We’re All Stardust

David Bowie passed away peacefully yesterday. He fought against the cancer eating away at his body for a year and a half, and all the while, he was creating more art to share with the world. Throughout his storied career, he put out 25 – twenty-five – albums. That is an absolutely insane body of work. That’s not even mentioning how many different times he reinvented his style and himself. He was never afraid to embrace new things (or if he was, he didn’t let that fear slow him down) and immerse himself in the sheer passion and beauty and weirdness that was life and this sad, strange, incredible little rock we ride through space.

Like millions of others, I was a fan of Bowie. I admired him as a musician, as an actor, and as a man. I was a weird kid, into learning and comic books and other things that got me labeled as a nerd and kept my peers from inviting me to things, so to see someone dress and act so flamboyantly/bad-ass/striking and still pull off so much charm gave me a little hope that some day I could just own my interests and quirks and pull off my own style with the same success.

And while the first time I think I really saw David Bowie was as Jareth the Goblin King in Labyrinth (a movie I must have watched a hundred times as a kid), rocking an outfit nobody should have realistically been able to pull off, I was already a fan and didn’t know it. I got a lot of my musical taste listening to the bands and artists that my dad liked, so I had already picked up and jammed out to a score of Bowie songs before I even knew his name. They still put a smile on my face years later. It’s good music, great songs.

Now… all that being said, I have to admit that I was never the kind of guy to buy albums. I didn’t obsess over a band’s entire catalogue. Hell, half the time I couldn’t tell you the name of a song that’s playing, or even who performed it. I just know what I like and enjoy it when it comes on.

I wasn’t and am not as well-versed in David Bowie’s work as many others are or even as much as I probably should be, considering my tastes and how much I admire who he was, what he accomplished and what he put out. If you’ve paid any attention to the things I’ve written before, however, you’ll know there is at least one unshakeable truth about me: I believe in and unabashedly love art in all its forms. I may be the Story Man, but paintings, performances, poems, and especially music all serve to provide an outlet for energy, and an escape from the stress and the mundane.

To that end, when a brilliant artist passes, it’s felt less like a ripple than a wave. There is a sudden void where once there was vibrancy. A light was extinguished and with it, an eternal darkness covers all of the potential art that could have been. Even passing fans are deeply troubled by the ceasure of that existence.

But as that sadness permeates in our chest and behind our eyes, we find ourselves doing what we do whenever a great artist passes: revisiting the things they gifted to us. When Robin Williams passed away, we turned on the films that made us laugh and cry throughout the years of our lives. When the tragic news broke about David Bowie, we immediately turned the records on, we popped in Labyrinth and The Man Who Fell to Earth and even The Prestige, because even though his turn as Tesla was relatively brief, it was performed with gravitas.

We’re left with so much music and so much influence and we use what he gave us to help cope with the fact he can’t give us more, that we can’t see him perform live, that we can’t meet him.

David Bowie was an artist. He was more than that, especially to his friends and family, but to most of us, he was an artist. What puts him on a different level than so many others is that he was his art. Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, the Goblin King. As many times as he changed his musical styles, he changed his personas and allowed it all to work together to create something haunting, strange, beautiful, captivating, passionate, and ethereal. He constantly shifted his art, but he always lived and breathed it. So rarely are there Michael Jacksons and Robin Williamses and Freddy Mercurys and David Bowies that when they leave us, everyone has to stop and take a breath because those people are creative giants who have affected not only the world with what they’ve created and how they created it, but also because of the inarguable imprint they’ve left on the sheer concept of art. They inspire new styles, new chances, new bravery. They help us cope by showing us beauty in the world when we’ve forgotten how to look for it alone.

Lou Anders wrote a touching tribute to David Bowie that puts into words so much better the things I feel and wanted to say. You can and should read it here: Something Happened On the Day He Died.

Rob Bricken wrote a more comprehensive analysis of the impact David Bowie left on music, art, science fiction, and really, the world. You can and should read it here: All the Ways David Bowie Changed Our Lives and Expanded Our Minds.

