Sunday, August 30, 2015

Where the puck is going

Given how long I’ve admired Kevin Smith’s work and ethos, it’s a little strange how I had never seen him live before. I first heard about him in 1994 and really got into him in my college years, especially in 2000, when I played catch-up on all of his films on DVD. Whenever he’d come to town in the past, it would be at big conventions or nights I couldn’t go. So, when it was announced he would be at the legendary Texas Theatre on a Friday night, I figured now was the right time.

Seeing Kevin in person (and spending two hours with a sold-out crowd) was like catching up with a college friend over the course of an evening. Though he technically answered only one question, he delivered an inspiring rant about accepting yourself when failure is possible at any time. Recapping the Wayne Gretzky adages of missing every shot you don't take, and you should skate where the puck is going instead of where it's been, he built on those pieces of wisdom. (I heard a lot of people complain after the show how he only answered one question, but damn, what he said really trumped tidbit answers about upcoming projects or previous projects that never happened.)

Kevin might address a room filled with people at his Q&A’s, delivering stories like a stand-up comedian, but what he has to say seems like he’s talking directly to you. There’s a lot of sincerity with what he has to say, and I really appreciated that.

It was fun to write a cutesy article for the Observer about "10 Questions You Should Not Ask Kevin Smith." But the bigger picture at hand was realizing how important this guy has been for me.

I freely admit my enthusiasm for a number of Kevin’s projects in the past ten years, whether it’s a film or a podcast, has not been very strong. I’ve seen every movie he’s made and I was a regular listener to his SMODcast for a few years. Given how many podcasts he does these days, it got to a point where I couldn’t keep up and lost interest. (Hearing him think outloud while he was baked didn’t make me want to hear that week in and week out.)

The question he answered was about how he stays creative even when there are a lot of people who want to remind him of his faults and limitations. He touched on working with Bruce Willis on Cop Out, characterizing Willis as a “Why?” person. Since he had a lengthy rant on Too Fat for 40 on the difficulty of working with a jaded famous person who made it in Hollywood and now phones his performances in, what he shares now is what it was like to work with “Why not?” people.

It’s important to point out how “Why not?” people are not necessarily “Yes!” people. You shouldn’t fill your life with people who tell you every thought or idea you have is the best thing you’ve ever come up with. At the same time, you shouldn’t fill your life with people who constantly tell you how awful you are. With Kevin, he openly admits how critical his wife Jennifer is of his work. When she showed tremendous interest in the script to Tusk, that floored him. A film that audacious for Kevin to do yielded the hope of seeing if he could actually make it.

He spoke at length how this led to working with Johnny Depp on the film. The point of why he spoke so long about this was to show how Depp as a person was the polar opposite of Willis. Depp didn’t have to do Kevin’s three-million-dollar film for a paycheck, but he loved the character that he played (and especially the accent he created for the role). I thought of this story as the upswing after the downswing of Cop Out.

Kevin briefly mentioned how failure is preparation for success. That, essentially, is what drew the strongest response out of me. I still have an uneasy relationship with failure and rejection, but a true failure is not trying at all. Then things all came together in my head about why I was in a room listening to Kevin speak.

I flashed back to college, listening to commentary tracks for Mallrats and Chasing Amy, repeatedly watching scenes from Chasing Amy, reading his scripts and comics -- all serving as inspiration for a  screenwriting class I was in at the time. I haven't written a script since college, but the inspiration of creating the kind of stuff you want to read/see/hear has always been there. Couple this with a pivotal scene in Rad! (where the hero decides to create his own company for sponsorship), and you, essentially, have why I do what I do today. Whether it's the podcast, this blog, writing books or articles, I do these things because I want to, and I'm not afraid to share this with people I don't know.

Kevin's not the only influential person on my creative pursuits, but he certainly inspired me to get on the path I'm on now. I might not end up loving Yoga Hosers or Mallbrats or even Clerks III, but I want to see them. And I certainly would not want to pass up a chance to see him again. It would make for another fun evening of catching up with an old friend. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Let Your Arrow Fly

Late one night during my vacation in Nashville, I saw an article in my Facebook newsfeed from Vanity Fair with the headline, "Tinder and the Dawn of the 'Dating Apocalypse.'" I read through it and thought, Is this really what I encounter these days as a single guy, hoping to date someone again? Since I'm not on Tinder, the answer was no.

I found the article to ring true about a few people I know who are a little younger than me. I have yet to see in my dating life where hook-up culture clashed with my hopes of meaningful conversations and monogamy. But the article did make me do a mental inventory of where I'm at now.

