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The scoliosis specter of my reflection’s demise looms behind the curtain hanging over the bed we fuck on. The dangling sword of inevitability, held by a single hair that could be falling off my balding head as we sleep.

There was supposed to be something else. You were supposed to have something…a calm.

I have to say I love you before I die. Because I do. I must die real. For me and for you. I don’t know when I fell exactly, but the ground seems ever clearer.

There’s no real way of coping when your parachute won’t open. You’re falling down. You’re going down. You fell. Then you died. Maybe someone cried. But not your one-time bride.

She is leaving and taking the daughter whose value to me I’ll get to tomorrow. Where is my little girl? I’m sure I’ve done things wrong, but what they are and what they mean I don’t know. Surely they could not have been so bad. I’ve tried to be honest about myself. I’ve seen them be honest about me. She fantasizes about my demise. Not relishing malevolently, but a calming release. Caden, does that feel terrible?

Yeah.

I shake when I see her now, knowing that I let her get away, let her run away from my own sickness instead of letting us try to heal it. Let me just stand here holding this bar. Shaking and trying not to fall. Knowing that not all fall gracefully.

He said he regretted his life. And they said he said a lot of things. Too many to recount. They said it was the longest……and saddest deathbed speech any of them had ever heard. There was so little left of him…they had to fill the coffin with cotton balls to keep him from rattling around.

So I try to be real. We need to investigate. To really discover the essence of each being. Unable to shake the horror that maybe being (what at least feels like) honest is no longer enough to find the real, to be the real, without equivocation. We may attempt to be as honest as possible in this massive warehouse, working to craft, or rather re-craft, the real. Perhaps to be distributed to retailers far and wide for mass consumption. Consumption of the real. Devouring of the real. A horror of its own dimension, one quite likely to remain in the shadows of distance. Alas, When are we gonna get an audience in here? Yes, the excavation continues. For, I won’t settle for anything less than the brutal truth. And so I remain restless.

And so damn lonely.

You realize you are not special. You have struggled into existence and are now slipping silently out of it. This is everyone’s experience. Every single one. The specifics hardly matter. Everyone is everyone.

So they say.

But how honest have I been about others? Not just about them but for them.

There are nearly 13 million people in the world. I mean, can you imagine that many people? And none of those people is an extra. They’re all leads in their own stories. They have to be given their due.

My replacement is crying in the background; I have taken his treasure. My life and my replacement’s life are heard in interweave, and still I yell at his jump. Yelling at my own inability to, screaming tears at the inescapable push that threatens us with a return to anonymity.

How do I try to understand them? Do I, and even if I do, how easily do I forget?

I’ve watched you forever, Caden. But you’ve never really looked at anyone other than yourself. So watch me. Watch my heart break. Watch me jump. Watch me learn that after death there’s nothing. No more watching, there’s no more following, no love.

We are all Sammy.

“Unknown, Unkissed and Lost”

And we are the ne’er understood jumper and the write-off director scolding guilt into a small shape with our parental reminders of untold warnings that we should have known. I didn’t jump, Sammy. A man stopped me before I jumped. Get up!

Didn’t even try. Didn’t even try to understand. I didn’t.

You can’t cause someone to kill himself. That’s what I told her. Trying to believe it.

The notes I gave you, the notes that tells you who you are, what happened to you, why you’re sad. They only remain. Crumpled in the dumpsters of these warehouses. Structures of and for the detritus that is all of us, these single labels blowing farther away from these characters. This distance — once an opportunity, creating room to get closer, to get fuller — too, only remains.

And what of those I tried to understand? Maybe I seek this understanding as a tool for my own betterment, my own art, my own me. I can finally put my real self into something. Looking closely for knowledge, not wisdom or empathy. Sharing for exhibition, not connection. Exploitation, not exploration.

I will have someone play me to delve into the murky, cowardly depths of my lonely, fucked-up being. And he’ll get notes too, and those notes will correspond to the notes I truly receive every day from my god! The god I craft and have crafted. God of self-contempt and vanishing deserving, post-ratified by the selfish actions that hurt others and become the desired reflection of my repugnant identity when I choose them to be. A deity to be snickered at with reels of arrogant I-told-you-sos when the aura of interpersonal destruction lashes out and validates disgust’s choice of the self.

We’re getting at something real here.

Roll up our lies, our believed lies. Move them to a different sector, but set them up to unfurl upon subjection to bad vibrations so they may be presented and reflected upon as endemic to the self once again, should the desire arise.

-I thought someone would have cleaned it up. –Who? –I don’t know. Someone.

And so we try to be real and try to be loved, pushing back against the cries inside that say we’re not us if we’re not sad. Because I feel — I feel a lot of longing. At least a part of us, sometimes the whole, always crawling back into the hole to be buried by specks of dust spit on the face one by one. The perceived singular attention only enabling my self-absorption.

Everything is more complicated than you think. You only see a tenth of what is true. There are a million little strings attached to every choice you make. You can destroy your life every time you choose. But maybe you won’t know for 20 years and you may never, ever trace it to its source.

Only those who fondle my desperate need to be identified as the complex, through floaty words that may be true for me or any agglomeration of dark matter drifting through the petri dish at the target of a microscope with not but phantom eyes to intimidate, may earn the right to play me, to be me. Well, Caden Cotard is a man already dead. He, um, lives in a half world between stasis and antistasis and time is concentrated, chronology confused. Yet up until recently he’s strived valiantly to make sense of his situation. But now he, ah — he’s turned to stone. And to give my soul the promise of worth amidst the jumble. A worth that we may hope to never find and thus destroy the promise.

I will not see the reflection in you but because of you. My own disappointment through proxy — a valiant performance from which you should derive not but pride, and please disregard my reactions, they are not you. Body is haze but reflection clear.

I disappointed him, and he hates me.

We are both him. All me. An inward collapsing maelstrom of self-aversion feeding on itself. I’m not happy.

Psychosis, not the crazy kind of course, swims around my innocent curls. The urge to share, to confirm that this is all OK, or common, or even hopeless. Just something. Please. Did you tell him I have green poo? What did he say?

When so many of our actions are dictated, or at least presented to us as among the best possibilities, and we begin to carry them out and consequently help mold our identities, how do we be ourselves? Tom, don’t turn into another person just because I say change your action.

And so we react with only partial consciousness, insecurities and patterns pushing up through the ground and surfacing our actions before they can foster, thrust out into the world of culpability.

That’s not my response.

We can never apologize enough, but it’s always too much for those close to us.

Of course your mother isn’t evil. I know I said that. You might be thinking, “But how can someone who loves me and hugs me so tight be evil?” I should have caught myself right after, if not before. I want to apologize but the distance between us now blanks my shouts. My love, the love, is real. I just fuck it up a lot.

I wish we had this when we were young. Before I had to stand behind this glass case, watching you dance naked before me blowing bubbles, screaming for recognition, screaming to help us. Before the flowers on your skin could poison their roots.

But the drift away had already began. Pangaea fractured at birth, cruelly ratified upon reaching the age of speech. I’m going to remember this moment for the rest of my life, Mama, and in exactly 20 years, come here with my daughter and have exactly the same picnic. There was so much hope. And I’m not in it. Baby, that’s the loveliest thing I’ve ever heard.

If only your last wilted petal could talk. And if only I could be the one it wanted to talk to.

They say that it’s not how much you love, but how much you are loved. That’s all good and well for them, but what do they do when this dependence on the love of others becomes an addiction? What do they know about needing this love of others and watching it grow stronger for people who are not you, their reserve for you fading from its previous glory? Do they have a plan for restoration, some kind of strategy for making them — by rational argument? force? trickery? begging? — love you like they once did, to need you so bad you could only deny your worth so much without hurting them? I don’t want you to be okay. I mean, I do, but I…It just, uh…It rips my guts out. What do they know.

Can you understand loneliness? The kind of loneliness that needs just the presence of people so much that it alienates others in its crushing desperation.

I’m at a point in my life where I only want to be around joyous, healthy people.

But a brief moment of comfort in real connection may deconstruct time – the horrors of its accepted linearity continuing on their plane as this moment walks into its home on the street of next dimension.

I once watched you live your life, love your family, crying behind the pane and wanting to initiate my own last jump. But that was then, and someone stopped me. Let us sleep together in peace, in communion, for the first time, in our house of fire.

Even as I feel this moment of happiness. It is still an obscure light. An Obscure Moon Lighting an Obscure World.

You will light the candles in our burning house. Just as your light flickers out in the warmth of our body heat.

You will not die by fire but fade from smoke.

Now you are dead and I may live forever. See you soon.

It means a lot of things. You’ll see.

I once tried to make sense of this. Now I am stone. Now I am passing.

