Category Archives: First Saturday

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.

First Saturday Report: September

Writing & Submitting:
As I write this, I’m waiting to hear back from The Publishing Laboratory at the University of New Orleans on the manuscript I submitted to their annual contest. I doubt the news will be good. I am a pessimist after all.

Finally broke through the climax of the new project. The rough draft of the scene is—well—rough as hell, but that’s what revisions is for. I’ve been working on this first draft for about two years or so, and I’m ready for it to be done. I’m not sure how long I’m going to let it sit before getting to the revisions. Maybe I’ll send it to some trusted readers, see where they find the really awful parts and start there. Until then, I think I’ll try some short fiction, some poems, and essay or two. A screenplay? I don’t know.

Polished up my second essay for the journal Vautrin and sent that off to Todd. I’ll need to get the next one ready soon.

My reading pace has dropped in the last few weeks. I’ve been a bit more social than normal, and it’s been taking its toll here. I’m still plodding through Rushkoff’s Team Human and although I’ve been carrying around Tate’s The Government Lake, I’ve not been reading it. I did tuck Jeanine Hathaway’s new poetry collection Long After Lauds into my bag with the best of aspirational intentions, but have only read a poem or two.

We recorded the last live show of the summer last month and that will be out soon, if I’ve not dropped it already. John Jenkinson and Cathy Dryden were our performers for what we called The Cookout Show. It was probably our largest crowd so far.

As this post goes up, I’m getting ready to start recording a new Problematic Tropes series with my friend Jenn Zukowski. This one is on Problematic Toxic Masculinity Tropes. I’m sure it’ll be as fun as the Problematic Badass Female tropes, and much more personal as these tropes seem, perhaps, more insidious and destructive.

Heather and I are thinking of ways to expand and monetize the podcast, even though it feels kind of anti Team Human: i.e. taking something you love to do for the love of doing it . . . and “monetizing” it. But we need gear, the use of bigger performance spaces for the live shows, and other show related things, and it’d be much easier to pay Heather for her work from a different pool of money than the one I use to feed, clothe, and house myself.

Part of being more social these days often means passively watching TV, either with someone or after hanging out with someone in order to de-jangle the brain. I’ve moved on the Deep Space 9, finally watched the last two or three episodes of Stranger Things 3, and was shown Hedwig and the Angry Inch for the first time. I still haven’t renewed my Netflix subscription even though I want to watch the new season of Glow and people tell me I need to go pack and watch all of the series Easy, and not just the episodes with my older-brother-spirit-guide Marc Maron.

My forays out to see live music fell off in August. There’s some shows coming up this month that I’m hoping to get to.

In the “keep me occupied at work while I trudge” podcast realm, I recently started listening to the 1619 podcast, which is about the first slave ship to make it to America. I’ve also picked up the Deconstruction Workers Podcast – mostly because Jenn was on there talking about the Problematic Badass Female tropes. The other shows look interesting so, I’ll put it in the loop for a while and see if it sticks.

Random Thoughts
Other people’s expectations. That’s what’s rolling around in my noggin these days. It’s not unreasonable for people to have expectations of the people around them, and of the people who are important to them. Where we get ourselves into trouble are the unreasonable and the unspoken expectations. Separately or combined—but especially combined—they tend to act like landmines in any relationship.

I was once promoted to a data entry job at a call center, given a little bit of training by a co-worker, and allowed to work the job for a month on a “probationary” status. The manager I reported to never laid out the expectations, never told me I was making errors, never had a meeting with me during my month-long probationary period to see how I was doing or if I had any questions. I thought I was doing fine, but on the last day of my probation, I was told I wasn’t meeting expectations, and that I could either go back on the call center floor or quit. When I said I would have worked to improve if I’d been told I was making errors, the manager told me that she “wasn’t a hands-on manager.” I quit that day.

My father and I struggled with both unreasonable and unspoken expectations. In situations like that, deeply intimate situations, it’s often hard to even articulate or admit to certain expectations. The sources of those expectations are often buried too deeply, too primal to even really be understood and are masked by more immediate, surface expectations. It’s taken me years of reflection, to even begin to understand what some of those things were, and it’s been almost ten years since my father died.

