Monday, December 29, 2008

Not so happily ever after...

The highlight of this year’s Christmas season was wandering into a book store and buying a gift for myself: The Dangerous Lives of Alter Boys by Chris Fuhrman.

Ideally, my Christmas Day should have been so much better. Ideally, this would be my girlfriend. If everything worked out exactly the way I wanted it to; I would pocket a six figure salary and have no real expenses in life. I can’t think of anything more boring than a perfect--ideal--world.

Reality is frank and cruelty is often the most brutally open form of honesty. It is the short, concise, and all together seemingly incomplete moments that stay with us the most: like Fuhrman’s novel or my Christmas Day.

I read a lot of 19th century Russian literature because I like it, not out of any pretentious feeling I get from saying the fact out loud: I honestly like it. I also like to “challenge” myself and step out side of my comfort zone and see what’s popular today and why. Fantasy is my standard “safe zone” although I am probably the genre’s harshest critic, in part because I like it and in part because it is the industry’s “Standard Bearer” at the moment--the leader in book sales. (And everybody loves to hate on the guy on top, right?)

The Dangerous Lives of Alter Boys was as far from my comfort zone as I could get. This book was so foreign to me yet the setting was only 250 miles from where I live. I couldn’t identify with any of the characters or feel at home with any given situation yet everything was so believable that I felt like it could have been my life. Perhaps that secure feeling of comfort was what made certain events hard to swallow.

Its hard to be funny on paper: to write words that make people literally laugh out loud. Especially when making light of race relations, religion and spirituality, physical disabilities and the mind-blowing stupidity that we all have over come since adolescence. To write something so visceral and gritty--dare I say, “urban” for the time--with an overwhelming sense of humor that simultaneously makes fun of innocence and mocks cruelty is astonishing. To that end, The dangerous lives of Altar Boys may represent my new favorite genre of book, whatever genre that happens to be. I usually read a book and say, “it was good, I liked it.” Or, “well that sucked bobcat balls.” I don’t know if I liked this book or not.

Either way, I feel the writing was a success because it made me feel something. This book is short, assessable and a little bit more real than I was prepared for, kinda like that whole “art imitating life” nonsense.

I almost felt deprived by Furhman’s resolute sense of sordid, graphic, realness that carried the story beyond verisimilitude and across the threshold of, “every day life,” a realm I know all to well. Perhaps it was the faint touch of 19th century prose, the lightest taint of melodramatic bullshit that heightened my already hyper alert senses and made me susceptible to making a strong connection with the last ten pages.

I’m glad I didn’t get what I wanted for Christmas and I’m equally glad Furhman denied me a “happily ever after” in his novel. If everything were ideal and just the way I wanted it to be, I doubt there would be many memorable moments in life, nor anything to make us appreciate all that hasn’t come to pass.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Whimsical Inspiration and the death of dreams

I am not a spontaneous book buyer.  I have a dorky file on my computer of authors to follow, books I’ve seen before that may be of interest to me, and may of titles that have stuck in my head for one reasons or the other.  Sadly, I’m one of the bad guys that is actively working to put brick and mortar book sellers out of business by supporting the dominance of internet retail.  (I’m broke so leave me alone.)  It was truly a surprise to me when I found myself in a real bookstore.  

Even more shocking was walking out with a title I had never heard of before.  Something about Paul Coelho’s twenty year old The Alchemist said, read me and so I did.  Me acting on a whim, is somewhat rare, but it wold seem that this was a good one, as it only took me two days to read it and the book was enjoyable.  

I refuse to do a, ‘review” but some explanation is needed to make my point so bare with me.  It’s a pseudo fairy tale, that so careful walks the edge of fantasy.  I would call it urban fantasy if it were being read in the time that the story takes place.  

The book is meant to be inspirational and uplifting more so than the action adventure type fantasy novel.  to make all readers feel like there is something more for them in the world, and that they have the means to achieve it: our own ‘Personal Legend’ as it is put to the story’s lead character, (who has a perfectly good name, but is annoyingly referred to as, “the boy” for the duration of the short book.  More on that later.)

Santiago’s ‘Personal Legend’ is a buried treasure somewhere outside the Pyramids of Egypt as he is told by an “Old King” of obscurity yet profound character.  His journey takes years, entails hard work, falling in love and is filled with hardships.  Coelho has unique ability to knowingly jump into plot cliches but not offend the reader.  The climax comes when he is captured by a warring Arab faction and is friend/mentor and fellow captive promises the Arabs that the boy can turn himself into the wind or they may take his life.  

He ends up having conversations with the desert, the wind, the sun, and finally the Hand of all creation.  I’ll start making my points now and leave the stories out come for you to discover.  

When do we stop dreaming?  At what point in time do well give way and steer off the path of our ‘Personal Legends?’  The “Old King” only talked to children, because they were willing to believe, and the elderly to remind them of all they could have achieved.  Fear of achievement was one reason offered in the book to stop chasing after what we really want in life.  After we get our ‘Personal Legend,’ what next?  The fear of whatever great void of bordem comes after the accomplishment of our lifetime is better not confronted in some peoples minds.  After such a grand adventure, what else could there be worth living for?  

After finishing The Alchemist my strange mind took me to a short story by an author who isn’t usually thought of as inspirational: Kafka, of all people.  A message from the Emperor is, to me, the most brilliant story ever told in under two hundred words.  The inspiration value there was a man who knew he would fail at his given task--who knew there was no chance of success--yet still tried.  Perhaps that is a romantic ideal; hence the attraction, perhaps it’s human nature to admire something as stupid as an ideal, but Kafka was no romantic and the reality we live in is unforgiving to idealism.  

