Thursday, December 31, 2009

Futures 2010

Written on Wednesday, December 31st, 2008. What I believed I would say in December 2009:

"...If love came, I wasn't fooled again. I didn't go searching for it; it only came to me, and in whatever form I took. What was most important was the love I could find in revisiting old friendships...and with any hope, one in particular has ideally and finally arrived at the place I've always wanted it to be. With any further hope (and likely a lot of luck had something to do with it, too) there was at last a place I reached with my father, and most importantly with my mother.
I have come to be comfortable with where I stand about God. My choice to either stay or leave the LDS church was not coercion or performance. I made my choice based on what I want most and what I need most. I didn't come to some kind of all-encompassing, self-righteous enlightenment. I only reached a point where the questions were no longer so pressing, or so urgent. I'm satisfied with what I found, even if I still haven't found what I'm looking for."


Friday, December 31st, 2010:
What. A year.

I'm so close to finishing my major. I might need to take a few classes in the spring, but after that, it's basically in the bag. Math class was both easier and harder than I thought it'd be. My graduation present to me is a vacation. Ticket to anywhere, Japan maybe. "I never really gave up on / Breaking out of this two-star town." I can almost taste it.

I finally got eating right. Raw foods - what a novel concept. If I'd known it would've felt this good, I might've started earlier than this year. Investing in a vegetable juicer instead of buying chicken strips at the cafeteria...what an idea. It was a rocky start, and I probably still have a bit to go before I can give up fish - to be gay is to love sushi, after all. But once I got over the cheese hamburger crave, it was surprisingly easy to get used to.

Finally, a screenplay. With luck, a couple. With more luck, a film. Whoda thought. I think that all the stories I've kept inside since I was young are gonna finally get the chance to be shared, now that I'm getting my ass off the proverbial couch. Speaking of's so nice to have gone a solid year with no TV.

Got in touch with my feminine side and woke up all those sleeping princesses I grew up loving and even dressing up. "Lady Matilda"...Don't know where to go with it, but dressing in drag is not nearly the scary, vain and bizarre thing I always thought it was. It was actually a lot of fun. I don't know if I'll ever tell my mother, though.

Love came, as it usually seems to, in the summertime. But this time was different because, this time, I refused to settle. What growth came of that relationship matters only in that I learned more about myself and whether or not I'll ever find "The One" - any futures for that relationship are either already determined, and were from the start, or they've have already twilighted away and it was just another sunny experiment. And that's okay.

So many of the things I've always wanted to happen for me...actually did happen this year. Finally saw U2, finally went to the Festival of Colors, finally learned a song on a twelve-string guitar, finally finished East of Eden. (And I'll be damned if I didn't whittle down at least a couple of pages of the rest of my reading list.) And I can say all of that in Spanish and Japanese. But this year had so many challenges. It was difficult to make choices about my past, even though I've been anticipating it for so long. I don't know what can be said about those I've known the longest in the Mormon Church. I'm sure that I've offended some, and I know that in one particular case, I may never be able to see or talk to him again.

But at least I've done everything within my power to let those who care and were concerned that this was the only way. I couldn't figure out my spirituality by investigating Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, etc. without also giving scientology, astrology, magick and all manner of paganism a fair chance as well. (At least I can finally read someone's cards.) But none of that would have meant much if I hadn't also, with equal measure and all the full furvor of my teenage years with Talmage, Nibly and C.S. Lewis at the bedside, studied out atheism. I've been exposed to it for the past few years, but at no other time in my life did I really read and reason with it as this year. And what a learning experience.

I know I'm all over the map. (My poor mother.) But this is the way it had to be. And the reasons are rooted in the mere existence of my creative voice - a voice I'm still trying to find and control: my identity is constantly shifting. I'm here one day, then the next day I'm completely gone. I don't know who I am, and I never have. It may be another while, maybe even years, before I can know. But I might never discover who I am or where I came from, and this has always been my struggle. I was called "Paradox Kid" in junior high. But this year, I finally broke through the shapelessness of myself by coming to an understanding with how my memory works to influence my personality, and how I can create something out of that ocean always inside me. Hard work, but I can confidently say I got somewhere.

And there's still so much more work to be done. More places to go and things to do and people to see. I have to continue to find how my voice works, and what I can do. So bring it on, 2011. Matthew A. Jonassaint never knew so little, or looked so good.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

2009: Year That God Forgot Me

New Years Day 2010...

At 12:01 AM, exactly one year ago, I remember I was standing on the edge of Arthur's Court - the neighborhood I grew up in. All the three story houses glowed with Christmas lights brightening up their grand backyards and driveways to accommodate boats and suburbans. The city mayor lives two houses away, and just behind us an orthodontist who owns two German shepherds and was the first in our neighborhood to have a plasma screen TV. A bit to the left is a director at NuSkin and a few doors down from there is the owner of a Zion's National Bank. His wife owns a classy dance studio in the basement. If you go further down the street, you'll find a Marine family, a BYU professor family, and a chiropractor family. A fenced up majestic world, carved from pristine whiteness and heft of landscape, winding lovely in righteous twirls, made of houses and covered with ice.

A year ago, I stood standing at the edge and mused to myself aloud that I'd be standing here again in 2010 wishing that 2009 had never happened. Just a feeling. Likely brought on by a decade's worth of college cynicism and all-around broken national faith in the future. I guessed that I'd look back on 2009 wondering if it was a year I could have skipped.

At the time, there was little sign of what 2009 would bring. Admittedly, I was still angry and scared at what my breakup with my first boyfriend might mean, with all its deconstructions and devaluing of everything I was raised to believe I was not capable of ever having, or feeling. My only job was to act out what was assigned to me. There was an agenda to follow, after all. But then along came a redhead in a pickup truck, who could play the cello and give you such a kiss, and he denied me - my friendship or my past with him - for a better but dying man, ex-Army and hiding in the mountains. And all those hand-me-down ideas about everything had to change.

So 2009 didn't look like a recovery period or a time to resort priorities. It looked like a Nothing. But I hoped things would turn up. I sensed change coming. And as I was accustomed to, I believed this change would come about from some temple castle glowing in mountainous dark night, or a promise at the end of "that" small blue book, or a lonely faithful moment on my knees at my bedside. Or maybe Erik would come back and make everything right again. Or maybe nothing would happen at all. But I couldn't have guessed it would actually be a long, timeless and spaceless chain of the weirdest and worst times of my life.

I never knew I'd find myself little more than a month later on the floor of a bar, convulsing after that "one more" menthol American Spirit. Propelling curses and reckless shame at a ruined castle keep, a snowing sky and invisible God. Racing down the highway in too much black pain to think about anything except the week-old memory of a friend coming home from the streets of New York, with his honor folded neatly for everyday wear. Even after swearing then to abandon the bottle, months later I'd be back on the floor, vomiting, shivering, shirtless. In a personal place without emotion, without beauty, and without time. And cradled on that damn floor by people who really shouldn't care about me.

A penthouse apartment, an abandoned field outside of town. Secrets, and even more secrets. A dark blue hotel room, a Wisconsin bathroom. She takes a long drag on her cigarette, looks at me, and says with a cackling laugh, "You look a bit overwhelmed!" As the banker turns me away, I mutter, "I guess I won't get that ticket to New Orleans." There are sounds of vomiting from my bathroom and now he's begging me to see his boyfriend, but he can't stop laughing so much. She's telling me in a rowdy campus hallway that prostitution is now the only way she'll make it through school. There's a sickly old voice with gray whiskers around the mouth and jeans stiffened by dirt, telling me to get out of the car and keep quiet, so as to not wake neighbors. "Matthew," she says, her voice glassy and strained, "Brother Pratt's been arrested. For raping a girl." I hear furious yells through the walls and the Guinness to get me off the floor and the hell out the door. The surging crowd lifts the girl above swaying heads to latex glove hands, and the medics carry her away strapped to a board as mud splashes and the band plays on.

