Author, musician and Los Angeles escape artist from Morongo Valley in California's High Desert. Singer-songwriter of seven-piece punk Wall of Sound group Jail Weddings. Author of Virgins In Reverse & The Intrusion (Traveling Shoes Press)
(The following was written in 2016, originally slated to appear in Zara Kand's anthology on The Creative Process, a project since abandoned until further notice)
PRIDE OF THE COG
A Field Guide For Creatives To Outwit Their Day Job By Gabriel Hart
I am often
asked, by those who don’t seem to
harbor any artistic cell in their bodies, about my artistic process; how exactly
the path is tread from a mere thought or idea to the finished “product” (and a
question I often ask myself is, what’s wrong with it merely remaining a thought or an idea? Why corrupt its
innocence by poking and prodding at it all?).
The inquiry irks me every time, and
I fire back with the paranoid arrogance of a criminal trying to frame a
bystander through blatant (AKA sadly transparent) manipulation:
“ WELL, if
you have to ask, then you don’t deserve to know, as you obviously don’t have a
creative bone in your body.Why should I
tell you, if you’re just going to ape my steer in order to cheat your way through
a life where you clearly shouldn’t quit your dead-end day job!?!?”
I am humbly
reminded far too late, that this person is actually my co-worker and I am also
working at ourdead-end day job.
So, what is
exactly wrong with that - an artist being “forced” to work among the unwashed,
where we were once so proud to claim origin?
would we expect, Entitlement?
would we want, Privilege?
When must this
authenticity cease in order to become
successful? The initial inspiration for
your life’s work was thisbackdrop, and if you’re expecting the
rest of us to continue to relate to your output, it should continue to include this backdrop – which should encompass the
nagging theft of your true calling, the bone-crushing weight of society’s
expectations. Let us call this classist environment “The Ever-Looming Extortion
of Your Soul” and let us dissect an example of its inherent divinity.
You wake up
every morning with the oozing abyss of your deepest, most fertile subconscious still
swirling in your head. You feel that anything is possible, that anything can
and will happen. You may even cherry-pick your nightmares for ingredients to appear
in your next creation, ecstatic to be reminded that your unique brain was
responsible for such concrete tangibility, when it was finally allowed to rest.
You pay tribute to this phenomenon by writing it down, or if it was piercing
enough, it tore a part of your mind down where it now excitedly tries to lay
dormant until your next direction.
just one problem: The rising rays of your life’s work is about to compete with
the growing shadows of your day’s work. It is here where you are a character in
someone else’s play, in which you must repeat the same lines over and over
again and interact with hundreds, sometimes thousands of other people who’s
main objective seems to be making you forget everything great you had planned.
to work reluctantly, still piecing together the disembodied serpent of your interlacing genius, when suddenly, somebody
has the nerve to ask you simple directions to the peanut butter and you nearly
meltdown, as you were in the middle of a
serious emergency that existed solely in your own head!
we forget the importance of ourselves as cogs in a larger, only seemingly un-artistic machine. It should
be considered a symptom of artistic integrity to know how to adapt to poetic discomfort rather than
entertain the delusion of a complete removal from it.
Who do we
really think we are when we insist that we are too good for the mundane? Let us
not forget the vitality of living amongst the doldrums with our brothers and
sisters. By giving our fellow-man even a sliver of arrogance when he is merely
trying to eat and get out of your sight, perhaps even trying to get back to his life’s work, we have slowed down
his process as well as our own, our frequencies scrambled due to our lack of
confidence and organization, unable to properly file away our still-fermenting
creative flood. This is of utter importance to hone, as we know good and well something
even more mind-shattering is likely to come our way, where we must not only be
on guard, but with a low-heat on our backburners.
we burn it all down.
That said, let
us ask ourselves; where is the accountability of our little precious melting
snowflake of a thought or idea? What fucking good was it when it did not
possess the spine to withstand a lady asking you what she is supposed to do
with spaghetti sauce?
