Jul 4 2013

Get Off My Chest! Episode 5 – Vacillating Into Summer


Enough has changed in the ongoing internet adventures of Paul and Diane that now we need a completely new intro. Up until November 2012, Paul Pearson and Diane Karagienakos had been longtime internet friends who had never actually met each other. As Paul was crossing through San Francisco last year, he, Diane and her dog Picard finally had a dinner in person, managing to keep the invasive paparazzi at bay. Since then, Diane’s moved to the Los Angeles area, Paul’s still in Seattle (for the moment), and they both still own computers. So they’re restarting their acclaimed internet conversation series Get Off My Chest! with a long treatise about summer. It was supposed to be a good-time, Beach Boys pre-Pet Sounds, sumptuous celebration of the season, which it still is, but with a couple of meaningful, reflective and bittersweet reflections middle-aged people like Diane and Paul are prone to having from time to time. Also, you Spotify users will dig the themed playlist at the bottom of this article. Enjoy.

Paul: ‘Aight. We have a topic? I forgot the topic.

Diane: SUMMER, Paul. The topic is summer. Sheesh!

Paul: Summer. Ah, that’s right. I forgot about summer because I’m up here in Seattle, it’s June 19, and it’s freaking overcast with a very light drizzle. Summer.

Diane: (announcing what music she’s playing) Starting with the Spinners’ “One Of a Kind,” summer 1973. Annual roadtrip with our visiting grandmother. This time to Oceanside, CA! My brothers fished.

Paul: Ahhh, the Spinners. One of my all time favorites. So, how are you enjoying the summer in L.A., which I understand has been going on since February?

Diane: I got here the first day of May, and I have to say — it feels like a childhood summer! As you know I’ve been in San Francisco most of 23 years. Which rates right up there with Seattle in terms of summer hotspots. So in preparation — which I’m glad one of us did! — I made a list of all the things summer meant to me: as a kid, adolescent, etc. Do you have any off the top of your head?

Paul: Summers in Sacramento are often unforgivably hot. Both of the houses my family lived in Sacto had swimming pools. Including this freaky Grecian-style swimming pool with a dark-blue bottom, so it retained heat. I made a lot of tents in the backyard, too.

Diane: New track: “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” Alice Cooper, summer 1973. I’m realizing I’ve got many songs from that summer. I think it was the year, I was 9, when I realized there was an adult world other than that of my parents. AM radio was a portal to this other world that excited me so.

Paul: AM radio! You know, I’ve been working on the second chapter of “My Life In Music,” and it’s all about Top 40 AM radio of the ’70s. It was much maligned, but I have very, very fond memories of KFRC in San Francisco, and KNDE in Sacto. That era of pop radio was truly desegregated. If a country song was the most popular in the nation, Top 40 radio played it. If an R&B song was #1, they’d play that too. So yeah, a big memory of my summers is walking down the street where I lived in Vacaville, CA and hearing all these radios.

Diane: You’re right! Mac Davis, Charlie Rich, Olivia Newton-John were all country, and they became top 40 stars, as did Al Green & a whole slew of R&B stars.

So my list: Summer has meant — at various ages growing up — freedom, transition, optimism, adventure, discovery, and Jerry Fucking Lewis. I grew up in Vegas, and that guy and that telethon herealded the end of all of the above, and the return to conformity, authority, alarm clocks, homework deadlines, and the preempted broadcast of Wonderful World of Disney and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom on that Sunday night. All to watch that screaming crazed sweaty creepy man demand you send more money to his kids, fuck kids with any other disease. He was the face of the end summer.

Sorry, I clearly still have Jerry Lewis issues.

Paul: You know I played on a Jerry Lewis telethon once? Not the actual, Jerry Lewis telethon, with him, but I played at the local station that was broadcasting it. They cut away every hour to the local channel, and I played on that segment.

As a Jehovah’s Witness kid, summer also meant going door-to-door all damn summer long, and heading to Reno for district conventions. It was also when I introduced myself to Johnny Carson and David Letterman, ’cause I got to stay up late.

Diane: Yup, Johnny Carson, summer 1974. Also the summer my mother — god bless her — took me & my brothers to see Blazing Saddles at the drive-In. I brought my Panasonic tape recorder. I still have every word of that movie memorized.

Paul: Blazing Saddles. Yes. That was a very important film.

Diane: Summers have become just another season. I wonder if you, being a parent are able to appreciate summer (in its most fabled definition) by proxy through your children. Do you have a big Slip-n-Slide in the back yard?

Paul: We have a deck, not an actual backyard, but yes, it’s full of summer toys and aquatic-based apparatuses. And a big-ass gas grill. That’s when I truly get down with the summer thing, when I’m grilling something. It’s that moment I feel I have mastered my masculinity, when I am standing over a rack of ribs, divining smoke with my spatula. Then I have a Sex And The City marathon. As for living vicariously through my kids – yeah, sorta, I suppose. But I do that all year long, really.

Diane: Man is to barbecue what Cro-Magnon was to Wooly Mammoth. That’s what I always say. What really stands out, regarding childhood summer, for me are those above-mentioned road trips: five of us in a car for two or three weeks. No one had smart phones to drown out the present company. We fought. We made up games in the car (often utilizing the cassette recorder), we sang (at least I did, to the AM radio). I can remember what I saw out a window when listening to Helen Reddy’s “You and Me Against The World” and the Stylistics’ “You Make Me Feel Brand New” — I don’t remember where exactly I was, but I remember the weather, and the scenery, of those moments. And who I was with. I’m so glad I didn’t have a smartphone as a kid. I fear all my memories would be of texting!

Paul: The summer of 1983 was probably the most important summer of my childhood. It was the first summer after I’d quit the JW’s. I got a job as rehearsal pianist for a high school summer stock theater group in Sacramento, Musical Comedy Workshop. To my utter shock I also landed the lead in Oklahoma! That summer I made a whole bunch of new friends. They were arty. They listened to old David Bowie! And they accepted me, for some reason. If I hadn’t had them during the transition, I’m not sure what would have happened to me.

Diane: I love that you had that experience. I had a similar “finding my tribe” time when I arrived at the campus of SUNY Stony Brook in 1981.

As I got older, summer became this big transitory time: 6th grade center (back in the days of integration) to junior high (I believe we now call it middle school), junior high to senior high. And with that came pubescent curiosity: about booze and drugs and sex and of course, rock and roll!

I came up with a timetable. My first experience with each of these happened during a summer. Coincidence? I think not!

Rock and roll: First concert, Frampton, 1977
Alcohol: first beer, Lowenbrau, 1978
Drugs: first joint, 1979
Sex: First time, 1980

You’d almost think I planned it.

Paul: My first rock and roll concert was in the summer of ’82, I believe. The Police and Santana. As for alcohol and sex I think I took care of all those in ’84. Probably drugs too. I was coping with my Orwellian fears.

Diane: The Police! wish I’d seen them. And I’m glad you had a chance to catch up on the sex & drugs tip most expeditiously.

Paul: Scheduling’s important. You know, for a long time, I had this fear of August.

Diane: Fear of August? Because it meant school started soon?

Paul: For about 10 or 12 years straight, some cataclysmic event would always happen in August. I called it Augustpanik. One of my girlfriends took it awfully personally, even though it had nothing to do with her. The summer of 1995, especially August, was fuckin’ abominable.

Diane: What was the timeframe of your Augustpanik?

Paul: I would say Augustpanik ran between… I’d estimate it as having started in 1987, and I stopped being superstitious about it around 2004.

Diane: Another thing that was Pure Summer: The Olympics!

Paul: You know, I never really watched the Olympics all that much. I was all about baseball though. One thing I resented about being raised a JW was that I wasn’t allowed to participate in sports, including little league baseball, which happened every summer a few blocks from my house.

Diane: I grew up in a very athletic household (I skated & did gymnastics, two older hockey-playing brothers). I saw every ABC Wide World Of Sports from 1972-1980, I’m pretty sure. My first Olympics was 1972: Olga Korbut vs. Kathy Rigby, Edwin Moses, Mark Spitz. And then… the hostage situation. I was way too young to understand what was happening. But I knew, at age 8, that when the perenially chipper Jim McKay said, “They’re all gone,” I understood for the first time that really bad things happen in the world.

You’re my second male friend who grew up JW — and took a while to dust it off. I’m glad you both did.

Paul: The first news story I remember was when Nixon resigned (in August!) in 1974. I was on vacation with my family in Billings, Montana. My dad was doing a real estate seminar at the university there, so we drove through Yellowstone to get there. Saw Old Faithful. And Nixon quit.

Diane: That’s so funny, I was on one of our August Road Trips: hockey camp for the boys, Penticton, Canada, when the news broke!

Back to summer: It was so built up. Nine months of looking forward to it, then boom, it was over. A lot of schools now are year-round. I wonder if that sort of diminishes the true power & meaning of summer to kids today. It was almost mythical: Summer. I swear, I suppose it’s because I was in San Francisco for summer 1990-2012 (minus the time I was overseas 1998-2000), but I have zero summer associations. It’s starting to make sense now, why I left (San Francisco).

Paul: So how has the transition from San Francisco faux summers to Los Angeles summers gone for you? Although, technically, it just started today.

Diane: It’s a lot of factors — this chapter of my life will be called “Next time I ask the universe for an adventure, remember to be more specific!” But the fact that all of this has happened during summer just makes it feel like summer 1973 (if only the soundtrack were so great). Being in a new place where it’s sunny, having the freedom to not work during this transition, not knowing what’s next in adventure… All those words that I use for summers past, I’m so happy to feel them again. I’m sure much of has to do with my own mindset and leaving behind a situation in which I stayed far too long (I’m fucking loyal to a fault). Not sure I’d feel this way if I’d moved to North Dakota, but right now, I’m a walking Joni Mitchell song, right down to the white gauze swimsuit cover I’m walking around in!

I need to get out more in L.A. proper to get a “summer vibe” on the streets. But all the people I’m hanging with are all sharing this — it’s hard for a non-earthbiscuit like myself to find words for it, this — time in life. A lot of people I’m encountering, grounded people, are feeling really optimistic here! I didn’t find much of that in SF, I’ll be honest.

Paul: Optimism. I love optimism. I moved to L.A. in the summer of ’95, which as I mentioned was the absolute fucking worst year of my life. I wasn’t very happy having to leave the Northwest for L.A. All sorts of shit happened that summer that should not have happened.

Diane: So what’s the story? Gonna give sunny L.A. another go?

Paul: I’m not sure this is breaking news for everyone, but there is an extremely strong chance I’ll be moving to L.A. in the future for work, unless something fairly dramatic happens. And the last couple of times I’ve been in L.A. I’ve really enjoyed myself. So it’s the exact opposite of the ’95 move. I’m actually looking forward to moving to L.A. If it happens. There are still milestones that have to be hit, but as of now the going understanding is that we’re headed down to L.A. But no timetable yet. The first time I was there I was not really one of the party people.

Diane: I’m surprised how much I’m enjoying it. Even where I’m staying most days, Valencia (long story), it’s so laid-back and green (for a desert) and pedestrian/bike friendly. People are nice. After 23 years in gray and damp cities (San Francisco, London), I’m liking this. There will come a time when this too shall pass, but it is a great summer. I suspect there’s no official end of summer — for adults — in Southern California. You can take your time and come back, if you want. I’ve been thinking about this for twenty years.

Paul: I would probably be much more grounded than I was the first time I lived in L.A.

Diane: I’m not letting you off the hook, music man. Some of your most emblematic songs of summer, and why.

Paul: Well, I’m not sure they were summer songs, but back when we were talking about AM radio, the songs I recall the most were “Do It Again” by Steely Dan and “Everybody Plays the Fool” by the Main Ingredient. During the Summer of Crap in 1995, there was this great station in L.A., KACE, that played R&B oldies. Great, great station. Missed. Basically anything soul-related is in my summer memories. “Love Train” by the O’Jays, “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” by Stevie Wonder, all Spinners songs. Hall & Oates.

Diane: I love that you mention “Everybody Plays the Fool” by the Main Ingredient. I recently took a roadtrip to San Francisco with a male friend. That song came on, and he knew every second, every phrase and pause. I’m familiar with the song, but was never compelled as a kid to memorize it. I realized that day that that was a boy song!

Paul: Yeah, I would always hear that little “flute” introduction coming from the radios in the streets. That was the first notion of “hooks” that I ever heard.

(We broke it off here, because this was happening at the exact moment James Gandolfini’s death was announced. We picked it up the next Tuesday:)

Diane: Okay, I’m just sitting here organizing nutritional supplements (seriously).

Paul: In what order? Alphabetically?

Diane: It’s complicated.

Paul: I won’t pry. So, I definitely have a worst summer on record, and maybe a best. Do you have specific favorite and least favorite summers on record?

Diane: Fave: two, 1973 and 2004.

Paul: What was good about 2004?

Diane: I’ll go into detail in a moment. And add 1983 to the “Best” list.

Trying to think of the worst… There are a few that tie for “Meh,” but worst… There was definitely a period of bad summers, 1984, ’85, ’86, right after my mom died December of ’83. My eating disorder returned with a vengeance. Music started getting cheesy. I was young and beautiful and supposed to be happily dancing to drum beat music. Instead, I was destroying myself and hoping I wouldn’t wake up (I could never kill myself, because I wouldn’t do that to my father), but I seriously went to sleep each night wishing it was the last.

What made 2004 good… I was 40. I’d spent part of the prior year writing and performing a stage show (first time onstage) and it was taking off! We got into the Fringe Festival that summer and won Best Of Fringe. At the same time, I was directing and producing my first feature film. I’m really good at creating community, and I have to say, we had the greatest cast andcrew, most of whom I met because of the project (the film and stage show both titled Come Fly With Me Nude). I was living my dream surrounded by wonderful, good, talented people! I was working so hard I lost 20 pounds in two months — there was a lot of dancing in the show — so I looked better at 40 than I have since that summer of 1983, before my mother died.

1983 I was thin for the first time since puberty, I was in love for the first time with someone who’s still a great friend. My brother was engaged to a Greek woman who was the big sister I always wanted. Everyone was happy and the music was great! Can’t separate a summer from its music!

And you? Let’s hear your best-of/worst-of stories. And I hope yours aren’t as tied in to your weight as mine are!

Paul: Let’s kill off the ghosts of 1995 first. I moved down to L.A. with my then-wife. Things had been going bad for awhile. There were tons of things going on with her that I was never told about. I’d caught her in a pretty massive lie, which was constructed to conceal the fact that she was seeing a guy she was… well, to be honest, we still don’t know what she was doing with him. It has never been fully explained to me.

Anyway, for some reason, in August she brought him down to L.A. “with his girlfriend” and she kicked me out of the house. So I spent that month on the road. I had very few friends down there because I’d just moved. I stayed in a motel in Long Beach, camped in Lake Arrowhead, finally came back to stay in a cheap motel in Beverly Hills (no lie).

I was in Pasadena with the one friend I did have there, eating tacos in the street, when I was assaulted by a guy who was apparently being initiated into a gang. He struck me in my left eye with brass knuckles. I still have the scar. So, yeah, ’95 would be my worst summer. But you know, I was pretty stupid to put up with it.

Diane: Okay, the brass knuckles bit sucks. But that sounds to me like one of those summers (mine would be ’92) when you get so lost, you’re so raw, those experiences just lead to such searching and growth when you look back. I know I’m just even more open to new things and a “what the fuck” attitude, that when I look back, I feel like it ultimately really formed me. I always think those are probably the periods in artists’ lives from where comes the best work, when you’re stuck questioning life.

Paul: Yeah. I don’t like to revisit that particular summer (’95) too often. I’m sure it probably shaped a lot of stuff. What was infuriating about it was that it proved that my first impression of my ex-wife, which wasn’t positive, turned out to be dead-on. I have always mistrusted my first instincts, and I have no idea why.

On the other hand, going through the bad things that happened in the past is not usually an enjoyable thing for me. I don’t want to hang around those ghosts and shake my fist demanding justice. And I don’t even know her these days, maybe she’s changed and has taken a full accounting of herself. I just haven’t heard about it, and I don’t really care. That’s that.

1983 was probably the best summer. 2002 was great. That was the summer I started to come out of a very long-lasting shell. I was in Olympia and was trying a new approach to life.

Diane: Why was your ’83 so great? At the risk of projecting, I’m totally expecting music to play a part in your answer.

Paul: The establishment of a core of friends that probably, in the long term, saved my life. Yes, music was part of it. I had no idea anybody else thought I was a good singer. It woke me up to a lot of things. 2002 was a lot like ’83. I’d made a relatively new core of friends in Oly, started getting involved in musical projects again.

Diane: Self discovery! I had that moment at 40, which is an age most women dread — and I think being that age gave me the wisdom to appreciate it all the more.

Paul: Most men dread it too. I wasn’t really paying attention when it happened to me.

Hey, this is supposed to be about summer! When’d we get all self-examinatory and shit? (Although I think this is a perfectly good direction to go in.)

Diane: I know I’m miserable without that element in my life, which is sort-of what’s great about being in L.A. now, since the main reason for this move was to take the writing projects to the next level. Many of my friends here are S.F. expat actors/filmmakers who moved for the same reason, so we’re all feeding off each other’s creative energy. It’s an exciting time. The fact that I get to wear actual summery dresses (try doing that in the summer in San Francisco) just makes me feel all the more upbeat and carefree. It sounds so fluffy… but I’m enjoying fluffy right now. After 20+ years under the cold, damp, gray blanket that is summer in San Francisco, I feel like I am Joni Mitchell, and I do want to live in Laurel Canyon. I’m fixated on Laurel Canyon.

Paul: Yeah, this summer — well, so far, it’s not even a week in the books yet — is going to be interesting. I’m terribly busy already. Kind of re-emerging in a way. I heard from some astrology types that Neptune’s going to be retrograde in some house of mine for awhile, so that means I’m going to be working on some issues of personal definition. Who I am, what I can do, where my potential’s at, etc. I nodded my head as if to understand.

Diane: That’s right, you’re still in the midst of a transition yourself! I arrived here April 30, so that’s officially when summer began for me. “I nodded my head as if to understand.” Heh heh heh.

Paul: I’m still in transition but it’s not 100% where I’ll be yet.

Diane: This is my transition’s transition. The transition itself began in 2007, when death, divorce, and unemployment all struck within months of each other. Summer, of course.

Paul: This summer should accelerate the transition that’s been going on since… well, August of last year according to me, but October if you’re talking about my career. Frankly I’m not sure when I haven’t been in transition over the last 14 years. ’98 may have been the last time I’ve felt truly settled for a spell. I mean, some things are settled. Family and relationships, that’s settled. That turned out fine. My family’s just waiting on me, really.

What do you want to see come out of this summer?

Diane: Hmmm… The one thing I know for sure is I do want this state of mind, this calm, this openness to trust life, to last. I feel fearless, for the first time in a long time. I am a feather in the wind and right now it’s perfect.

Out of this summer: eventually I want to be settled (somewhat) somewhere. Even if that means I just buy a car and find some sort of existence on the road for a while. I was so tied to a place, my apartment in San Francisco for so long… I loved it in the fact that I’m a momma bear and love having a place for all my orphan friends to gather on holidays or just whenever I feel like cooking and having a dance party after. Again with the community.

I want an agent. A manager. I want to be bicoastal. I want to see my projects find the audience they deserve. That’s what I want to see come out of this move. It just may take longer than a summer.

Paul: I’d like to be a part of something. I’d like to get a sense that I’m contributing what I can to some sort of community or work effort. I’m finding my way back to what it is that I do best, which is essentially covering music. Or performing music, or helping other musicians define themselves. Now that I’m in a position to work in the music realm again, as opposed to having been sort of stranded in a position only peripherally connected to music for most of the last six years, I want to get back to the side of the music where I do my best work. And get paid. Yeah, definitely want to include getting paid for it. And create something. I don’t know, anything. Things are slowly coming together.

Diane: Since I’ve been here, I’ve spent a lot of time writing, marketing and fundraising materials for dog causes, like Rocket Dog Rescue and Paws LA. And I’ll be starting up the LA branch of aMios, a theatre company based in NYC now also in San Francisco (I write for their bi-monthly Shotz short play program).

So I guess we want a lot of the same things — the community, getting paid, being on the creative side. I’m just grateful that I have a strong creative side, though it took me a while to truly embrace it. I think that if I’d had that in my life when my mother died, I might have weathered that period differently, perhaps less self-destructively. Who knows?

Paul: Well, if I do wind up down there anytime soon, let me know what I can do to help. I got software and stuff. And the will to live.

Diane: Come here and be the musical director for my theatre company. In addition to your other projects! Peal Pearson and The World’s Most Controversial Band!

Paul: Deal. Do you have any square dances? I’m all do-si-do in that bitch!

Diane: I’m getting some ideas… See, collaboration! I love it!

Paul: I’ll start designing the T-shirts right now!

Diane: Well, you’ve inspired me to set some definite goals this summer (besides just “tan legs”). I’m even more excited! Thank you.

Paul: You’re welcome, and me too. I’m going to start taking notes.

Diane: Cool. Time for a refreshing lemonade!


Jan 27 2013

GET OFF MY CHEST! Vol. 4: We Swear That We Don’t Have A Gun (or a history of mental illness)

(we just need to vent a little)

Seattleite Paul Pearson and San Franciscan Diane Karagienakos and  are the consummate online friends. They have never met in person blew the mystique and finally met in person last November. If not for their mutual connection to exactly two people, they might not have ever known of each other’s existence. But they instant-message each other with a rapport like they’ve been doing this internet thing for a hundred years.

In their fourth, possibly most vital conversation so far, D&P weigh in on the gun control debate, and try like hell to make it into a more comprehensive, well-rounded parley than one normally finds in the current media climate. This discussion contains one (1) Lewis Carroll reference.
Diane: Let’s roll. Let’s just dive in: What do you think the problem is and how would you fix it, given the power to do so?

Paul: Well, the prevailing conservative sentiment that the problem doesn’t just have to do with guns is correct. I mean, it’s a LOT of the problem… a whole hell of a lot of the problem… but I agree with the notion that mental health has something to do with it. And one aspect of mental health that I think needs to be addressed is why certain people have so much affection for their guns.

Other aspects of the problem? Well, fear. Our nation’s genetic code, as it were, placing a certain nobility on violence. Lack of education. The instant gratification culture. It’s lots of things.

But mainly guns.


Diane: I’m gonna agree and disagree with you there. Agree guns are a whole hell of a lot of the problem. Agree instant gratification. Agree mental health. But I think the main problem, The Big One, is our society/culture of disconnection. Other cultures have violent games/movies, and guns, and, I assume, members of its society with mental health issues.What America seems to lack are things that counter these things. A sense of belonging. Pride of place. Strong ties to extended family, community. I work in a restaurant and every night, families sit around tables of very expensive meals, and no one talks. All of them are elsewhere on their devices. I swear I believe it’s all tied in. I’m not saying outlaw devices, not at all. But I am saying that as tribal people, we’re on a path of self-induced isolation. It’s not good, and gun violence is evidence of the worst of it.

And it’s pissing me off that no one is talking about this. Guns, mental health care system, NRA, Second Amendment. Everyone’s pointing fingers at these things, but no one’s willing to say we, America, are the problem. Come together, people!

Paul: Well, I see that disconnection as a problem witheverything that ails America at this point. We were already on our way to becoming an isolationist country, the breakdown of the tribal instinct that you mention only reinforces that. As someone raising kids with a lot of technology around the house, that alarms me as well. I’m leery of my family turning out like the one in The Ice Storm.

I wonder if we are irretrievably broken in our ability to discuss these matters like grown adults. I was thinking about this in relation to the news media the other day. Since they are driving discussion of this issue, they don’t take the time to discuss the intangible problems. They don’t like to attach a higher meaning to these things, like you just did. And yeah, it’s as much of a problem as any other problem in this mess. Still, the mathematical part of me, which is living in a very remote part of my subconscious in an unfurnished railroad apartment, also believes: You know, people really don’t need high-capacity magazines.

Diane: Absofuckinglutely. I have yet to hear a half-decent argument in favor of them. A conservative lawyer I know posted on Facebook:

It’s the middle of the night and you’re in bed on the second floor of your house in a semi-rural neighborhood. Your spouse is next to you and your kids are in their rooms down the hall. There have been several burglaries in the area recently, including one where the homeowner was stabbed and the perps got away… again. You hear the sound of breaking glass downstairs and then hushed voices. Quietly, you wake your spouse and call 911 and are told that help is on the way. You decide to wait quietly until you hear footsteps on the stairs. With nothing to fight with, you scream out, “I called the police and they are on their way!” Your door bursts open and two meth-amped assailants charge in waving flashlights and knives, demanding money and valuables and threatening bodily harm “because you called the fucking cops.” You try to give them money, but they are not satisfied so they stab you and your spouse repeatedly and as you fall to the ground the perps leave the room saying they are going to “Kill your fucking kids.” 5 minutes later, the police arrive to find the bodies of you, your wife, and your kids stabbed to death.


Thankfully, you have a legally registered pistol with a magazine that complies with the new law limiting it to seven rounds. You still call the cops and decide to wait it out, but you get your pistol ready. When you hear the footsteps and shout out the warning, the assailants burst in so you open fire. It is dark in the room and they are moving, so only two of your seven bullets are hits and they drop the first perp. The second one is still coming at you with his knife, enraged. 5 minutes later, the police arrive to find the bodies of you, your wife, and your kids stabbed to death. The perp you shot is gone.


Your pistol has a 15-round magazine. Only two of the first seven rounds hit the first assailant, dropping him and giving you a clear shot at perp #2. Terrified, you are firing wildly, but 3 of the next 5 shots find their mark. The perps are not dead, nor even mortally wounded, but they are injured and down, and you still have 3 rounds in your weapon. You keep the perps covered until the police arrive 5 minutes later.

And THAT is ONE reason why law-abiding citizens should be allowed to have medium-capacity (10 to 15 rounds) magazines.

How idiotic is that as an argument, if those are the only 3 possible outcomes? What the fuck are you doing shooting any kind of gun in your home where there are children in the dark? If you have time to strap on your big bad gun, how about just grabbing a flashlight or one of those flashlight helmet? Or best yet – night-vision goggles (which I would think if you’re enough of a firearm freak, you would automatically own — and actually take aim. But then if you were actually taking aim, you’d only need 1, maybe 2 bullets — and what fun would that be?

Paul: And how many times has Scenario #3 actually happened? You can’t predicate law on a short story. Not to cheapen the subject, but I could make a reasonable argument about not walking in fields with potholes in it, because in one scenario I heard about, a little girl fell down a hole into a room where she took oral steroids and ended up in a tea party with a grinning cat and a sociopathic queen. So don’t walk in fields, kids.

What lawmakers need to consider is the reality of the situation. And given all that’s happened, you have to weigh if all these mass murders would have been possible without quick access to high-powered weaponry. That has to be discussed.

Diane: Okay, thank you for making me laugh out loud with your frightful scenario. It comes back to your point about some people’s odd affection for their guns. I honestly don’t think most gun owners and NRA members think we need the medium-to-high capacity mags. But it’s that squeaky, well-funded wheel that keeps this from being a meaningful and forward-moving discussion. I wish the NRA would just branch off and become its own political party, stay out of other party’s pocketbooks.

And I agree with Louis Michael Seidman’s New York Times article about the constitution: that it derails any intelligent approach to problems of today. Camille Paglia did a great interview with Interview after Columbine, where she had a great approach to what’s wrong with schools and society today (circa 1998 or 1999). Her solution: Blow it up. Start over.

Same with the Constitution: Great preamble and ideas overall, but we must look at today’s modern problems through the lens of today. I don’t want to necessarily blow it up, but we need to be open to other ideas in this day and age.

Paul: The responsible gun owners far outnumber the wack-jobs, and I agree with you. I think rank-and-file NRA members are more in support of some logical restrictions than Wayne LaPierre would have you believe. But we can’t hear them. Their leaders have already proven themselves to be out of touch and comprehensively tone-deaf. It has to be frustrating for them.

As far as love of guns goes — I understand it as a hobby that could prove to be beneficial in some manner. I know some women in Olympia who have started their own gun club, and they’re extremely attentive to responsibility and safety. But in general I don’t quite get the displaced passion some people have for inanimate objects. And it’s hard to tell when enthusiasm ebbs into devotion, which ebbs into worship. I have to watch for that myself.

The Constitution was written without the framers knowing anything about the future. They didn’t know what things would be happening two centuries later. They’d probably be horrified that we don’t value fine American craftsmanship and buy a lot of our furniture from Swedes. I don’t consider it a holy document, although I’m nuts about that First Amendment.

Diane: Seems it’s never the gun wack-jobs who amass carnage before ultimately committing suicide. When did that even get on our radar as an option, a solution or reaction to an unhappy life of even phase of life? Are we just such a nation of pussies now that getting fired, or rejected (from school or a person we desire), or a series of these setbacks makes us not only want to check out, but to take innocent people with us? Whatever happened to “success is the best revenge”? Are Americans losing hope for achieving success? Are the expectations of The American Dream too great, too unrealistic? It’s like when you get sober or give up smoking or lose weight: You think it’s going to change your life so dramatically for the better. But it doesn’t. It changes it for the better, but it’s a far, far way from happily ever after.

Meanwhile, we have dumb-ass Snooki’s and Kardashians making it look like fame and success, the American “Happily Ever After,” are that easy. And if those tools can be rich and famous and happy, what the fuck’s wrong with me that I’m broke, unemployed, and can’t find a date? We are a nation of fucked up signals for kids, that’s all I’m sayin’.

Paul: It’s that instant gratification thing again. There are very few overnight successes, and if there happens to be one, the speed of culture usually cuts that success off or just forgets about it. Every noble success takes time. Even that Gangham Style guy’s been working for the last 9 years.

Right now? I think we’ve been in a downward spiral of hope for a couple of years. All of our expectations have been tempered. A lot of people feel the American dream’s out of reach. Surely I’ve felt that way from time to time in the past. But then again, I wasn’t doing what I know I need to do to be successful. That’s another story.

But yeah, I think that fatalism exists, certainly. And it trumps patience and hard work, for a lot of people. That has to stop. I think more than anything we’ve accepted anger as a food group. Some people have. It’s part of their daily diet.

I saw two of the Kardashians on Letterman last night. It was, believe it or not, the first time I was ever exposed to the Kardashian family for more than 30 seconds. I keep thinking the subset of people who are famous because “they’re famous” is about to go away, and it never does. They have a right to be happy. Certainly don’t wish them harm. But I wonder why a national of millions has glommed onto them.

Diane: It’s our culture of snark. We love looking at people’s lives and habits and making fun of them, while they laugh all the way to the bank.

I have a confession to make: I’ve watched Ice Loves Coco a couple of times now. And… I sort of love it. For proving me wrong in my own prejudice about certain people, based on how they look. I mean, she looks like a blow-up doll, but she seems really sweet. And Ice, we can think him a hothead thug, but he’s so calming and grounding a presence for her, and they clearly love each other so much. I can’t believe I’m even saying this! But… they give me hope! I don’t watch to laugh at them at all.

Paul: Ice Loves Coco is the only reality show I would even think of watching! They’re a genuinely loving couple, it’s not an exploitative relationship. I have always been an Ice-T fan and knew he had that side to him. They are not caricatured reality show stars. Ice wouldn’t ever agree to do a show like that.

Diane: Okay, Ice for President! Seriously, Obama needs to get some high profile people behind him on some of this stuff. Ice. Republicans who favor sanity in gun legislation. The NRA members whose sane voices are being drown out by the zealots. This business of guns has got to stop being another Democrat vs. Republican topic, or else you know it’s not going anywhere.

