Thursday, December 31, 2009

"Year" in Review

Well 2009, you've been an asshole. And you never even thought to apologize. I suppose you have a few hours left, but why should I expect anything at the last second? I stopped counting on you months ago.

You're not even tangible, yet you've given me scars that will never wash out. I scrubbed for months, trying, but it's permanent. So, why not. I'll keep it. I'll even look at it occasionally, maybe even tell people the story of how it happened. But I'll never smile at it. Even if the Lord works evil for good, that doesn't mean a truly evil act wasn't committed. Evil is never synonymous with good. I won't delude myself, no matter how badly you want me to.

And what's to come? A year of new beginnings? Fresh starts? Old cliches? Yes, of course, all of that and more will glaze over the mud and dirt that's been such a disgusting filling for 12 months. I'll be happy for a while, symbolically of course. For my happiness is also intangible, a representation of the uncontrollable circumstances I must endure every waking moment of my life. The meaning is in the symbols, the meaninglessness is in the practice.

A laugh here or there will medicate, and lousy days will return. But my perceptions are broader as a result of your cruelty. You jammed a crowbar into the elevator, and twisted the doors open.

And contentment will remain. Because, the man who says light can overcome darkness doesn't understand entropy. Light is not stronger than darkness, but merely a moment of contrast. Neither have strength, but both contribute to blindness. It is my eyes that are weak. My eyes will eventually rot away, leaving darkness and light as nothing but neutral forms of Ouroboros.

Whatever I learned from you, year, I take with me to the next. One symbol to another. Your timeframe may have been helpful. To what, I can't say. To who, that's unclear. But the symbol of 2010 is marked by continuance. Not betterment, or even hopefulness, but another step on a path.

A yellow, brick road leads to cities where nothing is as it seems. But everything is still true. A perception will change, in accordance with the amount of contrasting light and darkness (hitting the cornea, bouncing back something honest).

Thanks for nothing, year. I have so much more wisdom now, and I hate you because of it. I'm glad. And hopeful. And relieved. Hear my sigh as one that breathes molecules of palm tree debris. A scratch in my throat that will never heal. A hanging head that hangs not for its own sake, but for those who have not yet discovered your frivolity. Your lies are nothing new. A marker is nothing if not a reminder of placement. As I continue through, I do so without thanks. You mean nothing to me. Just as I have meant nothing to you.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Whole Point of Cornerstone 1999

"How do my spikes look?" He asked.

Muddy, blue Chuck Taylor All-Stars, white tube-socks with two red stripes at the calves, brown dress pants cut with scissors just below the knee and a necklace made out of an old bicycle chain. It wasn't a punk rock look at all, but a late 90s' high school "weird" look for the boys who didn't want to play sports.

"Great man, let's go meet some girls."

Neither one a sidekick, both underage and both awkwardly confident. They were young heterosexual men with eyes for midriffs and haircuts for Warped Tours. These were not predators either, but born again Christians at a rock festival full of youth pastors and Jesus People. Their rebellious attire was only a means for physical attraction. Like birds of paradise displaying for their potential mate, these guys weren't far off. If the girls wanted punk boys, these two were prime for picking.

But sex was always out of the question. These were good boys who wanted nothing more than the mere thrill of sexual pursuit. When the time came to play, they would never move beyond 1st base. Even if they hit the ball out of the park, they would stand stubbornly with their arms crossed, saying, "wait until marriage."

"Hi, what's your name?"

That was it.

That was all a sixteen year old had to say at this place. The girls were so friendly, they'd at least give a smile and response. Even if they were on their way over to "meet their boyfriend," they would still give a friendly wave and hair toss before walking away forever. But not even a minute later, as the boys approached the campgrounds near the lake,

"Hi, what's your name?"

And this time, the girl would stop and answer.

"Jessica," she said with bright eyes and a smile. A short haircut with the same liberty spikes in the back as the boys had all over their heads. A small swoop of gelled bangs, everything bleached blonde, and a slight midriff below a Fold Zandura t-shirt. "Where are you guys from?"

"Chicago." they answer in unison.

"Me too! What neighborhood?"

This was always a tricky part. If they said, "the south side," would this cute little punk girl believe them? They never wanted to say "the south suburbs," because then they'd have to start explaining where New Lenox, Plainfield and Mokena were. But one of the boys liked the way this girl looked, and he liked the way she was looking at him even more, so he decided to answer truthfully.

"Oh, the southwest suburbs, kinda near Joliet."

"Oh my Gosh, rock on! I live in Lockport!"

None of these towns should ever be considered "Chicago," but bands like Alkaline Trio and the Lawrence Arms said they were from Chicago, and these Lockport, Plainfield and New Lenox losers related to their music more than their friends' high school ska band. Punk rock was a Chicago thing, not a suburbs thing.

"Oh cool! They got that big sledding hill there." He replied with the only morsel of knowledge he had about the boring town west of his home.

"Oh yeahhh, everyone just knows about the sledding hillll." She wasn't proud of her town either.

He didn't want her to feel bad about it, "It's really fun though, I remember going when I was a kid and thinking it was the best hill ever."

"Oh for sure!" She was too enthusiastic and overly interested, a sure sign that she wanted to hang out with him. "I haven't been down the hill since I was a kid either..."

It felt like an opening, a time for him to say "well hey, maybe we should go sledding this winter." But it was 90 degrees in July, thinking about snow was too much of a stretch this early into things. The more important matter was finding out what she had planned for the next few hours.

"Speaking of hills," he had it, "are you gonna catch any of the bands at main stage soon? We were gonna head down the hill over there to watch MxPx."

"Oh I could check that out, I was gonna head up to the indoor stage to see Joy Electric soon though."

Another tricky moment. As defining as the music was to these young people, it was ultimately a means to a greater end. The boy imagined heading over to see MxPx first, moshing for one song only to find his latest infatuation bouncing and smiling on the pit's outer edge. "Wanna crowdsurf?!" he'd yell in her ear as the pop punk blared "Chick Magnet" deeper and deeper into his libido. "Sure!" she'd answer, putting her hands on his shoulders for the first time. They'd only just met half an hour ago, and now he's lifting her up by the back and legs. She sails over an ocean of young men who just had the exact same experience with another girl crowdsurfing just a few yards away. He smiles and watches her ride the crowd, the 90 pounds of flesh passing over their hands. It's like a communion for Christian punks, everyone taking of the bread and saying quiet personal prayers of hope. The sun had set, and the dark, rural sky was glittery with stars. A song or two later, the girl would find her new friend and greet him with a hug and a smile. This time he wouldn't lift her up, but stay right next to her while they both jump up and down to the pop punk, their arms brushing as they bounce. They'd look at each other and smile, and eventually leave the concert together, to a place where they could lie in the grass and look at the constellations.

But if they went to Joy Electric, these moments might never come. Then again, he thought, this girl probably wants to dance at Joy Electric. He hates dancing, but he'll do it if it means he can make out with her later.

"Aw yeah, Joy Electric is cool." He needed help from his bro in Christ for this one though, "what do you think man, should we head up there with her?"

He thought for a moment, turned to Jessica and asked, "...Do you have a friend?" The correct response, of course.

She happily nodded and called back to her tent area where a few other teenagers were sitting around a campstove eating macaroni and cheese in paper bowls. "Hey Carly! Wanna come see a show with these guys!"

"Yeah, be right there!"

Carly sprang up and ran toward them, the same punky hairstyle only pink. And this one even had a nose ring.

The two boys subtly looked at each other and smiled. They looked back at the girls who were both smiling at them. It didn't matter what show they were going to now. The night was set.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Forcing Foreshadowing

I don't know how to do foreshadowing. I'm trapped in a stream of consciousness, and I can't get out of the current. I flow with whatever's carrying me downward, never emerging out on shore to run back and put a sign up that says what's coming. But it usually works out either way. Because I know what's coming even when I haven't seen it, all it takes is a feeling.

Jaclyn and I sat down in our motor vehicle, and set off down our street. We were going to buy supplies for a cookie party (sprinkles, milk, etc.). Our plan was to take a quick right to California Avenue, all the way to Logan. But just as we turned onto California, Jaclyn realized that she forgot the grocery list. So we had to go back to the place we started and go inside to grab the list off of the coffee table. When I came back with the list, Jaclyn was ready and waiting. But this time, she didn't take a right. She took a left. We didn't go to California Avenue, but Western.

As we approached Western, I got that bad feeling. And then I even expressed my feelings out loud. I told Jaclyn, "this makes me nervous."

"What makes you nervous?"

"We changed our course. Whenever this happens, I get this bad feeling."

"Why? What do you mean?"

"Well, we were going to head down California, but now we're heading towards Western. We were supposed to be a part of the traffic on California... I mean, what if someone has an accident now since we're not a part of what was supposed to be? Or what if we are now driving towards an accident ourselves? Since we're on a road we shouldn't have been on, we're overcrowding the street."

"Isn't that all life is though? Just a bunch of failed and altered plans?"

I thought about that for a second, and when my nervous feeling didn't shake I answered her, "Yeah, that's true, but it's also the reason we have accidents."

We were just about at Western now. The flurries were coming down gradually and the Chicago night air was frosty and wet. I looked ahead at a girl with a large fluffy hood walking in the crosswalk., and a car turning onto our street. The headlights jolted back and forth quickly, and the girl's body became horizontal with the pavement. "That person just got hit by a car!" Jaclyn said.

She pulled over, along with a few other cars that witnessed the horrifying event. Jaclyn jumped out to see if the girl was alright. The woman who hit her took quick responsibility and was the first person on the phone with 911. I sat in the car, watching the scene and thinking about the conversation Jaclyn and I just had a few seconds earlier. Was it a coincidence? Or was my fear of an imminent accident justified? Was my feeling a premonition? If we had gone down California in the first place, would that accident have happened? Either way, we wouldn't have witnessed this accident had the grocery list not been forgotten. I'm just not sure if that was the chain reaction that triggered this particular accident or not though. But I felt the tingliest chill down my spine anyway, I don't care how superstitious it sounds, this experience freaked me out.

The girl was lying on the wet, slushy street, and Jaclyn was crouched down next to her. She was comforting her, keeping one hand on the girl's arm as they waited for the paramedics in the ugliest weather of the year. And if we had gone down California, Jaclyn wouldn't have been able to do that. I don't know if this was all some sort of internal foreshadowing, but I can't help but wonder if (and when) someone else's failed and altered plan will end up triggering my own demise.

Until then, let's try to follow through on things, shall we? But don't fight the foreshadowing. All the butterflies flap to it with fervor and fury.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Chicago Street Artist Chews Gum

I was just trying to watch an episode of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia on Ninja Video (because I don't have cable), and I was interrupted by this advertisement for Orbit gum. (And hey, watch the last Sunny episode if you haven't already. It's crazy hilarious. Frank wears skinny jeans.)

Okay, so it's that graffiti with the big lips that we see all over Chicago. You can't escape Goons in this city, they're everywhere. But I never thought I'd see those lips on a gah-damn gum commercial. I know it makes demographic sense: cool gum, cool graffiti of big lips, big lips chew cool gum, cool kids inspired to chew cool gum, etc. etc. and so on and so on. But now I'll never be able to look upon those big lips at Grand and Halsted with the same sort of intrinsic appreciation. I used to see this graffiti as a pure statement of visual rebellion. Those lips were ugly, and they didn't make me think of chewing gum. But that's all over now baby blue. Those lips now belong to Orbit, and all of that graffiti in Chicago has become just another advertisement (pretty brilliant move by Orbit actually: find the monetary-neutral image that's already all over town and link it to your product. yup...).

But this is what the world has come to. OBEY doesn't make us question capitalism anymore, it persuades us to take part in it (vote Obama?). Street art isn't counter culture these days, it's an internship for future commercial opportunities.

Maybe art is for the masses after all. Maybe the ideals our bright-eyed artists plaster onto the brick walls are only pleadings for attention and fame. If you can throw a Camera Obscura song behind a stop-motion urban landscape and mix in some social consciousness themes, apparently you'll get the contemporary recipe for a marketing opportunity. But, Orbit, Goons, check this out: I'm not going to buy the gum. I'm a Chicagoan, and I see your images on the street every day, and I even like having fresh breath as often as humanly possible... but I really just don't like being pandered about.

Can't anybody do anything for art's sake in this country anymore? Are we so engulfed by our sins that we can't create something unless it's being consumed by a mass audience? I hope all of your years of guerilla work have been worth it Goons, because it's all come down to Orbit gum. This is what you've been working towards... I hope they gave you a life's supply, because you're gonna have to chew on this one for a while.

I'm gonna move to Berlin. I swear. And I'm going to become a graffiti artist who isn't interested in selling personal integrity. I can't do it here. I'd be run out of town by the rich graffiti artists taking up prime wildstyle space with their latest "young urban" demographic blitz of a new product promotion.


Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Saturday Night Activities for Christian Singles

Just because you're a Christian single doesn't mean you're a "square" or "doorknob." Truth be told, Christians can have more fun than anyone, because they can be completely sober and aware of the blessings God has given them when they hang out. One of the best times to express the joys of the Christian single life is on Saturday nights. Instead of letting your faith be a hindrance to your party, let it be your fuel!

    Movie Nights

  1. Whether it's out at the local theater for a new movie or staying in to watch DVDs, movie nights help Christian singles experience cultural engagement. Try to avoid explicitly "Christian" films that are sold only in the Family Bookstores, but don't watch R-rated movies that contain unnecessarily sexual themes. Find good films that can be enjoyed by persons of all conviction levels and can be discussed afterward. Here are some examples if you are looking for classic films that Christian singles can dissect without feeling guilty: Lord of the Rings, Narnia, The Matrix, Bruce Almighty and E.T.
  2. Improv Nights

  3. Is there anything better than laughing? Laughing with Christian friends is so much fun, you'll want to have improv parties every Saturday night. If anybody has seen Whose Line Is It Anyway?, it's easy to see how much fun improv can be. But anyone can do it, and Christians can make improv wholesome and God-honoring, too. Who needs the filthy antics of Saturday Night Live when you can create your own sketch comedy show with your Christian brothers and sisters? Even Rick Warren approves.
  4. Dance Parties

  5. Christian singles should dance with each other, but with the utmost respect and dignity for the opposite sex. Instead of going to a club that's bumping out grind-readied crunk and over-sexualized rap lyrics, check out a class for ballroom, line or square dancing. These dances can help Christians meet members of the opposite sex in a safe and fun environment. Don't host these dance parties in your own home. Go to public areas that specialize in group dancing where you will have the benefit of other couples keeping you in check.
  6. Games

  7. If your church discourages dancing, opt for an evening of competition. Head out to the local gym for a game of volleyball or stay in for group card or board games. Try to avoid gambling, though; make game night a time for fun. Faith should be kept in God, not in a roll of the dice. Try to play games that both genders can enjoy. Most Christian single ladies aren't interested in war strategy games like Risk, but they will rarely turn down Apples to Apples: Bible Edition.