Author, Journalist, Photog, Poet Living in Los Angeles

The Next Chapter: Los Angeles to San Diego

Posted on August 24, 2014

LA to San Diego

It’s not often that I make life announcements on this blog that are difficult yet the absolute right decision. If you’ve been following my blog and my writing journey for the past couple years, then you know I’ve lived in Long Beach and quit my job to become a freelancer. I’ve written for some fantastic publications like the LA Times, Slate, Salon, LA Weekly, and more. But now, after a great couple years in Los Angeles County, I’ve been been required to make a decision on my professional career.

Over the last year, I’ve started working as the creative director of a digital marketing company called Circa Interactive. I was working a little bit more than part time with the company, directing our creative and communications strategies, and the work has been engaging, challenging, time consuming, and creative. I love the people I work with, and we have a fantastic team. While I was working at this company, I was also creating The Working Poet Radio Show at the Downtown Public Library, freelancing as a journalist and contributing to the LA Weekly, trying to create a blog/magazine called Rockwell’s Camera Phone, and attempting to write a draft of a novel as well as write short stories and poetry. But now that we have more and more business coming in with the digital marketing company, I had to make a choice: my professional career or the creative projects. I had to make a choice whether I would move to San Diego and work full time — or stay in LA and lose my role at the company.

Photo by Clayton Dean. http://claytonadean.tumblr.com/

Photo by Clayton Dean. http://claytonadean.tumblr.com/

I have made the tough but best decision for my family: We’re moving to San Diego, and I’m going to work full time as the creative director for Circa Interactive. So what does this mean? I can no longer put on the show at the library, and despite the tremendous amount of support from the library, I have to focus my energies. I want to be known for the stories, poems, profiles that I write and my work ethic professionally. I want to be known for the family that I’ve built and the lives that I change. So moving to San Diego is the best decision because I will have stability, routine, and a creative space to refocus my energy on my professional and creative career. I will also have family, brothers, and sisters, and as I grow older, I have to admit that living near my family really means a lot to me.

As for journalism, I’m still going to write pieces, and at my work, even though you might not actually see my byline, I’ll be creating stories and projects that will continue to build upon my skills and be published in major publications. It’s thrilling work. We work with professors at some of the best universities in the country, and we’re helping tell their stories. I was just too overcommitted, too spread out, too unfocused, and I was forced to make a decision. That’s the hardest part about growing up, I believe. You realize that you only have one life with only so many hours to work on all that you love and be with all of those whom you love. There just isn’t enough time in one life.

WPRS

As for The Working Poet Radio Show at the Los Angeles Public Library, I can not describe how wonderful of an experience this was. The Los Angeles Public Library’s sponsorship meant the world to us. Jim Sherman of the Los Angeles Public Library Literature and Fiction Department was the first person to contact us about putting on the show, and he provided us with an opportunity and gave us creative freedom to start something special. I can not find the right words to describe what his support meant to WPRS.

With the help of the fantastic Russell Pyle (check out his wife’s new book here about his struggle with cancer) who ran the cameras, edited the live show, mixed the audio, brought in second cameramen to film our show, and provide encouragement, we were able to take the show’s production to the next level. With the help of J. David Gonzalez, the producer of WPRS and my good friend, we put on three fantastic live shows at the library and recorded several great podcasts. We interviewed Roxane Gay, Jay Martel, Cosmo Scharf, Pamela Ribon, Tyson Cornell, Michelle Meyering, Chiwan Choi, Luis J. Rodriguez, Flula Borg, Daniel Halpern, Richard Blanco, Denise Duhamel, Mark Haskell Smith, Michael Semanchik, and more. We had some fantastic musicians, including John Rossiter, Das Tapes, and, my good friend, Jake Bluenote. We had Madeline Pena helping us on social media at the library. We had an unbelievable list of fantastic people who showed support. We had Oscar Gutierrez, a brilliant developer and general entrepreneur at Stauffer, and the guidance of Hilary Guy. The list goes on and on.

To all of these people, I would like to extend my sincerest appreciation and gratitude. Thanks so much for being a part of something short lived yet special. I’m still thinking about recording more podcasts or something else in San Diego, but whatever this project becomes, it will be at a much smaller scale.

Flula Borg, J. David Gonzalez, Pamela Ribon, Jay Martel, Joseph Lapin

Flula Borg, J. David Gonzalez, Pamela Ribon, Jay Martel, Joseph Lapin

Finally, I have to say thanks to J. David Gonzalez. Without him, this show would not have been possible. He’s a fantastic writer and a fixture at Skylight Books. Make sure you check out his story at Thuglit: Issue 11.

