Secret Pop

Apr 29, 2013

From Apotheosis to Apostasy

There's something about belief that isn't quite properly summed up for me in the actual word. I have believed a great many things. I have believed in a great many things. I have believed in a great many people. I have believed those people. And I have had my beliefs betray me.

Pain and disappointment do leave scar tissue. They leave behind a tougher substrate that is less penetrable, less flexible. I catch myself wanting to undo or not acknowledge these things. I want to pretend that I'm still a wide-eyed child without all of those cautionary impulses overriding my more naïve instincts. I vacillate on which of these is my better self.

My work life has begun to present certain repetitions. I'm at a rehearsal right now that makes me feel as if I'm sitting in the theater of the Guggenheim two months ago. It's the same voices and the same work. I was looking forward to different things back then. I was operating under different rules. Snow has been replaced with jacket weather. But today, the feel of it approximates the other.

I wish it wasn't necessary to feel badly about having believed. But being wrong is so distasteful, I have to think of it as my having been right about how wrong I was.

Something gets lost in the translation from pure truth to the code language of my online self-expression. Everything I'm saying is obscured by everything I'm not saying.

In a vast field of order, anomalies are the only thing you see.

Apr 23, 2013

"Waiter, three whiskeys."

The very first night I slept in my house, I had been moving all day, and I was thrilled to be able to take my first shower, and before actually climbing into bed, I went downstairs in search of a pair of slippers, because the floors were kind of gritty from the move. But before I could make my way to my slippers, I found that the downstairs shower had overflowed and the bathroom, the hallway, and two of the bedrooms had an inch of water on the floor. Well, that was an adventurous first night.

I've spent the past few days in an especially gorgeous San Francisco. Anxious to get back home, realizing that I was only able to half deal with the second downstairs flood I discovered in my house just before I left. I'd left area rugs drying outside. Perhaps someone stole them. Perhaps a family of raccoons spent the weekend shitting on them. Perhaps perhaps perhaps.

There's something familiar about this brand of uncertainty. A return to a once nearly constant state of not knowing what new frustration was going to reveal itself, what new discovery was going to emerge to ruin my day. So recently I've been walking around with a kind of blinders on. If I'm going to be destroyed, I'd rather not see it coming.

But I'm home now. And the rugs are still here. And my DVR successfully captured the shows I couldn't watch while I was away. So whatever other disasters may befall me, for tonight, I'm just fine. Wanting things to be fair and lovely is just the curse I was born to.

"One whiskey. One wine. You are with the tourists."

Apr 15, 2013

The secret to running is to just keep going

These are not new realizations. I've been learning the same lessons over and over for as long as I can remember, sad as that sounds. But these days, it feels more like a veneer. I'm not feeling the actual pain of remembering when I heard that song playing, while I was trying to get it together in the bathroom of a speakeasy and all I could feel was dread and hurt and anger and sorrow. I'm not feeling that pain. I'm just remembering feeling that pain because that song is now playing on a commercial. I remember how provocative that song was, but I no longer feel the actual provocation.

I woke up on a Monday morning a few weeks ago -- it was the day after St. Patrick's Day, if you must know -- and I told my little sister that it was as if a weight had been lifted. I was suddenly -- at last -- convinced that things were going to be better. And I felt good that day. And things were better. For a little while. But then they got unpleasant again. And it felt as if everything had melted down to a murky liquid that was draining away, and my hope that things might not be unbearable circled the drain with it.

I woke up today -- a Monday -- and it was like it was that other Monday. Like a weight had been lifted. Like I was waking up for the first time in the absence of crippling dread. I could suddenly appreciate the gloomy weather and get some work done and tidy up my office and maybe even see myself, at some future date, no longer really feeling those tender remnants of bruises past.

Then I was at my computer, and I saw that bombs had gone off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, and it made me feel all the things that tragic things do. I think it was best summed up by Alex Blagg in this tweet, which I saw this evening and recognized to be spot on. These things steal focus, as they should. But no one knows how long we're supposed to engage these coping mechanisms or when we're supposed to leave it to the people who handle these things for a living and just hope it all pans out.