Ten years without the burden of all those expectations, by the way.

Before my father died, I couldn’t have devoted myself to reflecting on those deeper, mysterious expectations because we were still wrestling with more immediate and present ones. All I could do, and at the time it was only the first, early attempts, was to begin to let go of my anger at him for, well, being who he was. My father was kind, empathetic, loved bad puns and jokes, and he especially loved music. He could also be narcissistic, codependent, arrogant, and short tempered. He felt shame and self-loathing at incredibly deep levels, and I think that drove both his kindness and empathy as well as his codependency and anger. I don’t think that either of us, while he was alive, could have admitted to ourselves or each other how deeply we needed the other’s approval—but I was the child, and he was the parent and I needed him to act the part. I needed him to be a parent (not my friend, not my therapist—roles that he preferred), and he needed me to approve of him, but I couldn’t because he couldn’t be the parent I thought I needed. A classic, emotional Catch-22.

Even if we’d been able to talk ourselves to that point of understanding, it wouldn’t have helped. It wouldn’t have helped until I did the one thing I was only beginning to fumble my way to doing when he died, and that was to let go of my expectation that he act like a parent. I had to forgive him for being himself.

That’s hard. Taking someone as they are, fitting them into and around the uneven parts of ourselves, takes a lot of patience and forgiveness. It doesn’t mean you let them stomp all over you. If they do that you’re justified in pushing them away. Most people, however, aren’t psychopaths or sociopaths. Most people when they hurt us will regret it, ask for forgiveness, try not to hurt us again in that way. However, when someone we care about hurts us, especially accidentally or unintentionally, our ability to frame that moment correctly, to let go of our immediate hurt and not let our own defensiveness (our expectations of the other person and ourselves) take over and drive us to lash out, is tested. In the best of circumstances, we should be able to let that person know they’ve hurt us without being defensive and angry, or lashing out ourselves.

That old Catch-22 again. Someone hurts us, we’re hurt so we lash out and hurt them back, which hurts them and they . . . . you get the picture.

Calmly letting someone know they’ve hurt us in a way that heads off the cycle is even harder than forgiveness because we have to be aware of and attuned to our own expectations. We can’t really adjust, rejigger, or reset most of another person’s expectations. We have to understand there are different types of expectations with different sources. There are the general expectations a person has in general that come from the person’s family life—how they were raised, the relationships with their parents and siblings and, even, previous platonic and romantic relationships: things like they expect the world to be unfair and cold, or welcoming and forgiving. They expect to be treated like property because they are women, or they expect to take charge because they’re men. Then there are the expectations we have of other individuals that are based upon previous behavior by them. Think of it this way, since we’re in the computer age: it’s firmware vs. software. The firmware is made up of all the expectations our parents and our past experiences have given us. The software is written by the interaction of our separate, not fully compatible, firmware. I can’t change or upgrade your firmware, I don’t have the right “permissions.” However, I can change and upgrade my own firmware to accommodate, or adapt to the relationship (the software) being written between us.

In the case of my father, I had to rewrite my expectations of him, and then I had to learn to forgive those broken parts of him, the codependency, the anger, the neediness, the narcissism, and be aware of the fact that those things showed up as defenses when he was feeling vulnerable, ashamed, and full of self-loathing. You see, even though he had helped to write my firmware when I was a child, I was the only one who could rewrite it as an adult. If he had not died ten years ago, I wonder what kind of space my efforts would have opened up between us. By not holding his feet to the fire every time he failed to live up to my expectations of him, and finding a way to forgive him, would that have given him the space he needed to see our relationship as clearly as I was beginning to see it?

Maybe some might say that, being the parent, he should have gone first. To that, all I can say is his firmware was older and had been in place and unaltered much longer than mine was. Our lives were vastly different. My father never wandered off into Buddhism, never sat and pondered the idea of negative capability, or pondered the ideas in Japanese aesthetics like mono no aware, and a thousand other things that made me who I am – and still as imperfect and flawed as he was but in different ways.

