Nov 24, 2010

Gobble Gobble Hey !

Dear ask a punk-
Next week is Thanksgiving. Unlike seemingly everyone else I know, I'm looking forward to it. Given all the dysfunction I see in my friend's families and all, it feels almost weird to admit that I like my family. I moved 4 hours away from them not because I don't like them, but because I wanted to be here, in this particular city. We're all in our mid-20's and when my friends start complaining about their home lives and how glad they were to escape them, I nod understandingly, but when they invite me to their non-family 'cool' Thanksgiving, they're not nearly as understanding when I say I want to go home instead. It is like they think I'm faking liking my family or something. Is it possible to be punk/goth AND be relatively well-adjusted? I think it is, but apparently my friends don't. - No-Drama Turkey Day.

Dear N-DTD
Good for you. Go home. Be proud of your non-messed-up family while you're chowing down. You have a lot to be thankful for, and you obviously are. I'm not being sarcastic here. I'm glad for you, but just try to understand what an alien concept a 'Happy Family' might be for your friends. People who grow-up with a lot of family drama can take years (or decades) to see and really understand that everyone else's childhoods weren't as screwed up as theirs... To them dysfunction is the 'normal' default mode and Holiday Dysfunction was a special kind of crazy... I'm sure you remember vividly all your great family memories... just understand that their memories are just as vivid, and waaaaaay more F-ed up. You're all young... some of your friends are still years/decades away from really dealing with their childhoods... so in the meantime, they seek (and find) mostly like-minded escapees and try to create a new form of sanity... even more so during the holidays.

I know you said that you ARE understanding and that what you're experiencing feels like a lack of understanding from them... You're right... It is... but they're still young and still trying to figure out a new 'normal' ... and here is something you can absolutely count on: No matter how close you are (or think you are) with your friends, no matter how much or how often they've 'opened up' to you about all the F-ed up things that happened in their childhoods, know this: I'm willing to bet that they've told you just 10% of it, barely the tip of the dysfunctional iceberg. You have only the slightest understanding of what they went through and how it scarred them... and because you WERE the lucky one who had a non-chaotic, peaceful and safe childhood, I'm afraid you've gotta meet your friends a bit more than halfway on this one... for at least another decade or so.

You've got one thing going for you - Your healthy upbringing has helped you establish clear boundaries and a relatively upbeat outlook on life... So you have the confidence and the life-mastery to know when you're right and your friends are wrong... These are life-skills they probably don't have to anywhere near the same degree. So love your friends but suffer not their anti-family BS... just bring them back some leftover pie and they'll be fine with it.

Nov 17, 2010

Art isn't Pretty.

Dear ask a punk-
I disagreed with your advice a few weeks ago to the woman musician & writer who felt like giving up. I would have told her that, if she feels that way, she should give up, and I'm not saying that to be a jerk. I love seeing good bands and reading good books, but I know that even though I'm still fairly young I will NEVER hear all the good bands that are out there nor will I read all of the good books that have already been written. Sometimes I wish everyone would just STOP creating new stuff for ten years so we could all get caught up. I'm kidding of course, but not completely. But certainly anyone who is feeling ambivilent about contributing to the endless avalanche of new stuff (books, songs, blogs, videos etc) shouldn't be encouraged to just keep shoveling her halfhearted or halfassed contributions to the ever deepening pile. Why didn't you just tell her to take a breather? - Too Much.

Dear TM-
In a way you're right. I was thinking about this same topic this week because a friend of mine told me she wanted an ebook reader for Christmas (not from me of course, but just that she wanted one.) ... Since some of those things can hold thousands of books, I asked her how many books she had read so far this year, her answer? "one or two" I was trying to figure out how a gadget that would hold, for her, 500 years worth of reading material would possibly make sense... and that got me thinking about the fact that few, if any of us, will read another 1000+ books before we shuffle off this mortal coil... and yet, there are over a million titles on amazon and there are new books published every year... and then you start thinking "my ipod can hold 40,000 songs" many can I listen too? and there are more new songs every day, not to mention millions of recordings in thousands of genres that I'll never, ever get around to hearing... What do you do with this overwhelming multitude of options? ... you make choices, and they aren't easy ones.

