Monday, October 22, 2007


An Open Letter to my Younger Brother


In the course of juggling the dual tasks of editing a zine and maintaining a blog over the past three years, I fear I've become somewhat cagey. Believing that were I to write my real feelings about some of the events that I have witnessed over the last two years, some of the people close to me might feel attacked, exposed, and quite possibly betrayed, I've opted for discretion. There's something to be said for doing so, but the fact is, of late, I've come to a greater awareness of just how much my voice has been reined in as a result. I often feel like I am not at liberty to speak my true mind. As a father, and a teacher, and yes, even a friend, I do believe there is a time for a certain politic silence to be maintained. With that, however, comes a time for plain words. I have to confess, with the direction my ramblings have taken over the past few months, I was a little surprised to read your words of encouragement regarding recent topics I've broached...they are close to your heart, as mine, and I have to confess, I worried that my words would be seen as attacks on both people and institutions that are probably much closer to both of our hearts than either of us would typically admit. I've learned that I can be quite acid in my observations, and believe it or not, I wish no harm or ill will upon any human being, and take special pains not to wish such harm on those who have wished it upon me. Life's too short to be wasting one's energies on such things. But I do try to temper my feelings so as to take others' feelings into account, where possible.

I wish I could find the words necessary to convey precisely what I learned on my last stay in the United States. Perhaps one day I will. I always seem to be just short of really communicating it, though. What I will say is that my criticism, though it may at times be misguided (and what person doesn't have a thing or two left to learn?), is never motivated by ill will. Rather, it's been my experience that, as a rule, human beings abhor change of any kind--even change that is beneficial to them. So when bad habits are pointed out to them, rather than understanding the messenger to be someone who wishes to bring about positive change, that person is often seen to be the real problem. I'm sure, with your experience in leading construction crews, you've seen this phenomenon yourself. Correcting someone's technique is rarely seen as a gift--rather, when the boss does it, it's usually understood as a petty attempt to assert one's limited power. The person being corrected regards it as meddlesome, and comes to resent the suggestion, with the end result being that the technique remains unfixed out of sheer spite. I could tell you I'm sure you could tell me...but I'll limit it to one: a certain mutual acquaintance of ours has, during the entire course of their life, always found it difficult to bake good homemade biscuits. As you may know, early in my working life, I did a considerable amount of time in a commercial bakery. This gave me the necessary knowledge to immediately pinpoint the problem: the person in question, out of a desire to simplify the process, ignored the recipe's call for solid fat, and substituted cooking oil. I do not expect everyone to know why this will result in poor biscuits (it has to do with the fact that the rising process is aided by the steam produced when the solid fat is melted), but I fear that when I encounter a human being who refuses to change their technique when this information is conveyed to them, my hope for the continued viability of the human species takes an incremental tick downward.

Sometimes, those incremental ticks build up to a serious downturn, and I'm afraid my recent return to the states--after a seven and a half year absence, during which America suffered a number of traumas that--horribly--appear to have bruised her psyche beyond recognition (this, itself, not exactly a testament to the continued resilience of the sense of nation "shared" by her citizens), has left me rather reeling. The primary feelings I have battled, over the last year--and especially since my--I have only one viable word for it--escape from my hometown, have been resentment, bitterness, and anger. None of these are particularly noble emotions, and so I have found myself desperately trying to think around them, trying to find my way back to expressing what I really feel. I was aware, upon leaving, that this process would take some time: as we left my best friend in that town--who cried upon our departure--I said as much to Kari, "It's likely to be two solid months before I even manage to figure out what the hell that was about." Well, it's been four, and typing this letter is as close as I've come to actually expressing my understanding of those events. All I can say about the mythical ignorance and laziness of the typical American is that I am one, and I don't regard myself to be either. If experience is any source of knowledge on the matter, I expect they're working you like a dog in your current occupation. They certainly did me. And as far as I can see, the better portion of the mechanisms of that particular system of economics are designed to keep those who have money rich, and those who don't poor. I've had to put myself into a very nearly unworkable position to obtain what education I have, and there's every likelihood that I will spend the rest of my life trying to dig myself out from under that particular burden. That is, short the new American dream: a lottery win, or, perhaps more realistically, a multi-million dollar lawsuit settlement. I think the present system conspires, wittingly or no, to lull most humans into a state of laziness and ignorance. Those in power want you that way. If you don't know, and don't want to do anything about it, you're easier to govern. Excellence is reserved for those who can afford a top notch publicity agent. That or the dead, who are the easiest of all to govern. Look what they've done to Jesus, after all.

