Saturday, May 12, 2018

I get it. But get out of the way.

We are all creators. We are all meant for something. We all have a magic power that simply needs to be honed and all that jazz. But this isn't going to be one of my woo woo posts. This is a rant. Just some shit I want to get off my chest.

Connecting people and facilitating collaborations is a natural part of my mental muscle memory. But I am a professional artist and I want to see some attempt at professionalism in other artists.

As long as you describe and treat your art as your side thing, it's hard for me to take you seriously.

I get it. It's hard. It's an emotional struggle. It doesn't pay your rent. Your parents don't get it. You don't think that last mix is quite good enough to release. Your logo isn't quite where you want it. You can't figure out how to make a website so you end up just chillin with the crew for the rest of the day. And then you feel bad about chillin with the crew the rest of the day but you just can't find the motivation and that sends you down into another guilt spiral.

I. Get. ALL. Of. That.

I've been there. I'm still sometimes there. But there are some really basic things you can be doing if you want to be taken seriously by professional artists and professionals in general. And that is to take yourself seriously.

And to be honest, it's totally fine if you don't see what you're doing as part of your career path. But when you don't take your shit seriously you're hurting all the rest of us. You contribute to the image in society's heads that artists are all flakey and it's not a legitimate way to make a living. You're making it harder for younger artists battling depression and loneliness as they try to find their way in the world. All this half-assing hurts the field as a whole. Sometimes, when I'm feeling impatient, I want to yell the same thing I yell while I'm driving in traffic and someone's been signaling for five minutes and hesitate on changing into the lane they're trying to get into: Make a commitment or get the fuck out of the way!

Let me clarify what I mean by "seriously." Because, oh my god, the last thing I want to do is take anything "seriously."

What I mean is stop making it difficult for people to find you and promote your work and give you money. Stop waisting everyone's time taking forever to respond to emails. Stop making me look bad when I recommend you for a gig and you don't have a press kit to send over or, when you do, send a bunch of instagram photos. I know you have better photos. You're not sending the better photo because you think you look fat or you don't like your hair in it. So you're sending the shit ones someone shot on their phone at a random event because you think you look more fuckable.

Stop hating every step of this. Stop convincing yourself that because you're really going to enjoy that DJ gig, it's not a priority because your desk job is the priority.

Stop canceling and rescheduling your photo shoot. If you're scheduling your shoot for Friday afternoon because it's the end of the week and you need the rest of the week to get all the "real work" done first before you're allowed to enjoy something, you're communicating that you don't see value in your brand. And your art.

But also... Stop obsessively redesigning your logo if you haven't even released a track or two yet. Stop drafting your marketing plan if that's stopping you from creating the art you want to create.

If you're a writer, start blogging. If you're a filmmaker, start shooting. If you're a musician, make some god damn music.

And put it out there!

Every little piece of this stuff is a puzzle that comes together that makes you and everyone else's lives easier.

Make the art. Do the work. Make it easy for people to find you.

If you're art's not up to your standards yet, it's fine. Let me see you work through it.

If you're work isn't amazing yet, it's fine. Make it consistent so I know you won't leave a crew hanging if we book you.

If your website isn't responsive, it's fine. Give us a centralized place to look you up and see your art and your work and be able to send you a god damn message.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

"Where are you from?" she asks.

"Um, San Diego?"

It's been a while since I've been asked that question so it really did catch me off guard. I wasn't being intentionally snarky. For once. So after we go through the dance of clarifying that what she means to ask is my ethnic and cultural background, I give the answer I always give:

"I'm Persian. My family is from Iran."

I think she didn't hear the second part. "Oh honey," she responds, "Come on... Persian... This isn't LA - no one falls for that shit. IRANIAN. You're IRANIAN."

I found myself immediately feeling incredibly sorry for the dude that was hanging out with her.

San Diego has been home most of my life. I was born here and moved back to Iran for a short stint as a small child. In 1989ish we re-immigrated to the United States. Growing up speaking little-to-no English in east county, we often fielded the question, "where are you from," which I guess sounds more polite than saying "what are you."

Most Iranian-Americans I knew back then would say Persian. The topic of how to answer this question was a common one among the tiny Iranian-American community back then. A girl I knew would say, "well... Persian makes people think of empire and cats. Iranian makes them think of mullahs."

My mother disagreed. "We should never hide who we are," she would remind me, "we should be proud." And I mean of, like, everything. If you're familiar with the overly-proud of everything dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding you have a frame of reference of what Iranians of my mother's generation are like. "You now Iran invented math!"

So in my upbringing, I was taught to respond with "Iranian" when asked. After we clarified what they meant by "where are you from" in broken English, of course. This response did illicit a very welcome dialogue as it encouraged the inquirer to ask more questions rather than making assumptions, even if said dialogue most often revolved around clarifying that we're not simply mis-pronouncing Iraq.

I don't remember when I adopted my current response. But it's probably the most accurate to say that I am Persian and my family is from Iran.

Here's a super half-assed history lesson I kinda see in my head as summed up by Sandra Mackey in her book, The Iranians. The area where Iran and the ancient Persian empire sat was referred to Iran-zameen, which translates to the Land of Iran. Various tribes battled for control of this clump of Earth and the Persian tribe edged ahead because they were good at firing arrows while riding horses; the ancient equivalent of a B-52 stealth bomber, I suppose. Guided by one of history's first known monotheistic religions, this tribe develops a society that becomes the world's first superpower and paves the way for the first universal declaration of human rights. Then a whole bunch of other stuff happens. Cue someone commenting on this post with "well actually..."

Empires rise and fall and the world moves on to develop more advanced trade routes and communication technology but can't seem to agree on what to call the little country. Some called it Persia and others Iran. In 1935, Reza Shah Pahlavi (the Shah-you-know's father) decrees that the official name of the country is Iran. He wanted all citizens to see themselves as children of the same motherland regardless of ethnic or tribal lineage. Then his son kinda backed down on that as he did with a lot of things. And then a whole bunch of other debates arise from various Iranian intellectuals around the world; you don't even want to start going that rabbit hole. If there is one thing Iranians are good at is endless but extremely polite debating.

Today, the official name of the country is the Islamic Republic of Iran. The most recent stats from the CIA World Factbook are from 2011 (I think) and the ethnic breakdown for Iran is as follows:

51 percent Persian
24 percent Azeri
8 percent Gilaki and Mazandaran
7 percent Kurd
3 percent Arab
2 percent Lur
2 percent Baloch
2 percent Turkmen
1 percent other

I tried explaining all this to the lady at the bar but she'd already moved on to The Real Housewives or some shit.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Trump in All of Us

I have enough lefty friends filling up all the feeds covering him so I don't think I've actually posted anything at all about Trump. Like ever. I generally don't feel the need to chime in on a subject that's already getting enough attention. But I just wanted to share with you that this exact moment is the one I've been waiting for: The conversation to legitimately shift to mental health.

This is where the conversation should have been from day one. And I'm certain many would say that it has been but it doesn't feel that way to me. We've had a sea of left-leaning citizens referencing his mental health as an attack, which, to be quite frank, I found at best sad and, at worst, insulting.

It saddens me that the subject of mental health comes up when people are angry and are looking for a way to fling insults. The public discourse was more focused on catty attacks. The liberal side has felt powerless because we have less guns, guts and bravado, so we turned to intellectual bullying. And we continue to be shocked that the other side of the fence is not listening to our "logic" which mostly comes at them packaged in Hollywood-washed late night snark.

The mental health conversation loses all it's teeth because we, as a society, are still stigmatizing the shit out of it without realizing it. It loses gravity when we only focus our intellectual triceps on those that are hurting us. If you are under the impression that you don't have loved ones in your life, at this very moment, who are experiencing the world through the lenses of PTSD, psychopathy, narcissism, depression, anxiety and a wide variety of other diagnosable levels of consciousness extremes, you're in for a rude awakening in the new millennium. We have loved ones, who have been important contributors to our life journey, at this very moment, who probably could have easily become a Trump had they had access to some of the finances and professional connections that he had. Easily.

