The Book of Bram, Chapter 1

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I have decided to begin posting a series of letters I have come into, detailing the spiritual and philosophical struggles of a young man named Abraham. These letters fascinate me, both because the author is largely unknown, at least to me–these diaries were found in an old journal pulled from a box of books that I was given not long ago–and because of their deep resonance with my personal experiences. The overlap in reading and kindred thinking I find in these letters is incredible; but, considering the books this journal was included with, I find it less surprising. 

I will provide notes where they seem appropriate, but largely I wish to let the words and the questions speak for themselves. I have not read all of these entries, and my exploration through them will be an adventure as much for me as I hope it will be for you. This is not a place to formulate answers, but rather a platform for a voice. From the dictation of that authorial Voice comes what I have decided to entitle the Book of Bram:

15 October, 1:43 PM

“I have asked questions all my life,” said Bruce Metzger. “And today I know that my faith in Jesus has been well-placed.” He adds, with an almost child-like peace and sincerity, a satisfaction that stirs my jealousy: “Very well-placed.” [1]

I don’t know why I choose now to begin writing again. I don’t know why my rhetoric embarrasses me, as though I should think that anyone else might read this. I write from both need and want, both of which are unquenchable. I do not believe for a moment that enlightenment is the death of desire [2], rather it is the persistent pursuit of that One Desire that, in its pursuit and fulfillment, aligns all desires behind itself [3]. It is the current of perfection, the aligning of the self with the Divine Person of Christ, the momentum of perfection which draws everything into itself and painfully perfects all that would resist its process.

I, now, embody this resistance. I am a river that seeks to change its course, I intend to carve my way into the ocean when all I must do is accept myself to be channeled into that which promises to take me there.

And even in my resistance, I fail miserably. I spend no time [caring], only bemoaning the fact that I continuously fail to do that which has been done for me…

I am a mess of doubt, of unsatisfied intellect. I am angry that God does not defend himself to the world as I think he ought, but how much that is my insistence that I will not believe until he does so, to my liking? Until he “proves it” to [the Continental child] who will accept no proofs?

Was Pascal really wrong, or naive? [4] Doesn’t it ring true that I will so no God where I am unwilling to see him? Musn’t a friend prove himself as a reliable presence? I cannot dismiss him, having nothing to do with him until he proves to be perfect and loyal–how would I ever know?

Shouldn’t I also grant God the same opportunity, the same benefit, to himself speak to these questions and challenges, so heavily levied against him? Does it make sense to drown him out and then accuse him of silence? Should I not expect an answer, before I tell him that he has failed me?

And, in my expectation of that answer, should I not live to be like him, as though I were already? To be so unoccupied with myself, that I might not sin against him…

Κύριε Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ, Υἱὲ τοῦ Θεοῦ, ἐλέησόν με τὸν ἁμαρτωλόν. [5]

[1] Metzger is quoted as such in Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ (1998). Whether or not this is Bram’s source, I can’t say. 

[2] There is a similar sentiment expressed by the character Mitchell in his reading of the Desert Fathers in Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot (2011).

[3] Similar to the sentiment expressed by Kierkegaard: “Purity of heart is to will one thing.”

[4] Abraham almost certainly refers here to the infamous Pascal’s Wager. 

[5] Kyrie Iesu Christe, Gie tou Theo, eleison me tou amartolon: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Bram ends many of his entries and letters in this way, from the ones I’ve glanced at, and it appears to become his mantra–not to mention that he apparently has some understanding of Greek, or has at least copied the phrase. Referring back to the Eugenides connection about, the “Jesus Prayer” also becomes Mitchell’s mantra during his religious pilgrimage. It will be interesting to see if this connection becomes further fleshed out in Bram’s writing. Of course, that all depends on these letters be written fairly recently, and I’ve nothing to say to that point yet.  

Beelzy’s Lot

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A plug for my new story, weaved as an audio drama by this fantastic team! You can go listen to it for free on the Unfolded Podcast

Many, many thanks to the genius of Jesse Turri and Matt Barlow.

 

“Unfolded is back! And this episode is very, very special. Lyle Enright, an MA student in the English department at Loyola University (Chicago), is our guest contributor this week and he does NOT disappoint. In this episode, Lyle weaves us a frenzied tale of misgiving, infuriation and terror that will blow your mind, and Matt does his thing on the 1′s and 2′s crafting some sweet original sounds.

