Monday, January 4, 2010

The Journey Forward?

All of this listening to Spoon’s “The Beast and the Dragon Adored” on repeat for some reason.

I’ve been overdosing on the Mad Men Season 2 DVDs the past few days.  I don’t know what that means after the last post I put up before the New Year - my last “serious” post. I have Don Draper on the brain (not just because I look exactly like him and I am always thinking about myself). The show seriously comes up with the best lines and themes episode after episode.  Right now, I am thinking to the fifth episode of the second season called the “New Girl” where (sorry if you don’t watch the show) Peggy has a flashback in the hospital after she gave birth to her baby and she is visited, surprisingly, by Don.  Don, sitting across from her and looking darker and more sinister than he ever had or ever has since, leans in and says:

“Peggy, listen to me. Get out of here and move forward. This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened.”

This line ties into all kinds of themes that the show touches on: identity, the past, sculpting your reality, deceit, truth.  The words that always stick with me (this may be because of the way Don delivers them) are “move forward.”  These two words stick with me the most not just because of the recent string of “end of the decade” and “end of the year” posts I have been writing, because they remind me of myself; of some of the very principles that I believe in.

I was at the apartment of two of my friends the other night.  The two of them are engaged to be married this upcoming summer/fall – I forget the date off hand.  So, I was over there with my roommate and five beers, a big bottle of Gato Negro and a bottle of nice wine a friend of mine had given me at dinner on New Year’s Eve – oh, also a small little champagne bottle.  The night was freezing with wind so we got nice and drunk sitting on the couch and on chairs in the yellow-pink light of the room (this is because there are slight paint slashes on one of the walls where my friend works on her paintings). The nicety of my drunk was hitting when my friend, never bashful, posed to us the age-old question, “What do you think this year or this era is going to be remembered for?”

Of course, this question opened up a Pandora’s box (Avatar? Avatar? I didn’t see it? What happened?) of conversation.  Would this Brooklyn art scene that we lived in be remembered in twenty or fifty years?  Would it be just another city in another decade where the price of living fell a certain percent and allowed younger people to move in to spacious places near each other and fumble at the extremities of art?  Is Lady Gaga more relevant than Grizzly Bear?  How many albums did the Dirty Projectors actually sell and how many sold in Iowa?  How much do we actually like Animal Collective and what do they actually mean?  Is this myopic vision of our cultural importance the fault of our city and coast and upbringing (New York, east, liberal northeastern)? Or is it the fault of merely being in the eye of the storm? Or is it a drizzle?

Very far from Don Draper telling his (to him) reluctant protegee to “move forward,” right?  We’re getting there.

This series of questions gave way to smaller set of ideas that we could all agree on.  Now, my friends reading this may have to be lenient with me as I was happy talking and listening and enjoying myself so I may have missed recording a few of the points.  The agreement started earlier but I remember it coalescing around a story I relayed about my mother, who had read the Williamsburg spread in the New York magazine.  My mother had said, “Do you think your neighborhood will be like San Francisco in the 1960’s?”  To which I responded of my belief that nothing will be like that scale because the culture is much more fragmented and we lack causes to rally behind.  There will always be cities with artistic ebbs and flows of populations in every decade, there are fewer rallies, and no decade has been sold as much as the 60’s either – it just a superior product to so many different demographics.

This we could agree on.  Earlier, you had mediums of communication, soapboxes, to stand on and be heard, to craft your public image, however, they were fewer and far between.  Now, we have the luxury of allowing anyone a place to stand and speak, which like anything else, is good and bad.  There are too many fragments and causes to rally behind that there can never be one movement. Artistically, as this article in the New York Times this Sunday points out, there are too many constant classifications of musics and genres for any one genre to become truly popular and generation defining.  Don’t even get me started on sports, especially in football season where one week seems like a month, with its inundation of analysis and proclamation about the death of this athlete, and the firing of another coach, and who isn’t “manning up” (oh, see that was funny – football, get it?).

Where is the Draper?  We’re getting there.

My friend’s argument to his fiancée was that, even if we are in the middle of the storm, isn’t it the literati, the intelligencia that write the histories? Don’t people have pictures of the kings of England because of Shakespeare?  So isn’t what is relevant to this market, what is what will be relevant to the bowl-cutted kids snoozing over their history textbooks when our decade’s culture gets a blurb in some Houghton-Mifflin 8th grade hardcover?  The fiancée’s argument was that you can never just trust or be taken in by the reports of the liberally educated.  Isn’t this decade and era as likely to be remembered by auto-tune, Kanye West, Lady Gaga, Amy Winehouse and others as it is to be remembered by Brooklyn’s art scene? We all agreed that we remembered the Latin pop craze of the late 90’s more than any culturally relevant city or neighborhood that was mentioned in a coastal newspaper.  What is the truth? What New York knows or what Iowa knows?

The difference between the end of the last decade and the end of this one is that the amount of outlets for voices has increased exponentially, so now we have plenty of voices from the eye of the storm (it’s a light fog isn’t it?) telling you more than ever how important it is and you are, so you are more likely to drink the Kool-Aid, even if you have tried your damn best to avoid it.  This overwhelming amount of opinion creates the image of our time more than any movement or future relevance.  Because our cozy argument is simple in the end – life and culture will always be torn by perspective, and there is no true memory besides these subjective ones, because anything in a history book is just like an old coin that falls lifelessly in the corner of your pocket; it’s the imagination that makes history more than a well sequenced and summarized chapter.

Now, the Draper.

In a time like this, what worries me is that I am the one writing on a blog, about myself; about personal experiences and that I spent the time before writing this trying to figure out how my blog can help me to make money.  The character of Don Draper is interesting, because he falls into a character that we always hope still exists: the self-made man, the shadow, the Great Gatsbys and Bob Dylans of the world.  However, with so many soap boxes in front of us, how do we keep people from getting so close to us, how do we “move forward” with our creations and illusions, the things that make us immortal and keep us free?  There are only so many “truths” that we can invent about ourselves and show to others on a computer screen and through a blog.  When I was distressing with my family about what I wanted to do, my aunt told me that if she were my age, she would be figuring out the best way to market herself as a commodity, as a name, as a brand.  At the heart, this is sage advice.  This is the advice of our times.  Because who will read this blog unless I put my mark on it? And what is my mark? What is the product that I can give you but myself?  And how many times can I move forward from that? How many times can I change my identity to save myself and to keep myself safe from revealing who I really am? But, how do people gain an audience unless they take to their soapbox and say what they feel and show people privileged glimpses into their own human heart?

“Peggy, listen to me. Get out of here and move forward. This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened.”

In the end, I think, that we all want to “move forward” like Draper says.  We don’t necessarily want to forget that anything happened (which is one of his character’s flaws), but we are willing to forget, in order to move on, in order to make ourselves over again, to find a new high spot to talk from and to see the world from.  Because we have so many spots to speak from, there will never be another movement or school again, no one will ever read each other’s work in attempt at betterment and competition – there will only be competition.  And that competition is over the ability to sell to and to grab the heart of the heavy eyed man and woman under a big sky in the middle of nowhere America, who we imagine just want to work and come home and be happy.  However, we always assume, which is why we’ll never get at that heart unless we forget and can move forward like hobos and forget ourselves and what was true in order to find out the truth.

But maybe its all like that revelation Levin had in the lemon garden? I’d like to watch the storm clouds roll in and think the same.

Next, I get FUNNY again.

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