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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via GIPHY

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…

The Shape of the Stone (On Following Your Passion)

The Shape of the Stone (On Following Your Passion)

So, there I was this morning. Woke up at a reasonable hour while the sun was still low in the sky and the house was still quiet. I shoved a bowl of cereal in my face while I had a hard enough time digesting what has been happening for the past few days. I shut off my Twitter feed, had a stretch, drank my coffee and got back to my first draft.

Ideally, I like to get a jump on my projects in the mornings. I’m not a morning person, but I do like getting stuff done earlier in the day. Some mornings go smooth. Still, there are other mornings that feel more like a inflatable pool raft. They take a little while, and a lot of effort to get up to where it should be to be sea-worthy. And when they do, when all the things are set in a row and organized and neat, everything is fine. Those mornings go swimmingly as I lounge on my giant, imaginary ducky floaty.

Then some prick comes around and lets all the air out.

For the most part, I feel that, after many years of fumbling about and finding a place for myself in this world, I am lucky enough to have found a calling. Notice I didn’t say the calling or my calling, and I’ll get to that in a minute.

In my sophomore year of high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. And I know that for some people that’s normal, and they don’t concern themselves with this until much later in life. But for me, it was kind of a big deal. Like, wake up in the middle of the night big deal. Fortunately, a teacher recognized an ability in me that I didn’t notice about myself, and so he encouraged me to get involved in Theater and Speech Club. Thus began a pursuit of a passion. I must have been doing something right. I went to state championships, regional championships. I came in 2nd in a region of 6 states participating in competitions that forced me to do the thing that would make most people wet their pants. Public speaking, performing, learning to take control of an area no wider than your shoulders. Looking people in the eye and selling a character. Second. In a region of 6 states. Not bad for a shy kid. </dadbrag>

I call it a passion for lack of a
better term. It was more like my “A-ha” moment where I was taken by the hand by thisg60077833g6 gorgeous hunk of a Norwegian comic book character into this surreal melodrama that involved European race car dri… sorry, that’s not right. Scratch that. What I meant was my “a-ha” moment where I finally knew, or at least had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t kid myself. I knew I had to work for it. Just like everything else. But at least I knew what I was doing. I had a direction. It was enough. This pursuit got me through college, but it was finally dealt a Quivering Palm Death Touch when I made the mistake of moving to New York while still a little green. Real life set in quick. The passion faded.

Since that time, I’ve been through several jobs. Most of them were dead end. All of them had nothing to do with what I went to school for. I didn’t pursue my passion at the time because it wasn’t financially possible to do so. I had day jobs to do while I pursued the one thing I worked very hard for. But it wasn’t before too long where my Plan B suddenly turned into my Plan A, and any hope of getting back to my passion withered like a vase full of neglected orchids. I was no longer in pursuit of my passion. I was in pursuit of a paycheck.

And I think, therein lies the problem I have with the “Don’t Follow Your Passion” movement. It’s a mentality of “Give up on your dreams because they’re unrealistic and instead, do something you’re good at.” Well, what if your passion is the thing you’re good at? What if my passion is something I worked at and practiced on a regular basis? Do I give up on something I worked hard for to find an unrelated job that pays the bills, or do I follow my passion and face ruination because in the long run, it’s too hard because there are too many people wanting the same thing? Should I have even bothered in the first place? Am I a “loser” for following my dreams, or am I a “loser” for finding a McJob in an exchange for something that’s meaningful? Some might say the answer is to marry both of these choices together to find happiness, but I suspect those people are usually close to retirement, or financially solvent and at the end of the day, could give a pimpled rat’s ass about you and your stupid little passions. Sometimes, you can’t have it both ways. Sometimes, life gets in the way.

Sometimes, you get lost.

And there’s nothing you can do about it.

Didn’t you want to be a chef at one point?
Too much stress and it enabled my alcoholic tendencies.

How about an IT guy?
Good work if you’re willing to jump through some really REALLY expensive hoops to get to what, in the end, was going overseas anyway.

Accountant?
Did you go to school for it?
…mmmNo?
Have you ever kept a ledger?
Is that the same thing as balancing a checkbook?
Can you define ‘mortgage’?
Dude, I’ve rented my whole life. And, why is it spelled like that anyway?
Then, yeah no. It’s probably not a good idea.