And that leads me to another thing I’ve been thinking about: those spiky, jagged parts of my own personality. I can grind them down, make them less sharp, but they’re still going to be there. They’re still going to poke people from time to time. There are also actions I don’t perform well, things I’ve never learned how to express or articulate. Oddly enough though, I don’t need to be praised for making the effort to learn those actions, for limping my way through the motions. Sure it’s a benefit to those around me, but really it’s first a benefit to me because selfishly, it makes me a better writer if I can learn to express those inexpressible things.

First Saturday. . . nope wait . . . First Sunday Report

this is kind of how my year’s been going . . . always a little off.

Writing and Submitting
Still working my way through the ending of this novel I’ve been working on for the last year or more. It’s proving a challenge to wrap up. I may need to stop trying to finish it, and go back to the beginning and just read. I may have, with all the other distractions (day job travel, day job in general, all the other life BS that gets in the way), lost the thread.

Trying to finish up another essay for the next issue of Vautrin.

I started to read Praying Drunk by Kyle Minor, but I don’t think I’ll be finishing it any time soon. Sorry, the stories are finely done, but I’m not in the right frame of mind for the tone and subject matter.

My interests are more in line with Douglas Rushkoff’s Team Human, and The Government Lake: Last Poems by James Tate. Tate was the first poet I discovered on my own without being handed something in class or taking a class from a poet, and there was something in his sensibility that struck a chord. His sense of humor, masking something very serious felt like a language I’d always known but had never heard spoken. One of the few poems I seem to have permanently memorized is his poem “Teaching the Ape to Write Poems.” I tell people I always have that poem in mind when I write, especially when I write poems. It keeps me humble, and it still tickles me.

Tate died in 2015, and these last poems, including one that was still in his typewriter when he died, are wonderful and bittersweet.

Recently recorded a live show that will be out soon, and we’re getting ready to record another on in August. This will be the Cookout show.

The follow up to the Problematic Badass Female Tropes series is in the work-up phase. Jenn has a few of the essays finished, but because of publication delays for the future essays we’re actually going to do a number of the Toxic Masculinity Tropes off of outlines, which will be slightly different than the other episodes in the series. We hope to have them dropping once the temperatures start to drop.

I’ve been to see a lot of live music lately: Claypool Lennon Delirium and The Flaming Lips at Wave, and then some local acts, After Judo, Jordana, and Marrice Anthony at Ellis St. Moto.

The young people in town are really turning out some good music lately. I hope some of them get some good national exposure.

In the podcast world, I’ve been listing to This Land, hosted by Rebecca Nagle, a journalist and citizen of the Cherokee nation. There is so much in that podcast to think about and ponder. The biggest take-away I got from it is this: so much of what is wrong in America finds its nexus in how we treat indigenous peoples. Our treatment of minorities, our treatment of women and children, and our treatment of the environment is entirely perfectly and painfully reflected in how we treat indigenous people. If we’re going to survive as a nation, we have to do right by the indigenous people of this content. We must honor the treaties, we must respect the land set aside for them, we must respect their honor their heritage and respect their family bonds, and we must seek justice for missing and murdered indigenous women. I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the issues and causes that demand my attention. I am beginning to think that devoting my time and energy to protecting indigenous people will have the most impact.

I am sorry it’s taken so long to realize this.

Still plowing through episodes of Star Trek TNG. No, I’ve not seen all of Stranger Things 3. Yes, I’ll have to restart my Netflix account.

Random Thoughts
yeah, I got nothing. Have a cat.

First Saturday Report: July

Writing & Submitting:
It is taking longer than I’d planned to finish the new project, but that might not be a bad thing. Diligence and fear playing off each other. What a flop if I get it wrong, if I’m not honest, fair, and even.

I’m also working on the follow-up essay to the one that appeared in issue one of Vautrin.

Finished reading Alexs D. Pate’s Multi Culti Boho Sideshow. It’s out of print, so, if you’re looking for a copy, try

Read Erika T. Wurth’s Buckskin Cocaine. This was published by Astrophil Press, which is run by an old grad school acquaintance, Duncan Barlow. Wurth’s book is excellent. I was especially taken by the capper story, Olivia James. It is a very graceful story about the sacrifices that all artistically driven people make in order to pursue their passion, but it was particularly poignant about the sacrifices that marginalized and impoverished people—especially women—have to make not only to continue to pursue their art, but to avoid the pitfalls and traps of poverty.

