Artists and Revolutionaries
By Weston Ochse © 2010
I’ve been inundated with labels my entire life. From being a teenager to a Buck Private in the Army, through the ranks, past my time as a DoD Contractor and to now, where I am what’s called a Govie (Government Civilian). I’m a husband and a father. I’m a son, a grandson, a cousin and a brother. In my writing persona I’ve been called a poet, a horror author, a dark fiction author, a fabulist, a cross-genre, multi-genre, whatever-genre author. I’ve been a screenwriter. I’ve been a winner of awards, a loser and a never ran. I’ve been a professionally published author, a small press author, a micro press author, and a mass market author. I’ve been an instructor and a professor. I’m a master of fine arts. I’m a martial artist. I’m an American. I’m a self-proclaimed Southerner, even though I’m probably really a Westerner. For those who know me, they know I am a cowboy in the boat of Ra. I proclaim in my email signatures that I am a stuntman for hire and a superhero for rent. I am all of these and let me tell you, it gets tiresome trying to explain it all.
I suppose it would be easier if we were like products on the shelves and had labels to indicate what we are. Imagine a world where T-shirts no longer sported sassy sayings or I’m with Stupids, but instead provided a single label to indicate what the wearer was. It would definitely streamline identity. But the problem is myself, like all of you, are many things at once. I am every one of those labels in the preceding paragraph. I never stop being any one of them. The only thing that changes is the order, descending from most to least used.
So then who am I? If a stranger was to approach me and they weren’t carrying a gun or a subpoena what do I say I am? I could rattle off all my labels. That would be the most accurate. I could give the Cliff Note-Sparks version, and just provide the top five labels currently being most used. But that still gives me short shrift. So there’s the rub. How can I identify myself so that all the labels are indicated, but I don’t run out of breath or bore the listener to death?
I was listening to National Public Radio the other day, either coming to work, going home for lunch to walk blind dog, or running some errand. Fresh Air was on which is one of my favorite shows. More often than not they interview or highlight someone in the arts-- check labels above: master of fine arts and a multi-labeled author which is a kind of artist but not martial artist-- which is of great interest to me. So as I drove I listened and was introduced to Rafael Yglesias. An American novelist, screenwriter of “From Hell,” Dark Water,” “Les Misérables,” and “Fearless,” mass market author, award winner, second generation Cuban American and New Yorker, Rafael was interviewed for his new novel, “A Happy Marriage,” which recently won the Los Angeles Times Book Award. During the course of the interview he said something that lodged in my brain. When referring to his father’s desire not to see him waste his life, he said that his father believed that there are only three kinds of people in this world: artists, revolutionaries and all the rest.
That stuck with me all week.
Do you mean there can only be three labels? Everything I am, all those nouns I placed in the first paragraph as synechdoche, the entire litany of labels stacked man-high can be crystallized into just three things? Understanding that these three labels—artist, revolutionary and all the rest—aren’t completely descriptive, they do capture the heart and soul of everything it is to be us.
On the face of it, it might seem that ‘all the rest’ should have the largest population. But I don’t think so, because the other two are so all inclusive. You see, revolutionaries are those that point the way, while artists are those who interpret and translate what the revolutionary is saying.
Revolutionaries can come in many forms. They are researchers, scientists, adventurers, and philosophers. They are politicians and the downtrodden who desire something else. They are social engineers who create new ways to interact. They are inventors. They can be anyone, as long as they are somehow trying to find a new way to do something.
And artists? We are the translators. We tell the world, either through fictional metaphor and hyperbole, or through factual non-fiction about the revolutions. We paint. We draw. We sculpt. We act. We street perform and we even mime.
Artists and revolutionaries have a special symbiosis. We can live without the other but we cannot succeed without the other. What is a revolution if no one knows about it? What is a story if it’s about nothing?
That leaves us with ‘all the rest?’ Who are they?
Those unlucky few who are members of this group are those who don’t yet realize that they can be an artist simply by translating something. Whether it’s a blog or an email to a friend, it could interpret a revolutionary idea. It might not be very good, but then we never said that for something to be art it had to be good. Good is an observation filtered by each observer’s personal history. No, it merely has to exist for it to be art.
‘All the rest’ can also be revolutionaries. There will come a time when they will want to do something better, faster, stronger. They will want to change the way things have been done. They will become tired of the status quo and devise a way to remove themselves from it.
It’s important to note that we aren’t limited to being either an artist or a revolutionary. We don’t have to choose. We can be both. We are both. As artists we find new ways to perform our art. As revolutionaries we try different methods to inform the masses.
So really we are all artists and revolutionaries.
I am an artist and revolutionary.
All those labels can be gone. Everything people call me must change. From here on out I shall be referred to as an artist and a revolutionary. What fine things to be those are; makes me proud and happy to be alive. When I wake up in the morning, I’m waking up as an artist and a revolutionary. When I sit down on the couch to watch television, I am holding the remote control as an artist and revolutionary. When I water the plants and stare at the broad western sky, I am an artist and a revolutionary.
If only that could last.
Somewhere, sometime, someone will ask me, “But what kind of revolutionary are you? What kind of artist are you?” Then I will have to resurrect the labels. “I’m an author,” I’d say with a wan smile, knowing that the next question will be, “What kind of author are you?”
And the labels will return. But even with all the labels. Even with the litany of what I am, at the end of the day I am an artist and a revolutionary. And I like being those.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Weston Ochse is a former intelligence officer and special operations soldier who has engaged enemy combatants, terrorists, narco smugglers, and human traffickers. His personal war stories include performing humanitarian operations over Bangladesh, being deployed to Afghanistan, and a near miss being cannibalized in Papua New Guinea. His fiction and non-fiction has been praised by USA Today, The Atlantic, The New York Post, The Financial Times of London, and Publishers Weekly. The American Library Association labeled him one of the Major Horror Authors of the 21st Century. His work has also won the Bram Stoker Award, been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and won multiple New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. A writer of more than 26 books in multiple genres, his military supernatural series SEAL Team 666 has been optioned to be a movie starring Dwayne Johnson. His military sci fi series, which starts with Grunt Life, has been praised for its PTSD-positive depiction of soldiers at peace and at war. Weston likes to be called a chaotic good paladin and challenges anyone to disagree. After all, no one can really stand a goody two-shoes lawful good character. They can be so annoying. It's so much more fun to be chaotic, even when you're striving to save the world. You can argue with him about this and other things online at Living Dangerously or on Facebook at Badasswriter. All content of this blog is copywrited by Weston Ochse.
Friday, August 13, 2010
Essay - 13 August
Weston Ochse is the author of more than twenty books, most recently the SEAL Team 666 series which has been optioned by MGM Films. He's also the author of the Grunt Life series, a military science fiction series concentrating on the lives of PTSD survivors. His first novel, Scarecrow Gods, won the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in First Novel and his short fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His work has appeared in comic books, and magazines such as Cemetery Dance and Soldier of Fortune. He lives in the Arizona desert within rock throwing distance of Mexico. He is a military veteran with more than 30 years of military service and currently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan.