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Topic Blog #3: Rob K On: Writing

April 4, 2008 Leave a comment

Ah, the entry that serves as both a writer discussing the medium closest to his heart and as proof that said writer should never write anything ever again. Good times.

20,000 B.C. Some hairy naked guy in serious need of a shower realizes he can take a sharp rock and carve pictures into his cave wall. That was the birth of storytelling.

Storytelling has grown a lot since then. No longer do we grunt and howl whilst we carve images of mastodons and saber tooth tigers chasing men in loin clothes, no longer do we sigh with unrequited love as we take a stick and draw a doodle in the sand of the hot cavewoman we have a crush on (Ug’s sister, the one with the unibrow and one big tooth, you know the one).

Yes, the art of storytelling has gone through many changes in the twenty or so millennia since that fateful day. For one thing, it has gotten much easier to jot down your ideas. Think back to cave drawings and hieroglyphics; if you made a mistake, what did you do? Did you cross it out with a sharp rock? Did you knock down the wall, build another one in its place and start fresh? Or maybe you just rolled with it and hoped no one noticed. Or just maybe, when faced with harsh criticism and the feeling that you had no idea what you were doing, you did what writers do today. You lied through your teeth.

Caveman 1: “Ug, this wall say Grah eat mastodon. Grah no eat mastodon, mastodon eat Grah.”

Caveman 2: “Ug was taking creative license with story of mastodon eating Grah. Ug write a ‘what if…’ scenario involving Grah and mastodon.”

Caveman 1: “No understand Ug.”

Caveman 2: “Ug no have to explain Ug’s art to you.”

Of course, that’s just the caveman days. In Ancient Egypt, when faced with the same scenario, the critic was just mummified and tossed in a tomb.

There were the days of parchment and quills, tools with which many great plays and novels got their start, through the era of pencil and paper, into typewriters, all leading up to today; the age of text messages and essays written on laptop computers.

But this blog is not about the various tools storytellers have used over the years. Rather, it’s about storytelling itself. I like to think we’re born as storytellers. Think about it; when have you ever known a young child who didn’t love talking, about anything and everything, as soon as they learn how? I distinctly remember being a child, maybe seven or eight, sitting at my grandmother’s kitchen table while she prepared dinner for that evening (pierogies, mmm) and I regaled her with tales of little men who protected a mighty castle with nothing but forks. Of course, the forks in question, in relation to the size of the men holding them, were the size of large pitchforks.

Did my grandmother believe me? Of course not. Did I believe myself? No, not entirely. I mean, even at that age, I knew I was basically lying. And I had lied before, little things akin to “I didn’t do it” or shoveling my broccoli off the table and into the waiting mouth of our dog seated next to me, then claiming I ate the whole plate. But this was different; this felt good.

I loved reading as a child. Fairy tales, White Fang, the ever popular Goosebumps series of very short novels; I liked a lot of different stuff. When I discovered Comic Books, however, is when I truly understood the thrill of storytelling. This was a visual medium, so it was hard to ignore the basic building blocks of telling a good story being laid out before me, literally, piece by piece, page by page. Panel one introduced you to the characters, panel two put the characters in some deep shit, panel three revealed the characters being rescued from the aforementioned shit. It was like the heroes from my novels, but here they were; full color ass kickery, complete with sound effects (ZING! PAFF! BOOM! SOCKO!). I was in heaven. Comics changed my life in many ways, but that’s another blog for another day. I will say this, however; Comics helped me realize my love of telling stories on the page.

I had wanted to be an artist. I bought all the “How To Draw Comics!” books, got professional grade sketch paper, fine art pencils, the works. I was a man possessed. I sat up in my room until all hours of the night scribbling and scrawling; dragging the pencil across the paper was a release for me. It was cathartic. It was a way for me to be a part of the industry I had come to love and admire; comic books. Yes sir, I was going to be one of the top comic book artists in the world, someday. I was the next Jim Lee, the next Jack Kirby. There was just one problem.

