Saturday, March 29, 2008

profanity, art, and toj

there's some great content up at the other journal. the current issue is on atheism.

also, i really like this poster.

but today i'm returning to an opus that i abandoned several months ago. the psychopathology issue of
toj features the poem "hedonist's prayer,"a dark parody of the pater noster. the poem approaches the theme of moral depravity with harsh, honest language as the narrator confesses an appetite for "smut and sex" and an allegiance to "the satiation of desire." the poem even drops a participial adjective f-bomb.

so how does such a poem find its way into a christian journal that is primarily staffed by evangelicals?

there are several ways to approach the issues raised by "hedonist's prayer," but i'd like to deal with my mom first.

i expect that my mom would object most strongly to the profanity. indeed, i remember getting my mouth washed out with soap for calling someone
stupid. at the time i was probably being naughty and belligerent in other ways too, but my mom used the opportunity to illustrate a biblical mandate for thoughtful, conscientious, and clean action. as the scriptures say:

do you not know that your body [e.g., mouth] is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body [i.e., with your mouth] (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
and the lesson stuck. i don't cuss and i don't use profanity in my writing, and although i see the distinctions that separate some swear words from non-swear words as somewhat arbitrary cultural designations, i still cling to a belief that there is value to keeping my mouth clean, that this non-divisively sets me apart from a culture that could care less, that this somehow honors God.

my personal rejection of profanity is universal yet nuanced. there seem to be several uses of profanity, and although my personal usage has yet to waver, i recognize distinctions between these uses.

many people seem to use profanity as a normal character in their everyday alphabet. perhaps this pattern of usage supports the view that profanity is no longer profane because some pockets of culture have adopted it into the general lexicon.

yet here comes my mother again, thrashing her broom against those four-letter words, crowing that profanity is unnecessary, that there are better, more eloquent ways to convey one's meaning. were my mom an editor, she might say that when someone's sentences are peppered with profanity, they are falling into the trap of someone who uses
like to convey every little thought or who has fallen exhaustingly in love with (nasty) adverbs.

and to this critique, the language lover in me raises his glass and cries, "cheers!" although creative writing that attempts to recreate a foul-mouthed dialect may succeed at realism, i hardly ever find it poetic. likewise, i'm not sold on literature that appears to have missed the copyediting desk--if it uses alternate spellings or attempts to excuse odd pronunciations with a boatload of apostrophes, it's probably not for me--and if the profanity is grating in its insistent repetition, it's probably not for toj.

others seem to use profanity to express anger, shock, or surprise--coffee in the lap, rat in the room, spouse in the doghouse. although these emotional outbursts share an authenticity with the first pattern of usage, they generally are accompanied with more oomph and pack a more powerful punch. if a character drops an anvil on his toe, a lone word can communicate a lot. when the anvil crushes the toe, it really isn't necessary for the character to say anything intelligible, but a brief curse certainly has more literary merit than a weak "ouch, that hurt!"

returning to paul's letter to the corinthians, i find that scripture seems to be speaking to precisely this kind of profanity, this harsh un-love-ly response to life lemons. personally, this is the point where i choose not to swear. but what about my characters? what about a poem in the editorial slush pile?

and finally, the occasional speaker of profanity seems to use their swear words literally, that is, their profanity means what it says. when profanity is used for the purpose of clear explication, when no other word conveys the same meaning as the ostracized word, i think this is where the editorial gates must open wide and begrudgingly let the word stay.

art and morality seem to be in a strange match of tug-o-war, and as a young editor, i'm caught in between, wondering how things turned out this way. if i truly believe that art is our way of communicating some sense of truth, of unconsciously channeling messages from the divine, how do i balance artistic integrity with moral integrity?

i don't really know, but i stand behind art like "hedonist's prayer," art that navigates the precipice of profanity with care, that uses every word to serve the purpose of the work without succumbing to shock and awe, and that seeks to show us something of ourselves, the world around us, and perhaps God.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

and because i haven't published something on the sonics in about a week . . .


3,691 to 117

This was the 4 day total of calls to the governors hotline beginning the morning after the Ballmer announcement and ending the Tuesday we assumed it was dead and filed our public disclosure.