The Death of a Salesman. But we’re all selling something. Selling ourselves. Selling our lives for a grasp at joy. At calm. At comfort.

Try to keep in mind that a young person playing Willy Loman thinks he’s only pretending to be at the end of a life full of despair. But the tragedy is that we know that you, the young actor, will end up in this very place of desolation. We may pretend the desolation of others, so as to desperately communicate, though veiled, our own contemporary desolation. One which has a stacking effect. Can we impersonate others’ desolation without absorbing, internalizing, part of its shape, swallowing it into our own; our current desolation evolving into a grander beast, more and more impossible to subdue with each new form?

This is the start of something awful.

The beginning of our role.

How do you think I’m supposed to respond to something like that?

I don’t know what I’m doing.

Just tell me what to do.

I’m such a stupid cow.

I-I screwed everything up, and I-I don’t have any courage.

Everybody, sorry.

The deterioration inherent in the growth only felt and acknowledged when its impairments overwhelm.

Is it serious? We don’t know. But, yes.

I am the delusion. I believe I am dead, but act as though still following a path crafted with handfuls of pebbles of my own accord. I am Cotard.

Would you sit with me for a moment? Because I’m very tired and — and lonely.

Our thoughts are incriminating. Even if we do not choose to share them, if we had them, if we can remember them and act them out, we are responsible for supporting them.

And they say there is no fate, but there is, it’s what you create. And even though the world goes on for eons and eons you are only here for a fraction of a fraction of a second. Most of your time is spent being dead or not yet born. But while alive, you wait in vain wasting years for a phone call or a letter or a look from someone or something to make it all right. And it never comes, or it seems to, but it doesn’t really. So you spend your time in vague regret or vaguer hope that something good will come along. Something to make you feel connected. Something to make you feel whole. Something to make you feel loved. And the truth is I feel so angry. And the truth is I feel so fucking sad. And the truth is, I’ve felt so fucking hurt for so fucking long. And for just as long, I’ve been pretending I’m okay just to get along, just for — I don’t know why. Maybe because no one wants to hear about my misery because they have their own. Well, fuck everybody. Amen.

She said it about me. Everyone is disappointing. The more you know someone. It’s just… But maybe it’s supposed to be about the I.

We are taught to accept the help of others when we need it, but also told to pick ourselves up with twin arms of moxie and determination. Awkward and unbalanced, the two fumbling to offset the each other as they stumble further from equilibrium and stable support. Sometimes the anodes and cathodes pop out and we put them back in reverse — overconcern for our pain and a delegation of our messes to be cleaned up by others. Until we find ourselves playing the maid, finding a certain numbing peace tidying the living spaces of those actually creating, living. A reflection in time: I want to do something important while I’m still here.

A flash of death haze as I begin to clean. An honest accountability and the responsibility to maintain it in the effort to be a healthier contributor to the larger community. Maybe it’s not so bad.

It’s still all you, though. Don’t nobody have to kiss your ass for you to do what you need to do for you.

Even if it only starts out as Stay Busy. Stay Outta Bullshit. I may not have the same conception of freedom I thought I had. Doing what I wanted all day, as long as it included some looks over the shoulder. But I’ll be good. At least I got a job. I’m doing something.

I don’t wanna die looking stupid as hell.

The idealization isn’t crazy. It stands on its own, albeit quite far away. They had an identity. And they were proud of that identity.

But we have to see beyond the tunnel. Maybe even beyond the binary.

Claims of right and wrong shapeshifting with each change in perspective. Throughout settings. Between people. Within onseself.

Yes, that can lead to this: Fuck a problem. Slam. Fuck a solution. Slam. These mothafuckas trying to take my shit.

But it doesn’t matter how hard you go. Revenge isn’t anything.

Leave that boy alone.

No shots take down my ego.

You’ve got to make your own choices. We can try and help. After all, lotta people can’t stick with peace if they don’t have a stick to hold onto.

If violence is learned behavior, then other programs can be input too. Alternatives. Thought 2. Righteous can be taught. No shame in that. Only the delusion of time could make me think that my case is embarrassing.

Just because I haven’t been loved and try to tell myself that I don’t need to be doesn’t mean I don’t want to be—and it certainly doesn’t mean I don’t deserve it. You have to place a value and a vision on your life.

It’s about finding that soft spot. Not weak. But soft spot.

I can count on one hand how many times I told my mama I love her.

That point where she just can’t do it anymore. Where she can’t keep caring about them the way she wishes she could. Too close. Too much disappointment. They say that’s mean but it’s just how I feel.

I don’t know how I feel.

Confrontation, Realization, Acceptance, Atonement, Action, Consistency. Still…In reality, the face is there. The face is still there.

How to fathom when I don’t even remember my victims. Their faces register nothing in my past. But they’re here now. When you want to protect your kids, and you can’t in that moment… Turns out they were always there.

A son’s death caught on a cameraphone. A son’s death on YouTube. Thousands clicking “Favorite.” Zoom in. Zoom in. Put that nigga to sleep.

Smokescreens rarely obscure nothing though.

There was always something inside me that said I have to do better.

This one’s not about excuses. It’s not about abdicating responsibility. That’s not the problem this time.

I blame myself for a lot of stuff that I know it wasn’t my fault.

Thus, the flies.

You was bugging me until eventually I had to get up and tend to that fly.

But flies have struggles too.

As a mediator, sometimes I get to that point where I can’t keep catering to you. I still care, but I can’t keep being at the mercy of your convenience. Especially if you’re not even going to listen to me. I see you hearing, but you ain’t listening. At some point, I lose respect for myself. At some point, it has to be at my availability.

Now sitting here talking to you there was 15 times that I just wanted to get up and walk away from you. But I didn’t and I couldn’t.

And I really mean that. But I still have to keep calling. You have to pick up eventually. You just have to.

I don’t even know why I’m doing this. I must be a glutton for punishment.

Beauty in candor. Even the helpers need help. Even they suffer through specters and fight the sorrow of their own inefficacy, grasping desperately at their own justifications and reassurances constantly slipping and sliding through cracked fingers. And despite all the group meetings they might hold, all the speeches they give about solidarity and implicit support, all the community comfort they try to convey, they all still have to make their way back alone.

One day you might have all the strength you think you have. And you think: “You know what? I can continue on with my life.” But the next day your emotions are triggered by something; and it kind of puts them back to square one. So I don’t think people ever get over it.

They like being praised for their mind’s eye. They like seeing their praise infect other people.

I create for a living. I am a creator. This is my uniform. This is how I serve my country.

The writer’s obligation to realizing, understanding and making clear one’s allegiances, projecting these allegiances, attaining power through the display, asserting identity.

Don’t call it new theater. Call it real theater.

Big fat executives, with big fat smiles and big fat tantrums, cranked up on awareness about you, about them, about the industry, about the sales at the end of the rainbow.

Can you tell a sellable story?—with that Barton Fink feeling—by the end of the week—We’re all expecting great things. We should be kissing your feet. Naturally, we assume you know what you’re doing.

We all have stories.

Typewriter as monolith, imposing before, symbiotic during and humbled after. The permanently disappointed writer’s face. The untroubled productivity of secretaries manufacturing response letters.

The din of fans, running, going nowhere. Tilted halls shrinking into oblivion.

A day or a lifetime. Granted? Trapped?

A script written before the incident, yet still believed to be truth. A man who can write his masterpiece before the moment of his life. You think you know pain?

Empathy requires understanding, says she. The intellectual hears this but listens not. A paradox less in the conflict between knowledge and emotions and more in the artist’s insistence on interrupting the common man’s story with his exaltation of the subject’s status as the golden archetype. The gut tells him what’s good and what’s just adequate. Not the people. Stories drowned out by their legend. Common men blurred out by The Common Man.

The artist who bellows his mortality down the necks of perennially draining whiskey bottles and above the neck of a lover being perennially drained by her concern or the artist who bellows his eminence as savior of common men by talking over them and stifling their souls with his conclusions about who they are: both fight the raging river of manure, but who is not the parody?

I’ve always found that writing comes from a great inner pain. Maybe it’s a pain that comes from a realization that one must do something for one’s fellow man to help somehow to ease his suffering. Maybe it’s personal pain. At any rate, I don’t think good work is possible without it.

Watch the common men destroy themselves. What is to be thought of their lofty nobility now?

There are no answers or clear explanations—just the crashing of the waves.

Walk out into the fire, script in hand.

Yet…

We are not happy. We don’t put Wallace Beery in a fruity movie about suffering. Your beauty defense is hollow. Your universality defense is a joke. The galaxy is not Finkcentric.

Pity. Your folks are good people.

The force of change, the common man, advertised as king but made to keep quiet can be ignored only so long. He’s not as simple as you think. He knows your transgressions. You come into my home and complain I’m making too much noise. Not mad at anyone, he feels sorry for them. Just wants to help. I just wish someone would do as much for me.

