Monday, October 30, 2006


“Wait, wait, wait. Wait just a minute, here,” the kid says. Jarred, he’s called. You know him: university dropout, wannabe artist, a real player. He’s figuring this whole thing out, this life, this grand enigma. Yes, he’s figuring it all out, and can’t help but to share it with the world. He’s got ideas and wants everyone else to know – and everyone else just can’t wait for him to stop talking.

“What’s all this got to do with Hunter?” he asks. “You’ve been hanging around here for over a month telling these…these ghost stories.”

There’re nods of dumb agreement from the other drunks listening nearby. Murmurs of endorsement. A couple of encouraging “Yeahs.” One of the regulars, Clive, waves his hand, mumbling, dismissing the whole affair, and gets up to take his regular spot at the bar. Leon and Gus fall into arguing over who’s going to buy the next round, but Marty’s much too nimble for them, surreptitiously slipping an order to the waitress while they bicker.

“You come around here saying that you’ve met him,” Jarred persists, “that you know where Hunter is, but all you do is talk and talk about weird shit that nobody cares about.”

Every once in awhile, someone feels the need to address the elephant in the room. Every once in awhile, some brave, tactless, or just plain stupid person decides that he or she needs to point out the obvious. In this case, I can’t decide which category Jarred falls into, so I try a little deflection.

“I thought you were moving to Latvia?” I ask, drawing laughter from the other guys. “Not that I’m eager for you to go or anything, Jarred, but you were supposed to leave last week weren’t you?”

“I had to move my flight back,” he says.

“Money or girl trouble?” I ask.

Jarred looks a little nonplussed, but answers anyway. “Girl,” he says, before adding, “but I really don’t see how this has anything to do with what I asked.”

So I can rule out stupid as an option, leaving behind only brave or tactless – and my gut’s telling me it’s the latter. I remove my Panama hat, placing it atop the table, and I scratch a little at my beard. I’m thinking of what to say, of how much I should reveal. A good storyteller is one who knows just the right time to tip his hand – and how much.

“I never said that I know Hunter,” I say at last.

“But all that talk of pirates…” Leon says, looking a little puzzled, a little disappointed.

“That’s what it was,” Jarred says. “Talk. A story. Nothing more.”

I can’t help but to laugh. “It was a story, to be sure,” I chuckle, “but the stories I tell are not those of fiction. I never said that I know Hunter; I said that I know of Hunter. He’s a brave man, a courageous man. A man courageous enough to seek what is obscured by shadow. Courageous enough to pull back that curtain, to reveal what is hidden from the eyes of most others. Courageous enough to go out and find the answers for himself in the darkest of corners.”

All the eyes in the room are on me now, all the ears in tune to my voice. Glasses are raised halfway to lips, unable to go further. There is silence when I pause, and it is the eagerness in this silence which keeps me, as a storyteller, going.

“Me,” I say, “I come here as a raconteur. I come here with a little flashlight poking into the shadows, its beam of light falling on the nasty and horrible, the strange and wonderful, the believable and unbelievable things found within. I reveal these things to you, and you then decide for yourselves what to make of them.”

More silence for a moment.

“Any questions?” I ask, raising my eyebrows.

“Just one,” a more subdued Jarred says. “All of this, then – it’s all in some way connected to Hunter?”

“Yes,” I say, “it’s all connected to Hunter. Everything is. Everything and everyone on this earth is connected – remove the blinders and you’ll see. Dots will start to connect. Patterns will begin to form in the chaos. We are, all of us, pieces of this puzzle. We are, all of us, born with the ability to see the whole picture – but only if we want to. And only if we are then brave enough.”

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

scathing review

Part of the problem with your art, I think, is that it is not good art, but simply art for art’s sake. Images, words, melodies without significance. Material without content. No inherent meaning, no…essence. Is that the word?

The force which may be called a living creature’s élan vital is decidedly absent in your work. Rather than thrusting meaning upon the viewer, your work sits back, passively asking the viewer to seek meaning.

“Find it,” your work seems to say, “I dare you.”

An inferior artist might call this absence of substance ambiguity and be done with it, saying, “If you can’t find the meaning, then you’re the problem.” A true artist, upon creating such an empty piece, will scrap it and start over, saying, “There was no meaning, it was not art. It lacked that…something.” And the word she seeks will be essence.

“But what of the surrealists?” the inferior artist will ask, desperate to align herself with someone, anyone. “Decades later, we’re still trying to figure out what their art meant.”

But it’s simply the difference between hollow and multifaceted work. The difference between a piece with no energy, straining the viewer’s eyes with its absence, and a piece bursting with energy, blinding the viewer with its brilliance. It’s the difference, really, between an idiot’s trite remark and a wit’s double entendre.

Is it not cheap to write a book without a plot and ask the reader to look for one? Are fancy words enough? Is spot-on grammar, impeccable punctuation, and a good idea enough to lay down a classic which will be enjoyed for generations to come? Is asking a whole string of questions a lazy way to get your point across?

Part of the problem with your art, I think, is that it is not good art, but simply the art of someone who wants desperately to be an artist. It’s easy to surround yourself with others who want the same thing and feel that you’re all really part of something. Slap each other on the back. Be supportive. Throw around words like profound, genius, and brilliant. And as long as you never look beyond your circle you will never be wrong.

