Tag Archives: Reading Habits

Well, That Went Well

So, scratch the Nanowrimo (again) this year.  I lost my focus rather quickly.  Interesting enough idea, but…meh.  Re-reading Harry Potter seemed far more pressing.  And reading this fanfic gem community, which I share only because I love you.  Be warned, however, ’tis not for the faint of heart.  Or humor, for that matter.

Did begin training for the Georgia Marathon, and I am pleased with the progress in week one (read: off couch and onto the treadmill).  Normally, I eschew the treadmill thing–it feels dreadfully boring, but in light of my recent dog trauma, I’m not totally comfortable with running in the neighborhood at 5am right now.

I did do one neighborhood run this week.  And, was accosted by a dog.  Now, the Min Pin in question, spiked collar or no, offered little in the way of actual threat (unlike the Dog of the Month in October), but I was disheartened by how much it threw me to be approached and threatened (in all its Napoleon Complex bravado) by an unfamiliar dog.  The meeting didn’t last particularly long, and no skin was lost by canine or human, but two pieces of the incident really bugged the crap out of me: my reaction (fear) and the fact that the dog was loose to begin with.   Being loose–from either a fenced area or a leash– presents a danger to the dog, which drivers would have a hell of a time seeing (and we’ve a large number of folks who leave for work between 5 & 6 around here), and the hapless runners and walkers who have the temerity to pass by.

Speaking of which:  Would the dog owners who have their electric fence sans signage along the roadway please take a moment to consider that while Fluffy is a dear to you, the apparently unbound truck-sized tooth machine charging the runner is, well, not especially dear and/or friendly looking.  Try it sometime.

Anyhoo, to deal with the treadmill crazies, I put together a playlist of several of my current musical earworms.  I hit shuffle and let the boys and girls (L7 does make a notable appearance) distract me from my efforts.  Much more so than the omnipresent Faux News in the gym.

So, scorecard:  one failed novel, one re-read novel (yay!), and one week into the 20 weeks of training.


Fan Fiction

Right, so, ignore the title for a spell.  We’ll get there.


Couple of public confessions to dispense with (otherwise known as public self-flagellation, about which I know an immense amount–far more than is rational–due to ye olde dissertation and because I’ve a tendency to engage in it virtually myself):  First, I’m in a *bad* place right now–have been for a while (gee, ya think?) and I expect it will last a bit longer, but today’s a good* day.  The badness involves myriad pieces of unfortunate incidents and questionable choices on my part (partial read: decided to try the drinking experiment again.  Has gone better, well, until October’s attempt to avoid taking Oxycodone.  We’ll get to that bit of stupidity sometime I am sure).  Second, I owe myself a running update, so I’ll try to post that in the next couple of days, cause, damn, I ran the freaking miles, I should bother to brag about it (also, must show off new Vibrams.  Must.  Maybe I need to have a shoe blog.) Third, and finally,  the confession that titles this post.

I’ve been reading fan fiction.  A shit-ton of it, as a matter of fact.  And, yes, 90% of it really is that bad.  Indeed, I believe my time has made me a veritable connoisseur of the fantastically bizarre world of Internet Fan Fiction.  I can spot a quality piece in seconds (thank you 8 years of graduate education.  That Ph.D. is well-earned, thank you).  I am particularly good at sighting Remarkably Bad Fic–in large measure because that is what I have written myself over the years, when engaging in Fan Fiction (this would be one area of writing in which it is safe to assume that I’ve matured not one iota since my teen years.  Thankfully, I’ve sense enough not to publish any of my, er “work”).  Now, let us agree that Fan Fic can be very funny (especially the really angsty ones.  Good stuff right there).  I’m not here to belabor that particular nuance of fandom.

I’m…curious.  How–and more to the point–why do we move the fantasies of the mind onto the paper (virtual or otherwise) with the expectation that it will now be read?  I had a…let’s be generous here…torrid teenage fantasy life (oh, what the hell, still do).  I fall asleep to some misbegotten adventure story populated by whatever or whomever I happen to be obsessing over at the present moment practically every night (a habit I learned early to deal with the insomnia–might as well make a game of it, yes?).  So, on the one hand, I get it.  I even get the Mary Sueisms.  And dragons, though they’ve been rather absent of late.

Here’s the part that has been keeping me awake the last few nights**–at what point does canon slippage occur for a given author?  Canon slippage is my own term, I’m certain a term or phrase exists for the phenomenon I’m referring to–the moment at which the canon “reality” is subverted by the fan fic, but I don’t know the coinage.  Jossed is close, but not quite what I am referring to.  Let me try an example or two.  One of the most well-known examples of a fan canon being Jossed is the age-old “Ginny Potter’s full name is Virginia.”  This, for the uninitiated, is practically, er, canon, in Potter fan fic (Rowling, however, provides a different full name eventually–either in the series or on her site.  The series, I think).

This tendency to create fan canon where there is little or no information is particularly interesting in the notorious and dangerous (see how much I’ve been reading?) realm of Real Person Fiction, most of which I have encountered through various modes of Bandfic (that is, the main characters are loosely based on–use the names of–band members.  Def Leppard has a steady following of such, and, apparently, the Beatles did as well, though theirs started well before the advent of the internetz).  The basic idea is simple:  take the public persona of a figure (including name, and, usually–though not always–situation) of a band member (or other real person) and use that persona as the main character.

For instance, one could (Pete, please forgive me) take the public persona of one Pete Loran*** (no links.  If you know who I mean, lovely, if you don’t, it’s not especially important that you know who he is): teen vocalist, nice NJ guy, band is composed of bestest buds who grew up together, and so forth. But, given enough PR and/or fiction on the matter, a piece of Pete’s life (that may or may not be accurate) becomes canon.  Now, in his case, it was wholly deliberate–they shaved several years off his age, and he first gave himself away during an interview on…Headbanger’s Ball, I think, when he referenced being of age to go to war and to drink alcohol (according to the band lore, he was not yet 21).  THAT is piddly example of being Jossed, incidentally.  I recall sitting with friends for more hours than I care to admit to trying to figure out if he was a bit daft or if we were that bad at arithmetic.  I’ve never thanked you for that time spent, have I?  Yeah, thanks so much, Pete.

