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Wednesday, 5 January - link


Weeks away from my primary commitment: school. Winter break! Mai Tais and fuckin' on the beach, paperback novels and fried chicken from Tony's shack on St. Martin's yeah!

No escape, I drive from Los Angeles to the Bay Area for good camaraderie; the minds I remember and the surroundings that gave birth to the modern me. I share a Bay Area temperament; a cultural leaning towards the compassionate and casual comfort in cultivated pleasure with a slight practical or leftward political edge.

Wandering between my groundless new life in the offworld colonies of Southern California and the minds I left up here, I leave myself open for interpretation. I was broadcasting some kind of mentorship distress signal, probably from having an over-open heart. A recent short chaste date had me struggling to have a handle on my blood-pumping organ; I don't take crushes well. So I ask people what to do with my life by way of explaining my general confusion in the absence of a clear chance to profess my overstrong feelings in the context of a quiet bedroom. Really what I want is to bond with a new deep soul; instead I'm stuck trying to manage my swelling feelings with my meager mouth in the company of smart older men with active minds.

So these old friends of mine reminded me this trip that if I was lacking direction, well I had uprooted myself from serious self-directed study. I had plunged myself into Graduate School defying their charge to deepen myself as a writer. Going to grad school was splitting my attention - learning new skills that didn't seem to cultivate anything I had been doing before.

Perhaps the most damning criticism came from Howard: "I just don't hear the same passion coming out of you now" he said, as he did when I was a frothing-at-the-mouth nineteen year old web evangelist. And I was sitting there in his garden, staring up at the cloudy sky through bare branches, thinking that I might have lost some kind of fire I had in my pre-pubic web days. It's true - I don't say "holy shit, I'm going to grad school to learn interactive media! watch this yeah! greatest ever!" But I did work hard in my classes and had a good time making heartfelt films and Flash-based explorations of human evolution. I'm in school and I don't know what it means yet; I'm giving it a chance to teach me something, I'm participating lacking important expectations.

Maybe my life is the quest, I asked him. Maybe the search is the thing. I don't know what I'm doing, but experiencing and participating. It's tough to consign myself to never arriving, but there's a dignity in curiosity. Chris used the word dilettante, which has an immediate disarming, depressing air for me - signaling a lack of commitment and strength and meaning. Gosh.

I came of age creatively, professionally, on the web: I could publish myself and I had the feeling that I could write about my life and connect with people. It gave me this confidence in the power of stories at an early age. And a sense of the value of experimental culture - watching my friends and I perform online trumped most of what I saw in commercial media. Maybe I'm working to make a serious career in that world; if such a thing is possible. I still don't know what a solid career as a web storyteller looks like.

checker clem stareChris suggested that at grad school I'm broadening my skillset without a goal. You're learning to do a little bit of video, sound, animation, programming, game design; all these new skills, he said, they're not developing your writing - what seems to be your root skill. You're a decent writer, but you have a long way to go until you can touch the kind of storytelling he pointed to in a nearby New Yorker article.

Maybe it would be easier if I told these friends "I'm going to be a video game designer!", eyes wide, panting slightly, because that's what my school teaches. But having met and spent time with video game designers, exploring that creative process, I have a hard time to envision myself happily ensconced in the commercial video game publishing business. I'm definitely going to be a personal storyteller and culture explorer, and maybe there's a place for me in video games, in a fringe or form that doesn't yet quite exist. Either way, I still believe that learning a bit about video, film, sound production is a good set of skills for a 21st century storyteller and media watcher. My school seems to be good for cultivating that. But, my friends cautioned, you might have a hard time translating that broad media literacy into tangible adulthood without more focus.

Immediately after this solid sustained inquiry from Howard and Chris, I was thoroughly depressed. Lonely, isolated, wondering if I'd set my life back with a "randomization"; Chris uses entertaining computer programmer metaphors, he accused me of seeking random new inputs in difficult times. Plateaued in writing, I chose to sideline myself learning a bunch of pointless stuff, he seemed to be saying. I felt my back curl as thought I might believe it.

Recently I met a girl with deep religious leanings I like to talk with about art and philosophy. egggingI told Amy, my best ex-girlfriend, that I was wrestling with this mystical attraction. You're so desperate for spirituality you're eager to see some extreme, she said. And maybe it's true. I'm neck deep in the tools for media making, and I'm not sure I'm any closer to understanding the native religion of the internet. But I crave that sense of certainty in meaning and intimacy, developing an understanding of human interconnectedness in a media age.

And so I wander. I've got plenty to study wherever I am. These men shared their vision of Justin, encouraging me to ground myself more as I seem to be floating around. After a bit of these talks, they each said they feel they waste their words on me - in spite of my doubts and my advice-seeking I'm heaven-bent on something I may not understand but won't shy away from. They told me all of the same things before I went to school, they explain; so what's the use in this rehash? I invite them to advise me with moments of insecurity or confusion and then I continue doing something they see as a distraction. And they worry that I won't be able to be happy, fulfilled or able to support myself. And I carry this worry in my tightened stomach for the last few days.

I didn't expect this heavy a trip as I travelled up here. I long for their company, these independent creative men I remember. Without seeing it in advance, perhaps I was eager for their critique. If I could submit myself to their review and see my purpose on the other side of that, well then I've arrived. It was almost like kissing my late-20s as a Bay Area writer goodbye.

Learning to be a better writer might make these web pages better readable, like, you know. But these times call for a broader understanding of storytelling. In my lifetime I will make films, songs, articles, pictures, database entries, screenplays. Chris and Howard raise an important point about livelihood - specialization is key for paying mortgages and sending daughters to college. I hope a well-rounded digital creator could still have value. I have the feeling that a system of support for itinerant web ranters is taking shape around me. And the skills of a web publisher media maker are good fallback for itinerant laptop laborers.

I made a decent living packaging bits of digital culture for publication. School has given me a chance to think about the other stories I might want to tell. I have three years to experiment; at thirty that's a luxury. If I want to make something meaningful that improves communication and teaches compassion I've got a lot of work ahead of me.

* Howard Boneman Costume Design: Mike Love

Posted on 5 January 2005 : 14:47 (TrackBack)
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Justin's Links, by Justin Hall.