But what if, on the way to the market to buy some milk, you finally run into greatness? To pass Picasso on the street, you’d have known you were approaching a great man. To stand in line behind Kafka at the till, you’d have known you were in the presence of an awesome mind. Will your fantasy life be able to withstand such a shock to the system as when you finally come face to face with true brilliance? Or will the integrity of your fantasy life be undermined and those who you surround yourself with be instantly revealed as what they truly are? Non-artists. Anti-artists, even. Not celebrated creators, but mere manufacturers. Manufacturers of style, of personality, of the very lives they live. Manufacturers without that élan vital. Poseurs, the whole lot.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

trade secrets

“Just flash a twenty.”


“Flash a twenty,” I tell the guy beside me, some loser who’s been waiting for a drink, leaning desperately across the bar for the better part of five minutes. “Flash a twenty and you’ll get the bartender’s attention quicker. Pay with twenties for your first three drinks, and he’ll know you mean business. You won’t be waiting around like a chump after that. No way he’ll want you to walk out that door with a pocket full of unspent cash.”

The guy looks a little chuffed at my words, but reaches into his pocket for his wallet. There’s that initial look of panic when he finds it missing. Eyes fall to the floor, searching, and the poor idiot’s practically on his hands and knees inside of ten seconds.

I allow him to make an ass of himself for a moment before tapping him on the shoulder. He looks up at me, his eyes nearly feral.

“Another tip,” I say as he slowly stands up from the floor. “If you’re planning on leaning across the bar like that, you really shouldn’t keep your wallet in your back pocket.” I say this, and as I do, I toss his wallet onto the bar.

I smile as I watch a range of emotions flash across the guy’s face in half a second. Confusion. Realisation. Anger – the guy really wants to kill me, but is just smart enough to know not to try. Finally, there’s humility.

He mumbles something at me, I pretend it’s “Thanks,” and he withdraws a twenty from the coffers, clutching it in his hand on the bar.

The bartender is there in seconds, and a beer is slid into the guy’s eager little hand seconds after that.

But I’m not the kind of guy to say “I told you so,” so I just sit back and watch as the guy disappears into the crowd.

The bartender leans across the taps with a smirk on his face. “Spilling trade secrets again, I see?” he says.

“Somebody’s got to help these suckers out.”

“And who better to learn from?”

I chuckle.

"You’re one of the good ones, Casey,” the bartender says. “A real character, you know that?”

“Aw,” I say, with a depreciative wave of the hand, “I’ll bet you say that to every sucker in here.”

Thursday, October 12, 2006

beau ideal

When you realise that every place is the same, you will invariably be called home. When the mountains fall out of sight, when the ocean’s magic dries up, when the trees collapse away into the back of your mind, home is where you’ll want to be. So just let go. Freefall. You’ve a safety net right below.

When the present falls away, when that carpet is ripped out from under you, where else is there to go? Most will wind up plummeting to the past, pulled down by the desire for familiarity, tempted by ease, beckoned home by nostalgia. Others will step off that carpet on sensing the slightest tug. Step off to somewhere new. Step off to start all over again – only to find that it’s all the same.

Wherever you go, you are doomed to follow the pattern you laid out at home. Your body is little more than simple machinery intended to carry around your brain which is little more than complex machinery designed to reset to default. So that’s how it is that you, plunged into a new chaotic environment, will inevitably slip back to old orderliness, condemned by a sequence of habits, sentenced to sameness by your own system. It’s more than fate – it’s design.

“But this time’s going to be different,” the kid whinges. “I’m going to plunge myself into a totally alien setting. Someplace where I don’t speak the language. Someplace where I don’t understand the culture. A tiny place filled with the strangest of strangers, a small town in the middle of nowhere—”

Then you will find the least strange stranger of the bunch – or he or she will find you. You will naturally seek the one place in that town where you feel the safest, the most comfortable, the most, yes, at home. And from that point, it’s all downhill. You’ll be falling into pattern even while taking in your surroundings, learning the language, immersing yourself in the culture. And soon you’ll be nothing more than yourself in another place.

“I’ll leave everything at home,” the kid cries, “everything which reminds me of home will be left there. I’ll pack light, you’ll see. Everything I need, I’ll find in my new home—”

But there are things you’ll bring along with you that don’t quite fit into a suitcase; things like memory, nostalgia, and yearning. Things you’ll bring along with you that you don’t need to sneak past the watchful eyes of airport security; things like regret, doubt, and worry. These are the things which conspire against change. These are the switches which will force you to reset to default.

How soon before you realise that every place is the same? Perhaps when you’re sitting, alone, at the bar of the most comfortable watering hole in your new town. Perhaps when you lift that first pint to your lips. Perhaps when the waitress smiles that same smile she smiles all around the world. Perhaps then you’ll realise that you’re not anywhere new, that you’re not doing anything different.

The barstool will quaver slightly with the realisation, and you’ll look down to ensure that the floor beneath is still sound. What if the floorboards were to suddenly fall away? What if they fall away, and you fall with them into the void below – where will you be? Freefalling in the darkness. Tumbling through the air. Plummeting home.