A Pessimist Cannot be a Revolutionary

Went to see Bernie Sanders in Santa Maria recently and it got me thinking about the intersection of political and personal life, and how much I admire those leaders who are able to fashion something consistent and relatable out of the two.

When you live in a society that is built on injustice from the ground up you can’t expect it to change overnight. Of course there will be resistance. You should expect that those in power, whatever the flavor, do not relinquish it lightly. But the more you recognize other people as a source of support rather than as a threat, the less we need those who hold power over us. Don’t let your expectations for a single election paralyze you. Don’t let partisanship dominate the conversation or destroy hope for solidarity. After all, there aren’t any candidates that are exclusively good or evil. People are far more complex than that.

And so are societies. But we’re all connected, which means that every person, including you, affects how other people live, think, and feel. By making an effort to do something good for someone else in our own individual lives, we make the world a little brighter, a little warmer. But individual flames are easily put out or hidden away. When we join together to do something good that benefits the whole community, we can build a stronger fire that’s not so easily doused. When you hold the intention to help others throughout your day you can spark little fires of compassion at every opportunity. And what could be more revolutionary than that?

Loko Oh No!

In a world where the USA has the highest rate of imprisonment, what is it that cops do to earn their 3-figure salaries?

Around here, they like to go around shutting down every live music event possible.

Case in point: the other night one of my favorite local bands, Loko Ono, put on a small show in the industrial section of SLO. All of the neighboring property was zoned for manufacturing which means that they have the highest allowed noise level in the entire city. But that wasn’t enough to stop local police from shutting it down from the get-go and slapping them with a noise violation($350 fine last I checked). That may be par for the course in SLO, but it’s actually the first time I’ve witnessed a peace officer saying that he’s going to give someone a ticket because he’s ‘being an asshole’.

Truly a new low for this town. Those in positions of authority need to be held to a higher standard of accountability, not a lower one than your average citizen. You don’t make our cities any safer by destroying the parts of our community that make you feel personally uncomfortable. A society which is hostile to art and culture is not sustainable; it’s self-destructing.

We had to go hide in someone’s house to let Jurassic Shark and the other bands play. Why don’t we have any affordable venues for live shows in this area? Why do cops take a piss on the bright futures of our most talented???

Police are supposed to be public servants, and there are communities where the police work hard to improve the lives of others, where the bonds of trust go both ways. I know that’s probably hard to believe if you grew up around here, but here’s just one example of progressive police in Georgia who are teaching kids how to play music instead of shutting them down.

But democracy only serves those who show up. You have no real freedom if you never feel safe enough to exercise it. Join me in sending a message to the city council that this is not how we, the public, want our police to act.

We can make whatever world we want to live in, and I want to live in a world where we reward people, rather than punish them, for creating music.

Yoga On The Mountain Video

One of the great things about making videos is that it forces you to learn about new things when you wouldn’t otherwise have the chance or motivation to do so. Case in point, a friend of mine also happens to be a yoga teacher. So we spent a day hiking up Bishop’s Peak and I took some video of him practicing yoga in the great outdoors. It was definitely an adventure going off-trail at the top and climbing rocks while avoiding poison oak.

I learned that yoga is a lot of different things to different people, but at its core it strikes me as similar to Qi Gong: it’s about improving your physical health by balancing your internal energy with the world around you. And for me there’s no better way to improve your awareness than by getting out in Nature and realizing that the walls people build between each other through the various dogmas of science, religion, or politics are artificial and inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. I think what matters is not what you believe, but how those beliefs relate to your actions and whether or not they are making you a healthier being in a physical, psychological, and spiritual sense.

Don’t forget to delight in the daily miracle of other lives as you find your own path, wherever it may lead. And philosophy aside, yoga and hiking are both time-tested ways to release your stress and reconnect with yourself. When the struggle of modern life gets you down, sometimes it’s nice to just get the Hell out of Dodge for a day.

SLO Skate Park Video

Hey! Have you heard the news? There’s a new skate park in San Luis Obispo and it’s about time!

The local college radio station KCPR put on a contest to see who could make the best skate video, so my good friend Chris and I took some cameras down there to check it out.

Over a dozen hours of editing later, we’ve got something to show for it:

I loved seeing so many people out there having a good time and tearing it up.

