Jun 26, 2013

Date Night of the Living Dead

Dear Ask A Punk -
Is it impossible for a girl to be punk rock and manage to find romance? I'm NOT saying I want to date boys in bands, I already did enough of that to last a lifetime. I'm talking about how difficult it is to find a decent person to date who also happens to be one of "us" if you know what I mean. And don't suggest online dating, I've done that too: eharmony, okcupid, match all of them. They're all just digital singles bars full of guys looking to hookup and thats about it, although eharmony wasn't quite as bad, but it was just a little creepy, and there sure as F*** aren't many punks on there. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against the occasional hookup, but I also want something more real than that. It just seems impossible. If I have to spend one more Friday night rallying my girlfriends to go out to a show after everyone is wiped out from a week of work, or a week of looking for work, I might have to go on a crying jag and that is so not punk rock. Maybe none of this is exactly punk rock. I sound like a whiny sorority girl or something. I don't want to get married exactly, or not yet. I just want a boyfriend for a change not some "guy I hand out with." -- No Wallflower I.

Dear NWI -
I don't know for sure, but aren't there actually specific "punk rock dating" sites out there on the internet? I would research this for you myself, but I wouldn't want my girlfriend freaking out if she saw that popping up in my search history ...but seriously folks. I understand your frustration. Finding the "right " person is a very rare thing. Not impossible, just a long-odds situation. 

I've had a lot of friends - male and female - tell me the same thing about online dating. I never tried it really because I actually am a bit of a wallflower I guess. The fact that people (including you) can click through profile after profile, like shopping on ebay or amazon or something, really lowers the stakes for everyone. People meet online and break up over texts now. I get it. But on the plus side, the increased volume has to improve your odds of finally landing on the right person, no? I have heard tons of online dating horror stories... but I also know several people who met their wives/husbands online. It does happen.

Even though people say the internet has changed dating, the truth is, we're still the same old hard-wired humans. A profile picture is just eye candy. No matter how good the email banter is, there is no way to tell if there is that rare electricity until you're actually face-to-face with that other person. Maybe it really is all about the pheromones. 

I'm going to now wade deeeeep into the cliche' pool. Here goes:

The best way to find the right person is to GET OUT INTO THE WORLD and engage in the sorts of things you like to do. By that, I don't just mean "go to punk clubs and scope out the boys". I'm talking about everything. What else do you enjoy? While I love punk rock, I also love old movies. I met my girlfriend at a movie theater and we've been together for nearly 10 years. I'll admit I went to thousands of movies before I ran into her, but that was OK because I liked being at the movies anyway. See what I mean? So, in addition to punk rock what are your other interests? Do those things, and while you're there - look around. 

And that leads me to another point. My girlfriend knew pretty much zero about punk before she met me. She probably cared about it even less than that, and after nearly a decade together, I don't think the needle has moved all that much, but: she understands how and why it is so important to me. That is what really matters. You don't have to find someone who enjoys everything that you like. You have to find someone who is cool with whatever you're into, whether they personally dig it or not.  I say this because you made the point that you're not looking to date punk rock musicians, so try imagining a wider range of possibilities. The cliche's continue: Opposites DO attract. 

...and before anyone starts hassling me about how non-punk all this talk of dating & romance is, all I can say is: Punk or not, we're pretty much all hard-wired to seek a level of intense one-on-one intimacy. Sooner or later.  

Sorry I don't have any new revelations in the realm of romance for you... apparently I'm too busy practicing my alliterations... As much as we think "everything is different now" here in the digital age, we are still pretty much the same species. The scary part is that you have to remain open-hearted, no matter how many times it gets stomped on. It sucks, but it is worth the risk. 

Good luck.

