The Resentment Machine: A Commentary

The Resentment Machine: A Commentary

I got into a Twitter squabble recently. It happened before Irma hit, and it was a small argument, but it still got under my skin.

The days leading up to last weekend was this slow crawl of dread. All the news that was concerning Irma was centered around how massive she was and how it was going to be the end of the world etc. Headlines were on constant repeat on the over-glorification of how deadly this was; “Climatologists in Awe: We have never seen anything like this! You’re SCREWED, FLORIDA!” It was deadly, make no mistake. It leveled a Caribbean island, and made Miami look like Venice. By the time it reached us in Central Florida, it was a Category 1; a tropical storm with an attitude. Not that anyone noticed with the flooding and destruction as we crawled out of our homes the next day. As I type this less than a week later, we still don’t have phone service. The nightly chorus of crickets have been replaced by generators. By the time Irma reached Central Florida, it didn’t matter anymore how strong she was. You were going to feel her wrath. Irma was bad. Period.

And every year it seems without fail, after each named hurricane that comes tearing up the I-4 Corridor, there are at least a half a dozen local news reports on the deaths that followed. Not as a direct result of the storm, nonono. The deaths I’m talking about are more tragic. Every single time, there is always…ALWAYS…someone dumb enough to operate their gas powered generator inside the house. As if carbon monoxide poisoning was some Liberal hoax perpetrated to undermine NASCAR or something.

Every time the storms come, senseless tragedy follows. But, here’s the thing: We are talking about Floridians here.

Now…wait…WAAAAIIITT…before you get all worked up here for one reason or another, let me explain.

It is true that Florida has been known for its, shall we say, abundance of a population who possess a particular brand of t3h dumb. From “hanging chads” to hilariously botched robbery attempts, it leaves little to the imagination how we end up the punchline of a party joke. I’ll admit it, I’ve seen it, it’s real. However, it’s not any different from the stupidity that happens in other parts of the country. The only difference is that we seem to have cornered the market on it. Almost as if the rest of the country regards us as that guy. You know? The person they always use as an example in radio commercials? “Don’t be that guy. Use AXE body spray.”

I’m a Yankee. It’s something that’s brought to my attention pretty much every time I step outside of my house here in pay-you-in-sunshine Florida. I’ll be the first to admit that I run the range of shaking my head to full out flabbergastedness when I read a headline about some headscratchingly stupid thing committed by a Floridan. I anxiously follow the continuing saga of “Floridaman“. (For more information that makes my long story even longer, I refer you to the ‘Florida’ tag on fark.com). What I’m trying to say is that I’ve had my share of laughs at Florida’s expense. But after going through a few years of life altering storms, one tends to have a change of perspective. What I mean when I said, “we are talking about Floridians here,” please understand that I mean that with the best intentions.

I got into a Twitter spat with someone pre-storm because I was expressing my disdain for the gory headlines that seemed to be posted with just a smidgen of glee by CNN and the like. The person I argued with took the stance that it’s good to keep the public informed and to make people aware of what’s going on. I proceeded to tell him that I completely agree, and I didn’t exactly appreciate his tone.

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Full disclosure: Yes, my Twitter handle is @his40thieves and no, it doesn’t have anything to do with writing or book promotion. All of my social anxiety media accounts were made a long time ago, long before I knew the rules of tying all of them together to make a uniform package for somethingsomethingSEOsomething. I have a YouTube account that’s probably going to go away soon. A g+ account where I spend most of my time. A Twitter, an Instagram, a Pinterest, and a Tumblr…for some reason. All of which have different names, all of which have nothing to do with each other. In the future, I’ll need to put all my ducks in a row and become a grown up and stuff.

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My case is that if every headline was a Doomsday headline, it wouldn’t take long for people to start tuning the information out, which ultimately will exacerbate things. I can understand if you were in Boston reading this and feeling a twinge of concern as you sip your Pumpkin-Spice Latte and tug on your cableknit sweater that you bought online from Urban Outfitter. But as a Florida resident, this is the kind of thing that fuels The Resentment Machine as we frantically wipe the grocery store shelves clean, board up our windows again, sandbag our doors, again, and try and find a way out of here before the storm arrives while at the same time avoiding some gun nut road-rager on 95 that has the capability of killing us all because the KFC he usually goes to ran out of potato wedges.

These headlines were of no benefit to us. None. We know the storm is coming. We know it’s deadly. We know the precautions we have to take and that it’s probably best that we evacuate. WE KNOW THIS! YOU DON’T HAVE TO BEAT THE HORSE ANYMORE BECAUSE IT STOPPED BREATHING DAYS AGO!

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Remember, we are talking about Floridians here. The Fear that this person is presuming we magically don’t have has been simmering on our collective back burner for days. It was seven days out and already a category 5. People in the Keys were already making preparations; out of state hotel reservations, stowing personal belongings, stocking up on gasoline. We were ready. We were prepared.  Of course, ‘being prepared’ depended on your definition of the phrase. There were those who were prepared to flee to safety, and those who were prepared to meet their doom.

The vast majority of us did what was in our power to do. Not that you’d notice with every other report focusing on the people who were going to hunker down and wait it out. Not that you’d notice because you’re too busy shaking your head thinking, “Those poor, poor idiots. Don’t they know how selfish and irresponsible they are? They’re risking their lives and taking the time away from rescuers who should be helping other people.” (No joke. Someone actually said this.) This is the last thing you want to hear as you’re running down the list of emergency phone numbers, making sure you have ice and perishable foodstuffs, and making sure your children aren’t freaking out in terror because they have no idea what’s going on. It’s worse than offering ‘thoughts and prayers‘.

It is this last point that I would like to address.

This is how the wheels in The Resentment Machine start turning.

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First of all, my heart goes out to Houston, Corpus Christi, and Louisiana. To Belize, Nicaragua and The Yucatan Peninsula, and everyone else affected by Harvey. To the people of Puerto Rico, Barbuda, The Virgin Islands, and everyone else in the Caribbean who were devastated by Irma, there is a hole in my heart that is filled with sorrow. I cannot imagine or fathom your loss. I am sorry.

Now, I know what you’re saying, “Oh, lookit you, Mr. Istillhavepower. Maybe we should tone it down and get off our high horse for a minute.” We were lucky. Every year, we spin the barrel and hope the chamber with the bullet in it doesn’t land on us. We always run the risk of not being lucky. We always run the risk of being washed out to sea, or being swallowed by it. We run the risk of tornadoes and hurricanes, of alligators and sinkholes, of 2nd Amendment fanboys and people who should have never been issued a driver’s licence like…ever. Everyday there is something out there waiting to harm you; we’re like America’s Australia. But as real as these threats are, and there are plenty of them, we don’t let that stop us from doing what we need to do. We are talking about Floridians here. We know when danger is coming.

I hunkered down. Pretty much everyone in my neighborhood did the same thing (with the exception of my next door neighbors who just moved here). Irma was followed the moment she grew, and we all paid attention; reading her every movement and adjusting accordingly. By this time last week, we had a general feel for where she was going. Could we have left? Absolutely. Should we have? Possibly.

The point is, we stayed and survived. The point is, we were told we were irresponsible for staying. By our own people. If you stayed, you were being irresponsible.

Here’s the reasons why these people were ‘irresponsible’.

Nowhere To Go

There are a lot of homeless and displaced people in Florida. Most of them knew enough to get out of the damn way and take shelter. On the flip side, there are a lot of homeless and displaced who made the conscious decision to not seek shelter. I shudder to think as to why they wouldn’t, but regardless, it’s not my place to force someone into doing something they don’t want to do.

Perhaps they are cognisant of their own mental illness, maybe they were abused as children and the thought of being cooped up with a bunch of strangers isn’t too appealing. Maybe it’s a chemical dependency. Maybe one or two of them have an outstanding warrant. I’m talking about a small percentage of a small percentage. “A brave man doesn’t mind the feel of the weather on his face,” a line from Big Trouble in Little China once stated. “But a wise man knows enough to get in out of the rain.” They made their choice, and it has nothing to do with you. Nothing. These people have been marginalized their entire lives, and even now as a hurricane threatens to erase them completely, you still…STILL refer to them as a burden. If it were me, I’d tell you to go screw too.

They’ve made their choice. Respect it.

But beyond that, not everyone has property out of state. Not everyone has friends or family that they can pop in on at a moment’s notice. Not everyone is fast enough to make a reservation at a hotel that they want. Some of us are old and infirmed. Some of us are just plain stuck.

No Means To Get There

You might not own a car. Maybe you do, but it’s a twenty year old Pontiac because that’s all you could afford and there’s no way you could fit everything and everyone into your car. Or, maybe you can, but sacrifices have to be made (sorry, grandma). Maybe you’re slightly more fortunate to have a minivan that’s on its last legs, and it’s good enough to get to the Panhandle. Maybe. Even if you did have an escape plan, there is that tiny detail of being surrounded by water on three sides. Your only option is to head north on your choice of two highways. Good luck with that. I hope your car doesn’t overheat, cause a traffic jam, and you’d have to make it out of here on foot.

