Shaking up your ethos with scary new ideas

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on March 7, 2013 by mattlussier

As a politics student at the University of Winnipeg I am exposed to a surprising amount of Neo-Marxist (and generally lefty) literature.  Upon returning to school last year after a half-decade absence I was actually somewhat concerned about this – through first year I had perceived my school as having a decidedly leftist slant in its overall presentation of the world.  At the time I mostly agreed with this outlook, though in the years to follow my opinion began to shift closer to the center economically, even slightly to the right on some issues.  As such, I now see myself as something of a political moderate and in particular am of the opinion that a market is the best way to organize a society economically.  Thus, I was concerned that immersion in a more left-leaning academic environment would in some way be a bad thing.

I was totally wrong.

In fact, I now see these circumstances as being a very good thing, but this scenario entirely depends on the actors involved.  I’ve been fortunate in that I have been exposed to a wide variety of ideas by professors who hold any number of competing opinions, many which I fundamentally disagree with.  This can only work in an environment where opinions are valued based on the logic of their argument rather than their ideological content, and thus far I’ve only encountered professors who are open to this level of debate.  As such, even though I was reluctant to immerse myself in Marxist literature because I had previously written it off as utopian idealism (even as a teenage anarchist – however that works!), I now value this experience as a knowledge-building exercise.  Thus, I have found myself in the interesting position of being a firm defender of capitalism as an overall ethos while also accepting a great deal of Marxist logic as being sound, particularly in respect to their analysis of capitalism’s shortcomings.  Essentially, I feel that I am receiving a true “liberal education” in terms of being exposed to ideas I might otherwise not have considered.

I’m confident that this exposure is not going to turn me into a Marxist – I simply don’t agree with the vast majority of their proposed outcomes or their general worldview.  That said, I’m also convinced that they do in fact have some constructive criticisms to offer my own view of the world, and I feel like this will only strengthen me as an intellectual.  Not only can I borrow the Marxist ideas which I find compelling, but I can also use this exposure as a platform for arguing against those of their proposals which I find undesirable.

So here is my challenge to all of you (whether or not you are an academic): expose yourself to something outside of your comfort zone in the near future.  Intellectual complacency has never benefited anyone in the long run and this sort of stagnation leads to polarized ideological entrenchment.  That is of thing is bad for everyone as individuals and especially for society as a whole.  So there it is, just expose yourself to something new that you otherwise wouldn’t consider – you might be surprised at how much it will impact your own thinking. 

The Problem of Public Violence: It’s about more than just gun control and violent media

Posted in culture, gun control, mental health, politics, upbringing with tags , , , , , , , on December 16, 2012 by mattlussier

I’m late to the debate surrounding the tragic Connecticut shooting, but I nonetheless feel compelled to weigh in my opinion.  Thus, the following is my take on the issue, which is essentially that gun control should certainly be a component of preventing future tragedies of this scale, but that issues of mental health, culture, and upbringing need to be given equal weight in this debate.  I originally began to write this as a short Facebook update, but it grew out of control to the point where I felt like I should re-launch my old blog to properly display it.  As such, here we are …

Yes, lax gun laws are certainly a key contributor to the issue of all-too-frequent public shootings in the U.S., but it seems like no one is really looking at the overarching issue of mental health.  Everyone is talking about how this should be the catalyst that gets the U.S. public fired up about stricter gun control, but I really think that to get to the crux of the matter would be to rethink access to mental healthcare.  Stable-minded individuals don’t shoot up public places, and the unfortunate reality of the U.S. condition is that these unstable folk are slipping through the cracks of the system and then when they finally snap they do so with disastrous results.  Given the frequency of public mass-shootings in the U.S. over the last decade or so it seems to me that a little bit of preventative medicine can in this case go a very long way toward saving innocent lives.

Now, I’m cognizant of the fact that I am in no position to conceive of a detailed technical solution to this issue, but I’m also certain that it would likely involve expanding access to mental health services to all Americans, likely through some direct or indirect form of government funding.  I know that these ideas tend to be unpopular (particularly by a vocal minority of Americans whose default conception of any government spending is “socialism”), but this particular issue is one that isn’t likely to be solved by the market alone.  Keep in mind that I say this as someone who believes that free market solutions are generally more desirable that government intervention, but the simple reality of this matter is that the market itself cannot solve this crisis – the government needs to play a role in it.  Yes, people in general need to take more responsibility for their own lives and shouldn’t just look to the government to solve their problems, but when the topic is mental health (as I believe that it should be when the issue at hand is public violence), the reality is that we’re playing a different sort of game.

As much as it may sound like it, I’m not necessarily advocating that the U.S. adopt fully public healthcare.  I believe that to be a mostly good idea, (with some caveats) but that it would be very difficult to implement in the short term.  Rather, I am suggesting that this particular issue could be resolved by putting a government-instituted framework in place which would provide genuinely free mental/psychological health services to those Americans in need of such a thing.  Furthermore, the public needs to be educated so as to eliminate the stigma associated with receiving such services.  The short term cost of such an initiative would be high, but I am certain that it would pay for itself many times over in the long run in terms of avoiding tragedies such as that which happened in Connecticut recently as well as in reducing other long-term problems such as homelessness, crime, and other problems with a mental health component.

