Saturday, November 11, 2017

No Love For Wizardry

I hate Harry Potter because it’s a sham.

Like most children back in the late nineties, I was introduced to Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. It was immensely popular, and my grandmother was adamant about identifying a book that would get her grandchildren to read, pushing it on to us desperate and concerted. Truth be told, I was not an avid reader until I was out of college. Before all that, reading was a chore and something you did in school, not when you got home. I spent most of my time outside, turning rocks into spaceships and sticks into swords. Books never pulled me in like they do now. I was much more visual then. Converting and abstracting text into visual stimulus was only a recent development.

My vehement distaste for Harry Potter is inexplicable. Or was, until very recently.

I’ve never liked people pushing me into things, including hobbies. I’ve never liked musicals. (They want you to sing along, see?) I’ve never liked sports. (Competitive teamwork.) I’ve never liked fads. (Vapid, short-lived, things.) I’ve always been an insular, and supremely unlovable person. The idea that my cousin “Bucky,” the poster child of self-absorbed intellect, read it faster than my brother and I didn’t bother me either. What bothered me most was that I was expected to like it.

No. I don’t like Harry Potter because it’s too real to me. And I am not satisfied with the narrative that it pushes. (It’s about a young boy that discovers his parents were wizards, that he is a wizard, that they left him a fortune to allow him to board in an exclusive boarding school. His subsequent adventures are formulaic, and I wonder why his professors didn’t have a yearly meeting about the shit he was going to get into next.)

The origins of Harry Potter being raised by abusive relatives mirrors my experiences in subtle and substantive ways. While I have never been forced to live in a confined space underneath the stairs, I have a potently vivid memory of breaking my Dad’s VCR when I was maybe between 6-8 years old. I was so afraid that he would hit me that I told him from afar and hid in his orchard. And while he shouted vainly into the winds for me to come out, I stayed and waited. It eventually got dark but I was still hiding. I got into my Dad’s red Toyota pickup and slept in the cab overnight, and snuck into the house in the morning.

Another experience: We were at a local, independent grocer, one that I have scores of fond memories at their amazing deli and all the strange, foreign things they would buy and display at the front of their isles—food from Germany, Britain, Italy, etc. My brother had a quart of pasta salad that he was entrusted with, only to drop it on accident. My father flew into a rage and pushed him to the ground calling him “stupid” while he cried. There were people around us, aghast. Someone scolded my father, to which he replied, “mind your own business,” and we hurried out of there like cockroaches exposed to a bright, shining light.

And while, only by the Grace of God, I have forgiven my father of these things over the years of dealing with this—and there are many other incidents—I have no love for a series that depicts acts of abuse and mulls them over with discretionary wealth and elitism. I think my disproportionate response stems from my deep seated belief that the fairy-tale narrative archetype is a load of bullshit. Abuse never leaves you, it clings to you and stays with you. A moment of 1-5 minutes imprints upon your life a brand of shame and anger that never leaves, though over time the scar fades. I reject the Harry Potter narrative because in real life people that suffer that kind of emotional trauma, in many cases, never escape. And even if they do, they limp away and heal lame.

I recognize that now as much as I did back then. I stopped reading after the first book, not because I refused to continue reading the entirety of the series, but because I couldn’t accept its fantasy that seemed to ridicule my own suffering.


Monday, November 6, 2017

Fireside Eggnog Chats

I've started reading my bible again.

I'm reminded every once in a while that what I believe is technically crazy talk. Imagine a belief system that conquered the world, a singular faith founded on the teachings of a homeless Jew in Palestine roughly two thousand years ago. Now, imagine someone who is all in on that particular reality, and trying to make sense of it in the modern world. That's me.

Occasionally reading my bible brings new perspective to my life. Seeing through the eyes of a memoir, or a repetitive series of coined sayings recovered from oral tradition and framed to proclaim a gospel to a specific group of people. It's refreshing to go into it in what I call "easy difficulty," wherein the context and historicity of the scriptures gets completely thrown out, in favor of a layman's reading. I learn new things, like Jesus's cattiness or the urgency of those asking him for help. Jesus takes things slow, ramps up to the climax. It reminds me that our fears and worry are never as severe as they seem. Everything boils at 210 degrees, but our bullshit is lukewarm.

I've begun the process of putting together a second book in the interim, an anthology of works. I started writing them shortly after finishing my second novel draft, something to keep me active and fresh for when I got back my notes. The result was a meditation on Americana.What is the "frontier?" How has its disappearance changed the meaning of the "American Dream?" Is there even a dream worth pursuing anymore? Was there ever a "dream" to begin with? The novella includes 4 shorts and an epilogue. Currently, approximately, 82 pages. Included in the backmatter are a few shorts that I've written in the recent past that I will be revisiting. They all seem to originate on the eve of Trump's election, the catalyst of this whole period. I feel pretty good about the material and I'm hoping for a release early next year. Stay tuned...

