Thursday, January 8, 2015

free speech and French comics

I received a text around 3am last night, from LA where it was just past midnight. The buzz on the table beside me thankfully woke me from an anxiety nightmare. But for two hours I couldn't find my sleep again. To bide my time, I read articles about the latest French bombing incident. The Hebdo attack. Trying my best to separate fanfare from fact. You know, the usual.

It's as though we need special glasses these days to see through the click bait sensationalism of an impulsive media stream which directly injects our curated news feeds into our minds.

I'm friends with a few cartoonists who make a living in the comics industry. Considering this, the Hebdo situation feels almost personal, pertaining to the issue of free speech. But I'm also brought to mind one of my greatest fears in all of this--instantaneous groupthink and how it tends to whitewash details.

Murder of free speech is something easy to decry, but xenophobic nationalism in France is frightening.

Nationalism has a way of dictating who is and isn't part of the dominant structure...what that criterion is in terms of language, religion, culture. It creates an out group. Real satire is a mirror which reflects the flaws of a power structure.

I can honestly see how the humor in the Hebdo comics would be perceived as bullying. Racism towards certain groups is often justified claiming it was just mocking Islam, etc - even though the mockery is partially based on ethnic stereotypes.

The cartoonists in Franch should not have been murdered but it is very important to understand why this happened...what the situation is like in France, and the impact privilaged hostility has on the communities that are ostracized.

Many of the cartoons that have come out in support of Charlie are virulently Islamaphobic rather than strictly in support of free speech and that speaks volumes about how this situation is being repurposed.

Consider also that violence is an expression of powerlessness--and trying to understand the causes of these murders is very complex. The situation is undoubtedly horrific, but it speaks to a larger issue of a group of people who have had their already marginalized identity stamped out in France.

There have been a number of riots and regional violence due to white French communists ostracizing and ghettoing the Islamic community there in particular. Hebdo may have attacked a number of religious and ethnic groups, but they were particularly vicious towards the Islamic community and were especially unsympathetic towards the human rights concerns within that population which calls into  question the "equal rights satirist" line of thinking getting circulated for sensationalist attention.

Again, this by no means whatsoever excuses what happened, but I urge people who want to be informed on this to read up more on France's massive xenophobia problem.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

On the craft of Joy Williams

Traveling to Pridesup, does anyone know about this story but me?

Sometimes good stories are like secrets. You want like hell to share it just so you can revel in the absurdity of some singular predicament, almost as if to get the most out of anything, you need an accomplice...someone familiar enough with the situation that it doesn't take two hours to blow your load--detail by detail, to make it relevant to anyone but you.

What some get from these stories is often some universal message, where relativity is greatly forsaken for an objective classroom-esque lesson, whereas actual secret secrets are more esoteric, yes, but my point here is Joy Williams has a way of letting us in on deep, dark truths in her stories.

I rarely find this in fiction, which is saturated by transcribed lists of mundane activities. I never asked to subscribe to anyone's food journal--their eavesdropped conversations between people whose only relevance to the reader is nil in that the author carries some sort of grudge for their malignment, whereby chiseling past scenes to suite them, some call it exploitation. But at the risk of digression, I'll get back on track.

I've been enjoying Joy Williams' 1982 collection Taking Care very slowly these days, having gorged myself on most of her novels last summer. Between other books, for work and whatnot, I've been sipping her stories as leisure-time palette cleansers, since to read them quickly would be a waste. I reached the fourth to last story just this morning: Traveling to Pridesup. And now I am completely devastated and don't know what to do with myself.

The story's about the relationship between two sisters, Otilla who is eighty-one and her older sister Lavinia. To explain what happens in the actual story feels redundant since it's more about how Williams doles out their personalities surrounding a situation involving a mysterious baby which they find strapped to their mailbox one day. The ways people deal with crises is, and always will be, the equivalent of seeing someone you know unleash some latent skill/seeing demonstrated for the first time, whether flawless flambe or stairway to heaven on dessert spoons--this is a story about that, but then oh my god. All I can offer at this point are lines:

