What is Misery Incorporated? And why a damn blog?
First, let me tell you about me:
I was quite anti-military growing up. I was a punk rock kid who did decently enough in school, and I bought into all the anti-military rants I had heard from people. I bought the constant diatribe of shit which painted the United States as some country trying to exploit the world for all of its resources. The zero-sum ideology of victors and losers. The idea that the reason other countries were not succeeding was because the United States was responsible as the strongest country in the world.
This all started somewhere in my early teens. I always liked music. First, I was big on metal, and I then found my way to music which seemed to reinforce those ideas which said that the US was shitty. Things like The Exploited’s “Fuck The USA,” The Dead Kennedy’s “Stars and Stripes of Corruption,” T.S.O.L.’s “World War III.” Punk Rock.
How did I not alienate everyone? Ha. I pretty damn near did.
Soon after I started hanging out with people who shared the same viewpoint I did. We read Marx and other leftist writers. We’d share music. We’d all sit around smoking cigarettes and acting like we were so hip. The hippest. The most in touch. We knew how the world could be a better place if we would just go down the revolutionary road so many other countries had. We can get this philosophy correct… we thought.
To be honest, I don’t even know how much of the shit I was reading I honestly believed, or if I believed it because I was living in unenlightened and provincial Missouri. I thought it was cool to shove shit down people’s throats. I constantly read and wrote. I wanted to constantly challenge the status quo, and, in Missouri, I was quite successful. (To be fair, the bar had been set low on challenging it.) I’d have scraps now and then because of the things that I would vomit. I rarely shut up, and I was often trying to get a rise out of people. Punk Rock. Fuck You.
Another thing that I was big into back then was art. I taught myself how to draw using some books and learning how to look at things, so that they weren’t symbols. I learned how to genuinely see what was there – the shading and light. The shapes of things. It was an escape for me that I’d enjoy alongside various “alternative” styles of music. I began drifting into a bit more of an industrial and goth phase of music taste at this point. (Because mostly: Goth Girls.)
Somehow, I got accepted to an art school, so why not? This was a place where I was bound to find the strength of people interested in the same things as myself. Off I went. I found myself learning more from other students than I was learning from the teachers. Luckily, it was here where a chance conversation made me question the foundation of leftist ideology I thought in which I was firmly planted.
I was sitting in a square near campus and running my mouth as I almost always did. This time, I was bitching about the lack of government funding for the arts. You see, I thought that artists were some kind of unqualified gift to the human race in any society. I mean – that’s what my friends and I all told one another in our own little echo chamber. We were a gift. We were the gift. (I can’t help but laugh at the things we thought back then.) Doug, a good artist and dude I respected, cut me off and asked me pointedly, “Why should the government subsidize or fund art?”
I went on some righteous rant about how art gave back to humanity.
“You really believe that?” He quizzed me as to what was it “artists” were doing for humanity. I explained something about truth in art and fuck-if-I-know-some-kind-of-post-modern-waking-up-society-to-all-the-injustices-and-struggles-and-stuff. (Believe me when I say my new hyphenated word I typed was better than the description I gave the guy.)
He gave me one of those stares you give to a young child that learns to throw a tantrum for the first time. I could feel my face getting a little red from the shame the silence was bringing over me.
Finally, he chimed, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you should probably think about that a little bit more.” He turned and walked away.
I was left a little dumb-founded. The emptiness I felt was the realization that not everyone at art school thought the same things I thought. Not everyone was my comrade. Was he my enemy? This existential moment was a bit much for me to deal with, so I went to find my girlfriend with the hope that having sex with her would comfort me through this metaphysical crisis.
And guess what? Her words dug even further into my predicament. As I retold for her what had happened, she just looked at me with her big brown eyes and said, “Well, babe, he’s not wrong.” Betrayal from her was a bit much, but I didn’t shy away from the sex. I needed something at this point. I needed some of that le petit mort to escape from all of this.
This moment wasn’t the ending of my embedded beliefs, but it was a seed which made me reflect. Two people I respected said things which challenged my beliefs. What I had largely accepted to be the unquestionable and self-evident truth. It was mentally painful, but I grew from this moment.
I soon found my way out of art school and into the military. Art school proved to be more of a disappointment for me when I realized that the many professors wanted me to replicate their style and not discover a style of my own. Also, the slowly growing realization and then resignation to the fact that art, as the amazing endeavor that it was, wasn’t going to magically save all of humanity in resolving all inequities, ala “the great struggle”. I had grown to reject these romantic, but painfully naïve notions after more discussions and reading. I went from straight A’s to only completing final projects and receiving D’s, or being dropped from courses entirely.
Life needed to change, or maybe more precisely, I needed to change.
I realized that even though I still was into art, I still wanted to do art, and still thought it held a special place for society, I wasn’t going to make a sustainable living out of it. I witnessed a lot of the people who had graduated that were working minimum wage jobs around town, hoping someone would buy one of their pieces and that the glory days of art-world adulation would commence. (DING FUCKING DING – The starving artist phenomena was real.)
So off I went to the military. At times, I did run into walls. I did finally learn that running my mouth wasn’t always to my advantage. At one point during boot camp, I found myself running in place, lifting a rifle over my head, and repeating “I like to run my mouth” for a solid half-hour. As humiliating as this was to go through, an experience like this gives one an opportunity to pause and reflect on the benefits of always speaking one’s mind without respect to time, place, audience, and of course, actual working knowledge of what one is talking about. I reached the conclusion that sometimes it’s ok to keep your mouth shut. In fact, it can be quite advantageous. Unfortunately for me, I reached that conclusion with 25 more minutes of reflection ahead of me. I also thought back to all the loud-mouth-wannabe-tough-guys who told me before they joined how they’d deck any drill instructor, drill sergeant, recruit division commander, etc., who ever got in their face. (You should see most of these folks today.)
Life goes on, and on I went. Sore. Exhausted. And with a new-found appreciation for silence. My own silence. Growth.
My military career was nothing eventful. I was a Corpsman. I tried to do my job, and I often found myself butting heads with people, and getting into trouble. I also found a better ability to get along with people with whom I didn’t agree. I found myself growing as a person. I also found some of the closest friends I ever made in my life. In life, the suck is real, but embracing it with people going through the same misery (incorporated) that you are going through creates bonds. Strong bonds. Bonds which I am thankful for every day.
I still liked my punk rock. I also re-found an appreciation for metal. A new addition to my listening repertoire was rap music. For whatever reason, the black dudes I was stationed with liked me and made me their token white dude. It was always fun being the only white dude in some clubs. But what the hell? I grabbed my Wu Tang Sword and became ‘nuttin’ to fuck wit’.
Life is growth. Growth is going places and talking to people with whom you may initially perceive you have nothing in common. Maybe you guys will learn something from one another. Step outside your comfort zone. This doesn’t mean you have to accept insults from other people, but it is worth giving a shot.
I finally got out and went to college. I failed at marriage. Twice. I’ve had a lot of different jobs. One thing that I’ve steadily held onto was those friendships I made in the military. And the fact that I was a part of the military is something of which I am proud of, but it isn’t the only thing that defines me. It happens to be one layer of the onion.
Which brings us now to this page – Why? Why not? It’s a place for ideas to be shared. It’s a place for people like you the reader, or I to encounter challenging ideas. It’s for uncomfortable discussions. It’s for growth. As long as an idea has logic, reason, and some thought behind it, it’s got an opportunity to be shared. It’s not for people to find a siloed, echo chamber. It’s not a typical moto page.
It’s not your mommy’s veteran page.
Yes, Bryan and I are Vets. But as I stated above, that’s not the end of our existence. It’s one piece of the reality of whom we are as human beings. We will invite people to participate with us to bring discussions to the table we find interesting. If those people aren’t veterans, that’s cool. It’s important to not forget that we are all part of the same republic. There’s too much binary thought in this nation. “You’re either with us or against us.” A sports team mentality looking to defeat the other side even if they’ve got some good points. We need discourse.
Raw-make-you-think, logical discourse. Sometimes confessional. Sometimes to provoke. Regardless, it can all be profitable.
Also. Punk’s Not Dead. It’s not always the leftist ideology I thought it was all about when I was kid. Punk’s about questioning dogma. It’s about making up your own mind. To be clear, all humans operate under dogmas. Mental maturity and growth don’t come by way of trying to eliminate all dogmas, but rather, in understanding what they are and proceeding in one’s own personal journey to cultivate those positive ideas that result in real good and weed out what doesn’t work, no matter how awesome it sounds in a protest chant or hashtag. As the English writer G.K. Chesterton put it, “In truth, there are only two kinds of people; those who accept dogma and know it, and those who accept dogma and don't know it.”
So that’s Misery Incorporated. Where does it go? Who knows. This is the next step.