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Friday, May 13, 2016

What if Political Dystopia is our Just Desserts?

Politics in America are turning into an interesting amalgamation of theater and storytelling. This particular national election cycle has elements of circus and reality television: bizarre and postmodern, apocalyptic and revolutionary…

This presidential election is both Dada and anti-Dadaist.

Clearly, logic and reason are rejected outright; and the critical prize is who can meme out a narrative that is the most entertaining or inciting.

Forget about not being in Kansas anymore. Culturally, we have broken the mold of everything we used to be and are entering a completely new ball game.

If this were happening in some tiny island in the middle of nowhere, we’d be bored with it in a day or two of itinerant coverage (“Oh those [fill in the backward culture here]!”). The problem is that we are one of the largest, wealthiest, and most powerful nations on the planet, and what happens in the USA truly affects the rest of the world.

Extrapolating the possibilities from the choices before us, in a historical context, turns out to be depressing and horrifying. On the other hand, narcotizing ourselves and letting our subconscious pick up parallels to Stephen King or other dystopian stories seems far safer.

It’s easy to ignore it when even your inner child is running around in your head, screaming, “We’re all going diiiiiie! Doomed. We’re doomed!!!”

If you step back, you can see some camps spinning their unique narrative; while others are expertly creating an intricate web for a larger (dare we say, epic) story.

Many have theorized that life is but a dream—an idiot’s dream. But this feels more like television than any dream I’ve ever had… everything happening now is the marketing for the launch of the world’s biggest reality television show ever.

I remember people being infuriated when St. Elsewhere ended their triumphant six-season run on network television by suggesting that the entire thing had been nothing but the musings trapped inside the head of a small autistic boy playing with a snow globe.

What if we’re nothing more than the musings of an anarchist stoner’s moribund dreams as he overdoses in some rat-infested dark alley somewhere?

But what if it's worse than that? What if P.T. Barnum was the Second Coming and this is the ending we all deserve?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Narrative is All About Perspective

Yesterday New York City had its presidential primary. And it was a contentious little contest.

We made a thing of it and I accompanied Mom to the local high school to cast our votes. It was sunny and beautiful (allergies aside).

It only took a few moments to do our civic duty, and as we headed out, we shared an elevator with a young mother and her toddler. He was mesmerized by a sheet of stickers portraying the top of the Statue of Liberty. It proudly declared in red, white and blue, “I VOTED!” (The enthusiasm here is mine and not so much for the sticker’s design.)

Board of Election volunteers hand those stickers out to those who come in and perform their civic duty. It’s silly, but apparently, we live in a world where even this requires some kind of patronizing acknowledgment, “Oooh, good citizen! Here, have a sticker.”

(For the record: I didn’t need gold stars when I was in school, all I needed was the acknowledgement that I earned the highest grade I could. The only time one ought to be singled out for participating in an activity is when it took some effort to get in on it – if it’s something anyone can do at any given time, there’s no need to celebrate. Just effing do it and shut up about it.)

The boy in the elevator, about 3 years old, examined his colorful stickers with something that resembled reverence, but if you have any experience with children you’ll know it was the far more common avarice.


Everyone had a different narrative yesterday. Hillary did the return of the prodigal adopted daughter. Ted Cruz withered under the pressure of the sacrifices he makes for us all. Manhattan voted for Kasich, giving the top two Republican forerunners the finger. That’s right, Manhattan went all punk on the GOP and double barreled the bird!

When we each tell the story of our third Tuesday in April of old ’16, each of us will have a different story to tell. The facts of the day will probably find their way into history, one way or another, and remain somewhat true to each of us (depending on everyone’s definition of truth); but our story of it will vary because what is truly important in the moment will be very personal. 

To one little Brooklyn boy, yesterday was the day he ruled his elevator kingdom and he owned all the stickers.

