Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Devil and Daniel Johnston

"I know Daniel's going to heaven, because after looking at these, I know he's already been to hell."
-- Psychiatrist reviewing pages of drawings done by Daniel Johnston

The past year I've been on a documentary kick. I've seen some good ones, and some others that should be ground up, mixed with paper pulp, wrapped onto a cardboard spindle and hung beside the toilet just so there could be some sort of contribution for its existence.

But I digress.

A great friend of mine told me to go rent this.:

So I did.


The Devil and Daniel Johnston is a hell (no pun intended) of a documentary. To see the gradual mental decline of someone... to watch old footage blended with new footage; to hear agony wept into lyrical tears... it's heart wrenching on so many levels, but amazing at the same time.

The sheer body of his work is staggering. His delusions horrifying. To look backward and see the trail of his life and how he got to where he's at now is like looking at a trail of broken toys a toddler has discarded after a long afternoon.

A tortured genius doesn't come close.

snap back to reality... oh, there goes gravity

I hate hospitals.

I can't stand the clinical antiseptic smells. The gleaming waxed floors in the hallways. The sound of the stainless steel food carts being shepherded around at feeding time.

I can't stand the facial expressions you see in the people in the waiting rooms or outside on their cel phones. They're so full of sorrow and hollow desperation like some sort of panicked rat eating away at any remaining hope and faith they have left.

But most of all I can't stand the shadows there.

The overhead fluorescents reach into every far corner of the hospital except for certain areas; the rooms in the wings of the hospital that are more quiet than others.

The rooms where people don't go to get healed.

Those rooms have shadows that don't go away.

And sometimes, if you try to leave, they follow you.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Like a freight train on my heels

Time and fate are beasts you cannot reason with. Opportunities rise and fall every day that have the potential to change the rest of your life. The most innocuous thing has the potential to turn your world on a dime. People who will alter the course of your life appear right before your eyes... but only if you recognize them.

I'm a cautious person by nature. I've been burned quite often and I've learned by those painful lessons every time. But I'm fairly positive a person with the power to alter my life has presented themselves to me. The signs are there. Those little "coincidences" that line up like soldiers waiting to wage some kind of epic battle. And this time, there are way too many "coincidences" to ignore. So many that it's frightening. So many that I don't remember the last time it made me react like this.

I'm doing my best to figure this one out but I'm not sure I can yet. I'm not sure this particular puzzle wants to be figured out as much as it just wants to exist. But if it's one thing I've become over the last couple years is a huge believer in symbols. Freud said that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Well that may be true. But sometimes Orion's Belt is the illuminated path to something far larger. Something far bigger than what I can imagine... something I didn't think would ever present itself to me in my lifetime.

One thing has remained true to me as long as I've known it - listen to my instincts. It pains me to say I haven't always remained true to the creed and every time I haven't, I've gotten hurt - and hurt badly. But I know I should listen to my instincts. What's my body - my soul - telling me to do? Goose flesh at the back of my neck. That tightening in my stomach.

That high-pitched rush, with the sound of my beating heart like a freight train in my ears.

Yeah. Oh yeah.

What're my instincts telling me this time?

Do you know?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Permanent Muse

Far East mystics pierce their cheeks or tongues in ritualistic parades to show their strength of faith. They say it puts them closer in touch with God.

The Lakota Indians used to use pain in their Sun Dance... piercing areas of their chest that were tethered to a high post and dancing in a trance like state until they broke free - ripping their flesh in the process.

Every year, thousands of people in Tibet get tattooed by a holy man - tip, tap, tapping the stick and needle by hand - to get a blessing embedded in their skin. Without fail, all of them say the blessing has saved them from stabbings or gun shots or whatever the hell else the crime element in Tibet can dish out.

I have no faith in God.

I've got more than a few drops of American Indian in me. Cherokee to be accurate. But other than the fact that I'm babyfaced and hairless, you'd never know it by looking at me because I'm usually paler than the average teenage attendant of HorrorFind weekend. So, I'll tip an eagle feather to the Lakota Indians, but no way in hell I'm ripping apart my pectorals to find my personal relationship to Wakan Tanka.

Now, the tattoos on the other hand...