What can you do with this handsome type?  Well, any damn thing you wish, once he’s your character.  Perhaps nice Pete becomes EvilVampire!Pete–who terrorizes Hoboken and, I don’t know, kicks puppies.  It is unlikely that this factoid will appear time and again (what with the whole vampire thing), but  canon slippage (or whatever we wish to call it) occurs when some factoid from rumor and/or fiction is taken as fact and comes to replace reality–the factoid is seldom anything of consequence (several of these exist, BTW, about our hero Duff).   For instance, let’s assume that a story is published about Pete that includes him (I suck at this, sorry, and I’m trying not to come up with anything that will haunt me in my sleep) owning a pet sheep named Dexter.  Now, Pete doesn’t own a sheep–nevermind one named Dexter–but, one story makes reference to it and it’s taken as cute or funny (ah, I think I answered my own question) and appears in another and another…and so forth.  And the next thing Pete knows, someone is asking him about Dexter (or not–I shudder what people would ask based on some of the stories).

And fanfics develop their own canons–the pairings (esp. in slash–the fiction–not the guitarist), the crossovers, the AUs (Alternate Universes), the character qualities.  I hereby giveaway my current reading marathon: Zacky is cute!  Always.  And has an odd predilection for babytalk.  *shudder*  Johnny is a prick.  And so forth.  Draco, by the way, was nearly always either an inveterate wimp or the “real” hero-dark and suave. (Stop laughing–that’s rude) Anyone who shies away from or subverts the accepted character qualities is expected to explain why.  Which is itself rather odd, really.

So, I wonder if it is that simple.  The story or image is so appealing that it takes on a life of its own.  Fantasy becomes more important than reality.  Come to think of it…music videos were (are?) one controlling mechanism for this, aren’t they?  We take the video characters as elements of the “real person” and operate accordingly (hence the inclusion of significant others in some videos??). Songs, too, naturally–especially those in the first person.  I guess it isn’t that distant from rumors that become more real than non-fiction–but why?  Is it a control mechanism?  Ownership?

Okay, somewhere I got off the track.  There was a point to all of this, but it seems to have wandered off to read more fanfic.  Perhaps I can persuade it to return later. I guess that means I have to go read more….****


*Qualified.  But, I’ll take what I can get.

**Unqualified and utterly, hopelessly true.

***I use him because as far as I know there are no published fanfics about him.  Also, because the band had a fairly well-constructed persona for each member.  Nevertheless, I’m sure such stories exist somewhere.

****Final Confession:  for reasons at present unbeknownst to me (perhaps a desire to avoid buying yet more books), I really do enjoy the sport of fanfic hunting.

Stepping Back

Courtesy of a friend afar, I’ve been pondering AA again.  I sucked at AA, or, at least, I sucked at being a part of the group I was in (and I freely admit that it could have been the dynamics, but much of it was me).   See, AA requires of one, in order to be successful, to reach out and depend on others, and while I can do that in some areas of my life (admittedly, too few), sobriety wasn’t, at the time, one of them.

Granted, I also relapsed.

This blog being what it is, a chronicle of diseases beautiful and occasionally manageable, I’ve been thinking through what happened to get me to the place that relapsing was possible, seeing as I’d rather like to avoid taking that particular route again.

I originally chose to get sober in March of 2007.  I quit because I was miserable, and I finally came to the conclusion (with the help of a therapist and some excellent books–I cannot recommend Caroline Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story highly enough) that I was not avoiding misery with alcohol, but creating it.  So, to the admitted surprise of said therapist, who had initially recommended trying to teach myself to drink less (it was, I came to realize, a ruse on his part– he just hadn’t expected that I would figure out the message as quickly as I did), I up and quit the day I spoke to him about drinking.

Interesting to note that “my drinking” is the phrase I first used there, and then deleted.  On the one hand, the ownership is apt– drinking was certainly “mine.”  On the other hand, it was not just mine, because the ramifications of my addiction reached far beyond self, and I’m not sure how to convey that.  “Our” drinking is inaccurate and disingenuous.

I was pleased by the results–I felt better for the choice quickly.  I built a garden wall (I was off that week), and I read and otherwise took care of myself.  I didn’t talk to anyone about my choice, save for G (and him only minimally), and I didn’t attend AA meetings because I was terrified of the whole talking in front of strangers bit.  Of course, it was only later that I realized that I was substituting a familiar fear (that of talking in front of strangers) for the real problem (having to acknowledge a need for others).  I had been sober 30 days when I went for the first time.

I think I still have my coins (my AA group used coins instead of chips), but the one I encounter most frequently is my 90 day coin, as it sits in my car–in the cup holder all the time.  Haven’t a clue why I leave it there, mind you, but it does comfort me at times…so maybe that is the only reason why and the only reason necessary.  It’s green and a bit banged up around the edges; I’ve had it for more than two years now.  I stopped attending AA meetings not terribly long after that…I think I made it to 6 months, but I no longer recall.

I began walking more, began talking more, and the first year blew by.  Suddenly, I was in March 2008.  I’d been sober a year.

I was teaching two classes that semester–World and British literature, and I was having a ball.  Seriously, it was one of the best teaching semesters I’ve ever had.  Part of that joy stemmed from my impossibly delightful World Lit class (this is not to suggest that the Brit class wasn’t wonderful–they were, but the World lit class was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before nor since).  I met a student who challenged me from the get go–I’ve encountered students like him before–ones who knock me off my stride and make me rethink approaches and conversations and basically give me license to go wildly back into the books and mine them more deeply.  This guy stopped me in my tracks repeatedly.  And, better, he got the rest of the class inclined to do so.  It. Was. Awesome.  For the first time in years (and certainly since sobriety), I felt confident.  Bright, funny, interesting, even lovely.

All of which, again, not incidentally, was interpreted as a crush on said student (he was my age.  calm down) by damn near everyone around me.  And I, even as confident and groovy as I felt, couldn’t produce the necessary verbiage to explain what was happening in my head.  Crush, though, wasn’t it.  He and that class were an incredible touchstone of possibility, and I was completely swept away by them.

