First Saturday Report: April

Writing & Submitting:
Well, some good news. I had a short poem accepted for publication. It won’t appear until the fall of 2020, however, so, I’ll just leave it at that.

Still working away on The Poisoned Moon, and have nearly gotten back to the 50,000 word mark after cutting away over 11,000 words not long ago. Things I do when I realize I’ve written myself into a special corner of boring and impossible.

I’ve stopped sending out The Palace of Winds and Far Nineteen. I guess I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s something wrong with those manuscripts that is impossible to fix.

Podcast:
Heather is plugging away at finishing up the latest miniseries on Problematic Badass Female Tropes. That should start dropping in the pod feed by the end of this month.

I’ve been working on coordinating another couple of live shows, but I’m not working too fast on it. I don’t want it to turn into another thing on my schedule that I’ll resent doing—especially now since this looks like it’ll be the “Spring of the day-job week long road trips.”

Reading:
Finishing up J. Robert Lennon’s Broken River. It’s quite good, so give it a shot.

I’ve been dipping into a collection of poems called The Chance of Home by Mark S. Burrows. I met him at a reading he gave a while back that was hosted by Friends University. He writes very quiet, thoughtful poems, that are deceptively simple. I like the effect. It reminds me of certain aspects of Japanese aesthetics that I was reading about a while ago. The transient, impermanent beauty of a single moment is something we often dismiss in our always on society and with our neon light flashing self-obsessive culture of personality.

I recently got a copy of the chapbook Constraint, by Delia Tramontina, and have been carrying it around in my bag along with Lennon’s book. Be prepared for a long wait to get a copy, if you order one. Delia and I go way back, and, of course, you can listen to us discuss James Joyce’s Ulysses on The Outrider Podcast, and, if you dig far enough back on the podbean site, you’ll uncover my conversation with her (but here’s a link episode 4!).

Watching:
With the Problematic Badass Female Tropes series coming out, it might be an interesting contrast to go see Captain Marvel, if you haven’t already. I went to see it and was pretty excited to see that it avoided (although sometimes narrowly) all of the tropes Jenn and I discussed. The two tropes it narrowly avoided falling into were The Wonder Woman, and Mother Knows Best.

I went on a Scrubs bender on Hulu last month. One thing that struck me was the representation of male friendship between Turk and J.D.. It’s very non-traditional.

Listening:
I recently picked up the EP “Best Days” by a Wichita band called Cartwheel. My show producer, Heather, turned me on to them, and we licensed the rights to use parts of two of Cartwheel’s songs for the intro/outro of the upcoming series of the podcast.

Also picked up the albums “Unravelling” and “The More I Sleep the Less I Dream” both by the band We Were Promised Jetpacks.

A few years ago, Marc Maron talked with Jason Isbell on WTF and I put down a note somewhere to get some of Isbell’s music. I put it off. Nearly forgot about it. Then Marc revisited his talk with Isbell during his monologues in the lead-up to his 1000th show (i’ve been behind on my WTF listening due to work related bullshit). So, I finally picked up Southeastern, which has the song Elephant on it and quickly added it to the playlist for the new project.

Random Thoughts:
I’m not sure how other writers are able to do it—that is, all of “it”—have a job and pay the bills, stay somewhat fit, have family and friends, meet obligations, and still write and submit and publish. I’m especially amazed at those single mother writers who manage to pull off some semblance of a writing life.

For me, there seems to always be some negotiation going on over what will or will not be sacrificed. There’s the have-to-dos, which are non-negotiable: I have to eat, do laundry, go to work, exercise, read, and write. It’s hard for me to write in a messy environment, and so I have to regularly clean the apartment—and yet I’ve not really cleaned the bathroom in months—just a few spot wipes and half-assed scrubs when it’s so gross I can’t stand it. I didn’t wash a beer glass I used for almost a month because it was the one dish I’d used that couldn’t be put in the dishwasher or else I’d wash away the logo printed on it. Twenty years ago, I could get up at 5am when the alarm went off and write. Now, I hit the snooze for a half hour to forty-five minutes because I can’t stand the thought of getting out of bed to face yet another day, which pinches my writing time, even though having written something first thing in the morning is the one thing that makes the rest of the day bearable. I come home to a pair of cats, and if it’s a Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, I’m right back out the door for a run knowing that I actually need to do more than just run. I should be doing some kind of weight training, but that would rob me of my Tuesday and Thursday nights as well.

