Sunday, November 22, 2015

Spontaneous Sunday Poetry

I listened to a story about a city in Brazil -
water dry in months for destruction of the rainforest.
A butterfly floated past looking for the memory of a field,
A bee hovered at my car window, which will never be a flower.

Friday, November 20, 2015


I have a cold, but just wanted to jot this down before I forget it. It's an old question.

Back in the ye olde times before social media, smartphones, and more than a handful of television stations (aka the 80s), there was a horrible disease that was afflicting many gay men in major metropolitan areas.  Journalists at the time would say things like, "It hasn't infected the general population", which was a way to create fear while simultaneously assuaging it, I suppose. Fear of the other. As a young gay man, a high schooler in fact, it didn't occur to me to question who was speaking, only to internalize that I was not being spoken to and was not part of the general population. I don't think I could have articulated it at that moment, but certainly I was taking it in. Someone was being spoken to, and that person was speaking to someone about me, who was not me. I was still a virgin, but I knew. I was not part of the general population.

I was in my car today, and my usual news program featured a story about the college protests currently happening. What struck me was the tone of the news, which I catch now and again, that by its very nature separates reporter, and by extension the listener, from subject. I hear it a lot. It's a bias. I always wonder though, who is the audience? What's being assumed? Who are they talking to?  The subject is always separated and analyzed, but the assumption is somehow that the subject is not part of the "general population" in some way. But who is the audience?

Like I said, I have a cold, so not quite clear on an answer as of yet, but I'm interested in the question. Just who are they assuming they are talking to?

Sunday, November 15, 2015


I want to write about the attacks in Paris, but like everyone, I'm not sure how I would start. I don't know if I'm brave enough.

I woke up this morning, and wanted to change my profile picture on Facebook to black, but instead chose a peace sign with the Eiffel Tower in it. As the day wore on, the conversation on social media became about how the reaction to Paris was an over-reaction and racist, as people did not have the same reaction to the deaths of people in countries that were majority other than white. An article started circulating about a shooting of Christians in Kenya as verification as if it happened today, though it happened in April. I changed my profile picture to black.

I feel like there are places we do not expect coordinated terrorist bombings, while it's awful to think there are places in the world we would. Everyone's symbol of love, light, romance and champagne isn't that place. It's closer to home.  I'm sure race is a factor, as is economics, as is Western centrism.  All these things.  And suddenly my reaction to this horrible event felt like it was wrong, that I was doing something wrong by feeling horrible about this particular bombing because it happened in a European nation. I do believe that if coordinated bombings happened in Tokyo, or Mexico City, or Santiago, or Moscow, we would feel the same. Although I don't know. Paris is a place of fantasy. It's also a place this has happened before. An airport bomb in 1984 was the reason I didn't go on a summer study program to France my junior year.  A friend of mine did go, and had a wonderful time.  The news today included a junior from Cal State Long Beach who was spending her year abroad in Paris, and was killed at a cafe.

I do feel awful about the shootings in Kenya in April. I feel more awful that I don't know that I even saw the news when it happened. Or that these happen at such a rate that it doesn't register more than a "That's horrible." That's even more terrible. So I feel awful and terrible and none of that is doing anything.  What's more apparent to me, after the chatter on social media, is that we have an entire region of the world in which we just expect violence.  The bombings in Beirut were brought up today, and a friend said, "When I think of Beirut, I think of bombs."  That is the most upsetting piece.  We do not expect it in Paris, but we expect in Beirut - ironically the city that used to be called the Paris of Middle East. I don't think that we don't feel bad. I'm also not sure what feeling bad does. But for the moment that bland three letter word is about as specific as I can get. I also don't want to feel guilty for feeling bad; that does even less.

Last night I was working for a non-profit that does work in education for at-risk, poor youth.  Several of us, in separate conversations, knew there was a need to address the bombings. It was decided that it would be in the invocation, and the woman who spoke beautifully asked us all to hold space, and to have a moment of silence. It was simple, eloquent, and it reminded me that these moments are big for all of us. The silence in a large group was a balm. Social media today was probably not the place. Or who knows - maybe that's the point of it and the perfect place.

When September 11th happened, after walking through the lunar landscape outside the trade center and finally getting on to a train home covered in ash, a young woman started a conversation with me on the train, probably out of proximity and need to speak. She said one of her parents was Palestinian and the other Israeli, and we should have expected something like this sooner. I didn't have a response except to say that might be true and something to talk about, but maybe on the train right after a terrorist attack was not the best place.  All of the conversation needs to happen (except for the Right's assertion that people carrying guns would have made a difference - that's actively stupid and insensitive), but perhaps the moment is not at that moment. Perhaps what we could do is hold space. And grieve for the lives, and the complication. Maybe in that pause, we'll find some peace.