Regardless of how such a program might be administered, a key component needs to be that it is very accessible to any member of the American public and that it is totally free to the user.  Why is this crucial? Because the type of person whose psychological state has deteriorated to the point where random violence seems like a rational idea is likely not the type of person who has had the foresight to purchase comprehensive medical insurance and then negotiate the medical system of referrals and specialists before finally being able to see someone who can begin to treat them.  Obviously this is an extreme case and such a person would likely need to be institutionalized at that point, but the point is that an early diagnosis and treatment of the issues leading up to such a mindset can either treat it before it blows up to such a horrifying degree or *at least* get that individual off of the streets and into an environment where they are safe from themselves and where they cannot do harm to the general public.  I know for certain that this alone will not solve the issue completely and that people in any medical system will be able to slip through the cracks, but if such a system can prevent even one single tragedy such as that which occurred recently in Connecticut, I would deem it a success (especially given the other long-term positive effects which would likely arise from it).

As I mentioned earlier, yes, gun control is definitely a part of the issue.  Unlike most social-liberals I am not in favor of extreme gun control, but even as someone who can appreciate the desire for gun ownership (I’d love to pick up target shooting as a hobby one day) I believe that U.S. gun control laws are far too lax.  Obviously there is a historic and political rationale to this but the reality is that we are in the 21st century now and the world is much different than that in which the U.S. constitution was first drafted.  American conservatives (and I’m referring to the loony minority here – not the conservatives who are actually rational and simply hold different values than I do), Obama’s Feds aren’t going to kick down your door and lock you up for being a Proud American (or, hell, even for being a Proud Confederate if that’s your thing).  And if they do, it’s kind of your own damned fault for agreeing to the Patriot Act in the first place.  Likewise, you no longer need to worry about slave revolts or the “Red Indians” uprising because in the last few centuries you’ve learned to treat your minorities a little better (at least to the point where they no longer generally feel the need to revolt).

If I sound a bit harsh here, I guess it’s because that’s how I feel about this issue, but to clarify: I am far from an America-hater.  Speaking as a Canadian who would rather live here than anywhere else in the world (though I don’t like to call myself a “proud” Canadian because I myself have done nothing to make Canada what it is), I am nonetheless fascinated by the American way of life as well as all manners of that country’s customs, institutions, and history. That being said, I feel that as a Canadian with a healthy respect for my neighbors to the south, the neighborly thing to do in this case would be to point out that the U.S., as a whole, has gone off the deep end with its gun culture.  I am an enthusiast of military hardware and I probably know more about assault rifles than I know about cars or even girls, but even as much as they fascinate me I’ve never felt the compulsion or need to own a military-grade rifle.  Between hunting, sport-shooting, or even home defense (though that has its own issues), there are many legitimate reasons to own a civilian long arm, but when private civilians complain that they need to have access to weapons which can fire off 30 rounds in a short few seconds I’m fairly inclined to write them off as a lunatic.  That being said, such a tool could still conceivably be acceptable in the hands of a responsible gun owner (look at Switzerland where every adult male is issued an assault rifle for his home and they have incredibly low rates of gun-violence), but the fact of the matter is that with lax gun laws guns will always find their way into the hands of those with violent intentions and when you combine that with a failing mental health system you’ve already set yourself up to fail in the most tragic way possible.

Finally, I’m convinced that there is a cultural component at work here in some underlying fashion.  It seems to me that guns are fetishized by some segments of the American population as being almost divine in origin.  Not only are they all too often seen as being a tool which can solve any problem, but it also seems as if many Americans view gun ownership as being some inalienable right.  Yes, the right to bear arms is in fact enshrined in the U.S. constitution as an amendment, but as I mentioned earlier in this ad-hoc essay – the world of 1791 was very different from the world of today and I’m sure that if the drafters of the 2nd Amendment were to see the realities of American gun control today they would beg the American public to demand some restrictions on that right.  Keep in mind that automatic weapons had yet to been invented or even imagined at that point in time!  Nonetheless, the American gun culture has become a pervasive force and its has been taken far beyond the level of promoting responsible gun ownership.  I’m certain that many will likely blame violent video games or movies for this reality, but I think that falls far short of the mark, at least given my own personal experiences as a consumer of such media.

My favorite toys as a kid were GI Joes, and I started playing violent video games and watching fairly gruesome war movies at a relatively young age.  Basically, for as long as I can remember I’ve thought that guns were “cool.”  In fact, I spent a great deal of time at my grandparents’ place as a kid and my grandfather’s hunting rifles hung unlocked on a gun rack in the very room that I did most of my unsupervised playing (though with no ammunition in the house, as far as I know).  Now, you’d logically expect that a kid who was fascinated by guns would at least want to pick one of those up but as far as I can remember I didn’t so much as lay a finger on those weapons in all the years that I had the chance to do so.  Furthermore, even given all the exposure to violent media and video games that I’ve had throughout my life, my natural impulse toward violent action is very low and I’ve never been a willing participant in a fight in all of my adult life (I’ve been attacked, but I haven’t so much as struck back).  In fact, inspired by the writings of Leo Tolstoy (himself Biblically inspired), I became a very committed pacifist for about a decade until reluctantly retiring those beliefs in the last few years.