There’s a bleakness to it all, especially when the easiest thing to sacrifice is my connection to other people, and my attempts to find a companion. All sorts of research points out that having close friends as we age protects us from illness. Maintaining relationships takes time, of course, but it can also crowd out time for other things even though I feel like it shouldn’t. Then there’s the time and energy it takes to find a companion, which is fundamentally discouraging—no matter where I might live.

It’s not unusual for me to get home at the end of the day and, maybe after squeezing in a run, to simply feed myself and sit there empty and stare at the TV to emotionally paralyzed to read, or write, or even follow up on personal emails or things I need to do for the podcast. It turns into a kind of aggressive waiting game to see when my body will simply give up trying to stay awake and if I can finish that glass of wine I poured or the beer I opened. And all the while I’m telling myself I should be doing something more productive.


An open letter to my brother

        I have a half brother I don’t know, and he’s about to turn 18. Our father died eight years ago and his mother decided that she didn’t want me or our sister in Will’s life at all. To her, I’m a bad influence because I’m too liberal, a non-Christian, and, I assume a host of other things that conservative evangelicals would think make me an instrument of—I don’t know—sin (?), vice (?), degradation or something (?). The devil? I don’t know.

        Our father wanted us to know each other, but with his death, Will’s mother got the final say and it’s not my place to force the issue. Except, now, Will’s technically old enough to make his own decisions about who he wants in his life.

        I hope he chooses to reach out, to talk to either me or Amber. The version of our father that Will knew during his first ten years, and the version that dad’s second wife saw and has reinforced in Will’s mind isn’t all there was to the man. Will probably only knows about his grandparents, Carl and Dorothy Malott from what our Aunt Helen has told him, which I don’t suspect to be much. Aunt Helen is one of the kindest people I know, and I’ve rarely, if ever, heard her say anything critical about anyone. In most cases, that’s a good thing, but getting a clear picture of someone means seeing their warts and scars, too.

        I would like to know my half brother. The invitation is open.

        
        


First Saturday Report: March

Writing & Submitting:
Still working away on the new project. After hacking out 11,000 words in order to get back to the point where I took the wrong turn, I’ve gotten back on the right (write?) track and nearly replaced all 11,000 with newer, better words.

There’s an old saying about writing that goes “The world doesn’t want you to write. It wants you to do the dishes, vacuum the floor, pick your nose, do the laundry—anything but write.” Lately, the world has been working overtime to make that point clear. My day job is insidiously demanding more than the allotted 40 hours of my time, and making me travel to various small midwestern cities — once, in a snow storm that turned what should have been a 2 hour drive home into a six hour drive.

Some days, I get home and, since I’ve spent the hour and half in the morning writing, then eight to nine hours at work on a computer, the last thing I want to do is sit down and look at a computer again. Sometimes I go for a run, have dinner, and then it’s time for bed. I live alone, except for the two cats (who don’t have thumbs so I can’t delegate chores to them), and so there’s always dishes to do, a toilet to clean, a floor to vacuum, laundry to do, groceries to buy, podcast stuff to do, and friendships to maintain (I don’t want to abandon my friends because close friends help you live longer and I still have a lot to do). So, things take longer to accomplish—for me anyway.

Podcast:
Recently finished the seven part Problematic Badass Female Tropes series with my friend, Jenn. It’s based off her seven essays on the same topic (read them here). Those will be out starting some time in April. She’s writing a series on Toxic Masculinity Tropes that we’ll talk about in the fall.

Lining up the plans for another Outrider Live show. We’re planning to record this one on April 6th. It’ll be the first one that is open to the public, so keep an eye out for the announcement and invite your friends. The poet will be Siobhan Scarry (book). Not sure who the musical performer will be yet.

Reading:
Finished Nick Lantz’s collection The Lightning that Strikes the Neighbors’ House. It’s a fantastic collection, most famous for having the poem “Portmanterrorism” in it, but there are many other fantastic and deep poems in it.

Started reading J. Robert Lennon’s novel Broken River. I like his first novel The Light of Falling Stars, but as things sometimes go with me, I lost track of him (and lost the book) and missed all his other novels until now. I’ll get caught up eventually.

Music:
My friend Stephen McClurg sent me some music recommendations, but I’ve not had time to follow up on them. I did, however, download “Flashback: The Best of the J. Geils Band.” It was one of the many cassettes I used to have back in the day, and I finally decided I needed to have Centerfold back in my collection (speaking of problematic things). I also picked up New Order’s Complete Music – basically a remix album of their Music Complete album. Sigh. I’m a sucker for New Order. And finally picked up The Frames album The Cost, which has their Academy Award winning song Falling Slowly on it (from the movie Once)

Watching:
Pretty much done with watching things that can’t be done in an hour or two. So no more binge watching TV shows. I did rewatch The Power of Myth with Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers. It’s on Netflix, but I bought the series from iTunes. With the death of Marvel on Netflix I’m debating dumping all my streaming services. There’s some things I like to watch from time to time, but the truth is, I’m not terribly interested in very many of the Netflix offerings. I need to read more anyway.

Random Thoughts:
At work, they’re trying to get us to sign up for a health program through our employer offered insurance. We have to get a health screening and if we don’t meet the BMI and/or waist size requirements we have to complete a “health challenge.” Failing to do those things will incur a punitive surcharge (up to about $75 a month) on next year’s monthly paycheck deductions. You can do the screening with your doctor, rather than at the on-site screening, and there is a waiver your doctor can sign if you’re already on a plan with your doctor that will prevent the surcharge, but over all the thing is intrusive in a weird and creepy way.

One of the things you’re given if you have to do the health challenge is a digital, Wi-fi enabled scale that connects directly to the services’ website. You don’t have control over it. So, every day you step on the scale the insurance company and you challenge coach get your weight automatically. There’s also an app provided by the insurance company and cleared by corporate that can be linked to a fitness tracker — either your current tracker if you already have a compatible one, or you can buy one from the service.

Again, it feels way intrusive on the part of my employer and the insurance company . . . and it’s super ironic. One of the things the for-profit health insurance industry and their libertarian supporters say to oppose things like Medicare for all or universal single payer is that it’ll create this government nanny state that’ll take away your “freedom of choice” when it comes to how you live your life and what doctor you can go to. And yet, under the guise of “costs” to the employer and insurance company, it’s okay for the corporate nanny to put me on a diet with the fitness coach of their choice.

You might say, well, go work somewhere else. That’s not the point. Every company that offers health insurance will do things like this to “control costs” — you should read that phrase “control costs” as “maximize the CEOs annual income.” For profit health care isn’t about health care—it’s about profit—and we aren’t the beneficiaries, we’re the fucking resource and if we’re sick or faulty—the insurance companies will find a way to reject us or exclude us so that they can maximize income instead of spend money on our health care (which is a deduction from their balance sheet). Since the ACA prevents them from excluding on preexisting conditions anymore, they have to come up with ways to squeeze profit out of those people in poor health they now have to spend money on.

Our society is geared toward making us unhealthy. Our cities are designed for cars, not people. Our good jobs often demand we be sedentary for 40 to 60 hours a week. Our most affordable foods are hyper processed and drenched in high fructose corn syrup while our healthiest foods are expensive and often not easily accessible to people in poorer neighborhoods (read about food deserts).

If corporations are really worried about the cost of providing health insurance to their employees, and not just telling that to their employees to justify the Big Brother like monitoring of their health as a possible means to further exploit them for profit, then they should be supporting Medicare for all. But, of course, if we get Medicare for all and we aren’t dependent upon our employers to provide us health insurance some corporations might start losing employees and find it hard to keep employees because employer provided health insurance is one of the ways corporations manipulate people into become dependent upon the employer for more than a monthly salary.


