A Crass Piece of Self-Promotion


I write the following crass piece of self-promotion in protest, as it was never my goal to establish a relationship with the reader. My goal was to allow these pieces to have an independent relationship with the reader, but you’re not bonding them in the manner I had hoped. As a result, I’m now forced to expose myself to you and let you see every nook and cranny of the process.

Anyone that knows an artist knows that the worst question to ask them is any question that references their process. If you value your time, and your just being polite, there are about a million other questions that will fulfill the need some have for polite, friendly conversations. Those that have unwittingly entered such a conversation know that at some point it’s better to just get up and walk away. Artists of all venues, love to talk about the process. I am no different. Having been on the other end of such a discussion, I know how tedious it can be, but you’re not reading these pieces, so I have nothing to lose by doing this.

"Birth of a New Man" Salvador Dali

“Birth of a New Man” Salvador Dali

Some of the pieces on this list will appear pleasing at first glance, but there will be others, and I may be forced to grab your head and train your attention into areas that are not as pleasant. This will be as unpleasant for me as it will be for you, trust me, but keep in mind that if you had just read these pieces when I told you to, I wouldn’t be forced to do to you what I’m about to do.

Everyone loves a piece about something familiar, but most of the subjects that intrigue me do not involve headlines. Of those few eye-catching subjects I’ve covered, I’ve often found an angle of interest that is less than traditional. I also chose to dissect these subjects in a critical manner, as opposed to those slavish, love pieces that do little more than ingratiate the reader to the subject. I prefer to analyze the other side of what drives people to try and accomplish something in their field, what their niche was, and how (or why) they chose to follow that vision to its end? A critical view attempts to analyze a subject from a more objective (some may say negative) manner that scrutinizes a subject in a more comprehensive manner.

The other pieces focus on less attractive characteristics. They are the result of people talking. Most of us talk so much about ourselves so often that those in our inner orb have grown disinterested. When we run across a person that will listen, and listens in an active manner, we become excited. We find ourselves saying things we wouldn’t say in the comfort of our bedroom. Our spouses may cringe when we say such things, but we’ve had thoughts bottled up for so long, and we’ve never had a person this interested before, and we can’t disappoint them. That would be a disappointment.

The talker may not know it, but the creative writer is carving them up, removing the extraneous fat of their testimonial, deleting the painstaking details involved in the talker proving a point, deleting their tired repetition, and even deleting the talker. The latter may come as a complete surprise, for as embarrassing as some of those details were, they were the talker’s details, and the talker didn’t expect to be deleted. They thought it was all about them. The talker has no problem laughing at themselves, of course, but to see a moment of crisis turned into a dance-able number is just beyond the pale.

I am Glad I Came Back, George Grosz. 1943

I am Glad I Came Back, George Grosz. 1943

The difficulty involved in selling these pieces to the masses arrived soon after the joy of completion. The joy I had immersing myself in each character that proved to be so different than the ones I wrote about prior, was a near-spiritual experience for me. The bizarre experiences I’ve had with the subjects covered in these pieces have been so unique, and in some cases so profound, that I couldn’t believe these subjects had never been covered before. The problem arrived soon after I realized that those fascinating and unique qualities would also prove to be their detriment when an attempt to tie them up in a tight, cohesive narrative was made. I realized that most of these pieces are what amounts to self-embodied dissertations.

So, enjoy these pieces for the glimpses into one man’s worldview, as I apparently am not going to make a thin dime off them. Also, remember, as you read through this crass piece of self-promotion that I never wanted to do this. You forced it upon me with your stubborn refusal to read them. This list of what I believe are my best posts is on you!

27) The Conspiracy of Game 6, 2002  I, like all fans of sport, have a love/hate relationship with sports. I have been known to jump around the room a time or two, and this is considered fine for those that haven’t reached maturity. A grown man should never swear at a television set –particularly when watching athletes that are young enough to be his children– and a grown man makes a durned fool at himself in a bar when he draws attention with such antics. I wish I could stop, but some part of me feels compelled to let the world know that I am not happy. I’ve been frustrated a time or two … thousand with sports officiating. When the officials seem biased, and they often do to avid sports fans, there is a feeling of hopelessness. What can a fan do?  They’re a fan. No one cares what they think.

For the purpose of greater mental health, I’ve managed to work most poorly officiated games out of my head, but there are a few that I may never shake. This decade old playoff game, between the Lakers and the Kings, is the number one (non-Cornhusker) game on that list, and I’m not even a Kings’ fan.

26) Anti-Anti-Consumer Art After walking through various art galleries in NYC and Connecticut, it dawned on me that just about every piece I encountered there was based on an anti-consumer theme. I thought of a cure. How about we find a true rebel? How about we find one artist, somewhere, that is willing to fight back against the current status quo of rebels fighting back against the status quo? How about we find one artist that is willing to create an anti-anti-consumer piece of art?

25) The Groundhogs, Led Zeppelin, and Our Existential Existence Led Zeppelin is my favorite artist of all time. How did I select Led Zeppelin to be my favorite artist when I was young? Why do I continue to believe that they are the greatest band of all time? Is their music that much better than every other artist’s that ever existed, or does my decision to continue to love them have something to do with the reason I selected them as my favorite artist, in the first place, when I was a teenager?

In the high school I attended, a Led Zeppelin fan was deemed to be cooler than cool. UB40 fans, Elvis Costello fans, Genesis fans, B-52 fans, R.E.M. fans, and Metallica fans all had their arguments, but the mere mention of the ‘L’ to the ‘Z’ shut down most debate. Some of their arguments consisted of a theme built around the quotes: “I don’t see what the big deal is” or “They’re just human beings for God’s sakes, why is everyone going ape stuff over them?” Their arguments operated from the premise that Zeppelin were the greatest band of all time, but they suggested that that was not set in stone, and that the only thing they could do was chip away at it.

The Led Zeppelin defender would say that it was, is and forever shall be about the music. They would say that there was something magical about what the band did from their first album Led Zeppelin to Houses of the Holy. Those six albums spawned near-spiritual devotion among the kids that I knew.

Here’s the point. Once a kid, often between the ages of fifteen and eighteen, selects their favorite band, that band is often the favorite band for that person, for the rest of their life. The formula I used for selecting my favorite band was A) they need to be hard rock, B) they need to have decent lyrics, and C) as much as I would’ve hated to admit this, they have to pass peer reviewed studies.

A part of me still believes that it’s all about the music with Led Zeppelin, but the question I have now is could I have developed a near-spiritual devotion for Genesis, if Genesis was considered, by my peers, to have such a vaunted, spooky, drug-riddled, iconography? What if Genesis, not Led Zeppelin, had been rumored to have sold their souls to the devil? What if we found out that Phil Collins lived in the mansion of renown Satan worshipper Aleister Crowley? What if word leaked that Collins had almost died, a number of times, as a result of heroin overdoses?

We’re now adults, and we continue to listen to Led Zeppelin. Some elements of nostalgia may come into play when we listen to them now, but some of us believe that our decision to continue to listen to the band is now based on a more informed, more adult basis. We no longer strive for the approval of our peers, as much as we did as teens, and we no longer listen to those artists that “it’s okay to like”. If that’s true, and this article disputes that, what if Genesis had been the band it was deemed “okay to like” in our youth? What if they were deemed cooler than cool, and we have been listening to Genesis for the past couple of decades?

The problem for Genesis in that era was, first and foremost, based on their music. They played music our parents enjoyed. They were poppy and cute. They were not hard rock, and their lyrics (for the most part) were kind of dumb. The second most prominent problem for them, and I point this out to elucidate the point of Led Zeppelin, was that they were every where during the years I spent in high school. They were on an endless loop on the radio stations in our big town, and they were on MTV almost as often. Zeppelin hadn’t come out with a truly great album in over ten years, by the time I hit high school, so their iconography was largely steeped in mystery.

Genesis didn’t wear leather jackets, and they didn’t snarl in their promo shots. In some promo shots they even smiled. They were happy. They probably even said, “Cheese!” to the cameraman. Smiles like that suggested that they were not troubled, or angry, and they even appeared happy to be alive. No one I knew, would’ve dared to build their reputation around a group of people that were happy. Add to that, the unfortunate fact that lead singer Phil Collins suffered from premature baldness that made him look like my dad, and Genesis was left with an iconography that no teenage boy, I knew, wanted anything to do with. The words “You’re a Genesis fan!” were not fighting words, but it was close.

The question that is asked in this piece is, do we still listen to the bands we did in high school? We may have branched out a bit, but have our core bands, or musicians, changed that much? Most of us remain trapped in the musical preferences we had in an era where we most enjoyed life. So, the question is, did we make an informed decision in our youth, regarding our favorite musician(s), or was that decision based on a primal need to belong to a peer group? Do we continue to enjoy the music based on our idea of what it means to be hip and young, and do we continue to enjoy the music we’ve been listening to decades to keep that myth alive? To elucidate this point, there are some that believe, at this point in 2016, that they maintain a feel for youth by continuing to listen to The Mommas and the Poppas. Were those decisions we made in youth all about the music, or did it have something to do with the iconography of a Led Zeppelin, the coke-snorting, oversexed Aerosmith, or the classic, naughty boy image of the Rolling Stones? Whatever the case was, a person had to be careful how they answered the question, “Who is your favorite band?”

Some artists were deemed “okay to like”, while others were deemed conventional sellouts trying to sell records, so they could be happy. The inclusive magazines later declared things like “Nirvana is the Guns N’ Roses it’s okay to like.” I know we’re not supposed to stick our middle finger up at magazine writers, because they’re hip, and they’re supposed to be the good guys that are only looking out for us, but I’m not going have anyone dictate taste to me based on some proselytizing of their agenda. Except we have had our tastes dictated to us by magazines, the culture, and the cool kids in class, and it’s based on our primal need for group acceptance that dates back to the cavemen knowing that when the mammoth, or the saber tooth tiger came to attack, our chances of survival increased in groups. Furthermore, while our artistic preferences do change somewhat with age, the reasons behind these choices are not as individualistic, and they do not grow more nuanced with age. As some have said, we never leave high school. The question this piece asks is, do you still enjoy the music of Led Zeppelin, and if so why?

24) Know Thyself is one of those pieces that may have been more fascinating to write than it is to read. It involves the idea of losing one’s identity in the fictional characters in books, TV shows, and movies. This piece begins with what I believe to be the counterargument to knowing more about one’s self. “I know myself,” one might say. “I know myself better than anyone else. It’s the rest of the world that confuses me.” I also add the idea that self-knowledge might be considered a useless, self-serving pursuit exclusive to pointy-headed intellectuals with too much time on their hands.

Knowledge of self, as the author defines it, involves reflection, a true accounting of successes and failures, and an honest attempt to rectify the past by learning from mistakes.

As we progress to that “Who you are when no one is looking” definition of character, we supplement the deficiencies in our character with identifiable and glamorous traits that we’ve picked up along the way from fictional characters. What makes that swashbuckling hero a man that all the ladies want and all the men fear? How does that sardonic wit always seem to have the perfect comeback? On the surface, we know we’re not fictional characters, but we’ve identified with their characteristics so often, and for so long, that we’ve fallen prey to the conceit that we have a gift equal to theirs for putting people back a couple of steps with devastating witticism.

The Holy Grail for those that write characters in fictional formats is to have the audience identify with the fictional characters they produce so thoroughly that the audience begins to relate to them. The path to this Holy Grail is littered with idyllic images that a consumer may begin to associate with so often, that they begin to incorporate them into their personality.

It happens in those moments when we know that everyone is watching, and everyone thinks we’re boring. As a reflexive reaction to this attention, we develop a defensive posture that allows us to rewrite our character that we hope they find more interesting. We cop a line from a sitcom, we sit a certain way that suggests we just don’t give a fig. We buy a leather jacket, and we grab a beer, and we hold it in a manner that one guy did on that one show that looked so cool.

