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Notes From The Flip Side: 03.21.2004

"What the hell are you fighting for? I hope it's something that you really believe in."


Don't You Feed Me Lines About Some Idealistic Future.

These days, I stumble around confused more often than not, wondering when I turned into the bad guy and ready to pull the plug on the whole fucking thing like so much bath water gone cold. Every story has two sides, but more interestingly, every side has two stories - the one for public consumption which paints the teller in the best light possible and the one that the teller reads over in the middle of the night in which no one says anything clever or realizes any profound emotional truths ... or even gets on with trying to make it better.

Thus, I'm cast as the bad guy, the insensitive asshole who never sacrifices, who doesn't understand and who creates situations in which people cry themselves to sleep. But that's only one side of one story, the public-facing side colored with pathos.

My public and private stories are largely the same. I try. I do my best. And it never seems to be enough. I need time to myself, a luxury which is apparently no longer mine since no one else gets that, and so I come home from dealing with people all day to more dealing with people. I get burned out, have no time to recharge and no end to the demands made on my time, patience and wallet. Since something has to give, I don't write as much as I used to, if at all, on any given day. And when I do, the words seemed borrowed, like they're on loan from someone who's a better and more likable human being.

All of this is making me more angry and less patient. The other day, I developed an adapted emotional version of Boyle's Law for relationships - think of it as a triangle in which the area must remain the same; only the lengths of the triangle legs and their angles may change. One side is financial burdens. Another is emotional pressure. And the last is patience. Any side or combination of sides can expand or contract as long as the total area remains the same.

And in this dialogue between the party line and the backroom politics, the only loser is the general populace which gets nothing but spin from every side and eventually turns off the evening news in disgust, and really, who can blame them? It's all bad news and pointed fingers, blamestorming and shit talking, and the message gets lost in negative campaigning.

So fuck it.

Fuck Winter. Fuck Failure. Fuck Quitting.

The last update was a collection of ideas in progress, thoughts which hadn't yet fully borne fruit, driven largely by mournful songs which acquiesce to a fate which may not be set in stone. To steal a thought from Nick Hornby, which came first ... the sorrow or the songs? In my case, I'm not entirely sure. I know that my girlfriend and I had been fighting at that time, a state which has flared up again, and that state of affairs certainly contributed to my mood so I don't feel like placing the entirety of the blame on the songs, nor does that blame rest on her shoulders ... but in this world, no one and nothing is blameless. Myself, more than anyone or anything else, included. After all, I really should get around to recognizing my own failings sooner or later.

And it's also true that I was tired from driving to Chicago, exhausted from days of emotional conflict, the border skirmishes in a war which was winding down, in which the word hadn't yet reached the frontlines that hostilities were ceasing; that soldiers should lay down their arms, pop the top on a cold one and raise their glasses to those in the trench directly across from them. Little did they know that something as simple as a misplaced comma in the armistice treaty could start the entire goddamned thing up again.

My last update was less about feeling beaten than it was about needing rest. It was less about feeling worn down by the long winter than it was about a last moment of reflection, a brief period of meditation before drawing my sword and committing myself to the battle, perhaps for the last time.

For years, I've been fascinated by the concept of the samurai drawing a katana and proceeding into battle, ready for death and focused on only one goal. At the moment, I'm feeling that I'm surrounded by too many enemies. While that isn't necessarily bad (after all, any thrust is likely to hit a worthy target), I want to be more focused and there's simply too much - it's an election year, one which seems to really mean something. The economy is shit, the war continues, the lies persist and the president is more concerned with applying religious definitions of relationships to the body of law.

It's a truly messed up situation.

Ban Marriage

My position on gay marriage (and, for that matter, marriage as a general concept) is simple - marriage is a religious - not a civil - institution. Recognizing marriage violates the separation of church and state, particularly since that recognition of a religious institution carries secular benefits which are only provided to people who elect to participate. This recognition and treatment seems inherently discriminatory on its face since it provides measurable financial rewards for a behavioral choice by a certain group of people. I'm single and hetero; I don't get a tax break that married people get.

It doesn't get much clearer than that.

It's none of my business whether two people get married. As a corollary, no one is free until everyone is free. As another, the people who wrote the Constitution had a really bright idea when they separated church from state, thus theoretically preventing the abuses of power which directly resulted from religious influence in affairs of state (and which we have subsequently seen in every state which seeks to blend religion and politics).

However, all of these ideas - things that conservatives have theoretically worked for (reducing government influence in the private affairs of citizens, strictly interpreting the Constitution) - are effectively falling apart in the face of the idea that marriage licenses may someday refer only to spouses instead of brides and grooms. It's not as though Democrats are doing any better than Republicans on this issue; frankly, they're all fucked because not a single goddamned one of them has the balls to simply state that people who love each other and want to marry should have that legal right regardless of their gender. It's a matter of equality and human rights, not religious condemnation of sexual preference (which, when you refer back to the prior paragraph, should be irrelevant in the U.S.). Sadly, I don't know of any current member of Congress who took a grenade to the torso in Vietnam or some other stupid conflict which occurred in a country where we shouldn't have been meddling in the first place because that, at least, would explain their lack of intestinal fortitude.

And so we turn and churn in the widening gyre; the center, like everything else, falls apart. I wake up every morning and remember that I live in a country which doesn't seem like mine; that the fundamental ideological conflict which is at play cannot be bridged by agreeing to disagree or minding our own business because of people who just can't stand anything which doesn't conform to their dogma ... and so they continue the tradition of their faith, which invariably seeks to suppress new ideas or oppress people who think differently at every possible moment.

