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Walking While Black

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.

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

7 Books

I’m by no means a voracious reader, on average I read about two books a year, and they tend to be nonfiction. As my previous posts betray, I’m more a current events kind of guy, a news hound or cultural history buff depending on the day.

As I’ve been contemplating writing more myself I’ve been trying to read more as well and the books I’m reading and have read are influencing me in some not so subtle ways, especially the fiction.

When I was in college the first time, I studied English lit and had the distinct pleasure of being instructed by two very different people. Although they possessed two distinctly different styles, their voices still resonate in my head and greatly inform both my writing and my choice in reading.

Leonard Kent, a tall, gangly sweetheart of a man, introduced me to Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn. The density of Russian prose resonated with me as I was awash in verbiage in my own writing and simultaneously tumbling head over heels into its murky depths. The Russians we read always spoke to me not only about Russia but also the cold, stiff society that was New England’s colonial beginnings. In some ways New England is still this.  As different as a Black kid from a housing project could be from a young bleak Russian, I still found kinship in the tales and the characters.

Rodion Raskolnikov of Crime and Punishment, a conflicted ex-student trapped between kindness and killing was somewhere between the sullen resignation of Bartleby and my post adolescent angst. I identified frighteningly with both his kindness and his cruelty. In retrospect, I see how that bleak Russian ennui is more relevant to us in the US now than it was even to Russia in the mid 20th century. He was me, as I saw myself when I was still mired deeply in myself.

Mark Johnston, my would-be mentor, and one of the many relationships I walked away from that I regret. (He would die as I spent my exile years in Florida) His influence affects me similarly, yet differently. Think Donald Sutherland’s suave, pot-smoking Prof from Animal House. Not quite that flaky (or naked) but from what I knew of him, at least a shade similar. This filter-less chain-smoking intellectual charmer was the only white man who could say certain words without raising the hairs on my back.

Even the most well-intentioned teachers always came across like they were getting away with something when reading the many “niggers” sprinkled throughout American literature. Sometimes it was that they were so uncomfortable through the inevitable prefacing that it made the eventual unveiling of the word so much worse.

Mark was neither of these. I learned to appreciate contributions we made to this country through his prodding. When I nearly crashed and burned his class behind me because of a rather intense relationship, he was both comforting and steady in his assertion that I finish what I started in his class. I eventually did.

Mark showed me Wright and Truth as well as Baldwin, which made the hardest impact. I still don’t get poetry, but Angelou and Hughes still resonate.

In another class he helped me deepen and appreciate my relationship to the work of probably my favorite writer Kurt Vonnegut.

So books…

7 of the most influential works of fiction on me, my writing and my thought process.

In descending order because there is no drum roll when you can scroll down.

  1. Cats Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut
  2. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert Pirsig
  3. Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin
  4. The Forever War – Joe Haldeman
  5. For Us, The Living – Robert A. Heinlein
  6. Childhoods End – Arthur C. Clarke
  7. Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison

Next…. What each means to me…

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