“Lyle has written numerous articles on faith, art, and culture for Relief Journal, Catapult* Magazine, and Antler, and will be presenting as part of the scholarship symposium at the NecronomiCon H.P. Lovecraft Festival in Providence, RI this coming August. His fiction has been featured in Relief, Catapult*, Flashes in the Dark,  and the anthology The Dark Side of the Womb.”

Unfolded_Final-1-300x300

 

Horror and the Holy, Part 2

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Here is the second part of my article series over at Antler, the education and culture website run by my friend Dave Harrity, author of the book Making ManifestHere, I talk about the implications that supernatural horror fiction can have on theology, and how faith-minded individuals can take advantage of such things.

Click it. Read it. Be awesome.

It is my honest belief that our cultural obsession with the Uncanny has come with an unconscious desire to experience this loss of personal authority…

In a practical sense, this means that a Christ-minded horror story, along with emphasizing order via chaos, should promote surrender in the face of transgression.

Horror and the Holy, Part 1

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I was recently asked by Dave Harrity, author of Making Manifest, to write an article on how I reconcile my horror writing with my faith in sanctifying spirituality. Here are the first half of my answers.

Special thanks to Philip Tallon for his influence on this piece, and on my research and philosophy of horror at large.

Horror prods at this sensitivity to transgression within all of us, and being afraid reminds us that there is yet a way things are supposed to be; that not everything is permissible no matter what we may argue.

 

Bleed Out

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The rock band Blue October recently released a new single for their upcoming album, Sway. It’s called “Bleed Out”, and true to fashion I’ve taken it, listened to it, taken it apart and discovered threads that lead to other things.

If I’m getting part of the lyrics right, they go something like this:

…And way down, I know
You know where to cut me with your eyes closed.
Bleed out -
It won’t be long until this heart stops beating,
So don’t leave me, don’t let me bleed out here alone…

I can’t stop listening to it. And my attitude is colored a little differently as I approach it, right from the line at the beginning: “Will you ever, ever let me off my knees?” Here, Justin Furstenfeld is battling back against someone who has wronged him, but I’m immediately turning this thing into a prayer because, well, the language is right there.

I’ve never believed in pulling punches with God. I’ve said some of the worst things that language can muster in his presence, not so much because I believe he can handle himself and knows what I’m going to say anyway, but more to make sure that he’s seeing me honestly, at my most raw and real.

Or, maybe I need to know that I’m truly being that way. Trying not to cuss or rave in front of Christ can sometimes be the dam that blocks confession and repentance as well. Sometimes, “Please, Lord, give me strength in my struggles” just doesn’t mean the same thing as “Christ, I’m sick and up to my knees in this shit and I’m not getting out without you.”

…But in the end, that’s not what I’m thinking about. What I’m thinking about is the sort of love that knows what’s truly being asked of it, knows how to “cut with its eyes closed.”

According to Francois Fenelon, it “cuts ‘swift and deep into our innermost thoughts and desires with all their parts, exposing us for what we really are.’ The great Physician, who sees in us what we cannot see, knows exactly where to place the knife. He cuts away that which we are most reluctant to give up. And how it hurts! But we must remember that pain is only felt where there is life, and where there is life is just the place where death is needed. Our Father wastes no time by cutting into parts, which are already dead. Do not misunderstand me; He wants you to live abundantly, but this can only be accomplished by allowing Him to cut into that fleshly part of you which is still stubbornly clinging to life… He will deal with the parts of you that are still alive. He might even test your faith with restrictions and trials of all kinds. But… ‘What fearest thou, oh thou of little faith?’ Do you fear that He may not be able to supply to you from Himself that help which He may have taken away on the human level? And why does He take human help away, except to supply you from Himself, and to purify you by the painful lesson?”

…Love hurts, but not in the ways the songs say, at least not the ones we think of. It’s not that bittersweet little sting of romanticism; true love is the clenched-teeth, teary-eyed surgeon who operates to save his own child’s life as they scream at him, barely able to understand how sick they are, and any amount of anesthetic would totally defeat the work. Love spares no knife.

Love loves jealously, divisively, anxiously, tenaciously – it accepts everything, settles for nothing, loving to the completion of perfection and, literally, to death.

