirty tactic, it’s downright dishonest.
What would Jesus do? Would be comment on something without knowing what it was? Would he lie to hurt his enemies?
More to the point, what do they hope to accomplish by lying, but going to classes where the main purpose is to fool people? Lying can reveal truth if used properly, but to cheat and spew falsehoods for the sheer purpose of making someone else look bad, to spread “facts” you know to be wrong, is the lowest form of debate.
There you have it, folks. The Far Right conservative movement. I really wish I could say it’s the FAR right, but this has some bleed-through to the regular conservative movement. Words have power, and if we let these self-righteous hypocrites hijack language, we lose. It’s that simple.
And finally, while I’m not one to go for overtly sentimental films, this one about a poor, elderly villager who returns to school to learn to read got the teacher in me. I’d love to see it. That’s all for today. See you Friday!
Do you feel that tingle in the back of your head? That's stress urging you forward.
February 28, 2011
Stress is good.
It’s good in the same way sadness and joy and sugar are also good for you. I’m in the middle of editing, rewriting, and finishing extra stories for Charcoal Streets. At the same time, I’m working at a job that’s suffering major cuts. I know others are worse off that I am. Some people don’t even have a job.
I could simplify everything and just take a full-time job I hated, make the money I need to not stress over my finances, and put this whole writing thing on hold until things got better.
Things are never easy. If things go well, that’s fine. I’ll take the break, but only if I know I’ve done a good job. You can’t really relax unless you have something else you should be doing. If you know you’re being irresponsible, then you can actually have fun.
The protests in Wisconsin, the revolutions cascading across the Middle East, and the growing sense of something impending here in America have everyone on edge. Whether you’re listening to Beck’s apocalyptic rants, Maddow going after her anti-gay detractors, or not even watching the news because it’s depressing, there has to be an element of stress in your life.
Embrace that stress.
No, I’m serious. There are some days that I’ll sit here, eyes bleary, and I’ll get a glass of water, walk around, have a drink, do anything to clear my mind for a few minutes. When I sit back down, adrenalin grips me and I feel as though I’ve cheated, as though I should not leave this chair until I finish editing or writing what I need to work on. I feel as though I’ve been unfaithful to the story.
Then I try and make it the best story it can possibly be and everything’s better. That stress pushes me forward, but it’s like running a furnace on dynamite. It could go off at any moment. Harnessing that anger, that stress, and all those things that make you want to go out and choke every bully and creditor you’ve ever met can fuel you. Writing, running, and doing what you need to do are all great physical activities, but that stress can push you along.
I’ve actually come to loathe being too relaxed. I need a bit of stress. And yes, I know too much stress is dangerous. So’s too much relaxation. You don’t work out and actually lose energy.
And finally, to make your Monday just a little brighter, here are some of the greatest (and most painful) fails of the last month. The best one has to be the idiot who tries to jump over some stairs at 0:35. I honestly watched those four seconds over and over again for a good half hour. See you Wednesday, and keep sharing links!
Do you want to be an artist? That can mean so many things. Maybe you want to sketch on the weekends. Maybe you want to make a living in graphic design. Some people dream of writing a best-selling, critically acclaimed novel…
Well, guess what?
Talent and connections mean crap if you want to be an artist. Do you want to create something the world’s never seen before? I don’t care if you use acrylic or a camera. Every artist, every one, needs five basic things.
If you’re serious about making it as an artist, be prepared to tighten your belt. A full-time job is nice and pays the bills, but if you’re willing to risk it all, be ready to take something less. Tutoring, classes at the local college, plasma donations, or anything at all that helps pay the bills and gives you the time to work is preferred to a 7 AM to 8 PM job. That kind of schedule is a killer on its own and you’re liable to burn out in just a month if you try to jam everything in.
Don’t be ashamed to taking a less time-consuming job, even if it means you make less. I can’t stress enough how much this is a FULL commitment and is probably an optional part of this list. If you have the drive to see it through until you finish that book or that series of paintings, this is the best thing you can do if you can manage it.