It’s conceivable to regard writing, or any other piece of wonderfulness that lights a fire under your ass, and gets you out of bed in the morning as “just a hobby” as more of a realistic term. Especially, if one were to concern themselves with other goals that are more tangible to them; promotion at their day job, running their own business, raising a family in the suburbs. And it’s easy to step back and look at the sharp decline in readership for the past couple of years and mourn our semi-literate society as they blindly walk out into oncoming traffic to catch another goddamn Pokémon and say, “Whelp, nobody’s reading anymore. Guess I should give up altogether. Oh look! A new season of Big Brother is on! Let me slip into my Faded Glory pajamas and throw a bag of Dollar Store popcorn in the microwave while NOT thinking about killing myself. Giving up this way is so much better!”

I understand it, and I get frustrated by it a lot. I’ve felt it. But you know what else has taken a hit these days? Theater attendance. Not a lot of people are watching movies at the theater that much anymore. Is Hollywood packing it in and only making movies for the one or two people who kinda sorta pay attention maybe? No. They seem content to crank out the same meaningless, poorly written, completely forgettable crap they have been for as long as anyone can remember, because that’s what people want according to some algorithm or something. We are slogged with mediocrity, and we don’t care. They’re still making it. People will eventually watch it. Just because a movie is obviously not “Oscar™ Worthy”, doesn’t mean people aren’t going to watch it and be entertained. Just because a book isn’t on the New York Times Bestseller List, doesn’t mean people aren’t going to read it.

And, here’s the thing: If the movie wasn’t directed by Spielberg, does it mean no one is going to see it? Is he the “exception to the rule”? Have I dodged a bullet because I didn’t follow through hard enough on my passion for acting to instead embrace the world of the cubicle? Personally, I’m not so sure.

I too hear the voices of dogged practicality. The ones that barely contain their disdain at the mere utterance of what I do, have done and want to do. The ones that sound exactly like disapproving parents who mourn the day that their child dropped out of Law School. “So, you know I was talking with Moira the other day,” (Note: For some reason, the Disapproving Parent voice in my head sounds a lot like a Jewish mother from Staten Island. To the best of my knowledge, none of my relatives are Jewish…or from Staten Island, for that matter.) “You remember Moira? She used to be part of our book club until, ya know, the accident? Anyway, we’re talking the other day and she told me her bubby graduated from Harvard. Pre-Law. Isn’t that wonderful? I thought it was wonderful. I just thought it was nice, seeing her being so proud of her successful lawyer son. Yeah. Good times.”

The ones that are so quick to equate creativity with poverty. “Oh, you’re a writer. Wow, that’s neat. What do you do for your day job?” You know, those ones. Don’t think that the side glances and hushed conversations haven’t gone unnoticed. I know I’m in the minority. I know that what I have done and what I am doing is fiercely competitive in nature. But you know what else is fiercely competitive? Being a lawyer.

As recently as 2012, Law Schools were stuffed to the rafters with cute, little lawyerlings all ready to hatch and fly after speeding ambulances. That is, until word got out that the world is overflowing with them (Shakespeare saw this coming). The internet, with its vast wisdom and convenience, just made the roles of internships and paralegals obsolete, because legal documents were easier to get online and print out, rather than consulting a law firm. And those that were lucky enough to find employment on the other side of Law School were too focused in hanging their shingle in a specialized arena, rather than work for something that might benefit them in the long run (i.e. show business law as opposed to trial law). Basically, there were too many new lawyers and not enough law firms. There were too many people pursuing the same thing, and not enough things (jobs, opportunities) to go around. The market became saturated.

…sound familiar yet?

Financial Assistants, Pediatricians, Personal Bankers. Hell, even trying to be a food server at the local Chili’s is competitive. It’s going to be the same no matter where you go, or what you want to do. Competition should be a given. So with that in mind, why do writers, actors, singers, scientists and athletes get dismissed so readily when it comes to pursuing their own goals? Why do people who have a passion to follow their dreams in the financial industry get a pass? Is it inconceivable to presume that there aren’t people out there who dream of being a hedge fund manager, but have to be satisfied with being just another investment banker? Why aren’t they considered idealistic, starry-eyed losers like the rest of us?

These are the thoughts that have been brewing and bubbling in the back of my head for a while now. It’s always out there, but it has been taking center stage lately has young people transition out of school to the real world. Maybe it was just me, and maybe it bothered me so much that I started seeking it out like some sad drunk with a chip on his shoulder and a newly minted ex-girlfriend when he grabs the biggest, meanest, baldest guy in the biker bar, grabs him by the front of his densely patched leather vest, looks him square in the eye and whispers, “You are such a pussy.”

Well, maybe not quite like that, but the displaced rage is the same, and the result of following through with it might leave me just as damaged. I’ve been known to punch above my weight. Never turns out well.