I’m not leaving LA until the end of October, and even though I’ll be in San Diego, I still plan on being involved with the literary community. I love the people here and all that’s being created. It’s just time to begin a new chapter. It’s time to focus my creative energies.

 

 

Put Some Work into your Art…Literally

Posted on August 10, 2014

WORK PIECELast night at Traxx Bar in Union Station, J. David Gonzalez and I put on a reading for Writ Large Press’ 90 for 90 series, which is basically 90 events in 90 days. It’s an ambitious project that Writ Large Press seems to be handling seamlessly. We invited Hank Cherry, Shawnacy Kiker Perez, Yago S. Cura, and Joe Donnelly to read poems, essays, or stories about work — a subject that has always been on my mind.

For some of my favorite artists, work has been a central theme. Think about Van Gogh’s earlier work: the potato eaters, the men and women working the field like lost saints. Think about the work of Millet (the painting below) who influenced Van Gogh. Think about Philip Levine’s “What Work Is”: the understanding of why men drink gin or stand in line for work at an axle plant. Think about Denis Johnson’s famous story “Work”: two addicts stripping copper wire from abandoned homes. When you know how to work, it can inspire, it can become poetic, it can make words real. Work is such a part of our lives; therefore it naturally becomes a major part of art.

Millet 1

Honestly, the crowd was slim last night for the readings about work. It was mostly the readers and their significant others and the people who showed up to get shitfaced before a ride on the surfliner to San Diego. The late-night commuters shuffled in and some unsuspecting people sat down and ordered drinks and listened to us read. It was a great reading filled with writers I admire. But I wasn’t sure if the people at the bar, the strangers, would give a shit about us.

But what I found was that there were three people who stayed for all the readings. Their names were James, Paul, and Mark, and they would sometimes yell in the middle of a story, shouting a loud cry of appreciation over the recollection of a place they’ve been before, a certain phrase, a certain moment. At the end of the reading, I went and thanked the three men for listening. That’s when a young man named Paul grabbed my hand, and he said, “I never thought I would like this shit, but you guys are speaking truth. All those bangers out there, they’re always trying to be tough, but this is what they should be talking about.” He had tattoos on his arms and a bald head, and he was wearing a cut off and a pair of basketball shorts. There was a brown liquor in front of him, and he had that spaced off look that showed he had already polished off a couple of other drinks before. He was shaking my hand for a bit of an awkward beat too long.

Sometimes, the toughest guys in the world, at least in my experience, when no one else is looking and their defenses are down, will admit a soft spot for poetry, for the man in the bar speaking truth, for words, for culture, for music. But when you put a bunch of these tough guys together in a room, it’s as if they are all dogs in the dog park, and one glimpse of weakness will alert everyone else. In these situations, showing an interest in poetry or any form of emotional expression is a mistake. But there always surprises.

Billy's Pub Two

I’ll never forget one of these moments, when a tough guy admitted he liked poetry and reading and books. I used to play pool at bar in Miami called Billy’s Pub Two. The photo above is the pool tables where I used to play. One day, I was playing in a tournament, and I had to go against this pudgy bald guy who came in the door with about five other friends. He looked hard. He looked unapproachable. And he didn’t want to play me for his first round match up — whatever it was — and when I reached out my hand to introduce myself, he looked away and started racking the balls. He didn’t have any respect for me as a player, and he just kept trying to bank every shot — he was sinking some — and he never took the game seriously.

Finally, I called him out on it. To my surprise, he just really didn’t care about playing the game. We started talking, and he became fascinated with what I was doing in Miami. At the time, I was teaching composition at Florida International University while trying to learn how to write. So I told him. He was all of a sudden fascinated that I was a teacher, and then he pulled me so his friends couldn’t hear, and he asked me, “Will you teach me how to read?”

Design by Joseph Lapin

I was shocked. He was about 35-years old. I wasn’t necessarily shocked that a 35-year old wouldn’t know how to read, but I was shocked with how easily he shared this information that would have been used by others to ridicule him and point out his weakness. He told me that he tried “Hooked on Phonics,” but it just wasn’t working, and he really wanted me to teach him how to read. Honestly, I really didn’t want to teach him how to read.

That’s when his buddies started to yell at him for taking so long, and they called him over to the table. You could tell in the tone by how he responded that he didn’t want his buddies to think he was talking about reading or books or teaching. Then he surprised me again. He grabbed me by the shirt collar, and he pulled me in close and said: “Your job, your friends, your family, it’s a prison. I need to change, man, and I don’t know how.”

His friends called him again, and he quit the game. He didn’t even say goodbye.