A sequence with an assuredly symbolic climax, wherein the artist’s transmogrified reality serves as a vessel for conveying depth of understanding rooted in universal application but filtered through individual genius comprehension and reshaping. That is to say there is reason, to put it in your language. Right?

Or is the question not so much what’s in the box, or what’s the deal with the picture, but why does the seagull fall?

You’re just a tourist with a typewriter.

Base. Where the air is like menthol and the crickets always chirp.

Here is the reminder that spaces are characters too. Sometimes they’re just one of those quiet ones that get drowned out by the loud ones. This is letting them speak up.

Looks into the setting and not just the person’s experience in it. Looks that wait to follow the shifts in action; listening to a place instead of just reacting to it.

 I was born here in a life I can’t recall.

Feeling the setting but not one’s relevance in it.

Layers for lines, glancing at each other as they veer away.

Some are left to sort through the tender offerings for the loss of a loved one in front of the TV. Some melt into the booths at empty karaoke bars.

There are the young monks still lonely and scared of their temples. But soon they’ll just be hungry.

Settings for layers and stories for settings. Entire contexts running parallel before drifting apart. Drifting further and breaking down and drifting further.

I told them I didn’t know. And then I disappeared.

The unlimited potentiality of the future in the fear of the infinite present, where when all can be done one is left to struggle with what should be done, slowed down to a cruel crawl breeds acidic memories and plenty of self-analysis.

Stasis born not out of laziness but the straddling of paralytic wonderment and cracking confidence. Energy in cyclical swirl, head on swivel to gaze upon the past, present, and future that won’t stop trading places.

Futures that should have been long gone but visible from the present. I always thought I’d be smarter.

Fading futures that were supposed to happen sure, but they don’t seem to be doing much to help themselves. If you don’t start on the count of three, it’s over.

The looming futures of past committals that were supposed to be different. Ahh, a dancer. No, just a teacher.

Illusory futures that were never supposed to happen, but carried buried expectations and lifeplans all the same. I wish I was just one notch prettier. I’m right on the edge, you know.

So the reflection yields visions floating by of worst times that require nothing more than a reach out and grasp to be.

Similar yearnings drive the desire to be unconditionally exalted in all one’s being. Where the most mundane actions inspire fascination. Someone innocently obsessed with every move, enlivened with complete amazement and adoration. I wouldn’t have to do anything. I wouldn’t have to try.

And so the watched lives flash by and the watcher’s in haze.

But…

I wasn’t done waiting for them.

Just a quick nap?

There’s a point where pity disperses in accepting sighs, a transition with no single point but the countless exposures of expectations to air. Where the manifestations of proximity’s focus tell a story that keeps sticking to other backgrounds.

Looking around for a cause to guilttrip, only faces of effect stand, some equally stranded, some confident in their place. So goes the search for the man expecting an answer, the latter found in the closed assertions of certainty held up by desire, by desperation.

Larry Gopnick does not understand the dead cat. But he understands the math.

He once saw Elysium. But now he keeps thinking that he is supposed to understand the dead cat. So many things are happening in that box, but every time he lifts up the lid it’s just a cat.

Schrodinger can’t help him. Nobody expected to do so seems to be able to do so.

The doctor with all his sterile rooms, imposing machinery, and eminent experience offers him a cigarette. The rabbis with all their accumulated experience, aura of reverence, and well of tradition offer him more questions.

Foundations, sanity-feeding bases that he built his life around, keep dissipating, warnings and reasons presented in fractured and arbitrary spurts. In some cases, all he wants is confirmation: This is something. Right?

Larry is a nice, simple guy. He doesn’t really know what to make of a lot of it. When people ask him if it’s important, all he can say is that it’s weird. What’s going on? acts as his retreat more than his advancement.

He has to believe that actions always have consequences. Not often. Always. There has to be something rewarding and punishing. There has to be structure.

Others act like they see it. They say things like appropriate course of action, and an opportunity to learn how things really are, and the right perspective. It seems so clear to them.

Even when Larry feigns that clarity, The Boss isn’t always right, but he’s always The Boss, it just doesn’t stick. At least not the same way the questions do.

His defense against the certainty of others: I didn’t do anything. It doesn’t stop Columbia Records from sending him bills for not cancelling. It doesn’t stop his wife from trying to leave him. Action is demanded from the man with stores of questions and answers passing each other in opposite directions, the former toward infinity and the latter toward extinction. He keeps meeting people who say things like you can’t know everything, but he just wants someone to know anything.

One of the rabbis tells him that The Boss doesn’t owe him or anybody else anything. Larry: Why does he make us feel the questions if he isn’t going to provide any answers?

So Larry continues teaching his students the uncertainty principle. It proves we can’t ever really know what’s going on. As their Boss, he enacts the cruelties: Even though you can’t figure anything out, you will be responsible for it on the midterm. He says he is just trying to be a serious man.

But when his brother, the man drawing up a probability map of the universe, breaks down in the drained pool of the Jolly Roger, crying that the Boss gave Larry everything and him nothing, what can anybody do but internalize his refrain. It’s all shit.

The shaking-head inquiries of why him?—or more so, since we’re not fooling anybody here, why me?—then hollow out themselves.

To what extent is anyone to believe that it is him or her or you or me? What volition can be applied to the distant tornado? What character do meager transgressions carry in its shadow?

The Boss wins a bet with his rival.

You always act so surprised, Larry.

We’re going to be fine, Job.