The train rushes by and I feel walls around me tremble. A mysterious alien thing too tiny to see has come from nowhere, invaded my throat and wrapped my body in so much continual pain that I'm prevented from even whispering. He puts his hand on the cool steel of his gun as he reassures me he knows the gospel of Christ as taught by Joseph Smith is true, but can't say the same about the Mormons. There's a firetruck outside flashing all my living room in blacks and reds with a pulse. She only lets herself look at the Kansas City photo for one moment before gently closing the drawer, and no one ever sees it again. "You're such a good cuddler," says boy with a body he stole away from Greek gods, and I taste his salty-sweet tongue on my side of the bed. I'm sinking into a chair and feeling the uncountable elephants in the room when the boy in the bandana has finally had it up to here with curiosity and yells at my face with a weird smile, "DUDE, are you FUCKING HIGH YET?" The midnight sky is scarred for one blinking moment as a ball of fire strings to a hot white light and falls down, down to the western horizon. She can't look at me, only at the ceiling, and she says, "A lot of people are about to die."

I still don't know how I got a straight divorced man to make out with me in the lobby of a Hilton. I've been dragging so much secrecy, guilt, loneliness and anger inside of me that finally when on Halloween I watched a David Bowie get handcuffed and led away, after both of us had been turned away from a house of God to hands of the law, something inside me finally snapped. Cave paintings, comic books or stained glass windows? Birthday parties, pride parades, church sermons and elections...or masks, makeup, theatrics and temptations...what's the difference. Small wonder that when a gay guy comes along weeks later claiming to have visions and revelations from God about my life, I don't believe him.

Go to hell, Everything. You have confused the mother living fuck out of me.

But then something happened in Neverland. About a week ago, after days of not eating or sleeping, I finally collapsed on my bed...but I actually went somewhere. I could see the beginning of things, and I could see myself in the middle of some eternally marching time machine, with a million plans and every possible kind of lie. And I saw how it could end, everything - the big capital End of everything.

I can't explain it. And I can't talk about it, not yet, anyway. But I'm wondering if this year is closing on more than just a decade of my life. I wonder if it's closing on an entire era of existence, an entire way of life.

A boy lives in the house at the very very limit of Arthur's Court, where the large fence meets the city streets. He moved from Riverside, California when a great friend of mine had to move away. Riverside moved into his old house. We became very close, and maybe too fast. He was someone I loved more than my own life. But this world tells us that love can very rarely be nonsexual if it's with someone we're not related to. And this world tells us that if it is a feeling towards someone the same gender as you, it's either love, sexually, or it's lunatic crime and sin. So with religious fervor, I pulled that old sleight of hand, and I fell in love with a beautiful, strong, handsome and virtuous idea of him, of who he could be for me. But Riverside didn't have enough strength to keep up with my little magic trick. In a few days now, he'll leave on his LDS mission to jungles below the equator. And without knowing it, he'll take a lot of my old and dying intangibilities with him. A door is closing.

When I was a sophomore in high school, the stage technicians and actors used to call me Moses, because I was in charge of opening and closing the giant red curtain, and in order to do it I had to use a wooden two by four on this old machine. I remember watching, memorizing every blinking instant of the final moments in each scene, and how every time it never plays out quite the same way. It's the same words, the same clothes and the same boys and girls on a very wide and black stage, and out in the outside blackness is an ogling audience. The moments are composed of musical notes and chapping paint and makeup powders, always the same because of practice, always different because of time.

And just before time and audience can pin it all down into some singled finality, I shut the curtain on everything, and the illusion can be preserved for me alone, behind the curtain, where everyone is frozen for that exact second before the abrupt rushing around to the next performing instant for the darkness. So I memorize the moment for tomorrow. And then it ends.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Wanted: The IKEA Couple

The PERFECT couple. They wear their relationship like war paint everywhere they go. Smiles are teethy and wide and just LOVELY. He keeps his hair gelled. She wears big crystal globe earrings and dresses in whites, pinks, and blues. Go as Jim and Pam from The Office for Halloween and give out copies of The Color Code for Christmas. Everybody, from corrupt politicians to the weekly weed hackers, is JUST SO NICE. Milk and sugar each other with theatrical politeness and traveling show affection everywhere they go. Speak in quiet secretive tones around each other and speak up, sometimes too loudly, when around others or in public - especially if they find something FUNNY. Everything is FUNNY. Love sharing food and feeding each other. Preface sentences with what he or she "said the other day" because it was just so SMART and WONDERFUL. "The world would be a better place if everyone was as HAPPY as we are," they advertise when they hold hands and walk in the middle of hallway, or kiss and giggle loudly afterward while in the library. They make the air claustrophobic with their billboard romance. They seek to be observed and objectified. PERFECT.

I too wish to be PERFECT. Let's have a threesome. Let's explore positions. It'll be GREAT.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wanted: The Sk8tr Boi

Has a fake gold watch. Wears name brand shoes without socks and a black baseball hat. His tan makes him comfortable and he is empowered by his smart haircut. He always looks impatient in class and fiddles with his pen; prone to doodling black and white geometrical shapes on paper or desk. His longboard is stickered in loud slogans and menacing symbols. His jeans are tight enough to wear him and his white Hanes sell his ass crack. Addresses females by attending to their gender ("Babe, baby, girl, little girl") and attributes status to males ("Brother, bro, dude, man, boss"). Doesn't like to cause a fuss, won't speak up unless watching an athletic event or bragging about last night's sexual exploits. Usually seen doing pathetic tricks outside the library or bumming a cigarette in the parking lot.

I need someone quiet and complicit to work for me. Do my homework for me, man. Bro, work my job for me. Dude, buy my groceries and weed my yard. Be my bitch, Sk8tr Boi.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

About "Polaris"

It's been a major pain, basically. But I finally have a new blog on WordPress, and you're welcome to check it out.

It'll probably get a different title at some point. Ideally, it'll be the place where I can blab about movies and put politicking rants, as well as randomness about my life in general. This blog will continue to be the vent for my creative shamblings and offerings and whatnot.

That's all.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Wanted: The Straight Guy Closet Case

A ruthless Trekkie. High attraction to nonwhite girls - even and especially if they have blue or green skin, use a golden staff, can fire a plasma blaster accurately and read your mind. Suffers from the unrequited love of pale and malnourished anime girls with pink hair, loosened ties, tiny skirts and whopping tits - but dislikes talking about actually "doing it" with women. His wrists and hands are the only muscles that receive exercise (due to rapid joystick movements late at night in front of the computer); he may look normal and fit when facing him, but when viewed from the side his surprise rotund belly makes him look like a Who. Typically quiet but will laugh loudly (if nervously) when the right Star Wars reference is made. Indecisive. Needs to roll a twenty-sided dice to choose what to eat, what to wear, and what to do with his meager paycheck. Walks like a dinosaur and has a sauce stain on his shirt. Often red in the face but not from yelling or exercise. Owns wooden samurai swords. Rarely leaves his house or apartment except for a Beto's run or to pick up the newest game on the Top Ten list. He wears his socks too high.

I'm looking for a model for my photoshoot. I will use incredible lighting and color. Photoshop will clear your blemishes and whiten your teeth. The photos will be posted in sororities and on the "women for men" section of Craigslist. Pay negotiable.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

"Sediment Strikes The Atlantic"

You, restless,
revealing delicate
dregs of stomach hairs - you stretch, and
my nervous
eyes steal a view.
Your morning
stubble doesn't give a damn.
Be dissident in my house. We can share
my bed.

Aeolian winds now, excitedly
static, touching tongues as they busy
past to carve crests and peaks
of mountains,
snowy, feeling guilty
of their own terrible beauty.
Glaciers grace
slow and - one day plume
mists of sand into
oceans, into sedimental memory.

When your lips are still
dampened with our pungent beers,
resume your stories. We
observe the parking from a
safe distance.
You are
pointing your anger at newspaper
headlines again.

bronzed and
dirty scatter
into place
when you come
closer. Then are you - bright
spots of headlights dashing
electric along ebony
veins of highway or
careful butter spread on Monday
morning toast or
choirs of infant laughter dispelling
in nurseries or Time settling

I asked
what histories you'd
spoken of to her
"He's so sad now,"
she said.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Transmissions From B.S.S.S. (Broken Shooting Star Satellites) During The Suicidal Hurl Towards Earth

Dear Heath: I only know now that you aren't my muse. You aren't my Superman. Now I know that you aren't my god or even the source of my inspiration. You are an inspiration to me nonetheless, though. So why am I crying out to you?