Bowie’s influence has and will stay with us on an emotional and inspirational level. It’s a juggernaut of strangeness and versatility that can’t easily be shaken. And why would you want to? I’ve heard it said that physiologically we’re made from the same elements as the stars. What better evidence that we’re Stardust than hanging on to Bowie?

Recap Redux

I’ve written or shared a hundred posts now, and it has been an absolutely rewarding experience so far. From being able to experiment via short stories set in worlds I plan on exploring in more detail later to reflecting on my life/my relationships/my family and friends, what started out as sort of a trial outlet for my thoughts and creative endeavors has turned into a cathartic routine.

Even more so, by sharing it online and via Twitter and Facebook, I’ve received a number of comments and personal messages expressing a wide variety of emotions. That’s good! That has been the point of this. I want you to be able to experience my type of art. I want you to think and to feel things, and if you’re going through an experience or feelings similar to something I’ve gone through,  I want you to be know you’re not alone.

Every fifty posts or so, I’ll create one of these as sort of a recap. With so many posts coming out of me and with no real regular schedule,  there’s a chance you may have missed something that pertains to your interests. This is meant to act as a quick guide to the posts, separated more or less into different categories.

If you read something you feel particularly thought-provoking or touching or infuriating or garbage, I encourage you to share it with others.

First off, you can find a quick recap to the first 49 articles here: FIVE OH.

Then:

About Me:
My Own Worst Enemy
I’m a Man Who Was Raped
Oktoberfest, Or That Time I Crippled Myself
Vagabond
Distilling Who I Used to Be
The Metal That Gave Me Mettle
Hundo
I Fell In Love
Playing the Doldrums
Kisses Have Pictures Beat
Office Space
Story Time With Grampa Jered
Just Plane Silly
The A Word

Family and Friend Profiles:
Go Out and Get ‘Em, and a Birthday Note
Mama Mia
Blondie
Father Of Mine

Writing Tips and Opinion Pieces:
Six Reasons Why 50 Shades of Grey Sucks, and Why It Doesn’t
Ten(ish) Books That Tickle My Fancy
Getting the Gang Together
Things I Love: The Malazan Book of the Fallen
Thanksgiving: A Better Christmas
No Place Like Home

Miscellaneous:
The Best Medicine
The Beautiful Last Breath of Day
Remembrance
The Wedding Bells Are Ringing
The Carolina Reaper

Fiction:
A Nice, Slow Day
Satori and the Key
The Wrong Kind of Flop
The Velvet Anchor
Love and Bullets
The Balloon Trick: An Absolute Zeroes Story
The Owl Part I: A Curious Shoppe
Trixie: A Flatliners Story
Yellow
The Lost Journey of the Stalwart

Poetry:
Shadow Hurt
Stoke the Fire
She, Of the Pale Stars
You Know
I Could Write
The House In the Ocean

Guest Entries and Shared Posts:
Life Is a Coping Mechanism by Jessica Michelle Singleton (follow @JMSComedy)
10 Tips and Tricks For Creating Memorable Characters by Charlie Jane Anders (follow @charliejane)
As Good As New by Charlie Jane Anders
How to Create a Killer Opening For Your Science Fiction Short Story by Charlie Jane Anders
Cars. Booze. Central Oregon. by Robert Brockway (follow @Brockway_LLC)

So there you go. Hopefully you’ll find something you haven’t seen before that you like, or you’ll have a convenient way to link a friend.

Thank you to everyone who has followed, shared, commented, read, or even encouraged since Word Whiskey has started. It means the world to me.

The Metal That Gave Me Mettle

The first computer I ever owned as a kid was some piece of shit desktop that did nothing for Internet and only basic script commands. I could play Space Invaders and Pong on it, green icons on a black screen with a laggy system so that I never got too used to winning. Around 11 or 12 or so, I got upgraded to a faster computer with Internet capabilities and a dial-up connection. I can recall the long screeching noises vividly. My friends and I used to vocally mock the sounds, as if the machine had feelings we could hurt.

