Sunday, September 23, 2012

Orpheus Wounded

So, longer than I would have liked, but another of from 750words project, and another creative entry.

Orpheus Wounded

He was sitting down, cradling his guitar. It was a beautiful instrument, the wood full of intricate swirls, and it sounded better than it looked. He had found it in a pawn shop years ago, shortly before his fifteenth birthday, and fell in love with it immediately. Working nights at a local convince store, he had saved up enough money to purchase it a few months later. When he first took it home, he set it down to admire it for a bit before sitting down and strumming a few chords. He wasn't the best guitarist, but he was dedicated, and the new guitar filled him with the intense to play. He spent a large part of his teenage life, sitting on the edge of his bed, playing along to the radio, or spending hours trying to figure out his favorite songs. But that seemed like an entirely different life now.

He moved the guitar to his side, contemplating the years. He remembered the tears in his mother's eyes as he told her he had enlisted. He remembered the (what seemed like gallons at the time) sweat dripping down his body during training exercises. He remembered the swirl of dust and sand kicked up by the rotors of the helicopter as his squad landed on the ground halfway across the earth from where he grew up. But try as he might, he couldn't remember the blast, or the screeching of bullets as his brothers pulled him to safety, or the flight to a military base in Germany. A defense mechanism he supposed.

He stood, holding the neck of the guitar in his right hand. He remember the days and months afterwards better: the doctor explaining where he was and what had happened. He remembered certain things from the conversation "limited functionality", "newer models in the future", "a balance of form and function". While the technology for prosthetic limbs had been rapidly evolving over the last few years, it hadn't quite reached the levels that medical journals and technology magazines were in a frenzy over - well at least not for the general public. Sure, there were some successful attempts at allowing someone to control the prosthesis with their mind, allowing the person to pick up something as delicate as a grape and eat it without crushing it. But even if he went through the procedures to allow him to use such a prosthesis, well, it was state of the art, but here the art was lacking for what he really desired.  The difference between picking up a grape and fretting a barre b minor chord is significant.  There were models with rudimentary touch sensors, sure, but haptic feedback wasn't close to actual muscle memory or the feeling of the string under your fingertips.  And while he used to be able to tell where his fretting had was based on his arm position, the feeling of his phantom arm complicated that significantly.

Reaching the other side of the room, he leaned his guitar against the wall, sliding open the bottom drawer of the dresser, and removed a shoebox. So much of his life was tied up in music, from the nights he would spend on his girlfriends porch, performing his own cheesy acoustic versions of love songs, to the band he had formed in his junior year.  The music was his soul escaping into the world, his connection to something deeper, something more meaningful, a language that spoke more accurately than any tongue ever spoken by men.

He opened the shoebox, the small metal object inside catching the light.  He was feeling hollow, he knew the words in his mind, but had forgotten how to speak.  He feared that the longer he would have to wait for a suitable prosthetic to play, he wouldn't remember the words.  That the poetry that he wanted to pour out through his music would be flat, a shadow of its former beauty.  That almost hurt more than knowing he would probably never play again, the what could, or should have been.

He raised the object in his hand, feeling the metal, cool against his skin.  He had gone through the counseling, and knew the statistics.  "Just stay positive, it may take some time, but patience will help in reaching 'peace'."  Sure, but he had never been a patient man, and was stubborn enough to find his own way through this.  If he would never play guitar again, then so be it, but he would never let his song be silenced.  In his hands he cradled a microphone.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


I recently came across an article online extolling the benefits of writing frequently.  Specifically, the author mentioned writing at least 750 words a day as a way to increase creativity, as well as providing some general motivation.  Seeing as I've been a bit lax in writing recently (both this blog, and in general), I thought this was a interesting concept, and decided to jot down a short story.  It took a bit longer than I anticipated, but I don't think it turned out half bad (criticism welcome as always).  Hopefully, I will commit to 'paper' at some point a few of the other concepts I have floating in my head, but for now I present


