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WORDs AND ARROWS: Hipster

By Essayan Hart

The word hipster causes a sonic phenomenon inside my head. Every single time you use it.  For this reason, I selfishly request that you use it less.  My little philosopher’s brain can’t take it. 

Words exist in a state of flux. This fact was well established by folks like Derrida and Foucault right around when American youth dropped the pot and headbands and discovered freakish levels of paisley and neon.  In case you don’t read French deconstructionists on the toilet, here’s an absolutely worthless summary of their work, which will serve the purpose of this rant.

The basic design of an object can evolve (a phone still connects human beings attempting to communicate at a distance), so we hold on to the signifier  (the word telephone) while the signified changes. i.e. We still call a phone a phone, even though over time it has evolved and distorted into unrecognizability.  Elisha Grey (August 2, 1835 – January 21, 1901) would have a heck of a time locating a telephone were he to pop around today, all ghost-like and wanting to make a call.  Words are arrows, they point at things.  We decide what they point at, and those things can change drastically.

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Now to my point.  When I first heard the word ‘hipster’, I was deeply immersed in a work-hard-play-hard all-art-all-the-time community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  Yes, Williamsburg, the now famously overpriced playground for wealthy graphic designers and foreign dilettantes.  My friends owned small cafes that forgot to charge you, or worked impulsive hours at those same cafes, showing up at will to try a new recipe or let a friend off early.  It was communal chaos, and we all made just enough money to buy each other overly indulgent meals from the restaurants that had followed the first wave of artists into the neighborhood.  We were gentrifiers because we couldn’t afford to go anywhere else.  Young queers, art-school drop-outs.  We were hustlers and we made the area a little more enticing just by being there.  The by-product of art is beauty.  The old ghetto started to struggle, the rents started to rise, and we rose to try and stop it.  We fought the rezoning of the neighborhood.  We knew that our presence there had uprooted people, and the rezoning would push them out entirely (generations of Polish immigrants, no longer able to afford their own neighborhood, among others).  We tried to help, and we failed.  We kept making art.

People called us hipsters.  We made 7 dollars an hour in cafes.  We made music in the subway tunnels for hours each day, raking in wads of cash that covered our basic expenses.  We ate well, and lived well, but we lived hand-to-mouth.  We didn’t always care or notice what we were wearing.  Dregs of party clothes from the late nineties, faded band shirts from high school, functional boots.  We ducked loan officers, made art more important that anything and then… they started showing up.

Hipsters.  We called them hipsters.  They consumed the culture we had created but they didn’t add anything.  They were graphic designers from the mid-west who worked freelance from home.  They could afford the rising rents, and they bought clothes from local designers.  The few artists in their midst had rich parents who were well connected in the art world.  They painted trash and joined our art market without a glance in the rear-view… without needing put in the years we had.  Some of our bands got successful, because these new hipsters went to all of the shows.  They started to dress like the guys in the bands.  They started calling our lazy hair ironic, they started growing over-quaffed beards and buying pre-faded band shirts for 60 bucks a pop.  We made the shirts, because we needed the money.  The market was there, so we grew the market.  Maybe some of us became graphic designers.  It became hard to distinguish the old neighborhood from the influx of young adults chasing culture.  We had made something beautiful once, hadn’t we?  The reality of the market, and our fear of living at subsistence level pushed us to take advantage of the new, rich hipsters.  We started being rude to customers at the café.  We charged everyone.  They called our enmity ‘ironic’, and they started acting bitter and disaffected.  Then came the next wave.

American Apparel, Urban outfitters, Free people, Anthropologie. The cultural beauty standard that we had created our own culture to avoid came swooping down on us like a swarm of vultures.  Out of basic financial need, or genuine desire to succeed in the larger market, we had curbed our artistic temperaments just enough to make money from the second wave, and slipped into the realm of “marketability”.  ‘They’ saw that people were making money, so they stole designs, ripped off small artists, and carbon-copied the whole ‘scene’ into the urban marketplace.  Suddenly teenage girls were paying 30 bucks for railroad tie necklaces (once significant only to kids who travelled by hopping trains, always handmade, and symbols of deep trust and friendship). 

 When the neighborhood rezoned, I bought an RV with the spoils of my then thriving dog-walking business and hit the road.  The neighborhood wasn’t home anymore so I figured I would go on tour.  I landed in Durham, NC, where the art scene was just hitting ‘play’ for the first time.  There were warehouse shows and post-punk houses, local musicians who stayed close to each-other like family.  Artists who didn’t take themselves too seriously.  Dinosaur t-shirt parties.  People seemed to generally like each-other, even if they were into different things, or came from different class backgrounds.  People wrote articles about what was happening in Durham and called them hipsters.

I ended up in Portland, Oregon, where the word hipster was in so much flux that people actually got into arguments.  According to local lore, the word once (originally?) described a unique community of Pacific Northwest eco-post-punks.  Black carhartts, anatomical heart tattoos, antlers on the wall, pagan leaning, tarot reading, art-making, crafting coffee drinkers.  These ‘hipsters’ felt like kin to the art community in New York that I still sorely missed, although they were a bit more ‘craft’ than ‘art’ in sheer numbers (art vs. craft: a discussion I never want to have).  I made a temporary home for myself there.  Being a transplant, the word hipster confused the hell out of me there.  Some people owned the word! It was a good thing! Others still hated hipsters.  Some of the haters looked like the people I hated on and called the ‘hipster invasion’ in New York.  Some of them looked like Pacific Northwest ‘hipsters’ but they were from the South.  Everyone claimed or aimed the word differently. 

That was when I started to hear it.  The ego gong.

Buddhist philosophy suggests that we all exist in aversion and craving.  We define ourselves based on what we ‘want’ or ‘don’t want’.  Example: I am a person who loves coffee and hates Dave Matthews.  Our identities (our egos) are partially (or entirely?) built of our attachment to “who we think we are, or who we think we are not”.  Suddenly, every time I heard the word ‘hipster’ all I could hear was the ego gong ringing out “I am this”, “I am not this”.  I still hear it.  The sonic disturbance: The ego gong. 

The word became so inconsistent that it became meaningless. Check out these awesome things that contradict each other, all said about the same bar:

 “That’s kind of a hipster bar… I don’t feel like getting dressed up tonight.” – kid with antler earrings

“That place is full of dirty hipsters” – kid in a knit sweater with an otter on it

“They hate hipsters in there, fuck that place” –kid in 200 dollar jeans

 So who are hipsters? Do they have more money than you, or less? Do they like pretentious and obscure music, or do they listen to whatever Spin magazine tells them to? Do they patch the same black Carhartts for five years, or buy a new pair of 200 dollar jeans every other week.  Are they the people in successful bands, or the people who buy their merchandise?

 Yes.  The answer is yes.  When a word becomes so diluted, or is so in flux that its arrow is just spinning wildly out of control, what is it?  In my worn, exhausted head, having passed through the Bay area (where hipsters are maybe wealthy fashionistas who made the mission unaffordable), and now here in LA (where the East side and the West side both call each other hipsters) all I can say for sure is:

I don’t want to hear it.

 

white. stone. portrait.

I drew in the corner of the stone tile; hunched for days, obsessed with my impermanent task. Crayons scattered across the floor, vanishing beneath the bed.  It took me three weeks to coat every tile on my side of the room, but the footfalls from our parties wore a streak through my masterpiece, even as I knelt. 

She had arrived like a cold wind in a firestorm. Comforting us even as she scattered the flames of our little drama, deeper, faster, and to the wind.  She was tall and still and young.  At fifteen years old she was enrolled in college art classes and graduate level geometric theory.  She loved math, the sky, the color blue, and the girl in the corner.

A few degrees from my fixated hand and white crayon, the girl in the corner is hugging her knees and laughing.  Her hands are shaking and her feet are poking through the duct tape holes in her army issue combat boots.  Her socks are two different shades of blue.  One is rain she says, and the other; water.  I am drawing snow, rain freezing it’s way down to earth.

 

Feathers. Armchair. Lightbulb

ImageI am trying to fall in love with the world again. I remember now, what it is to tumble freely, to let the gesture of each day sketch a course.  I know that this is symptomatic of vacation, but I want to vacate permanently.  I cast my eye upwards and the sky is plain, empty even.  My scattered collection of love affairs amounts to so many feathers, a collection in hairthin bone, but there is no body here. No bird.

I can smell my own body, and I find it comforting, appealing. I am sitting on a green wooden floor wearing nothing but high heels and lingerie. This is not to be provocative.  I simply cast my evening gown aside, while the sky remains, painted plain and unruffled across the day.

If I could make myself small, I would live in tatters. One soft body cast easy on an armchair. I would wear fabric light as eggskin and dance only in the thinnest of moons.

As it stands, I am one bright stone cast into an ever-widening river. I would live in expanse and let the world rest quietly with me. In every city however, I feel large and unseemly. I am a flash of neon, a fishing hook.  Perspective is everything.

I haven’t been waking in the morning.  One unprotected light hangs from a string above my artwork, and I waste away hours there, burning in the hot glare of twilight. I seldom read, and I play the same sad songs into infinity.  Something has to change.

Endnote:

this was a scrap written in a stolen moment. the band was on tour, amidst other distractions, and I haven’t written in awhile. now there is paint drying in my living room, food in the fridge, and time.

xx it’s good to be back

Mirror. Gas Stove. Branch.

