Wordsmithing

Terminal Offender Cover III know it’s been a while since I posted an update about how work on the book is progressing, and if I’m honest with myself for a moment, the reason I haven’t is actually a three-fold problem.

 

1.) I’ve been so swamped with work over the past few months that I have had little in the way of both time or energy on the few days off I managed to get to put in what I felt was the effort necessary to produce the work I wanted to.

 

2.) The process of revising and rewriting a story was never something I’ve been comfortable with because somewhere along the way I got it in my head that if the first draft didn’t knock anyone who chose to read it on their ass, then the story was utter crap.

 

and 3.) I’ve discovered that when it comes to talking about my writing, I get hit with such anxiety over it, through the foregone conclusion that it’s not even good enough to allow me to call myself a writer, so if I’m asked, I end up not being able to explain it worth a damn half the time.

 

I was interviewing for a media gig that I didn’t get a few months ago, when out of nowhere, I got asked the rather innocuous, but also simultaneously loaded question, “What’s your book about?” 

 

Now considering I use an old mock-up cover I created years ago as my avatar on social media, rather than an actual picture of me because I have the oxymoronic distinction of being a photographer who refuses to take pictures of himself anymore, I get why anyone who does a lick of research on me would think to ask such a thing.

 

And if I had any real measure of self-confidence anymore, I know I’d be able to give a quick and thorough explanation of the story I’ve spent the past three years tinkering with.

 

It’s the last 30 years of my life wrapped up in a speculative fiction of the dystopia we currently occupy cranked up to 11, with segregation again legalized, registration is mandatory,  eugenics is a high-value commodity and my protagonist is trying to do the best he can against a system that stacked the deck against him before he was born. Essentially, gene-splice Minority Report with Gattaca and add what life could potentially be like for most of us, should Donald Trump win the election.

 

Editorial Note: In a rather insane way, the reality that the world I was creating for this story could ever mirror actual potential events always seemed outrageous to me, to the point where when I was coming up with different world-building ideas, the idea of things like mandatory registrations and deportations, increased domestic violence and an even tighter oligarchical/plutocratic grip on the economy seemed more than a little extreme. Recent history has proved, however, that I’m actually giving us a lot more credit than we apparently deserve.

 

I’d love to tell you that I explained it to my interviewer exactly as I wrote it, but that would also belie the fact that I’ve already changed it about half-a-dozen times before reaching this paragraph because I get so uneasy even trying to explain it to other people.

 

Why, you ask? Because that is the cost of having my creativity repeatedly snuffed out over the years by people who considered themselves intellectually and creatively superior in some form or another to the point where my interest in writing stories has become this hushed little taboo that I don’t like to talk about.

 

I’m ashamed to call myself a writer, because for most of my life, no one’s ever really thought I was any good at it, and if they did, I guess they figured it was something best kept to themselves.

 

And yet, when Saturday gets here, I know I’ll plop down in my office chair, load up my manuscript and try and extract another couple thousand words from this ten-cent head of mine.

 

I’m about nine chapters into my revision. Close to 45,000 words already. I’ve made a lot of changes from the first draft, to the point where I could call it a page one rewrite, really. It’s hard work and some days I get really pissed at myself that I don’t end up getting more done because I let myself get distracted too easily.  I’ve also heard many a successful writer talk about how the only way the story comes together into something good enough that someone else is going to want to read is by taking it back to the anvil and hammering it out over and over and over until you’ve finally shaped it into you wanted it to be.

 

I wish I could see the final pattern of how this grand tale I’m hammering out is going to look. Maybe then I’d feel a little better about how I’m going about it. But then I’m just a back-alley wordsmith just plugging away, because it’s the only thing I know how to do.

Absentee Voter

Vote 1I know this is far from hyperbole, but I’m going to say it anyway.

 

It’s a damn scary time to be a citizen of the United States, to say nothing about the rest of the world. But in the one country where the citizenry loves nothing more than to pound its chest and proclaim itself “The Greatest Nation in Human History!!” we seem to be chronically one or two steps removed from complete and utter chaos all hours of the day.

 

And in the midst of all this insanity, we have to decide who we think is the person to theoretically lead us out of this ideological, economic and social quagmire as the next President in about three months.

 

I know well this unbridled circus of a process we call the 2016 election has been going on in one gear or another since 2012. I know it’s the obligation of every citizen to cast their vote and be part of the process, and when I was younger and more in tune with the omnipresent zeitgeist that infects each youngest generation to reach adulthood, I was a lot more interested in taking part.