"Lavinia had never cared for Otilla. She realized that this was due mostly to preconception, as it were, for she had been present at the awful moment of birth and she knew before her sister had taken he first breath that she'd be useless. And she had been. The only thing Otilla had ever had was prettiness and she had that still, lacking the sense to let it go, her girlish features still moving around indecently in her old woman's face. Sitting there now in a messy nest of bread crumbs and obscure stains with the baby playing with her dress buttons, Otilla looked queerly confident and enthusiastic as though at last she were going off on her wedding day. It disgusted Lavinia. There was something unseasonal about Otilla. If she had been a man, Lavinia thought, they might very well have had a problem on their hands." p184


"Otilla was picking through the remaining maps when the baby tipped off her lap and into Lavinia's side. Lavinia stomped on the brakes and beat at him with her hand. "Get Away," she shrieked, "You'll break my hip!" She tried to pull her waist in from the weight of his head. His smell was sweet, fertile, like an anesthetic and she felt frightened as though someone had just removed something from her in a swift, neat operation. She saw the dust motes settling like balloons upon the leather dashboard and white thread tangled in the baby's fingers. Slow Down You're Almost There Only 2000 Yds. The baby's face was wrinkling her linen and his hand was fastened around the bottom of the steering wheel. p185


"When she left the people, they became bystanders, not to be trusted, and she drove on without reference. And the only sounds she heard were the gentle snappings somewhere in her head of small important truths that she had got along with  for years--breaking." p186

Do you see what I mean by secrets? Deep, dark truths? It's all too rare to see such punches packed in lines these days, in fiction which contains so much filler--sugar water compared to the simmered down consistency we reach in Williams' full-bodied Vermont maple syrup. Williams is fine-tuned in the art of essentiality. Everything she gives us to see is there for a good reason and this is one of the reasons why I love her so much. Even or especially when she rips my heart apart.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

who will protect us?

This morning was the usual. Up around eight. Out the door by 8:30 to take F to school. The elevator guy took us down. When the door opened to the lobby, there was a scene. A lady sat, emotionally-withered-looking on a sofa. Two cops stood in front of her. They were consoling her, asking her questions. She looked frazzled. Of course I was curious to know what had happened but knew better than to pry. I glanced at one of the cops. I refuse to mention his race although it was not mine.

In a swift second I saw a weight in his eyes. A sadness. He stood there, protective, articulating a sincere stoicism in his body language. I thought: what magicians these people have to be. A walking bundle of synchronized psychology and strength. To serve and protect.

This lady, her problem could've seemed extraordinarily mundane to some, to others a relatable cause for alarm and sympathy. It must've been some sort of domestic dispute. She could've heard a noise. Her husband could've gone missing in the night. Perhaps she couldn't find a watch, saw someone in her window. A crank caller. A funny smell. Maybe she couldn't remember her name.

I felt sorry for the policemen standing there in front of her. I could feel the stress only they could know feeling like the world is against them. The dirty looks they must get from everyone. New York cops. Who are expected to do their jobs the right way for everyone or else be criticized. Cops who are painted as villains for a few confrontations that've been heavily dramatized by media--by revolutionary wanna-be types who have nothing else as a source of pride but to protest the deaths of names we've been forced to reflect upon. To ignore is a negligent statement, supposedly. But this negative fanfare, painting the people who are called for any hint of a threat to our security...

Who else could we call if an intruder assaults us? Are we now at a time where we must appoint our sturdiest family members to learn jujitsu so we may call upon them on speed dial to lift the violent fists from our faces?

Without traffic laws there would be increased speed in the streets leading to obliterated vehicles scattered among the medians. When our uncles are drunk and wielding a gun. When sociopaths litter the after hour shadows waving broken bottle shivs. When a convenience store has been robbed. When a pedestrian biker has been sideswiped by an SUV on a corner. Who are we to call?

The hypocrisy of our current condition worries me. The on-trend, generalized hatred of the police. Anything generalized scares me. With specific situations we find specific solutions, but with the obvious lack of thought and clarity, within our attitudes of ubiquitous hostility, masses huddled in their easy opinions: cops are evil--we are compromising our safety. Who will protect us?