Religion doesn't have a great history. It's a sordid tale filled with murder and genocide and willful ignorance. When any form of scientific inquiry has suggested a different path, the church - in whatever form it existed - has objected. Galileo. Scopes. Creationism / intelligent design. There's something fucked here ... and what it boils down to is that if the god that most people around me claim to believe in really does exist, that god is, to crib from Paddy, a bully and a dick and I'm looking forward to every chance I get to pick a fight with him.

If It's Not Love, Then It's The Bomb That Will Bring Us Together.

I could care less who's responsible. I have fond memories of Atocha station - I passed through there several times when I spent the holidays in Europe some years ago, just someone on my way to or from somewhere. I passed through Atocha for the first time to get a feel for where the Prado was and fell in love with the Museo Centro de Arte Reina Sofia instead. I wandered around, staring at art - including Picasso's "Guernica" - until close, then grabbed a bocadillo and a bottle of Aguila beer at a restaurant across from the station. I talked to a lot of travelers there. I passed back through there a day later on my way back from Granada to see the Bosch triptychs at the Prado.

I fell in love with Spain on that trip, with the people who were all too willing to help me brush up on my Spanish (some of whom wanted help with their English), with the snowboarders who made sure that I didn't get lost on my way to El Escorial, with the people who went out of their way to lead me to museums when it was obvious that I was as lost as I am clueless.

I know I'm not the only person who went through Atocha. I doubt I'm the only person to have this sort of affection for it. However, terrorism has an entirely different meaning when it's personal. I walked on those platforms. Atocha was a landmark for me, an anchor; I may not have known where I was, but I could find my way back to it, no matter how fucked up my grammar and understanding of Spanish may have been. Maybe I'm unusual for reserving this kind of affection for a train station, but being on the road is a different state of mind.

And what it boils down to is that I spent a majority of this week counting the dead, watching news reports roll in and mourning a place I knew. I'm still sad, but the sorrow is gradually giving way to anger - not the sort of anger that presidents and angry children display, that curious act of lashing out at anything in reach which results in indiscriminate bombing and destruction; rather, it's the sort of anger that makes me want to sit in a place and dare whoever to do it again. It's the sort of anger which engenders fearlessness and disregard for death. If my choice is between presidents who use tragedies as an excuse for totalitarianism and terrorists who kill innocents to advance an unarticulated agenda, I'll make a third choice - I'll elect to sit and wait for the next bomb, powerless to prevent what happens yet powerful in my ability to challenge the responsible parties to do it again, deriving strength from rejecting the polarized choices that would be forced on me by those who want power only for themselves, regardless of the reason.

What this week has reminded me of, yet again, is that this world is ours. It doesn't belong to bombers or politicians, demagogues or assassins. It belongs to you. Me. Us.

It reminds me that Gandhi was right in many ways - that if these assholes blow enough people up, they'll eventually run out of explosives and funds to make or buy more; that if leaders lie and murder, they will eventually fall to the will of the people who they formerly governed and whose trust they abused.

And eventually, we'll either all be dead and there will be so few people left that they'll simply have to stop killing ... or we'll begin to see a world without them.

I dream of the day when the latter choice begins.

Off The Top Of My Head ...

  1. At this moment and for my money, GSL and Load are the best record labels in existence. Anyone want to dispute that? For Load, you have to develop counter arguments to the new Necronomitron disc, the Mindflayer reissue and the impending Lightning Bolt release. For GSL, account for the new Kill Me Tomorrow project and the new Chromatics record, as well as Year Future, Sunshine and the mindbendingly awesome records that GSL released in 2003. Discuss amongst yourselves.
  2. As I get older, I find myself thinking that the snotty, raw, fucked-up, three-chord punk rock coming out of Florida and San Diego was really inevitable. Surrounded by high costs of living, great weather, a combination of beautiful and thoroughly fucked people ... it all has to come out somehow, and what better way than songs about how fucked it all is? See Mike Davis' new book about San Diego for more information.
  3. I'm pretty sure that The Postal Service's "Give Up" is the best album that I didn't hear in 2003. It sucks to be me. If I had heard this record last year, it would have been on my list.

Now Playing:

Mr. Lif. God Forbid. Tom Waits. Rocket From The Crypt. Joe Strummer And The Mescaleros. At The Gates. Cradle Of Filth. Sir. Kid Koala. Superchinchillarescuemission. The Tim Version. Hüsker Dü. Avail. Andrew W.K. Statistics. The Postal Service. Arab On Radar.

Now Watching:

"Velvet Goldmine," "Better Than Chocolate," "24 Hour Party People," "Party Monster," "Spirited Away"

Just Finished:

Malcolm Gladwell, "The Tipping Point"

Now Reading:

Mike Davis, Kelly Mayhew and Jim Miller, "Under The Perfect Sun: The San Diego Tourists Never See"; Paul Avrich, "Anarchist Portraits"; Bertrand Russell, "Why I Am Not A Christian"; Umberto Eco, "Island Of The Day Before"; Alan Lomax, "The Land Where The Blues Began"; Peter Guralnick, "Lost Highway" and "Sweet Soul Music"; Thomas Wolfe, "You Can't Go Home Again"; Steven Heller, "Graphic Design History" (edited with Georgette Ballance); Gunnar Swanson, ed., "Graphic Design And Reading"; Daniel Guerin, "No Gods No Masters"

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Last modified on Wednesday, March 26, 2008