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When Traveling Alone

June 30, 2012
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When travelling alone, your worst enemy is Facebook. The experience to truly stay off the grid, whether it’s for a day, week or month, is our binary-time’s incarnation of a spirit quest. As you roll down distant highways, unfamiliar landscapes, on padded yet slightly uncomfortable seats, with people you don’t know, that might not speak your language, it is best to stay unplugged.

Read a book, because it’s the only thing you can do. Scribble down thoughts, feelings and observations in your over-priced moleskin notebook with your tourist-trap souvenir pen. Tap your hands on your knees and revel in the fact that no one in a hundred-mile radius knows or cares about who you fucked, where you went to school or what you do for a living.

Facebook is the bloodletting of liberation. Feeling detached and being detached are two different things. Learn to distinguish. Learn to appreciate. 

Whether you spend the day walking down foreign streets with your neck craned as you consciously reach for your passport to make sure for the hundredth time that it’s still there, or you while away your time in a pub cavorting with a complete stranger—at that moment, you are in fact the coolest person you know.

The cyber space cluster fuck of all-too-personal status updates and the hastily taken instagram photos of past acquaintances from the institutions of higher learning—they only serve to distract you from what’s truly important—your life.

While the communications classes from yesteryear will try to tell you, “Social media is useful tool for creating a close-knit international community where information can be shared with the click of a mouse…blah blah blah.” Don’t buy into it. Not now.  Because now is your time.

This is your chance to test your mettle. This is your time to absorb life lessons from the tangible. Brightly glowing screens connecting us back with the “real world” (whatever that is), are the sirens of the fruitless. Yes your friend’s new kid is great, but it’s not your kid. Yes, that girl that knows someone that you know who somehow ended up on your “friends” list, might “hate the fucking world right now,” but her problem isn’t your problem.

Disconnect and connect. The technology isn’t going anywhere, but you are. 

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WE ARE ALL CONNECTED: OCCUPANTS BY HENRY ROLLINS

October 18, 2011

Henry Rollins’s hair is an ashen gray and the punk rock vestiges inked on his arms are faded and slightly smudged, but the vim and virility he injects his latest book Occupants with, proves it’s never too late to try and save this world.

Since Rollins’s early days in Black Flag he has travelled the globe. With each new hard to reach place he records his adventures with a pen and most importantly, a camera. “I sometimes travel with a great deal of sleep depravation, so I take photos basically as a steno pad, just so I can write about it later,” he says in a phone interview.

After years of travelling and shooting, Rollins realized the limit of his point and shoot camera, so he upped the ante and improved the caliber of his gear. Through his various ventures, he practiced his photo-chops and took critiques from professionals. Eventually he compiled an ever-expanding highlight reel of shots that he refers to as his “greatest hits file.”

Occupants is the culmination of the last several years of Rollins traversing the world and the photogenic fruits of his labor. Each high-res image is bound to arouse some emotion or question, induce a tear or a raise an eyebrow. None of the pictures are glamour shots printed for fanny pack traveler brochures, they are voyeuristic views into lives that are nowhere near our own: children from a Bhopal slum, anti-Bush graffiti in Jakarta, a group of men sorting syringes in Karail.

Rollins didn’t want to release a book with just photos because he feared he’d be marginalized as a “celebrity” with a vanity project, he wanted to give more to his readers. “I feel that I am a publicly traded company, you are my investors,” he tells his audience at a signing at the Brookline Booksmith, while he stands at the front of the room, alertly poised with the mic chord wrapped around his arm. “If I don’t burn lean tissue…I don’t feel I’m worth your time.” For each picture the one-time Black Flag front man writes emotional prose, a process he recalls as painstaking, “The writing was like being dragged down sandpaper,” he says.

Rollins’s earlier works like Pissing in the Gene Pool and High Adventures In The Great Outdoors record his loneliness and introspective torment. Now Rollins’s words of rage, remorse and pity are aimed at humanity’s struggle, like his South African friend who is HIV positive, the Union Carbide chemical leak in Bhopal, and the world’s overall sado-masochistic cycle of smash, grab, conquer and kill. In the passage correlating to a shot of the Israeli barrier, Rollins writes:

“Humanity is a dog that has been biting at a flea on its rear leg for so long it doesn’t know what the initial cause of the discomfort was. Eventually the dog chews itself to pieces and declares victory. Upon healing the dog goes back to the same spot and resumes chewing. This is how history is made, son.”