 

As I sit here writing this, however, it’s difficult to say that I am even remotely interested in being anywhere near this election and for the first time since I received my voting card, I could genuinely care less about using it.

 

Now before you go off on the whole cavalcade of reasons why I should vote this year, hear me out, because this is what’s been motivating my choice of inaction over action.

 

Yes, I am well aware that in the current political climate, not voting is part of the strategy laid out by both candidates to better ensure their chances of winning. In this case, it falls more on the side of Trump to benefit if I decide not to submit my ballot and no, I am absolutely not a fan of Donald Trump.

 

The man, and I use that term loosely, is a malignancy crowned in the world’s ugliest big-boy. He represents not only a section of Americans whom I have little to no respect for, but he is the manifestation of the two grandest illusions predicated upon those of us born and raised in the 20th Century.

 

Those being the American Dream and the perceived utopia of the 1950’s when white, Anglo-America had dominant control over the political, social and economic power to such an extent that it spanned nearly the entirety of the class structure of the time.

 

I grew up watching all the old 1950’s sitcoms which propagated this world through the 60’s, the 70’s and on into Reagan’s 80’s, where my parents generation tried their best to resurrect it the first time. By the time the 90’s came around and I reached adulthood, it was evident that the grand experiment had failed, but it didn’t stop those of Trump’s ilk from wanting to try again.

 

Everything I’ve heard Donald Trump say over the majority of my life has been uneducated bile and I have no wish at all to see him become President. And yet, through some rather sadistic form of osmosis which probably comes from spending the last two years in the high desert surrounded by the very people his rhetoric caters to, there’s days I find myself more able to understand why so many look at him as the definitive answer to the problem of why everyone’s lives seem to suck so much.

 

When I was a kid, ideological promises were made to me by my most of my family, and they weren’t much different, I suppose than the ones we’re all told when we’re young.

 

They’re the promises that when we finally grow up, the world’s going to be this incredible place with all these amazing things and life is going to be so easy-going it won’t even feel like it’s real. You’ll have your spouse, the 2.5 kids, the family pet and the big house with the picket fence in a nice, safe town where everyone knows your name and no one has a problem with anyone or anything. Or better yet…you won’t even live on Earth. You’ll be able to live on the Moon, or maybe even Mars, and we’ll be able to get there faster than any human’s ever traveled and it will be the pinnacle of our achievements.

 

Except for one small problem. That whole pipe dream was precisely that…a big, hollow pipe dream.

 

Next year, I turn 40 and I am nowhere near where I hoped to be with my life by the time I reached that dubious milestone. There’s no family, no pets, no house, no fence and to hear the average politician explain it, I am completely to blame for all of that because I am just working-class cannon fodder.

 

The Trump-ites of the world, and I know them as I have the unpleasant reality of being related to and working around a couple, love to lecture me on how I’m lazy, unmotivated, uneducated, and that I wasted all my time pursuing things I was passionate about instead of being practical and accepting my particular lot in life. They tell me don’t look to the government for any answers because government doesn’t care about me any more than anyone else does.

 

They tell me that, if anything, it’s the government’s fault my life is what it is because it fits with the rhetorical and ideological yarns they’re constantly trying to spin. If only there weren’t all these pesky rules we had to follow. If only there weren’t laws that were designed to hold people accountable, regardless of their pedigree. If only we were allowed to hoard untold amounts of wealth without having to share it with the lesser pockets of society, all would be right with the world.

 

It’s utter bullshit and the greater majority of the time, I know it’s bullshit.

 

But here’s the thing about disenfranchisement. Once it gets its barbs into you, they dig in under the skin and they stay there, festering away until you find yourself full of bitterness and envy and anger because all the things you wanted for yourself, you don’t get to have, and there’s always someone willing to point a finger at who they think is responsible for that and they’ll try eight ways til’ Sunday to convince you that you’re just not good enough to be like everyone lucky enough to inherit lifetime passes along the easy path.

 

Except they’re not…and I know it. I know how much time and effort I’ve put in to making my existence into something I could be even marginally proud of. I know how much I sacrificed along the way to make even one of my dreams actually come to fruition.

 

How much, you ask…?! Try my sanity, for starters.

 

So if I’m not in Trump’s corner, the logical presumption is that I’d be in favor of Hillary Clinton, and were I 20 years younger I probably would’ve, just like I was for her husband when I cast my first vote 1996.