Let us look
at the dead-end job: not as a sieve where we lose ideas, but as a filter where
only the most refined bits of our creativity shall pass into being. The
repetition, chaos, idiocy, and oppressive nature of this environment shall merely
tighten the crosshatch of this strainer,
challenging the integrity of each concept.
thoughts are not necessarily gospel just because we are the ones that thought
them. More often than not, it is advantageous to get rid of any evidence that
it actually came from you.
This is where our second mind comes in, the artist’s brain in its purist form. In the scenario of the
automaton task, the hopeless grinding of doing something against one’s
instinct. Our body occupied, our mind will then wander out of protest - a
convulsing, squirming escape as it floats to more divine heights. As our brain
focuses on, say, bagging groceries for the consumer, our second mind should, in
theory, get right back to our life’s work. If we are true artists, we should be
no strangers to this form of dissociation, knowing we must spend the rest of
our day perfecting a balance between these hemispheres.
99.9% of us
adore and look up to Nick Cave. But Cave revealed his artistic process that seemed to reek of fallacy, when he audaciously boasted that he “clocks in” to work every day to his
“office” for eight hours where he sits at his typewriter or piano and sees what
comes out of him, uninterrupted. Not to assume Cave doesn’t have a horde of
personal demons and self-doubt keeping his output a consistent challenge, but
even that concept seems a luxury when you subtract the everyday hierarches,
economical struggles, and social quicksand that keep the rest of us from fully realizing
our creative work. There is no doubt that he has earned this luxury on a
hard-road lasting decades long, but I lost a sizeable sliver of respect for the
man who thinks that he is “just like us” just because he has some self-induced
discipline, re-appropriating proletariat terms like “clocking in” and “office.”
But we have
I’m talking to you. Where are the flat taco shells?!? This is the third time
I’ve asked you where the flat taco shells are and you seem to just be ignoring
me! Where’s your manager?”
of potentially getting fired is a more than a reasonable motivator to leave our
musings on the shelf for a second.
sorry, Miss. Is it tortillas you’re looking for?
not sure what THAT is! Do I look like I speak Spanish?”
course not, M’am…In fact, you look as pasty white as these tortillas right
you! SEE, WHAT DID I SAY - FLAT TACO SHELLS!!!”
It is a
hard-boiled battlefield out there for the working class artist. So much so, that
at times it feels like you should not only retreat, but refrain from existing
in it altogether. But it is this friction – the grinding of a situation that
essentially should not be that
naturally causes the spark of the transmundane
where we reach beyond the confines of the physical world. The more guts we have to be present in the mundane, the more strength/focus we'll have to be present in the transmundane. Or how another TM (Transcendental Meditation)refers to it - The Unified Field, where all ideas are born.
no-brainer to say “write everything down” but let us go beyond documenting not
just your own thoughts and ideas, but also utilizing the absurd hurdles that
get in our way – thus re-appropriating your opposing forces. Many consider this
to be the most simple form of practical magic - not only is this the obvious
first step of turning your miasmic imagination into tangible reality, but it
also a way of gaining control over its antithesis.
words, whistle while you work! Whether you be one of the Seven Dwarves or one
in Seven Slaves - if it was all worth a damn, you will have an interesting
puzzle to subpoena your subconscious with when you arrive back home that
as you open your own front door, you are greeted by your partner, who may have
forgotten to say hello, as they hold in front of you a long list of chores that
need tending to, immediately.
Last month I had the pleasure of joining fellow desert authors Susan, Jon, and Jean-Paul to dissect literary genres for The National Endowment For The Arts "Big Read" event at Space Cowboy Books in Joshua Tree. It was meditative, opinionated and even hilarious at parts, and I think we all walked away seeing certain genres we thought we had pinned in a slightly broader way. You can hear it in its entiretyhere. "The Big Read" oversaw a month's worth of events focusing on Emily St. John Mandel's brilliant dystopian-fiction best-seller, "Station Eleven." Since there had been a lot of opposing viewpoints pertaining to what genre it fell into, we included it in our discussion - praising it as well as picking it apart, while challenging our own definitions of literary genre.