He was running, fleeing.  His steps slowed by the blanket of snow that covered the forest floor.  The staccato crunch of compacted snow following each deep step.  Though his pace was rapid, his thoughts were faster: a frenzy a questions, instinct taking over, driving him, controlling him.  He maneuvered between trees, their trunks rushing by, their branches catching and pulling at him, trying to coax him to his end.  This would not do.  Although the muscles in his legs were burning, it was nothing compared to the heat in his chest.  His heart felt like it was on fire, each pulse sending blood through his body, some of which was staring to seep out of the mounting cuts and scratches caused by the underbrush and more persistent branches.  Each breathe was visible, hanging in the cool air, catching the light and glowing as a halo.  A though flashed into existence in his mind for an instant: "It would be such a peaceful morning if not for, if not for. . . ."  He couldn't bring himself to finish the thought.  The pain in his tightening leg muscles was nothing compared to that.  His pace quickened and he leapt over a fallen tree crossing the forest path.  Hopefully the obstacle gave him some distance from his pursuers - right now even inches and fractions of a second were precious.

He landed, not pausing to see if his hopes were fulfilled; all that mattered now was survival.  The thought echoed in his head: "All that matters now is survival."  And survival  required him to be fast.  He use to always think he fairly fast for his size, but now in the face of death, he felt horribly sluggish.  Whether it was the thick snow, or growing lax in age, he knew he couldn't keep this pace forever, he needed evade his pursuers. Soon. The snow wasn't helping in this endeavor, his prints easily visible in the fresh snow, with crimson dots betraying his state.  He would have to find somewhere to hide.  He ducked as he passed under a branch coated in icicles, feeling them scrape across his head, his back, their icy diamond tips now more ruby-like in appearance.  The pain shooting through his body, but the thought again: "All that matters now is survival."  And then an addendum: "because they are no longer here."

"All that matters now is survival because they are no longer here" he realized, his eyes going wide.  The horrible revelation pushing its way to the surface, through years of muscle memory and eons of instinct.  His children, his family, gone.  Their lives cut short by the foul things chasing him, with their vicious eyes, their loud fury.  Had he been awake he would have been alerted by their stench, but instead he was violently torn from his dreams by screams of pain and howls of agony. He realized he was quickly outmatched and a though flared through his mind "survival".  Although it seemed like hours, it couldn't have been that long, minutes perhaps, if that, but his legs disagreed with that assessment.  Their protests were becoming louder, and then, they were instantly quieted in confusion.  He was in the air, footing upset by a hidden root in the snow, compounded by his mind's wandering.

He closed his eyes, bracing for impact as he collided with a tree.  The sickening crack of branches as well as a rib or two filled his ears.  He felt his back connect with the earth, the snow doing little to soften his fall. He had landed, but was still moving -tumbling, rolling down into a small ravine beside the tree.  As he reached the bottom he opened his eyes, and for a brief second was captivated by the early morning rays penetrating the forest canopy, sending golden streamers across the forest's floor.

The repose was brief.  He didn't have much time now, he could hear his pursuers now reaching the top of the ravine.  He would soon be joining his family.  It felt just, as if anyone deserved the punishment that befell them, it should be him.  After all, he knew of the warnings surrounding the area, and yet he convinced his family that it would be alright to spend the night, only one night while he prowled the clearing by forest, on the hunt for some to bring back.  Now here he was, prey himself.

"He's in the ditch," said one of the figures motioning to the battered body lying at the bottom, "I don't think he left us much of job."

"Good riddance, I hope that's the last of 'em," replied the other. "I'm getting fed up with  all the cattle we've been losing to these damn wolves," he continued raising his rifle, and lined up the shot.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Chiroptera Anthro

Spend any length of time with me and I'll probably betray my nerdy background.  There's a certain pride, or solidarity that nerds and geeks have.  A collective passion for their own geeky subject.  I guess in the 80s and 90s before nerd-chic came into being it helped to reinforce the identity of the group, and was seen as a badge.  A vast collection of Superman comics; the ability to name obscure Star Wars characters after reading extended universe novels multiple times over; calculating the optimal equipment for your level 14 mage in weekly Dungeons and Dragons sessions. Nerd-cred.  I'd posit that a basic element of human psychology is the sharing of group experiences in reinforcing and embracing both individuality and as a means to connect with others.  With the appropriate of a variety of sub-cultures into the mainstream, there have been many backlashes.  The much derided hipster attitude to me is an outgrowth of the loss of personal connection and sense of ownership that occurs when something, whether it be a band, movie, television show, video game, or some other media enters the mainstream.  While one's ability to enjoy and consume that media is usually not hampered (in some cases it will though, for example the band that now plays larger sold out venues as opposed to smaller, more intimate events), the personal-ness of that connection loses some of its meaning.  It's a funny contradiction, because a larger audience would permit more enjoyment of that property? Wouldn't it?  In an effort to not cling to (a quite mistaken) sense of ownership of one of my favorite media subjects, let's talk about Batman.

