TNB at 5: The Lovebirds EditionBy Becky Palapala
July 05, 2011
When Brad first wrote to remind us that TNB was coming up on its 5th anniversary and suggest that some of us offer our thoughts on this milestone, my response was, verbatim (though not in its entirety), this:
My teeth already hurt and nothing has even been posted yet. TNB’s syrup cup shall runneth over for that week.
So, as is my way, I will resist the temptation to gush, apple-polish, be overly or even overtly complimentary, or to otherwise do what everyone else is doing or what I think everyone will do.
I will try not to contribute to that. Or maybe I will accidentally contribute to that.
Mostly I’m just going to adopt a general trajectory and publish whatever comes out.
I’m going to estimate that I’ve known Brad Listi for about six years. My memory is very bad. It is a curse that comes along with a personality that does not pay much attention to external detail. In my fuzzy recollection, there may be a handful of people who frequent this site who I’ve known longer or about as long.
Most of these people, including Brad, I know from Myspace.
One day I got a Myspace message from Brad, indicating that he thought I might “maybe” be the kind of writer he was looking for to take part in an experiment. I remember being slightly offended by his lack of conviction.
It’s a little-known fact that I was among the stable of writers at TNB 1.0 when it debuted in 2006. That I created and maintained the site’s Myspace page, that it was my hand that colored in the blue-shirted, blonde-haired, red balloon-toting colored version of TNB guy and wrote the site’s first ever “About Me” section (It was not good. I mean, it was cute, but it was not Brad’s awesome manifesto thing that everyone loves that I can’t find to link to).
These facts are little known because A) people don’t care, and b) if they they do care and if I start talking about it, the conversation eventually leads to where did I go for two years before wandering back?
The answer is, in short: My inveterate impulse to test people’s limits was already demonstrated, but Brad wasn’t (and really I wasn’t) aware, at that point, quite how far I was willing to go or how little control I really had at the time over my most disagreeable tendencies. Suffice it to say, if you find me difficult now, it is only because you didn’t know me then.
That is the only explanation I can really give.
And I give it alongside the caveat that I’m glad about it. Which is different than being proud of it but nothing like being ashamed about it. I’m glad about it, in part, because of what I’m about to say.
It’s common to try to romanticize a community. I have been a member of other communities.
I was a member of a community we called “Crew 244”.
It was mostly just a bunch of drunk kids throwing weekly house parties.
But we did not know, at that time, that was all it was.
The inner, core group of this sometimes expansive social network especially did not know at the time that was what it was. Or that’s not what it was to us.
I have hundreds of photos like this one of moments we saw fit to immortalize, but none of them are what we really remember. If we were asked to describe those 2 or 3 years, as I am about to do, we will say very little about specific moments like this one.
I know because we are all still very close. We talk about what we remember. We cast our eyes down sometimes. We shake our heads a lot. The incredible emotional violence and dysfunction of the stories lurking beneath the surface of these photographs could not be properly articulated in a million years. But we found (and to some degree still find) safety in it.
The devil you know, as they say.
But the pictures are what we show to people. They are the moments we talk about in mixed company. When we reminisce publicly now, or even when we talked about ourselves to others then, we advertised that Crew 244 was an open house, a non-stop party and/or refuge, a place one could feel free to be relaxed, be naked, be drunk, be high, be promiscuous, smoke cigarettes, and take baths fully clothed. It was possible and normal to stay up doing these things until 7 am, and anyone, we told everyone, should feel free to stop by for beer and scrambled eggs at noon. Free to be you and me. Come as you are. We will accept you. No matter what.
This kind of community and communality existed nowhere else, we were sure. Sometimes those of us who were “inner circle” but didn’t live at the house didn’t go home for days. And this free wheeling, carefree communal picture was, to some degree, how it actually was. Sort of. Mostly. That’s how it was if you didn’t hang around too much for too long or get too involved. If you wanted to do that, then Crew 244 would have its pound–or 6–of flesh.
If you allowed yourself to become emotionally involved in the life and happenings of 244, you would get the darkness on you. Those were your options: Stand back or get dirty. All else was wishful thinking.