Jun 19, 2013

Anti-Social Anxiety Disorder

Dear AAP:
Sometimes I just want to scream. Actually that isn't true. MOST of the time I want to scream. I think you need to know this. I think you need to know that all of us "Millennials" aren't mother-hugging hipster-happy kids who spend all their time staring at their phones and being polite. This world is f-ed up and it is getting more f-ed up by the day. But I can't quite capture the collapse in instagram because they don't have a "This is absolute bullshit" effect. I can't wait to get out of my hometown and away from every shithead who makes me want to scream in their face. I have no idea who to really blame or what is going to happen to me or anyone else in the next ten years, or ten minutes but I know it isn't going to be good. So what's the point? -- Bitch Freak.

Dear BF -
The point is to stand up against the tide. The point is to make a difference, no matter how small. The point is to give a shit, even when your brain is screaming that it doesn't matter. 

I'm not going to tell you that you're wrong. These are difficult and tricky times for a whole lot of reasons: Political-related, Climate-related, Economy-related, Spiritually-related... yeah, you name it. ...and really, there is no one to blame because pretty much EVERYone is to blame. As a species we're really dropping the ball here. 

I don't know what is going to happen in ten years or in ten minutes either. While things are likely to get worse (at least that is the way the smart money seems to be betting) I do know that they'll definitely get worse if we all give up. Society/Civilization is a pretty thin veneer for us humans. It could all go really sideways for us ALL, if we let it. 

I understand your anger. I understand the feeling of hopelessness. I also know that you've got no choice but to try to fight against it. Seriously. It isn't non-punk rock to embrace HOPE. ...and it is very punk rock to figure out some hands-on DIY way to do something positive and constructive about something. You are not going to change the economy, or stop Manhattan from getting washed into the sea, but you can look around your hometown and find someone or something that needs some help or could use a coat of paint. It might seem meaningless in the face of all these "big issues" that are swirling around, storm-like, in your head, but you'll be shocked at how it changes your point of view.

Seven Billion of us scrambling around on this planet. A few people have a vested interest in convincing you that almost all of them are enemies, threats or just plain bad. The truth is the decent will always (greatly) outnumber the douchebags. The problem is that the douchebags tend to dominate the conversation. More than anything else, this is what has to change.

I'm not saying your anger/rage is unwarranted or wrong, just that it isn't going to help you or anyone else... unless you use it to motivate yourself to seek positive change. I know that is probably the last thing you want to hear, but it is the one thing you need to hear. All the people, things and issues that are making you want to scream will not be changed by the screaming. 

Start small, but start now. In spite of the frustrations, you'll be shocked at what you might accomplish. 

Jun 12, 2013

How do you get to Broadway?

Dear Ask A Punk - 
I'm becoming convinced that I suck at everything and always will. I keep trying various creative things because I feel like I am a creative person, but nothing seems to work out. I play some bass but I've been thrown out of all three bands that I've been in or tried to be in. I sit in my room and try to paint and it all looks like all I've done is SPILL paint. I have started blogs and then abandoned them because even I don't like re-reading what I write. I feel like I'm a big joke and I'm not even trying to be funny - because that is one thing I know I'm not, meaning I know I'm not all that funny, but I still think I need to express myself somehow. I just don't know why everything I try is always a mess. I guess I do know why. It is because I seem to suck at everything I'm attracted to trying. I'm 19 and at least I get decent grades at my college - which isn't a fancy college, I couldn't get in to one of those. I guess my question is: Should I give up on this wrong-headed idea that I'm "creative" and just become an accountant or just get married and be a housewife or something? -- Miss Awful.

Dear Ms. A
I am SO glad you included your age, otherwise I would have had to answer this question a couple of different ways. Here's the deal...

"Creativity" for most of us, is a long, slow and difficult slog that includes an ass-ton of failures, misfires and deadends while we figure out who we are, what we want to say and how we're going to say it. Seriously. Sure, there are a few people who pick a up paintbrush for the first time and create something spectacular, and there are "natural" musicians who are born with nimble fingers and perfect pitch... but they're rare, annoying as hell, but super rare. The rest of us have to rely on tenacity, repetition and a willingness to suuuuuuck and suck badly until, finally, we come to some kind of understanding with ourselves. 

