No one’s read the whole thing

I know reading about other people’s dreams can be terrible and boring but bear with me. Mostly I’m writing it down for myself because I thought it was funny, and maybe I can use it in one way or another down the line.

In my dream I was… somewhere… and these two men showed up. They were both wearing all black nylon/Kevlar tactical gear, helmets, bandoleers, night vision goggles, the whole set up. Stompy black boots. Carrying huge assault rifles. They were both doughy, pudgy middle aged white men. And they demanded I stop what I was doing, whatever it was (I don’t remember).

Me: You’re from the government, aren’t you?

Them: We don’t have to tell you that.

Me: Show me your official government identification or I’m going to keep doing this.

Them: <awkwardly looking at each other> Uh…

Me: You have to. I’m a citizen and it’s my right under the Patriot Act.

Them: It doesn’t say that!

Me: Oh, look at these guys! They’ve actually read the Patriot Act! OK, wise guys, tell me where it doesn’t say that and I’ll back off. You can’t, can you? That’s because nobody has read the Patriot Act! For all you know it could be in there! Now show me your IDs, stat!

Corner of SE 17th and Tacoma

I’m currently writing a (fictional) scene about a flash mob taking over a bar in my neighborhood, and I just wrote this, and I’m really really proud of it. Don’t normally share works in progress but I’ll make an exception just this once.

The parking lot outside overlooked a quiet corner of Sellwood at this time of night; some light fog hung just above the telephone poles, tinted orange yellow by the street lights. And huddled in groups of five to ten or more were more bar patrons, talking to each other, smoking, some dancing or singing alone or with another, some sober, many not. A few more people were crossing the street diagonally from the off-brand convenience store with snacks, prompting an angry honk from a car driving west along Tacoma Street towards the bridge and the safety of the West Side.

The bar is real, but the off-market convenience store is now a 7-11, but since my story is set in 2007, I’m relying on memory.

Anyway, back to writing.

We regret the error(s)

I mistook the take out pizza chain Papa John’s for the take-and-bake pizza chain Papa Murphy’s, and suggested that the first one accepted SNAP (food stamp) benefits in exchange for piping hot ready-to-eat pizza. I did this on a Facebook post of a friend, who was understanding about it, at least.

I texted a friend excitedly about a baseball game, the first game of the Pittsburgh Pirates at the Los Angeles Dodgers three-game series, that I thought was being played tonight, but which in fact does not happen until tomorrow. I owned up to it after discovering my own mistake.

I forgot my reading glasses at a restaurant where I had dinner with my sister, catching up on things and stuff. I had to go pick up the reading glasses today; luckily it was in my own neighborhood, and within walking distance.

In an excited Tweet where I was celebrating the anniversary of purchasing this very domain:

I clearly got the math wrong. I corrected it in the following tweet, but not until after a friend called my attention to it on Facebook.

I’ve made some mistakes today. Mistakes were made. By me.

I regret the errors.

Face time

The woman behind the counter at my corner convenience store was dressed up in a fancy satiny red dress, all lace and beads and gold edging. Her dark hair was styled and up. Her make up was impeccable. In the center of her forehead was a tiny, shiny red gem. The buzzing fluorescent lighting did not do her justice. I wish I knew more about the culture from which she came. The way she was dressed and decorated had a purpose and a context, about which I was stupidly, insensitively unaware.

As she rang up my purchase of two small donuts and a beer, she kept poking and waving at her phone, a white older iPhone. From the phone came the sounds, clipped by digitalization and the tiny speaker, of a man’s voice speaking a language foreign to me. When she put the phone down on the counter to count back the singles of my change, I could see the screen filled with a man’s face, handsome, middle-aged, much like the woman.

She was laughing and giggling, and she would wave at the screen, distracted from her job. I was patient and smiled. I kept the thought in my head that I was in no hurry to keep her from her conversation, that the two glazed sugary treats were of far less importance than the man she was clearly infatuated with.

“Are you FaceTiming?” I asked.

She bubbled out a yes, her eyes still fixated on the tiny 4 inch screen laying on the counter just above the lottery tickets.

“Thank you, my dear. I hope you have a lovely evening.” Her eyes lit up in laughter in response to something the man had said and she swept the phone up in one hand and spun away from the register, her other hand coyly covering her mouth.

I walked out, clutching my bag of fried dough, setting off the buzzer as I left, into the dark rain soaked sidewalk.

Disclaimer: All Persons Fictitious

The scene I’m writing today in my untitled political novel is basically an homage to Walter Peck’s visit to the Ghostbusters. Except in my case, my Portland slacker Congressional candidate and his stripper campaign manager gets a drop-in by local Democratic Party officials.

I should probably include in my disclaimer, along with the usual “all persons fictitious” bits, that I have honestly never actually met local Multnomah County Democratic officials, so I’m just making these folks up whole cloth. I swear. Honest.

…I wonder if William Atherton will still be available when I work on the film adaptation?