For me, the end of hope, the death of my personal legend happens everyday at about seven thirty in the morning.  The alarm goes off, and I go to work.  It’s a good job for the time being, but my personal legend?  I should hope not.  We grow up and become cynical, and find justification in shunning what we once held as our dreams.  In part due to experience and choices we made in part because we are too jaded to whole-heartedly accept those choices that slowly but surely steered us away from our dreams.  

Hope is fun and Never Never Land is great but reality is harsh and the weather is rarely so pleasant.  Perhaps our personal legends develop and mature as we get older or we convince our selves of our childish stupidity as the years go by and life is made easier by the conventional choices.  

I’m weaker than I like to be and that is no surprise.  I can’t even remember what the old king told me was my personal legend and I’m held back from memory and even desire by something as mundane as my cell phone bill.  I’d never tell anyone to not follow their dreams; by all means get to the Pyramids or Deliver your Message; only make sure your efforts aren’t curbed by something so weak as growing older or social complacency.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Iron Curtain of Class

Planes are strange.  At best you have an international flight with no creepy-yelling-Tourette's -lady, but foul smelling Herr-stanks-a-lot-von-Kaiser.  At worst you’re stuck with an Asian reeking of decade old kimchi and an infant that screams like Satan is tickling it’s taint with the sharp end of his trident.  My passport, my wallet all that can confirm or deny my identity is on this plane.  If I get up to stretch my legs or use the toilet, it could all be gone at the will of some asshole who thinks it might be fun to steal my stuff.  But it doesn't happen.  Further more people are (generally) on their best behavior on a plane.  Ass-hats will always exist--for the moment I’ll turn a blind end to a certain Jihad-ing band of said ass-hats--but for the most part, air plane ambiance is a model for human behavior.  

“Please sit down and fasten your seat beats.”  No one gets an attitude when they hear this; they just do it.  People don’t talk on their cell phones in the same obnoxious manner the do in the grocery store or bank, they even use their inside speaking voice when conversing with their neighbors,  People are generous and polite in their conversation and even cordial in making niceties they really don’t give a good-god-damn about with other people.  

How is this beautiful state of mass existence possible and can it be created outside of a plane?  I have no answers but if it wasn’t for the leg room I’d be all for trying to maintain the air plane atmosphere at all times.  

Oh yeah, and on some international flights the booze is free… that can’t hurt anything.   

Sadly our high altitude utopia is not as flawless as it seems.  There was a great divide on my flight, a separation of class among all the plane’s passengers if you will.  All the French people I spoke with were very kind and as genuine as you can expect a human being to be.  Now as for the bilingual staff… Wow, I’ve never seen such a superiority complex in a person before (and this is coming from a guy who wakes up in shock of his own sex appeal everyday).  Happily, there was only one person of this type on the plane to the best of my knowledge.  She went to the University of Wisconsin where she majored in French language studies--as she made it known she was an unpleasant person, I did all I could to learn about her as to properly represent/hate on her here in my blog.   She is all done with school and is a flight attendant for Northwest who apparently holds herself in higher esteem than all other non-French speaking Americans.  

Why?  Does the ability to speak another language actually set us apart; particularly if we share one in common?  Here, I bring up again that it was her, and not the native French people on the plane, that seemed pained--somehow offended--when she had to speak English… her native tongue.  To foreshadow my next blog entry, I bring this particular person up because during my trip I feel I discovered a bit of the Language of the World.  There is a universal denominator for communication and not it’s not American (or French) Idol.  I had a blast in France, and some of the best time I spent was in the company of people that didn’t speak English.  Mitigating circumstances didn’t allow me to learn even the most basic French, but that didn’t stop me from truly communicated with people.  How is a flight attendant, whom I did share a language with, was at such odds with with her native tongue?  

I am really good at reading people for first impressions, beyond the first one I don’t have much skill, or perhaps--more than likely--I lose interest in the individual to really notice how they act.  This particular flight attendant didn’t like me.  This was made apparent the more I made her answer my questions concerning her education, travel experiences and employment.  As the seven hour flight worn on, I failed to grow on her despite my best and repeated efforts.  I know what I did to pissed her off, and I wasn’t out of line.  Nonetheless, her visible contempt of having to speak to me in English in a section of the plane that was so heavily loaded with French people was really too much for me to handle.

An American on an airplane being an asshole stood in stark contrast to all the super polite Parisians, not to mention the almost over bearing generosity of the citizens of Bailleul, I dealt with in my seven days abroad.  And here I thought extreme douchebaggery was a French claim to fame.

Class has nothing to do with the price paid for a ticket character can’t be paid for and class--and the lack there of-- is an innate possession that can be shared but not sold.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Respecting our Elders

I was listening to a kid play a Bach fugue the other day and wondered, “Is the pain my ears right now similar, worse or equal to running ten-grit sand paper across my crotch?” id est not positive.  Once my speculation of the depths of physical and aural pain abated I wondered more poignantly, “Why the hell would anyone make a kid learn a Bach fugue anyway?”

In the course of my study of music I feel certain that I never would have landed on Bach as a composer of interest unless I was prompted by my teachers.  Much like I never would have read To Kill a Mockingbird if an English teacher hadn’t made me.  Are we better people--truly more well rounded--or in some cases more proficient at our trade because we know the history behind it?  