And so, it dawned on me in retrospect, while most of us were friends before the Crew 244 experience, when we came out the other side, we were close in the solemn way shared mourning, not celebration, makes people close. We are close the way we are now because we saw these happy and sad and nasty and near-fatal moments all the way through to the inevitable conclusion in which many of us were not speaking to others or simply could no longer stand the emotional rigors of the “look ma no hands” young adult utopia we advertised to others. In some cases, some of us didn’t talk for years. In other cases, we kept up appearances through awkward interactions and obligatory wedding invitations. In the end, we came back together. Under amended circumstances. We simply could not bring ourselves ever to write each other off forever. It would have meant a failure of the 244 experiment. It would have made all that difficulty and broken-heartedness and all the sleepless early-morning conversations and screaming fights and broken objects and epic parties and public embarrassments and private cruelties not worth a thing.
I cannot say that TNB is quite exactly like this.
I cannot say that TNB is entirely unlike this.
It’s tough to approach the flesh-stripped, emotionally raw level of a group like 244 (and countless others like it) when people are older, very rarely in the same room together, and especially when everyone isn’t sleeping with everyone else. Also, people are often sober at TNB, which is a hindrance to the epic human dysfunction that is inherent in an incestuous party posse.
But “stand back or get dirty” seems to fit.
The point is that human interactions are untidy. And they cannot be forced to be tidy. This is especially true of large groups where people habitually put their soft bellies on display. There are too many incompatible moods and needs, too many moving parts, too many perceptions and agendas and ideas about what is happening and what should be happening. They strain against and shove and feed off of one another, with or without the knowledge or consent of participants. The group becomes an “it,” not an “us.” We want there to be a uniform cause, but there is not. There is no metanarrative.
This makes me want to say, to the casual observer, that people may post a great deal this week about fraternity and friendship and support and connections and so on. They will depict TNB, to some degree, as a party house. And they will not be lying. But they won’t be telling the whole truth, either.
No one can be beautiful and pure and ageless forever, no friendship or group of friendships or system or community can remain static forever, no matter what panicked pains are taken to keep up appearances. The proverbial portrait stands in the attic, its countenance twisting and changing all the time with every move we make. Everything is a trade-off. If there were no such exchange, we would not be human people. If all we did was get along and like each other and demonstrate caring concern and loving support and nothing about that ever changed, there would be something grotesque and, frankly, worthless about this place as a repository of and active experiment in the human experience. It would represent a complete failure of (what I understand to be) its unofficial mission.
TNB continues to resist all attempts to have its tone, tenor, and/or mood dictated. TNB, as always, is as wieldy as a handful of water.
And in the end, you either roll with it or you move along.
I learned the hard way. I take refresher courses from time to time.
So the back-rubbing, the cheer-leading, the smiles and hugs and encouragement–these things are all fine and necessary and humane. But the disagreements and the shoves and the back-biting–the egos, jealousies, desperate responses to disappointment and the subsequent, gruesome de-gloving of illusion and pretense that follows–these are human. And they are the things we fight the the most terribly to resist. To arrest. To stop stop STOP.
But to be appreciated for your shortcomings as opposed to in spite of them is to experience the truest form of love and acceptance. Or so I’ve heard. It seems about right.
So happy golden birthday, TNB, to your transcendent whole and to all your profane, nasty little parts.
I love you.
Which means I don’t have to like you.
P.S. I will never try to fuck you, TNB. If things get too uncomfortable or you ever feel you are in any imminent sexual danger from Brad, do not hesitate to come straight over to my place. But you sleep on the couch and do a little housework to earn your keep. And hands off my bomb pops.
TNB’s 5th birthday is an event I feel much more comfortble celebrating than a recent huge community birthday…
I love TNB… I love how it’s sort of evolved over time, before I was involved and since I became a writer. It’s produced some of the best friends I have.
It also seems to be the friendliest place on the entire internet…
Another thing I like about TNB is every now and then a little bit more history comes out… either about the early days or finding out how people got here. I got that same message from Brad on MySpace, about 2 years before I first visited TNB…
Ha! You were, what? Fifteen? Sixteen?
I was 27 or so, and my ego had me tripping all over myself to write for the fancy published author guy from L.A.
I was gonna be FAMOUS!
How did you hold out for so long?
It’s weird. Irwin and I joined up here around the same time, unbeknownst to one another… yet we knew each other through Beatdom and through a Hunter Thompson MySpace forum, I think. I don’t remember the details too well…
I also remember Brad from MySpace before I ever was aware of TNB. It’s weird how these things come out or resurface in your memory from time to time. The history here is fascinating and I do wish I’d been a part of it for longer. My first story here was about kimchi, so I must’ve been in Korea when I joined up, and that means it must’ve been less than three years ago.
And yeah, this is the friendliest place online. Definitely.
That is weird.
That the internet could ever conceivably be considered a small world.
But there you have it.
For some reason, I was always under the impression that you had been kicking around TNB longer than that, but apparently not.
As for TNB being the friendliest place online, I can’t say I necessarily disagree. And that extends even to the disagreements and personality conflicts. Compared to most of the internet, we solve problems with a game of croquet.
I agree with both of you, David and Becky, TNB is an unusually friendly place, comfortable, even.
I think I was eighteen when I started writing here. I would have been about 16 in ’06 when I got a myspace message from Brad. I replied actually, there was a brief exchange.
What happened was I checked out his myspace blog once, then forgot about him. Then one day I checked it out again for reasons I can’t remember, then the blog moved to a site that looked identical to TNB 2.0. I still hadn’t visited TNB… until one of the blog posts took me to TNB. Because the two sites had the same layout I didn’t even notice… but then I became a regular reader for months afterwards…
So it wasn’t like I was holding out. It just took me a long time to make the various steps…
I joined about a day before David, if I remember rightly. I think I checked the site after my first post and saw his post and cartoon slapped myself in disbelief…
I think we both joined around the same time as Duke.
So much truth. Mainly co-existence of fraternity with fear.
There is a genuine camaraderie that exists between loads of writers and commenters that is very much in-person stuff. People call each other, visit, email, send b-day cards, etc. But as you point out, there’s also plenty of ego and fear woven in between the essays and comments. No one should be surprised by this- it’s an artistic community and the need to be praised and validated is predictably high.
The fighting and bickering that takes place is, I’d say, no more or less real than any of the back-slapping. Contributors and readers bring their own respective issues and perspectives to the site and sometimes they play nicely and other times they don’t.
We don’t have to like each other. But a lot of us do. And a lot of us don’t.
I’ve had a great time on here, including those times when I’ve had my feathers ruffled and my ego harpooned. It hasn’t always been fun, but I’ve never expected it to be. But the sum total, for me, has been overwhelmingly positive. I dig TNB and feel lucky to be a part of it.
Well, yeah. I guess my argument here is one that considers those “negative” experiences ultimately positive or not even subject to that kind of assessment. Something above and beyond what can be described as positive or negative. If pressed to actually give it more than a passing thought, have a hard time characterizing any of my experiences as either positive or negative, actually.
I didn’t mean to suggest I was somehow ungrateful.
The Lovebirds series is ultimately a meandering look at a bunch of my dysfunctional relationships (many of which remain very dear to me) and relationships in general, and my suggestion here is that TNB is one of them. That all relationships, if you’re actually experiencing them, actually in them, are pretty messy. Because people are messy.
That is, I don’t think I feel too much differently than you do, but I’m looking at one particular aspect of the overall experience. And it’s dark. It kind of has its own vocabulary.
Though I have to object on the more/less realness of back-slapping vs. some of the less cheery things that go on here.
No one tells you to “play mean regardless of how you actually feel, or don’t play at all” but they will tell you to play nice in that way.
And the networking aspect of TNB–the pressure to maintain an agreeable face for professional reasons–can’t be ignored.
It’s a trade off we each have to negotiate to suit our own needs and comfort levels and aims. But I think there gets to be a certain level of involvement and investment in the site (both practical and emotional) where not encountering and not confronting the bad shit simply ceases to be an option.
“…people are often sober at TNB”
Speak for yourself, pal! (:
Stand back or get dirty is a perfect way to say it, Becky. I love that. I feel that way about pretty much any and all human interaction I have, be it venturing out in public, commenting on Facebook, or babbling here.
I don’t do dirty very well. You know that I don’t enjoy conflict, so I really have to push myself to not stand back all of the time, because standing back is my comfort zone. (I often have to step back from the internet and society for a few days and find some peace.) My first instinct is to be nice, to protect people’s feelings, but that can be fake and insincere if it’s not heartfelt, because the nice opinion is not always the most honest one. When you develop a relationship over time by talking with and getting to know people like we do here – when you’ve sniffed each others’ butts enough to decide there’s no immediate threat – you start to feel like you can share a dissenting opinion without being misunderstood or triggering defense mechanisms. That’s one of my favorite things about TNB. It’s definitely incestuous, but I feel safe here. I like a safe place. It’s generally a very clean dirty here.
And yes, I just called us all a bunch of butt-sniffers. But I meant it in a nice way, I promise.
Honestly, I’m just really happy to be here.
I share your bad memory. I can barely remember which folks are from Brad’s MySpace blog. (Everyone has become a true friend, rather than an A.D.D. Blog groupie I know.) I also don’t recall the things that were said there or specifics. One of the few details I remember was that Gloria constantly grammar/spelling policed people’s comments and it made me giggle. And I still miss Johnny Alien.
