Fred Armisen, My Ironic TV Friend

Image courtesy of Santa Barbara Independent.

This is what life feels like: out of the four or five different roles I play in a given week, two distinct minds arise most often: that of the experienced man who’s endured a few roadside ruts, and who’s ever tempted by cynicism; and that of the optimistic-leaning kid who feels the burden of life to be light and its outcomes mostly good. The older I get, the more the cynical man shuts out the optimistic kid, but I did notice a tendency toward the latter while staying up late last night watching Fred Armisen on the Netflix comedy special, Standup for Drummers.

Armisen is more endearing than outright funny, and I found that I wanted to keep watching him the same way I’d want to keep listening to a quirky and amusing friend. It was obvious the room where he performed was feeling it, too. The audience’s faces reflected affection rather than incredulity (like what you might find at a Dave Chappelle show, where the common reaction is “I can’t believe he said that!”). Where many comedians depend on outrageousness, Armisen exudes friendly irony; he could be Kurt Cobain’s mild-mannered and sanguine half-brother–just as capable of snarling social commentary, but with a delivery that wouldn’t be out of place on NPR.

Fred Armisen analysis aside, there was a feeling I had watching him (not exactly sure why) that felt like youthful optimism–a feeling that people are generally well-meaning, that there is still room for civility and lightheartedness among those who may not agree on everything but still place one another’s humanity first–first before, even, the need to be right, and while respecting each others’ capacity for figuring things out themselves. But then waist-deep in this blog, the old man (my other mind) comes slogging through, grumbling about the impossibility of this fragile scaffolding we call society. And all I can do is turn up my music and stare at the clouds.

Alan D. Tucker
Content Writer, Essayist, & Novelist

Imagine a Life without Notions

Close-up of van Gogh’s “Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette.”

Imagine if we weren’t predisposed to notions of fate or destiny, or if we didn’t inherit beliefs about divinity from our elders. Imagine if our earthly end was truly a matter of chance or likelihood, and we accepted it as such: an accident or freak illness claims us, or we achieve an age correspondent to our life choices and genetics. None of this idea of unfinished business or unmet purpose in life would influence our feelings about death, that is, if we left no room in our brains for fate or destiny or divine intervention.

It’s difficult–unnatural, even–to trust a phrase like “it was just her time” when faced with an early death. Traffic accidents are the worst, because almost everybody drives, and almost everybody’s loved ones drive, so there’s a pervasive feeling it could happen to anyone at any time (like a terrorist attack or a mass shooting). But if we go a few weeks without news of a fatal car accident, we permit ourselves to slip into a false sense that those things definitely do happen but not to people we know. And just as we’ve settled into our comfortable driving routine, it happens. It may not be someone we know, but it could’ve been, and that’s often enough to unnerve us for a week or two.

Lately a new feeling’s crept in: guilt. When I hear of an early death, I eventually reach a vague sort of spiritual non-geography wherein I wonder, fearfully, if I’ve earned the life I continue to live, while so many who seemed so worthy–young victims of accidents; soldiers; cancer patients–have had theirs cut short. Am I worthy of the years my genetics are likely to grant me? Have I stored enough credits to cover the near-misses I’ve racked up on the interstate? Perhaps the answers to these questions are always both yes and no. None of us is qualified to judge whether a person merits his very life; we can’t know the value of that, not in any quantifiable terms. It lies outside our collective jurisdiction; it resides in a nether region, in the place where the forces both compelling and extinguishing life are found–a region off-limits to our conscious yearning, a land outside our control. I suspect life itself to be the biggest mystery I’ll ever contemplate. Imagine having all the answers–would we want them?

Alan D. Tucker, MA
Content Writer, Essayist, & Novelist

Invisible Man, Part 2: Clarifications

Photograph from Liu Bolin’s Invisible Man series.

Self-delusion came up in Monday’s post on being invisible. For clarification’s sake, I don’t believe anyone, except maybe the clinically insane, thinks they’re actually invisible, as in no one can see them standing there. Our bodies are the ever-present vessels of us–without them, we are not. What I mean by invisible, rather, as was probably obvious, is that one’s genuine self never breaks the surface. Glimpses are caught now and again, as when a would-be leviathan rises close enough to the water’s surface that a massive dark form is detected, but then it retreats back into the depths so suddenly it leaves the observer wondering whether he saw anything at all.

Then there are those moments that remind the invisible of their state–those moments that startle them into the awareness that they’re largely unknown by others. Again, for clarification, I’m not speaking of mere anonymity. The overwhelming majority of us are anonymous with respect to the wide world in which we live. The moments I’m referring to, the ones that startle us, do so because they occur in the presence of those we assume really know us: parents, siblings, lifelong friends, et cetera. Sure, they know us superficially–they know our relation to them, major life events we’ve undergone, and perhaps a few of our general interests. But a view to the inner workings is translucent at best, like stained glass, permitting only a dulled (but colorful) light, and allowing only the most basic evidence of forms.

Something else I mentioned Monday was that the artist is obligated to believe in his inner world. To elaborate, he can’t dismiss it as being less important, or less concrete, metaphysically speaking, than the outer world, where commerce happens. Since art is forever valid to the artist and the art lover, it’s not a dismissible commodity to be abandoned in the face of budget cuts, or to be relegated to the status of prettification; it shares in the essence of anything and everything that makes life worthwhile. Even what doesn’t reveal itself in the physical world–that which is pure imagination–is valid if it can be included in art, because art does reveal itself in the physical world. It is the physical manifestation of the inner world, and is therefore indispensable. (Forgive my tendency to lump the artist in with the invisible. The ranks of the invisible are not limited to artists, but I have no doubt the artist is intimate with this invisibility, revealing herself or himself almost exclusively in what s/he creates.)

None of this would matter if we weren’t born with a longing to be known. Yet it falls on some to never fully arrive, who are blessed if even one person understands them. Invisibility can be lived with, however, often contentedly, particularly if the one invisible is a born observer rather than a participator. But no matter how practiced at solitude the invisible man is, loneliness might still sneak in through a crack in the glass.

Alan D. Tucker, MA
Content Writer, Essayist, & Novelist