So, no, as much as I believe this to be a cultural issue I don’t think that blame can be assigned to violent media alone.  I’ve been immersed in it for most of my life and violence does not come naturally to me.  Unfortunately, such media does seem to have a negative effect on some individuals, but I’m certain that those folk are lacking a crucial component: responsible adult guidance.  Even though my parents let me view violent media and play violent video games (with some restrictions depending on my age and other circumstances), they made a point of rationalizing the events.  It certainly helped that I had a dad who enjoyed such things as well, and he helped to shape my conception of what that violence meant and what (if any) purpose it served.  Thus, rather than become desensitized to violent imagery as some younger viewers do, I instead became incredibly sensitive to it.  Now, as an adult, I can’t stand most action movies and though I still love genuine war movies which attempt to portray war for what it is – brutal, senseless, but unfortunately sometimes necessary – I almost always get teary and emotional at how barbaric the practice is.  Likewise, even while I grew up to think that guns are “cool,” my upbringing also instilled in me the values that ensured that I did not grow up viewing them as a tool that can solve most (or usually any) of my problems.

In my own case my upbringing was highly religious and I believe that this sufficiently created the moral framework necessary for me to avoid glorifying violence (though such an upbringing, like any, is not perfect). In fact, it could easily be argued that such an upbringing was too successful given my decade-long flirtation with strict religious pacifism.  That said, the means to developing such a moral framework are (in this case) less important than the end result.  Any family or parent (or other adult entity who might be raising a child) can instill such values with their own chosen flavor of religious or non-religious packaging – they simply need to invest the time into doing so.  Obviously every parent needs to go with what works for them, but my suggestion is simply that violent media alone isn’t going to turn a child into a killer.  It could conceivably condition them toward that direction *if you let it*, but if you spend the time to explore such content with them with an eye toward explaining its significance, violent media can itself be used as a means of instilling non-violent attitudes in a young mind.

It has long been understood that the television is not a good substitute for an engaging adult role model, but this isn’t to say that a television (and the violent imagery which it can convey) is in itself a negative influence.  Rather, much like a gun, violent media is itself a neutral tool which can be used for either good or evil.  If you leave a child alone in a room with a loaded weapon you’re certain to be setting yourself up for a disaster if you haven’t already ensured that said child fully comprehends its power and potential danger.  This alone doesn’t make a gun an object of evil – just a potentially deadly tool – and, in fact, a gun can be used as a tool for good in the case of acquiring food or protecting oneself or others from legitimate threats.  Likewise, leaving a child figuratively alone to experience violent imagery without an adult mentor to filter and rationalize that content is a surefire way to set that child up for a future that is potentially dangerous to him or herself as well as to society as a whole.  But then, as my own personal experience indicates, given the proper parental framework violent media can itself be used indirectly as an instructional tool which can shape a young mind into understanding the true implications of violent action.  In the end, it boils down to good parenting.

Bringing this back to the topic of the American gun culture, I want to conclude by reiterating that even while violent media can conceivably be seen as a contributor to violent crime in the U.S., this alone doesn’t explain the problem. Rather, my take on the issues is that through centuries of social conditioning, vocal and influential segments of the American population have created and perpetuated a gun culture which has gotten out of control.  I fully agree with the classical statement, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” but I also believe that large portions of the American population have moved past this responsible view that guns are simply tools and into cultural territory in which guns are glorified to the point that they can routinely get into the hands of the wrong sort of people.  Thus, to finally sum this up, I want to stress that gun control should definitely be a component of the debate on public violence in the United States, but issues of mental health, upbringing, and culture need to be given equal weight when attempting to prevent future tragedy.  No issue is ever cut and dry, and this one is far from an exception to this rule.

Reinvention

Posted in art, expression, friends, girls, love, music, perfection with tags , , , , , on July 29, 2011 by mattlussier

After a *great* deal of thought over these last few weeks (and in a sense, a lot longer), I have decided to completely retire from the music scene – both as a player and an engineer.  This last year has been incredibly eye-opening for me in a lot of ways, and some very notable events (some very good, some very bad) have forced a fairly drastic change in my personal priorities.

When everything is said and done, however, the fact is that ten years of working in the music scene (both on a professional and semi-professional basis) has taken a great deal out of me – to the point where at present it has, for the most part, become a chore rather than a pursuit of love.  I no longer feel the teenage thrills it used to give me, and frankly the stress of this business isn’t worth it without that high.  My financial aspirations in this realm have diminished completely to the point where I’ve long since accepted it as a hobby that occasionally made me money (though in the long run I definitely spent WAY more on gear than I actually recouped in revenue).  Obviously, “musician” was never in the cards for me – and I knew that all along – but I made an honest go at making a career of recording bands.  In the end it didn’t work out the way I had planned it, but I have no regrets for having made the attempt.

Furthermore, I’ve met a lot of amazing people along the way, and it would be difficult to pinpoint even a handful of friends who I met outside of the music community as a whole.  I’ve had the pleasure of working with countless incredible and talented local bands, and I’ve gotten my name in the credits of some of my all-time favorite local albums.  I’ve also got a lot of hilarious and unreal stories from my time working (and performing) in this scene.  There have been some incredibly stressful times as well, and ultimately those are what I’m moving away from at this point, but overall the good has far outweighed the bad of the experience.  It’s just the right time, is all.

So there it is – I’m done.  Maybe I’ll come back in some capacity a few years down the road, but at this point I seriously doubt it.  In a way it’s like being in love with a girl who isn’t right for you – distance creates longing and you start to forget about her flaws – but unless one of you changes, it can never work.  I’m stubborn – I can’t change for anyone but myself.  Musicians are just as bad, as is the scene itself.  They’ll never change, and in the end I think it’s better that way.  I still love Rock n Roll – maybe more than ever – but I’ve smartened up and learned not to be *in* love with it.  It just wasn’t a good fit.  I’ve tapped out and moved on, but I fully respect those of you who continue to pursue that elusive love-affair.  Just a word of warning: yeah, she’s beautiful, but she’s probably gonna break your heart.