But I know, I know, I've started this answer off on my own tangent and not addressed the question...

OK, a part of me agrees with you. The hardest part of making art is often convincing yourself that you have the will/desire/talent to do it. You have to realize and accept that you're making the choice to sit down and spend days/months/decades pursuing something that you might not even be able to define and which might or might not make any difference in anyone's life (including your own) when/if you ever manage to finish it. There is a certain warrior spirit that has to be a part of any creative person's make-up, otherwise who would have the audacity to bother trying to paint from the heart or write a new novel or song?

I agree with this on some levels... If you need a lot of encouragement to do your art, then chances are what you're craving is the encouragement, not the creation. I think the real artist is going to find a way to make his/her art IN SPITE OF a lack of encouragement from the outside world. I've known teachers in various artistic disciplines who approach their jobs with this in mind... If a few harsh critiques from them is enough to stop you, then chances are you don't want to do it that badly. I've had teachers like that too - It seems that the sole purpose of some art programs is to put obstacles in the students' way in an attempt to weed out the less-dedicated. This might indeed be a useful service to art and civilization but, on the occasions when I've been the teacher, I've never used this technique... because how does one tell the difference between a rigorous thinning of the herd and just flat-out bullying by a douchbag teacher? On the other hand, I've tried never to blow smoke up people's asses either. I'm honest, sometimes to the point of bluntness sure, but the underlying thing is always an attempt to point them toward improvement, not browbeating them into giving up.

Hmmmmm. This sounds like I'm getting off the topic again, doesn't it? I think it is because I spent some time this past year wrestling with these concepts. I don't think people should be discouraged from pursuing their dreams, but I also think that anyone who would be easily discouraged or talked out of their dreams is probably pursuing the wrong path for the wrong reasons.

In these weird times DOES 'The World' even 'need' Art? ...I think it does, especially because 'The World' doesn't think it does... but no one is going to beg you for your art, no one is going to beg you to create something new. You have to tune into the frequencies of your soul and create something that 'they' didn't even know they needed, until you showed it to them... and if you think you can do that, then it doesn't matter what I, or anyone else, might say to discourage you... You'll find a way to create it.

Nov 10, 2010

Won't you be my annoying neighbor?

Dear Ask A Punk-
My neighbor is a problem. I live in an apartment building in a fairly big city. Even though I'm obviously very punk rock, I'm actually surprisingly polite and quiet and try to be a good neighbor. My band does practice at my place sometimes because we can't afford rehearsal space, but even then, we're not playing at performance or even practice levels, we're sounding practically acoustic and on top of that we schedule playing for afternoons or at some decent hour. I know I'm making myself sound like a saint, but the truth is I know I'm less of a problem than some of my other neighbors who get drunk every weekend throw parties and blast their stereos, but for some reason the woman upstairs thinks we're a "problem" for the building and she complains, bangs on walls like you would think we were the biggest problem in the world. How do you shut up a neighbor like that? - apartment dweller.

Dear AD:
You really can't appease someone like that, especially if she has completely made up her mind that you're a 'big problem' because then you become the source of focus for alllll the anger and frustrations in that woman's life. No matter what else she is dealing with she can say "and now that goddamned band is playing too." Since she probably can't control or fix the things that are really causing her to hate her life, she has decided to focus her rage/frustration/anger on you and your band.

Even though I've been in bands I understand how it can be weirdly (and exponentially) way more annoying to have to listen to guitars and drums being played and stopped and played again irks people more than a loud stereo does. It is sort of like having to sit in a room while someone else plays a video game... as much as I like a good game of Halo or Modern Warfare, if I'M not playing and someone else is, all those exploding grenades and bursts of gunfire get on my nerves almost immediately.

So it sounds like I'm completely taking your neighbor's side, but trust me, I'm not. One of the deals we make, being city dwellers and living in warrens of apartments IS that we're going to be impacted and sometimes inconvenienced by our neighbors in ways we wouldn't be if we lived in a house in the middle of a corn field. Obviously she has to figure out how to live with you, especially if you're doing your best to minimize the noise and inconvenience to her. I'm sure you've pointed that out to her in terse little conversations by the mailboxes etc. As I said earlier, you're probably just the latest scapegoats for a life she isn't enjoying, and a part of her just likes to hear herself complain... otherwise you would have told me that she had also complained to the landlord and/or the cops... If she hasn't then she probably KNOWS that they would tell her she's a crackpot... so take that as some consolation.

I know the younger and more hardcore punk rock folks would say "Screw her" and just turn the amps up and reallllly give her something to complain about. I certainly understand that temptation... but that only works if your goal really is to make her life (and subsequently yours) more miserable. I suggest you keep the moral high ground... keep the volume low and your exchanges with her as polite, brief and infrequent as possible. It would also help your case to make sure you know and are friendly with as many of your OTHER neighbors as possible... because sooner or later, she IS likely to go to the landlord or the cops and the first thing they'll do is survey the other neighbors to see if this woman's problem with you is valid or not... so it would be best to have as many allies as possible.

...and the next time you put out a new song, dedicate it to her.

Nov 3, 2010

Time is the Bastard.

Dear AAP-
I seem to have hit a wall. My creative life which consists mostly of songwriting and singing, but also a little writing is starting to feel like a waste of time. I guess my work is good enough - I don't get heckled, people buy my CDs once in a while and my blog gets plenty of comments (more than yours in fact) but I know none of it is going to make me rich and or famous. But even that is ok and something I've known all along I guess, but the problem is that none of what I have created seems like it'll last or amount to anything. Plus it seems that now, thanks to the internet, EVERYONE on the planet sees themselves as a musician or artist or writer of some kind. There are literally millions of us all generating new "stuff" so much so that it seems like no one is left to be a listening or reading audience. I feel sometimes like I'm just adding something to the noise and not really contributing something that'll make a difference or stand any sort of test of time. I'm wondering if I should just stop? - Songbird.

Dear S-
The truth of the matter is this: Unless you're building pyramids, most of what you do isn't going to stand any real 'test of time.' ...and even the pyramids are likely to last just a few thousand years, which is just the tiniest dot in the vast timeline of the cosmos. I know this sort of information/perspective won't exactly lighten your mood, but it is the truth. Nothing lasts and ultimately none of 'this' is important to anyone but yourself. The GOOD side of that seemingly negative outlook is this: IF what you're doing does seem worthwhile to you, then that is all the excuse/reason you need to keep doing it. You don't need a stamp of approval from anyone else. Sure applause is nice, and getting the occasional check would be even nicer, but at the end of the day, and by that I mean the end of the FINAL day, you'll look back and feel either satisfaction or dissatisfaction with how you spent your blink-and-you'll-miss-it time on this earth.

As members (enthusiastic or not) of this particular time and society, sure, most of us have to spend a good deal of time doing things we don't necessarily love to do... but we do it for the money, or the prestige or the security. These are the deals we make with ourselves as civilized members of our particular civilizations. It is a compromise sure, but it is a necessary one. Does that sound 'un punk rock'? What about 'Anarchy'? Maybe, but you wanted the truth.

So what IS this all to you? You said you always knew you wouldn't get rich/famous from your artistic endeavors, but is that really true? Is that 'wall' you're hitting just artistic burnout? Believe me, I understand how the artistic desire can ebb and flow... and how tempting it is to wish that you didn't WANT or possibly even feel compelled to 'create' things... How much easier life would be to just conform and establish some easy, brain-numbing and (ultimately) soul-crushing existence... but how would you feel looking back on THAT kind of life on your last day? I'm guessing pretty shitty.