Ocean Vuong’s collection of poems, Night Sky with Exit Wounds. I also picked up, but haven’t starting reading, his novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. There were some fantastic poems in Night Sky. We’ll see how the it goes.

Coming soon will be a short conversation with Todd Robins about his new literary journal Vautrin. Later this month I’ll be recording a live show with the poet Chandra EA Di Piazza and musician Rhea Sewell.

I hope you all enjoyed the Problematic Badass Female Tropes series. I’m looking forward to Jenn finishing up her Toxic Masculinity tropes essays so we can talk about those.

This section feels like it’s a broken record (ba-dum, bang crash). I’m pretty locked in to listening to the playlist I created for the novel project, and simply plopping that in here again wouldn’t work. Then I realized, I’ve been listening to podcasts for years and never talked about those here. My go-to standard is Marc Maron’s WTF. He’s like my spiritual older brother.

There are others that cycle through as reliably good. Douglas Rushkoff’s Team Human podcast, companion to his most recent book of the same name is excellent, especially if you’re interested in fighting against the dehumanization of this age, and big data’s attempt to predict and codify our behavior though algorithms in order to sell us things we don’t yet know we want—or even need.

The You Are Not So SmartPodcast is another one that I go to frequently. In fact, their most recent episode was disturbing and eye-opening. It looked at the concept of Pluralistic Ignorance, which is a situation where a majority of people privately reject a social norm, but go along with it anyway because they incorrectly assume they are in the minority. What’s especially interesting about this episode of YANSS is that they look at pluralistic ignorance through the lens of Jonestown mass suicide, and how even when someone speaks up against a norm that the majority of people would like to reject, the norm can still win out through what is called false enforcement. I feel like among Trump supporters and the Republican Party we’re witnessing false enforcement on a massive scale, fueled by Fox News, and propped up by people like Mitch McConnell.

There’s the always important Savage Lovecast by Dan Savage.

There are lots of other, but I’ll save them for a later report.

Not much has caught my eye, although I may have watched the last Avengers movie. Lately, I’ve been watching old episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Random Thoughts:
I always struggle with the success of other writers. There’s some jealousy involved, some happiness, confusion, frustration, anger, and hopelessness.

Part of it is that I don’t know how we should define talent anymore. So many times I wander through the aisles in bookstores, pick up books with titles that catch my eye, read the first few paragraphs . . . and I’m disappointed. It’s rare that anything really sparks my interest. I have an entire bookcase at home dedicated to unread novels I’ve purchased. Some of them have been unread for over a decade, and there are other unread books, the non-fiction ones, scattered around the apartment on other bookcases. Some of these unread novels were gifts, some were picked up when I attended an author reading, some were recommended by trusted friends and fellow writers, and some, I think, must have been picked up with good intentions, or at least while I was in some kind of generous fugue state (why did I have a copy of Riptide Ultra-glide by Tim Dorsey sitting on my shelf for five years?). I go through the unread ones every now and then, read those first paragraphs again and . . . put them back on the shelf. Pretty much when I go into bookstores anymore, I’m looking to buy a book by someone I actually know, or have at least met and talked to about writing. What I find on the bookshelves in bookstores is . . . or feels . . . homogenized. The praise in the blurbs seems overblown, and when I have managed to read the book, sycophantic. The best example would be Ben Lerner’s Leaving The Atocha Station. Overall, it was a fine book, I enjoyed it, but the blurbs lead me to believe that I would be reading something transformative, or deeply moving, and it wasn’t. It was a solid first novel by a poet, but it could have been written by anyone, really. Most of the books I find are capably written, competent, but wholly lacking in any daring or risk. The writer’s imagination seems devoted to the creation of an exact simulacrum of the real world, and their skill with the craft of writing is focused on what I call “invisible prose” where the language is just evocative enough to engage a reader’s imagination in relation to the story, but not so evocative to make the reader marvel at the beauty our language can evoke.