I watched an episode of the British comedy drama Doc Martin today. I got two very different pictures of love from it. In one story, an elderly couple who’d once had an affair see the chance to finally rekindle their passion now that both their spouses have passed, in blissful denial of the shame and suffering their actions could have brought on the ones they claimed to love; but of course, if that were really true, there would be no story to tell.

In another, briefer scene, a stoic doctor tries to treat a teenage girl with a dislocated arm. She screams and begs for him to help her, to heal her, but every time he gets near her she screams even louder for him not to touch her. In the end he must flank her, broadside her, and mercilessly wrench her body until her arm returns to it’s rightful place.

Now, in the show, something intensely creepy happens – the fifteen-year-old is so stunned and grateful that she develops a crush on the forty-something doctor. Squick.

But, truthfully, shouldn’t my response be the same? When my pieces get put back into place, shouldn’t the appropriate response be astonishment at the feeling of wholeness, and adoration for the one who brought it?

So often, I can never get past the screaming. The knife comes up, the hands move to my wounds and I am subsumed into despair – I cry and scream until my wounds tear wider, and no work is done because I can’t stay still for the terror of it.

I know myself, I think. I know myself well enough to know when I am being broadsided and ambushed for the sake of popping my pieces back into place – sometimes, emergency surgery must be forced upon the deathly fearful and stubborn. But I’m so used to screaming, I’d deign to call it a habit by now. It’s about time I learned to respond rightfully to that, and slowly learn to be grateful for it.

The knife comes out again. My hands shake, I grip the gurney, I try and let the fear come out in tears, knowing that if I open my mouth the screaming will start again. So I can just barely whisper, “Before You kill me, won’t You look back in my eyes and watch me…?”

“I tell you the truth: I am with you, to the very end of the age.”

“Then don’t leave me, don’t let me bleed out here alone…”

It won’t be long until this heart stops beating; and in the end, I must bleed out… But I need not be afraid - I need to not be afraid – because I will not be alone.

I Will Pretend That It is Quiet

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“Of course I did,” he says to his friend. He searches his glass like its empty, even though there’s still enough in there to spill. “You know me.” He flaps his hand open and closed as he talks, touching the fingertips together like the mouth of a puppet that’s not there.

“Sure,” the man beside him says, scratching his beard.

“He’s not kidding,” a third says.

“No way!” the second man jumps back in surprise. Now the second and third hold a conversation about the first; though he’s right there, he has buried himself in his cell phone.

He’s escaped from something. I don’t know from what, and he doesn’t know for how long.

Across the table from me, I can see a pair of glasses resting atop a shiny, bald head. As if to confirm that I am, in fact, looking at a person rather than an exceptionally social piece of eyewear, a man pops up beneath them periodically like a green-shirted gopher, emulating basketball players in the middle of the fairway where he nearly knocks over a waitress. Repeatedly.

She’s beautiful, at that. She weaves through the crowd like she knows it well. That’s really impressive, if I think about it long enough – or really sad, if you consider the people who come here often enough on a Saturday night to be predictable.

She is a pink pixy, and she sweeps golden dust wherever she turns her head. She keeps people happy simply by walking to and fro – she keeps drinks cold, and blood hot.

She is lovely. And the more I think about that, the more I realize that I don’t want her – I haven’t since I walked in the door, and I will not by the end of the night.

It has surprisingly little to do with the fact that her jeans end before her pockets do, or that I can see more of what’s holding her up than what’s holding her in.No, it’s because, when her eyes meet mine, it affirms for me what I already know, what I’ve long since decided:

She is not perfect. She cannot be. It’s not her fault – perfect simply belongs to another person, someone who is already mine, someone who is far away, and who I miss terribly, and she is all the lovelier for it.

Sometimes I fear to miss her, even more than I actually miss her, and sometimes that makes her ugly in ways that she is not. And then I remember that I’m not perfect.

The blue-shirted man with the puppet-hand is awake again. He sips a dark drink, headed with enough foam that I know it will leave a mustache when he takes it from his lips. I hope it pleases him, gives him courage in some primal, Freudian way – Lord knows he could use the help in the facial-hair department.

My drink is not so dark. It’s more a color I don’t care to consider too hard, and in just saying that I do it anyway – it’s the color of my piss after I haven’t been too good to my body. It doesn’t taste as bad as that though, though the first drink was the best and it is, regrettably, going downhill from there.

It’s crisp,though, and refreshing and bitter. If I’m going to eat something, it should be now, while I’m drinking something like this.