No artist stands at the vanguard of society like the stand-up comedian, and no such vanguard stands as eminent as Louis C.K. If, as Matei Calinescu notes in “From Modernity to the Avant-Garde,” the avant-garde can be basically defined as artists and works ahead of their time and in a certain opposition to society (80), then Louis C.K. and stand-up comedy as a whole emerge as models of innovative and challenging art. The mere act of simply standing up in front of a crowd, desperately needing to communicate ideas to all who will listen, serves as the concept of avant-garde stripped down to its essentials, if merely on the basis of urgency. When Calinescu claims that “from its very outset the artistic avant-garde developed as a culture of crisis” (81), the parallels with stand-up comedy become apparent. Louis C.K. in particular exemplifies this necessity to convey messages of collective cultural self-analysis, frequently yelling his material in a frantic matter as if his messages must be communicated as soon as possible or he might explode. Just as Hugo Ball claimed that “we the poets must atone for this bloodbath,” a similar mindset drives much of Louis C.K.’s comedy. The borderline offensively ludicrous acts and patterns of contemporary society, which he often admits to being equally guilty of, must be recognized and brought to a level of comedic self-awareness to reduce their horror and the collective transgression of their secrecy. These acts of selfishness and stupidity must be called out and analyzed so that society can attain a certain amount of consciousness about them, thereby lessening the shame born out of obliviousness and possibly working toward rising above such foolish, robotic habits through the transnational language of laughter.
 Like the exemplars of past avant-garde movements, the stand-up comedian focuses a great deal of attention on forcing people to question how they derive meaning. Much of Louis C.K.’s comedy attempts to dig through the layers of societal imposition and mechanical implementation to find out why people do the things they do. He pushes past the blind acceptance of ideas and patterns, actually analyzing them to see if they are still worth doing, and thus offering complicit support. When he deconstructs the collective contempt of divorce in his “Hilarious” special, he does so not just as a person who experienced himself and thus has a self-interest, but also as a man curious about why the institution carries such ignominy. Though recognizing society’s affinity for the unity of marriage, Louis C.K. nevertheless notes that holding onto this idealized idea of the union clouds over the actuality of one in shambles. “No good marriage ends in divorce” he states with confidence, offering up the admission that if one did it would be truly depressing, but no such occurrence has ever happened. Thus, he defends and in certain contexts advocates the maligned act of divorce despite its status as a shameful decision for the weak. Such dissent follows in the tradition of the avant-garde of attacking tradition and the numerous social fallacies that appeal to it.
 Chief among the concerns of the avant-gardist remains the necessity of attacking and dismantling the antiquated and irrelevant notions of tradition. Calinescu states that one of the defining characteristics of the avant-garde rests in the “confidence in the final victory of time and immanence over traditions that try to appear as eternal, immutable, and transcendentally determined” (69). Likewise, stand-up comedy and Louis C.K. especially direct a great deal of attention toward proving the obsolescence and comedic foolishness of the outmoded ways of the past. This not only points to the inadequacy of the preapproved methods of living one’s life, but also undermines delusional ideas about societal progress often thought to be beyond question. In an extended piece on “Hilarious,” known to many in its condensed version as a short online clip titled “Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy” featuring the comedian on Conan O’Brien’s late-night talk show, Louis C.K. destroys the notion that the modern generation has risen above the immaturity and selfishness of its predecessors. Though technology has attained mind-melting feats of near-magic, he notes, its use and potential for revolutionary wonders is “wasted on the crappiest generation of spoiled idiots.” During one segment of the bit, he references a time when he was on a plane and the airline company was testing out mid-flight wireless internet that eventually stopped properly working within a few minutes. A man next to him, however, immediately said after it stopped working that “this is bullshit.” Louis C.K. then proceeds in the show to berate the man for feeling entitled to a feature neither knew existed only a few minutes ago. This assault illustrates the dominance of antiquated states of never being satisfied no matter how privileged one might be. By calling attention to the ridiculousness of the man on the airplane’s outrage at being deprived of a privilege only in its beta stage, Louis C.K. not only engages in the avant-garde habit of attacking tradition but also—by explaining that people in other struggling countries or situations in general do not have the luxury of complaining about these “white people problems”—points to the vanguard value of recontextualization.
 Along with assailing accepted traditions, the avant-garde also seeks to take the antiquated ways of the past and remold them or scramble their values by inserting them into completely different settings. Calinescu notes that the avant-garde borrows elements from modern tradition and “blows them up, exaggerates them, and places them in the most unexpected contexts, often making them almost completely unrecognizable” (70). In the same vein, much of comedy relies on picking up and relocating acts or ideas and placing them in foreign, often contrasting situations. Louis C.K. exhibits great skill in this area, even when dealing with subjects commonly thought of as taboo, thus making them ripe for avant-garde experimentation. When he talks in “Hilarious” about the sheer goofiness of masturbation and how much it pervades the lives of most men. While making fun of men who mock the gesture in public when trying to express incredulity, he wonders about what it would be like if there was a man who every time he started the motion he had to finish. The sight of an adult male on stage in front of hundreds of people pretending to masturbate stands as a prime example of avant-garde assault. The reappropriating of the action for the purpose of his bit removes a certain amount of the fear- and shame-based avoidance of the subject and forces people to confront it on a direct level. Moreover, considering the sensitivity of the subject, his bit also functions as a strong exercise in the vanguard staple of offending the masses.
 Much of the purpose of avant-garde art lies in the practice of blowing up the various attempts by a large portion of society to participate in an idealized concept of civilized cultural experience. During his speech at a tribute ceremony dedicated to George Carlin held last year, Louis C.K. spoke about how the comedy legend inspired him to continue doing stand-up despite years of experiencing trouble finding a voice. At one point in his career, Louis C.K. heard on the radio an interview with Carlin that inspired the former to come to the conclusion that if he was going to struggle he would rather do so shocking the public with real material than coasting on hollow laughter squeezed out of recycled, shallow material. This mentality directly corresponds to a number of Louis C.K.’s bits that often seem intended chiefly for the purpose of offending the audience. One such joke found on his “Chewed Up” special takes place shortly after the September 11 attacks. “You can figure out how bad a person you are by how soon after September 11 you masturbated…for me it between the two towers going down,” he proudly states with no shame. By addressing perhaps the most sensitive topic possible for the time in America, Louis C.K. stretches the willingness of the audience to stay behind him and offer its supporting laughter while he subverts the serious subject with that which is often considered anywhere from simply gross to sacrilegious. He further adds to the extremeness of his relationship to both topics by inserting the capper: “I had to do it because otherwise they win.” This conclusion works to not only continue the possible shock of the previous jokes in the same bit, but also functions as a further mockery of traditions of patriotism and abstract, fanatical national support. Moreover, the statement also points to the docile, foolish nature of the middle class that these jingoistic mentalities attempt to control.
 One of the quintessential motives of most all avant-garde art arises out of disgust for the ignorant and easily led bourgeoisie that unfortunately dictate a number of societal decisions. This disdain for the status quo manifests itself as Louis C.K.’s explanations of “white people problems” in “Hilarious.” Much of the passion from this bit derives from his great disappointment at the fact that so many people actually consider such miniscule trifles to be problems worthy of not only more than a glance of recognition, but extended complaining as well. “We’re miserable with a great life,” he begins. “We have white people problems. That’s where your life is amazing, so you just make shit up to be upset about.” He then compares these first-world problems to what people in other countries face on a daily basis, further illuminating the impressive immaturity of complaining about having to select a language at an automated teller machine. When compared to a concern like “o shit, they’re cutting off all our heads today,” the “White people problems” appear almost endlessly vapid, thus reflecting on the hollow bourgeois mentality as a whole. Just as Calinescu quotes Stéphane Mallarmé stating that “the modern poet is, simply, and emphatically, ‘on strike against society’” (76), Louis C.K. too exemplifies a similar resistance to the complacent collective. Part of how this rebellion takes form is through his hollowing out of significance with regard to common, glorified models of meaning.
 When attempting to attack middle class society and its vapid values, one of the best ways to truly make a mark is by removing the foundations of meaning and significance generally agreed upon by the masses. Overzealous child worship stands as one particular sacred cow that often triggers great uproar when even the slightest of pokes attempts to lower its commanding status. A number of Louis C.K.’s bits seek to remove the smearing glaze of wide-eyed exaltation that mediates society’s relationship to and idea of children. Instead of merely serving as another talking head spouting a bunch of youth-boosting platitudes about the children being the future, he directly shares his experiences with them in the present. This serves to reduce the magical aura surrounding them that has been implemented and reinforced by countless parents and others who desire the approval (or votes) of those parents. As a father himself, Louis C.K. comes from experience dealing with children on a daily, one-on-one basis. Many of his segments include sharing just what it is like to care for a young daughter, such as all of the necessary hygiene actions that must be completed. One such requirement discussed in “Shameless” involves the daily necessity of cleaning excrement out of his daughter’s vagina every time she defecates into her diaper. He reveals perhaps even a bit of offense at having never been told that by anyone in his life that his relationship to the vagina would soon be “cleaning crap out of a tiny one every day.” Though he would go on to expand upon and further develop his early musings on childhood, the same approach of seeking to dismantle its air of magic and mysticism remains strong. Furthermore, while he often brings up topics in later shows that he had already touched on before, they always come in different forms and with greater death, thereby carefully eluding one of the scariest horrors for the avant-gardist: complacency.
 Louis C.K. further serves as a model of the avant-garde by purposely discarding all of his old material every year and starting from nothing. Just as Calinescu notes that the avant-garde comes built within itself a conscious and constant inclination toward self-destruction and reconstruction, Louis C.K. also plans for the same phoenix-like incineration and rebirth. At the George Carlin tribute, he revealed that he gained inspiration for the method from Carlin himself, noting that when comedians trash all of their old material, they have no choice but to dig deeper and work their way even closer to the heart of what they want to say. This fittingly encapsulates the vanguard attitude of never being satisfied with the new that ages upon exposure and dependence, upon comfort. Louis C.K. consciously avoids such dull repetition by repeatedly forcing himself to struggle for his art, a challenge which then translates to his audience.
 There is something to be said of a comedian who can successfully make fun of child homicide and pedophilic necrophilia in one joke. Louis C.K. stands as one such example, creating the opportunity for himself by winning over the crowd’s trust despite his controversial material and opinions. Although the avant-garde is generally thought of as something the masses are greatly averse to, he has attained a modest amount of popularity expressly by challenging the ideals the common middle class American values so highly. In many ways, he lures the audience into his perspective and gets people to laugh and complicity support a number of ideas they probably would not supporting isolated contexts, a feat largely achieved by his skill. Such an undermining of the bourgeois expectations can be seen as the ultimate subversion. Moreover, just as numerous avant-gardists in the past worked to disrupt the museum-certified method of interacting with art and its contexts as places of distant display, desiring a place for people and art to mutually inhabit and interact freely, so too does Louis C.K. pursue a similar destruction of traditional notions of comedy. Forsaking the formulaic clever joke premise in favor of attacking the societal foundations and their ridiculous pervasiveness attained through seemingly arbitrary means, Louis C.K. effectively stands at the vanguard of the comedy world, leading the way with the brilliance of his deconstructed phallic jokes.
(I got to write this as my final for my comparative literature avant-garde class.)

