Thursday, November 6, 2014

You Only Live Twice PT. 6 (Nifty Fifty)



“Writing is like sex. First you do it for love, then you do it for your friends, and then you do it for money.”- Virginia Woolf

“All I need is a sheet of paper and something to write with, and then I can turn the world upside down.” - Friedrich Nietzsche

“When asked, "How do you write?" I invariably answer, "One word at a time," and the answer is invariably dismissed. But that is all it is. It sounds too simple to be true, but consider the Great Wall of China, if you will: one stone at a time, man. That's all. One stone at a time. But I've read you can see that motherfucker from space without a telescope.”- Stephen King

Hello Blogiteers!

Today marks a milestone here at the Lair of Snarkitude, and I couldn't be happier about it. In fact, I'm in such a good mood that I even let the minions take out the Snarkcopter for a joyride. Sure, gas is expensive and those surface to air missiles don't replace themselves, but sometimes ya just got to party like it's 1999. Minus the purple satin jackets, of course. I do have some standards, after all.

Oh, what the hell, it's a party- free satin purple jackets with matching headbands for everybody!

Tell you what- I'll even throw in a chance to play with the giant Death Ray Laser as well, but only if you pinky-swear not to blow up New York. Glendale, on the other hand, is perfectly acceptable to use as a target, so long as you promise me that the first shot takes out my Mom's house.

Come to think of it, hit that sucker twice. She's a lot tougher than she looks.
So, what grand event are we celebrating, exactly?

Well, Artbitch officially "turns fifty", with this being the milestone blog. Since I started writing these here screeds back in 2009, the very nature of the truth I like to think I tell has added up to a heckuva lot of text. Minus this piece, the word count for my previous scrawls stands at 207,975. To give you some perspective, opinions vary wildly on what an average blogs' word count should be, but most of them (on the face of it) concur that it's commonly around 500. When it comes to short stories,1500 words is seemingly the base standard, and 50,000 is the typical count for a novel.

What this basically means is that at this point, I've written four books already.

Oof. No wonder why I curse so much. I've apparently used up most of my accessible lexicon. The breakdown by year is also kind of interesting when I see it with the benefit of hindsight, as it shows exactly when I was most ticked off.

It is as follows:

2009: 5.625
2010: 38,477
2011: 61,374
2012: 27,187
2013: 46,735
2014: 34,202 (thus far)

Obviously, I was really fired up in 2011, that being the year where both my public drubbing of The Phoenix New Times and a whole slew of craven and usually anonymous online detractors was firing on all cylinders- this led to my cranking out fifteen blogs like clockwork, a rate that fell to one third the next year, due to my then feeling of being totally burned out.

When you take into account all that I have written and you do all the math that's required for a true dissection of the last five years, it comes out to an average of 10.4 blogs per year, an integer I can live with, considering my normal word count per blog is 4077.94 bits of linguistic fiery finery.

And you thought I talked too much.

In comparison, it seems my hands are keeping a pace to beat the Devil, but the really funny thing in regards to this blog is that it was never supposed to happen like this in the first place. My success, if I were to give it a name, is primarily due to two unforeseen things- the first being illness, and the second being the direct involvement of the Phoenix New Times, via the personage of it's Mangling Editor, Amy Silverman.

In retrospect, they're the flipped sides of the same coin, but I'll digress for the sake of moving our story along, and the fact that at this time, there is no vaccine for the willfully petty ignorance that she inflicts upon others. Sure, being smarter and more refined does help, but that's the organic route, and it's way more expensive in the long run than just taking a swig (or six) of Tequila.

While I don't recommend being drunk when you have to deal with her directly, it certainly couldn't hurt, and theoretically- it just might make her seem far more interesting to talk to, what with your diminished capacity and all. Hey, if it works in regards to ordering from the late-night menu at Jack in the Box, it may be just crazy enough to be implemented as a rule of thumb.

But I'll get back to Editorzilla in a moment, as my getting sick back in 2009 is what really started the whole razorball of snark rolling. Since I "gave away" the ending in my last missive, there's really no point to play coy with what happened, despite the fact that I'll be finishing up the story arc in this blog nonetheless.