Looking at this it sounds like even saying, "let's wait a second" is silencing others. That's not my intent, either. It feels so sticky. It's one part racism, one part cynicism that we have places we expect violence, and one part media coverage. And a large, upsetting conversation that feels insoluble. Even articulating this feels like I will be called out for privilege. I'm self-censoring.

As I was walking to this cafe to just get out of my house,  I was at a loss at how to tackle any of this, even to think or write something about it.  I passed a homeless man sleeping under a blanket next to a tree shading him and his overturned shopping cart, which became something else to pile on  to the misery; another insoluble problem. Just at that moment, a man passed by me with a box from the bakery heading toward the man on the ground and asked, "Hey man, you hungry?" A little space opened. That's what we can do. Ask, offer, act. Witnessing that gave me a little hope. I'll try to do something that would do the same, and hold some space.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Under Construction

My short, Under Construction, is now available to watch online.

I'd embed it, but apparently you can only do that with YouTube videos; I'm sure it's some sort of Google thing.

Anyhow, it's my first film. I hope you enjoy it.  I'm reading again tonight, unable to choose a film to watch on Netflix. I have a hard time watching things at home, which is a great irony considering I've been writing scripts for film and television.

Ah, well, mysteries abound. Who am I to question it.  Meanwhile, back to my reading, and I hope you enjoy the short if you have a moment to watch.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


I picked this issue of McSweeney's on sale at Skylight books the other day. It's from 2012.  I'm not a huge reader of literary journals.  This caught my eye, though, as it's twelve stories in six different translations. The stories are translated from the original language to English, then to another language, then to another, etc.  There are three English versions of most of them, and other versions in Arabic, Urdu, French, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, German, Hebrew, etc., from writers from Etgar Karet, Jonathan Lethem, Nathan Englander, Gary Shteyngart, A.S. Byatt, J.M. Coetzee; it's quite a collection. It's also interesting to have writers who you've read in English translate another author from their native language.
The wonderful Kafka "The Creature in our Synagogue" was the story that caught my eye and made me pick it up. It's an odd, disquieting story. It makes me want to read more Kafka. There is also a beautiful fable called "The Fox and Earth God" by Kenji Miyazawa, a delicate, heart-rending tale of jealousy.  It's a nifty collection.  Pick it up. I think Skylight has a few more, or you can buy it online.

Lists, part...

I'm making a lot of lists.

I've been writing, and not writing.  The screenplay I mentioned in my last post (in January? Has it been that long?) was a quarter finalist for a competition. It needs work. So does the pilot I wrote. And that other screenplay I'm working on for a friend. And that short I had an idea for. And that other story.

So, I'm making lists. I'm not sure if this is a good or a bad thing. I make them and do not cross things off.  Is making a better list another thing I need to put on my list?  It does feel nice to cross things off when I eventually do, but I forget to revisit the list. I've thought about writing more mundane things like grocery and dry cleaning into them, to feel like I've accomplished something. Impossible lists are probably not helping much.

I've several books that are pressuring me to read them, too, as well as a whole lot of television shows. Is it just really too much? How much until you feel full? I've thought about list of those to keep track of what I'm missing - Breaking Bad, Mad Men - maybe I should only watch shows with alliterative titles.

I read that Sherman Alexie doesn't blog because he says it's a waste of time you should be spending writing, instead of writing something about writing, or writing about yourself. I'll put that on my lists of things I'm doing incorrectly.

In the meantime, fingers are moving. I did notice, the other day, when I went to a notebook to write with a pen, which I prefer, I found I was impatient because typing is faster. I have read, though, that it doesn't get as deeply connected to the brain as handwriting.  I'll add that to the the list.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Finding a process

I hate writing. I love having written - Dorothy Parker

I'm new to this writing thing, folks. Well, not new. Let's revise that.

I'm new to really sticking to this writing thing and not just vomiting something out every few years when the pressure builds up, folks.

That sounds too complicated.

How about, "Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for reading this evening. We will be discussing modes of -"

No.  I'm new to forming things into coherent pieces. I've only done it a few times.  A couple of short plays, a short film, a spec script, a pilot.  Doesn't feel like an oeuvre, by any means.  Or even a bad habit yet. Or even a style and a voice. I'm barely out of voice preschool.