Another example of trusting the story

I’ve been picking away at a scene in my novel’s first draft for days now. Almost a week. The idea of the scene had come to me long ago; the brief couple of sentences describing it had been in my outline almost since I first started this draft, two years ago. I thought I had a handle on how it fit in to the larger story, and what my characters were supposed to do, and what I thought they’d learn.

But as I would work on writing it down, laying down the tracks, picking minor characters and “hearing” what they wanted to do and say, it didn’t really make sense. And the more I worked on it, the less it seemed to make sense. The scene, as I wove together all the little bits and pieces, got less and less relevant.

Why was my main character here, talking to these people, about this topic? They were hostile to him. They didn’t want him here. He was an outsider. Their concerns were not his concerns, in fact, they didn’t care about any of the major themes of my book.

So why did I choose them? These people don’t exist in the real world. I picked this place. I placed these people.

My output over the past couple of days dwindled. I was barely getting a couple of sentences per day. Every word I wrote, it seemed, made it more and more apparent that I had no idea what I was doing in this scene. I got a couple of good jokes in, building off of the tension, (the book is a comedy, after all), but there was no way I could reach my original planned climax for this scene, without breaking my characters or starting over from scratch.

I have to admit, I was worried. I’ve been blocked for months now, and it’s only by hook, crook, and sheer willpower that I’ve been able to unblock enough to work on the novel at all. But I trusted in the process: work on it every day, make small goals but meet them, and just keep writing.

And this morning, as I wrote whatever came next in this difficult scene… it came together. I realized that it all made sense after all. There was a reason my MC had to talk to these people, and win them over on his side. It all built off of what I already knew about him, and them, and the evidence and clues were there, in the book at large and laid down over the past few days, piece by piece.

Oh, and it had nothing at all to do with my originally planned outcome for this scene, but that’s because I planned it before writing 35K+ words and learning what this story is really about. That’s the difference between an outline, and a draft. That’s why you have to write it down. That’s why you have to keep writing even when you doubt it’s working, because sometimes it works itself out.

As my friend Athena says, that’s why you have to trust the story.

All I wanted to hear

On a cold rainy September night almost eight years ago, I walked in to one of the conference rooms underneath the Oregon Convention Center along with a group of a couple of thousand people to hear the then-junior Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, give his presidential stump speech. At that early point in the campaign, I was a supporter of John Edwards, a man who, as I hope I recall, was talking about income inequality, health care for everyone, and ending the war. But I also wanted to hear what this other guy had to say.

What I remember of the speech then-Senator Obama gave was a charming, personable message about connecting to people and working to make a real change in people’s lives. I don’t remember any policy specifics. And when I look back at what I wrote that night afterward, I was not impressed:

Barrack Obama gives a good speech. He spoke passionately about all the good things he’d do once he’s President.

But not one word about the most important issue in America right now.

Not one word about what he can do, right now, to end the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Not one word about accountability for the men who lied us into a war.

Not one word from a leading voice of the majority party in both houses of the People’s Congress.

(Side note: I’m embarrassed for misspelling the President’s first name, but I’m loathe to change it now. I regret the error.)

I bring this all up because last night, I was one of 28,000 cheering, ecstatic supporters who filled the Moda Center in Portland to hear the junior Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, give a stump speech that was practically a bullet point list of every policy and promise I could have hoped to hear from a major Presidential candidate:

  • Comprehensive police reform in the name of racial justice (introduced last night, actually)
  • Jobs programs paying good wages, to eliminate unemployment and rebuild our crumbling infrastructure
  • Raising the Federal minimum wage to $15/hour
  • Eliminating the pay gap between men and women
  • Breaking up the big banks and reinstating Glass-Steagall (separating the investment and savings functions of banks)
  • Reversing the wealth inequality and calling out the wealthiest Americans
  • Expanding Social Security
  • Health care for all Americans
  • Full access to women’s health care
  • Providing a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented workers
  • 12 weeks of paid family leave
  • 2 weeks of paid vacation for every working American
  • Fighting against global climate change and protecting the environment
  • Publicly funded campaigns for elected office

I’m listing those from memory but they’re all spelled out on the Sanders 2016 issues page.

We’ve come a long way from that small, underground conference room in 2007, to a major sports arena filled to overflowing. Look, I knew, before I voted for him, that Mr. Obama was a moderate on the issues. Even back then, I was on the political left, the far left, of Americans. But I can’t help but think that if there had been a candidate, any candidate, saying the same things Bernie Sanders is saying today, they would have enjoyed the same amount of support we’re seeing today.

I do want to note, for the record and for my own sense of intellectual honesty, some of the issues that I care about and Candidate Sanders is either silent about or not progressive enough for me (keeping in mind that I’m way out in left field).

