by: Douglas Grant
The best thirty seconds of your day……
There’s a daily ritual you have that gives you a tremendous sense of peace. It happens first thing in the morning, every morning, and it doesn’t matter if the weather is scorching or frigid, sunny or rainy. Every day, on the way to your office, you pass by the community garden, and these brief few moments set the tone for the rest your day, often putting matters in perspective. But today you’ve grown extremely agitated, almost irrationally so. Today you blew right by the community garden without even glancing in its direction, and the disappointment you feel toward yourself because of your negligence is rather troubling.
It takes you approximately thirty seconds to walk from the community garden’s north end to its south. Thirty seconds in your entire day. You learned long ago that you benefit the most from structure and routine, and regardless of how much you may boast about how willing you are to experience new things, you acknowledge that you are a creature of habit. You’re grateful that this garden has been placed in your path on the way to your office. You’ll never pick up the pace when you’re strolling by it, even if you’re running late, and yet neither will you linger in an attempt to prolong the experience. Thirty seconds is all you get. Sometimes when you walk along the pathway while listening to music and sipping on your coffee, you’ll gaze through the chain-link fence and consciously raise your awareness. You become truly appreciative of the collective efforts of the young caretakers who brought their vision to fruition. The sight moves you. You won’t realize it then, but this may be the highlight of your entire day.
Posted on May 15, 2013
by: Douglas Grant
Day 6 of our 12 days of holiday stories brings us back to a fortuitous meeting which occurred on Christmas in 1985, and the event which arose from this encounter….
A transcript taken from the Channel 9 News archive:
December 24, 1989
Anchorman Silas Whitfield: We go now to Veronica Luz, reporting live from Avenue L and 23rd Street.
Luz: Thanks, Silas. I’m coming to you live from St. Mark’s Lutheran Church here in the downtown area, where a once simple nativity scene has over the years blossomed into a local phenomenon. What you see behind me is a coming together of the community in the spirit of the holidays, which all started five years ago, when the man next to me, Eddie Boyle, brought his family here when he had nowhere else to go. Eddie, tell us what happened on that Christmas Eve five years ago.
by: Douglas Grant
Some necessary self-evaluation in the age of absorbing rapid fire camera shots from a brightly lit screens….
The other day was one of those beautiful crisp autumn days, and I was sitting on a park bench when I noticed a group of four teenagers nearby. I really couldn’t say whether they were friends or not. They were in close enough proximity to each other to suggest they were well acquainted, but they weren’t talking to each other. They were all on their smart phones.
Although I didn’t get all that much out of grad school, I did have some interesting discourses with some rather avant-garde instructors who encouraged me to look at certain issues from several different perspectives. One such instructor took a course based on higher-level math concepts and embedded it with a study on how our brains—for better or for worse—are changing in the way in which they take in, process, and synthesize information in this new technological era. Three years later, all the lengthy discussions we had on that topic frequently come to mind. And three years really isn’t very long in the grand scheme of things, but so much has changed in that time. Nothing being suggested here is in any way profound, but when placed in a certain historical context, a quick look at the way in which our external stimuli has exponentially risen in the last century is quite intriguing.
Illustration by: Chris Thompson / Stories by: Douglas Grant, Tom Rau and Michael Shields
A challenge from an artist to create a story, one thousand words or about, inspired by an illustration is met by multiple authors……
Submission #1: Douglas Grant
He was a solitary man, and the feeling of accomplishment he’d felt upon reaching the summit of Mount Everest had been severely diminished by the exponential commercialization of the climb in recent years. Annapurna and K2, despite being mountains with far less traffic, weren’t quite as rewarding as having conquered Everest. And Everest had been a letdown. The way he saw it, Earth’s highest mountain had become just another tourist destination no different from a ski resort in the Swiss Alps.
He’d taken a crack at Antarctica, but ice-climbing there had held little appeal for him. Upon further reflection in later years, he realized that a man such as himself needed to remove other men from the equation in order for the experience to be truly gratifying. It was in a state of aloneness in which he felt the most content. He needed to experience the feeling of being one grain of sand in a desert that spanned thousands of miles. He had no family and no friends to speak of, so he had a responsibility only to himself. And that was the way he liked it.
by: Douglas Grant
An overdue introduction to the penetrating works of Sean Dietrich…..
The Foxy Desert – King Tiger Girl
I first became aware of Sean Dietrich’s artwork when I was holed up in a rundown dive bar, trying to tie one on before heading to a Built to Spill show. His displayed paintings spanned the entire bar, and once I took notice of them they pretty much demanded my attention for the remainder of my time there. One of the first observations I made with regards to the subject matter of his art was a very tangible polarization of themes. There were bright eyed children standing in front of dilapidated buildings with thick black smoke stacks in the background. The sacred feminine was often present in scenes of bloody warfare. I observed portraits of fuzzy animals such as rabbits with malevolence in their eyes, and teddy bears that looked heartbreakingly despondent. I was captivated by the playful spectrum of light and dark. There was canvas after canvas of larger than life caricatures facing some of the worst crises created by humanity. I asked the bartender about the painter, but he knew very little. That bar, Landlord Jim’s, no longer exists. I wouldn’t meet Dietrich for another year. It was a chance encounter at an art show where I recognized his work and got to know him.