I sucked.

My drawings were laughable. Even when I traced over existing artwork, the end result looked as though someone forced a sizeable amount of alcohol into a half-blind monkey, handed him a pencil and a pad of paper, and told him to draw. I became depressed, certain I was no longer going to be a part of the industry that had recently become such an important thing in my life. I moped for a few days, ate some ice cream, stayed awake at night, staring at the ceiling, silently wondering why I had no talent. And that was the problem, I assure you. It was not lack of practice, it was not becoming acclimated to the pencil and paper; it was pure, unadulterated, plain and simple lack of any talent whatsoever. Then it hit me; I had no problem coming up with stories, no problem at all. I would read my weekly comic books and instantly come up with a thousand unique ways that I would have done that week’s particular story differently. Who would have died, who would have lived, and who would have fought whom. That was the moment I came to the realization that would cause me equal parts great pain and fantastic joy over the years since; I was a writer.

It was nearly Halloween and I had a story in my head that needed telling. It was a story about a group of kids, all of whom I knew or were related to in some way, venturing into a nearby swamp and discovering a horrible beast. Only one of the children made it out alive. I grabbed a typewriter and banged out the story in an hour or two, then read it aloud to a group of elderly people at a Halloween party. The reactions ranged from horrified at the idea of children dying in a nearby swamp, to horrified at the idea of children dying in a nearby swamp but also thinking the story was good for a person my age, to horrified at the idea of children dying in a nearby swamp but also thinking I was adorably flustered while reading in front of an audience.

It felt great.

From that point on, I was a writer. I dabbled in fan fiction, arguably the lowest form of fiction (granted, I never did anything gross or sacrilegious), I wrote comic scripts, I began screenplays that never saw any sort of ending. I even wrote poetry and songs, all of which were very weird and often depressing. I generally stuck to writing short stories, mainly because they were more interesting than poetry, but not as long as novels.

Everyone writes. We write letters, we write notes, and we write e-mails, even lists. But only writers, those of us who cannot go longer than a day without writing, even a short scene or a line of dialogue, truly understand the primal need to tell our stories. Those of us, who write for ourselves, do so to let the demons out, so to speak. If a story is locked away in our subconscious, clawing at the inner lining of our skulls, it’s a form of release. A literary orgasm, you could say.

For those of us, who write for others, it’s a different story. It’s a constant and dire need for approval, for someone to say “Good job” or “I relate to this”. It’s a desire to entertain others, to give them something to relate to. Me? I fall somewhere in the middle. I won’t shy away from constructive criticism or, God forbid, praise for my writing, but I mostly write to exercise my mental demons. Call it a blessing or a curse, but I can relate to –and associate with- both sides of the writer mentality.

Some people seem to have forgotten the power of the written word. Just a handful of words can evoke every emotion imaginable. Pain, sadness, joy, surprise. If you can feel it, there is someone out there who can make you feel it with nothing more than a few words. Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in a mere six words. His response?

For Sale: Baby Shoes, never used.

How powerful is that? Hemingway was able to, not only get the mind reeling and the heart sinking, but he was able to spark the imagination. I don’t know a single person to whom I’ve shown those six words who did not, in some way, try to imagine the bigger story behind it. But it’s those six words, that single line that holds more depth than many full length novels I’ve read.

To be put simply, writers write because they have to; because if they weren’t writing, they wouldn’t truly exist, in the existential sense. I’ve read articles that claim writers are the way they are because of any of a wide variety of mental disorders, that we’re all batshit crazy and that’s why we do the things we do, and act the way we act. While I find it increasingly difficult to argue that writers are a little kooky, I certainly don’t think we’re all bi-polar time bombs waiting to explode our crazy goo all over some poor bastard in front of us in line at Starbucks.

Some of us, maybe, but certainly not all of us. Okay, maybe most of us. Fine, maybe these articles have a point.