During the spring of 2008, I was riding high.  In hindsight, I can see the negative side to this ride, which bordered on mania (and probably crossed the line a time or two).  I talked fast, moved fast, got caught up in intellectual whirlwinds.  I wrote, dreamed up projects, ran, played bass, listened to music, learned to knit,  wrote more (OMG the notebooks I filled, wow).  I obsessed about a number of things–talked about all of them way too much.  My obsession and energy manifested physically in an awesome blushing response.  I’m pale (very, incredibly pale), so the fact that I blush over, well, everything, is of no real surprise, but it was so bad in 2008 that I thought I was going crazy.

Which, in fact, is probably accurate.

My high lasted into summer and on July 3, 2008, I was confident enough to “try” drinking again.  It didn’t take terribly long for it to get out of hand again, though I can’t remember exactly when I realized that the wheels had fallen off again.

One of the myriad reasons I sucked at AA was the failure to give the steps their due.  I “worked” them, but like everything else in that spring, I worked things too fast.  I moved too quickly.  Looking back, I can see that I started that rapid movement from the beginning.  I spent much of that year and change–Spring 2008 for the most part notwithstanding–angry and spiteful, what the experts tend to refer to as a “dry drunk.”  I was nasty (it occurred to me from time to time that G probably preferred my drunk self, because I was likely nicer, if somewhat more given to dramatics) and turned deeply inward (hence the voluminous writing from that period).

Step One, for anyone who has managed never to run across it before, regards recognition and confession.  For someone whose freaking dissertation was on redemption, this path felt like home.  See, in traditional redemption narratives (as I have mentioned in these pages before), confession is the first step toward absolution.


Okay, so the next step is a little tricky, and in the literary world, whether confession and penance bring absolution or merely precede damnation is subject to the (often–I’ll grant not always) political and social whims of the author.  Nevertheless, confession felt good, normal, and the place to begin.

I confessed to G and to my therapist and, eventually, to my son and others, though, even now, not everyone.  Step one–> “admit you are powerless over your addiction” looks like confession.  It smells like confession.  Confession is good, right?

Well, yes.  Except that Step One is most assuredly NOT about confession alone, and that is the part that escaped me.  Part of the confession must be recognition–a baring of oneself to oneself.  I once made a list of those things I’d done while drunk that were dangerous (not many) and/or embarrassing (gads, awful, awful, awful).  I didn’t make that list until after I had relapsed.  The list, however, is far more valuable to me now than the fact that I can articulate the phrase “I’m an alcoholic.”

The recognition of myself and my culpability was integral to Step One, and I missed that part the first time through, because I was still so much in denial.  I recall, vividly, telling G in one of the few conversations we had about me and alcohol, that I wouldn’t feel safe to take a drink until I could imagine drinking and stopping after only one. Want to guess how many I had the first night I relapsed?  Suffice to say that while I could “imagine” only one–I certainly didn’t practice that policy.

I had much more clarity in the matter after I relapsed.  Part of why I was able to relapse was that niggling confidence, combined with the failure to recognize what powerless meant, meant I thought I could teach myself to “drink normally,” despite the fact that I’ve no clear idea what “normal” really suggests in this context.   I did realize early on (even in 2007) that Step One would have to be revisited often and carefully, though I failed to heed that recognition.

As a result, I think it is fair to categorize the last 8.5 months as “working Step One,” insofar as I experience each day through the recognition of powerlessness.  On the upside, I’ve no desire to traipse up the wine aisle or to be the “good wife” by going to pick up something at the liquor store (did I mention my failure of recognition?  Does that example illustrate what I mean clearly enough?).  But, I’ve not been working the step (or trying to move through additional steps) in concrete ways, and I think, thanks to my friend (seriously, thank you, Lady) I’ll try to do so.

Credit to NeanC’s most recent blog for getting me spinning on this.

The Death Plague, or Rest and Reflection by Force

So, I took Monday and Tuesday off this week.

I arranged to be off on Monday and Tuesday so that I could go climb Mt. Le Conte with G. on his yearly adventure tangling with mother nature. I did not, however, climb Mt. Le Conte, nor leave the state of Georgia nor even my house on Monday and Tuesday (save for the obligatory picking up of TG from school). Instead, I’ve spent Monday and Tuesday in my pajamas, fighting with the beagle for space on the couch, reading, and answering emails.


Very simple, my friends. The death plague came to visit. No, no, not any swine flu claims (or seasonal flu claims, for that matter) here, though I expect to see an upswing of them at work, as we head into midterms. The death plague is a much more insipid animal, one that leaves the afflicted incapable of successfully fighting said beagle and spending most of the day as a pad for the beagle to growl, drool, and dream upon.

Hey, well, he’s a cute beagle, right? That has to count for something.

The death plague, for the uninitiated, is what tends to afflict me when I fail to listen to my brain and body demands that I take some time to do nothing. See, I’ve not managed to actually take a day to rest since changing jobs, and, in fact, since well before that. Now, I’ve taken some vacation days here and there, and on every single one of them, I’ve worked–housecleaning, running a marathon, taking too few days to reasonably travel long distances (rather takes away from the whole rest part), painting, whatevering, but not resting. Explicitly failing to rest, as a matter of fact.

I realized last week that I’d not finished a book in months, which, you might realize, is a bit odd for me. In fact, it’s damn odd and usually associated with depression. And while it is true that I seem to be emerging from my annual summer depression, that was not the reason I wasn’t reading. The reason is more simple: I am not taking the time.

Not I don’t have time, mind you. Nor do I need to “create” time (which I can’t do in any case). I am falling into the trap I knew well enough to avoid when I got into the particular profession I entered. Let me clarify: ever heard profs joke they got into the business for the summers? Well, for the most part, that’s a lie. Profs often spend summers scrambling to make ends meet–teaching three short session classes or what have you. Summers don’t tend to be especially restful. But, even teaching a 5/5 load, I was able to create spaces of rest and spaces of calm that I seem to have lost in the past year. I got into academia because I love to teach, and I love the sanctuary and freedom teaching offers me.

Now? Much more the rat race. I’m working longer hours at work (which is, for me, quite different from grading on the couch, which at least had the benefits of a cat to amuse me); I’m not able to disappear on Fridays, Spring Breaks, odd-summer days. I’m just there. And, worse, I’ve let work intrude at home.

