What Is Art’s Place In The Revolution? An Essay

I was in the midst of writing a new essay for this blog titled “What is Socialist Art?” which is going to be a review and response to Leon Trotsky’s Literature and Revolution. The book offers an incredible degree of insight into what the effects of class revolution can be on poetry, literature, and art. As I was beginning to write my essay another question arose, and the more I tried working on my original question the more this other question gnawed at the back of my mind. This question needs to be answered before I can properly answer my first one. The question “What is socialist art?” cannot be answered until we solve another riddle, “What is art’s place in the revolution?”

Since April is National Poetry Month and I think this is the perfect time to address this topic. I have written multiple poems about art and revolution and in conjunction with National Poetry Month they will be published here in the coming weeks. This article is my humble attempt to answer the question “What is art’s place in the revolution?” with the same socialist lens that Trotsky applied to poetry and painting in Literature and Revolution, my poems shall be the praxis form of my theory. It should also be noted that the terms Marxist, socialist, leftist, and communist are used interchangeably in this piece of dialectic, but enough jargon for one paragraph!

Art clearly does have a place in the revolution because revolution is nothing more than the overhaul of society, not the abolition of society itself but the abolition of the society as we have come to know it. Art, as most Marxists would interpret it, is a key historical reference used in our analyses to help us define the class relations of the society where that art was produced. Art is always a product of it’s time and place and therefore inevitably has a place in times of upheaval and revolt. Art has a place both in the overhaul of society and use as a reference when discussing or reflecting on that society or the progress towards that society.

Art in the time that Trotsky wrote Literature and Revolution was significantly more conservative than today. Literature and Revolution was written in the early 1920’s when “the arts” were understood to be theater, poetry and novels, painting and sculpture, and architecture. Film was just coming into it’s own as an artistic medium and the radio broadcasts which later evolved into television were just starting. Literature and Revolution was written almost a century ago, and within that century the number of mediums of art have exploded in addition to film and broadcast mediums. In addition to what we might call the “traditional arts” we now have graphic design, 3D printed sculpture, street art and graffiti, and an endless list of music genres or painting styles. This is a self evident aspect of art, for while it is a reflection of its time and place art itself evolves and grows on its own terms. The laws of art are different from other natural laws because of the difficulty, if not impossibility, of categorizing them completely. Art is its own entity and the explosive growth of artistic mediums in the last century reflects that.

So the question “What is art’s place in the revolution?” requires us to answer not just for a handful of artistic mediums, but an entire dimension in of itself. While we can study art through the Marxist theoretical lens, we can only understand it through the lens of art itself because art exists within it’s own natural laws. So within the context of looking at art through a socialist revolutionary lens and acknowledging that because art is so autonomous this list can in no way be totally conclusive, it can be argued that art has at least three places in the revolution. They are agitation, the fostering of democratic participation, and subversion.

Agitation

The whole point of agitation is to foster debate so that revolutionaries may educate the classes they seek to organize and inturn motivate into action. Art has always shown it has the power to foster debate and motivate people into action, for better or worse. There are several examples in history that record people getting into fist fights, even rioting in the streets, as a reaction to artistic endeavors.

Consider the composer Igor Stravinsky and the stories surrounding the debut of his ballet the “Rite of Spring.” While the accounts of the event vary in their details about the severity and violence that broke out, the overarching detail of all accounts is that there was a violent reaction to the performance by the audience. The ballet caused fights to break out when it premiered in Paris because of the divided audience reaction. You either loved or hated the performance and would fight to defend your view, there was no middle ground for the Parisian’s who attended the legendary performance.

By modern standards a fight over a ballet performance seems trivial and unlikely, but what the mythos of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring demonstrates is that art can foster massive reactions by the public, even to the point of violence. It also demonstrates the power that art has to foster debate and how far that debate will go.

One must also talk about the world’s most influential medium of art to come out of the century since Trotsky wrote Literature and Revolution , film. There are too many controversies surrounding film to list. There is the christian conservative reaction to Martin Scorcese’s The Passion of The Christ. There was ongoing debate in the christian community about how to properly follow and celebrate Jesus when The Passion of the Christ came out. There is the debate about casting diversity and exclusion of trans actors or non white actors for trans and poc roles. There is the ever growing list of actors, directors, and producers who have permanently fallen from grace in the public’s eye as the Me Too movement unfolds. The industry behind the medium of film is so forward facing that it inevitably fosters, and at times even guides, our public dialect. This was true when the Birth of a Nation was released and it is true today.

Allen Ginsberg’s obscenity trial for his public readings of his magnum opus “Howl” is another example of the incendiary nature of the arts. A poem going into vivid detail about drug addicts, poor black neighborhoods, and sexual perversion was shocking for all of America in the 1950s. After years of being ignored the arts gave the dark side of America a spotlight and the conservative capitalist establishment reacted to the poem with censorship and one of the world’s most historic indecency trials. Whether the message of the artistic piece is positive or negative does not effect the incendiary nature of art either way. People heard Ginsberg’s poem and reacted either with amazement or disgust, a sense of disgust which drove many in power to support a very vocal public trial. The trial and the debate about decency in art that came of it is yet another example of how art can and is utilized for agitation. If the capitalist class is so offended by your work that they arrest you for it, you have done something right.