 

I’m not one of those neanderthal troglodytes who thinks women have no place being President. As someone who grew up during the Second Wave of Feminism, my mother’s generation hoped for that along with every ounce of equality they could wring from the old patriarchal establishment. My first stepfather was a troglodyte and I watched him treat my mother like crap because she refused to conform to his 1950’s-era expectations of her.

 

My problem isn’t with the idea as much as it is with the fact that I’m just not convinced that Clinton is going to make things any better for me and where I want to ultimately end up than Obama has in his eight years in office.

Now could they have been worse had he not been elected?! Considering where we were at the time, absolutely we could be. My grandparents came of age as the Great Depression started and as a boy, they told me how bad things got for them and a lot of people.

 

But progress is a often a slow boil. It takes time, sometimes decades, and we are not a patient species.

 

I am not patient, not after having been told I don’t know how many times that if only I’ll continue to wait, the things I want will eventually happen. Well I’ve waited more than half my life now…and they haven’t. They’ve happened for other people and that’s great. Good for them.

 

They haven’t happened for me though, and with all the legitimate and indisputable amount of honest hard work I’ve put in…it’s hard not to become demonically angry about that.

Angry at myself. Angry at society. Angry at government. Angry at the wealthy and affluent. Angry at everything.

 

And in that anger, it becomes easy to be complacent and unmotivated and apathetic. You start wondering, “Why bother?! Nothing’s going to change. Things are never really get better. Not for me. This is my crappy existence and it’s too late for me to have anything close to the happiness I was promised by the previous generation who had a solemn obligation to ensure I had every opportunity they did!”

 

It’s about this time where I often get the standard-issue, universally condescending and patronizing answer from my elders for why things are better for some, but not all of us. Life just ain’t fair. Too bad. So sad.

 

If that’s truly the case, then why should I bother to be involved in the process any more? Why, when it ultimately seems like nothing is going to come of it? Sure, I could turn in my ballot and wait another four years to see if my particular lot in life has improved, but having been around this track five times now and being still relegated to the back of the pack, I’m finally reaching the point a lot of people got to a long time ago.

 

My vote truly doesn’t make a lick of difference in anything, so it’s a wasted endeavor.

 

Had you told me when I was 18 that I would’ve somehow ended up here, I’d have presumed you were at least a mild drain cleaner sniffer. Yet, here I am, on the fringes of joining the amoebic mass of humanity that’s lost faith in the political process because the process doesn’t have much faith in us.

 

Does that bother me? Hell yes, it does. For a long time I believed in the process. I believed that there was no possible way that this government, which we pride ourselves on as, “the greatest political experiment ever conceived by man,” created by some of the most brilliant people in world history, could in fact be the bane of our existence.

 

That’s what Trump’s backers would love me to believe, at least.

 

On the flipside, I have Hillary’s crowd trying to convince me that there’s still room for me at the grown-ups table and that this time, things will finally, inexorably be better. That those little things I’ve wanted; life, liberty, happiness. I get to have those now along with everyone else.

 

I want to believe them. I truly do, except for one small problem. I don’t trust them any further than I could throw them.

 

So here I sit. Less than 100 days from the election and I’m not sure what to do. Be part of the problem, part of the solution, or to just step back and watch the whole thing collapse on itself and hope we can somehow build something better.

 

I really, truly don’t know.

Confessions of a Socially Awkward Mind

When I got home on Friday, having the three-day holiday weekend waiting for me to do whatever I wanted with it, it didn’t take too long to realize once I closed my front door and twisted home the deadbolt separating me from the outside world, I wasn’t going to open it again until I absolutely had to again when it was time to go back to work this morning.

 

That’s not to say I spent my time idly doing nothing while relegated to the confines of my little hovel out here in the middle of nowhere. To the contrary, actually. I worked out, got some sleep, and managed to find 3,000 words for a part of the book that had been eluding me for weeks on end.

 

By the time I fell into bed early Sunday morning after spending more than a few hours hunched over the keyboard in my office, kind of like I am now, ironically, I was somewhat hopeful that I could keep it up for another day. Turned out, I emptied the creative tank without even really noticing.

 

When I finally came to again, later on that same Sunday morning, it dawned on me that I still had two whole days at my disposal to do anything I wanted. I could’ve jumped in my car and gone anywhere I liked, seen anything I liked. Hell, I didn’t even have to come back that night if I decided to. Nobody would’ve stopped me. No one would’ve pointed out how it was a stupid idea, or a waste of my time.

 

If anything, I suspect anyone who’d even noticed I was gone may have said it was a perfectly good and healthy thing I left my friendly and familiar confines in favor of even a small dose of adventure and life….which I guess speaks volumes about why I never considered it, even for a second.

 

Some days, it’s easier to remember that I wasn’t always like this. That, before I got sick and life as I knew it totally imploded, the idea of being cooped up all day bugged me to no end. I liked being outside, exploring new places, seeing things I hadn’t seen or even knew existed before. As a kid, I would go get lost in the woods behind the last houses I ever lived in, pretending I was off in some grand story I constructed in my childish, uncluttered mind.

 

I remembered those days so well, in fact, that the first novel I ever managed to finish writing involved a good portion of the world I’d created, because even then when it seemed so easy, friends were hard to come by.

 

It’s funny, in a way, that I never wrote any of those stories down at the time. I guess, being as young as I was, I never gave it much thought. To be fair, I was also at the starting point of a very long line which has ultimately led me to where I am now, and I guess there’s some truth in not realizing how the journey changes you until you reach the destination at the end of it.

 

Back then, I couldn’t really communicate through writing all that well, but I guess that had to do with the fact that I excelled at talking people’s ears off. One could argue that it was in my genes, given how proficient my grandfather was at telling stories that would talk birds out of trees. The older I got, the more I seemed to have an innate knack for knowing when to say the absolute right thing or precisely the wrong thing to someone, depending on stuff akin to quantum physics or the rules of Fizbin or Calvinball, I guess.

 

I suppose the point in all this is that it’s not been lost on me that in the past few years especially, my ability to talk to people has come less from what exits my mouth than what bleeds out of my fingertips, and even then, that can be a risky proposition more often than not.

 

On Saturday, while taking a break from getting the chapter done, I found myself wanting to speak to someone I hadn’t talked to in about two months, primarily because every time I even think to say anything, the warning claxons start ringing in my head that even something as harmless as, “Hi,” will be contextually misconstrued to imply a million other things I haven’t even thought of.

 

Still, for all the anxiety and trepidation that came with being on the other end of a social media chat window, it seems a far cry safer than sitting down in the same space or engaging in verbal communication over a phone line. The reality of that rationale wouldn’t be so weird, were it not for the fact that those two methods of conversation were also things I was had once been very fond of.

 

For the shyness and introversive tendencies I had, I always preferred being able to see or hear the voice of the person I wished to talk to. Now, the very thought of being that platonically intimate with another person seems like the very definition of a bad idea.

 

What it comes down to, I guess, is the nature of how the words come out now. For example, I could’ve just as easily recorded this entire train of thought and used it for a podcast or a vlog, but doing so means hearing or seeing me conducting the train as it rolls out of my head. Whereas, this way still allows for a slight shroud of anonymity.

 

The wizard can still hide behind the curtain in the hope you’re too preoccupied with the illusion he’s cast, than to wonder where it’s coming from.

 

That’s not to say I always prefer this method of communication. A lot of the time, I’d love nothing more than to be in a safe space where I can sit across from someone and talk about things without the constant, frenetic worry that every second or third word I say will not portray me as a mentally ill basket case more than half the time. If I knew such an option was still possible, I guess I’d feel a whole lot better about the prospects.

 

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem like much of an option anymore and I’m not really sure why. What I do know is the crutch of talking through my fingers is that they get to be the mental checks and balances which apparently no longer work for my vocal cords.

 

You can tap out a Russian novel’s worth of observations, thoughts and feelings, (as exhibited here on more than one occasion, I know,) but at the end of every sentence, you still have to hit ENTER to move to the next line. In that instance, your fingers give you that slight moment to make sure that you’re saying what you want as clearly as possible. It’s the last look before jumping off the proverbial cliff. A last chance to make sure the ripcord on the parachute strapped to your back is going to work or not.

 

It may not seem like much, but it beats the alternative of being in a situation where you are so sure you’re saying the right thing, words that are genuine and right and are born of the best part of you, or even the you that you try to be, and find out before you can say anything else that they were words that shouldn’t have been said, let alone thought of.

 

Once those words are spoken, even if it’s the greatest three words we have in our entire human vocabulary, if they end up being the wrong ones, there is no Delete key. You don’t get to reset ad try again.

 

You just get to live with them, and spend the rest of your life wondering how much different things could’ve been had you been smart enough to keep your mouth shut in the first place.