Bach was brilliant, but no one other than academicians and other learned musicians can really understand that.  That’s not to say that the music should be neglected for the base level enjoyment that others may get from it, but in a recital there are ‘people in the know’ and ‘everyone else’ and at all times I would say 90% of the audience would rather hear Scarlatti if you had to do something Baroque on the keyboard.  That’s not to write off Scarlatti as pulp fiction because Bach did many things in the same vein, but it certainly is more immediately assessable and more “easy listening.”  If an ensemble were to do Vivaldi’s Four Season’s one night and Bach’s Musical Offering the next, which concert would be in greater demand?  I’d have to work myself up for the latter…  Not to convey my preferences in music as factually better than other things, but Jane Doe would need a primer to even begin to follow the Musical Offering, and even then she’d be spending all of her time looking for landmarks on a roadmap comprised of nothing but street signs as opposed to busting a most righteous nut and enjoying the music.  

Is anyone a better reader, or writer, because they read Ernest Gaines, and William Faulkner in high school?  I often feel that the so called classics do more to stunt interest in a given field than promote it.  This is a rare time when I’m not going to talk about the exceptions.  A lot of fuss is made over the declining interest in reading in today’s youth.  Maybe if we put what ever book Peter Straub just sold millions of in 15-year-old Johnny's hands as opposed to The old man in the sea kids wouldn’t be turned off to reading so much.  

Everybody likes Straub (or the author of your choice).  Hemingway is an acquired taste; kinda like Bach.  Somethings are further enjoyed with a little more maturity and no I’m not going to make a wine analogy.  (Or did i?)  It took me some time before I started to seek out more substantial works of literature and put down the “commercial fiction.”  Now, I don’t read Pushkin and Plutrach all day but I do have much higher standards of quality in my commercial fiction than I did in years past.

I think drinking makes the point the best: when you first get your feet wet you don’t really pay attention to the quality of what you’re drinking: it all taste like furniture polish in the beginning and the resulting feeling is little different.  As time passes and the more well versed you become you refine your taste, develop preferences and while you may not always go for top-shelf booze, you’re acutely aware of drinks made with Skol, McCormick and their “well liquor” brethren.

Give people what they want: get ‘em hooked, get ‘em interest; in time if they stay with a given interest long enough and truly enjoy what they are doing they will turn to the classics on their own. 

The video gaming culture--a new way of being--has the best grasp on this matter.  Gamers don’t start with the old school, rather they play what is popular right now; as time passes their interest turn to ‘history’ and the sadistically difficult, 2D games of a now past “generation.”  

I’m all for respecting our Elders, learning from them and giving them their due props, but lets leave them where they belong: the past.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Why am I doing this?

Seriously, this is not a rhetorical question.  There are people out there who have been blogging a lot longer than I and perhaps one such person will stumble across my blog, and be so gracious as to share the truth with an ill informed seeker.  I’m way out of my territory here; far beyond the boundaries of my intelligence, and it caused me no pain to say as much.

Help me out, how does that stupid, theoretical question go?  If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, was there: a tsunami is Asia; an American war in Iraq; a famine in Africa; a hurricane in New Orleans; hell I don’t remember.  

Concerning this blog stuff, if you've never posed legitimate questions to a hypothetical audience you should try it: it's oddly sobering and makes you concerned for your own sanity at the same time.  

What’s the point in my indulgence of this nano quantum of cyberspace?  ‘Can you hear me now?’

‘Did you hear me before I asked...?’

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Lost Art

What is the focal point of any family/gathering room you can think of? (And no, it's doesn't bother me to end a sentence with a preposition or begin one with a conjunction.) What does all your furniture face? Surely not the other furniture where people in the room that you maybe entertaining at some time would sit, because if it did; that would mean that they couldn't see the TV either. There was a time, before electronic entertainment, that people actually talked to each other, far beyond, 'how was your day?' More importantly, people didn't used to be such sissies and find any contrary argument or thought to be a personal attack on their character. You didn't have to agree with what anyone else was saying, but you'd listen, spar on occasion and at the end part ways without being offended.

Today, there are certain things we find socially disagreeable to talk about and not only to random strangers but even to our closest family and friends. I find it odd that we can run the gambit of , 'did you see American idol last night' to, 'dude, your girlfriend really is a whore...' but if you try to have open talk about religion, politics or sometimes said whore-ish girlfriend many people would flat our refuse, or meet your with hostility. I would say that most people would only want to talk about anything substantial if they think the present company is going to agree with them.

"Lets not talk about it. I wouldn't want to do anything that could put our friendship as risk."

I've had people tell me this preemptively. It makes me re-evaluate my friendship with them. If the ties that bind us can't survive the thought of open-minded conversation then I don't see much of a foundation for anything else. We can talk about 'x,y,and z' but for the love of pork fat don't ever, Ever, EVER talk about 'l, m, or the dreaded n.' To me, it seems like being okay with only knowing 80% of a given individual. Would you be okay with that if it were your spouse? Whether or not you plan on sleeping with them, should you really treat friends to a lesser standard? I feel we get to know people on a much more superficial level than generations past who maybe weren't quite so sensitive and had crappier entertainment options.

Perhaps people's unwillingness to talk about touchy-for-no-good-goddamn-reason topics is due to their own lack of education and the insecurity that comes along with it. If that is the case, the burden of responsibility lies with the individual. But I think it's something more, because I bow out of conversations all the time when I'm not well enough informed to comment. Furthermore, even then I listen to everything that is said through a sieve.

