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August 2001

Unexpected Nostalgia Overload

What with all the hubbub about Ghost World, Tom and I were talking about these postcards we got from Dan Clowes back when we were winsome young lads of 17.

I knew that I still had the card tucked away in my magic box of all the personal mail I’ve received over the last 18 years or so (Yes, I’m that big a pack rat), so I went digging for it, and found myself in the middle of an emotional minefield for which I was totally unprepared. This has been a pretty rough year for me so far, and dredging up so much past at once was just a bad, bad idea. Sifting through all those old cards and notes and letters and care packages, my nostalgia quickly gave way to regret, sadness, and embarrassment. (Thank goodness for those little touches of irony, such as a letter from my old girlfriend in which she refers to our first confession of love as "our little coming out.")

Seriously, though, it was awful. Try as I might to just skim through until I found this stupid postcard, I still found myself glancing through the physical evidence of almost two decades' worth of maudlin affirmations of devotion from friends I no longer see, notes from girls I had misguided crushes on, old boyfriends' love letters that have lost their meaning, and the paper trails of melodramatic misunderstandings.

Sure there were people with whom I had those overwrought adolescent friendships that seem so perfect but fade away at the start of the next semester, but there have also been all these wonderful, wonderful people who I loved dearly but lost all contact with because of simple laziness. What a dick I feel like, knowing that I’ve deprived myself of people who once made life seem so worthwhile. These last few months, I’ve tried to remember how easy it can be to take people for granted, and keep it from happening. I’m really sad that it's a lesson I didn't learn earlier.

I suppose there's something to be said for just moving on, but just in case any of these folks ever stumble across this site or search for their own names, I just wanted to say to Patrick McBride, John Barkman, Eugenie Seifer, Danielle Mickey, Christoph Schuller, and Eileen Dunn that I’m sorry for being such a boob, and it would be lovely to get back in touch.

Also, it was interesting to notice that I haven't necessarily changed as much over the years as I always think. Mostly, in good ways, thankfully. As much as I’ve grown and matured and all that junk, I can look at letters from 15 years ago and see that my friends pretty much appreciated the same things about me as they do now. A lot of the same little things make me happy, and a lot of the same things I do seem to communicate my affection to my chums. So I guess I haven't always been a complete jackass to everyone in my life.

OK, time to go to bed and forget all about the Box of Old Horrors.

Christina!

After each of us gave up on watching some horrible, melodramatic bit of homo dreck, my roommate and I were watching the trailers on the DVD for other movies, and liked the looks of this one called Broadway Damage, a screwball comedy sort of deal about some guy and his requisite overweight, sassy fag hag. The woman looked pretty familiar, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Upping the homo quotient of my weekend, I was watching Mommie Dearest later that day, and was marvelling at th scene-chewing abilities of young Christina, played by Mara Hobel. Well, after a quick peek at the IMDB, guess who grew up, put on weight, and played the comical fag hag in Braodway Damage? Yes! Ah, the poetic fate of it all.

How come my heart keeps breaking?

This is just another example of why I like P.J. so much and think he's so damn talented. I don't think I could add much more to a wonderful thought like this

"If being gay is only about fucking, how come my heart keeps breaking?" is a direct response to the statement "being gay is just about sex." For too many people being gay is all about butt-fucking and sin. They never see the sweet, affectionate kiss. They never see the broken heart when something doesn't work out. It's like any other kind of love: beautiful and wonderful parts sometimes mixed with horror and loss.

