Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Be careful little mouth what you say...

Yesterday my kindergartener came home with a letter from his teacher saying that my son had told a boy in his class that he would, "take out his knife and murder him." I think any parent reading this will understand my shock and horror that my child would say such a thing. We had a long talk about it, and he was duly punished, but deep down I feel this is less his fault than mine.

As a parent, it's my job to instill values in my children. I've spent plenty of time emphasizing the importance of the things we DO, but I now realize that I've been sadly remiss in driving home the importance of the things we SAY. Not for nothing does the Bible say, If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. (James 3:2)

The things we say matter. It's easy to insist that actions count more than words, but as people who think and relate to the world in words, how can we deny the power of them?

I'm far from a good example of this. My wife could tell you what a verbal monster I can be. With me to guide him, is it any wonder that my son says things he shouldn't?

I sent the following letter to his teacher today, by way of an apology:

Dear Mr. Davis,

I was deeply distressed to hear what my son said yesterday, and would like to thank you for informing me so that I can work to correct this sort of behavior. Please do not blame my son, as the fault clearly lies with me. As his father, it is my responsibility to teach him integrity in both his actions and words, and it is plain from this incident that I have not been living up to my duties.

We've had a long talk about it, and I think I can assure you that the next time my son says he will "take out a knife and murder" somebody, he will actually have a knife on his person to take out and use in the way he describes. That my son would say something like that, knowing full well that he had no capacity to follow through, reflects poorly upon me as a father, I know. Empty threats are nothing more than lies, and lies should not be part of any decent child's upbringing. Honesty is the cornerstone of integrity, and without integrity we are little more than dumb beasts, but I can assure you that I will strive, henceforth, to be an example to my son of the importance of honesty, and that empty threats will no longer be tolerated, especially from myself.

Gabriel R. Miller, Father

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Perhaps beard hair looks like pubic hair to remind us that we have balls.

An ode to No-Shave November.
(Well, not really an ode. More of a meditation.)

What is it about No-Shave November that so excites and fascinates men? Is it the explorer's thrill of discovering what new, previously unseen things will show up on our faces this year? Is it the joy of the lazy man given a completely legitimate excuse to slack? Or is it something deeper; something more primal?

My father lives in a cabin in the woods, and whenever I visit him I can't leave before I've completed my ritual. I walk out into the forest; find a nice, healthy tree (no scrawny saplings or standing deadwood please!); and piss on it. Why do I do this? I could speculate as to the act's connection to human origins and the territorial behaviors of certain animals, and this is likely at the root of the issue, but the simple truth - the only thing that really matters to me when I'm doing it - is that when I piss on a tree I feel like a man.

I never met a woman who understood Fight Club. I overheard a group of women talking about it in the cafeteria at work. "What level of intelligence does it take to want to spend your Saturday night getting beat up?" seemed to be the general consensus. It baffled them that an actual fight club had recently been broken up by police in a nearby town. This they chalked up to the mental acuity (or lack thereof) of the area's residents. What else could possibly explain such behavior? Like I said, I never met a woman who understood it. I never met a man who didn't.

What you see at fight club is a generation of men raised by women. - from Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk

This is one of my favorite quotes, because it cuts straight to the heart of the plight of the American male. It certainly describes my life.

I don't have anything against women. Let me make that perfectly clear. Women have gotten the shaft (both figuratively and literally) for the whole of human history. Black people suffered in slavery at the hands of whites for a few hundred years, and nobody is surprised when they have bitterness and anger towards them. Women have suffered at the hands of men for as long as there have been women. Are we really going to pretend that they're not a little pissed about it? Don't they deserve to be?

Again I say, I don't have anything against women. I have been on the receiving end of women's frustrations with men - God knows, I have been the cause of those frustrations more times than I'd care to admit - but I can't bring myself to hold it against them. They've earned their anger. They've earned their bitterness. So I'm not trying to say that there is something wrong with women. What I'm saying is, is it any surprise that, in an age where men hurt women and then leave their sons to be raised by them, the women try to raise the boys to not be like their fathers? Is it any surprise that, even though they've grown up, these boys still don't feel like men?

That's what No-Shave November is about. You'll notice I capitalize it. That's because for me - for many men - it's not just an excuse not to shave; it's a holiday at least equal to Memorial Day. A day to honor our lost masculinity.

One more quote, this from Chuck Palahniuk's introduction to the 2004 edition of Fight Club:

In the mountains of Bolivia... every year, the poorest people gather in high Andes villages to celebrate the festival of "Tinku."
There, the
campesino men beat the crap out of one another. Drunk and bloody, they pound one another with just their bare fists, chanting, "We are men. We are men. We are men..."