I was recently looking through old photo-albums again, along with watching old home movies, and I noticed something.  I've been a fan of Batman since before I can remember. Literally.  There are movies of me wearing Batman pajamas to bed before age two.  And while I can't remember what began this initial obsession, I think the character of Batman, here in semi-serious consideration, has many social and psychological levels.  Partially due to the amount of writers that have had some say in the Dark Knight's seventy-some year long history, but also because the son of Bob Kane and Bill Finger (I wonder who claims to be Thomas Wayne and who's Martha) has developed layers upon layers over the years into a vastly complex character.  Digging through this psychological strata as a archaeological will have to be left to someone with a far more vast knowledge of comics then I do, I may be a fan, but in comparison to others, I am a mere amateur in things Bat-related.  Rather, I will provide a more broad analysis, corresponding to what facets of the character have resonated with me as I've aged.  I think on a fundamental level, any study will in some degree reflect the work of its author, and so this may provide just as many insights into my psyche as it does into the protector of Gotham's.

Let's start with the basics and get the few people that have been living under a rock up to speed.  Batman is a man who wears a cape and a mask, and patrols his home city of Gotham  at night dressed as a bat using his wit and athleticism to prevent crime.  To my knowledge, in all cases (side stories, one shots, reboots, etc.) Batman is the result of a young Bruce Wayne seeing his parents getting gunned down before his eyes in a random mugging.  Depending on the time and writer, sometimes fear is a main weapon of the Caped Crusader's arsenal against crime, early on in his history he carried a gun, as a billionaire playboy, he also outfits himself with a variety of gadgets and sports cars.  Sometimes he's portrayed as a superhero, sometimes a vigilante anti-hero.  But despite the title of superhero (and an obscene bank account) he is portrayed as an man.  He didn't get hit with radiation, or come from a different planet, and isn't the son of a powerful god.  He's an average, well, okay, maybe exceptional man (the world's greatest detective would have to be just a little special).  He's profoundly human.

As a kid with a simple understanding of the world, it was simple.  Batman is good, the bad guys are bad.  Batman stops the bad guys because the police can't.  He has a cool car, has a cool costume, gets to stay up late and run across building tops.  And do you know how many action figures there are?!  Like seriously, I know I have like 5 or 6 different variants of Batman (yes, I recently checked).  He's got like a scuba suit, and a parachute suit, and one with fold out wings, or that lame one with Michael Keaton in a sweater with a detachable mask (when you're brother got the cool flippy head one), or the animated series Batman with a gyro-copter.  You don't get the intricacies of vigilantism at age six, or due process, or the driving loss of his parents that pits Batman in his seemingly eternal struggle with crime.  To a six year old, Batman just seems to be the adult you want to be: he gets to do what he wants, when he wants, and does it in a way that helps others.  I've read in some forwards (of trade paperbacks) and analysis of the character that in some way, this ultimate childhood fantasy is really that.  Bruce is a perpetual six year old, waging a misguided war on what took his parents who he can never get back.  Much like the Two-Face of his rogue's gallery (which itself reads like the DSM-IV), the character in most cases is amazingly double-sided.  He appeals to children as a awesome adulthood, when the character himself is stuck in perpetual childhood.