I'm crying out because you are nonetheless a mouthpiece for my muse. I do not travel by day, but under cover of the night. Therefore I must trust the guiding reflecting lights in the sky until I have prepared myself to face the more brilliant sun light. You're one of many pieces of a fragmented tale I am trying to remember. You are one of many things I copy and imitate in order to better learn how to birth and create. Until I can do it on my own. I won't, however, make the same mistake I usually do and mistake the model/example "thing" for the "thing-in-itself." Helpmeets are necessary supports until full flight is possible, right? Crutches are transitory instruments. There can be a virtue in a one-night-stand.

So I will give you more of my attention. I've arranged things with Turvy already; I'll take my time back because I create Turvy to kill him, and I kill him to create him. I will stop trying to force my creativity out of my memories and find my altered state of conscience in the current moment and seek the inspiration there. Because I am there. Am me. Am Turvy. Am the Flash, Am Superman. Am that lightning bolt epiphany, am that death and that life. I am you, Heath.

So I can't keep staking my hell in the past or my heaven in the future; all I have is now. All my life, I've been waiting - waiting on "that" moment, waiting for a Superman. Now, I'm gonna stop waiting. By this December, I want to have gotten farther away from the static and have found a few frequencies worth tuning into. In three months time, I'd like to be just a little more prepared and closer to the morning's light.

But if not you, then who is my muse?

I'm not sure right now, old friend. I guess we'll find out in just a moment.

Now here I go screaming wildly as I unclench my fists, open my eyes and relax for the impact.

To Turvy (the Elephant): A Speculation...

If I could wind down the clocks just a bit right before this fall semester starts so that I could have a chance to speak with you, this might be what I would say.

I suppose things don't seem all too different since the spring. I still write out my musings in the company of strangers who drag their American Spirits and their Marlboros, bitching about professors and bosses. I still improvise fragments of a blues tune in the shower when the roommates are out. I have a Pendelton whiskey in the freezer and a gradually emptying box of Lucky Strikes on my table. I check my mailbox even when I haven't ordered any cartel from Amazon to stick my fix. I measure out my indifference with myself and my life in Facebook sessions and regular size scalding cups of sweetened Americano.

These all are symptoms of my summer waste. The buzzing, the static. I spent more time in love with all the distractions and decorations my Visa could afford my boredom. It was a serious affair but things haven't worked out. You have been weighed and measured, Turvy, and I love you very much. But I have to kill you now.

It's the way. You know that by now. You are my time, and my time is a thread in Time when heard echoing down the hallway. My passage in this life lies between two doors to the dark, and I have sneaked a peek into both. I worry that I'm not there (where? There...), but I really am. I have been before. And I will be moments from now, too. I will be remembered. I will stain Time with myself, and you are going to help me. And for the very first time, I realize that I'll be remembered not because I fear being forgotten, but because I have the choice to be remembered - the choice to be alive. If only I can get my ass off this couch.

So you will be electrocuted. All I do is say the magic word, like Billy Batson must when calling for Captain Marvel, and there will be shock and lightning to turn me into something new. But the lightning must strike you. The moment of epiphany belongs to me but you must suffer for it. Even die for it. You may be my own, and my creation, but all stars have their moments before they burn out.

But in some places in this world where you've been, they do say that Shiva is your father. Others say you are the only son of our Father Abraham. You will be brought back to life during Death's immaculate dance. You will be saved by the hand of God at the very last second. I can only speculate that in some way or another, I will wake up tomorrow morning to find you in the room. I imagine that your face will be sad and that you will be smiling. And we will begin again, inseparable, until the very, very end.

I suspect so. I suspect so.

Monday, August 31, 2009


"All I know is that my mind is blown / When I'm with you...when I'm with you..."

Summer 2009: the summer that time forgot. Even now I try to remember the last three months and everything only comes in snatches. The checks bounced, the record player skipped. There was a power outage so brief you wouldn't have noticed except for that slight delay on all the clocks around the house. Absolutely nothing happened, and everything that did happen occurred all at once.

One way to describe it: "Static." is probably, in terms of consciousness expansion, a sequel of sorts to "Cottonfire" but it's a spiritual sequel to "Chain of Memories" (summer 2005) and a thematic sequel to "A Neverending Story" (summer 2006).

When you soundtrack three months of your life with the antic bubble gum camp of The Flaming Lips and the religiously feverish and blasé melancholy of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, you start to really play with notions of language and sound. Additionally, when you only read mythologies, creation stories from various religions and comic books and basically nothing else for a while, there's this weird sort of germination that occurs in your creativity.

I can't explain. One moment I remember a boy barely out of high school suddenly leaning in to kiss me in the passenger's seat with all the moxie in the world, and the next thing I remember is spasming on a bathroom floor, vomiting and being carried by strong hands. Next I see a fight with my mother over the phone, and then things seem to rewind (or fast forward) to girls from high school coming up to me in church thanking me for something I didn't really mean to write. I go backwards and then my sister is calling me, nearly in tears, over my boyhood hero and then forwards again to my boss telling me, "I'm sorry but I have to let you go." I hear bombastic and ridiculous guitar and a beer-bitter voice surrounded by choirs. I see red and blue streak across a sky and a thunderbolt striking my mailbox. I'm drinking Corona at a wedding, then I'm standing in pouring rain watching men dancing in cages while a drag queen raises above my head in a firetruck ladder. I'm sinking deep into the chair in my living room, then suddenly dancing like I've suddenly discovered for the first time that I have legs, awkwardly tripping and jumping all over the apartment. A slightly mentally disturbed man with a pony tail leans in to kiss me outside my door while on the other side I'm bringing the young man's head closer to mine. I'm sitting on a curb smoking my last Lucky Strike and then I'm taking a shot of whiskey to toast to my unemployment.

I just don't know what the hell happened.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

re: "COTTONFIRE" ...

It's important to realize that the phrase "existential crisis" doesn't really cover it. It's the closest term I have found to describe the experience; there was certainly a crisis and imminent, lethal peril was very real, as I was suicidal, and the resolution to the crisis can be described as an existential one. But ultimately I don't know that the term can accurately describe just what happened. But I'm here to state, for the first time, a coherent narrative of "Cottonfire," which (in my soundtracks and written entries) is the "title" attributed to my 2007 summer, from the first week of May to the last week of July.

The name isn't meant to be necessarily cryptic. To begin with, often when I was in the car or walking around during those months, I would see little tuffs of cotton seeds floating aimlessly around all over the city. Later, the cotton would somehow become associated with the Tree of Life in Aronofsky's The Fountain - and I think it was more of a connection to Clint Mansell's score; I'd listen to that haunting piano and the strings and somehow it'd match up with the dance of the cotton seeds. Additionally, the name alludes to the 2007 Milford Flat fire (called the biggest recorded fire in Utah history) and the PG fire (curious to me because of its simple ignition - a lawnmower blade striking a rock). On the day the firespreads overlapped the most - the former near Saratoga Springs and the latter on the foothills below Squaw Peak - there were two giant pillars of fire and smoke as the sun set, one pillar in the east near my house (at the mouth of Provo Canyon) and the other in the far west across the lake.

So the imagery has something of fragility to it, my awkward metaphor of life and death that describes, in one symbol, what happened to me two years ago when my life almost inexplicably changed - inexplicably precisely because I still can't figure out what started my own fires.

It was definitely a countdown built from a few different factors. Most specifically, I was taking an Ethics and Values class from an adjunct professor named Ethan Sproat. At the time, I was (almost) completely devoted to serving a mission for the LDS church. The class wasn't necessarily forcing me to drastically change my religious views, but reading Nietzsche was a big mindtrip for my Peter Priesthood attitudes. My British Literature class may have added something as well because we were beginning to dip into heavy modernism and postmodernism, so I was spending some time with Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett, T.S. Eliot and Salman Rushdie. In time, later that summer I read Dostoevsky's Notes From Underground and The Trial by Franz Kafka. So that was all forcing me to face some nihlistic (lack of a better word) concepts and concerns I'd spent most of my life being told I needn't worry about.

On another level, my music taste was radically changing (which may not sound relevant, but it was a huge deal). Up until that summer, I listening almost exclusively to Yellowcard, Hoobastank, Fall Out Boy, Dashboard Confessional, etc. But Spider-Man 3 was coming out, and so was the film's soundtrack - this will sound weird, but every time a Spider-Man movie has come out, my music tastes have changed to each soundtrack (after the first, I stuck mainly to mainstream alternative, like Nickelback, Creed, Evanescence and Sum 41). But after the soundtrack came out, I started listening to Wolfmother, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Killers, The Walkmen and Simon Dawes...and these "indie" rockers lead me to rock 'n roll roots; soon I was listening nearly every waking moment to Led Zeppelin, The Who, Fleetwood Mac, The Doors, Bob Dylan (it would take me until after I moved out to truly love him, though) and - eventually replacing Linkin Park as my favorite band - those Irish boys, U2. This 60's, 70's and 80's rock music somehow captured both the physical heat and the spiritual conflicted heat I was experiencing that summer. I watched the PG fire erupt on Squaw Peak as the sun set while listening to "Exit" from U2's seminal The Joshua Tree; the song sounds like a scene from Capote and describes the quietly violent story of...well, you can find out yourself here.

It's worth mentioning that I also spent most of the summer reading Homer's Iliad. In addition to the recent acceptance of R-rated movies into my house, my summer felt rather violent due in part to reading about the Trojan War for three months - however, the important thing is how by the end of the epic, my beliefs about human nature and concepts of love, divinity and destiny were drastically changed due to reading about Prince Hecktor and Achilles.

The escalation of problems in my family were a factor. Our family was struggling pretty badly financially and along with my sister I had to work the summer at Convergys, accompanied by my Kafka and Zeppelin, contributing most or all of my paycheck money to basic necessities like gas, food and even toilet paper. While I was privately nursing unsettling doubts and paranoia about the Church, my parents (my mother in particular) began taking a fairly negative position about early church history, particularly regarding Joseph Smith's little-known polygamous marriages and the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Soon almost each night our kitchen TV would be playing a fat red-haired man ranting anti-Mormon sentiments. I really through the whole thing that the Church was an uncrossable line for me, until one night my mom was watching the PBS documentary The Mormons and I saw the following clip:

That statement (I promise not taken out of context), taken for granted at the time, would echo very deeply in my mind for weeks as I struggled with my ultimate personal battle: my same-gender attractions. Because desirous as I was to serve a mission and "overcome" the attractions, I would still lie awake in bed at night pulling my hair out over the complete horror of the implications: did God really want me to be alone? Even if I eventually found a girl to marry, could I love her? And could I give her what she needed? Tales abounded of men I knew who were unhappy, even with children. A story of a man who could not arouse himself around his wife, and in her frustration she gave him permission to have a homosexual hookup, just because she hoped it'd make him happy. A story of a man who couldn't let down a decades-old porn addiction. Men who prey around on Craigslist asking for BYU RM's to come over when the wife's not home and fuck in their garments. Men who never told their wives prior to the honeymoon that female sexuality wasn't a turn on. Men whose (ultimately mislead) notions of masculinity and femininity seemed troubling to my 19-year-old mind. I couldn't continue clingling to my boyhood perspectives like security blankets.

The stories were everywhere, and none of them seemed to be what I wanted from the Church. The ultimate concern was not whether or not I could "overcome" the attractions, but whether or not I could live happily with myself and my choice long afterwards. And, as ever in the Church, we are talking about forever here.

In the face of that unadulterated uncertainty, that paranoia and doubt of having joy in this life, I was hearing on my left hand that the LDS gospel, the leaders and members were untrustworthy and on the other hand I was being told that I could never question. The years had taught me complicity; now, however, there was a strange shift and I was beginning to realize that I'd spent my life "settling" for what the Church was telling me. I became angry at the illogical façade of it all; reality seemed a joke. If I was "supposed" to end up with a woman, how did it make any sense that I couldn't be attracted to a woman? If there is a God, and He is loving - more to the point, a "perfect" God, and His command is a "natural" one, then how did it make any sense that a "homosexual" even exists? I felt like an anomaly, some hiccup in the Great Eternal Plan, and marriage was a holy recreation of Beckett's frightening endgame. And it felt sickening to literally be a freak of "nature" every minute of every day.

Given everything I was hearing on all sides, nothing made sense and I didn't feel like anyone understood me. I couldn't go to my parents (for reasons obvious and listed above) and my closest friends were either ignoring me because of my increasing depression or on missions across the globe. The lonlieness broke me, the countdown terminated and the culmination of these several factors, discernible and indiscernible, finally mounted to a rebellious - and perhaps even more illogical - conclusion: obviously, if I couldn't fix myself, then I simply had to kill myself. And soon.

It started slowly; I found a way to expose the blades on the cheap Bic razors we had in storage and I would sneak into the bathroom at night, turn on songs in reverse, and slowly draw. I only scratched at my wrists themselves, but soon there were very visible scars on my shoulders and legs. I rationalized that somehow I was bracing for the real pain, death itself.

So there was some elaborate planning. It would be at the end of the summer and it would be the most unexpected thing in the world. I had the entire morning of the day planned out. Friends and family would wake up to find notes and emails. I researched several methods before settling on one. There would be rope I could buy. And there was a bridge. The Provo River is sewn with a batch of footbridges all over and one of them would be my own end. I knew the knots. I would jump off the bridge and after my neck would snap, the rope's support would break away from the bridge and my body would fall into the river. I would wait until before sunrise to leave my house, head down to the river, and jump.

There wasn't much "talking myself into it" but there was more over the actual act of the choice itself. My problem was that while I was constantly thinking about suicide and planning for it, I couldn't be said to have been suicidal. My problem was that as desperate as I was to end my life, every time I came to the actual deed, it was like suddenly entering a vacuum in a wide and neverending desert, or climbing up walls. There was nothing to stop me, and yet something very clearly was stopping me. I don't know how to explain it. Every bone in my body wanted me to end it and I had every capability and opportunity to end it. But something, somehow, was in my way every single time. And this only infuriated me more - I felt even more incompetent that I couldn't control anything about my life, even how I would die. One more thing I somehow could only half-ass and never get right.

There are three music albums that came out in early 2007 which would narrate the weird "death" journey/ritual I acted out throughout the three months. First there was Welcome The Night by The Ataris, which detailed lead singer/songwriter Kristopher Roe's own existential crisis after his divorce (which I learned from his own mouth, after interviewing him with Lindsey at their St. Patrick's Day concert in SLC). This album conceptually narrated my own crisis and the album ended with an affirmation of the inevitability of death. Hence, the next album was Linkin Park's Minutes To Midnight and opened with the result of this affirmation: defeat and the choice to commit suicide. The album follows the slow process of saying goodbye to friends, examining the reasons for the choice while building up for the act along the way, and the last song is the dying breath of a victim of violence.

The third album was the most important: The Black Parade by My Chemical Romance. The very first sound on the album is the decline of beeps on a heart moniter. As a concept album, a story is told about an unnamed character called The Patient who dies of some sort of heart complication (openly interpreted as medical or related to the girl sitting at his side). Part of the mythic setting of the story is that death comes to you in the form of your most precious memory. The Patient's most precious memory is seeing the city parade with his father; hence, death comes for him in the form of a large goth parade that takes him on a Dickensian journey through time and space visiting various dying people in the form of memories - from a church revival, to a cancer boy, to the first World War, to a mental hospital, to a high school massacre, to a final confrontation with his father - all the while learning about life and death. The album ends ambiguously: by the final number, either The Patient has learned to accept his "life" in the hereafter, or at the moment he becomes at peace with death he suddenly wakes up in the hospital bed to find that the entire thing was a dream.

What this "narrative" did for me (particularly The Black Parade) in addition to all the philosophy was show me that while I didn't fear death, I actually wasn't necessarily afraid of dying, either. Ultimately, I was afraid of how I, as a person both spiritually and physically, would become irrevocably altered by the pain that would accompany the calamitous act. But one thing I took from U2 and The Fountain was that pain is intricately connected with life: pain is a physical signal of growth, conducive to being alive - a physical reaction to life itself. I wasn't afraid of dying - I was afraid of really living. And in the face of life itself, the choices were always mine.