It was also a good opportunity to practice tracking shots and to be a little more experimental than usual.

Maybe we’ll even win the contest? Stranger things have happened!

Poly Parkour

This is the Parkour club from Cal Poly playing around downtown. Please don’t try any of this unless you’ve been properly trained in the arts of being awesome.

Do You Know An Artist Who Wants $1,000?

Editor’s Note:

This program was canceled because local artists didn’t think that $1,000 was worth their time… I could have bought 100 BURRITOS with that money!?! Seriously though, all the artists I’ve met are always struggling just to make ends meet and that money would have made a big difference to me or almost anyone else I know. If that sounds like anyone you know, send me an e-mail and let’s try again together next year.

OMG! If you’re an artist in SLO county and would like some money, check this out:
Central Coast Art Share

There’s no fee for sending in an application: They just need 3 photos of examples of your work and an idea for making 50 12×12 or smaller works of art next summer.

And you could even apply to do this project with another artist if you don’t think you can do it all on your own.

Deadline is December 15.

Writing Exercises

I’ve decided to get back to my roots and write more. Sometimes I’m so busy moving around from one thing to the next that I have to make a conscious effort to sit down and remember what’s important. Production can be as complicated as you want to make it, but at its core it’s just about figuring out how to translate something already written to an audio-visual medium. I’m not saying that you need to have everything 100% nailed down before you start production; all creative work necessarily evolves during the creation process, especially when it’s a collaborative effort. I just want to reiterate that storytelling is the foundation for video production and other dramatic art-forms from traditional plays to modern TV shows or webcasts. Having the best crew, talent, and gear isn’t worth much without solid writing behind it all. With that attitude, I’m diving back into prose before I move ahead with screenwriting.

I think Graham Greene says it best, “To me it is almost impossible to write a film play without first writing a story. Even a film depends on more than plot, on a certain measure of characterization, on mood and atmosphere; and these seem to me almost impossible to capture for the first time in the full shorthand of a script.”

I’m going to post a new writing exercise each month. Bring your results to the monthly Writing Circle meeting so we can share our progress.

Writing Exercise #1
(Length: 1 page)
This exercise was suggested by John Gardner.

Describe a barn from the P.O.V. of a man who just lost his son in a war. Don’t mention his son, war, or the man himself.

REMINDER: !!! The October meeting has been postponed to the 12th instead of the 5th. I’m gonna be out of town. Sorry folks. !!!

Women in Video Games

Pop Quiz: How many female artists can you name? Female musicians? Female authors?

Okay, now here’s a tougher one: how many women can you name that make video games?

In an industry that regularly churns out vapid female characters whose sole purpose is to flash T and A for adolescent, drooling fanboys, women are often excluded from the credit roll as well as the starring role. In a medium that is still struggling to be accepted as having artistic value in the eyes of pop culture(as if pop culture would know anything about that!) where are the Frida Kahlo’s, the Stevie Nicks’s, the Mary Shelley’s of the video game world?

I’m not going to argue which came first, the stereotyped characters or the sexism in the workplace, because it doesn’t matter: they’re mutually reinforcing. A company that encourages sexual harassment towards women, or doesn’t reward both sexes equally in terms of promotions and wages, will drive women away– if they bother to hire them at all. And the numbers bear out this trend in the video game industry. Take a look at those numbers: 77-96% of jobs in the video game industry are taken by men, yet 45% of the people who play games are women. Why would so many women enjoy playing games, but not making them?

Maybe it has something to do with the way they’re treated. Here’s an example of the kind of behavior I’m talking about:

reporter-apologizes-for-crude-sexual-comments-to-female

Of course this attitude that women are supposed to be sexually available to men at all times has been around for a long time and appears in every form of business, so why am I pointing it out here? Because it’s been around for a long time and appears in every form of business. That’s why. For example, in the late 19th century an author by the name of Ellen Glasgow took her first manuscript to an agent in New York who, after taking her $50, told her she was too pretty to be a novelist and sexually assaulted her. The next man she took her manuscript to told her to stop writing and just have babies instead. She didn’t stop writing. In 1941 her novel In This Our Life won a Pulitzer-prize and was adapted for film the following year.