To an angsty teenager, the character is an excellent example of a misunderstood and superior intellect. (And don't forget the self-centeredness; I mean sure, Bruce had his backbone broken by Bane, but can't be sharing that technology with the now wheelchair-bound Barbara Gordon).  He is isolated, but because no one else can understand him.  This isolation breeds extreme self-reliance, and consequently responsibility weighs heavy on Bruce.  Like one of the inspirations for the character, Zorro, Batman is a manifest idea that things aren't the way the should be, and that steps need to be taken to improve society.    He is also isolated to protect those he cares about, the secret identity has to be a secret.  In a certain way though, the identity has switched.  Batman is the true character while Bruce is the mask that faces the world.  Here's a guy who gets it, one may think.  He has a goal and he takes the steps to achieve that goal.  He is a model of self-reliance.  However, this begins to break down considering the support that often goes unnoticed, much like reality.  In particular, Bruce's butler Alfred, a striking example of a father figure raised the young Master Bruce after the passing of his parents.  Then there's the number of people to have borne the mantle of Robin, Batgirl, Commissioner Gordon, even at times the "superfriends" (lest we forget).  (In recent issues, he even has an army of Bat-bots, it's so awesome, like they all have these jets built into their feet and- wait, sorry, almost got carried away there.)  Again, the character lends itself to simultaneously opposed readings, at quite often the same author will use both of these traits in characterizing Bruce.  It's an odd dichotomy, but one that can work in the correct balance.  The lesson to be learned in self-reliance and motivation, but not at the expense of shutting out support.

A more mature reading may bring to light the deeper social issues that have always existed in the Batman mythos. To deal with the most obvious facet first, the nature of vigilantism, and in a larger context a police and legal system that can't deal with the thicket of crime, and in may writings has been corrupted by it.  While Bruce may see Batman as a necessity to combat the crime that runs rampant through Gotham, it's a very fine line between justice and a personal vendetta.  And this fanaticism may actually be doing more harm than good.  Sure, he may have good intentions, but waging a one-man guerrilla war against crime may actually cause an escalation in the seedy underworld's response.  Not to mention all the legal rule bending that would have to take place to actually prosecute the people that he apprehends.  (Or the property damage!)  I feel this is similar to much of the political discourse that occurs nowadays.  Sound-bites and misguided lip service that fails to address the real cause of problems.  Sure, driving around a car shaped like a bat with a jet-turbine nestled inside of it is probably a fun waste some time at 3:30 on a Tuesday morning, but it fails to take into consideration the cause of crime.  Sometimes this is addressed, most recently, Nolan's take with the Dark Knight shows how Bruce is aware that the city needs something more than what he can provide.  While Bruce knows that Batman impacts the city, he's aware that more needs to be done.  The character works as both a almost-fascist highly independent, self-sufficient, ends-justify the means uber-man as spouted by Rand, or as an apologetic temporary solution to a larger social injustice.  And herein lies the the appeal of the character for me.  The duality, and impressions that the character leaves with us are more akin to reflections.  Staying true to my nerdy roots, it's much like Yoda plaintively said in 'Empire' when asked by Luke what awaited him in the cave on Dagobah: "Only what you take with you".

When it comes down to it, I don't mean to suggest that Batman as a character is shallow or empty.  No, rather, I think the character is deep enough that he elicits different responses from different people (or even different responses from the same person over the course of their life).  Batman is an independent, individualist who does what he wants, but is a child at heart.  He has a sense of right and wrong, but will cross over into grey areas to combat what he sees as injustice.  He recognizes the obsession that some of his foes have, but has his own obsessions to deal with.  He set a goal for himself, but only after his life was changed forever.  As a character he has substance, but much in the same way he deals with his nefarious friends, he exists as a imposing figure, with edges that bleed into their surroundings.  Edges that leave room for interpretation.  And this is just one of many.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Creator's Manifesto

After many nights with friends contemplating and recounting our lives, emptying the daily burdens from our heads while filling our stomachs with drink, you come to the conclusion that people are more alike than you think.  Or at least your friends are. While that probably goes without saying, but it still comes as a surprise when you see some deep part of yourself reflected in someone else.  I guess it's part of human nature to close off part of yourself, lest you let your soul get changed by the world.  But there has to be some escape, and I've come to the realization that *that* is the essence of art.  In a general sense, sure, art may be a pretty picture, catchy tune, or engaging story, but there frequently can be something deeper:  something imparted by its creator.  I used to wonder why we spent time in  English class analyzing stories, trying to determine what the author intended the hidden meaning to be.  After all, couldn't there just be writing for the joy of writing?  And I suppose there can be, but that's not really the point.  Sure, some may put words to a page for the sheer joy of creation and the motive force there, but without giving those words I don't see a point.  Maybe I like games too much, or seeing layered meanings in something, but I like to find life between the words, see some soul behind the paint, or hear some heart behind the chorus.