That is how life is right now. It's tenuous, day-by-day, which is not all so bad considered the alternative. I like the flexibility and freedom to walk away from a project to bang out another. Its refreshing and constructive. I'll never be the person that "labors" over their masterpiece for a decade. We change too quickly. Our states of mind are too ephemeral to compose a consistent narrative. While the first draft is composed over a two-four year period, the second draft (the most important, also) is where the narrative coalesces. The hard days are coming, but I always find a way to get through them.

For Halloween I dressed up as our company mascot for a costume contest. Even though the prize was $100 and it cost me $200 to make, the admiration of my co-workers was payment enough. That's a bit of an overstatement, actually. But it was one of those moments in my life where I wanted to commit to a vision and see it through. Our swan song of present culture is one of defeat and taking the path of least resistance. In a way, the reality that my costume took third wasn't crushing at all. It was exhilarating that 11 people thought mine the one superior. (Not many actually vote--the winner had 14 votes.)

The "CIO Switch and Receiver Jr."
Better luck next year. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Gum Chewing Racism

Chewing gum, occasionally I bite my lip on accident, feel my teeth sink in just a little bit. It hurts a lot but after a while the saliva in my mouth coagulates the ruptured skin and I’m back in business. This has been happening a lot lately, chewing gum. It helps me forget and relax, kicking in my monkey-amygdala brain.

I keep getting the best ideas in the worst possible places. When I try to remember them I feel like I’m wandering in a fog and trying to make out shapeless blobs of cohesive thought. I had an Idea about racism, seeing that that is the flavor of the week. Since Trump took office I’ve only been able to conceive of myself as an oppressor even though I’ve never seen someone as being lesser than myself. (A note. I have plenty of racist thoughts in my head that make me consider Jesus’s sermon on the mount, wherein he suggests that the act of being angery is equivalent to murder. Does that mean that because I’ve had a racist thought that I’ve also considered someone to be sub-human?)

The quintessential quality of a “white person”—at least what I assume to be, in the context of a American everyman raised in the “good part” of town with minimal hardship—is a very human one. The preservation of property. It’s easy to look at material possessions as a right, when in fact the ownership of property is merely by chance. Unless I suddenly won the lottery, the acquisitions of life, liberty, and happiness is a slow going affair. So slow, in fact, that by the end of it all the hard work and chance luck just blurs together into one concerted effort. I find myself harboring bitterness toward my neighbors as if I’ve built up a life for myself in a one bedroom apartment. In reality I’m paying a slumlord a pound of flesh while being angry at my neighbors for littering. I don’t own the streets, or the hedges, or the sidewalks. But I’m under the pretense that I own the space that I occupy. Maybe this is spurred on by the concept of social contract?

Social Contract, as I conceive of it, distilled to its essence is about fairness. (This is the zeitgeist of the 21st century, correct? That meaning is fluid and taylor-fit?) And what we perceive as "unfair" is in violation of the social contract. My psychiatrist tells me that this isn't a realistic way to live, and I agree. Holding people accountable to a contract they never signed with me is tantamount to giving someone a roofie and sociologically fucking them.

In other, less-introspective, news, I got notes back from Desmond on my second book. Reading them has become a bit of a past-time for me, a one man roast on my labors which, I find extremely funny. It's soothing, also, to know that your work is taken less seriously by others than yourself. It's a safety net, placed under your ego, so that when it all falls apart you have a place to land. Like most first drafts, everything is raw and disconnected. Ideas are inconsistently spread across the canvass and need to be thinned out to an even grade. I've done this before with my first book and it's a very frustrating process, though worth wile. And whats interesting is that I've tried to write a second book in between drafts, a shorter novella that I'm really happy with, a tangential work that helps me vent creative frustration. I'm finishing it this weekend and giving it out for another round of notes.

I'm really bad at ending my blogs.

So that's it.

Go back to work. 

Friday, September 1, 2017

A Concise Summary of My Recent Wit

This is not one of those blogs where I write something once or twice a week. It was... but look where that got me: depressed and stressed out. Today, I'm sitting in a dark room, lit only by a solitary LED desklamp in the far corner of the room, casting soft, unobtrusive light across the floor. Soft shapes decorate the room, stains of darkness on creme paint. The desk is cluttered, even after a thorough cleaning. Piles of to-dos and unfinished books vie for my affections, while a monitor stands erect, in defiance of taste, acting as a mirror.

I don't play video games anymore. Or I play them, but in secret, like a fat man binging in shame, squeezed into a 1999 Honda Accord, with mounds of cheese and animal flesh scattering his torso, under the tangerine hue of the dwindling twilight. Little by little do I understand the vampire-esque habits of my parents who dealt with me in the daylight only to flourish in the night. This is amusing to me, because I used to be a "night person," staying up late at night, watching Adult Swim and checking my Facebook for unexpected contact. Fleeting moments of relief in the endless screams.