97% of the people who bothered to call in urged her to support a solution and get something done. We expect similar numbers but a much greater quantity of calls when the legislature returns their tallies.

also, last week we heard a lot of rhetoric about "not having enough time to put together a package." but as i was listening to 950 KJR AM tonight, i learned that during the thursday session at least 5 hours (!) were spent congratulating one another on a session well spent and recognizing the lifetime achievements of some of the retiring legislators. that's a bit frustrating.

on the sonics blogs i frequent
i've noticed an overwhelming response in favor of this proposal (i.e., hundreds of posters) and an equally dramatic backlash against the politicians in olympia for sitting on their butts and doing nothing. my impression is that many of these fans are your typical washingtonians--liberal and left--and i wonder how their dissatisfaction might influence the next round of elections. i know that i for one am disappointed that i haven't even received a dismissive form letter back from my legislators.

finally, people are calling obama's latest speech amazing.
my pastor, for instance, has said that it is "perhaps the most powerful speech on the issues of racism and economic divides offered in the past 40 years." check it out at the npr site. and i'm sure that if obama were on the scale tonight, one thing he might add is that each and every one of us should do our part to end racial discrimination, economic crises, and sonics atrocities by emailing the seattle city council and urging them to find a solution to the missing $75 million (

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

andrew the political provocateur

my friend greta recently pegged me as "pretty passionate about the sonics," which i suppose must be somewhat true. after all, during the last week i have sent several impassioned pleas to my governor and state legislators, and i have printed and posted "save our sonics" paraphernalia--grammar errors and all.

however, i haven't actually watched an entire sonics game all year. the supes suck this year, and i'm happy to spend my time elsewhere, give someone else my dollars.

the thing is, NBA basketball is cyclical. today we field a team of rookies and scrubs, but tomorrow--and by tomorrow, i mean five years from now--the key arena/ford center will rock. think '95-'96.

but my sudden political activity isn't founded on a gamble or the promise of a rosy future--i'm willing to admit that durant might lose a leg and presti's stockpile of #1 draft picks could turn to naught. no, my desire to keep the sonics and impeach the legislature is entirely separate from the great potential of future iterations of the green and gold.

i guess i am just tired of the same old irrelevant arguments. i am tired of dogma that prohibits us from looking beyond our wallets and imagining the world from someone else's shoes. i am tired of leaders who parrot back the same meaningless answers to straw man arguments rather than taking decisive action.

and that is why i have called the legislature (800.562.6000), written my governor, and enlisted at least 3 others to do the same.

now it's your turn! unless the governor schedules an emergency legislative session, the city ponies up another $75 million, or some other sports miracle occurs, today is the last day.

photograph: sean meichle. "the provocateur." VAPSHCS, seattle, wa.

PS apparently i am so annoyed at our leaders that i even gave the governor some input on an unrelated bill about law enforcement and gang activity.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

the sonics make me happy, frank chopp does not

contact the governor!

My email to Gregoire:

Dear Governor Gregoire:

Hi, I'm writing to encourage you to take a stand in favor of the recent proposal by the potential Sonics investors who are offering to contribute half the cost to a Key Arena renovation. As I understand it, the City of Seattle would chip in another $75 million, which only leaves $75 million for the state. And since the bonds for Safeco are expected to be paid off early--right?--that means no new taxes! For $75 million I think this is spectacular, must-do high priority.

I'm proud that Washington state hasn't caved to Clay Bennett's extortion attempts, but this deal is our chance to say YES! to the 40+ years of memories, the jobs, and the civic pride that is the Sonics.

And I am counting on you to take a leadership role and make the legislature consider this sweet bill before the NBA Board of Governors meets in April. Frank Chopp and Jeff Morris are fond of saying that there isn't time or that other issues are more pressing, but quite frankly, it's the 11th hour and now is the time.

Governor Gregoire, if you don’t do all that you can to embrace this bill and keep the Sonics in Seattle, if you don't rally for the legislature to fund the state’s portion of the proposal before this session ends, I will be very disappointed. Please don't let your legacy suffer; don't make me vote for Rossi in the next election; make our state ecstatic and proud.

