T for Tom

A Portrait of the Artist As a Lover

Posted in Prose by johnsontoms on July 21, 2012

He gets so angry with the way he’s saying things now.  As a writer, it kills him to see the words come out of his mouth, or rather, someone else’s – it doesn’t even feel like he’s saying these things.  Words like “desire,” “want,” and “time” fall together in the ruse of a modern sonnet, but without the tact or talent.  He even sat down to write a poem that went something like this:

 

“She doesn’t believe the words I say and I can’t really blame her.

The words I’ve said haven’t yet saved her and I want her to know

That when I say “I want you” it’s true.”

 

But he couldn’t finish the poem.  The fact that he was writing it to surprise her, for when she returns was really quite revolting.  He could see his friends now- “I remember when I used to write poetry for my girlfriends,” laughing with a sneer.  And it’s true.  What was he thinking?  Why couldn’t he focus on anything else?

It was all he wanted to do though, just because he means it.  Since no one really knows what they mean until they say it, he keeps putting these things down for her to read and hopefully understand.  But damn, it can be so embarrassing.  Embarrassing because poetry and flowers and songs and long walks in the park are the things of hallmark cards and even the films showing in the theaters are now using these displays of affection as fodder for the screen.  It’s no longer even “in the movies.”  No, in the movies they only have friends with benefits.  It may be why no marriage lasts.

Here he snickers, because he doesn’t watch films anymore.  If he did, they were probably in black in white, and, he says, “the man gets the woman.”  A love blossomed on screen once, and even fairytales are based in reality.

But what is that? he asks.  What are these things, these aphorisms and idealisms that spill forth like a tipped over kettle, the boiling water burning the feet and keeping the artist from walking on, moving forward and making sense of something that has no correlation to the real world he’s created for himself?  Why now can he no longer put his words into any succinct meaning, give no depth of color, paint no picture and sing no song larger than the pettiest of childhood whimsy, the verbs and nouns jumbled together dropped like a box of blocks that tumble down and onto the ground and never land in any grouped shape, just blotted there like a pile of corpses that no one wants to see.  These are the shapes that the words are taking on.

If the words were any more significant there wouldn’t be allusions to fairytales and realities and unfinished poems, there would be tenderness, heartbreak, and displays of emotion so great that the angels of the heavens would hear his scream.  But that is not the true way, he believes, that it happens.  No, it happens, you see, slowly and over time.  Two lovers do not immediately leave this world like Romeo and Juliet, no, they start by holding hands.  They sit and watch the clouds pass by, and they dance in the street.  In time these things grow to cause earthquakes but even the Mona Lisa was begun with a single stroke of the brush.

And that effort, that time, was the artist’s focus.  To see the forest for the trees, here, would be naïve.  This must be stared at focally at its inception and studied with microscopic precision at each interval.  First it starts, then it grows, and down the road it may be developed.  But, having nothing, not even the touch of her hand, still he writes-

“It all seems unfair, to be honest.  Why I can’t be there, why I can’t be with you, or even if I wanted, just to be free and cognizant of my own affairs.  There is a love of things, a love of ideas, and a love of a woman.

For the former, there is no hope.  Those souls who embellish their lives with only the physical possessions and pointless stories that blot their timelines will have no reprieve and likely the deathbed will be filled with regret.  Regret that no great thing was accomplished and that no love filled the gaps of promise.  We have only a short time to live, a few years to breathe air into our lungs and life into our bones, a few years to pack this world with the impact of our firecracker actions and watch it explode gleefully into the night with the image that we did something important.

For the ideas, there is at least hope.  There are the cogs and wheels and pins rolling in motion and the system is presently aware of its place within a constellation of businesses it can neither grasp nor change.  But with this revelation there can at least exist the foundation and exchange of original ideas, the ground-shaking genesis of anything that ever came to pass.  That we recognize our place, our abilities, and combine the two to make change.  But not every idea comes to pass, not every thought makes it to paper, and not every theory becomes practice.

And for that there is the love of a woman.  It may come and it may go, but the love within the man is always present, should he only find somewhere to direct his passion.  The lucky ones can find this early in life and provide it the fire of all their efforts, should great art and sacrifice be of no consequence to this man that he generates all the world’s beauty each time he says hello to his lover.  The world is luckier still when this same man loses then his lover, and provides for us the directed and passionate requiems for a romance thus ended.  It would be folly to exercise any belief that our great works of literature and art were not affected from the ghosts of women yore.  What it is about them a man will and may never know, but what he does know is the only truth that he needs – that when with them, and when holding their gaze, no other feeling matters.  It supersedes even God himself, and replaces the need for water to survive.  Only love.”

And then he slouches back in his chair, exhausted from trying to make sense of something that will never be put into the right words.  Greater men have tried before him and still the world is without a definition.  For every person the answer is different and he is no exception.

He can, however, laugh at the use of “thus” and “yore.”  It really is quite comical, in the end.

But he hopes there is no end.  Because the writing will get better in time.