The girl who brought it to me is pretty too, very much so. I hope she comes back soon –when she’s around it reminds me that I’m not completely lost in this place that I don’t know very well. (I know that that’s a stretch, but it’s a first thought that comes to mind – it’s a primal one, and the person on this page needs to feel something.)

Yes, she’s very pretty – and, again, she’s not perfect. Nobody here is – I know, because they are too close, and there is no shortage of them. Perfection is, by definition –no, by necessity (as I redact such a nebulous, purposeless concept as a “definition”)– Perfect is either far away and out of reach, or closer to you than your own heart. There is no in-between, and in each way, it is one of a kind.

This room is filled with beautiful people. But they are neither close, nor far away, and each one looks just enough like the one next to them to make me smile.

On the television, a scorpion snips the string of a woman’s bikini top as a black sports car flies by, catching her attention, and she instantly falls in love with the driver whom she can’t see.

Damn, that little arachnid is a pervert.

The glasses have stood up now, and are making the green-shirted man dance to a beat that has no music. I expected as much, but it still makes me blush with that special embarrassment that you can only feel on behalf of another person.

I just realized I’m here paying for a drink again, and for food that I could make better myself. I’m alive and awake the way I should have been five hours ago. I needed those five hours to get me to now, when I should be closing my eyes, falling asleep, asking to be forgiven for what I’ve done today and asking for mercy when I wake up.

I am nowhere close to any of those things right now. How am I ever going to go to work on Monday?

Sitting in a place like this, I thought I’d see at least one person crying. Maybe it’s because I want to myself, a little. Either way, it’s a full bar, and I’m staring at a lot of backs.

A girl starts dancing close to her friend. She looks like a snake before a piper.

The piper always believes she’s in control, but does the snake believe the same thing? Does the piper mistake curiosity and calculation for passivity?

When she wraps her arms around the person with her, is it a gesture of vulnerability, of unguarded calm?

Or is she quietly setting her fangs, unnoticed, seemingly tamed but ready to push them in when the time comes?

Biting into this burger teaches me something – I actually wanted chicken, and I want something darker to drink once the piss is gone.

I also realize why I’m sitting here, enjoying it not so much but still paying for it.

I still want to be well. It’s something I can’t stop thinking about. I am here because I want to be not the person I am when I’m alone in my room with two lights on and alternately opening and closing the window on the chance that the wet night-time air might be what’s interfering with my holiness, and I want so much to not be afraid anymore.

And now I betray the fact that, in my mind, holiness is defined by a lack of fear, a lack of anxiety and distrust. I don’t know that. This may very well be the agony of my own perfection.

I say I want to trust. But trust burns, because it is rooted in not knowing. I don’t want to burn. I would rather not burn than learn how to burn well.

“All that is gold does not glitter” – No, sometimes it glows white-hot as it’s thrust into blue flames, and does anyone ever ask it how it’s feeling then, as they fawn over it, imagining how beautiful it will be?

Maybe it doesn’t want to be beautiful, if this is what it takes, what it costs. Certainly, if I were ever melted down, stretched, beaten, frozen solid and then adorned with gems for the sake of representing someone else’s eternal love, I would feel cheated.

Is it worth it, to simply be that beautiful? To be perfect?

I sit in a corner, at a watering-hole for people who only become thirstier the more they drink. They drink loudly, wanting more, because what’s there is not enough. Dead things are never enough. The glasses make their green shirt dance to Michael Jackson, and he is joined by a proud white boy as they both try to keep the King of Pop alive through clumsy feet. But he’s deader than anything. Nothing is changing that.

Dead things are never enough, and I would make sense of that to each of them if I could.

I sit here, where there is drought. There is a book in my backpack that talks about living things – living words, living dances, living people, life in full, for the price of repentance and rest, quietness and trust. These things draw the tears I wasn’t sure I wanted.

I will pretend that it is quiet, recalling that I have been led to Living Water and have refused to drink.

It’s Monday. What Are You Reading?