Paul: I have hope — a wafer-thin, ungraspable hope that I can’t back up with anything resembling an informed argument — that eventually some sort of rationality will emerge and we’ll agree to logical laws in terms of background checks, and not selling guns to felons or crazy people. I don’t have any way to back up that stance, but I look at how Alex Jones appeared on that Piers Morgan segment the other week. I don’t get it. He knew he was on camera, right? He knew that looking like a nutjob would detract from his argument, right?

I just searched for the phrase “when belief becomes insanity,” and found this quote about religion: “I think it becomes insanity when it requires you to believe things which are in direct conflict with empirical reality. i.e., if your religion requires that you believe the earth is flat, and you do, even though all evidence is to the contrary, then you’ve lost it.” I think that typifies the rabid anti-gun-control types to a T. The empirical truth doesn’t line up with their preferred worldview, so they just reject the empirical truth. Problem exacerbated.

Diane: Well, you’ve about as much hope as I have. How hard is it to apply the same requirements for purchase at gun shows as exist for retail outlets? Like someone stated regarding the purchase/transfer of cars, and all associated responsibilities/liabilities. Let’s just try those two things in terms of guns: background checks for all purchases, and out with the mid-high capacity mags. Let’s try and see how it goes.

As for mental health: Lord, there’s a label for everything these days. I think that’s meant to keep the docs and the pharmacies in business, I truly do. So much of what “ails” us psychologically is part of the human condition. America has a bad, bad case of First World Problems. And we have lots of pills for that. Some (schizophrenics, for example) are truly ill. But it seems the people who are involved in these shootings, they’re never on that end of the spectrum, are they? They’re usually “outcasts” or “loners,” most of which don’t gun down 6-year-olds. They need role models and trusting relationships and a stronger support system than most of us have. Not necessarily pills.

Paul: There are, as you point out, some people who truly need medication, there’s no way around it. But it’s no substitute for values. Speaking from personal experience, I think sometimes people get on those medications because other people want them to. They’re not fitting into someone else’s preferred character. I was on Celexa for a while for no other reason than the person I was living with didn’t like the fact that I didn’t always come home from work in an exuberant mood. Amusing side note: She wasn’t that sane to begin with herself. You can’t pill yourself into stability. I would use that as the utmost last resort with my children.

Diane: I worked at the medical unit at the embassy in London, sort of the primary care physician’s office for the diplomats of Europe and western Africa. And let me tell you, Ritalin was doled out to kids like fluoride tabs. “He’s fidgety in school, doesn’t focus.” Ritalin for you! I mean, little boys aren’t naturally designed to sit still in school, are they? Camille Paglia talks about this, only she’s talking about hormone-addled teenagers.

I commend you on not jumping on the medicate-your-babies bandwagon. That’s where it starts: teach your kids to work through difficult situations, or teach them to pop a pill to do the work for you. Another primarily American cultural feature that is hurting us. Pills get you through tough times, since we are lacking those other things that prop people up in other cultures. This whole mindset is part of that Bigger Picture problem.

Paul: Really, all I want right now is for both sides to be reasonable and discuss it like it’s a real, tangible problem, because it is. Whatever comes out of it will take time, I realize that. But everything’s got to be on the table and up for review. And it would certainly help if people stopped making up “facts” like “baseball bats kill more people than guns.” Research. Do your research folks.

Diane: I want both sides to be reasonable and discuss, without the shadow of the NRA and special interest groups clouding things. Do you think that’s possible, Mr. Pearson?

Paul: Sure, it’s possible. This is America, anything’s possible. We just have to get over the requirement that it be sponsored. And maybe we should have more of these discussions in living rooms and coffee shops, not just on TV.

Diane: And definitely not just on Facebook!

Paul: Yes! Let’s move this to Reddit!

Diane: And that’s a wrap!

Jan 27 2013

GET OFF MY CHEST! Vol. 3: Special Election Special

(we just need to vent a little)

(You can read the full article, incluing media, at Paul Pearson’s site HERE.)

Seattleite Paul Pearson and San Franciscan Diane Karagienakos are the consummate online friends. They have never met in person. They’ve never Skyped or even spoken on the phone. In fact, if not for their mutual connection to exactly two people, they might not have ever known of each other’s existence. But they instant-message each other with a rapport like they’ve been doing this internet thing for a hundred years.

In our third episode, Paul and Diane commiserate about the 2012 election. You will re-experience every cynical experience you have already experienced about the election. We will offer no answers for your most burning questions. We will lament as you have about the exhaustive nature of this process. We’ll come up with creative ways to complain about the disintegration of comparative political thought. We’ll get enraged about obvious obliviousness in this election, and then we’ll end our discussion abruptly. Then we’ll go cry, even if our candidates win.

By the way, lots of swearing in this piece, so — PARENTAL ADVISORY. Also, this convo took place on Halloween, hence the Halloween-y references. Enjoy.

Paul: Do we have liftoff?

Diane: Roger Roger. Clearance Clarence.

Paul: Freaking A. How’s it going Diane?

Diane: The world is orange and black here in SF. Between Halloween (mos def an adult holiday in this city) and the Giants parade. I’m avoiding the maddening crowd! How are you doing?

Paul: We have Nestle’s Crunch and $100,000 bars. Plus these little macaroni and cheese mini-cakes. Plus grandparents and television. Are you freaking excited about this election? Can you stand it anymore? Are you getting your electoral on?

Diane: MAC AND CHEESE MINI CAKES?!?!?!? I’m scared. Not scared of the cakes — the election.

Paul: Well, actually, they’re standard macaroni and cheese, but baked in a cupcake pan.

Diane: How is it in Seattle? Because here in San Francisco, it’s pretty radio silent, in terms of the campaign commercials. California is a Democratic given. And SF being so self-absorbed as a city, the only thing you hear about election-wise is all the propositions.

Paul: It’s wall to wall advertisements here. Our senator, Maria Cantwell, might as well be running uncontested. Extraordinarily popular Democratic senator. Good person.

Diane: And how come EVERY election gets the label “This is THE most important presidential election of our lifetime”?

Paul: Yeah. You know, pretty much every new presidential election will be the most important election of our lifetime. Isn’t it? I mean, what use do I have for the 2004 election? It’s no good to me.

Diane: I’m just flabbergasted that people are upset that Obama didn’t “fix it” in 4 years or think that Mitt might “fix it” in the next four.

Paul: Well, that’s a matter of the tone this country seems suited to these days.

Diane: I mean, fix the economy? Are people not aware that it is impacted by the shitty economy in Europe right now? Just to name one factor.

Paul: Nobody cares. Absolutely nobody cares to look deeply into this. They’re too busy searching for Kenyan birth certificates.

Diane: And where are all those tea baggers who insisted that the leader be a Christian? Shouldn’t they be protesting Romney right now, being that he’s Mormon and all.

Paul: I mean, leave this whole race behind for a second. Forget about Obama. Forget about Romney. How… did… this… media… get… so…. stupid? I think we’re a lazy-minded electorate now. And this shit, meaning this election, lasts for eighteen months.

Diane: You know Paul, I’m gonna go for it, and I’m not even drinking here. All this goddamn talk about creating jobs — what kind of jobs are they talking about, the small business owner? They’re talking about someone making just over minimum wage in a retail or low-skill job. They shipped all the middle class jobs over to Bangladesh or China or Korea or wherever else they can pay a pittance to have the work done or the product built.
And as for Mitt being a great business man and that means he can fix the economy. Hey, guess what: Lots of great businessmen turn a great profit for their companies by outsourcing or cutting jobs. It doesn’t mean he has the bigger picture in mind.

Paul: I don’t believe anyone. That is my great anger. And it disappoints me, but on the other hand, what the hell else am I supposed to feel?

Diane: Do you think there is a place in our society today for a Walter Cronkite or an FDR? Someone people trusted enough to just say, “Whatever you say, I trust your guidance.”

