Watching the decline...

Archives: Writing

Harlan Ellison Is Dead

Love him or hate him, there was no denying his influence and talent.  Yet another of my literary “heroes” is gone.

Hang Around Long Enough…

I’m not sure what mojo I’ve been working but the site has seen a lot more traffic lately. Blame Putin and his army of Russian bots, or the accidental  cross posting of something I might have said in a exhausted haze but something has made the site visits jump off the charts in the last few weeks.

Well…

Whatever it is, and whoever you are who are visiting…

Thanks.

Reconciliation

As the year closes and a new one begins several feelings wash over me.

I feel a continuing sense of change, personalty, professionally and in the world around me.  I feel that what came apart last year could use some mending this coming year, and when was left unfinished or unsaid, needs completion and vocalizing.

As has been the pattern of my life I am starting anew, leaving behind what was and moving towards something else, I’ve shed yet another skin and left behind a part of myself in the process.

I think in order to reconcile the world around you, you have to reconcile the warring factions within yourself. In order to understand the external chaos, you have to address the internal. You have to let some of the voices you’ve forcibly ignored to be heard. As someone with deeply held beliefs I have had those beliefs challenged constantly by those I choose to surround myself with.  Beliefs and opinions not only about the world but about myself as well, the picture I paint of myself and my actions doesn’t always match that of what the outside world sees and I’m realizing that however ugly that picture is, it has some validity.

In the past year I have done things I never would have told myself I’d have done, made choices both bold and cowardly that I never saw myself making and became a shade of myself I never considered using from the box of crayons I used to color my actions. I’ve learned hard truths about choosing one thing over something else and myself over other people, I’ve learned that at times when I’ve felt so sure of something that there existed equally a terrible fear of being wrong. Mostly what I’ve learned is that when you choose yourself, sometimes, there is a terrible price to pay.

I’ve also learned that when you allow other’s view of you to become integrated with your own it not only invites in doubt, but that doubt brings along perspective. It’s a fine line that separates the two, but one does not come without the other. I now know that when you allow yourself to see yourself as others see you it makes plain what needs to change.

When I started off this year I was knee deep in sorting out my life. Determining where I wanted to be and with whom, sorting through who and what I wanted in my life. I was confused, bewildered and estranged from myself and poorly choosing my way through a series of friendships that would eventually take me to where I am now. I felt confident about nothing except that I needed to change.

We were also beginning a turbulent section of American history, facing down the expectations of a presidency that both elevated the office and stripped the country of its facade of post racialism. We allowed our petty hatreds to divide us and create a false dichotomy of left and right that had nothing to do with classical liberalism or conservatism, and pit rural versus rural with neither really knowing how the other lived. We silenced the voices that could have spoken across those lines and increased the volume of those that would, for their own best interest, push us further apart. We laughed uncomfortably at what we all knew to be true:

 

So, what now? Where to go and what to do?

Firstly, for me I have to take care of my own house first, clean around my gutters and put a fresh coat of paint on the walls. Houseclean my brain and look for the blemishes that reflect the neglectful portions of my psyche, patch the holes and soothe the edges and realize that the process may be a lonely one but cannot be done alone.

Then and only then can I take on the rest.

 

Happy New Year!

Your Heroes Will Always Disappoint You

Updated on 8/23/17 with links. And a few egregious spelling errors.

….so don’t have heroes.

Feminism has been redefined, again and again, mostly by men. I think I went through a short period of calling myself a feminist before I realized the ridiculousness of that statement. I’m not a woman, so the defining of feminism was not for me to do. Like conversations about abortion, I can only actually be involved on the periphery unless I had something directly to do with the pregnancy. Yes I know and love the women in my life but I don’t define who they are.

Feminism and the definition of it are truly woman’s work. I have a right to chime in and ask questions but the defining characteristics of feminism and being female are not mine to judge.  I think our first mistake when we talk about feminism is allowing fearful or manipulative men to set the conversational terms of engagement. Men, although well-meaning, are often swayed by less than honorable reasons to declare themselves “feminists.” there is a running joke that guys who declare themselves feminists are just trying to get laid. Its a trope on every college campus and workplace and it exists because in many ways it’s true.