While all of these examples differ in their messages and their politics, the reaction to these pieces are all the same. We see both excitement and anger from the audiences. We see people take action and we see people react to the actions thereof. We see people who are either shocked out of complacency and relieved because of it or they are shocked out of complacency and reactionary. This is the ultimate purpose of agitation. To shock people out of complacency and foster a space for debate, which in-turn fosters democratic participation.

To Foster democratic participation

From agitation we move on to the topic of democratic forums, an essential part of revolutionary organizing. Art allows platforms for people who might otherwise be oppressed or marginalized or flat out ignored by our inherent tendencies to erase certain people. What does this mean in the simplest of terms?

Well to put it plainly, some people might speak up for themselves more through poetry or painting than in democratic forums or dialectical conversations. Consider the popularity of poetry slams and open mic nights. There is also the ancient cultural arts we see being practiced by Indigenous communities, as well as African, Latin, and Asian ones, which are attempts to reclaim what had otherwise been a lost or colonized way of life. The reclamation of culture is a revolutionary act, and some would prefer to focus on reclaiming lost culture than sit through meetings to debate and vote on organizational matters.

Some people might just be more introverted and not confident in their abilities to speak up, often times a person will have an opinion on a topic but does not feel ready or comfortable sharing it in that setting. Where some people might not speak up at a meeting, for whatever reason, they might be likely to express themselves through the reviving of their culture or through a poem shared with other like minded poets.

You might be more likely to hear someone’s point of view at a poetry slam than at your committee meeting. You might see more of the Indigenous perspective in a Navajo sand painting than in a conversation about the Indigenous. You might learn more about the experience of being a person of color or an immigrant in a piece of street art than in a debate on a resolution.

These mediums of art and the perspectives they offer do not have to be stand alone, nor be separate from democratic action. These pieces of art and expressions of culture can foster further conversation. The conversation and perspective generated by people’s reactions to them can in-turn be channeled into our democratic organizations. Art’s place in the revolution includes the reclaiming of colonized cultures and creating avenues of self expression that cannot be achieved in procedural matters alone, socialists and the left need to make sure there is a place for this in our organizing. Art and expression of culture fosters thought, thought fosters conversation and debate, that debate needs to be apart of our overall democratic procedure to insure the widest participation possible.

In other words, art is good for democracy, period.

Subversion

In the realm of political subversion and art, no medium has been used more in the last 30 years than street art. Street art is a prime example of how subversive art can be a tool for revolutionary organizing.

It is impossible to visit an area that is both predominately poor and non white and not see a galleries worth of street art on at least one building. One sees murals to black leaders such as Malcom X, Angela Davis, Harriett Tubman, Cesar Chavez, Zapata, and Dr. King throughout the neighborhoods of Compton and East Los Angeles. We must also not forget the popularity of street artists such as Plastic Jesus, Blackhat, and the legendary Banksy all of whom to some degree or another are political and subversive. While these are contemporary street artists we must remember that graffiti is nothing new to political expressionism. Since the 1970s and 80s, artists such as Keith Herring and Basquiat were forcing the streets of New York to face tragic political realities with their messages about black lives or the AIDS epidemic. All of these are artists who either reject the bourgeoise galleries or who have been rejected by them still create and they create their art to be seen by the masses for the sake of educating people about the reality of oppression or expressing the pain that the artist has either witnessed or experienced due to that oppression.

Yet subversion in the arts is not exclusive to our modern mediums, it is nothing new to art. There is a rich history of subversion in the traditional arts as well. Consider Voltaire, he was ever the subversive with his tale Candide essentially serving as a farce about the standards and practices of the bourgeoisie of his time. If Voltaire had just come out and said “Fuck you, you greedy entitled mother fuckers!” he would have been killed. Instead he crafted a novel where a man wanders the Earth and finds cities that treat gold like we would a piece of scrap paper.

Another example of the power of subversion is the popularity of Boots Riley’s “Sorry to Bother YOu.” Riley does not simply come out and say, “Organize your workplace! Overthrow the capitalists!’ (save for his twitter account of course). What he did was create a film that is the equivalent of Get Out meets an Adult Swim show and the result is a pro union call to action not seen in film since Norma Rae. All of these examples are important things to consider as the capitalist establishment works to censor us and whip up another red scare.

The truth is that the more the left succeeds the harder our opposition will come down on us. Be aware my fellow comrades, a wave of sabotage and censorship is already coming our way. We are already seeing the ground work for a new red scare in the current administrations obsession with Venezuela, and on a personal note I have lost count of how many Trumpers have called me a “filthy communist.” The terrors of censorship are already beginning, let us not forget that TeleSur has already been deleted from Facebook multiple times without reason. Sex-workers have been deplatformed to the point where they are facing more violence than ever before. The Washington Post, the paper owned by billionaire Jeff Bezos, are releasing record breaking amounts of negative op-eds about Bernie Sanders much like they did in 2016. Make no mistake, the groundwork for the new censorship of the left and our base has already been laid out before us and it will only continue to grow until the capitalist class is defeated.

The more we succeed the more they will make moves against us. We will need to be creative about how we communicate our message of organization and revolution to the public. Arts, of all mediums and dimensions, from film to street art, allow us our avenues for subversion where we might otherwise be censored, ignored, or deleted.