It seems like this should be a scary move for me, considering that music has been fully my life for the last decade.  Oddly, however, I mainly just feel a sense of relief.  I’m closing the door on a fairly exciting chapter of my life, but I’m thrilled at the prospect of the chapter that’s just now beginning.  The funny thing is – it’s like my life has gone full circle.  I grew up devoting all of my energies to geeky pursuits.  Adolescent Matt was all about books and games.  I spent all of my free time reading or writing, and playing (and developing) the absolute geekiest games imaginable – pen and paper RPGs, table-top war-games, and collectible card games.  Girls were a strong interest, but the interest was never reciprocated until a few years later when I got my first bass guitar, joined a band, and then suddenly stopped having any problems in that department (except for all of the problems that come with relationships, of course).  I don’t know that truer words have ever been spoken than, “chicks dig dudes in bands,” and the absolute beauty of it is that you don’t even have to be a good musician for it to work.  (And don’t be offended, feminists, the maxim works both ways – I always felt an insatiable attraction to female musicians).  I’m beginning to digress, however.  The point is, I had entered a new and very exciting world, and it was all very seductive.  For the first several years, each new day brought a new adventure, and I loved every minute of it.  I loved all the shitty shows in all the shitty venues.  I loved staying up all night to play live on the radio in the middle of the night (obviously to no one) and then going straight to work from the radio station before the sun had even risen the next morning.  I loved all the unrealistic plans, the missed practices, and the pointless arguments.  I loved the sheer idealism of being a young musician, and I ate up everything that came along with it.  For years, I was right in my element.  My adolescent interests remained, but they played a far more latent role in my life.  More recently, however, they have forced themselves to the surface as the idealism of a rock n roll life began to crack and wear thin.

Throughout this, I began to note that my creative energies were shifting.  They remained as strong as ever, but suddenly I had started writing fiction instead of songs.  On a whim, I started this blog.  Sure, I mostly write about music in it, but there’s been more to it than that.  More recently, I’ve rekindled a love for those adolescent games I used to play – and they have increasingly begun to play a significant role in my life.  When I had time to kill, I used to go to the music store.  These days, I find myself heading to my local gaming shop or a computer store instead.  Essentially, in about the last decade, I’ve turned about 300 degrees -nearly full-circle.  I started as a nerd and then became a punk, and eventually a rocker (with a brief stint as a metalhead in between, but that’s basically the same as a nerd).  Lately I’ve been very quickly shifting back into the nerd I used to be – albeit with a slightly better sense of fashion and MUCH better luck with women.  In the same way that my adolescent interests remained while I pursued the rock n roll lifestyle, I still absolutely adore music and enjoying it is still a huge part of my life.  It’s just that it’s beginning to become a more latent interest at this point.

So what now?  This post is titled, “Reinvention,” so what’s going to change?  A few things:

-As soon as a few loose ends and current projects are tied up, I am taking a hiatus from musical pursuits (beyond enjoyment) for an indeterminate amount of time.  This could very likely be forever.  I’ll still be going to shows to check out good music and to hang out with my friends, but I am absolutely 100% done with every other aspect of the scene.  No more playing in bands, no more recording bands, and no more doing live sound.  It’s over.

-I’m going to continue writing.  I’m about 40,000+ words into the first draft of my novel, but I haven’t touched it in months because I’ve been so busy.  That’s going to change very soon.  I also plan to resume writing Lacking Class, the serial novel that is my other blog.

-I’ve begun to design a pen-and-paper war-game of my own, and depending on how that turns out I may publish it.  It will fill a very niche void in the gaming market for people like me who love charts and statistics as much as most heterosexual men like naked women.  In fact, you’ll probably need a degree in statistics to even be able to understand the mechanics of the game (I’ll probably have to look into that.)

-I’ve been exploring another very exciting business opportunity, which I’m fairly determined to pursue.  Due to my busy schedule, however, and the capital required for this venture, this will probably have to wait several years to get off the ground.

-After an absence of several years, I’m finally going to go back to university.  I already work 50-60 hours a week, so for now I’ll just be taking some online courses through distance education, but the point is that I’ll once again be working toward this goal.  At this point I’m going to work toward a degree that is some combination of economics and Canadian studies, but I’m not even done first year yet, so that may change in the long-run.

-After about nine months of being back in my parents’ basement, I am finally moving back out next week.  This time forever.  Obviously, I’m moving in with two musicians…

-<sappy> Most importantly: I’m going to spend as much time as possible with the girl who most of my friends only knew as “Dream Girl” before I worked up the nerve to kiss her.  Years of the ups-and-downs of relationships had tempered my childhood idealism and turned me into something of a realist in the realm of love, and I had accepted as fact the idea that love, as much as I adored it, was never perfect.  That’s why I very nearly married the wrong woman – an event that proved to be a major catalyst in much of this whole “reinvention” process.  “Dream Girl,”, however, has managed to renew my faith in the ideal I’ve striven for all my life – perfectly flawless love.  Just when I had resigned myself to the idea that I’d never be 100% happy in a relationship, this girl appeared virtually out of nowhere and showed me that even my greatest expectations in this realm could be exceeded, and to an exceptional degree.  In fact, several weeks ago I had a bit of a breakdown because my relationship seemed *too* perfect.  I had thought that I couldn’t possibly have it as good as I did, and my mind began to craft scenarios in which it would all come crumbling down on me.  A heartfelt conversation with the subject of my love proved me completely wrong.  My relationship wasn’t *too* perfect.  It was just that – perfect.  Not only has she proven to be everything I’ve ever wanted in a woman, but just by being who she is she has driven me to amount to something in my life – and that’s a nice feeling.</sappy>