I got my first ink laid to my skin when I was about 23. My wife got it for me for my birthday, although she really had no idea what she was kickstarting at the time. I remember going in and talking about what I wanted - a Japanese koi fish design. In Japanese culture, koi are symbols of luck in life and love. In fact, koi roughly translates to love and affection in Japanese. I recall the look in my wife's eyes when she stopped by during her lunch break to see how things were going. I'd just gotten the carbon transfer to my skin, and I saw how big her eyes were when she saw the size of the design I was getting for my first - first - tattoo.

Five hours later, I was done.

The experience was cathartic... cleansing. It was painful - the closer he got to my spine and the top of my shoulder, it forced me to an entirely new perspective on how to deal with pain. I realized that there's no way to run from pain. It's there. You can't hide from it or mask it or just hide in a happy place. The only way to really deal with it is to stop running and just face it head on. Embrace it. Wrap your arms around it and dive on in like a warm blanket.

The tattoo itself came out "ok" to me. The guy who inked me is now dead, although I don't know the reasons why. That in itself is a symbol of sorts to me. At the time, I was about two months into starting my own business. It was a crossroads of my life. So the experience of getting tattooed was beyond meaningful. I shed the bullshit of my previous jobs and set out on a new path. Five hours of pain was enough to wash out the pipes, so to speak.

So... I'd been itching to get another one ever since. And ever since one of my best friends, John Stapleton and his lovely wife, Becky, paid us a visit and went to dinner, I'd been growing more and more serious.

John is a very successful ad whore. Well... maybe ad whore is a bit harsh. He's more like an ad escort. Think Heidi Fleiss. And when he was up, he mentioned how, at this point in our lives, we're fairly established career wise. We could get tattoo sleeves done, and who the hell could say anything to us about it? It's not like we're not good at what we do for a living. What, no one's going to hire us because we have a great portfolio but ink on our arms but? Thing is, as usual, John's right.

Did I mention that John doesn't have any tattoos?

A few weeks ago, I visited Kyle Blackledge at Wandering Canvas. The shop's clean. He has two attractive women tattooing with him. He's got a a skull and wings tattooed on his head. He's done artwork for guys like Brian Keene and Geoff Cooper.

Kyle, in short, kicks more ass than a donkey.

I went in at noon and aside from three two-minute water breaks, stood up from the chair at 4:45 with a finished tattoo. Kyle is light handed for a tattooer, but it still felt like he was mining for diamonds on the top of my shoulder when he was doing the shading.

The outlines however... that was - and through no fault of Kyle's - transcendental. Getting outlines done on a piece this big feels like someone is dragging a heated scalpel over your skin and peeling flaps away piece by piece.

And once again, I had no choice but to embrace the pain... run headlong into it like I was seeing an old friend.

Cathartic? Oh yeah.

In Japanese myth, the Hannya is a demon with horns and sharp fangs. She was once a beautiful woman whose unrequited love transformed her into a creature overwhelmed with jealousy and rage.


Is my muse.

When I ignore her... don't pay her enough attention... she gets pissed and, I might add, rightfully so.

So... I decided to dedicate part of my flesh to her. As a reminder to me to never ignore her again. As a reminder to her of how important she is.

Because, to be perfectly honest, I don't think I'd be here if it wasn't for her.

My permanent muse:

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Permanent Muse: update

It's 10:30 as I type this in... and I've got an appointment with the Permanent Muse at noon.

I promise to show her to you soon... =)

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Coming soon...

On January 20th...

The Permanent Muse

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Little whispered secrets

Here's some insight on how my muse works:

THIS is what burped out of the cerebral cortex of my brain at 3:47 this morning.

"I’ve been a card counter, a bartender, a chaueffer, and after a stretch in Alabama's prison system for grand theft, I even spent some time being a cheese maker. Jack of all trades and master of none, I guess you could say.
But if there’s one thing I’m known for, it’s that I can keep a secret. And let me tell you, Big Stakes Jackie had a secret that was a whopper."

Now... see, here's the thing. I don't know who Big Stakes Jackie is. And I really don't have any idea what the hell his big secret is. Right now, I don't even know the name of the guy who's telling me this.

But I will.

Maybe not next week, next month, or even this year at all.

But eventually, somebody's going to spill the beans. Because, unlike whoever is telling me this story, my muse is a blabber mouth. She just happens to tak her own good time and tell me when she's ready.