Think of it as a flashback, even though it comes after the story ends. That's me- screwing with the laws of verse and spacing. I'm like Captain Kirk, except I come with a sleek laptop rather than a warp engine and a Scottish engineer who sleeps with green women- not that there's anything wrong with doing that, mind you.

Feel free to taste the rainbow, if that's your thing. I won't judge.

The Cliff Notes: after I left the hospital, I was in physical recovery for about five weeks. Thirty-eight days. A month and a week. With nothing but healing and trying not to die as the two main priorities on my day to day "to do" list. Until this happened, I didn't really think that there was such a thing as watching too many zombie movies.

Trust me here. THERE IS.

I had previously been dabbling on MySpace with the writing thing prior to 2009, and it was okay, but ultimately read like an eternal whine of "woe is my life" as I was going through a highly public break up at the time, and apparently had no way of dealing with it other than unloading on the community.

Good times.

It did however, allow me to get comfortable with the practice of being honest on a routine basis, which is one of the things I'm proudest about in relation to my writing- I don't pull punches, and I don't hide, either. One of the great unforeseen things about forcibly accruing several weeks of personal introspection is this: it allows you the opportunity to make changes, whether for the better or for the worse, and I like to think I've taken full advantage of this particular quirk in the end.

So, after becoming sated on zombies and daytime TV, while being unable to read due to corneal distension, I started putting my thoughts to pixels regarding something I did know about- that being the travails of a working artist in Phoenix.

Originally designed as a quasi-sort of journal entry for me and weekend reading for the six of my friends who followed it, Artbitch blew up after some of my pieces tweaked off a few of the so-called "journalists" at the good ol' Phoenix New Times (AKA: "The Pennysaver with Porn") and they mewled their discontent to the failed bartender who runs the place, a walking horror show* who goes by the name of Amy Silverman.
[*Allegedly]

Her petty response was to publish a soulless online "hit" piece about yours truly, which led to a major increase in both my readership and artistic street cred, which, let's be honest- I already had in buckets. The street cred, that is. Readers? Eh. Not so much.

However, her attempted bitch slap failed miserably, as all she succeeded in doing was inadvertently embarrassing herself, her position, and the lap-dog milquetoast she sent to dispatch me. With any luck, that particular person has gone on to greener and hopefully more professional pastures, where they don't allow their journalists to write their articles in crayon. After several pro-me comments were posted on New Time's website, Amy, flying under the guise of "extending the dialogue", suggested that we meet, and the rest as they say, is Artbitch history.

Which you can read all about using the archives.

Seriously. If you haven't, you're missing out on some comically epic carnage. If there's one thing I truly enjoy, it's metaphorically slicing up insufferable cretins with my switchblade tongue. Especially when they willingly provide the pre-sharpened cutlery for me to do so.

Sadly, the number of willfully ignorant people seems to be rising in this country, much in the manner of an unstoppable plague which is slowly leading to the detriment of culture overall. When it comes to the Phoenix Art Scene, there are a limited (but dedicated) number who stand as artistic bulwarks to protect what the PAS is attempting to build.

In my own snarkerific way, I'm trying to be a force that helps stem the tide of this inanity, and bars the door against those who would impugn our talent and craft.  

When it comes to calling it, I'm usually pretty spot on in my observations, an opinion backed up both by email and personal interactions with my fellow Creatives. For all the judgments that have been passed upon me by my traditionally anonymous detractors [IE: I'm arrogant, overbearing, intense, condescending, over-opinionated, etc.] the two words I have yet to hear with any regularity which would stop any argument I might have in it's tracks is this:

"You're wrong".

You'd think that if I was so off-base it would be fairly easy to prove, but this particular phrase has yet to come up, regardless of what form the dialogue takes. They'll attack my tone, my ponytail, my art, my beard, [Have they no decency?] my photography, my love of clog dancing and my ongoing addiction to Ding Dongs- yet when it comes to their being able to launch an effective counter-debate, it's like I'm facing a room full of empty chairs most of the time.

Welcome to Phoenix, where talking behind one's back could be considered an Olympic sport, if it wasn't for the fact that nobody here is really any good at it. What we do have in abundance as an offset against this plethora of thin-skinned and petulant cravens, is artistic talent.

Raw, gritty, largely undiscovered talent. And it's long overdue that we get our collective s**t together and let the rest of the planet know what the f**k we're about. In a perfect and just world, Phoenix would be on the same level as NYC or LA- and while I will give a nod to the fact that RoRo was recently named one of the 10 best art districts in the United States, it's all for naught if we don't know how to effectively market what we do.