Nowhere on the issues page I linked above does Sen. Sanders talk about the continued surveillance of the American people by our military and civil intelligence agencies. I find it sad that even someone as liberal as he is, won’t speak out against the growing surveillance state now that he’s talking to a national audience. He did vote No on extending the PATRIOT Act’s roving wiretaps in 2011, and as near as I can tell, he was against bulk collection of data and other PATRIOT Act provisions. It’s just not part of his Presidential campaign platform.

There are still 116 prisoners held at Guantánamo, including 51 who were “cleared for release” and 34 against whom no evidence to prosecute exists. This is also not mentioned on the campaign issues page.

Senator Sanders did say last night that war should be a last resort, not a first resort, which got a huge cheer from the crowd. He’s in favor of President Obama’s peaceful anti-nuclear weapon deal with Iran, as he mentioned last night, which is great, really. But we’re still at war in all but name in Afghanistan and Iraq, with troops on the ground. It’d be awesome if we could bring them all home, and stop creating anti-American sentiment abroad with our stupid displays of military power. I suspect Senator Sanders would be in favor of that. I don’t see him talking about it, though, now that he’s running for President.

See, I told you I’m to the left of Bernie Sanders. Just a big ol’ tree-hugging peacenik love-everybody hippy.

And lastly, I like the campaign’s response to the activist actions from members of Black Lives Matter: first, appointing Symone D. Sanders, a BLM activist herself, to the role of press secretary, and finally, announcing a comprehensive police reform package. Hearing Ms. Sanders speak before the Senator took the stage was, to me, a positive. She specifically called out white liberals to stand together with activists for racial justice.

But even saying that, I have to admit that I’m not the one who requires convincing. I really don’t like seeing other Sanders supporters arguing, harassing, or insulting Black Lives Matter supporters. I fully understand why BLM is upset and trying to get attention.

After I left the Moda Center last night, I pulled up Twitter to find out that there was another black man shot in Ferguson, MO that same night, during a protest that marked the anniversary of Michael Brown’s murder. I don’t really care if the victim, Tyone Harris, had a gun or not, although the police department in Ferguson doesn’t exactly have the best record when it comes to telling the truth about officer-involved shootings. I’m just sick of cops shooting people, and in higher percentages shooting blacks. That’s the reality if you’re black in America, and anyone who was forced to live with that daily reality would eventually break. If you can’t admit that, don’t bother responding, because your brain is far outside of my experience.

I’m heartsick seeing my white friends and other comments on Facebook and social media who talk about how “angry” and “disappointed” they are by the BLM action in Seattle. I, for one, am not going to be the white guy telling black people to shut up. I respect Senator Sanders on many points but I don’t really comprehend the misplaced anger about whether or not a protest was “appropriate” or “respectful”. It’s a protest. It’s supposed to get attention. And, look, it did, in fact, force a change in the Sanders for President campaign. Good, and let’s see more of that, please. But we won’t get more of it if supporters don’t just fucking listen rather than get defensive and angry.

Fuck, “just fucking listen” is going to be my catchphrase for this silly season, isn’t it? I guess it could be worse.

Bernie Sanders is a good man but he’s still a public servant, meaning his job is to listen to the American people, and represent them as best he can. As many of them as possible, to the best of his ability. I think he’s doing a good job so far, but there are still people whose votes need to be earned. The junior Senator from Vermont won’t get those votes if voters are turned off by his most strident, defensive supporters.

Let’s stand together.

How Should Great Artists Respond To Criticism? – Jay Smooth

You can’t keep saying ‘I’m in your corner so I don’t deserve scrutiny’, because that’s not how being in someone’s corner works.
You’ve done more than enough material on relationships to know that being in somebody’s corner brings all types of scrutiny with it, and you’ve got to be able to take that.
If you’re really in somebody’s corner, then you’re gonna care how you’re affecting them. That doesn’t mean automatically accepting anything they say, but at the very least it means taking the time to listen and consider what they’re saying, and making sure that they feel heard.
Amen, Jay.


Tarkovsky Films Now Free Online

Any student of film should see some, or all, of Andrei Tarkovsky’s work. And, hey, look, here’s a bunch of his films for free in YouTube, which you can then watch on your giant TV via Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Amazon whatever or any number of other hardware options.

I’ve seen Solaris, but am making an appointment with myself to watch Stalker this weekend, at least.


Zak Smith Sabbath’s Victory Speech Upon Not Winning an Ennie

Zak Smith has things to say to people who want to create things other people enjoy, and it boils down to a couple of simple formulas:

Kevin Crawford lays out a second model here and I don’t think I’d get any disagreement from Kevin when I say his model is:

-Make things for a broad audience
-Make a lot of things
-Work hard year round
-Don’t worry about being inspired, just work

Kevin is an honorable man who knows what he’s about. What I am saying here is that Red & Pleasant Land proves a totally different and third model is also viable in 2015:

-Ignore what the audience wants
-Put all your effort into that one thing
-Work hard for a few months
-Keep your team small
-Put out a thing that is exactly and only the thing you are inspired to work on

Yup. I’ve seen it work for others, too.