Some of us are just fortunate enough to have a car that works. Something that will bring us back and forth to our low wage jobs so we can be fortunate enough to get another barely functioning vehicle a few years later. Maybe.

Which leads me to my next point…

We Can’t Afford It

The main source of revenue in Florida is tourism, slightly ahead of agriculture. That means there are lot of people that live here work in the service industry, which is a nice way of saying, “there’s a lot of people who live here that don’t make a living wage.”

Let’s say for example you’re main source of income is from working as a nurse. It’s the best job you can get. The pay isn’t that great, but you’re surviving.

All of a sudden, a major hurricane is going to roll over you in 5 days. You have about 3 days to make up your mind: stay or go?

If you choose to go, your first option is to fly out. It’s nice, but since you haven’t allowed for an emergency like this on your meager budget, you’re going to take a huge financial hit that you won’t recover from for a while. Not a pleasant option with student loans due. So, your second choice would be to drive out of here, maybe get a hotel room for the weekend somewhere out of state. Gas, food, lodging, pretty soon you’re looking at a month’s rent or higher. Every possibility that is presented to you looks less and less likely to happen.

If you choose to stay, then there’s the inevitable Thunderdome Gauntlet of Destruction you have to endure at the gas stations and grocery stores. You stock up on what’s available and what you can afford. Depending on where you’re living, you might invest in a generator. Otherwise, you sandbag your door, barricade your windows and pray.

No Seriously, We REALLY Can’t Afford It

The storm is over, and depending on which route you took, you’re either coming home or you’re cleaning up the mess that’s left behind while checking up on your neighbors. Whichever scenario you took, you best get back to work soon because Florida is a “Right to Work/At Will” state. That means that you had best hope you have an compassionate employer, and they can sympathize that you couldn’t come in because your apartment just got used as a chew toy from a Category 5 hurricane.

Otherwise, they can fire you on the spot.

One of the biggest reasons people don’t leave during the storm is the least talked about. If they leave, they run the risk of losing the only job they have. That a hurricane might erase you from this very plane of existence is not an excuse. You didn’t show up. You’re as good as gone.

People who are hospitalized or worse because of carbon monoxide poisoning aren’t doing it out of just plain ignorance. They run them in their house, because they are less likely to get stolen. Generators aren’t cheap, especially during Hurricane Season. These things are an investment that some people can’t afford to lose, and if that means risking your life, then so be it. “Oh, just let it go,” I hear you say. “It’s a material thing. It’s not worth dying over.” Tell that to the family who needs power to keep an oxygen tank going or a refrigerator to keep medicine in.

The Florida that everyone wants you to see is that of upward mobility. Everything has to be packaged like a glossy travel brochure; all shiny and new. You would think that Florida is all about Disney World and Palm Beach and Mar-a-Lago. Of course we want you to see that, because the other Florida, the Florida that you hear about on the 6 o’clock news, the Florida that cleans and maintains these shining testimonies to wanton, unchecked capitalism at $8 an hour isn’t quite as sexy.

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It’s easier to refer to us as a meme. Especially when the shit hits the fan in a situation like Irma or Charley. Have a few laughs and secretly be relieved that it’s not going to happen to you. It’s easier to refer to some of us as “irresponsible” because it throws the attention away from the fact that you probably don’t know what you’re doing either and you’re probably racist. It’s easier to cast dispersions and be appear aloof, because you’ll never have to go through what we do.

You’ll probably never have to worry that your only option for employment is a dead end job where you can be fired on a whim. You’ll probably never have to live in constant fear of being wiped out by a monster storm or being pillaged by looters after the fact. You’ll probably never have to worry about your entire neighborhood being flattened, or the people that you knew yesterday are now missing. You’ll probably never have to make that gut-wrenching decision of having to stay because there is no other option for you. You’ll probably never know what it’s like to feel the wheels of The Resentment Machine turn every time we’re looked down upon because you think we’re too stupid to get out of our own way.

And that’s fine.

Because, after all, we are talking about Floridians here. Sun worshipping, beach dwelling, blue crab eating, monster truck driving Floridians who are well acquainted with danger, because in most cases, it lives right next door to us.

Hurricanes are nothing new to us.

It would be “irresponsible” for you to assume that we are ignorant of that.

You know what’s “irresponsible”? Rush Limbaugh calling Hurricane Irma a “Liberal Hoax”. It’s worth noting that this “Liberal Hoax” made his fat ass evacuate real quick. He has an audience that is in the millions. How many do you suppose died because they listened to this moron and decided to carry on as if nothing’s unusual?

This guy gets a pass for blatantly passing along misleading and quite possibly lethal information, but we’re “irresponsible” for not evacuating?

It’s been over a week.

The sun was out today.

Phone service came back.

I cleaned up my yard.

Two more storms have been spotted in the Atlantic and are planning to hit the east coast in a week or two.

The Resentment Machine still hums.

 

 

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2 Hidden Traps That Will Sabotage Your Story, and How to Fix Them: Irma Edition

2 Hidden Traps That Will Sabotage Your Story, and How to Fix Them: Irma Edition

Tuesday September 5, 2017

So, as of this moment, I have at least a dozen first drafts up in the air. One of which has been tinkered with for a couple of weeks. It’s the latest, and the last project I’m taking on this year. Once this one is out of the way, then I’ll be working backwards through the projects started and never finished.

This last one, the one I’m working on now, this line in the sand, this is the hill that I will die upon before I stick my flag into the soil that reads, “I WILL FINISH A GODDAMNED PROJECT THIS YEAR IF IT KILLS ME”. This one started as they always do; Flash Fiction.

I’m beginning to think that Flash Fiction is like yeast. It’s small, inert and harmless at first, but given time and the right ingredients, and you can watch that sucker consume the container you put it in. Which is always fun. RAAWRR! FEAR MY SOURDOUGHNESS! I WILL EAT YOUR KITCHEN!

I start out with my sites set to finish a project within 1000 words. It never works. Never. I’m sure with time and…what’s that word?…discipline! Yeah, that’s it. I’m sure with enough discipline I could cut my stories down with laser precision to the point that they could almost be mistaken for Haiku.

I’m also sure that with the right application, I could raise an entire SOURDOUGH ARMY TO TAKE OVER THE TRI-STATE AREA!!!

Sorry…hungry…almost lunchtime.

I just want to point out, just in case I haven’t made it clear before, that I sort of fell into writing. It wasn’t my first choice, but it was in my top five and I might have made a grave mistake in not acting upon it sooner in life. I didn’t go to school for it. I didn’t grow up sitting for endless hours in a starkly furnished and dimly lit room in front of an ancient typewriter thinking, “Someday, man… someday…”. Which isn’t to say that I find the act of writing dull or cumbersome, nor do I think my fondness for the craft will make me an overnight sensation. I like writing. I’m comfortable with it. It’s something that I actually like doing. It allows me to be useful and functional member of society while trying to cope with an undiagnosed personality disorder. You know the one? The one that sticks its ugly head out every time I have to deal with engaging people? The one that cost me relationships and employment? Yeah, that one. Writing has allowed me to cope, to make sense of things, to be the person I thought I never could be. I just wanted to point this out, because I know there might be a few of you who feel the same way about writing or whatever craft or occupation you found yourself in.

I also wanted to point this out because I’m trying to keep my mind off a Category 5 Hurricane that has just developed near the east coast of Puerto Rico and heading for Florida.

Hurricane Irma.

She’s big and mean and I’m sick of being hurricane bait. I grew up in the Northeast. Childhood was filled with shoveling a lot of driveways, something I hated. Now with Irma tracked to take a big old dump on my front lawn in a few days, I’m beginning to get downright nostalgic for a good old fashioned snow storm and the feel of a sturdy shovel in mittened hands. It’s a lot easier to shovel snow than replace windows.

Irma

A Category 5.

A goddamned FIVE!

Any higher, and they’d have to add tornadoes made stuffed with sharks and barbed wire stuffed inside of a larger tornado stuffed inside a hurricane.

Hurricane Turducken.

Hurricaneception.

Yes, I know that she’s still in the ocean and she’ll lose steam once she hits the Caribbean. It still doesn’t make me thankful that she’ll be downgraded to a Category 4. Harvey was a 4. Matthew was a 4. Katrina was only a 3, and look at the mess she made there. Irma will be a solid 5 for the foreseeable future. I don’t think there’s any room for a ‘count your blessings’ homily here. She is coming and she will mess your shit up, and she will laugh in your face while doing it. She is the honey badger of storms. She does not give a shit. If she does make landfall as a 4, when she blows your house down, I don’t think the first words out of your mouth will be, “Hey, look at the bright side, at least it wasn’t a Category 5.”