But that's a rant for another time I think, as today is all about celebrating what has changed for the better since I started screaming from this humble little soapbox. To begin with, there's more arts coverage, and even though it's still uniformly terrible, at least it exists. There's more appreciation for public art, thanks to our pro-art and more importantly, pro-Phoenix mayor, not to mention a whole slew of independent stores, cafes, and restaurants, which have invigorated Downtown Phoenix.

And let's not forget all these new galleries and art spaces that when it gets right down to it, seem to be trying really hard. Granted, truly effectual marketing, standards of presentation, and a coherent business plan are seemingly abstract concepts to the majority of them, but at least they're making an effort... two nights a month.

Gah. Sorry. Even when I'm celebrating I can't enjoy myself. But at this moment, I'm not gonna be a negative Nancy, heck no- today I'm going to be an upbeat Ulysses, or maybe even an optimistic Orville. I know, I know, that's just crazy talk, but that's how I feel.

Plus, I have a tale to finish, let us not forget that, so I think I'll just sum up my feelings on the first fifty thusly- I hope you've enjoyed reading them as much as I've enjoyed writing them, and I hope that in some way, they've at least furthered the dialogue as to what we need to do to in order to make the PAS a world-class artistic entity.

If you're one of the people I've given props to, I hope it helped. And if you're one of the chosen who for whatever reason landed within the reach of my swift and terrible admantium claws, I hope you'll be comforted by this heartfelt sentiment as to why you were singled out for my special, if not focused, attention: it was something that you and you alone did, that got you what you deserved, and if you were offended, that's just too damn bad.

Want to stay off the radar? Then don't be an unethical talentless twit. Easy as that. And if you're upset about my opinion, take to the Internet and bitch freely- it's worked out pretty good for me, and it can work out well for you too. Maybe that's what recent Artbitch scratching post Joe Too Many Consonants In His Name really needs to fuel his inner calm- having access to a keyboard and possibly a puppy.

Come to think of it, that seems like a really cruel thing to do to the puppy.

Speaking your mind typically won't win you any friends, but it will get you the right ones, and that's what really counts. When all the chits are totaled, if the worst thing they can say about you is that you're a truly honest (if sometimes disliked) son of a bitch, consider it a win, and move forward.

I know I do.

And with that, lets get on to the end of my tale, before I start weeping like Jude Law in The Holliday*.
*[Netflix. Rent it. Seriously, it's a freaking adorable movie, and Cameron Diaz is funny as hell in it.]

Where were we? Lemme hit the bullet points. Let's see...

- In the hospital ICU after a near-death experience? Check.
- Mother showed up for five minutes and hasn't been heard from since? Check.
- Watched enough about Gangsters on TV to easily write the script for Goodfellas 2? Check.
- Discovered why catheters will not be the new fashion must? Check.
- Watched enough Michael Jackson videos to front a Jackson 5 cover band? Check.

Nice. We're all up to speed.

At this point, despite the fact that I was bouncing back with an almost Wolverine-like velocity, I was still in the ICU, due to complications from the original infection that landed me there- in other words, they were having difficulty finding the source, and were extremely concerned that I would pick up a secondary infection by remaining where I was.

If you're not familiar with basic hospital protocol, I'll share this: bacteria in a sterile environment morphs into some seriously weird and lethal combinations. Thus, the decision was made to transfer me to a semi-private room as soon as possible in order to avoid my experiencing directly just how strange those unholy partnerships could get.

As I'm being transferred out, my day nurse Eric says the following: "It's been a pleasure, I hope to never see you here again." Aw... I guess that underneath all that sadism thinly disguised with cartoon scrubs, beats the heart of a really decent person. Mind you, this really decent person was the one who pulled out my catheter on the count of "two" and not on the agreed count of "three", which sort of negates that whole warm fuzzy feeling I should have had in regards to this moment.

Settling in, I take stock of my new surroundings: a window view of rooftops, a flat screen tv tuned to Cartoon Network (sweet!) and a heavily tatted young Latino guy sleeping in the bed next to mine.

Embarrassingly, I don't remember his name, so for the sake of our story, let's just call him Jaime.  

And I'm not stereotyping here, his name certainly wasn't white-bread, like Tom, or Bill, or anything like that, so no need for angry e-mails or burning pitchforks, ok?

As I was still weak as a kitten (but improving) I almost immediately doze off, and wake up to a very sweet looking, somewhat elderly woman wearing a stylish black turtle neck and a huge crucifix around her neck sitting next to my bed. I'm talking a 1984 Like a Virgin Madonna cross here, the kind that you could use to stop a mugging, if you wielded it like a bat.

And in the lingo of the rough upper middle-class streets that I hail I'm from, that screams "Nun".

Fairly quickly, the realization that I, the lapsed Catholic, am currently in the presence of a totally dedicated God Squad member hits home, and I start sweating bullets, because nothing on God's green Earth is scarier than a nun.

Especially one that has a keen sense of fashion.
Who also wants to chat. With me.
Gulp, I say. Gulp.

This is so not good, as I am a very bad Catholic, even by the modern standards of the day. My past trip to New Orleans in 1994 alone could (and most likely will) send me straight to H E double hockey sticks, so as you might surmise, I wasn't exactly looking forward to the idea of conversing with one of God's ticket takers, no matter how stylish she was.

But since I'm also not a rude vulgarian by any measure, I did open our dialogue by politely letting  her know that while yes, I had been thrown for a loop spiritually, I was also not open to the idea of discussing my personal relationship with my Lord and Savior, which at that particular moment, could have been Pierce Brosnan for all I knew, given my somewhat frazzled mental state.

Barry Gibb, by the way could also be considered, due to his awesome hair and love of super tight pants. It's almost like we're brothers.

We did however, have a brief (but pleasant) discussion about art, and talked about the continuing media frenzy over the King of Pop fizzing out, and as she leaves, she ends our discourse with the statement that if I do need to talk to someone, her metaphorical door is always open.

After a few minutes of contemplative silence, my bunk-mate finally introduces himself and inquires as to what I was "in" for. I explain about how my jaw infection led to my kedoacidosis, which in turn, has led to my laying in this hard as a rock bed in this lovely post 1970's room with two IV lines in my arms. After acknowledgement of how "rough" my situation is, I casually ask him why he's there, and given the detail that the majority of his tattoos are seemingly of prison quality, [a fact he admits to later] I assumed it had to have been a fight or something of that nature that had landed him here.

In fact, nothing could have been farther from the truth. What had really dropped this former gang banger (found Jesus, had a kid, cleaned up his act) was far more insidious, the knowledge of which led me to regard my health issues in a much better light: kidney stones.

What are kidney stones? Well, I'm no doctor, but I have seen my share of the white coat brigade, so here's the info you seek: "Kidney stones (AKA: renal lithiasis) are small, hard deposits that form inside your kidneys. The stones are made of mineral and acid salts. Kidney stones have many causes and can affect any part of your urinary tract — from your kidneys to your bladder.

Often, stones form when the urine becomes concentrated, allowing minerals to crystallize and stick together."

Now, I know what you're thinking, and that thought is mother-f***ing yeouch.

The pain issue alone is bad enough, but the way you purge the stones is to pass their pulverized remnants through your faithful spam dagger. That is just so wrong on so many levels, and I won't even touch on the fact that unlike women in the process of giving birth, our unassuming manhole doesn't have that amazing ability to elongate like a freaking Stretch Armstrong doll.

But despite his obvious pain, I still felt that I had the sympathy vote all wrapped up- after all, I had just come from the ICU, survived a near-death experience, chatted with a nun, and suffered the indignity of a catheter. As far as I was concerned, the empathy jackpot was mine and mine alone to wallow in as I saw fit.

Kidney stones?
Oh bitch, please- I gave Death a metaphorical wedgie, and survived. I am badass, hear me roar.

Clearly, I was having a Lifetime Television moment, but I was still going to suck it dry as if I were Paris Hilton working a DJ gig in Ibiza. After all, I'd cheated Death, taken his prize, and while I had come out physically and mentally weakened, I was alive, and that's what counted. Clearly, his ailment couldn't possibly compete with my touching of the Bunny Slippers of Death.

Or so I thought. See... managing one's Ego is a tricky and slippery business- once you think you've got it all figured out, your Ego throws you a curve ball.

That's moving at Mach 1. Towards your face. While on fire.

Snug in my personal kingdom of self-importance, I ask "Jaime" how he's coping with his obvious pain, and he responds by telling me that overall, he's okay, but that it's his other issue that's really killing him. Naturally, I inquire about his other issue, and instantly come to regret it.

Not because I'm a jerk, oh heck no- it's that I had just asked one of those questions you really don't want the answer to, no matter how curious you might be. Come to think of it, some of my more sensitive male readers may actually want to skip a bit ahead, cause what's coming up isn't pretty, and I really don't want to ruin your lunch.

That's one of the great things about hitting rock bottom- it always has a sub-basement filled with rats. In retrospect, I should have just stayed on the topic of kidney stones, as it can be fascinating.

Did you know you can actually make jewelry out of those things? I didn't, and I like to believe that I'm a master when it comes to the field of arcane knowledge, no matter what the subject is about. See, normally, I'm one of those people who like to know a little (if not a lot) about pretty much almost anything that exists.

Normally.

That is, anything except the newly introduced topic I was on the verge of learning about, that being the medical condition known as "Testicular Torsion". Some of you just went green guessing what that might be, and if you're off, I guarantee it's not by much.

To be technical, it's usually described as such:

"Testicular torsion occurs when a testicle rotates on the spermatic cord, which provides blood flow to the testicle. As a result, the flow of blood is stopped causing sudden, often severe pain and swelling. Prolonged testicular torsion will result in the death of the testicle and surrounding tissues.

Generally, testicular torsion requires emergency surgery. If treated within a few hours, the testicle can usually be saved. However, waiting longer for treatment can cause permanent damage and may affect the ability to father children. When blood flow has been cut off for too long, a testicle may become so badly damaged it has to be removed.

Testicular torsion is most common in males 10 to 25 years old, but it can occur at any age. About 65 percent of cases occur in adolescents between 12 to 18 years of age. It occurs in about 1 of 4,000 males before the age of 25."

There... don't you all feel better now?

I'll bet dollars to donuts that no matter what is going wrong in your life right now, given that perspective, it just became all excellent across the board. As he was describing his unimaginable pain to me, all I could think was this:

"You know what? I'm good. Perfect, in fact. Top notch. A-ok. Feelin' fine. Okeley-dokely, for lack of a better word.
Come to think of it, I've never felt this good, and in retrospect- nothing in my life up to this point could truly be counted as a solemn hardship."

And I was dead serious. Sure, I was flat on my back, barely able to walk, and couldn't stay awake for more than a few hours at a time, not to mention the roughly 12 feet of IV line I had running out of my arms, but at least my boys were still in their right place, tucked under the ol' love silo, where nature intended them to be. And with that, moving day ends, and I fall asleep.

The next morning, after Jaime has his successful surgery, a small but steady flow of visitors arrives to see me, my mother not being one of them, as that would involve her having to actually fake interest, and she's so not about that.

However, the first two friends who do show up bring me a specially requested illicit gift: Taco Bell.
I'll explain why that was so.

If you've ever been hospitalized, you're aware that most hospital food traditionally lacks a few things- taste being paramount above all. At the time of my stay, everything I was eating tasted like wet cardboard, which I attributed to the theory expressed above. So when my friends announced that they were coming, I asked them to smuggle in some "food" as a saving grace against the hospital's kitchen.

Mmm... wet cardboard topped with weak hot sauce and tasteless cheese. Perfect. And I'll get to be reprimanded later by my day nurse for casually spiking my blood sugar by eating non-documented carbohydrates? Super sweet. However, the hospital did have one thing that rocked my mouth, and that was the most amazing vanilla pudding that I have ever had in my life.

It was as Aphrodite herself came off Mount Olympus. and decreed that I alone should experience what was essentially a joy-gasm of vanilla. Sorry if you're visualizing that right now, but on the upside, you can always substitute your favorite celebrity instead of me, so it's all good.

I'd recommend Milla Jovovich, but that's just my fondness for zombie killing chicks talking.

Believe you me, that stuff was amazing, and it was literally the only thing I could taste. As it turned out, the lack of flavor in my meals wasn't because of anything the hospital kitchen had done, it was due to the amount of antibiotics the medical staff had used while battling my infection- it had suppressed my ability to actually taste anything that wasn't super sweet, spicy or salty, and I was later casually informed by my doctor that this condition could possibly be permanent.

