The Grind

I’ve been slacking on trying to promote my existing writing because I have been undertaking National Novel Writing Month and doing new stuff instead. That’s the persistent temptation – I just love the feeling of chasing a new story.

It’s a 1920s historical fiction tale about a made-up blues guitarist back then. I am woefully unprepared for this kind of thing. I’ve never been a history buff and I’m also writing extensively about a Black man and racial issues of the time. All of it could go so wrong this thing may never even try to see the light of day. But I think there is a part of me that just really wants to go after it and try it. What is art if not trying things that could fail? Can’t ever be too safe.

Aside from the specifics of the story, I’ve just been thinking about writing in general. I feel like you’re not a good writer if you can look back at your stuff and be like yeah, all of it was good. My old stuff was good for the time. I can read it now and be like ‘well, there’s a lot I’d do differently today.’ I’ve been trying to shift my writing to a sort of show don’t tell mentality where I just describe things in a basic manner, have some dialogue, and let people figure out the rest in their heads – no need for a lot of inner monologuing from characters if I can help it. I feel like the best writing just transports you and makes you forget you’re even reading at all, skipping along like a rock on water, pure imagination. Too much wordiness or introspection from a character can, in the wrong hands, spoil that.

But on the other hand, the more I write and read, the clearer it is that there are no real rules for anything. Anybody who tells you there are is either an English teacher just trying to get you to pass a class or lying to you. There are infinite ways to tell a story. The fun part is getting it to the point where it can reach people. Maybe I’ll be able to do that some more sometime soon.

All Hallows

I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t completely into horror and Halloween art. I remember being a little kid and reading the Goosebumps books – one story about a camera taking pictures and showing people how they’d die shortly after, I remember being unnerving when I was maybe six or seven or so. But I wasn’t repelled. Instead I just couldn’t quit.

I remember being around that age and finding this old book of ghost stories and jokes. One of them was about a woman with a ribbon around her neck. This old fable type of thing. Author Carmen Maria Machado did an updated version years later and it reminded me of being a kid and just having nothing to do but read that story. It’s crazy how this stuff, even as morbid as it is, follows us through the years.

At 12, I recall going to the library near my house at night, the sun having set early, school out and all. I checked out several Stephen King books. Back then there wasn’t really any social media – I spent weeks reading over Christine, The Dead Zone, Pet Sematary, with no distractions or anything else. I remember the feeling of just reading those completely without any other influences. It was transformative. Pet Sematary in particular was an insane gruesome trip. I read King himself didn’t even want to publish it at one point. At 13 or so, this was like crack to me. I couldn’t get enough.

As kids, everybody in the neighborhood would just go on huge epic treks of trick or treating. Nothing crazy happened, but I remember that strange otherworldly feel of everybody just wandering around after dark throughout our big old neighborhood. Long walks in the cold, everyone in some costume or other. It seemed mythical. After my sister, friends and I all aged out of trick or treating by middle school, I got into these books and then into movies, costumes, parties. I was just into all of it. I was into the whole aesthetic and vibe of the season. I’d always just liked the costumes and the decor and atmosphere. It was like stepping into another world.

In college I’d dive headlong into doing haunted house attractions. I rounded up everyone to go do that, every year. Still doing it now, even. Some of the tropes and tricks they do are the same, hospitals, meat grinders, old Southern cabins. I still find it entertaining. Once a year or so, and it’s gold. I especially love these indie haunts where I can just drive out into the middle-of-nowhere country and get lost in it all. That’s fun for me. I’d like to go further. Stay in some legitimately haunted places. See what comes of it. If nothing else, art might.

And the movies have been an undercurrent of it all. I’ve always just been voracious about consuming. The older I get, the more I find that’s so good. I feel horror can be a transformative genre. Movies like The Babadook, It Follows and Us, along with the long-form TV shows recently from Mike Flanagan, are examples of taking this genre and really wringing genuine depth out of a genre sometimes thought to be nothing but silly nonsense. Human and political truths about loneliness and family and love and connection.

Ultimately, I find myself just thinking about why I’m so attracted to all this horror stuff anyway. I guess it’s just in the human element. It’s a way to articulate the most difficult, thorny parts of life, through freakish metaphor. I like the way the genre can really show what we’re all about as humans. Primal survivor-mode stuff. There are plenty of stories about evil, but also plenty of characters fighting back against it. Making it through. I watch the 1978 Halloween every year and that’s an enduring thing because it’s about that struggle, about evil coming to town and some people fighting back. I can get behind it.

