Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Thursday, August 26, 2010

steal this music! (or not)

I try not to gush too effusively about musicians I like - mostly because I don't really know much of anything about music and am afraid to expose my ignorance to a more knowledgeable public. So I think, instead, I will endorse some music I like as a concept, a group known as Elisaray.

There a two reasons why, conceptually, I like this band. The first is that they are local. My little brother hangs out with the vocalist guy, who is the little brother of one of my friends. So I - who think that real, live music ought to be a part of the creation and experience of community - think that this band is groovaliggytastic.

The second reason is that they are letting you pay whatever you want to for their albums. This is, I think, one of the most intriguing and bizarre developments that has come about because of the knowledge explosion (implosion?) of the internet. The facility of web-based file-sharing has democratized music, rendering creative licensing laws impotent, if non-existent. This has wrenched the control of music out of the hands of Massive Corporations, who have discovered that they cannot legislate morality on the internet.

While I tend to think that stealing music is bad mojo, I am very much a fan of the response of many musicians to this challenge to their livelihood: they have posted their music online and have given the consumer the right to choose what they wish to pay for IT. This is, of course, ridiculous and un-American. It is also profoundly delightful and, for many of these artists, has actually worked.  Apparently there are a lot of people out there who resent being treated like a cog in the consumer machine, but don't mind dishing out money to directly support musicians they like. Although there are no doubt many freeloaders, the practically negligible distribution costs of the internet allow many artists to actually make as much or more money than before.

So do me a favor: go to this website. Listen to the music. Click on the other album they have on bandcamp and listen to it, too. It's sort of a "Damien Rice meets Bob Dylan meets Sufjan Stevens" thing.

If you like it, listen to it it again. If you still like it, then BUY IT. Honor the trust they have given you and help real, live musicians continue to make real, live music.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

cut your face off

Americans throw away around two billion razors a year. Are you an American? Did you throw away a razor this year?

If you answered yes to both those questions, then I am sorry to say that you are being a stupid-head. Go out right now, buy yourself a straight-edged razor, and start practicing. Razor cuts are sexy.

If, however, you have an aversion to staining the necklines of your nice white shirts with your own blood, then I suggest you go online and get yourself a razor sharpener.

Or, if you don't feel like buying yet another plastic object destined for a landfill or the Pacific Ocean, then every time you shave, whet your arm and run the razor backwards with the grain of your hair about twenty times. My hippie-ish friend JJ told me about it. I was incredulous, too, but I've been doing it and my blade's gotten sharper.

If, however, you think that my rate of razor usage is one-disposable-razor-every-two-years too many, then chuck the razor completely and go au natural, like God made you. Don't you know that messing with God's design is an abomination? Let it grow, baby. Let it grow.

 I'd join you, but my facial hair is stubbornly hap-hazard and apparently high school teachers aren't allowed to look like their patchwork-faced students. Dang.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Petering Hope

A year ago I went to camp in the mountains with the students and faculty of my school. When I came back, my wife was gone. This was not a surprise, but it was a shock... a shock to walk in the door and deflate onto a hard, weathered wooden chair by the dining room table in the now-cavernous emptiness of our house - of my house.

It has been the worst of years; and it has been the best. Forced by another's choice to face my ugly brokenness, I was able to find some measure of freedom - to learn the love of self that would allow me to forget myself enough to notice and love other people. In this year of paradoxes I have rejoiced in the awesome loveability of others. I have seen the human beauty that has always surrounded me and have loved in new friends the wonder of their uniquely-reflecting facets of the Divine.

This year has been a good one. I have smiled and laughed more than I have cried and cursed the sky, but I have to admit that in the past few weeks the grey tide has risen and springs of hope I thought to be eternal have dissipated indistinguishably into the unrelenting, dismal sea. The lonely passage of my birthday and anniversary have reminded me of what would no longer be, and despite my belief that "love wins," at times I have felt myself to be endlessly sinking into a bottomless funk. 

It was a bit easier three days ago, therefore, to retreat again to the mountains. This time there was no new emptiness to return to - only anticipation of the dull thud of the ax-blow as her legally-mandated year-of-waiting came to an end. Disjointed confusion was replaced by a hollowed acceptance as I prepared myself to recieve the papers I had always thought were impossible. 

It was in that frame of mind that I entered the meeting hall of the retreat center on the second night of our stay to hear a concert by Andrew Peterson of Nashville, Tennessee. I have to admit that I was none too optimistic - as an artist there is very little explicitly "Christian" music that I do not find offensive for its saccharine dishonesty and poor craftsmanship, and I did not relish the thought of spending an hour and a half in a packed hall feeling sorry for the guy as hundreds of teenagers (who generally have better tastes than their elders) grew more and more restless and distracted.