No artist stands at the vanguard of society like the stand-up comedian, and no such vanguard stands as eminent as Louis C.K. If, as Matei Calinescu notes in “From Modernity to the Avant-Garde,” the avant-garde can be basically defined as artists and works ahead of their time and in a certain opposition to society (80), then Louis C.K. and stand-up comedy as a whole emerge as models of innovative and challenging art. The mere act of simply standing up in front of a crowd, desperately needing to communicate ideas to all who will listen, serves as the concept of avant-garde stripped down to its essentials, if merely on the basis of urgency. When Calinescu claims that “from its very outset the artistic avant-garde developed as a culture of crisis” (81), the parallels with stand-up comedy become apparent. Louis C.K. in particular exemplifies this necessity to convey messages of collective cultural self-analysis, frequently yelling his material in a frantic matter as if his messages must be communicated as soon as possible or he might explode. Just as Hugo Ball claimed that “we the poets must atone for this bloodbath,” a similar mindset drives much of Louis C.K.’s comedy. The borderline offensively ludicrous acts and patterns of contemporary society, which he often admits to being equally guilty of, must be recognized and brought to a level of comedic self-awareness to reduce their horror and the collective transgression of their secrecy. These acts of selfishness and stupidity must be called out and analyzed so that society can attain a certain amount of consciousness about them, thereby lessening the shame born out of obliviousness and possibly working toward rising above such foolish, robotic habits through the transnational language of laughter.

Like the exemplars of past avant-garde movements, the stand-up comedian focuses a great deal of attention on forcing people to question how they derive meaning. Much of Louis C.K.’s comedy attempts to dig through the layers of societal imposition and mechanical implementation to find out why people do the things they do. He pushes past the blind acceptance of ideas and patterns, actually analyzing them to see if they are still worth doing, and thus offering complicit support. When he deconstructs the collective contempt of divorce in his “Hilarious” special, he does so not just as a person who experienced himself and thus has a self-interest, but also as a man curious about why the institution carries such ignominy. Though recognizing society’s affinity for the unity of marriage, Louis C.K. nevertheless notes that holding onto this idealized idea of the union clouds over the actuality of one in shambles. “No good marriage ends in divorce” he states with confidence, offering up the admission that if one did it would be truly depressing, but no such occurrence has ever happened. Thus, he defends and in certain contexts advocates the maligned act of divorce despite its status as a shameful decision for the weak. Such dissent follows in the tradition of the avant-garde of attacking tradition and the numerous social fallacies that appeal to it.

Chief among the concerns of the avant-gardist remains the necessity of attacking and dismantling the antiquated and irrelevant notions of tradition. Calinescu states that one of the defining characteristics of the avant-garde rests in the “confidence in the final victory of time and immanence over traditions that try to appear as eternal, immutable, and transcendentally determined” (69). Likewise, stand-up comedy and Louis C.K. especially direct a great deal of attention toward proving the obsolescence and comedic foolishness of the outmoded ways of the past. This not only points to the inadequacy of the preapproved methods of living one’s life, but also undermines delusional ideas about societal progress often thought to be beyond question. In an extended piece on “Hilarious,” known to many in its condensed version as a short online clip titled “Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy” featuring the comedian on Conan O’Brien’s late-night talk show, Louis C.K. destroys the notion that the modern generation has risen above the immaturity and selfishness of its predecessors. Though technology has attained mind-melting feats of near-magic, he notes, its use and potential for revolutionary wonders is “wasted on the crappiest generation of spoiled idiots.” During one segment of the bit, he references a time when he was on a plane and the airline company was testing out mid-flight wireless internet that eventually stopped properly working within a few minutes. A man next to him, however, immediately said after it stopped working that “this is bullshit.” Louis C.K. then proceeds in the show to berate the man for feeling entitled to a feature neither knew existed only a few minutes ago. This assault illustrates the dominance of antiquated states of never being satisfied no matter how privileged one might be. By calling attention to the ridiculousness of the man on the airplane’s outrage at being deprived of a privilege only in its beta stage, Louis C.K. not only engages in the avant-garde habit of attacking tradition but also—by explaining that people in other struggling countries or situations in general do not have the luxury of complaining about these “white people problems”—points to the vanguard value of recontextualization.

Along with assailing accepted traditions, the avant-garde also seeks to take the antiquated ways of the past and remold them or scramble their values by inserting them into completely different settings. Calinescu notes that the avant-garde borrows elements from modern tradition and “blows them up, exaggerates them, and places them in the most unexpected contexts, often making them almost completely unrecognizable” (70). In the same vein, much of comedy relies on picking up and relocating acts or ideas and placing them in foreign, often contrasting situations. Louis C.K. exhibits great skill in this area, even when dealing with subjects commonly thought of as taboo, thus making them ripe for avant-garde experimentation. When he talks in “Hilarious” about the sheer goofiness of masturbation and how much it pervades the lives of most men. While making fun of men who mock the gesture in public when trying to express incredulity, he wonders about what it would be like if there was a man who every time he started the motion he had to finish. The sight of an adult male on stage in front of hundreds of people pretending to masturbate stands as a prime example of avant-garde assault. The reappropriating of the action for the purpose of his bit removes a certain amount of the fear- and shame-based avoidance of the subject and forces people to confront it on a direct level. Moreover, considering the sensitivity of the subject, his bit also functions as a strong exercise in the vanguard staple of offending the masses.

Much of the purpose of avant-garde art lies in the practice of blowing up the various attempts by a large portion of society to participate in an idealized concept of civilized cultural experience. During his speech at a tribute ceremony dedicated to George Carlin held last year, Louis C.K. spoke about how the comedy legend inspired him to continue doing stand-up despite years of experiencing trouble finding a voice. At one point in his career, Louis C.K. heard on the radio an interview with Carlin that inspired the former to come to the conclusion that if he was going to struggle he would rather do so shocking the public with real material than coasting on hollow laughter squeezed out of recycled, shallow material. This mentality directly corresponds to a number of Louis C.K.’s bits that often seem intended chiefly for the purpose of offending the audience. One such joke found on his “Chewed Up” special takes place shortly after the September 11 attacks. “You can figure out how bad a person you are by how soon after September 11 you masturbated…for me it between the two towers going down,” he proudly states with no shame. By addressing perhaps the most sensitive topic possible for the time in America, Louis C.K. stretches the willingness of the audience to stay behind him and offer its supporting laughter while he subverts the serious subject with that which is often considered anywhere from simply gross to sacrilegious. He further adds to the extremeness of his relationship to both topics by inserting the capper: “I had to do it because otherwise they win.” This conclusion works to not only continue the possible shock of the previous jokes in the same bit, but also functions as a further mockery of traditions of patriotism and abstract, fanatical national support. Moreover, the statement also points to the docile, foolish nature of the middle class that these jingoistic mentalities attempt to control.

One of the quintessential motives of most all avant-garde art arises out of disgust for the ignorant and easily led bourgeoisie that unfortunately dictate a number of societal decisions. This disdain for the status quo manifests itself as Louis C.K.’s explanations of “white people problems” in “Hilarious.” Much of the passion from this bit derives from his great disappointment at the fact that so many people actually consider such miniscule trifles to be problems worthy of not only more than a glance of recognition, but extended complaining as well. “We’re miserable with a great life,” he begins. “We have white people problems. That’s where your life is amazing, so you just make shit up to be upset about.” He then compares these first-world problems to what people in other countries face on a daily basis, further illuminating the impressive immaturity of complaining about having to select a language at an automated teller machine. When compared to a concern like “o shit, they’re cutting off all our heads today,” the “White people problems” appear almost endlessly vapid, thus reflecting on the hollow bourgeois mentality as a whole. Just as Calinescu quotes Stéphane Mallarmé stating that “the modern poet is, simply, and emphatically, ‘on strike against society’” (76), Louis C.K. too exemplifies a similar resistance to the complacent collective. Part of how this rebellion takes form is through his hollowing out of significance with regard to common, glorified models of meaning.

When attempting to attack middle class society and its vapid values, one of the best ways to truly make a mark is by removing the foundations of meaning and significance generally agreed upon by the masses. Overzealous child worship stands as one particular sacred cow that often triggers great uproar when even the slightest of pokes attempts to lower its commanding status. A number of Louis C.K.’s bits seek to remove the smearing glaze of wide-eyed exaltation that mediates society’s relationship to and idea of children. Instead of merely serving as another talking head spouting a bunch of youth-boosting platitudes about the children being the future, he directly shares his experiences with them in the present. This serves to reduce the magical aura surrounding them that has been implemented and reinforced by countless parents and others who desire the approval (or votes) of those parents. As a father himself, Louis C.K. comes from experience dealing with children on a daily, one-on-one basis. Many of his segments include sharing just what it is like to care for a young daughter, such as all of the necessary hygiene actions that must be completed. One such requirement discussed in “Shameless” involves the daily necessity of cleaning excrement out of his daughter’s vagina every time she defecates into her diaper. He reveals perhaps even a bit of offense at having never been told that by anyone in his life that his relationship to the vagina would soon be “cleaning crap out of a tiny one every day.” Though he would go on to expand upon and further develop his early musings on childhood, the same approach of seeking to dismantle its air of magic and mysticism remains strong. Furthermore, while he often brings up topics in later shows that he had already touched on before, they always come in different forms and with greater death, thereby carefully eluding one of the scariest horrors for the avant-gardist: complacency.

Louis C.K. further serves as a model of the avant-garde by purposely discarding all of his old material every year and starting from nothing. Just as Calinescu notes that the avant-garde comes built within itself a conscious and constant inclination toward self-destruction and reconstruction, Louis C.K. also plans for the same phoenix-like incineration and rebirth. At the George Carlin tribute, he revealed that he gained inspiration for the method from Carlin himself, noting that when comedians trash all of their old material, they have no choice but to dig deeper and work their way even closer to the heart of what they want to say. This fittingly encapsulates the vanguard attitude of never being satisfied with the new that ages upon exposure and dependence, upon comfort. Louis C.K. consciously avoids such dull repetition by repeatedly forcing himself to struggle for his art, a challenge which then translates to his audience.

There is something to be said of a comedian who can successfully make fun of child homicide and pedophilic necrophilia in one joke. Louis C.K. stands as one such example, creating the opportunity for himself by winning over the crowd’s trust despite his controversial material and opinions. Although the avant-garde is generally thought of as something the masses are greatly averse to, he has attained a modest amount of popularity expressly by challenging the ideals the common middle class American values so highly. In many ways, he lures the audience into his perspective and gets people to laugh and complicity support a number of ideas they probably would not supporting isolated contexts, a feat largely achieved by his skill. Such an undermining of the bourgeois expectations can be seen as the ultimate subversion. Moreover, just as numerous avant-gardists in the past worked to disrupt the museum-certified method of interacting with art and its contexts as places of distant display, desiring a place for people and art to mutually inhabit and interact freely, so too does Louis C.K. pursue a similar destruction of traditional notions of comedy. Forsaking the formulaic clever joke premise in favor of attacking the societal foundations and their ridiculous pervasiveness attained through seemingly arbitrary means, Louis C.K. effectively stands at the vanguard of the comedy world, leading the way with the brilliance of his deconstructed phallic jokes.

(I got to write this as my final for my comparative literature avant-garde class.)

Dreams are dangerous—they cause instability and pain.

A landscape is not a painting. It cannot be hung on a wall or contained in a shot.
The sunset on the horizon George sees in the beginning remains still. It sits in the office. The eye sees it at first as the illusion of a whole, but its motionlessness reveals the frame containing its false entirety. Its only possible vitality found in the disorder of dreams that imbues it with the life it feigns and sometimes fools. But the constriction persists and the doctor’s robe allows only physical freedom.
This mockery of expanse, of truth, of emotion defines the training video. Touching the backs of people who don’t turn around, who don’t have faces. Cheap camera tricks posing as magic. Hollow compliments to head-down employees. Identification and care for the subject as a model, not an identity. 
Eternal smiles on the tube, because we can never be happy enough. A telethon assures the viewer that he is taking a stand, dissenting, joining the fight. At a price. To be used at the collector’s will. Was your show good? So was mine.
Return to the grind. Told to be a visioneer who suffers not from dreams. Listen to the president: The Jeffers way is the way. A tunt. Listen to the test: A tunt is social, introspective, desiring a team environment to thrive in. True: It can be hard accepting your place.
But fret not, a happy face helps with the paperwork. That is until it, she, is replaced by more efficient means. Remember the fathers’ words: Give me productivity or give me death.
It’s OK. The wife cares: How was the thing? Plus, the weekend is coming up. Relax….The usual.
Some people say they have the cure. Or at least the medicine. They inquire about the wandering mind: Do you hear voices, voices telling you to stray from the path society has laid before us? Well that could be Satan. Telling you, wanting you to explode, brother.
But another brother appears. He’s come home. With a story. One day I was in my office and I fell asleep and I saw myself walking. I was asleep and I saw myself walking down a road and people were laughing at me, and when I looked down I saw that my penis was missing and in its place was the Jeffers logo. And no matter how hard I tried to get rid of it, no matter how hard I scrubbed or washed, it wouldn’t leave. It was then that I knew I had to escape. Before I blew up like all these other fools.
He says this, but he’s not very good at clearing the bar. In fact, he runs right into it.
Another tries to help. He says a man who doesn’t desire sex is a man who doesn’t believe in the world he’s living in, doesn’t believe in the future. Then he explodes shortly after.
Perhaps the Cuddle Crew will help. It’s soft and says soft things. But the Cuddle Crew doesn’t save the co-worker. He explodes.
Maybe this hat will help. It proclaims that outer space is empty of all thoughts and desires, just as life is empty and meaningless and can only be enjoyed when we realize this essential connection with the universe. But the hat doesn’t save the co-worker. He gets the inhibitor. He seems happy.
The talk show host is told happiness is being happy. She puts a gun in her mouth and pulls the trigger. They try to put the boom mic closer, but she’s still dead.
The collective on George’s property think they’re free in hedonism. His brother disagrees: They’re doing the same thing as everyone else, just using a different name. Entertaining themselves, missing it. Lying.
George tries to open up and get an answer. A brotherly kiss on the head and departure his only comfort.
The wife insults George, slaps him, breaks things, drinks beer. She thinks those people who explode are better than her and George, because they still feel something. They still dream something that hasn’t been ripped out of them by haircuts, and lattes and what kind of milk, and an ass that won’t stop growing, and a husband that can’t get his dick up. She says she’s been dead long enough. Then walks away.
George gets recognized for his restraint. His potential to aid the Jeffers fight. A fight to save our way of life.
They want a human evolved beyond emotion. A Cog. No dreams. No explosions.
The only way to do this, to be rid of pain, anger, dreams: Kill the thing you love.
When there is just thing this seems likely. Until the love.
Entire blue sky. Fluctuating, radiating. Not able to be contained. An expanse of possibilities to be imagined. To be dreamed. Open to affect. Gazing upward.
A vision: a landscape.

Dreams are dangerous—they cause instability and pain.

A landscape is not a painting. It cannot be hung on a wall or contained in a shot.

The sunset on the horizon George sees in the beginning remains still. It sits in the office. The eye sees it at first as the illusion of a whole, but its motionlessness reveals the frame containing its false entirety. Its only possible vitality found in the disorder of dreams that imbues it with the life it feigns and sometimes fools. But the constriction persists and the doctor’s robe allows only physical freedom.

This mockery of expanse, of truth, of emotion defines the training video. Touching the backs of people who don’t turn around, who don’t have faces. Cheap camera tricks posing as magic. Hollow compliments to head-down employees. Identification and care for the subject as a model, not an identity.

Eternal smiles on the tube, because we can never be happy enough. A telethon assures the viewer that he is taking a stand, dissenting, joining the fight. At a price. To be used at the collector’s will. Was your show good? So was mine.

Return to the grind. Told to be a visioneer who suffers not from dreams. Listen to the president: The Jeffers way is the way. A tunt. Listen to the test: A tunt is social, introspective, desiring a team environment to thrive in. True: It can be hard accepting your place.

But fret not, a happy face helps with the paperwork. That is until it, she, is replaced by more efficient means. Remember the fathers’ words: Give me productivity or give me death.

It’s OK. The wife cares: How was the thing? Plus, the weekend is coming up. Relax….The usual.

Some people say they have the cure. Or at least the medicine. They inquire about the wandering mind: Do you hear voices, voices telling you to stray from the path society has laid before us? Well that could be Satan. Telling you, wanting you to explode, brother.

But another brother appears. He’s come home. With a story. One day I was in my office and I fell asleep and I saw myself walking. I was asleep and I saw myself walking down a road and people were laughing at me, and when I looked down I saw that my penis was missing and in its place was the Jeffers logo. And no matter how hard I tried to get rid of it, no matter how hard I scrubbed or washed, it wouldn’t leave. It was then that I knew I had to escape. Before I blew up like all these other fools.

He says this, but he’s not very good at clearing the bar. In fact, he runs right into it.

Another tries to help. He says a man who doesn’t desire sex is a man who doesn’t believe in the world he’s living in, doesn’t believe in the future. Then he explodes shortly after.

Perhaps the Cuddle Crew will help. It’s soft and says soft things. But the Cuddle Crew doesn’t save the co-worker. He explodes.

Maybe this hat will help. It proclaims that outer space is empty of all thoughts and desires, just as life is empty and meaningless and can only be enjoyed when we realize this essential connection with the universe. But the hat doesn’t save the co-worker. He gets the inhibitor. He seems happy.

The talk show host is told happiness is being happy. She puts a gun in her mouth and pulls the trigger. They try to put the boom mic closer, but she’s still dead.

The collective on George’s property think they’re free in hedonism. His brother disagrees: They’re doing the same thing as everyone else, just using a different name. Entertaining themselves, missing it. Lying.

George tries to open up and get an answer. A brotherly kiss on the head and departure his only comfort.