You have to cut yourself some slack. Actually, at 19, you have to cut yourself a lot of slack and learn to be more patient and less judgemental of yourself. You couldn't possibly have been working long enough at any of the creative endeavors you mentioned to abandon them yet. Mastery of some of those skills: music, painting, writing can take years (or decades.) 

Maybe your problem isn't a lack of creativity as much as it is a lack of patience. I say this because I know that (willing) bass players are usually very hard to find, and if a band, or three, are willing to cut you loose, you're probably not ready to play out yet. Patience! ...and practice! How about you spend a year practicing and learning more about your instrument before you toss that bass on a bonfire? If money is an issue, you don't need to pay for lessons, just search on youtube and/or try vanderbilly (although they're mostly about guitar lessons, not bass, I think.)

I'll admit I don't know much of anything about painting, but I did recently listen to an interview with a visual artist. He described his art school experience as having to draw, literally, a thousand hands, a thousand heads and a thousand feet by the end of his first school year... and that was just to pass one class. How many hands, heads and feet have you drawn so far? If this stuff was easy (for everyone) then everyone would be doing it. 

As far as writing goes, you reeeeally have to give it more time, measured in years, before deciding you can't write. Most writers have to fill up a few dozen notebooks or hard drives with a few million words before they really find their voice. Heck, I've been writing this blog since you were about 14 - and I'm still feeling my way through it. ...and believe me, this isn't the only thing I've been writing ...and I've been writing, in various ways, since my teens too.

On the good side, I didn't get the feeling that you were complaining about a lack of material success, just a lack of artistic success. Keep THAT in focus too because material success is never guaranteed for anyone. You had better enjoy the process itself, and see it (and your incremental improvements) as the only "reward" that really matters, because in the end it really is the only thing that matters. Most true artists are really on a journey to figure themselves out... and that sort of journey rarely comes with a lot of fat paychecks, especially in a society that doesn't really value "art" all that much.

And finally, you really really have to dispense with the negative self-talk. This is one thing I know I'm 100% right about, because it also happens to be one of my biggest challenges. If you manage to convince yourself that you suck and that you'll always suck, guess what: You'll be right. Why do some of us beat ourselves up so often and so readily? I'm not quite sure either. I just know it is a common issue, and I know I've got it in spades. Don't be afraid to tell your inner critic to go fuck herself. 

So what is the answer to the headline/old joke? "Practice. Practice. Practice."

And finally: I know some accountants & housewives who are very creative & talented people, it doesn't have to be an either/or choice. 

Jun 5, 2013

The Big Shill

Dear Ask A Punk -
It is weird writing this since I know you're probably as old as my dad, but I sure as fuck would not ask these questions or even admit my confusion because he's a douche who thinks the world would be just fine if pretty much everyone on the planet just did things exactly the way he thinks they should be done. Not that he is any big genius or rich guy, quite the opposite in fact. This email isn't about him, it is about me and that big wobbly unknown thing called The Future.

I got through high school OK and had a good enough time. I wasn't popular or anything, but these days being "punk" doesn't automatically make you an outsider and I am pretty big anyway, so jocks and other idiots never really messed with me much. So that was high school. Now, two years after high school I don't know what the fuck to think. I'm still living at home. I couldn't go to a real college because I wasn't the greatest student and there was no money, but I didn't want to be a lazy fuck, so I've been going to community college, which is really even more of a joke than that TV show, and I would be working a crappy job if I could find one that wasn't 100% crappy, and I've been trying to figure out what to do with my life. Meanwhile I've watched my friends my same age, and it definitely isn't like TV or what you read in the news. Yeah we all spend too much time on our phones, but I don't know anyone who is living a life like what I read about. No one is "making an app" and becoming a millionaire, no one is moving to a big city and making their parents pay for it, and sure as shit no one wants to join the Army any more. I don't know what I want to do with my life, but I do know what I don't want to do, and the problem is that it seems, when you get all the way down to it, I don't want to do the one thing that it seems like everyone is trained or in training to do: Sell shit or buy shit so you can turn around and sell it for a profit. I mean everything. Either you're literally a salesman selling cars or computers or something or you're selling yourself and more friends than I like to admit refer to themselves as a "brand" or they're selling a "concept" or "idea" or some other horseshit. I'm not a communist or anything, but it seems like there must be more to life than buying and selling, always with the idea to get more more more - even if you have to fuck over whoever you're selling to. I'm not talking about worrying about "Selling out" either. I don't even know what that would mean anymore anyway. I just wonder what all of us real 23 year olds are going to do for the next 40 or 50 years and is there any way we can do something less suck-ass than every other generation has? If you were 23 again, what would you be doing? or is that even a fair question? I don't fucking know. I just know there has to be more point to being here than becoming a used car salesman. - Millennial My Ass.