Since my previous relationship ended last summer, I have been on exactly one date. I don't wear that as a badge of honor or an albatross. Simply, it's the reality that has happened. I've needed time to grieve over a lot of matters that happened last year. My hope has been to work on myself, trying to clean my side of the street to the best of my ability. That way, someone new can walk down it without fear stepping into garbage, vomit, and/or poop.

Still, there are blockades to getting down to a thorough cleaning. I'm not one of those people that can immediately bounce back into another relationship when one ends. I know many people who can do that, but I accept I'm not like them. I'm not better or worse; I take things at a different pace.

What hampers my ability to open up to new people comes from obsessive thinking and awkwardness when I am around people I don't know. I'm always thinking too much about this or that, usually some bad experience that I use as an excuse to not try something again. Previous failures have erroneously made me think I should never try something like them ever again. The whole, "What can I do to make sure this never happens again?" served as apt excuse for so many years, unfortunately.

My twenties were filled with a lot of parties and concerts, meeting many people I still keep in touch with. I didn't really date anyone, but the topic of dating somebody was on my mind all the time. I don't long for those days to come back, as I am much happier in my mid-30s with the occasional party and even more concerts than before. The thing is, I appear to be a social person when I'm with people I know, but when I'm unaccompanied, I'm detached and awkward. If I'm at a show, I'm very focused on watching the bands, rather than getting drinks and trying to make new connections.

Miraculously, I have been in a couple of extremely meaningful relationships in the past five years. One relationship came out of suggestion by a mutual friend. The other came from being on OKCupid for a few months. Neither relationship was a wasted experience as I learned a lot about relationships in general. Some were great lessons; others were painful lessons.

I had resisted online dating for years, as people can easily fall in love with the idea of a person rather than the realities of that person. Somehow, through the clutter of the New to Town, Lived Here All My Life, Single Mom Looking for a Strong Christian Man, World Traveler With No Plans to Settle Down, and other stereotypes, I found success with someone. But after many months of being on the site again, I have to admit I strongly agree with the flaws of online dating in this article on Now, it's like I maintain my profile as if it's a beacon signal, hoping I could find someone special -- and that person finds me special, too.

A very helpful way of dealing with the person I really am came from reading an article on the type of people I go for, based on my Myers-Brigg personality type. As an ENFJ (extraversion, intuition, feeling, judgment), writer April Lee seemed to know me all too well. In regards to the personality type I'm usually attracted to: "The one who gives you half as much as you give them," she wrote. "The one who you really really really like, but doesn’t necessarily like you as much back. You believe in hard work when it comes to relationships, and you’re determined to prove that you’re faithful and trustworthy."

As for the person I should aim for, I agree with what Lee suggested: "The one who tries. Someone who acknowledges that passion is important, but understands that effort is what truly keeps people together. Someone who initiates as often as you do, and is willing to share every part of their life with you."

Now that I've laid all of this stuff out, I think about ways I can improve my situation. I know I don't want to be single for the rest of my life, but I don't want to be with someone who makes me miserable, either. No one person is without weaknesses or flaws, and not everyone is sane for every hour of every day of the year. As my parents have told me time and time again, it's about finding somebody that you can balance your life with, and vice-versa.

It's been very easy to stick to this idea for many months: don't turn down an opportunity to meet new people. I've been extremely fortunate to get involved with a variety of circles thanks to my continued involvement in the local music scene, as well as people who love the radio station, The Ticket. Facebook and Twitter have done wonders on that front.

Still, it hasn't been easy to find someone I could be romantically compatible with. There have been some near-misses, as well as a few potentials that ended in disaster. Those don't make me want to throw in the towel. But I won't lie, sometimes I start to believe bullshit like, "Women only care about how much money you make" and "You'll die alone and miserable unless you step out of your comfort zone." Those don't help me pave new trails, but there are times when I give those ideas a lot of time in my mind.

Whenever I hear a creative type dedicate his or hers work to a longtime companion or spouse, I freely admit I'd love to express that about somebody someday. Whenever I hear a creative person add he or she would be nothing without that special someone, I'd like to tell what my experience has been. As in the reality of being "nothing" in that person's eyes.

I don't consider myself a failure on this aspect of life. Some things take time, longer than most people I know. Everyone I'm close to is either married, in a relationship, or getting over someone. I'm surrounded by good people, some who are in kinds of relationships I'd like to be. Others, well, represent kinds of relationships I hope to never be in. The hook-up culture has not destroyed their hopes of a lasting marriage or commitment. They've let life take its course and have not been afraid to stay with the right people.

So, that's where I'm at on this topic. It's an ongoing thing, as I still maintain this attitude: we all want to love and be loved. The harder one fights off that notion, the harder life is. It's vital to accept a two-way street relationship, and to never stop wanting to be in one.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

We're Allowed to Be Alive

Eleven hours to get there, ten to get back, and one car battery later, I'm back from Nashville. My summer vacation came and went in a flash, but I came back home with a greater sense of clarity. Much more than I thought I would, actually.

Instead of a day-by-day/hour-by-hour account, let me run down the highlights between Thursday night to Saturday night: ordered tacos and got a sandwich and hot wings instead, saw Michael Ian Black do standup and kill, watched Filmage again, went to four record stores, bought Jawbox's first album on vinyl, ate a couple of large plates of Indian vegetarian food, hit up a Guitar Center, got a new car battery, helped with setting up (and tearing down) a drum set, helped do merch inventory, visited Sun Studio again and went to Ardent Studio for the first time, and got home safely.

The main attraction of seeing Braid and Beach Slang was the pinnacle of my whirlwind visit. Both bands put on excellent sets, mixing old and new material well. I spent a lot of time with the Braid guys, hanging out and volunteering to help in any way that I could. They are good people that I have known for over ten years, and I look forward to seeing them again, whenever that is. Getting to know the Beach Slang guys was a major plus. I freely admitted to them about how much I like their sound, and I hope to see them again on tour later this year.

 Driving almost endlessly down I-40 on the way home, I didn't dread coming back to my regular routine. I realized this "vacation" was a way for me to take a break from mental doldrums swirling around in my head. Spending almost 24 hours of helping a band get from place to place and setting up and tearing down gave me the chance to not think too much about topics that have been on my mind lately. I now understand that I am an obsessive thinker, and have been for many years. Recognizing this as a problem can help me work on solutions for what I can do in the foreseeable future. 

Quite often, I hear people say their vacations are never long enough and they can't wait to go on another one. I'm not thinking that way, as I enjoy doing what I do in my regular routine, for the most part. I needed this trip, as perverse as it might sound to drive a long way for a show. But it wasn't just a show for me. Most shows aren't.


Monday, August 03, 2015

This Road I'm Travelling

As summer draws to a close, I have my eyes set on another long roadtrip. Last year, I drove all the way to St. Louis, a town I had never visited before. This year, it's another town I've never visited: Nashville. I'd been close to Nashville before (Memphis, to be specific), but I've never been there.

There are multiple reasons why I chose Nashville. My friends in Braid will kick off a short tour there when I'm in town. They aren't coming to Texas anytime soon, and I haven't seen them in a couple of years. I always enjoy spending time with them, and it makes a much more involved experience. It beats standing in a dark bar for a couple of hours, surrounded by people staring down at their shoes or their smartphones. (Full disclosure, I usually am one of those people at shows, too.)

The drive to Nashville is not short, but it's not insanely long, either. Ten hours on the road is enough for me, and that's how long it will take for me to get there. I look forward to seeing a part of Tennessee that I have never seen before, and that's a major plus about traveling to parts of the country I've never seen before.

Like my trip last year, I have a limited amount of time to make the most of my trip. I get more out of a trip this way, as I don't have much time to fart around. I plan on hitting up a few record stores and eating at some restaurants my friends have recommended to me. The morning after the show, I'll be back on the road and heading home, hopefully stopping in Memphis for a couple of sight-seeing matters (Sun Studio and Ardent Studio, mainly).

I'm at a point in my life where I force myself to take some kind of vacation every year. I'm thankful to work for a company that encourages its employees to take time off, and one that doesn't shame you for wanting some time off in the first place. I don't think of the years I spent with my former employer as wasted years. The times I was able to vacation in Chicago, Little Rock, Memphis, and Destin really stick out from all the days I spent working, partying, walking the dog, writing articles and books, playing shows, and seeing shows.

I continue to choose a responsible attitude with leaving town for a few days. I have a plan to get to my destination and return. I don't have many responsibilities in my life, aside from work, paying rent, and taking care of two adorable dogs, but they are important responsibilities. As much as I look forward to spending a few days away from them, I look forward to coming back to them.

And yes, this year's trip is another part of the process in grieving the people (and relationship) I lost last year. Life has been, overall, significantly better in 2015, but there are still a lot of questions about where the hell my life is going next. I recently talked about grief in a feature I wrote for the Observer. Talking to Brandon Curtis, a former Dallas resident about his current projects, we openly talked about grief as he continues life, thinking all the time about his younger brother Benjamin, who passed away in 2013. Talking to Brandon was incredibly therapeutic, and I appreciated his openness with me. It was a conversation I had to have.

No other long roadtrips are on deck for me this year. Aside from a family reunion in Round Rock over the Labor Day weekend and family visits during the holidays, the rest of my year will be going to a lot of shows (especially this month and next month) and doing as much as I can to live with what I have now.