Thursday, April 26, 2007

Why write?

Several people have asked me why I'm doing this. And then recently I came across a little online media empire that I'll be sharing with you later, and someone had actually posted the question, "why do you write?"

I'd thought I'd share my answer here, because maybe it'll answer those who've asked me directly what would make me want to do such a silly thing as post my thoughts up on this interwebular thing...

so here it is:

I would think this question applies to every art form - why paint? why sculpt? why cover yourself in baby oil and swing 117 hoola hoops from all over your body wearing only a g-string?

ok, maybe the cabaret act would have a different answer (and maybe not, actually), but at the core of it, I think it's a simple belief that we have something to say.

Some of us just like to tell funny stories. Some to educate the world, or share experiences, some to shock, frighten and anger, some to feel the company of others' sympathies. Some to simply make others notice we've done so, and to feel anything at all.

At some point, I think art is a way of reaching out, of hoping someone, somewhere understands us. At its most passionate, it's standing in front of an audience and ripping your ribcage open, showing everyone you can find the gore and guts inside, screaming, "Here! Look at this! THIS is what I think!" But even when the passion is an ember, or a calmer desire, it's about reaching. Reaching someone, anyone.

The cosmic joke, of course, is on us. Because the moment people are actually listening, you're sure to feel like an ass for wanting their attention, or you'll be hurt by their misconceptions, or you'll want to run and hide quietly under your bed until they'll all just go away.

And that's when you realize it.

I do it for me. I do it because I just want to, I need to, because it stops the voices in my head, if only for a few minutes. Or because I am unable not to. And I do need others to notice it, and I do need others to feel something, and once in awhile, I'd like to know about that. But if they weren't there, if I was the last man standing anywhere on this rock, I'd still do it.

I'd do it because I want it to exist.

And I want to look at it, or read it, or listen to it. Because I want to feel something, too.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Be Decent to Each Other.

Kurt Vonnegut is gone. It saddens me deeply to know that there will not be any more to come from that wonderful mind.

I wrote this letter in 1995. I don't know why I never sent it, but I'm sorry now. I'd like to share it with you:

To Mr. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.:

I am a great admirer of your writings. I think I have read almost all of your published material, and I have a great deal of respect for the things you think about, and the way in which you tell others about them. That is not why I have chosen to write a letter to you.
One of the things I do with my time and my energy is write. I have completed a book, a collection of pieces which have been called things like “short stories” and “poetry.” I have no idea what to call them, but I do know that I now have almost enough material for a second book, perhaps even the makings of a (gulp) novel. That is not why I have chosen to write a letter to you.
One of the other things I do with my time and my energy is play music. In fact, I am entitled to call myself a professional musician, although it has never fully supported me financially for longer than several months at a time. (The rest of the time, I’m a carpenter and cabinetmaker). I have a little joke about other musicians who are especially good at what they do. Some of these masters are incredibly inspiring, and listening to them leaves me feeling like I want to play for hours, trying out all the things I’ve learned while listening to them. There are others that I can listen to relentlessly, hour after hour, day after day, and never grow tired of hearing their ideas and emotions expressed. These select few inspire me to something else. They make me want to go to plumbing school.
From the point of view of a writer, Mr. Vonnegut, you have inspired me to think very seriously about refrigerator repair. That is why I have chosen to write a letter to you.
You have an ability to see humor in the things which fill my writings with rage and pain. I, too, see the humor – I’ve done “spoken word” performances which border on standup comedy – but when I sit down to write about it, to really face it and think about it, the inherent stupidity and the lack of decency I see in humanity make me feel nothing but anger and sadness. When I’m not writing, I can laugh. With pen in hand, I scream and cry like a newborn with an automatic weapon. Go figure.
I have been on a Vonnegut binge recently, reading ten or twelve of your novels within the last few months. You can write a novel which is seething with anger, and yet, nowhere do you scream. Your insights have completely demolished my desire to write another word. I read myself, and call myself an angry young man with nothing new to say. Yet I know this not to be true. I want to break the spell and move on, this is getting terribly boring. Here is my request – I don’t know you personally, and so I don’t know if I am asking a small favor or an impossibility – I would like a word with you. I want to sit down and have a coffee with the man who has (temporarily, I hope) rendered even my favorite pen useful for taking phone messages and signing checks to Con Edison.
If I am indeed asking too much, I suppose this will pass like anything else, or at worst like a large kidney stone. I appreciate the time you may have taken to read this letter. I can be reached at the following address:


I thought about including a copy of my book, but I remembered a lesson I once learned. There was a brilliant jazz drummer I knew when I was living in Boston. He was somewhere between a mentor and a friend, a drinking buddy. Since he was also almost forty years my senior and I was playing loud music, I never asked him to come see my band. It just never crossed my mind, I assumed he wouldn’t be interested. Well, he went looking for the bar I was playing one night, and afterward, I asked him what brought him out to the show. He said, “you’ve never asked me to come and see you play. That could only mean one of two things – either you’re great, or you just plain suck.”
“Well?” I said.
“I was right about you all along.”

I never asked. Thanks again for listening.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Lip Service, the series

No Child Left Behind.

The Clear Skies Initiative.