It is like the friend who declares their “color blindness,” the person who always knows the best “ethnic food spots” but knows not a single person representing the various flavors he can describe in great detail. The guy who likes exotic looking chicks, or the girl who shows up at all the anti-racist rallies and doesn’t have a single Black friend IRL.

Those people. I’ve been one of those people. I hope never to be one again.

I wish I could say that Kai Cole’s essay about her ex-husband Joss Whedon came as a huge surprise to me. Anyone who shouts so loudly about a cause and is so vocally oppositional to those who champion its opposition is often, not always, but often, full of some degree of shit.

Granted, as we should do with everyone, we need to wait for both sides or at least the stream of on set confirmations that will surely follow, until fully accepting Cole’s POV lock stock and barrel. I fear, though, that it may be too close to the truth.

I love Rosemary’s Baby, adore Braveheart and still believe North by Northwest is a classic, but all of the above film’s Directors, were and in some cases still are, shitty to women. It doesn’t make my enjoyment of any of the above less so because they all came from the minds of mild to extreme misogynists. It does, however, because I am a man and have no direct experience with misogyny, not ring as deeply as it would had I been female. It sucks in this case because he was preaching to be just the opposite.

Now you can find a whole host of reasons his activism was nulled and voided by these revelations (if true) but I can’t help but think that along with the truckload of bullshit there is a deep psychological upset in there as well. Not justifying any of it, just looking at everything full big picture.

If what Cole has written is true, not in its natural and understandable POV but its core truth, that Whedon was a faker and manipulator who used his feminist creds to hide his philandering, that will be a hard pill to swallow. For me it’s not as much a personal affront that he cheated, that aspect of his life is his, and his ex’s not the public’s. What tramples on my sensibilities is that everything he’s said, largely in line with my own beliefs, will be used as ammunition against the rest of us, the silent ones who looked at his stances as brave (but sometimes just as bad as some of whats been said on the “other side”)  and echoed his sentiments. It doesn’t make the views any less relevant, but it does make the spewer damaged goods. The messenger and the message have become one, and the messenger has his stink all over the message.

This is why I back away from admiration as a public duty, and this is why I don’t have heroes. They will ALWAYS, ALWAYS let you down.

In Remembrance: Robert Pirsig

Some books move you, others, you identify with on a level that moves with you. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was THAT book for me.

I honestly do not remember much of the book’s narrative. I remember the basic premise and flashes of many of the pivotal scenes but the specifics are lost on me now. I think it’s time for a re-read.

I read it the first few times when I was vulnerable and young before I became a father (or a man really) and both times I read it I thought myself deeply in love. I knew it was about becoming, something I write about and allude to a lot here, becoming the person you are and how that person relates to the rest of the world. It was about philosophy and kindness and fear, it was about being imperfect in the face of others wanting perfection, and it was about being a father.

It is a book that I encourage every man to read, women too, but especially men. It deals with the pain and confusion of becoming a man and becoming a father in such beautifully illustrated words that even if you are none of those, you can understand what it is like to be any of them.

It was my go-to comfort book for many years. I’d read a chapter or two when I was depressed or despondent. When the girl I liked didn’t like me back and I was so afraid that I’d never have the opportunity to become a father. It kept me warm when I was cold and alone and struggling just to keep my head up. It kept me alive when I was suicidal, awake when I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open and striving for healthy when I was so sick inside I could barely get out of bed.

In a very real way, this book was why I wanted to write in the first place and its more than 100 rejections proved to me that it was a noble venture. And that, with perseverance, luck, and will, almost anything is possible.

 

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/04/24/525443040/-zen-and-the-art-of-motorcycle-maintenance-author-robert-m-pirsig-dies-at-88

Five Songs in Five Days: “Turn It On Again.”

Genesis, one of those bands with a smattering of songs I rank among my favorites. The Phil Collins era ones ride the line between pop accessibility and Peter Gabriel era weirdness, and this song exemplifies that.

The way songs make you feel regardless of lyrical content and sometimes because of it, is the immediate catch for me. This one transfers a longing and desperation. It recalls the feeling of being an adolescent in a fully grown man’s body and obsessing about the woman you love and going a little mad in the process.

