George G Smith Jr. | The words and works of George G Smith Jr
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The Work and Words
of George G Smith Jr

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God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont — Life Changing Books Part 2 of 6

My mother is Korean and my father is white. In the scale of multi-racial marriages and their progeny, I wouldn’t exactly call my experiences terrible or even worth discussing. But it was the foundation. I was different. Different from my mother. Different from my father. Sometimes a few classmates would focus on those differences. Feeling different at a young age is something that sticks with you. I don’t remember the exact age, but when I discovered The X-Men, I felt that I finally found something that spoke to me.

God Loves, Man Kills is the opus that defines the X-Men. It’s a powerful story. Extremely powerful. William Stryker, a crusader against mutants in the vein of religious fundamentalists like Pat Robertson, Jimmy Swaggart, and those televangelists that came around during the era that this story was written. Spewing hate speech and creating riots, it builds the foundation of the narrative that propels most of the stories in the X-Men’s universe for the next 30 years. The unrelenting hatred by humans of the things that are different, in this case mutants.

I didn’t need to be old enough to see the parallels to history. The Civil Rights movement is an often cited inspiration for The X-Men’s story lines. In current politics, you also have gay rights. (The X-Men also had the first openly gay super hero). Perhaps I was attracted to the story because I was raised with these values, but as an adult and knowing my parents as I do now, I doubt it. Perhaps I was just born in the right area, with the right level of education, to know the basics of right and wrong. Still, what stands out to me in the forging of my morality was this story. This scene, particularly, stands out:

godlovesmankills2

kitty_vs_stryker

Comic books are a much maligned medium, but they helped make me a better person. Beyond this story, I have learned so much about right and wrong, perspective, responsibility, and relationships that I am forever grateful.

Positively 4th Street by David Hajdu — Life Changing Books Part 1 of 6

I’m going to take the list of life changing books I wrote yesterday and describe in detail why they were the first 6 to come to my mind when I thought about the books of my life. And I’m going to start backwards – as I find it will be better to end with the most impactful book, The Alchemist, as the finale to this little endeavor.

Also, because this book is a bit revealing about a lot of things. First, it’s nowhere near a “great book.” The rest of my list are either classic authors, contemporary geniuses, legends in their medium, and even a deity of some sort. Hajdu is none of those things, and while he has an interesting catalog of works, reading this book didn’t compel me to go off and read anything else by him. No, this book makes my list because it took icons and idols of mine and made them seem what they actual were: human. It’s a turning point in any man’s life when they no longer see themselves as anything but equals with those that they revered. The father/son relationship is perhaps one of those first turning points. Perhaps a mentor/mentee one next. But the heroes of a man aren’t always so easily challenged. And in my life, I’ve had few bigger heroes than Bob Dylan.

I don’t think I need to discuss the hero worship of Dylan, as I am far from alone in that character trait. Hajdu’s book discusses some of the very things that I loved about Dylan. The folk scene in Greenwich Village. His ascendance in music. But it revealed a bit of the drama and the gossip in the scene. And, as Hajdu’s characterization – often negative – of each of these people who impacted the last century of music and culture – I couldn’t help but see myself.

Let me back up a bit. I’m obsessed with the concept of iconography, in a cultural and media studies context. We are, as they say, a collection of the various bits of media and culture that we consume. I’m not sure what came first – the artistic tendencies or the obsession with Dylan – but eventually they merged into one. The romanticizing of this time – from Kerouac and the Beat movement to Dylan and his folk contemporaries in the Village and finally to the civil rights and anti-war movements that served as both an inspiration and a denouement of this era – was eventually a part of how I saw the world. And because the way we discuss history is often through cursory readings and quick summaries, I lumped the key players in all of this into unrealistic idols to be worshipped in their perfection.

Dylan, as many still see him to this day, was the man with something to say – a voice of a generation. And while that may be true, it’s probably more because of his faults, which are revealed in Hajdu’s book, than because of his altruistic motivations. His manipulations, his lack of empathy, and his selfishness were all apparent, even when he was fighting for what was just and right. But beyond Dylan, the book’s other characters also challenged archetypes in my head and made me realize how silly they were. Joan’s Baez – the muse and queen of folk – was insecure of his sister’s beauty and fell in love, and subsequently manipulated, by men too easily – even if she held strong to her principals. Mimi, Joan’s sister, had the same naiveté and romanticism that I was a victim of – the sins of youth.. And Richard Farina was never the artist that he claimed to be – which is more due to his boastfulness than to any lack of talent – hiding behind lies and tall tales. His recklessness and lack of vision was his ultimate undoing.

And so I couldn’t help but see myself in these characters. These were part and parcel of the mold that shaped my iconography of what I thought was right, true, artistic, and beautiful. And yet, they also shared the same faults as I did – naive, selfish, insecure, and dishonest. As the onion pealed back and I saw myself, I realized the silliness in the facade that I was putting up. I was trying to conform to a mold; seeking a form of definition in what this life was to be in order to feel better about it all. Which, ultimately, also made me a hypocrite because I always pointed fingers at those that found their solace in different things – such as religion. Or love.

I wish I could say I transformed immediately after reading the book, but I’m sure I hold on to some aspects of that romantic, naive, selfish insecure young man that I was. What the book made me realize though is those impulses and the impact that those things have on one’s life. It also started to get me away from a distorted view on hero worship into a one that is more about respect than idolization. That change in perspective was probably one of the more important changes in my maturation as an adult into the person I am today.

What are your life changing books?

Laura shared with me a link of Jay Z’s list of life-changing books, and it started to get me thinking on what books really were life changing for me. Jay Z’s books – for those to lazy to click the link, are:

1. The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav
2. The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield
3. The Odyssey by Homer
4. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
5. Purple Cow by Seth Godin
6. Nigger by Dick Gregory.

Click the link to read Jay Z’s reasons why for each book.

As an avid reader, there are a ton of books that really have changed who I am. Changed the way I appreciate literature and changed my style of writing. But, I’m going to follow the direction that Jay Z did and look for the books that changed me in a profoundly spiritual way – changed the way I viewed the world and have been adopted into my philosophy on life. This will probably remove a bit of the fiction writers that are so influential in the iconography of who I am, but it may allow me to discuss the aspects of some of my favorite writers less popular works as well. I’m about a paragraph away from picking my list, and I still am not sure which ones will be on it.

My methodology for this is simple – I’m just going to write what comes to mind first. If the book doesn’t pop to mind – I would argue it probably doesn’t deserve to be in the pantheon of books for my life. So, enough stalling, my list is as follows:

1. The Alchemist by Paolo Coehlo
2. The Art of Happiness by HH The Dalai Lama
3. The Air Conditioned Nightmare / Stand Still like The Hummingbird by Henry Miller
4. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
5. God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont (Illustrated by Brent Anderson)
6. Positively 4th Street: The lives and times of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Mimi Baez Farina, and Ricard Farina by David Hajdu.

(pause)

Hm – that’s interesting. A mixture of spiritual fiction, essays, self-help, Gladwell (he deserves his own category) comics, and biography. I think I’m going to dive into the reasons why each of these books made the list in separate posts.

The Passion of Stwo

It’s a few hundred days before our wedding, and Alana and I are standing in Stuart’s apartment in various state of disrobement. Eight hours, a few bottles of champagne, and a mixture of laughter, awkwardness and hiccups have turned the engagement photoshoot into something a bit more private. Friends coming together to share something – to capture moments of levity into digital bits of memory – and create pieces of art, even if they are not to be seen by the more public eye. Getting to that moment – to that place where secrets are shared – is something that can only be done when you are working with someone that is doing something they love: and Stu’s passion for photography is more intoxicating than any of the Piper-Hiedsieck that we drank throughout the day.

Photo by Stuart Tracte

I’ve been wrestling with some absence in my life and working with, listening to, and observing Stu at work made me realize what it is: Passion. Finding something that I can pour my entire soul into and express the angels and demons wrestling in my head. Something I can learn – something to challenge and inspire me. Something that will make me want to get up on the most boring of days and keep me awake with the fire and inspiration of artists.

Just listening to Stu talk about how opportunistic meetings with a NYU Photography teacher opened up the world to him a bit more. Hearing the trial and error stories of working with his subjects. Stories of models, late night club work, friends, and acquaintances who all have been touched by his work. Hearing his motivation to constantly become better – and how excited he is to constantly learn more and more.

Photo by Stuart Tracte

I think it was Paolo Coehlo that wrote “People, at any time, are capable of doing what they dream.” (Editor’s Note: I don’t feel like looking up this quote for the exact quote. Yes, I know I”m on the internet and a quick google search would be fine. If you’re looking for perfection, you’re on the wrong blog. If you’re anal and need to quote it correctly, do so in the comments. Yes, I also realized I could have had the real quote in the same amount of time it took to write this interruptive missive but, obviously, you don’t know me that well…) Watching Stu persue his dreams inspires me to start the search over again for what I want mine could be. The old ways – the old things that I love – have lost their appeal. I need to discover something else. Or, as in the Alchemist, maybe my journey will take me back to where I always thought I would end up. I don’t know the future, but Je sais l’avenir par coeur.