 

 

Finding a Voice by Killing Your Darlings

Posted on August 3, 2014

Design: Joseph Lapin

Design: Joseph Lapin

As you may have read in last week’s Sunday blog post, I just returned from my honeymoon, and the trip helped reawaken the artistic spirit. Paris and Barcelona were an inspiration, but now that I have had this great revelation — or reawakening — what the hell does that mean? Yes, I have a new profound interest in photography, and I’m rededicated to writing stories, poetry, and other creative projects in the small amount of free time that I actually have, but what’s the goal? What’s the plan? How do I ensure that the revelations I had during my honeymoon don’t become a faded out dream like an old photo of a friend that I’ve stashed away in a box underneath my bed and pulled out years later only to say: “Oh yes, I remember him.” I’ll explain what I mean below while sharing some more photos from the honeymoon.

Kill Your Darlings 

The first step is the hardest: Kill your darlings. As I’ve mentioned, when I left graduate school and moved to California, I had a bunch of writing — a novel in stories and a collection of poetry — and I truly believed in these pieces. Some of them have been published but others have not. So after some difficult examination — and yes, a four-year opportunity to reflect — I’ve decided it’s time to move on. I went back into my collection of poetry and just started deleting poem after poem (keeping some), realizing that I must start over. My novel in stories: well, I’m not even going to look at that for a bit more but try to reimagine the themes and the stories new. For now, they’re in the trash.

Photo credit: Joseph Lapin: Another attempt at black and white photography

Photo credit: Joseph Lapin: Another attempt at black and white photography

This has been incredibly difficult, and it’s the artistic equivalent of having an identity crisis. Basically, I’m trying to define what I hope to look and feel and sound like through my writing, and I’m going trough the painful act of destroying the old parts that don’t seem to work anymore. As if I’m throwing the digital strips of my past into the furnace, I can hear a voice calling out to be saved. I want to reach into the digital fire and save them (it’s so easy to recover deleted documents in the Internet age), but I have to admit that my writing wasn’t working in the way I wanted it to…that’s not easy…though there is clearly much worse out there.

I’m thinking of something I heard about Franz Kafka right before he died. He was on his deathbed, and he asked his friends to burn all his manuscripts and his journals. Of course, his friend didn’t listen, and he went and published them anyway. I wonder if I would have the courage, if none of my work wasn’t actually backed up anywhere, to throw an entire manuscript in the fire, to watch it burn and become ash, to watch a part of myself disappear.

I’ve read stories about men and women who walked away from everything they know, from their families, from their states, from their homes, to pursue something different, perhaps important, and that type of permanence, that type of goodbye, is terrifying. I’m watching the Leftovers right now after reading Tom Perrotta’s book, and The Guilty Remnant amaze me as characters. Basically, after the rapture had taken away about a third of the population and people just disappeared, The Guilty Remnant are a group of people who left all their family members to join a new type of organization that believe the rules and social norms of the past were dead: family, friends, work, health. To say goodbye to something that was such an integral part of your life, to explaining your world, seems like one of the most difficult tasks, and it’s a decision, to say goodbye intentionally or unintentionally, that can happen in an instant.

Look at It From Another Angle

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

There is something else I learned about the act of changing a creative project, and the lesson has presented itself through photography and journalism. The photo above was taken on Bastille Day in front of the Eiffel Tower. It was the most amazing fireworks display I had ever seen. Sorry America. The fireworks were shooting straight out of the Eiffel Tower, and they were timed to accent the rhythms and the music being pumped into the air. Even the colors of the fireworks matched moods in the music. It was a true spectacular. I was having a very difficult time taking photos of the fireworks, however, because I didn’t have my tripod and couldn’t keep steady long enough to keep my shutter speed open and still capture crisp shots. So I pumped up the Iso. They came out decent but noisey, and they weren’t the quality I wanted. So I decided to just look at the photo differently, and I cropped it and suddenly the fireworks looked like pieces of wheat growing out of a steel Earth. That’s the photo above.

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin. Paris, Bastille Day.

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin. Paris, Bastille Day.

The same thought went into the photo above. I wasn’t quite getting the photo I wanted, so I just decided to find another angle. This is a skill I learned as a journalist: how to approach the story from different angles depending on the information you have at hand or the direction you want the story to go. Well, it’s something that I’m taking into my creative life. How can I look at the work I’m creating from the appropriate vantage point? Right now, I’m in an airplane flying above the middle of America on my way to a conference in Baltimore. A different angle can mean something so incredibly large — or it can mean just a slight variation. I have dozens of stories, dozens of journal entries, countless scenic sketches, hundreds of ideas — now it’s about finding the right angle to breathe life into the process. I’m thinking about an interview I conducted with a photographer named King Lawrence. He said, anyone can take a picture, but it’s the idea behind it that counts.