That’s it.  I’m still the guy most of you know – I’ve just got some new priorities and interests in my life.  Best of luck to all the musicians and bands I’ve worked with.  I’m out of the game, but I’ll still be cheering you all on!

Stay Positive, But Stay Safe

Posted in friends, girls, philosophy, positivity with tags , , , , , , , on May 4, 2011 by mattlussier

Those who have known me over the last several years would likely describe me as being optimistic to a fault.  Positivity is a message I’ve internalized through years of hardcore punk, and then practiced to a science.  I don’t believe in fate or any sort of pre-determination, and I don’t think that the universe owes me any favors, but I am absolutely certain that a positive mental attitude pays dividends in the greater scheme of existence.  Whether this is science, a placebo effect, or simple self-delusion – it doesn’t matter.  The fact is that life is just that much more fulfilling when you cherish every moment of it.  Sometimes, however, it has a blinding effect.

This attitude of positivity has permeated my every action for the better part of my adult life, but with one notable exception – the spring, summer, and fall of 2010.  I’ll necessarily be intentionally vague about it because it wouldn’t be fair to those involved to discuss this on a public blog, but I had essentially gotten myself into a hopeless situation.  The worst of it was, I put myself in that situation because it seemed like it would be the best idea.  Ever.  It was as much my fault as that of anyone else, but the end result was depression so severe that it completely undermined my personality.  More to the point, I hadn’t even really realized that I was depressed.  Perhaps this was because the feeling was so foreign to me by that point, or maybe it was because my normally positive attitude couldn’t accept the fact that this had happened.  Regardless, the experience changed me into an entirely different person.

I basically quit life.

First, I quit my job.  This was supposed to be a positive thing.  The plan was to focus on my recording work (which was looking up, considering I had just scored a gig at an awesome studio), and to go back to university.  Neither of those panned out.  As the depression worsened, I became less and less motivated by these pursuits.  I happily finished the work I had, but I stopped actively looking for new projects.  Eventually my saving ran out, and I had to get a job but I got one where I basically made exactly what I needed to live on so that I could work as little as possible.  Mostly, I just brooded but I didn’t even realize that I was doing this.

Next, I quit my friends and dropped out of the music scene (which mostly went hand-in-hand).  These weren’t entirely by my own choice, but the result was quickly worsening depression.  I became isolated in this sad little world I had created for myself, and with no positive outlet in which to vent my frustrations.  Worse, the isolation further contributed to lack of gigs at the studio, which in turn worsened the depression in a vicious circle.

Finally, I quit basically everything.  I became an observer in life rather than a participant.  I sold my guitar because I figured I’d never use it again, and I stopped doing anything beyond sustaining myself and engaging in pursuits of mindless entertainment (which I have no problem with when it doesn’t become my reason for living).  My situation continued to worsen, but I still kept telling myself that everything was going to work out in the end.

It never did – not on its own.  The catalyst was when things worsened to a point that I could simply no longer accept living in that situation.  The very day that I actually realized I was depressed, I made a drastic change to my life and ended the situation that was bringing me down.  It was absolutely the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my life (and my only regret in my entire life is having entered this situation in the first place), but the sense of relief that washed over me as I physically walked away from that was absolutely profound.  Almost instantly, I became me again.  It’s nice to be yourself.

Now, six months later, life is even better than I can ever remember.  I dove head-first back into a music scene and back into a band.  I’ve taken on creative projects of every sort, and I’m back on a stage and in the studio.  I party every weekend with the absolute best friends a person could ever hope for.  More than that, I literally have more amazing friends than I have time to hang out with; a melancholy situation, but better than the alternative of never seeing your friends at all.

Then there are girls.  In this time of renewal, I’ve met and hung around with some truly amazing women.  Regardless of the outcome, each has had a positive and lasting effect on me in some way or other, and I can’t help but be truly thankful for these experiences.  More recently, a girl has serendipitously entered my life who has simply blown me away in an intangibly awesome sense.  I can’t quite figure out how I got her to hang around with me, but when she’s around I’m an awkward mess, so I know that means something good.  I was very nearly jaded about girls before, but I feel that all melting away.  This is the stuff that I live for, and it is truly an amazing high.

Life still isn’t perfect.  I’ve had to temporarily move back into my parents’ basement –  an entirely unpleasant prospect.  Worse, I have literally no possessions at all beyond a basket of clothes, a microwave, my car, and everything that was in it when I forced my change (a handful of CDs and old Slurpee cups).  Since then all I’ve really accumulated are a crate of books and a new guitar.  I’ve also acquired my first real enemy in life – something I had always hoped to avoid (and a situation I would still happily change if it were up to me).  Despite these setbacks, however, I am now more than ever cherishing every ounce of my existence.  My positivity has regrouped and grown in intensity after such an emotionally trying ordeal, and I have begun to (safely) embrace the hedonistic side of life to a degree that I’ve never before allowed.  Most importantly, however, I have learned a valuable lesson: stay positive, but stay safe.  Positivity is a wonderful drug and it makes the brightest moments shine that much brighter, but real life can overwhelm it and then it just clouds your vision if you don’t recognize your situation for what it is.  I still believe in having a positive mental attitude (more than ever), but I hope I will never again let it keep me from changing something that vitally needs to be changed in my life.

