Sunday, May 17, 2009

Learning from the Masters: Steve Martin and George Carlin

Before I start, I want to note how interesting it is that by the end of this day, I have enough thoughts to make at least three entries if I had the energy. Because of my drowsiness, only one will be developed and posted. That's the trade, I guess.

Today I started to really read Steve Martin's autobiography Born Standing Up, reading up to the end of his childhood. Two sections of lines really stuck out for me, and probably help explain my psych and my problem:

1) "Having cut myself off from him, and by association the rest of the family, I was incurring psychological debts that would come due years later in the guise of romantic misconnections and a wrong-headed quest for solitude. I have heard it said that a complicated childhood can lead to a life in the arts. I tell you this story of my father and me to let you know I am qualified to be a comedian."

2) "But there was a problem. At age eighteen, I had absolutely no gifts. I could not sing or dance, and the only acting I did was really just shouting. Thankfully, perseverance is a great substitute for talent."

Martin's father once aspired to be an actor, and maybe didn't achieve this goal thanks to his job selling real estate and the needs of his wife and two kids. This produced a growing anger inside him, and Martin got the most grief from him. On one particular occasion, he lashed out at Martin on one particular occasion that essential hindered their entire relationship. Nothing this bad and physical happened again, but the deed was done: "...there was little he said to me that was not critical, and there was little I said back that was not terse or mumbled." After his death, his friends always called him a delightful, funny man, which confused Martin, who never recalled him being anything but reserved and formal around him and the family.

I see many parallels between Martin's relationship with his father and my own relationship with my stepfather. My stepfather is a "business-first" guy, a man of strict logic and scrutiny, generally reserved. He is not a bad person, although it's highly probably that he is a bad parent. The circumstances of our union didn't help matters much: most of my childhood I'd been pampered; I remember having a Game Boy and Pokemon Yellow that completely took my mind over, so that I'd sneak in playtime with homework time (a problem that persists to this day); charm was my way of handling my relations. Anything "smart" coming from my mouth got instant gratification; I was well-mannered for the selfish reason of getting love and admiration from everyone (that's a problem now, too); and I was a spoiled crybaby. Criticism was not, and still isn't, something I can take lightly.

With this man as my unofficial parent, I was the anti-thesis to the kind of son he would want. He disciplined with his hand and belt, which, of course, doesn't help when you consider that a selfish kid like me would be concerned only with the punishment and not the logic behind it. I hated him. I still don't like him, despite recognizing that he is trying to help me. He was trying to force the bad out of me, instead of gaining my trust first. Admitted, he tried the latter, taking me to arcades and other places. They didn't work.

Essentially, his totalitarian righteous parenting and my egotistical theatrics were a terrible combination that resulted in a ten-year black hole of wasted time, limited childhood, and lost opportunities. I can't say he didn't try, but I can say I wasn't listening. Is it sad that I'm only seventeen, and the songs "Reelin' in the Years" and "Do It Again" by Steely Dan, and "Take the Long Way Home" by Supertramp fill me with grief and resent?

Essentially, the most important thing I learned from him was to not complain about shit. One day, I whined about the heat we were working under, and he told me about how the slaves didn't have a say it their manual labor, so I have no right to complain (something along those lines). From that day on, generally, I've kept my mouth shut. It's caused problems. I haven't made many or any enemies, though.

I'm still very lazy despite my contemplative nature, which causes us to continue fighting. Because I have already lost the argument, the instinct is to be an ass, which does not help at all. Man, I wish I wasn't so dumb.

As for abuse, he doesn't hit me as much (the last straw was before I ran away) unless I just do something superstupid, like unknowingly throw a battery at the dog's nose out of pointless anger. Most of the abuse in the house is that that I give to my twin half-brothers; his real sons. If there's one thing I could take back, it's the furious abuse I've given them. Now they've become worse than I was: totally arrogant, spoiled, talkative, and self-righteous. I still abuse them to this day, even as I realize my pointless rage is ultimately self-destructive and cowardly (I'm not this mean to anyone else, particularly those my age and size).

I've wanted to get into filmmaking for a while. Maybe it was the make-believe aspect that appealed to me; anything to avoid the "reality" my stepfather spoke of, if not necessarily upheld. It wasn't until recently that personal filmmaking meant anything to me. The feelings of resent, guilt, and inadequacy I've felt have informed so many of my story ideas. I think the arts is the best thing for me, although what I really need is spiritual redemption.

Now, the second quote from Martin's autobiography especially speaks to me because I feel I have no talent whatsoever. I've been drawing and writing for years, but still suck at it. Martin's quote gives me hope that all of this will not have been for nothing. If I keep working, I can achieve what those with talent achieve, if not to the degree of genius those rare folks have.

Earlier tonight, I managed to catch the last fifteen minutes of one of George Carlin's last stand-up routines. Now this is a man I need to learn from. He reiterated the importance of questioning everything. From what he has gathered, national pride, swearing on the Bible/to God, rights in the US, etc., are silly, shallow concepts. I'm in no position to argue some of his points, but I can admit that they were funny as Hell. He's taught me that I need to stop remaining neutral about everything. Think and argue.

This was all pretty much typed in spur-of-the-moment fashion, so typos are sure to be endless. I hope this is a good entry.

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