When the appointed day came, the sunrise found me on the edge of the bridge. But that was, by itself, the only thing that had gone according to plan. It had begun to come apart when I sat down to write my "last letter" to my best friend serving a mission on the other side of the country. It wasn't until then that I remembered he had asked me one day in high school to never kill myself because it would be "tramautizing" and affect him for the rest of his life. I didn't want to believe that people would actually care about me being gone, but it wasn't until I'd sat down to write his letter that I realized that even if others did miss me, that wasn't the point. The point was that in this life, we make connections with others, and part of that connection is having faith. Pain is a part of every relationship, be it friendship, a romance, parental or otherwise, and I would have to accept that in order to accept myself and come into my own in this world.

As the sun came up, it became increasingly clear that whatever was inside of me willing me to live, it was stronger than any mere evolutionary impluse lulling me to reproductive priorities with a girl, or any carnal lust for masculinity and male bodies. It was stronger and much more clear than any of the darkness I'd endured since high school and the recent bouts of doubt and paranoia. It was some sort of light inside that just wouldn't die, inadequate and trite as that description is. What it finally came down to would affect me for years afterwards.

As I stared at the water, I began to work out images of myself in the future being with a wife and having a family. I could make myself in a nametag on a mission in the water. I strained my eyes for images and felt complete faith in a road that lay ahead of me. With that, I turned and walked off the bridge back on the sidewalk and headed home. I snuck back in my house, went to my room, and fell asleep.

I would later talk about visions and dreams, and a little after that I would even believe myself. But did I actually see the future in Provo River? Of course not. But what I'd done was much more incredible. I had actually created that road I'd put faith in. I'd created my own potential future and then tried to act it out - created it literally out of thin air. The implications wouldn't hit me for a long time - not until I'd already fallen in love with a girl for the first (and perhaps only) time in my life. But I'd realized that it was possible to create my own destiny. That for the first time, my choices were not preset by old men sitting in a SLC building or by teachers, historians or even friends and family. For the first time, I felt like my life was truly mine. It was an incredible feeling that had me walking on air the entire way back to my house.

Like Kris Roe and Allen Ginsberg wrote, this life is a passage between two doors, and perhaps we can't understand life while living it at the same time. But there are things to discover and other things must be earned. There are unspeakable horrors and there are breathtaking miracles. Nietzsche and Bono, vita femina - life is a woman, and she moves in mysterious ways. But if heaven is so great, then why this postmodern obsession with living as long as possible, retaining youth? I'm in no rush to get there; if there's one thing I've cherished from the five times I've read the Book of Mormon, it's Nephi's statment that "Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy." No matter what path lies ahead in life, it will always be one I carve and pave for myself. My perspectives on life, death, the nature of reality and everything else have become drastically different because of these realizations. While it's taken me this long to finally sit down and write down a basic summary, I have to constantly remember what I learned about myself during my Cottonfire summer two years ago.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Maybe Just Avoid District 9

Is there anyone out there besides me who didn't particularly like District 9?

I know Joanne Kaufman over at Wall Street Journal didn't. Neither did Kyle Smith at New York Post (and I love his "kill-or-be-krill" jest) or J.R. Jones at the Chicago Reader. Heck, even Ebert and I both have the same dislikes with the same movie for once. But for the most part, their critiques are brief and don't really give details. So here I go.

Let's start with what should be appreciated. Because really, you've gotta hand it to an August blockbuster that grosses over $35 million in its first weekend when it's got unknowns for a cast, relatively simple set production, not based on a comic book, video game or novel and its only real name credit is a man at the helm with a name stamp somewhere in the last ten years of pop entertainment. One film tried to do that earlier last year: Cloverfield. Like District 9, it was plenty hyped with a cryptic trailer as well as extensive viral marketing in addition to billboard signs. It came out at an unconventional time for a big-budget movie, it had the potential to spurt out spin-off films or tie-ins, it was about aliens, and it was produced by J.J. Abrams from the hit shows Alias and Lost. And nobody seemed to care about Cloverfield.

But at least Cloverfield's story lost its pretentiousness quickly. Cloverfield wanted to take the "alien blockbuster"/"disaster movie" genre* (see also: Independence Day; see also: Armageddon) and deconstruct it a bit; instead of big names starring as scientists or military personnel - usually men - who save their estranged families and the world, it told a street-level story of snobby teenagers who get trapped in the big mess of things, and all of them wind up dead by the end - including the guy who saves the girl, plus the girl. By itself, that's pretty predictable, but not usually in an alien blockbuster. Cloverfield also broke conventional norms by being shot cinema vérité style to give the film a more realistic look and feel. However much Abrams wanted to break from normal alien movie narratives, though, none of those methods employed ever got in the way of actually telling the story (unless, of course, you didn't like its predictability or you were one of those people who got vertigo in the theater from the HandiCam style and blew chunks).

District 9 has several similarities. The vague trailer teased audiences with the name "Peter Jackson" for months preceding its release and was greatly hyped with billboards and Web sites. It plays out documentary style, talking heads and all. I believe that it also tries to break away from conventional movie sci-fi structures.

In some ways, it succeeds, because District 9 certainly raises a lot of interesting stuff. Take, for instance (spoilers ahoy), the allegorical nods to apartheid, the "final solution" to move them all to a giant concentration camp of tents, or the protagonist's progression from small tuna working for the Man and leading a basically uninteresting life to - contrary to how most of these alien movie heroes react - become progressively cruel and selfish as he inches closer to his objective, even to the point of becoming cowardly and turning tail running during the final battle. It certainly raises interesting questions about humanity as an identity, and the film does a great job of realistically portraying how the world might actually react to an alien immigration. There are some moments in the film that had me gripped to my seat, like when the scientists force the protagonist to kill an alien. The film even has a touching father-son story. I can get teary-eyed at few things, father-son stories being one of them - and mostly in weak/simple films like Signs or The Lion King.

But from there, the film goes nowhere. And that makes me more frustrated with the film rather than hate it. As soon as the credits started rolling and I wanted to talk about these things, the longer I reflected on the film, the more it started to flake away and fall apart. And I don't mean story-wise. The story, when isolated and packaged for a Reader's Digest version, is pretty straightforward. But the internal logic itself doesn't work; several parts of the story rely on seemingly arbitrary plot points or devices that are either entirely unexplained or rely on heavy interpretive analysis from the audience. I can definitely handle the latter (The Fountain is my favorite movie, and I never see it the same way twice, so I'm not unfamiliar with films that demand a lot from the viewer). But the former aggravates me to no end, and it was my main complaint with Slumdog Millionaire (and I'm the only one I know who disliked that film, other than Salman Rushdie).

Like (again, spoilers) when the protagonist is wheeled into a room full of dead aliens (some in pieces, and a talking-head shot explains that no human has ever bonded to an alien and lived. This made me think that the room was full of failed metamorphosed human-aliens, and yet this was never explained. A friend later postulated that the room was actually full of aliens that had been kidnapped and subjected to testing. I'm open to that possibility, except the movie didn't provide much evidence to fully argue that, either. The movie had moments where you had to infer what was going on, which I'm usually fine with, except that too many times I had to say, "Well, maybe this, maybe that" instead of "The film gives A, B and C, so therefore this is what happened." Too many "maybe's" and your "clever" story starts to look like a spaghetti sieve. And I wasn't surprised by any of the "twists," including the transformation from alien to human.