It needs only its muse to continue.

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Growing Up and Paying Taxes

Posted in Uncategorized by johnsontoms on July 9, 2012

Everyone keeps saying to grow up and carry on

That living free and making love will get me nowhere.

“Can’t keep on singing songs and doing nothing,” they say.

But all the other options just lead to paying taxes.

And paying taxes seems pretty wrong to me.

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There Are So Many Things That Do Not Matter

Posted in Uncategorized by johnsontoms on July 9, 2012

There are so many things that don’t matter.  Just flat don’t make a difference.  Most of them start with the television, and like a tangled spider’s web bleed outward like shrapnel from grenade.  Just shards of things, a little bit of something left over to look at when the spirit is gone from the body.

We didn’t start this way, but it seems like we just can’t leave it long enough to see any other place as the end – on the screen.  A few years ago the screen became our major source of information, more information I’d say than any education could provide.  How to speak, what to wear, where to shop, what to say and how to attract the opposite sex, it’s all there in living Technicolor.  It’s so damned big now that it towers over all facets of business, all manners of technological and fiscal infrastructure, the epicenter, as it were.  An earthquake waiting to go off, a tsunami that’s all ready poured over the shores and is still making its way to the heart of the mainland in full strength; it may not be long before it’s there.

But the screen isn’t the only one after all.  For every other thing there is surely a group of people as equally devoted to it.  To sport and live competition, to politics and the fracas of nothing in particular, to film and television in long form, to charity and the work of the selfless – everyone has something that they think will make a difference.  Lives are spent in each of these arenas and more, and every time something significant happens, every time a record is broken on a football field, every time a landmark legislation is passed, each time a foundation raises a million dollars, there are groups of people standing by ready to shout “we have accomplished something great!”  But I’ve got news for you-

We haven’t done a damn thing.

Not a single damn bit of difference was made each time those acts came and went.  The history books didn’t stop to record this history, and no one will look back with revery.  Despite whatever it is you are doing and whatever it is you are in love with, it means nothing to the world.  The world, that is, of humanity.  Sure, the world cares about certain things – box offices, petroleum, space travel, Madonna and Lady GaGa, Ronaldo, and market fluctuation, but these things are pithy and soon to pass also.  You might direct the film of the year or capture on film the moment the public begins to riot in the streets, you may even pen the next great novel or set to canvas that near-Michaelangelan masterpiece.  But it won’t matter, no sir.  This train is too far gone, too fast on the tracks.  Not a damn thing matters anymore.

All around me I see people who are so convicted, so given to their craft that they believe, at least I think they do, that it will make a difference.  There is nothing less reputable and more despicable to me than film and television as art.  To think there was a time that such a scoundrel was I to believe myself in the efficacy of something so insignificant, so petty.  The notion of a respected director setting out to sketch ahead the world’s next great cinematic masterpiece, that film that might “raise awareness” or “cause a change” about some issue is ludicrous.  The most recent example can be found in the very heart of the two things I once loved – a fictional television show about television news…

http://gawker.com/5924306/dan-rather–the-newsrooms-third-episode-is-even-better-than-the-first-two-episodes-i-enjoyed-so-much

Somewhere there are people behind this show that truly want it to echo the sentiments expressed by Dan Rather: “this show will make a difference, and expose some truths about television.”  And maybe it does expose something Americans, and the world, didn’t know – that television (like all business) is a dirty business, and the things we think we know are both not true and controlled by someone else.  There is no objectivity because every piece of information has a price.  I can’t blame anyone for hoping that it does however make a difference.  The fact that our number one source of information is a sham and a lie needs to be made not only relevant but common knowledge; maybe then we’d go somewhere else for our news.

But what I’m here to tell you is that it won’t make a difference.  People don’t want to change.

Everything is too sedentary to pick up now.  Everything is too concrete, too comfortable, too flaccid to ignite.  We once learned something and we’ve learned now to live without it.  Seven billion singular opinions are hard to change.

How do I know this?  Look around you.  Where are the great works of art?  Where are objects of creativity, if they exist at all?  If they exist, what is said of them?  Usually the worst.  No one with an ounce of freedom in them is anything but spat upon as an absurdist, an outlier, an eyesore to everything that “we” stand for.  No one even knows who “we” is, but they continue to fight for it.  Nora Ephron in her journal said once that America has a way of shutting out new ideas and making those ideas that are not American seem evil.  I have to believe she’s right.  It seems everyone subscribes to a way of living before inspecting it for truth – where are the questions anymore?

There are works of art still being created, good things still being made.  Once in the world there were things that inspired change, no, demanded change.  The Mona Lisa, Macciavelli’s The Prince, Plato’s Symposium.  These things were too important, too valuable to be left disregarded and it could be said that their value took from the world what it needed, an absolute impact.  Nothing less than lasting for these great works of literature and art because anything less would be wrong.  There are museums filled with the presence of these good things, halls of riches lined with the knowledge of our forefathers and the ones that got us to here.  It seems as though these halls and these closets have become the resting place of good ideas..

