Sunday, May 29, 2011

Eaten By Some Squirrels

My friend Christian Thompson asks the following question on facebook:

"Let me pose a question for you creative types: If you could create your best work ever, but it came with a 30 day deadline that would result in death if you failed, would you do it?  I got thinking about it after hearing the story of the author Oliver Sacks. He was attempting to finish a novel and caught some nasty writer's block that stumped him for 8 months. He gave himself a 30 day deadline with the promise of suicide if he didn't finish. And you know, he did finish the book."

To which he received a sock full of the kind of answers I suspect he expected;
variations on 'Art Over Life!'. And then there was my single word answer of 'No.', which he 'liked', because he gets me.

Maybe I'm being overly judgmental because I work in a different medium. Imagine the headline: 'Blogger agrees to be thrown into shark tank because he didn't finish post on how disappointed he was that the local grocery store was out of english muffins'.

English muffins are delicious, but I'm pretty sure you see the joke there.

I know what it's like to be an arteest. I did that for awhile. The problem is that the arteest lacks perspective; eventually, there will be no world for your legacy work to survive into (sun explosion), and, you're work is not as great and important as you expect it to be. This last one is true in most cases, and the first one is true in all cases. Yes, most arteest's have the needed narcissism and internal conflict down, but there's something off with the way they apply the fingerpaint.

You've got to have a realistic assessment of your talent. Once you realize and accept that your art isn't that good or important, you'll be free to make the best of it.

Just think about this: the odds are that the above statement applies to almost (if not) everyone who is or could be reading it. Myself included

So why not enjoy your art, and leave your art-messiah self crucified to his long-suffering ego? You'll be happier. Imagine yourself never doing art again. Forget what Rilke says. Say, 'I could never do art again', and mean it. It may be scary at first, especially for those of you who are banking on winning the lottery, but you'll feel better over time. Deal with some of the shit in your own life. You'll feel better. Every time you do a piece, say, 'I don't care if this is the last piece I do'. It will make the work better, and will make you feel better.

Your life is more important than your art, whatever your art is. Enjoy that.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Drinking The Mortal Brew: Poor Old Granddad, I Laughed At All His Words...

"Not the youth, but the old man who has lived life well, is deemed to be happy. The youth in his prime is made distraught and baffled by fortune; the old man, as though in port in his old age, has brought safely into harbor the goods he scarcely hoped for before, and has secured them with unfailing gratitude." - Epicurus, 9th Vatican Saying

At 30, I don't feel like I've earned the right to talk about this one yet. I am hardly established, my family is young, and the line about the youth being 'distraught and baffled by fortune' sounds an awful lot like me an awful lot of the time. I look forward to being able to chuckle at the truth of this vatican saying in my old age, but, until then, I think a cautionary word from George Orwell serves me better:

"At fifty, we all get the face we deserve".

Although--to go back to Epicurus--I have known many old people who have been distraught, grumpy, and generally lost by life. Old age doesn't seem to be a guarantee of wisdom and calm. In fact, it often seems to take the uncertainty and discomfort of youth and compound it, because people are often unwilling to consider new perspectives, especially as they age. Many old people have given up. Many have settled into their opinions and comfort zones and become decidedly less interesting. And some seem to be exactly the admirable and clear-eyed types that Epicurus is describing. I've also met enough calm and composed youths to question the other half of this equation.

Whatever the case, I'll keep this one in mind, along with the reminder from Orwell, who seems to share some of my feelings on the subject.

I should also add that what I just did there--questioning the source of one of my ancient guiding texts--isn't something devout religious folks are free to do. If you come across a christian blogger who writes around scriptural wisdom, you probably won't find them quoting a passage from the bible and then saying, 'ah, but I'm not so sure this one is true. Let's withhold judgment for now.' It's the obligation of the faithful to force their mind to rationalize a way to accept even the most dubious scripture.

I think that's why many christian apologists are so good at sophistry. They get a lot of practice in their daily internal lives.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Nothing New Under The Sun...

"Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones."
— Marcus Aurelius

via greater than lapsed

It's funny that this is the view I have come to embrace regarding the whole god/no god thing. And, I guess because my education is spotty, I thought it was pretty novel when I arrived at it.

Turns out people had been growing exasperated with the silliness of revealed religion long before I was born.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mr. B's Memorial Service

Yesterday a few of my co-workers and I walked over to the memorial service of a former resident. On the way, I asked where he was going to be buried.

'He was cremated.' said someone.
'Oh. I didn't know that.' I said. 'That's how I want to go.'

'Really?' she responded. 'I can't help but think about--what if I'm alive? What if they start burning me and I'm alive?'

'What, would you rather be buried alive?' I said.

'Jeez, thanks!' she said. 'Great options'.

She then turned to another co-worker--he's a muslim--and said, 'you guys don't believe in that, right? You're religion?'

'That's right'. he said.

'What's the thinking behind that?' I said.

'The thinking' he said, 'although I'm not sure I believe it--because how could I believe god is all powerful and there are things he can't do--is that if your body is too destroyed God can't bring you back, and you just stay dead. But like I said, I question that.'

'huh. I knew Catholics thought something like that.' I said. 'Well, I'm definitely getting cremated then, because if I'm wrong about this whole religion thing, I don't think I want God bringing me back."

He laughed.

The service was lightly attended by case managers and other homeless and formerly homeless people. The guy was a pretty bad alcoholic, and was in a lot of pain towards the end. He was pretty grumpy when he stayed in our shelter, and we were constantly having to get him new clothes because he would shit and piss all over himself, and then get argumentative with us when we would ask him to clean up. He had got into a housing program not too long before the end, and I was told that he was a lot more peaceful then. Fewer accidents, better composure. The case manager that worked with him is a great person, and I admire her passion. She busted her ass to get him housing, and it brought him some final peace. I'm glad he got some.

A few people said some things that were nice, some said a few things that were funny, and there were a few prayers, and then everyone headed to the buffet table and started mixing. I'm not sure how I felt about the whole thing. Everyone in the room had been through a lot with (and for) this guy. His life was destroyed by addiction and a radically underfunded welfare system. No family could be contacted about the body, so the city is going to have to do something about it. I know some of the workers in the room really cared about the guy, but the sense that everyone was struggling for some kind of silver lining in their remarks made me uneasy. Why is it so hard for us to accept that some things are just terrible, and some lives are tragically wasted and unsupported?

I'm sad that his life went the way it went. I'm glad he's not suffering anymore, and I'm glad he got some peace at the end. I'm sorry that we couldn't do more for him, and sorry he couldn't do more for himself.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Owl & The Pussycat

 Jerry Coyne brought back some good childhood memories for me today with this clip of an owl and a...well...pussycat playing together:

My mom used to sing The Owl & The Pussycat to me when I was a little boy. I sing it with my kids pretty regularly now too. It's an important part of Troxell culture.

No doubt this story--and my mother's habit of always reading me a bed-time story--were big contributors to my enormous appetite for books and stories.

Anyway, my relationship to the book Coyne referenced in the title of his post is what triggered me to post this video, which is cool even if you've never heard of Norman Lear.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

You May Say That I'm a Dreamer

Since I spend a lot of time trying to be pragmatic about politics, I thought it might be nice to get a little idealistic for once. Now, I feel obligated to reiterate my disbelief in our ability to obtain a 'perfect state', and point out that, historically, whenever any group has decided to try a moon shot for some kind of utopia, it's always ended up in piles of corpses.

Optimal states is more my bag. I don't foresee a future where there is no more murder or discrimination, or where everyone gets a fair shake and opportunity to compete; rather, I foresee a world where maybe evolution is understood and accepted by a larger portion of the public, where the human services are adequately funded, and marijuana and gay marriage are legal. That's not pie in the sky Kumbaya stuff: that's attainable.

In that vein, I thought it would be fun to talk about attainable goals that I believe would make our world just a little bit better.

Here are a few changes I'd like to see:

1) Police officers should be required to get master's degrees in social work before they are allowed to work with the general public.

2) ethics, skepticism, and logic should be taught from elementary school all the way through college.

3) kids in public schools should be expected to memorize poems.

4)Education, healthcare, and housing should all be socialized.

5) You should have to be 25 before you can choose to join the military; if you're going to decide to go risk your life in foreign countries and be cleared to carry around big, deadly guns, your frontal lobes should at least be fully developed.

6) More green spaces. Public parks and nature preserves do everyone good.

7)In addition to the other education-related items above, kids should have to objectively survey world religions from elementary school to university.

8) Tax breaks for folks who do community service.

Those are just off the top of my head. Feel free to add your own suggestions, or challenge any of mine.

Monday, May 9, 2011

When Henry Came To Town

Henry Rollins, from his book 'A Preferred Blur':

"Damn, it was sad to see how beat up parts of Cincinnati are. There are some really rough patches we drove through to get to the record store. Stores closed, more boarded up, people hanging outside of bars and on corners, waiting for nothing as Tom Kromer used to say. It's the America that no one writes about, it's the America that doesn't vote, trade stocks, have a voice, or matter no matter what they do. It's the silent America. They just die off year after year and no one seems to know or care. It's amazing that you can drive across an American city and see stuff like this. I know it shouldn't surprise me at this point but still, I can't get over it."

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sometimes I Wish I Blogged Under A Pseudonym

Sometimes I wish I blogged unde a pseudonym; but because I don't, I can't tell you any of the reasons I occasionally find myself dropping a perfectly good essay into a folder on my desktop marked 'Burn After Reading'.