Plenty of writers and writing teachers (myself included) believe that you should be able to write or paint or draw no matter where you are. Don’t have your favorite camera? Use a disposable. Computer’s on the fritz? Pen and paper work just fine.
Well… that’s fine if you have no choice, but if you’re going to devote hours of your time per day to something, you need a space that’s your own.
It doesn’t even have to be a full room. It could be the kitchen table, but make the space personal. Listen to music. Have a few books with poems, artwork, or photographs handy if you need a little reference or inspiration. Make sure you’re comfortable.
Do anything and everything so the space is a place you wish to revisit over and over again. Take control.
Thing you’re going to eat at fancy restaurants or sip coffee with likeminded misanthropes in some trendy coffee bar? Think again, Sparky.
Creating art takes time. I’m talking real time. Hours a day, months or even years at a time. While you may go out once in a while, you’re not getting your meals from a restaurant on a daily basis unless you have the cash handy and saved up. Likewise, don’t count on instant meals. Those things have so much salt in them that you’ll shoot your system before you can finish your masterpiece.
Learn to make the best of pasta, vegetables, chicken, and fish. Of course, there are other foods you can use, but make sure you get enough to keep you going.
Orson Scott Card once wrote that every writer needs two critics: one who never lies and one who piles on nothing but praise.
Find someone who will shower you with praise. That someone could be a spouse, partner, child, whatever. Just find someone who will point out the great things about your work. The important thing, though, is to not pile on false praise. Find someone who will see the true good points in your work.
And the other critic? It should be someone who wants to kill you just to watch you die.
Seriously. Find someone who will find the most minute errors in your work, everything from a wayward piece of dust to a misplaced comma.
You want both because hearing the positive critic will make you receptive to the negative critic. You’ll find the mistakes in your work and not feel down because, well… you found the mistakes in your work.
There are two types of artists: those who cry at criticism and those who say they don’t cry at criticism.
Good work takes time. I won’t pretend I fully understand when a work is done. Frank Herbert once wrote that in the Dune universe, Arrakis taught the philosophy of the knife: you cut away until a work was complete.
Learn this basic trait. At some point, you’re no longer editing or honing your craft. You’re stalling.
Okay, I’m a carnivore and know that meet comes from animals that must be killed… but do you really need a bullet that could take down a battle tank?! Look, if you need a gun that shoots an anti-tank round and you use it to hunt ducks, you’re about as hung as a Ken doll.
I had a conversation with a friend a few days ago. I mentioned wanting to sell ad space on this site, to which he jokingly remarked, “Why you selling out, man?”
He was joking. At least, I think he was joking.
The idea of “selling out” is kind of like the abortion debate. You have the pro-life and pro-choice sides, but by the very nature of their names, one side is already seen as the best, even if you know nothing of the pro-choice argument. If you are not pro-life, you must be for its opposite, which is death. Linguistics skewers the debate and argument becomes impossible, usually devolving into a shouting match. In the same way, “selling out” is the connotation that making money from doing something you love, something which you may believe in, is inherently wrong.
The term’s proper definition is that someone accepts money, power, prestige, or otherwise advances by compromising his or her ideals. In other words, the person in question continues to do something that once meant something, but now alters or otherwise compromises its integrity for the sake of payment. However, too many people instantly assume that if you’re making money from doing something you like doing, you’re selling out. The idea is most often used for musicians and other artists who may develop a loyal fan following, but then break out big and the core fans suddenly feel as though the artist’s newfound fame has diluted the work. It’s been applied to U2, Greenday, and many, many other bands. Any time an artist does something with mass appeal, the core fan base feels as if it has been betrayed, as if their cherished artists have done something simply for the sake of money, ratings, and fame.
Will artists make better or worse work when a major backer puts money into art? It’s never definite. You can have the biggest budget in the world, no strings attached, but it won’t guarantee a hit. It will, however, force the artist to focus solely on the project since work is now irrelevant. The artist no longer needs that part-time job getting in the way. This brings us to the fact that, well, artists are people and have needs. We still need housing, food, electricity, and in my case, an internet connection to help with research and, oh yes, to update the website you are now reading.