Dear MMA - 
OK, I'll start with this:

"I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don't want to do that."  -- Lloyd Dobler

 In case you don't recognize the name of that particular philosopher (and I realize you probably do) Lloyd Dobler was a character in a movie that your parents might have seen together on one of their first dates, back in 1989, long before they had you. Why am I saying this? Just to point out that you're not the first generational cohort to feel like you could do things better than the weasels, sellouts, sadsacks and malcontents that came before you. Good luck. No, seriously, I mean it: Good luck, because you guys have quite a battle ahead of you.

Sorry to hear your dad was/is such a throwback when it comes to parenting skills. If the vast majority of reporting on "Millennials" is to be believed, you're in the minority of people your age who dislikes his or her parents. One recent story on Salon, written by an actual Millennial makes it sound like you all are, generally-speaking, a friendly, well-adjusted, social, love-my-parents kind of generation. Here in the real world, I have found this to be generally true as well. The vast majority of 20ish people I know - whether from interaction, or teaching (yes, I teach sometimes) seem to be remarkably free of the pessimism, sarcasm and distrust of, well, everything that we Gen-X types were (and are.) ...and again, I'm not being patronizing, I'm actually a bit envious. The one thing that all this reportage overlooks when comparing the wrung out Gen-Xers to the spunky new Millennialists who have such awesome and involved parents is this: Those parents are themselves likely to be Gen-Xers... so what does that say about the generalizations made about US ??  How about finally throwing a little credit our way for something this huge: finally raising a generation that actually is better adjusted than the previous one was?

All of my friends with late-teen to early-twenties kids were themselves raised by the so-called "Baby Boomers" and in some cases by the shadow generation just before the BB's, yet somehow many of us managed to break cycles of parental non-involvement or domestic abuse etc. I know, I know - every generation hoists their newborn beauties to the sun and promises not to repeat the mistakes their parents made, but for once, a majority of a parenting generation seems to have pulled it off. All these well-adjusted, non-cynical, bright-eyed, friendly, talented, optimistic kids had parents who were none of those things as children but, with steely-eyed determination made their homes a safe and nurturing haven for their offspring. What are the odds?

...of course, with any cultural pendulum swing, these things can be taken too far. The difference between "engaged parenting" and "freaky, overly-involved, engaged parenting" can be a very very fine line. It can produce some trouble. It can lead to kids who are positive  and well-adjusted or it can lead to kids who are completely unprepared for bosses who and systems that don't give half a crap about your self-esteem or well-being.  

Then there is the word:"Entitled." When uttered by an older generation it is often code for "unseemingly impatient."  Anyone my age who starts throwing words like those at you guys has either had an aneurysm or has forgotten what it was like when he/she was 22, starting out on some job or career path and didn't want to do coffee runs for their Baby Boomer bosses. In fact, we couldn't understand why all these 40-something fossils wouldn't just  die or at the very least get out of our way instead of hogging all the jobs, money and cool cars. 

...oh, and we were all fairly certain that the washed up B-movie actor, astrology enthusiast (and bad parent) who had been installed as our puppet/president was going to get us all blown to tiny, glowing bits before we hit 30 anyway. THAT will really mess with a generation's psyche. 