Part of the problem has nothing to do with gender: video games are marketed to the masses like anything else, with layer upon layer of obfuscation separating those who ‘produce’ products from those who ‘consume’ them. I have no idea, for example, who helped design this computer I’m using. I don’t even know which countries manufactured which parts, let alone what decisions went on behind the scenes to result in this specific computer. All I know is that it’s a ‘Mac’. People have been acculturated to think primarily in terms of brand-names, about some contrived corporate image rather than the actual product. Likewise, when a video game is released, the publisher’s name is scrawled in large type on the front of the box so when you go into a store to buy it you know that Sonic the Hedgehog was produced by Sega, and Super Mario Bros. was produced by Nintendo. But publishers don’t make games. They finance them(no small feat with multi-million dollar budgets being the norm these days) and they ship them out to retailers. But who are the people who spent years of their life making these games? When will the marketing department put their names on the boxes?

Sonic the Hedgehog was a character created by Naoto Oshima and brilliantly brought to life by programmer Yuji Naka and level-designer Hirokazu Yasuhara. You might know that Mario was the creation of Shigeru Miyamoto, one of the few game designers inducted into that ridiculously narrow cult of celebrity status, but did you know that Koji Kondo wrote the jazzy theme music for it? He also composed the original theme for the equally successful Legend of Zelda series. Unfortunately, both series featured a weak female character who must be rescued by the strong male hero. Many things have changed over the decades: Sega is now developing games for Nintendo among others, and Nintendo’s former in-house development studio Rare(which created the Donkey Kong Country series) is owned by and developing exclusively for Microsoft. But the cliche of strong male characters having to rescue weaker female characters is as popular as ever.

Despite the ignorance-machine that is modern marketing and the toxic misogyny of the gaming world, there are a few women who’ve made a name for themselves over the years.

Anne Westfall was a programmer for civil engineering software before meeting her future husband Jon Freeman. Together with Paul Reiche they founded Free Fall Associates, a game development studio that produced an Atari game called Archon that proved so popular it was eventually ported to over a dozen systems. She also served on the board of directors for the Game Developer’s Conference, only the world’s biggest convention for people working in the industry(E3 is all about marketing whereas the GDC is much more relevant to people who actually create games). There’s an old interview with Anne and Jon if you’re curious.

Breath of Fire III has some of the best jazz tracks of any video game soundtrack and it was composed entirely by two women: Akari Kaida and Yoshino Aoki. When asked in an interview about the unusual style, Kaida-san answered, “I wanted to challenge myself with every song, even though my superiors were telling me to create music similar to the previous titles.” She’s also composed songs for Mega Man, Resident Evil, and Okami.

Jane Jensen created the Gabriel Knight video games and wrote a novel nominated for the Philip K. Dick award before recently starting her own game development studio.

Julie Uhrman founded Ouya, which makes the world’s first linux-based console by the same name. It’s built on the idea of breaking down the barriers between gamers and game developers. It does this by allowing anybody to make their own games and by making both the games and their development affordable.

In the US people spend more money on video games, including the hardware to play them, than they do on movies and music combined. That’s tens of billions of dollars a year. With that much money at stake, publishers tend to primarily back games that are clones of other already successful games. This pattern of focusing solely on sales and excluding everything of social value is consumerism at its best and humanity at its worst. It’s a vicious circle of trendiness that not only stifles originality of any sort, but also acts as an additional barrier to groups of people who have been historically excluded from even having a chance at success.

Gender equity is important not just because it’s unfair to pay women less for the same work as men but because it amounts to a form of censorship: if you’re excluding people from making art, you’re effectively silencing them by preventing their voices from ever being heard. Good art not only entertains but expresses the feelings and philosophy of the artist. It’s a window into the souls of other people, and into ourselves when we choose to create. Denying someone else that choice is a far greater crime than simply perpetuating misguided gender roles. It’s through these other perspectives that we develop our sense of who we are, and how we relate to the world.

That’s why it would be self-defeating to try and censor works of bad art(who would we choose to do the censoring, anyway?). Nor am I going to try and force my own personal conceptions of beauty, science, and spirituality down your throat because I’m aware that personal growth thrives on freedom of expression. And that means, at the very least, not suppressing someone simply because of which sex organs they may or may not have.