Finding a Voice

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

Finally, after all of this tearing up and destroying the old pieces of writing, I’m starting fresh and searching to finally define my voice. I’ve always felt I had a pretty strong sense of my identity as a writer, but I’ve realized that I don’t. I need to keep on finding my voice — basically the vehicle for the stories that I need to tell. I’ve been traveling a lot since I was 17. I’ve lived in Detroit, Bradenton, Miami, DeLand, Long Beach, Los Angeles, some time in Europe, and each place keeps on changing me drastically. But my hometown, Clinton, Mass, is where I was raised. In my work, I call it Kilroy, but I need to return to my roots a bit. I need to set some stories in the place where my voice was initially crafted. And I need to spend some time in one place artistically, finding a true sense, an authenticity, to speak again, to write, to create. That’s my plan of action. More next week and some announcements soon.

 

The Honeymoon in France and Spain: Reawakening the Artistic Spirit

Posted on July 27, 2014

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

My wife and I just returned from our honeymoon. Yes, it’s been a year and half since our wedding (aren’t more and more couples taking a later honeymoon?), but it couldn’t have been more perfect timing. As you might have read in my last post, I took a vacation from social media and blogging for the two weeks I was gone to rethink my writing priorities and goals, and I wanted to find a way to reawaken the artistic spirit, the sense than anything was possible with the written word.

When I left my MFA program at Florida International University, I had a novel in stories and a collection of poetry, and I thought that those two objects were the key to my future artistic endeavors. Many of those poems I have still not shared or tried to publish, but overall, I was not able to sell my novel in stories as a whole — just a few pieces. And since that time, I have focused more on journalism and radio shows and video production, and I have had some success, but before I left for the honeymoon, I could feel that my spirit for the written word, for creative projects, had been worn down by trying to take on too many things and achieve goals that were perhaps a distraction. I was working seven days a week and constantly looking at my phone for the next project, worrying about getting traffic, money, and more. But I found some places, some moments, during my honeymoon that helped remind me of the passion I have for creative projects, for the written word and for some new mediums, too.

The Architecture in Barcelona

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin. Gaudi.

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin. Gaudi.

My wife and I spent a few days in Barcelona, and I’ve heard so much about this city from friends and family that I already felt I had been to this city before. They all said I would love the place because of the art and the spirit of revolution (I’m the leftist in the family, I guess). It’s not often so many people talk with such gusto about a place. My wife, Heron, was particularly interested in the Guadi houses, so against every bone in my body that hates looking like a tourist, I reluctantly signed us up for a walking tour to see three Gaudi locations. I really didn’t know much about Gaudi at first, and honestly I didn’t really spend too much time thinking about architecture, but I found, like most people, Gaudi’s homes to be inspirations. I particularly liked the house above, which is called Casa Batlló. I love the colors and the sense of augmented reality, because that’s what I love about great art. I love writing and painting and music and design that moves the perspective of an object, an idea, a character, or a place flawlessly and seamlessly into the fantastic. I have plenty more photos I’ll be sharing on my Flickr page of Gaudi’s homes soon.

The Palau de la Música Catalana. Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

The Palau de la Música Catalana. Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

Of course, Barcelona isn’t all Gaudi architecture. Before I left for our trip, I was reading about Barcelona, and I came across the stained-glass ceiling above, and I couldn’t wait to photograph it. That’s my photo, and I’m proud of it, and I have many more shots of this ceiling. This stained-glass ceiling is in the Palau de la Música Catalana, which was designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner — a rival of Gaudi. It’s truly a spectacular building that I recommend you see when you head to Barcelona, but it is way more expensive than it should be for a tour. The stained-glass is meant to resemble the sun, and once again, it’s one of those dream-like images, one of those cosmic visions of the sun emanating energy out into the world, a transcription of light and all that we can not see.

Museums: Centre Pompidou and Picasso

Design by Joseph Lapin

Design by Joseph Lapin

Throughout my writing career, I have always looked to paintings for inspiration. I have often seen writing and painting and music as the same thing. Without the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, I’m not sure if I would be on the path I am today. In Paris, I’ve been to several of the art museums, including the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay, but I’ve never been to the Centre Pompidou, and it surely didn’t disappoint. I was able to see a bunch of paintings by Matisse and Kandinsky and many others, but I was fascinated by all the old magazine covers they had around the building. I’ve been experimenting with design, trying to get much better. I started to look at all the older magazine covers, and I realized that I could do that on Illustrator. So I took a bunch of photos of the magazines I wanted to steal from, but I lost my phone with all the pics. I think that’s the art Gods telling me to be original.

The Picasso Museum was another artistic experience that proved to be inspiring. We went to the one in Barcelona, and what I found incredible about Picasso was seeing his work from the early part of his life. He was truly a genius, and painting seemed to come natural to him, but what I most admire about him and his art was his work ethic. That man painted with a fury, and he must have sketched the same scene or object a million times until he found the right one. The hard work he put into his painting led to that explosion of creativity in his later life. It’s obvious  that hard work, even in moments of doubt, can lead an artist to a place that is unimaginable or unforeseen. It’s just about keeping the shoulder to the wheel; it’s about grinding; it’s about the journey.

Photography

Credit: Joseph Lapin

Credit: Joseph Lapin

Before I left for the honeymoon, I was contemplating whether or not I should bring my Nikon D7100, because I was a bit worried about it being stolen by the elusive pick pockets or burdened by having to lug it around. But I’m so glad that I brought it, because I’m learning that I love photography, and there were so many moments that I saw that I felt that I just needed to capture. In the past, this would have been moments of poetry, and I would have written them down. Maybe that’s taking me away from the writing a bit more, but I can’t help but think of photography as poetry, as story telling.

Credit: Joseph Lapin

Credit: Joseph Lapin

I’m loving shooting photos at night. Before I started reading about photography, I was always so blown away with long exposures — mostly because I had no idea how photographers achieved that effect. More than ever, I’m excited about light; I’m excited about the way it bounces off the water. I’m excited about capturing motion. I have so much to learn, but I’m exited to learn.

Petit Pont

Petit Pont Credit: Joseph Lapin

I’ve also started experimenting with black and white photography, and I still feel that I have so much to discover, but here are a couple of my attempts:

Credit: Joseph Lapin

Credit: Joseph Lapin

 

Credit: Joseph Lapin

Credit: Joseph Lapin

Credit: Joseph Lapin

Credit: Joseph Lapin

Yes, the picture of Heron above might be overexposed a bit, and I have a feeling the spot on the right of the frame is just too much, but I like the effect, even if it’s imperfect. Here is a color one  from the subway.

Credit: Joseph Lapin

Credit: Joseph Lapin

Montmartre

Credit: Joseph Lapin

Credit: Joseph Lapin

My family and I went on a walking tour in Montmartre, and it was great to learn more about a part of Paris that I had fallen in love with many years ago when I was wandering around by myself. Of course, I didn’t know anything about it at the time, but I just loved walking around the neighborhood. I loved the Sacre Coeur and the view of the city. The walking tour company was called Culture Fish, and the guide was incredible. He showed us all around the city and places where Van Gogh had painted. In fact, he even showed us a place where Van Gogh had once lived. Notice the sunflowers hanging out of the window below.

Credit: Joseph Lapin

Credit: Joseph Lapin

What I loved about Montmartre was that it still feels like a city for artists, for writers, for intellecturals. Perhaps this is a bit of the “Midnight in Paris” syndrome made famous by Woody Allen, but the time where artists lived in Montmartre and the Lapin Agile rocked with music and madness seems like a hell of a time. Imaging a city, a world, where men and women lived and valued art so intensely was inspiring to me: to live in a place like that seemed incredible. Unfortunately, as my wife pointed out, there might not ever be another Montmartre or Greenwich Village — at least like it used to be. That community might have become virtual now. Artists no longer need to live next to each other to communicate. However, they do need to work at their craft. The spirit of this city, of the past, rushed into my brain and words, and it refreshed my creative mind. The reminders of the creative process, the joie de vivre, was everywhere in Montmatre, even stuck in the walls.

Credit: Joseph Lapin

Credit: Joseph Lapin

And I mean literally stuck in the walls. Above you can see a sculpture of the main character in Marcel Aymé’s story, “The Man Who Walked Through Walls.” I had never read the story before, but the tour guide had given us a synopsis. Basically, it’s about a man who learns he can walk through walls until one day he gets stuck. It’s obviously a lot cooler of a story than I’m given credit for, but after seeing this sculpture, I’ve decided to devour Aymé’s work, because it seems to capture that sense of bendable reality that I’m trying to attain in my work while remaining literary and engaging.

I knew I truly loved Montmartre when I saw the scene happen below which is told through a slide show. Basically, I noticed this Elvis Costello-looking guitar player. He was trying to get the attention of people, and I went over and snapped a picture. He started singing this song about Montmartre, and then another guy came over and started singing with him. Then that other guy who came out of nowhere started conducting an audience of strangers, and they all started singing. What a place. Honestly, what a place.

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Here is one last photo I took while in Montmartre. I have many more you will be able to see on my Flickr.

Credit: Joseph Lapin

Credit: Joseph Lapin

The Seine and the Petit Pont

Credit: Joseph Lapin

Credit: Joseph Lapin

Finally, the most inspiring place for me on my honeymoon, besides anywhere I was with my wife (yes, that should score me some points, right?), was staring at the Seine on the steps near the Petit Pont. When I first went to Paris seven years ago with nothing but a backpack and my journal, all I wanted to do was be a writer, and I wrote in my journal everywhere I went, trying to capture what I saw, hopefully, the same way a painter captures a landscape. I sketched and I sketched, and because I didn’t really know anyone in Paris, I spent a lot of time alone, writing in my notebook. One of my favorite places to write was on the steps near the petite pont in front of the Notre Dame. One day, I was sitting there and writing in my journal, when a man came up to me and said, “If you keep a journal, a journal will keep you.” That’s always stayed with me…that moment.

So I returned to this spot on honeymoon on the last day we where in Europe, where this mysterious man said those words to me that have stuck with me for years, and it struck me how much time had passed. I was now with my wife. I was now older and more experienced. And yes, I am a writer in some way. I have published some great articles in cool places, but I still don’t have a book. And when I return to this place in the future, to this spot, perhaps with my children, I want to have a shelf filled with my writing. I found the inspiration again. I found the motivation. I am awake.

Five Things I’m Looking Forward to About Barcelona: Blog and Social Media Silence

Posted on July 6, 2014

On Wednesday, I’m heading out on my honeymoon. My wife and I were married over a year ago, and we haven’t been able to find the time to take our honeymoon until now. We’re thrilled and we’re stopping in Paris, Olivet, and Barcelona. This is a much needed vacation. I’ve been working a ton lately, and I’m going to use this time to step away and focus a bit more on my writing and publishing goals. I’ve not been writing my book as much, and it occurred to me that people might not even know my real writing goals. When I went to graduate school, I graduated with a MFA in fiction from Florida International University, and I was shopping a book around to some fantastic literary agents. It was a booked called “The Adventures of James Tully.” I had some interest. I was 25-years old, and unfortunately it wasn’t the right timing, and the book wasn’t ready. I’m trying to find a way to get back into the groove with writing my book. I feel somewhat lost to be honest with you about the process, and I’m going to use Barcelona and Paris as a way to step away from everything, spend time with my wife, and try and find some clarity in the process. Meantime, I wanted to share with you the five things I’m looking forward to in Barcelona.

5. The Picasso Museum

Mike Pernod

Mike Pernod

4. Park Guell

guell

 

3. The Tapas

Tapas-tour-bcn.t4b

2. Las Ramblas

Barcelona_Las-Ramblas-iStock_000013773365Small

1. Palau de la Música Catalana

glass

 

What I learned from being a music journalist

Posted on June 29, 2014

In 2012, I left my job at a rehab center teaching creative writing to pursue freelancing full time. It was a hard decision, because I loved the kids and the people I worked with, but it was the only move that made sense for my career. I wanted to be a writer, and I was just going to give it a shot instead of waiting for the magic publication or the letter from an agent that declared me one. During the beginning parts of freelancing, I would write on any subject for any any publication. I ended up writing about everything from video games to profiles on lame congressmen to strikes to music.

Friends With You

Photo Credit: Joseph Lapin

Music felt like a natural fit for me. I went to college for music as a percussionist, and I played drums in the jazz band at Stetson University. I had a foundation of music theory, and I taught many of my friends how to play the guitar. When I was in the jazz band, I was always so frustrated because the leader of the band was a 70-year old trombone player who thought drummers should be more like metronomes and not be heard or seen. For the style of music we were playing, he was right, but I wanted to play with more gusto, more energy. I loved to use the bass drum, and I would hit that thing so loud eventually the band leader told me I couldn’t play it anymore. While I’m not a professional musician now, there was a time when I thought I could be, but I was more interested in rock ‘n’ roll: Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, etc. Even though now I’m just as interested in elaborate compositions or piano sonatas by Philip Glass.

I started to pitch publications for music journalism. I had a background in music, and I thought writing about music would be a natural fit. I started landing some assignments, and I attended concerts and wrote about my experience. I was writing about music mainly for the OC Weekly. One day, I received an email from Nate Jackson, the music editor at the OC Weekly who is also a great poet, and he asked me to attend a K-Pop event at the Honda Center. At the moment, K-Pop was gigantic. You couldn’t leave your house without hearing Gangnam Style or seeing some spoof of the music video on Youtube. It was a similar movement to the Latin music explosion with Shakira, Ricky Martin, and Enrique Iglesias in 1999. So I agreed to cover the concert, and I brought my wife as a photographer.