Anyway, it’s times like these that I try to put myself into the mindset of an Syrian war correspondent. Or closer to the topic, meteorologists who risk their necks walking outside in the middle of a hurricane. I try to think of all these western journalists who have to wear a special color helmet and a vest that says “PRESS” on both sides or blue slickers that are basically and afterthought as everyone that wears it is still soaked to the bone. I try to think of the story they’re presenting while dealing with pressure they’re under from the bullets or funnel clouds in front of them, and the deadlines behind them.

Of course, these guys were made to thrive under pressure. These are the ones who are telling you things as they happen because they are important at that moment. What isn’t important at that moment while the world falls apart around them, is a well researched and well written thinkpiece a la Rachel Maddow. The viewer doesn’t need to know the intricate and labyrinthine details of what lead up to the point you’re talking about right now. It’s nice and it’s appreciated, but it can wait. What is important is that building that just exploded in front of you from mortar fire. That’s the story, in all its gory details. I don’t think there needs to be too much research for that.

Then again, they are reporting the news. Current events. Dangerous current events. It’s not as if they’re pulling out random thoughts and characters from thin air in some quiet and cozy nook with their Chamomile tea and a Macbook where they weave a 200 page narrative to be published at a later date. I’m not a pro or anything like that so don’t quote me, but I don’t think fiction story writing is the same thing as non-fiction story writing. I think I might have read that somewhere. Hemingway was a journalist at one time, and I’m sure he’s documented his fair share of horrors as they happened. I’m just not convinced he wrote The Sun Also Rises while staring down the barrel of a hurricane that was poised to uproot his house and chuck it into the Caribbean. Something, I think, he probably wouldn’t have been too displeased with.

And it’s not like I don’t have any regard for deadlines at all. I make them for myself on a regular basis. It’s just that other priorities always pile themselves in front of them. As a result, the house gets clean, the page is still blank. I miss my own deadlines.

There aren’t enough hours in the day. And spare me your wagging finger and your snooty tone. Some of us only have a few minutes a day to sit down and focus on something else that doesn’t involve changing a diaper or washing a dish. Some of us don’t have the luxury of unplugging completely. Some of us don’t have a tiny writing shack that we can hermit ourselves into somewhere in the mountains. Some of us are housewives looking for a better life. Some of us didn’t go to college to learn how to write professionally, it’s just something that happened along the way. Some of us simply fell into it.

This time, I’m closer than I have been to actually finishing something. I’m still at a snail’s pace, but at least I have recognized how I’m sabotaging myself. Not in ways that are completely obvious that haven’t been blogged about in a listicle several thousand times before. Blahblahblah too much internet. Blahblahblah turn off your devices. Yeah, I get that. I have plenty of other things that pry my attention away from the keyboard that aren’t digital. One of them runs around on chubby toddler legs screaming, “DADDY! PAW PATROL! DADDY! CHAWQUIK MIKK!”

Outside interferences aside, I have become hip to certain things I do to myself that hold me back long before I sit down to write. I don’t know if blogging about them would help me in any way, but dammit, something needs to go up like now-ish. Irma is coming. Look busy.

Step 1 in getting more disciplined is to recognize the pitfalls. Step 2 is working on fixing them. Here are a couple of big ones.

1. Too Much Focus On Word Counts

How long should your short story be? It depends on who you ask.

If you’re looking to have your short story published in a magazine, then it would be wise to tighten it up to less than 2000 words. If you’re looking to publish it in your own anthology at a later date, then go crazy, you crazy pumpkin-headed word monkey! Type like the wind! Just, try to keep them south of 7000 words (I know of someone who recently self published her own short story in digital format on Amazon that was around 6000 words).

I have literally spent hours studying this. Upon starting a new project, the thing that always comes first is the initial idea, natch. The second thing, for me, isn’t the genre, the subplots, the theme, how many characters I need. It’s not if and when the Fearsome Sourdough Army will rise up and take over. It’s not the plot synopsis or the elevator pitch, it’s the length. How long should it be? It’s a genuine concern for me because I feel it’s important to know where my limitations are before I start, and because well…it’s a length thing. Because some guys worry that…theirs…aren’t long enough… and it won’t measure up… and they’ll get laughed at, and won’t be invited back to any pool parties.

Anyway…

My goal this year is to write at least one short story, but how short does it have to be to still be considered short? Some will say 2000 words will suffice. But to me, that’s still the outskirts of Flash Fiction territory, and I get concerned that it’ll be too short for a good (or at least readable) story. Ten thousand, and I’m reaching the sun drenched shores of Novella. It’s usually around this time that I start going down the rabbit hole of “Well, is it a novella? Sure you don’t want to make it just a little longer? You could try shooting for a smaller word count…I guess. It could be a short story if you destroy half of your plot. Maybe if you put a few more subplots in there, you could stretch it out to a novel.” I’ll keep talking to myself like this until I realize 3 hours of my life had gone by and my Scrivener document is still a glaring white landscape of blankness and failure.

I want to write a short story. How short is just right? How long is too long?

The honest answer, the answer no one else will tell you is…

…no one gives a shit.

I grew up the son of a carpenter. The need to measure twice and cut once bleeds into everything I do, and I need to learn to stop doing that. Learning how the pros do it helped put my mind at ease. I was too locked into the mindset that every completed project needs to be x amount of words long because if it were longer, I wouldn’t get published, and if I wouldn’t get published then my life will be over, and then Hurricane Irma will have my bones. Then the flooding…then the Sourdough Army…

If I were planning on getting published…I mean like, realistically planning. Like, I’d have a go-to editor in my contacts, I got an in with a publishing house and all the perks attached with it, then yes. Concerning myself with something as arbitrary as length shall be taken into consideration.

But the last time I checked, I’m nowhere near that benchmark. I can barely keep up with regular blog posts, so why am I worrying about a situation that hasn’t happened? Publishing is the end goal, but as of right now, as I’m still fighting like hell for every word and every minute of solitude for an opportunity to write them, it’s a lofty goal at best. Right now, it’s all about tinkering and experimentation. Right now, it’s all about learning the moves and getting them right. Right now, it’s all about making mistakes. Right now, it’s about having fun. Writing and storytelling was never meant to be a chore, Jeebus knows I have too many of those.

If your word count lands in the neighborhood of 5k, excellent. Double that? Even better. Wherever you end up, it doesn’t matter, just write the damn thing. Fix it later. Who cares what others think? You do you.

2. Have You Talked To Your Characters Lately?

“Hello.
How are you?
Have you been alright
Through all those lonely, lonely, lonely
Lonely nights?
That’s what I’d say.
But no one’s answering.
If you’d just SIT YOUR ASS DOWN AND WRITE!”*

*(apologies to Jeff Lynne)

This latest project is set in the future. It’s a riff on Ghost in the Shell.

The next one has to do with persecution in your homeland and seeking freedom in another.

The one after that, a good old fashioned good vs. evil yarn.

They all deal with different themes, but they all have one thing in common: Once a dialogue gets going between my main characters, it tends to die almost immediately.

…The story, not the characters.

I’m like George RR Martin, but instead of killing off beloved characters, I choke my plots in their sleep.

Narration is strong. Description is strong.

Dialogue? Well… for lack of a better term, it’s painful.

They tell you to pay attention to how people talk. Which is fine, I guess. Agonizing for introverts, but effective for others.

I spend my time focusing on what people are saying rather than how they’re saying it. Paying attention to the musicality of language could tend to be problematic. If you’re deciphering an accent, then you’re already stereotyping the person. My problem is that if I format dialogue this way, it sounds like I’m transcribing an eavesdropped conversation; lots of sound, little substance.

It’s awkward. I’m eavesdropping in on a conversation between two people in my head, and I still only get half of it. Awkward.

You’re writing your dialogue, but your not feeling it. It’s because you haven’t spent time with that character. You can describe the scene, you know where it is, what it smells like, what the temperature is. You have your backstory all worked out; Who met and fell in love, who betrayed whom and how long revenge has been planned. You can bulldoze your way through a few dozen pages of this, but when it comes down to talking, it sounds like two despondent and listless teeanagers circa 1985 discussing the itinerary for that day:

Hey.
‘Tsup?
N’much.
Wanna go to the mall?
Yeah, okay.

Which is fine, if this is what you’re going for. All I’m saying, is that it looks a little weird if this is where you arrived while writing a period romance.

You need to spend time with that character. There is no other way around it. Believe me, I’ve tried. There are dozens of sites out there offering help with your manuscript specifically when it comes to helping in the development of your characters. My mistake is that I figure that my project isn’t that long, so therefore the time spent on character development shouldn’t be that important.

… flash forward a few dozen, half done, half baked, barely touched manuscripts later, and I’m scratching my head as to why.