It continues to be a source of frustration for me (which I'm working and meditating on regularly) that our culture dismisses these mental health issues as long as they're working in our favor. People seem to feel that there are people with PTSD, psychopathy, narcissism, depression, anxiety and a wide variety of other diagnosable levels of consciousness extremes out there... But they're just like on TV or something. They're not right here in front of us. And we continue to enable these mental health time bombs. And over time these people either crash terribly or, in the worst cases, rise to positions of power.

And their mental health challenges only magnify.

Have you ever used this phrase? "Yeah I know person X sucks and has done XYZ to X number of people... But they've never done anything to me." I'd suggest it's time to reevaluate some thought systems.

As with all things, the answers are absolutely not black and white. We all have our journeys, our families and complex relationships with complex people. My vision for our future is one where we learn to discuss these mental health issues, as a society, with less judgement. A future where we can look at these things, then look at our own biases and agendas, and make decisions about how best to navigate our friends, families and society by doling out even handed positive reinforcements. One where we can look at a person we think very highly of, who's presence has been the source of many rewards, and see their shadows not as something wicked or evil, but a part of who they are. A future where we have the guts to bring that shadow to the light rather than convincing ourselves that those shadows aren't even there simply because they haven't been cast on us. I promise you, reader, Trump has not been an evil man to his loved ones. He commands deep and passionate loyalty from his closes circles and that loyalty came from somewhere. He was not always this person.

And the process of being able to see our loved ones shadows, to be able to bring our awareness to it without judgement, to be able to see their mental health challenges with loving compassion... That process can not begin until we can look at our own shadows. The darkest parts in us. With love. With compassion.

Of all the gifts Trump has given the collective unconscious of humanity, this is the one I'm most grateful for.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Empathy is a muscle we have to work out.

And like all muscles, it can atrophy if we take it for granted. And since it's an organ of the mind that we can't physically see in the mirror, along with our biceps and hips, it's easy to assume that it's simply a matter of free will.

"I'm a better person because I feel compassion for people who's experiences I don't fully understand."

I spent a great deal of my life looking down my nose at people who didn't do this. People who only felt compassion for another person after it affected their own life experiences.

"Oh that's so great, [insert conservative homophobic Republican name], you NOW feel that love is love regardless of gender when it's affecting your own family but didn't when it was affecting the rest of the country? No. You don't get bonus points."

That's how I've felt the majority of my life. And now I see that that thought system was, in essence, no different than liking the band before they got famous. If I'm attached to the spreading of love and light only when it's on my own terms, that's not spirit; that's hubris.

For whatever reason, I developed stronger empathy muscles from a younger age. No different than friends who were gifted more muscular and attractive bodies from a younger age. There are some things we need to work harder towards and some things that come to us more naturally.

It's a shitty time in our history. But if we can't find our way towards a place of gratitude for all this darkness, to see that it's the God in all of us that's showing us the shadow of our collective human entity, then we will be doomed to repeat this cycle over and over. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.

This is my resolve: to find a way to meet the darkness with love and to do this on a big scale. Everything I do is part of the long term plan to serve that mission. And I strongly believe that it's ok to have fun working towards a better world. We can't win the Superbowl by screaming at the television. I invite you to get involved in the way that most resonates with you and trust that your presence, your energy and the tiny little bit that you can do will absolutely have a ripple effect, culminating in the waive that which moves all of us in the right direction.

We build gyms to work out our biceps. Let's encourage each other to put more energy towards the institutions that work out the muscles we can't see. They're out there. Find the one that resonates with you and volunteer some time.

I don't know if this story is factual but it's sure as hell accurate. On a tour of the NASA facilities, John F. Kennedy noticed a custodial worker mopping the floor. He walks over to him and, in his folksy, politiciany way, asks the man what he's doing.

"Well, Mr. President," the custodian responded, "I'm helping put a man on the moon."

Today, I'm helping put a man on the moon by bringing my awareness to developing more empathy for those I disagree with. I'm going to give myself less brownie points for the bare minimum standard of not being overtly racist. I am grateful for the upbringing that I've had that made it easier for me to see more beauty in my fellow humans and I am doubling down on that. And I will have times of weakness when I'll momentarily forget this. I'll run out of willpower and be lacking sleep and will be frustrated at some personal issue and will forget. And when that happens, I invite you to remind me.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

So I've Always Loved Madonna...

Also cheesy, terrible Eurodance. And I think it had something to do with living under Islamic Republic oppression.

I hear the snickering in the back of the room. This is all totally anecdotal but maybe there are some ideas here that we could chew on. Just for fun.

We watch a lot of the violence happening on the other side of the planet from a very safe distance here. Isis hits us about as hard as the antagonist on a reality show. I even find myself feeling that way and I have a closer frame of reference than most. I was born here in the United States but lived in Iran for about three or four years as a child. Somehow memories of Iran are much more clear in my head than my earliest years after returning to the U.S.

Iran and Iraq fought a bloody eight year war. All wars are bloody but when historians describe Iran/Iraq they often throw in that descriptive. The death toll on Iran's side is estimated at over one million. Try to wrap your head around that. You can't; trust me. I saw it from much closer and I can't.

There are stories of things I've seen that I'd like to tell you but I don't wan't to start a debate. I think it's fair to ask that you simply trust me when I tell you that I have memories of a kind of darkness most of us have little frame of reference for.

Here's the part that people have the weirdest time consolidating: Life moves on. This was, of course, because we lived in the capital city of Tehran, further away from the western battlefront, but the entire country didn't just lay down and wait till the shooting stopped.

People go to work. Public transportation is active. The government tries their best to keep the country and public institutions together. There are house parties. People go to the movies. Sometimes, sirens go off and we run into the basement. We hear jets in the distant skies and then nothing happens. Then we hear stories of a bombing somewhere.

Human beings are resilient. The war was happening and it became the new normal. It turns out that when you look into the darkness long enough, your eyes adjust.

A thing that came out of this era was a deep desire for really happy pop music. The world around us was dark enough. We didn't need to give the darkness more crevasses to sonically seep into as well. Listening to fun, happy tunes wasn't something I remember being debated over endlessly as I see here.

I could write a book about all the ways in which we are privileged here. Only one silly little example is that we get to be snooty about our art. We can look down our noses at the low-brow pop music that the masses consume. We can point a finger at them, smirk at each other with a raised eyebrow and judge them for their shitty taste in top-40. We can be so proud of ourselves because our partying is just so much better than their partying. Ew.

But flashback to Iran, in the late 80s, during a war... A place where western music was made illegal and where we couldn't get our hands on the majority of what we take for granted now... The streets populated by so many scowling faces, many looking for a fight and all filled with uncertainty about the future... Now imagine inside of a house, people gathered around the television set, utilizing an illegally obtained satellite dish catching airwaves from Turkey... And on the screen is the music video for "Open Your Heart."

It was escape.

Flash forward to middle school. I'm listening to 90's Madonna and various other dance and pop music. But the escape now is not from the darkness of a war affected Middle-eastern country but the pressures of being a war affected Middle-eastern kid in suburbia. I was still pretty F.O.B. now that I think about it. I sat (and still do) sit with my legs crossed one over the other. Men in the east sit this way because it's rude to show the sole of your foot to others. And Rhythm is a Dancer was like my favorite song of all time. All this lead to a near constant barrage of other kids questioning my sexuality.

There is no shortage of us who've been bullied; I'm not claiming to be a more noteworthy victim than anyone else. Trust me when I tell you that I'm well aware of my privilege in so many ways. But I had a couple of bullies through the years who were quite successful in adding thunder to the storm of anxiety already brewing inside of me. Multiple times I had the experience of my headphones being snatched off my head while I walked through the halls. The bully of the month would hear Vogue and then throw the headphones back at me while yelling, "what are you a fucking faggot?" Dammit - I just really wanted to be left alone.

So what I started doing was recording my Hip-hop stuff on one side of the cassette and my dance music on the other side, so when this would happen, I could really easily flip the side the music was playing on. I've always loved all different kinds of music anyway so that actually saved me a lot of time switching cassette tapes.

Two years ago, in Black Rock City, I was with my friend, Kim Eisenberg, on a mission to get ice (I think?). While she was running her errand, I hear Rain (the song, not actual rain). I'd stumbled upon the Madonna Power Hour near Center Camp.

All they'd done was press play on a Madonna playlist. For the 15 minutes it took for Kim to obtain ice (seriously that's what we were there for, right?) I completely lost myself in an ocean of emotions, singing along with Madonna while surrounded by a group of beautiful dusty weirdos. Women, men, gay, straight, young and old... It's God damn Burning Man and none of those binary human avatar titles mean shit anyway. It's just a bunch of humans singing Madonna at the top of their lungs. We were all looking into each other's eyes with giant grins. No bullies here; everyone was the coolest kid in school and we were all, everyone one of us, in the IN crowd.

Kim finished her errand (getting ice??) and called to me. I almost stayed but I hadn't seen her all week and chose Kim over Madonna. As we left, I vowed to return next year (that didn't happen, btw). On the drive out to Saguaro Man (the Arizona regional Burn) with Rich and Rick, we listened to a couple of hours of Madonna and I decided I needed to experience that again at YOUtopia 2017. Then Cassa Frass and I chatted about it and now it's happening on Saturday at 6pm at the XSLounge.

It's not a big deal. It's just listening to Madonna for an hour and serving some drinks. But it's a new memory. It's writing over the old tapes which were songs infused with pain and sadness with a new memory of songs filled with playful laughter. This is what this community has been to me. Taking the experiences of yesteryear and making them fresh again. And it's a 1000 little tiny things like that that have brought me to where I am today, from a depressed kid who simply wanted to be left alone to a man who just fucking can not wait for all the awesome shit that tomorrow is going to bring. While listening to Power of Goodbye for the 98th time.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Only Sometimes...

Sometimes I wish I kept an archive of some of the catty and bloody hilarious status updates and comments I've typed and then decided not to post.

Words have power. As I'm about to hit enter, I stop and think about who's feelings this could hurt, who's confidence these words could shake - even if for only a moment... I ask myself if I want to be the creator of this jab for a quick chuckle. I ask myself if I want to solidify this thought system in the software archives of my brain by writing it down rather than smirking at the fleeting thought and moving on.

If you're close to me, and we've shared late night laughs over whiskey, you probably know that I actually have a jarringly dark and twisted sense of humor. I'm a legit fan of those who can pull it off! My feed is filled with dark comic genius! But for me, personally, I've found that writing things down and turning the words into a visual language has a power that passing comments in person do not.

Anyway. Sometimes I wish I'd kept an archive. Because some of that shit has been freaking hilarious.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

I don't talk about it much here but I assure you, I'm angry.

The thing that my kind, progressive, intellectual friends just can't seem to grasp is that their outrage sounds like the sweet singing of an angelic choir to Trump supporters.

It's ok to be angry. Anger can be fuel. Outrage, however, is a temper tantrum. And to Team Trump it is the most delicious desert they've ever tasted.

Many of us are crawling into the mud-pit and joining in on the hate circle jerk. Stop playing on their terms. Take action. Build. Work in community.

I don't talk about it much here but I assure you, I'm angry. And I know that outrage won't solve shit. Set goals. Work towards them. Be successful. And smile coyly as you casually move the chess pieces to a checkmate.

Operate with the belief that those of us who are lost in that bubble are not necessarily evil. Assume good intentions without obsessing about it. Many of us/them are beaten, broken, frustrated and hoping to hold on to what little power they can grasp. They've been manipulated by our darkest fears and motivations. You have shadows inside of your conciseness as well and you fucking know it.

Speak softly and carry a big stick. Work towards the future, one step at a time, and try to avoid the distractions. We can show the world what compassionate leadership looks like by building the future, not by railing against it.

Stop serving them their breakfast in bed. Build the restaurant so that they have no choice but to come to you when they get hungry. And then it's up to you if the only thing you want to serve them is a healthy vegan meal.