I think in general it maybe a little easier to have a serious discussion with a total stranger than a close friend. Friends have an image of who we are, be it right or wrong we generally don't want to shake it up and risk getting out of the comfort zone. I've done this myself; it's a socially acceptable form of lying by way of, 'no comment.'

You will act differently meeting someone for the first time if you know you'll probably see them next week or not ever again; the latter person will meet the more 'real' you. Assuming you're being cordial and not just some cavalier asshole you will be able to speak your mind about everything, listen, contradict and agree all without anyone taking anything said to a degree where 'offense' could be given. I'm assuming a certain level of learned disposition here. I'm not talking about a south Georgia redneck and a San Fransisco hippie talking about health care in a Chicago dive bar.

I refuse to be the guy who blames the media for everything, but you do have to wonder what did people do for a entertainment before the advent of electricity? Senior year of college, Dwanye and I had a TV with no cable but a Playstation, no internet (if I recall neither one of us owned a computer) a stereo and a VCR that saw modest to infrequent use. Games were great in thirty minutes burst, music was only played at parties, movies were watched when we too worn out to have a party and while I had discovered that I enjoyed reading that year, I almost never did it at home. We really talked to each at that point in time.

Conversation was born out of there being nothing else to do--we were in Rome, Ga--and our being too broke to do much of anything, but it really became an activity in itself. Perhaps it was our mutual liking of Bacardi or the seemingly indefatigable bastion of booze we had literally stock-piled known as The Wall, but whatever the reason we didn't have to run out and find an activity to occupy our time.

More often than not, today we offer to hang out with someone and as soon as we get together, "so what are we going to do?' comes up. Perhaps I'm preaching elitism (Did McCain create that word?) or sounding self-righteous, but I'm not so sure as Dwanye and I weren't carrying on the most substantial of conversations all the time.

I walk softly when I speak to some of my friends, knowing that some subjects would piss them off. I view it as a limitation on our friendship. The irrationality of not being able to talk about things makes any debate of the matter moot.

I feel it should be a lot harder to make your friends mad; understanding and, well... friendship should trump impulsive emotions. It's too bad, to; because all that is left in 'comfortable' territory is our jobs (Boring), drinking (A Depressant), and why the Braves can't win a one-run game (Unanswerable).

You shouldn't have to precede or end a comment with, "No offense..." Speak your mind, and if someone gets their panties in a wad, strike up another mental tally mark in the column of, 'people that will never be as cool as me.' Then go find someone who is.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

And why should you have to make up your own mind?

Okay. I’ll come out and say it; hate if you want, but you know I’m right. The world is going to hell: McCain, Obama--Bob Barr if you like--will lead us into a new era of doom. DOOM, I tell you! Worse than a fate of spending the next four years in an inferno picking fleas off a camel’s crotch is the fact that not the next President, rather the American people who vote for him will lead us there. I present to you, public enemy number one: roughly eighty percent of the voting population.

No science or opinion polls were consulted in coming up with that number, because this is my blog and I can make up statistics if I want to. Democracy is a beautiful idea, but in practice I’m not so sure. The thought of everyone having a ‘voice’ is very appealing, but the problem with giving everyone a vote is that most of ‘everyone’ is a moron.

“Did you listen to Obama’s speech?” a co-worker of mine asked another the day after the DNC. “No. It was late, and it was a long day. I just figured I read about it online and listen to what the ‘talking-heads’ had to say.” This is a real conversation that I heard between two people that are allowed a vote in our system. One person asked a question seeking quasi-intelligent conversation. (Quasi because nothing concerning politics is really worth listening to.) The other… well; there’s no need for name calling.

Allow me to make things worse. The ‘talking heads’ in this situation consist of Neal Boortz, Noam Chomsky, and Sean Hannity. Nothing wrong with that lot; all very educated and well informed personalities, but they do have a certain hardcore spin on all the talk about. Scariest of all, it’s not just this one co-worker that thinks like this, hence my fictitious but plausible statistic above. The only thing worse than voting straight down party lines due to some indefinable belief that the other guy is wrong is taking the gift of democracy and putting it in someone else’s hands. I’m doing my best to stay objective and feel it necessary to say that the three listed above aren’t the only ones out there influencing people’s vote. Liberal thinkers do it to. (Though I do find it ironic that conservative radio personalities are the more outspoken ones.)

Influence is okay: it’s nothing more than what the candidates are trying to do. Not listening to a speech in an election year is okay. (In Obama’s case I think it’s necessary; through no fault of his own, he’s gift for oratory is phenomenal, thus dangerous. Read his speeches, then figure out if he said anything...)

A brief moment of patriotism: (disgruntled Europeans living abroad, beware…) American history is perhaps most boring to Americans. It is common place and beaten into our heads from first grade. Try to view it with virgin eyes and I’m sure you’ll agree that despite all our founding fathers hypocrisy they had some phenomenal ideals at heart. In America there are certain, “ inalienable” rights that citizens have, like owning projectile weapons designed to kill people, and spousal abuse. In explicit detail, we legislate who can do what and why; sadly we don’t revoke these peoples same rights with any amount of haste. At the risk of sounding undemocratic, I don’t think many American rights are inalienable, rather, they should be earned.

When we come of age, we are made to prove to the state of our residency that we are capable of driving a car. Make enough mistakes and the right is taken away. Why is the same not true for having children? If I may be blunt: if you are over the age of sixty and your car is longer than a Toyota Camry, you should have your driving privileges revoked. The same is true if you are female, asian, and have a profound urge that leads you to drive in the far left lane. If you are unable to determine which candidate is the best to vote for, then you shouldn’t vote and be held legally responsible for your action if you do in fact make an ill-informed (not your own) decision. Ignorance to the law has never been an excuse, but if you are ignorant or just plain unwilling to choose sides (make a stand) your voice still counts? Is that contradictory to anyone else? Kinda like McCain hating on Obama for having a platform of ‘change’ and having Palin go out and preach ‘reform.’ Or Obama calling McCain elitist because he’s richer than Midas and to old to remember how many houses he has while Obama eats an arugula salad...

Have you ever had a salad comprised of nothing but arugula? Seriously?


Delegates, Super delegates. Do you know what they are? Do you how Bush got in office two straight terms? I feel that myself and others should be super Delegates of sorts that have the authority to revoke peoples right to the popular vote. A little un-democratic I know, but the system has many flaws, so allow me my suggestions.

The eighty percent that I referred to earlier are also made up by the people I overheard at lunch last week while dining on margaritas and hot sauce. “I just don’t trust that Oh-BAM-ah, fella. I don’t know why, but nothing good is gon’ come a that one.” “We need to pray for our Savior and future Sovereign: the Good Mr. Sen. John McCain.”

R. Kelley, pee on me if I’m making this up. People actually said this out loud. Don’t trust Obama? That’s fine, only give me a reason why. Is that asking too much? A little justification for your belief or is it so much easier to escape the physical effort of thought and seek prayer?

I don’t care who you vote for I really don’t. And to those that are concerned that my political apathy is in jeopardy rest assured; I’m as indifferent as ever. After all, we survived Bush for eight years, what could Obama or McCain possibly do to ‘and-one’ that?

“Morons of nations--(present readership excluded)--, heed the call and head to voting office this November. Cast your vote for whomever you deem worthy, but please--on bended knee in a most humble gesture of earnest supplication, I beseech you; make sure your vote is your own.”

Monday, August 18, 2008

Politics and Prose

The closer it comes to election time the more uninterested with the current state of affairs I become.  But not with President Bush, he has long since become white noise that I can tune out.  I find it odd that the world is coming closer and closer to a universally acknowledged party that is the final ousting of President Bush and I couldn’t care less about who takes his place.

Part of it is the machinations of American politics in general.  We, the voting people, have been inundated with candidates since January, and some even a little longer.  As election day approaches, the more news we are hit over the head with concerning our two front runners.  Obama doesn’t where an American flag on the lapel of his suit and that’s a headline?  McCain is really really old; end of story.  It seems to me that when the press has nothing worthy to write about they have no problems at all making a story out of one that isn’t there. 

I don’t mean to sound too detached but every time one of them steps outside for a walk, goes to dinner with a personal friend, or breaks wind before a press conference doesn’t constitute a story.  More so, every time they hold a press conference talking about their policy or the current issues that affect and will effect the country doesn’t constitute a story either.  

Have they said anything different lately or are a lot of the same issues being repeated in the media to take up time before the commercial?  When McCain falls downs down due to dotage, as it seems the elderly are prone to do, or Obama remembers exactly how black he is by doing the running man at the DNC, starts popping and locking in the middle of his speech only to do the Soldier Boy off the stage, then you have a story to write.  As things stand people who follow politics know these guys as well as you can reasonably expect to know any politician, or so it seems to me.

I don’t even think John Edward's drama is news.  He hasn’t held a public office since 2004, and is nothing more than a wealthy, cheating, middle-aged lawyer; read the first part of that sentence again, I’ll wait…  Are you really surprised?  I think the decline in press he has been receiving in a mere weak only solidifies his status as “B” list celebrity.  

Personally, I’m more interested in those two business minded rednecks from Georgia that discovered Bigfoot, or shall I say Bigfeet.  Them boys ‘ave a plan, and man are they working the system and getting paid doing it.   

You can believe the story the press writes, but you've probably read it before--and with all respect to the title of my blog--other people's reality is kinda blah for me right now.  

Yours truly in political apathy,

Chad Hull 

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Drowning in the Shallow end of the Talent Pool

I was initially going to make a title something to the effect of ‘The misconception of Talent’ but upon further thinking, I feel people aren’t confused about the word rather they use it as a general expression to explain things they can’t do thus the true meaning has been obscured. (Much like the fact that 90% of the time that the word ironic is spoken out loud it is misused.) Outside of the archaic definition, a monetary unit of measure, talent is defined as “a special natural ability or aptitude.”

I’ll use the arts to illustrate my point. The audience of a classical music recital, (you can insert the artsy fartsy event of your choosing: art gallery opening, ballet) is generally comprised of elderly affluent patrons who smell like menthol and peppermint, friends and family of the artist who usually feel forced to attend out of a sense of propriety, and other members of the profession that the artist is exhibiting out of curiosity, respect or seeking affirmation of the belief that they are better than the current performer.

At intermission and the “Meet the Artist Reception” the elderly, in their dotage, will prattle about nothing in particular for hours on end while occasionally mentioning a somewhat relevant reminiscence of how they once took piano lessons and could even play five-finger passages. Whenever their ramblings accidentally form a coherent thought the word they land on to describe the artist is always—without fail—talent or some conjugation of the verb. In a situation such as this, I can think of few things more offensive than being called talented. Of the three groups outlined above, only the first one will use the word talent. All things considered, the second group doesn’t care, and more key than that, is that the last group the other practicing musicians in my example, never use the word talent.

The great artistic Masters of the past and present usually didn’t coast on talent. Ludwig van Beethoven. Michael Jeffery Jordan. Both are icons of their craft and arguably the greatest to practice their professions. Is it fair (and I initially hesitated to use that word, but it really is the right one) to attribute all of their accomplishments to talent or somewhere on their career paths can we definitively state that regardless of their great proficiency nothing was ever given to them and they worked hard for all the achievements.

It sounds clichéd to say no one remembers their beginnings but… Does anyone remember when Jordan broke his foot and missed a season or the aural atrocity that comprise most of Beethoven’s works without opus numbers? How about the fact that Jordan was never more than a good shooter, but after putting on substantial weight and working God-only-knows how hard over the course of six seasons he became an unstoppable shooter. Beethoven didn’t wake up one morning and rediscover polyphony (Mendelssohn did) and instantaneously go on to be on the great renaissance standard bearer of a niche compositional technique that had fallen out of mainstream practice some 200 years ago. (Possibly even longer, fugue was a dated practice when Bach was doing it.) Talent is only part of the equation it.

None of Beethoven’s or Jordan’s contemporaries would ever chalk up all they had done to talent because the contemporaries of Beethoven and Jordan were overwhelmingly talented themselves.

As opposed to the beginning, it is exactly the end of Jordan’s career that cast the light on “talent” that bothers me so much. How talented was he as a Washington Wizard? I wouldn’t say he was a failure during those years, but at one point in time he was coming off the bench. How could the most talented person to play the game be the sixth man? ( To those who would ‘call me out’ on this one, I’m aware of the flaw in this argument but I don’t care to address it; start your own blog…) I can’t really talk about the fall or end of Beethoven’s talent as the well-documented decline in his mental facilities and physical well-being ran him into a very bleak and abrupt end. Ironically, the manner of his death probably solidified his status as the--then unnamed--Romantic Era’s Icon.

I guess my real bone to pick with attributing talent to people left and right is the ignorance that people who say it shroud themselves in when lauding out this insult to someone who has demonstrated a work ethic that should be applauded. Ignorance to the law is not a defense, but in polite society somehow I’m the bad guy if I choke the little old lady out for insulting me to my face. I’m expected to take it and smile because her ignorance is socially accepted by the masses. To anyone out there feeling cavalier I hope you’re not naïve enough to think you can be the one to correct the situation; I assure you, you will only be call, ‘disrespectful.’

I have only ever known one freakishly talented pianist my whole life (and I know that even he put an amazing amount of work and effort into practicing); as is true in all things, there are always exceptions. However, everyone else from Claude Frank, to William Knight, to Jessica Mavros to Ben Neill had natural ability but a much larger dose of determination and an exceptional work ethic.

Here’s a fun question that sums things up nicely: Is Stephen King a talent writer? I’m sure someone said that on his first work and of his most recent. If he had a natural ability at what point in time--in King’s case after 35 years of writing--does ones success cease to be due to talent and have something to due with the fact that the man in question dedicated his life to a craft and, talented or not, got really good at it.

I have long since believed that, ‘impossible’ was word used by people to feel good about themselves when they quit. By the same reasoning, I feel, ‘talent’ is used in reference to others as self consolation for the users own inability.

It’s not the nice thing to do, but next time someone writes off your ability under the catch all of, ‘talent’ don’t gasp for breath out of shock and offense. Descend to their level of shallow ignorance: tell them where you came from, how you got there, and make sure they are the one drowning in a pool of embarrassment instead of you drowning in your private pool of loathing.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Alone in the dark with Absinthe

The power going out the other day put me in a rather rustic state of mind.  I grabbed a stack of bills and used them to blast my face with hot air as I lacked a proper fan, and then proceeded to be a wuss and cheat myself out of the true old school experience by using my laptop as a source of light and music, and my cell phone in a vain attempt to harass the power company.  

The first thing I noticed was that it was dark.  Really dark...  Candles ain't gonna do anything for you in this darkness.  After creating light by pressing the power button, the next revelation that was impossible to ignore was the heat.  I read the weather report that morning--which is rare for anyone to do in my part of the world as the expectation of heat is ever present.  The weather woman noted it was going to be, 'abnormally hot.'  For all I know that is a meteorological term but in practice is means that it was 75 degrees at 9:30 pm when the power went out.  Really Hot.  

How is it old people can say with such ease that the world was a better place xx years ago?  And they always do.  Find a old person.  Ask them.  Be prepared as they may prattle on this topic for hours, whether or not you are attentive doesn't matter.  The dark is temporary and altogether manageable but the heat makes people crazy...  I can't begin to imagine--nor do I want to--the wide host of other 'setbacks' that made things better back in the day.  

"So grandpa, did you actually enjoy walking in the snow to and from school, three miles, both ways, with the wind in your face at all times?  No?  Really?  Well, why don't you tell me of the glories of using an outhouse..."  

I'll grant them ten points and a badge of courage for putting up with the innovations of the time, but it's not like the people who live through this were part of an elite club: the whole planet was affected.  I equate the old people who like to talk about how much better things were back in the day to Europeans living in America who do nothing but bitch and moan about how much better things are back in Bulgaria: take the same person out of their present circumstance and put in in the time or place they want to be in.  Then lets see what they have to say.   