It didn’t occur to me how bad it was until Monday, when I was feverish, achy, miserable, but pleased to sit on the couch (well, the part the beagle would cede to me, at any rate) and reading. And jumping up to answer my emails, every time my phone buzzed. Now, how ridiculous is that? By early afternoon, I had received 30 emails. And, I was answering them.

Because, like, you know, they can’t function without me!

Yeah, right.

I said–out loud even–than I needed to take a day several weeks ago, after all the church and flooding BS. I even planned a day and then didn’t take it off, but went in like good soldier.

This was not an intelligent act.

And that’s the problem that allowed the death plague to come calling: not the hours, not the stress, not the anxiety about upsetting the higher administration or, worse, faculty and staff, not the “OMG, I have to get to X in 5 minutes! (or 5 minutes ago),” not the feeling that my students are somehow getting the short end of the stick. It’s the connectivity and the failure to respect my ever-so-well-known limitations. So my body rebelled against my unwillingness to let it go for a while, and I was forced to let go of the race (though, admittedly, how many emails did I keep answering?). My brain was so unwilling to accept silence or solitude that my body was forced to resort to dastardly measures, including ruining a perfectly good chance to hike a mountain.

The fever seems to have taken the hike (up Mt. Le Conte, I’ve no doubt!), so I’ll return to work tomorrow, a bit more relaxed, and a bit more willing to take a vacation day here and there, so as not to become the (literally) feverish whack-a-loon I was becoming. And, better yet, the phone is going to get turned off. I am NOT checking email all-freaking-night-long just because there *might* be a crisis that I need to swoop into rectify.

There’s a reason why hire wonderful, competent people. It’s so we can be wonderful and competent together, and not require pseudo-superheroic deeds of anyone.

So, I’m going to turn off the connectivity for the evening and curl up for the next few hours with the couch-hog beagle and a lovely cup or three of tea.

Cheers, all. Stay well, be well, and be kind to yourselves.

Punk Style: Drunk, Fast, and Pinned

So, the second (third? umpteenth?) installment of my foray into punk is getting slightly sidelined by a desire to play a bit with the theories rhyte turned me on to. Apologies for being tardy with this entry–I’ll do better (I hope) without Memorial Day distracting me.

I had read some of these pieces in graduate school, but, well, let’s just say that in my particular comparative literature department, cultural studies was frowned upon. Didn’t, as it turns out, prevent me from doing cultural studies, I just lacked the theoretical constructs that might have saved me a bit of sanity in the process. But, no one ever claimed that doctoral work was for the sane. In fact, I think nearly everyone believes exactly otherwise.

So, rhyte mentioned Stuart Hall and co. as essentials for the work I’m digging around in, and I started digging. Good stuff, I might add.

The majority of what I have encountered so far deals with Brit punk, so I’ll hash out a brief summary and then see what we can do with American punk, too, which has a slightly different set of concerns associated with it. The thrust of the arguments is fairly straightforward, claiming that punk is one of several postwar subcultures born inside the British working class, which, of course, is accurate. I will say that it took me some time to work through the use of “sub”culture, as it is a term I have largely rejected in my own writing, in large measure because it assumes privilege. Primarily, I’ve rejected describing various American regionalisms as “subcultures” (as one will occasionally see them labeled), because such usage assumes not only dominance of a particular culture over the “subs,” but a certain superiority. I know precisely where my resistance comes from–>I hold Dr. Ronnie Hopkins and my class on Black English Vernacular entirely responsible, so I struggled with the terminology a bit, until I hit upon the following remark, which made the usage not only perfectly apt in this case, but it reset my thinking on the use of the term: “but just as different groups and classes are unequally ranked in relation to one another, in terms of their productive relations, wealth and power, so cultures are differently ranked, and stand in opposition to one another, in relations of domination and subordination, along the scale of ‘cultural power'” (Hall & Jefferson 11). The term highlights the way such cultural groupings are treated within a dominant culture; the use of the term does not necessarily invalidate the cultural group or reduce them, but it does posit the relationship of cultures to one another in a given society; that is, once “sub”cultures ascend to dominance on the spectrum, they simply become the dominant culture–or absorbed into the dominant culture, at any rate.

The contentions here are pretty straightforward too. About punk Dick Hebdige suggests that (and his first point has been made time and again by all manner of folk, including Duff): “[t]he punk aesthetic, formulated in the widening gap between audience and artist, can be read as an attempt to expose glam rock’s* implicit contradictions. For example, the ‘working classness’, the scruffiness and earthiness of punk ran directly counter to the arrogance, elegance, and verbosity of glam rock superstars”; Hebdige further posits punk as parody of glam rock, speaking for the white working-class through a “rendering of working-classness,” describing itself in “bondage through an assortment of darkly comic signifiers–straps and chains, strait jackets, and rigid postures. Despite it’s proletarian accents, punk’s rhetoric was steeped in irony” (63).

Two pieces exist to pick apart here: the “look” (style) of punk and the rhetoric, both of which, Hebdige claims, are ironic positions. The image of punk, especially Brit punk (American punk will have its own peculiarities), is replete with color, attitude, and safety pins galore. Hebdige and others argue that the style is itself a language–it communicates to the “reader” a level of connection or disjuncture, depending on the position of the reader to the subculture; thus, image is, indeed, everything here. To illustrate his point, we need only look at the following clips from two Sex Pistols shows, one at the rise of punk and one at the height (well, for the Pistols, anyway). Look carefully at the difference in image between the initial ascent to television (the mainstream) and the concert footage from ’77:

Example one (in which Glen Matlock** appears on bass):

Note that in the first example, the Pistols look more “glam” than punk–at least if we consider the later manifestations of those terms. Note, though, Rotten’s earrings, which would appear to be, like his brilliantly pink jacket, a bit glam frou frou; they are, however, far more mundane–mere paperclips. Hair is messy; eyes are properly insane (though nothing like the 1977 footage); studded leather wristband visible. He’s a Ted (in his vaguely Edwardian, brilliant pink), but he’s a Teddy boy gone wild (sorry–I know that was awful) in his destruction of the jacket–note that the right shoulder is pieced together with safety pins, pieces of the trappings of punk that we will come to know and love. And Rotten owns up to this, at least partially, when in his autobiography, he outlines his distaste for the 70s variation of Teddy boy: “…there was a Rock-n-roll revivalist movement going on that I found loathesome. Here were sixteen-year-old kids into Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley….You shouldn’t be propping up somebody’s grandad as a hero. They weren’t making a life of their own. They were living in someone else’s fucking nightmare” (63). Cookie, as always, looks like, well, Cookie, in his drummer finery (dressed as a drummer SHOULD. I’m looking at you, Mr. Studded Thong Lee.***). I’ve little to say about Matlock, but…Jonesy. The Man. Steve Jones in his finest pink. Sort of a nod to glam, a nod to, what? mod, maybe?, and then a sublime little kick at the piece of equipment and the notoriously fabulous hip swing.