Which brings me to the artist, and why we create. (I think I'm an artist, ego alert)  Sometimes it's to convey something to society, sometimes its for oneself, and other times for the joy in creating something (preferably with meaning).  I've always been amazed at those who can do all of this at once, while weaving different threads for different people to latch onto in their work.  Personally, besides that looming self doubt that every artist (I'm sure/hope?) has, my greatest challenge has always been taking the step and putting yourself out there through what you create.  Talking with fellow artists recently, something one said to me has stuck out: you just have to put yourself out there, not for anyone else, but for yourself.  The desire to hide yourself is a strong one.  A kind of self preservation.  It's easy to shrug off rejection or hurt when people don't know the real you, but to stand emotionally bare in front of someone twists the context.  Call it an evaluation, or judging, or whatever, but that kind of exposure forces you to take a good look at yourself, maybe through someone else's eyes, but honestly nonetheless.  I think that's what true artists do.  I won't say truly good artists, because I don't really think you can bring in qualitative or aesthetic considerations into the discussion, that's the realm of critics.  You're either an artist creating something, or you're not.  Whether or not people enjoy or appreciate what you do is a matter of personal taste and opinion.  Regarding critics, it is simple.  Don't.  Perhaps critically (meta-much) take their analysis and criticism in order to grow, learn and improve (as an artist, not necessarily aesthetically), but don't let it take the joy or light out of your work.  Not to belittle anyone, but perhaps they're critics because they gave up on their own artistic passions.  A critic causing an artist to withhold their art from the world out of fear is a sad thing indeed.  

As to why we create?  As much power as science has, I think there's a small part of life it can't answer.  The deep nagging question we all have.  And while everyone seems to have a different way to phrase it, and a different means and way to answer it, it's still there.  I think on a subconscious level that's why we create.  Sure, I'm amazed at the fact that we as a species have discovered enough about this universe to build a telescope that can see light that has traveled a longer time than the country, the continent, the Earth, the solar system, or indeed, even our Milky Way galaxy has existed.  Much less the science behind simply creating its components, or putting the thing into orbit.  But that's discovery.  We didn't create the fundamental laws of the universe.  We may have create the formulas we express and calculate them with, but we merely found them.  Like a child pulling up rocks in a stream and finding all sorts or creates, albeit it in a (sometimes) more organized and formal way.  No, creating something is different.  It's a chance to leave a mark upon the world, even thought it may be small and subject to the decay of time; there's still a joy to be had.  That's why we create.  

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Solus Vox Desertus

The very fact that you are reading this serves to undercut the argument I am about to make, but it's still a point I think is very relevant to many things that many people do.  It is oft-repeated that people are social beings, requiring social nourishment and contact to bring meaning and context to our lives.  And while simply being in the presence of others does fulfill some of this need, the role of communication cannot be over-emphasized.  I have touched on the importance of language before, but here more generally communication is what I'm referring to (as any psychology undergraduate can tell you, there are a whole host of non-verbal tics, clues, and signs that our brains pick up on without us knowing).  Communication is required for understanding, which is required for trust, which is required in general for most human interactions.  From the basic 'social contract' theory of government (where we rely on our fellow citizens to obey laws and rules that we also follow), to deeper levels of trust, such as that between friends, family and lover.

Communication is a necessary ingredient of social interaction, but I feel that the context, content, and expression is changing rapidly in the modern world.  During my formative teenage years I read near back to back Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World, and while both (to some degree) deal with the interaction between the individual and society or the government at large, another important component of these stories is the use of language and communication in society.  There was a passage in particular in Huxley's tome that struck a very deep chord with me, something I've felt to this day.  A conversation is occurring between two characters, with one expressing: "I'm thinking of a queer feeling I sometimes get, a feeling that I've got something important to say and the power to say it - only I don't know what it is, and I can't make any use of the power."  While that may play to smug feelings of uniqueness and importance we may have (I'm not the only one am I?), it also crystallizes a key component of the modern internet society.

Mass communication has shifted the balance of communication, from conversation to dictation.  A news anchor reaches millions of people, and the disparity between what is received to what we can contribute I believe has started to create a sense of vexation in society at large.   A longing need to be heard.  So what has been the response?  More one sided communication, but on a much larger and personal scale.  We have abandoned the content and context of communication for the satisfaction of being heard.  But I'm not sure we are really being heard.  Much like John the Baptist, I feel like we are all simply crying out to a desert.  This isn't to say that there aren't sympathetic listeners, but rather that the driving need to be heard is something that modern forms of communication don't sate.  We have facebook status updates, 140 character tweets, text messaging, live-journals, emailing, blogging, and video journals on youtube.  Context of the communication aside, the proliferation and adoption of these services shows how deeply we want to be heard.

I won't pretend to be immune; in fact it'd be quite foolish considering you're reading this on a blog at the moment, but it seems we all want to be famous.  We all want to have people know about us, and hear our story.  Like Gilgamesh who had his name passed on through the generations, fame can be seen as a shortcut to immortality, a chance to leave something that will last.  However, this itself is foolish, because as time goes on, our heroes are legends start to get crowded, they become recycled and stereotypical, with a few archetypes appearing here and there.  We want to be heard because we are hearing constantly, and much like the feedback received from a microphone left in front of a speaker, the noise will just get louder and louder.

Perhaps it's hypocritical to make the remark, but I felt it had to be said.  So here dear reader, a toast to clearer, deeper, and meaningful two-way communication.  And if no one reads this, I guess I'm just another person shouting in the desert, and I apologize for the racket.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Iron Oxide

Rust.  Like a scab, it signals decay.  Creeping out of nowhere, but announcing its presence with its earthly hues.  My hometown is full of it.  Rusty train lines, crumbling brick, fading paint.  It's slipping into decay.  The ground beneath it is hollow, drained of its precious coal, what was once the town's lifeblood.  Now the closed mines are like open sores, draining chemicals into the streams.  The stream beds are caked with chemical deposits, and Trout Run should have the word "Stocked" appended to it.  Throughout my childhood you could smell the sulfur around the water, assaulting the senses with all the repugnance of rotten eggs.  The streams are now clear, not just of their yellow coloring, but also of the life that they once supported.  The country needed coal, and the town provided it.  The country needed steel, and the area provided it.  But no longer, and my town is dying.

On some level I always knew, however part of me never wanted to believe it.  I saw my future there - some future.  But, the last time I was back, the truth hit me.  I didn't realize how much I dislike it.  How stifling it felt. How depressing, small, and disconnected it seems.  Don't misunderstand me.  I may have some misgivings about growing up there, but I am who I am because of that town.  Anywhere else and I wouldn't be me.  You grow up in a small coal town and you learn early the difference between anthracite and bituminous coal.  You get used to the large boney piles of waste coal and dirt.  Become accustomed to streets of identical company houses.  Of hearing stories about how the town used to look in its heydays.  "We used to have seven grocery stores.  Can you believe it?" "This town had three movie theaters.  Three!"  Become oblivious to the absurdity of the same family names appearing again and again; a lineage that isn't going anywhere.  Or even enamored by its quirky charm. 

Perhaps its part of the reason I held onto it for so long.  It was safe, and maybe I thought I could save it.  I never really got a chance to look at it for what it was though, until I left.  A fresh perspective.  A place where rusty train tracks and abandoned buildings aren't the norm.  From my house, you could, and can, still hear the trains that pass through.  They used to stop.  No longer.  My town is dying, and its doing it too slow and quietly for anyone to care.  It didn't quite come as a shock, I mean I've always known, but accepting it was the hard part.  For a long time, it's been a huge part of my life.  And while its helped shape me into who I am, I realize that its not all I'll be.  I held onto it to avoid having to actually question what I what out of life.  Where I want to go, and what to actually do.   A hundred, or even fifty years ago it would've been an easy call.  My soul would've been owned to the company store, while I toiled  underground.  Or I would've been drenched in sweat from the heat of the steel furnaces.  Laboring like my grandfathers and their fathers did.  However, I don't have that burden.  Mine is that of choice.  A gift.  A wonderful, wonderful, gift.  One I've been content to let gather dust - but no longer.I want more.  That much, I know. I've realized that this world is larger than I've given it credit.  I've come to realize something.  You can leave the small town, but the small town never leaves you.  Part of my soul will always be a covered with a bit of coal dust and rust.  Not as a sign of decay, but as a one of creation.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