Then it happens. Some ahole has the audacity to insult us. They challenged our manhood. They don’t know who they’re messing with. They don’t know that we just took out a whole mess of ninjas while eating a chipped beef sandwich. We said something witty to those ninjas, as they writhed in agony on the floor. We laughed in a manner that put us in the shoes of that strong woman, on television, that had the perfect redirect for the smart aleck that dared question her bona fides. On one level, we know that we haven’t done any of this, but a guy’s allowed to dream. Then it happens, we begin to daydream about being that sardonic wit that puts people in their place, and we realize we have yet to say anything to the ahole that had the audacity to insult us. Our opponent is now smiling in a smug, superior manner. We thought we had it all down, until we realized that it wasn’t us doing all the things we imagined we had. Somewhere along the line, we neglected to develop ourselves on a level that could’ve put such an ahole down. We spent so much time studying idyllic images, and imagining them for ourselves, that we’ve kind of lost track of who we are in the process. We realize that as self-professed kings of useless knowledge, we have gathered knowledge that is, in fact, useless.

23) Charles Bukowski Hates Mickey Mouse Bukowski’s philosophy is used to describe the empty nihilist speaking out against the underpinnings of the zeitgeist. I used to be attracted to this mindset, and I tried to employ it as often as possible. I considered comments like “Mickey Mouse is a three-fingered son of a bitch with no soul” insurgent, revolutionary statements that America would have to learn if she ever hoped to progress.

As philosophers have stated, when the end of the revolution occurs, and the “preferred” leaders take their roles as the new leaders, the revolutionaries are often shocked to learn that their, new leaders, more often than not, co-opt the standard practices of the former leaders’ status quo. As a young ‘un that desired the pathway to nihilism, I learned of the name Charles Bukowski. He was considered the sentry to the palace of cool. He hated Disney, and everything considered “cute” America. The question this piece asks those that considered Bukowski’s line “Mickey Mouse is a three-fingered son of a bitch with no soul” a revolutionary statement that America needed to learn, is what would Bukowski replace “cute” America with?

From the piece: “Bukowski’s goal was to be the Anti-Disney. Anti-Disney was, to Bukowski’s mind, stark reality. By implication, one could say that if Bukowski were in charge of America, he would have all of her children awash in alcohol, sex, and violence. He would want America’s children to know the country he knew, and wrote about. He would want them to know the stark world of abusive fathers, and the idea that alcohol is the only form of escapist entertainment that has any soul. ‘And the track,’ Bukowski acolytes would remind, ‘Don’t forget about Bukowski’s routine trips to the track.’ We can be sure that the gospel according to Bukowski would include the belief that horses, not Mickey Mouse, can make all of your dreams come true, and if that child doubts that, they can take a look at the cast members that live at the track.”

I then conclude this thought with my interpretation of Bukowski’s vision, as it might pertain to Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech: “Bukowski had a dream, a dream in which all children could one day live in a world where they would judged not by the smiles on their faces, but by the spiritual, or spirited, lights of their soul, and he had a dream in which all Americans, black and white, could one day join hands in a happy-free, cute-free, and Disney-free America.

“Bukowski had to know that the problem of happiness in America did not begin and end with Disney. He had to know that if he were afforded a Disney-free timeline, in a time machine, something else would’ve fallen into that gap. He had to know that Disney was but a symbol for everything happy. Most would say that America is a better, happier place for having Disney in it, but the true believer, the Bukowski acolyte, insurgent types, believe it made America much worse, because fewer people drank, fewer people went to the track on a routine basis, and fewer people had miserable childhoods, at least for the one day they spent at Disneyland.”

22) The Best Piece of Advice I’ve Ever Heard focuses on the minutiae involved in an individual carving out a niche for success. What’s the difference between an individual that has worked their tails off to succeed, in the arts in particular, and one that will succeed? No one knows the answer to this question, because there is no specific answer. They may have an answer, and they may write a book about it, but does that mean it is the answer? The answer to that which plagues us will be one that we need figure out, if we truly want to succeed. If we don’t figure it out, then we won’t succeed.

There’s only so much advice one person can offer another, before that other person has to take over. If a person is going to succeed, they will have to figure out what works for them, and their audience, before they step onto the proverbial stage to deliver it. If a person doesn’t know this immediately, they will need to make adjustments, and they’ll have to figure out what adjustments are needed, and which ones will work, or if they need to make other adjustments. If a person is going to carve out some beautiful niche in life, it will be on them to figure out how they should do it. If they don’t, as they say, the world needs ditch diggers too. This may seem to be obvious advice, but how many people do we know that seek out that perfect piece of advice that will help them figure it all out?

The best example I’ve ever heard about an individual achieving an against-all-odds success story is Gary Shandling. Gary Shandling was a standup comedian that everyone admitted had great comedic material, but his presentation sucked. He spent a decade adjusting his act in a manner that left the audience thinking he had excellent material, but his presentation sucked. Shandling used his greatest strength and greatest weakness to achieve one of the most storied careers in Hollywood.

21) Find Your Own Truth is about one piece of advice that worked for me. It’s an extension on “You’ll either figure it, or you won’t,” advice that there is a truth, a niche, and a (fill in the blank) that may not be apparent at first. If we need another avenue, we’ll find it if we’re open to that search, and we turn over enough stones. The truth, and the niche, will not be the same for us as it is for everyone else, and it’s incumbent on us, if we want to make an artistic creation, to find it.

20) Finding a Better, Happier Person Through Change This piece dawned on me after a discussion with an unhappy relative. This relative spent the time we were estranged changing. Her changes were extreme measures she pursued to ease her present and past suffering. She also spoke of future changes and future remedies. She no longer wanted to speak of the past we shared. She wanted to speak of the present, and how happy she was now, and how much happier she was going to be in the future. The only discussion she wanted to have about the past, was what our deceased relatives would think of her extreme changes. I thought of how happy we are now, even if we don’t realize it. We don’t realize it, because the present is littered with the pain of the past, and it is kind of boring. Or, if it’s not boring, it’s at least not as exciting as the prospect of what the future could bring, with changes, and more changes, until we are so happy that our deceased relatives wouldn’t even recognize us now.

19) Every Girl’s Crazy About a Faint Whiff of Urine Some theories cry out for further exploration. Some should be left to die on the vine. I have been informed that this one should have been left on the vine.

Those of us that have listened to such claims from the misguided to the hilariously obnoxious friends that have far too much time on their hands, have known about this theory for decades, whomever wrote the scene below for television, brought the theory back to mind for me. I researched it, and I found that though there were more skeptics than backers of this idea, the theory had received peer review.

The primary reason that this theory was begging to be explored rested in the theory that all great comedy should contain an element of truth to it. It’s quite possible that future science could determine this theory to be a complete ruse, and it’s possible that it could be found to be more true than not. Whatever the case, I search for theories, similar to these, as I believe they are ripe for comedic input.

This piece was influenced by a scene from HBO’s Lucky Louie. In the scene, a side character, named Rich, played by comedian Jim Norton, has a noticeable wet stain on the front of his shorts. (I can only guess that they chose shorts, because the stain proved not as noticeable on blue jeans.) When he is called out on it, Rich says:

“Urine is rich in pheromones. When I pissed my pants just now, I released millions of pheromones, and that triggers attraction in the female.”

“Yeah, but you pissed your pants,” another side character suggests, as if to state that the sight of one that has peed in his pants would override any idea that there may be subtle attractants to the smell of urine.

“And I suggest you do the same,” Rich replies. “Now let’s go. I have to (get to the bar) before this dries,” Rich concludes, alluding to the urine on the front of his pants.

The scene is sheer ridiculousness, delivered in a straight and conceivable manner. The ridiculousness of it is, however, based on science. The scientific community is skeptical of it, and it is widely regarded as specious science that is debated throughout the community, but those that ascribe to its tenets claim that the human is no different than any other animal in a surprisingly large number of ways. They claim that these instincts are the basic, primal instincts we have for procreation, no different than the boar or the house cat.

As I write in this piece: “Even those laughing at this laughable idea, would admit that our understanding of why we do what we do, even on the surface, is subject to further review. Enter the word subconscious into the argument, and most people would, at the very least, be open to the suggestion.”

While writing this piece, as with all other truth/comedic essays of this variety, I think they should be delivered straight. There are, of course, some attempts at humor, but these lines have been rewritten a number of times to drain them of the more obvious comedic rhythms. I wanted this piece to be delivered in the manner a straight man would, for I believe that attempting to be funny in a piece of this variety is so obvious that it drains the comedic value.

18) Don’t Go Chasing Eel Testicles: A Brief, Select History of Sigmund Freud This is a prime example of my desire to take a well-known figure and analyze them in a manner that is a little different than most of the wealth of knowledge provided by writers that know a lot more about the subject than I do.

17) Mechanical Animals I think it should be considered a cultural violation for a mechanical animal to get us all horny with talk of their expertise on a project that plagues our home before disappointing us while lubing our joint. I have my areas of expertise, but I qualify my advice on these subjects with the appropriate terminology that informs my audience of my limitations. Mechanical animals have no qualms about letting another person think they know everything about a subject that they know little-to-nothing about.

You can fix my ‘what have you’?   Without me having to paying an exorbitant rate?  Holy stuff partner, welcome to my humble abode.

It is interesting to watch this type speak from their backside, and it provides communal laughter to those standing on his lawn, with a beer in hand, and machismo punctuating his sentences, but what happens to those people that don’t see these primal, chest bumping contests for what they are? What happens when one member of the mechanical animal’s audience grows so desperate that they fall for those sweet, late night whispers?

I have been that puppy dog on that lawn soiling myself when I hear great ideas and simple how-to, fix-it solutions. I make no pretenses about my knowledge in this area, and the mechanical animals love it. I don’t know if they view me as smart, but they do love the idea that they have superior knowledge in this arena, and it has led them to enter my home and perform some half-fix that was stalled by a variable that they couldn’t foresee on that lawn, with a beer in hand. They need a tool that they left at home, and they’ll get back to me in a week, and my (what have you) is left dangling in the breeze. I’m forced to call the fix-it guy and pay that exorbitant fee to not only fix what has needed to be fixed in the first place, but to repair the damage that the mechanical animal did to it. (At this point, a descriptive expletive would be appreciated to round this description off and describe for the audience the degree of frustration an inordinate amount of exclamation points can’t capture.)

16) Fear of a Beaver Perineal Gland. This piece wrote itself. It is the result of a lifelong hatred of those that say, “Do you know what is in that?” when I’m about to consume something. *Spoiler Alert: I don’t care.

It would be one thing if the sole concern busybodies had was for my health. I might be able to move on if all they did was occasionally advise me, but these “Do you know what is in that?” people, badger. They’re so relentless that anyone that has encountered them knows, if they know nothing else, that it’s about more than a general concern for greater health. If it were about a concern for health for them, they would advise the consumer and move on, but they cannot do it. They would be able to sit there and allow the consumer to consume without further comment or incident. They cannot conceal their disgust for you. There’s a superiority element to it. “I would never put something like that in my mouth,” is something they might say. Or, if they are of the more polite variety, they sit there watching a person consume with an element of disgust on their face. We all have thresholds, and some of us have no problem eating like cavemen, and some of us have developed a STFU mentality that awaits the next “Do you know what is in that?” comment.

15) The Balloonophilia ConflictMake a general assessment about a noun (a person, place, or thing) in our culture today, and the one making that assessment is bound to encounter a wonderful person that will defend that noun. This “wonderful” defense is based on the idea that all assessments are based on generalities. My counter to this ever-present defense is that while it is true that there is an exception to every rule, that exception does not make a general rule untrue. If a speaker makes the claim that an individual engaged in freakish behavior 99.8% of the time is a freak, wonderful people will often focus on .2% anecdotal information regarding the fact that that freak is an exception to the general rule the speaker espouses. 

“There are no absolute truths,” is a defense they may employ.

“That’s a wonderful sentiment,” the speaker will reply. “But if it’s true 99.8% of the time, that’s good enough for me to accept it as general rule.”

The wonderful hope that their argument will seduce the speaker into making the leap that everyone is an exception to every rule, until the only reaction that can fill that void is confusion. The wonderful also hope that the speaker will join them in the realization that the only problem lies in the speaker’s need to label. 

The wonderful person will also hope that the speaker arrives at the notion that the constructs they use to label are flawed, and that they’re woefully uninformed about human behavior, because everyone is different, and that a freak’s reasons for being different vary. The problem that could arise, as a result of this ever-present anecdotal argument, is that the collective stops examining what makes us unique, and different, and damaged in a fundamental manner that could’ve been resolved long before it became an identity crisis, if we had properly identified it for what it was in the beginning.

