Busy busy busy

So, haven't posted in awhile (clearly), in part because things have been a bit crazy. My lease ends June 29th, I don't have an apartment in the city I'm going to move to (although I have applied for one and will hopefully hear back today), and I'm in my last two weeks of work (a bitter sweet parting it shall be). I don't dislike my job, but as I've posted before, there is at least one person at work I will not miss a damn bit. I'll miss pretty much everyone else. A friend and coworker interviewed for my job yesterday, so hopefully all will go well on that front. She'd do an excellent job, assuming they'll pay her enough to do it. For two years I've been a "temporary" employee, so they'd at least better pay her more than me. If I can't stick it to them, might as well encourage someone else to do so. :-)

Anyways, the next few weeks are going to be a blur of packing, lease signing (hopefully), and moving frantically. It is quite possible there will be a few days in which I'll be somewhat transient between the end of one lease and the start of another. I'd say I was going to live out of a van, but I have a 4-door Mitsubishi, so I don't even have that going for me. The Mitsubishi will be cramped with me and two cats in it, tho.....

Changes afoot.

So I have begun to set foot in the world of the Internet on my own two feet. Empty Signifiers, my blog at http://www.emptysignifiers.com, is now live. Powered by Movable Type, no less.

As of now, there's a short welcome entry, the "Untitled #8" article originally posted here, and the article I wrote titled "Modes of Authenticity" that's also posted here. Sue me, I recycled to add some heft to a homepage. There'll be new stuff there soon.

This has been a long time coming for me, and now that there are some freelance commissions afoot, I might also have to start up a website for a corporate identity I've been considering.

Also, as I'm only known as "Djinn" on this blog and seemingly nowhere else on the internet, I'm considering changing my display name from Djinn to the moniker I use everywhere else (blame Flickr for it if you must), the Brightside. If the latter appears at the bottom of this entry, now you know why. If it doesn't, well, I'll edit this entry so it looks like you're the doofus.

Anyhow, just letting you know... things are changing around here.

Just to have a post in May

Yeah, that's about the only reason I'm posting right now. Just to be sure we have a post for the month of May. My lease ends June 29th, and yesterday morning, the panic started to set in, because I have to move by the end of June. Two months away. I don't know where I'm moving exactly, or how I'm going to pay for an apartment without a job. Technicalities, I'm sure. It will work out.

Also, next week, I'm going on vacation with my family. It will include a 12+ hour car drive north. I'm not sure we'll survive being in a car together that long......

Modes of authenticity

I have missed the bandwagon, but there was quite a dust-up a ways back over whether "bad design was truly good," that is, sites with poor or unprofessional design had stumbled on a key ingredient to success. Microsoft's resident PR blogger Robert Scoble landed in this camp, suggesting that such "anti-marketing" was inherently more attractive to individuals who live in a world constantly bespattered with messages and carefully considered brand experiences.

On the other hand were the designers, and, though I don't want to politicize the debate, the pragmatists. It's a natural extension of Occam's Razor to say instead of the above, not that Craigslist, Scobleizer, plentyoffish.com worked because of poor design, but in spite of it. That is, the sites with poor designs nevertheless offered some functionality that surpassed their competitors, such that their success was inevitable, a foregone conclusion of a mechanistic marketplace.

Whether either path is true, we'll never particularly know, but the general history of mankind seems to lend credence to the pragmatist stance. If "authenticity" is your yardstick, you honestly can't be any more authentic than the cave paintings and stark survival of early hominids. Yet our social interactions and technological advances grew ever more complex. Design serves a purpose, else it would have been excised much, much earlier than the Internet.

(This is merely an aside, but I wish to reiterate how tiring it is to witness social phenomena on the Internet hailed as revolutionary. You gather masses of people in one area, and, strangely enough, they act like masses of people. These communities are not truly new, merely accelerated, but it's easy to confuse velocity with novelty. There's an E. coli joke to be made there, but I'll be damned if I can think of it tonight.)

The heart of this post is akin to the discussion on stylegala about "thornament." Is there really any mode of communication any more authentic than any other? I suggest that there is not. Modalities are narratives. Religion, government, these are narrative constructions of our social experience. They gather and give meaning to passing time, they construct reasons for us to act and be acted upon. Is any one narrative any more "authentic" than any other? Is any one style of graphic communication more "authentic"? No. It's a culturally relative property. What constitutes real or genuine to a fisherman on the banks of the Yalu River in China will not translate as similarly genuine to a teenager in London or a stockbroker in New York.