The wife insults George, slaps him, breaks things, drinks beer. She thinks those people who explode are better than her and George, because they still feel something. They still dream something that hasn’t been ripped out of them by haircuts, and lattes and what kind of milk, and an ass that won’t stop growing, and a husband that can’t get his dick up. She says she’s been dead long enough. Then walks away.

George gets recognized for his restraint. His potential to aid the Jeffers fight. A fight to save our way of life.

They want a human evolved beyond emotion. A Cog. No dreams. No explosions.

The only way to do this, to be rid of pain, anger, dreams: Kill the thing you love.

When there is just thing this seems likely. Until the love.

Entire blue sky. Fluctuating, radiating. Not able to be contained. An expanse of possibilities to be imagined. To be dreamed. Open to affect. Gazing upward.

A vision: a landscape.

For Woo-Woo

His name could have been anything; I called him Woo-Woo. And he felt it all.

Special, looking out from that Fisher Price shopping cart as the tour guide introduced him to the world as its friend. Needed, watching the tears of sorrow swallowed and converted into drops of ecstasy by the aggrandizing effect of absence. Loved, pulsing with the beat stomping at his plush stomach as he rested his head on the shoulder, eyes closed and lower back compacted by two noodle arms that thrust stuffing into now extended-with-joy limbs.

I’m sure he warned me too. Said there was something wrong: Why would my uncle want to see him? He’s seen him before.

Trust won. Idealism won; but only for a brief moment.

The instant drew no tears. True pain is bottomless, hollow sorrow that only calls for crying in response. A falling action. Secretion the abandonment of life’s essence from the point of sight: the eye.

For the first few seconds, the burning hurts my eyes. I don’t say anything. Horrors have to be believed before they can have any real effect. Then I see the smoke.

The bulb and its ceiling-hung home are obviously out of reach but my arms don’t care. Magnetism draws them if not in the hope of intervention amidst helplessness then at least out of desire for comfort among the flame.

My uncle is laughing.

I consider grabbing the knife resting by the French loaf in my peripheral. But my eyes will not desert those beads, those beads that are all the more painful to watch in their unflinching glass stare.

What else haven’t they blinked for?

These eyes grow larger as they converge on me, I can only assume in anger at my cowardice. Scratch that. Make it justified anger.

He’s had the first part of his fun and now my uncle is floating his victim toward me in a forward-facing beeline like a no-choice exhibition. At first I can’t tell if the massive black hole where his belly should be is real. Then I see a hat.

A cowboy hat. On a stuffed doggy.

Someone says only half his name, but adds a “-dee” at the end. And I begin to notice that those glass beads are now projecting from an Old West sheriff. Just before he descends to my eye level, a glimpse at his shoes snaps a question in the back right corner of my head: Who is Andy?

All these other victims are staring at me. But I’ve never owned a Mr. Potato Head. And my T. Rex didn’t look like that. They begin to talk and I don’t recognize their voice.

I finally move my head, choosing to go down in preparation for a reset and there are these giant…things…coming out of me. I look to my sides and find little more than dark, empty seats and someone I for some reason know.

Wait.

Oh.

This place is not my Grandma’s house. That garbage bag is not my uncle. Woody is not Woo-Woo.

Now I know why I feel so bad. Delayed reaction by memory.

This is not my memory; but it is when I watch it.

The name I gave him, they tell me, arose because I was a bit too young for him to be called Woof-Woof. It now looks through the retrospect spectacles of regret like a borderline offensively brazen premonition. Not the woof of a dog indeed, but the lonely howl of a leper wolf.

From the point of view of those who remember childhood as a different point in their lives, “Toy Story 3” is about the value we assign to people, places or things in our life and what happens to us and our environments as we make those decisions. Further, the film is about how those nouns might feel when we take that value back, assuming there is a finite limit on our supply, and how they go about coping with the withdrawals of deprivation, a journey made all the more difficult when the travelers know that they will likely never again pass through the utopia of abundant attention.

But maybe it’s more than that.

As the film’s ability to catalyze vivid recollections and relivings of past incarnations of its viewers clearly illustrates, that part of us is seldom lost. Often it is just thrown into a poorly labeled container and placed into storage somewhere within us waiting to be found and played with.

Thus, when the filmmakers open “Toy Story 3” with a fully realized rendering of a child’s playtime, facilitated by the skills obtained through applying years of hard work and dedication to one’s passion, they are asserting that the adult realm of worldly necessities like income and physical sustenance and the child realm of spiritual necessities like creative expression and free exploration need not be mutually exclusive. They’re living proof.

When Andy plays with Bonnie near the end of the film, revealing the still-vibrant wellspring of imagination within him to be drawn from at will, it is both his and our revelation of just how close these two realms are to each other and the wonderful energy that sprouts forth when they work together.

For, his conscious choice to ferry his plastic children to a home where they will be cared for with the same fervor he used to offer them indicates the kind of decisions that can be arrived at by a more fully developed adult mind. Andy becomes a grown-up almost instantaneously.

Now that he is an adult, he is responsible for fostering the imagination of children, including those left neglected within the inner attics of adults – where those in mint condition and those with burned bellies alike sit in patient, secluded silence.

Because there are few more sorrowful than those deemed no longer fit for their part in a grand story.

Motion

If everything is in constant motion, then the dream of life must constantly be spinning. And we seldom remember, let alone believe, this until it stops and the dream ends, assuming that the way to be sure is to feel the kick of external force. Outside change.

But this is an Escher paradox of ascending stairs that create a fallacy, a fallacy which can only be revealed for the stagnation it is from another angle.

This is why “Inception” minions of subconscious patrol their chosen locales looking for foreign catalysts. Though we may seek the easier task with all labor carried out by others, we cannot believe the fruits we pick to provide satisfying sustenance with no knowledge of the tree’s growth.

Thus, all efforts channeled through others in “Inception” are engineered or found to be labyrinths, the difference between the two near meaningless due to the unfailing encouragement of puzzling complexity throbbing within the epicenters of both.

When reality is not enough and we seek to change our surroundings instead of ourselves, we risk an eternity of ignorant torture in limbo.

Such a zero-gravity, static stasis can birth leeches in parallel lives that can suck the former identity out of someone until they know that death is the only way to breathe again.

Those who, while floating, become infested with this disease wither away long before they can no longer be held tight.

And those who shared the experience but emerged relatively healthy sicken themselves with the regret of not being chosen instead. Or in the most tormented of eventually self-enabling scenarios feel the guilt of ever allowing themselves to love in the first place and taint such beauty with their corrosive pattern of seemingly relentless mistakes. Ferried into the assumed-by-most realm of lost cause by the three-sheets-to-the-wind vessel of crippling remorse.

We cannot see the faces of those who can save us, because our focus diverts not from those we failed to save.

The sightless, wandering cowboy. Feigning desire to be led to repress a need to remove one’s blindfold.

Yet, this is not to say that the external must only be a complete, obfuscating illusion.

There was a time when art not only changed the world, but was perhaps the most reliable source for sweeping change. It still harnessed the power to captivate legions of witnesses. And break them. Then help them rebuild this different person in a different world.

Though this world of (self-)immortalization-via-communication may not vote for replacing the latter with connection in a move to relieve the desire of the former’s prefix, at least movements like “Inception” will continue to implant seeds of second-guessing that may one day flourish into those resilient parasites known as ideas, ideally in a community garden within the collective dream.

And once this utopia is constructed by the great architects, all that will be left to do will be to convince all of equal shared responsibility, leading to the dream within a dream intra-utopia of pan-gardening where the truth requires no deception or convincing.

No start. No stop

Long Way Home

It begins with a quote from a journalist that war is a drug. He, much like the person who wrote the screenplay, followed, studied and bonded with the soldiers and reached the aforementioned conclusion. He is correct.

But there is another level. The level that explains why many take drugs in the first place.

Sergeant William James is in an ill-defined, but nevertheless seemingly content, relationship and has a son, “the one thing.” He has much to live for.

Yet, he chooses to serve not one but two (and possibly additional) terms in Iraq, defusing improvised explosive devices (IEDs). He even commences the latter term with a smile on his face.

Sure, just as “The Hurt Locker” intends to communicate, James is addicted to the adrenaline rush of ever-present, yet often increasing danger. Unlike so many cliché reckless action heroes, however, he does not delight in the fact that he very likely might die. The threat, no matter how much it screams, seems to have little effect on him. Similarly, he seeks not medals or accolades to make up for some esteem deficiency.

James is a masochist.

He continues working to defuse a car bomb when there is hardly any point. He puts himself at risk by taking too much time attempting to free an unwilling suicide bomber even when he knows it is impossible. He coats the area around one IED with tear gas, effectively making his job more difficult and panicking his fellow team members.

