Friday, November 11, 2011

Occupying the Throne

Matt Domino weighs in on Occupy Wall Street, our Watch the Throne culture, as well as the meaning of life.


(Also, this movie is coming out today)

Hello, my Puddlers. I know that on this brisk fall day you are probably frowning as you read this post on the same old Puddles layout. Well, that's why I am here—to provide you with yet another update as to our relaunch.

I am sorting through some final options in the next two weeks and will be able to make a final decision as to whether or not the new design will happen this year or next year. If the new design does not happen this year, we will continue on in the current format and continue to give you quality content. My writers are waiting in the wings. We have some new contributors lined up and some ways to expand on the elements of this blog that I'm really excited about. The new platform will be ideal, but if we can't get there and if it keeps me from staying in touch with all of you, then we'll put it on hold, keep workshopping it and continue to use this current format to keep the voice of Puddles alive and vibrant in a world that changes so rapidly (see Joe Paterno shaking his head in disgrace).

Also, I wanted to throw up an essay that I've been thinking about getting published elsewhere. However, I feel that with headlines like this and reviews like this , I figured the time to post it was now, multiple submission rules and guidelines of literary journals and websites be damned.

Oh, before the post, I just wanted to make the official announcement here that I am now a Contributing Writer for SLAMonline, so you can start reading my work there as well. I'll be posting plenty of links to my Facebook account, Twitter feed, and my GMAIL statuses.

Now, here is my metaphysical post to hold you over. Stayed tuned for more news from me.

Occupying The Throne

Matt Domino

I have been waiting to die since I was sixteen years old. I can remember the day vividly.  It was spring and I was sitting by the pool with my old dog, Rocky. I was wearing striped linen pants in an attempt to look like the Beatles at Rishikesh. I watched the wind ruffle Rocky’s white and orange fur. I breathed in and out, felt the warmth of the sun and realized, for some strange reason that life was nothing but a series of death that led to your ultimate demise and that I should start preparing myself for that eventual demise. And I have been, in my own ways, ever since.

Now, don’t let this fool you—I am not ready to die. Nor am I totally unafraid of death; I don’t have that level of freedom. I am not Notorious B.I.G. I am not Omar. I am not a soldier. I am a coward by nature and so I only know my world, the part of the universe I move through individually. I only know what I enjoy, know the people in my life I care about, try to know the things they care about and feel, know the nuances of passing clouds as the sun sets on a windy-warm October day. And of what I know, I am slowly learning how to give up when that time comes. So, I am not ready or unafraid to die, but merely learning how to prepare myself for death.

I think of all this because I think of the two poles of my generation that have been on display this past year. The end of the year is great because it allows us the convention of taking stock, of distilling the past year in an attempt to turn it into a tangible object or idea that had a meaning. I don’t know if I am a good enough writer to ever distill a year down to its essence, but for me, this year has been defined in some way by two things (well, three counting Wilco’s The Whole Love; I mean how good is that thing?):  The Occupy Wall Street Movement and the album Watch the Throne by Jay-Z and Kanye West.

One night in October, I was with my friend Zach at the bar Sunny’s in Red Hook. We were talking about Radiohead, Wilco, the legacy of George Harrison and what Red Hook must have been like at the turn of the 20th century. Through the whiskey and the beer, the conversation turned to the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

“The story of our times,” Zach said to me.

“Is it really?” I said with over-earnest curiosity.

The whole movement had snuck up on me in the early fall. I don’t usually pay attention to anything political or anything involving a protest. This has something to do with my level of intellect, but more to do with my Catholic upbringing and part-Irish soul. Or rather, it is because instead of protesting, I prefer to quietly figure out what it is in human nature, what immovable force of history and time that is at work and why perhaps it is maybe not worth the time to raise our voices. Perhaps the options of healing and solution are something closer to that immediate repose of our own sphere of influence.

Zach said that he felt Occupy Wall Street was the story of our times, though he conceded that he tended to seek out protest movements. He’d always been more in tune with current events as well as all government and political matters than I could ever hope to be. He was going to march the next day from an Occupy Wall Street gathering in Times Square all the way down to the “home base” in Zucotti Park. He told me that I should come with he and his wife just to experience it. I told him I’d think about it, knowing full well that I wouldn’t go because I had already made up my mind to see another friend play his second ever live show. The night came to an end with us eating pulled pork sandwiches and drinking Miller High Lifes at a lonely bar on Van Brunt Street. Then, we flagged a cab and I dropped Zach off in the heart of Carroll Gardens, going home to his wife, while I continued on alone up to my bachelor’s apartment in Williamsburg.