Take the time. Talk to them. Get to know their likes, their dislikes, the little things. Yes, it’s time consuming. Yes, it feels like you have to break out your 20d dice and your number 2 pencils to level up your dexterity (go ask a Nerd). Sure, I guess it kinda sorta counts as talking with someone and so introverts might be a little more hesitant to do this (here’s a tip for all the hardcore hermits out there. It doesn’t count as talking to strangers if the stranger you’re talking to is you. Let that sink in).

Sure, you can work on emulating the real way that people talk with all the ambivalence, foibles and ums and uhs that come along with it. But, we can’t all the be the next Pinter. How boring would that be? Dialogue isn’t supposed to sound natural. Not completely, anyway. If you’re stuck with your story and it’s because of your dialogue, pull your character aside and take her out for coffee. Take the time to get to know them. I promise you a better result.

UPDATE

I started this on Tuesday. It is now Saturday afternoon. In this time, the Southern part of Florida has been mostly evacuated, Hurricane Irma has been downgraded slightly and is starting to list in a westerly direction (stay strong, Tampa). Our windows have been boarded up and we are ready to see this storm go away. The storm is leaning towards the Gulf of Mexico, so that means it’s becoming very unlikely that the eye of the storm will be over us…fingers crossed.

I don’t know if I was helpful with this post. I’m just talking to hear myself talk at this point.

I need to keep my mind occupied.

I will be posting soon.

If I survive this.

-Hogs and quiches

Ode to the Lonely Flip-Flop

Ode to the Lonely Flip-Flop

20170113_123932We drive under a telephone line that is completely booked by a row of fat pigeons all squinting in unison in the direction of the orange sherbert glow of morning sun.  “Look,” I say out loud in spite of what the rest of the passengers in the vehicle think. “Dawn Patrol.” From what I gather, these greasy little sky-rats  are here every morning, holding a meeting on the same wire.They remind me of their slacker seagull cousins who squat together on the beach, and all face the same direction waiting for that perfect wind, like surfers who wait for that perfect wave. These guys remind me of a story that I started a few years ago. It’s nowhere near finished, but I need to get back to it soon.

My son in the back seat watches the world float by his window while quietly grazing on dry breakfast cereal. We are on our way to pick up his cousin and drop him off at daycare. En route, we notice a child’s flip-flop in the middle of the road. Actually, it would be more accurate to say we noticed the child’s flip-flop because it’s been there for two days. It doesn’t look abused or broken in any way, just abandoned. Forgotten.

I could smell the slightest whiff of a poem about an abandoned shoe as an allegory about society in general gently rolling in like that perfect breeze meant for seagulls. The beginning of a random metaphor started to form in my head that I planned to use at a later date, when I hear, “I wonder why you only ever see one shoe in the road,” my son’s mother said. “It’s never a pair of shoes, it’s only one. I wonder why that is?”

I can feel the Train of Thought pull away from the station. I had to seriously contemplate when was the last time I saw a pair of shoes abandoned and discarded in a place they weren’t supposed to be. I have never seen a pair of Keds on the ground as if they were some victim of some heinous violation cast aside and left to rot in the gutter. I thought about it longer than I would have liked to. It kind of bothered me, truth be told. Because, not only was it another unknown that might be worth at least a few minutes of research for… I dunno… in case I get swept up in bar trivia at the local Chili’s, but counting this scenario, along with the birds taking in a sunrise, and the cereal munching munchkin in the back seat (whom I’ll come back to in a minute), it now looks like I have a few more ideas to build stories around. The last thing I need right now is to add to my growing list of works in progress.

I mean, is there an epidemic of singular shoes dotting the landscape? Do other people notice this? Does the lost shoe feel a sense of detachment and ennui because its favorite sock got eaten by a dryer and now feels lost without it? Is feral footwear common? What about other articles of clothing? How do they feel about it? How often do they get cast aside?

These things are the sugar in my coffee. These are the things that give me a warm fuzziness in my belly because it feels like my obsessive nature has finally been directed into a more positive, and less destructive path. Over the past few years, I have turned into a storytelling savant. I’m constantly asking “what would happen if..?” and among other things, I try very hard to not use zombies as a McGuffin because I ran out of ideas. “At long last, Frank and Carol could now share that kiss in the happy home of their dreams. But they couldn’t because zombies. The end.

Every week, I eagerly await another Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction challenge. Sometimes I play, sometimes I feel a little too out of shape. Other times I collect story prompts like seashells, and of course, there are those moments when something that can’t be easily explained comes charging into my personal space, like say, figuring out why one shoe ends up in the road and not the pair. Instead of defaulting to logic and reason to explain it (which is really boring and smells an awful lot like bullshit), I prefer instead to faceplant directly into the blueberry pie of “Just Make Shit Up” (which might be tedious to the listener, but dagnabbit, it’s not my fault that you ask the most random crap and expect something extremely insightful and intellegent to roll off my tongue.You ask a rhetorical question, you get a left field answer. Deal with it.). I mean, I’m a storyteller. Storytellers…tell stories. How else do you think this works?

I can’t take on other projects. Not right now. My current first draft is nearly complete, and I’ll jump into revising the beast over the course of the next few days. I have several other half started projects right behind this one that need to be finished. These projects are moving slower than I’d like because writing is only taking up a little of my day. When I’m not writing, I’m taking my son to therapy (details, and perhaps the whole point of this post below), and when I’m not doing that, I’m taking care of the family. Which is why it may be dangerous to draw my attention to something that will cater to my obsessiveness like a lonely shoe.

As a Crime Action Drama

Mr. Deveraux could not stop his limbs and extremities from twitching, while Mrs. Deveraux remained the stronger of the two, and opted instead to chew off the skin around her cuticles. Their home has always been a peaceful sanctuary, they’ve fussed over it for years to get it to that point. But this morning was almost too much to process. Melinda had been missing for a little over twelve hours. Since that time, almost an entire squadron of police officers had taken up residence in their once pristine stainless steel kitchen with laptops and various pieces of tracking equipment that they’ve never heard of, and they weren’t entirely sure, but it looked like there were a couple of FBI agents huddled closely in the hallway talking about something, looking grim.

The Lead Investigator’s voice was soothing, almost hypnotic. “We are all going to get through this,” he said. “We are going to get your daughter back. I have called in our finest to track these guys down. Also, once word got out that it might be the Oaxaca cartel, the FBI became very interested. Whoever did this is going to have a very bad day, understand?” Melinda’s parents do their best to acknowledge. “Good, now when that phone rings, I’m gonna need you to remain calm, and act normal.” Mrs. Deveraux laughs an empty laugh, because her normal felt like it has been trodden under by so many police issued boots in her garden full of mums.

When the phone finally did ring, it was as if everyone started breathing again in unison. As if they were allowed. A technician punched in a code into his laptop, and gave a signal to the Lead Investigator. The Lead Investigator donned his headphones, and gave the cue for Mr. Deveraux to lift up the receiver.

“Hello?” The tremble in his voice choked back hard.
“Do you have the money?” The voice at the other end was computer generated. The expressions on the cops faces let the Deveraux’s know that they were dealing with professionals.
“Do you have my daughter?” Mr. Deveraux sneered, “Is she still alive, you son of a bitch?”

The next voice wasn’t computer generated. It was the sound of Melinda, scared, hopeless, weeping, but very much still alive. Mrs. Deveraux clasped her hands over her mouth to stifle whatever might be pushed out of it.

“You have such a pretty child, Mr. Deveraux,” the emotionless voice continued. “Her eyes are quite captivating. It would be such a shame if she were missing one.”
“You bastard!” Mr. Deveraux bellowed. “If one hair is out of place on her head, I swear to God I will…”
“Do you have my money or not, Mr. Deveraux?”

The Lead Investigator nodded silently to Mr. Deveraux. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I have your money.”
“Excellent,” the voice replied. “Now, listen very carefully, this is what I need you to do next. I need you to grab an article of clothing that belongs to Melinda.” The Lead Investigator snapped his fingers at a cadet to whisper something in his ear. When he was finished, the cadet ran upstairs to her room. “I need you to take that piece of clothing and drop it on the corner of 5th and Elm. Walk across the street and when a brown Oldsmobile parks in front of you, get in the back seat.”

The cadet reappears holding a tiny, pink flip-flop. The Lead Investigator holds it up for Mr. Deveraux to see. “I’ll be using one of her flip-flops, will that do?”
“That will suffice,” the voice said.
“Will my daughter be in the car? Where are you taking me?”
“Be ready at 10:30. Bring the money.” The line went dead.

As A Middle-Grade Fantasy Novel

It rained the night before, and when the kids were waiting for the bus the next morning, none of them seemed too worried that the sun  was hidden by the clouds. The lack of sunshine made everything look dull, except for Rebecca’s very pink backpack and Mark’s very yellow rain slicker.

On the other side of the street, in the old lot where the old drug store used to be, there sat a very white sneaker. Shoelaces untied, and sitting upright collecting rain. Rebecca noticed it briefly before her friends started talking about lip gloss. Mark didn’t notice it at all because he doesn’t like talking to too many people. Charlie noticed it right away, and he knew exactly what it meant.

It means the Fog Giants have returned. There was going to be plenty of long nights ahead.

~***~

See, things like this are a bone for me to chew on. It’s things like this that make me remember why I should carry a notebook everywhere I go. It’s things like this that yank my attention away from whatever I’m working on at the moment. So please, for the sake of progress, don’t allow me to occupy my mind with such things. It’s bad enough that I’m reminded about that part of my WIP where a flock of blackbirds sitting on a telephone wire.

It also doesn’t help that I have tied that project to the other thing that we are leaving the house for. Let me get back to that.

Recently, I have posted about my son, and how he wants to talk at length about anything, but he hasn’t developed the skill to form words yet. I have always been of the opinion that he will come around to it, but still, there were other characteristics that were telling us that he might need a little help.

The problem was recognizing that he had a problem to begin with. He’s still two, and he’s still trying to get used to things like eating a proper meal, or sleeping in his own bed, or learning words, or not being so focused on certain things. It was hard to tell if he was being difficult, or if there was something more sinister afoot.

To put our minds at ease, we tested him for hearing and vision, and determined that the best course of action would be to see a speech therapist. After a few months of regular sessions, we have made small breakthroughs and tiny miracles. But, for all the progress we have made in regards to getting him to say the simplest words, it didn’t solve the mystery as to why he still flaps his arms when he gets really excited, or why he prefers to walk on his toes.

To REALLY put our minds at ease, we went back to his pediatrician to finally ask the question we’ve been putting off for too long. Is our son autistic? It only took a few minutes of an unofficial yet very effective method of determining he wasn’t to give us some relief. But with that burden taken away from us, and most importantly, from him, we were still in the dark as to what seems to be affecting him.

It took a less than fruitful session with his speech therapist to have her bring our attention to something called Sensory Processing Disorder. It’s a very real condition that affects mostly children. It often mimics autism, but it isn’t autism. It is a very real condition, and the cruelest aspect of this condition is, it’s not recognized officially as a real condition.

To put it simply, SPD is where the person has a difficult time responding or reacting to whatever stimuli they’re exposed to. Think of trying to process something as simple as walking along a beach. Everything you experience, the feel of the sand between your toes, the smell of the salt air, the sound of surf, all collide at the same time like traffic weaving through a poorly attended intersection at rush hour. Everything is snarled and not going anywhere too soon. Reaction times in the individual with this disorder are slowed, or often times, not present at all. Or in the case of my son, happening all at once to trigger this extremely excitable reaction where he flaps his arms, open his mouth wide like a lead singer of a metal band, and have a vein or two swell up in his neck.

It is a very real condition. Unfortunately, no one in the healthcare community can come to a consensus on how to define it. Look, is it on spectrum, or is it another version of OCD? Figure it out and get back to us.

It is quite cruel.

Fortunately, my son isn’t at that level. He’s quite happy, and he’ll respond to things and look you in the eye and talk to you…the best he can. But he’ll still do it on his own terms.

Because SPD isn’t uniform and has a broad definition, and has the traits of something else without being that something else, and it does different things to different people, there has been no formal diagnosis of this condition. That means doctors can’t officially prescribe anything, let alone talk about it. The only thing they can do is suggest Occupational Therapy.

Which is where we were going to this morning, my son and I. This is where we’ve gone for the past few months.20170114_104609

His speech therapy is touch and go. He’ll either be in the mood to say something or nah. Occupational Therapy, on the other hand, is so… much… COOLER! There’s a ball pit! And big bouncy balls! And a tunnel and more toys! It’s a process of learning through playing…or what we used to call it in my day…playing. Occupational therapy is a welcome supplement to his boring ol’ speech therapy. And I think the biggest takeaway from attending these sessions, is my child has to take the lead as to what he wants to do. It’s up to the adults to go along and work with it. So, it’s a learning process for me too.

So, I suppose I could be one of these concerned parents and talk at length about getting your child screened and look for the warning signs and blahblahblah. “I need you to feel empathy for my baby because reasons!” But, I don’t feel like it, and I’m sure he wouldn’t appreciate it either. He’s not sick. He’s normal, he just needs a little boost. And while I could be the loudest crusader to get this condition the recognition it deserves, I really don’t think that’s necessary. It is what it is. It’ll probably stick with him for the rest of his life, but we caught it early enough so he’ll know how to deal with it when he gets older, and that’s all we can do right now. Still though, it would be nice to see him walk normally, talk normally. I love my boy, and I’m happy with my boy. I am proud of every one of his accomplishments every day.

I could complain, but I’d rather deal with it in my own way.

He has several quirks. That’s all they are. Just quirks. Things he does. Most of them are indicative of the condition he has, the rest are all his. And instead of Googling what they all are and fret until I mis-diagnose the hell out of it, I have decided to make him the hero of his own story.

Because, I’m a Storyteller. It’s what we do.

He chuckles in his sleep. It’s the most adorable thing in the world. He also likes to look up at the sky while he’s walking. It’s his preferred activity over anything else to do outside. Recently, I was stringing Christmas lights around the house. I switched them on, and as he was passing by with eyes cast skyward he said, “Bye!” It wasn’t directed to anyone. It was directed to the lights. At first, rationality took over. “Well,” I thought to myself. “Maybe it has something to do with the red bulbs, and somehow relating them to watching taillights move down the driveway every morning as his mom goes to work.” Red light means someone’s leaving, which means “Byyyye! See you laytor!

So, instead of freaking out, I just think of the lonely flip-flop…

Untitled Story Idea…

A family moves to a haunted house, and it’s a house that hasn’t been lived in for a very long time. The ghosts that reside there, mainly an old married couple, have been there for a very long time, and haven’t found a way to leave. The only person in the family that knows it’s haunted is the toddler, and he isn’t saying much. The ghosts aren’t very good at scaring people out of the house, because no one has lived there for such a long time, and they couldn’t find it within them to scare them because they were grandparents at one time. So, they spend most of their time looking after the children to make sure they don’t get into trouble. Somewhere along the line, the ghosts figure out that if they can get the baby to laugh, then the hold that this house has on them begins to loosen. Good deeds remembered, they are allowed to pass on once Christmas lights are hung and illuminated.

~***~

Another one of his quirks, and this is something his mother and I need to focus on, is that he has this obsession with doors. The way they open and close, if they latch or not, if they have a lever or knob, do they squeak, how much effort is needed to go through it. We REALLY lose him at the grocery store where the doors open on their own. *GASP! What sorcery is THIS?* He will literally spend the better part of an hour opening and closing doors. It’s something that we learn to live with.

I’m not sure how to break his fascination with them. Once he gets on a door binge, it’s hard to stop, and that’s something that we are slowly learning at Occupational Therapy. It appears that both of my children have their father’s obsessive nature.

There are good days, and there are bad days. But mostly, they’re good. His OT is quite adept at getting him away from his door habit and directing him to playing with blocks and puzzles, and as a result, his obsession has diminished. What hasn’t diminished is my own curiosity. “Why doors?” I ask to myself…in the same tone as “Why one shoe?”

Revision to ‘Kids of St. Anthony’

Story so far:

A social worker who has lost her child to cancer, and as a result, going through a divorce, is now set to task for finding homes for three young siblings. They reside at St. Anthony’s Home for Wayward children; an orphanage. For the most part, all the children that reside there are normal children, but there is a wing of the church that not a lot of people know about. It’s the wing where they put the “special” children.

The oldest of the three (based on my youngest daughter) has a habit of drawing what appears to be circles on paper with crayon. The middle child has hushed conversations with people who aren’t there, and the youngest cannot cope will unless there is an animal present.

To the system, to the nuns that run this place and to the social worker, these children are perceived to have special needs.

It turns out, they’re partially right. The youngest needs to be in close proximity to animals, because they can talk to him, and that’s how he has been in touch with the outside world. The middle child as actually holding conversations with ghosts. They warn her of danger and teach her history. The oldest, who looks as though she draws in anger and frustration with every circle getting deeper as each crayon gets ground down, is actually drawing very intricate talismans that are crafted to protect all of them. All three children team up with the social worker to solve mysteries and stuff. She ends up adopting them…until zombies…the end.

UPDATE:

First of all, enough of the frickin’ zombies.

Second of all, it might be wise to turn this into a series and expand the universe. Because all the cool kids are doing it!

Why not have this orphanage be home to other children with secret abilities? Maybe it’s been a home for children like this for a long time. Like this one child who shows no attention to the world around him, except when it comes to doors. He might come in handy in a pinch.

The bad guys are closing in on our heroes, and the youngest child is feverishly opening and closing a door to a closet; essentially, opening a door to nowhere. At the right time, he opens this door to nowhere, and it turns out that it’s a door to somewhere. They all escape danger because a toddler opened a closet door to reveal a field of wheat somewhere on the other side of the world…next chapter.

