“Though we are not now that strength, which in old days moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are. One equal temper of heroic hearts made weak by time and fate, but strong in will. To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” — Tennyson
Another story from earlier days.
On May 23rd, 2003 I graduated from high school. For better or worse, one of the finest days of my entire life.
At the time I didn’t drink alcohol, I was single, and I had my whole future ahead of me.
So what did I do to celebrate?
I went to my friend Frank’s house. And played Halo.
Indeed I think we played Halo until at least 5am.
I’m not really sure why or how things ended up that way. You might think that high school graduation would be more festive. But in some way it was a final moment when Frank and I could sit together as two kids before heading our separate ways in life.
Anyway, the game of Halo wasn’t really the most important aspect of my evening.
I remember getting into my car in that stillness before morning truly begins. And as I headed up the Berlin Turnpike towards Hartford the sky ahead of me was painted in yellow-orange sunlight. The sun wasn’t yet up but all in front of me was that light.
And obviously that’s how I felt at that moment.
I felt that things would truly be alright.
I’d finally made it through the crucible of high school and I’d emerged stronger and better than anyone would have imagined.
Of course the future was bright.
Life isn’t a straight line like that. I suppose I should have known that.
But between May 23rd and the first day of college I spent an entire summer bathed in that sunlight. So sure that things would be better tomorrow.
Sometimes I wonder what I’d say to that “me”. In fact I wonder if that “me” would even recognize the person I became. In some ways I’m still me.
But in others, I’ve shrunk away.
Only wishing I could be back in my car with the sun just beginning to rise.
The story I’d like to discuss today is about an art project I made when I was in high school.
Most of my time at school was spent dodging the sports requirement, reading French Existentialism, playing with my awesome Pentium 2 15″ Dell laptop, being class VP, and generally being a pretentious prick (kinda like now).
But we did have an art requirement. And as a senior I had to fulfill one more semester of art. I was lucky because my schedule wouldn’t accommodate any more AP courses (due to scheduling conflicts) <– see? Pretentious.
Anyway I took a non-traditional art course because I’d already done photography and I wasn’t interested in painting/drawing. Honestly I don’t even remember the course title. But it was all about exploring various construction methods and approaches. It was pretty much free-reign.
Our first assignment was to build items out of fabric. We would sew up the fabric and then stuff it with fluff to make the item. I failed miserably at this because I wanted to make scissors and my sewing was poor.
Luckily our next project was far better. Once again I can’t remember what the actual assignment was but something in my mind clicked.
I think I had what they call “inspiration”.
I got it in my head that I was going to create a “No” sign. You know, the kind that tells you not to smoke. The kind that tells ghosts that they’ll be caught by Ghostbusters.
The structure would be 4 feet in diameter and 1 foot in width. I drew a sketch with the angle for the line in the middle. I showed it to my art teacher.
And then the fun began.
He was fully invested in my project and we set off to find a way to create this monstrosity.
The two sides of the sign would just be plywood cutouts. Holding them together would be small wood blocks. Then we could screw them into the plywood and voila- the main structure would be complete.
This was done in no time. One afternoon after school I cut out the shapes and screwed it all together.
But we had a problem. how would we cover the structure? Well, luckily my art teacher was friendly with the theater tech crew. Indeed I worked for the tech crew most seasons helping to build sets and do lighting.
Anyway, we realized that the theater often used a product called luan. It’s basically crappy “wood” veneer that we’d cover the sets with. It was also quite thin. My teacher realized that this luan could be scored on one side every half/quarter-inch to allow it to bend. This would allow us to “wrap” the structure in the luan.
To hold the luan against the wood, we’d use finishing nails.
This process was laborious.
And somewhat dangerous because I had to use a saw at just the right height to properly score the luan. This meant carefully setting the height and it also meant my teacher had to trust I wouldn’t cut off my hands :).
Anyway, this took some very very serious time because I had to score all the luan and then nail it into place.
After this was done we realized that there was a far larger problem on the horizon.
I built the structure from wood and it was all…. not perfect. There were gaps and the luan was scored in such a way that the edges were all opened every short distance.