These are two of the programs inflicted on us by our industrious elected officials, for our own good. It's their way of making our lives better, letting us know that we'll be raped and sodomized for our protection.

We live in a time when the appearance of a thing is of profound importance, and the thing itself means nothing, it's nowhere in the picture, and has no place there - it's all smoke and mirrors and camera tricks and carnival stunts, but there's nothing under that tent, not a goddamned thing. In its biggest moments, we get these insultingly stupid programs from Dick and Dubya and Karl and the Gang. How the hell we fall for this crap is beyond me, but as a nation, we do. These guys have made an art form of pissing on your head and telling you it's raining, and gotten away with it like no one before them.

But they didn't invent it, and we've been buying the ruse for as long as I've been aware. And it goes on at every level - it's insidious, and it has become so transparent that we've become blind to it, in fact we expect it.

And while I may not have the patience or the desire, or even the credentials or the audience to fight the big stuff, I can try to attack the little stuff - those annoying everday occurences that we don't even see anymore.

So, in that spirit, I've decided to do what I can to call bullshit! whenever possible, and to bring it to you in a continuing series called LIP SERVICE.

That's right, I'm here to protect you. I'm here to see that you don't get cheated and swindled, hoodwinked and bamboozled. I've got your back, I'm a public advocate, the Ralph Nader of the Design world.

Ok. That's more lip service. I just have an extremely low tolerance for bullshit, and it makes me want to jump up and down and yell, and for as long as you decide to sit here, you have to listen to me. The good news is, you might learn something that'll keep you from getting duped by some delusional clown with a broad vocabulary.

I mean, come on - who wants to let themselves get suckered by a guy who's greatest accomplishment is high scores on his SAT's?

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Lies and Selling Out

In my last post, I said that I'd use this next one to tell you about my plans to change my approach in supporting my ability to do my work.

I lied.

I'm not going to tell you what my plans are just yet. One of my favorite Malcolm X quotes is, "when you have concrete plans, the best way to keep them concrete, is keep them to yourself."

Instead, I'm going to talk in vague terms about it. Let's just say that I've looked at my approach, and the model that so many have laid out before me, and found it lacking. There are thousands of guys (and girls) out there, who have tried to balance and support their ability to make studio furniture, art furniture, furniture as art, sculpture, whatever the hell you want to call it, by doing traditional work and cabinetry. I've studied this approach, and tried it for years, and I'm out.

Here's why: I don't like it.

What I mean is that a woodworking business, short of building a manufacturing operation with 10 or 15 employees, is something that people do more for love than money. It's a high stress, low profit endeavor that is a full time, full attention job that when done properly, takes up one's whole life. I have hundreds of friends who do this, and it would be a disservice to them to treat it as anything less, or to assume that one could do it successfully with less time or attention. Ain't nobody getting rich there - those with larger operations can make a decent living, but it is all consuming, and they love what they do.

But I don't.

I have looked to this side of my business as a support system, a way to balance the profitability or the lack thereof that I discussed at length in my last post. I'm good at it, and people ask me constantly to build things for them that I don't necessarily like, and they're willing to pay me for it, so I've always assumed that the mix would make a good business model. This is a foolish idea. As I said - to do that kind of work regularly and profitably is a full time job that in the end, doesn't pay very well, and paying well - or more importantly, buying time, is supposed to be the point of a support system.

So. Here's the thing that's become really abundantly clear to me: I don't care where my money comes from. I don't. I couldn't give the proverbial rat's ass, whatever the hell that means. Money is freedom, pure and simple. Money is the way to keep the rain off of my stuff, and food in my mouth, and it's how I can pay for my shop and my time to go and do what I do. And it might be nice to eventually get some health insurance, and maybe a decent pair of shoes.

And that's it.

Realizing this simple thing, that I take absolutely no pride in being a 'successful businessman,' is immensely freeing. The fact that I don't care if I'm dressing as a chicken or whoring to a pervert in a back alley or putting on a suit and selling office supplies or running a midget porn website or doing a tv show about how to make a shaker coffee table, means it must all result in one simple thing, or it's useless to me: freedom.

And freedom is the key. What I do with that freedom shows what I'm made of.

'Selling out' is a concept that's been drummed into our heads since we were kids, and to those of us who came up thinking we were artists or rebels or anti-everything, it was the worst thing you could say about a guy. So here's the test. If I make a move of some kind that will provide me with good money, especially something that isn't 'artistic' or something that doesn't define me as a person as we've all been so brainwashed into thinking is necessary, am I a sell out?

It turns out there's a very simple answer. If I let that income make me fat and lazy, if I get wrapped up in the pursuit of stuff, or the nonsense that comes with any income source, and I let it become my life, pushing my work into the realm of a 'sometime hobby,' then yes, I am a sell out.
But, if I use it as a means to an end, and I never take my eyes off the point of what I'm doing, and I continue to produce my work, using my newfound freedom to make what I want to make, and to continue to grow in whatever direction I feel, then I am the exact opposite of a sellout.

And now I've told everyone, which puts a nice bit of public pressure on me to act like I want to be seen.

There. I'm sick of talking about it, and I'm sick of thinking about it. That's it. Let's get back to talking about what's real.

'Cos you got to keep it real, yo.