(L-R: Jean-Paul Garnier, Gabriel Hart, Susan Rukeyser, Jon Christopher) Photo by Mia Torres.
of a writer’s life is spent navigating rejection. The good news, at least for
myself, is that the more I am rejected, the easier it gets. They cross you off
the list for that particular piece, and you cross them off. There is nothing
personal when you both need to keep the wheels turning, the arteries flowing
unobstructed by foreign matter.
occasionally there’s going to be a clear outrage, where a writer feels so
misunderstood by one gatekeeper's reductionist opinion, that it sends the writer
screaming into the stratosphere.
proper solicitation from the editor, my twin novel Virgins In Reverse/The Intrusion was recently rejected by a major L.A.
literary institution, on account of how the assigned reviewer “balked” at the
way women were depicted in the book. To be fair, it was the most personable,
kindest rejection letter I have ever received – to the point that I felt a genuine empathy for the editor, as it seemed they found themselves up against a wall –
and I could only imagine the kind of pressure they were under in our current
climate, where we are trying to break stereotypes of females in the media - something
I am in large support of, in spite of these alleged transgressions.
If I was going to apologize for my book, I would
say that I probably wouldn’t write the same book now at age 42, that a majority
of the novel was written nearly ten years ago, by a previous version of myself
who may have been blindly machete-ing his way through life, who may have
read/watched one too many noir books/flicks to the point where he was not just
writing but actually living that way,
that a lot of the book was based on my fledgling worldview that required
scapegoats to make sense of it all, that I loved women so much back then that I
briefly forged a double-life of cross-dressing in clumsy tribute to the fairer
species, that I loved women so much I never saw them as meek and submissive but
as in-tandem, intrinsic and powerful presences that could potentially fuck a
man up so good that it was always a wonder to me why gender equality was still
even an issue, forgetting to consider anyone who didn’t live as hard and ravenous
as my co-ed inner circle.
But I will never apologize for my book. How could
I, when you consider the universe I created in Virgins In Reverse/The Intrusion, where every single character, man and woman, is guilty?
player in the book is debased, overzealous, paranoid, self-centered,
self-loathing, weak, nihilistic, hypocritical, delusional, insensitive, overly-sensitive,
violent, and finally murderous but most of all: imagine this - exaggerated for
narrative’s sake! For better or worse, it is these qualities, more than any
kind of unattainable fairytale attributes, that I see as an overlapping common
ground for both men and women who have let themselves go and hold no
accountability for themselves – which is just one facet of what I feel is the
book’s unsavory deliciousness.
uninitiated: The protagonist in both stories is the debauched twenty-nine year
old Caleb, who finds himself in the throes of runaway train obsession with a
woman named Cecilia. They both work at L.A.’s Silent Movie Theater, and the
theater quickly becomes its own character as their own Church of Forbidden Love
(we won’t mention the unnerving addendum that in real life, this theater became
another ground zero for the swell of the Me Too movement in summer of 2017,
when its owners were exposed for their vast, systematic sexual harassment
conspiracy, even though it’s an important one it its own right and you can refresh yourself here). One of the
themes of Virgins is romance, and
what comes with romance is the eventual rude awakening that everything is not
how it seems, as when we romanticize a relationship, we are idealizing the
other, glossing over mutual character defects that may eventually lead to the
attempt to settle down before they really get to know each other, both Caleb
and Cecilia meltdown, becoming exaggerated versions of themselves in an effort
to uphold their own identities – Cecilia as the controlling vixen succubus who
assumes the spirit insect of the gorgeous but deadly Emerald Wasp, and Caleb as
the unkempt fiend, the drunken buffoon who takes the form of Cockroach.
the author of the book is a male and is told from a first person male
perspective, you are not necessarily expected to sympathize with him throughout
the story. In fact, the reader is tricked – at first you may be charmed by his
trajectory, but as the layers of Caleb are peeled back, you realize he is a
deplorable human that you are unfortunately, stiflingly stuck with until the
unveiling – this horrible yet relatable
depiction of man - grows even darker once The Intrusion begins, as Caleb has
lost all control of himself. With further disregard to take accountability for
his actions, Caleb has convinced himself he is in fact, possessed by an evil
spirit that is making him do all sorts of horrific things.
left a lot of grey area and voids to be filled by the reader’s own imagination,
so it may take on a life of its own inside the readers mind. I like the idea of
the reader taking ownership of how they interpret the book, to give it a
personal branding with which they can empathize. There are some that think
through his obsession with her, Caleb is possessed by Cecilia, or by the spirit
of a queen bitch Kali-esque entity. I like to see it as this: Caleb IS the evil
spirit, the way someone can haunt their own house while they are still living.