Was Hemingway crazy when he wrote The Old Man and the Sea? Was Vonnegut insane when he wrote Slaughterhouse Five? Was Shakespeare pissing his pants and talking to God when he wrote Hamlet?

I think the bigger question is do we care? If insanity can result in such literary genius, I think I’d prefer to be the old man on the corner in the lumberjack uniform, screaming at the aliens in my head to stop trying to convince me to assassinate the President of Bolivia.

At least life would be interesting.

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Topic Blog #2: Rob K On: Punk Rock

April 4, 2008 2 comments

This one started as my ode to the twelve year old Hot Topic shopper and it grew into a passionate rant about a genre of music I care very much about.

Punk rock used to mean something. It was a loud and boisterous “FUCK YOU!” accompanied by a gigantic middle finger directed at the status quo. It was a way out for people who didn’t want to dress the same, act the same and listen to the same music as everyone else. It was freedom.

Now, the irony in the whole thing is that it started an underground movement of people who… Well, dressed the same, acted the same and, yes, listened to the same music. But it didn’t matter! Because even within that smattering of Mohawks, leather and eyeliner, things were better than the world outside it. Punk was a haven for people who were sick of pop and of disco and of the blatant decadence of the era in which it was born. It was more than a genre of music; it was a way of life.

Punks indulged in a different form of decadence than the disco freaks around them. Instead of losing themselves in a ballet of cocaine and bright lights of clubs like Studio 54 and indulging in sins of the flesh, the majority of punks lost themselves in the screaming voices of their idols, the likes of which included Johnny Rotten and Joey Ramone. They faded out of the world around them and escaped into dive clubs, the air thick with smoke and the smell of whiskey and the sound of unkempt young men pounding away on their guitars. It was heaven for many.

But before punk became a movement, it was about the music. Early bands that paved the way for the powerhouses of the 1970s, bands like The Sonics and The Seeds, were not as crude and openly anti-establishment as later bands, but they were laying the groundwork for what would become a subgenre that would define the lives of a lot of disassociated young folks.

Whether you’re talking about The Sonics, or The Damned, or The Clash, or The Sex Pistols, one thing is clear; Punk means something to people. It means freedom to be yourself, it means liking hard, fast music isn’t a bad thing, and it means you don’t always have to be a nice person. Some people shake their head at the mere mention of punk rock, thus exhibiting how much better than punk rockers they so happen to be. Those people are dipwads. Punk rock is, as it always was, not for everyone. You either get it or you don’t.

Personally, I find life much more fun being in the category of people who get it.

I can’t sit here and tell you everything that was going through everyone’s head the first time they heard The Clash. All I can do is tell you what went through my head. Hearing The Clash, listening to London Calling and Should I Stay Or Should I Go and yes, even Rock The Casbah, changed me. The Clash was the first punk band that made me sit up and go “Okay, I get it.” The Ramones weren’t far behind them, neither were The Sex Pistols. I’d go so far as to say that The Clash, The Ramones and The Sex Pistols represent the tent poles of my punk rock experience. I later discovered bands like The Misfits, The Vandals and Bad Brains. Of course, even later than these bands, Green Day hit the scene.

The thing about Green Day, especially very early Green Day, is that it harkened back to the Sex Pistol days. Pounding guitar, thrashing drums and an anti-status quo message mixed into lyrics about masturbation and insanity.

Even bands like The Talking Heads and Devo easily constitute the punk rock mentality, though they abandoned the raw guitar and drum combo for synthesizers and drum machines. People labeled these bands as “New Wave”, to help ignore how dirty they felt listening to punk bands.

I’ve been to a handful of punk shows. No big names, no Green Day, no Misfits, no Clash, but good old fashioned unknown bands. Bands like Running On Empty and Los DryHeavers, both local to the Santa Cruz, California area. You’re better off going to a local show than to a big name show; your odds of getting a good, loud and hard show are far higher, since these bands have everything to prove. They’re hungry, man. They want it more. They’re not driven by money or fame; they’re driven by a deep rooted primal need to play. That’s where you’ll get your cover charge’s worth.

Plus the beer is usually better in the dive bars. It’s a well known law of the underground music scene; the worse the quality of the bar, the better the quality of the beer. I don’t know how it works, I just know it does. Then again, it’s always more fun to build up a healthy buzz before you even set foot in the club to begin with.

Punk gave way to New Wave, which faded into Goth Rock. Today, Emo is the new Goth. Gone are the Mohawks and the leather and the eyeliner. Actually, the eyeliner is still around, but the Mohawk has been replaced with hair brushed into the face and the leather and torn jeans have been replaced with thin red ties and tight black t-shirts.

Punk rock has become a fashion; it’s become a trend and a phase that kids go through nowadays. I see a fifteen year old wearing a Ramones t-shirt and I have to wonder if he really even knows who the hell the Ramones are or if he just got it on special at Hot Topic. It’s become less a label for disaffected youth and more a brand for a generation of kids who wouldn’t know true anti-establishmentarianism if it bit them on their reform schooled asses. This, of course, may just be the old man ranting.

Most of The Ramones have died, Sid Vicious has been long gone and Joe Strummer is no longer walking the Earth, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth as he gives the world the finger through his music. But I like to think they’re still with us, in spirit, wincing along with me at what has become of our precious punk rock.

Luckily, though the music may have changed (a lot) over the years, the message remains the same; take your authority and shove it, old man. I don’t need your approval because I’ve got my rock and roll idols. Unfortunately, that message seems lost on today’s youth. A walk through the local mall serves as a thing of torture, as one is faced with a see of fresh faced teenagers asking their parents to buy them the latest album from their favorite bands. The days of liking music your parents were afraid of are gone now. Instead we have parents encouraging their children’s right to rebel against them. Whatever happened to hiding your Clash record in your jacket as you crept up to your room, only to lock the door, toss that bad boy on the turntable and crank it up to eleven? Parents be damned, give me my punk rock, give me my freedom and give me my right to like music my parents hate and fear.

Nevermind the Bullocks, give me my rock and roll.

Topic Blog #1: Rob K On: Blogging

April 4, 2008 5 comments

So, I started a blog over at Blogger that was meant to be a “topic blog”. Every week or month or whatever, I would post a new blog about various topics. The idea went south when I realized two things:

1: There aren’t enough topics about which I’m passionate enough to write longwinded blog entries about.

2: I have very little talent as a writer.

Anyway, here’s the first blog on… Blogging. Yeah.

What better way to kick off this “Topic Blog” than with the topic of… Well, blogs.

Blogs have worn many very different hats over the years. It started as a form of online journal, where one can write whatever they want and post it for the world to read and judge them for. But since those humble beginnings, the term “blog” has taken on entirely new meanings. For example, in the media a “blog” is usually in reference to some sort of armchair political analyst who shares their views and opinions, as well as news and vital updates, with the world via their webpages. But it’s much more than that now.

There are political blogs, art blogs, photo blogs, even mobile blogs (moblogs), which are basically the same thing as photo blogs, only they’re updated from the road via your cell phone, or blackberry, or iPhone, or whatever other small mobile device you use (I feel old now). But that’s just the beginning. Now, blogs are seen as social networks.

The birth of sites like LiveJournal, MySpace, Friendster, Blogger, etc. have taken the blog from a way to share your thoughts with the world, to a way to make new friends and meet new people, all without ever leaving the comfort of your Laze-E-Boy chair.

Some call the birth of these social networks just another sign of the decline of humanity, claiming we, as a people, are descending a very slippery virtual slope into being nothing more than blobs of fat attached, by wires and keyboards, to the computer. Some even claim it’s the end of socializing as we know it. Me? I think it’s just another way to reach out and touch someone (whether you do so in a dirty fashion or not, is entirely up to you).

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a member of a few of these “Social Networks”. I have a MySpace page. I have a FaceBook account. You’re reading this blog on Blogger. But the difference between me and some others out there is this: I don’t take any of this too seriously. Even this blog, which is kind of a big deal to me, is not something I’m assuming will become a huge success with millions or thousands of even hundreds of readers. In fact, with my luck, I may be the only person reading this blog.

There are people out there who have crafted quite a niche for themselves by blogging, people with real talent in the arena of writing. People like authors Neil Gaiman, Wil Wheaton and Warren Ellis. The trick, I’ve deduced, to being great bloggers like these fine people, is that they simply do not take themselves seriously. The difference, however, between them and me, is that whereas we all blog like no one’s reading, in my case, it’s probably true. But that’s the life of a Blogger, these days; full of ups and downs.

My blogging career has seen many ups and downs over the years, as well. From the “LOL/OMG/WTF” phase, to poetry blogs, to lyric posts, to accounts of my daily life (no matter how boring it may be), my blog has gone through every change there is. I’ve run the gamut, man.

When I was fifteen, sixteen or maybe seventeen, somewhere in my “the world hates me and I’m going to kill myself” years, I discovered a little thing known as LiveJournal. LiveJournal, or “LJ” as the kids called it, was a godsend to an overweight teenaged slacker like me. It was an outlet, where I could record my thoughts, my dreams, my hopes and desires, all spaced out between the occasional entries featuring the lyrics of whatever Linkin Park song I was identifying with that week. I had no way of knowing what doors I had just opened. No way of sensing what kind of monumental exercise I was about to partake in.

The thought of millions of people having access to my ramblings never even crossed my mind. I was aware of it being a public page, I wasn’t stupid. But the fact that literally anyone from anywhere in the world could stumble across my page and read what I ate for lunch never really entered my mind. My LiveJournal was for me and the few friends who followed my exploits. The notion of anonymous readers was never an issue. But when that notion did come into play, everything changed.

I scrapped the journal that was full of LOLs and WTFs and depressed ramblings. I started a new one, a completely different layout, completely new user icons, completely new direction. This time, I wasn’t just writing for me and my friends. This time I was writing for the world.

Granted, to my knowledge, no one from “the world” read anything I ever wrote. But still, it was there. Just in case. I shared poetry, short stories, and accounts of my daily life. It was all out there, man. All of it, for any poor shmuck, on a laptop half a world away, to see.

During my time at LiveJournal, a new internet toy came onto the scene. The kids called it “MySpace” and it was a hit in a big way. The internet journal snob that I was, I shunned all things MySpace and continued to tweak and customize and update my humble LiveJournal. I stayed this way, happily tucked away in the virtual bosom of LiveJournal, for a few more years. Then I caved.

MySpace was such a new thing to me. It was everything LiveJournal never dreamed of being, both good and bad. It was less about baring of the soul and more about baring of the cleavage. That was probably the biggest reason I stayed away in the first place. Once I settled in, found a layout I liked and played around with all the shiny new toys, I ended up enjoying it quite a bit. I loved the blog features, I loved the ability to share comments with friends, and I even loved the bulletin feature. It just felt right. I’ve been blogging at MySpace for a few years now and will continue to do so. But I now feel like I need more.

That brings us here, to Blogger. I always thought doing a theme blog would be fun, but I could never decide on a topic. Would I blog about geek things? Video Games and Comic Books? No. No, too many of those out there already, most of which are far better than I could ever manage to do. TV and Movies? Music, maybe? Nah. I’m not enough of an expert on any of that. So the idea of writing a theme blog was postponed indefinitely. Until I realized one thing; who needs to be an expert?

It was at that moment I decided to write a blog about life in general, one topic at a time. This will be a first for me, writing about life in general and not just my life, so it should be fun.

In closing, a blog can be many things to many people. It can be an emotional outlet, it can be a conversation starter, it can be a way to share a little bit of yourself or your favorite music, movies or even important information with people you know, or even people you don’t know.

The only thing, regarding blogs, of which I am absolutely certain, is this; whether you’re reading them or writing them, it’s time well wasted.