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Because I am actually a horrible target for peer pressure, I will humor my writer friend Marci Johnson and do my short post:

1. The Philosophy of H. P. Lovecraft: The Route to Horror by Timo Airaksinen
2. “The Existence of God” and other letters by Fenelon.
3. The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis
4. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
5. CthulhuTech by Matthew Grau

“Route to Horror” is a bit more like homework, as I’m using it to further my research. Airaksinen’s work on Lovecraft is not terribly well known, from what I can tell, and where it is known it isn’t very well received by purists. It’s from the New Studies in Aesthetics series, though, so it’s not meant to be specifically philosophy or literary criticism, but a new perspective on the mix. While he makes several presumptive statements about the topic without backing them up, he still raises valid points for which there is evidence, even if you can’t always get it from him. Thankfully, I have a background in the source material.

Fenelon and a Kempis have been the backbone of my devotional life for a long time.  This is my third time through each.

Meanwhile, my girlfriend and I read Dickens together whenever we can over Skype. It’s a great way to spend quality time while four hours apart, and is even more fun with her as the narrator and me doing the different voices for the characters in the dialogue.

And, well… Yeah. CthulhuTech. That’s a tabletop RPG, and I’m currently reading through the core rule book. It’s actually quite fun, and the setting is very fascinating, even as an amalgam of blatant and admitted rip-offs; it becomes its own thing very quickly, and I’ve needed something to spark my imagination for a long time. I think I may have found it.

So. It’s Monday. What are you reading? 

The Part Where I Start To Get the Whole Thing About Heavy Metal

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You say this pace beckons evil spirits,
But I care not what you call it;
To me it’s two-hundred beats per minute.
On tablature I scrawled it.

Passive voice aside, this is one of my favorite tongue-in-cheek lines from the band Tourniquet, off their album, Microscopic View of a Telescopic Realm. Here, frontman Luke Easter challenges the Evangelical Christian community at large regarding their distaste for most anything that didn’t come right out of the big red book in the back of the pew that they often confuse for a bible. Anything that comes tumbling out of K-LOVE radio is also acceptable, but anything else is patently unholy.

Especially rock music.

Heavy metal has been and still is a big part of my life. There are a lot of bands with very positive, challenging messages who use aggressive chords and double-bass as a vehicle for their thoughts. The craftsmanship of the music and the skill of its execution can be breathtaking.

So to have a large part of the faith community I’m a part of wrinkling their noses when they see my In Flames tour shirt, it makes me feel like a bit of a black sheep. Most of their reasons are old to me by now – the images are dark, the music is loud,  I can’t understand the words, why do they have to be so angry? This is also why I can’t share Gojira’s latest album with my girlfriend, even though it’s exquisite art and I will argue til the end of time that her refusal makes her uncultured.

I promptly duck as a copy of A Tale of Two Cities wings inches above my head.

I pick myself up, fix my hair, and mumblingly admit – ok, fine. Yes. There is something to that.

This is not a sudden “change of heart” in which I join the old-schoolers of religious fundamentalism; I simply have to acknowledge a set of attitudes and human behaviors that take on a new light as I think on what I believe.

The main thing that can put heavy metal at cross-purposes with the Imitation of Christ is not the words, it’s not the music, it’s not the people who sing it or their tattoos or piercings – it’s the noise, pure and simple.

The band Red has become a powerhouse in the world of faith-informed rock music. Their words are honest and convicting, and the chugging of guitars and drums is right at home in their message. However, I have never felt quite at peace while listening to them, either. While “Let Go” and “Shadows” capture authentic need and spiritual tension, I never end up feeling less afraid or overshadowed for listening to it. Sometimes what’s needed is the catharsis of the articulation, but it doesn’t seem to really ease anything.

Here’s the reason, I think:

‘And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?’ – 1 Kings 19:11-13

Problems are loud. Danger, fear, and anxiety, are all very, very noisy. We focus on noise, we pay attention to it, and it distracts us from the quiet place where peace usually is. Listening to something that talks about our problems, even proposes the solutions to those problems, but still sounds like those problems, isn’t really a recipe for growth or healing. Catharsis and encouragement, certainly, in their place,  but the truth is that true wisdom doesn’t scream at the top of its lungs.

More so, aggression is the sound of resistance. If I start listening to Red or Disturbed during serious bouts of fear and insecurity, what I’m hearing is the sound of possible resistance, the ability to fight back. While perseverance and personal will are necessary, everything I believe in reminds me that it’s not enough, and that what I really need to do is to not fight my own battles but to give up and die, to sink to a place where they are already won.

“I am an indestructible master of war!” I bellow at my fears, my demons, preparing for battle, while the still, small voice says, “Lay your weapons down – there are no enemies in front of you.”