And not being surprised by District 9 is funny because so things felt so random. You mean to tell me that the aliens are the only ones can operate their weapons, and the weapons are powerful enough to literally explode their enemies, and there are tons of these...and the aliens either don't use them to take over or they sell them food? (Um, cat food? Giant shrimp from another galaxy are in love with cat food? And calling them shrimp is about the only explanation for the ethnic slur "prawn," because the movie never tells me the how or why.) One friend pointed out that the film mentioned the aliens were likely low-level workers on the ship, which might be interesting enough to make sense, except that raises all sorts of questions like where are the other aliens who actually piloted or lived on the ship, and even then the film only raises that as a hypothesis. If the mothership was always operational, then why the hell do you need the fuel? (And the film never really tells you what the fuel is actually made from or why it takes twenty years to make.) Unless the "ship part" that fell is somehow part of the cockpit, since it can operate as one once it docks inside - but the film never tells me. How did humans learn their language - and, more importantly, how did the aliens learn English - in twenty years without writing anything down (which is one place where that "Well, they're workers" theory starts to look even weaker)? How did the aliens get human-sounding names like Christopher? And if human-sounding, why so English when the film is set in South Africa?

And speaking of the setting, when I stopped to think about it, Johannesburg felt more like a gimmick than a setting. It's interesting to see an alien movie taking place outside a big American city like New York for a change, and the allegorical reasons seemed appropriate to somewhere in Africa. But from there, it felt like that's the only reason to set it in Johannesburg, and trying to be so special is a bad reason to set any story. Change a few minor details and the story would've played out the same way in Russia, London or hell, New York. One thing I noted was the voodoo on alien bodies in the film which, again, is an interesting concept of how alien immigrants might impact local culture and/or religion, but from there the ball gets dropped because the voodoo felt like more of a reflection on South Africans being kooky witch doctors than anything, which starts to bother me when I think about using superstitious South Africans as a mere plot device. A friend suggested that Johannesburg was a good setting because Johannesburg has a very diverse culture and society where several immigrant groups are packed into shantytowns like sardines in a can, making it a giant melting pot where aliens could fit in. This is a good theory and it's definitely interesting...except the film doesn't do anything with it.

The editing of the film itself bothered me, too. There are a few places where you can tell they got sloppy - there's even a place during the climax where one character was barking orders, then crouching down to snipe out a building, and when the scene cuts to an explosion, the next shot of the character has him back on the other side standing and barking orders instead of crouched where he was. And the oh-so-realistic documentary style was poorly handled and ended up feeling like another gimmick. The film couldn't decide if it was a documentary or a typical sci-fi thriller because the film actually told the story both ways; most of scenes were told in normal linear film fashion, which felt weird because it would switch back and forth between styles from start to end. It wasn't necessarily confusing, but it felt weird.

Maybe I'm just an oddball when it comes to sci-fi films; one other thing that significantly separates Cloverfield from District 9 is that I'm the only person I know who really enjoyed Cloverfield. But I'm really not that particular about having answers spoonfed to me and usually prefer to be kept guessing during a movie. I feel like I could keep going with pointing out the weak spots in District 9, and that's because it's like one of those house-trained dogs that begins to act stupider the longer you give it attention. Ultimately I can't entirely hate the film because I was definitely entertained and had a good time in the theater. With some better writing and direction (and cleaner editing), the film might've suffered less under the pressure of its constant effort to be "unique" and "special." And perhaps the sequel (and there may almost certainly be one or two of them) will be better developed or explain some of these holes to me. But I can only recommend a dollar-theater or DVD viewing of District 9. I don't understand how it blew your mind, Sara Vilkomerson, or how the hell you could possibly find it "philosophically sophisticated," Christy Lemire. To me, those are gimmicky buzz phrases indicating only what this movie maybe could have have been.

*I consider alien movies like Independence Day to be part of the disaster film genre because when you look at the tyoical narrative structure of both films, they generally play out the same way whether the planet is threatened with asteroids, twisters, hurricanes, 2012, or space ships. Makes me think we should also throw in Transformers.

Friday, July 10, 2009

See Mike Run

This is Brother Pratt.

This is Brother Pratt in the Utah County Jail (as seen in the Deseret News).

Michael Jay Pratt - just saying the name puts courage in the hearts of hundreds of Orem High Tigers who remember him as the great seminary teacher. He was not just an inspiration to us, he was the closest thing some of us had to an actual general authority. People described him in terms of actual salvation. "Brother Pratt changed my life" or "Brother Pratt saved my life." He was a hero in almost titanic description; his spirituality, tracing back to Parley P. Pratt, was believed to be penultimate perfection. A short guy with a big heart who had just the answer for your problems and the right shoulder to cry on when he didn't.

And he has been arrested for sexual assault. A 16-year-old girl from his current teacher (and principal) position at Lone Peak's LDS seminary.

Video Courtesy of

Brother Pratt - the man, the myth, the legend. It all sounds like gross exaggeration. Like me, and others, have blown things out of proportion. And that's precisely because that's what it is. A fiction. A man mythologized.

Michael Pratt's life story kinda sounds like something that came out of a seminary movie. He had a troubled past as a teenager fiercely rebelling against the Church he was born into until, one day, he was dared to read the Book of Mormon. It changed him into a spiritual powerhouse causing him to go around spreading love for Christ long before he ever blew out the candles on his nineteenth birthday cake. His mission yielded endless stories for what would inevitably be his life's work: teaching in seminary and Sunday schools.

He had a life on the go; he and his family would pack up and move whenever he came to a high school and stay for a few months before picking up again and going to a new school. But he left his mark all over the county. He could get the quiet kid to raise his hand and the talkative jocks to shut up. The door to his office was always open long after school got out for the day and, oftentimes, there was a line of people waiting to lighten their latest load on his shoulders, seeking his advice. His lessons kept you awake and energized; people could repeat the main points from his lessons by topic or memory...and, of course, everyone who took a class from him remembers his "Puddy Cave fieldtrip" lesson.

Like I said - a man mythologized. And I'm certainly no different; Brother Pratt is the reason I almost became a seminary teacher. I was one of a few who could comfortably call him Michael - he had been a lodestar in my life since I was fifteen, being the only church-related figure I felt I could talk to about my struggles with my same-gender attractions in high school - and even years later when I became inactive and began dating my first boyfriend, he came to visit me at my apartment and took me to dinner. There are several stories - from funny anecdotes I even tell co-workers to a curious winter night miracle I still can't explain to this day - that describe my friendship with Mike, and my journals from high school feature him and his advice frequently. He was one of my closest friends, down to his current position as the second counselor of the singles ward I inactively belong to.

What's interesting now is not just his arrest and this scandal that follows; it's the reactions from all my old high school friends. One friend said, "Bullshit. It's all bullshit - the girl was troubled and has destroyed his life." Another remarked, "I'm shocked. He was...well, everyone thought he was so perfect." Even my sister expects that sooner or later we may yet discover this all to be rumor. Some have already begun attributing "this tragedy" and "this dispicable man" to the subjugation of the devil. "All I can say is blame Satan," said one commenter on DesNews' website.

Not many seem to want to examine this for what it is: a beloved church-related figure who is now alleged to be a felon. Instead, all wait in nearly breathless anticipation to see how innocent Brother Pratt will escape and get out of this one intact and precisely as everyone remembers him. The response is largely disbelief, but most of all denial and paranoia. "We'll find out the truth sooner or later - this has all been blown out of proportion."

But proportions larger than life have surrounded and romanticized this short-of-stature man for years. We've put him in a light that, perhaps, doesn't truly exists. And now may be the right time for us - especially me - to admit it. It'll be better for any healing that needs to occur to keep the facts straight from the stories we tell...for such is the stuff that heroes are made of. In this important time, remember him not as that mythic hero-god...but as a human being. Like the rest of us. And in that way, maybe he can continue to inspire us. Brother Pratt can be both hero and felon.

And I think I know how it will all end. This will undoubtedly stain Brother Pratt's reputation for years. But in time, this will be seen as one other spiritual trial Brother Pratt "bravely" passed through. It will become part of the stories he'll tell in devotionals (which I'm either sure of or hoping) he'll be asked to speak at. "You know, when I spent those hellish nights in jail," he'll start, and the room will quiet. And this will all become hushed controversial apocrypha, like most LDS Church scandals.

But - "Do you think he really did it?" people ask me. I answer: "If you love Michael, does it really matter?" Loving doesn't ever mean seeing just the *good.* It means seeing the *person* in spite of the *bad.* And counting in the good. So let's allow God (and the laws of the land) to decide Brother Pratt's innocence or guilt. It need not concern us and is nobody's business but the families and people involved; the rest of us, let's follow C.S. Lewis and "get back to the business of loving." Which is precisely what, as Michael has taught us, Christ is all about.