14) Busybody Nation is an attempt to turn an event from my life into a battle cry. It is built on a theme that is the polar opposite to the Most People Don’t Give a Crap About You essay, to discuss the people that care so much that they have no qualms about infiltrating another person’s day. Busybodies are begrudged individuals that acted right as children, while authority figures fiddled as Rome burned. They were the types that said:

“Don’t let Ms. Johnson catch you doing that, she’ll tan your hide,” only to find out that Ms. Johnson did little-to-nothing about it from their standpoint. The busybody believed that Ms. Johnson was fierce and authoritarian, and it was the primary reason that the busybody didn’t engage in nefarious activities. Thus, when Ms. Johnson failed to live up to the busybody’s expectations, to preserve the busybody’s sense of order with a fire and brimstone style punishment for the disorderly, the busybody was confused and resentful. They overestimated Ms. Johnson based on their need to fear of authority, and the consequences for acting up. If Ms. Johnson didn’t witness the transgression, the busybody informed her of it, and when Ms. Johnson did nothing after that, with all of the evidence the busybody compiled against the culprit, a begrudged feeling was born in the mind of the busybody that resulted in a festering boil that led the busybody to spend the rest of their life trying to correct. It’s a begrudged feeling that leaves them with the idea that they’re the lone sentry guarding the final outpost to total chaos in the universe, and they don’t mind invading your privacy to get you to act according to their begrudged findings of how the world around them should operate.

13) The Unfunny. I’m not funny. I’ve been told that I’m not funny. I’ve been told that to whatever extent I might be humorous, exists in a weird, strange, and perhaps clever place that isn’t all that funny.

This piece is dedicated to those that have learned they’re not funny. Most of us think we’re funny when we’re young. We have insider jokes about our dad that makes our brother laugh, and we say odd things that our grandparents delight in. At some point, truly funny people learn to branch out beyond immediate familiarity to material that is more universal. When we, the unfunny, step out into the world, they run into a wall. No one knows what we’re talking about, until we gain some points of familiarity with them. We want to be funny, everyone does. Girls like funny. Everyone wants to know what a funny person is going to say next. They enjoy funny analysis of people, places and things. This piece is for people like me that have little-to-no talent for being funny.

Those of us that strive to make people laugh have tried copying the great comedians, and their sitcoms, and we’ve all grown a little frustrated that no one has recognized our breadth of talent.

This piece is an homage to Andy Kaufman, the most hysterical, unfunny person that ever lived. When I write that Mr. Kaufman influenced my sense of humor, the word understatement feels like an understatement. I’ve read just about every book written on Sir Kaufman (I’ve personally knighted him in the halls of comedy). I’ve watched every videotape, Taxi episode, and YouTube video there is available on him, and the one thing I learned when I walked away from the proverbial temple I had built for him is that his genius was, in fact, limited. It pains me to write that, and it took me a while to reach this point of objectivity on the man, but if Andy Kaufman had lived for another twenty to thirty years, I’m not sure he would’ve done much more to add to what he did, by the time he became ill.

You never know what could’ve happened of course. He could’ve reinvented himself, and all that, but I think the entry into woman’s wrestling confirmed for all of us that this man was, if not a one-trick pony, then a limited one. With that said, what he developed in his short life, was something that led those of us that are unfunny to believe we had something to offer the world of comedy … Whether or not our brand of comedy is limited to our own peculiar definition of funny is inconsequential, for being funny has its own rewards.

As I wrote in the piece, we had no idea we could be someone that someone, somewhere, regarded as so unfunny that we were an idiot, until Andy Kaufman kicked that door in and showed us all of the beautiful furniture.”

12) Scorpio Man IScorpio Man II, and Scorpio Man III These testimonials should not be analyzed. I enjoyed writing the first one so much that I wrote another, and that other led to another.

11) Are you Superior? and Are You Superior? II Part I of Are you Superior? focuses on explaining the roles a sense of superiority and inferiority can occur in the most innocuous interactions. The second piece focuses on an interaction that provided arrows of superiority and inferiority based on the variables that occurred in that brief conversation. It was, in essence, an algorithm that left me completely confused about my status in that conversation, until I realized that I missed a day when I didn’t obsess about status, and that I just missed what should have been an enjoyable conversation based on the fact that I was so consumed with these ideas.

10) The Expectation of Purchasing Refined Tastes. I am a foodie. The self-described, slightly snobbish foodie may not be indigenous to America, but I would guess that there are more foodies in America, per capita, than anywhere else in the world. Part of that is based, I think, on the fact that we are blessed with such an overabundance of food.

My recognition of this personality trait was born in comparison to the young people around me. Young people eat. Most of the time, they eat in a manner equivalent to the method they use to breathe. They have preferences, but they don’t value food in the manner adults do. Eating is just something they do, before they do something else. As we age, we begin to realize that we can no longer eat the way we did before we turned thirty, unless we have no problem with failing to register on scales that only go up to three hundred.

The rest of us learn that we’re probably going to have to limit ourselves to about one and a half meals a day. That self-imposed limitation makes the one and a half meals a day an event. When we force ourselves through a number of unmemorable meals, we begin to seek out memorable meals more often, and we relish them, and we begin to look for ideas from those that have had an exciting meal. This culminates in us putting thought into our meals. We think about what we’re going eat that evening, when we leave for work in the morning, and the thought of that meal consumes our day. If that evening meal turns out bland, it ruins our night, and to prevent that from ever happening again, we spend the next day looking for ideas from others, until we end up talking about meals so often that we reach a point that we can’t understand grown adults that say, “It’s just food. It gets me through the day.”

Then it happens. A person gives us an excellent recommendation. They become our resident expert, and our go-to-gal, when it comes to restaurant recommendations. We develop a bond with this woman that goes to her head, and we’re not sure if that mindset was always there, or if she only showed it to us after we developed this bond, but she has evolved from being a fellow foodie to a foodist. She begins to regard those that don’t put enough thought in their diet as inferior beings. Is this a natural progression, or something endemic in the human need to feel superior about something?

Why is a dining experience at a Thai restaurant superior to one at Chucky Cheese?  I’m not talking about the quality of food there, I’m talking about the sense of superiority one feels when telling another they ate exotic last night. Why is a wine from an exotic, foreign country considered a superior drinking experience when compared to an evening spent drinking a supermarket wine? It’s an experience that you must have and, and, detail for your friends. Coffee is another experience that people must indulge in for all the fruits of life. As I detail in the piece, McDonald’s coffee is judged to be on par with some of the finer coffees available to the public, but it has no value at the water cooler at work the next day, not when compared to the refined, exotic Kopi Luwak bean. Drink that, and more importantly pay the exorbitant price tag for a drink of that, and the water cooler crowd will be hanging on your every word. The key word of this piece, just to give a tease, is the word expectation.

9) Fear Bradycardia and the Normalcy Bias We all have ‘no fear’ friends. These are manly men and headstrong women that believe fear is a sign of weakness. These people have precedents stored in their biological hard drive for unexpected anomalies that cause others fear. Fear is weakness to them. Fear is propaganda. They are well-traveled and experienced individuals that have lived in other locales far more tumultuous than the silly city you two now live in, and no silly weather anomaly can compare to what their cosmopolitan metropolis offered.

This mindset is indefatigable. Even when an anomaly is documented to be unprecedented, they will proclaim that they’ve been through worse. ‘What would cause you fear then,’ I ask. “I don’t know, but it’s not this.”

Our lives should not be ruled by fear, of course, but acknowledging fear and using it to prompt one’s self to action is the theme of David McRaney’s brilliant essay Normalcy Bias on the topic. In this essay, McRaney points out that if one encounters a life-threatening episode, all the qualifying they’ve done to this point is bound to catch up to them, and it may be their undoing.

There is a state of mind called the fear bradycardia state, or tonic immobility, that occurs in life-threatening episodes. It is a state individuals fall into that that is near-catatonic. It is a state that first responders have documented where a victim of such an episode freezes in place. Some of these first responders have spoken about not being able to talk victims out of the burning airplane, because that victim is sitting in their seat wishing that this episode would just go away, or they are immersed in the ‘It’s not that bad. Shut up!’ mindset. The mindset is the culmination of a life spent rationalizing fear and explaining it away in all the ways described above.

The mindset is also borne from this belief that we will know what to do when tragedy arrives, because we’ve already experienced tragedy in the form of a third party, at a movie theater, mentally informing the characters in these movies to do the right thing. We know what we would do, in other words, and now that it’s upon us, it’s beyond anything we ever imagined, and holy stuff!  It can’t be that bad. The victim cannot deal with it, because they’ve never truly prepared themselves for a true, life-altering tragedy.

This piece is based on the essay Normalcy Bias, by David McRaney. After reading that brilliant essay, I decided that his piece wasn’t as focused as I thought it could be, or as visual as I thought it should be, or as humorous as I thought it might be. Imitation, as they say, is the sincerest form of flattery.

8) When Geese Attack! On some level, I flirt with the notion that we are being deceived by When Animals Attack videos. Most of these videos have after-the-attack testimonials from the victims. In these testimonials, the victims declare that they aren’t bitter about the attack that left them legless and sexless. I don’t think these victims are lying, though I suspect that some may fudge the truth to get on the air. I do suspect that the producers and editors of the show are engaged in some deception, in the process they use to select which testimonials to air. I think that the team involved in the production of the video have reasoned that if they’re going to make such a violent video, with the expressed purpose of showing animals at their worst, they had better round it out with a forgiving human at the end that says, ‘I don’t blame the animal. I was in their environment.’  If that’s not true. If the producers and editors air every testimonial available to them, even the angry ones (I’ve never witnessed one of these in all the videos I’ve watched) then what these victims say goes against everything I think I know about humanity.

I know that some people can have their arms and legs torn off by a homicidal maniac, and they manage to find a way to forgive that person, or pray for them, or try to better understand why they did what they did. I guess there’s something wonderful about a person that can do this. I know they’re out there, I’ve met them, and I know they’re more evolved than I am. I also respect the Christian ideal of forgiveness, and I know that holding onto bitterness, as the victim Charla Nash basically said, will ruin your life, but as a man that supports vigilantism against violent criminals, I cannot imagine how victims of violent acts can arrive at such a rational, healthy mentality.

7) You Don’t Bring me Flowers Anymore! The exclamation point forms the thesis to this piece. How can a punctuation point form a thesis? The apt title is, of course, taken from a Neil Diamond and Barbara Streisand song, but the simple exclamation point forms the demand of the thesis that can only be discerned through a reading. 

To protect the innocent, let’s just say that this story has six different testimonials in it. There were six different blocks that the author had to weave together to form the term adult baby. In this piece, I felt more like a reporter than a storyteller, as I reported on the stories that people around me told me.

The main thrust came from a friend and her sister complaining about former husbands, and how one husband bought his wife so many flowers, so often, that it put them in financial peril. Another husband complimented his wife for getting them out of the financial messes he got them into. She thought that was great, until it became obvious that he had no plans to alter his lifestyle in any way to make things easier for her in the future, but that he would continue to admire the way she got them out of financial dilemmas.

“You’ll work it all out,” he said. “You always do.” What kind of adult mind thinks that way, I wondered. What kind of adult continues to live like an irresponsible teen and moves on? It was explained to me that this man didn’t expect others to clean up after him. He didn’t give it that much thought. He just did what he did, and it would get cleaned up. It always did.

There is something about true stories, like the You Don’t Bring me Flowers Anymore! piece that trumps the greatest, most creative fiction. I had some initial thoughts of making a short story about this, but I realized that it had to contain straight fact, because I think readers can sense when a story is real or not, and that adds an element to the narrative. In fiction, I think there’s a need to go over the top with details of a story, and a recognition by the reader for that need. Thus, when they finish the story, they reach a conclusion that it was an entertaining story, but it wasn’t all that plausible. No grown man can be that irresponsible, and if they are, they aren’t that oblivious to it. There was a eureka moment that occurred in this making of this story, but that amounted to little more a couple paragraphs. The rest involved weaving those six blocks together, until the piece achieved a sense of completion.

6) And Then There’s Todd is another piece that wrote itself. Anytime an author writes the words ‘wrote itself’ it should be followed by an asterisk and a footnote that says: “Some pieces do flow with such ease that an author merely documents them, but there is a lot of pruning involved for a smooth, clean flow. Some require artificial enhancements, some do not.”