Despite his pissed off words and intense images, Rollins remains optimistic. Through his travels he has taken a liking to the human race; from locals in Iran, to tribesmen of India, he has explored cultures and peacefully coexisted with them, and he believes you can too. “We’re all connected anyway, I’m trying to shorten the gap,” he says.

Occupants shows us the people and places we might never get to see. It is a small plea for understanding, so we can diminish the fear that causes aggression. “You have to expand yourself as much as you can,” Rollins says. While a book may never change this world, people can, and people will, it’s all a question of who and how. Occupants isn’t the key to a utopia of universal love, but it’s a passionate step in the right direction.

Hipster Overdose

July 20, 2011

“Look at this little hipster,” a woman says to me as I begin another shift at my food truck job (don’t go to college).  I stare at the lady sneering and can’t help but sense her growing cultural irrelevance that accompanies her into her late-twenties; she minus well wear a fanny pack. From the white upper-middle-class suburbs of Mansfield, Massachusetts, to the Long Island-party-girl-infested campus of Quinnipiac University, to my trashed Mission Hill apartment in Boston, I have always dressed the way I wanted. It is not until recently that the word hipster has been flung at me. I have a sneaking suspicion that my new title is not a reflection of myself, but a cultural epidemic that has taken a stranglehold on America, in which everyone and everything that is uncategorized to the run-of-the-mill Joe, is indeed a hipster, and that our society is obnoxiously obsessed with the word.

What the hell is a hipster and where did it come from? Ginsberg references them in Howl: “angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.” Kerouc mentions hipsters in On the Road, and when America turned up the heat on users in the mid-twentieth century, William S. Burroughs writes of how, “Refugee hipsters trickled down into Mexico,” where they joined him in intravenous undertakings, out of reach from the Uncle Sam’s drug Czar. For some reason though, I don’t think the snarky should-be-wearing-a-fannypack woman at my work was referring to the Beat generation. What at one point described a certain subculture of people who where in the know in terms of culture and style, has now turned into what the word “poseur” once was: an overused derogatory term to indicate that one’s attempt at individuality is ironically a pathetic attempt at joining the crowd.

My boss cracks a snide comment at me, “So do you ride a fixed-gear?” The supposed cycle of choice for hipsters. I respond irritatedly, “I don’t even own a bike.” This does little to dissuade him, he makes comments about the tightness of my jeans and my vegan lifestyle as testament to my hipsterdom. It turns out everything about me, from my pants to my diet is a sure indicator that I am a hipster.  My boss is twenty-eight-years-old with little social life beyond his wife and his work.

Perhaps the old and out-of-touch aren’t to blame, this cultural stereotype may very well be the workings of the media. A quick search on the Boston Phoenix website using just the word “hipster” leads to a slue of articles and comics containing the word, such as “Look at This Fucking Hipster Wedding,” a ten-page feature in the Lifestyle Feature section detailing what one should expect a hipster’s wedding to have. A Google search turns up even more results, such as latfh.com (“Look at this Fucking Hipster”), hipsterhandbook.com, hipsterrunoff.com and even a “stuffhipstershate” tumblr account.  It seems to me the only thing more hip than a hipster, is talking about hipsters, or using hipsters as a punchline, as if the idea was original, or hip.

Another one of my bosses whose golden years are a little more than a decade behind him, asks me, “What is the difference between a hipster and a punk?” I wish I could say I did not dignify his question with a response. One of the female workers writes down a website address for him to check out; within days he too has joined in on the hipster witch hunt, cracking jokes about my non-existent fixed gear. If these are the people calling out hipsters, maybe the title isn’t such a bad thing after all.

*Editor’s Note: Just got a bike, it’s a fixed gear…joke’s on me.

Sorry…I Don’t Speak Binary

April 7, 2011

I sit in the computer lab, eyes fixed on the blaring screen as they slowly fill with tears of frustration.  HTML?  Javascript? jQuery? PHP?  What have I gotten myself into?  A terrible creeping feeling of being inevitably screwed creeps up on me.  I lay my worried head on the table with the hope that my frontal lobe will somehow absorb computer knowledge from the cold, lifeless desktop.  It is no use.  I tilt my head back, perhaps the fluorescent light will give me insight, give me something.  All that comes to mind are a long list of rhetorical questions, “What am I doing here?” “Who am I?” “Why does every person in class understand this cyborg-babble except me?”  Traumatic flashbacks of high school algebra and geometry play over and over in my mind as a nervous sick feeling burrows deep in my stomach.