On the ride home, sitting in traffic and not caring about the meter running, I began to think about Occupy Wall Street and my obsession with understanding what the pulse of my generation is. Whether or not you are creative by nature, there is a longing in each of us to understand what it is that those in our generation think about and care about. It may stem from some kind of longing we all have to belong, to want to be a part of something larger than us, or it may be our desire to define the world around us. And nothing is more immediate than those of our generation. So, I was sitting in traffic and thinking about Occupy Wall Street. How I had no true connection to the movement and how I had not felt connected to the economic decline in any way since 2008. My father made the sacrifices he had to in order to pay for my college tuition and I owe nothing in student loans because of that. Ever since I graduated college, I have been gainfully employed in one way or another: private school teacher, warehouse worker (for my father), paralegal/attorney/office manager/accountant for a small-time egomaniacal yet charismatic attorney, Editorial Assistant and now Editorial Coordinator, which is basically a glorified janitor or basically Arthur from the Larry Sanders Show with less pussy and less Hollywood shop talk. I have been lucky enough to not have to worry for my economic life. This is in part due to my parents paying completely for my college education and in part due to my ability to take and work any job that came my way.

When I look to Occupy Wall Street, to the comrades of my generation, I see no reflection of myself. I feel their pain and I even feel guilty, or rather, like a SCAB when I go to work or when I see Jeff Tweedy call Occupy Wall Street one of the most important examples of democracy in our time. I have defined myself as being a creative person and for much of my 20’s I have lived among musicians in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. And that whole time I have felt more or less like a SCAB due to my willingness to work in an office—to take on that Don Draper persona and go to work disguising myself and my creativity in something manageable, something that fits a 9-5 schedule. Yet, I am not rich. I make less than $40,000.00 a year after taxes, but I live practically. I do bulk cooking on Sundays so I can eat the same dinner all week. I make sandwiches and bring my lunch to the Conde Nast Building, which is sacrilege with a world-reknowned cafeteria just 14 floors below me. I drink my coffee at home before I go to work. Because of this, on weekends I can afford to go out to dinner and splurge on something really good; I can buy that round for everyone or that 100 beers for a party at my apartment because in that moment it feels right, because those moments are the times that matter. I don’t give a shit about my lunch break at work because that’s not even me who is there taking that break.

And so I’m a member of the work force who burns and works for even more at night. Many of the people in Occupy Wall Street are the same too—I know this. There are people who work and go down to Zucotti Park before their work day or immediately after just to be a part of the movement. My friend’s old boyfriend finds inspiration in seeing everyone so organized and behind a cause that he uses that energy to do a better job at work. No, not for fear of ending up unemployed, bu with the energy of togetherness and taking a stand giving him cause to appreciate his life. Walking along Zucotti Park, with the faint patchouli and body odor smell and the weight of Ground Zero behind him, he gets the scent of an autumn fire in his nose and he understands the huddled cold of the night and the clearly drawn boundary of the meditation corner. He appreciates the nonchalant chewing of the cops on Broadway surveying the crowd. And he even laughs a the neighboring Brooks Brothers when he walks to the subway to head to work. There is a goodness to the movement. There is something to take inspiration from and to feel a part of. If you are lucky enough to have found good work or if you’ve had to work on food trucks, you can take a stand. I just don’t feel connected to it at all.

There is a reason I don’t feel connected to Occupy Wall Street and it has to do with the two poles of this year and of my generation (or perhaps any generation in general). The first pole is made up of those who Occupy Wall Street—the casualties of a greedy financial system, a flawed academic system and a flawed national view on parenting and the growth of this nation into its third century of existence. However, amid Occupy Wall Street, there are representatives of that other pole, the pole that the protestors are trying to bring down. I am not saying that there are spies or traitors among the protestors,  but the majority of the Occupy Wall Street population are cardholding members of this current generation. That is to say, that many of these people are armed with iPhones, Droids, laptops and the occassional iPad. They hold the tools of modern success in their pockets and if they were given the opportunity to become part of “the 1%,” they would gladly accept entry into that exclusive club. The members of this generation feel entitled to some kind of creative success that makes them the boss and makes them comfortably wealthy and their willingness, and innate desire to be part of the 1% isn’t wrong, it just simply is.

The best symbole for this inherent desire is the album Watch the Throne by Kanye West and Jay-Z. Watch the Throne is an album about making your way in America, getting rich and then, once you are there, enjoying it and revelling in it as much as possible. “This ain’t no fashion show, nigga we livin,’” Kanye says on the track “Made in America,” and that line perhaps sums up the album better than any other. At this point, Jay-Z and Kanye have become symbols of the tiniest sub-percentage of the vilified 1%. That they did it through the merits of creativity and providing a soundtrack to our over-educated and awkward college dance parties seems to provide them with a pass from judgment, a pass from the scornful eye of our generation.