I'd be willing to bet that before "Tinku" the men don't shave.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

If an author retrofits a story in the woods and nobody reads it, did he still ruin it?

I've been thinking about it, and I'm convinced that good stories need to be protected from successful authors.

I was recently re-re-re-re-re-rereading Stephen King's The Gunslinger - well, to be fair, I was listening to it on audiobook - and it just kills me the way he went back in 2003 and pulled a George Lucas retrofit to make it match up with the later books in the series. Sadly, after thirty years, King had completely lost the feel for what he'd originally written, and - as Lucas did with Star Wars - smeared copious portions of steaming poo all over what was easily his best work.

To top it all off, the lesser novel had to be re-recorded for the audio market. George Guidall - who did the reading - is a great reader, and his versions of the final three Dark Tower books are the best I could hope for, all things considered; but the man just isn't Frank Muller. Muller's version of The Gunslinger is easily my favorite audiobook of all time, and now Muller is dead and it is lost to me. I can't find it on CD, and I don't own a working cassette player. I don't even know where to find a working cassette player! Every time I hear the words, "Read by George Guidall" at the beginning of that recording, I want to cry.

Why do authors do this? Why can they not just sit back and let a work stand? Sure, maybe it's not everything they thought it could be; sure, it may be inconsistent with later versions of the mythology; sure, you may have the publishing juice to do whatever the hell you want to, but just because something can be done doesn't mean it should be done! I'm a writer. I understand the relentless desire to make a work perfect, but there needs to come a point at which you say, "I'm not going to let myself change this anymore. It would be meddling on my part to do so."

I don't even know why I'm writing this. I might as well go protest on Wall Street, for all the good this will do. Someone once said there is nothing more dangerous than an executive with delusions of creativity. Maybe. Or maybe the only thing more dangerous is a creative person with delusions of executive ability.

Friday, September 30, 2011

No Choice But To Get Backup And Try Again

Yahoo hates my story.

I've been working on a short story, titled Israel and His Father, for months now, e-mailing the latest progress to myself and backing it up in a dedicated folder.

As a rabid pack-rat, I keep every single version of a story that I've ever written - even after determining it to be crap and doing extensive rewrites - on the off chance that one day I may wish to go back and retrace the evolution of a story from genesis to completion. Am I deluding myself that I will actually do this? Of course, but that's not the point. The point is, Yahoo is deleting my drafts!!!

I checked the folder today, and all but the first two versions of Israel and His Father that I sent to myself have magically disappeared. What other explanation can there be than that Yahoo is reading the story as I send it, determining it not worth preserving, and deleting it? I'm crestfallen. I really thought the story was pretty good.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The more things change...

As I circled my children's school, hunting for potential predators ("taking a walk" my wife calls it), I saw a broken and discarded broom handle lying in the grass where, the previous day, there had been a whole and discarded broom handle. I thought to myself, "That really says it all, doesn't it?" Not only did no one (myself included) have the courtesy to pick up the discarded broom handle and throw it away, but the only thing anyone could motivate themselves to do when confronted with the presence of an old broom handle was to break it in half and leave it there for someone else to clean up. It's an object lesson on the state of America.

Then I began to question myself.

"Is that really what you believe?" I said. "Or are you just whining like everyone who's ever thought things were better in the old days?"

"Yes, I believe it!" I answered indignantly. "This country's going to hell in a handbasket!"

"Don't expect me to be placated by platitudes!" I responded with equal indignation. "What proof do you have that things were ever really better than they are right now?"

"I've seen old photos and I've read old newspapers," I said in my own defense. "And what about all the old movies and newsreels? I once watched a collection of vintage newsreels, and they were nothing like they are nowadays!"

"Think about it," I told myself. "What does that really prove?"

So I thought about it, and I realized that it proves nothing. All it proves is that the people keeping records back then wanted to emphasize the positive. It doesn't mean people were really different in any fundamental way. It just means that the people in charge were interested in promoting different things. What if things haven't changed at all? What if all that's changed is our focus?

If the goal of leaders has always been to control the masses (a safe bet, I think most people can agree), then what would have placated those masses back in the thirties and forties? Perhaps the idea that everything was going to work out; that government was on your side; that big businesses were driving the nation forward to a better tomorrow; that everything was going to be all right.

Now, bring into play the social upheaval of the sixties; the public exposure of the government's abuse of the public trust; the realization that maybe everything wouldn't be all right. Once people have been disillusioned to the point of cynicism, how do you control them?