Us as in little children, mocking any and all authority. We treat our teachers like shit. Our cops. Our spouses. Our children. We neglect our animals. Our health. Our desires. The dust that accumulates on our furniture. So that we can say: hey, look, I am the voice of injustice! I am a righteous citizen who knows what's best for every other citizen. But we can barely take care of ourselves. We are perpetual babies who nurse and call to be swaddled til we die and we are mourned as a great excuse for sympathy.

The lady in the lobby. The cops who were called for comfort and justice. This is more of what happens in our interactions with the law. Not a frenzied draw that leads to accidental homicide called murder for the sensationalists. Yes, racism exists. But these days it is less the bottom line that we draw it to be.

The pragmatic line, which needs to be draw,n is the line of people who need a cause to feel useful, and the dramatizations which they impose onto others when they accuse them of doing nothing.

Sunday, December 28, 2014


The 2014 year's coming to a close. I've got resolutions on my mind.

The previous years I managed to meet them, they had more to do with being productive than anything, avoiding a slack, putting things out I'd likely be proud of, rather than keeping it all inside.

For the forthcoming months, I'm going to aim a focus on my heart's health, since it's been such the decline wrapped up in its healing scab of pessimism. It feels as though I've been a walking wound of welcome distraction, constantly meditating shortcuts around anything resembling nostalgia.

Like love, any proactive attempts to find joy, only seem to lead me into directions of emptiness, dreams mostly about being lost in a quiet numb, eye-sight strained for answers, a broken compass trying to gauge a sense of direction, pitying myself for attempting to want anything. I need to cut it out and try to find a way to love myself again.

This is my goal. As cheesy as it sounds. And to trust my gut. I should probably call my mom, too.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

the reverse zoom

Last night I dreamed I had a small part in a Terrance Malick film. We were filming a picnic scene: basket, blanket, in period piece costumes outside on a lush green field. Two actors (can't remember who) beside me, read their lines from a screen. I nervously rattled off my line between the kinetic dialogue exchange. It was the first take and we got to watch ourselves immediately after the director yelled cut. I was nervous as I watched myself. I looked weird. My lips were incredibly red and thin and my face looked like a pale, powdered pancake. My eyes were lidless slits covered in heavy eyeliner and instead of acting natural, I stuttered, looked into the camera self-consciously, then looked away. I was horrified by my appearance and lack of acting talent. I thought: will anyone else see this the way I do? And then everything phased away in a reverse zoom.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

it used to be cholesterol - SEND

It's funny these objects or places that have an anchor effect on our lives. A lighter, a phone, humans even, or to some the bodega across the street, a coffee mug. We're creatures of habit. Attachments are useful. Attachments are a form of gravity. They're placeholders, breadcrumbs on a path of familiarity. Songs that set phases act as bridges which bind the rifts for footing.

Our personal scrapbooks have little value to anyone but ourselves, but these days our scrap booking is not only public but often sloppy. With post modernism being so mainstream these days, as we're compelled to keep things brief and meaningful, stream of consciousness has never been so in. Opinions scatter and merge to reenforce a sense of meaning. Validation is the drug that'll define these times. Algorithms pried for power. Patterns scattershot trying to find life. They avoid atrophy in cozy layers. And the new brain is a cynic disguised as a revolutionary.

Likes, loves--retweets are the cocaine that'll send us reeling for the next fix. Everyone's a writer, a poet, an intellectual these days. We scan our manicured coffee foam for the perfect aphorism. We sip our brewed awakenings--we lol at our own stupid puns and exchange love to those who initiate & follow suit.

Foam from an agitated leaf sits on our upper lip like a mustache: "leaves...change color, our times are changing...I reach for change & finger a hole that leads to a forest - SEND. I reach for my phone & touch your hand instead #love - SEND. My screensaver is of your hand...*holds screenshot of yr hand against my face* - SEND.

What are we doing to ourselves by seeming/feeling more useful then we actually are by complaining. We are witty. We are relevant. Stars in a our shifting universe of attitude. Stars of our own life story. Sometimes anonymous. In plain sight, we are cying for attention.

But if we step outside, the fear is like the weather. We are beholden to it. Ever shrinking and colossal at once, we stew in our detachment - SEND. When we meet we expect the worst. When we're shown light, we are skeptics for the warmth which might be taken away - SEND. But what can we do besides do what others do and this is what we've always done, lest we be crucified for our trend-fucked opinions.