Gee, Doc... I didn't get you anything. Boy, is my face red, or what?

Fortunately, this effect only lasted for a few weeks after my being discharged, which led to the incorporation of chocolate chip mint ice cream, pretzels and jambalaya as main-stays in my diet for a brief period of time. While this may sound unhealthy, it did help me put back on the thirty pounds I had lost, so there is that.

But on top of the frustration in regards to my taste buds, I also had to deal with an awkward social situation as well- two of my friends had recently broken up with each other, so I had to schedule their visits so that there wouldn't be any conflict betwixt them, or more specifically, the one who couldn't act like a grown up for ten minutes.

Spoiler: it wasn't the girl. It never ceases to amaze me how petty people can get when they're no longer the main flavor for someone. Here's some gentle advice- if you're aware that you haven't brought anything to the table, you don't get to act surprised when your partner pushes their chair back and walks away from you.

And let's face it, if there ever was a moment for me to act completely self-absorbed without guilt, this would be the one. After all, you're visiting someone in the hospital who nearly died, so your drama I'm sorry to say, needs to be shelved for the duration of your visit without question.

Yes, at that moment, it literally was all about me, and for the first time in my life, it was completely justified beyond reproach. Despite all this potential aggravation, the rest of the visits go off without a hitch, and I spend the rest of my day alternately napping and watching TV. Sadly, Michael Jackson remained dead, and according to the news, "Thriller" was still the only album he had ever recorded.

Does no one remember "Off the Wall"? Because that album rocked.
Question for another time, I guess.

Mid-afternoon of the next day, a doctor I've never seen before comes into my room and asks me if I want to go home, as they're still worried about my catching a post-infection, and they collectively think that I'm far enough along to be discharged safely. Naturally, I say yes, and naturally, he later bills my insurance company $150.00 for his "consultation".

Which by the way, I'm happy to announce he never got to pocket, as I eventually get it cleared from the final bill, which originally stood at $118,000.00. For the record, if you're going to charge me $150.00 for answering a simple question, there had better be soft music and candlelight involved beforehand. Just saying.

And if you can't do either, I'd better be seeing a case of chilled Ding Dongs come my way, and that right quick. So, after waiting a few hours to clear all the medical paperwork hurdles, I'm officially discharged, looking like a meth camp reject- bruised, pale, wobbly as a drunken aardvark, and extremely sensitive to sunlight.

And here I was, thinking it could only get better. But as I stated earlier, I was on the mend and that's what really counted in the long run. Granted, the next five weeks were transforming in their own way, but here's where our story stops for now, I think.

Looking back, I can honestly say I'm very grateful to be alive, and even more so now that I get to opine on the PAS with such brutal transparency after years of playing it quiet. I can't even begin to tell you the sensation of freedom that comes with openly and plainly stating where you stand on something, albeit it about art, politics, or your fellow human beings.

People may not like what I say/write, but they know exactly what I believe in, and no matter how many anonymous internet cravens pop up spewing venom or threats of implied violence, I'm not going to be varying my approach anytime soon.

If I'm partially responsible for changing some attitudes within the PAS, that's for others to decide, as I've got bigger fish to fry. When it gets right down to brass tacks, if someone's nose gets bent out of joint, so be it- it's on them, as I'm only accountable for what I say, not how it's interpreted.

At the end of the day, if I can get a few people to discuss openly what most needs to be discussed, I'll consider that victory enough, and I move on to the next issue at hand. What truly matters is the end goal, where the PAS is fostered into becoming an economically viable and stable art market, where galleries and their artists can not only make a living, but also get the respect that their talent is worthy of.

So in closing, my sincerest thanks to those who've read, those who've complained, and even those who've spent their free time hissing at me from under the Internet's bed- you've all helped make the last five years of my life creating this body of work some of the best.

And when we come back with number 51....

A Treeo grows in Phoenix, I attend a laughably passive-aggressive art opening, theorize about a possible new Superman villain, explain why an "art-space" isn't the same as an art gallery using an analogy involving chocolate milk, and cast a critical eye on the fair weather that blows within the PAS.

"No legacy is as rich as honesty" - William Shakespeare

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