Autocontent

Why do I feel like we're all filling out someone's slam book? Oh wait, because we're basically doing the fin de siècle version of that. We really are just 14-year-old girls at heart:

I have: work that I should be doing
I see: clearly now, the rain is gone
I need: to be out of debt
I find: lint in my bellybutton
I want: A room with a view, or at least a cellular signal
I have: more good friends than I have time to enjoy
I wish: that thing never happened (more realistically, though: treats)
I love: all of you, each and every one
I hate: only two people, because they hurt people who deserved better
I miss: solvency
I fear: more now than ever
I feel: lonelier than I care to admit
I hear: the hum of a tiny fan, the low rumble of the HVAC
I smell: I’m rubber and you're glue...
I crave: a grilled cheese and bacon
I search: for a fella who'll keep me on my toes, but in a good way
I wonder: Do you hear me when you sleep?
I regret: Oh, if you only knew... When was the last time you...
Smiled: This morning, but that’s easy
Laughed: Last night, a lot
Cried: Last month, but I choked it back
Bought something: 3 hours ago
Danced: Why, just last night, a little. A few weeks ago, in earnest
Were sarcastic: When do I stop?
Kissed someone: Wednesday night
Talked to an ex: Sunday before last
Watched your favorite movie: Yeah, like I could narrow down to a favorite
Had a nightmare: Can't remember
Last book you read: Open Secret : Gay Hollywood, 1928-2000, David Ehrenstein
Last movie you saw: 101 Reykjavik
Last song you heard: "Ain't Nobody's Business But My Own," Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan
Last thing you had to drink: Snapple, the sugary monkey on my back
Last time you showered: 4 hours ago
Last thing you ate: Boston creme doughnut
Smoke: Nope
Do drugs: Not even once
Have sex: Now and then, at irregular intervals
Sleep with stuffed animals: Nope
Live in the moment: At least a couple of times a day
Had a dream that keeps coming back: Not for a few years. Too bad, because I miss the flying.
Play an instrument: Only in a metaphorical sense
Believe there is life on other planets: Oh yeah
Remember your first love: Sure do
Still love him/her: I love her more then ever
Read the newspaper: On a Palm Pilot
Have any gay or lesbian friends: Er, you do read this site, right?
Believe in miracles: I believe I'll never be able to explain everything that happens, and I like that
Believe it's possible to remain faithful forever: I suppose that depends on how you define "faithful"
Consider yourself tolerant of others: Much more than I ought to be
Consider love a mistake: Egads, no! Specific instances, maybe.
Like the taste of alcohol: Blech!
Have a favorite candy: Reese's peanut butter cups, really good marzipan
Believe in astrology: No, despite being a textbook example of Virgo
Believe in God: Shyeah, right
Believe in magic: I kinda wish I did
Pray: Only facetiously
Go to church: I try to avoid it
Have any pets: Just the spiders and the mosquitoes
Talk to strangers who IM you: Not if I can't identify them
Wear hats: Only under duress
Have any piercings: Not any more
Have any tattoos: Three, with more planned
Hate yourself: Not like I used to
Have an obsession: that’s a strong word, don't you think?
Have a secret crush: I have a backlog of them
Collect anything: Woodtype, old signs, foreign coins, art books, self-esteem problems
Have a best friend: An embarrassment of riches in that category
Wish on stars: A little corny, don't you think?
Like your handwriting: Despite what you see, no
Have any bad habits: Shall we start with the "A" section?
Care about looks: See "self-esteem problems," above
Believe in witches: Not as much as they believe in themselves
Believe in Satan: Oh, please
Believe in ghosts: I just chalk that up to unexplained phenomena

Play along, kids! Drop me links to your answers in the comments section.

Radiohead Wrap-Up

Well, those kids sure do love their Radiohead. Overall I might have thought it was an incredible show since they did put on an amazing performance, but I have to admit that I was a little out of it. For one thing, I’m not a huge Radiohead fan. I mean, I should be: they're incrdibly good at what they do, and they do everything that I generally like, but I try and try and try and I just kinda like them — I can't love them. I’m a bad hipster. I think I want them to have more of a sense of humor. They could have really sucked me in last night, though, because the performance was truly incredible. The thing is, we were so far away and we were outside on this nice little island/peninsula (we arrived by ferry so I don't know which) in the harbor, and the video work (which was about all I could see) was so extraordinarily good, that it mostly felt like we were watching an MTV tour special. In a small venue, where I would have felt some connection to what was onstage, they probably would have won me over once and for all. I tried to call Jessie a couple of times, figuring he and Chris might enjoy a little bit of the show via cell phone, but I couldn't hear well enough to tell if anyone was picking up.

