Archive for Bullshit

Why I Miss Complete Games

By | October 30, 2014 | 2 Comments
Weak.

Weak.

WARNING: This post is about baseball.

All right, baseball. It’s the one sport I ever paid attention to, the one sport I ever tried to play (and failed disastrously at), and the one sport I still occasionally watch. My interest in baseball has waned a bit over the years, thanks to drug scandals and simply finding other things to occupy my time, but I still have some affection for the sport, and still like to scan the boxscores and watch the World Series. The reason for my lingering interest: Stats.

Stats are why so many of us soft white men of a certain age (SWMCAs) love baseball: It’s a slow-paced game you can keep up with, yes, but it’s true joys are statistics: Mounds of them. So many and so well defined that math-based card games have been created around it. I love the statistics of baseball. And one reason I love them so much is because they span the ages: You might argue whether pitchers in 1930 threw harder or softer or had more or less action on their breaking balls, but home runs are home runs, and statistics allow me to view baseball through a comprehensible lens of data.

Now, we’ve suffered some changes in baseball. I was too young to care about the designated hitter, and baseball’s been more or less the same through most of my life. And I’m not one to mourn natural evolutions in the game, either – times change. Strategies change. The way the game is played changes. That’s fine.

And yet, I miss complete games.

A complete game, in case you’re uninterested and unfamiliar with baseball and yet are still reading this, perhaps because you simply love everything I write, no matter the subject, is when a the pitcher who starts the game (that is, throws the first pitch) also finishes the game. It is usually, but not always, the winning pitcher who completes a game.

Even back in The Day, not every game got completed, and relievers have played an increasing role in modern baseball as managers figured out that it’s better to bring in some rested fireballer in the 8th inning than let their exhausted started squirt out a few beach balls for the batter to smack into the stands. It all makes sense, but I miss complete games. When I was a kid, starting pitchers still completed about 40% of all games. It wasn’t crazy for a starting pitcher to complete 20 games in a year.

Today? It’s not unusual for a starting pitcher to have zero complete games. Entire teams have less than 10 between all the starters.

Again, it makes sense. I don’t deny that. But I like complete games, for a simple reason: Baseball, for me, has always been about individual achievement. I like stats because it shows me what this particular player did. A starting pitcher with a lot of complete games is a great pitcher, because they controlled the whole game and came out a winner. Without that stat, everything else feels soft: Low ERAs? They didn’t have to battle through the ninth with a dead arm. High strikeout-to-innings pitched ratios? They had a lot more rest and threw a lot fewer innings. Without complete games, the rest feels cheaper.

On the other hand, thank goodness there are no statistics for authors to be judged against! Like book sales … or lack thereof. Excuse me. I have something in my eye.

Categories: Bullshit

Why I’ll Never Be an Actor

By | October 27, 2014 | 3 Comments
A face for radio!

A face for radio!

So, the other day I was recorded reading a brief excerpt of We Are Not Good People for The Author’s Corner, a public radio program. When I was initially approached for this, I was excited, of course, and also pretty confident. I’ve done a fair share of readings, after all, and I think I have a good sense of what works in a reading and how to read my own work so it’s a little entertaining. I’m fairly confident in my voice; while I don’t think it’s some sort of Saruman-like instrument, people don’t run screaming when I start to read some fiction. Or, more commonly, when I stand up in a tavern and begin to recite The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock from memory, as I am wont to do.

As usual, life noticed me being cocky and confident, and decided that Somers boy needs to be taught a lesson.

First, the first twelve or so excerpts from the book I submitted were rejected. We only had about a minute to work with, so the excerpt had to do a lot of work: Be entertaining, be coherent, have an arc and a point, not be too gory or profanity-laden (that last one, from a book written by me and involving blood magic, was a doozy). Finding the ideal piece to read was a struggle, and just when I thought we’d failed, I hit on the perfect excerpt: The very beginning of the book.

Triumph! We were both happy with that choice. So I sailed into the offices of my redoubtable lit agent and met the producer of the show. He unpacked his equipment and created a mini-studio in an unused office, and we started working on a very brief introduction. This was harder than expected, too, but we finally nailed it down and I commenced reading. And discovered I could never be an actor.

Which I guess I knew.