Plus the music is just great.

Genesis, “Turn It On Again”:

Turning the lens….inward

I think I need to stop externalizing for a short while, what I write is largely determined by what’s on my mind and politics really isn’t it at the moment. My inner life is looking a lot more interesting than what is going on in the rest of the universe.

The internal back and forth between my need to be attached to something else, a person or an idea, and my desire for individuality aren’t as much at odds with each other as they were just a few months ago, or a few weeks ago. I think I have found peace with the warring factions of myself in an unexpected way.

The way out, is the way in….

Sometimes I’m full of shit

Edited on 3/30 @ 1:43pm, because sometimes I’m also full of grammatical errors.

Yep, admittedly sometimes I’m not 100% on the right page. I’m a fuck-up and an asshole. I believe what I’m saying at one moment only to have it change in the next, and in some cases I’m completely full of shit.

I think at times I come off as being calculated, when its more like misguided. Sometimes I come off as manipulative when its more like I just have no idea what I want at any given moment. Sometimes I tell myself that what I’m doing is for the best, even when it comes out totally, the worst.  Sometimes it seems like I’m reading from a script, others it’s just simply that I’m making it up as I go along.

In my writing life here, I comment on the foibles of others, their obvious flaws and the pitfalls of their myopia. I can’t do that without recognizing my own blind spots and where my selfishness supersedes all else. I generally don’t apologize for being selfish as we in our humanness need to be selfish sometimes. But when it hurts people I care about, it’s really hard to justify it.

My life’s journey feels like its beginning again, and with that new beginning there will be a shit-ton of mistakes. I’ll be hurt, friends will be hurt, potential romantic partners will be hurt, family will be hurt. The only thing I can do is be less full of shit as the days go on.

Because, sometimes, we are all a little full of shit, and I am definitely no exception.

solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short – welcome to the Hobbesian nightmare 2016 edition

No, the above way-more-educated-than-I-am, quote is not intended to describe this year’s election cycle. But it is, in my view, what many want out of it in the end.

Let me explain.

I’ve been reading excerpts and reviews of a lot of books about men lately. Many of these “books” are written by bloggers and other assorted malcontents and sold on Amazon (Amazon, who will, in fact, publish damn near anything if some of these “works” are any indication).

Some are well written and through the murk of chest-beating manliness, and to an extent even within that milieu, they offer interesting and accurate commentary on the state of manhood in these changing times. I don’t touch this subject matter directly as so many others do it so much better, but manhood is in crisis. Womanhood is as well, the changing roles and responsibilities that have defined our genders for years are upending. I charge that this is for the better, but just as with any large scale change there are bound to be those who see the bad looming greater than the good.

Occasionally, I am one of those people.

As a wannabe writer of fiction, I push myself to imagine futures. Futures in far-flung societies and in this one advanced a few hundred days or a few thousand years. I write about the future, at least in part, due to my inability to research and my personal bias against meddling with history. I also write about the future because it’s easy to see myself there and it’s also easier to reflect a mirrored image of what we are now back at us by looking at what we will be.

I often imagine futures where the norms are different. Frontier societies that have developed strict social codes that rely on violence to keep those who would stray, in check. Societies that were founded on Hobbesian principles of centralized power (a throwback to the subject of this post)  and developed accordingly are a favorite topic of mine lately. Of course, this requires some of the dreaded “research” I despise, but only in a broad sense. I look at things like culture, the size of the society, its early development and its key figure’s personalities, location, climate, and the temperament of its neighbors.

Doing all this imagining often takes me down dual roads, one leading to a mostly civilized and safe society and another leading to industrial serfdom for most and great luxury and wealth for a few. The trick is that these futures are not necessarily aligned with what you might think their respective paths are. The road to serfdom does not necessarily come directly from the path of kings and enlightened despots, nor is the egalitarian future born solely of democracy and participation. When you look at civilizations on this planet, you come up with many paths to sometimes the same conclusion.

So back to manhood. Yes it all ties in together, just a few paragraphs more of patience I ask.