I need not have worried. 

Andrew is a masterful storyteller, a consummate performer, and a gifted artist. He held those kids in his thrall with anecdotes, humor, and musical wisdom. At the end they were begging for more and I... I just sat there, crying. I did not know for sure why that was, but perhaps it was because what he was singing about more than anything else was hope (more, even, than the evil mind-control conspiracy that is Peruvian-Mexican cheese dip). He told story after story of hope in a way that did not attempt to gloss over the often excruciating impossibility of it. He sang of brokenness, weakness and despair. He admitted failure. And as I sat there crying, wondering where my grace was and why the love-against-odds of his stories seemed so absent in my life, I remembered that I was surrounded by colleagues and students who had loved me through this most ugliest of years.

Between two of his songs, Peterson began talking about the Lord of the Rings and the determination of the impossibly outmatched Hobbits. He related how in one of his darkest moments, Samwise Gamgee looked up through a break in the dark clouds and drew hope from the untouchable beauty of a distant star. Peterson went on to add that despair is not just wrong - it is a mistake - because it presupposes that I, the sufferer, know the end of the story... that I somehow know for sure that there is no chance whatsoever for things to be made well.  

My sorrow did not evaporate. My life was not fixed. But hope, for a while forgotten, peeked once again through a gap in the darkness and loaned me the courage to go on.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

in which I introduce a new level of self-reflexivity (obsession?)

Well, yes... since you asked: I did in fact write another little bit for GOOD. You may look at it here. Or here. Or even here. N-choi.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

the dialectics of home-wrecking

I sabotaged a friendship once, trying to save it.

One balmy summer night when I was in University I caught a ride over to a girl named Annie's* house with my friend Chris the Rock Star, and partway there he turned to me and said, "Josh, I have something to tell you before..." but before he could finish I cut in,

"Oh, that you have a mad crush on Annie and are thinking of hooking up with her when y'all are over in Lithuania?"

To which he, of course, said... "What the f...?!?"

because nobody really expects you to be able to read their mind. The fact is, though, that human minds always bend in a few very common directions, and if you pay attention and get to know a person, you can generally tell in which direction they seem to be leaning.  I consider myself to be something of a student of human behavior and Chris was one of my very bestest human friends, so reading his intonation and body language wasn't all that hard.

"Yeah. I'm just super smart." I said.

"So... what do you think?"

And that's where I got stupid. Because even though I said I was smart and made a pretty concerted effort to convince people that I had it all together, the truth was that Chris was one of my only friends, and I was dead-scared to lose him. Annie had been a mutual acquaintance and fun enough to hang out with. I liked her, even; but her dukes-up attitude intimidated me and she wasn't at all the sort of person I would have designed for Chris to be with. The Josh-Barkey-Designed-For-Chris-Type-Girl was sort of a hippie: quiet and ethereally beautiful, with wavy, wispy blonde hair. She wrote poetry while sitting in meadows, valued her alone time, and went dumpster-diving just for kicks and giggles. Annie was not that girl. In fact, she was sort of the opposite of that girl and if you really got down to brass tacks, the truth is that I was a lot more like that girl than Annie.

It made sense to me, though, because Chris was my friend. I had him first and I was not about to just let him go for some girl. So I pretended to know better. I told Chris that Annie really did not seem like his type, and when they came back from their semester of study in Lithuania as a newly minted couple, I conveyed my displeasure in a thousand subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

Chris's heart, of course, did not care about my bizarre sense of friend-entitlement, so all I ended up doing was edging Chris a little further away and Annie a lot further away: it really hurts when one of the best friends of the man you love tries to convince him that you're bad news.

As it turned out, however, it was I who was bad news. In some strange way I could not understand, Annie was  great for Chris. She was very different than him, but those differences forced him to change in what I can now see were positive ways. Because of her influence, for example, irresponsible, undependable Chris started to pause before making promises he was unlikely to keep. I began to be able to count on him for the follow-through, and it strengthened our own relationship. The path to healing was long and hard, though, and the stitching barely complete by the day, two years ago, that I emigrated from Canada for the last time. There were tears in Chris' eyes as he slipped me a CD of his un-released music (a serious demonstration of trust and love for a professional musician) and Annie's hug, too, bore an unmistakable and genuine sadness.

Now, I know that although there is little in my actions that is particularly surprising or altogether uncommon, I never cease to be amazed at the capability I have for not only making irrational life choices, but for repeating them ad nauseum.