Conclusion

This is me blogging because I need a kick in the ass. This post has taken a week in re-writes and has ended up being approximately half the length of my current first draft. It feels like I’m stalling, but I need free up the log jam in my head.

It’s important to let you know that I haven’t gone anywhere.

I would love to write a short story a week, as I’ve pointed out previously. Respectfully, I’m not sure when Mr. Bradbury laid down the gauntlet about doing this, but I’m fairly certain he didn’t have to take care of kids and household at the same time. Right now, I’d be satisfied if I could finish a chapter a week.

This year will be the year I wrangle all of these ideas that land in front of me and turn them into something interesting maybe. I’m hoping that I will be able to find more time to get to them, but the chances of that are quite small. As much as I’d like to lock myself away in a shack in the middle of the woods, my kids need me right now.

And they are most important.

More to come.
Watch this space.

©2017 AA Payson

In Regards To My Absence…

In Regards To My Absence…

drinkandwritefordisplayThe first thing that I want to do when it comes to filling in my readers on where I’ve been for the past couple of months, is to rattle off this laundry list of things that people normally do, only to catch myself and think, “Who cares? Everyone is in the same boat.” Personal issues and familial obligations override everything at the end of the year. It’s nothing unusual. It’s necessary.

At least, that’s what I want to think as dozens of authors and editors crank out post after post of evergreen content to boost their SEOs and stuff. They know what to do. They know how to make themselves known. How to be present, how to sustain themselves online.

Me? I cleaned out my coffee maker the other day, and I felt like a god for 10 minutes.

I could fake my way through this. I could boldly go where everyone has gone before, and break no new ground. I could do the old Listicle thing and get all the clicks. Chicks dig clicks. Big clicks.

But that’s not me. I’ve gone over this before, and I’m not in the mood to kick that horse again.

I started this post with a head full of snark. I had every intention on laying on the dad jokes, and assume an air of jocularity whilst bullshitting my way through the aforementioned excuses…

But this year has found a way to make my heart heavy.

Not just with heroes from my childhood dropping one by one, not just because of a newly elected dictator of the United States becoming a reality.

It’s everything.

The end of the year can be overwhelming. It usually is. Whatever time I’ve allotted for myself, thin though it may be throughout the rest of the year, has become extinct on the First day of November. It’s hard to think straight. It’s hard not to slip from just the normal winter blues to full blown depression. The result being, nothing gets done. Nothing other than taking care of the kids, and the house, and many other things. Come November first, I check out. I don’t resume any writing activity until long after the ball has dropped in New York City, and cause celebre has silenced.

Spending a lot of time on Twitter doesn’t help kill the blues either. The madness of the world. The shortsightedness of people. Every word is a punch, or a random shoulder check from stranger on a subway; cold, apathetic and willing to accept its own destruction. It is a cold place filled with angry people, and it’s so easy to become part of the chorus. Finding another stranger to verbally throw my shoulder into became more important than writing something meaningful.

It has warped my soul. Although on the bright side, framing an idea in 140 characters or less is good practice for succinctness. Still, there is writing to be done. And brawling on social media doesn’t change that fact.

Plus, as anyone, especially the authors and writing gurus who dispense advice on their blogs will tell you, writing is friggin’ hard.

Dispensing advice is always good to get people to return to your blog. So are motivational quotes. One of which was in my feed the other day. It was from Ray Bradbury.

“Write a short story every week. It’s impossible to write 52 bad stories in a row.”

I was on G+, which is the equivalent of finding a spot in an open field and kicking your shoes off and staring at clouds. I just left a marathon Twitter slapfight, so my mood might have been a little dark at the time. My reply was…

bradbury

 

Mr. Bradbury is, and always will be, one of my greatest literary heroes. Most of my teen years was spent with a copy of The Illustrated Man in my backpack. Still though… going by recent experience, there might be a possibility that his stated theory could be proven false.

Just get me in front of a keyboard. I’ll show you what’s possible.

A little harmless snark was just enough to elevate the mood a little, and it was good.

Still, there was writing to be done.

Ideas for projects have lined themselves up like taxis outside of an airport terminal in my Scrivener. All of them are idyl, none of them have a place to go.

The story I’m working on now, I might have given a little too much room to grow, and might need to reign it in. (Given that the definition of “short story” depends on who you ask, I set my word count to 20,000 words. I honestly don’t think it might see a third of that).Turning it into a shorter, short story might be good insurance that it gets done.

And then, I can move on to the next one, then the next. Then, the next. And then hopefully by mid-August, I would have sharpened my writing skills beyond 140 characters. I guess, the longer I thought about it, the more…I want to say plausible it became (I hesitate on plausible. I’m a little tired of making promises I can’t keep).

I have given this a lot of thought. And by that, I mean briefly mulled it over while sipping a beer. I might…MIGHT be able to do this. Maybe I can write a story a week for a year. I don’t want to make promises, but I already have a head start. I’d still want to publish on my own so I can finally PROVE that I’m a legitimate word monkey, so maybe post a highlight of the text. Whet people’s appetites. Generate interest. Evergreen. SEO. Yippee!

It is now well passed midnight on Monday, January 2nd. In a matter of hours, I will be another year older. Tomorrow, I will start on a year long journey to see how far and how often I can meet this challenge.

Happy New Year, everyone. The crapfest that was 2016 couldn’t end soon enough. The slate is now clean. No more picking fights with strangers. No more hiding away. Time to get shit done.

 

Was Doctor Strange As “Trippy” As They Claim?

Was Doctor Strange As “Trippy” As They Claim?

The sun took its sweet time sinking into the horizon that summer day. July was coming to an end, but still the days seemed longer. Maybe they seemed that way because of my particular position on the globe at the time; the parabola of the Northeast region made it feel like the Earth was grabbing on to as much sunlight as it could, as if it was storing it up for the long, cold winters. Maybe they seemed that way because I might be looking back on my twenties with a fondness for my more rebellious and carefree days. The poetry in the long goodbye note of a late summer sunset is written in the color of black raspberry ice cream and pink lemonade. It’s close to dusk, and my toes grab wet sand as a guy we just met walks out into the waist deep surf to take a piss while holding on to a case of cheap beer. There was something surreal, beautiful and strangely silly about this scene, and we all pick up on it right away. My friends and I look at each other and grin like mad. Maybe they seemed that way because we knew that this moment would never come our way ever again.

Maybe they seemed that way because we realized that the blotter acid we just bought in the parking lot outside of a Jerry Garcia concert was the real deal as it dug its claws into our cerebellum. We knew we’d be up for a while.

The last rays of sunshine flickered into nothing. I meander back to the parking lot. I have lost track of my friends a while ago. I knew it was going to be an interesting night as I looked up to see the stars dance and warp as Rob Wasserman plucked the melody to The Rolling Stones “Satisfaction” on one of his many upright bass solos. The details of the rest of the night were murky. There was no sleep involved that night, however I do remember taking a much needed shower in the morning. Afterwards, I dried off, collapsed on the couch, and did my best to relax. But it was difficult because the cat kept trying to force her head into my mouth.

What I’m trying to say is, in terms of a Jimi Hendrix litmus test, I am experienced.

I have seen horizons and landscapes that shouldn’t exist. I’ve felt immeasurable joy, paralyzing fear, and pants-shitting danger. I have been places. They’re nice to visit, but you wouldn’t want to raise a family there (stay in school, kids!). I lived and breathed “trippy” for a brief moment in time.  I know what “trippy” means.

It is nothing like what they’re trying to sell you with the new Doctor Strange movie.

Now, before you think I’m hating, let me explain…

Comic books, historically, have never been taken seriously. I know, try telling that to a serious collector, and he might throw his bowl of Kraft Dinner at me. But from Golden Age to the Silver (translated: from the early 1930s to the late 1960s) pulp comics in general, Marvel in particular, have always fought tooth and nail to keep and expand its fan base. Which, in and of itself, is challenging. If it wasn’t the period where pulp comics were considered the folly, and ultimately the downfall of America’s children, then it was the Comics Code Authority making life miserable for everyone. If it wasn’t them, then it was the long process of trying to get back the disaffected youth that they were trying to get to read to begin with. If it wasn’t that, then it was trying to stay ahead of the curve and avoid being out of touch, to be reminded that you need to constantly evolve. If it wasn’t that, then it would be the endless one-upmanship with their closest competitor.

DC had been the standard bearer for what the modern heroes would be; square-jawed, two dimensional dudes in flashy costumes, swooping in to thwart a burglary in progress while simultaneously saving the equally two dimensional, anatomically impossible female from danger, and trying not to look gay while doing it.

meanwhile

Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, and Stan Lee where busy wrangling their own creative bullpen over at Marvel. Most of the time it was hit and miss.

By the early 60s, the perfect storm of censorship and uninspired story lines nearly brought an end to the brand.

