Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Bootstraps & Best Practices - Joshua Jarrett

Joshua Jarrett is a Georgian artist and student. While experienced and dabbled in painting, drawing, sketching, writing, collage-making, etc., Joshua's most accomplished/substantial/graspable works are his comics. Indeed, these comics are the convergence of his many talents. They are equal parts sketches, drawings, & paintings, poetry, prose, & thoughtful musings, all mixed into mosaic-like art. His first three professionally self-released comics ("Love Poems for Nobody," "Dear Victor," & "Diary") are available to download for free or donation at his Gumroad account, which can be accessed via Facebook or Gumroad itself; additionally, I have reviewed these three comics here. In Joshua's two most recently released comics, "Bootstraps" and "Best Practices," creative visual beauty meets philosophic thought and meditative musings. "Bootstraps," also available on Gumroad, and "Best Practices," available to read on his website here, both delve into autobiographical territories of introspection, philosophy, and peace of mind through creativity.

Bootstraps (2014):

Available on his Gumroad account here, "Bootstraps" is Jarrett at his most thoughtful, intellectual, and philosophic while still, by turns, spending time to examine the self and interpret personal information. Compiled from writings and drawings, which are gleaned from experiences spanning the course of several months, this comic is a prime example of Joshua's mosaic, collage-esque style, for each section is in its own right a distinct work of art. However, when cinched together with an expert eye for detail, "Bootstraps" becomes, not merely a gathering of thoughts, observations, and associated drawings, but a wholly fulfilled story arc, which gains a converging momentum as the pages turn. In this way, the comic's story and thought process is elliptical, tying together the various, seemingly unrelated strands from the beginning and middle into a beautiful braid by the end. This braid is one of self-discovery, self-acceptance, self-actualization. Like the Gordian Knot which much be solved, not through the knot itself, but by means outside of the knot, so, too, must one, such as this comic's narrator, seek to gain an understanding of himself, not through what has happened to him, but how he reacts to what has happened to him--how he reverberates, bounces back, "pulls [himself] up 'by the bootstraps'." If this convergence of theme and subject is not at once clear, give Joshua's comic a second reading, and a third, and a fourth... On a first reading, the final page of the comic may seem to drop suddenly and, as such, could be viewed as just another strand, separate and unrelated to that which has come before it. But this interpretation, I suggest, is trying to understand the comic in terms of the knot itself. To solve the knot, one must think outside the box; to understand "Bootstraps," one must read it repeatedly to see how the strands come together.

Best Practices (2014):

Not really available for download and certainly not (yet) in print, Joshua's most recent comic, "Best Practices," can be read for free on his website, here. This is his shortest comic to date, but is arguably his lushest and most visually beautiful. While his four previous works often exist with lots of empty space, sometimes utilizing said empty space creatively (see: "Love Poems for Nobody"), "Best Practices," in its current form, doesn't even waste time with a title page, evidenced by the opening page to the left. There's too much to express, too much to show for there to be empty space or time spent reiterating facts with a title page. But there is a tradeoff because the writing of this comic is sparse, restricted to the barest of essential "do good" thoughts, which are themselves like steamy wisps of evaporating dew in the sun's morning light: seen, noted, gone. In previous works, Jarrett's drawings and writings complimented each other, but "Best Practices" seems to go a step further. Images lead into the written thoughts or observations and often times these partially expressed words are completed, and fulfilled, by images, surroundings. Furthermore, the images themselves and the words both convey the same story of a life lived quietly, removed from the stresses and fast-paced realities of college life and city-dwelling. One panel reads, "Take Your Time," and is framed by feet standing in bathwater, bathwater which is clear, calm, non-turbulent. In essence, "Best Practices" gently reminds, not just the subject of the comic, but also the reader to stop and smell the roses, to enjoy life, to be content, serene. Thus, Joshua's most recent comic juxtaposes "Bootstraps" stylistically, thematically, and intellectually. While "Bootstraps" is heavy with written thought and mental inquiry, making direct reference to the birthplace of modern-day philosophy (i.e. ancient Greece [see: Gordian Knot]), "Best Practices" is visual, meditative, and, we can therefore conclude, taking us somewhere distinctly Zen.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