Conclusion.

So, what is arts place in the revolution? Aside from elevating the voices of the colonized and the most oppressed classes by giving them avenues to reclaim culture, it can be a tool we use to agitate the public and shock them out of the complacency that capitalism brings. Art can foster democratic discussions that might otherwise be lost in the ether of ingrained social constructs or practices. Art gives us avenues to combat censorship and oppression, and more importantly allows us a forward facing avenue for presenting our message to the world. While we cannot make a conclusive list because of the never ending growth of artistic mediums what we can say is that art has a definite place in the revolution.

Perhaps now my original question, “What is socialist art?” will be a little easier to answer.

Your Weekly Presidential Address (a socialist feminist poem about Donald Trump)

Your Weekly Presidential Address

Your weekly address,

Your daily lie,

Your frothing anger,

Your excuses and hate,

Your rape culture,

Your racism,

Your warped sense of reality.

Hail to the chief,

Long live the great leader.

Your weekly address,

Your dying hope,

Your source of evil.

6 things you believe about communism that are not true (My First Listicle)

Apparently this is the only way people read on the internet now. It has also become apparent that I need to prove I can write in this format. But if we are going to do a listicle then we are going to do listicles my way, about things I like, and I like Communism.

SO! In the spirit of everything I just said, here are six things you probably think when you hear the word “communism” that are total bullshit.

Communists hate democracy

This is one of the biggest myths that right wingers and neoliberals love to use to justify Red Scares. They point to people like Stalin and the leaders of North Korea and are all like “See! We told you so!” What they ignore is that Democracy is the core to all socialist theory. Pretty much every socialist theorist; Marx, DeLeon, Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, James Connolly all advocate for increased democratic participation. The most respected modern socialist thinkers all develop their theory from a frame that centralizes democracy. (Cornel West, Naomi Klein, Ocalan etc.) The Soviet Union had democratic participation to by the way, even under Stalin. Stalin was a dictator but he operated by flooding the Communist party with his supporters and enforcing a policy of democratic centralism (when a group unanimously stands by decisions democratically made by the group). This allowed him to be the dictator that he was but even Stalin, the embarassment of Communism, utilized democracy. If anything the best argument against Stalin is arguing against personality cults, that is a genuine problem for the left to over come. Cuba actually has a more functional democracy than the U.S. because they have more candidate options and voter participation organized from the bottom up from neighborhood representation to the national assembly. Saying “communists hate democracy” has no factual basis.

Communists hate free speech

Again, pure bullshit because there is nothing in socialist theory that says the state should limit speech. Lenin is often misquoted here when capitalists try to defend this point. “Lenin said the ‘Press is the enemy of the people’.” You might have heard. Wrong! Lenin said “A bourgasie capitalist press is the enemy of the people.” And he was right. News orginzations like CNN or Fox are more concerned with ratings and ad revenue than they are with giving people the full story. As long as media is a for-profit enterprise the owners of said media will limit what the public sees and hears to protect their own interests. Communists do not hate free speech, they hate capitalist press.

Communist countries are bland and without culture

This one might be a matter of taste and opinion but I think it can be argued that the country that gave us the Red Army Choir, the Bolshov Ballet, cinematic montage, and the worlds first film school still had plenty of art and culture.

Marxists are rich liberal elitists

Yes, there are a few of what you may call “champagne socialists” in our ranks but grouping all Marxists into a privieleged category totally ignores the fact that socialism is growing in popularity because of the stagnant wages and job growth that my generation faces. A college degree is the privilege of knowledge, this is true, but a degree does not equal riches. Not to mention it ignores the contributions to history by socialists of color, such as Mumia Jamal, Emma Tenayuca, or Angela Davis. There are so many faults to this argument it’s almost impossible to list them all.

All communists want total government control of everything

Again, factually not true because it ignores the fact that not every communist thinks the same. Traditional Marxists will argue that yes, the workers should take control of the state by creating their own state, however Anarcho-syndicalists would argue that states and governments shouldn’t exist at all and they should be destroyed rather than seized. Tell an anarchocommunist to seize the means by seizing the state they will probably scoff. Some communists want a workers government, and some want no government. Not everyone on the left agrees on everything all the time. We are not a hive mind goddamnit!

Communism breeds bloodthirsty dictators

Again people love to point at Stalin or North Korea and go “See! Communism is bad!” But here is the problem with this arguement, democracies have been just as violent as any communist regime. Abrham Lincoln executed 38 Indeginous People without trial. Winston Churchill, the so called “hero” of WWII was a violent racist who wanted to “Keep England White.” FDR forced Japanese Americans into internment camps, causing poverty and death for thousands. Teddy Roosevelt executed prisoners of war publicly and without trial when he was in the army. De Gaulle, the hero of French Resistance, used military suppression and violent police beatings to stay in power during the revolts in 1968. Every so called “hero” of western democracy is literally guilty of causing the deaths of countless others, usually for racist reasons. Let us not forget that the most horrific acts of state violence were carried out by FASCIST regimes, not communist ones.

Well there we are, my first listicle and one of the first listicles about communism that isn’t some Alex Jones wannabe rage comment on a subreddit. So I hope you all enjoyed and I hope this proves that I can write this kind of shit.