Thanks for reading, by the way. I mean it.
To show my appreciation, here’s a video of a slinky-cat::
Artists have to make money, the same as everybody else, except that what they produce is held to a higher standard. We tend to view art as something that must be pure, something that must not be tampered with in any way shape or form. Accepting money for these creations, oh these holiest of creations, is like throwing a beautiful woman on a dirty shag carpet. To accept money is to tarnish the sanctity of creation. Won’t someone think of the children?
…Hang on a second.
Art does not exist by itself. Creating art takes time. It took years. I’m counting eleven years of hardcore writing training, both personal and professional, on my part. Want to know how long it took to put this site up? Two weeks searching for a place to host it, designing the layout, putting the images together, checking that all the links worked, and finally setting up the Facebook Fan Page, then sending out invites. That was a lot of time seeing as how I’ve never done any of this before, and I wish could have gotten paid for it. Furthermore, each article takes at least a day of work. We’re talking research into the subject, images, videos, then editing, spell-check, video and image embedding, and making sure the page doesn’t go all wonky when it publishes.
I have a job, one that gives me these neat little W-2 forms every January, helps pay the bills, and does use my skills to do something productive. Not that I don’t think this website is unproductive, but as of this writing, the site doesn’t do anything other than show articles. If I wanted to make it a full-time deal, as in hire someone to clean up the design and make it more accessible than my code-ignorant attempt, if I wanted to, say, pay for articles so I didn’t do all the writing and we could feature others on Tuesdays and Thursdays, or even hold contests and sell merchandise (whatever that may be in the future), then this site has to turn a profit.
The same goes for any artistic endeavor. Musicians need instruments, promotion, money for a recording studio, and equipment like speakers. Painters need paint, canvases, and sometimes subjects to pose. Filmmakers are going to need cameras, actors, scriptwriters, and a small army of people to make the movie. All these people also need plenty of booze to fuel the creative process. It’s a well-known fact that alcohol lubricates the brain.
Not really. Don’t drink and write. Whiskey makes the ink run.
The point remains that artists need to find capital. Unless the National Endowment for the Arts gives me the money to fund this project, this website will remain limited. Advertising is non-existent except for word of mouth at the moment.
Am I selling out by putting ads on this page or trying to increase views?
I certainly don’t think so.
If I could do this and write my own fiction without having to worry about housing, food, bills, and entertainment, I’d probably do it, but that’s not the world we live in. Will this website be better when it starts getting ad revenue? I think so. There are plans. I’ve touched on a few of them, so as we near the end of this baby site’s third week, I’d ask you to think about what artists you enjoy. Are they special because you like them, or are they special for the things they create? Do they compromise their craft when they advertise on the radio, in television, or when they sign a big contract? It’s certainly possible that some people are in it for the money, but if anyone gets into any type of art, either music, visual, or other, with the intent of becoming rich, they’re not the sharpest crayon in the box.
I knew exactly what I was doing when I decided to become a writer. Would I like to make money from it? Sure, but I’m not right now, and that’s fine. If I never made a cent from Randomology, I’d be okay with just knowing people read and enjoyed my work. When I was a teacher, I didn’t have to make my students pass. I could have given them the easiest assignments in the world and had them all pass. I didn’t. I made them work for it. I cursed them out in class. This site? Could easily have been a free blog, like Divining by Zero, but I wanted to be able to do things I could not in that format. I would not accept a cent if someone asked me to change the way I wrote for the sake of views.
I’m going to do that by offering something you can’t get anywhere else. I’m going to be honest with you. I’m going to entertain you. I’m not going to jerk you around. A real artist knows that canvas would stay in a corner of the room if it wasn’t for the fans. A real artist knows the most beautiful prose in the world is worthless if someone doesn’t read it. A real artist loves his fans.