An Interactive Media major sounded promising.  I was part of generation raised on mouse clicks, “the world-wide web”, and instant cyberspace gratification.  Now with live journal, myspace, facebook, blogs, youtube, vimeo, twitter, four square, etc. on the rise, it would be a dumb idea not to follow a technology related path.  It was a safe bet for a secure future, and in a time of economic instability, a safe bet was what I looked for. In a rat race, where technology is king, and multiple skills are the best defense against impending layoffs and the unemployment line, I can not help but feel learning all of this is an essential skill, a new-age of Darwinism–digitally adapt or perish.

This is how I learned the hard way that some people are not cut out for coding and building.  Some people’s interaction with technology should be reserved only for the front-end, the fill in the blanks and the choosing of colors and words. The hours I spend in class fixated on the projection screen as my professor does his damndest to explain to me how to create a dynamic table using a record set with PHP and Dreamweaver, seem all but wasted, as each word goes in one ear and out the other. Contrary to what “Disney Channel Original Movies” and our parents tell us growing up, sometimes, no matter how hard we try, there are certain things we may never be good at.

Do I lament the fact that the numbers and the strict hieroglyphic logic will always be an estranged language to me? Do I mourn because I will never be a computer programmer, game designer, or software engineer? Do I kneel down on the ground and ask for acceptance from binary deities? Is all lost?

It took me a long time to realize that even if I did have a knack for coding and all things technologically advanced, and  was able to make a career out of it, I would not be happy. That part of my brain where my imagination, wit, clever quips, sense of humor, and affinity for films and literature dwell, the part of my brain that makes me…me, would be wasted, left to shrivel and rot. I realize that the sterile florescent lights, blaring computer screens, and cold and lifeless desktops are not me, they are a safe bet, devoid of all my strengths and joys.

I do not see my shortcomings as a detriment anymore. I see them as a defense mechanism that shields me from that voice echoing through my head, the one that tries to convince me to let part of me die, in place of security and perpetual boredom.

SMOKERS: A DYING BREED

March 25, 2011

We are the pariahs of the middle-class. On cold winter nights we excuse ourselves from our daily lives and once more continue our quest for carcinogens. We tremble outside in the dark, quivering and shivering, inhaling and exhaling, with a small orange ashen cherry as our only company. We are scorned by even the most unhealthy citizens who could eat two big macs and mainline high fructose corn syrup, yet still have the audacity to scoff at our ritual of doom. We are the smokers.

I first danced with the devil/Philip Morris at fourteen years old. On a warm summer night I sat outside with my best friend, “Alright, inhaling 101,” he stated with an air of authority and a menthol stick in his hand. He then proceeded to explain and then demonstrate how one must put cigarette in mouth, suck in, and once the smoke is trapped inside the oral cavity, use those virgin lungs to inhale, and then exhale.

At fourteen that cigarette was just a youthful experiment. By sixteen, smoking became a full-time mistake. Instead of minding the Truth campaigns and anti-smoking PSAs, I looked towards fictional advocates as a reason to start–Brad Pitt in Fight Club was one of them. The way he talked with the filter barely trapped in between his lips as the cigarette bobbed up and down like a buoy in the high seas, looked so suave and so cool.

I would sit behind the dumpster of my minimum-wage sandwich artist job, inhale and exhale the Marlboro Red, and contemplate the complexities and awkwardness of adolescence. Soon smoking developed into something to lament the bad times, celebrate the good times, and participate in during my off-time. It went great with coffee, pepsi, stale malt liquor, and it seemed to be a great lubricant for conversations with friends and strangers.

Six years after I joined the ranks of the fallen few, I still smoke. It no longer holds the sex appeal it once did. After I take my tar ridden five minute reprieve from life and reenter my classroom, I feel self-conscious at the odor that leaks from my clothing and hair. My poor parents who raised me on a steady diet of organic food and extended periods of exercise, shake their heads in disapproval when they get a whiff of the putrid odor.

I puzzle myself with why I will still take part in something so self-contradictory. I frequently exercise, eat mostly organic foods, and maintain a healthy vegan diet. I wince every time I see someone with a hole in their trachea, because I know it is quite likely I will be subject to their fate.

Smoking is no longer socially acceptable. Humphrey Bogart’s pack-an-hour routine in Casablanca was standard issue in Hollywood, but now cigarettes are reserved strictly for super-villains and psychos. Less than fifty years ago there was an ashtray in every residence, ready to be used at any moment. These days lighting up in someone’s home is an act of domestic terrorism. New laws are spreading like wildfire across the United States–from Massachusetts to Michigan to California to Delaware–that make it illegal to smoke in bars and restaurants, because ordinary people do not want to deal with our toxic haze. We are the outcasts, the black sheep, the persona non gratas gathering contemptuous glances from passing pedestrians as we selfishly pollute their air.

