Silence Pt. 2

Written by Alexander Greco

June 8, 2019

On our way through the suburbs, we started talking about normal things. I think we wanted to temporarily ease our minds about everything going on, so we started talking about kids, husbands, wives, children, jobs and politics. Paul was recently divorced and worked as a software designer. John worked as an EMT and Mary was a professor at a community college. I learned that the older man’s name was Abe, short for Abraham, but that he liked Ahab better than either. Ahab had been an engineer working for several companies over the last three decades. The other woman’s name was Catherine, and she worked as an HR representative for the Wal-Marts throughout the region.

I had begun telling them about my job as a contributor to a magazine, when we heard a gunshot. It wasn’t too close—I’d guess about five or six blocks away—but it stopped us in our tracks as soon as we heard it. There were other people out and about, most of them looked as confused as we were, and they all stopped and turned as well when the gunshot went off. All was quiet for a couple seconds. No cars. No sirens. No talking. I had never been in a city this quiet before in my life.

People began looking at each other. I heard some murmuring. John began to ask, “What do you think that—“

Bang, bang… Bang.

Silence.

Quite a few people began walking the other way. Although there were no more gunshots, the nearby threat of them struck fear in everyone. It certainly struck fear in me. I asked, “Should we go back?”

“No,” said Paul, “the police station is only a couple blocks away, we should be fine.”

“But what about those gunshots?” Mary asked.

“We’ll be alright, that was pretty far away.”

Everyone else seemed to quietly accept this, or at least they didn’t vocalize any argument so, we kept on walking. We turned around the corner at the end of the block. Diagonal from us, at the corner of the next intersection, was the police station. There was a crowd of people gathered around it. I guess everyone had the same idea as us—to find the nearest authority and try to figure out what was going on. This also meant that everyone else around here was having the same problems as us.

When we came up to the crowd—it was maybe only twenty, thirty people—we asked the first few that were closest to us what was going on. They said they didn’t know. “One of the officers came out a while ago saying they’d try to get some answers,” said a man in the crowd, “they’re not letting anyone in right now or anything.”

“Is anyone else’s phone working?” I asked.

“No,” said a woman, “nothing’s working.”

“No cars? No radios? Nothing?”

“Nothing,” the woman repeated.

“Nothing” didn’t make sense to me for a second. How could nothing be working? What did that mean? That… That couldn’t be right. Everything was working just yesterday. “So,” Ahab began to ask, “what are the police doing? What’s anyone doing?”

The woman was about to answer, when some yelling and jostling within the crowd caught all of our attention. We looked to see two people shoving each other, knocking each other into everyone around them. . The people who were smart and quick enough began moving out of the crowd, but others began joining in. It all began happening too fast. Someone began throwing punches. Someone got thrown to the ground.

Luckily we were already on the edge of the crowd, so we started backing away easily, but then someone in the brawl got shoved out toward us and careened right into Ahab, knocking him to the ground. We pulled the man off of Ahab, and the man got up and began running away down the street. Ahab had hit his head on the asphalt and was bleeding. He was still conscious, but he looked like he could barely tell where he was at.

John and Paul dragged him a few yards away to the sidewalk behind us—away from the brawl. “Abe!” John said. “Abe! Can you hear me, can you—”

Bang, bang.

Two gunshots exploded through the air. We all looked up to see the crowd of people breaking up. “Go home!” someone was yelling, “Go home and stay home! Do not leave your houses unless you absolutely have to! Go home before we start arresting people!”

The crowd dispersed enough that we could see a police officer standing in front of the station. John stood up from Ahab’s side. “Officer!” he yelled, “Officer, over here! Please help us!”

The officer heard Paul and looked over at us. For a second, he looked like he was going to ignore us and go back inside, but then he seemed to realize what was going on. He jogged across the street to us and stopped in front of Ahab, who was groaning and looking worse with every second. “What happened?” asked the police officer.

“Someone fell out of the crowd and knocked him over,” Paul answered.

“I’m an EMT,” said John, “I can help him, I just need some first aid supplies. Do you have anything?”

The officer looked between us all, as if sizing us up. For a moment, I wasn’t sure if he would help us at all, then he said, “Yea, we’ve got plenty. Come on, we’ll bring him in.”

John and Paul helped Ahab to his feet. However, Ahab could barely walk on his own, so John and Paul essentially carried him across the street, with Ahab’s feet moving in time. At the station, the officer held the door open for us, and we all filed in. “We’re bringing in someone who got wounded,” the officer called inside, “help them find medical supplies.”

The two men carried Ahab inside, and we were led in by the Police Officer. Inside the building, it was dark. There was light coming in through the windows, and they had lit several candles here and there, but it was impossible to ignore the fact that this station—this bastion of law, order and authority—had no electricity in it. The presence of the police officers set my mind at ease somewhat, but they were all bustling around in a frustrated way that unnerved just as much as it comforted me.

“Does anyone know what’s going on?” I asked the officer as he led us inside.

He shook his head as he ushered us quickly through the station, arms over us protectively. This was something else I found both comforting and unnerving. I was glad to feel protected this way by the officer, but it unnerved me that it was at all necessary. “No one knows what happened. At first we thought it was the power grid, but that was a pretty dumb idea.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Cars don’t need a power grid. Cell-phones rely on the grid for signal, but not to turn on. Batteries aren’t working. Nothing electrical is working.” The officer led us into a sort of waiting room with chairs we could sit on. “Someone said something about a solar flare, but no one knows enough about silence here to do much more than bullshit.”

“About silence?”

“Science, I’m sorry, science.”

“So… So what’s going on?” I asked. We were sitting down now.

“I told you, we don’t know—“

“I mean what’s going on aroung the city? What are you guys doing? What’s… What’s the plan? How are you guys going to start fixing it all?”

The officer shrugged. His body language said he had work to do, but he’d indulge me another couple answers. “We got in touch with some electricians and an engineer. They’re checking the lines and the electrical stations around here. The plan right now is to try keeping the city from collapsing onto istelf.”

“How did you get in touch with them if you have no electronics? Or, if none of its working? And what do you mean, ‘collapsing in on itself’?”

“We rode bikes. We’ve been riding bikes all over the city, there’s nothing else we can do right now. And people are starting to go crazy out there. You’re lucky we let you in, this is probably the safest place in the entire city to be.”

“People are going crazy?” I asked.

The officer nodded, then spoke, “I have to go. You two stay here. I won’t be too far if you need anything. You and your friends can stay here at the station for a while.”

The officer left the three of us there in the waiting room, baffled and alone with each other. We sat down together, but didn’t say much. I couldn’t stop thinking that the rest of the city might be falling apart outside. Everything we relied on had all of a sudden collapsed around us. I felt I might start going crazy too. I looked at Catherine and Mary. They looked like they were feeling the same way.

The three of us sat in silence for a little bit, but soon, Mary began talking to us. I was anxious enough that I immediately focused all my attention on a trivial conversation about our lives.. Yesterday, I might have only halfway listened to her, while the other half of my mind kept wandering back to thoughts of a glowing screen. Today, I couldn’t have been more grateful for the contact. I hadn’t known Mary very well before, we had a few, short conversations every few weeks or so, and that was it, but I found that I liked her pretty well, given the circumstances. The same with Catherine. I hadn’t known her at all before this, but I found that I liked her quite a bit.

Mary and Catherine seemed to like me too, and they seemed to like each other. Oddly enough, for three people who had never talked much or at all in real life, we got along pretty well. Maybe we were substituting each other for texts and comments, but it was working. We were slowly but surely filling the holes in our rapidly beating hearts, and forgetting that the world might be coming undone.

A few hours passed by in conversation and a few awkward silences in between. We would have short bursts or long storms of conversation, but nothing more than a half an hour of talk. It was as if none of knew how to keep a conversation going. We managed to pick the conversation back up at least, without too much hesitation in between. Still, the day dragged on and on. The conversations slowed, and grew duller and more fragmented.

Sometime later—past noon, I guessed—Paul and John came back with Ahab. Ahab’s head was wrapped up, and John told us he had a concussion. Ahab could walk on his own now, but it was slow and uncertain. He came into the waiting room and sat down next to Mary. John said they were going to go to a nearby hospital and see if they could get some painkillers for Ahab.

“I want to go with you,” I said, almost without hesitating.

“What?” Paul asked.

“No,” said John, “you should stay here at the station. We talked with the officer who brought us to the medical supplies, and he said there’s already a lot of chaos brewing in the city.”

“I’ll be fine,” I said, feigning bravery. The truth was, I had to get out. I had to do something—anything. “How far away is the hospital?”

“It’s about five blocks away,” said Paul.

“No, you shouldn’t go,” said John.

“Who are you to tell me to stay?” I asked. “I’m an adult. If I want to go, I can go.”

“Let her come with us,” said Paul, “it’d probably be safer.”

John didn’t say anything for a few seconds. Then he relented. “Fine, you can come with us. But,” he said, looking at Mary and Catherine, “I need you two here with Ahab to make sure he’s alright. If anything happens, get one of the officers. They should know at least a little bit about emergency medical care.”

“Alright,” said Catherine, nodding. Mary nodded as well, but didn’t say anything.

Then, Paul, John and I left. We found the officer who let us into the building and told him what we were going to do. He told us that was fine, and that he’d let us back in once we returned. Paul thanked him profusely. Then the three of us were out the building and walking down the street. There wasn’t anyone outside. I assumed that everyone realized this was something of a state of emergency.

We walked past the station and down to the next four-way intersection. Here, we took a right. About halfway down this street, there was an abandoned Pawn shop that had been broken into. This troubled me, but I only thought of it as odd at first. Someone just being opportunistic and looting for whatever random things they could find in there? Rings? Guitars? TVs? Maybe some DVDs or power tools? Then I remembered all the guns, knives, and even swords and other weapons I’d seen in pawn shops. I got even more worried.

We passed up the pawn shop, and, almost instinctively, I reached for my pocket. My hand was in my pocket when I caught myself, and I pulled my hand away. I began to wonder how ingrained my cellphone use was in my brain. Were there withdrawal symptoms? I had heard of people being truly addicted to their phones and tablets. I used my pretty often—I wouldn’t have called myself addicted, however—and I was already missing it.

After about twenty minutes of walking, we took a left, and the hospital was down at the end of the street. Outside, there were dozens of people. Most of them were sitting around, smoking or talking. Some of them looked like doctors. Others looked like patients. Others were just normal-looking people. It was a strange sight.

When we approached the hospital, we saw that the doors were open, and people were rushing about inside—almost as frantically as the police officers. A doctor smoking a cigarette looked up at us as we approached. He looked exhausted, miserable, and not in the least bit excited to see us. “Are you guys out of power here too?” John asked the doctor.

The doctor nodded and took a drag on the cigarette.

“How’ve you guys handled it?” John asked.

The doctor shook his head slowly. “We haven’t. We can’t. There’s no way to handle it.”

It slowly dawned on me what it meant to lose power at a hospital.

“What happened?” John asked.

The doctor took one last drag on the cigarette, then put it out on the metal bench he was sitting on. “We lost power at midnight. We lost over a dozen patients in the first hour. We lost almost thirty by sunrise. Forty-two in total.”

“Forty-two?” John asked, aghast.

The doctor nodded. “And it’s only a matter of time before we lose more. We’ll probably lose someone else in the next half-hour. There’s no life-support, no heart monitors, no computers, nothing. If we had enough people, we could keep tabs on everyone at once—at least check heart rate and blood pressure, and distribute some sort of life-support manually, but there’s not enough people. There’s no way. We can’t reach out to anyone, we can’t transport anyone somewhere else, we can’t do anything except give pills and wrap people in bandages.”

“Holy shit,” John whispered.

The doctor stood up. “I have to go back in,” he said, “what are you three here for?”

“We’re looking for some pain meds. Our friend had a concussion, his head’s gonna be killing him soon.”

The doctor shook his head. “We can’t give anything out right now.” Then he pointed down the street. We all looked to see a Walgreens a block away. “That’s your best bet. It never opened, but the doors weren’t locked, you can force them open. We’ve been sending people there all day.”

John nodded. “Okay, thanks.”

The doctor nodded and turned around to head back into the hospital. “Don’t bring your friend here,” he said without looking back at us.

We walked down the block to the Walgreens. As we approached, we saw that the sliding doors were already open. A man emerged from inside with a white bottle in their hands. He looked at us for a moment, and no one really knew what to do. The man nodded cautiously, then turned and walked off down a street to our left. We entered the Walgreens, and found that it was completely silent inside.

It didn’t take long to make it to the back of the store, where all the pharmaceuticals were. “Should we really be doing this?” I asked. “Isn’t this wrong?”

“We have to do something,” said John, “Abraham’s head is going to be killing him soon, and all that stress is just going to make his condition even worse. We need something to take the edge off, maybe a light sedative if he can’t sleep”

John skipped the aisles of over-the-counter bottles and went straight to the walled-in area where the pharmacists kept the real drugs. We found that the door had already been busted. “John,” I said, “we shouldn’t go in there.”

“Why not?” asked John.

“It’s wrong, and it’s probably very illegal. Let’s just get some ibuprofen or something and go- something harmless and over-the-counter.”

“I know what he needs,” said John, entering the pharmacist’s room, “and this is an emergency—the doctor said it was okay.” Then, John disappeared into the room, and we could only briefly see him moving around through the windows in the room.