I had it in my mind that this structure would be very non-organic. It shouldn’t have seams or any kind of natural look.
Over weeks my teacher gave me many possible putties and products, which were meant to fill the holes. It took a long time to find one, which truly worked because after applying the product and letting it dry, I would need to sand down the product to keep the structure in “perfect” shape.
This took some time.
But eventually I reached a point where it seemed good-enough. Maybe 90% of the way there.
With the school-year soon to end I needed to finish the product.
I grabbed glossy bright red paint and layered the structure with several coats.
It was finished.
To this day I’m not sure what really got into me that semester. I’m not sure why this art project became so important. But it surely was. I would stay after school just to do finishing touches. It was something so critical. I needed it to be just right.
I was fed up with the project plenty of times.
The putties never worked.
And the project took far longer than expected.
But when it was done I had built something. It wasn’t just a painting or even a clay sculpture. I built it from plywood and nails and screws and paint.
Later on, my parents installed the sign in their family room. Sometimes guests will ask where they purchased the artwork, thinking it’s some modernist piece from an actual artist.
I truly long for that kind of project. The idea of creating something. Doing something with my hands and not just my mind. Something to slave over lovingly.
I haven’t had much experience with this kind of task again. It might be a good idea to try.
I’ve begun to think that my best posts are those in which I look back on my past and paint sepia-toned images of times gone by. This probably works best because I’ve had time to digest what actually happened and turn it into a sort-of narrative.
In this vain I thought I’d describe an event I attended in the relatively distant past.
Life was just about to turn. I’d already met Jeffrey. And C had already met D. But we were still young. And the deep connections of “marriage” had not yet set. There was life outside those walls.
And it was summer.
We took the train, snapshots taken along the way. My hair was too short. And my green “Academy Is” t-shirt was too small. And so was I. At 125lbs I was somewhere less than a lightweight. I wasn’t ready to be “me”. Best to shrink away I guess. To slide into invisibility.
But it was warm. July 4th.
Arrived at Spring Garden and began to walk. I was literally shaking with apprehension. C was low-key as usual. Around us was the run-down abandoned sites of what would become Waterfront Square. Where yuppies would eventually descend. But not yet.
There was a line. I was surprised. But it began to move and C and I crowded in. We wandered for a short while as the opening bands played. There were many.
The sun was still high, but eventually it descended behind the towers of Philadelphia. The stage was framed in golden light. Another few snapshots.
And then “The Hush Sound” began to play. I wasn’t ready for them. I’d never heard of them, frankly. But what a feeling. Hearing a “sound” for the first time; being lifted high away from the ground with a joyful noise. I’m not sure that C was as excited, but I was surely enraptured by the jangly-rock blaring away in my ear.
Soon the golden frame began to sink away to blue and purple. The anticipation was growing.
I was already on clouds.
But I wasn’t ready for this. A literal carnival cascaded across the stage. And shortly Brendan Urie appeared. I figured that “Panic!” would be poppy and fun. Little did I know. The energy and sound coming from the stage was intoxicating. Young men even enjoyed some light “moshing”. I was transported by it all. Only momentarily interrupted by the fireworks.
I was soon consumed and sweaty. My voice cracking from screaming. And in the end, as Brendan sang a cover of “Tonight, Tonight” I knew I could not rise any higher. There was no where else on planet earth so mesmerizing.
The sky was now black and I was spent. C was somewhat perplexed by my enthusiasm but he accepted things.
That night was a door. Things would never be the same. My youth began to fade away. Not quickly. Not precipitously. But slowly. Carefully. Inevitably.
My life before was an emo dream. The highest highs and lowest lows. There’s not too much I miss about that.
But I have not reached those heights since.
The other day I watched a “documentary” called “The Adonis Factor” on the Logo TV channel. Like all of the programming on Logo, this documentary was shallow, short, and generally uninformative.
I was glad to at least feel slightly less alone than normal.