Fear of loss. Fear of poverty. Fear of abuse. Fear of crime. Fear of death. Fear of each other. Ultimately, when people are afraid they feel powerless. Who benefits from a powerless populace? The powerful.

So maybe, at a fundamental level, nothing has changed. Maybe back in 1942, someone seeing something cheap and easy to come by on the side of the road (perhaps, in the era before Wal Mart, broom handles weren't as easy to come by) would have either walked right by without raising an eyebrow, or would have broken it in half and left it there for someone else to clean up. Maybe all that's really changed is that now someone will record him doing it on their cell phone and it'll show up on YouTube with the headline, "What Is America Coming To?!?"

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Take A Drive On The Wild Side

I've discovered the perfect old-truck music. Let me explain.

I own an early seventies Chevy truck that I affectionately refer to as my "American Machine" (a title it shares with an as-yet unpublished story of mine). I love it for several reasons, not the least of which is that I can actually comprehend what I'm looking at when I open the hood. My favorite thing about it, though, is the tape deck.

I don't have any tapes, but that's not the point. It's got a 1/8" line in for a portable CD player (a clear indicator of when it was the previous owner decided to upgrade the factory stereo) which I love, because it means I can plug my iPod into it and listen to all my favorite music while I'm driving my favorite vehicle. Sounds great, don't it? Sadly, it's not quite the four-wheeled utopia it might appear to be at first glance. The fact is, most music sounds like a cold poo when I play it on that system.

There's only one speaker in my truck. Well, one working speaker, that is. It's mounted inside my glove box and points straight down into the footwell. It has a bass range so inaudible as to be nonexistent, and it's the right speaker, so any instrument panned to the left is automatically lost. Further, all the buttons on my "stereo" (ha-ha) have been worn smooth with use, so I have no idea what they do. All of these factors working together have conspired to ruin most of my favorite music. The main guitar line in The Stooges' Gimmie Danger is nowhere to be heard. Half the rhythm section in Tom Waits's Clap Hands is inaudible. But fear not! All is not lost my friends! As I said at the beginning of this little brain-puke vignette, I have found the perfect musical solution to my auditory dilemma:

Lou Reed.

Lou Reed is perfect old-truck music.

Obviously, I didn't just discover Lou Reed. The discovery was that all of his songs sound great on my system. I don't know if that's because Lou connects me on a spiritual level to the seventies, thereby connecting me more with my truck, or if it's because Lou's voice just sounds better in low-fi; but whether it's the pre-Giuliani New York sax over the pre-Cobain three chord repetition of Billy; the brass blasts of Sally Can't Dance; or the colored girls going "Do, Do-Do, Do-Do, Do-Do-Do"; nothing else sounds as good coming out of that one downturned, broken stereo, no-bass speaker as Lou does.

The best part, though, is the way I feel when Lou's reptile voice is slithering out of that speaker and the wind is blowing across my back, the way it does when I have both windows down. In those moments, with the sun flashing in at me through the outstretched branches of late-summer trees, and Lou singing "Ride Sally, ride," in that atonal way that should sound like crap, but somehow manages to sound like truth - in those moments, everything just feels right. I feel like I'm just where I'm supposed to be, doing just what I'm supposed to do. Being unpublished doesn't matter. Being in debt up to my eyeballs doesn't matter. Being tired and irritable and on my way to work, knowing full-well that I'll have a raging backache by the end of my shift doesn't matter. In those moments, everything's cool. Even me.

Thanks Lou.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Private Dick Is Hard Not To Poke Fun At

As I write this, there is a private investigator in my yard. Why anyone would want to investigate privates is beyond me, but it probably has something to do with that joke being so old it's petrified.

I can't go into the details of his investigation without exposing my knowledge of a recent string of alphabet-related murders in the area and painting a big target on my back, so don't even ask.

Seriously though, before he showed up my sister and I were betting on what he would look like. My money was on a stodgy old ex-cop type with a mustache, a cheap suit, a porkpie hat, and a stogie in the corner of his mouth. Needless to say, I lost to my sister when he showed up in sequins and a codpiece. Foiled again!!!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Blogging Milestone or: The First Time I Blogged All Over Myself

Well, I did it. Against my better judgment, I started a blog.

It's such an ugly word. Blog. Sounds like a disgusting bodily function, as in, "I was at a party and some drunk chick blogged all over my favorite shirt." Actually, it might be the perfect word.

blog (blog) n. brain vomit.

So enjoy! Enjoy my brain vomit! It's guaranteed delicious and nutritious (or, at very least, vicious and malicious)! You're sure to gobble it up and ask for more! Yummmm!