And by the way, this is another thing older generations do: They prattle on and on about whatever is on their minds instead of just answering your damn questions. My apologies, so let's try to reel it in a little bit.

On the plus side, you're young and as impatient as I know you are, you've got a little time. I know that sounds like bullshit, but it is true. You also have the sort of technology that was pretty much science fiction when I was 22. I know you hear that a lot too, but it is worth hearing again. At 22 you actually CAN change the world without leaving your parents' basement. You don't have to move to a "big city" unless you really want to... but if you can, you should, even if you later move back home..why? Because you can!

On the minus side, as you pointed out, those holding pattern jobs that we Gen-X slackers slid into so easily when the Baby Boomers wouldn't budge and we needed to sort our shit out, are gone, gone like the Pharaohs. Work in a bookstore for a few years while "thinking about grad school"?  Forget it. Work in a record store while your band gets its act together? What are record stores? On the other hand, we didn't have coffeeshops to work in or ebay/etsy to sell our stuff to the world.

This is one of the big problems you guys are up against. All that ass-kicking, world-changing technology has pretty much erased the middle ground, so either you ARE some Silicon Valley/Alley/Beach wannabe or you're working the morning shift at Burger King. That blows. If those had been my only options, I would have stayed in the basement for as long as possible too... well, that isn't entirely true for me. I had other reasons for plotting my escape by any means necessary, but is true for a lot of my peers. 

My biggest worry for you guys is your overwhelming (as reported) "trust in authority", so I am pleased to hear that you're cynical about joining the war machine. It is a never-ending horror show to watch so many great, young (and patriotic) Americans being pulverized into Middle Eastern dust so that vile douchebags like Dick Cheney and his company can rake in ohhh, about $34 BILLION dollars, in about 10 years. The "War on Terror" as it is now being conducted, is actually an ATM for a select few and meat & treasure grinder for the rest of us. We might not have had the internet in the 80s, but we didn't have a bankrupt (both literally & morally) police state either, well, not as much of one.

You guys, if you really want to be remembered as a generation that made a difference, will have to put a stop to allll  kinds of  bullshit like this. Like blaming poor people and "greedy cops and teachers" for causing massive budget deficits, while we spend bazillions of dollars on endless, no-end-game "wars" that will make about eleven people stupid rich and make a few hundred thousand people very very dead... while simultaneously making our beloved country an empty, dry husk of collapsing bridges that will, sooner-rather-than-later, crumble in on itself. Oh, and did I mention the movement to privatize prisons allll over the country? Who on earth could think that attaching a profit motive to JUSTICE is a good idea? I'll tell you who: The eleven people who will make a few billion doing it. 

But hey, no pressure. The world needs cool new apps too. I guess. 

OK, so, about a thousand words too late, here is my advice:

1) Get a passport. Just to have it ready and waiting.
2) Thank your parents for the rent-free basement and try to be a good roommate.
3) Find some job to make even a little bit of money. Do anything (legal) to make some cash and for fuck's sake don't spend it on useless crap. Save it up like a crazy, frugal Silas Marner 
4) After you've saved up maybe $1500 or more (or less) GET THE HELL OUT THERE.

...Go ANYwhere. Well, anywhere that you won't be kidnapped or crucified for being an American (and that list is getting shorter with every F-ing drone strike.) Use all that cool-ass technology to connect with the bigger world, and to cheaply see some other parts of it while you're still young enough to sleep on hard benches without crippling yourself and before you need reading glasses to see the google maps on your phone. No one I've ever met has expressed any huge regrets over the time they spent traveling. No One.

5) learn to do a little coding. It can't hurt.

Good luck. Sorry it took so long to get to it. 
Final thoughts courtesy of Joe Strummer & The Clash:

"The men at the factory are old and cunning. You don't owe nothing, boy get running. It's the best years of your life they want to steal."