The living, breathing embodiment of bad vibes, man.
But make no
mistake here - by the time the book ends, the reader should have equal disdain
and sympathy/empathy for both Caleb and Cecilia, as well as the common degraded
tendencies of both women and men, as the roles of who is guilty and who is
innocent (that is, if you insist that
there always has to be those kind of reductionist terms in your adorable,
fragile mind) flip-flop so many times that one can only deduce that the only
truth worth arguing in favor of: that we are a conflicted species at constant
war with ourselves and others, no matter what kind of genitalia we have been
cursed with. And as long as the sun does shine, we are always led to reckon that
we are unable to run from our respective shadow selves.
Virgins In Reverse/The Intrusion is
without question, a nasty book for nasty men and nasty women alike. That is, if
the reader has the guts and compassion to see a little bit of someone they’ve
known in the characters, if not their own damned selves. And if not – I applaud
your good fortune, if you were lucky enough to live such a safe, antiseptic
life that these phases of growing up come across so appalling that you may
let’s discuss class issues for a moment. For Cecilia and the other major female,
Amber, the two women are maligned not because they are female, but because they
are grim examples of the extent of “how far can too far go?” that is largely
dictated by the opposite sides of the tracks they find themselves on. Cecilia
is the calculated, overly-confident rich kid who you get the feeling has never
heard the word “no” before, armed with the assumption that “everything is
negotiable” by money or manipulation. Then there’s Amber (who only shows up for
a couple pages but is an important spike in the narrative), who barely skims by
in a junkie flophouse off of Vine. She is desperate, scattershot with her
emotions, and has allowed her abysmal environment to sculpt her for worse,
scrambling for self-confidence as she grasps at straws to make Caleb stay with
her, in spite of it being a toxic, empty union.
maintain it is a work of fiction, most of these characters are based on people
I have known – true characters in my colorful yet misguided time in Los Angeles
where my depraved instincts could only attract comrades and lovers of a similar
ilk. Still, these are depictions – again, exaggerations - of not just a type of
person, but what we can only hope is merely one phase of a person. To take these creative snapshots out of context,
that are imperative to the arch of this twisted morality tale, then condemn the
author on the grounds that he is somehow dragging a whole gender through the
mud merely from a momentary facsimile – I believe you are actually doing a
disservice to a large element of feminism – that a woman can be whoever she wants
to be, and if it is somehow unattractive to society’s cruel, imbalanced standards,
well, consider the corrupt source from which we come.
While it is
paramount to empower the female, it is also unfair to women to insist that all
depictions of a woman can only be one of the empowered woman. To disregard all the inherently human moments of
temporary weakness, of abandoned hope, of bottled-up rage, of using the best
intuitions you have been dealt to merely survive; is to balk from a
counter-intuitive soapbox of privilege, where you are actively ignoring the struggle aspect of a woman’s plight. Of
a human’s plight. Much like the men, the women I have portrayed in Virgins In Reverse/The Intrusion have lost their fucking shit. But like some
of our sisters in real life, who didn’t have the luxury of an understanding
family, an empathetic lover, in a culture that often systematically encourages
their mistreatment, they have every right to.
While I began writing songs when I was thirteen, I never wrote poetry as a kid - largely due to spending most of my life assuming that songs and poems were one and the same. But after the atrocious event of Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016, I was infuriated, considering of all the relevant contemporary novelists that could have won the specific award. Bob is a musical icon, sure. But as far as actual literature goes, Dylan had only written the jibberish of "Tarantula" in 1971, before his more recent memoirs. And here the Swedes were now claiming that songs were literature? As both lyricist and novelist, I scream at the top of my lungs that this is simply not true.