What creates the illusion of "authenticity" is the degree to which the viewer is already steeped in that mode of transmission. Sculpted by the methods of communication you see every day, you lose sight of the narrative framework that constructs your existence. It seems real to you because it is real. It is the expression you find most consistent with your historical experience and with your current communication. Take any self-identified group--to temporarily indulge in crass pop taxonomy--Goths, skatepunks, jocks, nerds, geeks--and their internal modes of expression will not seem constructed to those in the group. How can it be? It is the mode they have chosen to construct themselves with, and insofar as self-construction is largely an opaque or subconscious process, the methods by which one self-constructs are also opaque.

The methods of self-construction are not those that lead children to view their peers and desire something as cool. It is the means by which you even begin to understand the notion of "cool." It is a term as oddly pervasive as to be near wholly linguistic. You know what cool is. Can you explain to someone what cool is?

Would they already know?

Especially in group identities that are defined in opposition to others, the methods of constructing your own mode of expression, your own authenticity, is often described as "the right way" or "the truth," clouded amongst the deceptions offered by a hostile Other. The neo-Nazi groups that incorporate angry young men into their fold preach just such an ideology; groups of disconcerted, unpopular intellectuals in high school do, as well. (How quaint a trope is it, that the "nerds" talk to themselves of how the popular kids just don't get things? How universal a turn of phrase it is that others "don't get" our work, our hobby, us, anything.) The bourgeouis argued similarly against the upperclass, the federalists against the royalists; it is an inherent facility of the mind to categorize things as Us and Them.

You can easily dissect and differentiate the ideology of Them, see how Them is built. You have built Them so you can build Us against it, but you cannot see how you have constructed Us. In fact the opposite is generally considered to be true. "Traditional" American values are just that--"traditional." To deviate from tradition is wrong, has always been wrong, because tradition is "how it's always been done." It's "what we were always taught." Yet one never considers the authenticity of one's own modes of expression, because one is not conscious of those modes. They simply are the ways in which you address yourself through language, so there is no real way to view the narrative framework in which you have yourself been suspended.

Is that to suggest knowing the self, knowing the narrative of one's self-construction is necessarily impossible? No. (Though it is a common misconception that deconstruction suggests all things are indefinable, this is, nevertheless, a misconception.) One must first learn the ways in which symbols create meaning, in which meaning creates narrative, and then one can study the ways in which others construct themselves. An awareness of narrative is a prerequisite to reading the creation of authenticity, and I'd venture that anyone who has slogged through this post with me is more than ready to contemplate the narratives of their own self-construction.

You stand in front of your own self-identification, a perfectly clear pane of glass. With no other frame of reference than your own position, you would never bother to question if the glass existed. But once you glimpse someone else, standing in front of a pane, you wonder if you might look similar.

I don't have the energy to consider it, but a parting thought is this: the anthropologist, in cataloguing the relationships and existence of cultures, could be seen to be grasping at the definition of his own self. I will never define myself fully, he says, for I am myself, and I am always redefining; but if I define all others, I will know who I am not, and finally learn who I am.

grad school remix: update

Well, the applications were sent, the letters are in, and I now know where I will be moving at the end of June, which is much better than the situation a week ago, since I only knew when I would be moving, and not where. I have been accepted to graduate school for an MA in Anthropology (at a school which, for the sake of a pseudonymous web presence, shall not be named). Yay!! Life has a purpose again! My mind shall no longer be going stagnant! I'm going to be a graduate student!

oh god

I'm going to be a graduate student...........

oh god

Ok, moment of panic over. Back to being happy! Don't think about paying for school.... an apartment.... leaving my job..... oh, my job that I used to enjoy.....

Though, added bonus, no more listening to the Wicked Witch of the Monumental Mouth (she who shall not be named and shall never shut up) at work.

World of Warcraft Wedding Vows

Also referred to as the "WoW Vow," we've decided to write wedding vows for the dedicated WoW player who is also taking that next big step in life to join their gaming habits with those of another. The following wedding vows were written by our friend the Skank, with some input from myself and Djinn. Ahem.

I vow to be your faithful priest, understanding that WoW requires a difficult balance of damage and healing. Character classes can not be chosen lightly, they should be chosen for the purpose of mutual fellowhip, pvp night, and general crafting. I hear by pledge to play my account with thee and only thee. Your name will be the one I call out in the night, unless you are playing your alt. This is my sacred vow before God.

In the name of Blizzard I (blank) take you (blank) to be my wife,
to dance and to gank with from this day forward,
through good instance runs and bad,
through low mana and low health,
through the Touch of Zanzil and Greater Heals,
until we are parted by subscription cancellation.


A Valentine's Tale of Righteous Fury

Allow me to share post-Valentine's Day a saga of wrath and vindictive glory. As February 14th was approaching, I began to feel the pressure associated with the holiday. For the second time in two and a half years, I am separated from Djinn on Valentine's Day, which isn't really as hard a thing to cope with as being apart at Christmas, birthdays, or our anniversary (which we have so far always managed to be together during).

However, Djinn hasn't been feeling well, and I thought I would send him a gift to lift his spirits. Something small, something furry and inanimate. For about a week, I try to think of what to send him, and on February 13th, I realized that I could no longer procrastinate.

So I go online, and immediately think of 1-800-FLOWERS. I go to the website, and I search out something plush that also has chocolate involved, and I find Sad Sam, an adorable puppy dog with droopy ears and eyes, in a little tuxedo with fake flowers behind his back and a box of chocolates at his side. Not too girly on V-day, and not too flashy, and entirely appropriate in my mind when apart from your significant other on such a hyped up holiday filled with social pressure to be in love and to express that love monetarily.

I order Sad Sam with next day delivery, ask that it be sent to Djinn's office at work, and fill out the appropriate information. Yes, I'll pay the $15.00 delivery fee. I reach a screen telling me that what with the holiday and all, I'll have to accept "flexible delivery" and I should choose an alternate date below. My options for delivery are: February 14th. Convenient enough, as that's when I wanted it delivered anyways.

Click submit, make payment, check out, and sit back, satisfied that my gift will reach Djinn at work and bring a smile to his face.

Valentine's Day: The day arrives, Djinn gets to work, and goes through his day. I call him at lunch to see if he's gotten his gift. Not yet. He tells me what others in the office have received. We wait. He knows he's getting something at work, but he doesn't know what. The work day ends, and still no gift. I start to worry.

I e-mail the company (let's not forget who it was--1-800-FLOWERS) to ask about my order. Moments later, a reply, an automated answer stating that they received my e-mail and I'll be hearing from them soon.

Next day: Djinn goes to work, the day passes. No gift. No Sad Sam. At this point, I have sent Djinn a link to the picture of what he should be getting, since it's late and he should at least see it.

Next day: Djinn goes to work, checks for packages, nothing. I receive an e-mail (on February 16th, mind you) that is a delivery confirmation that my order was delivered on February 14th. Enter the RIGHTEOUS FURY. I fire off a reply e-mail that contains the following phrases:
"Perhaps this is an automated e-mail generated by your system, but if my order was delivered on that date, it was delivered to the wrong place and I would really like to know why I paid to potentially have a random stranger receive my order. I am not that charitable. Please respond immediately to resolve this matter."
The response? An automated reply, informing me that my e-mail is important to them (just the like the last one, huh?) and that I should be hearing from them soon. I also submit another e-mail via an online form on their website, and receive the same answer--an automated reply.

Later that same day, after lunch, Djinn does indeed receive his gift. However, instead of Sad Sam the puppy dog, he gets Tucker the teddy bear. Still fluffy, still cute, but in no damn way is it what I paid for him to receive.

I attempt to call the company. On the other line, an automated voice: Thank you for calling 1-800-FLOWERS. If you would like to place an order, press 1. If you would like to....blah blah If you would like to speak to a customer service representative about an order, please press 4. If you have a corporate account, and would like to speak to a customer service representative about a corporate order, please press 5.

I press 4.

I wait. I listen to a static-filled recording that repeats every 15 seconds or so and tells me that I can check the status of an order online by registering, and that my call is important. I wait. I wait. I make dinner. I wait.

I hang up.


Press 5 for a corporate account. I have just enough time to listen to the opening strains of hold music with no static before the call is transferred again automatically and I am speaking to a live human being. I was beginning to think those didn't exist at 1-800-FLOWERS. Apparently they only exist for the corporate customer. Just call us Genie & Djinn, Inc.

After explaining the situation, and the blatant lie in the delivery confirmation e-mail, I say very simply, "I would like to know how we can resolve this matter." My options are to either return the gift for a "100 % credit" (chocolates intact and all) or I can keep the gift and get a "50 % credit." My final question before choosing door number two is whether the "credit" is to my "credit" card, or to 1-800-FLOWERS the company, because HELL WILL FREEZE OVER before I order from them again. The money has been promptly credited to my credit card.

The moral of the story: Had someone immediately responded to my initial e-mail, or had the delivery confirmation not contained an out and out lie, I wouldn't have been nearly as pissed off as I became. As it was, I patiently wait for the fires of hell to cool in order to have my next business transaction with this company (which is, for the record, 1-800-FLOWERS, in case you forgot).