Blunt

As far back as I can remember, I never had much of a filter. I was always saying too much, occasionally saying the wrong things. A bit of a loudmouth. I just never had tact as an abundance. This, I think, informed both my journalistic career (got to cut to the heart of any issue) and comedy, in that I was always saying things when I maybe should’ve just shut up. But the point is that I just never liked beating around the bush. I’d say what was on my mind a lot of the time. Sometimes it got me in trouble, started fights with friends. It was just part of growing up – finding some kind of balance in this regard, of saying things truthfully but also learning to respect some general boundary. You do end up needing some tact in life, just to make sure you can still pay your rent and have something like a normal social life.

There’s a point where that goes too far, though. There’s large swathes of cold hard reality we as a society just seem to completely brush over.

Colin Powell died a few days ago. Here’s a guy who was a major architect for the Iraq War. Millions of people died because of that. Whatever misgivings he had don’t really matter to me. But every news report was mostly just this very stiff, straightlaced report on his life and legacy. People are complicated, but until we can just come out and say “this guy’s mistakes were murderous, horrific things that caused widespread death and pain,” I think we’re just pushing everything down, and that won’t lead to anything good.

Then you can go further back and find all these examples of people like George W. Bush and Henry Kissinger being treated like they’re just these nice old statesmen. No mention of war or bloodshed. Bush gets to pal around with Ellen Degeneres and take pictures with Michelle Obama. Paints his pictures in the countryside. All these guys, they just get to live in peace, and the larger machine of polite culture will whitewash their sins and never really talk about the damage done by our wars and our presidents. It starts to become something out of a horror film. The terrible things unseen lurking below the surface. As if a kind of hypnosis has been cast over everyone, and the words of the truth would somehow breach a seal of some kind.

Then it bleeds over into just your average political discourse. You’re told to talk respectably to these people who are just content with the gears grinding us along into the oblivion of climate change and inequality, these people who just think it’s all business as usual and we just need to keep voting and that’s the only thing they really do. You can find reports of young people becoming increasingly anxious and despondent over the climate disasters that will be dumped in their lap by the time they’re in the position of true responsibility. But our political machine just churns along with these career, corporate-funded old men having debates and whittling down what they’re going to do about the climate and about inequality, and oh well, guess they tried. Keep voting, though! The levers of power having remained constantly in the hands of geriatrics who are increasingly removed from the material reality of the world is normal and fine!

There would be times at work they’d say never mention your salary. That’s a whole lot of propaganda and service for the company, isn’t it? And I never got why we weren’t supposed to talk about religion or politics at the dinner table. Those are pretty big parts of life. I think some more clarity there could be healthy.

I’m sort of just ranting at this point. But maybe it’s time we quit talking in such polite language about all of these things. Maybe we’d actually make some progress.

Starving Artist

I saw this Tweet thread this morning, reacting to the news of the Squid Game creator, who apparently struggled for years, had to sell his laptop, got rejected, et cetera before finally breaking big with his show recently. His show is about the monstrous ills and woes of capitalism, how it eats people alive, which makes a lot of the stuff he went through seem pretty personal. Almost meta.

But then, as the Tweets say, you get this narrative where it’s inspiring. People will say “never give up.” They’ll say “follow your dreams.” It’s a good general way to go about life in that we all need stuff to keep us happy and fulfilled. And maybe once in a while you do get published. I was glad to get the stories I’ve published out in the world. It is possible.

However, there was always the slight voice in the back of my mind telling me this was a bit annoying, the whole follow your dreams narrative.

It’s just in the kind of empty-calorie optimism in that statement. “If you just keep working hard, you’ll be on Netflix or published by Penguin Random House or have your own TV show or your dream job just like that!” I don’t know. There are ways to be fulfilled and there are ways to live a fine life. But the entertainment industry, and breaking big in any way – that’s a tough thing to do. Most of us won’t, in writing or comedy or film or any of it. I’ll see comedians make Facebook pages for themselves a year or so into comedy. That just seems bizarre to me. You don’t even know what you’re selling yet. Some comics do it for 10, 20, 30 years before they really get any success. It seems like deluding yourself.