As opposed to the other pieces on this list, there is no central message in this story, no theme, and no arc that will lead the reader to a greater understanding of humanity through my mind’s eye. It’s just a true story about a man named Todd. Todd was (and probably still is) an enigma that only an author seeking a definition of humanity through an atypical lens could appreciate. The material that the real life Todd provided was such that all I had to do was document my experiences with the man.

One of the beauties of this ‘Todd piece lay in its understated beauty. This beauty may be relative to the reader, of course, as it leaves the reader with a ‘who gives a (blank)’ feeling when it’s done. I know this feeling, because I felt it when it was completed. It didn’t feel complete. I thought it needed some oregano, some rosemary, or something. I didn’t know what it was, but as I smacked my lips together, I thought it needed something profound to make it worthy, until I realized that every addition felt like an addition, and it was then that I realized that some stories are complete in the essence of that sense of in-completion that everyone knows soon after digestion. As with most unusual items we consume, however, some of them stick with us, and we’re forced to rediscover their essence in various ways.

Write as many stories as I have, and you have that built in ‘beginning, a middle, conflict, arc, and ending’ requirement. With narrative essays of this sort, an author is only given a snapshot. Some of the experiences an author has in life are incomplete, and the author is required to complete them. Some of the times an author cannot complete a piece, and some of the times they shouldn’t. We don’t know what happened to that person, and our perspective on them is limited by the perspective they have of themselves, and our limited experience with them. There is no profound conclusion to be had in other words. We just run into some guys and girls that have a twisted logic about life, and we happened to hear some of them. Todd was quirky man that even an interested observer could never quite grasp, and this observer never would because he’s just that different. I still thought this story had to be completed, in the sense that all storytellers feel a need to complete, until it dawned on me that the sense of completion for some stories exists in the idea that they are to remain incomplete.

5) A Simplicity Trapped in a Complex Mind. Some of the descriptions in this essay are bold and heartless. As with the better He Used to Have a Mohawk article, part of what some may consider ridicule in this Simplicity piece, is what I consider straight forward talk regarding how one deals with the fact that they were, are, and may forever be an anomaly. I could’ve qualified each thought I had with a statement that suggested that I don’t think mental health sufferers, or people with Mohawks are all that I’ve defined, but I’ve had friends that qualify everything they say and write. It’s tedious. Plus, much of He Used to Have a Mohawk concerns my thoughts of what a man that used to have a Mohawk must think regarding what other people are saying about him. We don’t often qualify thoughts in our own head when we ask ourselves what we thought of those days when we used to have a Mohawk. We just miss it, or we declare it a mistake in our lives that we now want to forget. On that note, how does a mental health sufferer view themselves, and how do we view them?  One of the ways we deal with anomalies in life is through ridicule. Ridicule is, in this sense, a coping mechanism that helps the normal human mind deal with the fear of someone that is different. If the patient reader is able to overcome some of the offenses to their sensibilities that these two pieces contain to read through to the end, I think they will find that what the author seeks is an unvarnished, universal truth. The path to the conclusion does not adhere to the rich tradition of provoking empathy, as time-honored ABC After School Specials and Lifetime Network movies will, with stark definitions of good guys and bad guys, for even good guys can be offensive. As such, the reader may be confused by the characterizations of the players involved, for they are not bad people, but people seeking a greater understanding through what some could consider offensive venues. If the reader is blinded by offensive statements, and they don’t believe that a greater understanding of humanity can be derived from them, they may want to forego reading these pieces.

4) Most People Don’t Give a Crap About You Among the many ways in which humanity is divided is the difference between optimistic people and cynical thinkers. The optimistic view their fellow man in an optimistic manner, until they are proven wrong, and those that have a more cynical take regard themselves as more prepared for the snakes around us.

Among the many pieces on this list, this piece may be one of my two personal favorites (He Used to Have a Haircut being the other). I tried very hard to disassociate my personal feelings from my professional assessments when compiling this list, but the material in this piece was so fun to write that it will forever hold a special place in my heart.  

This piece focuses on a quote from an old professor that I approached with the age-old argument concerning the optimism versus cynical approach to humanity, and my expressed question regarding whether it is healthier to approach humanity from an optimistic point of view.

“I’ll give you a third possibility, have you ever considered the idea that most people don’t pay attention to you, near as much as you think.” That was the exact quote that I spruced up for the nature of this piece. This quote changed my outlook on many matters. As I approach a person, I’m always wondering if I should trust them. Are they trustworthy, and should I take into account what it says about me that I don’t? Is my inability to trust them steeped in racism, misogyny, jingoism, or xenophobia? Most people don’t care one way or another what I think, at least to the extent that we may think they do. Most people don’t care if the people they encounter are more optimistic, pessimistic, or cynical in regards to them. Most people don’t care what caused us to be sad today, or that we’ve survived a tragedy intact. Most people just want to go home and live the lives we don’t give a crap about.

Even after exploring this mindset to whatever extent I did, I find it astonishing that some people can achieve a plane of certitude regarding the idea that nobody gives a crap about them. Some of us think that everyone is paying attention to everything we do, some of us have realized that people aren’t paying attention half as much as we once feared, but some of us (and I’ve met them) are convinced that no one is paying attention. If I could achieve that plane of absolute certainty, I would probably find it liberating on one level, but on another level I wonder why these people would even bother wearing different clothes on different days, if they considered it pointless to try to make an impression. On yet another level, I think that if people found out how little attention people paid to them, it would depress them, and they would attempt to fix whatever others so much disinterest.

3) That’s Me in the Corner This little essay began its gestation cycle in the womb of the He Used to Have a Mohawk essay. Its life began as nothing more than three paragraphs that could not remain in the Mohawk essay, and they couldn’t exist on their own either. As anyone that has ever written anything knows, the difficulty involved in excising material can be as painful as the surgical removal of an organ. The painful decision came and went, and I left the three little paragraphs roasting in some forgettable file for about a month. I couldn’t get this kid out of my mind, however, and I loved (and I mean loved!) the idea of it. At some moment after its exorcism, approximately one month later, it began speaking. It was gibberish, at first, but it was something. I considered it such a beautiful, little idea that when it began walking on its own, I took its hand and began correcting some of the more immature mistakes it made, until it found a way out of its mother’s basement and grow into the beautiful, independent essay you know today.

2) He Used to Have a Mohawk This may not be the best Non-fiction narrative essay I’ve written, but it does capture the essence of what I’ve been trying to accomplish better than any of the other narrative essays. This piece and That’s Me in the Corner take place at the same wedding, a wedding my uncle forced me to attend. Those in attendance were different. I would say that they qualify for the weird or strange designations I’ve laid out in other essays, but they were different. They also didn’t do things that were that different. The entire event was unusual, but nothing of substance happened at this wedding.

My guess is that 99% of the world’s population could’ve attended this wedding and found nothing of note. This is not to say that I’m more intelligent, or more observant than 99% of the world’s population, but that some, otherwise routine occurrences can happen in a manner that applies to one person more than 99% of the population. Capturing that element, and personalizing it, may be the definition of art I love more than any other.

Having said that, if someone informed me that this wedding would produce 5,000 of my favorite words, it, it probably wouldn’t have. If they instructed me to enter this wedding with a scribble pad to document the goings on, because “Something fundamental to whatever it is you’re doing will occur,” I would’ve been sitting on the edge of my seat, documenting everything, and absorbing little-to-nothing. If someone had hoped to inspire me to thought by requesting a 5,000 word essay on it later, it may not have coalesced into the material that I have now pined over for over three years. I would’ve expected something groundbreaking, and under that mindset, I would’ve been disappointed.

“You cannot go get the game. You have to let the game come to you.” –Joe Montana 

Once the game comes to you, you do with it, what you do. Some of the moments in these narrative essays have been immediate, but most of the moments ended up coalescing into my favorite material, after spending a great deal of time browning in a slow roaster.

The gist of this essay, and why it personifies so much of what I’ve been doing on this blog, can be condensed to an effort I make to combine all of my unconventional knowledge with my conventional knowledge to reach what I consider a hybrid of the two that leads to unique analysis.

Conventional thinking may have it that a man that decides to cut his hair into a Mohawk should be regarded as an outcast. Unconventional thinking suggests that there’s nothing wrong with a person that decides to shave their head in such a manner, and it’s on the observer to accept the Mohawk wearer for who he, or she, is as a person, and the observer might discover the limits of their preconceived notions or conventional thoughts of a person, by finding out that a person that leaves a thin strip of hair on their head is actually a beautiful person inside. The approach I took, with this piece, combined the two modes of thought and examined them through the prism of an individual that used to have a Mohawk.

What kind of person asks a hair stylist to cut their hair into a Mohawk? What happens to them after they change back to having a more sensible haircut? Do they change as the perceptions of them alter? Do they miss the altered perceptions they experienced when they had the haircut? Do they regret having the haircut in the first place?

One of my favorite critiques basically stated that the immediate concepts of this story could lead a reader to be offended, until they read through the piece carefully to understand the complex subtext of the piece that requires deep analysis. “I like the way you take a Mohawk and turn it into something greater than just a simple hairstyle. You give it character that I feel not many others could appreciate,” Amanda Akers.  

No matter where the reader stands on the conventional fulcrum with this subject, they must acknowledge that an individual that asks that their hair be cut into a Mohawk does so to generate reactions, or different reactions, than a person with a more sensible haircut could procure. Some would say that a Mohawk wearer generates unwanted attention on themselves by wearing such a haircut, but others could say that no attention is unwanted for some.

If a Mohawk wearer detested those that judged him for such a haircut, he or she could allow the hair to lay flat. They don’t, I pose, because they enjoy the perspective of detesting straight-laced people that will never try to understand them as a person, they enjoy the bond they have with those that sympathize with their plight, and they bathe in the sheer number of reactions they’ve received since they made the decision to wear a Mohawk.

People wanted to know this man that I had a brief encounter with, that had a Mohawk, that was blue at one point, and they discovered that he was nice. As a bystander, I considered the shock they displayed that a man with a Mohawk could be nice, a little condescending. I considered it odd that one man would say that he wanted to get to know a man that wears a Mohawk better, based solely on that man’s haircut, a little condescending. This man, his name was Mark, appeared to bathe in all of it. I watched this man react to these statements, and I couldn’t tell if he considered it a mark of his character that he had befriended people regardless of the haircut, or if he missed all of the reactions that haircut used to generate for him. My money was on the latter.

1) The Thief’s Mentality I tried to make the argument that this wasn’t the best, most original concept I’ve developed. I’m going to guess that just about every artist goes through this act of denial, especially if they’ve created a wealth of material after said piece. In the original version of this list, I attempted to do just that. Based on some reflection, I realized that I was trying to convince myself that what I’ve done more recently is better. Hindsight has led me to realize that this was an error, and I have since come correct.

With that said, I just want you to know that I’m expending great effort to economize my words here to inform you that this little 4,000 word piece was decades in the making. I have always had these thoughts about a person with this type of mindset, in other words, but it wasn’t until a loved one informed me that this succinct characterization helped her frame the accusations that her loved one had made against her for years that I thought it had any literary merit.

If you’ve ever met an actual thief, you know that they believer everyone is a thief. The thief’s mentality is one that top security firms seek when hiring, because they want their employees to be as sneaky and duplicitous as the culprits that seek to steal from their clients. If you’ve had some form of extended involvement with a person that thinks this way, you know that its logical extension involves a thief suggesting that most people are rotten and rotting. It also extends out to those that don’t believe the same, and the laughter and ridicule they direct at them for being hopelessly naive. The decades of interactions I’ve had with these types, and all of the reflection and introspection that has been devoted to them just needed a title, and once I had it, I sat down to write it.

I’ve never been accused of cheating on a girl more than I was by the girl that cheated on me the most, I’ve never been accused of stealing more than I was by the guy that stole the most from me, and I’ve never been accused of lying more than I was by the person that lied to me more than anyone else. These people know who they are, on some level they’ll never understand, and they know we’re not much better than them, so no matter what we do or say to them, they’re not buying it, because they know what we are. It’s the thief’s mentality.

The thief’s mentality is about a search for truth by the cynical, and while they may not think the world is as awful as they portray it, it makes them feel better about themselves to think it is. It allows them to think they fit in better. The accusation is more important than the truth in this regard, for by leveling the accusation they hope to inhibit the searches for the truth in their mind, and the introspection such a search might cause the thief.

The thrust of the thief’s aggressive strategy is to locate a truth, and a definition of trust, for modern times, but their definitions of truth and trust are subjective and self-serving, and it requires an arbitrary level of street smarts that the thief will exert on the unsuspecting, naïve, and honest individuals that may judge them for their actions. In this sense it’s more of a redirect, or a slight of hand, to deflect judgment.

 

Find Your Own Truth


“Find your own truth,” was the advice author Ray Bradbury provided an aspiring, young writer on a radio call-in show.

Most people loathe vague advice. We want answers, we want that perfect answer the helps us over the bridge, and a super-secret part of us wants those answers to be easy, but another part of us knows that a person gets what you pay for in that regard. When we listen to a radio show guesting a master craftsman, however, we want some nugget of information that will explain to us how that man happened to carve out a niche in the overpopulated world of his craft. We want tidbits, words of wisdom about design, and/or habits that we can imitate and emulate, until we reach a point where we don’t have to feel so alone in our structure. Vague advice, and vague platitudes, feel like a waste of our time. Especially when that advice comes so close to a personal core and stops.

Ray-Bradbury-Quotes-2Bradbury went onto define this relative vision of “the truth” as he saw it, but that definition didn’t step much beyond that precipice. I had already tuned him out by the time he began speaking of other matters, and I eventually turned the channel. I may have missed some great advice, but I was frustrated.

If the reader is anything like me, they went back to doing what they were doing soon after hearing advice, but the quality of deep, profound advice starts popping up in the course of what a person does. It begins to apply so often that, we begin chewing on it, and digesting it. Others may continue to find this vague advice about a truth to be nothing more than waste matter –to bring this analogy to its biological conclusion– but it begins to infiltrate everything an eager student does. If the advice is pertinent, the recipient begins spotting truths that should’ve been so obvious before, and they begin to see that what their thought was the truth –because it is for everyone else– is not as true for them as they once thought.

Vague advice may have no import to those that don’t bump up against the precipice, and for them a platitude like “Find your own truth” may have an of course suffix attached to it. “Of course an artist needs to find their own truth when approaching an artistic project,” they may say. “Isn’t that the very definition of art?” It is, but go ahead and ask an artist if the project they are currently working on is any closer to their truth than the past pieces they attempted. Then, once they’ve completed that project, go ahead and ask them if they’re any closer to their truth. The interrogator is likely to receive a revelation of the artist’s frustration in one form or another, as most art involves the pursuit of a truth coupled with an inability to capture it to the artist’s satisfaction. Yet, it could be said that the pursuit of artistic truth, and the frustration of never achieving it, may provide more fuel to the artist than an actual, final, arrived upon truth ever could.

Finding your truth, as I see it, involves learning the rules of a craft, locating the parameters of the artist’s ability, finding their formula within, and whittling. Any individual that has ever attempted to create art has started with a master’s template in mind. The aspiring, young artist tries to imitate and emulate that master design, and they wonder what that master of the design might do in moments of artistic turmoil. Can I do this, what would they do, should I do that, and is my truth nestled somewhere inside all of that awaiting further exploration? At a furthered point in the process, the artist is hit by other truths, truths that contradict prior truth, and this begins to happen so often that everything the artist believed to be a truth, at one point, becomes an absolute falsehood, and this is where the whittling comes in.

In a manner similar to the whittler whittling away at a stick to create form, the storyteller is always whittling. He’s whittling when he writes. He’s whittling when he reads. He’s whittling in a movie theater, spotting subplots, and subtext that no one else sees. He’s whittling away at others’ stories to what he believes to be the core of the story that the author of the piece may not even see. Is he correct? It doesn’t matter, because he doesn’t believe that the author’s representation of the truth is a truth.

Once the artist has learned all the rules, defined the parameters, and found his own formula within a study of a master’s template, and all the templates that contradict that master template, it is time for him to branch out and find his own truth.

The Narrative Essay

Even while scouring the RIYL (read if you like) links provided at the bottom of the webpages of books I’ve enjoyed, I knew that the narrative essay existed. Just like I’ve always known that the strawberry existed, I knew about the form some call memoir, that others call creative non-fiction, but have you ever tasted a strawberry that caused you to flirt with the idea of eating nothing but strawberries for the rest of your life?  If you have, it probably had less to do with the strawberry and more to do with the diet you had prior to eating that strawberry. A person may go long stretches of time carelessly ignoring the nutrients that this gorgeous, little heart-shaped berry has in abundance for. They may suffer from a vitamin C depletion, for example, in ways that were not apparent to them, until they took that first bite of this gorgeous, little heart-shaped berry.

That first bite caused a person inexplicable feelings of euphoria that they didn’t understand, until they learned of the chemicals of the brain, and the manner in which the brain rewards the person for fulfilling a biological need. The only thing they may have known at the time was that that strawberry tasted so glorious that they stood at the strawberry section of a buffet line gorging on strawberries while everyone behind them waited for them to starting moving.

I am sure, at this point, that the reader would love to learn the title of that one gorgeous, little narrative essay that caused my feelings of creative euphoria, but in the same manner eating one strawberry cannot quench a depletion, one narrative essay did not provide a eureka-style epiphany that led me to an understanding of all of the creative avenues that could be explored in this format, and that my idea-depleted mind ached for in the traditional parameters, with the time-tested formulas and notions I had of the world of storytelling. I just knew that I needed more, and I read all the narrative essays I could find in a manner equivalent to te manner I decided to explore the maximum benefits the strawberry could provide, until a grocery store checker proclaimed that she had never witnessed one man purchasing as many strawberries as I had at one time. She even called a fellow employee over to witness the spectacle I had laid out on her conveyor belt. The unspoken critique being that no wife would permit a man to purchase this many strawberries at once, so I must be single and self-indulgent.

An unprecedented amount of strawberries didn’t provide me an unprecedented amount of euphoria, of course, as the brain appears to only provide near-euphoric chemical rewards for satisfying a severe depletion, but the chemical rewards my brain offered me for finding my own truth, in the narrative essay format, have proven almost endless. As have the rewards I’ve experienced reading others reach their creative peaks. As I’ve written, I knew narrative essays existed, but I considered most of them to be dry, personal essays that attempted to describe the cute, funny things that happened to them on their way to forty. I never thought of them as a vehicle for the exploration of unique creativity, until I found those authors that had.

It is difficult to describe an epiphany to a person that’s never had one. Even to those that have had one, I would say that the variables within an epiphany are so unique that they can be difficult to describe to a listener with an “of course” face on. I could’ve informed them that, more often than not, an epiphany does not involve the single, most unique thought ever considered, but a common place “of course” thought that the recipient has to arrive at of their own accord. When that doesn’t make a dent in their “of course” face, we are left to concede that epiphanies are personal.

For me, the narrative essay was an avenue to the truth that my mind craved, and I may have never have ventured down this path had Ray Bradbury’s vague four words failed to register. For those that stubbornly maintain their “of course” faces in the shadow of the maxim the late, great Ray Bradbury inscribed in the minds of all those that heard it, I offer another vague piece of advice that the late-great Rodney Dangerfield offered to an aspiring, young comedian:

You’ll figure it out.”

If a vague piece of advice, such as these two nuggets, appear so obvious that they’re hardly worth saying, or the recipient of such advice can’t understand how it might apply, no matter how often one thinks about it, does it, attempts to add to it, or whittles away at it to find a core worthy of exploration, I add, you’ll either figure it out, or you won’t.

How to Succeed in Writing X: Blog Writing


Rule#1: If you have any respect for comedy, you should avoid trying to be funny.  Comedy should almost be an accidental afterthought.  It should be what happens in the course of numerous rewrites.  A good one-liner is hard to find, and it usually falls in the lap of the unsuspecting.  It’s rarely among those first thoughts that occur in a first draft.  Those one-liners are usually born and bred into you; it’s usually what those that know your sense of humor find hilarious; it’s usually based on what you do for a living; and all of experiences you’ve had in life.  Some of us may see where you’re headed, but most of us don’t … not to the point of comedy.  Those jokes that you write that are more universally hilarious are probably either directly, or indirectly, ripped off from some other, more universally accepted vehicle.  The path to the more honest, organic place of comedy is usually found in trying to write a serious piece that takes twists and turns before that piece can be declared complete.  It can also be found in bits that you add after rereading your completed, serious piece so often that the words bore you.  It is also usually found the day after, the week after, the month after you’ve achieved the degree of objectivity necessary to land an honest and pure line that is funny in a more universal manner.

We all think we’re funny, but even the best of the best stand-up comedians will tell you that they rarely get it right in their first draft.  They test their material before live audiences, and they shape, craft, and hone it based on the audience’s reactions.  A writer usually does not have this luxury, so they must trust their instincts, and as any experienced stand-up comedian will tell your instincts are almost always wrong.  As a result, you need an audience, and if you’re unable to find one, the only substitute you have is an objective perspective that can only be gained through the amount of rewrites it takes to achieve it.

femisphere_mommy-bloggers1Rule#2: If there any writers reading this blog in search of one useful nugget, let it be this: We don’t care about you, and we’re not interested in what you think.  Your modus operandi (M.O.) from this point forward should be to manipulate your reader into believing that they’ve arrived at your opinions independently.

Uninteresting way: “I like fruit better than candy.  Who doesn’t?  You put a strawberry Twizzler in front of me, and a beautiful piece of nature’s own, and I’ll take the piece of fruit every time.  It’s healthier, it’s succulent, and I would much rather support the strawberry growers association than some huge monolithic, candy corporation that doesn’t give a fig about my health.”

Interesting way: “Thanks to the innovations made in chemical enhancement, and the machinery on the production line adding a precise quantity of these chemicals to every licorice strip, every single Twizzler you eat is going to be perfect.  Twizzlers, therefore, have the advantage of consistency, but what does this type of consistency achieve for the consumer?  Is a twenty-seventh Twizzler licorice strip going to taste any better than the first one you eat?  A strawberry, on the other hand, has a certain inconsistency inherent Mother Nature, and that inconsistency may lead to a greater belief in the quality of its gems, through scarcity, but I find it hard to believe that anyone can eat a perfect strawberry without thinking it’s better than anything man has attempted to reproduce in a lab.”

Both of these versions contain variations of an opinion, of course, but one is so over-the-top that it does it little more than tell us what the writer thinks.  The attempts to persuade are so loaded with an agenda that some readers may rebel, and those that agree will only have their biases confirmed.  No reader will leave the piece believing that they have learned something new, or that the writer has used some ingenuity to express a point.  By limiting the piece to what the writer thinks, they are telling us that don’t care what we think.  The import some readers will have is that the writer is a wonderful person, and they’ve finally found a vehicle for spreading the word.

Rule#3: We are not interested in your process.  “You may be wondering how I came about this brilliant blog … ”  We’re not.  “A friend of mine asked what I thought about some take a famous person had on an extremely controversial topic, and I said this, and she said that, and this ingenious blog is my response to that.”  Some people are curious about the creative process, I’ve seen them ask about it in various replies.  Most aren’t.  If you become famous, or you create a piece that generates a lot of interest, there may be some call for the minutiae regarding your process, until then try incorporating the delete button into your process a little more.  It may help you get to the point a little quicker.

Rule#4: Try to be succinct.  Though I’m sure that some may find it hilarious for me to tell anyone to be succinct, my M.O. is to express my thoughts as succinctly as possible.  I do have trouble limiting the number of words in my pieces, and that may be my failing, but I do make that attempt.  Venture out into the blogosphere and you’ll find numerous bloggers that do the opposite.  They stretch a point out to the 1,000 to 1,500 word, universally agreed upon length of substantial pieces.

These blogs, make me think of that scene where a TV director signals the news anchor to stretch a segment out, with banter, to fill time until the next commercial break.  Sports radio appears to have been founded on this concept.  These venues attract people that can blather in such a seamless manner that the audience doesn’t even know they’re being blathered.  One of the keys to being considered talented enough to fulfill such duties appears to involve being able to say the same thing over and over with varying inflections to keep the key demo watching through the twenty minutes of commercial breaks that occur in any given hour.  Me thinks that some bloggers get caught up in this definition of talent, and they attempt to duplicate it with banter and blathering.

Rule#5: Be provocative.  Some may read that word and believe that it is specifically devoted to shocking the reader into questioning their moral fiber, but I prefer to focus of the base of the word provoke.  Provoke your reader into thought by leading them down a road that they may have never been down before.  There’s two schools of thought on this.  One is to come up with a breathtakingly original idea that no one has ever considered before, but this one is difficult if not impossible to do on a continual basis.  The more opportune avenue is to take a relatively common idea and put a spin on it that few have considered before.