First Saturday Report: February 2019

Writing & Submitting:
I’m thinking about placing my fourth novel in the can and letting it rot. “The can” isn’t exactly the trash, but it is a trashy plastic bin I keep in the closet. So, let’s count: very first complete novel written before graduate school: The Cinnamon Girl: as awful as the title would suggest. Put it in the can. Second novel published. Third novel written: By The Still, Still Water: awful. Put it in the can. Fourth novel written: The Palace of Winds: thinking about putting it in the can. Fifth novel written: Far Nineteen: Verdict undecided, but I’m inching it toward the can.

Sixth novel is in progress and hovering around 49,000 words. Usually when progress slows like this it means I made a misstep somewhere. I either wasn’t listening to the characters, or I forced something to happen earlier than it should. One of the drawbacks to the way I go about things. I don’t outline because the I’ve “told the story” and there’s no reason to tell it again. Besides, I’d end up never following the outline anyway. The closest I ever came to an outline was The Palace of Winds because I was retelling the Jason and the Argonauts myth—and that doesn’t seem to have gone very well.

Podcast:
Finally got the last episode of the Bad Business series out of the door. That project took way too long and although it turned out to be pretty good, I’m not doing one that has me trying to Skype a third person in.

The second Outrider Live show is out, and I really like this one. First time reader Michelle Barrett battled through some nervous butterflies, but did a great job. There’s a spark there, and I think she’s got the spine and the smarts to keep doing the work and getting better. Shawn Craver’s reading from his as-yet unpublished first novel was excellent. His prose is strong and I think it’ll find a home soon. Our musical performer, Elleana, has an astonishingly beautiful voice and her song selection and arrangements are quirky and fun. I think you’ll like her.

I’ve been working on getting another live show scheduled, and plans are moving forward to do something with the poet Siobhan Scarry.

I’d planned on taking a break to plot my next move, but instead jumped right into another series. This one is Problematic Badass Female Tropes with my friend Jenn Zukowski. She wrote a seven part series for Writers HQ, and we thought it’d be fun to drink wine and discuss her essays. That should be ready for release in March or April.

Reading:
My reading pace is floundering. I’m reading some books my therapist recommended. In fits and starts I’m reading John Berger’s novel King: A street story, and I’m still carting around Jeff Talarigo’s In the Cemetery of the Orange Trees. On my lunch breaks I’m still reading The Anti-Christ Handbook: The Horror and Hilarity of Left Behind by Fred Clark (The Slacktivists). He’s still going strong with the Left Behind Fridays and I’m slowly trying to catch up.

I have so many unread books on my shelves.

Music:
I need to do some work on my music discovery channels. I feel like I’ve not found anything new and good lately.

Watching:
I think I’m going to shut down all my streaming services, take the TV and face it toward the wall. I understand the lure, and the vicious circle that TV and depression make. I’ll go back to reading during dinner, after my run, and before I have to clean up the apartment and go to bed. Or I’ll just sit and stare at the walls. Play with the cats. Surf the net.

Random Thoughts:

I don’t have any random thoughts this month. They’re kind of all focused on something. So, nothing to rant about except the usual frustrations about time and obligation. See you next month.


Outrider Live: Words and Music No. 2

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-mdsx5-a5d969

In this episode, recorded live on December 8th, 2018, we have readings by Michelle Barrett and Shawn Craver. Our musical performer is Elleana. 


Outrider Live #2 Coming Soon.

I just got the final version of the Second Outrider Live show from Heather. It sounds fantastic. Look for it in your feed on the 28th of January.


The Outrider Podcast: Bad Business Ep 6

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-eg4yg-a48678

In this, our final episode, Todd, Paul and I bring it sort of full circle as we take a look at the latest re-imagining of Raymond Chandler’s iconic detective, Philip Marlowe, and discuss Lawrence Osborne’s novel Only To Sleep. So, join us for one last ride into the dark underbelly . . . 