I make no apologies for being a man; no one should have to apologize for what they are by birth. No White man needs to apologize for being what he is no Black woman should be implored to beg her case for being born into herself. We are not the sole determination of our race, class, or origin; they do not FULLY define us. But we are impacted and affected by them all, we bear the burdens and the responsibilities we were born into, we inherit, however unfairly, the cultural baggage of our predecessors. We are partially the sum of our ancestors, with a dash of our present culture and a heaping helping of our perceptions of it, and finally rubbed with a coating of our environment.

There is a rub here, though. We all need to take responsibility for not only what we have personally done, but for what our culture, collectively and associatively, has fostered upon us. It isn’t a choice, it isn’t something to run away from nor run into, it just is.

I am very much an imperfect man, for all my virtues I have at least as many faults. And men in general, have much to atone for. When women reach the same pinnacle men have in this society, they too will have sins of their own. Some will be determined by their “gendered” view of the world (every woman as every man has a unique view which is determined by living as what they include, gender identity, race, cultural identity, income, the number of parents…, etc.) others are simply a consequence of increased power.

Men, right now, are the ones who should be doing the soul-searching FROM that place of power. We are forced to do it because the sands beneath us have shifted.

For some in the alt-right, this shift has taken an apocalyptic tone. As when bankers, now bereft of what defined then, defenestrated during the great depression (greatly exaggerated I know, but a great narrative device nonetheless), a largely white male population is feeling the push-back of the new world order of diminishing power by virtue of belonging to that group.

So this new narrative arises among its ranks, one of doom, gloom, and violence. Ideas that were, when their numbers and their power was greater, casually cast off as un-American, are now common in its language. Where the coded has become explicit. When Bigots, Racists, and Traditionalists have been re-branded as White Nationalists, and people like David Duke have an out-sized voice in the conversation (again).

The above headline feels like a goal.

The alt-right, the new Vikings, the explosion of men with more muscle mass than 10 Charles atlases, PUA, MGTOW, GamerGate (if there are any of these things you aren’t familiar with you should be) the harassment of feminists and their supporters, doxing in general, whether it be of the proponents or opponents of these “movements” all lead us to the above conclusion.

Hobbes uses the above to justify control of a kingly presence over everyone else; he defines civilization as the reaction to the fear of that life. That the fear of the return of a short, nasty, brutish life is what keeps people in line, but when your life was by virtue of your “race” already the above, or that it now could be, I guess part of our natural tendency is to embrace what we feel is inevitable.

Well in these guys eyes a nasty, brutish life is inevitable.

It is inevitable that the patriarchy will be toppled by hypergamy. It is inevitable that white men of every income will be “cucked” and castrated and thrown from the horse they were born atop only to be thrown into the mud with all the “sharks.”

It is inevitable, in this world, that instead of recognizing how badly fascism ends for most people, including many of those raising their fists for it, they will call for it loudly and without irony. This is where the consequences of not understanding history are dooming us to rewarm the meal and take it, salmonella and all.

Men are in a crisis state, and because we are so greatly tethered to the mythology of a country that shows 1/2 of 1% of what we are and have ever been and probably gets that at least 1/2 wrong, our country is flirting with a very dark path.

Fear, anger, hatred, yeah George, you called it, you so called it.

The Truth is Ugly (The Magical Negro and other Gross Generalizations)

People are complicated.

There is nothing that turns me off a book, be it fiction or not, like a one-dimensional subject. As I stated in the last post, I’m more a fan of the latter (non-fiction), and I think this is part of the reason. People are messy, complex, ugly and vicious; they are also beautiful, inspiring and sacrificial. They are boastful about their better qualities, rendering them inert at best or at worst negating the good they do with charmless hyperbole about how great they are for doing all that good.

I love reading about flawed assholes with hearts of gold or sacrificial fascists. People are not all bad or all good, and some people who do good are more bad than good, whatever bad and good truly mean. In my reading experience identifying with a good guy’s major flaws is an identification of ourselves in the characters. We know we sometimes suck, hard. We also know that most times we might struggle to try to do a balance of good things over evil deeds. Sometimes we do evil by trying to do the right thing. Some evil people do tremendous good or have good qualities that are overshadowed by their heinous deeds. Nothing is black and white.