Thank you for your time,

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

my synthar blurb

as usual, my latest image update blurb, a review of synthar's evenings and weekends, is kind of a gamble.

i'll explain the gambling later, but in the meantime, here it is:

Synthar: Evenings and Weekends

SyntharIn this season of last caucuses and primaries, with the names of presidential candidates on our tongues and a foretaste of change on our lips, the pop-indie band Synthar has come out with just the album to match that extra kick in your step—or that worried furrow of brow—that may accompany this historic time. Synthar’s debut album, Evenings and Weekends,is a genuine, synthesized consideration of change and transformation. Its sound lies somewhere between electronica and folk—as the Jackson Free Press says, Synthar has taken “synth-pop into singer-songwriter territory.” Synthar is an internet band: its members—spread around the world from Shaoxing, China, to Jackson, Mississippi and from New York, New York, to Stanford, California—huddled their laptops together to create an irresistibly catchy mix of Moogs, vocoders, guitars, and sad, understated vocals. The tracks of Evenings and Weekends range from themes of changes in landscape—“Hurricanes” is lead singer Johnny Bertram’s firsthand response to Katrina and Rita—to the hiccups and tragedies of relational change in “My Heart Is a Beating Drum,” “Stabbed by an Unseen Blade,” and, most traumatically, “The Phone Call.” Synthar also asks us to question how our dollars and cents impact the world. In “The Robots Among Us” they warn that “in the land of milk and honey / where we walk the thin line between / what we need and greed” there are “robots among us” who “don’t understand the warmth of human touch”—and the song builds to a chilling climax when the robots join in the chorus. But most extraordinary is Synthar’s uncanny juxtaposition of generally dark, meaningful themes with spritely, upbeat melodies. The combination of thoughtful lyrics with playful synthesizing and vocal harmonies results in moments of happy-pop-bliss, making Evenings and Weekends an album that is not just smart, but indeed, as they sing in one of their happier tracks, gives you “the urge to dance… dance the morning away / and when the day finally turns into afternoon / you’ll flip the record and dance to new tunes!” Because Synthar is an independent band in the truest sense, the best way to buy Evenings and Weekends is directly from them on their website (ours even came with a handwritten “thanks.”) Plus, the handsome CD and packaging are individually screen printed by hand.

For more, visit You can also listen to a few tracks on Synthar’s Myspace page.

OK, how is this a gamble? it's not that i'm hesitant to recommend the album; evenings and weekends is seriously really good. it may even be my favorite new album of 2007.

no, it's because i write these reviews for an arts journal that focuses specifically on work that somehow engages faith. therefore, i always feel challenged to center my thoughts on some theme or idea that is relevant to the image vision--faith, art, mystery.

sometimes that's a breeze--the culturally savvy christian, for instance--but often it's a stretch. it's not that i walk the plank of clear, accurate critique into the surging waters of creative interpretation, but that i sometimes have to dive beyond the patent responses of other reviewers. i have to lay all of my cards down on the table and say, "you know, i haven't heard anyone else say this, but the road sure strikes me as an incarnation story," (yikes!) and that's a scary place to be.

so here's where things get dicey with my evenings and weekends review. every other e&w review explores the synthar sound. they reference bands i've never heard of. they describe how andrew, johnny, matt, and joel have built a bridge between new wave 70s (?) and synth pop. occasionally a reviewer mentions synthar's socially conscious lyrics, but the only reviewer to mention subject matter says that he was initially turned off by the "futuristic, sci-fi themes."

(futuristic, sci-fi themes? as far as i can tell, only one song, "the robots among us," taps the sci-fi genre, and as i suggest in my blurb, it does so in a satirical, now-focused way.)

the problem is, i'm no music critic. i can confidently rank e&w among my top three 2007 albums because i probably only listened to three 2007 albums. and so my only chance of saying something profound and worthwhile about a band is to listen to those words, those strange syllabic formations that some listeners may deem a musical afterthought. and those words tell me that change is in the air. so when i say that my blurbs are a gamble, i really mean that i hope the synthar fellows won't be surprised to learn that their tracks are about change. i hope a few dozen readers will buy the album, nod their head--in time to the beat, of course--and hear the change.

Monday, March 03, 2008

save the sonics!

Legislative Hotline 1.800.562.6000

Call it, tell them that you are calling in response to the articles last week and the ones you’re going to see tomorrow morning. Tell them to be supportive of local investors attempts to buy the team.

This is important.

See the article "Business titans try to keep Sonics here" in Tuesday's Seattle Times for more info.