The most common avenue for achieving this is to take an event from one’s own life and attempt to provide a unique spin on it.  If you are going to include your personal opinions of these events, you should do so within the context of the narrative.  The best role I’ve found for the ‘I’ character in these pieces is that of the straight man looking out on the madness that surrounds.  Your thoughts, if you feel the need to include them, should occur soon after the reader has arrived at that opinion.  At that point, you can decorate with jokes of obviousness, or extreme analogies that exaggerate the already arrived at opinion.  The latter should not be done from the new age, clever “I’m so dumb it’s entertaining” perspective that so many bloggers now obsess over.

We’ve all read those “A Day in the Life” blogs that are specifically not provocative, go nowhere, and contain nothing funny or substantial.  Judging by the hundreds of replies that say nothing entertaining in return, they’re quite popular.  I’ve often wondered why people read these blogs, but they have apparently tapped into some sort of universal appeal that I cannot.  The basis for these otherwise mundane blogs is to set a base from which the author can make leaps into humor or ingenuity, but the reader has to click on the blog first, and they do, and the whole cycle proves that I may be so dumb that it’s entertaining, because I don’t understand why anyone would purposely click on the 101 things my cat did when they heard the can opener blogs.

James Joyce: Incomparable or Incomprehensible?


Those of us on the lookout for edgy, racy content have heard the term “Joycean” thrown about with little discretion over the years.  Critics appear to be more interested in using the term than they are in properly using it to describe a product.  The question that those of us driven to the source, would have for Joyce, if he were still alive, is: Were your final two works the most erudite, most complicated pieces of fiction ever written, or were they one of the greatest practical jokes ever played on the literature community to expose its elitist, scholars for what they are?

James Joyce

James Joyce

Most readers that have attempted to up their erudite status by reading difficult books, have heard of Joyce’s final two works: Ulysses and Finnegans Wake.  We have heard that these are two of the most difficult, most complicated pieces of fiction ever created.  Some of us have attempted to tackle them as the challenge that they are, others have attempted to read them for entrance into their subjective definition of elite status.  Most are confused and disoriented by the books, but some have the patience, the wherewithal, and the understanding all of the references made, and languages used, in these books to comprehend them.  Those people either deserve a hearty salute, or the scorn and laughter that Joyce provided, as a gift, to the havenots, that openly admit that they don’t understand these books.

I don’t understand either of these books, and I have gone back numerous times to try and further my understanding.  Some have said that Ulysses is the more palatable of the two, but I have found it to be too elliptical, too erratic, and too detail-oriented to maintain focus, and I have purchased three different aides to guide me through it.  Some of those same people readily admit that Finnegans Wake is ridiculously incomprehensible.

Most people enjoyed Dennis Miller’s tenure as an announcer on Monday Night Football, but most of those same people complained that they didn’t understand two-thirds of the man’s references.  I didn’t keep a journal on his references, but I’m willing to bet that at least a third of them were Joycean in nature.  Miller stated that his goal, in using such obscure references, was to make fellow announcer Al Michaels laugh, but any fan that has followed Miller’s career knows that he enjoys the motif gained by using complicated and obscure references to make himself sound erudite.  There are, today, very few references more obscure than those that recall the work of James Joyce, a man that described his last book, Finnegans Wake, as “A book obscure enough to keep professors busy for 300 years.”

Andy Kaufman often referenced James Joyce when trying to describe his method of operation.  Kaufman wanted to be a comedian’s comedian, in the manner that Joyce was a writer’s writer.  He wanted to perform difficult and complicated acts that the average consumer did not understand, and the very fact that they didn’t “get it” is what invigorated him.  He wanted that “insider” status that an artist gains entrée into when only those “in the know” get it.  After achieving some fame, audiences began laughing with Kaufman in a manner that appears to have only bored him, and he spent the rest of his career trying to up that ante.

Anytime an artist creates a difficult piece of work, there is going to be a divide between the haves (those that get it) and the havenots.  When Mike Patton formed the band Fantomas, he never did so with the illusion that he was going to unseat the Eagles Greatest Hits, or Michael Jackson’s Thriller, atop the list of greatest selling albums of all time.  He knew, or should’ve known, that he was playing to a very select audience.

What is the audience for such difficult subject matter?  Most people seek music, as either background noise, something to dance to, or something to tap their finger to.  Most people read a book to gain a little more characterization and complication than a movie can provide, but they don’t want too much characterization, or too much complication.  Most people only buy art to feng shui their homes.  Most people don’t seek excessively difficult art, and those that do are usually seeking something more, something more engaging, and something more provocative that can only be defined by that individual.  The audience for the difficult generally have such a strong foundation in the arts that they reach a point where their artistic desires can only satiated by something different.

Different can mean different things at different times to different people.  Different can be complicated, and discordant, but it can also be limited to style.  At this point in history, it’s difficult to be different, in a manner that cannot be called derivative of someone or something, so most people seek whatever separations they can find.  When the latest starlet of the moment twerks in a provocative manner, has a construction worker find her pornographic video, or accidentally has her reproductive organ photographed, we know that these are incidents created by the starlet, and her people to get noticed after they have exhausted all other attempts to be perceived as artistically brilliant and different.

There are also some other artists that are different for the sole sake of being different.  This is usually less than organic, and it usually disinterests those of us seeking a true separation from the norm, because we feel that this has been thoroughly explored to the point of exhaustion.  Andy Kaufman created something organically different that can never be completely replicated, in much the same manner Chuck Palahniuk, Mike Patton, David Bowie, Quentin Tarantino, and Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David.  Can it be said that James Joyce’s final two books were different in an artistically brilliant, and cutting edge manner that all of these artists were creations were, or were James Joyce’s writings more symbolism over substance?  Put another way, was Joyce a substantive artist who’s true messages need to be unearthed through careful examination, or was he simply twerking in a provocative manner with the hope of getting noticed by the elite scholars of his generation after exhausting the limits of his talent in other works?

Judging by his short stories, James Joyce could’ve written some of the best novels in history.  Those that say that he already did, would have to admit that his final two works were not overly concerned with story, or plot.  Those that defend his final two works would probably say that I am judging Joyce’s final two works by traditional standards, and that they were anything but traditional.  They would probably also argue that the final two works sought to shake up the traditional world of literature, and anyone that dared to take up the challenge of reading these works.  They would probably say Joyce sought to confound people, more than interest them, and if they did concede the fact that the final two works were different for the sole sake of being different, they would add that he was one of the first to do this.  Those that defend his final two works say that they are not as difficult to read, or as complex, as some would lead you to believe.  These people suggest that reading these two works only requires more patience, and examination, than the average works.  Anyone that states such a thing is attempting to sound either hyper intelligent, or hyper erudite, for it was Joyce’s expressed purpose to be difficult, complicated, and hyper-erudite.

To understand Ulysses, one needs an annotated guide of 1920-era Dublin, a guide that describes the Irish songs of the day, some limericks, mythology, and a fluent understanding of Homer’s The Odyssey.  If you don’t have a well-versed knowledge of that which occurred nearly one-hundred years prior to today, you may not understand the parodies, or jokes Joyce employs in Ulysses.  Yet, it was considered, by the Modern Library, in 1998, to be the greatest work of fiction ever produced.

“Everyone I know owns Ulysses, but no one I know has finished it.”  —Larry King.

To fully understand, and presumably enjoy, Finnegans Wake, the reader needs to have a decent understanding of Latin, German, French, and Hebrew, and a basic understanding of Norwegian linguistic and cultural elements.  You will also need to be well-versed in Egypt’s Book of the Dead, Shakespeare, The Bible, and The Qur’an.  The reader also needs to understand the English language on an etymological level, for one of Joyce’s goals with Finnegans Wake, was to mess with the conventions of the English language.

Some have opined that one of Joyce’s goals, in Ulysses, was to use every word in the English language, and others have stated that this is a possibility since he used approximately 40,000 of them.  If this is true, say others, his goal for Finnegans Wake, was to extend the confusion by incorporating German, French, Latin, Hebrew, and other languages into his text.  When he did use English, in Finnegans Wake, Joyce sought to use it in unconventional and etymological ways to describe what he believed to be the language of the night.  He stated that Finnegans Wake was “A book of the night” and Ulysses was “A book of the day”.

“In writing of the night, I really could not, I felt, use words in their ordinary connections . . . that way they do not express how things are in the night, in the different stages – conscious, then semi-conscious, then unconscious.  I found that it could not be done with words in their ordinary relations and connections. When morning comes of course everything will be clear again . . . . I’ll give them back their English language.  I’m not destroying it for good.” —James Joyce on his novel Finnegans Wake.

This use of the “language of the night” could lead one to say that Joyce was one of the first deconstructionists, and thus ahead of his time by destroying the meaning of meaning in the immediate sense.  It could be said that Joyce had such a profound understanding of linguistics that normal modes of meaning, bored him.  He wanted something different.  He wanted to explore language, and meaning, in a manner that made his readers question their fundamentals.  Readability was not his goal, nor was storytelling, or achieving a best-seller list.  He sought to destroy conventions, and common sense, and achieve a higher realm of perfect, in which timeless abstractions that cannot be communicated to those that adhere to common sense.  This makes for an interesting conversation on high art, and philosophy, but does it lend itself to quality reading?

“What is clear and concise can’t deal with reality,” Joyce is reported to have told friend Arthur Power,  “For to be real is to be surrounded by mystery.”

In the modern age, there is much discussion of the widening gap between the haves and the have nots.  That particular discussion revolves around money, as it has for time immemorial, but in the Joycean world, the gap involves those that “get” his works, and those that do not.  Those that get it usually prefer to have deeper meanings shrouded in clever wordplay.  They usually prefer symbolism over substance; writing over storytelling; and interpretation over consistent and concretized thoughts.

The two schools of thought between the haves and the havenots can probably best be explained by breaking them down to the Hemingway manner of writing and that of Joyce.  Hemingway wrote clear and concise sentences.  Hemingway stated that his methodology was to write something that was true:

“The hardest thing is to make something really true and sometimes truer than true.”—Ernest Hemingway.

Putting Joyce’s final two works through the Hemingway school of thought, one could say that Joyce’s methodology was: “Some of the times, it’s easier to make it false and let others define it as true.”

“Though people may read more into Ulysses than I ever intended, who is to say that they are wrong: do any of us know what we are creating? … Which of us can control our scribblings? They are the script of one’s personality like your voice or your walk.” —James Joyce

Have you ever had a deep discussion, on a deep, multifaceted topic, with a deep thinker.  Have they ever told you, after you have stubbornly refused to agree with them, that: “You don’t get it, and you probably never will?”  If this has happened to you, then you know what it feels like to be summarily dismissed as an anti-intellectual by a deep thinker? Those that aren’t snobbish in an anti-social manner, often avoid openly dismissing you, but even the polite snobs give you a vibe, a look, or that chuff that is intended to let you know your place.

“Well, what do you think of it then?” is the response some of us have given, after being backed into an anti-intellectual corner by deep thinkers.

If they are an anti-social, elite intellectual snob, they will say something along the lines of: “I simply choose to think deeper!”  It’s a great line, and it purportedly puts stubborn types in our place, but it’s a non-answer.  Those of us that are more accustomed to interaction with deep thinkers, will then ask them to expound upon their complicated, deep thinking?  More often than not, if you push them, you’ll realize the answers were not nearly as important to them as the deep thinker cap that they place on themselves, and you usually find that there isn’t much substance beneath their piles of style.

A number of attempts at reading Joyce have led me to believe that he probably didn’t have much substance beneath his piles of style, so he muddied the waters of his message with puns, songs, gibberish, abstractions, foreign languages, and overly complicated complications.  He did this, in my opinion, to conceal the fact that when compared to his colleagues, he didn’t have all that much to say, but that he was artistically accomplished in saying it.

Who can forget the many sayings that Finnegans Wake has dropped on our culture, such as the transcendental sound of the thunderclap that announced the fall of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden:

“bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthur-nuk!”

Or, how about the catch phrase:

“A way a lone a last a loved a long the riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.” 