Mike's mythology is too strong amongst too many people for him to pass away into bare naked factuality. This story could break Brother Pratt's heroic narrative among us old Tigers, as well as his other former students. We needn't completely let go of that inspirational myth surrounding him but we do need to break from any dependency on such hero fiction. We, all of us, have been writing the story from the very beginning. He never came to us claiming he was our hero. We did. ...I did. And I will always - always - love him dearly.

And so it is with all our gods.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Queer Film Spotlight: Shelter

Shelter (2007) This movie was a pleasant surprise because I thought it'd be just a softporn like Latter Days but with "surfer dudes." It turned out to be a well thought out story about a young graffitti artist named Zach who's stuck in urban California dreaming of getting into art school while taking care of his sister, his father and his orphaned nephew, Cody. When Shaun, the gay older brother of his best friend comes into town, Zach starts to rethink his relationships and the direction he wants to take with his life.

Shelter's fault is its vageness about its own story. It lacks plotholes but it also lacks focus. It's not clear how his sister finds out about him and Shaun, or why Cody's father is gone. One scene makes it seems as if Zach and his sister (as well as his on-and-off girlfriend) all happen to work at the same place. At times, the film's ambiguity gives way to gimicky plot tricks, like the com radio. In addition to taking care of Cody, Zach and his sister presumably must care for their mentally disabled father as well, and yet we only see the father at the very beginning and forget that his character exists until he's mentioned, in passing, towards the end of the film. These might be minor flaws, but they undermine the film's believability.

Zach often sleeps away from home, is socially disconnected, and is defensive over his artwork. He has to worry about being a father figure to Cody while maintaining so-called masculinity and applying to an out-of-state art school. I think these are good ways to underline Zach's feeling of restlessness, but unfortunately it was hard to buy all of these things when they happened because, due to Wright's acting, they went like lukewarm milk.

This brings me to the film's biggest problem: the characters were all believable except the protagonist himself. The character could have been very interesting, but Trevor Wright plays him like a wooden puppet. His angsty fits would be understandable but his age is supposed to be 22. It's difficult to care about Zach when everything he does feels somehow lacking. Worst is Zach's "change of heart" which feels like a magic trick out of thin air because of how sudden and unexplained it is. By the end when Zach is trying to convince his sister about the future, it sounds more like he's trying to convince himself.

Ultimately I think most of the problems I have with Zach were first impressions, and maybe the character will seem better handled on a second round. The film's protagonist might seem like the most underdeveloped part of the movie, which is unfortunate, but ultimately I'd recommend it to anyone. It's very enjoyable, tells a good story, and has a great soundtrack. Shaun's character was well-acted and so was his brother, Zach's best friend. Additionally, the kid who played Cody was good at being both sensitive to the tension between others as well as being innocent.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Batman is dead.

It's raining blood and tiger cats are riding giant dogs. The fabric of reality is being torn asunder. Batman's got a gun; he must choose between his consistent morality and a once-in-a-lifetime exception. The President of the United States is an African American Superman. Sexual objectification of contemporary female superheroes is fought out between Supergirl (the blonde bombshell, like Marylin Monroe) and Mary Marvel (with a shaved head recalling Britney Spears). Green Lantern Hal Jordan stands trial for a crime he didn't commit. There are crop circles. There are angels and prophets, cannibals and vampires. There's a tiger with a checkered jacket adjusting his bowtie after clawing out someone's innards. Prometheus is bound to a wheelchair. Frankenstein quotes Milton. A Rubik's cube turns people to dust. Hell hounds chase a school bus. An avatar of death, armored in black, is on skis. 98% of the world's population raise their fists to the devil himself after he hacks the internet. A beautiful kiss and tragic self-sacrifice. The first boy on earth, the last boy on earth. Time runs backwards, then forwards. Red and black. Superman screams, winks and sings.

I give you FINAL CRISIS by Grant Morrison, J.G. Jones and Doug Mahnke. And after spending the entire night up reading, enjoying every single minute with laughter and plenty of jaw-dropping moments alternating between shock and awe, I still have no idea what the hell just happened.

Many people have raised the same point about this work - and a true point: this comic is terribly complex and confusing. The story begins as a murder mystery dressed with Greek myth at the curtains, but from there it explodes into wild chases and space odysseys that, by there very dream logic nature, belong in a comic book. Gritty realism and nihilistic philosophizing switches places with completely over-the-top action and complete baloney physics. Earth-shattering truths are delivered in between outlandish dialogue lines you sometimes want to read twice to believe. Deus ex machina abounds frequently. The comic remains completely po-faced about it all from start to finish.

And that is exactly why FINAL CRISIS is so brilliant. It manages to be, simultaneously, what comics *were* and what comics currently *are* - what they have become. For Morrison, superheroes have begun to be little more than moralizing or philosophizing social commentaries with only enough life to sustain a narrative structures that can support "realistic" plots. Stories that give you factual reality to believe in, rather than any merit of the story itself. It's all very formulaic. And it's all so very...boring. The very image of Superman holding Batman's burned and battered body expresses this: the imagery is bewildering and chilling at once, and makes us ask ourselves what comics once stood for, and the grim redundancy they've become. Have we kept the magic alive or did we kill it?

I've been reading DC comics for less than a year. So I had to do my fair share of homework on characters and events. I knew Barry Allen gave his life to save the world in the first Crisis but I've had very little exposure to Darkseid. I was plenty familiar with the Guardians of the Universe but not the Monitors. I know who the Tattooed Man is but had no idea about Black Lightening. Did the story ever contradict itself, or even the artwork? At least a couple of times, yes. Did the story every become so muddled that I couldn't understand what was going on? Definitely.

But again: that's EXACTLY why this works. Because you have to just believe in the story itself. Morrison has said in interviews that while background will enrich the story, EVERYTHING you need to read and enjoy FINAL CRISIS is right there in its own pages. The will to believe - the faith in the magic of stories (not storytelling, but stories themselves).

Friday, June 26, 2009

"I've Waited Here For You, Everlong."

The first thoughts I begin to believe in after Kristian leaves is that I will never hear from him again. But the first thoughts I have are unrelated to whether I will hear from him again or not; instead, I'm more concerned about why I can't find the shirt - the shirt I let him use after the dust settled and the heat had reached its limits in my small room. Is it this shirt? Is it this shirt? Is it...this it...And before long, my mind is beginning to wonder if he was ever here at all.

Of course he was here. I smell my forearms, then I put the the bottom of my shirt in my face, and I slowly drag my tongue over the dimpled skin between my lips and my nose. Of course he was here; he was here because I can still smell him and taste him.

And I can feel him, too...if the only thing I'm feeling by him is the emptiness and slightly unsettling ordinary-ness of my room. The floor is still a bookshelf for all the books - mostly poetry; all the Ginsberg, Whitman, Goethe, Eliot, Dante, Plath, Homer, everything that constantly reminds me that I have so much reading to do, but these Greeks and Beatniks also share the chaos of my floor with my Silver Age comics. The Flash and the Green Lantern shine their perfectly masculine smiles and costumed muscles up at me, along with a new Captain Marvel issue to my right and the nebulous heap of undershirts, underwear and other clothes scattered in a frenzy across the area to my left.

They are all still, the books and the comics and the clothes, but the fan is spinning widly. Everything is so quietly the same. I can feel my stomach churning. It's something not digesting properly, maybe the Frosty from three hours ago, but more than that, it's all trying to wrap itself around a familiar fuzzy emptiness. I usually feel that indefinite vagueness in my stomach when I pass a couple kissing or think of Erik. It's the damn romantic in me that always hurts when he doesn't get what he wants most. I only feel it now because instead of enjoying this - enjoying even the aftermath of it - I am trying to make it something serious.