There seems to be a lot of people who will tell you that “Following your Passion” is pretty bad advice. I can see what they’re saying, and I have a pretty good idea who they are saying it to. It’s a reality check for those people who…ooohh…pffff…I dunno…want to play video games as a career. You might be good at it, and it does sound like fun, but seriously building a future around playing the Madden franchise, might be looked at as a little risky when looking to get a mortgage.

See? There’s that word again!
Drop it.

What they say when they say “don’t follow your passion” is something along the lines of, “Look. It’s good that you have a passion and that you are driven to do something great and change the world. But the reality is that more than likely, what you want to do isn’t going to be the best fit for you. So a better option would be to do something along the same lines of what your passion is. You will still have your passion, and you’ll have a more fulfilling life.” Which is all they have to say! If they would have led off with that, then it wouldn’t be so bad. I wouldn’t have to write this long ass post, and I can get back to my first draft.

But harsh reality is better than sugary platitudes, and the advice still knocks your teeth in like some bald biker who just had his masculinity challenged. What it sounds like is, “Congratulations on dumping a hundred grand on an education that’s not gonna get you anywhere, dumbass. Good luck trying to figure out the rest of your life, because we have no idea, and it’s not our job to figure it out for you. We just like to knock the stars out of your eyes so you’ll be compliant enough to take anything that comes your way. We want you to be just as frustrated as we are, because this is reality, loser.”

I dunno. Maybe I’m giving these people too much credit. Maybe I’m missing the point. Maybe I should try and turn the other cheek when it comes to some nameless d-bag who leaves a comment on my post and tells me in so many words that I should just give up because nobody is reading anyway and following your passion is stupid.

The thing I hate most about this way of thinking, other than being defeatist, mentally damaging, and unhelpful, is that I think it presumes WAY too much about other people. It presumes that the person who has dreams of becoming something someday, is still a child. Even though this “child” as a College Degree in, or relating to, that thing they wanted to be when they were an actual child. It presumes that every person who follows their passion has not worked for it, will not work for it, and is expecting to be dropped right into the thing they want to do completely ignorant and unprepared. It presumes that we, the ones who do follow a passion, are stupid.

And what about that word I keep repeating? No, not mortgage, the other one. Passion. Perhaps it’s the word itself that people have a hard time with. Passion: That Purple-Prosed, Bodice-Ripping bastard that pollutes the shelves in airport bookshops and local supermarkets. Passion: the very presence of the word makes you want to lock up your daughters.

The dictionary definition of passion is essentially “to have strong emotions about something”. I think that most people think that something refers to one thing, and it should. But we forget that a passion can be easily replaced. Especially after life changing events: I had a passion for smoking and junk food, now I have a passion for smoothies and yoga (not really, just sayin’). I had a passion for chasing girls around the mall, now I have a passion for chasing my children around the house. I had a passion for acting, now I have a passion for writing. People change. Plans change. Passions change. You still have that passion that lights a fire under your ass in the morning, but it’s fuel doesn’t come from anything external. It comes from inside, Grasshopper. Now, go fetch some water and when you return, see if you can take the pebble out of my hand.

In my lifetime, I have accumulated many callings, and I feel lucky to have experienced all of them. If it weren’t for that fire, if it weren’t for passion making things interesting, I would be a lump of couch potato salad wasting away watching The Simpsons every night. Which is something I don’t want to be. Potato salad is very hard to get out of a couch.

Another thing that chafes my thighs is when most people say “don’t follow your passion”, they don’t follow it up with anything actionable. There are no alternatives to doing your do. Just the cautionary, knee-jerk, face slap that can easily be housed inside a fortune cookie.

“Don’t follow your passion.”
Why?
“Because it’s bad.”
How?
“So bad, you have no idea. Believe me.”
…Wait a minute, you’re Donald Trump, aren’t you! How did you get in here?

Saying “don’t follow your passion” is like giving a death of a thousand cuts where the words don’t kill you right away, but rather they take their time and root and fester in your mind, until you wake up one morning and notice the fire is gone, and you look in the bathroom mirror, and you notice you resemble a human husk made of toenails, cobwebs and failure. Uninspired, drained of will, and waiting for your last breath to leave your body. Say, “be flexible.” Say, “see the world.” Say, “keep an open mind, you never know what might fall in.” Not following your passion sounds an awful lot like “just give up.”

I don’t feel like giving up.

Not anymore.