I've been looking at my progress over the past few months and I am satisfied where I'm at. The balance struck between obligation and dedication is at the apex straddling commitment and poised to fall one way or the other. But with finesse and fortitude the armistice prevails. While I have been awaiting feedback from my second book, I've started a novella anthology featuring the primitive objects of my worship as a younger man: the tall tale men of Americana. Pacos Bill, John Henry, Paul Bunyan, and Johnny Appleseed are on the move, acting independently of one another in a collage of tales. It's actually not a bad start, and I've felt very satisfied with the end result. While not being as heady as my previous works, it is probably the most human work I've attempted, hoping to evoke the struggles of the American everyman, post-frontier.

My good friend, and fellow man-child, Desmond Write was able to return, at long last, the notes I sought from him for the aforementioned "second book." And while the chafing, yet witty, scathing, yet instructive, remarks of  my contemporary be, I've been able to get a good laugh out of my nascent work. Too many writers think of their tear stained lyric as the poetry of the Gods, yet can't see through their smeared eye liner how shit their prose is. Desmond is the kind of friend that shits on your book, then uses the excrement to stencil in a greater, more profound, foundation. Lesson learned, and always remember: a derisive commentary deciphers opportunity, but a flattering rhyme incites pride.

That's it.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

It's Not About The Lemons

I had this very bizzare, very “Santa Barbara” experience at the farmers market today.

I was picking up the essentials (lettuce), as I am wont to do every Saturday morning. Usually there is a vendor selling Meyer lemons (great for salad dressing), so I found one quickly and went to pick out four of them (50 cents each) and fumbled with three of them, attempting to reach a fourth. This woman, who came after me, swooped in and started grabbing the ones I was going for. I made a comment that I was grabbing at least one more and she looked at me unapologetically, holding her $5 cup of coffee from the Handlebar, and just said, “sorry.” (What she meant to say was, “Fuck you and your lemons!”)
A phrase that I own and coin often is something akin to, “I’m a socialist. But it would never work in America.” There are variations of the same phrase that I often rehearse but the essence is there. I say this to my chagrin because I have been influenced in my life by events that make me pine for fairness. (Getting beat up at school, being viciously made fun of, and raised up under unremarkable circumstances. Also, my own parents have never even read my first book.) It has made me characteristically cutthroat and exploitative and I often wonder if there is an alternate timeline where things were better. At its core I’ve always felt enamored with a political and social mindset where people shared their resources to make the world a better place.
Facebook, among other outlets, sings the same familiar tune. (And when played backwards, you hear the Satanic inverse.) But I don’t think people practice what they preach. I’m a god damned positivist and I don’t practice what I preach. The socialist voice in America isn’t the same pitch and timbre of the places where this actually works, and I think for the most obvious reasons.
American nationalism peaked at the conclusion of the War of 1812. Subsequent spikes are the work of foreign wars and social upheaval, intermittent incidents in a long national history of eulogized selfishness. Even a Christian cult emerged, Mormonism, which nationalized religion and mythologized America’s origins, placing the United States at the origin of the universe. (The opposite was the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian cult emerging at the height of political corruption in the United States, which eschewed all appearances of nationalism.) At both of these peaks and valleys, American expression remained steady in its love of self-interested wealth. Our constitution is rooted in the Pursuit of Happiness, appended by the inferred, “And if you infringe upon mine, why I oughta’…”
The contrast that we see in Europe, the social milieu that makes socialism so viable, is their roots in tribalism that goes back thousands of years. There has always been infighting between states, but uncanny internal bonds. And while there has always been a sectarian conflict between ethnic groups within states, once these states matured past the frustrations of religious and class warfare, there has been a reasonably steady peace. War has also hardened these bonds on kinship. For instance, Russia has repeatedly attempted to invade Finland over the past thousand years, with the Fins rebuffing many, if not all of the assaults. The shadows of Empire have also strengthened national resolve, in the case of Norway being a property of Denmark for nearly 500 years. (They celebrate their “independence” every Seventeenth of May.)
In the United States where we are so blessed with an abundance of natural resources, acquired over the centuries through many shrewd dealings, our sordid gains have likely made us complacent. Combined with the mentality of Frontierism, prosperity through expansion and entrepreneurship, we have inherited a mindset from our forebears that is untenable in our exhausted real estate. We expect wealth and receive it from the least of our peers: migrant workers, wage slaves, immigrants, etc. Even myself, a proponent of ensuring we invest in our citizens through community programs and education, I have everything to gain from an economy that favors my willingness to exploit the labors of others.
All this came to a head, flashed before my mind, as I sarcastically, non-confrontationally, replied, “Wow, this IS Trump’s America.” It is very likely that I will not see this woman again, but given the demographics of Santa Barbara, she is statistically likely to be a Democrat, a social progressive, anti-corporation, pro-choice, drive a fuel-efficient vehicle, and pro-immigrant. Yet, at our core, we are a despicable people trained to look out for “number one,” and like a handful of Meyer lemons, we are more concerned about our welfare than that of others. Imagine the paradigm shift that I experienced when I saw this complete reversal in Norway when I was able to spend time there. I constantly compare my brief time there with my lifetime here. And while I’m sure that Norway has its own kind of culture shock due to its inherent bureaucracy and insistence on social conformance and enculturation of immigrants, the underlying spirit of their social contract is present and palpable.
Enough with myself bitching about lemons…

