Purpose: everyone’s got one. It’s like having a dog. You feed it, you tell it (and yourself) that it’s the best one that’s ever existed, you strut it out in public so everyone can see you and your purpose, and getting one is an obvious step in any serious American adult’s life. But what happens when you suddenly don’t know whether your dog ... I mean, your purpose, is really what you want?
Most of my life has been spent trying things on for size. For a while I wanted to be a veterinarian. It was a great fit: I was smart, loved animals, and had butt loads of compassion. Perfect. Then it was a “rocket scientist”. I wanted to work for NASA, and to get offended when people said “it isn’t rocket science!” (do people still say that?). It was also a good fit: I was smart, fascinated with space and physics, and I had a tenacious creativity. Then it was architecture, engineering, medicine, biology, writer . . . then artist and instructor.
Mostly I believe my purpose was to seem intelligent. Something changed when I set my sights on art, though. All of the other things I wanted to be, I knew exactly what those people did: a vet saves animals, a NASA employee obviously made rockets, an architect designs structures, and so on. What does an artist do? The answer a younger me would have yelled out with confidence is “Makes art!! Duh.” Art about what? Using what materials? With. What. Purpose.
Ugh. The question of “What is your purpose?” has driven me nuts for years. To be an artist! Obviously. I’m fairly sure I disgusted my professors with my inability to answer this simple question. Everyone else had these clear, defined ideas of what they wanted to do in the world. Even through their extra-media explorations they were driven by reaching that goal still. I was all over the place. I wanted to learn everything and be everything and know everything I had missed out on previously. I have an obsession with differing perspectives that drove my instructors nuts. I remember specifically being asked one time what my intent was with a certain collage. I asked to hear what other people had to say first and the professor chuckled saying I was taking the easy way out.
I love hearing interpretations. I love analysing other people. I think I am simply interested in how personality is formed, and how it becomes a lens for us to look through. A detached observer who interacts through their character, their role. Which is also, perhaps, why I was so intrigued by the idea of living a life outside of the normal parameters. I've always been a bit of a rebel, so when I learned there was another way to evaluate the success of your life, to escape working for The Man, to be held accountable to only your own standards ... I was intrigued to say the least.
I believe I have perhaps found a purpose, however, that can combine all of my skills, including the one that drives me to attain new skills: Homesteading. In the past year I have learned so much about become sustainable and relying less on authorities to tell me when my art / way of life is good or not. But this has landed me in a pickle. I do not own land and even though I am fairly close to living in the country, there are strict landlord-enforced limitations on what can be done on the property.
In hopes that I can still contribute to the Sustainability community, and that one day we can make the leap to our own land, I would like to use this blog to fuel my purpose and to document what it takes to build up a sustainable lifestyle completely from scratch. I was never even aware of how crucial a simple act of recycling was until my adult years, so, trust me ... when I say “from scratch,” I mean it. So if you’re interested in getting started but don’t know how to, or can’t believe the wild claims that you can become more sustainable from right where you’re reading this, please, allow me to share my journey towards a purposeful, meaningful, sustainable lifestyle.
I am in a long-term relationship with superheroes. Some of my earliest memories are of watching my brother play all his SEGA games, not least of which was Spider-Man.
This early indoctrination did little to affect my Barbie showdowns across the hall (actually, what do I know - maybe they all beat up villains, flying from rooftop to rooftop) but it gave me a familiarity with the character of Spidey, and, most memorably for me, his fight against his darker self: Venom.
I couldn’t even tell you which games we had. The specifics are never important in regards to early memories. It matters though that I knew who Spider-Man was and that my brother and I could take on his abilities when we picked up the controllers.
When my family moved back from the UK in 2001, we came home to a changing United States. After 9/11, there was hardly a television to be found that wasn’t broadcasting the news at all hours. Our overly-emotional teacher had gathered us around her and explained what happened. My very first fear was that my brother would be drafted soon and be shipped away.
The fear and sadness our nation felt quickly turned to rage. Rage against the “Other”, against our government, against our neighbors who wouldn’t agree with us, rage against the universe. Sometimes I wonder who really won the War on Terror; it seems that those attacks have led to a great rift in our country, a rift that causes distrust toward all - the self-destruction of the United States.
Who do you blame? Who do you hate? What do you do? When all of the enemies exist on the TV screen how do you take them down?
Heroes play a powerful role in the human psyche. We have told stories of heroes since our earliest days. I can imagine my ancestors sat around the fires at night trading their stories of shape-shifting men and women, light bringers and destroyers, respect and blind hatred. Is it so different to stare into the shifting, mesmerizing lights of the silver screen than the flames?
In 2002 Marvel and Columbia Pictures released Spider-Man. Though a lot of fans like to criticize Maguire’s Peter Parker, for me he was the perfect answer to the storm: a quite, sensitive young person on the edge of adulthood - he loved to learn, he loved his family, he made mistakes, and he emotionally, physically, and mentally paid for them.
Peter Parker pushed people away to save them, only to realize he had not only hurt them, but himself as well. He couldn’t maintain his powers without the love of his kid neighbor who believed in him, his aunt who forgave and accepted him, and his love who understood him.