File Under 'A'

One of the biggest boundaries to meaningful connections between people is how we usually fail to fully realize the depth of other people.  Speaking from experience, I know I have the awful habit of tagging people.   Sorting and separating, labeling.  A deeply held organizational desire, or something more malignant? To some degree, beginning interactions like this facilitates understanding and helps people generate a template of others to later cover with details.  But at a certain point, it becomes restrictive.  We're people.  We breathe, we eat, we sleep, we are unique in at least some regard.  Why should we be so surprised then to find out that the bouncer at the local bar volunteers at the homeless shelter, that the taxi cab driver has an amazing voice, or the cashier at Walmart practices law.  Our first impressions while maybe sometimes right, never reveal the whole picture.  We all have talents that we're proud of to some degree or another, and at one point in time I thought mine was drawing.
Looking back, perhaps my artistic senses were a little skewed, I mean, sure I could stay in the lines with my crayons as a child, and could draw shapes.  But much of my 'work', was most likely me copying (but not tracing, mind you) pictures from Highlights magazine, video game player's guides, or drawing books.  You could tell what 'it' was supposed to be, but something was always slightly off.  The dimensions a little skewed, the colors a little desaturated, the lines maybe just a little too squiggly.  My originality perhaps really only shone through in the amount of mazes and schematics that covered my notebooks and folders.  There are times in your life you look back and wonder "what if?"  I remember taking one of those mail-away art tests from the TV at the insistence of my parents.  A few months later I received a call asking me I'd like to take some local classes.  I declined.  Maybe I had a promising future in architecture.  I always liked the straight lines and edges of drawing buildings.  I had a mind for layouts.  I was math oriented.  A blonde Howard Roark?  Maybe not, but I can pretend, no?
However, one thing is for sure, I sure as hell wasn't no DaVinci.  To emphasize this point, let's take a look at some self portraits through the years.  However, first I'd like to take this time to thank Mrs. Pribish for thinking this was a good project, and keeping our drawings from year to year. To this day it remains one of my favorite things about elementary school. Secondly, I considered putting some copyright statement here, but honestly, if you end up making money off of a 2nd grader's self portrait, then obviously you are a marketing genius, and deserve every cent you make.

First Grade

I sorry ma'am, but it seems your son has a giraffe neck. Also jaundice.
I think this is good for a first grader, I'm actually kind of amazed by my attention to detail.  It may be hard to see, but I actually colored my tear ducts, however, I obviously know nothing of human anatomy, because they are on the wrong side of my eyes.  Or maybe I had that medically corrected as a child.  However, I am slightly concerned with my mouth.  Do I have lockjaw?  Did I forget to color my mouth?  Do I have one gigantic tooth?  The world may never know.  Even at this young age I was contemplating the dichotomy between happiness and sadness, represented here by a lemon-yellow sun and an ashen cloud.  Also, to people that don't remember or didn't know me as child, at one point in my life I had male pattern baldness and wore a bright yellow toupee.
Second Grade

I honestly have no idea.
 Yeah.  Uhhh, would you believe me if I said I became really interested in Picasso?  No, well it was worth a shot.  I'm not sure if this is a self portrait, or some kind of drawing about people with heads shaped like potatoes.  I'm sure if I had brought this home, my parents would've thrown out our fridge, just so they'd never have to come with an excuse as to why they wouldn't shame  our kitchen with this monstrosity.  I'm sure if I ever brought this home and asked to put it on the fridge I would've been out on the street.  I mean, that's only rational thing to do when your firstborn comes home believing this is something they should be proud of.  One final thought,  what's with the ominous 9 in the background (sky)?  Let's just move on, this picture is really starting to creep me out.