Bad Business Ep 6 LANDING TOMORROW!

Jut and FYI.
The final episode of Bad Business, The Outrider Podcast’s foray in crime and noir fiction will land tomorrow, Jan 15.

And thanks to the hard work of my producer, Heather, it sounds excellent. This means she now qualifies as a wizard.

Look for it in you podcast feed tomorrow.

And then, get ready for another live show around the end of the month.


Delayed: Bad Business Episode 6

Ok, so, I’m not a sound engineer and despite recording three separate tracks for episode six none of them are great. Heather is working away at them, so, please be patient.

After some self-education, I won’t be making the same mistakes and hopefully I’ll be making my producer’s life a little easier in the future.

Ep six will be out soon.

Followed by a new live show at the end of the month.


First Saturday Report January 2019

WTF? 2019 already?

Writing & Submitting:
From the outside there’s not much progress on the writing and submitting front. There is a lot of churn on the page however.

The literary manifesto is moving through revisions. A friend with a little more time and money is attempting to start up a literary journal, and we’ve been talking about serializing the manifesto there. So, that’s meant reshaping the revision process to make them fit that format.

At one point while writing things for the new fiction project, I’d cranked out something like 40,000 words just in exploration—short scenes, or bits of dialogue, internal monologues, descriptions of places or events—nothing in order and nothing connected. Most of it written in journals. I can’t remember when I finally started piecing it all together into a narrative, but it feels like i’ve been doing it for the last year or so (with some big pauses as I did a revision (again) to both The Palace of Winds and Far Nineteen). I now have somewhere over 40,000 words of a connected story, with only about 10 to 15% of that coming from the exploration text.

A friend who wants to be a writer seemed confused when I told her that I didn’t think writing was “fun” and that I didn’t do it for “fun.” It’s an urge, a compulsion, a practice for me in the way that religion is for some, or tai chi. Another friend, one who isn’t and doesn’t want to be a writer, wondered why I spent so much time talking about and thinking about how I was structuring the story instead of just telling the story. The comment made me realize that, for a lot of people, a writer talking about how a story is put together is a bit like watching processed food being made: you probably don’t want to see chickens turned into sludge and then formed chicken nuggets. You just want to eat the chicken nuggets. But for me, the process of generating a manuscript is extremely interesting—it might even be fair to say that it’s fun. In the course of my writing life over the last twenty-two years (!!!!!), I’ve written five novels—published one—and begun serious work on a sixth. I define serious work as exceeding 30,000 word barrier, which is roughly 100 pages or so (a piece is considered a “novel” at roughly 60,000 words, less than that is generally considered a novella). I have a few other projects that are sitting somewhere under the 30,000 word range and would love to get to them, but being a writer with a day job is an exercise in that old cliche “burning the candle at both ends” which is exhausting since I live alone with two cats who refuse to pick up after themselves . . . anyway . . . the point is, not every story should be told in the same way as every other story. Sometimes, the tension, the plot, the meaning of something is best revealed by juxtaposition rather than a linear sequence. Sometimes, what appears to be a simple boring story if it were told in a linear fashion (Old Joe walks across the room with the help of a cane) can become monumentally dramatic ONLY when placed in the wider context of life, but how do you present that wider context in a compact space?

In other words, what is “fun” for me is giving myself a challenge and seeing if I can pull it off. We miss so much of the human spirit if we think our triumphs, failures, heartbreaks, or losses, only happen on a grand scale or with world shaking consequences. That erases the human condition in a way. An old man walks across the room with the help of a cane . . . and for him it’s a triumph. Why? How did he get there? What happened to him before that moment? And how do you fit the life story that makes that small effort monumental to that old man into just 60,000 words? That’s why, for me, every story has to be told differently, which demands a different structure and, even, a different way of discovering the story.

Podcast:
The last episode of Bad Business is on the way, hopefully second week of January. Be on the look out. Another Outrider Live will be released sometime around the end of January.