Spider-Man existed in a world of confusion. Dafoe’s Green Goblin was magnificent - a caring and loving parent who struggled to show that affection to his son, tormented by his need for control, and power, blinded by ambition: the split personality of the CEO. A true American villain.
The real winner for me, though, was Iron Man (2008). Tony Stark (as played by Robert Downey Jr.) was a real piece of work. He represented all of the American ideals: arrogance misconstrued as confidence, selfishness portrayed as intelligence, and corporate moral-less wealth masquerading as benevolence.
But Stark is captured by terrorists, and his arrogance is destroyed when he realizes that his own company has provided the weaponry that the enemies are using. His selfishness is destroyed as the doctor who saved Stark’s life gives his own to ensure Stark prevails. Tony Stark sees chivalry, he sees dignity, kindness, and he understands shame.
He uses his anger to return from the Middle East and put matters right with his company in the middle of Los Angeles itself - the center of the American juxtaposition of luxury and poverty. But he comes home to realize the true enemy, the actual villain was not those who had captured and detained him, but Obedia (Jeff Bridges) whose greed and jealousy have turned him into a malicious monster, bent on his war profiteering.
These early superhero movies touched on deep anxieties and underlying currents. What do the mass-produced films touch on now? Have these franchises, seeing the popularity of these films, become their own villains - selling out their ideals and heroism for profiteering?
In 1883 Friedrich Nietzsche published his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra, birthing his idea of the Übermensch (click to read more, but I will refrain from going into detail about this character at this time). It was explained [read: dictated] to a philosophy class I took that despite Übermensch’s literal translation into Superman, that the two were completely unrelated. Yet, somehow, it was only through that discussion that I was able to come to my conclusions about why I have felt let down by superhero films of late.
Spider-Man and Iron Man were naive. They thought they were in control, invincible, and superior for all their self-righteousness. It would be nice to see our heroes tackle these more difficult, more real issues again. Sure, Stark’s Frankenstein-like creation of an internet monster, Ultron, seems relevant, but he merely had to create a newer version to terminate the tainted Ultron instead of facing the darkness within himself which led to the creation of the monster to begin with.
Much like how if the industry simply continues to output new movies, they won’t have to face their idiotic mistakes in previous ones.
Please, Stan Lee, bring back the greatness.
On the last day of sixth grade my best friend Beth brought in black fingernail polish. We had spent the better part of the school year in Mrs. Harmon’s homeroom huddled in the room’s corners talking about music and dreaming about rebellion. She turned me on to Good Charlotte and for the first time, I had my own music to listen to outside of my parents. That day, though, we did what both of our mom’s dreaded: we painted our nails black.
I thought I was entering a world of goth then. What I really began to appreciate, however, was my mother’s passion for Edgar Allen Poe. Good Charlotte had a song I fell in love with, probably the only song I would still listen to passionately, called My Bloody Valentine, which used themes from Poe’s A Tell-Tale Heart. This may truly be the catalyst for all of my interest in Romanticism, and The Gothic.
However, this first “goth” world I thought I was entering, was completely separate from The Gothic in art, literature, architecture, etc. This contemporary use of the word refers to a subculture which is generally defined by wearing black and listening to a certain kind of music. Goth, now, is a pop culture founded on a movement in music, generally thought to spring from Bauhau’s Bela Lugosi’s Dead (source: A Study of Gothic Subculture).
In film, this influence is most profoundly seen in the uprising of vampiric movies in the 1990s and early 2000s, for me, especially in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Interview With A Vampire (1994), and Underworld (2003).
While all of this is absolutely pertinent to our current Romantic culture, it is not the Gothic I’d like to dive into today. No, it is not a washed-out, dried-up, nor sell-out version of Gothicism, it is a new creature unto itself with roots in the original.
The next biggest way our contemporary society defines the word Gothic is in architecture. Which, hilariously, was a derogatory misnomer that stuck.
“By the eighteenth century in England, Gothic had become synonymous with the Middle Ages, a period which was in disfavor because it was perceived as chaotic, unenlightened, and superstitious. Renaissance critics erroneously believed that Gothic architecture was created by the Germanic tribes and regarded it as ugly and barbaric,” (source: CUNY: The Gothic Experience).
During the 18th and 19th centuries the English returned to this style and Gothic castles and abbeys sprung up all over the island. Horace Walpole is largely credited for this revival: he created a neo-Gothic castle for himself, Strawberry Hill, within which he had his own printing press . . . upon which he printed The Castle of Otranto.
This novel started a craze of writings. The themes he laid out would form the blueprints for much more Gothic literature to come.
I’m going to skip over all of the wishy-washy how-do-Romanticism-and-Gothicism-relate and just jump to how it was presented to me by a professor (thank you Dr. Inboden!!!) who knows far more than I do on the subject. Gothic is a subgenre of Romantic. They are concerned with similar things, they occur in similar timeframes. And, as you will see on some of the sites linked through this post, a lot of the sources cited are books on Romanticism.
So what is the root of roots of The Gothic? Other than a preoccupation with medieval architecture and settings, here are two good summaries of what you will find in a Gothic work:
“Gothic literature is marked by a preoccupation with gloom, mystery, and terror. Often, but not always, it may involve the supernatural,” (source: American Literary History: Romanticism, Realism and Naturalism).
“What makes a work Gothic is a combination of at least some of these elements: