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Sunday, 21 April 2013

Where Is MY "On the Road"

     When a culture stops producing art, it was once said, that is when it truly dies.
     Lose definitions aside, I know that this much is true: I sat in a car--a brand new Ford with all the trimmings, from CD to MP3 to satellite, giving all the options to experience any brand or form of music and audio media--with this eighteen year old boy. The means that we come from vary. He doesn't remember a world without cellphones or Mtv, nor does he remember a time when the M stood for something besides "Mature audiences only."
     With all of these options, he only ever chooses one satellite station: a rap station. Fair enough. He enjoys rap. But this station, like all pop music stations, only has a rotation of about a dozen songs. Still he listens, regardless that he has heard only one song for the past five or seven days.
You know who these two men are.
     As I sit there, I know that American pop culture is a dead animal at the side of the road. It is decaying, artistically stagnate, and needs to desperately move on. Then I look over at this eighteen year old--a wasted investment to the human continuum. He looks like an ad for hip hip culture. His pants cannot hold themselves up; he has to do it for them. He refuses to learn, because he claims that he is already a genius. If it didn't work in the "Hood" then it couldn't possibly work anywhere else in the world. Likewise, if it worked in the "Hood"--verbal abuse, threats, violence, addiction--then it must work everywhere. All of this he believes, despite the disaster that got him here, in my care, by being a gang banger.
Bob Dylan
     What is it that separates us? Opportunity? Maybe. He's had plenty of opportunities since I've met him. But why would he rather be prime evidence of the successes of mass consumerism--a hollow manifesto of fashion.
     It comes to me, as I imagine it came to the Buddha when he found enlightenment: the youth has become--like the culture pervading it--so stagnate, so numb that it can't even see that it needs to move on, to find something new.
     But even if it did, where would American culture go? As far as I

Ayn Rand hard at work


can tell, there is no voice/s to guide it. The 50s had Ginsberg and Kerouac writing the Bibles of the Beat, redefining young American life in the Cold War Era. Dylan and Young (among so many others) at least tried to guide a new movement during Vietnam--Hippies. There was Mandela and Malcolm X; Pete Seeger, John Lennon, and John Updike. 
     The American icons of today don't fight for a movement or commiserate with the working man. They do not respect the poor and working class. They certainly don't write verses about how great our life can be. The worshiped are snooki and jwow. The legends are the Kardashians. Today's hero is not an aspirational do-it yourselfer, like Hemingway or Ayn Rand. They are self absorbed, unworthy yuppies living off of massive corporations' dimes and nickels to perpetuate a lifestyle of excess and artistic bankruptcy, earning nothing in their fame, and gaining everything in wealth.
     Follow them at your peril; they will take you nowhere but down.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Undivided Attention: a System

     "I have a system." 
     It was several months--maybe a year, at this point--when she finally told me. It's an ingenious trick that, I am certain, everyone should use.
     "I have a friend on standby. If the date doesn't go well, I send the text to have her call. Pretend that it's a family emergency. That way I get out without having to be a jerk."
     They always say that it could happen to you--something outrageous; something uncommon to the point of rarity. Faking memory loss or death to get out of a marriage rare. The story would be picked up by the Times or Reader's Digest. You'll see it if you're still a reader, which--let's face it--you probably aren't; who reads the newspaper anymore or the Digest? But it is safe to say that you will hear about it. No matter how far away you remove yourself from traditional written media, no matter how far you remove yourself from the news and nonfiction, the power of oral storytelling will always remain. And among the insipid gossip of celebrities or those who posture themselves as such, you will hear this story. Certainly, it will change. The facts and names will, but the core of the moral will remain. It could happen to you. It almost happened to me.
     And it all boiled down to that dinner. The one piece of normalcy that my fractured psyche could offer, almost made her put in the call within the first five minutes.
     "No one ever made me dinner before."
     "I thought it was nice."
     "It's weird."
     Which makes me wonder just where are we going in this day and age. It was not my showing off my cooking skills. It wasn't my manners, or unwillingness to make a move. It was not the fact that I cleaned house; she found that weird, also. It was the strangest part of me. It my fear of being left without anything to say that kept that call from coming.
     "So, Elliott, there is no such thing as undivided attention?"
     No. There is not. Like I said months ago before getting distracted and sick and learning just how poor my time management skills really are when it comes to doing things on my own without any monetary reward, it probably never existed. Our attention spans are just as bad today as they were fifty years ago. After all, our parents couldn't learn from history--or properly learn it. Neither can we.
     But for a shining moment I was able to hold--through Nietzschean practice and enough material to make Oprah feel like an introvert--that call off until her friend thought that she had been murdered. Then the call that came was one of, "I'm fine. I'm having a really good time."
     I think the moral really is this: be dedicated; motivated; practiced. Just because you can put something out willy nilly, doesn't mean you should. The extra love put into something is the difference between a fake emergency and a kiss good night at 3:30a.

That's all from Elliott at the Kitchen Table, drinking Blue Moon Valencia Grove Amber.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Undivided Attention: a Delayed Story

     I have been off track for a while, writing a series on--I don't know what you'd call it--technology and narcissism? Then the tragedy that struck home. Finally, I was just thrown off course by the greatest mishap of all: inspiration. May it throw me off course everyday, if it so wishes. Now, I'll let it throw me off again...or back on.
     Here we go...
     It is funny how many times I have started past blogs, or written past blogs, about dates with girls and girls that I've dated. I haven't dated that many, and have kept even fewer around constantly. Yet here we are, again. 
     But this one has a nicer tune to it than the last few. Happily I can begin this blog with something other than a relationship or girlfriend gone sour. This story ends happily--with things going great. (If you're the kind of person who doesn't like the ending revealed to you, I'm sorry. You have my permission to go take a bathroom break.) This story involves my current girlfriend, and it took place in the same year that my son's mother walked out...
     It was the summer time, and my son and I were winding down our lease at the old apartment. I was still in a custody battle that was fast turning out to be less of a fight and more of a staring contest, to see who would blink and relinquish parenting time first. Most of my money had gone to the greatest lawyer on Earth, and I say that without any irony. She is the best. But my health was deteriorating, I dropped a lot of weight, and my writing was done. I was blocked up completely.
     There was not even a thought in my mind regarding dating.
     I take that back. I did try. It was one of those online deals, and nothing came out of it, save for a couple more bruises to my ego. Then there came a funny little message:
     "This might seem weird, but I met you at my Grandmother's house a few years ago."
I won't bore you with minutia. She wasn't lying. We did meet. I did remember with a few more clues. We went on a date.
     Aware of my situation, she agreed to come over to the apartment and have dinner--she thought the dinner part was just a joke. Only in retrospect do I see just how uncommon this really is. I guess it's downright weird. Cut me some slack, though. It had been almost half a decade since my last first date. I wasn't just rusty. I was terrified.
     What does this have to do with undivided attention, like your old posts?
      I will tell you.
      My one great fear is not having anything to say. Not anything good, mind you. Shooting the breeze is a great American past time: an event commemorated through divulging into idle gossip and superfluous daily events. Now, in many cases--mostly in music but in recitation of scripts too--I could memorize with the best of them, but when it comes to conversation I freeze up faster than a Floridian at the Ididerod. To combat this, I prepared. Like Nixon, I committed to memory what I thought was a solid hour's worth of material. Or so I thought. As it turns out, conversation doesn't move as fast as a play, and it often takes unexpected turns--like a play. We went on until four in the morning.
     And yet it could have all been over before nine thirty. How is that? That's a story for next time.

That's all from Elliott McCloud at the Kitchen Table rewinding his Olivetti Lettera ribbon spools.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

The Hipster Wiki

     Sometimes you get into a groove. There's a kind of magic about your mood that acts like a catalyst. It ignites in you a spark of inspiration, not matter how small or remotely related to you as a person. The Joe-Anybody burns in the hue of Paul Auster, if only for a minute. Jane-Somebody becomes Jane Austen. You are hooked in the mystery or the wonder of everyday life. Or you hate it.
     I went on a while ago about hipsters and hipster fashion. I've gone on about the advances and denigrations of technology. Then I forgot about them. That is, I stopped thinking about these two separate units of discussion. Recently, I put them together, both, in my life and in the world around me.
     Maybe it's so obvious that no one notices, or that you don't need to notice it's so obvious. Hipsters--children of the nineties--lived and live in a world of recollection. We spent the nineties resurrecting the past. Flairs. Side burns. Flannel. Swing. We lived in a time of relative peace for the West. We lived in a time where we were not aware of just how bad things really were. It was great! We were kids then. In some ways, we still are. And we've carried that retrospective onward into the 21st century.
     A young man of twenty-five (Me) wore a handlebar mustache. I've met girls that looked like they fell into a portal at Woodstock and ended up in my present. Kids wear fedoras without any real reason, except that Sinatra did, and he was cool as cool can be.
     But why do we do this? I stand by my first argument: The hipster does as a defense, in some respects. Living ironically in a time where there isn't much to stand for. My grandfather stood with his country. My father could at least stand with the opposition. But what does Gen-X and the Millennial stand for. Nothing. Sure we have our movements--Occupy, Koney, Right to Life (another one stolen for the past) Women's Rights (Same past, different side) Civil Rights (Hangover) But none of it really galvanizes the nation. It doesn't unite a generation. It's just noise to shake up the work week, and give NPR something to report. 
     We did have 2008 when we got Obama in office. That was something, but look where we are now. On the fence. Undecided. Is he the best or the worst. Is he a fascist or the savior of democracy. No one knows. Probably, like us, he is just somewhere in between.
     But that is an argument for another day. The question is, "How?" 
     This is when I realized that I have forgotten to give my dues. Never did the thought occur to ask just how is it that we can be a pastiche of some many pasts? How is it that we could draw from so many sources. The same thing that ruined us, in some respects and spoiled us in others, gave us the greatest tool. We are able to reference the past at any moment.
     You are doing it right now. As I write, it is the early morning. I am sitting on a couch with a laptop on my right thigh and my Lettera typewriters next to me. Underneath the couch is a Royal Tab-O-Matic that I recently stopped using. But when you read this, my moment will be lost. It will have past. I will be somewhere else. But you will still be here, in the past, with me--or your memory of me.
     The hipster has that same ability. Through use of the internet--the endless Wikis and Google searches--she or he can dig up the style of Oscar Wilde or Rock Hudson. Learn their mannerisms through the streaming movies online. Their style is one image away.
     It is amazing. After all, could you imagine crafting an image out of a past you could not recall? Where would we start if we did not have the internet? Dewy Decimal System at the local library, I suppose; I doubt that it would work though. Surely, it would be too much.
     Even when I used the DDS, I didn't understand it. I can only imagine that my experience is shared.
     So we have this gift unique to us. And it is a gift. Let no one tell you different. 
     I amend my old argument. Yes, I still think that in some capacity ironic living is a defense mechanism. I also believe this, also. The Hipster does it because the Hipster can.
     What now? What do we do with it?
     What do you think? My answer--my opinion--is for another day.
That is all from Elliott at the Kitchen Table. I'm off to bed.