This evening I'm working on adapting a short story I wrote about ten years ago (has it been that long?) into a screenplay. I always saw it as a film. I kind of see everything as a film.  The idea is getting bigger. Anyhow.  All of it is very new. It's hard not to be over critical.  When I was writing my spec I wrote DON'T EDIT WHILE WRITING across the top of the page as I started writing.  Good thing to remember.

Today, as I was brainstorming, which I'm becoming aware is part of the process for me, I suddenly wrote F*** THE RULES, DO WHATEVER YOU WANT.  Thank you, inner voice.

The thing about doing this and being self-taught is you read a lot of opinions of how things need to be shaped and formed, what they should look like when they're done. But I'm not there yet. I'm still gathering ingredients, if you will.  I haven't even left the grocery store. In one sense of the metaphor, I'm still making a list and haven't even driven to the store yet.  It's too early to think about dessert. Actually, that metaphor doesn't make sense, because you really do have an idea when you cook a meal what you need and what it will be.  I think this is more driving the cart along the grocery store aisles thinking, "Mmmm. Tacos." Something came up about the relationship in the story, a new place I hadn't discovered, and I felt a pressure in my chest and a well of emotion. I'm hopefully in the right aisle.

Like the post below about good/bad, I think rules are great, necessary to know and have their place.  But along the road, when you're making something, the joy is in finding out what it's going to be, to let it become what it is. The best things I loved bent the rules a little. Or that's how I see it; I'm still a novice.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

The Good and Bad

I had an interesting conversation with a woman I know recently. I was talking with her and told her I had downloaded the new Taylor Swift album "1989" last night. I may or may not have been dancing to a few tracks alone in my apartment last night, and with no witnesses that cannot be proven.

The conversation went something like this (discussion of politics and feminism deleted for expediency) :

Her: I don't listen to that kind of music.

Me. Country? This album is pop.

Her: No, I just don't listen to it. I don't like her music, whatever it is.

Me: I think it's fun and I like her and what she has to say. I've realized most of my collection is sad singer/songwriters, and I wanted some happy music.

Her: You don't have to listen to that; there's good happy music.

And scene.

This stuck in my craw, this bad/good dichotomy.  Aside from her admission that she doesn't listen to her music, and may, in fact, have never heard it, I was interested in this label of "bad."  What's bad music?  This particular album was the largest selling of 2014, so people apparently liked it.  I don't think music sales are a measurement of good and bad; plenty of great music doesn't sell. In fact, I don't think that's an apt measurement of art at all - good and bad. I can get behind the like/dislike dichotomy, as that's all about personal taste.  I personally don't like green pepper, but I don't call it "bad" and shame people for cooking with it; I just don't care for it.

I will go even one step further: I think the good/bad dichotomy is a harmful way to look at art.  It's not helpful for a viewer/receiver, as it discounts whatever their personal response may be, and it's not helpful for the artist, as it sets up a judgement of the art before/during/after it's creation.  That will, as anyone who has tried to make anything knows, shut down creativity.

A dearest friend gave me Lynda Barry's fantastic latest book Syllabus, subtitled "Notes From An Accidental Professor."  The book is notes and exercises from Barry's class about "The Unthinkable Mind" - getting to a place of creation that is beyond thinking that she teaches at University of Wisconsin/Madison.  She discusses drawing, and how the inability to render has led most people to think that they are "bad" at drawing, when, she argues, they actually have a style that has yet to form.  She encourages coloring - in silence as well as listening to music or lectures. She has great exercises. I've taken her workshop.  Her feedback is mostly an emphatic "good! good!" while encouraging no one to discuss their work or anyone else's. In fact, while you're listening to others read you are drawing a spiral and looking at your paper. Her goal is to get out of the thinking mind and in to the place where creation happens. I'm very much over-simplifying, but I thought of it when this friend told me she didn't think Taylor Swift's music wasn't "good."

Tim Burton's movie "Big Eyes" touched on this idea, telling the story of Margaret Keane's Big Eye paintings that were popular in the sixties.  Kitsch to many, the painting nevertheless sold millions of copies. They touched a chord, and were painted sincerely.  The art world may have called them "bad" art, but they were popular and beloved. Bad? Good?  Who knows.

I'm finding the more I create the less I find bad/good a useful dichotomy, either in my own creation or in the assessment of others' work.  I can tell you if I'm drawn to it or not. On a critical level, I can hopefully appraise whether it's doing what it wants to do as well as it can, and even better, how to help it get there. But bad and good are beyond me.  Even love and hate feel more apt to me.  Bad and good, at the end of the day, just aren't very helpful.

I think you get the idea.  Now I'm off to color like a ten year old, while maybe listening to something I like.  There may be dancing involved. We'll see.