Since everyone is working in “invisible prose” it might be best to offer examples of some writers who don’t. Here are some exceptions I’ve recently come across: Lindsay Drager in her book The Archive of Alternate Endings. Sharanya Manivannan in her story collection The High Priestess Never Marries. Heather Tucker in The Clay Girl.

Of those three, only one was published by one of the Big Five publishers (Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, Harpercollins, or Hachette), and that one was published by Harpercollins India, a division that has a very different editorial vision and aesthetic than Harpercollins, USA.

And that leads me to another part that is the source of all that angst. Some people are generous and simply call it a “workshop aesthetic” as if all writing workshops were guilty of creating the same blandness. I’m not so generous and will unapologetically point the finger where I think it needs to be pointed: it’s the Iowa Writers Workshop aesthetic. The style that comes out of there isn’t just “invisible,” it’s inoffensive and unchallenging. The people who argue against there being an Iowa aesthetic all went to the IWW, or accepted by the IWW worshipers and are hesitant to rock the boat because there’s no way to make it in publishing as a literary writer unless you play by Iowa’s unspoken, perhaps even unacknowledged, rules.

The only other way to have a life in books seems to be to come up with an easy-to-reproduce formula of some sort based on the “annual model upgrade” system created by the auto industry in the 1950s which has lead to the only real difference between a 2016 model and 2017 model being the shape of a headlight or tail light. This is what popular fiction is now. Get a recurring character, and write a new novel about that character every year and maybe you might have something. Maybe. If it can be made into a TV series.

Ok, so, I’m bitter. I can admit it. In the last decade, when I’ve gotten a rejection letter from an agent that wasn’t a form rejection, I’ve been told they think I’m talented, but not right for their list—which, of course, makes me question whether anyone has a good understanding of talent anymore, and whether I actually have any real talent or if I just got lucky the one time.

This is why I struggle with the success of other writers. When I was younger, I generally just disliked the writer simply for having a success, but except in certain cases (you know who you are Dan Brown), most writers are diligent, careful, and concerned about that awful, misunderstood, sneered at word—“craft.” Even ones with serialized characters and annual novel cycles. For a while, I was even angry directly at agents and editors, but I’ve come to have a gentler opinion of them as well.

I struggle with the success of other writers because I feel like we don’t talk enough about two or three things: 1) Luck. 2) the presence of identifiable formulas in so-called “literary fiction” that are just as restrictive and prone to abuse as formulas in genre fiction, and 3) the presence of pluralistic ignorance in the publishing world, especially in regards to the influence of the IWW and its adjacent programs.

Think about it for a while.

First Saturday Report: June

Writing & Submitting
The latest manuscript is moving along, coming to a head. I’m a little behind schedule, but not worried about it. There are some large moves coming up for the characters, and some uncertainty about whether I can pull off the ending.

An essay I wrote is going to be published soon in a new journal being published by my Bad Business mini-series cohost Todd Robins. The journal is called Vautrin, and you can order it from Watermark books.

While I was in Colorado at the beginning of May, I hit the indy bookstores (Tattered Cover, The Book Bar, and The Boulder Bookstore). At the Book Bar (a nifty bookstore/Wine bar) I stumbled across The Archive of Alternate Endings by Lindsey Drager. It’s astoundingly good novel that thematically and structurally captivated me. I love it when writers take risks with their work, attempt something daring, and Drager’s threading together of different stories, set in different times and places by connecting them through the 75 year orbit of Halley’s comet was enlivening. It’s rare these days that writers I either don’t know, or who aren’t named Ondaatje, grab me quite as strongly as Drager did with this celestially informed story about the unique relationships of siblings. There were even some echoes, faint and distant, with my current celestial themed project. I look forward to hunting up Drager’s other books and reading them.

After starting, putting it down for some unremembered reason, and forgetting about it for a time (hey, it happens sometimes), I’m finally about to finish The Multi Culti Boho Sideshow by Alexs D. Pate. Sadly, it’s out of print, but if you can get your hands on it, it’s worth it. Published about twenty years ago, it’s still sharply relevant today, especially in post-Ferguson, Black Lives Matter America. Pate’s books should be brought back into print, and we should be reading him.

There are two more episodes of Problematic Badass Female Tropeson the way. So far, it’s been very well received. Jenn, my co-host, is working on a companion series of articles onToxic Masculinity and when she’s got those done, we’ll do a companion mini-series.

In a few weeks, we’ll have a special interview with Todd Robins, one of my cohosts from the Bad Business mini-series. He’s the publisher, editor-in-chief of the a new literary journal called Vautrin.

We’re in the planning stages of a new live show scheduled for July 13th with musicianRhea Sewell and poet Chandra EA Di Piazza (formerly Dickson). Look for the event details.

Spent some time last month listening to a lot of Ani DiFranco. I’ll see her in concert June 2nd.
I’ve actually been getting out some for live music lately.

There was benefit show for local musician Jenny Wood, called Jenny Woodstock that featured local bands After Judo, Old News, Milkwave, The Travel Guide, Cartwheel, and The Cavves performed donating all proceeds to help Jenny Wood and her family after Jenny was injured in a horrific car accident that killed her mother and young niece.

I also got out and finally, officially, saw the great Wichita band Carrie Nation & the Speakeasy. They’ll get to open for Gogol Bordello at the Wichita RiverFest next week, then they’re off for a European tour.

On the recommendation of my producer, Heather, I started watching The Orville. Brannon Braga, who was a producer for Star Trek TNG, is a producer on this. More comedic than Trek, it still manages to tackle important social issues, just like Trek. I’ll keep watching.

Also watched the new Hulu series Catch-22. A fan of the book and of the original movie, this series is a pretty good re-imagining and with the series format it’s able to flesh out some more of the book.

Random Thoughts
I’ve been thinking a lot about men, violence, the threat of violence, and how that all functions to keep women, especially, uncertain and permanently on guard. One thing men need to come to terms with, and quit fighting, is that it doesn’t matter how non-threatening they think they are, women can’t afford to take them at their word. Once men admit that truth they have to then start thinking about the ways they may indirectly terrorize women. When we raise our voices, throw things, break things, pound our fists on the table, we men tend to think we’re ONLY expressing anger and that we not being “violent” toward a woman, but that’s not a correct assumption. That anger is like a terrorist threat, it’s a warning that, if pushed too far, the man may become violent.

We need to fix that in ourselves, but there’s something else that needs to be addressed: the fact that men rarely seem to stand up to other men when it comes to the issue of violence. Our patriarchal definition of courage often means the willingness to enact violence in the face of violence. This, I think, makes those sensitive, aware, empathetic men who are uncomfortable with violence feel incapable of confronting the more violent men they know. Some men run the same kind of threat assessment on other men that women do, and we worry that we won’t have the courage to confront another man being violent and that fear come from this masculine mis-definition of courage as the ability to enact violence.

Women have learned a very different definition of courage, it’s one where, for them, courage is the ability to endure and survive violence. All men are potential threats until proven otherwise, right? So imagine the courage it takes to navigate a world like that, and then to react in ways to preserve themselves when violence inevitably happens to them at the hands of men. The United Nations estimates that 35% of all women experience intimate partner violence, and in some studies, the rate climbs as high as 70%.

We can’t “fight” violence with violence, which sometimes seems the route men think they have to take. All that does is escalate the violence around us, just like abuse creates abusers. As frightening as it is, non-violence is the only antidote to our plague of violence. Those men, like me, who are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the violent potential we represent need to discover within ourselves the courage to endure the potential violence of other men. I’m not saying we need to put ourselves in the paths of mass shooters, those monsters are already beyond salvation, no, what I’m saying is that we need to put ourselves in the path of those innocuous aggressions other men create—the shouting, the fist pounding, the minor scuffles—and absorb that nascent rage before it gets out of control, before it escalates. We have to learn de-escalation, and that starts by learning self-control, by learning better ways to channel and express our anger so that when it does bubble up, it’s not presented to those around us as a display of our capacity for violence.

First Saturday Report: May

Writing and Submitting
Inching closer to finishing The Poisoned Moon. This project has come to me in pieces over the years, and I’ve certainly approached it much differently than I have any of the previous ones. Normally, I do a little bit of “pre-writing” to feel out the characters, the scenario, and so on. Usually, an opening scene comes to me during that practice, and then I’m off and running. The pre-writing for this one dragged on and on, and the only things I liked were these weird, tonal pieces that were part narrative and part musings on the rift between faith and science, the past and the future.

My plots are always simple; there’s no villain, no world threatening crisis that only the protagonist can solve. It’s usually only people dealing with those personal failures and heartbreaks that plague all of us, and that sometimes make us hard to live with, and destructive of ourselves and the things around us. In this story, it’s about a lonely, religiously devout widower who meets a stripper who resembles his late wife so completely that he upends his entire life, and the life of the man his wife loved before him, in a presumptive attempt to save the stripper from herself.

I’ve got 66,900 words so far. Most of it coming from the pre-writing that has found its way into the story. Mostly I seem to be stitching the novel together like a quilt—creating a story thread to connect these semi-poetic riffs on mythology, faith, anthropology, space exploration, art, gender, the evolution of science, the moon, and love.

The first episode of the Problematic Badass Female Tropes series is up. Episodes will land every Monday in May and most of June. You can get it straight from the source (Podbean) or on iTunes or Stitcher.

My producer, Heather, and I are working on getting some live shows set up this summer and into the fall. So, stay tuned.

After months of carting it around, I’ve finally started reading Jeff Talarigo’s In the Cemetery of the Orange Trees. It’s set in a Palestinian camp under constant watch by Isreali guards, and is part history, part magic realism.

I’ve also started reading Douglas Rushkoff’s new book Team Human. This one is a manifesto calling us to resist the isolating power of technology, and the algorithmic classification of our lives and actions online and reengage with our messy, beautiful, humanity before it’s too late. There’s also a website, podcast, etc.

Not much remarkable has been watched, although I was moved by Brené Brown’s Netflix special The Call to Courage. Very worth a watch.

Basically, all I’ve been listening to is my playlist for The Poisoned Moon. Which goes like this:
Homesick – The Cure
Particles – (feat. Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdottir) Olafur Arnalds
Falling Slowly – Marketa Irglova & Glen Hansard
Skinny Love – Bon Iver
Elephant – Jason Isbell
Signs – Bloc Party
JC – Sonic Youth
Lovecrimes – The Afghan Whigs
Decatur St. – The Twilight Singers
Fast Blood – Frightened Rabbit
Sunday – Bloc Party
Paper Thin Hotel – Greg Dulli
For Emma – Bon Iver
Brothers On a Hotel Bed – Death Cab for Cutie
Stars – Hum
Williamine – Ben Gibbard & Jay Farrar
Empire – Of Monsters and Men
Fair – Remy Zero
Suicide Machine – Hum
Hyperballad – The Twilight Singers
Why I Like The Robins – Hum
Keeping Warm – We Were Promised Jetpacks
Doldrums – Fear of Men
Say Something – A Great Big World
What Sarah Said – Death Cab for Cutie
I Hate It Too – Hum
Apollo – Hum

Random Thoughts
A lot of my time lately has been spent thinking about vulnerability, courage, the gap between wealth and empathy, the end of the world via climate suicide, middle age sexuality, the believability of a younger woman falling for an older man who doesn’t have money, why the most interesting women I’ve met lately have all been gay and if the reason so many straight women seem boring to me right now is because the ones I meet are all trying to be inoffensive to some perceived fragility in my masculinity. I’m also dwelling on toxic masculinity, art as a means of redemption, the appeal of celibacy, and what it means to be white in a society where that question is never actually addressed, but when it is, people think anyone pondering “whiteness” is a white supremacist and how that might be a barrier to a white person attempting to become “woke” to the very simple fact that it is white people’s ignorance of what it means to be white in a society where racism depends upon white people being blind to the structural, unspoken privilege of their own whiteness.

Sigh. there’s too much.

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.

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.”

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!).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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)

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.