Songs, as great as they can be, are essentially what I prefer to call "ego-jingles," a frontman/woman's beating of chest whose sole purpose, like it or not, is to reduce itself into a commodity to sell albums for a label or beer at the club. Songs, when written well, or rather, if there is enough money behind your "team," are lavished with praise and press, to help sell ads in print magazines, online sites, and if you're really lucky, to help a car commercial appear more in touch with the today's vague zeitgeist.
Poems, on the other hand, are the lonely, thankless road - even if the poetry is "amazing." Poetry is the true emergency, the personal means to end, the cry for help, the declaration of independence, the the scream in the forest that makes no sound, meant to be savored either in lightning strike moment of the poet's live reading or the brief repose from their book.
Poetry has been flowing from me now more than ever, largely due to the solitude and allowance of refection in the desert. Big ups to Rich Soos at Cholla Needles for the opportunity, over and over. In this month's issue, I have four: "Late Bloomer With A Love Supreme," "Paper Cuts," "Deep Root Delusion," and my favorite, "Heat" (pictured below).
"Through The Raven's Eyes" contains a psychedelic theory of human existence that I have been entertaining for some time now - sort of an updated, more nightmarish version of the whole "what if our solar system were just an atom on a giant's hand?" trope. I often relate a lot of human behavior to cellular level mechanics, especially after getting my mind blown by Howard Bloom's The Lucifer Principle in my late twenties. Come to think of it, one of my favorite songs around that time was Anita Lane's The World's A Girl, and I think it would make quite a fitting accompaniment to the story in another format.
Our favorite antichrist Jack Parsons makes an appearance (in theory) but I promise it's bereft of the usual fanboy worship that we usually fall victim to.
Thanks to Jean-Paul Garnier and Zara Kand to helping with the cast reading, and to Oneirothropter for the soundtrack.
At 170 pages, it is comprised of "twin" novellas. Two deceptive morality tales - think Day of The Locusts/Miss Lonelyhearts- only these stories repellingly intertwine. The stories are not sequel/pre-quel or in anyway traditionally linear, but third mind guided through phantasmagorical noir scenarios after the sidewalk of the narrative's "speculative memoir" runs out of historical accuracy. Memory is such a deceiving thing, after all.
I spent nearly ten years on this book. From its naive inception, to its mind-numbing bureaucratic hostage, the false-starts and stops, the constant art imitating life parallels that still shock me to this day, to its return to my hands and a great humble and hungry publisher behind me. With its reception thus far, I am now thankful it took as long as it did - it would seem regretful if it came out anytime before now, to run the risk of it being anything less. If it was a crap book, I believe it would have merely evaporated in all the chaos - especially considering how many brilliant people I have to thank who lent their eyes and opinions.
The great Tav Falco really makes it shine with his initiation foreword, adding a whole other layer of intrigue to the book. He made connections between the two stories I would have never even dreamt of, and the way he writes is so vital, uncanny, and otherworldly that I couldn't have imagined anyone else more fitting to come to my rescue at a precarious time where the book was in absolute limbo. For someone I admire as much as Tav, I was grateful he took such a leap of faith with this.
Again, enormous gratitude toJon Christopher and Tania from Traveling Shoes, who really rescued the book and are wholly responsible for making it available to us today. I am excited to grow with a new publisher in real time and look forward to our time together. Jon also designed the cover and executed it not only how I imagined, but in the end better than I could have thought.
And to Jean-Paul Garnier, my hawk-eye editor who spent more time with the book than anyone besides myself. He also uncovered great synapses in the plot that made it sparkle when I was so burnt out and disillusioned that all the words were beginning to look like Hieroglyphics.
While there is a proper acknowledgments page at the end of the book, I would like to end this by giving a special shout out to all those who didn't make it in there on account of timing, who helped with the proofs, last minute look-sees, and blurbs to give the book further grease: Rich Soos, John Tottenham, Rachael Polokoff, Seth Miller, Niki Pretti... thank you. If I forgot anyone, blame my brain and not my heart and please let me know.