I’m working on getting some additional live shows scheduled and recorded, so those will be landing occasionally through out 2019. Later this month I’ll begin recording another short, seven part series with my friend Jenn Bukowski where we’ll discuss her essay series on Problematic Badass Female Tropes. There’s no release date on those. Again, I’ll be recording all the episodes in advance, and then releasing is a quick burst.

The Bad Business series is good, but logistically it was a mess. It took us something like seven months to record all the episodes, there were technical problems (all my fault), and that put us behind the proverbial eight ball when it came time to the release schedule. So, please, give a big huge massive thank you to my producer, Heather Eden for her hard work. I’ve learned some good podcasting lessons and won’t make certain mistakes again.

Reading:
The current reading list:
King: A Street Story by John Berger
The Anti-Christ Handbook: The Horror and Hilarity of Left Behind Vols. 1 & 2 by Fred Clark
The New Male Sexuality: The Truth about Men, Sex, and Pleasure by Bernie Zilbergeld

On deck:
In The Cemetery of the Orange Trees by Jeff Talarigo
The Evening Road and In The House in The Dark of the Woods by Laird Hunt.
A Dance to The Music of Time: 1st Movement by Anthony Powell
The Written World: The Power of Stories to Shape People, History, and Civilization by Martin Puchner.

Honestly, the one that’s really the most fun to read right now is Fred Clark’s Anti-Christ Handbook. Clark writes The Slacktivist blog on Patheos and has, for over a decade now, been doing the “Left Behind Fridays” where he breaks down a section of one of the books in the Left Behind series and explains why it is both theologically wrong and artistically bad. He is ruthless and funny at the same time. I used to read the LB Fridays, but then faded away. When I saw he’d finally collected the essays from his Slacktivist blog about the first LB book and released them as an e-book on Amazon, I allowed myself to break my anti-Amazon stance and grab a copy.

Music:
Every time I get to this section, I lament the fact that my music discovery efforts are flagging. Again, I blame the lack of a decent independent radio station, but the truth is I’ve not adopted the habits needed to consistently search places like YouTube, or music podcasts, to find new music I like. Yes, the local “alt-rock” station owned by Clear Channel is better than not having an Alt-Rock station, but fuck me I don’t like hearing the same set of songs over and over every time I put on the radio. I didn’t have any kind of opinion of bands like 21 Pilots or Hozier when I first heard their songs . . . I was indifferent until Clear Channel started playing their songs once an hour. I got in my car on four separate occasions one day, drove to work, then drove home from work (8hr gap), drove to a pub to meet friends for dinner (2 hr gap between home and trip to pub), then drove home after dinner (hour and half gap from arriving at pub and leaving pub) – – and I heard that Hozier song “Take Me To Church” each fucking time. I will never buy an album by that artist now because hearing that song is rage inducing.

I feel like I’m missing out on cool new music.

Watching:
The night before writing this, I went to see Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse. That was, I think, the best Spider-man movie so far. I never kept up with the comics after about the age of 12, but I kind of wish I had. Of course, I’m of the age where my first experience of Spider-man outside of the comics was the 1978-79 TV show The Amazing Spider-man.

Other than that, I’ve seen What We Do In The Shadows, Tag, and I’m rewatching the Showtime series Californication on Netflix.

Of those, I was most surprised by Tag, which I’d expected to be a bit like The Hangover, but it turned out to be quite a touching look at enduring, long term male friendships – especially since it was based on a real-life group of friends who’ve been playing tag since they were kids (here’s the original WSJ article that inspired the movie and a recent Bustle article with video).

Random Thoughts:
1) This year needs to be better than last year.
2) I don’t really have many close male friends and that bothers me.
3) My father would be 72 this month. His youngest son, my half brother, will be, i believe, 18 on March 15. I don’t know him. His mother hates me (and I don’t particularly care for her) and she didn’t want me to be in touch with him. Such is life. He lives in Buffalo, NY. Maybe someday, now that he’ll be 18, he’ll reach out. Our father would have liked that. He wanted my sister and me to have a relationship with him, but after our father died, our brother’s mother didn’t want us around him.
4) My new year started off with a rejection letter. I don’t even remember which manuscript it was for.