My calling, if that’s what I’m calling it, isn’t even mine. I didn’t make it or give birth to it, I just scraped off the masking tape name tag of someone else it belonged to, and added my own. And as I hold it in my hand, I can feel the warmth of every hand that loved and nurtured it in their own way, and that gives me hope. What I do now is barely a shadow of what I once did, and that’s okay. In my experience, the world needs more storytellers and less lawyers. I’m happy with what I do now. In the future, who knows?

Whatever it is…

…just let me be happy doing it.

Marquis de Soleil (A First Lines Project)

Marquis de Soleil (A First Lines Project)

Whimsy.

Now there’s some territory that I haven’t explored yet. Purely fantastical, grotesque and magical, your town has turned into a 3 Ring Circus for a day type of whimsy. Something for the children to grow up with and remember as they get older. Something for the adults to ponder and delight in on quieter days. Winter is over, spring has had its turn, now mad and wonderful summer is calling you out to play in the grass and to swim in the lake. Whimsy.

And not the type that makes the Sad Puppies howl pathetically at the front door to be let in because, “Oohhhh… there’s too much diversity out here, and we might get some on us aaOOOO!!” Not the type that has any hidden agenda other than to tell the story itself. And definitely not the type of whimsy that has a blatant agenda either; like every cartoon made during the Reagan Administration wasn’t actually a thinly veiled PSA.

Nothing like that at all.

I’m talking whimsy for whimsy sake. It used to be a thing. But the world has changed in ominous and scary ways. Moments of fun and wonder and amazement are fleeting, and even then, they are either sucked dry of any fun and turned into corporate entities, or they are left to their own devices and labeled as deviant and dangerous. I’m talking about the type of infectious whimsy that made projects like The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast have a longer lasting impact than anticipated.

…At least for me, anyway.


(We miss you, Ronnie James Dio…)

I dunno, maybe I’m reverting. Maybe I’m biased. Maybe I should turn off cable news.

I almost didn’t even bother with this next project. It’s an image made by Italian Artist Paolo de Francesco. It’s absurd and whimsical and there are a lot of things are going on with it and things are popping up where they shouldn’t be and… it’s perfect. There was nothing I could add to this. There was no commentary I could draw from it, no alternative story I could tell because it was its own little world, and the best I could do is maybe transcribe what I saw, like some journalist embedded inside a Timothy Leary daydream.

But, I couldn’t walk away as easily on this one. The longer I stared at the picture, the louder a certain Beatles song got in my head. The louder it got, the more I was transported back to the time where I was a child of the Vietnam War era and where we celebrated whimsy for whimsy sake for a very brief moment in time, and how I think I think we need some more of that whimsy now. The more I thought about that, the more I reflected on the notion on all the things that I write, or try to write, or want to write,  doesn’t necessarily have to go dark to be a good story. All things considered, happy endings can be a good thing.

Just a thought.

Thanks again for reading. Back soon.

Marquis

Marquis de Soleil

“I have outlived far more than I’d care to remember,” thought the old sea dog as he scrapes the bowl of his scrimshaw pipe. “You’d think I’d have my fair share of wisdom to show for it after all this time. Somethin’ like ‘take care of your vessel, and she’ll take good care ah you‘ or ‘Play in the sea, just don’t play with her‘. Bollocks to that.” he swiped a match on the side of his pipe and lit it. “The only advice that is worth a shyte is ‘Keep your powder dry and a weather eye.” Clouds of pungent smoke rolled off his grizzled chin as he spins his cold coffee in his cold, tin cup.

Summer has finally come to the cove. The distant squeals of children splashing in the water answer the mechanical purrs of random outboard motors. The air is fresh with lilac and sea salt, and this ancient mariner who never really found his land legs, reclines on his porch in the late morning sun. He smiles at the simple beauty of the morning. He smiles despite his missing teeth and missing leg. He smiles because he hears the long wail of a conch horn fanfare in the distance, followed by even louder children squeals and the cheers of townsfolk. Today is the day when he returns. Today is a day to rejoice.

“Like clockwork,” he laughs. “Yep, I have lived a very long life, and this I know for sure: The sun will always rise in the morning, The Mermaids that play in the harbor are real, and the Marquis de Soleil always arrives on the last day of May into our waters, his estate carried on the back of his pet Kraken.”

©2016 AA Payson

3 Suggestions for the First Time Novelist

3 Suggestions for the First Time Novelist

THE NEW YOUSo, I finally finished the extended notes/storyboard for the first act of my latest project last night. I’d like to point out at this time that these are extended notes/storyboards for a “short story”. When I first started this, I was shooting for 5,ooo words, but now it looks like I might have to add another zero this time around.