Friday, April 8, 2016

On Being a Writer: the well-meaning brain

“So, being a writer is, like, a total blast, right?” a well-meaning person said to me recently. “You can do whatever you want, whenever and stuff. OMG! I am sooo jealous!!!” (Eloquent, she wasn’t.) 

Some days are easier than others; depending on what level the brain is operating.

I am suffering from a well-meaning brain period. I am not writing because I have been preoccupied with other tasks, and my brain (well-meaning as it is) has helpfully offered this advice, “Don’t worry, child! I’m keeping notes up here for you.”

I could make time to write any time, but as I am my own boss, “I ain’t got no stinkin’ deadlines. I can write whenever I want!”

But when I do, I have been trying to find the most ridiculous excuses not to…

At the same time, when I am not writing, I am still thinking about writing. It’s not so much an obsession as it is an ongoing exercise where I keep trying to make a story work, but there is something missing because it feels hollow.

There’s no point in writing down something that doesn’t work – I am editing before I get it down on paper, which is lethal to the process and I prove it by not having much down.

The well-meaning brain still assures me, silently but confidently, “It’s okay, girl! I got your back.”

I need to focus. Sit and write. Read when that doesn’t work. Research when that’s exhausted. Maybe adding a little structure wouldn’t be a bad thing, brain, accept a little discipline to make it all better!

The well-meaning brain, upon realizing that I reasoned what I need is a deadline, suddenly has gone quiet and reminded me of a Sam Kinison routine because suddenly the well-meaning brain had nothing to say! Perhaps it believes that if it stays quiet I will forget and get back to a rousing game of Bejeweled Blitz or something equally intellectually numbing.

I joke about it, but lacking structure can be freeing but also a hindrance. Sometimes structure is what propels you through the rough patches.

March Madness is over and I don’t have to worry about taxes until next year. Back to work, and brain, get out of my way!

If you assumed being a writer was easy, I laugh at you. Internal dialogue is an ongoing thing where you weigh the pros and cons of actions, setting, character motivations, interactions, themes and all sorts of details about story; it also involves the business of writing as well as all the other things that preoccupy the human race – from love to finances, to what’s for dinner and a million other details… You learn to quiet it so you can sleep, but mostly it is like an untamed beast that runs wild and free.

Of course, I am gloriously entertained by my imagination. It creates a well-meaning brain character that delivers pithy dialogue and I think it does so in a fake Southern accent to make me laugh. But even this is just a distraction, another excuse, not to sit and get to work.

Please visit that page for the extraordinarily inspiring work of Archan Nair
Some days you have to be stern with your inner child and say, “Alright, kid, stop trying to impersonate a writer and move over. Back to work, brain!”

Monday, March 14, 2016

Basketball as Salvation

I love March Madness. For a few weeks, as spring greets us, student athletes from colleges across the US compete first for the championships in their regional conferences, and a coveted spot in the annual tournament. And then, there are four frantic and beautiful rounds of single elimination games leading up to the crowning of a new champion the first weekend in April.

I could wax poetic about the skill and stamina, the strategy and the speed and strength, and the dance. If you don’t like basketball, nothing I say will convince you. Basketball is a love borne early that lasts a lifetime.

My childhood team, the Vaqueros (cowboys) were a legendary championship team that may be likened to the Bulls of the ‘90s but who played with the speed and intensity of college hoops. Of the 16 years I spent in Puerto Rico, they won eight championships (not counting regionals). 

My first live game, against the nemesis team, broke records when one of its legendary players reached a ridiculous landmark of points, before the three-point line was even instituted, and he did it from mid-court. Nothin’ but net!

I was there with my Mom and her god-sister. It was a day when I experienced a multitude of highs, followed by a day where family ties were ruptured, broken, and permanently damaged, and which began a descent into a private hell I will never shake…

Joy, elation, and then misery—but at the heart of it, to cut through the pain, basketball. Always basketball. Basketball as (escape) salvation.

Just as with music, I’ve attached precious memories to games and tournaments throughout the years. You know how you can hear a few bars from a song and it can literally transport you across time and space to a specific moment with a very specific someone? Basketball brings me that joy as well.