Last night Austin the Actor/Director (one of my closest, dearest friends in this area) began a relationship with a girl named Timbits** - whom I, also, have been thinking is pretty incredible. She wears clothes she finds in trash cans, cuts her own hair, doesn't wear make-up, thinks holistic food is important, owns no car, draws better than I do, is smart and funny, and (as a bonus) is good-looking enough to turn a lot of guys into gibbering... well, gibbons.

Now, this is not exactly a problem. I am after all still legally married for, say, another month, and Austin (who also plays the role of my mom) has informed me that I have to wait a minimum of a year before I can even think about a relationship with a woman, so "kings to him" and no hard feelings. Except...

...except when Austin and I first started hanging out about a year ago when my marriage was going down the pooper fast, we discovered that despite our very different life paths we were sort of kindred spirits, and were consequently bound to be attracted to the exact same sort of girl - a very, very rare sort of girl who was pretty much exactly like, say, this girl Timbits. We concluded that we would tear each other to pieces over this sort of girl and it would inevitably be the end of our friendship.  The best thing to do if we met such a girl, we figured, was to sit her down, tell her we were going to be competing for her affections, and ask her to outline a series of labors we'd have to complete - with spoils going to the victor.

It was a joke, of course, and doesn't really much matter because I'm still married and Austin is a glamorous actor/director with a rapier wit and a winning smile made of better teeth than mine. Nonetheless, it did make me pause. And by pause, I mean, "get sort of depressed." I mean, what the farfignoogan is so wrong with me, right!?! How come the ladies... and I'm not exactly the Hunchback of... and, well, you get the picture.

So tonight, Austin came over for my birthday gathering and as we hung out I got more and more depressed as he and Timbits texted each other back and forth every fifteen seconds and then it hit me... I thought:

"DANGit! I'm doing it all over again! The situation is different, but once again I am figuring I am going to lose a good friend to a girl. Instead of facing that fear, I am allowing my emotions to pile up, deflecting them into a bucket of sour-grapesology and creating the very sort of negative vibe that always leads prophecies to fulfill themselves."

So what do I do now? If I am going to continue to be friends with Austin, I am going to have to be friends with Timbits as well, and as much as I believe I need to learn to be friends with women, a big part of me is really used to thinking it isn't possible - not when they are the sort of women that Austin and I have agreed we would one day kill each other over.

I am, as they say, at a loss; so I do what I always do these days and try to regain my composure by sitting down and banging out a few thousand regenerative words. I take what's inside and vomit it out onto the internet (along with the personal lives of my friends and family) in the hopes that this indecent exposure will somehow set me free.

The truth is, I feel better. I do. Knowing that Austin's going to be pissed at me if/when he reads this and that Timbits - who barely knows me - is going to be massively awkward the next time we hang out, I do feel much, much better. There is nothing more effective for dissipating bad vibrations than to spin them off onto other people. Color me amused.

Besides, Austin and Timbits will make a marvelous couple. They will. I mean, just watch them texting... it's beautiful.***


*Yeah, I made that name up. I'm just like that.
**That one, too. Like, no duh.

***I know that was low. I'm venting. I love you both, Austimbits.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

paying your philoso-fees

School bells are once again ringing (or buzzing) in their belfries, so this week I found myself back at work, sitting through another Continuing Education Unit. Generally it is the uncomfortable chairs that keep me alert, but this time I found the speaker quite engaging, challenging, and somewhat philosophical.

At one point, he raised this ethical question, "A man is driving along in a two-seater car and he sees three people stranded by the side of the road: an old lady who is dying, a friend who had once saved his life, and the woman of his dreams - his absolute soul mate. He can only pick up one of them and the hospital is too far away to go and come back."

The speaker then asked what the man should do. For several seconds, the room was dead silent. He looked around the room and asked again, "does anyone know how to solve this man's conundrum?"

And I, being stupid, raised my hand.

"Josh knows," one of my co-workers yelped.

The speaker turned to me and nodded, so I said:

"I tend to feel that these sorts of ethical questions are pretty much all false dilemmas. They are really just word games thrown out there to make us feel as though we are being forced to choose between a number of evils: letting a woman die, neglecting a moral debt, or ignoring an important relationship. The truth, though, is that it's all hypothetical. There is no way the man could actually know that the woman was his soul mate just by looking at her. Neither could he know if taking the old lady or the man to whom he owed his life would actually be doing either of them any good. He could pick them up, drive fifty feet down the road and get hit by a rolling boulder - with his decision essentially killing the person he was trying to help. I know that it's supposed to raise questions about moral intent, but it seems to me that you can't separate questions of intent from questions of causality, and that ethical dilemmas always presuppose perfect knowledge of an inevitable causality - which is, of course, ludicrous."

