I’m complicit, I think

You’d think, since I work in pol­i­tics that I a) would not be shocked by any­thing any­more, and b) would feel like I’m already doing plen­ty to right the ship.

Appar­ent­ly, you’d be wrong. a) I am aghast at the blink-blink reac­tion of much of the coun­try to the bla­tant, naked racism on dis­play from the leader of our coun­try. b) I feel like in the day-to-day of laun­dry, mak­ing din­ner, plan­ning doc­tor vis­its, yard work, etc., etc., I am not as com­mit­ted to chang­ing this as I could be. As I should be.

I know, I know, pro­tect myself from burnout, you have to live your life, etc. I did not attend Fri­day’s march­es, I went to the movies with my fam­i­ly instead, and I did it on pur­pose. I did it to pro­tect myself. And yet, it has been almost a week and I can­not seem to shake the thought that I made the wrong deci­sion.

At what point am I com­plic­it, with my priv­i­lege, my mon­ey, my com­fort, even though I do the work? I am afraid I have crossed that point, and am, in fact, com­plic­it.

There’s always more to do, yes. But I think there’s always more we can do, even with­in our own lim­its.

My super­pow­er is writ­ing. Imma think on what I can do with it. Your ideas are wel­come, but I’m not look­ing for plau­dits or com­mis­er­a­tion. Let’s do this.

Multi-Party Local Elections?

I had an idea, read­ing an arti­cle on why nobody votes in local elec­tions, and how some of it is that those elec­tions are non-par­ti­san, and there­fore vague, dif­fi­cult, or unim­por­tant to vot­ers.

What if, when or if local elec­tions became par­ti­san, the sys­tem was set up to accom­mo­date more than two par­ties? What if then, once in office, peo­ple could explore what it means to gath­er with like minds around like ideas, and then work togeth­er and com­pro­mise? What if peo­ple could iden­ti­fy with some­thing oth­er than D or R when they ran?

We have a lot of issues in this coun­try with the two-par­ty sys­tem, and I have often tried to under­stand it—to explain it, to frame it—as two coali­tions of peo­ple of many dif­fer­ent “par­ties.” Greens and social­ists and lib­er­als and blue dogs and the lot gath­er and gov­ern as the “Democ­rats.” But it is not set up that way, and the bar­ri­ers to real mul­ti-par­ty elec­tions are many, like­ly impos­si­ble to over­come at the Fed­er­al lev­el. But what if we could explore it at the local lev­el?

My objec­tions to hav­ing par­ti­san local elec­tions are all about peo­ple vot­ing Par­ty-line with­out look­ing at can­di­dates or issues. At the local lev­el, a par­ty machine could over­whelm the mea­ger resources of local oppo­nents. It would make pol­i­tics even more polit­i­cal, if you can imag­ine. It would prob­a­bly take some elec­tion reform the likes of which we have been unable to attain. But again, we’ve looked at that at the Fed­er­al lev­el. What could we do at the local lev­el?

Would this be a way for con­ser­v­a­tives who are aghast at Trump to leave the Repub­li­can Par­ty with­out hav­ing to become Democ­rats? Yes, clear­ly.

I know there are a myr­i­ad of prob­lems with this idea. I grew up in Europe, so I have no rose-col­ored view of a many-par­ty par­lia­men­tary style gov­ern­ment. But what if?

Could this just be a sort of grass­roots thing? “I’m Joe and I’m run­ning for May­or in line with the plat­form of the Green Thumb Par­ty.” Could this be a way for con­ser­v­a­tives to decry Trump and the Repub­li­can Par­ty with­out hav­ing to become a Demo­c­rat? I know lots of them would like an option to do that.

Thought­ful com­ments only, please?

September 11

Today is my birth­day. I share it with a nation­al tragedy. I like to acknowl­edge both. For the birth­day, I share it with my friends and fam­i­ly. For the oth­er, I share it here.

On the day I turned thir­ty-one, ter­ror­ists killed 3,000 peo­ple in the Unit­ed States. It was a hor­rif­ic moment of awak­en­ing for this coun­try, a moment that those of us who had grown up over­seas thought we under­stood. I grew up with car bombs on the news and in my city. It had only been a mat­ter of time, I thought, before the Unit­ed States would have had to face it. Amer­i­can head­lines screamed that “The World has Changed!” and I remem­ber think­ing that was a lot of hubris.