Dietrich began his art career at a very young age in his hometown of Baltimore. He published his first graphic novel, Tribal Scream, at the age of fifteen, and since then has gone on to pen the books Industriacide, I Brought the Gutter, Bubbles From Atlantis, and The Fruits of Our Labor. It was 2004’s publication of Industriacide that established Dietrich’s long standing relationship with independent comics publisher Rorschach Entertainment, and earned him international acclaim for his gritty and often gloomy storytelling style. The story follows three young children and a hallucination induced teddy bear as they attempt to come to face an outside world that is anything but pretty. And though it could be considered a coming of age story, it is not a story of innocence lost.
by: Douglas Grant
A discussion, ripe with spoilers, about the “true” story of one man’s heroic escape from a North Korean Prison…..
A few months back my friend Andrew was carrying on about a book that he’d recently read, a book that remained at the forefront of his thoughts for many days afterward. The book was entitled Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey From North Korea to Freedom in the West, written by Blaine Harden, a journalist who previously wrote for The Washington Post. Since the book had apparently made such an impression on Andrew, I decided to give it a read. I read it fairly quickly, and although I found it inspiring in its accounting of one man’s survival and triumph against impossible odds, I also found shocking in its brutality and its blight on the human psyche.
Escape from Camp 14 is a biographical accounting of Shin Dong-hyuk, the only person ever known to have escaped from a North Korean internment camp and lived to tell about it. Kaechon Internment Camp, or Camp 14, is what’s known as a “total-control zone” grade internment camp, a place North Koreans are often sent to for life because of the alleged crimes of their relatives. It is a slave-labor camp where its political prisoners rarely live past their forties, and snitching on friends and family is considered to be one of the greatest virtues. Starvation runs rampant throughout the camp, as food rations are scarce, and there is fierce competition among its prisoners for its limited resources. The prisoners are forced to bear witness to public executions—usually hangings—regularly. A sense of despair permeates the atmosphere there, and the rate of suicide is high.
by: Douglas Grant
The bartender – patient relationship examined….
I’ve been a bartender for quite a few years now, and to this day it never ceases to amaze me how perfect strangers are willing to bear their souls to you simply because you’re serving them drinks. I find it flattering yet alarming at the same time.
With some people it takes time—be it a month or a year—of regular patronage before they feel comfortable enough to open up to me completely. With others the rapport can be assumed from the get-go. It’s encouraging when bar-goers can size me up within moments and decide that I’m the kind of guy that will listen earnestly to the vivid details of their lives’ joys and pains. And although I have my faults, I am definitely a good listener.
The thing I really suck at is giving advice. I’ve made a lot of mistakes on this journey and I would never audaciously presume to tell you how to travel on yours. I get mush-mouthed when people truly want to know what I would do in their shoes.
“Uh . . . yeah. That—that’s a tough one. Well . . . I suppose you could . . . Wait, let me think about this.” Of course this isn’t always the case. But when I leave one of my customers hanging, it’s like I’ve only done fifty-percent of my job. They want a little more reciprocity.
They also want attorney-client privilege. I am to sit and listen while they dish out all of their depravities. I am forbidden to reserve judgment. I’m not being tipped to judge. My qualifications are a license to sell alcohol posted on the wall.
Posted on June 20, 2012
by: Douglas Grant
Every Tuesday night I listen to Tony Touch’s show Toca Tuesdays on Sirius XM. It’s a mixtape session of hip-hop featuring artists both old and new and usually has some great special guests with live in-studio performances. I was listening to it the other day when I got really into this one song I’d never heard before. It was some kind of collaboration between Method Man, B Real, and some other guy I didn’t recognize, and it had a sick beat. Now normally Sirius XM will tell you the names of both the artist and the song, but since this show is a mashup of Tony Touch’s picks, it just says Toca Tuesday on the screen. I wanted this song. I had a plan. I pulled my car over to the side of the road because I don’t want to be one of those scumbags who play around with their phones while driving. I went to my Shazam app and let the program have a good listen to the song. It only took a few moments for Shazam to look up the song. It was on an album by Proof where Method Man and B Real were guest MCs. There was a link right there that took me to iTunes so I could purchase the song. Within two minutes of hearing a great new song I pushed three buttons on my phone and I now own the song. It was so very convenient, and equally as efficient. And yet it had me wondering—as technology often does—if this was a necessary convenience. I juggle the pros and cons as I consider how that situation would have played itself out in an earlier, simpler time.
Not likely that I would have heard it on the radio, but let’s say that I did. The first thing I would’ve done would be to ask around my group of friends to see if any of them had heard it too. I’m sure at least one of my boys would have been as enthusiastic as I was and accompanied me uptown to the Record Express on the East Hartford border to pick up the CD. We would’ve made a day out of it. We probably would’ve stopped along the way, either to load up on Chinese food or maybe to go puff underneath the bridge that ran over the Connecticut River. We might’ve picked up a few more of our people on the way. Upon arrival at Record Express I would’ve immediately opened up a dialogue with the store manager, someone who knew my taste in music well, and would’ve had the line on some hot new shit that I’d be into. His word was bond back then because this was a time before you could scan an album and listen to it in the store. But he would never steer you wrong, and you usually left with a few extra CDs that he’d pushed on you somehow. He was good like that.
‘By: Douglas Grant
A discussion of creative boundaries and dream chasing inspired by a theatrical classic….
I’ve never been a “dirt rascal pimp”, but the other day I found myself empathizing with Djay, the Memphis hustler turned underground hip-hop MC. Regardless of how far removed you may be from his day-to-day life and code of ethics, if you have an artistic endeavor with something to say then you should be able to relate to him on some level. He does, after all, go through quite an ordeal in order for his voice to be heard.
Djay confides in his bottom girl Shug that he thinks he’s going through a mid-life crisis, and sees little hope for himself within the context of his daily routine. He wants more for himself, as many of us do, but it never crosses his mind to pursue his life’s dream until he sees the success of Skinny Black, his peer who made it out of Memphis by “hustling his underground tapes down at the drive-in out the back of his Cutlass.” Skinny Black puts his voice out there, and the right person hears it. His demo tape turns into a Platinum album. Djay is envious of Skinny Black’s fame, but he’s also able to reconsider his own situation. Both of them use to spin records at their schools back in the day. If Skinny Black could find success in the rap game, then why not Djay? A lot of us, myself included, will often put our life goals on the back burner when we dismiss them as fantastic or unrealistic. We’re afraid to chase down a dream because so few people succeed at the same dream, or because other people may keep us down. And then you see someone just like you who’s made it, and if you’re wise you’ll tell yourself that it’s never too late and starting today you’ve got your eye back on the ball. I came very close to dismissing my plans of becoming a writer, and although it certainly isn’t my bread and butter I can’t imagine how unfulfilled I’d feel if I hadn’t reconsidered.
In Memoriam – Adam Yauch
A few words on the painful loss of Adam Yauch and what he and the Beastie Boys meant to us here.
You can’t measure the impact the Beastie Boys have had on both music itself and also the kids of my generation. It is just too large and unquantifiable. It’s like trying to measure the impact Babe Ruth had on baseball. The Beastie Boys were, quite simply, the Led Zeppelin of my youth. I’m a white dude who loves to rap and play bass, do I even need to go on as to the influence M.C.A. had on me personally? I’ll just say this, the attitude that they showed us all as kids has been one of the largest and most defining blueprints of my life. I can think of only two other times when celebrity news has affected me on a deep personal level; when Magic Johnson came out with HIV and when Kurt Cobain killed himself. This one trumps the others though because I think kids of my generation, we feel in a way like we are Beastie Boys. Somehow they made that possible. Their “fuck you” to the man seemed all inclusive. Like we could all join in for the chorus. And they never beat a message down on our throat, even though the message was always clear, do what you have to do and do it loudly, and if people think you are crazy they can go fuck a sandwich. People thought they were a novelty act. So with typical Beastie Boy aplomb and indignation they turned around and made one of the best records, Paul’s Boutique, of all time. And when they were done helping hip hop become America’s next great art form they did something truly great and taught generations of young people about the plight of Tibetian freedom.
The passing of Adam Yauch is sad on so many levels. Not only because his death represents the passing of one of the most influential and unique musical outfits in history, but also because he touched so many musical giants on such deep personal levels. From Chuck D and ?uestlove to Madonna and Coldplay; if you haven’t go read what these people had to say. It will make you cry. I can’t think of many times in my life where I have seen such outpourings of unconditional love from so many people. Maybe not since the death of Princess Diana. It was extremely sad and extremely beautiful just to get to read how much love people had for Adam Yauch. And It’s not that they are just sad about the passing of a friend, it’s that he changed their lives, gave them an opportunity, taught them about life, or business, or music. And because somehow in the middle of helping change the landscape of music forever, he also found a way to hold onto the reckless feelings of youth, teach us all something about helping other people, and remain eternally cool. If one great thing is to come from his death it’s that right now there are a ton of little kids learning the ultimate Beastie Boy lesson, “you can’t, you won’t and you don’t stop”, even when you finally do.