Four years ago, as March Madness flourished and many brackets bled, I found myself writing a short story (How Nadine and Libby Escaped Destiny), based on a comment about a song. Later that year, I was further inspired and had a dozen more stories -- and these became Because She Was a Woman.

Get your own copy!
There is no guarantee that basketball will inspire me to write great stories during this year’s tournament, but I do know that the games do inspire many passions and memories of emotional milestones and breakthroughs. So if not now, maybe later. But now, basketball!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Diversity in Spades

Some of us were joking recently that every binge-watching experience is potentially research for a writer. It sounds silly, but you can learn about pacing, character development, dialog, story arcs, and script writing in general.

If you look at it that way, then it’s not just killing time or wasting it altogether… At the very least, what you watch determines how you may (or not) want to do in your own work.

Yesterday, to get our heads out of the political coverage, we began to watch “Rosewood” from the pilot on. 

Do we need another procedural in our lives? Probably not, but we certainly need something less intellectually taxing than “Continuum” for a week or so.

Let’s be clear about this, Morris Chestnut is hot. It doesn’t hurt to watch him. He looks good in a suit, in a smock, in a tee shirt, and other levels of undress. Plus, he smiles pretty.

But that’s the best that can be said about this show. This is a cynical attempt to match Shonda Rhimes’ levels of diversity but BIGGER, MORE, MORE! Say what you will about the landscape of TV dramas; this show has diversity in spades!

The lead is a strong Black man, a doctor, a rich one in a classic penis car. He is dying, but has an almost cartoonish optimism that verges on the comical. His, now-retired, strong Black mother joins his practice. He works in his private lab with his sister and her lesbian fiancée (a perky blonde).

I will not touch the idea that a Black man would allow others to refer to him as "Rosie" -- but y'all know people get stabbed for far less than that. Let's get real! But I am willing to ignore that. Honest. THIS is me not mentioning it ever again. See?

The other lead is a tiny and aggressive Latina detective with the emotional maturity of a rotting potato. She is grieving and perhaps that's why she can never see the big picture (ever).

How this woman made detective is a mystery, and how she can be as arrogant and obnoxious in her self-righteousness is hilarious because she is wrong more than she is right (Dr. House wasn’t as opinionated as this twit.). She does not understand the concept of being objective; and she is one angry little time bomb that should not be running around with a gun—

which leads us to the recurring character of the “psychiatrist” who can’t see how dangerous this woman is and allows her to continue to work in the field, when clearly she needs meds, anger management, further counseling, and working with inanimate objects like paper files!

Then again, this mental health professional is a woman who breaks up with her boyfriend so she can treat an emotionally unstable person who is having erotic dreams about her boyfriend and by whom she appears to be threatened—oh never mind, that storyline is too stupid to repeat!

That’s without even addressing the supposed physiological problems with the pathologist. I was a preemie and realize some of us grow up to be healthy specimens of sexiness. That said, a preemie delivered at 26 weeks with a heart condition does not grow up to look like Morris Chestnut.

We will continue to watch this idiocy until Mom tires of looking at that fine brother strut through the Miami-Dade area, but this ain’t research. I couldn’t justify this, if I tried!

The only reason to watch this show is to objectify the man. Of this, we are guilty.

** It you can't read a review without stars, I give it two: one star per peck!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Romantic Horror Continued

Continued from yesterday...

If you Google “horror romance” you will get results that include lists of horror movies with romantic overturns. There are such lists here: 
Certainly, there are titles that repeat in a few of the lists and I find that many of these fall under Gothic horror and romance, simultaneously. The themes of subhuman or otherness are repeated (again and again). The paranormal romance is a very popular novella formula in the age of the e-book—from ghosts to vampires and a multitude of demonic creatures...

"Bram Stoker's Dracula" (1992)

These elements have been in literature for centuries, but the “horror” I was referring to is, as I defined earlier, the “gory kind full of glitter and blood and awkward pandering.”