It was a great night, though, all things considered. In all his hubbub about moving to Italy, Mark had forgotten that he had tickets for the show, and he called me a few hours before to see if I wanted one. Being the spontaneous fellow that I am, I took one and met up with Mark, Alex, and Huey at the World Trade Center, where we hopped on a ferry full of hipsters to shoot across the harbor to Liberty State Park in the great state of New Jersey. It was a gorgeous afternoon to be out on the water, especially since we scored a good position out on the back of the deck.

The park itself was a magnificent place for a show — a big patch of grass with the New York skyline and the Ass of Liberty as the backdrop for the stage. The weather was perfect, the crowd was very (very, very) pretty — the straight boys and I all had plenty to look at — and we were all in a jolly mood, enjoying Mark's last American rock concert for the forseeable future. The Beta Band were pretty decent (again, a smaller show would have been great), but turntable whiz Kid Koala really mixed up with some unbelievable work on the decks. At one point, he actually took an anemic old 40s tune and whipped it into some jazzy swing just by scratching and playing with the pitch control. In between acts, they played a lot of 30s and 40s jazz — the Inkspots block right before Radiohead went on was pretty much the perfect touch for a night out by the water. We could have somehow forced our way a couple of hundred feet closer to the stage, but it would have been a damn shame to give up the great vibe of lounging on the grass, just to get packed in with thousands of people trying to get a better glimpse of the figures below the lightshow.

And in case you ever get a chance to do it, make sure you take a nighttime ferry ride across New York harbor some day. It's magic. When you're caught up in the city, you often forget how stirring itis to see it from a distance. It was a nice way to wrap up my last night with Mark before he leaves the city for new adventures abroad.

Art Chantry Saved My Life

As I mentioned, I got a piece of unsolicited e-mail yesterday from my idol, a Seattle-based designer named Art Chantry. He was doing a Google seach and ran across this old journal entry of mine where I mention that he saved my life. Curious, he dropped me a quick note to ask what in hell I was talking about.

Well, back when I was a senior studying design in college, I found myself swiftly losing my winsome zeal for my chosen profession. My work was adequate, in that I was doing what was required of me with a certain amount of technical proficiency, but I was disillusioned and my enthusiasm was pretty much gone. I was spending all my time at a computer, pushing stuff around on a tiny black-and-white screen, trying to finish assignments but not having much fun with them. I couldn't remember what had once seemed so enticing about design, because it just felt like I was at the start of a lifelong career path of churning out monotony. After three-and-a-bit years of art school, for which I’d waited most of my life, I was getting the sinking feeling that I’d made a bit of poor choice in focusing on graphic design.

I was plucky, though, so I still kept reading about design and keeping myself involved in the field, hoping I was just in a rut. I tried to get the most out of my student membership in the AIGA by going to see a lot of talks by famous-ish designers. One time, I went to go see this guy Art Chantry speak. I hadn't heard of him, nor had anyone else at school, but we saw a couple of examples of his stuff and it looked fun, so off we went. WOW! His stuff just blew my ass away. And not only was his work good, but I also loved his attitude and his approach to design. He did stuff that was raw, and funny, and sensitive to details, and — this was the kicker — expressive. Yes, he was doing work for clients, but he found ways of putting his own energy into the stuff he produced. He often did a lot of work for chicken scratch, because he believed in what the clients were doing and because they gave him the freedom to take some chances and be playful. (I use the past tense, but I assume this is still the case.) Suddenly, I saw a version of graphic design that wasn't just slick and clever commercial art. This stuff was everything that I ever loved about comics and punk and zines and B movies that ever made me want to make stuff of my own.