It shocked me how quickly John reverted to stealing prescription medicine—it hadn’t even been a full day since this all started. It shocked me how quickly things had slid into chaos, and how quickly everyone seemed to be going crazy. It’s like people had begun to forget who they were yesterday, and that we were all civilized twenty-four hours ago. I looked at Paul, and he looked just as worried. When John emerged carrying several bottles, I asked him what he had gotten, as I thought he only needed two things.

“Well, I got a couple types of painkillers, I got some Xanax, some Ambien, and plenty of anti-biotics. I figured we could use what we needed for Abraham, keep a bottle of anti-biotics for ourselves, take some Xanax, and give the rest to the police. They’re letting us stay there, and I’m sure they might need some of all these. We could just say the hospital gave us—”

“Are you kidding me?” I asked, “Some Xanax and… and keep the anti-biotics for our—“

“Angela,” John interrupted, “we don’t know what’s going on. We don’t know how long it’s going to last. We don’t know what might happen. We can’t abide by normal rules right now, and I’m sure anyone would agree with that. This isn’t the same city we lived in yesterday. Things aren’t normal, and we can’t pretend like they’re normal until they are normal again.” John began walking to the entrance of the Walgreens. He walked past Paul and I without looking at us. “Then we can pretend everything is normal.”

He was right. I looked at Paul. He was about to say something, I could tell- something to comfort me. But I could also tell that Paul believed John, and I knew that I had begun to believe John. I shook my head. “He’s right,” I said.

Paul nodded. We both turned and followed John out of the Walgreens. We made it back to the police station without any trouble. We gave Ahab a small cocktail of pharmaceuticals, then everyone but me took a Xanax. When John offered me one, I thanked him and put it in my pocket. I didn’t feel right taking something that was stolen. Then John brought the Xanax, a bottle of painkillers and two bottles of anti-biotics to the police. He kept a bottle of anti-biotics, painkillers, and Ambien for us.

The officer he handed them to seemed uncertain at first. Then John said that they were from the hospital, and that he thought the officers might need some. He also said it was a way of repaying them for their help. The officer seemed to like that. The entire time, the two of them were playing their respective roles—the EMT, the good-guy and the civilian, and the man of authority, the upholder of law and the mediator of justice—but, in the end, they were just two people bullshitting their way through survival.

John came back, saying that the officers would let us stay the night since it was getting late and they didn’t want us having to walk back home in the dark. So, we all ended up going to sleep here in the dark. John, Paul, Mary, Catherine and Ahab all fell asleep pretty quickly—I saw John pull two more footballs from his pocket and disperse them to Mary and Catherine, and they fell asleep minutes later.

I, however, had much difficulty falling asleep, however, and stayed awake for several hours. I frequently thought about the emails that must have been piling up—unless the entire world had shut off, and there was no one on the planet who could send me emails—and I thought about how nice it would have been to check my phone. I distracted myself from these thoughts, and all my other worries, by watching the officers. It was my only form of entertainment. Eventually, around midnight, I began to drift of to sleep. My eyes shut on their own, and I was lulled into a comfortable sleep.

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The Art of Pierre Lucero

Article Written by Alexander Greco

June 5, 2019

Pierre at the Grand Canyon

Pierre Lucero is an artist from Aurora, IL, who creates wild explosions of colorful imagery with marker and pen. Each of his pieces showcase a command of color theory and detailed linework, while also displaying insane supernovas of psychedelic visuals. With artwork that spans across a vast multitude of subjects, and near-infinite variations of his style, it’s difficult to know where to begin with Lucero’s art.

“Zig Zag”
Copic Markers/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2018

For each piece of art, Lucero seems to open a small bottle of inky chaos, then pours the contents of that bottle over a blank sheet of paper, until all the irrational contents of a dozen dreams and a dozen nightmares cover the page. Many of Lucero’s pieces show a storm of multicolored guts and flames, and fluids and brains, all radiating from some insane epicenter. In some pieces, the images converge at the center onto an eye, or a mouth, a skull, or an alien head. Other pieces have more concrete images or designs, while others portray landscapes, creatures, or people. Many pieces are just nightmares emerging from fever dreams, with no primary subject or object to focus on.

Then there are pieces like “Spongebub”, where Lucero takes everyone’s favorite sea sponge, and transforms him into a tornado of texture, objects and imagery.

“Spongebub”
Copic Markers/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2018

“A tribute to one of my favorite cartoon characters growing up as a child, “Spongebub” is a psychedelic doodlebob originating from none other than Nickelodeon’s classic SpongeBob. I incorporated transparencies as the arms flailing throughout the piece, since I didn’t know exactly what to do with them from the start. The effect is achieved by not adding any line work inside the shape, but still coloring it in as it would be, then outlining it with white highlight. Maybe I’ll return to this little series with a Patrick.”

Much of Lucero’s art is seemingly pulled straight from the ether, with only a small thread of reality being cast into a gulf of imagination, where some irrational leviathan is caught and hauled onto Lucero’s blank bristol. On “Bloomer”, Lucero had this to say:

“Bloomer”
Watercolors/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2016

“This piece means a lot to me in terms of the direction I try to achieve in my artwork. An obvious centerpiece filled with an explosion of random objects protruding outwards. I made it in the summer of 2016. The idea was given to me by my girlfriend when we took a photo together, and I had put a flower over my eye. The bottom pyramid piece was made to poke at the Illuminati joke I always get from people, claiming that my art is so good I must have sold my soul to get to where I’m at. Or maybe I actually did sell my soul at one point, who knows.”

A few glances at his work, and it’s not difficult to believe Lucero’s ideas might come from some sultan of a yawning, artistic void.

Yet, calling Lucero’s work pure chaos, or chalking it up to infernal intervention, would not do it justice, as each piece is a feat of time, effort and creativity. Lucero’s artwork is meticulously detailed and colored—with Lucero pulling infrequent all-nighters to finish various pieces—yet much of his artwork comes from spontaneous imaginings, rather than planned pieces.

“I’m still unsure where my ideas come from… …Very often do I have any idea what I’m actually going to create next. It’s always a blank sheet and continuously caking things on that I think would look unique bunched up together.”

On his piece, “Broken”, Lucero said:

“Broken”
Copic Markers/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2018

“This is another random drawing that probably has no real meaning, just solely for the purpose of looking weird. Repeating hands didn’t become a thing in my artwork until 2018, and I’ve been addicted to incorporating them ever since. This also makes me more interested in animation. I think this piece also is a good example of how bright and vivid my work can look when there is no limitations. We may be finite physically, but our imagination is endless.”

Lucero typically utilizes graphite, copic markers, and ink, though he also uses watercolor and acrylic in some of his work. His pieces typically begin with a small idea drawn with graphite, and then another small idea, and then, perhaps, another, until a pile of ideas are laid out across a formerly blank sheet of paper. From there, Lucero goes over his initial drawing with a size 1 micron (if he hasn’t already been going over them), and then goes over everything with thicker microns and fills in any black space. Lucero then begins with the base colors of the image (almost always starting with any hands or mouths), before filling in the entire image with color. To finish each piece off, Lucero shades all the images, goes over them with different shades of gray, and finally adds highlights to the piece.

Though many of his pieces are wildly ambiguous, and filled at times with seemingly arbitrary images, much of Lucero’s art coalesces into themes present in all our lives.

For “Caterpillar”, Lucero said:

“Caterpillar”
Copic Markers/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2018

“I created this piece with the thought of insect evolution and how far it may go. Exaggerated for dynamic effects in the art piece alone, but the idea remains. I’ve always wondered if certain animals or insects would follow the same evolution path as humans did. Will any species’ make it past a point where their ancestors branch out a different route and become as highly intelligent as humans are? Extinction plays a big factor in this question, seeing as every living creature’s goal is survival, so what is the pinnacle of intelligence and are humans #1 when it is all said and done.”

In “Caterpillar”, we see a tangled mass of multicolored brain matter (presumably) in the bottom right corner, and arms reaching from the same corner. Then, swerving across the page, we see a series of images, all eventually converging into a caterpillar head. It begins with octopus tentacles and a butterfly, then morphs into a strange face, then a demon-like head, mouths, skulls, fluids, hands, eyes, and a pharaoh’s mask. The last leg of “Caterpillar” is a flaming head, roses, a variety of ribbons, colorful spheres, a burning animal head, and finally the caterpillar head.

Lucero demonstrates a sort of evolutionary shift from one image to the next—from a brain, to tentacles and a butterfly, to peace signs and angry, gaping mouths, to a caterpillar. It shows the movement of evolution as one continuous thread, the movement of states of being across thousands of generations of existence, and ends with an insect that naturally shifts and metamorphoses across time.

Just how the caterpillar evolved across time to become something which metamorphoses throughout its life, humans are a creature who’ve evolved across millions of years to become what we are now—a creature with the capacity to metamorphose itself. And yet, it’s possible something else may take our place at the top of the food chain. Reality is not static, it is dynamic and ever-changing, and the lives we all know and believe to be firm may one day fall out from beneath our feet.

For “Fallout”:


“Fallout”
Watercolors/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2017

“This drawing was made after the election of Trump. The idea of mass destruction and nuclear weapons didn’t become a reality until that for me. Although I’d rather not be right about the situation, the idea of it will always be there. Its crazy to think how many nuclear weapons are already made and ready to detonate, I find it highly, highly unlikely that nothing will ever be set off again. But I also fear that in this modern are, it’ll be the last time they do, when they do.”

“Fallout” depicts a skeleton flying through the air, filled with multicolored organs of some sort. Though this presumably depicts the physical effects of a nuclear war, I wonder also if this depicts the psychological effects of the threat of nuclear war. Since 2016, how many of us worldwide have been affected by the political and cultural shifts we’ve seen? How many of us still regard life in the same way? How many of us—right or left or center—have walked away from the 2016 elections unchanged? How many of us have returned unharmed and unmutated by the bombs that were so carelessly dropped—from the left, right, and center—and how many of us have escaped the fallout that remains today?

And, for “Mankind”, Lucero says:

“Mankind”
Copic Markers/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2017

“Sometimes I wish I could see the linear timeline for the human race. What will eventually make us extinct? Future discoveries/inventions, wars not yet had, evolutionary traits, space exploration/alien contact, and so on. I wonder how different the year 2019 will be from the year 14780—if we’d be living far more advanced lives, if we’d nuke ourselves back to the stoneage, or maybe we’d colonize another planet by then.”

“Mankind” is a head melting away from some internal explosion of information and chaos. It almost harkens back to “Caterpillar” and “Fallout”, and depicts our minds as we grapple with life. We see the good in here, we see the bad in here—creativity and progress, spaceships and confetti, and gnashing mouths, barbed-wire fence and melting brain matter. We see the future, and the progress of mankind. We see extinction, and we see lost civilization. And we see us, staring out at the world from a ruined head, wondering what we’re looking at (though we can’t seem to turn our eyes around and gaze at the realities in our heads).

However, try as I might, Lucero’s art isn’t intended to have one, specific meaning. Some of his artwork isn’t intended to have any specific meaning, other than what we see when we look at it.

“People are free to think about whatever they’d like when they look at my art. I hope people can take away more than the usual “I wonder how long this took him!” Not saying that’s a bad thing, but its often what people are left wondering with. I believe there’s so much more in each piece of mine that makes it hard for people not to take away something. Some objects in my work, or entire pieces, might correspond differently to different people and vice versa. I only hope people are left inspired to create something themselves after viewing one of my pieces. Not only that, but to view composition and contrast differently, being able to alter reality through a piece of paper on canvas holds tremendous power.”

“Blue”
Copic Markers/Pen & Ink on Bristol Paper
2019

This last piece, “Blue”, seems to show everything that makes Lucero’s art his own. It’s an amorphous, tumbling and roiling glob of texture, images, objects, and forms. We see a skull at its epicenter, and Lucero’s somewhat-signature mouths and hands. We see chains and spires and eyes and signs and organs and fluids and tendrils and limbs and stars, and even a fetus near the center, still in the placenta.

And this is the art of Pierre Lucero. It’s wild, it’s chaotic. It’s amorphous and ambiguous. It’s mildly insane, but it also come from much discipline and practice. It comes from hours upon hours, multiplied across days, across months, across years, and the result is a portfolio of incredibly detailed and fascinating images. Do they all have a purpose and meaning? Perhaps not, but they’re all capable of eliciting some deeper, internal response upon seeing them, which makes you wonder, “Where do these ideas come from?”

Pierre Lucero has been included in a number of expos and galleries, so, if you’re in his area, look him up, and try seeing his art in person if there are any shows he’s currently in. If you’d like to buy any stickers, prints, pins, shirts, or original artwork of his, you can find his work here:

www.AbnormalPerspective.com/PeeAirs

If you want to see more of Pierre Lucero’s work, you can find him on Instagram @peeairs. If you’ve enjoyed his work, give his work a like, or leave him a comment letting him know what you think.