My second book is coming along with the first draft complete and being out for feedback among my inner circle for notes. I am hoping for another set of great comments from my brothers of other mothers Desmond and Bern. Soon I can start draft two and really dig deep into it.

My daughter Eowyn continues her external gestation. She’s doing good, and my wife also.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Stress, Work, Baby: Repeat

Usually people look at me when I’m having a panic attack and as me, “why are you nervous?” And, as I pause between labored breaths, I am drowning like a fish out of water. I hear that fucking question so many times that I makes me want to scream, but my collapsed lungs have no air to offer even a whisper.

This all started a few years ago in 2013. I was, before my first episode, a very productive person. My personality then was very outgoing, very active. I was a typical “go-getter.” But then the attacks started, and my period of work dwindled from hours a day to short bursts of maybe 30-45 minutes worth of real work.

Now I’m a dad. Between my new duty of raising my daughter and writing my books, I have little time now to pursue my original levels of productivity. Simply put: I don’t write as much, so you won’t be seeing me posting three times a week.

But the content is better. I find myself planning my projects with greater care, investing more time into making my plots flow better. At the risk of writing without a net (without any idea particular story in mind), I sit on my posts and shorts, hoping that subsequent attempts will yield a robust result. This works to a degree. There are stories that circulate over the web about laboring artists that will agonize over dozens of drafts, which I feel is a waste of time. My limit is three: first draft attempt, second draft re-write from notes, and the final third draft where I choose one aspect about my story and redo it. Taking the extra time to really rack my brain over a concept has solidified this style I’ve chosen for myself.

Now I’m a dad. It bears repeating. I’m still in shock over the transition. The presence of this, thing, in my living room that demands my life, my soul, I’ve never felt this before. My daughter Eowyn cries because she doesn’t understand the world that she now indwells. It’s not wet or dark, warm and tight. Everything is so open and vast, an echo chamber that she cries out against and hears nothing in return. It’s difficult to imagine what it’s like to be a blank slate.

Stress, work, baby: my new life, some tell me. There is a Mormon that I work with that insists that my life is over, only using colorful, inoffensive language extracted from a threadbare flannel board from the mid-80s. I already struggle with being pessimistic and incorrigible. Insisting that my life is going to change, bear baiting my dreams and hobbies with the burden of childrearing is downright nauseating. I knew what I was fucking getting in to when I decided with my wife that we wanted to have children. It’s not as if I was ignorant of the changes I was going to face. I welcome this brave new world I have entered, for better or worse. It’s high time I was forced to get over my depression and anxiety to serve another. It’s high time I saw myself through the eyes of another. To see myself carried in the arms of God, crying, lamenting at this hard life I endure every day. The perspective is awe inspiring. Like most prospective parents, I am eager to right all the wrongs of my childhood, to be a “cool” dad. Far more fascinating, in a grim sort of way, will be discovering my own pretensions that I will impose unfairly. Relying on my daughter to understand my own faults, that is the gift of parenting.

But one day at a time. Give me, this day, my daily bread. One day at a time.

I love you Eowyn, my Delightful Charger.



Thursday, May 18, 2017

RCT, Easy as 1,2,3

It’s been a long time – too long.

My book’s first draft is complete and I’ve sent it to my trusted advisors for their notes and insight. This is a common practice, one that I had only recently heard of and embraced by accident when I gave my first book to my good friend Desmond. He proceeded to shit all over my book. That sounds bad, but it wasn’t. It was eye opening. Everyone should be subjected to criticism, even if you’re fucking James Joyce.

I get these moments that come and go. Fleeting ideas that condense and then dissipate like morning mist in the desert. I like writing about these but I don’t, because they are rants. And no one wants to read that shit. Most of the time I think about them because I’m mad at something, or someone. Or, I am sitting alone and recounting the day’s events and considering the slights that I received and then avenge myself by articulating these brisk and colorful responses.

One, however, coalesced.