It has been well documented that Kanye was raised in a middle class Chicago home and that Jay-Z was raised in the Marcy Projects of Brooklyn where he sold crack. Each man took a different path to the level of success that they each currently occupy and one could argue that there is no one else as famous as Kanye West or Jay-Z in 2011; no one else breathes the same air (well, probably Beyonce.” They are the creative rich, the hip-hop rich and that carries a certain level of credibility with those of us in this generation who have been educated in the finest institutions, who value creativity but who have nothing to show for it due to the greed of Wall Street and the failing economic infrastructure of the country. We appreciate Kanye and Jay-Z even when they are singing about being insanely rich and living lives we most likely never will because they have the tact, the creative knack to throw in an audacious but self-conscious line like Jay-Z’s “Pablo Picassos, Rothkos and Rilke’s” on “Who Gon’ Stop Me.” Jay-Z talks about his rich lifestyle, graduating “to the MoMa” and doing it all “without a diploma,” in many ways mocking the very world, the very order that our generation has come to accept as gospel. Yet, some part of us still wants to be Jay-Z and Kanye, wants to worship them because, hell they are rock stars, but also because they represent the fantasy of this post-Apple world; the fantasy that with the right tools, such as an iPad or an iPhone, to make the outside world seamless, economical and filled with some kind of commerce at every turn, that we can all become instant entrepreneurs. We can come up with the next great idea that will make us rich—that will  bring us that tasteful, creative, smart and comfortable lifesyle that Jay-Z and Kanye so keenly represent in our minds. Jay and ‘Ye spoke about watching the throne before the Occupy Wall Street Movement happened and their throne, their rarified air is in many ways safe from any kind of upheaval. But this generation wants to overturn the throne of the rest of the 1%, while simultaneously and subconsciously worshipping at and wanting that throne in their own way.

I realize that many people reading this may think me a traitor to my own kind, and I’ve already detailed my long-standing selfconsciousness of being outside of my own generation, but I firmly believe in these things. The reason why can be exemplified by the phenomenon of the Facebook image of the college senior holding up a sign that details his practical saving, spending and living, which has made him less in debt and less desiring to protest in the Occupy Wall Street Movement. The backlash at this image has been rather surprising, but people in the Occupy Wall Street Movement see it as some antiquated “American” image of a self-made man that is meant to perpetuate the current system that values making it on your own. I find this baffling. Perhaps I am ignorant, but there is no system. There is only greed and greed has proven to be inherent in humans and in nature throughout time. The only weapon one has against greed is living the best they can on the means they can and working hard and smartly in an effort to succeed. This requires cunning, diligence, patience and perseverence. There is nothing “American” about any of those things. Those are virtues that have existed for thousands of years. I am not a Republican, but I find the current tenor of distrusting anything connected to hard work and cultivating personal success as being used to relay a hatred for Republicans and the shortcomings of America disturbing and wrong. The very idea of Democrats and Republicans is disturbing to me, as is the very notion of anyone trusting that an institution will ever be fair or truly successful. Our own individual lives are fraught with inconsistency, short-comings and stretches of elation followed by ruts of depression. What happens when we are all in offices together for hours at a time? Even more of the same. So, it is up to the individual to do the best in his sphere, the personal as well as the civic portion of the world that he intersects with, and try to effect change and make an impact that way.

And perhaps that is what many of the Occupy Wall Street protestors are doing. However, I have a friend who takes many causes upon himself. He is an admirable friend and I love spending time with him because he’s a good guy. But the anger he draws from the general injustice of the world is not sustainable, neither is the far sweeping hatred of greed that lies at the center of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. My friend does his best work, makes the most palpable difference, when he is doing work for the non-profit he set up to help workers in a foreign country. When he speaks of that cause, he tells personal stories about townspeople he’s met, places he’s stayed, the danger of the world he’s entered, the injustices he has personally seen. Gone are the stats, gone are the hyperbolic statesments about “Wall Street” and “the 1%.” There is the real; there is the tangible good of the world, the practical work that makes all of this existence more substantial and more fulfilling. When I hear those stories, I realize that he is a better man than me.

It may not be my place to discuss these things. You may say, “Stick to the sports, Domino” or “Stick to writing about some drunk love revelation you had about George Harrison—that’s when your writing is at least charming, Dom.” And you’d probably be right about all of that. However, what I know is that I feel passionately about my stance. I feel no connection to Occupy Wall Street, though I appreciate that it provokes this conversation and that it exists. But I believe only in the personal change we can make on our own lives and on the civic world we encounter through those passageways. I like Watch the Throne because I misuse its tones and song-meanings on my own melancholy in ways that were not intended in the slightest. And what I really care about is watching the New York skyline on a crisp beyond belief October night from the window of the J train, as the East River looks like a smooth, darkened mirror and the air seems to get warmer and stiller as the night goes on. And there are small moments: walking with your arms around your friends’ shoulders in Chinatown; laughing at a dinner with gay strangers; feeling great warmth at watching your friend play music and grow into his stage presence; and, while riding the train at 3:00 in the morning, seeing a lost, beautiful black girl you had met at a bar two months earlier and given up to the great vastness of the city and relishing the opportunity to be able to make conversation with her one more time. That is the folly and the chance of life, that is where myth is born. And all of that, from Kanye to the greed of Wall Street to the glass of the downtown East River is what I have been slowly teaching myself to leave behind since I was sixteen years old. But its so hard, because we care so much.

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