Third Grade

I think this picture sums up the next 13 years of my life: "Hello, my name is JR, and I like video games"
 Apparently for some time during my childhood I didn't see another person's head for at least two years, and thought it was shaped like all sorts of weird things.  Here we can see I was experimenting with cubism; which is maybe perhaps slightly better than the offense I committed against the art world in 2nd grade.  I don't know why I was so scared to use any of the paper in this drawing.  Maybe I was unaware the upper half of the paper actually existed, or maybe I was trying not to draw attention to the fact that even thought my head is shaped like a square, the sides still aren't even straight.  I'm not sure what's happening with my eyes in this picture.  I didn't have to wear glasses as a child, but it seems I didn't know this fact at the time.  Also, my nose looks like it belongs on Beavis and Butthead.  Maybe I do have a shot at this art thing after all, does anyone know if Mike Judge needs any animators for the new episodes?  One final note:  I never owned a NY Jets jersey, I just liked the color green.  And video games, if that isn't clear, and I'm very good at them too.  I mean look.   I'm not even looking at the TV!  I probably got the high score and put in "ASS" as the initials. Just kidding, I probably used "JRK".  Isn't it cool, my initials tell so much about me!

Fourth Grade

I'm completely serious.
 Okay.  I don't think I could run out of things to say about this picture.  Apparently  I thought I had become the lesbian captain of the high school football team on vacation in the Rockies or something. While I have a striking jaw line, there's just something unsettling and feminine about this one.  I am however glad to see that my bleach blonde hair hadn't taken on the darker hue it now has.  My eyebrows on the other hand....  Sadly, I think this is one of the best out of all these self-portraits.  The head shape may be slightly off, but it's fairly accurate, or at least it is for a version of me 11 years older than when this was drawn.  The ears may be too high too, and my skin looks like some kind of wax statue, and there's no shading to speak of, it's pretty much downhill from here.  See, maybe it's probably a good thing I had a back up plan, I don't think I could survive on what an artist makes, especially when your best work occurs before you have run out of fingers upon which to count your age.

Fifth Grade

Don't be fooled by the green hockey stick and basketball, he's a nerd.
I told you I like green, right?  Like, a lot?  I think I used no less than 4 different green crayons for this drawing.  I also thought it would be good to save in pictorial for all future generations what I looked like with braces.  I'm stealing some elements my earlier works at this point, it's clear I've hit my peak as  an artist.  So I've brought back my 1st grade giraffe neck, although now it's cleverly disguised with a shirt with a collar right out of a Dr. Suess book.  And the Mr.Potato head ears from 2nd grade are making their triumphant return.  While I think the white stuff in my eye is supposed to be a reflection on my eyes, it makes it look like I'm looking creepily to the upper left corner.  Oh well, there's always next year I suppose.  

Sixth Grade

As per state and federal law, I'm required to tell you . . . 
This has to be the result of me getting lazy and describing myself to a sleepy police sketch artist who happened to be there for career day.  I refused to believe anything else.  Notice how the artist took the time to render each and every ridge around the edge of my shirt, and my hair is halfway decent.  However, he must have ran out of time before he had to give this picture some depth, or maybe he wore down his pencils  drawing my house in the background.  Whatever the situation, it sure was nice of him to take some time out of his busy schedule to entertain some 6th grader.

Seventh Grade
Why yes,  I have seen a person before, why do you keep asking that?
I never quite mastered ears.  Or noses.  Or where eyes go.  Or how not to make a person look like a lifeless mannequin.  But there is color in this one!  It seems without the help of that sketch artist, I fell back into the habit of drawing people with straw hay for hair.  And the collar on this shirt has gone into full overdrive mode.  For every that's going wrong in this picture, the lips don't seem to be completely horrible, so I guess that's something.  I feel like there's a lot of promise here, but something went horribly wrong in the execution of this drawing.  Maybe I skipped breakfast.  And did I tell you how I like green?  Just in case you didn't notice.

Well, that concludes the series of self portraits through elementary and middle school.  As you can see, the world is clearly a worse off place because I'm not sharing my artistic skills with it.  I'm sure there are hundreds, literally hundreds of dollars worth of commissions waiting for me.  Better get in line now, because now that these have hit the internet I'm sure everyone's gonna want an original 'Koban' over their fireplace.  Please, cash or check only, no money orders.

Honorable Mentions: Summer 2010
So, thinking back on this series, I decided how I'd render myself now.  Yeah, make of it what you will.  Moving on.

First Grade Collage

That's glue.

Photoshop Render: 2008

The key to Photoshop is to use more layers.   No, even more.  More.  And stop.
Fourth Grade, yeah, the future called, it wants that 'JR's Best Art Award' now.