A Brief History of Fear

Written by Tara East

Re-Published June, 03, 2019

The following paper analyzes how the theme of fear has changed in Australian Literature over time. The Australian settlers responsible for our early gothic fictions gave external form to their internal fears through their descriptions of the landscape as eerie, dangerous and monstrous. While some contemporary works, such as Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones, revisit the nation’s classic literary themes of racism and “who belongs?”, others, such as Liane Moriarty’s Truly Madly Guilty, fall into the emerging trend of domestic suburban thrillers. Both these works will be analysed through a psychoanalytic, post-colonial and feminist lens to determine how contemporary fiction has changed the face of fear.

Fear has played a major role in the history of Australian literature in response to the establishment of British colonies and what that meant to Aboriginal culture and way of life; beginning with the gothic tales published in the late nineteenth century. The colonial writers of these early Australian novels wove unnerving tales about the anxiety of not belonging in a foreign land. At the same time, the unknown landscape also inspired their fearful descriptions. In The Anthology of Colonial Australian Gothic Fiction, author Marcus Clarke provides a ghostly description of the Australian landscape.

The Australian mountain forests are funeral, secret, scorn. Their solitude is desolation. They seem to stifle, in their black gorges, a story of sullen despair . . . In the Australian forests no leaves fall. The savage winds shout among the rock clefts. From the melancholy gums scrips of white bark hang and rustle. The very animal life of these frowning hills is either grotesque or ghostly. Great grey kangaroos hop noiselessly over the coarse grass. Flights of white cockatoos stream out, shrieking like evil souls. The sun suddenly sinks, and the mopokes bursts out into horrible peals of semi-human laughter. The natives aver that, when night comes, from out the bottomless depth of some lagoon the Bunyip rises, and, in form like monstrous sea calf, drags his loathsome length from out the ooze. From a corner of the silent forest rises a dismal chant, and around a fire dance natives painted like skeletons. All is fear-inspiring and gloomy (Gelder 2007)  

Gerry Turcolte, lecturer at the University of Wollongong, provides further insight into the Gothic narratives place in the history of Australian literature.

Long before the fact of Australia was ever confirmed by explorers and cartographers it had already been imagined as a grotesque space, a land peopled by monsters. The idea of its existence was disputed, was even heretical for a time, and with the advent of the transportation of convicts its darkness seemed confirmed. The Antipodes was a world of reversals, the dark subconscious of Britain. It was, for all intents and purposes, Gothic par excellence, the dungeon of the world. It is perhaps for this reason that the Gothic as a mode has been a consistent presence in Australia since European settlement (Turcotte 1998).

Early Australians saw the land as a fearsome place.

Literary monsters are timely as they embody social and cultural present-day fears. Before the White Australia Policy was dismantled, books such as Charles Chauvel’s Uncivilised were popular. The story is a fairy tale about an indigenous tribe making a lost white child its leader and includes what would later become the archetype of the “evil witch doctor” (Breyley 2009), a reference that also appears in Bingham and other Golden Boomerang books. This continued into adult novels such as Ion Idriess’ Lasseter’s Last Ride which featured a black witch doctor:

With skinny claw the witch-doctor pulled out a dried lizard . . . His lips moved sibilantly and Lasseter could have sworn that the lizard hissed in reply . . . Over each article he pored . . . as if it possessed some power of evil (Breyley, 2009).

Shared global fears in the twenty-first century, at least for Western countries, largely concern terrorist attacks. This is reflected in Janette Turner’s Hospital, A.L. McCann’s Subtopia and Linda Jaivin’s The Infernal Optimist; three narratives about the destructive nature of terrorist and their desire to wreak havoc (Carr, 2016).

Post-colonial Fear

The self/white heteromasculinity and two subtly different types of Other, Indigenous people and ethnic groups (those who are understood as offering a threat of social, political or military invasion). Other authors are more concerned with the horrific actions carried out by members of our own community, such is the premise of Craig Silvey’s novel, Jasper Jones. Fear maintains an active presence in the work following the opening catalyst: the grisly discovery of a young girl’s body, hung from a tree by a local watering hole. Though this incident is frightening enough, the sensation of fear continues well beyond this scene. The protagonist, Charlie Bucktin, is consumed by fear. Some of Charlie’s worries are spurred from actual experiences, others are the conjuring of his own mind. He is instantly suspicious when Jasper Jones knocks on his window that fateful night and enters his life. Later, Charlie is terrified of the idea of Jasper leaving town and abandoning him. After disposing of the young girl’s body, Charlie is afraid of getting caught, of not getting caught; afraid that there is a murderer in his town, and that maybe that person is Jasper. And to top it all off, he has an irrational fear of bugs.

Racism, prejudice and the underlining fear of the Other are explored through the outsider characters of Jasper and Jeffery. Jasper is the child of a white father and an aboriginal mother. Jasper experiences an unstable childhood following the death of his mother. His rebellious, alluring and aloof personality quickly establish him as a convenient scapegoat and he is blamed for every unseemly activity that occurs in the town. It is because of this prejudice that Jasper compels Charlie to dispose of Laura’s body. Jasper is convinced that if they don’t, then he will be arrested for Laura’s murder; a reasonable conclusion given that the victim is a white teenage girl (believed to be a virgin) from one of the town’s wealthiest families. Similarly, Jeffery Lu and his Vietnamese family are the continuous victims of racial prejudice as many of the local residences have sent their sons off to fight in the Vietnam War. Charlie witnesses the town’s prejudice first hand during a town meeting. Following the announcement that the police have no new leads on Laura’s disappearance, Charlie notices the gossip and speculations around the potential culprit.

“Then someone mentioned Jasper Jones. The same way they did when the post office burned to the ground. With titled eyebrows and suspicion. … And I understood then that maybe we really did do the wrong thing for the right reasons” (Silvey 2009).

Australia, like America, continues to struggle with its colonial past and issues of “who belongs?”

Before Charlie turns to leave the hall, he hears Jeffery’s mother, Mrs. Lu, cry out. After filling her teacup up from the communal urn, a woman named Sue Findlay, slaps the cup from Mrs. Lu’s hand, scalding her badly, and precedes to jab the air and recite racist remarks. It isn’t until Sue reaches out to pull on Mrs. Lu’s hair that the town Reverend intervenes.

This racial tension continues throughout the novel. At one point, Jasper is arrested – without evidence – beaten up by the town sergeant, locked up for a weekend and enticed to confess to Laura’s murder. It is during this illegal detaining that Jasper meets Laura’s father, who also beats him, and discovers that Pete is the president of the shire. Here, Silvey illustrates that racism was not only common in Australia in the 1960s, but celebrated. As the narrative continues, the Lu family continue to experience violent attacks and abuse. Jeffery is mocked by his schoolmates, and Mr. Lu is brutally beaten on his front lawn after a town father discovers that his son has died in action while fighting in Vietnam.

Fear and racism have remained popular themes in Australian literature because of our settler history and our present-day multiculturalism and social egalitarianism. As Cornel West argues in the case of America, “To engage in a serious discussion of race…we must begin not with the problems of black people but with the flaws of American society — flaws rooted in historic in equalities and longstanding cultural stereotypes” (Huggan 2017). Graham Huggan states that Australia, like America, also suffers from this same “violence and ideological extremism” (Huggan 2017). Racism is fear; fear of the other. It could be argued that the racism that exists within Australia, and that is reflected within its literature, may not be the result of the nation itself but the product of far reaching roots that go beyond the nation’s history and borders. The root behind the racism within Australian literature boils down to one question, “who has the right to belong?” (Huggan 2017)

Feminism and Fear

Until we reach a political, social and cultural utopia, themes regarding racism and “who belongs” will continue to dominate contemporary Australian fiction. In alignment with Poe’s earlier sentiments about fear being a luxury in a time of comfort, the new subgenre of the domestic/suburban thriller has emerged. Fear is no longer generated through external evils that exist outside the home: monsters, supernatural entities or psychopaths. Instead, publishers and readers are interested in experiencing sophisticated, modern, and internalised fear by exposing the evil that exists in our homes, our spouses and ourselves. Evening Standard Journalist Rosamun Urwin describes this new genre as chick lit with “no happy ending, no wedding dress or pram, just plot twists and tortured souls. These are thrillers thrown into the domestic sphere, tales of intimate betrayal and mistrust” (Whitehouse 2014). International best-sellers Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn, USA) and How To Be A Good Wife (Emma Chapman, UK) have helped craft this new sub-genre and Australian author Liane Moriarty’s suburban thriller, The Husband’s Secret, hit number one on the New York Times, and her novel, Big Little Lies, has been turned into a US television drama. Truly Madly Guilty is Moriarty most recent work, hitting number one on the Australian bestseller list while her two-previous works were still in the top ten.

The target audience of these novels is straight, married women. What makes these books marketable and profitable is their ability to tap into the audiences’ collective fear that men are a threat to women’s safety. Though men are more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than women, women assume that they are more vulnerable to attacks than men. Criminologists dub this the fear-victimization paradox (Yodanic 2004) The belief that women are more vulnerable to sexual attack than men assists in the divide between the public sphere and the private. The private sphere, physical structures built by men, are safe. The public sphere, which is dominated by men, is unsafe. The perceived threat of inescapable attack when entering the public sphere keeps women fearful, and therefore, easier to control. Women are not doomed to become victims and not all men are violent, but by manipulating the knowledge that some women have become victims, then women are collectively easier to control and suppress.

Women are the target audience of Suburban Thrillers as these novels personify their deepest fears.

Suburban thrillers take advantage of this basic fear by having female characters experience multiple forms of domestic violence or abuse. In the case of Lianne Moriarty’s work, Truly Madly Guilty, all the female leads are the victims of their male counterparts. Erika becomes a foster parent because her husband Oliver wants to be a father (though she doesn’t want to be a mother), Clementine is blamed by her husband Sam for the near death of their child (though both parents were present at the time of the accident) and Tiffany is encouraged by her husband Vid to strip during a neighbourly barbeque (despite her reservations to do so). Moriarty plays directly into her audience’s basic fear of men taking control of women.

Although Jasper Jones is set in the 1960s, the suppression experiences by its female character remain uncomfortably relatable. Initially, Jasper idolises Eliza through his comparison to her and Audrey Hepburn; both are prim, proper and perfect. A simplification that causes him to underestimate her. As the truth behind Laura’s death is revealed, Jasper learns of the tragic circumstances that lead to her demise. Both Wishart sisters were abused by their father, a wealthy and prominent man in the community. Pete Wishart, a closet alcoholic, sexually and physically abused his oldest daughter Laura, and physically abused his youngest Eliza. In an effort to save Eliza from their father, Laura submits to his abuse. Eventually, Laura decides to commit suicide, seeing no other means of escaping her powerful father. Eliza eventually gets her revenge, by setting a fire in her home and injuring her father. Similarly, Charlie’s mother Ruth feels suppressed by the circumstance of her own life. Now middle-aged, she feels that both her youth and dreams have withered as she raised her son in the small town of Corrigan, isolated from her own family in the city. Her outlook is further embittered through her passionless marriage to Charlie’s father, Wesley; a relationship that is not improved by Wesley’s decision to disappear into his study every night after dinner. In the end, Ruth is only able to liberate herself by abandoning Charlie and Wesley, knowing that her husband would never be willing to sacrifice his comfort and preference for small town living in order to follow her into a new life in the city.

Literary Devices and Supporting Themes

If a novel is truly terrifying – or at least unsettling – why do readers continue to read? Some may argue that a likeable character is enough to keep readers’ attention, but award-winning author Patrick deWitt disagrees: “Some of my favourite books have despicable protagonists but I find them fascinating […] I hope some [readers] might be willing to push a bit deeper and look to spend time with characters who aren’t entirely likeable” (Bethune 2015. In alignment with deWitt’s statement, Moriarty’s Truly Madly Guilty focuses on three largely unlikeable couples, their children and one rude neighbour. Though unlikeable, Moriarty has made the characters interesting through their dynamic interactions with one another, complex personal and interpersonal histories and through her withholding of information. Given the sizeable cast, Moriarty initially allows her characters to fall into stereotypical roles, making it easier for the reader to differentiate them. First, there is the outrageous and wealthy couple Vid and Tiffany, OCD control freak and germophobes Oliver and Erika and the artsy new-age parents Clementine and Sam. As the book progresses the characters deepen and change and justification for certain behaviours are revealed. For instance, Erika and Oliver’s controlled demeanour is the result of their respective parents’ mental illnesses. Previously endearing characteristics, such as Sam and Clementine’s playful marriage are later revealed as a forced re-enactment of how ‘happy families’ behave in the movies. In reality, their marriage has become sexless and is on the verge of collapse. However, despite each character’s flawed nature, they are capable of selfless acts. For example; Erika accepts Vid’s invitation to the barbeque, even though she doesn’t want to go, and Clementine agrees to donate her eggs to Erika for IVF treatments, even though she finds the idea repulsive. Readers are willing to invest in these characters because they can relate to the (admittedly bloated) suburban problems.

Truly Madly Guilty challenges the stereotype that all women are maternal/motherly.

In order to convince a reader to stay with a novel that explores fearful themes, one needs more than a cast of interesting characters. The use of literary devices such as voice, POV and pacing double as tools to engage readers, heighten tension and build fear. Truly Madly Guilty uses a rotating, past tense, third person limited POV, while Jasper Jones uses first person, present tense. While Moriarty maintains a consistent tone throughout, the voice within each chapter changes to reflect that POV character’s unique perspective. Though the horrifying events of the barbeque are not revealed until halfway through Truly Madly Guilty, Moriarty successful keeps her readers hooked by making them care about her complex characters and by delicately insinuating the reasons behind particular behaviours and conversations. Despite the close third person POV, Moriarty subtly alludes to deep seeded secrets and regrets while holding back on the details. Though she shows that the characters’ feel appalled by the behaviour of their shadow selves, she conceals the particularities of their situation until the end of the novel.