The program takes place mostly in “gay mecca” cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Atlanta, and New York. I’m from a suburb of a small city in Connecticut and have never lived in any of the mentioned cities (though I have been to all of them at one time or another). One thing I should note off the bat is that many of the pressures, which were discussed by the people in the film were those, which I’d experienced through the media but never first hand. Perhaps this is an advantage of living in a smaller city.
The most interesting premise of the documentary is that men are, by nature quite competitive. And in this way, our bodies are just one more way of competing. The ideal is smooth, tan, and muscular. So men compete to have the best in all those categories. Indeed, in these large cities the men described as being the most in-line with this image ensure that their group of friends consist solely of other similar looking men.
And this is something I haven’t really experienced. Where I live there are plenty of out homosexual men. But I don’t sense this extreme segmentation. Perhaps I’m wrong.
As main stream normative values gain more power among homososexual men I hope this situation improves. As men become judged for NOT being in monogamous long-term-relationships with kids, property, and shared finances the focus on bodies will lessen.
At least that is my hope.
One thing I’d like to add is that another reason gay men are obsessed with becoming muscular is because we are perceived as being sissies and wimps. We want to appear strong. So that’s what we do. The appeal of this is quite strong for me. I am naturally thin and I’m average in height. Further, I’m just not a kid who can survive a fist fight. I’m a huge nerd. And so I wish that I could be tougher.
Anyway, I have nothing much more to add but it was nice to at least sit for an hour and know that I’m not alone in my unhappiness about my physical appearance.
I am no gender studies expert. Indeed I spend most of my time poo-pooing such “silly” academic pursuits. But in fact I have spent much of my post-pubescent life questioning some of the basic issues of gender and sexual desire.
One of the issues with these questions is that a true answer is often far beyond reach. It’s tough to come to a “peace” of mind.
My basic question concerns the elements of physical sexual attraction. My sister and I will be watching television when an advertisement pops up. In this advertisement there are shirtless men with smooth-tan-muscled physiques. Honestly I have no clue what they’re selling. But it’s clear that the ad is targeted to either straight men or their girlfriends (who will then buy the product for their boyfriends). And I’m somewhat lost.
The ad is blatantly homoerotic. But straight men are expected to watch this and buy the product? In the heterosexual world things are clean-cut. The straight man wants to BE the man in the ad. The straight girl wants her man to BE the man in the ad. But the straight man doesn’t WANT the man the ad. He WANTS whatever his ideal female is (also highly affected by advertising, probably).
Being a homosexual is somewhat more confusing. I want to BE the man in the ad. And I also WANT the man in the ad (or at least my man to look like the man in the ad). Simply put, the object of my desire is the same thing that I want to see in myself.
This is a source of confusion.
It’s also not very “deep”. It’s an obvious conundrum. But it’s an issue I have definite concerns with. It is difficult to admire and desire someone when inside you also have a pang of jealousy. It’s not a healthy division.
I’m also not sure that there is any real resolution to this concern. I suppose a situation could exist in which I wanted a man to look a certain way but I wanted to look a different way. But I’m not a non-conformist. I’m down with whatever the social norm is. It’s implanted and there to stay.
I’m pretty sure that “experts” spend their whole careers researching and writing about this exact problem. Perhaps they have more to say than me. But it is an issue for me. I’ll be the first to admit it.
And to close, happy 4th to all Americans around the world today. Our city on a hill is alive and well. Special thanks to all those serving to keep it that way!
I thought I’d post a short review of the film “Somewhere”, which was written and directed by Sofia Coppola.
I have been a fan of Coppola’s movies ever since “Lost In Translation” was released way back in 2003. I understand that Coppola released “The Virgin Suicides” before this but “LiT” was her first truly great film.
Anyway, rather than post a “normal” review, I’d like to describe some specific findings and feelings I have about the film.
I first saw the movie at the Angelika Film Center in New York. I saw the film again with my mother here in Connecticut. Finally I watched it a third time at home quite recently.
I’d like to focus on the sense of “unease” in this movie. It’s true that many of the main themes here have already been discussed in “LiT” but the undercurrents in “Somewhere” are far darker. Importantly I feel that there are many references to the works of Bret Easton Ellis. When seen through this lens, the film gains a very dark character.