Really, is there more to say about Jones? I’m far too entranced to comment.

So, we move from the 1976 BBC debut to 1977, after Sid joins. A few things to watch for here: first, watch Sid’s face between :25 and :31–it’s the sneer. A practiced and well-considered sneer (of course, I know no one who does anything similar). Also, watch for the glam send-ups–>especially from Steve and Sid.

Example Two (with Sid occasionally playing bass between poses, bless his heart):

So, did you see the sneer? Consider how many times you have seen that face on one musician or another since 1977. Seriously, it is almost as ubiquitous as the “big bird” of earlier musings. The costumes have changed here, of course. One might argue that this is an effect of no longer being on prime time, as it were–that the demands of stage differ from the demands of TV, and there is some truth to that. One plays a different role according to one’s audience, most of the time. But, I think we’ve got other elements at play here. First, we have the ascent of punk into the media’s eye–and the “look” of punk, born, I would argue, out of a shared space between American and Brit punk (Sid’s look is nothing if not a play out of the Ramones, who reached London by 1976 with their leather-clad NYC punk; true, though, as Hebdige points out, the leather-look was the stuff of the 60’s Brit “rockers”–more well known in American as “greasers,” who were also, as Sam pointed out, beginning this whole venture, also known as “punks” in Southern America. Small world, ain’t it?). So, we have trenchcoat-clad Jones [which, as Hebdige suggests, plays on the classic sexual aggressor motif–which in turn fits Jones’ persona, as he describes himself as “a real pussy hound…constantly looking for anything to fuck” (Lydon 89).], the leather-clad, dog chain-wearing, sneering Vicious, the adorable Cook (properly dressed, again, I might add), and Rotten, looking properly nuts. All of this is well and good, what we come to expect in pre-hardcore punk revelry…and then start The Who moments: Steve’s hop (:23-ish), Johnny’s sort of Roger-Daltreyeque moments around 2:20, and the other shows which feature Sid doing the windmill, rather inexplicably–look for the Dallas performance of “Holiday in the Sun,” I’m pretty sure he does it there. An image shift ahs taken place. Even if we accept Rotten’s version of the world, where he simply felt drawn to the clothing of the “bum”: “forgetting the dirt, they looked so stylish to me” (71), it seems clear that the media vision of punk, picked up from various sources, including the Pistols, has in turn influences the image they present here. As Hebdige points out, by summer 1977, the flash of punk could be readily mail ordered (96).

So what are we to take of this in terms of the drunk punk? What does this add to the style in question?

Again, we have no less than two sets of problems to outline here: first, the celebration of excess, more aggressive than their equally drug-and-alcohol addled glam rockers and presages the excess of the 80s and, second, the eventual rejection of such a lifestyle, heralded primarily out of DC hardcore followers of Minor Threat. The birth of Straight Edge isn’t terribly surprising if one looks at the overall age of the punkers, many of whom were underage–>punk shows were often held outside of bars because 1) media influence convinced not just a few American bar owners that punks were dangerous to their establishments and 2) if you have a “youth-culture,” you tend to sell less alcohol in the bar (doesn’t mean consumption doesn’t happen, but it may not benefit the bar keep, you know?). What better way to announce your power over the inability to work within the established mode (playing in bars) than to denounce that central moneymaker–alcohol?

Hebdige suggests, rightly I think, that everything punk is an intentional obscenity, meant to disrupt and challenge. “Clothed in crisis,” he calls it (114). The music was frantic, the clothing meant to appall, and the consumption of alcohol and drugs seems to follow suit–deliberately aggressive. But, I think that to limit ourselves to a purely reactionary reading undermines the nihilism that drove some of the punkers, and, more over, the parody that drove others.

I think parody is going to be our next gambit. Too much of punk was too smart to ignore this bend. Perhaps we should begin with the parody of consumption…

One thought I would like to leave you with: I see scores of Benjaminian moments in here, in large measure because of the audience/artist conflation–many punk stories discuss the fans literally crossing the boundaries, and most of the videos, should you watch enough, herald the interaction between audience and artist–the audience is, more often than not, right there on stage, especially as we progress into American hardcore. But, I would suggest that punk can exist because of the collapse of the aura and the handing over of the process of artistic commodification over to the artists (the masses, and, initially at least, the working class punk). The DIY ethic is an excellent example of the ends to which Benjamin refers in his “Work of Art” essay, where the masses gain control over the technological reproduction of image and sound (the tape exchanges, the zines, and so forth). Moreover, punk quite literally exploits the collapse of the aura in the age of mechanical reproduction by bringing audience and artist together: hiring fans into the bands (Rollins into Black Flag, for instance) is but one example, more significant, I would argue, is the deliberate amateurism of early punk–quite literally, anyone could have a band. Now, the best of punk bands really weren’t as amateurish as we tend to discuss them having been, for, as Hebdige reminds us, it is helpful to know the language you are going to parody. Then again, the Germs didn’t get “good” in a technical sense until the last show.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that like YouTube, punk is a logical end to Benjamin’s call. And, better than YouTube, it began with a political sensibility that was more significant for some punkers than the technical aspects of the music. Perhaps we’ll begin there–music as parody in an age of technological reproduction.

Tune in next week.

*I tend to use “glam rock,” when talking about 80s hair rock, but that’s NOT what Hebdige is talking about. He means Bowie and Bolan and company–the original glam rockers.

**When researching, I found the Urban Dictionary entries for Sex Pistols. Glen Matlock‘s entry reads “bassist for the sex pistols, everyone thinks sid vicious was the bassist but he was basicly used cuz he was so hot.” Internetz writing style aside…wow, even I’m not that far gone.

**I shouldn’t poke fun. After all, Axl did have an untoward penchant for U.S. of A. print biker shorts. *shudder*

Hall, Stuart and Tony Jefferson. Resistance Through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-war Britain. London: Hutchison & Co, 1975.

Hebdige, Dick. Subculture: The Meaning of Style. New York: Routledge, 1979.

Lydon, John. Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs. New York: Picador, 1994.

Plagueless III: Xanax Dreams

Part II is here, if you missed it.

I mentioned recently that I had read an interview with Duff recently that triggered a recovery memory (note–recovery, not recovered). The interview, which is a damn fine one, references his slip in 2005, which, to the best of my memory, I had never read him speaking quite so directly about (though he’s mentioned the general events of 2005 several times–he wrote “Wasted Heart”–if you have never heard it, shame on you, it is a beautiful tribute– for his wife after the troubles of that year and mentions that at pretty much every show). A second article, referencing the same period, appeared this week

He remarks in the first interview that:

For me, it is the drama. I had a relapse on pills in 2005. It came out of nowhere. It was because of all this bullshit. Xanax was prescribed for me. I was supposed to take one if I had a bad panic attack. I had them in my bag and that was my first mistake. I took one, and the next day, I took two. In only nine days, I was up to 22. That is what guys like you and I do.

Addicts, he means, of course–particularly those of a particular stripe. Addictive behaviors can respond to all manner of triggers, and Duff has never really made any bones about what band and touring stress does to him. Hell, “Beautiful Disease” makes reference to the notion: “lost my mind about 30 time ’cause of bullshit pulled on tour” (this in a song about addiction, and realize that 30, in this case, isn’t hyperbolic…in fact, it’s probably a conservative estimate). While I am admittedly baffled that someone prescribed Xanax to a person that had struggled so badly with addiction (it’s a benzo , for goodness sake–easy addiction), I imagine that the level of stress required–the anxiety produced by that stress–must have been dramatic for him to have even sought the option. I have no idea if he fully informed himself about the dangers of Xanax to addicts either, but that’s really neither here nor there.

Reading the remark (and then hearing him talk about it on stage in Nashville) triggered a rather uncomfortable memory from 2007–when I was in therapy. I should note that I am now eternally thankful that the particular doc I saw was an advocate for non-drug therapy, especially for addicts. I recall being so incredibly whacked out (probably the best way to put it), panicking, rising to anger even more quickly than normal, and, oh lord the obsessing! that I went in one day convinced that he needed to prescribe something. Anything would do at that point. All I wanted was to feel normal. Unfortunately, I really hadn’t experienced normal in quite sometime. I was simply in sensory overload, which he recognized, and being the good addiction specialist that he was, he taught me a few behavioral tricks to try before writing a scrip. And I am grateful for that for precisely the reason Duff mentions above, because, as he puts it in the second interview, once he began taking the Xanax: “Boom! I was off to the races. It knocked me off my feet, man. Guys like me, once you start thinking you’re bulletproof that’s when it gets really dangerous. I learned a great lesson from it. I let myself down. I let my whole family down. It killed me.” That could have and, worse, likely would have, been me on such anti-anxiety meds. Such would have undoubtedly forced the kind of collapse that I fear–to the detriment of my family.

Addictions are a shared burden, as is the management of the addictions. Too, as with mental illness, the burden is shared with our children as possible (terrible and unintentional) inheritances. I coach TG regularly about addiction–the realities of why mom reads cough syrup labels and finds non-drug ways to deal with anxiety and insomnia– and why it is absolutely essential that I do and that he pay attention to his own choices and habits. And, while I fear for myself, I fear far more for him and what he stands to inherit from his family tree rife with suicide, mental illness, and addictions.

The other thing that occurred to me when reading this article (the first one) came up time and again as I read the two bipolar memoirs and throughout the last two weeks is this: addictions and mental illness are a shared burden that we slowly learn to share and the we must share. We have to navigate how much to tell and to whom we will tell it. It strikes me as no small thing that 3 1/2 years after the fact, Duff is telling a bit more about his and his family’s ordeal in 2005, just as the flood of information about the events of 1994 was slow to spread, but eventually became a natural part of his discourse. I met a young woman recently who confessed her own addiction struggles to me when we met, just as I shared with her. Why? It was important that we do so, given the context behind our meeting, which began with a misunderstanding borne of my attempting to type while angry (always, always a bad idea), and many thank yous to her for her bravery. You know who you are.

I find myself increasingly able to give voice to my addiction stories, especially the pre-2007 ones, though I’m trying to give voice to the recent slip as well. The stories, the act of sharing, creates and maintains a space in which addicts can survive, because the space is honest and realistic and, well, shared. Because if nothing else, each addict has to learn to rely on someone other than him or herself–too often we cannot be trusted with ourselves. We put the Xanax in the bag, give in to that one glass of wine, go seeking that one trigger because it will give license to release the demon (because we were cocky, because we were brave, because we were forgetful, scared, excited, whatever). What a difference there is when someone keeps us from traveling too high or picks us up when we crash; such a gift of a person can only exist inside an honest relationship.

And so we tell. We tell new acquaintances who might become friends. We tell coworkers. We tell our families. We tell the audience at the show. We talk and we tell and we share to survive. Which is, I guess, why I gravitate toward addiction and mental illness narratives, because they are part of an enormous participatory narrative.

Which brings me to Beautiful Boy.

Sheff’s narrative of his son’s addictions and rehabs and relapses and the toll that they took on the family frightened me initially not because of the point-of-view of intervention and concern–I’m well aware of the havoc addictions wreak on families and friends, but because of the same thing that Duff mentioned as “scaring the hell” out of him when he read it. What frightened me was the father/son role, or parent/child, to generalize a bit. Why? Simple: I worry over TG and what the experience of an actively addict parent and the genetic inheritances will bring about in his life. I worry because he does know that he likely inherited a potentially lethal disorder and that he alone has the ability to escape it. What can I do to prevent addiction for my son?

Honestly? I don’t know.