Fear is maximised in Truly Madly Guilty through the manipulation of its pace. As the timeline, sequence of events, or character motivations become clear, Moriarty peels back another layer to reveal a new unexpected truth: Erika is a kleptomaniac, having stolen items from Clementine’s home for years and storing them in a concealed chest in her bedroom cupboard. The book moves quickly throughout, despite the fact that the traumatising event hinted at in chapter one is not revealed until page 291. Moriarty leads us to this pivotal moment with five short sharp chapters, increasing the pace and instilling a sense of fear: something is coming. A red herring appears, but when the much-foreshadowed event is revealed the plot twists again.

One of the book’s central mysteries is Erika’s memory loss. Fear is propelled through these gaps as other characters step in to reveal what they witnessed on the night of the barbeque. So much information is brought forth that the reader is led to believe that they have the full picture. It is only when Erika regains her memory within the last ten pages that the plot twists one final time. Truly Madly Guilty generates terror in its readers through its characters exploration of their shadow selves, but also through Moriarty’s withholding of information, consistent allusion to character secrets, and the tension created by the combination of these two elements.

Misdirection and mystery are central to the plots of Jasper Jones and Truly Madly Guilty.

The subject matter and style of Jasper Jones is very different from Truly Madly Guilty, yet it uses similar techniques. Employing a mystery novel structure, Silvey carefully exposes the truth behind Laura’s death while simultaneous unravelling the complicated and rich subplots of 1960s racism, marital discord (domestic servitude), first loves, sexual abuse and child abuse. The question of Laura’s death is what drives the narrative, however, it is the compounding emotional terror of the subplots that keeps readers engaged. Readers identify, or at least empathise, with Ruth’s domestic suffocation, Jeffery’s alienation, Jasper’s abandonment and the abuses suffered by the Wishart sisters. Though the emotional tenor is what keeps readers engaged, Silvey also employs classic mystery novel techniques like red herrings – did Jasper kill Laura, did she kill herself, did Mad Jack Lionel do it? – and the gradual exposure of secondary characters’ motivations and backstories to keep the central plot moving forward.

Jasper Jones combines horrific events both real and rumoured. Mad Jack Lionel, as the name suggests, is cast as the town’s mad man supposedly responsible for the murder of a young girl, her car slowly rusting away in Jack’s backyard. Fear is struck into the hearts of Corrigan’s youth as teenagers dare each other to dash across Jack’s property to steal a peach from the tree in the backyard. Even when Charlie learns that Mad Jack Lionel isn’t mad, that the rusting car in the backyard belonged to Jasper’s deceased mother and that Jack is, in fact, Jasper’s Grandfather, he stills feels uncertain after accepting Warwick Trent’s dare.

“I’m so far inside [the yard] that I can’t hear them, or even feel their presence anymore. And even though I know I’m under no threat, it’s still an eerie and intimidating pilgrimage. I start to tread lighter as I get closer … I wonder if he’s watching me … I breathe deep.” (Silvey 2009)

Then there are the real horrors: Mr. Wishart’s repeated assaults on his daughters, a town blaming a teenage boy for all its mischievous activities and the brutal hate crime against the Lu family. Through the manipulation of pace and careful control of information Silvey is able to turn commonplace events into terrifying experiences. Both Jasper Jones and Truly Madly Guilty start with enticing, violent incidents: the death of a young girl and the near drowning of a small child. However, these events are not the plot, but a mere catalyst to get the ball rolling. The true plot is the snowballing effect generated from the terrifying incident and how that crime has caused some characters to expose their shadow selves or become aware of the shadow selves in their families, friends and perceived enemies. Following Laura’s death, Charlie’s eyes are opened to the racism that exists in his small town of Corrigan and the abuse the women in his life have suffered. Following the near drowning of a child, Erika’s kleptomania is revealed, Clementine confesses that she is only friends with Erika out of obligation, Oliver’s need for control increases, Sam and Clementine’s marriage grows colder and the neighbour who warns Erika of the near drowning, Harry, immediately falls down the stairs and dies.

While Jasper Jones is a contemporary take on the classic Australian tropes of racism and belonging, Truly Madly Guilty falls neatly into the trendy category of domestic suburban thrillers. And yet, both give form to fear not as an external Other but in the shape of neighbours, family, friends and ourselves. While early horror novels gave form to fears – social and cultural – by way of supernatural creatures and monsters, contemporary literature leans towards a more sophisticated representation. Now, terror is explored through the exposure of a character’s shadow self. Now, we are the monster.

Works Cited:

Bethune, B (2015) ‘The Interview’, Business Source Ultimate, issue. 128 pp. 23, available from: <https://usq.summon.serialssolutions.com/2.0.0/link?t=1527742826133>

Breyley, G (2009), ‘Fearing the Protector, fearing the protected: Indigenous and “National” fears in Twentieth-century Australia’, vol. 23, issue 1, available from: <http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.usc.edu.au:2048/docview/211256754?rfr_id=info%3Axri%2Fsid%3Aprimo&gt;

Gelder, K and Weaver, R (2007), ‘The Anthology of Colonial Australian Gothic Fiction’, Melbourne University Print, Melbourne.

Huggan, G (2017), ‘Australian Literature: Postcolonialism, Racism, Transnationalism’, Oxford University Press, Oxford, available from: https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.usq.edu.au/lib/usq/reader.action?docID=415105&query=

Moriarty, L 2016 Truly Madly Guilty, Pan Macmillan Australia, Sydney. 

Silvey, C (2009), ‘Jasper Jones’, Allen and Unwin, Sydney.

Turcotte, G (1998) ‘Australian Gothic’, in Mary Mulvey-Roberts (ed.) The Handbook to Gothic Literature, pp. 10-19, Basingstoke: Pan Macmillan.

Whitehouse, L (2014), ‘Rise of the marriage thriller’, The Guardian, available from: <https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2014/jan/15/rise-marriage-thriller-couples-secrets-gillian-flynn&gt;

Yodanic, C (2004) ‘Gender Inequality, Violence Against Women, and Fear: A Cross-National Test of the Feminist Theory of Violence Against Women, Journal of Interpersonal Violence’, Sage Publications, no. 19, vol.6, pp. 655-675, available from: http://journals.sagepub.com.ezproxy.usq.edu.au/doi/pdf/10.1177/0886260504263868

Silence Pt. 1

Written by Alexander Greco

May 31, 2019

Three minutes. I told myself to keep my mind silent for three minutes, and then I could stop meditating for the day. Just three minutes of silence. Then, I quieted my mind. I listened to my breathing. I felt my body sitting against the ground beneath me. I listened to the groans of all my subtle aches and pains. I let my emotions drift through my mind, and noticed how anxious and frustrated I was. Then I imagined it all dissolving, and that I was alone with my consciousness.

I was alone. And I was quiet. And I was at peace.

And I remembered deciding to start meditation after the editor-and-chief of our small-time newspaper emailed me. It was something along the lines of, “Angela, I’m sending this as a warning in advance. You’ve done great here for the last few years, but you’re starting to fall apart a little. What’s going on? You’ve had three weeks of poor decision after poor decision. I don’t want to call you in–I don’t want this to become a ‘thing’—but I’ll have to if this keeps up.”

How do you respond to that? How do you deal with that? What do you do after that? I guess you get better, somehow—obviously—but what do you do to get better? I didn’t even know I’d been making “poor decision after poor decision”, no one had told me! And…

And I have to let go of that for right now.

Return to quiet.

Return to peace.

Return to being alone, and imagining myself dissolving.

I imagined that I was sitting with the silence, as a sort of friend and companion. I breathed in all my worries, where they filtered through my lungs like tarry particulates…

Then breathed out all the worries, retaining only peace and goodness…

Then breathed in all the worries…

Then breathed out.

Then breathed in.

Then breathed out.

Then a stray thought entered my mind.

Something trivial—something about a YouTube video I‘d watched the other day.

Well, I guess it was more the memory of the video popping up in my head, not so much the thought of the video. I could hear the two girls in the video talking in my head, then laughing. I think it was about Yoga?

Yoga would be good today—Yoga and meditation. And museli and dates—Ah! What a day that’d be… …but the carbs. Oh, the carbs! What if I slowly gain more and more weight eating more and more carbs? But museli and dates, those have good carbs, right? Fiber and whole grains, and good sugar. Is there such a thing as good sugar? As good carbs?

It doesn’t matter. We’ll think about it later.

Breathe in… my lungs expand with a windy whooshing sound…

Quiet the mind.

Breathe out… with a groaning relief of pressure.

Silence.

Breathe in…

…the worries, the anxieties, the troubles…

…breathe out…

…retaining peace and goodness…

…Breathe in.

Gently bring yourself back to a state of calm and quiet.

Gently.

Quietly.

In.

And out.

In…

Out…

And silence…

My dog. I forgot to feed my dog this morning.

Shit, that’s an important one. I need to do that this morning before for work. I should do that sooner than later, before I forget. I almost started standing up to go feed my dog, but then I remembered, and sat back down. In and out. In and out.

In and out.

I had listened to a podcast once, with the host and his guest talking for almost half an hour on how hard it is to get into meditation. They said for a while it’d be tough, but then you get to some sort of breakthrough, or you notice it getting easier, or you work out your own routine or technique or whatever—something personalized that works just for you. I wonder what’s not working for me? Because I keep getting distracted. I’d been sitting still for seventeen minutes, and I probably couldn’t keep my mind silent for more than thirty seconds. Seventeen minutes after I started meditating, I realized I’d wasted seventeen minutes, gained nothing, and had three minutes left to be “productive”.

I began meditation because I’d been having a slew of issues. I guess the tipping point was work, but really it was everything—it was a life riddled with problems like worms in an overripe apple.  It was not being able to sit still at work. It was not being able to focus while I wrote. It was acting anxiously around co-workers. It was making impulse-buys at the grocery store. It was getting on my phone at all hours of the day. It was—

Dingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingdingding—Tngk.

It was my wind-up alarm going off. Three minutes was over. That was that.

I sighed… Then… I sort of gave up for the day and stood up.

Before I leave, I’ll grab some food, maybe start listening to a podcast, and—oh! My dog! I still need to feed my dog. I hope he still has food left—he should, I bought some not too long ago (right? Didn’t I?). But I need to go to the grocery store anyway, I was almost out of milk, so I could grab some more then. Ooh, and after work today, maybe I could…

I opened the refrigerator.

The light didn’t come on, no Freon-infused air came out, and there was no sound of internal humming.

After a moment of hesitation, I closed the door. I walked around to the back of the refrigerator, and it was still plugged in. Huh.

I turned and looked at the microwave. There was no time on the microwave. There was no time on the oven either. Something had happened to the power, I suppose, but I wasn’t too worried. I figured I’d go check the breakers downstairs. My cellphone was laying on the kitchen counter, and I grabbed it before I began walking to my basement.

Along the way, I thought I’d check the time, maybe see if I got any Facebook notifications, see if anyone I subscribed to on YouTube posted something neat. But, my phone wouldn’t turn on. Strange. I thought I charged it overnight. It should be radiating with life right now. Maybe it was just turned off?

I held down the power button down. And I held it down. And I held it down. And I stopped at the doors to my basement. My phone wasn’t turning on. My heart dropped, but I consoled myself—I can just…

I can’t charge it. My power is gone. And I can’t go into the basement now, my only flashlight is on my phone.

Dread rolled through my body. I tried to calm myself down, tell myself how silly I was, but it didn’t help. I even felt like I might start panicking. What the fuck do I do now? My car! My car has a USB port. I’ll just turn my car on, plug my phone in, let it charge long enough that I can use the flashlight and check the breakers, then call someone and head to work. I walked back through my house, into my living room, grabbed a USB charging cable, my keys, and walked out the front door to my car.

When I pressed the button to unlock my car, nothing happened. I pressed it again, now coming to next to the car, and nothing happened. I put my key into the door lock and turned it. The door unlocked. I sat down in my car, put the key in the ignition, and turned the key. Nothing. Nothing happened. My heart skipped a beat. I told myself that nothing bad was happening, that this situation would sort of magically fix itself

I turned my key again. The situation wasn’t magically fixed.

I kept turning my key and turning my key, but the car refused to turn on. Finally, I reached down and pulled the little lever to pop the hood, then got out of the car and walked around to look under the hood. I knew next to nothing about cars, but upon first inspection everything seemed fine. I checked the battery terminals, and they seemed to be on pretty tight. I looked around at all the various parts, but I didn’t know what to look for. It seemed fine. That’s the best that I could say.

Dazed and panicking, I closed the hood. I tried not to worry. I tried not to begin stressing. I tried not to freak out and have an anxiety attack. I told myself it was silly to do a thing like that—I’m an adult, a modern adult, and I don’t have anything to worry about—but I couldn’t console myself. Then, from the edge of my peripheral vision, I saw them all. I looked up.