That, by some twisted fate of illogic we have made so simple to own the knowledge of what is great, we no longer create greatness nor recognize it when it is nearby.

Maybe David Foster Wallace left us with his denouement The Pale King to elucidate this very phenomenon eroding away at the heartland of this country, right before killing himself.  Maybe Chuck Klosterman is on to something with Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, and short articles are the only way to our distracted hearts.  Maybe Cormac McCarthy isn’t just entertaining us on a way to a good dime for his self, and maybe he’s actually saying in The Road that our own soul is all we have left?  But who’s to know.  These works will never reach a large enough audience, or the right audience, or any audience, to leave a lasting impact.  Sure, there will be those devoted few who write the chapters of the history books covering the modern works of literature where these authors will rest, but that is nothing.  That is fallacy.  That is false.  There will always be those who, with just enough knowledge of the supposed “great works”, will continue to decry and befoul these new artists as something short of the mark.  That by their new and modern ways they will never be Shakespeare or Swift or Hemingway or Faulkner or Proust or Cervantes.

“There will never be another classic.”  I get this idea every time I see the art that is being made around me.  So much of it is worthless, if not all of it.  It’s no wonder then why no very little change is being made anywhere.  People don’t want it, and when they see it they don’t believe it.  And this is what I mean by the end.  This is what I mean by rendering it all useless.  There are just too many people in this world that don’t care to make a difference.  Factories will roll onward with minimum wage salaries, diseases will continue to spread, nature will continue to erode.  There is nothing left for us, there is nothing to fight for.  The game has been played, and television won.

All we have left is to watch the end come on.  In between commercials, of course.  Those commercials so carefully crafted by someone using their creative minds to make money.

Out there somewhere – YOU – are you out there?  You, the creative ones.  Do you exist?  Are you making something?  Have you sold an inch of your life to make a dollar for art?  Are you creating?  What is it that makes us burn?  Why do we continue to torture ourselves?  You know we do.  There is nothing pleasurable about creating.  It’s goddamn work, and no one thanks us when it’s over, for all the reasons I’ve already outlined.

Why then?

What pushes you forward each day?  Why do we come to the empty canvas, the empty pages, the unwritten songs, to keep trying?  Too much money is made on most things for most things to be considered true and endemic.  Journalism is the most blaring example, maybe because I was it and I hate it now for what it is – just a business.  Everywhere there are little reporters with their little notepads out there to grab a good story.  Do you know what happens to most good stories? Nothing.  They never make air because it would anger the wrong people.  If you don’t think that’s true, it happened to me while I was working in market #143 (only 40,000 viewers total).  So their money dictates their work.

But nothing dictates your work, you artists and photographers and writers of novels in towns all over this world.  Don’t let the words confuse you – there are only a few of you.  We exist in small numbers and make only a small ripple in the pond.  Most times no ripple at all.  But we continue like idiots.  I’m not sure why.

For myself it is for the chance of making that difference.  That by seeing this condition of the world I have to do something to change it.  It’s a fucking trifle of an existence, really.  To believe that I might be the only one to really see, really watch unfold before me like a vaudeville the dancing legs of the dead shake up a dust storm of bugs and rocks and sand and trash and debris, to think that these words will cause one person to stand up and swat it down.  That one person might listen and make a change.  It’s a waste really.

The only ones who will make that change are already doing it.  You know who you are, and I envy you for trying.  You’re probably doing better than me, and having more fun.  Because maybe out there you’ve learned something that I can’t seem to come to grips with – in the end, maybe we should just create art for ourselves.  Maybe if I can live a life trying to do something beautiful I can rest contentedly in my grave.  And looking forward to looking back means there would be no problem now, none of this filth.  You wouldn’t be reading this if I could believe that I would be okay with just merely trying.

But can I agree with giving up?  That neither can I understand.  And there in itself lies the struggle – believing at once that something can be done about what cannot be changed.

What a goddamned awful existence.

I can see now why so many people have hopped onto that train, why there are now seven billion minds working to nail the hammer down onto the coffin.  It hurts too much to recognize the futility of it all.  It is easier to believe in something insignificant as film, or sports, or magazines, or politics, fashion, charitable foundations, war, peace, religion, top 40 hits, shopping malls.  These things exist because they distract us from the things that matter.  The things that matter suck.  The things that matter remind us how terrible we really are.

After all, Plato lived on this earth, the same as Locke, the same as Nietzsche, as Heidegger, Miller, Sade, Donatello, Picasso, and Mozart.  They all walked this earth before us, and we say they made a difference.  But did they really?  We are still here, after all, in this moment.  This moment of such profundity that in fact there is nothing left to learn.  We are here.  They were before us, and still we are here.

Who will get us out?

There are so many things that do not matter.  Somewhere is the one thing that will get us out.   I pray that someone finds it.  In their heart, in the world, wherever-

Someone needs to find that fucking thing and get us out of here alive.