She warned me there might be rats in the cabin, but I don’t mind. It took about an hour to get warm in here, fussing with this little gas stove and damp paper. I am not alone. The bed is high in the rafters and I peer down and laugh with my companion. There laughing with me, a hole in my memory. Silent and folded, an empty bed stares back. 

The woods are the same as they have always been. In every forest, every lost and perfect place, I sit with the same reflection.  I’m still the kid who named every jutting piece of bedrock, 3000 miles away, lifetimes ago. I still think the sun has a funny smell, and I still can’t explain it.  

I sweep the earth. Cast aside leaves and expose raw canvass.  I trace out one word, then clean my fingernails. I dream into another city. 

I have been walking this path every day for weeks, alone.  One mile away is the clutter of art school, my messy altar, the books I should have read by now. One mile away I look nothing like this. My disguises are less than masterful, shapeshifting day after day. Only a handful of people would recognize me here, in my too-clean running shoes.

I cast aside the leaves and expose raw canvass. In my too clean running shoes, I break a mirror over an unfamiliar rock. This I remember clearly. The glass mosaic embedded across the path.  One word. Reflect.

Only months before, I woke from a nightmare. Branches snapping against my face. Tumbling downhill in a frenzy, like light on water. Changing and acting too quickly. Shaking.

Every day now I pick up these shoes. I run this path. Reflect. I pause to sweep the earth. Keep the mirror clean. Obscured again by morning.

I clean my fingernails. Kick dirt back into place. In the desert I was warned not to leave my thoughts on the earth. They draw in demons, the old woman sighed, troubled. Go back and sweep the earth.

 

 

 

Experiment

I’ve started a new blog. It’s a writing experiment. Come play.

http://essayanhart.wordpress.com/

xx A.E.

rumour

rumor had it that there was a burned out asylum just through the woods
until the year i arrived, students would go there to drink
or to take haunting photographs

not like my home town, where even the crazy were rich
with their designer pills, and michael jackson dropping in

rumor had it that eso collected her gas masks there
which ended up in a spacious new york loft
and eventually, in the desert

long after the fires, we would watch the ghosts on the horizon
those hills seemed like a better place than our university
with its riot proof stairs

Sacrilegious

Niko had an incredibly high sensitivity to electrical sounds. At night, he refused to charge his phone in whatever motel room or living room we shared. The noise, he would say, it’s terrible.  I never really got it.  I find myself vacillating between pride in my desensitization (i can navigate any environment without hesitation), and humiliation. Witches with cars and bicycles, attempting to hear the weaver weaving… who are we if we cant hear the whitest of white noise.  It’s a silence without silence. It’s deafening.

This hotel room boasts every possible convenience. The high thread count sheets are quiet. The lights, the television, even turned off, is loud. Everything is loud. It made me think of Niko, and then get a little uncomfortable, like I’d worn a shirt one size too small, or used the wrong shampoo. Old lovers are like that, sometimes even in reflection. They don’t quite fit. We eventually stop trying to make them fit, and then feel resentful when they look good on someone else.  They wander by and we wonder what their hair smells like these days. We hold them for a moment too long.

I wanted to stay in this hotel because of the pictures.  Orange, pink and lime green. Reminiscent, when well executed, of a citrus garden in full bounty. In poor taste, you might  end up feeling like you’ve slept inside a creamsicle.  It turned out to be less dramatic than expected. The curtains take a turn for the drab in olive and cream. It could be a psych ward, but I might need one soon, so I’ll stay.

I am, most likely, the only non-Christian here.

What brought you here?  They all ask.

1. It was a free vacation.
2. My school sent me. (Include a description of your school, and your own religion. Keep it short and simple.)
3. I’m curious to see what I could learn.

Tonight in the workshop I attended, they had some great ideas. They are worried about youth buying in to pop culture, but they frame it as a god-surrogate. I could agree. G_d and I are tight. Like a nightmare and the horse she rides. Stunning. Still I think they are missing the point, and I say so.

Advertising preys on our hunger for G-d. No doubt. But that guy up there just said that instead of Apple Computers, we should help them realize that they want the blood of Christ. Talk about branding.

I open my mouth around these faithful, and I am never sure what I will say.  Sitting at the dinner table talking with the girl next door and an indie rock outfit built for two, I hear my self sparring. The moment conversion is your aim in connecting with a young person, you might as well put a nail in their coffin.  The girl-next-door agreed.  Then I remembered that there are some Christians I like and took a bite of my salad.  Then I turned to my left, to 100 percent of the African American population of the room. She is laughing at her phone. My best friend back in Oakland texting me. I told her I was the only Black woman here and she said well baby, look around. Happy Black History Month. We laugh louder than the room is large, and finish our juice.

Look at those pretty pictures of brown people up there.
We wave our arms in fanfare.
Diversity
. In theory.

When I’m sure someone might have issues with my own identity, I tell them everything really fast and sweet. I frame what is required to maintain my respect, covertly. For example, Oh, you’re Presbyterian. I was raised Presbyterian. We had an excellent youth minister who was queer friendly. That was so valuable to me and my friends. I smile broadly and look for the tell tale signs. The hunter knows when the deer will bolt. I hold their gaze and wait.

Oh, I need to find my friends to see if…. x, y, z.
It’s okay, you’ve told me everything I need to know. 

When the night wears me threadbare, I slip out the back door. I just heard reference to the book of Revelation. I heard something about putting limits on everything. Everything has its place. The keynote speaker is expounding on creativity and G-d in bullet point. She isolates G-d from Chaos. I’m laughing to myself, and figure that I’ve already made quite an impression.  I sing Belle and Sebastian songs on my way to the car. I slip the key card into this little asylum. Two dollar coffee, four dollar granola bar. I handle these items, one at a time, and take nothing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

reflections

The first time mom left me alone with my older sister to baby-sit, we played on the swing-set naked, well after dark. We took innocent pictures, but they felt illicit, so after a terrified trip to the supermarket developing counter we hid or destroyed them.  This, I remember.

I remember sitting, still as dolls at the top of the stairs, always in our best nightgowns, with our hair combed, waiting to be called in on bridge nights. They would pretend to catch us listening to the party downstairs, and parade us table to table. We know our lines, our roles. We are perfect ornaments. The atmosphere glitters, and we are the tiniest belles. After they send us to bed, for real this time, we continue to sit at the top of the stairs.  We eat the candy we stole from each table, quietly unwrapping the foil and savouring our spoils. This is payment for services rendered.

I am absorbed in a box of stones. They are gateways, to other worlds, other paradigms. I have been hiding at the downtown library devouring dense fantasy novels. They are becoming real for me, but that is a secret I know how to keep. the red stone with the orange bleed is the key. It is the ill-earth stone. Downstairs they might be screaming, but all I hear is the pulse of this other world, so small between my fingers.

I overslept again, and missed the short bus trip up the hill. I pull on my knit cap and trek through the woods in the snow. I am in second grade. I take the wrong path and wind up crying and lost, in a mess of blackberry thorns. When I arrive at school, I pull thorns from my skin and my clothes while the teacher yells. I fold my hat on my desk, and think about my grandmother’s hands.

Snow again. I keep my house-key on the belt-loop of my jeans. The bell rings, and the bus waits outside. If I run to the bathroom, I will miss the bus. I pull on my snow-pants, and hope for the best. In front of my house, my best friend is screaming with laughter…. “You’re gonna do it again”. I am trying to wrestle my key out of my snow pants, and flushing red with embarrassment. I give up, throw my backpack down, strip, and pee in the yard. This is the first time in weeks I have not peed in my snow-suit. Victorious, I collect my key, and let my stunned friend into the empty house.

Back at school they won’t let me go to the bathroom alone anymore. I recently saw a sequel to The Wizard of Oz, and have been lost in the bathroom for days, talking to the mirror. I am convinced that the girl in the mirror is not me, and that she is trapped there. When they force me to have a bathroom buddy, Sarah Sherwood catches me whispering to the mirror in secret, and asks what I am doing. I realize that I will never see my friend again, and spend the rest of the day inconsolable.

I am sitting on the bed waiting. All morning there must have been screaming because I am sitting now defeated, in a purple gingham dress. I am four years old. I hold my limbs like a dolls limbs. I do not posses myself anymore. I am certain that they will not detect my vacation, so long as I can be posed for the family portrait. My bedspread is yellow, and I imagine the yellow has taken over everything. Pale and listless, the morning passes without incident.

One summer night a stranger grabs my arm and I fall to the ground screaming. “You are not my family”. I am 26 years old. There are years stripped away then, and I cry until I start to dry heave into the dead grass. All around me I hear the terrifying forgotten sounds. I am so small. Everything is happening above my head, in negative space. This, I may never remember.

Blueprints

I stand before you with my blueprints
This in G-d’s image
Yetsirah

I am covering the pages
the home we might one day share
It is not time
To call the contractor

I saw, from the corner of my eye
Atzilut
Your matching dream
the backyard goats
the solar panels

Above all, the music
our joined voices
like two foolish doves
submitting, laughing
in a storm

Here we meet in creation
here we meet before it all begins
again and again, my voice crashing into yours
the body of song
growing solid in our ancient hearts

Tell me, beriah
How many names have you had
how many dreams have you swept
Beneath these carpets

This world is forever burning
secret and quiet
There are soft ashes hidden in your hands
in the breath of life
The breath of the Singer

we are resurrected

rules and regulations

i will follow the laws
imposed upon my heart
by my heart

this is a shifting landscape

for the moment i can tell you
that there is no space
you do not occupy

i hand you the rope
because my heart
wishes
to be bound to yours