My house is at the very end of a cul-de-sac in a nice, suburban neighborhood. My street—my cul-de-sac—is pretty long. There’s quite a few houses on it, with quite a bit of distance between all of them. From where I live, I can see all the houses on my street without having to turn my head. From where I stood now, I saw people from at least half of the houses standing on their front yards, their driveways, and on the street.

It might be an overstatement to say my jaw dropped, but it was ajar when I regained any sort of self-awareness. The sight of all these people frightened me. From where I was, they all looked as dazed as I was. I almost didn’t want to approach them, as if doing so might be an admission some dark, unknown truth pressing against me at that moment. Terror—actual terror—crept through me. Something was going on, and I didn’t know what—andmy car wouldn’t turn on, and I had no power in my home, and my phone was dead.

Then, a thought occurred to me. Maybe they know what’s going on. Maybe they’ve got it figured it out. Surely they’ll have the answer, and, besides, we’re all adults. We’re all grown-ups here. We can help each other out. We’ll be alright.

Among the people around the cul-de-sac, I saw a small cluster of five people, and I recognized three of them. One of them, a guy named Paul, I knew rather well. Then there was a couple, John and Mary—whom I had talked to a few times—and I recognized the other two people- an older man and middle-aged woman who both lived alone -but I didn’t know their names. I began walking over to them. I was still anxious, but I knew there were other people dealing with all this—other people who probably knew what was going on (whatever was going on).

Paul noticed me when I was about twenty yards away and began waving at me. I waved back, then the rest of the group turned around and looked at me. Their faces told me they shared my worries. When I was within twenty feet of them, Paul called out, “Do you know what’s going on?”

I slowed for a moment and almost stopped, then picked the pace up again to reach them. I shook my head as I approached, then stopped about six feet away from their small knot. “No,” I said, “I was hoping you all might know about… Whatever… Whatever seems to be happening.”

We all looked at each other for a few seconds, and, in the silence of that moment, everything felt incredibly real and deceitfully fake at the same time. I broke the silence, trying to get on the same page as everyone. “Is the power out at all of your houses?”

They all nodded.

“What about your cars?”

They nodded again.

“And your phones?”

Reluctantly, almost painfully—almost tragically—they all nodded.

Wheels in my head began to spin. “So, none of you know what’s going on at all?”

They all shook their heads.

“None you can go anywhere unless you go on foot?”

They shook their heads. “Or bike,” Paul added.

“And you can’t get in contact… With anyone?”

Once again, they shook their heads.

Panic began to creep into my nerves again. I felt cold and hot, and confused, and angry and scared, and lost—like I didn’t know where I was anymore. “What… What the fuck?” I said, “Why? Wha… What’s… What the hell?”

Reality seemed to fall out from beneath me. How could these other adults not know what was going on? We were all well-educated grown-ups living in a nice, suburban neighborhood—how could we not know what was going on?”

Paul spoke up, “We were talking about walking into the city, seeing if we could find some cops or something. Do you want to come with us?”

“I have to go to work,” I said.

“How?” asked Paul.

I hadn’t thought about this. I panicked even more, thinking that I might miss work. “I don’t know,” I said.

“So, come with us,” said Paul, gently and cheerfully. I think he could tell I was stressing out. I think they could all tell.

“But, I mean… I have to go to work.”

“I think they’ll understand­,” said John, “especially if this is happening in the rest of the city.”

“Come with us,” Paul spoke with a smile. “We’ll figure this out.”

I thought for a moment, then slowly nodded.

“Yea,” I said, “sure.”

We talked for a little while—talked about where we might go, how we’ll get there, who we might see, what might be going on—and then eventually set out for the city. This was good. We were all adults, working together. We had a plan; we were going somewhere with the purpose of… Of figuring out what was going on and finding… Finding someone, anyone, who might know how to fix any of this… So that… So that I could go to work, then go home, then watch YouTube videos about Yoga, then set the alarm on my phone for 5 AM, and then go to sleep We were good.

A Collection of Essays by Tara East

Written by Tara East

Re-Published May 27, 2019

A World Worth Writing For

Unfortunately, writers’ guilt is all too common. When we are working on a project, we feel guilty that we aren’t doing something more practical or useful – even if that task is nothing more than basic domestic chores. Ironically, as soon as we leave our desk to carry out said useful task, we feel guilty for abandoning our project. “I should be writing!” is the familiar, tedious mantra that plays in every writer’s mind.

Lately, though, I’ve been struck by the other type of guilt creatives suffer from. Perhaps you are familiar with it? The “Is my art doing anything?” guilt.

Part of me believes in art for art’s sake. With so much ugliness and helplessness in the world, I believe there is a place for aesthetically pleasing art. What harm can come from admiring something that is beautiful? What’s wrong with reading fun, frivolous fiction and indulging in the escapism it offers? Then there is the other part of me. The part of me that scorns this irresponsible reader. This placid person who chooses to read the latest bestseller while soaking in a tub of Epson salt as the world burns outside their window.

A vision that spurs the question: how can reading and writing contribute to solutions?

The “civilized” world has never been perfect. For better or for worse, technology’s omnipresence means we can no longer remain ignorant of our imperfection. In the face of these serious and urgent global issues, how can writers contribute to the crafting of solutions? Do their storytelling and communication skills offer anything of value?

Some argue that the publication of books reflecting current global issues is vital. Of course, these people tend to be authors. Ann Patchett (author) recently stated that she has moved away from reading classic literature in favour of contemporary texts. She believes that the accountability and challenging themes presented in recent works have once again made reading a political act.

To contradict Patchett’s point, I recently started reading Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’ and I have been shocked by the timeliness of the commentary. Many of Esther’s existential concerns remain relevant today.

“I felt now that all the uncomfortable suspicions I had about myself were coming true, and I couldn’t hide the truth much longer.” (31)

“A million years of evolution […] and what are we? Animals?” (87)

This modern classic was published in 1971. A fact that saddens me slightly, as it illustrated how little we have evolved in the last 47 years. As an aside, I bought my copy of ‘The Bell Jar’ from a second-hand bookstore. The previous owner had unlined the above passages (and others) in pencil.

I wondered why someone who loved a book enough to read it with a pencil in hand would ever part with said book. This question was immediately followed by the thought, “Maybe they died?” Given the sombre tenor of these passages/the whole book, and the former reader’s obvious identification with them, I hope their ending was happier than Esther/Sylvia’s … That being said, I was constantly impressed by Plath’s ability to clearly articulate what depression felt like. I’ve never experienced depression (though the evening news does test me…) but Plath’s considered descriptions of Esther’s mental state bridged that divide. I got it.

If nothing else, this is what writers can do. They can communicate ideas. They can shape messy and complex emotions into tidy sentences. They can shatter binaries and expose hidden nuance. They can repackage complex problems into comprehensible forms. But. Is this the only irrefutable claim that writers can make? That they can present readers with information?

As the saying goes, if information was the solution, we’d all be happy millionaires with ripped abs.

You can write about the issues that trouble you, but you can’t make people read your work and you definitely can’t make them do something. While the publication of cli-fi and other challenging literary works are appearing more and more, the market isn’t exactly flooded. (No pun intended).

In a recent episode of The Garrett Podcast, Jennifer Mills, author and literary editor of Overland said that while the magazine has been successful in the publishing of marginal voices, few submissions address our present-day issues like the Anthropocene (humans impact on non-humans). Instead, most of the submissions received are concerned with relationship dynamics.

Is this because readers want escapism or because writers do?

Mills, who has published her own Anthropogenic work, Dyschronia, says that she intentionally constructed a plot that offered little in the way of solutions or action because that is what she sees in society: passivity. An observation that is no doubt reinforced by the submissions she vets.

Information is key. Without it, people may not understand the depth of a problem or how to fix it. Historically, the publication of good writing has played a vital role in the mobilizing of populations and the igniting of revolutions. Within our current culture, the problem is not a lack of information but our passivity and denial in the face of it.

Perhaps this is where our writerly self-consciousness stems from. Words are the tools wielded by skillful writers, but are we simply hiding behind our profession? Perhaps we should accept the fact that the gap between information and action is too wide? That our culture is passive. That a challenging book is likely to achieve little more than a 3.5 star rating on Good Reads. That it is time to close our laptops, start a biodynamic farm, become vegan and trade our cars for bicycles…I’m not being facetious; sincerity rests in this hyperbole.

It is true that the grandiosity of the world’s problems is overwhelming, but none of these issues occurred in isolation. We are all driving cars, drinking takeaway coffees, shutting our mouths instead of speaking up, lying to our kids about where the steak on their plate came from and buying caged eggs because they’re a dollar cheaper.

We need to do better. We need to do something.

Writers can offer solutions in their weekly columns and fiction. They can encourage readers to re-evaluate their opinions and behaviours by holding up a mirror. While a single blog post cannot change the world, our combined voices do have the power to shift culture.

Together, we can aspire to create a new culture. A culture that carries re-useable cups, that walks to work and eats ethical, sustainable food. A culture that votes. A culture that allows minorities to have space without slipping into fear that they are ‘taking over.’ A culture that questions why education hasn’t changed in 150 years. A culture that swivels its gaze away from the individual to focus on the collective. A world that is less about stuff and more about substance.

That, my friends, is a world worth writing for.

How to Produce Art when the World is Falling apart

Sir Philip Sidney stated that poetry was “the first light-giver to ignorance, and first nurse, whose milk little by little enabled them to feed afterwards of tougher knowledges.” Ezra Pound believed that “The arts, literature, posesy are a science, just as chemistry is a science. Their subject is man, mankind, and the individual.” And yet, still, sometimes, we struggle to justify our creative practice.

If you’re in the middle of a personal crisis, it’s unlikely that you will have the energy or the mental bandwidth to produce art.

If you stop to consider big problems like climate change, terrorism, refugees, our shrinking job marketing, rising house prices, the privatization of health care and a multitude of other issues, sitting down to work on a short story or novel can seem self-indulgent and pointless.

What good is a novel when the world is falling apart?

It’s important to acknowledge these feelings of inadequacy because simply ignoring them won’t do anyone any favours. However, it’s equally important that artists continue to produce work despite this feeling of inadequacy. Art itself may not be able to solve our complex, incomprehensible social, economic, political and educational problems, but artists must continue to use their skills and ability because we need art, even if the world is falling apart.

At their most basic, novels provide a space for escapism and entertainment. At their best, a novel can inspire us into action by forcing us to confront our own behaviours and beliefs. We may ask ourselves why we do the things that we do, whether our behaviour is contributing to the solution or to the problem, and how can we change for the better both individually and as a society.

Stories don’t have to change the world. If you want to write stories for the sole purpose of escapism, both for yourself and your reader, then that is an honourable use of time. We need a little escapism. We need books that we can read at the end of a long day; books that offer comfort instead of further confrontation. It’s okay to read funny books or adventure stories or mysteries. Not only is it nice to escape into a different world with different people and different problems, it is also nice to see those problems get solved.

Here’s the thing though, even nice books have value beyond mere entertainment. Whether consciously constructed or not, narratives contain the observations and reflections of their author. They are stories about people living with other people. They contain insight and knowledge about human behviour, our relationships with ourselves and others, our desires, strengths, and weaknesses. A novel is a response to the experiences an author has had and the observations they have made. They contain magic, and though this magic is unlikely to reverse climate change, novels can still teach us something about ourselves and the world we live in.

Novels have purpose.

A well-crafted and thoughtful novel that asks hard questions may not alter the general public opinion, but it can cause a shift within a reader. You may choose to write a dystopian novel based on scientific fact about where we’re heading environmentally, or you may write a speculative fiction novel about what the world would look like if women became infertile (The Handmaids Tale – Margarett Attwood), or if we intentionally used clones as a means for organ harvesting (Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro). Stories such as these act as a type of role play. They allow us to ponder and explore potential future spaces. If we continue to remain passive about particular issues, what will happen? Additionally, they provide a container for our personal and social fears. Not only is the writer able to unburden themselves, but it also allows the reader to experience their innermost fears while remaining within the safe, imaginary confines of a story.

The world may have a lot of problems, but when has it not.

If you’re still struggling to justify your need to create art, perhaps my final point will convince you. When we look back on the type of art that was produced at any given moment in history, we can see the prominent concerns of that time through the themes, structures, and styles that are repeated across different works by different artists. We need to write stories that capture this moment in time. That explore our societal concerns. That showcase our collective psyche. Artists need to make their contribution to the historical record because we have skills that scientists and politicians don’t have. We can take incompressible problems and present them in a consumable format that will make you feel something, and that is a very special skill indeed.

Why Writers are so Obsessed with Process

Whenever two or more writers find themselves in a room together, there are a handful of topics that inevitably bubble to the surface: money, publishing, current projects, favourite authors, latest reads, and most importantly, process.

If you are new to creative writing and developing your craft, an interest in other writers’ habits is understandable. We’ve all been a beginner at some point in our lives and we all know that the best way to develop our own skills is to learn off someone who can do the thing that we want to do. Of course, it’s also advisable that you actually practice the craft you intend to become good at.

If you want to learn the piano, you go to a piano teacher. If you want to learn another language, you take classes or buy an audiobook. Whenever a known author is interviewed, questions regarding their process inevitably arise. You could say that ‘Tell us about your writing routine’ is the literary equivalent of talking about the weather, but this frivolous question serves as more than a mere icebreaker because within this small request lies a myriad of even smaller questions:

  • Do you write in the morning or at night?
  • Do you write longhand or use a computer?
  • Are you a pantser or a plotter?
  • Where do you prefer to write?
  • Do you aim for a specific word count, page count or a set number of hours each day/week/month?
  • Do you research before, during or after the first draft?