You can see, my turn of mind reaches for the nearest icon, and tends to think the best cleanser a healthy dose of sulphuric acid. I don't wish to let myself go off on a rant, however, as I'd like to offer at least a tentative identification of a root problem. When I was very young, in the year and a half I lived in New Orleans, I remember once being approached by a middle aged woman while I stood outside the T-shirt shop where I was working, and the woman saying that I looked bored out of my mind, and giving me her business card and asking me to come see her about a possible business opportunity. I did. I took a chance, visited her, and it was one of the oddest encounters I've ever had in my life. The business end of her proposal was that she had some resort properties, and she was looking for a young manager, and asking if I would be interested. The trouble was, my own instincts suggested that there was far more than business afoot--at some point in the conversation, she asked if I'd ever brought a woman to climax...not exactly business school fodder, and highly suggestive of very different motivations on her part. I walked away from that. It's but one of many of my encounters that have left me wondering, occasionally, where my life might have gone had I made a different decision. I do remember one thing she said as I left, though, "You Americans are all suspicious to the bone. If someone offers you free food, you think it's poisoned."

Perhaps, on that occasion, I was right to suspect. However--and this especially after this latest visit to my hometown--I also suspect that for most Americans, she was absolutely right. My entire time in the United States was marked by nothing so much as a sense of deep suspicion, on the part of all but three people--all close friends--regarding my motives. There was nothing I could do to in any way allay this suspicion. Nobody but those good friends trusted me in any way, shape or form. So I bent myself to the task of keeping my word where others did not. And I think for the most part I did so. But the message was lost in the noise--I wasn't a victim, and therefore, I wasn't worthy of attention. I'm certain I would have done much better just to have developed a limp and complained about how I'd been wronged. This is true not only on the home front, but also in every dealing I had with job interviewers, every attempt at a business conversation. Obviously, I was up to something, and it wasn't likely to be anything good.

I'm told, by friends who watch this from the outside, that I'm not the only one who feels this. Multiply that by over 325 million citizens, and you begin to see the bare scope of the problem. Paranoia is the watchword. Freedom is absolute security. The very dirt we walk on is lethal. We have nothing to fear but everything we come in contact with. And as for this dreamer, who once not only hoped, but actively preached hope, the situation is beyond any hope of redemption. When everyone is looking out for number one, and convinced that number two through six billion has a gun pointed at their head, there's not a chance in hell we're gonna pull through this one.

I'd just like to say a couple of things about living abroad: first, the college degree helps--it gives one an immediate leg up, so if you've ever the mind to, you might think about that. Second, getting jobs is easier when you get one before you leave. You're not likely to get one on the ground...unless you're gunning for a job teaching English in Asia, and even then, maybe better to do at least some forward planning. My guess is there are ways, but moving around generally entails convincing the border guards that you're at least nominally financially viable. Living outside of one's nation of birth is not for every one, and certainly not for every American--it requires a level of flexibility, and the ability to admit that some things--even in the question of government--may be better managed in other nations, that not all humans possess. And in a place like Korea, it helps if your different colored skin is quite thick when it comes to racial stereotypes. All that said, I will say that seeing the beast from outside is very helpful in noting its identifying markings. Short living somewhere else, there's always the option of visiting, oh, say, a close relative with a couch and a good sense of direction that's on the ground when you come. How else are you going to spend your vacation? Fixing your Myspace profile?

Anyway, I don't know if that clarifies anything to you, but your comment was reason for me reflecting upon my recent thoughts and writing (which amount to a hill of shite, anyway...), and I'd like to thank you for that. I'm hard pressed for focal points right now, fearing, at times, that the only possible source of comfort left us is to admit that the bastards have beaten us, and to commence planning how best to inhabit the peace that's been thrust upon us. I'm cool. I've weathered far worse than this. I'm just getting old enough that it takes me that little bit longer to recuperate. But I think being given the opportunity to express myself on the matter--and actually acting upon it--may do a little to help speed the process along.

Stay well, kid, and I seriously hope that one day, we'll have the opportunity to get shitfaced on soju together.

--your bro--g

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Standard Myths

Filed in the "anyone can grow up to be president" file:

"The fee to be considered for the Democratic ballot is $2,500, while it’s a hefty $35,000 to gain admittance into the Republican primary."

More here. Go Stephen, go.

Meanwhile, on the question of writing--this, to a friend, in regards to recent crises on the writing front, I mentioned, among other concerns, that I had a strong suspicion that writers were accidentally "teaching our tyrants how better to swindle us and make us like it." To which he responded, "THEY'VE WON ALREADY! Jazus..that's no reason not to do something."

It may be exactly that--reaching for that nasty comfort that comes with realizing the struggle's been well and truly lost. I mean, obviously, our tyrants don't know much about handling peace. At least, not if we accept the labels they stick on things--wherein we've been at peace for a solid three years now. There's something to declaring the war over, and letting them call themselves winners. But it does seem cold comfort.

Regardless. I gotta find a way to get writing, again. I'm starting to bug the living shit out of myself at this point.

With that in mind...


Saturday, October 06, 2007


The game's afoot.

Big announcement...for me, anyway...forthcoming. In the meantime, another show in Gangneung. Come if you can.

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