I love and will always love loud music. It has a special place in my heart and even in my introspection and worship. But I am willing to admit, finally, that it cannot take the place of certain necessary things. If the solutions speak as loudly as the problems, then I can get very confused about which ones I am listening to at any given moment. It is necessary to practice hearing small, still things, so that I can recognize such a voice when it tries to guide me to the quiet places.

If I Were A Webcomic…

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I am a pretty dedicated web-comic reader. It’s not often that you find a form of entertainment that’s easily accessible and caters to your interests consistently each week. It might be arguable that I have made a bad habit of keeping up with such things, but I’m sure the authors would think otherwise. So far, my daily repertoire includes Cyanide & Happiness, Penny Arcade, PvP, Girls With Slingshots, Least I Could Do, and Looking for Group.

Most of these focus on gaming or nerd culture, and some are just nostalgic or smartly written. But there is a thread running through them that seems to be growing thicker. This is not intended to be a soapbox, merely on observation: There are a LOT of gay people in web-comics.

It’s not only homosexuals. Girls With Slingshots in particular sports a plethora of “alternative lifestyles” represented in its characters, including straight characters, a homosexual transgender, a monogamous straight couple, a monogamous lesbian couple, an open relationship between an asexual and a “romantically bisexual straight girl”, and a librarian with a dominance fetish.

I have come to guess that this comic is set in Portland. Or maybe Clawson, Michigan.

GWS: Jamie and Erin discuss a nebulous idea of “love”.

As I said, I don’t plan on using this as a soap-box to discuss these relationships. I do see GWS as a collection of very unhealthy individuals, and read it with this in mind. But what I’d rather focus on for the moment is the demographic.

A Gallup report from October 2012 reported that homosexual adults make up about  3.4% of the American population, drawing from the largest pool of LGBT participants yet. This means that, in a random pool of one hundred American adults, three of them will answer “Yes” to being a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individual and one person further will say “Meehhh-aybe not really?”

In the cast of GWS we have around one (and a half?) bisexual persons, three lesbians, and a gay cross-dresser (I think? I’m still a little confused about Darren…) Further still, at least two additional alternative lifestyles are represented. By all data, this leaves nearly three hundred other people unaccounted for, leading lives presumably unworthy of artistic attention.

Now, I’m by no means accusing Danielle Corsetto of actually holding this mindset. This woman, of a different orientation and worldview than myself, is a creative writer with a sharp wit and a smart knowledge of human interaction, and she uses her talent as a means for commenting on the world she lives in. These qualities come together to spell GOOD ARTIST. However, she has written a story where a number of people whose lives are steeped in the “alternative” have all managed to find one another. The resulting focus of the drama gives the utopian illusion that they are not a marginalized population, but rather the norm. Translated to the real word, however, they are still in the 3.4%, and what’s more they do not interact with the 300 other people that necessarily surround them – as presented, they are isolated.

Admittedly, GWS does have much more social conscience than comparable comics such as LICD or Menage a 3 (R-rated, NSFW) which exist mainly for entertainment, satire, and, in the latter case, titillation. Even Go Get A Roomie! (again, NSFW – I promise these aren’t on my rounds…), a comic very spiritually close to GWS, doesn’t come close to the human sympathy present when Corsetto’s writing is at its best. I understand that Corsetto is using her comic as a platform to explore and discuss the choices made by various people – her characters are facsimiles in a myth, not one-to-one representations of real individuals. But again, this conscience is for a very marginal part of society – in attempting to explore a utopia that normalizes the “alternative”, it threatens to disengage the real-world 96.6%, which becomes larger every time a new character with an alternative lifestyle is included.

Now, briefly, we’ll turn our gaze to Scott Kurtz’s PvP. One of the supporting characters is gay. It rarely gets brought up. The fact is not pivotal in the characters’ workplace. It does not permeate the narrative. The characters in this comic are not obsessed with their own sexuality. Max is the 3.4% in this narrative, and no more or less is made about it. People are allowed to be people, and the existence of someone on the margins is not a cause for dehumanizing them nor for initiating an agenda for their empowerment. It sounds like real life. It sounds like my experience with real life. This I deeply admire and appreciate.

PvP – Just like being at work.