I did not account for what the Unit­ed States would do in response. This was a moment that could have touched off a world-shak­ing dri­ve for peace, com­pas­sion, and a bet­ter future. Instead, we launched a world-shear­ing assault on “ter­ror­ists,” which has, in most rea­son­able esti­mates, been respon­si­ble for the deaths of almost 5,000 US ser­vice mem­bers in Iraq alone, and between 100,000 and 1 mil­lion Iraqis. The issue is not as stark as these num­bers make it out to be, the world is a mud­dy mess, even at its best. But that is a lot of blood spilled in vengeance. The world did change after all. And our coun­try was the agent of that change.

I’m not ask­ing to com­pare the three thou­sand vic­tims of 9/11 to the hun­dreds of thou­sands of vic­tims of the Iraq War. That is a scale that will nev­er bal­ance. Instead, I am ask­ing us to put ALL the deaths on one side. What goes on the oth­er side then?

For my birth­day wish, I would like us to reflect on these scales, and do what we can to see them bal­ance.

SXSW 2014 Cover Art is Posted

I have just post­ed this year’s album art for SXSW, the Music fes­ti­val in Austin in eleven days.

But all is not well. SXSW has offered one track from each artist as a down­load (as a .tor­rent) since at least 2005. Accord­ing to the Unof­fi­cial SXSW Tor­rents site, while there are a small num­ber of tracks avail­able so far, SXSW has decid­ed to put the files up on Sound­cloud, instead. Sound­cloud works hard to pre­vent cap­ture of the music they play, which makes down­load­ing the tracks… dif­fi­cult.

Go to the cov­er art page to get this year’s art, and find out how to let SXSW know that you don’t like this.

SXSW Show­cas­ing Artist Cov­er Art

Where is this horse you speak of?

It has been a lit­tle over a month since I have writ­ten any fic­tion. Not a word. But I am get­ting back on that prover­bial horse.

A lit­tle over a month ago, I was offered a half time job by a friend, and I took it. Thus a third, part-time career was born. I am writ­ing words for a small, local, mod­er­ate polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion. It fits me polit­i­cal­ly pret­ty well (I’m an unabashed Lib­er­al, but a reg­is­tered Repub­li­can), and there is a des­per­ate need here in Kansas for any­one with a mod­icum of sense to speak out. I am encour­ag­ing peo­ple to be get­ting on that. I write for our social media prop­er­ties (see, jar­gon!) and also “craft” our mar­ket­ing mes­sage. And I’ll be blog­ging once we get our new web­site up.

So, you know, get­ting paid to write!

And even if it isn’t get­ting paid to write my fic­tion, I do get to put words togeth­er, and that part has been fun.

But.

I’m here to do this. I quit my mod­est but bet­ter-than-this pay­ing job to write fic­tion. And this past month, I have not done that. It’s been the usu­al cock­tail of work I want to do, work I’m not sure I want to do, per­son­al moti­va­tion issues, Life Stuff To Do, and now Job that Must Be Done.

But.

I am up, and I am at ’em. And it is five in the freakin’ morn­ing.

And I am writ­ing.

Ow

I am forty three years old. I have been bless­ed­ly healthy all those years, with nary a seri­ous ill­ness, a bro­ken bone, nor a hos­pi­tal stay. But yes­ter­day, I had the plea­sure of my first CT scan.

Let me back up.

Three morn­ings ago, I had a lit­tle back pain. Then the pain shift­ed around to the front, and became abdom­i­nal pain. Then it became very strong gas/bloating pain. And then I was writhing around on the guest bed, try­ing not to wake any­one up with my mewl­ing. I was retch­ing, and twist­ing, and curs­ing and in about as much pain as I have ever been. I final­ly woke my wife up, and not being in a hazy fog of agony, she sug­gest­ed med­i­cine. I took a gas thing, and the pain went away.

The rest of the day was fine. I had some plen­ti­ful but innocu­ous gas lat­er on, and I thought all was well. Yay, flat­u­lence!

Two morn­ings ago, I woke up fine, but my stom­ach mus­cles were a lit­tle sore. From all the retch­ing, sure­ly. After all, I’d giv­en the mus­cles a real work­out when I was busy dying the pre­vi­ous morn­ing. Then the gas came back, slow­ly, but sure­ly, and soon I was gri­mac­ing and stamp­ing about. At this point we decid­ed I was clear­ly in labor. Walk­ing felt bet­ter, breath­ing made it tol­er­a­ble, squat­ting relieved the pres­sure. Yay! A new baby! We laughed about that, I took more gas stuff and painkiller, and it went away.