Writers have a lot of questions when it comes to process, but this fascination is not limited to newbies.

Two years ago, Charlotte Wood, a successful and established author herself, released her book The Writer’s Room. Here, Wood has curated a myriad of insightful interviews between herself and some of Australia’s best-known authors. Though the content of each conversation varies, Wood always encourages her interviewee to talk about their writing process. Though some authors respond to such probing questions vaguely (perhaps because their process is loose or frequently changing), others describe their rigid or elaborate routines in fine detail.

These conversations were initially only available online. However, the interviews were so popular that the publication of a print edition became viable, which proves just how hungry writers are for this conversation. We don’t want to read these insightful interviews on our laptops and forget about them, we want a physical copy that we can highlight, dog-ear, and return to again and again whenever we need a touch of guidance or inspiration. Writers not only love talking about process, they love reading about it too.

Despite the almost cliché nature of the topic, writers continue to ask each other questions about process. Fortunately, we’re also happy to answer them. Sometimes these answers are dull and predictable, but sometimes they are surprising, ingenious, and entertaining. By exposing ourselves to other writer’s approaches, we may gain insight into our own creative routine or learn new techniques that can be adopted into our own practice.

Our continuing obsession with creative practice is driven by our need to understand how writing works. We’re all looking for a way to articulate what can sometimes feel like a very mysterious and fickle practice. All artists struggle to explain how they transformed an idea into a creative artefact. This discussion of process helps give shape to what can otherwise be perceived as an almost mystical unfolding.

That being said, the question of process also contains a subtle and self-conscious subtext: “Is your process better than mine? If I adopt your habits, will I become a better writer?” Deep down, we all hold the same subconscious belief: there is a secret to writing, we just need to find it.

However, discovering this secret is impossible as every author has a different answer. Lee Child writes his Jack Reacher novels without an outline and without revision (jerk). Stephen King is a panster too, but he typically produces three drafts of each novel and prefers to write at home. J.K. Rowling using outlines and writes where and whenever she can.

In terms of hours clocked, Maile Meloy, Kate Morton and Steven Pressfield stick with two to four hours a day (typically in the morning). Others like Chuck Wendig, Dani Shapiro, and Margaret Atwood keep standard working hours, starting at nine in the morning and finishing at five in the afternoon.

Despite advances in technology, we are still weighing the pros/cons of longhand vs typing. Jackie Collins writes all her books by hand, as does Quentin Tarantino; two names I never thought I’d see in the same sentence! Joe Hill writes his first draft by hand, but then edits the work while typing the second draft, and J.K. Rowling has experimented with both longhand and typing.

Every writer’s process is different, and yet we keep asking the same question. We keep searching for some kind of hack in the hope that there is a hack. We want to hear a clever sound bite that promises an easier way to get inside our own story. One simple tool or word of advice that will guarantee our success.

No one wants to hear, “just write.” No one wants to hear, “if you do the work, the work gets done.” No one wants to hear, “finish writing the novel, edit it, email it out and maybe you’ll get published.”

When asked about her own process, Elizabeth Strout recounted a conversation with her neighbour who had just finished painting his apartment. When she’d finished gushing over this domestic accomplishment and complimenting him on the tremendous achievement of painting an entire apartment by himself, he replied: “There’s no magic to it.”

The same can be said of writing: there is no magic, you just do it.

The Art of Miguel Pichardo

Written by Alexander Greco

May 20, 2019

Miguel Pichardo

Miguel Pichardo, born in ‘92 in Pasadena, CA, is a (mostly) self-taught artist, who has delved into creating a wide variety of surreal, abstract, and psychedelic artwork. Though Miguel’s work is impressive and quite creative, for me it isn’t his technical skill or his vivid imagination that makes his artwork transfixing. It’s the freedom he has in making his art, and the intimacy he has with his ideas, whether they’re mundane, personal or philosophic. Miguel’s artwork comes from a place of wild and free thought and creativity.

Miguel’s path into art began with the reality-warping zeitgeist of 90’s cartoons. From children battling each other with adorable animal-demons, to intergalactic monkey warriors, to LSD musings of a simpler time in American history, the 90’s gave children a sensory avalanche of strange stimuli, and Miguel exemplifies the culture that emerged from this 90’s childhood.

“What inspired me to do artwork were/are so many things. At first a big influence was cartoons; Pokémon, Dragon Ball Z, Loony Toons etc. Being able to create something that was so cool to me, blew my mind. Also just being bored pushed me to get lost in my imagination which influenced me to create more.”

“As I got older my styles in artwork started to get more and more eclectic. I would say that I haven’t had a lot of training… …for the most part I am self taught.”

School Notes
Ballpoint Pen on paper
2017

As Miguel continued drawing throughout the years, his art became more original, and his talent continued growing. Miguel took art classes throughout high school, and then took a painting class at Pasadena Art Center, but otherwise was self-taught. Miguel eventually began branching his skills out into various styles, with a wide spectrum of subjects and attitudes in each piece.

While Miguel still includes the early influence of cartoons in his artwork, he also began including influences from cultural icons, and religious imagery. His artwork ranges from punk reimaginings of SpongeBob, to hallucinatory images of Mother Mary. His artwork also features sci-fi and fantasy imagery, and Americana-style tattoo-art. However, Miguel’s work frequently takes dives into the deep-ends of the brain’s imaginary YMCA.

La Bruja Negra (The Dark Witch)
Pen on paper
2019

Miguel blends the various styles of Abstraction with the wild creativity of Surrealism. Miguel’s work parallels a variety of Abstract artists, but his art seems more reminiscent of Pablo Picasso and Wassily Kandinsky. There’s also a strong influence of the psychedelic artwork that emerged from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s—Crumbian cartoon art, the graphic novels of the 80’s and 90’s, Gonzo-style psychedelia, and the more serious artwork of Alex Grey.

Still, this doesn’t quite pin down Miguel’s artwork. So much of what he does steps out of these boxes, and into what I will officially coin as “Miguelland”. The official definition of this “Miguelland” is: a space that cannot be defined. It’s a space that Miguel has carved out through his art, a space I think all artists hope to create with their work (though there can only be one Miguelland).

Untitled
Aerosol and marker on paper
2019

Though Miguel’s work is broad in style and subject matter, there is a psychic commonality across his work that ties together his disparate thoughts.

“A common theme in my work is consciousness. The connectivity that connects all. It is not always a deep concept, sometimes it is something very simple with not too much of a meaning.”

From the mundane to the transcendent, we all share the common thread of perceiving a reality around us. Though all of our perceptions might be different, all of us go out into the world each day and each night, and, in one way or another, we all have to navigate this world we find ourselves in. Though we all face unique travels, we also share in the various experiences we have. We’re all a network of waking perceptions and sleeping perceptions, daily drudgeries and daily joys, and of daydreamt fantasies and wide-awake anxieties. We’re all like a web of identities, personas, beliefs, thoughts, and perceptions. We’re all like a collage of faces, of dreams, and of experiences.

Reborn
Oil Paint on Paperboard 
2018

However, what seems to be most important to Miguel is the ability to stay flexible and free while creating his art.

“Each piece is started differently. Sometimes I have a concept before I start it, but for the most part my process is very freestyle. I try to practice enjoying the creative process now fluently, instead of structuring the piece step by step. I find the fearlessness of creating without a plan very enjoyable and satisfying.”

“Art gives me freedom so it is very important to not limit art for me. Same goes for the mediums. Sometimes I use many kinds on one piece, and sometimes I just use one medium on a piece. I use markers, different kinds of paint, pastels, charcoal, pencil, everything.”

Trip Out
Ballpoint Pen on Paper 
2019

Just a quick glance at Miguel’s work confirms this. In a lot of his art, this is no one style. There is no “This is what I’m doing, and I’m only doing this.” There’s blends of cartoons and urban landscapes, and colors and shapes and people—and people within people (sometimes within other people)—and sometimes there is no clear style at all. There’s just whatever came to Miguel’s mind as he put pencil to paper.

Some of his artwork is a jungle-like zoo of old styles, coming to life as some new, otherworldly depiction of life, while other works are strange storms of lines and colors, which somehow manage to form a meaningful idea in our heads. Other pieces are simple ideas, born from a small thought that crawled out of the ocean in the back of Miguel’s head, eventually making its way onto a canvas beach for us all to see. Whatever lifeforms have evolved by Miguel’s hand, they’re all unique specimens of the mind.

Jazz
Acrylic Paint on Canvas 
2019

I’m not sure if I can give a gestalt of Miguel’s work. I’m not even sure if I should try (oh, but I will). Through a blend of eccentric caricature and prefrontal obliteration, Miguel has created a vast portfolio of unique art. With only a meager amount of training by professional standards, Miguel has taught himself not only how to create high-quality artwork, but also how to create his own artwork, which is something that probably couldn’t be taught.

Miguel’s art is tied together with the same threads of consciousness that tie us together, but it’s also tied together by the complete lack of connectivity. His artwork is connected by a commonality of complete chaos—a commonality of complete creative freedom—and in this way, in this freedom, I think there is an even deeper connection between Miguel’s art and the human consciousness.

There’s something in all of our lives that we hold sacred—whether or not we’re “sacred” people. There’s something in our lives—or, perhaps, a number of things—we try to keep pure. There’s something in our lives we all try to call our own, without anyone telling us that it’s right or wrong, good or bad, yes or no.

There’s something in us, or about us, or a part of our lives we try to keep free, uncorrupted, and unburdened. For Miguel, his creativity is what must be kept free, wild and roaming. And by keeping this creativity free, you free your Self.

Dinos and UFOs 
Mixed media on paper
2019

At only 26, Miguel’s canvas travels are only just leaving the Shire. Personally, I’m quite interested to see where his creativity takes him. His imagination is quite expansive, and his stylistic influences seem to be culminating into something quite original. With a menagerie of modern influences, and without the burden of strict structure, Miguel—like many talented artists throughout the world­—may just go where no one’s been.

If you liked Miguel’s work, you can find him on Instagram @mi_arrte. He’s a great artist, he’s a family-man, and, from our small exchanges, he seems like a generally chill human being. His work has been in several galleries in the LA area so, if you find yourself in the Golden State, look him up, and check out one of these galleries to see his work and the work of other great artists in person.

Praying to our own Beat: The Music of Clarissa Rodriguez

Written by Alexander Greco

May 13, 2019

Released Saturday, May 11th, Holy Kerouac’s first EP, Why’d You Have to Make Things Weird, is a nostalgic walk through our old emotions, dreams and hopes, and a bittersweet reconcilement with the world we live in now—the world that threatens what we once held sacred. Holy Kerouac is a solo project started by Clarissa Rodriguez, a member of Solace Sutra, and is Clarissa’s expression of deeper, more personal emotions and sentiments. The EP is about hope and hopelessness, the sacred and the absurd, and the journey to find meaning in meaninglessness.

When I interviewed Clarissa, she told me that this EP was more personal to her than her work with other musicians. It’s all at once an homage to her literary heroes—Ginsberg, Kerouac, and others of the Beat Generation—an exploration of sound and emotion, and an entirely self-made creation. From the music and lyrics to the recording and mixing, Why’d You Have to Make Things Weird is entirely a product of Clarissa’s imagination, design and effort. It’s three songs that say, “This is me, this is who I am, and this is what I have created.”

The first song, “Delirium” is a somber and dark track about depression and anxiety. It is at once a lucid, simple and arid song, and a distorted, dissonant and chaotic song; a song about clarity and a song about confusion. The song seems to be saying that what is most clear with our lives is how unclear our lives are. The simplest explanation of our lives is that they are complex. At our most lucid, we see how insane we are, and our rationality does little more than reveal our irrationality.

In this song, Clarissa combines steady, solid percussion with digital sampling, electronic distortion, and poetic lyrics to form a landscape of rumbling, rambling emotion. Clarissa’s lyrics borrow concepts and language from the poetry of the Beat Generation, though Clarissa seems to have identified her own, unique voice across this EP. She couples this with the beats and ambience of lo-fi, and the subtle psychedelia of

 “Delirium” is dreamy, haunting, and bittersweet. It is an homage to our past, a march toward our future, and a photograph of our present lives. It’s a remembrance of what we once were, of a life that felt sacred, and a questioning of who we are now, what is sacred anymore. It is the confusion of facing unsolvable dilemmas, asking unanswerable questions, and bearing arbitrary crosses.

The second song of the EP, “Oh, Little Bee”, is easily my favorite song on the EP. I kind of can’t get over this one.

Everything from the flow of the song (the rhythm, the pulse, the starts and the stops, the rises and the falls), the subject matter of the song, the layering and harmonization of the upper, mid, and lower range, and the haunting use of distortion, reverb and chorus effects.

The song stands on the edge of self-love and self-loathing, and drifts through old memories and spectral emotions. It explores the dissonance between our dreams and ideals, and the realities of our life. The song ebbs and flows between the tumbling events of our strange lives, and the breath-taking epiphanies that define our hopes and fears. The staticky reverb of Clarissa’s soulful croons ring like a choir of doubting angels, and blossoms in your ears like a moaning congregation.