That all changed when Stan introduced”The Fantastic Four”.

On the surface, just another superhero comic. But dig a little deeper, you found four individuals with different abilities who argue and spat just like an actual family would. Just like people who knew each other would. Just like people.

Flawed characters were the thing that would save Marvel during the dark times of the early 70s. But at this time, they were still fighting to keep their head above water. One of the many offshoots of Marvel was an anthology series that went by the moniker, Strange Tales. The pages were mostly about monsters and ghouls and gore and blood and guts and zombies and vampires. It was presented as an alternative to superhero drama, but it wasn’t completely devoid of familiar characters. Cloak and Dagger first appeared there. The previously mentioned Fantastic Four found their origins there. Nick Fury and his agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. were first kicking Hydra’s ass in a few issues. And, a mystical character who was inspired by a radio era serial rounded out the entourage.

That character was called Doctor Strange.

Without giving too much away that you probably already know, Stephen Strange is a brain surgeon who travels to the Far East to be healed after his hands had become damaged in a car accident.  You know the rest.

The movie is a total blast to watch. But that’s not what concerns me. What concerns me is the advertising campaign billing this film as “psychedelic” or “trippy”.

There is a sequence in the film that may constitute a decent head trip, but that’s not the point. The point is that this character was made before the Psychedelic Era, although it has been noted that it might have had a hand at predicting it. Steve Ditko’s motivation when drawing for the Sorcerer Supreme wasn’t to recall the night when he baked magic mushrooms on his pizza. It was more about how would somebody draw something mystical; an idea that hasn’t been explored very much. Especially in comics. If someone came up to you and said, “Draw black magic”, how would you do that? Steve employed purples and reds, darker colors and free form shapes. He employed the use of Abstract Art, something else that hasn’t been tried before in comics. To bill this film as “trippy” does a great disservice to the essence of what was originally achieved.

Shorter: The film is nowhere near as hallucinogenic is one might think. It is abstract. Or more to the point, it is abstract as much as a mainstream movie could be. It is a family friendly Disney property, after all. Trippy is “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “Jacob’s Ladder” or “The Science of Sleep”. Any of these films do a much better job at portraying an interpretation of hallucinating. The effects of the movie seem to lean more towards playing with geometric shapes than anything else; brick patterns, mosaic tiles, window panes. Anything that has a unifying structure is manipulated in such a way that no longer follows an actual design. If it were trippy, the bricks would come alive and shape-shift into something else before changing back into its original form. This is was just fun with shapes. To be honest, it was fun, really fun to look at, but it’s hardly mind-bending.

Other than that, the only real complaint I have about this movie is that it moves almost too fast. I suppose that might be a good thing. Calling attention to every single dollar that you throw into a scene is considered gauche, and the MCU have been quite adept at not doing that. But still, enjoying a moment for a second or two longer wouldn’t damage the narrative. I took a YouTube refresher course on the backstory of the good doctor. It turns out that it wasn’t completely necessary, although it wouldn’t kill ya to do your research.

Personal gripes aside, the movie is a blast. It is so much fun packed into an hour and fifty-five minutes (it could have run longer, and it would have been fine). This movie is a perfect example of a comic book adaptation done right. It is a perfectly stitched together collage of right choices. The writing was snappy and alive. The casting choices were perfect (let’s leave the whole “whitewashing” controversy alone for another time, shall we?) And the soundtrack. The effing SOUNDTRACK! A perfect homage to the time from whence this came from; a full orchestra combined with harpsichord, sitar and a fuzzy guitar shoved through a Tube Screamer (go ask a guitarist) was just delicious to listen to. Still, the theme, if there was one, was as forgettable as the other Marvel franchises. It’s been a complaint amongst music and movie nerds. But at least this time, they put a little more effort into it.

Go.
Go see this movie.
Go see this movie with an open mind, and if you can afford it and have the ways and means, see this in an IMAX theater.

Bottom line, Doctor Strange is not “trippy”

…It’s…strange…in a good way.

Thoughts on Halloween 2016: Where Has The Spirit Gone?

Thoughts on Halloween 2016: Where Has The Spirit Gone?

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This picture was taken on this All Hallow’s Eve while Trick-or-Treating with the kids. I could count on one hand the number of houses that were fully decorated, and I’d like to address that in a second. But first, I’d like to point out that yes, that’s a bunny sitting quite contently in someone’s front yard. After conversing with the homeowner, we found out that it wasn’t his bunny, he just likes to hang out in his yard. Which, I guess would be slightly probable for this area.  This isn’t the first rabbit I’ve seen hanging around here.

But still, some people go all out with the spoopy factor for their yard display. This guy just has a single bun-bun.

Worst. Halloween display. Everrrrr.

Still though, it is a black bunny, so it’s kinda scary? And knowing my luck, this one would just happen to be the one with big,wizardtim nasty, pointy teeth and bones strewn about its lair. But luckily, I didn’t doubt my courage or my strength, so I snapped a picture before he hopped away.

The people that live across the street from him had a more involved display, turning their front lawn into a festive graveyard festooned with blinking lights, tiny, cartoonish graves and Dollar Store cobwebs. A half a block away, another with the same motif. But between the first one and the last one and the majority in between, the houses were dark. Nobody home; the universal language of “no candy here”. Not many revelers out in the street either. I’m used to being run over by squads of screaming children, hyped up on too many Kit Kats, and dressed in their store bought costumes. Last night, I was lucky to see two families out, and even then they were on their way home. For lack of a better term, my neighborhood was a ghost town.

Why is this?

Well, most of the reasons seem pretty obvious this year.

Hurricane Matthew

For starters, there just so happened to be a Category 3 hurricane that mowed down most of the eastern coast of Central Florida before lumbering north and flooding the Carolinas.

Maybe you’ve heard of it?

20161101_142239The aftermath left a bunch of damaged houses, and many more oak trees snapped into kindling. For the most part, there were some damages done, but it was nothing we haven’t lived through before.

Weeks later, we are still cleaning up, and life goes on. People are still repairing their roofs. Chainsaws are still grinding away, and the debris trucks will be holding up traffic for a little while longer.

In the meantime, trees still lay in segments along a busy road with no sidewalks. Not the most ideal situation for kids to try and navigate.

It’s a Monday, fercrissakes…

I mean, c’mon! Monday? If you weren’t a traditionalist like some of us, you would have sidestepped this little conundrum and had your Halloween-y whatnots taken care of over the weekend. Partying for the past two days in your costume puts you in no mood for dealing with throngs of sugar fueled children.

Most of us have to work in the morning. Besides, isn’t there a game on? Burp Fart Scratch

It’s an Election Year

Admit it, while some of your kids might be a little fearful of stepping onto some stranger’s porch that’s rigged with motion sensor jump scare contraptions, you kinda felt the same way when you walked up to a house with about a dozen Trump signs propped up in the front lawn like cartoonish gravestones. “Oh, there’s nothing to be scared of,” you repeat to yourself as you walk passed the chained up pit bull and old engine-less pickup truck. “I’m sure they’re nice people.” Then you see the stars and bars backlit in the living room window. Then the gun rack. And then another. Then the chill goes down your spine when you see them smile on their porch, and they all have three teeth between them.

shines flashlight under chin

…AND ALL THEY HAVE IS CANDY CORN AND STALE CIRCUS PEANUTS! MUH- HAAHAHAHAHAAAAA! NIGHTY-NIGHT, KIDDIES!

It could be nothing. It could be that I haven’t properly canvassed this area. I’ve lived in this part of town for two years and I still haven’t got a feel for it. I spend too much time hiding inside to notice or care. Maybe it’s always been like this.

Then again, maybe it’s all the above factors rolled into one big excuse to sit this one out this year. The heart’s just not into it this year. It needs a breather.

Then again, maybe it’s because I live in a suitcase community. On one side of us, there is the beach. The other, a river. In between, rows of tiny houses built in the 1950s. Most of them occupied, a lot of them with “for rent” signs out front. Rent is too high for the locals, so that means flocks of Snowbirds flock down here in their Mercedes Benz’s  to escape the chilly grasp of Northern winters for a few months. They are congenial and lovely, but deep down, I think they feel about as out of place as I do. None of us have any idea what’s going on.

Then again, maybe everyone that lives here are complete d-bags and hate hate HATE Halloween like some Grinch who’s getting his list done early.

And I surely hope that isn’t the case.

I hope that we haven’t become as jaded about Halloween as we have about Christmas. I hope that somewhere there is that spirit of the holiday hasn’t completely died.

Why I bring this up is because it concerns me a little when things like this happen. Halloween isn’t just for the kids. I’ve seen plenty of adults light up like a Hollywood marquis on opening night because this night is their time to shine. The sense of wonderment that you once felt as a child, whether you were too afraid to climb up the porch, or running with the pack of department store Power Rangers. The sense that we still have the capacity for letting the unknown into our lives. At least for a little bit. We still have the ability to be shocked, to have a laugh, to worry that you might be showing up to your office party in a lame costume, and realize that 4 or 5 people are thinking the same thing. It takes one night out of 365 to make us realize how human we are, and lately, it feels like it might be slipping away.