The band was called Big Bang. I was researching them before the concert, and what I learned was that they were a boy band, and there were five members: G-Dragon, T.O.P, Taeyang, Daesung, and Seungri. From what I was reading, they were as big as NSYNC or the Backstreet Boys in America, but they had much more of a hip hop feel, and they were heavily influenced by American rappers. Honestly, I had no idea what to expect, but I went to the event with an open mind and my notebook and my wife set to take some photos.

When we arrive at the Honda Center, I realized that I was one of the few males at the show, and most of the people there are young girls in groups squealing with excitement even before they walked into the venue. We took our seats in the 20,000 person Honda Center, and it was packed to the brim. People were singing Big Bang’s songs even before they were on the stage. And then suddenly it happened.

The lights were turned off, and the crowd turned on these yellow lights that looked like electrified lotus flowers, and then a flash of fire exploded on the stage, and these pods started emerging out of the ground, where Big Bang eventually emerged from like aliens. The scream that emanated from the young girls in the audience must have been similar to what Edvard Munch heard when he was inspired to paint “The Scream.” Once Big Bang came on the stage, the crowd went bananas. They were screaming and crying, and it was such an intense reaction I couldn’t help but be reminded of The Beatles at Shea Stadium.


The show was filled with pyrotechnics, and I danced in the aisles with my wife. It was a great show. I was entertained. It reminded me of Bad Boy records and the mix of hip hop with a smooth R&B sound that echoed the 90s. So I went home that night and wrote about the show, and I gave it a great review…at least that’s how I thought about it. You can read the review here: OC Weekly Big Bang.

But the next morning I woke up and took a look at my twitter feed, and it was filled with angry Big Bang fans demanding an apology. I couldn’t understand. I thought I gave them a great review. It turned out that one of the heads of the fan club read my review and was outraged that I had called the group manufactured and superficial. Big Bang is a major production with pyrotechnics and backup dancers and a gigantic band that should have been playing behind P Funk. Of course they’re manufactured to some exctent and put together by a production company. Of course they’re somewhat superficial, because they are all about the glitz. That didn’t take away from the show. It was just me editorializing a bit.

Well, the fans did NOT like this at all. They were demanding that I recant my statements and issue an apology on behalf of all the Big Bang fans, a.k.a. VIPs, and they would not stop hassling me until I made a statement. So here’s the truth about freelancing for the first time: You really have no idea what the fuck you’re doing, and you have no one to ask what do. There really isn’t much contact with the editor, and if you hassle them too much, then you’re worried they might not ever give you another article. At the moment, I had no idea what I should do. In fact, there was a part of me that even thought about apologizing to these fans. Maybe that would get me off their shit list.

But that’s when I sat down and watched the tweets keep on coming in, and I realized I was learning a great lesson as a writer and a journalist. No matter how people react to your work, no matter how people interpret what you say, you can only control your own reaction, and if you believe your words are true and honest, then you MUST stand by them. I never apologized, and in the end, I realized that the controversy was good for my writing: it meant more people were reading my work.

KPOP Book

I’m not sure how people are going to react to Big Bang in the future, but when I was Googling to find my original article, I came across a book by Stuart A. Kallen called K-Pop: Korea’s Musical Explosion, and my article is used as a source. I would love to see the book one day. So I did learn a lot from being a music journalist, and if you’re interested in reading about some of my other experiences in this genre, check out “The Unforeseen Journey of a Blog Post.

World War and the World Cup: Looking back 100 Years

Posted on June 22, 2014

As you might have read last week I’m starting a weekly column on this blog, and in order to figure out what to write about this Sunday, I asked twitter. @John_OB1 tweeted I should write about Monday. Lol! Funny. @contentnet said I should write about this:  “How do we create a poetic world in the midst of such emphasis on war and technology?” Well, I loved the idea from @contentnet. However, I find that sometimes the best poetry originates from war time, but the idea put war on my mind. Plus, I was thinking about the World Cup, so I suddenly saw the connection.

I picked up my weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal and flipped to the “Review” section. On the front page, there was an article titled, “World War 1 A Century Later,” by Dr. MacMillan, the warden of St. Antony’s College, Oxford University, and the author of “The War that Ended Peace: The Road to 1914.” In the essay, Dr. MacMillan pointed out that this coming week will mark the 100-year anniversary of the assassination of “the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary and his wife” and the spark that would eventually ignite World War 1.

War has always been devastating (no shit!), and the images of medieval warfare are so  primitive and disturbing that history books have seared illustrations of Dark Ages bloodshed into my mind with such intensity I can almost hear the historic screams of the wounded and the dead, but World War I brought on destruction never before seen from the hands of human beings based on scale that even the Dark Ages paled in comparison. As Dr. MacMillan points out: “more than  9 million men dead and twice as many again wounded–a loss of sons, husbands, and fathers.” The advances in warfare technology contributed to these atrocities. The author goes on to point out that World War 1 was responsible for the spread of influenza as soldiers returned home from war, and it also started the concept of being shell-shocked. A major point made by Dr. MacMillan’s is that looking at World War 1, even 100 years later, can explain the geopolitical circumstances of today, the origins of relatively new countries, and how war-torn countries can stabilize by analyzing past mistakes. By looking at the outcomes of war, we can then learn to improve our world.

Enter Iraq and the ISIS. Currently ISIS is taking over more towns in Iraq, and the stability of that country (if there ever was true stability) has been threatened so much that Time just released a cover design with “The End of Iraq” burned into a map of the Middle East. Clearly it’s important to think about the mistakes we have made historically with other countries after war, and I think we’re failing as a country, as a global community, in so many complicated ways that I’m not qualified to address. But we need to continue to find alternatives to war to solve conflicts — from the psychological to the cultural to the diplomatic to the technological. Yes, we should find a way to end wars…period, and even though that is far away, we should at least acknowledge that 100 years later we have made leaps and bounds in terms of World War and the prevention of genocide. Even though the threat of World War III has been propagated by fear mongers, the global destruction we have seen in World I and World II has not been replicated.

iraq-cover-final

Of course, war is still waging in many countries, and there are many oppressed people. Yes, Americans are not exposed to the daily  violence that people in Syria and other countries face. The world confronts violence still at an unacceptable level. But we have really come so far since the days of World War 1, where men were sent into trenches to fight over inches of borders. We have come such a long way since the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan. We have come such a long way since the League of Nations appeased Hitler. We have come such a long way since the draft in Vietnam. We have come a long way since the winners of war were thought of as takers of spoils. We still have a long way to go, but I think there have been many social, cultural, and technological advances in our world that have helped us try to eradicate war from our lives.

For example, the World Cup. Right now, it’s half time in the United States vs. Portugal game, and I’m writing this blog post in anxious anticipation of the outcome of the game. And it’s clear to me that soccer and international sport have a role to play in lessening the impact on war. The World Cup, where men and women and children from all around the world come to watch their team dominate the global sports world with their colors and logos brandishing into the sky like the knights presenting their coat of arms before battle, is an opportunity for catharsis. It’s an opportunity for each country to let off steam. It’s an opportunity for a country to claim suprmecy without the loss of life and exercise war-like behavior.

Countries and leaders are like little kids or dogs in a dog park when it comes to war. They need to feel that they are top; they need to feel that they are in charge; they need to feel like they are in control. Yes, this is an oversimplification of global politics and complicated balance of powers, but from outside, conflicts over power struggles is are childish responses to conflict that have cost the lives of so many men and women from the beginning of time; it’s a Game of Thrones still; and an international competition can serve as a way to take the place of bloodshed and pissing contests.

At the same time, because sports are also about narratives as well as technical skill, we learn more and more about people from all around the world. We hear the stories of their trials — like the floods in Bosnia. We’re given access into the lives of people from around the world — like the poverty in Brazil — and by seeing their struggles, we empathize and we understand that there is enough problems in the world today that jeopardize our quality of life.

In addition to competitive sports, technology has a major impact on the way we think about war. Social media and the access of video have given us insight into some of the most horrific and shocking circumstances in the world. We’re able to see the Syrian cities turned to rubble where woman and children live; we’re able to witness the bloodshed in Kiev; and we’re able to read the thoughts of individuals living within war-torn countries via twitter and Facebook.We’re making progress. For those who are dying, it’s not enough. But it’s been a 100 years since World War I. One day it will be a 100 years since World War II. A 100 years since Hitler. A 100 years since the atomic bomb. And if we can get to that point without another world war, haven’t we done something special?

Perhaps one day we will settle our global disputes over video games — or virtual versions of war — where war doesn’t cost the loss of lives. Perhaps one day our sporting events could serve to end a diplomatic crisis. Perhaps I’m naive. But the very concept of warfare is changing — cyber, drone, economic — and who knows what it will be like in the future. Maybe it will change so drastically we can’t even recognize it.

Since I wrote a draft of this blog post, the United States scored two goals and Ronaldo broke our dreams — at least temporarily — with this cross:

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