And the world is full of these stories of artists not making it for decades or something. The entertainment system’s gatekeepers pick what they want at the time and other things inevitably get left behind. Loads of the things I like, movies or bands for example, I can go on their Wikipedia pages and see the same thing like clockwork, like the refrain of a song: “initially the work was panned and critics hated it, but years later it was reassessed as a masterpiece.” It makes you wonder if maybe nothing is ever objective. And it makes you wonder who else we’re sleeping on.

As I write this I’m playing a John Lee Hooker album. This is a guy who made music for literally like 40 or 50 years before finally getting a charting album in his 70s. That’s crazy to me. Inspiring, but wow, I don’t think he was planning on it taking so long.

The industry and art are like yin and yang – we need the industry to amplify the art, but the artistic instinct is very different from a business mindset. The industry, responding to the insatiable need for entertainment, has become a gigantic money-driven machine. This isn’t to make this all some kind of ‘fuck the system’ point – I can do that any old time. I’m just saying that maybe it’s all relative who gets success and we shouldn’t base our worths off that.

Maybe social media has played a role in it, giving us all a platform to feel like we have bullhorns to say whatever. Or maybe it’s just part of human nature to want to be recognized for something, in some way. I dunno. The comedian Sara Schaefer had this podcast where she outlined the details of how TV shows get made, with all the various steps, rewrites, meetings, consultants, people it has to go through – and that sometimes, even after all that, the show still doesn’t make it to the air.

I can go on writing forums and social media threads and there are hundreds of comments all talking about their books and projects. About how far along they are and their ideas. All of them miniature universes living in minds and laptops and cell phones. It’s inspiring. I hope all of them get finished to satisfaction. And beyond that there are the mountains and mountains of published works that are not touted as masterpieces or remembered by the ages, but they’re still there, still definitively in the world. And maybe humanity is a vast and wide thing and a great mountain of experiences and the creation and expression of art is its own virtue, and it’s fine just to be happy with whatever you do have, the sheer electric experience of creating and the validation whenever you actually do accomplish something.

But yeah, it’s just Hollywood and NYC that decide everything for us – if you’re not in those cities you’re not making it, apparently. What a small thing that kind of world seems like to me.

Anachronism

I feel like a man out of time.

This isn’t supposed to be one of these ‘fuck all that newfangled social media’ old-man types of posts – but it will seem like it.

Thing is, it seems like everything I do naturally just happens to be the opposite of what you need to do to be successful on social media. TikTok videos have become popular – they’re short by nature. I am verbose and like longer-winded content, big essays and articles. I enjoy words and giving myself the space to elucidate. On Facebook, the algorithm doesn’t seem to like it when you post links. Or at least the ones I post never seem to get much interactions anymore. But I keep doing it. Like picking a scab. I can’t help it. Then I get very little engagements and I just leave the computer and do other things. It’s a never-ending cycle.

The longer I spend online, and the more I just find myself tired of it all anyway. The same old repackaged unfunny memes. Man, I know everyone finds them funny, but after a while, if I see a meme or a joke repeated too many times, it’s physically painful to me. It’s an irritant like my seasonal allergies. I just want to take those really over-used jokes and shoot them into the sun.

And the political stuff. Man, is that eyeroll-worthy. Do you know how difficult it is to change anybody’s opinion on the internet? I can scroll through Facebook and Twitter and these ‘debates’ are primarily just people shouting over each other. Pure ego masturbation. There’s almost never any real value in it but to rack up Likes from others who share your point of view. I’ll find myself succumbing anyway sometimes, as the urge grows too strong. Then I kick myself because it’s pointless. I wasted time arguing for the Likes when I could’ve been outside looking at a lake or something.

So with all that said, over the past few years I’ve tried to really look at my own ways I used social media.

There was a point when I realized there was very little value in just posting serious political missives like “x should do this,” “they should do that,” all this kind of loud bullhorn stuff, as if I am a political dignitary. Last I checked, I wasn’t. It started to seem fake and like I was preaching to a choir, not really moving any dials. These days I just post what I find interesting. I like learning things and reading about what’s happening. That won’t change anything. I’ve realized that now.