So let us cease fire (pun intended). Let us put down our bic lighters, Newport menthols, Marlboro 72s, American Spirits, and unfiltered Lucky Strikes. Let us take a step in longer life expectancy. We know it’s bad, we are reminded of it everyday with lectures and statistics.

But no, smoking will never die. After one person falls victim to lung cancer or heart disease, another naive teen will pick up the torch and puff away at it. Why? Why start? Why continue? Addiction? Yes! Impossible to quit? Absolutely not! But smoking, smoking makes no sense, and now that it has gone out of style, it never will.

Smoking does not have to make sense, it just is; there is no logical conclusion. I feel no high, no satisfaction, no heightened sense of self-worth when I smoke. Smoking is smoking, and that is that. So save your dirty looks and longer-life lectures for the un-informed. Your fake coughing fits as you pass by do not phase us, the guilt has been ingrained in our psyche for years. Let us be the bastardized children who knowingly made that death wish. As irrational and illogical as the habit is, it unfortunately is here to stay-so, so save your breath.

The Dean’s List/No Career Enigma Part 1

March 17, 2011

I currently have a 3.67 GPA, and that’s the lowest it’s ever been in my college career.  I complete every paper and rarely miss class, and if I do it’s because I was up late studying the night before.  I have attended two respected institutions—Quinnipiac University and Emerson College—and have proven myself time and time again.  You tell me to write a paper using five scholarly sources, three different microfilms, and one ancient scroll, chances are I might pull it off.  I will probably chain-smoke a pack of American Spirits and check my facebook three-hundred-fifty-two times before I finally get around to it, but it’ll get done.

I am a senior at the moment, a 22-year-old boy with some debt at his feet and absolutely nothing in front of him.  “What will you do after college?” they all ask me.  My minimum wage comrades, the girl from high school I see at the supermarket, some relative at some family function, they all want to know the answer to that million-dollar question: what the hell is next?  I always have some multi-dimensional, quasi-confident, slightly ambiguous response that mentions grad school, traveling, and “living life”, but in reality I have no idea.  I like to end the conversation with a nod, a shrug, a sip of my beverage and something even more vague: “You know whatever works…the future is unwritten…career market…” Then to avoid further questioning I usually change the topic and ask about their lives, or just walk away.

How did I get here?  How after almost four years of academic success that came complete with the “attaboy” phone calls from my dad’s cell phone and sighs of relief from me, do I not have a legit answer to that million-dollar (closer to $150 thousand) question?

Some of my fellow suburbanites whom I shared homeroom with are most likely at this very moment laying out their cheap suits and JC Penny button-up shirts for a big interview tomorrow.  An interview with a bank or some kind of business where they deal with stock options, hedge funds, and sending other businesses to third world countries.  Me?  I am sitting in my bed, procrastinating, as I occasionally see mice scurry across my stained carpets out of the corner of my eye, not really caring…about the mice.

I have gone over the last three-and-a-half years time and time again trying to figure out where my future went:

  • Freshman Year Quinnipiac University: I took the general education classes, the gimmes.  The ones where if you sit in the library long enough and stare at that MacBook Pro monitor until your eyes bleed, you are guaranteed an “A”.  Simple, I did the work and I got the grade I deserved.
  • Sophmore Year Quinnipiac University: More gen. eds. with a few classes from my major, “media production” and my minor “Interactive Digital Design” thrown in the mix.  Again, more eyes bleeding in the library, and then some eyes bleeding in the computer labs as I sluggishly but successfully learned the basics of Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign, and Final Cut Pro.  I even learned how to use an expensive camera with amateur capabilities and an auteur swagger that gave way to images that are properly white-balanced, almost always in focus, and pretty much never under-exposed.

I’m finally starting to get those skills, get that money’s worth, then I do something terribly, terribly, stupid—I transfer schools.  Connecticut was eating me alive.  The lack of any intelligent life forms mixed with the party-girl attitude imported straight from Long Island, made Quinnipiac living, living hell.

So I did what I had to do, sanity comes first.  I spontaneously applied to Emerson College, choosing “Interactive Media” as my major and publishing as my minor.  It sounds impressive at parties and it’s sending me to a place where I can relate to people, and by relate I mean have an intelligent conversation.