Take after take, the producer gave notes. Good notes, really. Smart notes. And while I always considered myself at least modestly facile with performance — see my leading man-caliber performances as part of Two Men Have Words, for instance — even I knew that I wasn’t really nailing it. I knew what I wanted to do, how I wanted it to sound, and yet when I read it I would lose the thread of what I was hearing in my head and it would be … not so good.

Actors, I imagine, have to go through something like that. Being told their performance was just not … quite right, do it again. And then that the version they gave five minutes ago was 98% right, but this most recent one was only 60%. And then you finally nail one bit that was problematic, and feel great, only to hear that there are 15 more things to tweak. It’s exhausting. It didn’t exactly make me think that actors deserve the tens of millions of dollars they get for their films, but it drifted me a little closer to that conclusion.

In the end, I got it right. For about eighty total seconds of audio we worked for an hour and a half. It’s probably the longest I’ve gone without a drink in years.

Wednesday is Guitar Day

By | October 22, 2014 | 0 Comments

Epiphone Les Paul CustomI sometimes ponder how history will remember my musical compositions, often coming up with the disturbing-on-many-levels conclusion that the answer is “better than your fiction.”

Harrumph.

Here, songs:

Song663
Song664
Song665
Song667
Song668
Song670
Song671

You’re welcome.

The usual disclaimer: 1. I admit these are not great music; 2. I claim copyright anyway, so there; 3. No, I cannot do anything about the general quality of the mix, as I am incompetent.

Categories: Bullshit

Poorly Scheduled Film Analysis: TED

By | September 29, 2014 | 0 Comments
Ted Actually Happened

Ted Actually Happened

So, this essay is going to be about the film Ted, directed by Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy fame and co-written by him as well, starring Marky Mark and Mila Kunis. You may have seen it two years ago when this essay might have had some cultural relevance.

Anyhoo, I was thinking about this movie again for reasons impossible to explain. It’s not a terrible movie. Like all of MacFarlane’s work, it has flashes of quick wit and even brilliance muddied up with poop jokes and a frenetic over-reliance on the flashback. Still, all in all I enjoyed it. Except something has always bugged me about Ted. Something’s always been a bit off. Can you put your finger on it?

The titular Ted in this movie is an enchanted teddy bear who magically comes to life. But he completely, totally, absolutely does not need to be.

The Courage of Your (Writing) Convictions

Let’s consider this. No, seriously, let’s. There is absolutely no story reason that Ted has to be a magical teddy bear. None. Let’s play a thought experiment: Imagine watching this movie, and Ted is replaced by a CGI Benny Hill. Everything except some minor dialog would be exactly the same: Marky Mark and Ted become friends as children, Ted has some brief fame (for a reason other than being a magical teddy bear, of course – stay with me here), and Marky Mark’s girlfriend is fed up with their immaturity and lack of focus.

Every single plot point and scene still works with Benny Hill instead of a teddy bear. Every. Single. Plot point. Even the kidnapping at the end makes sense if we assume that Giovanni Ribisi’s character is just insane. Which, since he’s being played by the always-disturbing Giovanni Ribisi, we assume he is. Heck, even the one liners and jokes generally wouldn’t have to change, or not change much.

So why is Ted a teddy bear? Why bother when the movie’s really a buddy film about two friends finally taking the plunge into independent adulthood? I can only speculate, but I think he maybe didn’t trust his material.

I’ve done that: Dressed up a story as something else because I didn’t think I had anything funny or exciting to say. Turned a detective story into a SF story, a love story into a horror story, all because I thought I needed a lot of scares and flashing lights to keep people’s attention. I can’t say that Seth MacFarlane did that. Maybe he had a meeting with your typical Hollywood Producer:

MacFarlane: I have this idea for a coming-of-age comedy starring Marky Mark.

Producer: I am so stoned right now you appear to be a magical talking teddy bear.

MacFarlane: Okay … uh, it’s really warm and witty with my trademark –

Producer: This briefcase is filled with cocaine and cash. You can have it all if you make a movie about a talking toy bear. Otherwise I will dedicate my life to destroying you professionally.

MacFarlane: … SOLD!