So I’d like to describe some of these undertones.
The film centers around actor Johnny Marco. Through much of the film he receives text messages from an unknown source. These messages are all variations of “fuck you” or “who the fuck do you think you are?”. While this could seem entirely comical, I found them disturbing. Who is sending the notes? What kind of past does Johnny have? Is the sender violent? Has violence taken place in the past? Throughout the novels of Bret Easton Ellis there are often messages left by characters, which are similarly vague as those presented here. However, because the novels tend to delve deeper the reader eventually encounters acts of violence, rape, murder, and abuse. These acts lie just below the surface, however. They’re not obvious to all of the characters at any one time and indeed some acts will never be known by anyone other than the principles. These texts are troubling to me. We simply don’t know what’s going on here. What appears a silly trope is truly unsettling.
Indeed most of the allegories to Bret Easton Ellis and his type of writing deal with this theme. The idea that beneath the surface of seemingly silly or odd behaviors there is a history of great violence and evil.
Johnny stays at the Chateau Marmot in West Hollywood, California. Many of the scenes are of him walking down hallways at the hotel. There are several instances here, which also play on the theme mentioned above. In one scene three tall models are dressed all in black and then walk into a room where something is “flashing”. In another scene Johnny passes by a room where two plates of food lie on the ground next to the door. Inside we can hear yelps from inside. Sometimes these are sounds of sexual ecstasy but if you listen closely you might wonder if the sounds are of something more painful. In another case Johnny walks by some kind of balcony in which there is a model wearing a black skirt but no top while her hair is cut. She is smoking a cigarette.
The question I have is simple. What’s going on here? What are these situations? We can’t see into the room with the flashes. Are they simply being photographed? What, exactly is being photographed? The yelps behind a closed door. What’s happening? Just some folks having sex? Perhaps a torture scene? Perhaps a prostitute being raped? We simply don’t know. And what’s going on with the model? She’s so nonchalant. Why is she not wearing clothes? What kind of modeling is she doing?
Of course we will never know these answers. But the questions linger in our minds. This hotel where the rich and beautiful spend their days. It’s glamorous alright. But perhaps something is very wrong here. Quite wrong.
My favorite scene in the film takes place while Johnny is going to have a mask made of his head for a movie. While he’s driving to the studio he passes by a house in which a Lexus convertible has crashed into a wall separating the house from the street. It’s a fleeting scene. What happened? Perhaps an old woman lost control of the car and hit the wall. Perhaps someone shot the driver and caused the crash. Perhaps the driver was being given a blowjob and lost control. It should be noted that the sun is shining in LA during this scene. The sun is out. We can see everything easily. But in fact we have no idea what just took place. It could be something innocent. Perhaps not.
One other example of the darkness beneath the surface comes while Johnny is driving his daughter around in his 360 Modena. He continues to worry that they’re being followed by a black SUV. This kind of paranoia is often described in “Glamorama”, a novel by “Bret Easton Ellis”. Why would an SUV even be following him? Who would be in the SUV? What would they want? We don’t know any of these answers. Indeed we don’t even know if there is an SUV.
While not of the same theme as has been discussed, the most obvious allegory to Bret Easton Ellis occurs during a scene in which he is standing at his balcony looking out onto the city and we are shown a billboard. The billboard has a whole tagline on it but we only see the “DO YOU”. While I’m not sure that this phrase has super dark undertones it recalls the “Disappear Here” sign from “Less than Zero”, Bret Easton Ellis’s first novel. “Do You”? What does that even mean? Do I what? We don’t know.
“Somewhere” is easily Coppola’s greatest film. “Lost in Translation” is more accessible, soft, and beautiful. But “Somewhere” is deeper and darker. True, it delves into the ennui of life and how we must find other humans to connect with. These are normal film themes for Coppola. But this film is a bit more striking in its’ explanation as to why we depend on these connections. It’s not just because we will be depressed and lonely without them. No. Without true bonds between human beings life becomes adrift. Darkness begins to eat away at the edges. This darkness is sometimes too terrible to even face. But it is there. Lurking.