Practice safe positivity!

Archie Comics Have Ruined My Adult Life

Posted in comic books, food, girls, love, music, stereotypes with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 9, 2011 by mattlussier

I spent a good chunk of my childhood reading Archie comics.  Looking back on them now, it is obvious that they have shaped my personality and lifestyle more than just about anything else.  Violent video games, mindless TV, and heavy metal have nothing on this shit!  Parents: If you don’t want your kids to grow up to become directionless “artists” (who still live in your basement), give them anything BUT an Archie comic.  At least drug dealers make money and contribute something to society!

How I Live My Life (Thanks To Archie Comics)

The following is a list of my grievances against Archie Comics, for turning me into who I am today:

1) Growing up, I thought it was completely normal to have two girlfriends at once.

Not until high school did I figure out that this wasn’t the normal state of affairs in the western world.  This is probably also why I never got girls before high school (also, possibly because I was chubby and weird).  Nonetheless, oh God did I ever try!  I wanted so badly to have my own Betty AND Veronica, but instead I just got my buddy Jason, and a childhood of angst (which, regrettably, led to a stint as a goth).

2) I just can’t help but check out other girls, even if I’ve already got one (or two).

It took getting yelled at by a girlfriend before I even realized that I was doing this!  OOPS.  I mean, I’m not at all the cheating type, but oh boy do I like to look!  I also realize that everybody looks, but it’s Archie’s fault that I’ve been caught doing it in front of a girlfriend.  Thanks, Archie!

3) I started a band (to get girls).

One of the most important lessons I learned from Archie Comics is that chicks dig dudes in bands.  Even better, you don’t even need to be a particularly good musician for it to work (as some of the comics allude to)!  Really, you just need to look convincing, and that’s like 95% of the battle – sounding good is just a pleasant bonus.  This goes doubly so if you choose to play in a punk band.  Case in point: the night my first teenage punk band played our first show, I made out with a girl and then she became my first serious girlfriend.  All that, and we were horrible. I literally didn’t even know how to play bass (I still don’t!), but it worked.  So, thanks to Archie I have spent my entire adult life playing in shitty bands and attempting to make a career as a recording engineer, all because I can’t help but chase girls (also thanks to Archie).

4) I live on burgers and pizza (AKA, the Jughead Diet).

I’m not at all joking about this one.  My food staples are (veggie) burgers & fries, and pizza.  Over 50% of my meals are made up of one (or both) of these.  Yes, sometimes both!  Have you ever had burgers and pizza at the same time?  Jughead was well ahead of his time on that one.  Thankfully, I’ve also been blessed with the metabolism of Jughead, so it’s been all good so far.  The only downside is occasionally getting yelled at when I live with girls, because for some reason they don’t want to eat burgers every night.  Girls are crazy!

5) I compartmentalize everyone into a one-phrase stereotype.

Note: Click the image to expand it.

This is the big one!  Thanks to a childhood of Archie Comics, I will forever assume that Italians are excellent cooks and that small people are great at math (while jocks are bad at it).  Also, rich men always wear suits.  Always.  Then there’s the stereotypes about women: a childhood of Archie Comics has ingrained in my psyche the idea that blonds are nice, while girls with black hair are bitchy (but still sexy).  I guess that’s why I prefer brunettes – it’s a happy medium.  Thank you, Archie, for confusing every aspect of my love life.

Conclusion

So there it is!  Archie comics have turned me into what I am today: lecherous, vitamin-deficient, sexist (but in an endearing way), prone to stereotyping, and all-around hopeless when it comes to adult life.  Thank you, Archie Comics!

Love: The Muse and Undoing of My Art

Posted in art, expression, girls, love, philosophy with tags , , , , , , on February 25, 2011 by mattlussier

There is no concept more central to my life and personal system of beliefs than that of love.  When I say this, I mean love in all its myriad of forms, be it the romantic love shared by lovers, love in its more platonic sense, or anything in between.  Or perhaps even love that doesn’t fit within the constraints of such a scale.  When I am not merely just existing (which, I think, is a desirable state at times), it is love that drives nearly every action that I take.  More to the point, it is the pursuit of love that drives me.  That, and a desperately vain need for self-expression.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the realm of creative thought, where the pursuit of love is directly mated to my need for self-expression.  Specifically, it is primarily the desire for romantic love that fuels my creative efforts.  This has recently dawned up me through the realization that nearly everything I have ever written (in any form) has been at least indirectly related to the pursuit of romantic love.  More often, it is very directly related.  Like art in general, these themes are very rarely arrived at purposefully – instead I just end up writing about some sense of love because it is almost always on my mind. At this very moment I am knee-deep in writing: a serious novel in which love (romantically and otherwise) is a pivotal theme; a more light-hearted online serial novel which focuses on romantic pursuits; a n0vella directly in the trash romance category; a number of more artistically-minded short stories about love; and many, many songs about girls.  In fact, looking at that list, I’m starting to think it might be an understatement to say that my art is simply driven by the pursuit of love – I don’t think I could even really make art that didn’t express that sentiment.  I wouldn’t know where to start.

Noticeably (and in a sense, tragically), my art is very much at its best when I am unfulfilled in a romantic sense.  I’ve found that I not only thrive on this desperation, but that the absence of romantic love is also the best creative motivation that I can ever experience.  When I am not specifically in love, I can think of little else beyond changing that status – and that motivates my art like nothing else can.  I suppose it is partially a practical motivation, in that achievement is a fairly typical way of attracting a mate.  Beyond that, I suppose, there is also the narcissistic element, in that we’re all striving to create our own immortality.  Most people do that through their genes – by procreating, they create some manner of immortality for themselves.  Speaking from a strictly biological level, that is our end-game and purpose in life as a species.  We are driven to perpetuate our bloodline (and species), not through any tangible benefit to ourselves (beyond the purely immediate benefits of sex, or perhaps in anticipation of the eventual companionship that offspring can provide), but more as some manner of an endless Oedipal pursuit, where we perpetuate the species simply because.  Just because – there’s no real reason to it.  Certainly not that we can all agree on.  Nonetheless, we crave the fulfillment of this pursuit on the level of our very souls (or DNA, or however you want to look at it).

Regardless, that is not always a plausible avenue for immortality, in as much as it is the most fulfilling on a biological level.  There are other ways, however, and most are directly rooted in becoming a part of history.  One avenue is through politics, where through policy you can shape the future for generations to come, thus ensuring yourself some limited (but far-reaching) form of immortality.  A certain type of person is attracted to that sort of pursuit.  Another approach is through warfare, which provides similar powers to that of politics, but with the addition of altering history by taking life.  More so, an heroic death in battle can (somewhat paradoxically) earn a social immortality that can rival that of the physical.  Why else do soldiers throw themselves on a grenade?  There is the platonic love for their fellow soldiers, yes, but there is also the ensured immortality that they earn by such an intensely moving personal sacrifice.  Men like that are remembered in song and tales, which brings us to the third major avenue by which a person can achieve immorality: through art.  Art is a purely narcissistic pursuit in that in many ways it exists for one very specific reason – to perpetuate ones ideas long after their own death.  Artists create art primarily with the hope that it will be beloved by others, and that they will be remembered as having created it.  I believe that this is a factor that motivates me toward creative pursuits when I am romantically unfulfilled (and thus in a poor position to ensure my immortality through more physical means).

None of this is to say that I take a negative view of art – I truly consider it to be the noblest of human undertakings.  Tied with pursuits of love, I consider it to be the meaning of life, at least personally.  I simply don’t believe in trying to hide it for what it is – a human attempt to achieve immortality.  But I am beginning to digress.  My point is, that in the absence of romantic love, I am driven toward art with a passion that can hardly be rivaled, and that I think there are specific reasons for this.  There have been very few times in my adult life that I have not specifically been in love.  I am a serial monogamist in the sense that I fall in love, and when that doesn’t work out, I seem to be able to very quickly find another person to fall in love with.  In the last ten years, I have been single three times:  first, for a period of four months, then for a period of two weeks, and most recently for about another four months.  That’s it.  Otherwise, I’ve been in love with one woman or another.  Looking back, I can note (with some degree of melancholy), that these periods where I am least fulfilled romantically have been my most intensely creative.  The desire for love is my muse, and it helps me create my most passionate art.  Almost ironically, it is also ultimately the undoing of my art.  When I am single, I strive to fall back in love and I use art as a means of doing so (and as an alternative in the sense of creating immortality), but then when I fall back in love, everything changes.

When I am in love with a girl, I become complacent.  I have achieved my goals, and I become content to merely exist – in a sense, enjoying the spoils of my victory.  Life becomes a day-by-day affair of monogamous hedonism, and I strive for little beyond what I currently have.  Historically, this has probably contributed toward poisoning my previous relationships, but that’s a topic for another time.  My point for the moment is that by being in love, I lose much of my ambition for art.  I shift from being a creator to being an observer.  I still enjoy the art of others, but I have little passion for creating it myself.  Case in point: when I thought I was going to get married, I sold my guitar.  Under other circumstances that would have seemed absolutely insane (and looking back on it now, it truly was), but at the time it seemed perfectly reasonable because I had barely even touched it in a year.

This nearly tragic relationship between art and love is something that I am desperate to overcome.  Unfortunately, I can’t at all see how it would be possible.  I want so badly to be able to fall in love and create good art, but it seems like a case of one-but-not-the-other.  Love will always drive my best artistic efforts, but it will always loom over me like a pariah – ready to destroy my muse by the very act of obtaining it.

My Own Stereotypes About The Girls I Know

Posted in food, girls, movies, music, stereotypes with tags , , , , , , , on February 17, 2011 by mattlussier

I have a tendency toward hanging around primarily with women.  This isn’t a slight to other men, and I certainly do enjoy male company, it’s just that I really like girls.  A lot.  Even if I’m not pursuing them, or I know that I have no possible chance with them, I just like hanging out with the finer sex.

In spending so much time with women, and granted that I have a marked habit of over-analyzing absolutely every aspect of my life, I have noticed some fairly distinct similarities between the individual girls that I hang around with.  Though I can’t quite put my finger on it, I’m sure that this says at least as much about me as it does about them.  And ladies, if you’re reading this and you’re a friend of mine – please don’t get your panties in a knot.  It is your quirks that I find endearing.