You know it’s possible. In fact, I am now 100% certain this is exactly how Ted – and several other recent Hollywood films – came to be. My only question is, why won’t someone with a suitcase filled with cocaine and cash show up and force me to make films from my books?

Brooklyn Book Festival

By | September 25, 2014 | 1 Comments
October 7, 2014

October 7, 2014

When people live in New Jersey, the borough of Brooklyn is viewed with much anxiety and excitement, because it’s relatively unexplored by we Jerseyans. Myths and legends abound, but there’s is precious little actual information. We hear tales of men with outrageous facial hair and people amassing small fortunes via Air BnB, but when you go there it’s pretty much just like every other urban area. When I was given the opportunity to spend an hour signing We Are Not Good People at the Mystery Writers of America‘s table at the Brooklyn Book Festival recently, I agreed because so far wishing very hard hasn’t resulted in anyone paying attention to my book, and because I am always looking for ways to defy the various restraining orders that bookstores have on me.

It was a sultry day. So sultry I almost swooned several times, and had to be resuscitated by my friends Ken West and Sean Ferrell, who showed up demanding I pay them monies I owed them, then stuck around on orders from The Duchess, who feared I would slip away without supervision to the nearest bar.

Ken offers me a quarter for my book while Sean laughs uproariously, delighted at my humiliation.

Ken offers me a quarter for my book while Sean laughs uproariously, delighted at my humiliation.

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It’s a Neighbor Affair

By | September 18, 2014 | 2 Comments
Hi, we just opened a Clown College next door.

Hi, we just opened a Clown College next door.

Ah, other people. You mysterious, dreadful beings. From afar, I can appreciate your beauty and the exotic ways of your mating rituals and territorial pissings. Up close, I usually at least have the sensation of an open doorway behind me so I can make a fast getaway by shouting “Look!” and just running really fast.

But then, sometimes, you live next door to me.

Now, to be clear, almost all of my neighbors in my life have been good people. Polite, respectful, and if a little strange around the edges well I’m sure some misguided folks think the same about me, even though I am kept in a lab in Switzerland next to the International Prototype Kilogram as the Standard Person. But just because my neighbors have by and large been totally fine to live near doesn’t mean I don’t watch them carefully at all times, looking for signs of Weird.

Because it’s there.

Now, I’ve always had a healthy distrust of other people, a distrust that grows stronger the nearer they are to me and sprouts into full-blown paranoia when they’re within my Sphere of Influence, so to speak, but since I started working from home a few years ago I’ve had the opportunity to just sit here and sip whiskey … uh, I mean, work really hard in case my wife is reading this … and observe my neighborhood at my leisure. I’ve seen fights break out over parking spaces. I’ve seen people having sex with the windows open. I’ve seen one neighbor mysteriously deliver a gallon of milk to another once or twice a month. I’ve witnessed public lovers’ quarrels and I’ve overheard entire conversations about home renovations.

Once, a group of neighbors gathered under my window and sang songs to me in soft, angelic voices, but to be honest I was halfway through a bottle of Scotch that turned out, upon closer examination the next day, to be a bottle of really old cough syrup that had turned from ruby red to brown, so that one might have been imagined.

I’ve become a sort of Groundhog Day Godling of my block. I know all and see all. I know when you’re having work done, and I know when you shop for groceries. Also what you consider the word groceries to be, which is often a surprising and not very comforting grouping of innovations. I know when you leave in the morning (unless its super early, in which case I assume there is a insomniac godling doing my job at night, glowing softly, like the moon) and I know when you get home at night.

Come to think of it, maybe I’m the weird neighbor in this scenario.

If so, it’s not on purpose. My desk just happens to be next to a window.

Naturally, all of these observations will end up in books and stories under changed names and sometimes genders and ethnicities, usually long after I’ve completely forgotten the original moments I witnessed. My memory is a feeble thing, and everything I’ve seen recently will swirl into an imprecise haze, allowing me to take your humiliations and churn them into stories. It’s what I do.

Categories: Bullshit, Writing

Going Carless

By | September 15, 2014 | 3 Comments

518487_89017606Growing up, I had what I imagine was a fairly typical Western middle-class relationship with the automobile: Indifference at first, followed by an adolescent lust. When I purchased my first car – a 1978 Chevy Nova for $1 – it was an amazing moment: The whole world was open to me. A year or two later I took that beater cross-country, and it suffered catastrophic problems in the Black Hills and I barely limped home.