I bring this up because it concerns me. There is nothing sadder than an adult who has lost his capacity to celebrate just for the sake of celebrating. It concerns me, because it makes me sad and a little nervous that there are darker forces than ghosts and vampires who cast a pall over this night, and darken house after house. Have we become that jaded? Have we let this year grind us down? We have let the screaming heads guide us by fear. We are a divided country. One we haven’t seen in a long time. One night passing out the candy in costume. One night to join in with a parade. One night to commune with the beasts and the bunnies. One night to reclaim that wonder we once had as a child.

I think we all deserve it.

On a related note, a neighborhood that goes completely dark while a black bunny roams the streets just might be another thing to add to my Work In Progress file.

Keep On Keeping On Like a Bird That Flew…

Keep On Keeping On Like a Bird That Flew…

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What is the essence of Rock & Roll?

Fame? Money? Noise? Pissing off your parents? A violent soundtrack to subvert and bring down the current establishment?

To a geezer like me who’s old enough to remember when MTV actually had music on their… ya know… music channel, it could be any number of those things. I say this as someone who spent his early teens consuming mass quantities of Hair Metal, whose main messages are all about fame, money and the rest.

And, I suppose it is what it is. Those embarrassing years from when KISS went disco, to the moment Axl Rose threw a temper tantrum at the beginning of a concert breaking up the band in the process, it was the next, inevitable, logical step that Rock music had to get to in order to survive. Yes, it was abrasive and deafening, and some of it sounded like it was written by a fifteen year old who found the liquor cabinet. Yes, more emphasis was placed on theatricality rather than musicianship. At that particular point in time, in the dark days before Nirvana, that’s what Rock was; obnoxious, easily consumable, and increasingly ridiculous¹.

Sure, it was pretty to look at like a Michael Bay explosion, and loud as fuck, and oh boy, is his guitar AWESOME, and wow Tommy Lee is a full blown maniac. But aside from that, could we draw a direct line from Little Richard to Kurt Cobain? Are we doing a service to the trail blazers by acknowledging their contemporaries?

The answer is no. Of course not, dummy. More Neil Young, less Cinderella if you want to pay respect. Rock music is never about straight lines or following rules, or repeating what came before. The essence of Rock & Roll is finding that one thing that inspires you, picking it up, making it your own, and leaving it in a different state than when you found it. The origin of the term can be bandied about ad nauseam, but this is the essence of what Rock & Roll means. It means putting your stamp on something, and in doing so, altering the shape and sound of it to inspire others. Like a large object rolling down a hill and causing other things to roll along with it.

Something… like …a rolling stone, perhaps?

Robert Zimmerman knew this more than most. He was influenced by Little Richard when he was younger, but somewhere along the way, he knew that there was something else to it  He knew rock music wasn’t just three chords and a couple of dance steps. It wasn’t too long before he discovered the works of Dylan Thomas, and found a new music hero in Woody Guthrie, whom he would adopt as his mentor. Leaving his middle class life behind in Duluth, Minnesota, he dropped out of college after one year, hitchhiked to New York City to meet his hero, who by this time was gravely ill. He settled into the Folk Scene in Greenwich Village that was beginning to blossom. He would have plenty of gigs. He started making a name for himself until he was discovered by John Hammond who would sign him with Columbia Records in 1962. At this point, he could have started his career under his own name, but instead he chose to pay homage to the person who influenced him to go on this journey to begin with, and changed his name to Bob Dylan.

You find that one thing that inspires you. You pick it up, make it your own, and leave it different than you found it. For his first three albums, Dylan was the torchbearer for Mr. Guthrie and used his words and passion to fight against war and corruption. He became quite adept at phrasing, at lyrics and poetic imagery. It wasn’t too long that the myth that was created would slowly take over the man. He was no longer this middle class kid from Minnesota, he was instead created from the pages of a Steinbeck novel. He came from the dust of a sharecropper’s field; a downtrodden troubadour who was born on the open road. The very definition of American Romanticism.  Success caught up to him quickly.

By 1965, Bob Dylan had become restless with who he was. He was never one to stay in one place, or be satisfied with with where he is. He released ‘Bringing It All Back Home.’ This was significant in that he was starting to step away from the protest material and dip into the personal and abstract, and in doing so, finding his own authentic voice.

…Oh, it also marked the beginning of him ‘going electric’.

‘Highway 61 Revisited’ came soon after. It was considered a critical darling. A rare specimen that stands the test of time with songs like ‘Desolation Row’ and ‘Like A Rolling Stone’. His knack for wordplay and imagery, now instantly recognizable, were miles, years ahead of its time.  A pop star was supposed to sing about love and relationships in ways that would be easily digestible for mass consumption, and here comes this guy, seemingly out of nowhere, writing lyrics about the human condition and loss and yearning. He heralded the beginning of the Singer/Songwriter movement.  There were a few people who dismissed this album as a complete head-scratcher, because no one had heard anything like this before. But those same voices in the same breath lauded it for elevating the artform from its current state.

Whether it was on purpose or not, the awesome trilogy of groundbreaking albums came to its brilliant conclusion the following year with ‘Blonde on Blonde’. Considered an instant masterpiece and one of the most important albums of all time, it had completely changed the landscape of what songwriting was, into what it could be. It was also the first double album released ever… not much to say about that, just wanted to point that out.

In the months that followed, there was nothing. He had all but vanished from the public eye. Some say it had to do with a motorcycle accident he was involved in near his home in Woodstock, New York. Some say it may have had something to do with the press, and how they kept diving deeper into the myth and poking their nose into things he’d rather not let them see (related: ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’). An increasing drug dependency, marital issues. Perhaps a salad bar sampling of all of the above. He would still release albums, but he would tour less, and give fewer interviews. In any case, it felt like we were losing his voice.

On October 13th of this year, The Nobel Academy had given their prize in literature to Bob Dylan. The reason given was “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”. I suppose it was gracious of them to give him this award while he was still alive. But my biggest question is, why now? The source that they were sighting was ‘Blonde on Blonde’, something that was released over 50 years ago?

Why did they wait so long to award this particular poet? There were strong enough contenders who have released works this year? Why not them?

His name had been tossed around for years, but never put into serious contention. He had already won a special citation from the Pulitzer Prize committee in 2008 for “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.” In 2012, it was the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Maybe the time was right for another literary award? Maybe the time was right to pay proper homage to a man who has influenced generations of poets and songwriters?

The short of it was that Alfred Nobel was a little vague when it came to exact criteria to award writers for literature in his will. Double irony points because the committee notes that it was a poorly written will, and so the requirements are left open to interpretation. Maybe now was a good time to recognize the juggernaut that is the Bob Dylan library.

Not so you’d notice from those critical of the Nobel committee. Citing Karl Ritter from the Associated Press:

Others lamented a lost moment for books.

“An ill-conceived nostalgia award wrenched from the rancid prostates of senile, gibbering hippies,” wrote “Trainspotting” novelist Irvine Welsh. “I totally get the Nobel committee,” tweeted author Gary Shteyngart. “Reading books is hard.” The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano said it was too bad that a “real” writer didn’t get the award.

The sting and the wailing and gnashing of teeth from purists and critics the moment Bob Dylan had the gall of picking up an electric guitar are still present today. It’s less the notion of ‘You can’t please everyone all the time’, and more like they awarded a fraud.

Personally, I’m happy that he won. Upon hearing the news, the first words out of my mouth were, “It’s about damn time”.

Who gives a rat’s ass if he ‘went electric’? Who cares if he isn’t the character you thought he was? A “real” writer? Apparently he’s never heard ‘Hurricane’ and not have his blood truly boil. Apparently he’s never dared to unpack the cryptic bombast of ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’. Apparently, he’s never found solace in the cold comfort of ‘Shelter From the Storm.’

A “real” writer? Does a “real” writer to you have to be dead in order to be real in your opinion? A chi ha scritto questo articolo, credo che non si sa quello che uno scrittore “vero” è stato, se lui si avvicinò e si schiaffeggiato in faccia unta. So, go take your hipster ass somewhere else, because nobody gives a shit what you think a “real” writer is.

Pfft…critics….

Yes, Rock is usually not known for its poet laureates. But then again, there aren’t many Rock musicians who knew there was more to this music than verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/verse/chorus. There aren’t that many Rock musicians (left) who knew that there’s more to this than how many albums you sold or how many appearances you made on television. There aren’t that many Rock musicians that know what the essence of Rock is.

Congratulations, Bob Dylan. It’s about damn time that they recognized your contributions to the world. Thank you for your words and your passion.

Thank you for inspiring me.

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Keep on Keepin’ on…

¹Possible exceptions are too many to list here…