Paul: I don’t believe anyone is going to make a real effort to increase job creation in the United States. Certainly not Romney. He’s already shown what he does, and it’s shipping jobs overseas and closing companies. There’s your record. But I don’t know that I’d have faith that Obama would do anything differently, wholesale that is.  Re: Cronkite/FDR – Interesting question. Cronkite-wise — My wife and I are huge Brian Williams fans. I think he’s the closest we have to a true, universally trusted media source. Plus he can sneak in the snark when he sees fit. I don’t think there’s a place for the Cronkites of the world. Back in his heyday, the national news was just on once a day. You missed it, and that was it – you’d have to wait for the newspapers or the next day’s broadcast. So Cronkite cornered the market. You can’t corner the market nowadays – it’s on 24 hours a day. And I guess, instead of rationalism and investigative intelligence, they decided to go with the crazies.

Diane: It’s all about $$$ now. Ratings, advertisers. Showbiz.

Paul: Yeah, it’s about the money, but it’s also about that portion of the electorate who’s latching on to these crass new belief systems. It’s a perversion of Howard Beale. Who was fictional to begin with.

Diane: Beale — Network, right?

Paul: Yes, Beale is from Network.

Diane: Right now we need someone who can build working relationships with the changing face of leadership in the Middle East. Things are a lot different now than when we had our puppets in power. And I don’t just mean the leaders over there; even the leaders there are still trying to get control over the Taliban and Al-Qaida. These are realities unlikely to change anytime soon if ever. And I fear it would be very easy for the wrong leader to make them hat us and what we stand for more than they do already. A little gasoline goes a long way on a fire. I think Obama/Hilary had done as well as anybody could in this climate.

Paul: I have no qualms with Obama’s foreign policies. I think he’s done well. And I love Hillary right now. She looks so pissed off and exhausted. Seriously, that’s what I want in my politician. I want someone who’s been up all night dealing with shrieking banshees and bad caffeine products, and looks like she’s been working at it.

Diane: I really wanted her to be the Democratic candidate in 2008. She had the experience and the balls. Politics is an ugly game and she knows how to play it. I thought Obama was too fresh and, well, full of Hope. Which is nice. Jimmy Carter was nice. It’s not as effective and skill, experience, and balls.  Oh, and these…what are they called, big pac, the huge donors to the parties or candidates. This is a very dangerous thing.

Paul: Super PAC’s. Screw them.

Diane: They will screw us. They’re bigger and better funded. I wish I could joke about this, but it’s serious shit.  Now I am gonna make myself a Bloody Mary!

Paul: I think we should do our elections like England. Six weeks of campaigning, and that’s it. Two debates. And then it’s all over. It would pump a lot of money out of campaign funds, and potentially back to programs that might help. Oh, but then, oh God The Socialism.

Diane: Heh heh heh.

Paul: So screw it. I couldn’t care less about the personalities running for president. I’m an issues voter this year.

Diane: Way too on the money, that Paddy. What are your big issues, Paul?

Paul: Hey Diane, we’re all gonna get gay married in Washington State next week!

Diane: That’s something you can’t even do in California yet.

Paul: So, one interesting thing that’s been happening with Referendum 74, advertisement-wise, is the persecution complex of the opposition. The pro-74 campaign has raised WAY more money than the anti-74 campaign. There is no real solid argument against 74 aside from marriage-is-a-contract-and-for-procreation-purposes-blah blah blah. So what the anti’s have resorted to are a couple of commercials whose main thrust has absolutely nothing to do with the referendum. Instead, it’s about people who are standing for “traditional marriage” — and then getting sued, fired or complained about because of their “beliefs.”

Diane: So infertile or old people: no right to marry, as you ain’t making babies? I love these arguments so weak a four-year-old could tear it to shreds.

Paul: That was my argument long ago… yeah. There was this couple in Vermont who ran a bed-and-breakfast, and refused to allow a lesbian couple to get married on their premises. So the lesbians sued for discrimination, and won. Now the couple can’t have weddings on their premises, and had to pay a fine. And they’re sad. All because they were bigo– errr, I mean, they stated their opposition to gay marriage.
They are offering absolutely no reasonable counter-argument. They’re not addressing anything contained in Referendum 74. They’re just being morons. Seriously, if that’s the kind of ridiculousness you’re going to put up in favor of your position, I really don’t see why you shouldn’t be sued or fired. And it doesn’t matter, because that has nothing to do with Referendum 74.

Diane: They’d make so much more money on gay marriages. Think about it, all those adults with disposable income and far less children in the mix. Mo money to party! Capitalism, people, get with it!

Paul: Between the gay marriages and limited marijuana legalization, hell, Washington State’s gonna be rolling in dough. Freaking A.

Diane: One of my big issues is of course women’s health. My blue shield plan covered Viagra, but not birth control pills. Discuss.

Paul: Well, you know, being a white, middle-aged man, I know what’s best for you. But I’ll let you go ahead and express an opinion (checking watch): Go!

Diane: Well, if you’re gonna force every female to have her baby, you’d better damn well increase welfare, health services (like Planned Parenthood) etc., to take care of that momma and baby. ‘Cause I doubt lots of rich white folk are looking to adopt poor brown babies. I know I’m generalizing, but I’m not really kidding, either.

Paul: What do you think about the current whirlpool of rape talk amongst the GOP cognoscenti lately? My goodness, these guys earned their honorary doctorates! Honestly – were we that stupid about this kind of issue 10 years ago? 20 years ago?

Diane: Okay, I remember the “actual rape” one; what’s the latest one again?

Paul: “Legitimate rape” you mean. Yes. The latest was that senate candidate saying that a pregnancy that’s the result of a rape is still a “gift from God.”

Diane: FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK! He (I’m assuming that’s a “he”) did not say that!

Paul: Let me get the exact quote for you.

Diane: I mean, some people keep their babies from rape and yes, ultimately have a happy ending. But NO ONE else has the fucking right to make that determination for a RAPE FUCKING VICTIM. I’ve been too busy typing to make that Bloody Mary, but I must make it now. I’m pissed!

Paul: Richard Mourdock, GOP senate candidate from Indiana: “I believe that life begins at conception … The only exception I have, to have an abortion, is in that case of the life of the mother. I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

Diane: Oh — and one of them said that there’s no such thing as the mother’s life being in danger. Find that quote. And these fucking nimrods convince people to vote for this with this kind of ignorant self-serving idiocy?

Paul: Here, this is from a local Washington candidate named John Koster:

Paul: Again, my question: How did we as a nation manage to get stupid about this issue? Or this “thing,” I guess.

Diane: They should lock him in a woman’s prison for 24 hours with the ladies.

Paul: We were really discussing things in such a puerile manner in the ’80s and ’90s? This is seriously some “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader” type shit here.

Diane: I don’t even know what to say. It’s surreal. And it’s scary.

Paul: (Sigh) Yeah, it’s stupid. Well, anyway. I was hoping to come up with more one-liners.

Diane: I’m seriously speechless.

Paul: Then I just get flustered and angry. So who do you think is going to win on Tuesday?

Diane: Oh my… I kinda think Obama might, but wouldn’t be surprised if Mitt did… really don’t know.

Paul: I think Obama’s got it. I don’t see how Romney is going to overtake the urban vote.

Diane: Let me bring this up about the debates, where each side was so sure their side kicked ass (except the first one, where everyone agreed Obama never completely woke up): I’m fascinated how people see what they want to see. How will the electoral college factor into that, and why do we still have that damn thing. I mean, it pretty much means every vote is not equal, does it not?

Paul: Strictly speaking I’m an independent voter, so to me the whole debate thing looked childish.

Diane: I’m a registered Libertarian. It’s a lovely ideal. But it will never ever work, Libertarianism, because people are people and much of the time people are stupid or selfish or both.

Paul: I read the other day why they had the electoral college in the first place – it sounded like it made sense at a certain time, like 1776.
You’re a Libertarian? I had no idea. I have been flirting with joining that party for the last ten years.

Diane: Right to bear arms made sense then too. I’m not against guns, but some of the arguments and plain stupid. Gee, the word stupid comes up an awful lot when I write about Americans and politics! I joined the Libertarian party when I first got back to the US after being overseas for two and a half years. I don’t like our two-party system, so that was my little act of protest. Again, great ideals, completely unrealistic.

Paul: That’s why I think that all this increased information has made us less intelligent as a country. You can’t popularize legitimate, intelligently delivered treatises anymore. From either side of the political spectrum. William Buckley and George Will would have been roundly ignored in this current environment if they were starting out. Our status as a country of ideas has almost completely disintegrated. A lot of my Republican friends agree with that.

Diane: I’ve never actually voted Libertarian. I got back in the country just in time for the 2000 election, and there’s been no alternative really but the two damn parties we’re stuck with. Oh wait! I voted Libertarian once: In 2004 I voted for their candidate Starchild (a bisexual sex-worker here in SF) for school board member. The thought of the nightly local news featuring a story that started with ‘And in other news, Starchild spoke out on behalf of the children today…” just made me happy in an otherwise depressing election.

Paul: I haven’t voted Libertarian either, although Gary Johnson struck me as a pretty good candidate.
So we probably agree that the two-party system is corrupt and insufficient. What will it take to break their hold on the electoral process? How do we convince enough people to take a chance on a third party? Or a fourth? Will Libertarianism manage to mainstream itself, or should it even try?

Diane: I doubt Libertarianism will mainstream itself in any way. That would sort of be like saying “we needed to make it better,” and Libertarians are quite adamant that their belief system is perfect as is. Have you ever tried arguing with one of those people? I love saying that, “Those People.”
The Super PACs will play a role in either reinforcing the old way, or bring in some wonder-pol that comes with so much cashola he/she blows the others out of the race. Highly unlikely. But as long as this sort of money is involved, nothing will change, only get more special-interest focused.

Paul: Right. And the Super PACs are only interested in funneling emotion, which means they’re free to distort the record and use inaccuracy since they don’t have to make an intelligent argument resonate. Hey… I gotta run. They’re all going trick or treating. I have to accompany them. Thanks for being enraged with me.

Diane: Ciao.

Sep 28 2012

GET OFF MY CHEST! Vol. 2: Sex? We’re Not Having It!*

(we just need to vent a little)

*That is, Paul Pearson, and myself. Rather, we have a seasonal online conversation series  called Get Off My Chest! on a timely and/or interesting topic. Stuff that we just wanna get off our respective chests.

In this, the sex edition,  we discuss fear and betrayal in the Twilight Nation, gang-marriage, Greek kids eschewing naked beach postcards in favor of silly cats, whether koala bears have daddy issues, and the fact that Dan Savage is a much better resource for this kind of information.

Hopefully, you’ll find these conversations engaging enough to make you want to eavesdrop. Tell your friends to tune in as well!

Jun 8 2012

GET OFF MY CHEST! Vol.1: Camera Culture

(or: “…the experience isn’t as essential as the record.”)

(we just need to vent a little)

San Franciscan Diane Karagienakos and Seattleite Paul Pearson are the consummate online friends. They have never met in person. They’ve never Skyped or even spoken on the phone. In fact, if not for their mutual connection to exactly two people, they might not have ever known of each other’s existence. But they instant-message each other with a rapport like they’ve been doing this internet thing for a hundred years.

In this new conversation series for the 21st century, Diane and Paul riff on their Facebook IM screens about current events and topics that capture their interest. Here’s the first episode, about the effect instant and frequent photography has on our landscape.

Paul: Hi, Diane!

Diane: Good afternoon, Paul! Enjoying your Sunday?

Paul: Sort of. I was at the LMFAO show last night, and they encourage a lot of drinking. They don’t mention the day after. You?

Diane: Very productive one. I saw a friend in Death of a Salesman last night. It required only one drink after, so I’m clearheaded. That said, I made myself a Bloody Mary for this occasion. Can’t work without tools!

Paul: Excellent. I have a 32-oz. water. You may have to do a lot of the heavy lifting. So you were telling me this great story about moppets the other day.

Diane: I was walking past my corner cafe, during the beer and baby night, with 30-something couples enjoying a kid-friendly happy hour, food truck right outside, etc. (The owners had a kid 3 years ago and now have another on the way — so they clearly tapped into something here). It seems to be a hit — not many other bars in the hood welcome moppets at happy hour.

Two little girls were playing outside while mom & pop enjoy adult beverages on the sidewalk. Their play takes the form of one girl filming the other. The girl being filmed, I hear her say as I pass, “I’m so scared, I’m terrified, please no, don’t…”

And she’d doing some mighty impressive overacting that would make (insert name of lame actress) proud. And something about it bugged me. I flashed back to when I was their age, and play: The slope in our backyard was a mountain. The little gulley between the neighbor’s back wall and the one behind it was a secret cave. Our beagle was my companion shepherd dog. My little woven pouch was… well, my little woven mountain girl pouch. You get the idea. My imagination transformed the landscape, so that I was in a different world, a different person.

And it bothers me in a way I can’t quite put my finger on: is this how middle class American children play now? They “Imagine’ they’re a in a different world, a different person…but a fictional one in a movie/on TV/being viewed/existing purely to be filmed and/or viewed? What about play for play sake? Would their play have existed if there was no camera there?

Or does she just want to be an actress? I know when I was little, I was very clear on Us vs. Them. Ordinary people vs. Movie Stars. I didn’t think about being a movie star. I didn’t think I couldn’t be one; I just didn’t think about it. I guess that’s the American Idolization of the times: Everybody has a chance at fame; or at least being on camera.

Paul: When I was a kid I did something similar to that. Not necessarily “filming with a camera,” but pretending to be in a movie. There’s a scar I’ve had beneath my left nostril that came from my running my Big Wheel into the back of an open pickup truck, because I was trying to emulate something I’d seen in a movie.

But the story you describe is a little different. Was the kid “acting” or pretending to be on “reality TV”? There’s a funny phrase for you – “pretending to be on reality TV.”

Diane: “Pretending to be on reality TV” is your own personal “The medium is the message.” McLuhan would be proud.

Let me ask you this though (because we were big on using the cassette recorder and my my dad was always filming us): Were you actually shooting on film/tape to make a final product, or just emoting in front of a camera for its own sake? I know with these little projects we made as kids, we had a specific product we wanted to make to share with others (or just look back on). We invested time and planning. We worked to get it right! It wasn’t just a time killer, you know?

Paul: I was acting, at least in my head. I tended to do a lot of musicals. I remember my first big musical production on my front porch was a musical based on a theoretical appearance on The Match Game. (Props to the late Richard Dawson, btw.)

Diane: Tell me you have that on tape, please!

Paul: Unfortunately I do not. This was 1972. But it’s interesting in that later on, I would contextualize real events in my life as if they were a movie.

Diane: We did a lot of commercial spoofing. Think an aural Wacky Labels (I think they were called).

Paul: We had film cameras when we were young, and not long after that we had video cameras. But what I think the camera culture that you describe didn’t arise until we got cameras on our phones.

Diane: Exactly. It’s one thing to see adults obsessed with cameras (or phones, as the case may be). There are apps, like Toy Camera, Instagram, and Hipstamatic, now that make those with no photographic training or instinct able to make some really cool images. And it is fun to share them. So that’s cool, it’s a fun new toy.

But it’s overdone. People — myself included — take way more pix than ever because the pix are free and there’s this instant forum for sharing or feedback. I assume kids see parents doing this and think that’s just the way it’s always been, to photograph all the minutiae all the time.

Paul: I think media phenoms tend to emerge more widely the smaller their mediums get — for example, music-wise, we went from vinyl to cassettes and CDs to Mp3.

When I’m at shows — particularly highly visual ones, like last night — cameras are continually hoisted in the air. Even I do it. If, like last night, I’m being accosted by a giant inflatable zebra, I’m inclined to catch the moment.

But getting entire songs on camera, that’s what I’ve never really understood. Your role as a participant in the event shifts from partaking to documentation. I would think something personal would get lost in that transition.

Diane: Tru dat. Remember when we had to pay to develop film? It made us somewhat selective of what we chose worthy of capturing forever. Now we capture it and go “eh, that wasn’t so great I guess.”

Paul: Yes, I remember Fotomat. They were some damn good kiosks.