The ice machine may well be the single greatest innovation of all time.  When the AC goes out and it's 75 degrees and raising, Apocalypse or not, you're going to want a cold, tasty, beverage.  I can state with absolute consternation that the separate processes of crafting and creating liquor have been much improved from generation to generation.  I firmly believe the Saint George Distillery of Alamede, California to be one of the premier distilleries today.  That said, despite their best efforts, somethings are universally bad and no amount of time can help: haggis, venereal disease, kimchi, military dictators, absinthe.

It taste horrible… absinthe that is, well, haggis too I should think.  Not to mention that the color is rather disconcerting.  You'll want a cold drink to distract you from the fact that you're alone in the dark, sweating like a slave, but inexplicably not in Hell when your AC shuts down.  Make sure your stash has some better tasting hooch than this because romantic inclinations, nostalgia of that trip to Europe where you'd swear you got 'high' on absinthe (and no, you didn't) or whatever other novel ideas you have of 19th century literary people talking about how much better their work is than everyone else's won't help.  Room temperature, on ice, in the light, or all kinds of dark; this stuff is awful.  

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

It's a Savage World so beat your children!

I couldn't read this without my own little commentary. I've never been one to listen to Hannity, Savage and their ilk, because I do find the presentation of the their material offensive; I believe that is intentional on their part. While they often talk about news worthy topics, they aren't the only ones.

What I admire about Savage is the fact that he is standing by his words. It would be real easy to flip flop and apologize to appease the public or perhaps save his job if it goes that far. But if he did what would be the point? Imus got put through the ringer for saying something that I thought was pretty mild by today's standards and as a result did all the damage control he could. Where exactly do hypocritical shock-radio jocks fit into todays world?

I would lose respect for the New Yorker if they apologized for the Obama satire. The idea is so absurd to me that it makes my head hurt.

Something else Savage touched on that I've made mild allusions to as well, is with society's current trend of increasing the gray area that obscures 'normal' people, those who 'just ain't right' and 'everyone else.' I know nothing of autism or ADHD other than the fact that I'm 27: not old, and my classmates and I didn't have those excuses growing up... I mean, disorders... medical conditions, or... whatever they are.

Don't call me insensitive. I jest, I jest. Truly, I can assure you that I feel there are a good many people on planet Earth that, 'just ain't right.' However, in this touchy feely world where children can sue you if they don't get their dessert and hippies working for the EPA are licensed to kill because you want to change your landscaping, it seems there isn't much room left for humor; let alone something as subtle and potentially dangerous as satire.

On a mildly related note, isn't it pretty badass to have such a forceful adjective as part of your name? Savage. Not only would it be fun to have a radio show and call it The Savage World, but think of all the expletives you could throw in there.

Chad Hull. I've come to terms with it. But it doesn't really have a lot of presence. Unlike Micheal Savage or Chuck Norris which conjure images of 90's pro-wrestlers or a room full of dead bodies laid low by roundhouse kicks.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Yeah, I'll have another...


How, could you possibly need more than one book to tell a story? I’m gonna grab two books off my shelf as best I can at random… what do we have; Brandon Sanderson Elantris and Nicolai Gogol Dead Souls; two great, contrasting examples: complete and fulfilling, and not multi-volume epics. In a publishing world that seems to appreciate concise storytelling, the need for book two and three in a ‘series’ seems to be an oxymoron. Naturally, you can have it both ways if you’re making money.

It would seem that some genres lend themselves better to a series than others from the point of view of the publisher (can you imagine Water for Elephants or 19 minutes as a trilogy?) In my mind, the only thing worse than a planned series is a successful ‘first’ that found an audience and then some how turned into a series. Happily, I feel this happens more often than not in film where the revenue gain is higher in both percentage and dollar value (can you recall the sequels to the Matrix or Pirate of the Caribbean?)

Why can’t a complete story be told in 450 pages? 99% of the time that I read book two of three, I always wonder ‘what is the idea/character that is so inflated in this story that it needed more than one book?’ Weak characters that take up pages, plot elements that aren’t essential to the main story and host of other reasons are the main issues.

Gogol didn’t exactly have to end Deal Souls when he did; point in fact he didn’t. The book, ends with an ellipsis and an author’s note saying “here the manuscript breaks off.” But how many sequels did Gogol write? (None) Elantris left me fully satisfied but raised many unanswered questions. It is perhaps begging for a sequel, but on top of not burdening me--the reader--with superficial fluff, I was allowed to make the book my own.

I, the reader, can come to my own conclusion from what Sanderson gave me but perhaps didn’t explicitly conclude. The narrator; in Dead Souls calls the reader out (in that weird fashion that only 19th century writers could do and get away with…) and challenges you to take up his train of thought. Again, at that point it is my book. I would think it a mark of success to tell a story and have the reader be able to take part in it and not just at the end but all throughout. Anyone can dictate, but to engage is something more subtle, difficult to achieve, and infinitely more rewarding. (I dare you to imagine how brilliant Harry Potter or Robert Jordan’s twelve volume epic--that he DIED before he could complete because it was so long!--would have been in one story…)

There are always exceptions: Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is all kinds of long as was The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova for two off the top of my head, but they are two very controlled and patient authors (perhaps even too much so for her own good in the case of Clarke; I kind of wanted another 200 pages from Kostova) but these are indeed exceptions and not the norm.