Something that has always bothered me is the concept of white guilt. Let me preface this by affirming that there is a deep need to reassess the social and economic damage that Americans have inflicted upon indigenous people. We owe the descendants of slaves, the victims of failed Reconstruction era politics, a fighting chance to compete and receive the education they deserve. I can go on, but it would detract from the point I want to make.

Like all things, the narrative of prejudice is hopelessly complex. Let me summarize: Realistic conflict theory, as demonstrated by the Robbers’ Cave Study. I find this study fascinating, mostly for the confirmation bias it offers me in my spiritual views on the nature of humans. The experimental model of the study is rudimentary, and lacking in the sophistication of modern psychological studies that attempt to account for extraneous variables, and deploy methodologies that curb all manners and sorts of bias. Still, I think it demonstrates a tendency for prejudice to occur as a byproduct of social, political, economic, and existential tension. And I suppose what bothers me so much about this concept of white guilt is that the narrative is embedded in western civilization, largely ignoring the social narratives of other cultures where there was a demonstrable presence of ingroup/outgroup prejudice. We only ignore it because we don’t wish to make the investment of investigating the “oriental,” the “other,” and bridge the gaps we make between western civilization and the myriad expressions of humanity.

In High School, I knew a “feminist.” We are decent friends today, Facebook friends (for what it’s worth), and our contact is cordial and mutually beneficial. But it’s interesting how our relationship evolved over prolonged periods of antagonism (mostly because, at the time, I had a crush on her). She would make these outrageous, though not misplaced, claims that because I had a dick, I had wronged her, which seemed a bit harsh, granted that I had never done anything to her. It was classic “guilt-by-association.” Nevertheless, it is wrong to pay a woman less than a man because of their sex. It is wrong to view a woman as not capable of arising to the occasional “manly” deed, mostly because men and women offer mutual benefits to working together in synchronicity. It seems disingenuous, if not hypocritical, to hoist one’s self onto a banner of moral superiority and commit the same crime: devaluing someone because of their genitalia. And the same is true of “race,” which is a bit overstated, as we are all homo sapiens.

To further my point, over the last few months I binge-watched Star Trek: The Next Generation, which was a science fiction television show flexing its intellectual muscles in the late 80s and early 90s. In all seven seasons were captured hypothetical arguments and debate over the preoccupation with Cold War paranoia and interracial conflict – magnificent and worthy pursuits all. I enjoyed the show for its rampant, albeit unintentional, embrace of Globalism, sundering conflict and quieting planetary squabbles under the pretense of dissident races joining the Federation of Planets. It teaches us about the worthiness of our ethnic values, while at the same time devaluing them because they innately encourage the very realistic conflict theory studied by Muzafer Sherif. All ethnicities are, in the end, are artificial divisions based on superficial expressions. To be “enlightened” is to, instead, join hands toward a common goal, and cease the perpetual blame game that has progressed into the 21st century. This is all the ad absurdum reductionism that I could glean from the show, whether they would like to acknowledge it or not.


The issue of white guilt that I have is the caveat of its proposition. I myself have never enslaved a human being or devalued one based on its sex, ethnicity, social tier, or religion. Yet I am devalued based on the assumption that my default predilections are innately sinister. Were I a Martian, living on mars with other Martians, with red skin, and there was an equally powerful group of green-skinned Martians, and we were at each other’s throats for our superficial differences, it would seem very silly to us, but it would make sense to Muzafer Sherif. He would watch us from afar taking field notes in a dust stained moleskin about our petty disputes over limited resources. And, suppose, that I am wrong, and there is no God, I have only just described the very basic principles of evolutionary biology, in which a dominant group supplants another because of their supremacy in means and resources. So I am at a precipice, a crossroads. I have the opportunity to believe that racism is as natural as Realistic Conflict Theory, but I won’t because that’s fucking stupid and we have a choice. We have always had a choice. I believe, wholeheartedly so, that this is who we are when we are blinded by our own egos. But I reject it as the definitive mode in how we operate.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Ghost in the Shell and Whitewashing