Yes­ter­day morn­ing, it was back. The Inter­nets had been con­sult­ed back on day one, and while abject mus­cle sur­ren­der and gas were still the num­ber one choice, appen­dici­tis start­ed to rise in the ranks of prob­a­bil­i­ty. I prac­ticed my New Year’s res­o­lu­tion to curse more vio­lent­ly, and even the dog slunk away to hide.

And final­ly I decid­ed to see my doc­tor.

Turns out, I have a kid­ney stone.

Which is a great relief. Because, you know, peo­ple die from appen­dici­tis.

But I have to tell you, I antic­i­pate that there will be moments in the near future when I will beg for a nice hos­pi­tal stay and some surgery.

Plus, there’s a cer­tain cachet to appen­dici­tis. After all, there’s infec­tion, fever, surgery, maybe even an ambu­lance. It lends a very seri­ous aura to your suf­fer­ing. That is a mys­tique that kid­ney stones just don’t have, because, you know, “Ha ha! It hurts when you pee! Har!”

For the record, the CT scan showed this wee lit­tle rock to be six mil­lime­ters in diam­e­ter. Please find your­self a ruler and check that out. I have pain drugs, and I intend to use them.

The unintended red herring

File under, “Lessons learned while writ­ing.” I have a ten­den­cy to throw details into a sto­ry that explain a prob­lem in my head, but are not meant to go fur­ther than that. But a read­er, who is not in my head, reads that detail as cru­cial, and chas­es it down the rab­bit hole until they real­ize it is just a dead end. Frus­trat­ing. And no tiny doors to climb through at the bot­tom.

For exam­ple. A new char­ac­ter shows up out of the blue, and announces that he is here to inves­ti­gate an old death that he believes is mur­der most foul. Mur­der? How unex­pect­ed! How juicy! Who died, and why? Who is this mur­der inves­ti­ga­tor? Tell me more!

But the inves­ti­ga­tor is real­ly here for some oth­er rea­son. He made up the mur­der inves­ti­ga­tion as a cov­er. I move on with his real moti­va­tion, and ignore the mur­der, because, what mur­der? Bor­ing!

But the read­er is intrigued, then con­fused, then lost, then maybe dis­ap­point­ed and angry. And when they emerge from the oth­er end of the stages of grief, they have missed all the good stuff I was doing in the mean­time.

Must avoid the unin­tend­ed red her­ring.

Blistering barnacles!

I’m not much one for New Year’s res­o­lu­tions. After all, I am resolv­ing to do things dif­fer­ent­ly bet­ter all the time, not just once a year. Last month I resolved to write more, and a few days before that, I resolved to stop beat­ing myself up about not writ­ing more.

But I know it’s a sig­nif­i­cant arbi­trary date, and a lot of peo­ple use the first of the year to set new goals. To lose weight, to work bet­ter, to be hap­pi­er. Appar­ent­ly a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of peo­ple pick a word to define their hopes for a new year. “Focus,” or “Pub­lish,” or “Beardi­fy.” That seems like a lot of pres­sure for one word, on one date.

Some time ago, I hit upon a New Year’s res­o­lu­tion that seemed cheeky enough to be fun, but had a ker­nel of actu­al self-improve­ment with­in, and I have gone with that one every year since.

I resolve (once again) to curse more.

Until this year, I just meant that I should use col­or­ful lan­guage more, in con­ver­sa­tion most­ly, but also in my writ­ing. I should cuss and curse and use the full breadth that Eng­lish allows, to make my points. After all, if you don’t overuse it, curs­ing can be a very effec­tive accent to what you’re try­ing to say. Even curs­ing a blue streak has its uses.

But this year it occurred to me that real­ly, I could change it up by resolv­ing to curse more some­thing. After all, as it turns out, I’ve been resolv­ing to curse more fre­quent­ly, right?

I could also resolve to curse more elo­quent­ly. Or cre­ative­ly. I could repur­pose the non-curs­ing lex­i­con for cre­ative curs­ing, like Cap­tain Had­dock (“Blis­ter­ing bar­na­cles!”) or Sylvester (“Suf­fer­ing suc­co­tash!”). Or I could make up words that sound like bad words, like the writ­ers of Bat­tlestar Galac­ti­ca did with the not-so-pop­u­lar-any­more “Frack!”

And then of course, there’s the actu­al curs­ing. Hex­ing. Spit­ing. Eye of newt. I could do some of that. There are a lot of very cre­ative and fun ways to actu­al­ly curse peo­ple, though I’d rec­om­mend stick­ing to wordy curs­es, and keep­ing the hair gath­er­ing to a min­i­mum. The trick to wordy curs­ing (and bad-word curs­ing, too) is to do it in the flow of cir­cum­stance, not five min­utes lat­er, when nobody but your mom­ma cares. Years ago I con­cep­tu­al­ized a con­text-aware device I called the Portable Noel Cow­ard that would spit out time­ly rejoin­ders right when you need­ed them. Curs­ing might need a sim­i­lar thing.