My grandparents, God bless them, put a lot of faith in me to not go to any websites I shouldn’t have. I remember furtively venturing to “sex dot com” and laser printing out softcore images of naked women that I hid under my mattress and blamed on my friend when I inevitably got caught. Oh, you were holding drugs for a friend? Weapons? Yeah, I had topless photos of Denise Richards. “For a friend”.

I took my grounding and pleaded my case and gradually regained my privilege to be on the computer. I discovered Java Chat, a popular early chat room type often divided up by topic or demographic. The particular one I frequented…I don’t even recall how I found it. I think the subject for the room was “Miscellaneous” or some other inane shit.

Being a bullied kid with few friends and an awkward look, I found it easy and, in fact, a relief to meet friends on the Internet. There was JadeDragon (who was kind of a dick) and Topcat (who was my homie) and Spider and this chick Jess who I had a huge crush on and who called me occasionally and who betrayed me when I found out she lied about her age, even though her actual age was closer to mine. You remember when A(ge)/S(ex)/L(ocation) was a thing? Yeah, it was like that but with lies.

I think I was 13 or so when I met Amanda in the chat. She was a year older than me, feisty, funny. She and I bickered as much as we had each other’s back, but she was also there for me through some really hard times. We became friends, though I was in Anchorage, Alaska and she was in Toronto, Canada. We spoke a lot, almost everyday, in the chat room proper or in PMs (private messages). She was my girl, my go-to, the one person I could tell anything to.

She is still a close friend of mine, some 13 years later.

Amanda is the one who got me into Kittie. She started talking about it in the chats, linked me to songs, encouraged me to buy the CD (which, at that point, I think was only Spit). I’m not a big metal guy. I never have been and I probably won’t ever be super into it, but there was something about this all-chick line-up and they way they shredded and screamed and sang that reached whatever pent-up feelings I had gurgling in my chest cavity. I got hooked. I checked them out because a girl I liked asked me to and I stuck with it because the band fucking rocked.

As the Java chat wound down, Amanda and I found our way over to Kittie’s official message board on their website. It was free to sign up, there were hundreds of threads to contribute to (Band discussions, debate, general topics, art and poetry, tours, etc.), and the only rule, really, was don’t be a dick.

Did we follow that? Hahaha no. Not in the slightest.

Could we be warned and banned and suspended? Absolutely. But the moderators didn’t always get along and there were always favorites and sometimes someone said something so fucked up but inherently hilarious that the person would get a message asking them to tone it down instead of an official warning.

There were several regulars that frequented the board, myself among them. I was 13 or 14 when I started posting and I developed a certain kind of reputation for myself. Everyone who was anyone on that board built a rep for themselves. There were stern folks and smart folks and assholes and sarcastic assholes and poets and artists and dumbfucks and rock stars. I made friends with a lot of the right people, but I got warned a time or two. Everyone who was anyone on that board got warned a time or two.

There were costume contests and .gif request threads. There were board awards where people could vote for users to win things, and other people would make banner “award” images to post in their signature lines. There were threads about politics and threads about soda and an equal amount of energy and opinion went into both.

It was a community. It was a family. Not everyone got along, but it was a family all the same. The craziest part about it was the transparency. This was right when scanners and webcams were starting to get big so there was a level of transparency on the board that hadn’t been in the Java chat. Add to that the fact that several board members either lived in close proximity to each other or would road trip to hit up concert venues and meet there. We knew when people were who they said they were.

Additionally, as it was their official board, the Kittie band members would occasionally pop in to chime in on certain topics. The thing that struck me the most about them was that they never came in to address their “fans”. They came in to talk to their family. There was never an air of condescension or entitlement or a shortness of expression. They were our friends, and we were theirs and that was a huge thing.