I’ve seen more than one work depict violence against its female character[s] in the name of some sort of misunderstood romance. I’ve read books that casually describe rape as nothing more than an exciting date. At some point in the last few decades, a stolen kiss has transitioned to sexual assault.

Any attempt to debase and humiliate a potential partner, to force or manipulate them into an emotional or physical relationship, demeans the humanity of all involved. That, to me, is horror (pure, unadulterated horror).

I am not blaming the genre for creating the trend. Rather, I think the popularity of these things in literature is but a mirror image of what is happening in “reality.” Art is doing what it does best: imitating life.

At the same time, perception is reality; and these days, that is dominated by the Internet.

From Facebook to Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest and other online fora where memes are born and disseminated, the evidence suggests that few of us know how to relate, less understand the idea of true commitment, and broken hearts are tragedies that equate natural disasters (not rainy days but monsoons).

We seem to have engendered a generation of predators and weaklings that can’t handle rejection. Of course, that can’t be right. And it isn’t. It’s just what it looks like online. The Internet is the new frontier where the obsessive-compulsive and other members of the fringe go to roost. The Internet is the new “underground.”

The thing that most people don’t consider is that a lot of the memes come from what is predominantly a YA audience (from the aspirational prepubescent little superstars to the arrested-developed mid-twenty-something black holes of emotional turmoil).

The true horror is that our culture is being driven and rewritten by and for children, and not just our media-ready version of romance… Sit back and consider that statement.

Soon, the children shall lead and you will all become slaves to their whims and misappropriations of common sense. What if "and a little child shall lead them" was a warning?

Monday, February 15, 2016

Horror Romance

For a variety of reasons, conversations in the last couple of weeks have mentioned my “ex” a few times. Each person was speaking, probably figuratively, of different people. My response, in each instance, was something along the lines of “How should I know?”

Maybe because we are at the heels of conversations about addiction, I never understood the compulsive urgency to follow people who do not wish to be in our lives. This is an addiction too--this possessiveness and neediness. And I don't get it anymore than addiction to gambling or meth...

I take words and actions to mean pretty much the same, and if you want to go then go! I force no one to be part of my circle. Some journeys do not require all participants, and folks get on and off the ride at will (mine as well as their own).

Once I write people off, I’m done. I still punish myself over one relationship, but I had not thought about him in any significant way for some time.

I always figured that even in a city of over eight million we could go to our respective corners. But I also knew that given who we both are, we are likely to run into each other. If I dig, even without the ties we had when we were together, I bet our degrees of separation are probably two.

I don’t know because I don’t follow him. We've had zero contact for two decades. Suddenly, mentions of exes brought him to mind. I ran a search and found him quickly. He is still close by. He is married low -- with children and a puppy and a family car.

There is some part of me that is pleased he grew beyond the damage. Oh, wait, that’s right, I was the damaged one. Okay, I’m done waltzing down this road. 

<Clear browsing history.>

The amount of time it took me to write the last seven paragraphs took about twice as long as the process I described – from thinking about the bastard, Googling it, finding him, and (coming to my senses again) dismissing his existence in relevance to mine.

To me, that’s just life. It’s progress from the failed romance. It’s history and needs not be anything more. But it is also rare as I see so many young people clawing to their past with such righteous entitlement.

I can walk away in real life and ignore in social media, but for people who live their lives so deeply immersed in a virtual world, the idea of cyberstalking becomes less of a legal concept and more a tenuous state of mind.

It’s one of the emotionally stunted extremes I have seen people deal with their pain, publicly, online. I am not a relationship expert, but that seems unhealthy to me.

Have we raised a generation that thinks that giving in to your compulsions is a grand gesture of romance? I don’t know… It’s an interesting point to explore. It certainly opens the door for the proliferation of our newest genre: horror romance! Not the Gothic kind, but the gorey kind full of glitter and blood and awkward pandering. 

(I understand nothing!) To be continued.