Or I might just need prac­tice. Like a cross­word puz­zle reg­i­men for my wit.

So. I resolve to exer­cise my mind, to leave my com­fort zone, to push myself. I resolve to curse more, and may your warts grow warts if you don’t like it.

No rose garden delivered today

Anoth­er month gone by. It went fast, but most­ly because I did­n’t do a lot of pro­duc­tive writ­ing. I hit what you might call a bad patch. I have nev­er been the best at being relent­less­ly focused, and when you com­bine that with two cre­ative blocks, well. Noth­ing gets done.

Huh. So, are you ready to throw in the tow­el?

Wow, straight to that, eh? Yes I was, briefly, yes­ter­day. I was invit­ed to par­tic­i­pate in some­thing I very much want­ed to do, but I can’t because of mon­ey issues. This is the first time I’ve real­ly come up against the fact that I’m not mak­ing any mon­ey. Sure, we’ve been cut­ting back and pay­ing close atten­tion to what we spend, I’m clean­ing the house now, instead of hir­ing it out, and I have a finan­cial dead­line loom­ing in the mid­dle dis­tance, but this was the first time I could­n’t do some­thing I real­ly want­ed to do.

I thought about giv­ing up and real­ly look­ing for a job.

But I did some think­ing last night, and I decid­ed against it. Writ­ing, heck cre­at­ing any­thing, is like exer­cise. I know it’s good for me, and when I do it, it feels fan­tas­tic. It’s fun, I feel good, and after­wards there’s a glow (endor­phins!) about the rest of my life that can’t be beat. I’ve writ­ten about this before. Writ­ing is fun. Mak­ing stuff up, putting it down, being cre­ative… it’s a rush.

Get­ting start­ed is hard. Each day. Each moment, some­times.

So, what’re you gonna do about that?

I thought about get­ting a tat­too, like “FOCUS!” or some­thing, but they cost mon­ey and I already have a tat­too-reward-plan for weight loss. I thought about get­ting an ADD diag­no­sis (I expect I am in that crowd), but well, damn, I’m an adult. I’ve come up with a mantra, and some words to live by, to try to inspire/reason myself into work­ing. I’ve thought about ask­ing peo­ple I love to hold me account­able (that seems like a dick move, though). I’ve tried to post word counts each day I write (did you notice how not-often I did that? Exact­ly). I make lists and cross things off. I’ve even changed to-do pro­grams recent­ly, because sure­ly the last one was my prob­lem.

And then there’s the pos­si­bil­i­ty that all of these things are them­selves a prob­lem.

So you need to keep it sim­ple?

Why yes, thanks. That is what I was get­ting at. I need to sim­pli­fy. I have a few ideas, and I’ll let you in on them next time.

Sure, kick the can down the road. Fine.

I will, thanks.

You said some­thing about a mantra?

I did. For a while now, since last Spring, I’ve had some focus words I try to keep in mind. Goals for what­ev­er I am doing. They’ve evolved a bit, but I think I’ve set­tled on them now, and I look at them every day. They are not meant to inspire, so much as make me yearn to reach them. Words to live by, as it were.

Last night, I also came up with a phrase, a mantra of sorts. Some­thing to repeat to myself in a moment of sloth. I’m try­ing it out today, and it has most­ly worked. We’ll see.

But you’re not going to tell us what they are, are you?

No, I’m not. I’m over try­ing to force myself to do stuff by being pub­lic about it. Pub­lic-sham­ing myself does­n’t work. This is some­thing I need to fig­ure out with myself, by myself.

So, did you do any­thing this month?

Well, yes, I did. I hit a block on the short sto­ry I was writ­ing, so I took a few days and wrote a chil­dren’s book. It was an awful lot of fun, and it was­n’t too com­pli­cat­ed. i got to play with lan­guage a bit dif­fer­ent­ly than in a longer form. I’m sure it is not ter­ri­bly good, but I like the idea very much. Right now I am flesh­ing out the descrip­tions of the illus­tra­tions, pret­ty inte­gral to enjoy­ing the book. While i was writ­ing it, I was think­ing of Jane Yolen and Mark Teague’s How Would a Dinosaur… books, and Bri­an Flo­ca’s books (Loco­mo­tive and Moon­shot espe­cial­ly) for inspi­ra­tion.