Capitalism IS a Housing Crisis

Recently during a Democratic Socialists of America Reading Group hosted by my local we discussed the introduction to the book In Defense of Housing.  One of the first topics we leaped upon was the nature and use of the term “Housing Crisis.”  Housing across the nation, and arguably the world, is one of the number one issues regarding the negative effects of capitalism.  

Something that stuck out to me from the reading was how the author pointed out that so long as their has been a working class something related to shelter has always been synonimous with their troubles.  In the medieval times it was the lack of an ability to own land, in the age of industrialization it was the living conditions of the proletariate, today it is about affordability and accessibility.  There is no shortage of housing, but there is a shortage of cheap cars and public transportation to get to and from where these overpriced and over developed houses tend to be.  The point is that so long as there has been capital, there has been a “housing crisis” of some kind.  

As such I expressed concern in the reading group about even using the word “crisis” to describe our situation.  I felt that the word ‘crisis’ connotates that the issue of housing is one that can be solved with simple policy or electoral change alone.  Clearly that is not the case when one sees how issues regarding shelter and housing are constant to the times and places where capitalism has existed.  

A comrade pointed out that strategically it makes sense to use the term “crisis” in our time and place.  In Sacramento we are enduring a spike in poverty that ranks among the highest in the nation.  Our rent is rising at the fastest rate of any city in the nation, and our homeless population has doubled, even tripled in the last year according to some statisticians.  In regards to all that, I concede the term “Housing Crisis” is both applicable and a matter of fact.

Yet not long after this discussion I had one of those, “aha Eureka!” Moments.  This may be unimpressive to most of you but for me I am proud to have finally connected these dots.  

Numerous readings talk about how capitalism is always in crisis, i.e. the boom and busts of unregulated markets which escalate this false dialogue about scarcity.  This idea of scarcity is inherent to capitalism, we either never have enough money, food, medicine, or shelter to go around, as such the capitalists spike the prices to profit from our own labor and our fear of this scarcity.  Then it hit me, the housing crisis, both my local one and the international one, are capitalism themselves.  This new housing crisis is another manifestation of capitalism in order to keep us at the mercy of those who own the means of production, including shelter.  Capitalism is a crisis, and the housing crisis is capitalism.  

As such, I think I am now much more comfortable using the word “crisis” when I talk about capitalism, especially the Housing Crisis of Sacramento, CA.

The Burden of Empathy : Chapter 2

Chapter 2 

It all began in the summer of 2008.  My older sister Jill got a job at a charity summer camp as a cook.  My sister said she could have visitors, I had just completed summer school, and the time was perfect for my parents to get away on a trip and Jill would be their excuse.  How lucky was it for my stoned ass that it happened to be in a Mecca for potheads?

So there I was in my bedroom preparing for the trip.  I packed my bags while smoking Orange Kush out of my red plastic bong with the tiny metal bowl piece that gets too hot to touch.  I packed three medium band shirts; The Shins, Jimi Hendrix, and Beck, 2 flannel shirts, 2 tie die t shirts, four pairs of jeans and a coat.  I packed my brand new blue and purple pipe, three grams of weed, and a gram or so of hash.  I had a full ounce of pot I had bought from a friend at summer school that I could have taken, but I wanted to sample that Humboldt bud, so I brought a small stash.    

After I was packed, I smoked out of my bubbler and watched Goodfellas waiting for the time to go.  “Three o’clock,” my parents said.  It was still 2:30.  So I smoked another bowl.  Sacramento to Humboldt was at least an eight hour trip but I knew we were going to take two days going up and a day coming back, we always do that on these sorts of trips.  By the time it was 2:45, I thought Id smoke a bowl of hash to be extremely high for most of the day’s trip.  After the hash I put in Visine and chewed gum.  I heard my dad call, threw my stuff in the back of our 2000 Toyota Sienna, and we drove off by 3:15.  

I sat behind the driver’s seat, my father drove with my mother in the passenger’s seat, they promised to switch eventually.  The driving hurt my dad’s hip but my mom can’t drive at night because of her eye sight.

My parents are fairly short people, both are 5’5.”  My mother is redheaded with somewhat pale very freckly skin.  My father is so tan he looks Mexican, the black beard and ponytail both contribute to the illusion as well.  Let it be known my dad is white, at most he could be called a Jew, he is ¼ Jewish.  His full black beard and hair is sprinkled with random grays. His tan came from his growing up as a beach bum in LA during the 60’s.  An aging hippie from the love era, who had to put down the j’s when he started a family and had to switch to the blood of the suburbs unless you’re a Mormon or a pussy, alcohol.  My mother was a 70’s hippie and a college anarchist who read Marx.  My parents drank, they drank for the “health” of it, but you could tell when they were going to make me or my sister drive home. 