This is his greatest flaw. This is the masochist’s greatest flaw.

The pain so desired winds up afflicting those who care about and rely on them, which serve as logical consequences for a way of life rooted so deeply in selfishness.

If James had not insisted on pursuing those responsible for the fire in the Green Zone, his team member would not have been in as much danger and would have gone home with a healthy femur.

It is understandable why James would want to do something. With so much insanity surrounding him, wanting to be the person who does something just seems only right. Unfortunately, his penchant for suicide missions means that those associated with him are pulled into the same risk.

James cannot see the threat he poses to those around him. He is constantly looking myopically outward through his own inward lens. Not self-absorbed so much as self-volunteering, James chooses to be the man most at-risk because he does not like himself, thus is the best candidate to be put in danger of death.

He walks with a cocky stride, yes. Knowingly toward that which many wish upon those who do – comeuppance.

His confidence comes in assurance that death is no deterrent.

By the end of his first term, this near-nihilism has infected once-cautious Sergeant J.T. Sanborn. The team member, like most young men thrust into war, is experiencing an existential crisis. He cannot see the point in living, particularly with no offspring to depend on his continued survival. James’ masochism damages another. Again.

He returns to America only to be confused in a supermarket. His partner will not listen to his experiences. And his son is still too young for deep connection. So James ventures back to his real home, the service.

Like most with his condition, James will continue to hurt others and experience the aftermath of guilt, still stuck in the same cycle of self-inflicted pain. An indirect cycle with plenty of collateral damage.

Angel in the Snow

Fear of introspection may be the greatest impetus for routine. To many, pride in practice is more than a substitute, but a, nay the, higher goal.

On the surface, that which shifts focus away from the self seems selfless, thus noble.

If true, then why is Ryan Bingham’s backpack empty?

The protagonist of Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air” identifies not with the participation in process notion often associated with many Native American and other pre-class-based societies, but with the efficiency in which he believes to have mastered it.

His impenetrable smirk derives from the constant proof that he is even more mechanical than the dehumanizing airport system that nurtures him. Without this confidence, Ryan would not be able to conquer his profession, wherein repeated insults and tableaus of murky futures necessitate a perfected art of detachment, lest one be pulled into the comfortless abyss of infinite consequences.

Ryan’s trainee, Natalie, narrowly avoids this fate by distancing herself from the business altogether (subtly foreshadowed by an expertly framed shot with her boxed in by empty office chairs and a look of quivering disbelief on par with many of those she serviced).

What makes Ryan’s own slow transformation so believable and admirable is just that – it does not happen simply because of a single drastic event that “puts everything into perspective.”

It is not just the broken apprentice. Or the rejection of a non-relationship. Or even the suicide of someone he fired.

His transformation arises from attentive absorption of wisdom. The way adults learn. Such a method of growth is essential for a person incessantly called a child throughout his life by those who know that willingness and commitment to forming deep connections are the greatest indicator of maturity.

At one point in the film, as Ryan and romantic interest Alex are walking up to the pre-reception dinner for his sister’s wedding, Elliott Smith’s “Angel in the Snow” accompanies them. Few lyrics could better describe the interaction family, friends and just about everyone he encounters have with Ryan than a “frozen still life that fell down to lay beside you.” He gradually becomes aware of this chiefly through his relationship with Alex, which is later revealed to be everything he used to thrive on – single serving and constrictively purposeful. Thus, Ryan is able to know what it feels like to be the cold outline in the snow.

He learns one of the harshest lessons upon discovery of Alex’s family, which includes a husband and children. Referred to by her as “real life,” she offers Ryan a glimpse into the avenues he carefully avoided. His earlier talk with a groom-to-be shivering with cold feet, wherein he protects a man momentarily engulfed in nihilism from following the apathetic path of Ryan’s rolling luggage, is shown to be a lesson that Ryan himself had not yet even fully understood.

Struggling in the nadir of doubt, the eventual groom asks, “What’s the point?” Ryan’s answer is “company,” because it makes everything better and life worth living.

It is difficult to tell if he believes himself yet.

He eventually decides to take a flight to an arbitrary destination. No plans. No expectations.

This willingness to let himself be free is why the ending is not depressing.

Now that Ryan has given up questioning others “What’s In Your Backpack?” he can finally look at his own. Moreover, with this newfound openness to self-exploration, it allows room for others to finally enter his life.

Because if there is no space for yourself, how can anyone else fit?

Kickback

It’s a wonder he can kick the ball when he could so easily be knocked back from the force.

Forgot they, we, even used to be so capable at this age.

I consider running up and thanking all four of them. Their faces are not pink from the cold, but red from the Warmth.

Something about seeing it in others makes one question: Am I Happy?

We hung up not too long ago. Seconds? Minutes? Worse?

I know I said bye. Was it good?

The parents are not passing to the older brother, but he still hops around with the same anticipation and content feeling of inclusion.

Smart kid.

The father aims at the little one with unfailing purpose, as each kick carries an increasingly hopeful outline of a future where the fawning over his family name almost makes up for the Jr.

Take note. They like decisionmakers.

Mommy! Mommy! Look! That’s wonderful, honey. Thank you for sharing. I love yooooooooooooou….

His bravery tears through more than my ears.

The sound fades as the echo grows. They pass each other in opposite directions trying to touch every new turn around the bend like quarters dropped at the same time on distant ends in one of those donation wish funnels. A single clink sinks them both into the basin with all the other contained change.

They said limbo would be like this. I know I listened.

My engine catches the older one’s attention. He looks back and sees me, face still glowing from the privilege of his brother’s laughter.

His slow return jerks into interlocking hands just in time for the skipping. The mother secures her beanie and begins to match strides.

Smart kid.

How do they do it?

If I have to ask, then I guess I am just not not trying hard enough.

Joy.

Joy.

The Need to Dream

As the news begins to rot away his core, I sense the fuzz again.

The doctor speaks, the machines beep. White noise. There is no white room, only white.

But that is not what I see.

I see the colors in my eyes as they stare through me and I through them. These reciprocal, pointless infinities occupy themselves in the same barren plane. They do not divert or end, for there is nothing to direct or absorb them. Their believed unfailing target has been permeated to the point of nonexistence. Yet, its remnants remain as if to torture with previous meaning. Anonymity by way of disillusionment.

Who am I if I am not an athlete?

The scene where high schooler William Gates, dressed in team uniform and sitting on a sterile hospital chair, is told just how much basketball he must miss due to a knee injury illustrates what it feels like to have this question consume you. It is not an isolated section, however, as the entirety of 1994’s “Hoop Dreams” understands what it feels like to be an athlete.

When William realizes he will not be able to play, he is crestfallen. That is an athlete.

When you need to play and should anything that impedes this necessity happen, it breaks your heart, you are an athlete.

There are a lot of great sports movies out there. But few accurately convey this phenomenon. The athlete must play. It makes up the basis of his or her spiritual being.

Additionally, when athletes do not play, it has biological effects as well. If I do not play sports for a long enough time, I start to feel sick and unsatisfied.

Arthur Agee, the other young athlete highlighted in the film, is repeatedly shown shooting an imaginary basketball in his house. He needs to play.

When Arthur and William are introduced, then both age 12, their first words are about playing professional ball.

William says, “Right now, I wanna play in the NBA like anybody else would want to be.”

He not only wants to be a basketball star, he cannot see why anyone else would not want to be the same. This perfectly encapsulates what it feels like to be a young athlete – nothing else matters.

Arthur, however, says, “When I get in the NBA, the first thing I’m gonna do is go see my momma and buy her a house.”

He too has the same dream and has already envisioned how it will inevitably shape out, another flawless portrayal of youthful confidence. Both William and Arthur know they will be in the NBA; they just cannot wait until the rest of the world shares their beliefs.

I know for a fact, that I have said both of the above quotes nearly verbatim multiple times to anyone that would listen.
Scenes like these make me wonder if “Hoop Dreams” is a suture, flashback or mirror for viewers.

For, surely everyone has had a childhood dream. And, if one were to watch the film, regardless of their early passion and whether or not it was fulfilled later in life, do they feel as if they are being sucked into another’s dream, reliving their own or casting the two in compare and contrast with each other? Are they reminded of the obstacles that stopped the dream from coming true or transformed its nature? Or are they overcome with fond memories of their triumph? Perhaps, like me, they are still in the process.

Whatever the case, “Hoop Dreams” is a showcase for these hopes – what they feel like, how they affect people and why they are so important.

Maybe one day I will mirror how Arthur and William look at their heroes on television with a mixture of quiet awe and smiles. I just hope that when I do, I am filled not with nostalgia, but with satisfaction, a gorgeous satisfaction as I gaze upon my work, my family and the rewards of the present.