"Untitled #8"

I write this in the ringing silence between my ears, the memory of rising house lights still flush in my mind, satisfied and yet not sated. When you have experienced something so rousing, so beautiful that no matter how it ends, it will never have been enough, that is the space inside me at this moment.

I have just seen Sigur Ros.

The brilliant alien music comes from some shining otherworld, and the pealing distortion is the only echo of some unknown geometry. Their first album, Agaetis Byrjun, was the first foray into the ethereal. Their otherwise untitled album, ( ), could only have come from Iceland--the furor and the glacial movements, the minimalist sweeping vistas and the cataclysmic eruptions are wholly a product of their homeland. Takk... occurred as if the band had discovered these things called "songs," and what conventional song structures became was reflective of the curvature of their individuality, recognizable and yet novel.

Their stage presence is magnetic, towering and fragile, as opaque and internal as their music. It begins with a curtain lowered over the stage, and the silhouettes of the backlit band projected onto it, warring for primacy with fragments of video and harshly stylized photographs shown onto it. It is a screen and a projection, and its nonnarrative display allows for a moving interpretation of the visuals (much as they welcome the singular response to their music). At the halfway point the curtain lifts, and the band members are carved out of the darkness with spotlights. Pulsing strobes play when each instrument hits its peak and pushes beyond, into feedback and squeals. The final song of the set, the evocatively-named "Heysatan" (haystacks in English), finds the boys contracting into one single spot, playing their instruments, all other help dismissed, existing in their own world, and the song ends quietly, serenely, with a wave and a thank-you murmured in chirping Icelandic.

The crowd erupts in applause, cheering and waving; people stand at their seats to stretch tired legs. I sit still. I refuse to believe it is over. I want to hear one song, I need it, its propulsive rhythms and its explosive climax. It is the closest to religion I have ever come. I will not leave without hearing it. It is "Untitled #8," a song that begins with a haunted yawning guitar and a glance across the icefields. It ebbs and it flows, the tide rises, and that guitar bobs on the current of a wavering bassline and a steady drumbeat. A beat that gets faster. A beat that heralds the coming apocalypse. A beat that explodes into static and feedback.

It is the beat that I need, it is the explosion I crave. The emptiness that has dogged me these past four months has been beaten back but not defeated. I need this song. I need to feel something inside me, need to feel the building emotion, need the rush, I need the release that forces me to move. I will not leave this seat until I hear this song.

The house lights come up. The stage is empty, with instruments strewn on it half-forgotten. People shift around me. I am clearly in the way.

The lights set at the back of the stage bleed a sudden, vivid red, and they skew toward us. The house lights black out and the screen comes down. The crowd--momentarily accepting of their half-finished spectacle--hushes with an apprehensive breath.

We all hold that one breath, stretched tight in the air around us. To break the silence will break the spell and we all need this last moment. The screen flashes redly and behind it appear the shadows of the band. Picking up the guitar and his bow, Jonsi plucks the winding notes that signal the beginning of the end.

It is "Untitled #8."

The crowd releases its singular breath to scream with one mouth and the tension floods the emptiness. I am a string stretched taut, I am the drumhead pounding, I am the voice driven hard to strain at the edges of the note. We are swept into the wavering song and the drumbeat starts to sound faster.

This is what I need--

--the beat, so primal, rushes headlong, and the tension reaches its breaking point--

--and we are pushed farther, pushed into oblivion, the crowd does not exist and my body cannot take this, I must move--

--and the explosion arrives, the storm breaks, I stand and fling my arms to the sky and call the lightning upon myself. The song is stretching me and I am letting it; the song is breathing me and I empty myself for it. I gather it up inside me and let the sweeping grandeur of this beautiful destruction fill my frailties with static crashing cymbals and the pealing oh the pealing of his guitar. They play as hard as they can their bodies bent and as the song collapses into one sputtering breath the last air in his lungs slipping out at the end of a wail Jonsi falls to his knees and the guitar drops. The screen has flashed static and video clips and fragments of oil lantern flames, and now all that stands large is Jonsi's shadow, his slight form bent.

The lights on stage disappear and we are left with the echoes of the feedback and the whistling distortion. The house lights come up and I stand; I walk; I leave.

Battered, bruised, hollow, I recede into the moonless night and let the headlights lead me home, the whispers of the song dying behind me, like the embers of the lit cigarette flickering on the sidewalk.

It was beautifully fragile; it was thunderingly strong; it was the beginning of the end.

It was "Untitled #8."