We eventually got onto the freeway out of Sacramento, as we were passing the bridge and the river my parents got into a discussion about the approaching presidential debate. They weren’t so much talking about the debate itself rather than just shit talking McCain.  Since I agreed with everything my parents were saying I felt no need to contribute to the conversation.  Plus I was so baked I probably would have just made it obvious that I was stoned.  So I pulled out my “cut-out-the-outside-world device,” better known as an “IPod”, and played MGMT’s “Time to Pretend,” on a loop.  As I meditated to the synthesizers I was so stoned I completely lost track of time, when it was four it felt only 20 minutes had gone by.  After my meditation I changed the track to my new album, My Morning Jacket’s EVIL URGES.  A group of white boy hippies who sound like Prince.   I then trailed of into my thoughts as we drove along.  I began to fantasize.  I day dreamed what would I be like if I was a musician?  What would my sound be?  Acoustic electric rock of some kind, probably a hip-hop rock/reggae/blues mix, and indie of course.  What would my look be?  I’d wear tie dye, flannel or random thrift shirts, with worn jeans handed down from my dad, and a blazer with a torn shoulder.  My fantasies took me into my concerts where I cover songs, and it’s always the song I’m listening to at the moment.  

I had put it now on “Charmer” by Kings of Leon.  The song reminded me of someone at my hellhole, I mean high school.  She was indeed a charmer, always looking at me, never trying to flirt or seduce, but always succeeding.  My thoughts always dwell on her but I wish they wouldn’t.  My brain hates me, it reminds me “You’re not good enough for her.  She is perfect, has friends and isn’t an addict, and you’re just a wasted loner.”  Just like I wasn’t good enough in Elementary school to play any sports or at middle school where I wasn’t good enough for friends and “fag”  became my nickname. 

 The fact is I’m just not very popular.  I wish it didn’t sound like a line from a John Hughes movie, but it’s the truth.  No matter how much we won’t admit it, no matter how much we like to think that times have changed, they haven’t.  High school is still the same bullshit world it always has been.  Popularity is power, most (not all) teachers don’t give a shit about you and no matter what, everything is always your fault.  But I take solace in the fact when high school is the best time of your life how pathetic the rest of your life must be. 

 High school is full of self entitled immature brats, who have orgies known as “Dances”, pretend to be from Compton by smoking dope that should be reserved for only true stoners such as your’s truly, then they play the puppy dog eyed innocent every time they get caught.  High school sucks when you’re a logical person.  I’m not arrogant,  I don’t think I’m better than these people, if I did I wouldn’t feel like a reject just because I’m never invited anywhere by anyone, ever.   But I can’t help but think maybe the reason I’m so miserable is because I’m just seeing things they aren’t.  Maybe I’m just a little ahead of the curb, waiting for the others to catch up.  Or maybe I’m catching up to them.  But I’m sure my first guess is the right one, I’m just crazy.

The reason she was out of my reach was simply popularity.  I was one of the stoners, and she was one of the trendy well liked kids.  It was like Romeo and Juliet.  Except Juliet is a gorgeous redhead with a perfectly shaped  figure and long waving hair and Romeo is a lonely stoner who doesn’t shave, has shaggy hair, and talks like a mix of  James Franco in Pineapple Express, Tommy Chong, and a wanna be Hunter S Thompson.  All Juliet knows about Romeo is his name and the fact he’s always high.  Romeo can only admire her from afar because he’s too much of a pussy to even talk to her. 

 This is why I’m crazy.  If I could only silence the voice in my head that says “I can’t,” I could be free.  Weed frees me temporarily, but I can’t afford to smoke that much.  I would if I had enough money but there is no point in living in a fantasy, and there is also no point in liking a girl who doesn’t even know you exist, because that basically makes you a stalker.  I always told myself to move on because she was out of reach, but I couldn’t.  Once she was on my mind it would take something good to get me to move on.

I fantasized the sight of us kissing in the halls, of the two of us as a couple and what we look like as a couple.  How she would respond when I whisper I love you into her ear and actually mean it, unlike all the dudes who actually get laid in high school.  

As my mind reminded me I wasn’t good enough for her, I put on Nirvana.  Kurt Cobain was a hero to me, his music opened the emotions of a generation.  It’s just a shame that capitalism caught his work, and drove him to the grave.  Nirvana’s music summed up the angst I felt in whole, it’s no wonder Nirvana has such large appeal.  Its just a shame someone always has to make a profit and art cant just be available for the sake of art.  I dwelled on this to help get my mind off of her.  

I checked the time and it was 4:45.  After I was done listening to Bleach and Nevermind, I switched from Nirvana to shuffle. Then after skipping six songs I settled on Beck’s classic “Loser” another anthem of my life.  I, like the rest of my generation have several anthems set to a soundtrack only I hear.  We call these soundtracks “playlists.”

As I slapped my song and bobbed back and forth letting the tingle of the high flow throughout my body, I watched the passing forests and trees grow thicker.  We were approaching the Pacific Northwest, and the Mecca of potheads, Humboldt County.  Humboldt is a beautiful place, the redwood forests of Return of the Jedi next to beaches that look like Monterey. It is a beautiful place.

We stopped at a rest stop and my parents switched places.  As I listened to Vampire Weekend and MgmT more, I began to think about how our generation failed to peak, how the decade went without the revolution it deserved.  Bush was a Nazi, and he is guilty of war crimes and incompetence for his reactions to the attacks of September 11th.  Yet the people somehow never showed him their pitchforks.  He then exploited the horrific date and carved it into our minds.  Now the day of tragedy is associated with patriotism and an unspoken hatred for the freedom loathing brown people to psycho nationalists.  We failed to reach the peak that we envied of the sixties and this is how tie dye went from a symbol of the acid culture, to a school spirit dress day theme for squeaky voiced preppy girls masturbating to Zach Effron.

 When it comes to 9/11, the truth is 9/11 was a wake up call to Americans.  We went years thinking we could be free from fear, free from worry.   It was a pipe dream, a load of shit.  There is never a guarantee of safety and that is the price of a free society.  The belief we were immune to attack simply because we were the USA is simply egomaniacal.  The truth is when it comes 9/11 the nation needs to get the fuck over it.  Don’t call me insensitive, I’m not.  If you lost any one you loved or cared for in the attacks, or if you survived the attacks, you have a reason to feel strongly.  TO those who cling to their patriotism so they can have an identity, WELCOME TO THE REAL FUCKING WORLD!  Does the USA have to deal with suicide bombers, racial cleansing, drug cartel decapitations every single day?  No.  9/11 is a day that without a doubt stung, but we cannot cling to the past.  The same goes for the present and the future.  When you think about it time is nothing but a mirage.  It is completely relative to perception.  The moment we’re in is always infinite.  Time has no beginning and no end.  It’s simultaneous. 

This hung in my mind until around 6.   We pulled into another rest stop were I pissed and washed my face.  I did my best not to touch anything, these stops always remind me of dirty prison cells.   My weed was wearing off, but the hash was holding on.  I couldn’t help but wonder how obvious it was that I was high.  I didn’t have red eyes thanks to the Visine but I always peaked at my self in the rear view mirror.  My appearance had all the symptoms, eyes half closed, pointless grinning, senseless giggles, paleness thanks to lowered circulation, and the obvious sluggishness.  Yet I went unnoticed, and I enjoyed beautiful sights, songs, and thoughts. 

 We pulled back on to the road.

I could tell we were increasing in elevation as my ears felt swollen, so I began to chew gum.  The thickness of the forests grew as we drove up the road.  We approached a small town called Willits, and we pulled into a Best Western, it was 6:34.  We pulled out our bags, my parent’s laptops, the backpack cooler and the roller cooler up to the room.  My parents never pack light.  We settled our stuff, and used the toilet.  After we had relaxed and gotten the tension of the road out of us, my mom told me;

“We asked the lady upfront for a good place to eat, and she recommended a place called The Purple Thistle.  It’s supposed to be all organic and vegan friendly.”

“Sounds Good,” I replied.  I’m not a vegan I’m a vegetarian, but I got her point.

 I then snuck in to the toilet and smoked a bowl, I then rejoined my parents and we were off.

We got in the car and drove down the street for three minutes until we passed the Purple thistle, we turned around and parked on the street.  As we walked to the restaurant an old lady drove by who was so old and bony it looked like death was driving the car and I was so high that for a moment I actually thought it was death.  To this day despite my firm disbelief in the after life, I am not quite sure about who was driving that day.

The restaurant was small, it had few tables and limited space on the inside, but the back had a large porch with plenty of space but still few tables.  We decided that it was too cold for us to eat outside, the North is much colder than the valley.  So we ate inside the crowded restaurant, despite my mother’s claustrophobia which didn’t seem active.  

My parents ordered wine immediately.  I ordered an iced tea.  My parents then got into a conversation about traffic on the way up, and how tasty the merlot was, the conversation became more relaxed to the point my mother sought to include me in it.  

“So do you have any summer work for…” she paused searching for the words “school next year?”

“A little,” I replied hoping she didn’t see my dilated pupils, “I have a few essays for English, and I have to read The Crucible, which I already did.”

My mother nodded and sipped the wine.  “What did you think of The Crucible?”

I thought for a few seconds for the right answer, “I agreed with the anti McCarthyism of the book, but Miller is just a little to dry for me.”

“Yeah. I thought so to,” She said nodding.  “I haven’t read The Crucible in a long time though so I really can’t say.  What are your essays about?”

“Two are responses to The Crucible, and for the other I need to write my definition of the American Dream.”

“And you are going to write…”  I knew she was expecting something offensive, outlandish, or simply something one doesn’t expect an Honors English student to say.

“I’m going to write…that it is a pure bullshit illusionary anomaly created in order to establish a false sense of security in the public in order to encourage consumption and prevent upheaval.” At this point in my life, my mother had given up on trying to get me to stop cussing.

“Ah,” she nodded and cracked her trademark smile, a smile that always said “I’m Proud you’re my son but to be a good mom I can’t say I support the crazy shit you say even though I do.”  It could have been the weed making me paranoid, who knows.

My father was simply nodding, looking at me through his square glasses on the end of his nose with the stern look he gives, almost always by accident.  

My parents went off into another idol conversation, so I trailed off into my thoughts.  This, always when unguided, circled around to her.  Her just looking at me, the charmer Kings of Leon sang about, “She’s always looking at me.” Every time I look at her we catch each others glances and awkwardly look away within a second, as if we weren’t looking at each other at all.  

  Her look just hypnotizes me, but she isn’t trying to hypnotize me so I try to break the trance.  I pictured her walking up to my car in the parking lot, and we’d hug and grope, and kiss just like all the other couples in high school.  I pictured us cuddling after sex, her slim body holding my average torso and me stroking her back, gently clutching her perfectly sculpted ass.