My little sister and I talked about an article she shared with me from the Chicago Tribune. We mourned runners who literally lost their legs, knowing that some of them had probably waited their whole lives to cross that finish line. It seemed so cruel. It's hard not to let one's imagination spiral out of control in the face of these morbid descriptors. There was a point, during the Sandy Hook nightmare, when I had to just stop listening, because I wouldn't be able to get those thoughts out of my head, and those thoughts were so awful.

We keep experiencing these horrible assaults on our humanity, and most of us survive them. And in my moviegoer's mind, I imagine that a runner who lost a leg today will end up recovering and taking on the Boston Marathon again, and it will be a triumph of the spirit and a symbol that we can't be snuffed out like some single-wick candle. People survive. Amazingly, sometimes. People survive things I feel quite certain I could never survive myself. I always say I'll be one of the first to go in any kind of apocalypse. Zombies. Pandemic. Asteroid. You name it. I'm not the surviving type. Especially if you give me half a minute to think about what the world will be like without plumbing and refrigeration. So I have plenty of room in my heart to hold admiration for others who can hack it. I have sometimes wondered if I could get through tribulations so trivial I'm embarrassed to describe them. Of course, at the time, it was everything. And anyone who told me otherwise was my sworn enemy.

Anyway, I guess my point is time passes, and things get better. Even if you try to keep them from doing so.

Apr 8, 2013


I've saved a lot up. And I'm so much out of the habit of writing that the easiest way to poke a hole in the inspiration sac and encourage something to leak out is to go back through the various half-written bits and the jotted-down notes and the song lyrics I must have found very meaningful at the time and hope something is still relevant or that I remember what I was originally trying to say. It hasn't been a terribly fruitful pursuit so far.

But it is also a sort of emotional archaeology. Which maybe has some kind of value, I guess. I hope.

You can go back through old photos -- it's even easier now that you can just keep scrolling downward, as opposed to having to open a shoebox or scour an old hard drive -- and the same kind of thing happens. Well, it happens to me anyway. Photos in my various online albums are like the rings of a tree. Little clusters of the time when my hair was that color or when I was on that beach or with that guy. I can look back to a specific date with surgical precision and rocket speed just by looking for a specific outfit. Because I always remember what I was wearing.

I got a stone where my heart should be
And nothing I do will make you love me

Apr 7, 2013

It ends with a reference to Memento.

I dreamed that I was out on an expedition, exploring the ocean with my friend Kim. We were swimming amongst mostly undersea mountains -- literally MOUNTAINS -- of guano, and I couldn't believe how deep we swam or how long I could hold my breath. At one point, it felt as if I had fallen asleep while diving ever downward. And when I came awake (in my dream), I had a sudden concern that I wouldn't get back to the surface in time to breathe, and I might end up drowning in water that was clearly at least partially made up of dissolved bat shit.

But my lungs held, and the resurfacing was like something out of a movie. Just a lot of glorious sunlight reflecting on rippling sea and that feeling in the legs that I suspect mermaids get. But not in the legs, obviously.

When we were back on dry land, we went back to our hotel, which was apparently in Japan. And Kim knew instinctively to light a pilot in every single plumbing fixture and appliance, while I mused about whether this was efficient.

I've learned and unlearned and relearned and re-unlearned the same lessons so many times over that I'm thinking of tattooing instructions on my body so I won't forget. Sometimes it helps to write things down.

You see one crowded, polluted, stinking town...

There's something about Comic-Con. Something that populism does. A kind of infiltration of cleverness and irony into what would otherwise be sincere and earnest. It's as if regular folks -- you know, the kind that tease the truly nerdy and ostracize them from their cliques -- can't allow themselves to unironically attach their passions to something fantastical. They can't BELIEVE in superheroes or apocalyptic mega-monster threats. But if you mash up something they can't believe in with something that a jock or a prom queen can relate to, all of a sudden, those jocks and prom queens are Comic-Con fans, and they're putting vinyl character decals on the rear windscreens of their SUVs. And they're standing behind me snarkily commenting on everything with haughty scholarliness and a certain air of entitlement and understanding. As if steampunk came to us by way of the New York Yankees and a Sergio Mendes song. And frankly maybe it did. What do I know. I almost never wear brown.