After that, I experienced the phenomenon of Car Envy; I was carless, and I would walk the streets and study everyone else’s cars and wish I could afford to buy a new one. Or knew how to steal one. Cars filled my thoughts. I felt trapped and constrained.

I did eventually buy another car (not as cool as Laverne, the Nova, who had style) and later got rid of it when I merged everything with The Duchess. Then Hurricane Sandy hit, and our car got flooded and towed away …  and we simply never replaced it.

We live in a walkable town, with plenty of public transportation and access to New York City, so we’re kind of ideally positioned to not have a car. There are plenty of places in the world where not having a car would be impossible. And our circumstances could change at any moment and require us to buy a car, since the world today is designed for car travel. So this isn’t a statement about how awful cars are and how everyone should go carless.

That said, it’s been pretty nice. No parking woes. No insurance and maintenance costs. Any time we’ve rented a car to go somewhere, there is a fifteen-second period of “Wow, driving is hella fun!” followed by sitting at a stop sign for ten minutes and then crawling another four blocks followed by inching our way along an access ramp followed by oh holy hell someone shoot me in the head. In other words, every time we rent a car it reminds us how awful driving in this area really is.

What’s really interesting are the disbelieving reactions we get. Even people who live in this town and know what it’s like always give us what scientists call The Fisheye when we tell them we not only don’t own a car, we have no desire or plans to purchase a new one. It’s like we just announced we’re communists and that we’re keeping our cats not as pets but as a food source. Granted, it’s a bit unusual to not have a car these days, but the awkwardness the revelation inspires is a little off-putting.

Then again, I sit at my office window in the early evenings and watch people literally fight over parking spaces, and I feel this smug sense of peace settle over me. Plus there’s the fact that when I irritate and irritate my neighbors with my pantsless antics, they can’t slash my tires.

Categories: Bullshit

Reading Outside Your Comfort Zone

By | September 8, 2014 | 6 Comments
Damn You Book Meddlers!

Damn You Book Meddlers!

Friends, we all need a Literary Meddler in our lives. The Literary Meddler is that person who foists unwanted books on us and demands we read them, and is unperturbed when you hate 90% of the books they force you to read.

Of course, I’m kind of disagreeable: A smug know-it-all who deprecates anything he didn’t discover himself. You know the type. If I wasn’t so devastatingly handsome and effortlessly charming, I’d be kind of an asshole. This is why having a Literary Meddler has been so important to me.

Early on, my Literary Meddler, as with many folks, was school: School was constantly popping up at unwanted moments, dancing around my knees like an over-excited puppy, and demanding to know if I’d read those books yet. Had I? Had I? Had I? What did I think? What about that one part, huh? And then when I finally did read them and wrote up a paper on it School was a dick and gave me a B- on it and then handed me a pile of new books to read, many of which I would never have read in a million years on my own.

Today, my Literary Meddler is my wife, The Duchess, who gets incredibly excited about books I would walk right past in the book store and then hectors me to read them incessantly until I do and then is very sadfaced and irritated when I (usually) don’t like them nearly as much as she does.We’ve even had real-life, bitter fights when I didn’t like a character she loved. But the effect is the same: I am forced to read outside my comfort zone, and this is generally a very good thing. Because I have a disease that’s very common in my family (it might be genetic) which causes me to become increasingly cynical and convinced that something is crap the more popular it gets. This is one reason The Duchess and I fight: She assumes I am pre-disposed to dislike things, and when I dislike things it means I never gave them a chance.

Which, to be fair, is often true.

As a writer, this also means I am exposed to a lot of tricks and deceptions I’m not aware of, or have never thought in using in certain ways. Having a Literary Meddler is an essential part of an ongoing education. While their constant insistence that you read things often results in horrifying journeys into fictional worlds you’d rather not visit followed by vicious arguments over whether or not you’re a closed-off poopyhead who wouldn’t know a great story if it hit them on the head much the same way your wife is hitting you in the head with a sock full of quarters right now, it also sometimes broadens your world just a tiny bit.