The waitress taking our order snapped me out of my trance.  My parents each ordered the chicken, I ordered the Cajun prawns.  I still ate fish.  The waitress then gave me a refill, and then my dad made some embarrassing joke about how she was checking me out when she left.  I just replied by giving the standard teen “tsh.”  A sound that could be a laugh or a grunt.  Then my mom assured me of how handsome I was and my father agreed.  It’s weird how when your mom gives you a sincere compliment you feel like it’s an insult.  I was such a jerk, I’m so sorry mom.

 Then my parents and I returned to our activities.  I then decided to absorb my surroundings as I always do.   The street outside the window resembled that of a small forest town,  store fronts and wooden and brick buildings with a background of skyscraping redwoods.  Yet the neighboring shops ,“MAD ABOUT TYE DYE” and the head shop “PIPE WORKS” were  two shops you would never spot in Sarah Palin’s Wasilla Main Street, unless the pipe shop was specializing in meth.  Can I get a “Hi! – OH!” (Rest in peace Carson and McMahon, You would not believe how many people my age don’t know who they are, comic legends.  So many people I know don’t even know who the Marx Brothers are, the fucking Marx Brothers!  The inventors of all modern comedy.  My generation sucks.  Except the Pacific Northwest scene is jamming.  Oh shit, I’m rambling again, sorry, I’m high.)  Any way…

Near the window by the table next to us was a woman in her mid twenties or early thirties eating with four other gentlemen around the same age range.  They were all dressed very trendy and all very effeminate, lots of tight jeans and sequins.  I overheard them talking about Gossip Girl and a concert of some kind.  I think they said Madonna.  Behind us was an elderly man and woman, and the man was recounting of his confrontations with intolerance, apparently he was a homosexual.  With the young gays to my right and the older gay to my left, I could see this place held true small town values.  I hope you catch the sarcastic overtones of that sentence.

  It was a very open and accepting place.  The truth is at my school, and not quite all of Sacramento, but these guys would have to be deep in the closet.  At my school there were only a few out loud and proud men and woman.  And the fact I was in a tolerant environment was a breath of fresh air to me, I m usually in intolerant self-centered surroundings. Finally to be out of the jockish rich kid hipster prison hell that was my school was a relief no word could describe.  This place has the sense of community I didn’t have access to at this point in my life.  This place was the scene I was looking for.   This place got it.  It simply understood that a revolt was due.  We failed to achieve it, but this place was trying.

That thought began to weigh heavy on my mind again, how had this generation failed to reach the peak of revolution that came during my parent’s time.  I didn’t understand why we failed to achieve a revolution, we had more excuses than the 60’s could have begged for.  The Iraq War was more financially crippling than any other battle and Bush and his crony’s were all pure white collar criminals.  Hypocrites, liars, and exploitationists that put Nixon to shame.  Yet thanks to their reactionary incompetence, we saw the election of the first black president which was long overdue.  Perhaps the change we begged for so much will come, and perhaps that change will welcome the social revolution we failed to insight.  The end of a long streak of conformity and create a sense of community.  Maybe Obama’s election was our first step towards that revolution.  ‘The Times they are a changing,” as Bob Dylan said.  Of course none of this went through my mind at this time, Barack hadnt even been elected yet.  He also hadn’t broken our hearts yet.

After a forty five minute wait our food arrived, we were irritated but the food was so goddamn good we were in absolutely no position to complain.  I began to talk about the election with my parents.  It was the same old shit, we agreed prop 8 was outrageous and shouldn’t even be on the ballot.  Then we talked about the possibilities of McCain or Obama winning.  We painted the portrait of the hellscape our country would be if McCain won.  Four more years of white collar crime.  McCain could have won if he hadn’t sacrificed his integrity, he sold out his entire set of beliefs merely for the sake of winning.  He was a whore, a bigger whore than Bristol and Sarah mixed into one.  I take that back, Bristol is less of a whore, she didn’t give in to her shotgun marriage and she had the composure to admit abstinence for teens is not realistic.  But Sarah is the biggest whore on earth.  She exploited her baby’s syndrome and all of the rest of her family’s tribulations, they all should be indicted and hung, and except Bristol cause she looks like a good lay.  I’m sixteen at the time so I think with my dick.  Plus how could she be off serving the public and take care of her disabled child herself.  My mother is a REAL feminist, and even she admits a mother with a baby with down syndrome shouldn’t be off in the public eye but at home caring for the child, because a disabled child takes a lot of attention and care, she ran a state into the ground with lies and corruption due to an addiction to vanity and attention left over from peek years on the runway, and the state was to stupid to realize it.  Jesus, another rant!  I’m sorry I really am trying not to do that so much.

My parents conversation had shifted from the election to the whole point of the trip, visiting my sister Jill. 

“So it will be nice to see Jill.”  My mother decreed.

“Yeah, it will be,” was my father’s only response because that’s all that was needed.

My mother turned to me, expecting a reply. “Yeah I’m Excited,” I said without true emphasis, but I truly was excited.

I began to worry my mom knew I was stoned because I ate my entire dinner of cajun prawns without blinking, and she gave me that look parents give when they know your stoned but they’re lingering suppressed Suburban instincts prevent them from talking about it at the dinner table.  My mother attempts to avoid any notions of my smoking, she’s torn between her beliefs of legalization and the risk of her child getting arrested.  She essentially trusts me to just not get in trouble, she sweeps conversations of my pot use under the rug as do her middle class counterparts, but unlike them she lets me toke.  My parents are probably the only truly understanding parents.  This is the benefit of being the products of hippies who in my opinion actually would smoke if it wasn’t illegal and if it was socially acceptable for parents to smoke.  But they are understanding, when Cheech and Chong reunited my dad took me to a show where he rolled the fattest j I ever saw and made me promise to never tell mom.  Then mom bought me booze and made me promise never to tell dad.  Parents are funny sometimes.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how she does at her job,” my father said.  He was referring to our scheduled dinner with Jill.  We would be having dinner with her liberal Christian campers who were constructing houses for impoverished Native American reservations.  She would be cooking for us and all of them.  It was to be an interesting experience, although I support the organizations deeds I have a difficult time dealing with organized religion.  But I was damned proud to have a sister working a job this noble.  And I have no problem with people having beliefs just so long as they are subtle, humane, and reasonable.

My dad paid our bill and we returned to the hotel.   This room wasn’t a suite, so we shared it.  I had the bed closest to the TV, which to entertain my parents and myself, I put on Futurama.  My father laughed vibrantly at the jokes as he swigged the Mickey’s and ciders from the cooler, my mother had a Mike’s Lemonade, while I snuck a Mikes Lime and a Mickey’s.  I snuck another toke in the bathroom by ghosting my hits, which means to hold your breath until there isn’t anymore smoke, and I hid the side stream smoke by covering the bowl with my hand.  If my parents can’t smell it they can’t complain.

I returned to watch more TV, I then got under the sheets and I looked at the clock and it read 10:15.  This was the last thing I saw before I passed out.

The Burden of Empathy : Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Before you begin reading please be warned that I have a terrible habit of going off on weird and off topic tangents, and I smoke pot nonstop.  That’s basically all this story is.  Also, for reasons I cannot explain, you must never know my name.

It happened in Humboldt County, California.  In the first week of August, 2008.

Ah, 2008.  The year when Britney Spears was sodomized by every tabloid without consent but by years end was back and stronger than ever.  The year when preps were Abercrombie’s bitch proudly and Gossip Girl addicts cling to Perez Hilton blogs. When pink cheeked teenage girls jerk off to The Jonas Brothers and Twilight, while their former molesters got off to Miley Cyrus now that the girl who plays Herminie is of legal age. 

 The year before the last of the 2000’s, a blank decade of apathy and laziness.  We were promised flying cars and self cleaning houses by 2000, and the fact we had failed so miserably made most of the decade feel like a premature ejaculation.  We jumped the gun too soon on the future, and now there’s nothing left to do but sit on the couch and bitch about the black guy in the white house.

This was the year we would make history with the democratic primaries alone, let alone make history with the second coming of Lincoln as a democrat.   Yet he would get elected by having some mush mouth blue dog fascist at his side.  Sad that this is what it takes to get a man elected and not just the fact he’s the greatest orator of our generation and the first president to actually utilize the youth vote since McGovern, except this time we would actually come through for our candidate.  Too bad he didn’t come through for us, just like all the others.

2008, the year were alt- indie vintage chic was the trend with sub culture liberals and poser hipsters who flocked to thrift stores, mixed with your loyalist rich kid preps at Abercrombie, gangstas with South Pole, and emos with their Nazi storm trooper uniforms available at Hot Topic.  Every shallow label of all cliché high school clicks has their own seal now thanks to the shopping mall consumption complex of all modern teenagers.  Zumies, Pac sun, or thrift store chic. 

This is a generation mixed with the spawn of teen parents from Ronald Reagan’s ghettos, aging rural hippie baby boomers, and still blind American dream loyalists who still pull the curtains when they sodomize their wife, even though it will still end up all over Youtube.

2008, the year where Jan 20, 2008 would be the beginning of the end of the eight year fuck up.  The fuck up which left our government in the hands of the autocratic evildoers.  They were all criminals and they deserve to rot in the deepest pits of hell, with all the gays they wouldn’t let get married, and the innocents of Katrina whom they raped, and the souls who perished on the day of attack they let happen, and those who perished afterwards at their hands across the seas.  All of which could have been avoided if he just had just read the FUCKING MEMO!!!  The fact he went the full eight years is sickening.  From the beginning of the apocalypse of 2000 to the anti Christ’s second coming four years after, I’d been trying to get peoples attention about this, did they listen?  Hell no!  Not until 2006 when the country finally realized “Hey this guys a fuck up.”  No one took pity upon me, they called me a traitor and threw me in the brig.   No one apologized when they knew Id been damn right about that human piece of shit all along!

Crap, sorry. I’m ranting in political rage and self pity again.  I apologize, but years of being on the bottom of the social spectrum at school has sort of filled me with a form of angst, it’s natural I suppose.  Or maybe I’m just crazy.  I’m shy but get me talking and I’m a little long winded and I start rambling.  So since your stuck reading this shitty book, you might as well just listen.

So now! The stage is set. Humboldt, of the summer of 2008, yet my journey begins in the state’s capital, my personal hell hole full of tormenting rednecks, preps, posers, and Governor Schwarzenegger’s, called Sacramento.