See, in school, I had to be somebody different all the time. Quiet around certain people, bite my tongue with certain people, hide my intelligence or over reach it with certain people. As I got older and began working, I needed to have a professional face. I had to hide certain qualities about myself and felt ashamed about certain others.

But on the Kittie message board. Everyone could be themselves for the first time. I didn’t have to worry about being called ugly. I could hide or post a pic and at least one person would have something nice to say. I didn’t have to worry about my poetry. There was another poet who would encourage me. I could rant in anger or cry in frustration or celebrate losing my virginity or crack crass jokes or vent my family problems or voice my insecurities. I could be me and people fucking liked me for me and that was weird and so goddamn needed.

You know, people talk a lot these days about the dangers of meeting people on the internet. It is no more dangerous now than it was ten years ago. Less so now, in fact. You just need to not be a fucking idiot about doing it.

I met Diana when I was 17 and flew to Texas. We had spoken on the phone, had webcam chats, talked for years online. I may have gotten confirmation from someone else that she had met, and we met in an airport – practically the most public place you can meet. I stayed for two or three weeks. We went to Ozzfest during Hurricane Katrina, celebrated what I think was her 21st birthday, catcalled some meerkats at the zoo and walked the Galveston strip. It was a hell of a trip.

A year or so later, I flew down to meet my friend Tommy. When he first showed up on the board, he had some stupid fucking goggles that I would not let him get away with wearing. I flew down a couple times, actually. Once I met another board member, Ashley, visiting from Arkansas. The other time, Tommy and I decided to spur-of-the-moment drive from Prattville, Alabama to Detroit, Michigan to meet up with board member Crystal and catch what would be my first live Kittie show.

We arrived in 13 hours, stopping for fuel in Tennessee at a joint gas station/fireworks shop because God Bless You, Tennessee.

Which brings us back to Kittie. I never got to meet the full Spit line-up that had got me so hooked on the band, with Talena Atfield and Fallon Bowman. I did meet sisters Morgan and Mercedes Lander, bassist Trish Doan and guitarist Tara McLeod and let me tell you, they were amazing to me.

They snuck us in to their sound check to hear some of their new stuff before anyone else. They recognized me immediately as “that dude from Alaska”. Mercedes made sure I had one of the two copies of the set list in hand and they took the time to take pictures with me after.

I flew to New York to meet board member Jenny D. We caught Kittie’s acoustic set in a mall where I surprised them. I hadn’t let them know I was coming. Jenny took me to my first and only college party where, at 18 or 19, I won some games of flip cup, vomited all over some frat house bathroom, got a girl’s number and suffered the single worst hangover I’ve ever had.

We caught the Kittie concert in Poughkeepsie and after, the ladies all signed my hat. Tara, who I had a tremendous crush on, gave me her number to keep in touch. I mentioned wanting to write books for a living. Morgan encouraged me to do so. I can’t express how much it means to have someone you look up to and whose art you enjoy tell you to keep at it.

I met board member Karen in Ireland and had one of the fondest memories of my life, holding her while a university group, amidst a light show, sang “She Moved Through the Fair”.

Skyler Martin, aka Skaz, is another board member. One I’ve never met but who is the best writer I’ve ever worked with or whose material I’ve helped edit.

Tommy, of Alabama fame, and his roommate (and board member) Ben once gave me a place to stay when I got kicked out of Canada and had no place else to go.

The last time I saw Kittie perform live was at the Key Club in Los Angeles in 2009. I had just moved away from Alaska for the first time. I was scared and mostly broke and too much in my head and in a rough spot. I scraped money aside to see them; my friends ditched me. Morgan greeted me with open arms. She gave me a shout out during the concert. Ivy Jenkins was playing bass at the time. I didn’t get to meet her then, but we’re friends now.

After the concert, after I forcefully interjected myself between a perma-fried, super-high fan and Morgan, I got to spend a little time with her and Mercedes just relaxing on the tour bus and drinking wine. And I felt okay. I felt like I could get through things, if only for a while.