?uestions - PT Cruiser USA

 PT Cruiser USA is a Twitter/internet personality who has gained popularity since starting her personal brand of loving PT Cruisers, livetweeting VH1 Soul, loving the men who are featured on VH1 Soul, and livetweeting her day-to-day life. I have reviewed the car's other books (here, here, & here), all of which are based on her life experiences and her ever-increasing internet fame and popularity. But this book, ?uestions, is a different thing altogether. Indeed, ?uestions is PT Cruiser USA's slimmest and most playful release. Less an insightful work into the car's day-to-day incidents, ?uestions bills itself, according to the back cover, as a book to be read and/or played with friends "to pass the time" with or without "other people when you're on a road trip in the car or something." ?uestions is like Mad Libs for the internet fame-obsessed; it's playful, silly, and fun, but it's also deep and thought-provoking.

While PT Cruiser USA has written bigger, more "substantial" books, ?uestions is a slim, 69-page volume (lol, 69!), which shows the car at its most thoughtfully ludicrous, which, in a nutshell, is the recurrent motif of her personal brand. That is, PT Cruiser USA has staked her internet identity as being both uproariously silly and quietly observant, both humorously shallow and surprisingly introspective. Anyone who has read PT Cruiser USA's other books will understand this paradox immediately. For each instance that the car seems to be the tarot deck's Wandering Fool, helplessly and endearingly out-of-touch with reality, she just as often turns around to prove she is intelligently aware of her surroundings and those in her life, becoming a diviner adept at reading signs, people, and situations. It is in this regard--the ability to "play the fool" so as deceive those around her while cleverly staying one step ahead of them--that PT Cruiser USA has survived real life unscathed and built her online popularity upon a solid foundation.

Therefore, ?uestions is a book for people to interact with. Not concerned with irl stories and Twitter-occurrences, ?uestions, very simply, asks the reader to ponder and answer questions. In this way, the book is like Mad Libs or other similar books in that sort of genre. ?uestions has a lot of empty space on the pages between each question so that the reader and/or group of readers can fill in their humorous and/or serious answers. And like PT Cruiser USA herself, the questions vacillate from the merely silly to the sort best described as "think about THAT for a minute." With this in mind, I would like to take this opportunity to answer 3 of the book's questions, falling at different places on the spectrum of silly to thought-provoking.


1. "do clothes ever feel sad when they're stained or have a tear in them?"

No, probably not. Although, it might be interesting to point out that when such things happen, we feel badly for the article of clothing. If, as some researchers and/or New Age folks have claimed, our emotions can be transmitted like signals, then it may be possible that our sad/unhappy feelings are imprinted upon those stained or torn clothes. And if so, then it may be that that article of clothing will from then on carry with it the memory or impression of sadness, which will forever remain a part of its "identity," so to speak. In this way, the clothing doesn't feel sad, but it just might be possible that we can make such objects emotionally effected and emotionally charged by our thoughts and feelings. (This vain of thought is not unlike what many people believe to be the cause of hauntings and ghostly activities; that is, the belief that we imprint our emotional states upon the environments and objects around us, thereby producing things like "haunted houses" and, possibly, "sad clothes.")


2. "do you think there is an abandoned warehouse somewhere with a rolling chair inside it with a skeleton sitting on the chair at receiving?"

Probably not, but I kind of hope so because, as this question reminded me, my uncle, who used to be a cross-country delivery truck driver, told me that there are teeny, tiny villages all across the country where there is just a factory and a few houses, and the only people who live there are the employees of the factory. As such, to my mind, it is not inconceivable that, perhaps, one of those tiny villages was wiped out by disease or something and there now sits a skeleton in a warehouse at receiving, eternally awaiting that final delivery...


3. "can animals take T to transition to another gender?"