I guess I'm talking about the t-shirts with a hipster mustachioed Captain America or Hello Kitty as Cthulhu. You know: the shirts your mom would wear. And wearing them would make her feel like she relates to you*.

I love cute. I love super. I love sci-fi. I love robots. I love anime. I love cartoons. I love video games. But I think I prefer them in their separate rooms. And maybe part of it is that when my tastes in entertainment might have caused me to be an outsider, I chose that path brazenly. I watched Star Trek in high school. I read science fiction with a vengeance. I never ever had a poster of a TV actor in my locker. I never wrote popular guys' last names after my first name on my Pee-Chee folders. I owned my otherness. And maybe on some level, I felt superior because I had chosen something different and unexpected.

But now that it is all broad and mainstream and populist, where is the hard-won badge of geek honor? Everyone goes to Comic-Con now. And everyone watches superhero movies. And everyone dresses their toddlers up as Wolverine.

The true test of course is how a Comic-Con attendee reacts to die-hard expressions of true genre fandom even when it's empirically distasteful. It's one thing to take a picture of the mercenary booth babe dressed as Catwoman who probably has no idea whether she is modeling Eartha Kitt or Julie Newmar. But what do you mutter under your breath when you see an extremely large sweaty man dressed as Ultra Magnus and you can't help but note that through the damp white spandex you can see more ingrown hairs than you knew a human chest could host? Do you applaud his commitment? Or do you wince and wonder aloud about his Type II diabetes? [Side note: I saw the guy in this not-at-all hypothetical costume every year for a long time. And I have long suspected that the curtailment of that faithful yearly sighting can only have been brought about by death itself. Or the inability to afford a Hoveround.] Anyway, the point is, popularity has an uncanny habit of ruining things, and it sometimes saddens me.

We all get this. We all have a little over-precious possessiveness about a band only we know or a show only we watch. Or a convention only we -- among our friends -- ever used to attend. There's badge value in "first." Especially when the thing becomes extremely popular and mainstream, and suddenly no one remembers that you were on board in early days. No one rewards you for liking that song before it ended up in a Target commercial. Once it's in everyone's playlists, it doesn'y belong to you anymore. Once it's in everyone's playlists, frankly, it's probably not going to be in yours for much longer. Right?

Anyway, I'm grateful for Comic-Con. I truly am. But I miss the days when it was an exclusive-if-somewhat-foot-smelling club that I could attend without ever feeling unwelcome or ineffectual. I miss the days when I didn't feel the need to take umbrage when overhearing someone who is not a Comic-Con familiar explaining what Comic-Con is but clearly does not get it at all.

It's strange to feel superior to people because you have what you perceive to be a more authentic connection to geeky stuff. Ironic, even. There was a time when one might not volunteer the admission that one had played role-playing games. Or that one had been vexed on account of not knowing HOW Psylocke got Jean Grey's telekinetic powers. One might have kept such things under wraps. But today, when virtually everyone flies their geek flag proudly -- ersatz though it may be -- it's hard not to be iconoclastic about it all. I mean, how will children of the future know the character-building pain of being an outsider if everything geeky is cool? Well, I guess there will always be acne.

I began writing this a short time after Comic-Con 2012. And if I even go this year -- which depends mostly on whether I can get a hotel room for the love of Pete -- I'm sure I will have even more of these thoughts crystallized. The noteworthy thing is that I'm still planning to go. I invite you to wish me luck, snob that I clearly am.

*It should be noted that the "you" in this scenario is actually me. And my mom would never wear a t-shirt of any kind and has no desire to relate to me. She is perfectly comfortable giving me advice from Judge Judy and second-guessing my menu choices.