I will be seeing Ghost in the Shell fairly soon (not this Tuesday, but the following Tuesday). The Rotten Tomatoes aggregate reveals that I will be mostly entertained by the visual fidelity of the work, though I will likely read into the film from my own working knowledge of the source material and glean some added appreciation from the set pieces and characters.
The whitewashing controversy is the big question and I will have to judge for myself to see if this is any reason to discredit a film which is based off a series preoccupied with transhumanism and the transcendence of ethnic and nation boundaries because of the unification of the world through a thinking, feeling internet. In one episode of Stand Alone Complex (Season 1, Episode 19), a former Russian operative active during the Cold War undertakes a full body operation to implant her brain into a prosthetic body. This body, distinctly Japanese and likely made by Mitsubishi, or some fictionalized Japanese multinational heavy-manufacturing company, is younger, sexier, and masks the ethnicity of an old Slavic woman in favor of a Japanese appearance. One wonders why there is no uproar in Japan over the whitewashing (Japanese-washing? Yellow-washing?) and depiction of foreign nationals as Japanese citizens who speak impeccable Japanese with Level  N1 speaking comprehension. Or perhaps the show (likely) is making a statement about the malleability of race and how the advent of machine prosthesis supplants the need for racial classifications? Obviously, my dismissive tone indicates my position.
Whitewashing is a peculiar thing because the concept of it is exclusive to Americana. I say this because we have many distinct ethnic contributions to the “melting pot” (originally from a play, where the phrase is pejorative). That we originated as a British colony of varied religious diversity—and in the case of Pennsylvania, Pluralism—indicates a largely Continental European origin. It wasn’t until our success drew the eyes of the world to come and take part in the great “American Experiment,” albeit built on the back of slaves and the poor. But the original body of colonists, that heritage societies covetously illustrate (Daughters of the American Revolution, The Mayflower Society, Sons of Norway, etc), their rank in society managed to remain dominant. When those from other countries come to American they culturally assimilate to the “American Way.” And yet this way has changed markedly over the years. The “way” is not the same as it was in 1865, when the Irish acclimated to American Customs and traditions, not fifty-three years removed from the War of 1812, when the sons and daughters of the Crown eschewed their British customs and accents for more “American” expressions of their nation’s proof of concept, earned by a successful repulsion of the British incursion from both Canada and the Gulf of Mexico. Imagine being a Polish immigrant adjusting to the “way” paved by culturally normative customs purloined from the Irish, the Germans, the French, and the Italians. Imagine the strain and intercultural conflicts between blacks who had been there before all of them. Somewhere, in all of this historic complexity, is the Hollywood controversy of whitewashing.
                I do not presume to be a sociologist, or someone with the ability to read culture with lossless accuracy, but I do know a thing about myths and legends. But were I to ask a Greek what a God looked like, he/she would describe a Mediterranean man or woman, with smooth bronzed skin from the Agean Sea. Were I to consult a “Galatian” (3rd Century Christianity), they would likely describe a Hellenistic Jew, with a dark complexion and curly dark brown hair that was short and groomed. Were I to ask a pagan Northman in the 8th century (from Denmark or Sweden) to describe the complexion of Thor, they would more than likely describe a pale, muscular warrior, with dark brown beard and white skin, similar to a man that would not see the light of the sun for eight months out of the year. The Yoruba people, from Nigeria, would not describe their thunder god Shango, as a white Northman, but would likely think of him as a creature matching the same definitions of beauty and magnificence that a Yoruban would think. So for each ethnic group of people there are idealistic permutations of beauty and strength and grace that they believe. Our very “American” problem is that we have such a diverse culture that we no longer know what to worship as an ethnic standard of beauty.
When the motion picture industry began, our caste like system, invigorated by failed attempts at post-Civil War Reconstruction, placed non-whites at the bottom of the barrel. And so the trend continued. No “respectable” film company would star a black man as Othello. So, instead, they cast Orson Wells and Lawrence Olivier, and put them in black face. America’s problem continues to this day where Motoko Kusanagi is white, and I recalled reading somewhere they were considering using CGI to make her look “more Asian.” I can’t confirm that so take that with a grain of salt.
In Ghost in the Shell, the producers-that-be felt, for some reason, that Motoko Kusanagi would actually be named “The Major” (a short-hand name for the character in the manga and animated productions), which is coincidentally fitting given the subtext of the near post-human future where ethnicity doesn’t matter and a four hour operation can change your skin color, height, weight, and eye color without consequence.  
I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have preferred a Japanese woman to play Motoko. (Maybe Lucy Lu, who is Chinese. Would that still count?). The Major’s character consistently is an over sexualized, lean and athletic, no-nonsense commanding officer, who is bi-sexual and also sexually ambiguous (if you have seen the latest incarnation, ARISE). Scarlet’s stint as Black Widow is an approximation to Motoko’s character, but there is still a lot left to desire, and I am certain that an equivalent actress of Japanese ancestry or nationality could fit the bill. Lasarus Ratuere, who plays Ishikawa, a very typical Japanese intelligence officer and A-Class hacker, is a Fiji born, Australian actor. Does that mean he was “brownwashed?”
Whenever I see these articles on whitewashing, there is little thought to the deep cultural, social, mythological biases that particular cultures embody. Moreover, every country is guilty of doing exactly what we do in other aspects. In Dr. Who it’s the United Kingdom that always makes first contact with the alien invaders. In Star Trek: First Contact, the origin of faster than light travel originates in the American heartland of Montana, on an American missile base. (Thus from the vestiges of the military industrial complex rose the event that catalyzes global peace and interspecies communication.) And, must I remind you, the rampant cultural appropriation made by Bollywood, where the government isn’t in a constant state of upheaval and isn’t profoundly corrupt. Evolutionary Biologists recognize that within our own groups we see those most similar to us favorably and keep away those that are foreign and unfamiliar. They, in essence, suggest that this odd brand of cultural antagonism is bred into us as a survival mechanism and is our “human nature.” But, while I believe in the process of Evolution and the ability for organisms to adapt to their environment, I also don’t want to believe that we are hopelessly shitty and destined to fight over resources with one another like a pack of wild dogs. I believe that we are sentient and enabled to make decisions that descend from our will and not our biology. Which means we can work past our monkey brains to make a responsible, adult decision to not need Emma Stone to play a half Asian Air Force Captain.
And can I add something, slightly unrelated? “White people” itself is sort of a pejorative categorization of lumping anyone with fair colored skin into a larger group of people. There are Germans, Norwegians, Polish, Bulgarian, Czechoslovakians, Italian, French, Belgian, British, Scottish, Irish, Finnish, Russian, and Greek, all with “fair colored” skin. Each of these are simplistic reductions of larger bodies of minorities, that are underrepresented in mainstream culture. (Such as the Soumi people, who are the indigenous people of Finland, and live as nomadic tribes, and, are you ready? Very white.) To say that all white people are alike is, frankly, fucking offensive.