The take-away? If you don’t have a Literary Meddler, get one. Even if it has to be that weird guy on the subway who always smells like Salmon and is always trying to hand you a handwritten novel in a box.

ESSENTIAL WRITER TOOLS PART ONE: CATS

By | August 25, 2014 | 2 Comments

This essay originally appeared in The Inner Swine Volume 15, Issue 3/4, Summer 2009.

See? Pithy.

See? Pithy.

ONE OF THE greatest things about being a writer is the ability to engage in all sorts of eccentric and bizarre behavior and have it laughingly accepted by society because you’re an artist, an artist traditionally known as either a drunk or a madman. Being a writer is more or less like being publicly diagnosed with Weirdo Disease and from that point on everyone’s willing to believe anything about you:

POLICE: Sir, you’re not wearing any pants.
ME: Is OK. Me writer.
POLICE: Ah. Published anything I’da heard of?

This is of course partly due to the plethora of examples from history showing writers to, in fact, be either drunks or madmen, often both. As a writer, you’re free to do all sorts of odd things and have people just shrug their shoulders, accepting you for who you are. This is because as a writer you’ve already made the choice to earn something akin to what a third-world cobbler for Nike might expect to earn over their lifetime, and are thus excused from society’s normal requirements. Let your beard grow wild and free? Why not, you’re going to be living on Top Ramen for the rest of your life. Wear suspenders and a belt? Vote Libertarian? Spend your life murdering every living thing you’re allowed legally to murder?

The world shrugs, as you’ve already made the insane decision to write for a living.

So, while wallowing in the pants-free and deoderant-optional lifestyle of the working author, I can understand why, despite the obvious social and financial drawbacks of such a lifestyle, so many folks aspire to be professional writers. After all, financial security and respect within your community are overrated, especially when compared to the ability to wake up at four in the afternoon, immediately begin drinking, and call it ‘research’.

So I’ve decided to help anyone who wants to be a writer by outlining some of the main tools you too can use to establish yourself, since ‘writing’ these days is more of a lifestyle choice than a profession, based on the fact that for something to be a profession you have to actually earn money at it. There are many things a writer must have in order to prosecute their art and look writerly while doing it, but I thought we’d start with the most basic, the most fundamental, the single thing that tells the world that not only are you a writer, but you’re a serious writer: A cat.

Or cats, plural; the more the merrier.

####

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Categories: Bullshit, Writing

The Inner Swine Guide to Ignorance Episode 8

By | August 18, 2014 | 0 Comments

(This originally appeared in Brutarian Quarterly #54; for a while I wrote a column there about ignorance in general and my ignorance in specific. It was a lot of fun and I figure I’ll post them here now and again.)

BROMANCE IS REAL

BROMANCE IS REAL

Episode Eight: Ignorance for the Win!

My wife teaches me things every day, alleviating the huge welter of my ignorance little by little. Admittedly, most of this education concerns my many, many failings, but hell, ignorance of something is ignorance, and through her violent and painful lessons I emerge a smarter—and slightly anemic—man.

Sometimes, though, these lessons are a little more general, if no less painful. Like, for example, the following recent example:

ME: Wha? Where am I?
THE DUCHESS: On the couch. Watching TV.
ME: Wha? What is. . .what is that?
THE DUCHESS: This is a television show called Bromance.
ME: . . .I wish now I could have remained ignorant of this show.
THE DUCHESS: Too late! HEY! Keep those eyes open or I break out the clamps.
ME: Yes’m.

Bromance was a show on MTV starring Brody Jenner, son of former Olympic star and current plastic surgery victim Bruce Jenner. The show was all about Brody trying to choose a new best friend. The reasons why he needs a new best friend and why we’re imagined to care are difficult to explain if you aren’t forced to watch this sort of terrible, terrible TV show in the first place, but, sadly, I now know all about Mr. Jenner and his awful show. I am, sadly, no longer ignorant about Bromance. Pray for me.

Of course, you never know—this unwanted knowledge of Bromance might come in handy. Bizarre and impossible as it might sound at first blush, you have to remember the fact that none of us know what’s coming—there are no spoilers in life. So who can say that Bromance might not someday save my life? No one can say, that’s who. As far as any of you can prove, knowledge of Bromance could certainly save my life someday.

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