And for a while, when I started comedy, I was always thinking ‘well, alright, what content can I do to try and get more engagement?’ That quickly got snuffed out. Thing is, I just couldn’t think of anything to do that wouldn’t seem artificial, corny or gauche to my standards. This isn’t to bash anybody else. I’m just bad at that kind of thing.

My thoughts on that aspect of comedy ends up being like well, why do we need to brand ourselves so much anyway? Is that all there is to life? Branding every aspect of yourself into some manufactured, processed and marketable facade? That’s some creepy, dystopian shit to me. But some people really make it work. At some point I just have to admit it’s a ‘me’ problem. Other people have that skill and I don’t. My brand is just what I choose to post online, and the stuff I post has alienated people all the time and also made me some good friends over the years. That’s all I can cop to here.

I’m not trying to be some old-man bitching about the modern world. I like the connectivity of social media. I try and embrace new things. As a person with hearing aids, I kind of have to like technology. I’d be fucked without it. I hope it goes further and I can fully get bionic ears someday and not even need the hearing aids.

And at the end of the day, despite everything I said about social media, I guess this blog is a bunch of self-indulgence, too. So maybe everything is relative.

Radical Empathy

I’ve been reading Mariame Kaba’s “We Do This ‘Til We Free Us,” this new book about the abolition of prisons/police/etc. It’s all stuff that has existed for some time, but that is coming into prominence more as we see the increasing violence of police against Black people in the news all the time. The book looked interesting because I always want to explore the furthest reaches of what’s possible, of the roots of evil or injustice in the world. It makes the case that abolition of the cops and prisons wouldn’t mean some new, violent world, but instead trying to put in place a world that doesn’t need them anymore.

I think when I was growing up, it was a more innocent time. It usually is, when you’re a kid. I remember always being curious about things, but never trying to offer expert opinions when I was younger. I didn’t pretend to know anything. This partly came from being hard of hearing. It was like I never really knew the world, everything just a bit out of focus, so I had to really try to learn and to soak things in intensely. I remember in high school being frustrated that I didn’t know very much about politics or the news or anything. But looking back, I was just taking my time. I had to do it my own way.

By college I was starting to pick up on things. I just took it at my own pace and began really just sort of throwing myself into the world. It wasn’t really a coherent ideology. I just started to sort things into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and seeing what the issues were little by little. By 2014 or so, with the rise in mass shootings, that was the impetus for a lot of my views. That and seeing how women, minorities, etc were wronged. These things were easy ways to let the ideology form.

All of this is just to say that we come by the path of righteousness in various ways. Nobody’s perfect at first. Learning and education are the thing. “We Do This ‘Til We Free Us” doesn’t mince words about the need to abolish police and prisons. These are things I myself might have qualified or whiffed on even pretty recently – there’s this thought that it would lead to some horrific outpouring of violence, an unjust society. But the book doesn’t think so. Instead, the roots of most crime could be soothed and eventually go away and we wouldn’t need police or prisons to act as external tools to punish anymore.

One of the things that’s stuck out to me in the book so far has been the anecdote about Martin Shkreli, who jacked up drug prices to comically, criminally insane rates. He got thrown in jail – but only for some kind of white-collar upper class reason, not for what he did to the drug prices. And the drug price issue hasn’t disappeared. Throwing him in jail didn’t do shit.

Punishment is unnecessary. How much do I need the state to act as some kind of a blunt hammer to make me feel OK? I’ve never had to call to the cops and I’ve lived in plenty of out of the way places by myself with nobody I knew around. The idea of sticking somebody – even Sirhan Sirhan, as the recent story went – in jail out of purely moralistic, punitive reasons, doesn’t appeal to me anymore. I remember I used to worry about recidivism. This comic book idea of the killer coming back and killing again. Jason Voorhees shit. I think this is the kind of base-level puerile emotional appeal we should avoid going forward.

I remember in Orlando some time back, there was a case of a guy who’d shot and killed a pregnant police officer and had beat up his girlfriend. He got totally pulverized by the cops a while later. They put out his eye. The reaction at the time was something like ‘man, good riddance, he got what he deserved!’ I was apprehensive. I remember thinking ‘well, what happens next time when they get the wrong guy?’ Cops aren’t inherently good, or even mostly good. They go on power trips all the time. And extending from that – maybe this guy in Orlando doesn’t need to be brutalized by state sanctioned troopers anyway. Maybe the justice system should be impartial.