Oh and by the way I AM NOT negating the existence of truly evil people. None of that Hitler was an animal lover bullshit justification. Knowing that fact, however, makes him less a caricature and in my opinion even that much more frightening and evil.

That’s not to say that there are people whose good outweighs the bad; I still maintain the naive belief that the preceding describes the majority of us. That is also not to say that there are some people that we love to hate for good reason. The truth, however, is often gray and ugly. It is speckled with blood and shit and smeared with a thin layer of disease, but that is really how life is.

One of the difficulties I’ve always had with reading and writing fiction is that it sometimes feels that writers (myself included) intentionally construct their characters from the outside in. What I mean by that is instead of developing a person and then creating space for them to inhabit, they do the reverse, focusing on the space first and then drawing the characters secondary to that. Not to say that there is only one way to write, but the usual tact for writing cardboard cutter characters starts with a stimulus and shows a reaction.

Stephen King’s Black characters always seemed to suffer from this. King, apparently not knowing, or believing “they” are like “us” is one thing, but it is easily remedied at least in part by talking to some of “them” if only in his own head.  Instead, there always seemed to be a noble savage or “magical negro” aspect to his non-white characters that disturbed me, and I’m not the only one. Much of this, I believe, could have been solved by writing these characters internally first, as people, not people of color. Working his way out instead of in and suffering on the side of flaws instead of noble caricature. Some of his female characters fail to ring true for the same reason.

“Character driven” is often one of those shortcut terms in film and literature that means low or no concept. No big idea, no political agenda, no overarching theme about who we are. It is a signal from the reviewer to the reader that you’ll encounter a series of sullen navel-gazers who’s whiny antics you’ll find tedious yet intriguing. It’s for the coffeehouse crowd, the liberal intellectual whiny white suburbanites who wish to be taken out of their humdrum lives of privileged if only for a second. The New York Review of Books types who’ve not only read Proust but “The Joy of Reading Proust” as well. Shortcut.

In my mind, if your story isn’t driven by its characters it isn’t worth my time reading.

I don’t read to escape; I read to engage. I watch superhero films to escape; I play video games to escape. Reading takes time and concentration, it isn’t as passive as movie watching and although gaming is more engaging, reading for me takes much more brainpower. While the pixels are drawn for you in gaming, every pixel, every scene, every sight and sound is created, rendered on the fly by your brain. Part of the reason I read so little is that it takes so much effort and concentration. If I’m committing that amount of time and effort to read words and draw from them mental pictures and emotions and trauma and fear and, and, and…it had better be fucking worth it.

My ex used to call books she read through quickly, potato chips. I’m not a fan of those either. If I’m going to get fat it better be on a meal I love and savor, not mindlessly shoveling the same tasting, same salted, sameness into my mouth unconsciously. I want to think about every bite, enjoy every flavor and texture.

Part of the reason it takes me so long to post is that this takes so much energy to create, and even more to filter out and edit the tangents. In fiction it takes a lot of forethought to create a character I want to live with in my head for a long, long, time. It takes a herculean effort to draw that character fully, to be able to write them as if they were real to me and not to disrespect them by ignoring their worse (or better) qualities.

I guess it’s also the same reason I have very few good friends. I don’t have the mental energy or commitment of concentration to invest in people I will have only a tertiary non-relationship with. If I invest emotion in you you’d better be interesting or I won’t sustain the acquaintance long enough to move to calling you a friend. You’d better not be all sunshine and seagulls or conversely covered in a dark cloud of doom 24/7. Either drives me up a fucking tree and I wouldn’t want to read about you either. The bandwidth for bullshit only gets narrower with age.

Every black character does not have to be noble, as a matter of fact giving them some asshole qualities would do them well. Every hero with a dark past doesn’t have to be fully repentant. It makes them more dangerous and real if you give them some un-heroic qualities, some major unresolved flaws that they aren’t particularly tortured by. Every racist doesn’t have to be an overbearing boss with an agenda against his Mexican employees; he can just be a guy, who happens to be a bigot. Every damn villain does not have to be so clear-cut evil. People, even types, are much more interesting when they are real, ugly, complicated.

At least to me.

Follow

Get the latest posts delivered to your mailbox: