Sunday, May 03, 2015

Quote of the Week

"If you want to make peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies"- Moshe Dayan .

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Saturday Video

Do you feel like a chain-store?
Practically floored
One of many zeros
Kicked around bored

Your ears are full, but you're empty
Holding out your heart
To people who never really
Care how you are

Is hard enough for me
Take me away from this big bad world
And agree to marry me

So we can start over again.

Do you go to the country?
It isn't very far
There's people there who'll hurt you
'cause of who you are

Your ears are full of their language
There's wisdom there you're sure
'till the words start slurring
And you can't find the door

So give me coffee and TV
I've seen so much, I'm going blind
And I'm brain-dead virtually

Is hard enough for me
Take me away from this big bad world
And agree to marry me
So we can start over again

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Prayers and Light for Baltimore (and Beyond)

Written to my Meeting.

Dear Friends,
I write to you for many reasons, but mostly for the sake of my mother. She and I spoke over the phone at length this morning. Trying to be the dutiful, responsible son, I tried to put her anxieties aside, but I'm not sure I succeeded. She is very afraid, fearful that the riots that have recently raged in Baltimore will spread and grow in intensity. And, as she shared with me, part of her concern harkens back to a very different era. It is one I do not understand because I was not alive back then. I may have read the history and seen the images on a television, but the emotions and grief that our entire country felt back then are merely abstractions to me.    
Like some of you reading this, my mother remembers the chaos of 1968 and the numerous riots that broke out following the assassination of MLK, Jr. She remembers the riots in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention, which transpired later that same year. These violent events in tandem, along with the assassinations of RFK and MLK, left a mark upon her, one I see now that in some ways resembles the symptoms of PTSD. It is not an exaggeration to say that many who were alive then still bear scars from those tragedies and can be rightfully considered to be the walking wounded.
This city in which we live (Washington, DC) has arguably never fully recovered from its own riots, including several impoverished sections of the District. And this is true for other cities and other people, too. Even if some like my mother weren't there in person and only experienced the upheaval on live television or the nightly news, the images were nevertheless indelible, searing themselves into the consciousness of everyone alive during those times.
I would like to ask, if you are willing and feel so led, to hold my mother in the Light. But I would also ask the same for every person in her situation, every person alive in those times who now fear for the worst in Baltimore and beyond. We see different things within this problematic situation. Some of us see a call to action. Some of us lament a country still divided by race and income inequality.

Others see the excitement of a new cause and the promise of long-denied change. But we must also recognize that riots and civil unrest of a different era produced victims whose wounds may be invisible, but they are very real and they have persisted for a lifetime. It is for this reason that I pray for peace and restraint, even as I understand the powerlessness that has led some to loot, burn, and pillage.

In the Light,



The faithful drudging child...
the child at the oak desk whose penmanship,
hard work, style will win her prizes
becomes the woman with a mission, not to win prizes
but to change the laws of history.

How she gets this mission
is not clear, how the boundaries of perfection
explode, leaving her cheekbones grey with smoke
a piece of her hair singed off, her shirt
spattered with earth...Say that she grew up in a house
with talk of books, ideal societies--
she is gripped by a blue, a foreign air,
a desert absolute: dragged by the roots of her own will
into another scene of choices.

"Sources" by Adrienne Rich

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Truth about Publication Odds

Yesterday, I was rejected for publication in a literary magazine. So were, as it turns out, 173 others. I wasn't supposed to know this, but due to a clerical error, the e-mail address of every single one of those who had been turned down was plainly visible. The more professional approach would have been to conceal the identities of those who didn't make it in, therefore making the publication's boilerplate rationale for rejection a bit more plausible.

We were told there wasn't room enough to include everyone's entry, which is technically true, but mostly good public relations. It makes me realize again that the odds are stacked against me and everyone else from the beginning. Six writers got in, leaving nearly 200 of us on the outside. How does one even begin to know how to compete? How does one grab the attention of an editor or editorial staff who has around 175 other worthy contenders to consider?

I don't know the answer and neither does anyone else. Many aspiring writers I know, seeking a strategy and a comprehensible plan to work, pursue the professional approach. They listen to or read glorified advice columns drafted by those who have had some success themselves and think they've worked out a sensible rationale that works for everyone. Though many people swear by the wisdom of these columns, I'm skeptical of their effectiveness. In other publications, especially the writing contests which promise prize money, twice as many people have competed with me for inclusion and to place.

This post is not meant to discourage anyone from working on the craft of writing, or one day being recognized for it. I suppose I'm speaking mainly to those who may have, like me, done quite well in a college creative writing program and been a bit of a rock star inside and outside of workshop. When it comes time to cast one's lot with everyone else, the experience can be a very humbling one. For a time, I received regular, frequent praise from my professors and fellow students. Since then, what I mainly receive is silence.

It is the goal of many to write a novel or to enshrine one's name in print in any form. In the apartment complex where I live, I've met a woman who has saved up enough money so that she doesn't have to work for a year. She can instead devote her time exclusively to writing. I don't have the heart to tell that her plans are romantic, but grandiose. In movies and in real life an archetype exists of the struggling writer or novelist who comes out of nowhere to have a book published. Effort and talent alone, according to this myth, produces success.

I spoke with an older man, about my father's age, last week about a variety of topics. One of his friends pursued the same course that I have, an approach nearly everyone without substantial name recognition has to manage first. He submitted short stories to small publications and journals over the course of twenty years. Slowly, he began to be published sporadically here and there. His publication history came in a trickle, not a flood. After a decade's worth of work, the stories he'd written were compiled into an anthology, which eventually won a prize. But it took a total of twenty years solid before his personal goals came to fruition.

And that is the point I'm seeking to make, both for myself and for others. Don't quit your day job. Don't chain yourself to a computer for months writing the Great American Novel. Everyone wants to write the Great American Novel. That's the problem. A wiser strategy, in my opinion, would be to work steadily on weekends, lunch breaks, or holidays from work. Think of publication as applying for a job in a competitive market. No matter how professional your resume or how solid your references, you're still going into the same stack as everyone else with a professional resume and solid references.

Maybe someone will see value in your work. Maybe you'll fit the needs of the company or the publication. But what is different with creative writing of any kind is that your words alone will have to suffice for a personal interview. You will not have the right to plead your case. You will not be given an idea of what the publication gods are requesting of all applicants. As long as you understand that going in, you will experience a minimum of hurt feelings and angst.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Dry Drunk, Part 5

Part 4 of Dry Drunk is posted here. This is part 5.

A work of fiction.

I often wake up with this strange reoccurring dream in my head. I've snuck back into my childhood home, a place that was sold to new owners years ago. I am no longer privy to this place, and yet I want to go back there like nobody's business. After waiting for the current occupants to leave the residence, I roam around the backyard, now without the storage shed my father bought from Sears. The same trees are there, the ones that served as second and third base during childhood baseball games.

My footsteps carry me away, but in my mind I'm always going home.

But I grow bolder. I try to figure out a way to get inside, starting from the basement door. Somehow I manage to force myself in, but it houses someone else's junk now. The washer and dryer unit that Mom and Dad bought in the late Seventies, both in an complimentary, but unnatural shade of light green, two appliances which lasted much longer than they had any right to do, they are no longer present. Someone else's car is parked inside, not the reliable silver Mercury Cougar that took me to piano recitals and four small children to church.

I hear noises from upstairs. I may not be alone after all. In a panic, I rush out of the door, across the lawn, and to the street. They narrowly miss me. But the next night, I do the same thing all over again. This time I enter from the front yard and the front door, picking the lock expertly until the door swings open and I walk inside. I am not sure how I managed to learn this trick. A few walls have been painted and the front parlor, which my Grandparents always occupied upon visits now has new carpets and new furniture. It is no longer powder blue.

I climb the steps to the upstairs, ducking my head slightly, because I'm much taller now than I was then. It's all so small now. I'm amazed a single bathroom was enough for four children. I enter my childhood bedroom. The Star Wars curtains that hung across the French doors from the window facing the street are gone, too. What has not been taken down is a particular decal placed at the right-hand corner of the front window, showing its age, which signals to rescuers and firefighters that a child lives in this room.

In analysis, I've learned that my dreams are fairly easy to interpret. I'm seeking to escape the pain of adulthood by retreating into childhood. The drinking, carousing, and nihilistic behavior I saw on stage and in clubs was simply another manifestation of this same phenomenon. Some take part during waking hours and business hours, and mine took place when I was occupying a very different dimension of reality. What separated me from them is that I knew what I wanted was impossible, but they believed enough alcohol, rabble rousing, and sexual conduct might somehow undo the laws of physics.

The drinking was another escape, as was the process of chasing women. But I never sought to fool myself, because the effects of the booze always wear off. Nothing is permanent. Everything is transitory in the end. Sex with a complete stranger promises a tantalizing build up that leads swiftly to fifteen minutes or less of pleasure and intensity. When glassy eyes refocus, it's time for clothes to be donned again. One must now make a slightly sheepish, awkward, but appreciative exit.

Or, at least that is how it was before I decided to settle on one and not play the field any longer. I'm not currently sure where we stand. She still takes my calls, at least. I know she loves me, but I wonder if she recognizes she has always been, at least partially, a retreat and a crutch. She's a waking distraction, a different sort of way to break into childhood and the mostly happy home I occupied with my family once upon a time.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Quote of the Week

Patient: What do I do?
Obstetrician: Nothing, dear, you're not qualified.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Saturday Video

All through the day
I me mine, I me mine, I me mine
All through the night
I me mine, I me mine, I me mine

Now they're frightened of leaving it
Everyone's weaving it
Coming on strong all the time
All through the day, I me mine

I me me mine, I me me mine
I me me mine, I me me mine

All I can hear
I me mine, I me mine, I me mine
Even those tears
I me mine, I me mine, I me mine

No one's frightened of playing it
Everyone's saying it
Flowing more freely than wine
All through the day, I me mine

I me me mine, I me me mine
I me me mine, I me me mine

All I can hear
I me mine, I me mine, I me mine
Even those tears
I me mine, I me mine, I me mine

No one's frightened of playing it
Everyone's saying it
Flowing more freely than wine
All through your life, I me mine