  • Junior Year Emerson College: Emerson has a thing for gen. ed. classes.  Instead of honing those skills I had just started to develop, Emerson assigned me classes like History of Jazz and Public Speaking, as well as media criticism courses where I got to watch Xena and Sex in the City and talk about post-feminism.  At that point I was holding out for a boss who was really into Myles Davis.
  • Senior Year (Present): I am starting to take a few “Interactive Media Courses” I’ve learned the basics of html, CSS, and now I know how to blog!  It’s a great start, but unfortunately I’m at the end…

So there you have it, four years of forty-grand-plus payments.  Four years of desks, papers, citing sources, bleeding eyes, and cramped fingers.  Four years of being on that list—the Dean’s list.  What does it all mean that now on the threshold of the momentous time where I will enter the “real world” I have absolutely no clue where I stand? What have I even learned and how will it help me land a job, especially as our nation still stumbles through the swamp of economic screwedness?  I pray that I am in good company, but even the best company cannot solve this conundrum.  Where will I go from here?  Stay tuned fellow career apocalypse warriors!!

William S. Burroughs A Man Within (You know you are badass when Iggy Pop and your gun dealer are in a documentary about you)

March 12, 2011

You might write good books, but if you were an interesting cat in the twentieth century with an intriguing personality to match that prose…then you will not only be just the dead guy on the on the book shelf, you will be catapulted to a new echelon of literary hero, the guy people want to know more about.  Charles Bukowski is one of these men for sure. People loved his disdain for modern society and how the nine-to-five Joes were nothing more than the living dead to him.  He drank, smoked, screwed, and listened to classical records in between and during the production of some of the most essential anti-hero literature. This lifestyle that takes place outside the pen and paper piques the interests of so many literary geeks, and that is why Bukowski has bars named after him (the coaster is taped on my wall), why Ralph Steadman’s portrayal of Hunter S. Thompson speeding down Nevada’s desolate interstate  hangs on so many college co-ed walls (the steering wheel is on the wrong side by the way), and that is why  I was so excited to so see “A Man Within”, the William S. Burroughs documentary.

“A Man Within” was the outsider looking in, a film that grazed the surface and seemingly covered all the bases and facets of this one man’s life. Rife with commentary from acquaintances, artists, lovers, poets, actors who had known, loved, screwed, drank, read, and just hung out with the man.  It was not too much of chronological account, less document and more sentiment, which is good because all the cold facts can be left to biographers and fact-checkers, we want to hear and see all the good stuff.

On the subject of Mr. Burroughs, uncle Bill, the king of the Beats, etc. two things are most heavily associated with him: queer and junkie-not his books, his life. Much of beginning of the film is dedicated to these aspects of  Burroughs.  At the time of his literary breakout “Naked Lunch”, heroin and homosexuality where not vogue, nor were they taboo, they were Gestapo-in-the-room kept in the closet deals.  The film makes it clear, Burroughs was a maverick in that sense, not only with his habits and sexuality, but his sense of rebellion in general. Burroughs might have been gay, but he did not even align himself with queer culture, because that lifestyle, just like the mainstream American lifestyle , would have restricted him with a mere label, he was the renegade of the renegades.

“A Man Wthin” covered other points that contrived the Burroughs persona, such as his affinity for guns, as well as  Joan Vollmer, his wife whom he accidentally killed when he tried to shoot a bottle off her head.  His influence on not only early punk rock but on many musicians and films was mentioned in length. Priceless photographs were shown, with the aging author with his three-piece-suit and spectacles  alongside Lou Reed, David Bowie, Richard Lloyd, Tom Waits, Frank Zappa, Sonic Youth and many others. Iggy Pop  talked about how one of his songs Gimme Some Skin contained a couple references from one of good ol’ William’s books.

For each aspect or event of Burroughs’s life, somebody or some friend would do his or her best to comprehend his complex psyche and figure out what he was feeling or why he did what he did. They would do their best to speculate things such as why he was so closed off in relationships and unwilling or unable to show great affection, or how his wife’s death weighed on him, and even why he was compelled to carry around a loaded firearm at all times.

Burroughs’s life in no way can be wrapped up in a single documentary that can be withstood in only one sitting. This film focuses more on the man himself, rather than chronicle where and when he did what he did, it puts more thought and energy into what he did and why he did it. To truly understand the man, I would suggest a Burroughs biography as a supplememnt to help get the whole story-external wandering Burroughs, and internal wandering Burroughs.