Or the ever present: 

“(Stoop) if you are abcedminded, to this claybook, what curios of sings (please stoop), in this allaphbed!  Can you rede (since We and Thou had it out already) its world?” 

If you just read those sentences three or four times, and you still have no idea what it says, and you just went back to read them again, because you want to be a have that “gets it”, you’re not alone.  If these passages were merely anecdotal evidence of the difficulty involved in reading Finnegans Wake, that would be one thing, but these difficulties litter just about every sentence of every paragraph of the book, as evidenced by the assistance the site Finwake.com has provided readers to guide them through the book.

Finnegans Wake is reported to be in English, but it’s not the standard version of English where words have specific meaning.  The “language of the night” was intended for linguists that are tired of reading words that have exact meanings, and it was intended to be playful and mind-altering, and rule breaking.  He made references that were intended to be obscure even to the reader of his day that may not have Joyce’s wealth of knowledge of history, or the manner in which the meaning of the words in the English language have changed throughout history.

“What is really imaginative is the contrary to what is concise and clear.” —James Joyce

James Joyce was a stream of consciousness writer that believed that all “mistakes” were intended on some level that superseded awareness.  In the 500+ page book, Finnegans Wake, Joyce found 600 errors after publication.  He was informed of some, if not all of these errors, and he was reported to have fought his publishers to keep them in.  Later editions were written to correct many of these errors, and provide readers “the book in the manner Joyce had intended.”  If Joyce didn’t believe in errors, however, how can those that corrected them state that the corrected edition is the definitive edition that “Joyce intended”?

“The man of genius makes no mistakes, his errors are volitional and portals of discovery.” –James Joyce

Throughout the seventeen years Joyce spent writing Finnegans Wake, he began to go blind, so he had a friend named Samuel Beckett take dictation over the phone to complete the novel.  At one point in this dictation, someone knocked on Joyce’s door.  Joyce said, “Come in!” to the knocker, and Beckett wrote the words “Come in!” into the narrative of Finnegans Wake.  When this error was spotted by Joyce, and the confusion was sorted out, Joyce insisted that Beckett, “Leave it in!”  On another occasion, when a printer’s error was pointed out he said, “Leave it.  It sounds better that way than the way I wrote it.”

There are three different versions of the text: The first and second are the editions that Joyce had published with all of the errors intact.  The third edition has the errors that the editors located, and the 600 corrections that Joyce spent two years locating, corrected.  Some would have you believe that first two editions are the definitive editions, but you have to be a Joyce purist to appreciate them.

Can it be called anything short of egotistical for an author to believe that his subconscious choices and decisions, are somehow divine?  If, as Joyce said, and Picasso later repeated in his paintings, mistakes are portals of discovery, then we can say that’s great, and incredibly artistic in the process of creation.  To leave it in the finished product, however, and subject your readers to the confusion, just seems egotistical.  “Here’s what I was thinking at the time,” Joyce is basically telling his readers.  “I don’t know what it means, but this is a higher plane of thinking than just conscious thought.  Isn’t it magical?  Maybe you can make some sense of it.  Maybe you can attribute it to your life in some manner.”  This method of operation may say something profound about the random nature of the universe, but when we’re reading a novel we don’t necessarily want to know about the randomness of the universe, we want order.

Not everyone can write a classic, and some realize this after a number of failed attempts.  Once they arrive at this fork in the road, they can either write simple books that provide them and theirs an honest living, or they can grow so frustrated by their inability to write classics that they separate themselves from the pack with obscurity.  The advantage of creating such a contrivance is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the beholder can assign their own relative beauty to it.  Some would say this is the very definition of art, but others would say even that definition has limits.  Some would say that the most obscure painting is art, because they “see it”, where others see only schlock for elitists to crib note to death, until meaning is derived.

James Joyce is considered the exception to this rule, fellow writers have told me, and if you are going to attempt to write a novel in the 21st Century, you had better be familiar with him.  I’ve tried, and I now believe that I’m destined to be a havenot in the Joycean world … Even with Ulysses.  The question that arises out of these ashes is, am I going a long way to becoming more intelligent by recognizing my limits, or should it be every aspiring intellect’s responsibility to continue to push themselves beyond any self-imposed limits to a point where they can finally achieve a scholarly understanding of difficult material?  If this is a conundrum that every person encounters when facing challenges to their intelligence, is Ulysses, or more pointedly Finnegans Wake, the ultimate barometer of intelligence, or is it such an exaggerated extension that it had to have been a practical joke Joyce played on the elitist literary community to expose them as the in-crowd, elitist snobs that so loudly proclaim that they “get it” that they are, in fact, falling prey to Joyce’s clever ruse to expose them as people that “get” something that was never meant to be “got”?

Post 400


Posted by Muyiwa Okeola

Posted by Muyiwa Okeola

This is the 400th post written on Rilaly.com since May 2009.  That’s almost 100 posts a year, and if you knew of this blog’s inauspicious beginning, you’d know that’s quite an accomplishment.  To celebrate this milestone, I will do my first jig in the comfort of my home, or the first jig I do in relation to Rilaly.com anyway.  I will make mean faces when I do it, and I may even slap my ass a couple times.  This is not to be misconstrued as sexual in any manner.  This is purely celebratory.  You’re welcome to join me, even if we’re not dancing simultaneously.Political columnist George Will says that he does not reflect on his career.  I do. He states that he is always looking forward. I’ve met a number of people that have accomplished far more than I have, and when I’ve congratulated them on their list, they usually shrug it off and qualify it in some manner.  While I wish I had their list, there does seem to be a part of them that hasn’t enjoyed the process.  Although my list may be comparatively meager, especially when stacked up against Will’s, I enjoy reflecting before I move forward.

“We do not live in the past, but the past in us.” (U.B. Phillips)

My favorite posts are those I’ve written that are not related to current events.  I’ve written political posts, news-related, music, and sports related posts.  I’ve really tried to limit the latter two categories, as I don’t want this to be a place solely for music and sports.  If I started down that road, that might be all I write about.  So, on the rare occasions when I’ve written about them, I’ve tried to do so in a creative manner.

When I get a number of ideas that all lock into place, under the general heading of psychology, but more specifically listed under a “strange things that we do” category, I approach the keyboard with adrenaline.  I think normal people can understand a lot about themselves by studying the strange. and sometimes aberrant, creatures that surround us. Psychology, as a whole, intrigues me, but the “look at this Escher painting and tell me what you see, and that will tell you a lot about perception” line of psychology is just boring to me.  The “why do you stop at a stop sign, why does a dog salivate when it hears a bell, and why do we call a table a table” broader questions of psychology and conditioning bore me.  I’d much rather study why some people are sexually attracted to balloons in the The Balloonophilia Conflict.  How, or why, did a division occur in the balloonophilia universe, between poppers and non-poppers, and is there anything in this particular story that says anything about us?  These are a few of my favorite things.

Why do some people try to box us in to who they think we should be based on who they are, and their limits, perhaps it has something to do with the Thief’s Mentality.  How are we attracted to one another, perhaps it has more to do with our natural, biological scents than those colognes and perfumes we buy: Every Girl’s Crazy About a Faint Whiff of UrineWhat happens when we’re afraid, and what happens when we’re not respectfully afraid enough in a given situation?  Fear Bradycardia and the Normalcy Bias.  These stories do not necessarily have tie-ins, as a sports, music, or political post would have, and the fact that I’ve received compliments on them tells me that they’re just well written.  The following is a top ten list of those most popular, according to readers, of these 400 posts.  Some of them have tie-ins, but they contain a loose connection that could be said to be more psychological rather than a straight news story.  I love top ten lists, and I’ve been dying to write my own, so here it is.  Enjoy!

  1. Indigo Children
  2. Let Your Freak Flag Fly
  3. Thief’s Mentality
  4. The Balloonophilia Conflict
  5. Every Girl’s Crazy About a Faint Whiff of Urine
  6. Fear Bradycardia and the Normalcy Bias
  7. I Hate Guitar Solos
  8. The Psychology of Being a Super Fan in Sports
  9. Kinesthetic Learning in Sports
  10. Charles Bukowski hates Mickey Mouse

I must admit I was a little surprised that the Indigo Children post did so well.  I guess it had more of a tie-in than I thought, but I’ve found that you can never predict these things.  The others were not a surprise to me, as I knew when I wrote them that they were quality posts.

The following is a top fifteen list, listed in chronological by the number of hits they’ve received, of the posts that I believe have been largely, and in my opinion criminally, ignored.  I was going to write another top ten list, but that would’ve meant excluding two of my favorite posts Mechanical Animals and Would you eat something someone cared about?  I honestly think that the top five listed here are some of the best posts I’ve ever written, and I would include Nobody Cares About You and Eat your meat! How can you show appreciation for life, if you won’t eat your meat?  It’s really tough for me to say that one of my babies is better than another, but this is a condensed list of my favorites.

  1. He Used to Have a Mohawk
  2. Chances are you’re a lot like me and my life with alcohol
  3. Oh! Our Electromagnetic Minds
  4. You Don’t Bring me Flowers Anymore!
  5. Groundhogs, Led Zeppelin, and our Existential Existence
  6. Building the Better, Happier Person
  7. The Mythology of You
  8. Nobody Cares About You
  9. Eat your meat! How can you show appreciation for life, if you won’t eat your meat?
  10. The Wicked Flames of the Weird
  11. Food Glorious Food
  12. Mechanical Animals
  13. Do the Apophenia
  14. Details, Details, Details
  15. Would you eat something someone cared about?

How to Succeed in Writing IX: The Influential Writers, and other influences


Like any other person that has attempted to create something artistic, an artist’s appreciation of another’s work is limited and unique.  An artist’s appreciation of another’s work is similar to an athlete studying game film on a future opponent.  After repeated viewings, you understand their modus operandi.  You are able to pinpoint what they do well, and their failings, and you’re able to learn from all of them.  One author’s ability to characterize may impress another artist in one reading, and another may impress them with their particular brand of engaging dialogue.  After another artist gets it, they’re usually bored with it, and they move onto another author.  To use the sports analogy once again, the artist can usually spot the stitches on another’s fastball long before the casual observer can.  This isn’t what artists are trying to do, it’s who they are.  They would love to simply read another’s work and appreciate it in the same manner a casual reader would, but they can’t turn that portion of their brain off.  An artist reading another’s work can get so hypercritical and appreciative of the little things another author does to move a story along, or characterize, that they can’t enjoy that simple, little story in total until they have thoroughly explored, and drained, whatever value they believe another’s work has for them.

Most writers will claim that their writing is now entirely free of influence once they’ve found their voice.  Some would judge this self-promotion, and others would say it’s just impossible to believe.  As any writer that’s written a great deal knows, it’s almost impossible to escape influence.  Whenever a writer turns a phrase, completes a block or dialogue, or characterizes, there was some influence there.  If it wasn’t Chaucer, or Hemingway, that influenced the writer in this manner, it may have been their freshman Composition 101 teacher.  If it wasn’t Stephen King, or Faulkner, that taught them how characterize, it may have been a movie or a television show that embedded that particular brand of characterizing deep in their brain.  Something, somewhere influenced them in some way they may not know now that they’ve reached their twentieth year of writing, where their writing material that is so fresh, and unique, that they can’t even spot the influence anymore.  They may have worked so hard, for so long to achieve a unique voice that they feel they’ve achieved it, and they may have to some degree, but there was a starting point that formed a foundation that is now so embedded in the manner in which they write that they can’t see the influence anymore.

If you belong to the latter group that believes you have reached the pinnacle of individualistic style, that contains no influence, you may dismiss this article as nothing but a point of curiosity, but if you are a new writer that wants to learn how one writer got to point D in the process, the following is a list of those influences that lubricated the slide:

10) Brevity. If “Brevity is the soul of wit” no one was funnier than Ernest Hemingway.  An economist of words, Hemingway avoided complicated syntax, and it has been determined that seventy percent of his sentences were short, simple sentences.{1}  Hemingway was the anti-Joyce (James Joyce) in this regard.  Whereas Hemingway “KISSed” us (keeping it simple for we stupid people) with his prose, Joyce dangled complicated, multisyllabic, and invented words before us, and he often teased us with a carrot on the stick of his words’ meaning.  Whereas this may have made Joyce’s fiction wonderful, historic, and transcendent, most of us didn’t know what the hell he was talking about.  Whereas most readers need translation, transportations in time via a well-written guide, and a degree in Joyceisms to understand Finnegan’s Wake, Old Man and the Sea can be enjoyed in an otherwise carefree afternoon. This isn’t to say that Hemingway’s prose is not complicated and carefully structured for meaning, but with Hemingway’s fiction, meaning is derived upon reflection and through personal interpretation.  The meaning of Hemingway’s prose is established through dialogue, action, and silences —a fiction in which nothing crucial or at least very little— is stated explicitly.  He purposely avoided outright symbolism in what he called “the theory of the iceberg”.  This theory stated that facts float above water, and the supporting structure and symbolism operate out of sight.