Mmmmm. Now I want a bomb pop.
Hey Becky: I think I might maybe like this post.
Oh Brad. You’re such a flatterer.
Hey now, Tawni. I said “often” not “always” or even “consistently.” And I know for a fact some are more sober than others, but that is something else.
And I’m operating only on what I can see from the boards, of course. I’m generally pretty good at sussing out people’s mental states, but who knows what goes on behind people’s monitors? You could be huffing glue or taking long, dramatic pulls off of Cuban cigars for all I know, Tawni.
Conflict is weird. I generally say that I’m not bothered by conflict; I talk about how, where I feel tension, my first impulse is to yank the skin back on it and get a look at the culprit. But it could just mean that I’m crazed by hidden things, like a dog trying to get a squeaker out of a toy, and conflict is simply a swift means to an end.
In any event, bomb pops are probably what is most important in life. I’m sure we can at least all agree on that.
*drops glue and Cuban cigars*
*looks around nervously*
I genuinely admire your razor-sharp intellect and ability to debate without apology. I could use a big dose of that. I worry too much about feeeeeeelings (<—that word said in a whiny sneer). And sorry to keep using dogs as my examples, but your description of you versus conflict reminds me of my sister’s Australian shepherds. One of her dogs has actually bloodied itself trying to get a ball out from where it has rolled under a couch. They’re incredibly smart, and need constant challenges and mental stimulation or they become destructive (as you know… isn’t Syd part Aussie?). Maybe you’re a human Australian shepherd, Becky? (:
There is a kind of obsessive quality to Aussies. Though I think overall, with Syd, the Blue Heeler pig-headedness prevails.
It is possible that I am part Aussie Shepherd.
I am also part Irish.
Nice one, Becky. Also, I’m just waking and haven’t had my first cup of coffee yet. At first I thought bomb pops read, “boob pumps.” Hands off my boob pumps, TNB. And I thought, yep, TNB would sure try to grab those. But then I read bomb pops and thought, yep, TNB would sure try to grab those as well.
That’s all I need. TNB running around waving my boob pumps everywhere. Good thinking. Will update and re-laminate the house rules tonight.
I spent this past weekend with two longtime (as in our parents were friends with each other before we were even born) friends and we share a similar history. One house, people come and go, some more constant than others, hazy, crazy, happy, tragic. Then years of on and off silence as we transitioned from early 20’s to the rest of our lives. This weekend was the first time the three of us had been in the same room for about 10 years. And we were able to talk about it, well most of it, and I can feel the closeness beginning to rebuild.
Yes, it’s the snapshots that we try to remember if we had our druthers, and what we let other people see. It’s the pictures that got torn up and thrown in the bonfire so no one would see them that tell the rest of the story, and probably the more accurate one.
But all that said, and I can completely understand and agree with your desire to resist the saccharine, it is, after all, a birthday party, dammit. Just put on the pointy hat, sing the stupid song, and take your annoyance out on the pinata. Maybe a boob pump will fall out of it so TNB won’t have to steal yours.
And that’s the other thing. Everyone around here is so bossy.
Perhaps we can use the bossiness to convince Listi to get a petting zoo for the birthday party.
I love what you did here.
And I love you.
I feel like you and I have talked about this so much off the record – and I address my feelings about it in my new TNB birthday post – that there isn’t a whole lot left to say. Except, once again, I appreciate you for being the lady who will always, always tell me when my skirt is tucked into the back of my pantyhose.
Aw shucks. See, that’s a nice compliment and it didn’t even make me nauseous or anything!
One arm hug! I’m going to sappy pieces over here. 🙂
Though I’d more likely be like, “Gloria, it’s 2011. Why are you wearing pantyhose?”
So who drew The Nervous Guy? I love The Nervous Guy! He’s how I came to be here; he started following me on Twitter. So I followed him back and looked at his website, which was beige. I asked if I could be on it. And so on.
Brad drew The Nervous Guy, I believe. He would appear in illustrations in Listi’s pre-TNB Myspace blog from time to time.
Some of those illustrations were hilarious. I don’t know why he stopped doing them. Time consuming, I suppose.
This was a seriously good one, Becky.
Hey thanks, Gina!
I love the idea that the site is like water. It overflows its own idea of itself all the time. I think writers here wait for something about TNB to congeal so they can debunk it with their next post. This keeps things very interesting, and keeps me coming back.