Of all the animal-themed questions in ?uestions (and believe me, there are a lot!), this one may be one of the most fascinating to think about, at least for me, because honestly, it's something I'd never thought about before or even considered. But now, I can't stop thinking about it. I mean, T is testosterone and it is used in some, if not all, hormonal therapy/treatments. And animals, like people, have hormones, which make the males of the species have certain characteristics and the females of the species have certain other characteristics. So then, is it possible? Seemingly, yes. After all, if hormones can be manipulated in people to produce a reversal of the biologically-occurring hormones so that an individual can transition, then why not animals? At least, I should say, this seems possible in theory. I wouldn't have the slightest idea of how this could be "pulled off" in actuality. Of course, if it is possible, then the doses administered to the animals would have to be, I would assume, reduced compared to those doses administered to humans. And an entire other aspect of this question is brought up: supposing that it is possible to transition a male cat into a female cat, are we to proceed? Or, another way to put it: this question brings up the issue of consent. Can an animal consent in any knowing way to undergo these changes? Or would we be forcing this upon those animals for scientific research? Honestly, scientists have probably already done this to animals to study them and the effects of such procedures before knowing if and how hormonal therapy/treatments can, in fact, be used effectively on humans to help people transition to another gender/sex. Which, if that were true, then it seems to be further proof of our species being the ones that ever-continually muck everything up. (As you can see, this question has not provided definitive answers, but has in fact, like any good, philosophical question, produced even more questions and encouraged further thinking.)


In conclusion, don't buy Mad Libs or Cards Against Humanity or anything like that. Buy ?uestions by PT Cruiser USA instead. Play this game with friends at parties, on road trips, etc., or answer the questions yourself after giving each sentiment a good amount of time to digest in your mind. Generate discussion. Learn about your friends: what they think and how they think. Form deeper connections with those around you. In this way, a fun, playful, and seemingly silly book of questions by PT Cruiser USA is actually a way to form true, meaningful friendships and understanding between individuals.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Megaphone Heart - Manuel Arturo Abreu

 I received my copy of Manuel Arturo Abreu's "Megaphone Heart" from Austin Islam, in person. Austin is the founder of SLAM DANCE XXXX, a chapbook press, which aims to make beautiful/powerful/interesting echapbooks into beautiful/powerful/interesting physical chapbooks. Abreu's "Megaphone Heart" from SLAM DANCE XXXX is a true work of art, both in the final physical product and, (perhaps) more importantly, the content: Abreu's poetry.

Currently, one can read several of the poems from "Megaphone Heart" online, but only some. As such, the physical copy is necessary as an expansion upon that which is available digitally. At the time of this writing, the physical copy is on sale, for $5, which is altogether reasonable for an art object filled with subtle beauties, muted emotions, and matter-of-factly stated observations. Example(s) from Abreu's next-to-last poem: "that time during my 1st year in private school some1 said to me / during lunch "you make eating into an art" &i start starving myself" and "that time in 9th grade i'd lost 60lbs and someone said "you look like / a cancer patient, wow, you look great" & i felt validated"

Of course, nuanced and/or matter-of-fact statements which downplay emotions is a common contemporary convention of the online writing communities. But Abreu handles this convention masterfully. Whether covering love, death, or even more uncomfortable territory (see: lowkey observations re: minority issues), Abreu has strained the emotions from these poems. To be clear, these poems are not merely devoid of statements regarding feelings akin to 'I'm sad' or 'I'm happy'; they have, on the contrary, squeezed out all emotional connotations from the words (except when expressly stated by individuals). This effect is purposeful for, interestingly, the emotions evidently lacking in the words and lines are conjured within the reader. It is the reader, therefore, and not the poems, who becomes the sole entity keeping the emotional weight of Abreu's poetry, such as aforementioned eating disorders and the deaths of friends and family members. Abreu knows a poem cannot function properly by simply emoting; rather, in order for the poem to succeed, the reader must be made to feel the emotional consequences of QUOTE/UNQUOTE --fucked up-- events in order to truly empathize, sympathize, understand, and (hopefully) make meaningful life changes. In this regard, SLAM DANCE XXXX's print version of "Megaphone Heart" is a resounding success.

One poem in particular, "transcription of a story my nepali friend told me," is perhaps the 'heaviest' poem in the chapbook, precisely because it masterfully employs Abreu's technique of strained emotion. Indeed, "transcription of a story my nepali friend told me" is one of the finer examples of Abreu's emotionless-esque method. Abreu's masterful employment of this technique is achieved, in part, due to the nature of the poem, the format in which it exists; namely, it presents itself as a transcription, a translation, which, as anyone who has used internet-based translators knows, tend to suck emotions from the statements being translated. In this regard, "transcription of a story my nepali friend told me" is doubleplus emotionless and, thus, is the most powerful poem in the chapbook, for it forces, as described above, the emotions to present themselves, not in the lines or words, but in the consciousness of the reader, fully formed and consequential. The reader must infer the emotions of the persons on the bus in this poem, since these emotions are not at all present in the telling of the story or within the poem itself. Thus, it is the reader's inference that forces the emotions to come forth, not abstractly with names, but wholly as mental complexities and physical feelings.

As noted, this sort of technique is not new. Far from it: a conventional "hallmark" of "alt lit"/internet-based literature is the reduction of (or an attempt at reducing) the emotions expressed in the poems or stories that have been steadily coming out of these cultures. A common question is, "What is 'Alt Lit'?" Well, a good way to find the answer to such a question is to compile a list of the genre's conventions or typical stand-out points, and the reduction of expressed emotion is one prime example of this culture's conventions. The reduction of emotions has been an established tell-tale "hallmark" of the genre since the early days of Tao Lin's popularity, but, as mentioned above, Abreu's poetry in "Megaphone Heart" has mastered this conventional technique. The poems of this SLAM DANCE XXXX chapbook have meaningfully snuffed out the feelings from the words and lines and, in so doing, Abreu has forced the reader to experience the emotions withheld from the personae(s).

Another of the chapbook's more powerful poems is "these are the tabs that are open in my head." Like "transcription of a story my nepali friend told me," this poem ceaselessly and matter-of-factly states various of the personae's memories, including the aforementioned quoted lines dealing with anorexia. Other topics in "these are the tabs that are open in my head" include murder, suicide, child abuse, cancer, alienation, drug use, police brutality, the awareness of racial differences, racism, belief systems, etc. But the magic Abreu has performed to make this poem so powerful is to actively, and successfully, withhold emotions. Like an objective video recorder, the poem shows these events without passing judgments; it is therefore upon the reader's shoulders to fill in the emotional blanks. As one 'heavy' event is paraded before the reader after another, without pause and without holding back, emotions rapidly descend upon the reader so strongly as to make one almost physically nauseated. By the poem's end, one nearly needs to come up for air.

Conversely, "my philosophy of love" does include statements of expressed emotion, but by way of the fact that the latter half of the poem is comprised of dialogue. Interestingly apart from, or perhaps in part because of, this fact, this poem is a bit humorous, though one still empathizes with and/or pities the young seventh-grader. The situation described, however, is like the most awkward scene in a film that derives its humor from awkward situational comedy. But it is the stated feelings during the dialogue, the abundant confusion, and the irony invoked throughout the situation described that injects pathos through the poem and into the reader's intellect. The irony is that the person on the phone, claiming to be a girl the seventh-grader knows, states they are embarrassed about expressing their love for the seventh-grader while the seventh-grader is, quite literally, in a physically embarrassing situation: bare-assed, shit-smeared, and half-naked in the presence of "my mom." Despite being somewhat like the opposite of the two previously discussed poems, "my philosophy of love" still causes the reader to feel, rather than read about, the emotions conveyed.

The poems in Manuel Arturo Abreu's "Megaphone Heart" makes one feel, but not in the way any good poem ought to make one feel; indeed, these poems force the reader to feel the emotions purposefully withheld from the personae(s) and the words/lines themselves. In addition to wielding this lowkey technique masterfully, Abreu covers interesting territory in both content and style. For example, "one poem" deals with meditation and possibly the most boring pornography ever committed to tape, thus acting as a commentary of the West's voyeuristic attitudes toward the East, while "exercise in perspective shift or whatever" divides a poem akin to a semicolon's functionality. Or, succinctly, Abreu's "Megaphone Heart" delivers: thematically, stylistically, and emotionally, shadowboxer-style. While the dedicated web-surfer could probably find these poems scattered through the internet, I assert the best way to take in these poems completely and wholly is to visit SLAM DANCE XXXX for a physical copy. Truly, Abreu's "Megaphone Heart" in a beautifully physical, analog format is a must in any chapbook collection.