I grew up in East Nashville during the 80s / early 90s.
Needless to say, there weren’t a lot of young Noam Chomskys running around “Out East.”
I spend a lot of time between nostalgia and regret, and it’s hard for me not to lament a good chunk of those years. I tell myself that the only way I will have wasted the moments I do not miss is if I do nothing with what I’ve learned from them. I guess that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.
Most of my work is in some way political, and right now I’m focusing on comedy. I believe that any movement for real progress should include hard-hitting humor/satire as a staple of its cultural diet. I also believe good comedy’s contribution to social change is in demonstrating the value of self-examination and the virtue of being able to laugh at ourselves. So thank you all for giving me the benefit of the doubt and laughing with me – at ourselves.
The rest of this is…
Part Confession, Part Disclaimer, Part Therapy
Over the summer of 2013, I started writing short stories based on old memories. In the fall, I started writing stand-up comedy routines. While it’s the most fun I’ve had writing in years, I am quite apprehensive about both.
The following (from an earlier post) is part confession, part disclaimer, part therapy.
I started writing in college, mostly bad song lyrics. After college, I moved onto satirical fiction and experimental poetry. Throughout this period, I became more and more politically curious.
In my mid twenties, I put together a spoken word show meant to be a contribution to the fight against racism. With good intentions but little grasp of my subject, this work would only serve to disappoint me years later as I developed a more radical understanding of white supremacy and began to see in some of the pieces within the work certain racist elements in relation to its broader context.
While this certainly wasn’t the first time I had found myself cringing upon revisiting earlier creative attempts, it changed the way I approach my writing.
On the one hand, I am more thoughtful. I do more research. I ask more questions. I take greater care to contemplate the array of perspectives and reflect on the potential of my arguments.
On the other hand, I have become somewhat paranoid. I obsess over trivial matters and excessively second guess my understanding of, thus my competence to address, particular subjects. I am suspicious of my honesty.
Most of all, I worry about how my words will be taken by those whom I care about.
Since my decision to change direction with my writing, I’ve been constantly asking myself:
Will it upset my family and friends if I use real events as the premise for uncomfortable stories or disturbing jokes?
Will I find out too late that I’ve exploited an intimate moment, more for the visceral reaction of my audience than for its redemptive qualities?
Will it upset my more politically minded friends (and/or those whom I’ve worked with in the past) if I’m not serious enough or my ratio of dick jokes and bathroom humor to hard hitting satire is woefully out of whack?
Will I hurt loved ones who possess beliefs not in concert with my own if I am brutal in my interrogations of what I see to be the harmful aspects of particular ideologies?
Will I find myself constantly defending against charges of embracing the very hierarchies and injustices I claim to oppose due to my choice of language and/or the questionable nature of my narrative?
Will I flirt with pushing the envelope to the extent that such charges will be warranted?
I don’t want to disappoint the few wonderful strangers who’ve been so supportive of, but have only known or come to expect a certain tenor in, my work.
I don’t want to disappoint the generous individuals who were part of making tangible the handful of works I am now so proud of.
I don’t want to disappoint the diverse cast of beautiful people who helped make the memories I rely on for comfort and for inspiration.
If you are reading this, it probably means (as I have no celebrity to speak of) I don’t want to disappoint you.
There are parts of me that are vulgar and crass, just as there are parts of me that are thoughtful and reserved. The same way that sometimes you befriend different types of people because they appeal to different parts of your personality, I want to explore different expressions of who I am.
I hope you will treat this new work the same way I hope you will treat me – with benefit of the doubt always and helpful criticism when necessary.
A culture for our movement
We say we want “a better world,” but the question then arises – what would a better world look like? And while this question automatically triggers electric debate over economic and political relations (focusing on the dynamics of race, gender, class, physical ability, etc.), so many of us forget to incorporate the importance of culture into our vision. Likewise, when it comes to strategy, so much of our movement fails to factor in the use of culture.
Since we are asking people to commit time outside of their daily work, we must present a movement that offers those things people need outside of their work lives. We must present a movement with culture.
Aside from work and the material necessities work can provide, a people need art, theater, music, literature, poetry, food and drink, laughter, sports, conversation, sex.
A better world, by definition, should be attractive. Our movement must be attractive. We need a social justice culture. A culture to build our future upon. A culture of both resistance and vision.
If we are serious about our goals, our movement must resemble what we want in a better world. If we are serious about building an effective movement, we need artists, authors, actors, poets, musicians, comedians, playwrights, puppeteers, filmmakers, songwriters, craftspeople, teachers, builders, growers, cooks. We need a culture worthy of our movement.
We need creativity and imagination rooted in a language of principles. A culture that will inspire, provoke, enlighten, and entertain. A culture that will inform our struggle, mourn our losses, and celebrate our victories.
And as our situations change, so will the content of our creative work. Similarly, our cultural identity will not be a homogenous one but a human one. An identity rich with diverse tastes but shared values.
Reflecting this diversity, contributions may at times be offensive, sappy, punk, corny, dissonant, pop, profound. And though contributors may not always be the most gifted, if they are thoughtful and honest, humble and hardworking, they will surely help lay the groundwork for building that better world.
We need a culture for our movement. I want to contribute to that culture.
I hope you will find a way to contribute as well.
You can get in where you fit in, but get in.