We are Feminists. We are proud to be obese. We group shame, what we used to do to witches, one negative comment and we are banished or burned alive. Our names are beaten. We are distracted. We are blind to that one negative act which perpetuates a triple negative repulse. And this is not helping, the way we get offended so easily these days. This is not strength. This is a generalized decline. Armies devouring other armies and the enemy is a name. The enemy is COPS. The enemy is in DC. The enemy is ISIS. The excuse is racism. It used to be terrorists. AIDS. It used to be cholesterol. It used to be COMMUNISTS. JAPS. JEWS. A conglomerate has parts. And we are terrified as a whole.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

taking apart the Changeling

What did I do today? Well, I rewrote a dozen or so paragraphs from the Changeling--a novel by Joy Williams. That took up most of my morning into the early afternoon.

Why? Because it destroyed me last week is why. I read it in one sitting. Five hours it took me and I couldn't put it down. (I'M NOT BRAGGING. It's not that thick.) And for an hour after I was through, it felt as though I'd been involved in a physically/emotionally violent incident. Fresh complexes hello! I couldn't walk right. I couldn't talk right.

What I really wanted to do was talk about it. But didn't have anyone to talk to. Which is usually the case when it comes to things like this. The looks I get when I want to talk about a book! God. Like I should get over myself. There's no one I know who's read it anyway. I mean I know a couple people who mean to--who've had the book on their shelves for years! But good luck with that. Good luck with the Magic Mountain and the Goldfinch and Infinite Jest. Tell me about it over tea sometime.

Why did I rewrite the paragraphs? To see what it must've felt like to write them of course. Although I realized, like immediately, that these things can hardly be a straight shoot. The paragraphs in the Changeling are heavily manicured. A no brainer, yes. But seeing that taught me something, too. That overwriting is a key; as well as a constant repositioning of things... That the editing process is where actual craft is born--extracted like gems in a cave... That the whittling and chiseling is the refining of raw elements aka 'the purge'. Optimum cohesion equals obsession. Like what's the joy of driving a nice car if the interior's cluttered with dust and a million gum wrappers? Redundancies...

Even the most organized's like the ice block before it gets hacked into a swan, or better yet-- an ice skating Yeti couple mid-fling and snatch. A hairy visual indeed! And a cold one! Brrrr. It's similar to a fetus finding its features in the womb. Raw potential being culled from the bones and blood of its mother. All guided by a blueprint. A seed. A technique that furls alive through phases. Enough with the metaphors! Okay, okay. (I didn't ask you to come here ya know.)

I'm pasting an example of today's efforts below. To show that I'm not just full of ass talk:

    “I wish I was pretty, “ Franny lamented, yanking at the flowers in a careless way.
    “It is not for human beings to be pretty, Franny,” Thomas said. “We have language and intelligence, which has to be enough. We must leave the prettiness to the animals.”
    Timmy pounced at a lizard near Lincoln's foot, jarring the table.
    “In one of the Greek accounts of creation,” Thomas went on, “the god Epimetheus was given the responsibility for distributing the ingredients of biological creation among all the creatures. He lavished everything upon the wild animals, beautiful fur and feathers, gracefulness and form, strength and agility. By the time he came to man, he had run out of desirable characteristics. Man was left with just weakness and ugliness. It was his brother Prometheus who gave man dominance to keep him from shame.”
    “I don't mind being ugly,” said Tracker, “but I won't be weak.” (187) – (here we go again with the historical wisdom incorporated into a character's knowledge-base which produces the effect of making the character likable by making the character smart/educated, applying learned knowledge into a conversation and also setting a precedent, moving narration along with a story of doom and creation as a parallel to amplify things to come with the shape-shifting mystery of the children. There's also the timeless commentary regarding humans in general. None of this appears to be diatribe. It's tucked within the character's voice.)

The commentary that follows in bold is mine. The take. The idea is to absorb without imitation (which IS flattering, yes but, no) so I write everything down: the paragraphs, my thoughts, and then try forget about it. I mean it's the direct equivalent of doing calculus for fun. I realize that. 

I'm going to take a shower now and join the party known as being alive and healthy in America. If anyone reads his beside me then hello! Welcome! And Goodbye!

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