I think this song best epitomizes the sentiment of this EP. It mixes the holy with the fallen. It mixes something pure and angelic with something broken and confused. There is a somber certainty mixed with an ironic doubt and cynical self-deprecation. It approaches the proposition of Ginsgberg’s Howl, that all is holy and nothing is holy, and asks, “Then what am I?”

And yet, there is a sense of bittersweet hope in the song. There is a feeling that perhaps the absurd can be sacred. Perhaps broken lives can give birth to powerful lives. Perhaps a cure for our doubts can be found in doubt itself.

The last song on the EP, “Picture of Health” has an almost bluesy feel to it, though it still uses elements of synth/electronica, lo-fi and pop-punk. Once again, the pacing of this song is half of what makes it great to listen to. The delivery of each line is impactful, and the steady rhythm of the song matches the relaxing melancholy of the upper-end.

The song is about the day-by-day journey of survival. It’s about the endless march we all take through our lives, and the dim hopes we cling to as we “get by”. It’s about the vast deserts of purposelessness we must cross as we search for some oasis of meaningfulness. It’s about the beating drum of our personal marathons, the reeling listlessness between one moment and the next, and the stumbling crawl of modern life.

Though the EP is short, it is dense with haunting vocals, a unique blend of lo-fi and pop-punk influences, and the enduring sentiment of the Beat Generation. Why’d You Have to Make Things Weird is a glimpse from the bottom, a glimpse from the lowest of lows. It is glimpse from the bottom, which stares at the distant ideals of the divine far above us, and searches for the path forward, a path toward the divine. It is a beacon of light amidst the grey fog of suburbia.

Clarissa comes from a diverse community of musicians, which is reflected in both the style and the quality of her first EP. Not only has she been influenced musically by local artists like Mallgoth, 49th Octave, and the regional art-collective known as Gulf Coast Ghost, but she’s also been influenced by the attitude and the work ethic of these musicians. Clarissa told me she’s inspired by the urgency, the creativity and the personalities of musicians she plays with, and her music is influenced by the widely-diverse genres of these artists.

If you haven’t listened to Why’d You Have to Make Things Weird, I highly recommend checking it out. It’s a sign of good things to come, both metaphorically and literally. Clarissa is still working on her solo project, Holy Kerouac, and expects to have a full-length album coming soon. While this EP was sad and somber, Clarissa’s next album will introduce more energy and hopefulness.

Until then, go give the music of Clarissa Rodriguez a listen. It’s worthy of a few play-throughs.

The Art of Lauren Power

Written by Alexander Greco

April 22, 2019

Lauren with her children’s book, “A is for Art”

Hailing from Houston, TX, Lauren Power is a mother, an art and art history teacher at Waltrip High School, and the creator of uniquely beautiful and grotesque artwork. In much of her work, Lauren aims at pairing vivid colors and imagery—such as animals, flowers, and women—with dark, unsettling, and at times disgusting imagery—intestines, bones, brains, hearts and other organs. However, her pieces have a wide range of style, subject matter, and medium—ranging from painting, to digital art, to tattoo work.


Eye in Mouth
Watercolor
2018


Lauren’s art blends the technical work of realism, experiments with color theory, and elements of surrealism to create these oddly intoxicating images. All at once, her art hits us with the mesmerizing beauty of nature, the strangeness of dream-like visuals, and a train wreck we can’t look away from.

“I’ve always enjoyed flowers and highly saturated colors, but I often pair them with internal organs or dark backgrounds. I feel my work can be both hideous and beautiful at the same time, but that’s mostly what interests me. The contrasts we experience in this world of the pretty façade hiding a sinister ulterior.”

“Kiss of Death”
Oil on Linen Canvas
2019

Lauren’s work blurs the line between the things we love and adore, and the things we fear or loathe. In her piece, “Kiss of Death”, she molds a severed heart into a face with seductive lips, and frames it with dark and cool tones, which contrasts attraction and revulsion.

“…originally [I] had sat down to paint a rose. While sketching, that rose evolved into deadly nightshade flowers and I kept thinking about that type of toxic love that tricks you with her beauty, but will ultimately destroy you. This heart is both seductive and deadly, contrasting the vibrant greens and lush pink.”

Lauren—who has been happily married for nearly 10 years—created this piece to show how some people fall head-over-heels for people that eventually hurt them. Sometimes we become entranced by someone we hardly know. Other times we fall in love with a false identity that someone has created, or we fall in love with a false identity that we fabricated in our heads. Whether through this person’s manipulation, their card-castle of lies, or through seeing the person with sober clarity, these relationships eventually collapse.

In other pieces, we see an outpouring of emotion, and the inner tension we often feel as we bury our emotions deeper into our psyche.

“Rainbow Guts”
Watercolor, India Ink, and Gel Pen on Paper
2019


“Rainbow Guts” is about the insecurities and anxieties that wrack us from the inside out. Whether we feel worthless in the eyes of others, or feel like those we love and care about don’t love us back, we often find ourselves wondering if anyone truly accepts us as who we are. And even beyond this, life is filled with doubts and hurtles and uncertain times.

For the most part, we try to shield these troubles and insecurities from friends, family and co-workers, so as not to worry them with. However, this often comes at a cost to us, as the more we bury our emotions, the more our emotions strive to burst forth.

“The week I made this, I was experiencing a lot of anxiety. This is what I imagined you would see if you cut me open and looked inside—a twisting mess of color and confusion.”

“Dreams”
Multimedia
2015

In “Rainbow Guts”, we see a small storm of different colors, and often when we bottle ourselves up, even the things that make us happy, content or excited become muddied up with our anxieties and frustrations. It becomes difficult to differentiate between our fears and our desires, our love and our hate, and our doubts and our hopes. When the storms of emotions inside us become too much, often the best way to get rid of them is to let it all out and find some way to express the convoluted thoughts we have. (Meditation and morning runs help too.)

With “Electric Heart”, Lauren uses grotesque imagery to create a sense of masculinity, and frames the heart in black, which gives it a sense of detachment or isolation. This grotesque and isolated heart stares up at the world above it, or perhaps at the world outside of it. Oftentimes men have difficulties expressing themselves, or repress their thoughts or feelings. However, the feeling of being isolated inside our own minds is something universal. We often feel vulnerable when revealing how we truly feel or think.

“Electric Heart”
Water Color and Gel Pen on Paper
2019

“I inherently like pretty things like flowers… …but I often try to combine them with masculine elements. For me, hard elements like bones or grotesque things like internal organs seem very masculine to me… …I feel like the grotesque represents all the things we hold inside, that we internalize and compartmentalize. That is an inherently masculine activity, concealing one’s emotions inside, whereas the feminine is more open and up front about feelings.”

What fearsome, repulsive, or hard personas do we put up to shield our vulnerabilities inside? For a lot of us, it’s almost instinctual to conceal our inner selves. We don’t know how to drop our hardened, angry, absurd or serious personas, and reveal our true dreams, doubts and ideas.

Beyond her work with the grotesque, the surreal, and the introspective, Lauren has experimented with various mediums, and with her use of color theory. In addition to traditional oil and watercolor, and drawing, Lauren uses alcohol markers, gel pens, microns and India ink. Lauren has even tried her hand at tattoo-work, and has written a children’s book.

“Garden Skull”
Alcohol Marker, Watercolor, and Micron on Paper
2018

With “Garden Skull”, Lauren uses a mix of watercolor, micron pens, and alcohol markers to create a haunting and beautiful skull.

“I just love the graphic nature, saturation, and blendability of alcohol markers. I was previously super involved in watercolor, but couldn’t get the clean saturation that I now get from copics and Prismacolor markers.”

In “Smokey Eye”, Lauren mixes alcohol markers and microns with gel pens. What I personally liked about this piece is how the linework, the colors, and the places where she used gel pen all seem disconnected from each other, like they were physically laid on top of each other, but not actually the same image. And yet, despite this, they still complimented each other a formed a dazzling whole.

“Smokey Eyes”
Alcohol Marker, Micron and Gel Pen
2019

While working on this surreal and glamorous piece, Lauren found that “Smokey Eye” emboldened her sense of creativity.

“My past really lied in traditional painting and realism; I was enjoying the excitement of something outside of that comfort zone. I love gel pens specifically for their saturation and ability to create high contrast highlights. I fell like they give my work a sense of sparkly otherworldness.”

With “Jessica Rabbit”, Lauren plays around with form and color to produce a portrait that is strange, yet still beautiful. Lauren emphasizes this woman’s eyes and lips, while de-emphasizing other aspects of her. Lauren also matches typical hair and skin tones with more vibrant colors, which gives a sense of realism, yet also causes the colors to pop in a way we wouldn’t see in real life. This makes the subject seem more natural than the original Jessica Rabbit, but still surreal compared to someone in real life.

“Jessica Rabbit”
Oil Paint on Canvas Panel
2019


“I have a background in traditional realism painting, but lately I’ve been pushing my color theory and style… …my reference photo for this piece was actually a very soft pink. She had brown hair and was overall very regular. I enjoyed punching up the complements of turquoise and red in this one. I have a tendency to draw giant chins and small eyes, so I tried to do the opposite here to stylize the figure.”

With both “Jessica Rabbit” and “Smokey Eye”, Lauren mentioned an influence from digital art, saying, “…I do draw inspiration from their ability to stylize the figure, emphasizing eyes, saturated colors, blends, and sparkly highlights.”

However, Lauren still prefers physical mediums over digital art.

Rainbow is my Favorite Color
Gouache on Panel
2019

“I’ve been super inspired by digital art, but have more enjoyed seeing its translation in my traditional paint medium. I feel a closer connection to paint and brushes than I do a stylus… …when I actually attempted digital art, I felt very disconnected.”

As with many other things that’ve been changed with digitization, many people embrace digital artwork, but many people still prefer physical, tangible art. Of course, many artists who work with physical mediums still admire the work of digital artists, but for artists like Lauren, nothing compares to holding a paintbrush and watching a canvas come to life.

On top of all this work, Lauren found inspiration from her 2-year-old daughter to create a children’s book. Lauren’s book pairs each letter of the alphabet with a wide variety of different images and color schemes, ranging from a fauvist Jellyfish to a living Ukulele. This helps young children associate abstract letters with visual representations, and gives them something fun and creative to flip through.

“I initially made it just to print for myself and [my] daughter, but decided to publish it with Amazon KDP. I really only thought my family would end up buying it, but my friends are so supportive, they promoted it so widely that people I didn’t even know were purchasing it and leaving reviews. I even had some people ask me to autograph their copy, which really tickled me.

“The Letter R”
Alcohol Marker and Micron
2019
From “A is for Art”

“I wanted a book that focused on visuals and aesthetics. I wanted my little one (she’s 2 and a half) to have to sort of guess what each letter represented. There’s some pretty out there references like Z for Zap and Q for Quiet. It is currently my daughter’s favorite book, she calls it the mommy book, as it has my picture on the back cover.”

Though much of Lauren’s work focuses on the ugly and grotesque, the real and surreal, Lauren also draws inspiration from her daughter, her loving husband, and the beauty of the world around her. The inspiration that Lauren takes from the world, she also gives back out to her family, friends, students and fans.

If you haven’t seen the rest of her work on Instagram, I would highly recommend checking it out (@artistlaurenpower), and you can find her students’ artwork on Instagram as well (@waltripvisualarts). If you like her work, let her know and give her a follow. If you’re interested in her book, you can find it at www.amazon.com/dp/1790918030. Lauren has also designed graphics for tee-shirts, which you can find at https://www.teepublic.com/user/artistlaurenpower.

“I ❤ You”
Dropper Paint
2018

The War of Information

By Alexander Greco

April 15, 2019

Humanity has entered a new era, the Age of Information. With this new age, many believe we are facing new kind of war. Some say we’ve entered a Culture War, or a War of Ideologies. Others say we’ve entered a War of Information. I’m inclined to believe we’ve entered both wars, and that these wars are actually interwoven with each other.

 “Us vs. Them” mentality of war is becoming less and less about regional or national sets of individuals—the French vs. the Spanish, or British vs. Americans—and more about conflicts between Ideologies throughout the world. Instead of our “tribes” being determined by region or nationality, they are determined by shared personal beliefs, moral foundations, and social norms.

The current culture “battles” are being fought over what a person should think, how a person should think, and how we should behave. Orwell and Huxley may not have gotten the precise details of our present struggles right (though some details are alarmingly pre-cognizant), but the core conflict of 1984 and Brave New World are almost spot-on:

Psycho-Social Conflict, and Control of Ideas and Behaviors.

These battles are being waged all over the place, in a variety of social, institutional and industrial sectors. However, the frontlines of these wars appear to form on the Internet.

The Internet is where the majority of people receive most of their news, entertainment, and other media. The Internet also acts as a cultural and political hub for millions of people on social media platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Google and Twitter. Online, we are exposed to more information, more personal beliefs, and more cultures than any human ever has been before.

Many thought that with this sort of cultural diffusion, we would see less global tribalism. This has been true in some ways. Musicians from Japan can connect with musicians from France. Sports fans in Brazil can talk shit with sports fans from Spain. Bloggers from America can converse with artists from Serbia. In many ways, the Internet has brought people together.

However, the Internet has also fractionated into innumerable echo chambers. Democrats typically socialize with other Democrats online, and Republicans with other Republicans—both camps are usually disparaging the other. Anarcho-Communists and Neo-Marxists join the same chat groups, where they discuss how terrible Capitalism is. Open-border and closed-border supporters only interact with each other when they’re looking to trade blows.

While this has remained relatively innocuous for quite some time, there have been growing tensions between these Internet tribes (yes, I think “tribes” is the best word for this).  These ideological tensions have been growing in the time leading up to the 2016 presidential elections, and has been growing ever since.

While much of the conflict has been right vs. left, there’s also been conflicts between:

  • Religion vs. Atheism/Agnosticism
  • Western Values vs. Radical/Fundamentalist Islamic Values
  • Classical Liberals and Progressives vs. Neo-Liberals and Neo-Progressives

In addition, over the last couple decades we’ve seen the emergence or re-emergence of politico-cultural groups such as:

  • Antifa
  • ISIS
  • The Alt-Right (strictly referring to groups such as Neo-Nazis and White Nationalists)
  • LGBT Rights Movements
  • The New Atheists
  • The Skeptics
  • Black Lives Matter
  • Anonymous
  • Neo or Lite Conservatism
  • The Muslim Brotherhood
  • Fourth-Wave Feminism
  • Proud Boys
  • The “Red-Pillers”
  • The “Woke”
  • The Intellectual Dark Web
  • Intersectional Postmodernists
  • Neo-Marxism

Some of these groups have pretty reputable motivations and members. Some of these groups are a mixed or neutral batch. Some of these groups flirt with dangerous Ideologies and motivations.

And many of these groups, including the traditional political and cultural groups, are at odds with each other. Some of them have already physically harassed people, committed acts of vandalism, or have committed violent assaults on others. Some politico-cultural groups across the world, such as ISIS, have committed horrific acts of violence against fellow humans.

And, to further complicate the matter, this has all also become wrapped up in government regulations and Social Media policies. To further complicate the matter, this has all become wrapped up in a conversation about Freedom of Speech, Public Goods vs. Private Companies, and government intervention or the lack thereof. To further complicate this, we have to deal with bad actors, fake accounts, bots, and biased (left and right) news outlets.

This is what forms the War of Information—the censorship, demonetization and regulation of speech, expression, and personal belief.

The War of Ideologies, or the Culture War, and the War of Information are two sides of the same coin. One is the tension between various political or cultural factions, and the other is the censorship or promotion of different political or cultural beliefs.

To explain this all better, I want to explain these two “Wars”—these two social battlegrounds—separately.

The War of Ideologies

There are many types of Ideologies, many spectrums across each Ideology, and many intersections of Ideologies:

  • Political
    • Democratic
    • Republican
    • Libertarian
    • Progressive
    • Centrist
    • Classic Liberal
    • Traditional Conservative
    • Neo-Liberalism
    • Neo-Conservatism
    • Marxist
    • Identitarian
  • Cultural
    • Family Heritage
    • Regional
    • National
    • Global
    • Cosmopolitan
    • Traditional
    • Religious
    • Ethnic
    • Art/Media
    • Pop Culture
    • Counter Culture
  • Economic
    • Laissez-Faire
    • Libertarian
    • Conservative
    • Liberal
    • Social Free Market
    • Socialism
    • Communism

And then, everyone has their own, personal ideology, which is an intersection of various Ideologies, mixed with their own personal beliefs and morals.

Part of what has happened in the Age of Information is a Crisis of Identity. People are struggling to be an individual in this strange new world, and, at the same time, are struggling to feel as though they’re part of a group.

When people come in contact with each other, and they identify with different and conflicting Ideological groups—or different Ideological Tribes—they attack each other. This can be as innocuous as members of one Facebook group going after another, but it can escalate to protests and riots between two Ideological Tribes.

While I could write pages and pages about the debates and social wars happening online, the point is that there are large numbers of different Ideologies that are currently conflicting with each other online, in college campuses, and in mainstream media.

I’ve compiled a short list of various debates and commentaries on these social tensions here. So as not to be politically biased, I listed individuals with beliefs that range from hard left, to centrist, to hard right. The point is not to highlight any particular political views, but illustrate that a wide variety of political voices are concerned with censorship.

While most of these conflicts occur in debates, commentary and online discourse, the conflict extends outside online media into legislation. This is where the War of Ideologies connects back to the War of Information.

Why?

Because Ideologies are how we process and express information. Ideologies are a set of beliefs, morals and perspectives we use to get by in life and make decisions, and many fear that politically-based censorship can silence people with dissenting beliefs.

With platforms like Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Patreon or Paypal having the ability to demonetize, suspend or ban accounts for expressing certain views, many people have begun to worry that political lobbying could result in people being censored from public discourse because of their personal beliefs.

This is only made worse by the sheer amount of content that is put out on the internet, the sheer amount of different opinions and beliefs on the internet, and the sheer amount of misinformation and bad actors.

At the same time that companies and political groups might be censoring and suppressing speech, it is becoming more and more difficult to trust information from media outlets—even large, mainstream outlets. The result is a frantic, chaotic marsh of clashing beliefs and muddied facts.

The foundation of this “War” comes down to:

  • Freedom of Speech vs. Censorship

And

  • The Deterioration of Society’s “Sense-Making Apparatus”

Freedom of Speech vs. Censorship

This debate comes down to a conversation about what can and cannot be said on Social Media and on Mass/Mainstream Media. It’s a conversation over political correctness and free, open discourse. It’s also a conversation over who is allowed to talk.

For example, who is allowed to have a voice on Twitter? Should someone be banned for life if they have a political opinion that isn’t PC? Should Neo-Nazi’s be allowed on Twitter? Should ISIS and other Muslim Fundamentalists be allowed on Twitter? How about this, should someone who questions the motivations of Muslim Fundamentalists be allowed on Twitter? Or, should someone who questions the actions and motivations of Black Lives Matters be allowed a Social Media platform?

A current controversy on Twitter revolves around people being banned for “dead-naming” and “mis-gendering” trans individuals.[1]

One example of this controversy is a woman named Megan Murphy, a lesbian and a Feminist activist, was banned for saying, “men aren’t women” on Twitter.[2] Personal beliefs aside, this shouldn’t be such a controversial statement that someone could be permanently banned from Twitter, a massively popular platform for public discourse.

Who is allowed to speak?

Who is allowed to voice their opinion?

And what opinions should be allowed on Social Media, versus what opinions should be censored on Social Media?

In addition, online mobs (left and right) have called for the de-platforming or de-monetization of individuals, and online mobs (left and right) have also harassed individuals through emails, through social media, or through published content.[3]

Many liberals and conservatives alike—from Progressive college professors[4], to Independent/Neutral investigative journalists[5], to Fox News Reporters[6]—have pushed back against this. Not only have they pushed back against the Social Media companies, but they‘ve pushed back against the media outlets who support this censorial action, as well as political figures and activist movements who call for censorship.

And this doesn’t even go into things like Russian Troll Farms[7], or Wiki-Leaks and the recent arrest of Julian Assange[8], or the fact that Facebook is selling its users’ meta-data to large corporations.[9]

While these things are all a part of the problem, the biggest problem is that it’s hard to know what the hell is going on right now. The biggest problem is that we can’t agree on our problems, we can’t agree on facts, and we can’t agree on where to even begin solving our problems.

Amidst all this online chaos—amidst this strange new world we’ve entered—we’re in a period of time where so much is happening across the world that it’s difficult to know what we should do about anything.

We’ve become a disassociated people, with widely varying personal narratives that help us get through our days, and we’ve entered one of the most chaotic points in human history.

No one can even seem to agree on basic facts regarding global and national events. We hardly trust our governments. We hardly agree on who is an enemy and who is not. We hardly agree on what our problems are, or how we can solve these problems.

If no one can agree on what is happening, then that means no one can agree on what we should do to fix our problems. This is the dissolution of our Sense-Making Apparatus.

Our collective Sense-Making no longer works. We have too much going on, we have too many competing narratives, and we have too many competing sources of information.

There is a spectrum of people in the 9-11 conversation, ranging from people who outright dismiss the idea, to people convinced the government staged 9-11.

We can’t seem to decide what should be done about the violence and instability in the Middle-East, or what the true cause of the violence and instability even is.

Half the nation is split on the legitimacy of our current president. Some people absolutely love Trump (like, love the guy). Some people are neutral. Others hate Trump (really, really hate him).

And, to top it all off, there are people right now who think the Earth is flat.

People are going crazy. People cannot agree on a common narrative, on common problems, or on common goals. People can’t even agree on basic facts.

And it’s not just the United States. This is happening throughout the world. There’s social and national instability in North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle-East. Practically everywhere, we’re destabilizing everywhere, and so much of it has to do with our Sense-Making Apparatus—our common agreement on facts, on problems and on goals.

And this failure of our collective Sense-Making Apparatus only makes the War of Ideologies, or the Culture War, worse, because it’s a war of competing ideas, competing goals and competing perceptions.

So, what is the result of this?

There is a huge divide now between the left and the right, but there are also divides within the left and the right, and there are fringe, radical groups who have begun to rise in power.

We see movements and organizations such as Antifa, or the Anti-Fascism group, which took violent action against Free-Speech activists at UC Berkley. Antifa, categorized as a far-left activism group, has also clashed with the Proud Boys, categorized as a far-right activism group.

In Charlottesville, we saw a clash between white-supremacy advocates and civil rights protestors, which escalated into a car being rammed into the protestors.

Identitarian-Leftist movements across school campuses have led to massive protests, campus violence, and the targeted harassment of professors and speakers.

Ben Shapiro, a moderate Conservative journalist, faced massive and relatively violent protests when he spoke at UC Berkley.[10] Despite being Jewish, Shapiro has been called a Nazi and White Supremacist by his left-wing adversaries.

Evergreen State professor, Bret Weinstein (pronounced like Einstein) was protested, harassed and forced to leave the University after questioning Identitarian policies on his campus.[11]

Jordan Peterson, a professor from the University of Toronto, has been widely criticized and harassed for protesting similar Identitarian policies at his campus, arguing that they infringed on Free Speech.[12] Jordan Peterson, despite being a highly knowledgeable and outspoken critic of fascism and communism in the 20th Century, has been labelled an “Alt-Right Fascist” by far-left radical groups.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are fragmenting societies and governments throughout Europe, and certainly throughout the Middle-East. There are escalating political movements on the right and on the left throughout the world, much like the ones we’re seeing in America. There’s still corruption in our governments, dictatorships oppressing their people, and wars being fought. We still don’t know what to do about the Middle-East. We still don’t know what to do about North Korea. We still don’t know what to do about Russia, or China, or AI, or Global Warming, or poverty, or anything.

It’s all insanity right now, and I’m not sure where any of this is going.

There’s talk about Civil Wars in the US right now—and there’s actual Civil Wars going on in other parts of the world—and people have been talking about World War 3 since 9-11 happened. If things continue spiraling out of control, something will eventually snap.

If we want to avoid that, we have to come to some sort of understanding with each other, and we have to fix our Sense-Making Apparatus.

We have to shift into rational discussions about our problems.

We have to find common ground, isolate our most prevalent problems, and search for common goals.

And we have to end this War of Information. We have to create institutions we can trust. We have to find sources of news and information we can rely upon, and safeguard them from misinformation. We have to form a government that has the nation’s interests in mind.

But.

If we can’t trust our institutions, then we’ll have to start taking our own lives into our hands. If there aren’t any reliable media outlets, then we’ll have to start searching for the truth ourselves. If we can’t elect officials who have our best interests in mind, then we have to elect ourselves, as citizens of our cities, states and nations, to help bring changes we need to society.

We have to step out of this frenzy of opinions, information, and misinformation we’ve become accustomed to, and figure out what actually matters. We have to see eye-to-eye with people we might not agree with, so we can work to solve our biggest problems. And we have to put everything back into a more common, rational perspective, so we can work towards a better future.


[1] https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.theverge.com/platform/amp/2018/11/27/18113344/twitter-trans-user-hateful-content-misgendering-deadnaming-ban

[2] https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.wsj.com/amp/articles/writer-sues-twitter-over-ban-for-mocking-transgender-people-11549946725

[3] https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nationalreview.com/2018/11/social-media-elitists-mobs-killed-dream-of-digital-egalitarianism/amp/

[4] https://www.campusreform.org/?ID-11020

[5] https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2019-03-5/twitter-baised-against-conservatives-thats-fact-tim-pool-destroys-twitter-ceo

[6] https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.foxnews.com/opinion/facebook-doesnt-really-believe-in-free-speech-what-they-believe-in-and-actively-practice-is-censorship.amp

[7] https://www.vox.com/2018/10/19/17990946/twitter-russian-bots-election-tampering

[8] https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.nytimes.com/2019/04/11/world/europe/julian-assange-wikileaks-ecuador-embassy.amp.html

[9] https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.techrepublic.com/google-amp/article/facebook-data-privacy-scandal-a-cheat-sheet/

[10] https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.cnn.com/cnn/2017/09/14/us/berkely-ben-shapiro-speech/index.html

[11] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bret_Weinstein

[12] https://www.chronicle.com/article/What-s-So-Dangerous-About/242256