"I gotta be cool / Relax / Get hip, get off my tracks...Gotta be cool / Relax..." I have been trying to make this serious from the beginning. I have to remember that the only thing I have to light knowledge on this thing is Erik. But things were particularly clear with Erik simply because we both made it clear from the beginning what we wanted most is what we needed from each other. That's why the relationship clicked together quickly only to burn slowly out on itself. But Kristian and I are moving at lightspeed, and that's precisely because we don't need each other. And the problem is that it's not "just a hook up" because at the same time we care about one another just enough to make it matter. This thing with Kristian is moving so fast that the only thing I can do to slow it down is maybe knock it over the head.

As I brush my teeth in the mirror, I try to remind myself that I have no reason to make things so serious with Kristian, just as I have no reason to expect anything from him. He knows this because I've told him. We've both admitted that neither of us want a relationship right now, and I know more and more everyday that a relationship with Kristian might not last long at all. We work well as friends but we could destroy each other in anything more. Even though we both refuse to "see" anyone else, I don't think he's as stuck on me as I wish he was. I know I'm just trying to save myself the pain again. I can't go through what happened with Erik. I knew from the moment we got together that Erik and I would never last the summer. But that was different. Because I do care about Kristian. But I fell in love with Erik.

It's not serious, Matthew. And, for right now, it doesn't need to be. This is what I've told myself every time I see him. That's why, instead of making the same mistake I made with Erik and always worry about when the spell will be broken, I will savor every day I spend with Kristian and always assume that it could be the last. It's not a fatalistic mentality, and neither is it merely realistic. It's just how I remember not to put my fingers around the neck of this thing and choke it into being serious. So that it will live.

My favorite thing will continue to be how his smell stays all over my hands and my shirt for minutes, occasionally even hours, after he leaves. I will continue to keep my hands off the steering wheel and let this thing drive as fast as it will. And I'll continue to believe. Not that I will never hear from Kristian again. But rather, believe that this - this, this moment...really is worth my while.

There's something slowly creeping down my forehead; I am still sweating.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Notes From The Black Book

"Fuck you, Chandler. I love ya, but I am sick of your shit. 'You're so dramatic, Matt' - this coming from a guy who boasts of doing every thing...most people never do by age sixty. He talks like he's never seen a human before. Fuck off!"

"Maybe, for the rest of my life
I am damned to look for Erik
in every white truck I see go down the street."

"'I was thinking about getting War and Peace. I've never read that book.'
'Yeah, War and Peace. Dostoevsky.'
'You should get this book.' He pulled something off the shelf, and I knew what it was before I saw it: a deluxe illustrated version of Angels and Demons. 'It's the best book.'
'Yes. I've read it three times.'"

[6/14] "I spray the Glade all over the ceiling. An orange-mango-smelling mist destroys itself into smithereens across the patch of space above the living room floor. Lindsey might know as soon as she walks in, but it's meant to mask my most recent of sins in case I get a surprise from the cops' latest round of "Pop Goes the Weasel; 'all around the innocent apartments, the monkey chased the zoobies...' that they play every night at 3 AM. Is it ozone-friendly, empty of toxins and firesafe? Probably not. It is more like the blood of innocent lambs that I spray over my doors and doorways to let the Lord know I don't wish the angel of death to come by. Yes, angel of death, pass me by."

"Him, in the yellow? That's my best friend, Najib. I would die for him. I'd give my life for him. I love him."

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Queer Film Spotlight: Latter Days

I've tried watching this movie so many times and I finally got through it. It's not that the story makes it hard; a table server in a fancy restaurant in L.A. named Christian falls for the recent move-in next door, an LDS missionary named Aaron, and his workers make a bet that the characteristically slutty and shallow Christian can't convert him to gaydom and nail his ass. You'd think that this would be comedic, romantic, least relatable, or something. But these are all the precise reasons why Latter Days is so difficult to watch: it tries to be all of those things at once. From start to credits, the film is completely contrived.

Nowhere is this more evident than in each and every scene with the missionaries. I've never been on a mission but I'm sure that elders are not allowed to say anything close to the phrase "God hates homos" to investigators. What frustrates me most are the interactions between Aaron, the elder, and Christian. Their exchanges feel strained and completely contrived in every scene. Example: Christian gets his mail and one letter blows behind the house, so on the way to get it he gets his pants snagged, causing a cut which makes him bleed and then he faints - all in plain view of Aaron, who is innocently reading The Book of Mormon outside. (Let me add that we've just seen them both play basketball - Christian without his shirt, so that the adoring gay male audience can revel in his tanned, sweaty abs...which, of course, is why its perfectly plausible that same young and fit man would faint from a barely visible leg cut. Oh yes, do me quick.)

But the tragedy is that that's when the movie gets interesting. Because right before Aaron invalidates every Priesthood Quorum lesson he's ever had by lying with Christian, he starts to claim that he feels like he's being used by a superficial boy who doesn't know what he wants and Aaron drops him like a sack of beans - forcing Christian to try to actually win his heart. Have we seen this a million times? Of course - but in heterosexual narratives. So the fact that here, the dynamic is a Mormon missionary who is making a gay man prove his's a shame to see the film waste a cliche so commonplace that even Stephanie Myers could make it watchable.

The somewhat decent "character development" lasts for about ten minutes before Latter Days reverts back to softporn. Following Aaron's transgression, his shock treatment, dream sequences, his mother's chastisement and excommunication are completely overdone like the other 98% of the movie, with sniveling suicidal tendencies and all. The character's sudden turn to identity crisis is very poorly composed while we have to wait for Christian to fly to Idaho, which takes much, much, much longer than it should. Christian's own selfish wimperings are empty and ultimately pointless.

All in all, the actor who plays Aaron does the best job. He delivers some pretty bad lines fairly well, in his defense. Unfortunately, he doesn't make the rest worth it and the story falls face flat so many times in its own puddle of sap that in the end I was just waiting for the movie to end so I could delete it from my hard drive. Its good moments are few and far between, but ultimately Latter Days makes Twilight look like A Lion In Winter.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

George Tiller and American Paranoia (+ Eminem gets face-raped...)

In a weird way, the whole story of George Tiller's murder almost sounds like something out of some old folk tune or blues rocker: a Wichita, Kansas doctor saves the lives of women while, with each passing year, threats on his life grow more and more extreme - from getting shot in both arms to having his clinic vandalized, blockaded and bombed, leading to the presence of armed guards outside his clinic - until, at long last, he meets his match in nowhere else but his local Lutheran church on a Sunday morning, innocently ushering. Now flowers instead of picket signs form a ring around his clinic.

There are very few who claim to be happy that Tiller is dead - Wiley Drake, for example, believes Tiller's murder is "an answer to a prayer" - but in general voices from the anti-abortion movement have risen to condemn the murderer, who is as-of-yet-unconfirmed as 51-year-old Scott Roeder. One of these voices belongs to Bill O'Reilly, who simultaneously condemns the violence against Tiller - refering to it as "anarchy" - while unabashedly standing by his well-known past criticisms of Tiller, saying that the far-left is taking advantage of this situation to blame the caring folks like him at Fox and downplay the "seriousness" of Tiller's crimes. This is hardly surprising to me because at this point accusations are beginning to form against O'Reilly for his history of decrying Tiller on his show and thus allegedly "contributed" to "fostering an environment" for a home-grown terrorist to strike out in violence - but, of course, I don't know if O'Reilly ever really surprises me anymore.

Elsewhere, others have voiced opinions all over the Internet and in print; the NY Times Letters To The Editor has several responses, and one from Marquette University professor Daniel C. Maguire seemed especially poignant to me:

"The killing of Dr. George R. Tiller is not dissonant to the broader American culture. It was a very American murder, very reflective of national policy where torture is seen as a strategic necessity and the bullet as the final arbiter."

It's not to dissimilar from a sentiment I had earlier today while walking home, the concept of a contemporary genealogy of extremism in America and the ensuing effects of every group playing the blame game. Nobody wants to claim a homicidal lunatic, so everyone debates about who started the fire and, in the end, nothing much happens to change the situation - in this case, with abortion. It's an interesting comment on these increasingly cynical times for the land of the free, home of the brave.

In happier news...This, I think, is the funniest and most awesome thing to happen on primetime television so far this year. The best part about it isn't even Eminem; since the stunt was scripted, Zac Efron was the only one who doesn't have a clue what the hell was going on. The look on his face is priceless - pure "WTF"-ness.