The Bottom Line is, the only way to stop whitewashing is to stop reducing people to skin colors and geographies, but see people as fellow humans who occupy the world alongside us, and to be acquainted with their cultures, and to understand the reality that culture is fluid and ever changing. As a Christian, I know the Gospel of Christ referenced a Kingdom of Heaven, wherein ethnic, social, financial, and gender boundaries co-inhabit  the same lands. There are non-religious alternatives also. But, in either case, I believe a shakeup is in order. All this social outrage is nauseating. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Writing For The Man

This page has been barren since my last opus—so apologies for that—due to my work for another master. There’s this cool website that I was turned on to called The Prose. I’ve been submitting challenges there over the last few weeks because, let face it, the traffic here is not as robust. You can view my profile here. Go nuts.
Work on my second book comes along at a steady pace. I’m completing about a chapter a week, in hopes that before my daughter is born the first draft can be completed. I struggle with the reality that this book is being written fairly quickly, whereas my first one was a far more painstaking process.
In my experience, the longevity of a work, as well as the time spent to complete it, does not correlate to the quality of the piece. I have fallen too quickly into the trap of boasting about the agonizing process of writing a book. In reality, I’ve come to discover that the process should be rather straightforward. Things should just flow. After that, it’s only your WPM that slows the process. So, kiddos, take a lesson from ol’ Uncle Stuart, don’t brag about how long your book was, or how long it will be, the time spent writing it, or how long it took you to name your main character: it’s all bullshit. Nobody cares.
Still, practice what you preach. I haven’t been the best at this this week. Earlier I told someone that they weren't a writer, when it turns out they were very prolific. I’m very passionate about what I do, and I like being in the company of other writing professionals, if not to bolster my own skills. That said, I heard this person say they were a writer and my immediate reaction was to say, “No, you’re not. Shitting out Harry Potter fan-fiction on your Deviant Art page doesn’t count.” Luckily, I have more tact than that. Later, on Friday, I was confronted to explain my criterion for being a “writer,” and so proceeded my throwing pearls to pigs, until I awkwardly broke off the conversation.

Maybe I’m just a shitty person? It would explain a lot of things, namely getting in unwelcome arguments about philosophically unverifiable designations. In my mind, since publishing my first book, I would say that I am an “author,” not a writer. 15-year-old Stuart was a “writer,” aping characters, concepts, plots, from my favorite TV shows and books, writing without abandon rote and cliché narratives. (Though, as I write this, the thought occurs to me that children will “play doctor” and someday grow up to eventually receive training and licensing to be one. So, perhaps I’m wrong to discount the future efforts of my soon-to-be daughter’s resuscitation of her stuffed Totoro after the triple-bypass goes horribly wrong?) I think being an author now, to me, is having the patience to hear critical feedback, while also striving after the impossible task of making your characters exist on their own merit. And so, being the black-and-white person that I am, I will accept nothing less than 100% of my efforts towards achieving this, as well as be prone to discrediting my contemporaries for not volunteering the same efforts. I’m a passionate and insecure person. It’s only in my books that I can be truly me.
Still I feel remorse for what I said. After all, I feel very hurt when I must justify myself to others needlessly. Far be it from me to dish out to others what I lament receiving. My languid pace to seek forgiveness from this person, is only impeded by also considering their presence unbearable. Have you ever known someone who, whether they are involved in a conversation or not, will just insert themselves into everything, uninvited, to claim being an authority of  the smallest, inconsequential things? It is infuriating being around people like these. It’s like I say, “So, I was at the store the other day…” and out of the ether materializes a lugubrious, squawking creature beating their breast, declaring “I’VE BEEN TO A THOUSAND STORES!!”
All this considered, in my brief time on this planet, I’ve learned the merits of letting go of festering feelings. I should just get over myself and proceed with caution.