Realistically, addiction begins as pulling a trigger–the first time might get you, or the third, or the ninth, or, if you get lucky–never, but pulling the trigger nevertheless. And, it begins as a solo effort–the not-yet-addict, responding to desire, to peer pressure, to fancy, to…whatever, makes a choice. Perhaps the not-yet-addict is unaware of his or her genetic potential. Perhaps (as was true of me) he or she is perfectly aware of the torrid family history (“she caught the family disease,” goes Loaded’s “Queen Joanasophina“) but pulls the trigger anyway. Maybe she’ll get lucky; maybe not. Maybe it will be, as Sheff puts it, a “near miss” that pulls her out of her addiction (274), should that be what comes to pass, rather than wholly destructive or deadly rock bottom. Parents can guide, encourage, intervene, and pray; we can teach and hope something positive sticks. In the end, though…there is choice, over which we do not and should not have control.

I could (no, I can’t, but I’ll fake it for a moment) try to intellectualize my response to Sheff’s book. It chronicles parental struggles in painful (and, at times, overwhelming, detail), and the infernal and constant questions: how much do we tell? How much of our own habits and histories do we share with our children, and how much do we edit, realizing that everything we try to hide may come to light in spite of us, even if we never lived in a spotlight? At what point do our stories cease being cautionary tales (which is certainly how parents tend to see them) and become fodder for arguments over who did what, when, how often, and with whom or, worse (?) mere anecdotes of parental lost-coolness? The reader occupies and experiences those questions and that position throughout Sheff’s narrative–the parent overwhelmed by fear and anger and betrayal. And then simply overwhelmed. A telling quote:

There’s a lot I don’t know, but I have learned some lessons about addiction. Though there are some wrong courses of action to take, there is no predetermined right course. No one knows. (275)

If that isn’t parenthood on any subject, I really don’t know what is. No one knows.

One of the most telling pieces of his narrative is the way in which Sheff is nearly always in motion (save for when he is himself hospitalized). Time and again, we see the frantic action of parent calling, praying, screaming, and the addict sleeps. Sleeps or is otherwise passive. We don’t see much of Nic’s activity because we are in David Sheff’s world, not Nic’s*. As a device to heighten the tension of the text, though–it works. Everything in Sheff’s life becomes, for a time, about Nic’s addictions:

Here’s a note to the parents of addicted children: choose your music carefully. Avoid Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World,” from the Polaroid or Kodak or whichever commercial, and the songs “Turn Around” and “Sunrise, Sunset” and—there are thousands more. Avoid Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time,” and this one, Eric Clapton’s song about his son. Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” sneaked up on me one time. The music doesn’t have to be sentimental. Springsteen can be dangerous. (192)

Even the most innocuous of sources (*cough*Springsteen*cough*) is cause for emotional upheaval that may come utterly without warning. Everything in Sheff’s world comes to be defined by his son’s addiction (this is also true for the addicts, of course–every bit of music, every sunset, birthday, vacation, workday or image may be defined by its relationship to the addiction).

Addiction stems from solitary actions; though some are performed quite publicly, they are nevertheless actions imbued with separation from the world. Sheff captures the solitary motions of his son’s addiction in the spaces of loss and terror, ones Sheff himself cannot voice the story for (as he did not experience the stories). However, addiction recovers in shared space–Al-Anon, AA, NA, rehab, group and individual therapy, books, blogs, stories shared over coffee and during concerts and runs and myriad other events. Sheff’s website speaks to this need and truth, as he offers a forum for people to share their stories in. Share there. Share here, but do share your stories, whether they be hopeful or horrific, funny or frightening (alliterative or reasonably normal, for that matter).

Would I recommend Beautiful Boy? I don’t know, really. Probably–especially for parents, though not in the “you can learn from THIS!” sort of way. Parents of addicts and addict parents–yes, definitely, if for no other reason than to hear someone else telling your/their/our story.

So there you have it, the sum total of my recent forays into fiction and non-fiction. Up for tonight? A Christopher Pike novel. Sort of needed a mental download. I’ll get back to real work tomorrow.

Up next? Zakes Mda’s Cion and Richard Meltzer’s The Aesthetics of Rock.

(and Gravity’s Rainbow, in my annual attempt to finish the damn thing).

*Nic’s story is available in Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines, which I’ve not read and haven’t decided whether or not I am going to yet.

Plagueless II: Scary Books

Continuing on toward Beautiful Boy:

Before getting to one of the more serious jags in my recent readings, I want to share with you one of the most delightful bits of silliness that I have had the opportunity to read (using the term in a fairly loose sense, anyway). I read it before Lent–I can’t recall when I bought it precisely–, but if you were remotely attached to any hair/glam band of the late eighties, you must check out Neil Zlozower’s Fück Yöu: Rock and Roll Portraits, a glorious visual ode to perhaps the most ubiquitous of all rock poses:

the bird* (thank you, wireimage)

Ah, bliss.

Okay, back to the musing:

Wright’s Black Boy is likely the most disconnected of the various texts I’ve been reading of late, in so far as its themes are relatively divergent from the others, at least superficially. It is, however, one of the myriad books which I feel like I have put off reading for far too long (and how it never ended up on any of my undergraduate or graduate reading lists is beyond me), and I am glad to took the time to read it, as Wright is a favorite author of mine–I love his voices. Thematically, the book did, it turned out, fit in with many of my Lenten themes, not the least of which is his working out how to live in the world. In addition to Wright’s discussions of the racial struggles of his childhood, teen, and young adult years, he encounters his own addiction and redemption story when he falls in with a crowd of adults who find the cursing of a young, drunken lad to be terribly entertaining. That scene was among many of the uncomfortable indictments included in the text regarding race and class (and it is so incredibly clear how the two are conflated throughout). Imagine this moment, if you will. A young boy, perhaps six years old, dirt poor, bored, and lonely is pulled into a saloon, where he is plied with drinks and taught the language of the drunken:

To beg drinks in the saloon became an obsession. Many evenings my mother would find me wandering in a daze and take me home and beat me; but the next morning, no sooner had she gone to her job than I would run to the saloon and wait for someone to take me in and buy me a drink….But the men–reluctant to surrender their sport–would buy me drinks anyway, letting me drink out of their flasks on the streets, urging me to repeat obscenities. (21)

The language of the saloon, which he learns by sound, if not by meaning, eventually catches up to him, when he flings them out at his Grandmother. This marks his first (and certainly not his last) encounter with the manipulation of language in the various places and spaces he will inhabit.

