"Long time, no publicly criticize."
That's the e-mail greeting I received this weekend from Max Karson, a former CU student who made headlines for years in these parts with provocative (and frequently misunderstood) satire about race, relationships and pretty much any other taboo topic that popped into his head.
What's he been up to since moving to San Francisco in 2008? Among many other things, he's been writing Shame Lane, a blog chronicling his sexual development and a schism with his mom caused partly by oversharing. Up until now, the project has been anonymous -- but Karson's decided to come out of the closet, so to speak.
The local media first tuned in to Karson back in 2006, after he used The Yeti, his self-published newsletter, to debunk "the myth of the female orgasm" in a way that critics saw as making light of rape. (Catch up on The Yeti's run at MaxKarson.com.)
That was followed by the kerfuffle over "If It's War the Asians Want...," an anti-racist manifesto that plenty of folks took as promoting prejudice. This last salvo nearly took down CU's Campus Press, which subsequently launched an independence bid after being blamed in many quarters for letting Karson spout off.
And then there was Karson's April 2007 arrest immediately following that month's massacre at Virginia Tech, for joking in class about things that might send him into a homicidal rage, including fluorescent lights. Karson's record was wiped clean after he somehow managed to stay out of trouble with the law for a full year.
At that point, he opted for a change of scenery. Upon arriving in San Francisco, he got a job as a barista -- but it didn't last long.
"My boss said he would fire me if I didn't stop staring at women," he notes. "So I quit and got a job at the YMCA, where I met a girl. We moved in together after ten months, but two months later our relationship ended badly, and loudly -- our neighbors even called the police on us."
More recently, he quit the YMCA gig. According to him, "I have been working as a technical editor, a videographer, and a nanny for my baby nephew" in addition to tackling assorted artistic projects. Among them: a screenplay called Bubblegum, a short film entitled The Operators that's currently "in post-production," and a short horror film dubbed Blackout (watch it here) that revolves around a booze-soaked party gone very wrong.
And then there's Shame Lane, which made its Internet bow last year. "Most of my writing has been humorous and fictional in a way, and I thought it would be interesting to write something personal for a change," he points out. "I have always liked talking about sexuality and gender, and I thought people would be interested in hearing about my experiences being raised by a difficult mother and how that has affected me."
As usual, Karson doesn't hold back. He lets readers follow along as he essentially calls out his mother in a post headlined "Hate (Age 25)." Here's how it ends:
I chose to have a polite relationship with you because I didn't want to destroy my image of you. But a few weeks ago I started writing an anonymous blog about my development. (Don't try to find it.) Reading it, and reading people's responses to it, I see that I don't want a polite relationship anymore. I have always been afraid to find out that you aren't capable of or interested in admitting how badly you fucked up, or dealing with the fallout from your mistakes. I am not afraid anymore.
Elsewhere, Karson deals with his predilections in public, as in this post celebrating the number of teenage girls who signed up as his Facebook friends, perhaps because he used a cute sketch, not an actual snapshot, for his profile photo. An excerpt:
The fact that teenage girls read this doesn't turn me on. However, it does make me happy. I like the idea that after a long, boring day of teachers narrowing their eyes at the slightest hint of your sexuality, of teenage boys not caring thinking about how to turn you on, and of your fathers cringing at the idea of you ever having sex, you can come to Shame Lane and be in the company of people who accept -- and even encourage -- your sickest thoughts.
It makes me feel like I'm breaking into a zoo and opening the tiger cage.
So, Teenage Girl Readers, welcome.
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Yes, Karson aims to turn Shame Lane into a book, hopefully by year's end. Otherwise, he maintains, "my goal for myself is to face my demons. Writing the blog has been pretty harrowing at times because of the things I have had to revisit, and it is cutting through my denial about my problems like a knife... Every time I get to a story I am embarrassed or afraid to tell, I just force myself to write it and click the 'publish' button. I want to get to a place where I am not ashamed of anything, because my self-loathing has caused a lot of problems in my romantic relationships, and I want to fix that. So, the short answer is that I want a girlfriend.
"My goal for my readers," he adds, "is to start interesting conversations, to help them face their own demons, and, above all, to entertain them."
Karson admits to having mixed feelings about leaving Colorado: "I miss my dad and his wife, I miss my ex-girlfriend, and I miss my lawyer. I don't miss 300 person lecture halls or jail."
Apparently, he's a little nostalgic for controversy, however. But he's able to stir that from anywhere.