You might be surprised to find that I'm holding back; I've made my share of inflammatory comments on this blog. But, there is a monster inside of me my friends, and there would be civilian casualties if I let him post here.

I've been hostile to pseudonymous and anonymous bloggers in the past. When bitchy anonymous bloggers comment here, my first reaction is 'I own my words, why don't you?' More often than not, I think my suspicion that these folks are pretty cowardly is correct; in other instances however, I can see the point of donning a mask.

Take Orac the science blogger, for instance. Or Banksy. Both of these guys have legitimate reasons for maintaining anonymity. Orac and pre-celebrity Banksy would risk their personal well-being if they did what they did in the full light of day, and post-celebrity Banksy has a personal interest in sustaining his brand (I am a capitalist, nothing wrong with making money).

But, man. wouldn't it be nice to air out some dirty laundry every now and then. Overall, I think blogging as myself has kept me accountable, and has forced me to hash out what I really believe before I post on whatever subject I'm posting on. It's made me a better writer in general, because I can't just fling around irresponsible ad hominems and vulgarities (my ad hominems and vulgarities are always responsible).

Posting as Spencer Troxell has kept me honest, sharpened my abilities, and has taught me things about myself that I wouldn't have learned otherwise. All good things.

So, I can't vent the spleen all day long, but it's a fair compromise in the end.

At least that's the rationalization I'm using to keep myself out of trouble.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Sheriff Woody To GLBT Youth: 'You've Got A Friend In Me'

When Jen McCreight said she 'held it together until Woody appeared', I thought she meant like Woody Harrelson or Woody Allen or something, but then I swelled up when I realized she meant 'Woody' Woody. That got to me too. Jackie (5 years old)  loves Toy Story, so it was awesome to see him in the 'It Gets Better' campaign; not only because Woody rules, but because his appearance is an indicator that my kids will grow up in a culture that is less likely to isolate and shame people of different sexual orientations, and more likely to say, well, 'it gets better'.

We're sending the right message to our kids.


and here is Pixar's 'It Gets Better' video. What a great company:

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Nine Year Old Reacts To News That Osama Bin Laden Has Been Killed

Last night when I heard that Osama Bin Laden had been killed, my reaction came in three stages:

1) 'Good. I never thought we were going to get that guy. I'm glad he's dead.'

2) 'Wow, this whole ordeal has been going on for a long time. The World Trade Center went down right after little Spencer was born, now he's 9. This event has shaped the world he grew up in. It's amazing how easy it is to acclimate to perpetual war.'

3) 'This will be good for the president.'

Overall, I felt good about it. I felt that 'justice had been done', and that a defective part in the human machine had been sent back to the factory. I also naturally prevented myself from being too happy, because I am always cautious about allowing myself to hate a person or idea that is deemed by my culture patriotic to hate. I know Bin Laden committed great evil, deserved to die, and was a bad force in the world, but I am cautious to put too much emotional investment in culturally approved hate-objects. I guess George Orwell got to me.

I'm also aware of the fact that I was happy that Bin Laden was killed because he 'got what was coming to him', and this satisfied some personal bloodlust in me. Someone needed to 'get what was coming to them', and I was glad that it was him. I suppose this impulse to see bad people 'get what is coming to them' is what led mankind to invent hell.

This morning, while he was brushing his teeth, I told my son that Bin Laden had been killed. I figured he should know, because it's historically significant, and because of my second reaction listed above.

'They got Bin Laden.' I said.
'Who did?' he said.
'The U.S. Military. We did'. I said.
'They captured him?' he said.
'No, they killed him.' I said.
'oh.' he said.
'How do you feel about that?' I said.
'I don't know...he kills us, we kill him. Where does it stop?' he said.

My son is a good person. To some extent, I have become quite bloodthirsty.

Then I turned on the TV. Footage of a crowd in front of the white house was playing. A young man was thrusting a triumphant finger at a news camera, shouting 'USA! USA!'

Americans celebrating the death of Bin Laden:

My first thought was, 'They're acting like their team just won the championship'.

Saints fans celebrating their team's victory:

My second thought was, 'This image reminds me of something else':

Iranians celebrating the 9/11 attacks:

So it goes.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Seth Meyers Effortlessly Skewers Donald Trump

at the white house correspondents dinner. Very good:

The material was great, and the way Trump stared at Meyers icily through the whole bit was awesome.

Trump is such a silly person; He typifies the paranoia, the cartoonish nationalist chest-thumping, the fearfulness of out-groups, and the naive objectivism of the tea party movement. He's physically grotesque. His mind is weak and vulgar. In short, he would be the perfect presidential candidate for the modern day republican party.

Look at the smile on President Obama's face in this clip. He already knows all of this stuff. If I were him, I would be smiling too.