It wasn't just the final products that struck a chord, but also the way Art spoke about how he came up with stuff. He hadn't become enslaved to a Mac, and has never really made use of a computer part of his work at all. He made stuff with his hands, pushed around typeset galleys, and experimented with what could be done on or off press. He played with the materials at hand, and tried some things just to see if it could be done. A cruddy budget could be an opportunity to see how interesting a picture could be made with photocopies and white-out. If a retro-style wood-type poster was needed, why not just have an authentic old poster shop set the type? If a burnt edge was needed for the design, why worry about creating an illusion when it's simpler to singe the stack of press sheets? This is what real "thinking outside the box" was about before that became such a terrible cliché. And behind all this was a sharp wit, a really solid sense of typographic texture and form, and an understanding of craftsmanship needed by the designer, the printer, the typesetter, and anyone involved. It was so damn refreshing. It was exhilirating to see that there really could be a place in design for all the other things I loved and was learning: drawing, printmaking, photography, painting, whatever. It made me realize that design could be what I made of it. It could be personal and expressive and still work for someone else. It could be tactile and physical and textural, not just a flat abstraction or a printout.

I raced home that night with my head overflowing with ideas and inspiration. Nothing specific, but just these flashes of other ways to try things I’d been doing all along. I took out a couple of huge pieces of paper and feverishly scrawled all the ways I could think of to make images or to set type or make marks on paper or deal with paper's third dimension. It sounds corny, yeah, but that single brainstorming session opened the floodgates for me. I wound up redoing all the projects I’d worked on that semester, starting most of them over from scratch and doing about a million times better. I got the same grades I would have otherwise, probably, but that wasn't the point. I realized how to do work that I was excited about, that I was proud of.

With a few lapses in conviction over the years, those lessons have stayed with me, really playing a huge part in making me the designer — the artist, if you can generalize like that — that I am today. This is not to say that I do work that looks like Art Chantry's. Far from it. I’ve worked out a lot of my own visual and conceptual and philosophical ideas over the years, and seem to have arrived at an approach that is certainly my own, little seen as it may be these days. (I might also point out that this is the same approach that led me to give up on working as a designer for the time being, freeing me to think of design as my medium of choice for personal work, not just a job I happen to like.) No, I learned how to incorporate play and handicraft and integrity into my work. I learned that slick or flashy is not always good, and that new solutions can come from old tricks, as long as you maintain a fresh perspective. I know, that’s a lot of ethereal-sounding hoo-hah, but it's true. Damnit!

Thanks, Art. You rock.

The Idol Speaks!

I just received an unsolicited e-mail from my idol. I’m stunned.

Art Chantry poster I designed in grad school

An Angel with Big Ears

For the last couple of years, FringeNYC has bombarded the city with a bunch of really tiny, offbeat, often really great, theatrical productions during its dense summer schedule. Unfortunately, not all the ideas in all those plays are so original. While reading about the festival in the New York Times this morning, I was struck by this paragraph:

He [Jeff Hylton] thought up the idea for "Elephant Man: The Musical" while still in high school, in Oak Ridge, Tenn. It took him more than a decade to bring the concept to New York audiences. Still, he is hoping the conceit of his four-character, 80-minute spoof — complete with 16 songs — will seem timeless. "It follows the story of John Merrick if his dream had been to be a song-and-dance man on Broadway," he explained.

The Tall GuyAm I the only fan of quirky British comedies to notice that this is pretty much exactly the same idea used in The Tall Guy, the wildly funny 1989 movie in which Jeff Goldblum plays an actor who gets a part playing John Merrick in a big musical adaptation called "Elephant"? C'mon, maybe this didn't play in Tennessee movie theaters 12 years ago, but don't you think someone would have mentioned it to this guy during the interim? Somehow, I don't think Hylton is doing a multiple-fake — spoofing the spoof of a play of the movie of the book — just hoping no one draws too much attention to the unfortunate coincidence of his avant garde little idea already being produced "more than a decade" ago.

Butt Shot

While I’m on the subject of booty calls, I figured it was about time I scanned in my contribution to the butt meme. A cop-out, maybe, but at least it's consistent with the site design, right?