The publishing world has raved about The Name of the Wind for a few years now. The reason I haven’t read it is because it is one of three and only one is out at retail. I like fantasy and generally when that many people say, ‘it rocks,’ it does. But even still, I have to wonder does any one story merit three plus books at 700 plus pages each? I mean, I got bills to pay and life to live, sadly I don’t get to read as much as I’d like. Let’s be real, War and Peace, Don Quixote; both are only one book and 1,200 pages. What does an author have to say that is so important that it demands at least three years of my time and 2,100 pages to say? There are some fantasy series, not to call anyone out by name, that span seven years of wizarding school or twelve volumes of early adulthood ass kicking…

To play the part of Machiavelli, (Wayne, have you read The Prince and The social Discourses? They perfectly explain our: America's--and yes, you are an American!--folly of Iraq) I should say I have no problem with extended world building. I would argue James Clavell didn’t write direct sequels and there are many others that build upon previous settings, history and characters as he did.

Perhaps, I’m not that good a writer yet. Perhaps, I’m lazy, or just not focused enough on the needs of the publishing industry to make money as opposed to superficial 'artistic interest' of the story (which are subjective; I know, I know). Either way, sequels--outside of the bartender asking if I want another-- just don’t do it for me.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to start book three of Gene Wolfe’s series concerning Latro and I’ve heard Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy is quite good as well...

Friday, July 4, 2008

On the plane with Latro

I’m currently in the middle of the five hour flight to San Francisco.  To keep me company I have Gene Wolfe’s Latro in the Mist, an omnibus of Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of Arete.  I love Wolfe’s writing, but he makes you--the reader--work to appreciate it.  Of his works that I’ve read, I wouldn’t say any were easy to read, nor would I call them difficult but he is far from a conventional storyteller.

Is it okay today to ask a reader to, ‘work’ or do we expect to pick up a book in the same passive manner we do the remote control?  The work that Wolfe ask of his readers (and I’m sure there are many other who write in much the same style) is not so much work in the sense of a murder-mystery, who-done-it sort, it is the expectation that the reader really take an active role in the story: making inferences about events, characters, and supposition about untold things based on what is known.  Is there a regular audience for such writers?  I’m wondering if a book can be written today where the reader is the detective and not the main character doing all the work for the reader, or would today’s book buying populace shy away from such effort.    

What I don’t want to digress into is, what is ‘commercial’ and what is ‘literary.’  I have no idea what the real or perceived connotation of those words are and as a matter of principle I wouldn’t accept an explanation from anyone that dared to tell me.  

Soldier of the Mist was written in 1986.  Writing trends, publishing trends, and the all-mighty consumer trends have changed since then.  In a time where it seems that all things are becoming increasingly streamlined and ‘commercial’ and vendors adhere to the ‘give what’s proven to sell’ ideology it seems that their is a distinct opportunity for true originality to be obscured and forgotten, or deemed unsell-able and never truly ‘discovered.’  Happily, I’m not an agent nor editor but that “unique voice” (oh, how I hate the phrase!) that is so highly sought after probably hasn't been proven at retail and logic would lead me to believe that such a voice probably wouldn’t be a successful retail endeavor.  (I feel it necessary to say that I am not that ‘voice.’  To indemnify myself--if you will--from being portrayed as the jaded wannabe author.  I’m speaking in generalities, not personal specifics.)  

Returning to Wolfe and his work, the main character is named Latro and the Mist is a reference to his memory.  He forgets everything upon going to sleep and writes down as much as he can when he is able in a book.  (Latro only remembers this fact as the first chapter of his book--Wolfe’s novel--is called “read this each day.”)  

The book is written in first person and while Latro isn’t exactly a standard unreliable narrator he certainly has his flaws.  Who is manipulating him, to what end and how far can I trust Latro in terms of how he spins things?  This is complicated by the fact that Latro is trying to figure out all of the same issues while trying to keep some manner of focus on what he thinks is his objective.  On top of which, a great deal of what Latro recalls, and thus writes, is given to him second hand; as in he forgot and someone else told him about it.  How believable is this information?  It is an interesting story mechanic to be sure, but makes for anything but a casual, light-hearted, ‘fun’ read.  

Is that okay?  Most great books are dictated to the reader more than a little bit and I don’t just mean 19th literature where everything was ‘told’ to the reader.  Sure authors employ more ‘showing’ than ‘telling’ but it still comes down to giving a reader something that will make them turn the pages really fast. 

I compare this kind of literary work to The Godfather and The Godfather Part II (obviously, I’m speaking of the films.)  In the first as the moviegoer you sit there and enjoy what is given to you.  You get a fairly simple story, phenomenal dialogue, and brilliant acting.  Everyone leaves the experience understanding what went on.  You can’t sit and watch Part II in the same way.  You’ll probably hit pause a few times and ask yourself: “Why are they in Cuba, who is this Jewish guy, and when was it okay for Corleones to kill family members?”  I don’t think the experience is any less enjoyable than the former--in fact I think it’s better on all levels--but at almost all times I would rather watch the first over the second.  

Is it okay to write books today in the same manner as Wolfe has, and still does?  Well, obviously he can.  But a first timer?  I doubt it.  I don’t know that such a ‘unique voice’ would be accepted on any level without a preexisting a fan base.  

So which do you prefer, the easy road of, take what’s given no thought necessary fiction or do you enjoy reading for some unknown ‘beautiful and lofty’ pretentious reasons that I’ve alluded to here?  As for me, I can say a little of both.  

Wow, I surprised myself.  I almost made it through a post concerning Gene Wolfe without mentioning The Book of the New Sun.