His narrative ends with the following remark: “I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of the hunger for life that gnaws in us all, to keep alive in our hearts a sense of the inexpressibly human” (384). Exactly. Throw them into the void for someone, anyone, to hear and resonate with. This is why we tell our stories–whatever they may be–isn’t it?

Much of my recent reading swirled around bipolar disorder (BSD, or bipolar spectrum disorder). I read them because BSD (Bipolar Spectrum Disorder) is one of my most nagging fears, and part of my Lenten (and post-Lenten) reading disciplines is to face those “places that scare” me. I have worried about the genetic links to BSD since my mother’s diagnosis (and, indeed, before her formal diagnosis, since most of us “knew” about her before we were told). She was misdiagnosed as clinically depressed for years and treated with Prozac (and self-medicated with alcohol, because, guess what…Prozac alone doesn’t help the bipolar brain, and can trigger mania ). And it’s not just idle paranoia** either, because of my own substance abuse troubles and the hypomanic experiences that have driven me to do little things like, well, become confident (ha!) enough to drink again. I generally describe these periods as “hyperactive.” I prefer the term; it’s relatively accurate in so far as my habits and actions, but I am also aware that I have several of the “manic” habits–rapid speech, lack of focus, uncontrolled anger, “expansive” moods (the “I believe I can do anything” routine), addiction…you name it. My mother’s diagnosis is Bipolar II; she presents with significant depressive symptoms (and has had several episodes of major depression over the years) and hypomania, though I would argue that her suicide attempt of a few years ago was a result of a manic episode, not a depressive one, but I don’t know how honest she’s been with her doctor on the matter, either (such would likely pop her diagnosis over to Bipolar I).

So, in the course of that reading, I finished one of the most frightening books I have ever read. As most of you are aware, I’m a bit of a horror addict, so, as you might imagine, this was not a zombie tale (not that there are scores of those in print anyway), vampire story, or ghost tome. It was Marya Hornbacher’s Madness. I can’t say I would recommend it in general terms, but if you have ever wanted for insight into the bipolar mind, this book is it. Several pieces caught my attention in her book, not the least of which was her fluid interpretation of the manic mind–her narrative voice captures the speed (and, eventually, paranoia) associated with such episodes–I’m particularly fond of her overuse of the exclamation point, since in mania, so often, Everything is splendid! (Her digressions feel quite familiar. So familiar):

I report–and believe–that everything is going well, better than well, so he has no reason to think anything’s wrong. I brush of his incessant questions about whether I’m doing too much…How could I be doing too much when everything is right? The meds are obviously working brilliantly, as anyone can see….(168)

Indeed, they are. Her use of dashes and the freeflow of superlatives heighten the effect of the mania–sweeping the reader into her madness.

Kay Redfield Jameson’s An Unquiet Mind is likewise a personal account of biopolar disorder, though the narrative voice is considerably more staid and calm, even as Jameson delves into her manic psychosis, which befits her own characterization as the intellect drawn to study the very mood disorder that haunts her and her family. As a consequence, her voice is often reserved and, superficially at least, objective. Her insights (and I would argue that many of these insights ARE borne out of the objectivity she had to develop as a researcher) dance between the image of the bipolar patient has of him or herself and those held by others. She captures, at the outset of her chapter “Flights of Mind,” the separation between the perceptions of the bipolar mind and those of the people who live with the bipolar patient:

It goes on and one, and finally there are only others’ recollection of your behavior–your bizarre, frenetic, aimless behaviors–for mania has at least some grace in partially obliterating memories. (68)

One of the central arguments for each writer is mania is itself addictive–those behaviors that are read by others as frivolous, batty, or annoying, are products of a feeling of unconquerability and pleasure–at least until the paranoia becomes unmanageable. Both authors also discuss the heavy reliance on others for survival–that the ways in which the bipolar patient is treated by the world (family, friends, etc.) can make all the difference, but, as Hornbacher makes clear, such reliance takes a toll–the caregivers often suffer mightily in the face of the disorder, forced from superhero to sidekick and back again, over and over and over. She remarks of her husband

He doesn’t know how to relate to me. He has grown used to my being sick. He gave up on getting me back and got used to playing savior. Now he is tired of that role; but at the same time, he has forgotten everything else. In some ways it is simpler to be married to someone who is all need and no give. It’s an enormous drain. But there is a benefit too: you become the hero, the center of someone else’s existence. You are the saint. You have, in this sense, a great deal of power. (222)

The remark, like hers about losing the ability to write to the darkness, struck me cold and familiar. I wonder just how often I left G in such a predicament. Being a functional sort, he was never pushed to exactly these lengths, but he certainly lost the ability to know what and how to deal with me in the first go around of sobriety. I pulled away–didn’t know how to react to or with him, wrapped up as I was in surviving the everyday. He, in turn, locked himself away from me, through various means, and I often wondered if it was in part because I wasn’t as weak as I had been…I don’t know. The idea crossed my mind on more than one occasion, but it could have as easily been my own projections of my fears of being needy (which isn’t the case. An attention whore, maybe, but I can damn well take care of everything else). And I struggle with that appearance of neediness; I deeply fear not being independent–to be beholden to another for my material or psychological well being is terrifying, which is why, I guess, I am so caught up in the fear of a genetic inheritance from my mother–because bipolar, if it does nothing else, forces the patient into the role of reliance…on drug therapy, talk therapy, and on friends and family.

Such reliance is the essence of what I avoided in Beautiful Boy, but I need to make a small digression before we get there. A nod toward an idol and his craft. And a thank you to a new person to my world, who happily provides me with intellectual fodder and teengirl gaiety.

*I am horrified, just horrified, that of all the pictures I have of Duff McKagan on my computer not one had him posing with the big bird. Not one. The picture you see above is courtesy of the Loaded site, where, thankfully, someone had the decency to post Duff in his natural habitat.

**I initially typed “idol paranoia.” Given how often I’ve used the term idol in reference to Duff of late, I had to laugh at that phrase. How the hell would that look?