Oh looky, a drawing a Sparky's ass

Scorecard

A quick review:

Total bloggers met in person: 41 (as far as I know)
During previous two weeks: 18

It's a festival! This weekend has seen yet another lightning round of Blogmeets, with guest appearances by Bill, Ron, and more of the NYC Crüe than you could shake a stick at.

Once again I ran around a bunch with the gents, spend the GNP of a small nation, laughed a bunch, and witnessed a few gorgeous full moons over East Williamsburg as I trudged home in the wee hours.

I even took a cultural interlude yesterday afternoon and went to the Brooklyn Museum for the first time. True to form of the last couple of weeks, I unexpectedly ran into friends (the sort of thing which is making the entire city shrink around me). We went to see an exhibit of art based on the whole culture of Japanese anime. There was some great work, but after playing around in P.S. 1's tactile, immersive show of similar stuff, it was disappointing to view it al in a more traditional, precious musum setting. However, we also wandered into a huge exhibit of printmaking using digital tools, that turned out to be absolutely fantastic. Unlike the Whitney's similar, shittier show from the spring, this stuff was really about good work that happened to make interesting uses of digital tools as part of the process, not work about the cool novelty of being (altogether now; "ooooh, aaaa..">made with compuuuuters. It was swell to walk out of the place with that satisfaction you can sometimes get when you stumble across great art where you weren't expecting it — a sort of optimism about there not everything has been done already int he art world, and there's still exciting stuff going on somewhere.

Damn Dirty Apes

So where should I begin talking about how much the new Planet of the Apes sucks? I mean,there's plenty of material to work with here. After all, it was a phenomenal disappointment, even for someone like me who went in with extremely low expactations.

To be fair, I'll start with the good stuff. The movie does look spectacular. The Artist Formerly Known as Marky Mark is still pretty hot, and he starts out the movie in a fantastic white leather spaceman uniform that I totally dig. (This, of course, becomes inexplicably tattered the very second after he crashes on the mystery planet.) The spaceship stuff all looks cool, the ape city looks cool (although I still prefer the pampas-and-adobe habitat of the original), and the modern ape make-up is really magnificent. It was a nice touch to have so much more variety in the kinds of apes and the faces of each.

Also, Charlton Heston's cameo is pretty damn funny, even if it is totally gratuitous. Charlton may not have realized, but I think Tim Burton is smart enough to have planned to humor value of Charlton's harangue about humans and their accursed guns. The other piece of dialogue homage to the original is just silly, however. The acting overall is fine, in fact, it's just that the script is so...so...terrible.

You see, the first movie wasn't such a spectacle, but it worked. It had a low budget, so it had to concentrate on telling the story instead. It was a bit of a goofy idea to begin with, so they worked with the rather obvious sociological metaphor, and let Charlton chew up some scenery a few times to carry it along. Overall, though, it works as a good, solid fantasy story. Rod Serling and everyone else who worked on the original script had the sense to steer clear of too much sci-fi nonsense talk and just concentrate on the social dynamics at play.

Oh no, not this time. Since this version looks so much more sophisticated, you're tempted to hold it up to a bit of a higher standard, story-wise. That would be mistake number 1. This was more looney-tunes than any of the worst episodes plucked from the entire Star Trek franchise. Just a few minutes into the movie, I just kept silently repeating to myself, "Don't ask why...Don't think about it...It's not supposed to make any sense." It was hard, though, when so many preposterous things keep happening. (Keep in mind that I am a long-time fan of science fiction. It's not the stuff like the talking apes or teeny space ships that I have trouble with. It's the inconsistencies in the world shown, and the stuff that’s just outright dumb-ass.) From the first moment it occurred to me that a simple robotic control would make more sense as a test pilot than a monkey who can't remember what buttons to push, I fought to ignore ridiculous plot contrivances. By the time all the dei ex machina culminate in the worst, silliest ending I have ever seen in a major motion picture, I just wanted to drive spikes into my eyes.

Rent it. Don't shell out ten bucks plus popcorn money for it. You'll be sorry.

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