XOX

SW



Monday, January 30, 2017

To the Co-Worker That Said I Believe In "Creepy-Christian-Shit"

At happy hour two months ago, you said something to me that I have thought about in the passing weeks and I have been burdened with it since. Not that what was said I found distasteful, or disagreeable, but that I felt excluded from something far deeper; a dialogue of trust and friendship.
Generally words like these have hidden in them a lifetime of experiences. Experiences warranting legitimacy. Who is anyone to tell us that what we believe, and how we came to believe it—short of being brainwashed, or impressed with another's knowledge—is wrong? We are, after all, the sum of our experiences, moments weaving a canvas patched with assumptions and conceptual gaps informed by the majority of the fibers. So when I hear you say “creepy-Christian-shit,” in reference to my beliefs, I can only assume that you were brought to that conclusion by legitimate means and that the defense of that truth is warranted.
                There are common assumptions made about one’s beliefs by the Other, that we succumb to naturally, if not due to some form of mechanic employed by social evolution, to preserve our identity in the presence of something we don’t understand. I do this all the time, usually in the presence of the marginalized and the poor, occasionally in the presence of those of a different faith. If introspection is worth anything, and it likely is despite what postmodernism has suggested, I would say that I am afraid of losing my identity in the presence of another, more convincing and powerful one. Warding off intellectual and spiritual fascism with definitive statements.  Without overstepping my bounds and assuming your prejudices, I would say that this is at least, in part, something that influences your beliefs about my beliefs.
                Likewise, in a current climate of relativism, not to be confused with pluralism, I will be bold enough to say that not all beliefs are as valuable as the rest. Prejudices, for instance, are not worth as much as truths, because they are innately defamatory and aim to devalue something else, person, institution, presupposition, etc. A belief that declares a value statement needs to be assessed and vetted to determine whether or not it is a prejudice. Being that you and I are cut from the same cloth, or that I aspire to be what you are, I hope you can appreciate the social obligation we have in a pluralist society, to establish a mutual dialogue that encourages a common understanding and a collaborative spirit.
Transparent Faith For a Transparent World 

                I admit that in your life you have crossed paths with undesirable permutations of Christianity. History subjectively describes movements and campaigns that highlight the forceful and dominant expressions, which I have struggled to reconcile. Those in a position of power leveraged their social and political influence to perpetrate acts out of self-interest that tainted the reputation and following of forgotten followers, their voices drowned out by the influence they did not have over the events they did not initiate. (The same is ever true today, with the rise of the “Moral Majority” and other caricatures promoted by fringe groups and leveraging fear of the the Other.) We are all familiar with the corruption of institutions and the choice we make to generalize that quality across the diverse spectrum of historical expressions. I have chosen to not do that in regards to secular humanism, to see the good that it has brought to society by questioning beliefs long held, and often proven untrue upon further reflection. I would not wish to make a straw man like administers of my faith have made, often to draw simple comparisons and conclusions for those without formal education, to create a digestible, conceptual framework; much to my chagrin as I know full well, the multiplicity of expressions. As I have had patience for those accepting simple explanations I ask you do so as well, understanding, with positive intentions, the intended effect.
                But there is a personal dimension to all this, for without it I would just be blustering elevated quips.  Rather than see you as the Other, I wish to traverse that gap as a confederate, a brother to you in attempt to achieve a common goal of understanding. Regardless of my points of view, informed by my personal theology, I would like to express my love for you as a person, with identity and worth. I see you as unique and capable of great things, as we all are the same at the core, acting out of self-interest on the small and large scale. I wish to express my intentions that I am committed to your well-being because of what I believe, and that I am committed to doing good for you, your family, your friends, regardless of their positions and beliefs. I believe that my truth is definitive to this reality, but that does not stop me from appreciating what you offer to the world, what I believe my maker has given you to advocate for those that cannot advocate for themselves, to seek equal opportunity and rights, for dignity in an undignified world. While it is true that I have given myself over to what others would declare an insane proposition, the belief in an entity unverifiable by empiricism and its tools, of a poor, homeless Jew embroiled in the socio-political conflicts of 1st century Palestine, I have paradoxically employed tools of reason to do so, just as you have defended the antithesis. Without the guarantee that I would dully receive your blessing and acknowledgement of my beliefs, I would like to acknowledge yours are valid and legitimate and it is my deepest hope that we can foster a relationship of mutual empathy.

My Best to You for the Betterment of All,


Stuart J. Warren