In art and entertainment nowadays, there seems to be this need to insert a “token” gay person, or other “alternative lifestyle”. We even see this in contemporary DC and Marvel comics. Harry Potter’s Albus Dumbledore was “retroactively” outed as gay. Shows like Glee and Modern Family have taken that to a new level. All right, yes, we understand, homosexuality and alternative relationships are a social issue and something to be paid attention to. This we accept and understand and must be humble and patient about, but all over people seem to be working to balloon 3.4% into something that it’s not – or insisting that it should be bigger.

My art does not contain gay people – I am not a gay person, and do not know many gay people, and therefore do not know how to appropriately write homosexual characters. Further, I disagree with the lifestyle, but I refuse to use my art as a platform for that discussion. I feel it would be inappropriate, and detract from the stories I wish to produce. In many circles, this will mark me as “non-progressive”. Such a label tells me that the artistic community has lost a great deal of humility indeed.

Frankly, I refuse to be party to the fad of normalizing something that, by nature, resists such attempts, and I have little patience for agendas that attempt to define the macrocosm by a microcosm based on individual “rights”. Our rights are those things that guard our humanity when our natural inclination is to dehumanize one another. Our rights are not an omnipotent social contract that ensures our behavior is entitled to acceptance, support, or dissemination.  To argue such is the height of human arrogance. But this is what we witness in the inflation of the 3.4% – the realities of homosexuality and alternative lifestyles are not being explored, they are being thrust into the public forum with a bullhorn to gather converts. In a very real way, a large amount of contemporary art is telling us that 3.4% isn’t good enough – society shouldn’t just be more open-minded, progressive, or accepting; society ought to be more gay, more polyamorous, more gender-bent, more self-and-sex centered

I have my own opinions and disagreements with “alternative lifestyles”, homosexuality among them. I care more for people’s health than their happiness. I feel that sex-centered (arguably obsessed) lifestyles, of any orientation, are deeply unhealthy and I feel that the insistence of pursuing these behaviors perpetuates self-damage. But more than these, I oppose the idea that I am not allowed to express these opinions of mine because they somehow encourage a status-quo that needs to be changed or, even worse: somebody might feel bad when challenged by what I have to say, namely that choices lead to consequences. This latter part, I promise you, is a big deal in the art I create, regardless of particulars.

I and my art will forever oppose the dehumanization of the minority. More than that, I and my art will forever work towards the health of the collective. But I will not work, or create, towards the normalization of something that resists being normalized, and moreover that I believe to be unhealthy. To do so would be at-odds with the very concepts of human flourishing and equality. In the miasmic, grey area of artistic license that exists in the gaps between these ideals, I appreciate honesty and accuracy when I find it.

On that note, I will return to Scott Kurtz and PvP. In thinking about all this, and after a recent story arc, I’ve come to realize that PvP is perhaps the comic I most look forward to on my daily web excursions. So a simple thank-you, Scott - for presenting a society, culture, and characters that are funny enough, neurotic enough, and real enough to remind me of the ones I live in and with, day to day. No more, and no less.

Video

Young The Giant – “Cough Syrup”

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It’s not often that I’ll go out of my way to advocate something, but here’s one such occasion.

I only just heard this song for the first time tonight, tuning in to the guitar solo at about two-and-a-half minutes in and I had to stand still and listen through the rest of it.

It might just be my time of life right now, but the urgent, active seeking within the lyrics feels like it’s going to yank me out of the vibrating complacency I’ve found myself in lately and drag me with it – “If I could find a way to see this straight / I’d run away to some fortune that I should have found by now / So I run now to the things they said could restore me / Restore life the way it should be / I’m waiting for this cough syrup to come down…”

This whole image of “Cough Syrup” asserts the focus of the song as being this idea of substance abuse – our tendency to numb ourselves in the face of uncertainty. But that’s the problem itself, isn’t it? The “valorization of certainty and the demotion of wonder”, our unwillingness to live in the “twilight of simple faith.”

I hate it there, myself, honestly. I hate the idea that whoever’s in there might not be on my side, even though he claims to be, and to know the desires of my heart before they’re fully formed. He interprets the sighs and the swells while, to me, they still feel like havoc and heartache.

That’s where I’ll find this “fortune I should have found by now”, this is where life is restored the way it should be… In those dark, gloaming places that we’ve taught ourselves to fear.

“If I could find a way to see this straight, I’d run away” … I hope I’ll run away there.

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