 (Or at least, that's how I would have said it, if I had been a lotta bit more eloquent; but you get the gist).

The speaker chuckled and said, "Looks like we've got a real philosopher on our hands," and all my co-workers laughed and grunted their agreement.

"Well, there is a solution," the speaker said, after a moment's pause. "The man handed the keys of his car over to the guy who'd saved his life so he could drive the old lady to the hospital, then he stayed there by the road and started a relationship with the woman of his dreams."


I guess it goes to show ya that philosophy, while an interesting way to pass time, is just another type of word game. Either that, or that the sages are right and "it is better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."

a little more behind-the-scenes

'Unemployment' Slo Mo Set from Enid Valu on Vimeo.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

couch surfing

There are some things you never notice about yourself unless there's an outsider around to point them out. For example, I was at my brother's house last year and his wife happened to walk by the bathroom and burst out laughing when she saw me brushing my teeth. She said, "ha, hah! You and Jo-Ben both do that."

And I said, "whu... what?"

And then she said, "you both rinse the toothbrush, suck the last bit of water off it, spit it in the sink, and then put the toothbrush away."

At first, of course, I thought she was crazy. I mean, everybody does that, right? But then I started noticing that they didn't do that, and that my brother and I do, in fact, share a bizarre little peccadillo.

My point is that if you really want to know how weird you are, invite a stranger into your life... or even, a lot of strangers. All of them, in fact. That's what I did this past year when I signed up for couchsurfing, which is an awesome little social networking site that does just what it sounds like by allowing you to stick it to The Man (you know, the one who owns all those ridiculously-priced hotels) by opening your home and your couch to total strangers.

Don't get me wrong, it isn't as intimidating as it sounds. There are a variety of safeguards to make sure you are not going to wake up in the middle of the night missing your eyeballs or your cat or your favorite pair of underpants - but once those safeguards are out of the way, you are free to have a wild and ka-razy time with whatever random travelers happen to pop in.

Last weekend, I hosted my first couchsurfing guest. His name is Anders, he's a Swede from Switzerland, and by some freak shift in the molecular structure of the universe, I happened to get lucky and actually beat him in a game of chess. Over the two-and-a-half days he stayed with me, we had a great time doing a variety of North Carolina things and Anders - who was driving down the East Coast from New York to New Orleans to see, as he put it, "a non-Hollywood America" - drove away satisfied.

We went to a Peruvian restaurant, played Tennis, walked around the metropolis of Waxhaw, shared recipes and meals, and (irony of ironies) managed to get Anders a role as an extra in my friend Austin the Actor's latest short film. That's us, pictured below with the Assistant Director and one of the Production Assistants. Anders and I are the guys in the striped ties. Nifty, eh?

The best part, though, was sharing great talks on just about everything we could think of - from home ownership, to abortion, to swiss cheese. It was super-illuminating to hear one Swedish-Swiss guy's perspective on the world and my life, so I thought I would make sure I got on here to tell you to get up off your own couch and go make it available on couchsurfing.com.

That's right... right. this. minute.

Monday, August 2, 2010

hard things that suck

In a recent interview People magazine asked Tom Cruise what the least favorite part of his workout was and he replied "All of it. It's brutal. I feel good when done, but not during. "

Ignore for the moment the fact that I am quoting Tom Frickin' Cruise (and in People magazine, nonetheless), and I think we can all agree that there might be something to what Mr. Chisel-Nose is saying. 

See, I read that little tidbit because People magazine was just about the only reading material available on the set of a film I was working on today. Around mid-afternoon, I decided to drive home and when I got there, it was just about time for my own workout - which I, too, hate. As I sat there in my art room, pumping iron and getting... not huge, but a little less skinny... I thought to myself, "you know what? I really, really hate this. If it wasn't for those ten, rippling pounds I committed myself to trying to gain, I would not be doing this right now." 

So I thought about hard things that suck. I thought about some of those hard, sucky things - things like working out - that I do because I have a goal - a goal that will not be realized unless I work to make it a reality. 

I thought as well about how there are also hard things that suck and don't get me to a goal - things like trying not to break down crying when I am talking to my son over the phone because it makes me start thinking about how I cannot give him the stable, unbroken home of my dreams. Now that sucks, and I have no pithy answers. All I know is that when I read earlier today about Tom Cruise hating his workout, I thought, "yer dang skippy, Tom-Tom. And if you - who spend your whole life trying to look pretty - hate doing it... well, maybe it's okay if I struggle, too." 

No pithy answers. Not today. Today, there is nothing but hope... hope, and the belief that by sharing my broken heart, you, too, will find a little more strength for another hard, sucky thing.