Instead maybe we need a new system where things are more fair and people aren’t scrounging to survive. People are inherently troubled and flawed, and the external crises going on, poverty, climate, etc, don’t do anything to alleviate this. Maybe we need to quit blaming the individual. I titled this “radical empathy” – trying to not have this draconian medieval view of individuals if I can help it. But maybe it’s not that radical at all.

The Site Is Live

So I finally went ahead and made this site live. I think I was procrastinating it. I think maybe there’s some mental block where I was sort of dangling this ahead of me like a carrot, something that just always existed in the periphery, a constant occupant of the mind.

And I’m doing all this to try and advance as an artist, either through writing or comedy. You have to be able to put yourself out there. Which is tricky for artists because the things that make us want to create are not necessarily the same instincts needed to do business and be savvy that way. I’m not really a marketing kind of guy. That’s not my big talent in life. I don’t have an eye for “making content” like is needed these days. If I had my way I’d just fuck off and go create things and experience art at my leisure. But this is not the way of the world.

Add to this the complications of the pandemic. It was a long year for a live performing artist if you were taking any of it seriously. I did maybe a handful of very tentative live sets, and every time, the virus surge would get worse after, and I had to stop again. It’s still going now. Fortunately the vaccines make it much easier to go and do things now, but you never know what the next day’s news will be.

All of it has come with a real sense of the fatal. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with just the chaos of everything, and the pain people are in. So much of this, we have no control over. This is why I believe it’s important to just keep doing what we want and making the best of it in whatever ways we can. The world might be going to hell in a handbasket. But I still put this site live anyway.

Thoughts On The Unvaccinated/American Systemic Decay (Also, An Introduction To The Blog)

So I’m here now.

I figure I’ll use this as an unfiltered space to air grievances, rant, ponder and other kinds of things.

I’ve never been one to sugarcoat anything and I also have no idea how to properly introduce myself. This is a site for me as a writer, but I don’t want to be one of these assholes who pushes their real authentic self down to sell stuff. That is not the way to do it. I’m going to write about pretty far left stuff, talk about art in an unfiltered way, whatever I want. My philosophy has long been that I don’t want to put anything out except what I would enjoy myself if I was looking into some other author or comedian. So others who enjoy what I enjoy will maybe find stuff to like here. These rants will likely be powered by coffee, heavy metal and alcohol at varying points.

So I’m just gonna jump right into talking about the world. COVID’s still ravaging us and things are uncertain day to day. To cope, people have been taking to social media and posting righteous screeds against the unvaccinated. This is understandable because we really have so little control over anything except social media and our own words and thoughts. But I’m not so interested in just ranting about that. I think the problem goes deeper.

An article I read posits that the unvaccinated in part might not be getting it because of our healthcare system. A large barrier to it is people who are weary, confused and unwilling to participate in the healthcare system. Despite the vaccines being free, healthcare in this country is so costly and sometimes people have been billed for COVID tests or other related things anyway. The system is such a bloated horrific monster that people are simply turning away and throwing up their hands even when they don’t have to like with the vaccines.

Other issues could have to do with transportation or work. People might be afraid of missing work or have no way of getting to a vaccine center in a timely manner. There are wide gulfs of inequality in this country. We live in a system where we’ve given employers near limitless power over us. This is a big problem for the trend of vaccinations – if people are scared to miss work, or are worried they’ll have adverse side effects, they may put it off.

I get it, there are some people who are just awful anti-vax morons, there are bigots and other types of people who are easy to hate. But that is the small-brain way of thinking about this. The real targets we should be angry at are the capitalistic system that only wants money and funnels everything to faceless corporate overlords, and who both political parties are beholden to.

I think another thing I was getting at here was the sheer difference and breadth in the lives of people. Among the people I regularly talk to, we have read enough shit to know to get the vaccine. But the pandemic has been confusing, both in the messaging from the authorities and news outlets and just because we’ve never gone through this before as a modern society. Not everybody is reading the stuff we are. Some people heard about breakthrough infections, heard we had to wear masks anyway, were confused – these people are not necessarily MAGA diehard anti-vaxxers. It was a communication issue. Everyone’s got a different life and we just don’t know everything they’re going through.

The country’s whole scam is predicated on getting individuals to point fingers only at one another, never at the system or bigger corporations, etc. Don’t fall into that.