Diane: It just make me wonder, kids growing up where that’s what they know… The old saying “Stop And Smell The Roses” needs to be updated to “Stop And Photograph The Roses.” It’s no longer about stopping to appreciate all the beauty that surrounds us (and fills all the senses), that is present in any given moment… and that “this too shall pass.” (Which is why I got that tattoo.) It seems folks are now more concerned not with savoring a moment, but with sharing it on social media.

It’s like we’re shortchanging moments and memories. With focusing (literally) on the picture before us, we sacrifice being still and paying attention: to the smells, the sounds of that moment. How it was cold but felt good. The light. How the person with us had an eyelash on his cheek. You get the idea. A picture does paint a thousand words, but it doesn’t capture the unseeable of the story.

Paul: Which maybe wouldn’t be a bad idea if the actual quality of the stuff people share was better. In the Fotomat age, you had to choose your subjects carefully. It involved planning. These days, it’s just editing.

Diane: Amen. So, I have no kids. You do. How are you — or are you — approaching all of this with your children? Because it is pretty philosophical when you get right down to it. Being present. Paying attention. Being appreciative? I honestly think that sort of parenting starts early.

Paul: It’s a little tricky with kids. Lucie, for example — an incredibly gifted and intelligent child, kicking ass scholastically, very mature in a lot of ways for her age. But I think television has affected her ideas of what to expect from life. I think Lucie sees things on TV – like reality shows, the dancing shows, things like that – and thinks those kinds of things are perfectly achievable on an everyday basis with little or no training whatsoever. And I’m terrified that may not be far off from the truth! But logistically, it’s harder. As far as how Kate and I approach it, I think we’ve done a fairly good job of explaining that TV is a depiction of an experience, not the experience itself.

Diane: And so many kids out there are given tools to distract them from their surroundings. Little gizmos to watch videos and play games and tune out. It’s sad to see. I work in a restaurant and it’s sad, as I see it a lot. A family at family dinner, and everyone’s playing with their gizmo. Tuning each other (and their server) out.

At the risk of sounding like judgmental childless woman: how much is it possible to control what she views and how much, and or give it context? I know some parents have a no TV position, which I think is almost mean. You don’t want your kids to be clueless to the world around them. There must be some middle ground…

Paul: It’s time management, mainly. We have to do it ourselves. But giving it context is something we do all the time, because it’s fun to talk about what Lucie sees on TV. She doesn’t really watch stuff we don’t watch, or find completely unbearable. We’ve raised a Barney-free household. Generally, especially when we’re watching baseball or football games, sometimes when we’re watching Food Network shows, we talk about what’s going on.

And I don’t think Kate lets them watch that much TV when they’re home and I’m at work. I think they play a lot of music. I don’t know, ’cause I’m usually not here. Maybe they’re all about QVC when I’m gone.

Getting back to the camera culture, I’m not sure at what point we will think the experience isn’t as essential as the record. “This is the time/And this is the record of the time,” as Laurie Anderson put it.

Diane: “…experience isn’t as essential as the record.” Your second quote-worthy moment of the day!

Paul: Aw shucks, thanks. I teach my children to make memorable quotations. They’re up to Oscar Wilde now.

We used to associate camera culture pretty directly with tourism. You live in perhaps the most tourist-attractive city in the US. Are we trying to inject that adventure into our lives with cameras? A sense that we were only visiting?

Diane: I have an example where the record and the experience became interchangeable — for the better. When my dad was dying, over the month of April 2007, I spent that month with him and my brothers in Las Vegas. It was an emotionally crippling time (and inspired my multi-media play, It Is What It Is). I became aware early on that I needed to take something from that month besides the image of my dying father. I decided to photograph all that was beautiful or interesting or… whatever got my interest. So that I’d have other memories besides his pain and our suffering.

So I started photographing little things. And twice, the pursuit of the shot lead to a story in and of itself that involved peoples and scenes that would never have happened otherwise, yet were completely organic and the memories of which made me happy. It was never about people acting for the camera; merely my need for two particular photographs led to a string of crazy events that created great stories for all involved — I just happened to be the lucky one to have a camera on me as the scenes unfolded. BTW: I never photographed my father during that time. On principle.

Paul: What things were you taking pictures of?

Diane: The mountain ridge that, when I was 5 I guess and my first permanent tooth came in, looked just like that tooth. It’s my touchstone when in Vegas. Where so much has changed, there is one thing that will always be as I remember it: “My Tooth.”

I ran four red lights for this shot. It's a long story.

A blinged-out middle-aged black couple in a ’55 convertible T-bird with not 1 but 2 pairs of fuzzy dice on the RVM (that’s one of the two with a story behind it).

Balloon animals that were left for whatever reason in the fountain of my favorite Mexican Restaurant (Ok, truth be told: we were drunk and threw them there ourselves.)

Howard the desert tortoise outside my dad’s room at the hospice center (the second one with a story behind it).

A huge heap of flip flops in my friends back yard — my friend is made crazy by his wife’s clutter everywhere, including 40,000 pairs of flip flops.

And more.

Paul: Now that I can hang with. Images generating ideas. So is what we have an issue with the idea that pictures are now being mass-consumed, instead of generating another activity, memory or art?

Diane: For me, it’s sort of what Warren Beatty said to Madonna in Truth or Dare: What’s the point of doing anything if it’s not in front of the camera? My favorite moment in that movie. What was he even doing with her in his life!?!

Paul: Ha ha! I remember that! She started all this! At this point in our conversation I think it’s appropriate for me to play the Cindy Sherman card.

Diane: Go on…

Paul: I saw one of her exhibitions when I lived in Los Angeles. I was with another person who had a kid. As I recall the kid was a little confused as to why this woman took thousands of pictures of herself and called it “art.” At the time I was too, although I see the bigger picture (ha) now.

This was just before the time when picture-taking really got ubiquitous. She had romantic dalliances with a couple of stars after that – Steve Martin, David Byrne as I recall. And I wondered if her M.O. actually made her into a star of her own, in some weird Warholian way. Did her self-reference actually transform her? Would she have been different if she’d taken, say, the Georgia O’Keeffe or Ansel Adams route? Or even Fran Leibowitz?

Diane: Did you mean Annie Leibowitz? I worship Fran, BTW.

Paul: I didn’t mean Georgia O’Keeffe. And yes I meant Annie. Kate thought I might have meant Georgia O’Keeffe’s husband, Alfred Stieglitz, who was a photographer. But in reality, I simply didn’t know what I was talking about.

Diane: You raise a good point about Miss Sherman, but ultimately I think she a celebrity because her work is art. To have a series of (for lack of a better word) self-portraits and yet have it feel egoless in it is truly amazing. I think some photographers can shoot other subjects, and still somehow their ego is what stands out most. I look at an Annie Leibowitz photo, and the first thing I see in it is her.

Paul: I had to think back on Cindy’s work — you raise a good point that it was surprisingly ego-less. There’s the notion that her just taking pictures of herself and presenting them en masse was an act of egotism in itself. But that cancels out the idea of the content of her work, which was much more fragile than that.

Diane: And to those of you out there who post videos of entire concert songs on Facebook: Wow, neat, got it, you were there, good for you, bet it was cool to watch, but gosh too bad you were too busy filming it to actually watch it. As you can see it’s pretty lame viewing on your smartphone captured video.

Paul: I have to depart. I don’t have a summary statement. I could go on for hours about this. But I do have one admonition, to everyone who’s out there taking pictures of themselves. That’s all fine. But we really have to cut down on the duck faces. I mean the non-ironic ones. But even the ironic ones are getting a little out of hand.

Diane: Will do. It was an honor and a privilege, sir! Don’t let your babies grown up to be reality show celebrities.

Self portraits seemed like an obvious choice, given the subject matter.

Feb 22 2012

“The pen is mightier than the glass to the head.”

I recently had the honor and great privilege of being interviewed by the frightfully intelligent — and funny! — Paul Pearson: cynosure of all things interesting, musical, poltical, and entertaining. Check it out — check him out — here on his website. We discuss art, technology, communication and, of all things, feelings. All of which tie into the upcoming premier of my play, It Is What It Is.