I Want To Tell you A Story

On Thursday I went to NYC to a Story Slam put on by The Moth.

I went because I wanted to, and because I normally wouldn’t have. I’m not really an adventurous guy. And I’m definitely not  a guy who goes to new places and does new things alone. So in the past I’d see something like this and think, gee that would be cool, and then never go. But just lately I’ve been trying to do some things that are outside my comfort zone. This was one.

And The Moth is fucking awesome! They do a podcast, story slams like this, and a large showcase style shows where people tell stories. They are just stories from life, mostly told by just everyday folks. I’ve been listening to the podcasts and the stories they post on the website voraciously for weeks. I even sent a submission of a story. So the story slam is run much like a poetry slam (I think, having never been to a poetry slam). Each night there is a theme that your story has to touch on in some way. “Skin” was that night’s topic. You put your name in the hat to tell your story, 10 names are picked, and the stories are judged by a randomly picked group of people from the audience. I was actually going to put my name in the hat but I was nearly the last person let in and I really didn’t know how things worked and I was a big chicken-shit, so that didn’t happen. But considering that throughout the day I had to convince myself to go about a dozen times I’m still happy with the outcome.

The stories were great. Even the ones I didn’t like were great because they were just people telling their story in front of hundreds of strangers. They told about things and people in their lives that meant something to them. Some of them were really polished, some of them half drunk and scared shitless, and most of them contained a few laughs. But I really loved it. So I’ll be going back. Next time I’ll get one of the presale tickets so I don’t have to stand for two and a half hours (that’s how you know when a fat man loves something, he’s willing to stand for it). And this time I’m going to put my name in.

Writing Or Trying to Write: Why Bother? An Essay

[As an experiment I’ve decided to drop some of my essays from my classes here (I’m back in school, again). I think I’ll only post the ones I really like as posts and the rest I’ll just put up as a page. Here’s hoping someone likes them enough to plagiarize them.]

This is from a class this semester called Creative Nonfiction: The Poetic Essay. The assignment was to write a 3 – 4 page essay on some art form I enjoy practicing. The next assignment is to edit this essay down to a single paragraph. I am not looking forward to that. This, however, was a lot of fun.

Boy writing

Boy writing

Writing Or Trying to Write: Why Bother?

An Essay

I want to write. I do write, almost everyone does. The usual things: texts, emails, angry comments on the internet when some idiot is being so fucking wrong about a subject I have some modicum of knowledge about, love letters, nondisclosure agreements, out-of-order signs, resumes, cheat sheets. It’s all writing.

But I want to WRITE! I want to make people feel the way I choose for them to feel. I want to carefully select my words and order them into perfectly crafted sentences and paragraphs. Words, lines, paragraphs, sections, chapters, volumes that work together to subtly influence the reader as he progresses, shifting his emotions and thoughts in gradually increasing ways, slowing, speeding, angry, sad, empathetic, building confusion being wiped away by certainty until finally, finally he reaches a point he must reach because my writing took him there, forced him down the path, DEMANDED he get where to where I led, even if I didn’t know that’s where he would end up.

That’s all I want. The unattainable. I know it’s not possible. The best writers in history never reached that god-like goal with perfect regularity. But I bet they know the feeling. I bet at some point they get  hold of that ideal for a minute or an hour or a day or a month and they feel it. They get to watch as a reader sways to the beat they have written.I know they do! I’ve been that reader, under the thumb of some writer who has decided I will fear or exult or despair or get turned on and he makes it so with his words.

I want to write satire that can make a reader boil with outrage at the excesses of war a hundred years after I write it, the way Mark Twain did in “Comments on the Moro Massacre”. Like Allie Brosh and Kay Redfield Jamison who managed to give me the tiniest glimpse into the utterly bleak world of true clinical depression. Like Stephen King who scared me shitless so many times. Like David Sedaris who perfectly captures the absurdity of life while making me care deeply about someone I couldn’t be more different from. Like Cory Doctorow who creates world that are fantastic and familiar and seem to be just around the corner. Like William Shakespeare who wrote a play that even in sixth grade I wanted nothing more than to be a part of. Like Tennessee Williams who wrote “This Property Is Condemned”, a one act play that will break anyones heart but especially if your daughter plays the main character. Like the Discworld series of books that have never failed to make me laugh out loud but also aren’t afraid to make real statements about the world we live in. Like Kurt Vonnegut, Isaac Asimov, Chester Himes, Tim O’Brien, Neil Gaiman, Madeleine L’Engle and all the rest. I don’t want to be considered one of their peers. I don’t want to be mentioned in the same breath as them. But I want a taste of the good stuff they drank from daily. I want to know I moved someone.

Once I figured all that out I did the logical thing, I didn’t write a word and instead dove head first into researching and learning everything I could about writing. This was the very earliest days of the internet. The vast array of useless shit was not yet to the point where you couldn’t partake of all of it. So I sampled everything. I read everything anyone had to say on the subject of being a professional writer. I bought the books, I joined the forums, I did the exercises. I joined local critique groups that never got beyond setting up a schedule. I lined up long lists of people who could act as beta-readers, should I ever produce any writing. I learned all about publishing. And I didn’t write a thing. It was obvious to everyone that I was not writing and would not be any time soon. That eventually became obvious even to me. But I kept at it, for years. I never really gave up, I just slowly stopped trying all the time wasting bullshit and got on with the rest of my life. But my life didn’t include writing.

And so, 25 years later, here I am. I’ve given up on the idea of becoming a Great Author (the caps are there in the pronunciation). I no longer want to be read by millions, or to receive adoring fan mail. All those things were fun to think about but ultimately they got in the way of actually trying to write. They were distractions. So much bullshit that I could just pretend to be doing so that I never had to test myself by really writing. Now that garbage is gone. I write mostly for me. I write what amuses me, or what I love. Sometimes it’s poems, or blog posts, or stream of consciousness rambles, or memoirs of my childhood growing up with three older brothers and three older sisters. Sometime it’s standard genre fiction short stories. Sometimes it’s even angry comments on the internet when some idiot is being so fucking wrong about a subject I have some modicum of knowledge about. I don’t love all of it, or even most of it. But I write it. And maybe if I’m lucky I’ll find that it made someone laugh, or get a little misty-eyed. Maybe for a second someone saw things from a different perspective. Or maybe I just pissed someone off enough that they had to tell me how wrong I am. I’d happily settle for that.

Breaking Bad

This comes late, but I just happened to be thinking about it.

So I loved Breaking Bad. I really loved it. I completely identified with Walt in the beginning, as I think I was supposed to. And I eventually came to loath him, as I think I was supposed to. In fact, the last episode (I’ll get to that in a minute) basically told me to loath him. And that all makes sense. I am introduced to a nebbish, who fortune shits on. And slowly he gains a measure of control of his life. I cheered him on, despite my misgivings because fundamentally he doesn’t seem bad. A facilitator of badness, but not intrinsically bad.

As time goes on, as Walt passes up opportunity after opportunity to gracefully exit the meth cooking game, what made him so likable and understandable and such an underdog starts to fall away. Here’s where I think me and a lot of other fans of the show part ways. I saw a guy make the leap from plucky underdog to violent, selfish control-freak criminal. One who couldn’t even establish a successful ongoing criminal enterprise because of his greed and self centeredness. It seems like a large number of people never stopped seeing him as the underdog, never stopped rooting for him to get his fair share, or something. All while he got his share and more. And became a murderer in the mean time. And let’s be clear, eventually, he was killing purely for his own gain, not to protect himself or his family.

I haven’t read any interviews with the creators but I have to think they wanted people to see him as I eventually came to see him. Why else include the scene in the final episode where he admits it wasn’t about his family. They tell us why he because what he did, for purely selfish reason. He LIKED being a violent murderous criminal that was feared.

Speaking of that last episode. BLEEEECH! Really, every thing ends up all tidy in a nice neat bow and Walt gets to die on his terms? Gross. Really it was a gross ending. I felt so let down by the show. It was as if they’d given up and just gave us what amounted to a fairytale ending (to the extent that a show about a meth cook can have a fairytale ending, which I admit is not that much). Bad guys killed bloodily? Check! Family gets the money? Check! Jesse set free? Check! Walt’s last moments in his precious lab? Checkaroo!

So I’ve decided that Norm MacDonald is right. He said on twitter that he thought the whole ending was just the final thought os a dying man, a la “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce. Norm thinks that Walt died in the car from the cancer, surrounded by police guns drawn. The keys dropping into his hand are the start of the fevered last moments of his brain playing out a final fantasy. Read his tweets from around Oct 2 and you’ll see it all makes sense. A few higlights: Walter walks in and out of heavily guarded homes with zero difficulty, but we don’t see how. He managed to get ricin into a sealed Stevia packet. He calmly built a remote controlled murder machine and mounted it in a car trunk in a day.

This interpretation makes an unbelievable amount of sense and lets me not think badly of Vince Gilligan. So I choose it. And you should too.

Everyone Who Should Have Healthcare

First, me and my family, because we’re awesome. Seriously, awesome sauce has only one ingredient: Clarke.

You. I want you to have healthcare. Anyone reading this. Because you’re pretty fucking awesome too.

The Koch brothers. They are fucks who are actively working to make this country worse. They should have healthcare.

Charles Manson. Crazy ass Charlie should have healthcare.

Robert Palmer, the TA who teaches half my Principles of Literary Study class.

Robert Palmer, the dude who sang that song with those chicks in that video.

Every single member of Congress, their aids, their families, the President, and his family.

The guy who asked me to buy him a hot chocolate at Starbucks the other day (I did, because we should all probably have hot chocolate as well) because he was going back into the mental hospital because living on the streets was to dangerous for him, and for the people around him. he needs healthcare

That MOTHERFUCKING pedestrian who I almost watched get smeared across the highway because she was dressed all in black, crossing in the middle of the road, and on a section of highway with no lights.

Everyone who works at Starbucks and doesn’t write a snarky blog about their customers. And all the ones who do.

That loud guy at the gym.

Taekwondo instructors.

Guys who draw pictures of trains.



Teachers. Even the bad ones. Even the one I had in high school who expected you to just grab a handout as you walked in and turn it back in as you walked out and never did a damned thing but read his paper the whole class so that I never learned a lick of history and in fact hated it up until now.

Dolphin trainers.

Old ladies at the grocery store who look at me funny when I’m sporting my beard but then smile at me when I help them get that item off the top of the shelf.

People who just suck. I wish they’d stop, but I still want them to have healthcare.

Bloggers who write entertaining things for me to read.

Cancer survivors.

The cast of Modern Family.

A 35 year old underachiever who lives in his parents basement and works a part time job just so he doesn’t get kicked out. He smokes way too much pot and has a truly shitty taste in music.

Fox News talking heads.

Minimum wage fast food workers.

Below minimum wage restaurant wait staff.

And everyone else.

Back to School, For Me

So I went and enrolled at Rutgers. Classes start on the 3rd of September.

My goal is to end up with a Masters in elementary education. To get there though, I have to get another Bachelors, this time in English. I would have gone straight for a Masters but every program required references, either professional (I haven’t worked in 11 years) or educational (I haven’t been in college for 13 years). So that was out.

It should only take me three years. At which time I’ll be go get a job teaching elementary school. Something I’ve wanted to do for 14 years but never got off my ass to get done.

Wish me luck.

Daughter, Don’t Let Miley Cyrus Be Any Kind of Lesson at All

Dear Daughter,

You have by now seen the video of Miley twerkin’ it. You may also have read some posts filled with moral outrage at her actions. Or maybe tearful concern for the poor girl we once knew so well, on TV (you know, the fictitious TV show written by grown men and women and broadcast by a corporation whose sole aim is to make even more money, that girl we knew so well). Or a bunch of other bullshit.

Ignore it all. It doesn’t apply to you. Here’s why:

You are not Miley Cyrus.

I hope that doesn’t come as a shock to you. You are not the daughter of a one hit wonder musician desperate to relive his glory days. You are not the former star of an extruded Disney TV product. You are not a 20 year old with fame and scads of cash and an audience of millions. You have not been raised with one goal in mind, fame. You are educated.

(And I’m sorry about the lack of fame and money, seriously, my bad.)

You have as much in common with Miley Cyrus as you do with a 50 year old captain of a shrimp boat, almost nothing.

So you go on doing those things you have been doing: getting good grades, straying out of trouble, trying to figure out who you are in the world, struggling, succeeding, kicking ass. Miley can take care of herself.


Hey Miley? All those bluenoses tututing at you? Fuck ’em!

I Might Not Be Voting For Obama

It’s not as bad as you think. I wont be voting for Romney under any circumstances.

I’ve been thinking about one thing in particular that bothers me. No, it frightens me. And disgusts me. The killing of US citizens without due process. This president has decided that he has the authority to order drone strikes against US citizens who are deemed to be an enemy of the state. But no one gets to question that designation before or after the fact.

I’m not going to try to convince anyone about whether it’s good or bad, but I do want to lay out why it has me troubled. Primarily it’s this: there is nothing keeping this or future presidents from doing this same thing on US soil.  People can scoff at the idea, but what’s to stop it?  The public wont object because the first time it happens the US citizen targeted will be a clearly evil bad guy with absolute proof of his involvement in plans to attack US targets. And after that, it’s just how “The War On Terror” is fought.

So yeah, I know it sounds like I’m falling into boogieman conspiracy land here. But isn’t the whole point of the Second Amendment to the Constitution to make sure we have the means to fight back if the government turns against us? And I’m not so egotistical to think that we could never elect a madman to office. It happens in other countries all the time. So, if that happens, how do we fight back against silent long range targeted drone strikes? The President has given himself, and those who come after him, the right to use military force on US citizens. We can’t fight that.

So I’m thinking I can’t vote for Obama. But I sure as hell don’t want Mitt Romney to be my president either. So, one election day if I think NJ will go for Obama (as it likely will) then I’m going to vote for the green party candidate, Jill Stein. No, she has no chance, but at least my conscience will be clear. and if NJ looks to be up for grabs? Then I don’t know what I’ll do.

As for Obama, he’s not been a bad President. Other than this one thing, I’m pretty satisfied. I’ve even donated to his campaign, and may do so again. I’m aware of the realities, I want to make sure Mitt Romney doesn’t win, despite my misgivings about Obama.
Also, I think this will be my last post on the subject of politics. It depresses me.


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