Morgan and Mercedes Lander, Trish Doan, and Tara McLeod have absolutely been encouraging to me and my endeavors for the better part of a decade. They have never needed to reach out or wish me happy birthday or offer me to hang out. They have never needed to reach out to me.

Or anyone else, because they have reached out to so many people. They have touched so many lives, have encouraged artists and inspired artists and have left an impact on the industry.

Not only that, but the community they have built has saved lives. People who couldn’t be themselves anywhere else found an out. Those who were struggling found support. I personally have developed some of the strongest friendships in my life from interactions on that board, real friendships that have lasted over a decade without, in some cases, needing to meet in person. I’ve met my greatest inspirations through Kittie’s board. My best first kiss with a woman. Some of my greatest, craziest memories. Friends all around the world.

The best part? I’ve lived most of my life in Alaska. I’ve barely had the interaction with the band people elsewhere have. I know of at least two marriages from that board, one that crossed the world. Kittie is a band who is compassionate, inspirational and fun, a band whose presence ignites growth and whose very construction can build a global family that stands the test of time.

I love the band as a whole for their artistry, especially being outside of what I typically like. And those women I know personally? I love them dearly for the friends, the experiences and the encouragement they’ve given me. I may not have pursued storytelling had they not told me I was worth it.

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Distilling Who I Used to Be

As I write this, I’m just tipsy enough to start to sleep comfortably. I’m supposed to be up in 3 hours for what will likely be an almost 24 hour day between a 12 hour shift and a healthy stint at the bar I spend too much money on.

So I’m laying down and thinking about sleeping but I want some music to put me in the mood to sleep. Strangely, radically, I find myself in the mood for the Distillers. As The Hunger and Coral Fang and City of Angels pulse through my ears, I’m shotgunned back almost a decade.

I was an asshole as a teenager but mostly because I was angry. I was angry at my family of fuck-ups. I was angry at fake friends. At how nobody believed in me because I was good at plenty of things but not great at anything and I didn’t have a known clique that I hung out with. But I had my group and that group stood by me.

For about five years, there was one thing that I prided myself on and that was that I just did not give a fuck about myself. I took chances. I didn’t blink at risk. I spat in the face of logic and disbelief because I believed I could do it. I fought for the impossible solely for the sake that everyone else thought I couldn’t make it happen.

Not quite everyone. My aforementioned group was a few folks that railed against conventional thought and really fought to put their lofty goals first. They were like-minded dreamers. That’s why we got along so well.

Then folks started getting married, having kids. I made some mistakes. I fell in love and got burned. People fell away. I almost died. I racked up debt. I started feeling like shit started feeling like a piece of shit.

Now I’m listening to Brody Dalle growl in my ear. I’m remembering elbows in my ribs and music pounding my shoulders while my one goal was to be – not the biggest or the strongest or the smartest guy – the scariest motherfucker there. The guy who didn’t quit. The one who laughed at “it can’t happen” and “you’ll never do it”. When I was the guy who didn’t believe in writer’s block, let alone let it fuck his vibe up.

I’m too focused on the grind these days. Not that it isn’t important, not that I shouldn’t care about my job. But that job isn’t me. The money is nice and it’s essential, but I’m a guy who has lived out of two suitcases for five years. I’ve spent three years following the drifter lifestyle without the freedom the mentality gives.

I need to get back to this: I am who I am, and I do what I do, and it won’t be the best, and it won’t be the smartest, but it’s going to happen no matter how many people will leave, no matter how people will stop believing, no matter how many people will tell me I can’t.

I used to scream at thunder, punch waves, grit my teeth at the odds and believe that no matter how bad it got, I would pull myself up. As I got older and had fewer family, fewer friends and more bills, it’s gotten hard.

But dammit, the challenge is what I loved the most about it. I lost that somewhere along the way. I want it back. I’m getting it back.

Fucking Brody Dalle. Bless ya.

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