Oh well, I’ll just chalk it up to experience. That’s all you can do, right? One of these days, I should remember what my pappy used to tell me: “Measure twice, and cut once.”

Actually, I call him dad.

Nobody in my family is called ‘Pappy’.

…that I know of.

Earlier this year, I made a super-secret promise to myself. I promised that my intentions would be correct before I started another project. Which means, before the words “Chapter 1” appear on paper, there are a few things that need to be taken care of first.

Like, make smaller goals.

Before You Fly, Get Used To The Controls

 

 

I was bound and determined to not let a new word processing software frustrate me to the point of abandoning all my other projects altogether. I had to remember that even though goals and deadlines are important, the only ones that exist are the ones I make for myself. Instead of making the goal a completed manuscript, I made a shorter term goal of getting comfortable with the software I’m using. It made things so much easier.

I gave myself two weeks. With the same amount of focus and determination I would devote to a video game, if I at least still didn’t get the hang of it by that time, it would be time to move onto a Plan C.

Learn To Love Your Mistakes

I’ve found that the best way to ensure that your project never gets off the ground, is to never start it because you’re convinced that you don’t know what you’re doing, or that you’ll do badly, and your efforts be rejected, scolded and mocked, and you’ll be cast out of society and forced to live in a cave somewhere.

I’ve also learned that the best way to get over that feeling, is to barrel through your project and not look back. Make all the grammatical errors you want. Indulge in run-on sentences. Meander. Digress. Ramble. Change the Subject. Make shit up. Do all the things that you were told not to do, and then do them anyway. Laugh maniacally as you’re doing it too. It works for me.

Get to the end of a sentence. Get to the end of the page. Get to the end of a thought. Set that as a goal. When you’re done filling your page with nonsense, make a new goal to clean it up.

Erase The Term, “Award Winning” From Your Vocabulary

…at least for the time being.

Get any ideas of knocking it out of the park on your first try out of your head right now. Being a new writer, an unpublished author, one out of literally millions, the chances of you being noticed, let alone published at all are astounding. Just like everyone else. But, if you have made your mind up to make your first project a bestseller, then fine. Let’s say that it makes it.

Now what?
Did you think that far ahead?
I bet you didn’t.

So, instead of shooting for the New York Times Bestseller List on your first go around, how about aiming a little lower. Like, getting published in the first place. Let’s go with that, and then worry about which summer home you’d want to park your Lambo in later.

NAWLIDGE

Anyway, I followed these ground rules I set for myself, and it resulted in a more robust structure. More to the point, it resulted in a structure. The First Act is good. It could be better, and it’ll probably be improved upon as I go. But for right now, I’ll settle for good. Because, my main goal isn’t just to get this published, it’s mostly to see if I can do it. The story itself is nothing more than a Hero’s Journey, strictly meat and potatoes storytelling. I know I’m covering no new ground, but I just want to see if I can actually do it. Like climbing the mountain just because it’s there.

So, at the end of this act, I have discovered that there are a few more characters than I thought, which is normal. But, I may have stumbled upon something else in developing these characters. In my story, there are these aboriginal type creatures that need to distinguish themselves from the other characters. Their ways are ancient, and so is their language.

I never considered that I might have to invent a new language.

So back down the rabbit hole I go. I’ve been wrestling with how I should go about doing this all morning. Should I just craft a few phrases together and call it good, or should I actually take the time and develop a lexicon like Tolkien did?

Tolkien and I have the same birthday…
…just thought I’d share that.

But, that’s just it, isn’t it? When faced with a one-off and a deadline of ‘Somewhere In the Near Future’, do you clumsily stitch together some gibberish like when Princess Leia pulled a fast one on Jabba and hope the audience doesn’t notice, or do you start from scratch and make something as rich and as real as Klingon? According to an interview for WIRED magazine, David J. Peterson, inventor of the Dothraki language among others, suggests we might have come a long way since Return of the Jedi.

“You’re making the sounds to make up the dialogue. It’s gotta have some thought that went into how the thing works.” [but] “that doesn’t mean the fan community can’t step up and fill in the blanks,”

Not that I’m suggesting that calling all Word Nerds to collaborate with me [ahem]. The details of the language are still in my head and a little fuzzy at the moment. I’m sort of leaning towards a derivation of a Mesoamerican dialect…

…Yeah, I know. Some people golf for fun. This is what I do.

But, I’m excited. I’d like to see where this goes. It could turn into something big, it could be forgotten about. Either way, still excited.

Posting chapter samples soon.