So here it is.  The following is a list of things that bind together most of my female friends.

1) Sushi

If you’d ask the average girl that I socialize with, she would tell you that sushi is the single greatest thing a person could possibly put in their mouth.  It is like biblical manna to the girls I know.  As such, I’ve eaten a hell of a lot of the stuff in the last few years, but I honestly can’t figure out what is so overwhelmingly appealing about it to the female sex.  Is it because it’s apparently the hip or cultured thing to do?  Is it because that’s what they eat on Sex and The City? Granted, when I find something I like (especially when it comes to food), I stick with it fairly obsessively, but why is it that nearly every woman I know routinely craves sushi?  Yeah, it’s okay, but I don’t think I’d ever buy it of my own volition.  I don’t know that  I’ve ever once thought, “Man, I could really go for some seaweed and rice-wrapped raw vegetables (or fish) right about now.”  But, hey, if you’re a cute girl and you want to eat sushi – I’ll probably even pay.

2) The Breakfast Club

Apparently the finest moment in cinema occurred in 1985 when The Breakfast Club was released.  In fact, if my average female friend were to be believed, every other movie should probably just give up (except for possible The Rocky Horror Picture Show) because they will never matter as much as this movie.  Now why is this?  Is it because of the adoringly obvious 80s stereotypes that the characters portray? (I realize the irony of mentioning this in this post.)  Is it because of the angry-but-inevitably-soft-at-heart Bender?  Maybe it’s because of that horrible Simple Minds song that plays at the end of the movie when Bender pumps his fist in the air (the moment that apparently sums up the 80s as a decade to girls born around the time that the movie was first released)?  Regardless of their reasoning, this has inexplicably become the movie that nearly every girl I know could agree is universally awesome.

3) Zombies

I am not going to argue for a moment that zombies are anything but wicked-cool.  Even more badass are the fast zombies that we see more often in modern movies of the genre.  Hell, I wouldn’t mind if even more girls I know thought that zombies are totally bitchin’!  The part that frightens me is the degree that the girls I hang out with think that zombies are awesome.  Yeah, they’re cool and I dig watching zombie movies, but why do girls always want to dress up like them?  Is it because it grants them license to be publicly crazy? (Seriously, just start a band.)  Or maybe they actually do have a secret barely-latent urge to crack open some skulls and devour some brain?  I wouldn’t quite put that past a few of them.  What is it with you girls?  You’re pretty… zombies aren’t.  Just be yourself. 

4) MAC Makeup

I will forever personally know MAC makeup as face-cocaine, because the girls I am surrounded with have an insatiable lust for the stuff.  Hell, some of you have even managed to get my mom hooked!  In any case, I cannot possibly count the number of times I have awkwardly bought this particular brand of makeup as a gift.  In fact, I honestly don’t think I’d know what to buy for a girl if MAC makeup didn’t exist.  The scene unfolds the same way in every instance – me producing a grubby hand-scrawled list from the pocket of my jeans, and stumbling around vainly checking the bottoms of every container until an alarmingly-pretty salesclerk asks me if I need a hand.  I smile sheepishly while attempting not to make eye contact, and begin to read off vaguely-sexual names of makeup colors.  She inevitably commends me on my choices (as if I’d had a choice) and we part ways after I’ve paid.  Really, I can’t understand how any other makeup company stays in business because I couldn’t even name another brand!  So what is it, girls?  Is it genetics that predispose you toward being addicted to this stuff, or is it just very clever marketing?  Or maybe it’s me – maybe on some level I”m just hopeless attracted to girls who wear this particular brand.  I shudder at the implications of that.

5) Devo

I’m just going to say it right off the bat and get it out of the way: I can’t stand Devo.  I think they’re just awful.  I’ve never quite been able to put my finger on why, either.  It’s not the inanity of their music that I despise – I mean, I love The Dickies and they arguably make even less sense than Devo. In any case, that’s not the issue at hand.  What I want to understand is why girls I know seem to love this band so damned much.  I have a distinct feeling that if I started wearing an “energy dome” (the name for the conical-pyramid hats that the band wears), I’d be swimming in vagina.  Possibly even literally.  So what is it about this band that makes girls go apeshit?  They aren’t sexy in any sort of a conventional sense (in fact, I think it’d be a stretch to say that they were sexy in any sense).  Is it the matching outfits, perhaps?  Their vaguely cult-like appearance?  Kraftwerk pulled that off far better in both of those departments, and even managed to look sexy while doing it (in a maybe-too-Aryan manner).  Their appeal to women is something that will forever baffle me, perhaps more than any of the other items on this list.

Conclusion

There you have it.  These five things are almost universally appreciated by the girls in my social circle.  I defy you to disprove me!  Regardless, I think Ive just discovered the best possible date I could take a girl on:  We’d dress like zombies, go out for sushi, and then watch The Breakfast Club.  After that horrible ending scene with that Simple Minds song, I’d casually throw on some Devo (acting as if it was what I’d normally listen to to unwind after a pleasant evening), and then produce a gift-wrapped container of MAC makeup from my pocket (with a name somewhat along the lines of “Rainbow Harlot”), which I’d offer up as a token of my affection.  Makeouts and possibly even heavy petting could be the only logical conclusion to this plan.  I’d inevitably cry myself to sleep that night, but I’ve done worse to get a girl.