First Saturday Report: October

Writing & Submitting:
Finally finished a new manuscript: The Poisoned Moon . . . after four years.

I’m still waiting to hear back on the UNO Publishing Lab contest. They were to have picked the finalists by the end of September, and will announce the winner sometime in November.

In the meantime, I’m revising a pair of essays for upcoming issues of Vautrin.

Finally finished Team Human. It wasn’t hard to read or boring. It was, in fact, quite thought provoking, which was one of the reasons I’d set it aside so that I could think about some of the things Rushkoff was talking about, ponder the ways I could implement some of the ideas he gave me into my daily life. The big take-away, of course, is that we should stop letting technology determine our behavior, stop letting technology, the internet, and corporations use US, the people, to extract ever greater levels of wealth, and instead take back control of those things and use them to free ourselves from corporate control and manipulation. Use them properly, wisely, and to our benefit. There were a lot of things Rushkoff made me think about–chiefly how we’re now the very resource that corporations are using to extract wealth from the environment and put it in their pockets. In order for that “extraction capitalism” to work they have to isolate us and be able to predict and then direct our behavior.

There’s a link there, in my mind, to what I’ve been working on in the essays for Vautrin. Those essays are about how, in literature, things written purely for entertainment alone cut us off from our ability to empathize and then things written to persuade us to adopt a dogmatic ideology swoop in and turn us against each other because conflict is more profitable.

One other thing Team Human brought up is the destructiveness of believing that profits can exponentially increase forever, as if it were the natural order. Nothing good ever grows exponentially forever and remains healthy. Plants, animals (including humans) eventually become adult and stop growing. The only exponential growth we experience is cancer and if not stopped will kill the host. Late-stage capitalism, extraction capitalism, surveillance capitalism—whatever you want to call it, it’s a cancer and it’s starting to kill the host i.e. us and the planet.

New reading adventures begin with Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, and Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me.

Wrapping up recording new shows on Problematic Toxic Masculinity Tropes with Jenn Zuko. These are companion pieces to her Problematic Badass Female Tropes essays and The Outrider Podcast series. One of the things we talk about is how the real solution to the problematic badass female tropes is to simply have more women writing movies, directing movies, and producing movies. For these problematic man tropes, the solution is a bit more complicated, so we end up talking more about the real social implications that these tropes relate to. When a society is built upon a gendered hierarchy, it’s easy to see what those at the bottom need—i.e. access to the privilege denied them by those at the top of the hierarchy. It’s harder to see what needs to be adjusted for those at the top who are invested in defending the the top of the mountain, so to speak. I think they’ll be some fascinating shows.

I really need to find some new music. I feel like I’m losing touch. Oh well, I guess you have to get old someday.

In the podcast listening realm, I’m not sure I’ve added too many new things since September. Oh, no, wait. The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos is the only new one. I’ve been going back and catching up on Stuff Mom Never Told You, and Things You Missed in History Class.

I’ve been trying to get back into The Moth, but like so much stuff tied to NPR anymore, they seem to be in the Rearrange, Repackage, Recycle mode, and I’m hearing stories I’ve heard before being RRR’d with other stories I’ve heard before. It was why I stopped listening to This American Life, and a bunch of other NPR podcasts.

Recently watched A Futile and Stupid Gesture, the biopic about Doug Kenney, co-founder of National Lampoon.

Random Thoughts
This is not a “woe is me, I deserve more” rant. This is an attempt at an honest reckoning with my own expectations. As Jenn and I have been working on these Toxic Masculinity shows, and as I sit in this fallow period after finishing another manuscript (my third unpublished (unpublishable?) manuscript since the publication of The Evolution of Shadows ten years ago), I can’t help but engage in a kind of reassessment of my . . . well . . . life.

One has to set a basement for failure. To me, that means establishing where the bottom is and when to put down the shovel and start looking for a ladder, or at least, some ledge above the rising water. I’m nearly fifty, and all I’ve every really wanted was to be a writer, to publish novels and stories and poems and essays . . . and, most importantly, have people read them and to connect to them the way I’ve connected to so many other books.

I hear the self-publishing champions revving their engines. Sit down, please. To self-publish means to take on a whole host of roles I don’t want to take on, and that I’m very good at. To be reductively obvious: to self-publish means to become your own publisher, and even though I’ve flirted with the idea of starting my own press, it’s never going to happen because deep down it’s not something I think I ever want to do. Editor, yes, but not a publisher. Someone else should foot the bill of publishing books, not me. Someone else should design or hire someone to design the book jacket, not me. Someone else should do the marketing, not me: I’m awful at it. I have a narrow set of talents that I prefer to focus on, and the “business side” of publishing is not one of them.

And that’s where this reassessment is focused. A kind of inward-directed mid-life crisis because I don’t have the money to buy a sports car nor to be a sugar daddy to a twenty-two year old woman with expensive tastes and father complex. All this talk about toxic masculinity, and about men (especially white men) “expecting” things not because of any particular talent or gift, but simply because they are white men, and how they’ve been raised in a society geared to reward them for minimal effort (see Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump), and protect them from the worst of their behavior (see justice Kavanaugh again, or Brock Turner), has me thinking about my own expectations in regards to my life as a white male writer.

The traditional publishing route is hard to begin with, and right now it is a battle ground in the racial, sexual, and gender struggle for visibility and tolerance. As an industry, we are wrestling with issues around access, representation, and fairness. Straight white male voices have dominated for generations, and now, thanks to efforts by LGBTQ+ writers and publishers, by women writers, by writers of color, and many others, we’re seeing an expansion of the types of voices being heard. Representation matters, as the saying goes, and this is positive, and it’s something I am excited about. It is a fantastic time to be a reader of fiction. To explore and experience the perceptions of writers so different from me in some regards, but, ultimately, essentially, familiar in their humanity and empathy, is an unqualified gift.

If I were a shallow, angry, unaware man, who acted as if straight white male was the default condition of all humanity, then it would be easy to direct my personal struggle outward and to be angry that all these women, gay people, black people, etc. were “stealing” spots in a publisher’s catalogue that 2were somehow meant for me. But I am not that person. There is no spot reserved for me except the one I’ll be placed in after I die, and I don’t want this to seem like that is the route I’m taking when I say that I have to confront the fact that I may, in fact, be a mediocre white guy who got lucky ten years ago, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.

In a society that has, in the past, allowed for mediocre white guys to ascend to levels of success beyond their skill, talent, intelligence, or competence it seems necessary that I assess myself, and the source of my expectations for myself. Would it have been better to have never gotten that book published at all? I’ve never had an agent. I wasn’t published by a friend or classmate who’d started a press, nor was I “sponsored” or recommended to an agent or editor by an established writer who’d been my teacher. I got plucked out of the slush pile. That has to mean something, doesn’t it? Or maybe it doesn’t. It certainly set the expectation that I could do it again.

There have certainly been plenty of times over the years where I thought that if I had a different (a “better”) biography, I’d have a better shot – If I were anything other than a straight white male. But that line of thinking is awfully close to the kind of aggrieved white male thinking that I can’t stand. The idea of it being harder out there for straight white males than anyone else is ludicrous. If a straight white male has it harder than those around him it’s not because he’s straight, white and male, it’s because he’s poor, uneducated, a substance abuser, lazy, entitled, disabled, struggling with mental health issues, and so on—a hundred things that don’t have anything to do with sexual orientation, race, or gender, but with economic class, extractive late-stage capitalism, and the basic fragility of human life.

We are in the process of a great level-setting and, as someone who firmly believes in the ideas best articulated by The Combahee River Collective (that when gay women of color have the same access, opportunity, and privilege as straight white men then there will no longer be any reason to discriminate based on orientation, race, or gender), I refuse to be the kind of angry, reactionary white man that will stand in the way of recognizing someone else’s humanity.

And here were are, back to my point. In an equal society, do I have the talent to meet my expectations? Are my expectations even rational? Or am I in that situation, like the fictional version of Antonio Salieri from Amadeus, where my awareness is greater than my talent? The fictional Salieri let the imbalance between his awareness and talent turn him bitter and vengeful. I would hate to lose my awareness since that is what keeps me from falling victim to the Dunning Kruger Effect, but that means I have to find a way to be at peace with myself, to continue to strive and work under appropriate expectations so that I don’t become a bitter, resentful monster.

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