Once I have the illus­tra­tion descrip­tions done, I’ll send it out to my friends for some feed­back. Then I intend to work on it, and final­ly I’ll need an illus­tra­tor. An illus­tra­tor who does­n’t want to get paid any time soon/ever. Per­haps a starv­ing illus­tra­tor.

Can you tell me what this kids’ book is about?

Nope.

Seri­ous­ly?

Seri­ous­ly.

You jerk

Yes, well. I’m afraid the ele­va­tor pitch will make it sound like some­thing it isn’t. Plus, the work­ing title is crap.

What ever

See you next month.

I’m unfriending you, Internet

My dar­ling wife alert­ed me to a post on Face­book, by a Friend of a Friend (so I can’t com­ment there, since I’m not Friends with the Friend… ugh), a post that began with, “This just in: ADHD also diag­nosed as ‘child­hood’ ” and linked to a blog post at the Psy­chol­o­gy Today web­site about how the French (of all peo­ple) don’t have any ADHD cas­es, because they (are enlight­ened?) diag­nose the root caus­es: mal­nu­tri­tion, poor par­ent­ing, dumb­ness, etc.

The com­ments on this post (to which I can­not com­ment) cov­er the range, but are most­ly fol­low­ing the lead of the orig­i­nal poster, fun­ny quips pre­sent­ed as insight, opin­ion mas­querad­ing as fact, and assump­tions pre­sent­ed as research.

I have a child with ADHD (inat­ten­tive, not hyper­ac­tive). He is bright, fun­ny, cre­ative and dis­tract­ed. He is on med­ica­tion, and it has done won­ders for him. At one point before he was diag­nosed, my bril­liant lit­tle boy came to us, after watch­ing a com­mer­cial on TV, and told us that he thought he need­ed to go to the Syl­van Learn­ing Cen­ter. The look on his face, that defeat­ed, but pathet­i­cal­ly hope­ful look, stomped on my heart.

If you know us, you know we do noth­ing with­out research. Our child was test­ed, diag­nosed, seen by doc­tors, sec­ond opin­ioned, and final­ly med­icat­ed. He has gone from being a reme­di­al con­cern to excelling in every aspect of his life, because he can pay atten­tion to the things that are impor­tant to him.

But the ADHD diag­no­sis issue is just the trig­ger that got me going this morn­ing. I now know a lot about ADHD, about the process of diag­nos­ing, about how it affects my kid, about the ins and outs of med­icat­ing my child, about the “cock­tail” need­ed to help him con­cen­trate then help him sleep. I see how he feels when he lets him­self down because his brain does­n’t work, and how he feels when he tops a test or a con­test or fin­ish­es a project or a book. I know what ADHD looks like, to me. This Friend of a Friend does not know what it looks like to me, but that did not pre­vent him from lump­ing every­one in togeth­er, damn the shades of grey, in the ser­vice of his clever com­men­tary.

Here’s what I want­ed to add to this guy’s Face­book post, but could­n’t:

Hi. This post is so insen­si­tive, thought­less, and knee-jerk that I am inclined to answer in kind. With­out know­ing you, your chil­dren, how you par­ent, or what you are like, I’d like to take this oppor­tu­ni­ty to be an ass­hole to a per­fect stranger, because online, there are no reper­cus­sions. Ready? Here goes. ‘I bet, since you’re so into respon­si­ble par­ent­ing, you beat the fuck out of your chil­dren if they mis­be­have. You cretin.’ What’s that? I’m sor­ry, did I over­step? Did I say some­thing with­out know­ing shit about what I was say­ing? Why, yes, I did. You’re wel­come.”

There’s been some dis­cus­sion online about com­ments on arti­cles, how they rarely add to a dis­cus­sion, being either trolled or face­tious or down­right harm­ful. I agree, and would like to add to that the sug­ges­tion that all of Face­book (et al.) is one big com­ment thread full of mean­ing­less pan­der­ing and hate­ful, irre­spon­si­ble, self­ish com­men­tary.

This is what is wrong with Inter­net com­ment­ing.

There is no space for com­pas­sion, for empa­thy, for under­stand­ing.

I know I am also guilty here of over­sim­pli­fy­ing the issue. The Inter­net is a tool, after all. There are places set aside for thought­ful dis­cus­sion and grate­ful heal­ing. There are nice peo­ple online, even on Face­book, and I like being con­nect­ed to them in a way I nev­er could in Real Life. I appre­ci­ate and love them.

But the rest of the Inter­net can seri­ous­ly fuck off. I don’t have time for you any­more.