Hemingway“No good book has ever been written that has in it symbols arrived at beforehand and stuck in,” says Hemingway. “That kind of symbol sticks out like raisins in raisin bread. Raisin bread is all right, but plain bread is better.” He opens two bottles of beer and continues: “I tried to make a real old man, a real boy, a real sea and a real fish and real sharks.  But if I made them good and true enough they would mean many things.  The hardest thing is to make something really true and sometimes truer than true.”

Hemingway was more of a storyteller than he was a writer.  The interested reader, that doesn’t have a whole lot of time on their hands, may want to consider reading either the short book Old Man and the Sea or The Short and Happy life of Francis Macomber.  The latter is a short story that captures the essence of Ernest Hemingway, and it teaches every writer the greatest principle every writer should employ in their daily activities: Story is sacred and flowery prose is largely self-indulgence.

Carver9) Images. Raymond Carver was also a minimalist.  Most of my favorite writers were.  Carver employed evocative and provocative images to tell a story.  Short stories were his forte.  The short story Feathers captures the essence of Raymond Carver, better than any of his other stories in my humble opinion.

Carver’s stories, and poems, focused on misery and dirty realism.  His characters are low class, beer drinking, hardworking, slobs that readers can’t help but picture in stained tank-tops.  Carver claimed that he was inclined toward brevity and intensity.  His writing focused on sadness, loss, and alcohol in the everyday lives of ordinary people —often lower-middle class or isolated and marginalized people.

8) Characterization. John Irving does engage in the flowery prose of his mentor Charles Dickens, but he does so (for the most part) effortlessly.  Irving is not a minimalist in other words.  Irving’s John_Irvingworks teach us, more than any of the author’s listed here, to work your tail off to hide your effort.  One read through his magnum opus The World According to Garp teaches us that it shouldn’t be a chore to read through one’s work.  No other authors listed here, save for maybe Hemingway, hides his brilliance better than Irving.  The reader gets to know Irving’s characters in what I call a “Holy Crap!” manner.  Irving doesn’t use physical characteristics to describe characters, and he doesn’t use the inner voice techniques that most of us do, yet you learn their characteristics in a story after story and a passage after passage manner, until you know them so completely that you say, “Holy crap, this author’s brilliant.”  I realize this methodology is borne of the “show don’t tell” basic of storytelling, but in my humble opinion, no one does it better than Irving.

Irving has chapters of setting, primarily in the Northeast, and his settings can appear a bit laborious at times.  Unlike all of the authors on this list, there can be large chunks of Irving’s narrative where nothing happens, as he frames you up for what’s about to happen.  Irving does “a story within the story” as well as anyone in the business.  As I said, though, Irving achieves his stature in the world of literature through effortless characterization.

It appears, unfortunately, that the drive to tell a story no longer drives Mr. Irving.  His more recent books have become more and more political.  Some could say that Mr. Irving has always been political, and if you read A Prayer for Owen Meany and Garp again, you’ll see that.  If that’s true, he used to be a lot more subtle.  Story used to be sacred to him, and politics used to be a secondary concern to him.

It’s almost become a cliché that writers of my generation claim Irving as a primary influence.  Like most clichés though, there’s a reason claiming Irving as an influence has become so prevalent among those in my generation.  It’s because he has achieved the bestseller list through almost effortless, beautiful writing, and by not conforming to current norms.  Irving just does what he does, and we have all accepted this to a degree that he can do whatever he wants, and we’ll all greet him with open arms.  Claim King or Koontz as an influence, and artistic writers will dismiss you with a yawn; claim John Grisham, and they’ll dismiss you with a laugh; but Irving has managed to keep a foot in both the literary and best-selling world, and he does it with rich, rewarding, and effortless characterization.

7) Asides.  Some may dismiss Chuck Palahniuk as a splatterpunk writer that engages in shocking prose that grosses out and titillates the reader.  It is true that Palahniuk goes for the jugular in much of his writing, and some may say too often, but anyone that has read, or seen, Fight Club (they’re strikingly similar) knows that Palahniuk (almost) always has a story to tell amid the chaos in his works.

PalahniukPalahniuk may have some of the best, most interesting vignettes and asides in the business today.   He is heavily influenced by Stephen King, as evidenced by his heavy use of refrain style use of repetition, but one should not mistake this influence as outright mimicry.  Palahniuk has carved himself quite a niche in the literary world, with works like Fight Club, Choke, and RantRant proved to be especially valuable to those writers on the lookout for a new way of telling a story.  While the style is not unprecedented, Palahniuk used it in such a unique manner that those that have read the story considered it revolutionary.

Chuck describes his style of writing as “transgressive” fiction.  Transgressive fiction, as defined by Wikipedia, “is a writing style that focuses on characters who feel confined by the norms and expectations of society and who break free of those confines in unusual and/or illicit ways.”

After the novel Lullaby, Palahniuk began writing satirical, horror stories.  His work is big on unusually dark and absurd philosophical asides that are so farcical that the reader can help but think of them as true.  These asides are non-fiction factoids within his fictional works that, according to the author, “Are included in order to further immerse the reader in my work”.” {2} This author hates metaphors and similes.  This author loves to mess around with the traditional styles of storytelling to presumably keep it interesting for him and us.  Some of the times this methodology works, as it did in Rant, and some of the times it doesn’t, as it didn’t in Pygmy and Tell All.  His forays into illogical, but fun, splatterpunk writing, works in most of his books, but anytime a writer puts their stock in shock they are going to try outdo themselves every time out, until they produce a book like Snuff in which the novelty of the over-the-top shock wears thin quickly.

6) Pace. No writer, in modern fiction, displays the virtues of pace better than Dean Koontz.  I challenge anyone to read the first half of his book Intensity and say that this man is not in the upper echelon of thriller writers today.  Koontz knows all he needs to know about architecture, gardening, and all the other minutiae of his Southern Californian locale to make his setting interesting, but Mr. Koontz can get you flipping pages on pace with any of the great suspense/thriller writers of our day. He may also be the safest writer on this list.

Dean-KoontzWhy is Koontz safe?  He strives for the mainstream.  His books have mass appeal to most age groups and both genders.  He is a publisher’s dream in that he knows how to knock out a best-seller on an annual basis without offending anyone.  If you’re a writer that seeks the formula to mass appeal, and the bestseller list, I can think of no better author to read … this side of James Patterson.  That having been said, there is a formula to Koontz’s writing.  How can there not be in a catalogue that lists 112 titles, with twenty-eight bestsellers among them, without an inoffensive formula?  A formula is good to some degree.  To some degree, a formula will provide a reader a solid foundation of comfort that the author can shatter in the pages that follow.  There is a formula, and a relative level of comfort that Koontz readers have come to expect, and while we should try hard not to dismiss Koontz on this basis alone, it’s difficult not to do so.  All of his characters are much too safe.  His female characters are safely intelligent, and his male characters are safely reliant on their intelligence and ingenuity … Even his bad guys are safely bad.  Then, Koontz exasperates whatever problems his works have in this regard by trying to be funny.  His humor is so safe, conformist, and pedantic that it almost seems to be self-effacing, nerdy humor, until one reads enough Koontz to realize that this is simply this man’s sense of humor.

If you’re looking for edgy, offensive, different material that most people are uncomfortable reading, Koontz probably isn’t your guy.  He does write some edgy material, but he doesn’t do so on a consistent enough basis.  If one were to gauge mental health by a writer’s fiction, Koontz would likely score higher than any of the authors listed here, but that has resulted in less dangerous, less angst-ridden material.  He’s mainstream, and there’s nothing wrong with that if you’re looking to write mainstream fiction.  One of the other exceptions to this rule, aside from Intensity, was the novel Life Expectancy.  These two books are the must reads in Koontz’s catalogue for any writer seeking the edgy and different.

5) Writing fiction. What can be written about Stephen King that hasn’t already been written?  If you are a writer that hasn’t read King yet, you’ll probably want to get on the train.  He’ll teach you the good, the bad, and the ugly of writing.  While it’s almost impossible to read everything he’s done, most writers have an extensive King library.  If they don’t, they should probably have at least ten of his books.

KingKing has it all, and most honest, seasoned writers will begrudgingly admit that he has had an influence on them at one point in their process.  If The Stand is too long for you, then the writing community will require you to read Misery, Gerald’s Game, It, or any of his classic, early works like The Shining.  Some artistic writers may scrunch their nose at King, because he is so ubiquitous, but his influence on modern fiction cannot be denied in just about every novel written after 1990.

Some say that King invented the common man horror, but many say that almost every piece of fictional horror involves the common man.  King did work the working joe into his fiction more than most however.  As stated earlier, King builds horror through repetition.  He usually has a nickname for his monster that gets repeated often enough that the reader feels a horrified endearment to the monster.  He also may have not been the first to work music into his horror, most notably nursery rhymes, but he did it more often and with more mastery than most, and it influenced a generation of horror writers.

4) Hodge Podge. As written in the introduction of this piece, writers read other writers in a unique manner.  There are so many varied ways that a writer can reach point D in the process that attempting to catalogue all of the influential writers, and their influential moments in fiction, would be book length, and very few readers would be interested in all of the ways in which this writer achieved that point.  So in the interest of interest, we will try to whittle these moments down to a few of the most prominent.  In the area of the influentially absurd humor, there have been few that captured it as well as Robert McCammon did in Gone South, or Gary Shteyngart in his work Absurdistan a book that was heavily influenced by the monumentally influential book A Confederacy of Dunces John Kennedy O’Toole.

As for horror, there have been few, this side of King, that have been able to capture common man, suspenseful horror as adeptly as Scott Smith did in A Simple Plan and Ruins.  Smith’s ability to build to horror in a casually sequential manner is almost unprecedented.  The only problem with Smith is that he has only written two books in twenty years, and while there is nothing wrong with the man’s quality, his fans would love a little more quantity.  Although Thomas M. Disch’s M.D. was not the greatest horror book ever written, and it ebbed and flowed more than the other books on this list, the work provided moments that have influenced this writer as much as any of the pieces described previously.  Some of the imagery Thomas Harris created in the Red Dragon book, and in Phillip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint (not a horror but just as laden with images), have led many writers to pound the table in frustration with their attempts to duplicate their provocative imagery.  For various reasons, and in various ways, all of these authors had a huge influence on this writer’s attempt to get to point D.

3) Mood. Nothing influences mood better than music.  Listening to music gives the writer a certain setting from which “different” fiction can be achieved.  If a writer wants to write a period piece, for example, they can select the music from that era, and attempt to achieve that mindset.  This is similar to the attempts that the main character in Richard Matheson’s Somewhere in Time to achieve time travel.  In this story, the main character wanted to go back to the year 1912 so badly that he attempted to hypnotize himself into the belief that he was.  He surrounded himself with 1912 in his hotel room, and he wore 1912 clothes, listened to 1912 songs, and ended up believing he was in 1912.  Music affects me in the same manner.  I prefer non-traditional, non-linear music to shake my brain out of the patterns it might fall into in long settings, until I can convince myself that I am non-traditional and non-linear.  I, of course, do not make the conscious efforts to do this in the manner Matheson’s character did, but through repetitive listening of certain music, I have been able to achieve something “different” on a number of occasions.

I listen to a wide variety of music when I write, always switching to keep it fresh, but some of my favorites are Mike Patton, John Zorn, and Trey Spruance’s Secret Chiefs.  These musicians (not rock stars) create an aura I find conducive to writing edgy, “different” material.  These artists, like so many of the authors described above, created something that that seemed impossible before they did it.  They are truly skilled in making the listener feel different, and that anything can be accomplished in a certain setting.  Miles Davis creates an aura that allows you to focus at times, but his music can be a little too aural at times, and David Bowie’s music can be a little too focused, and this causes me to be distracted when I listen to what his music is doing.  The band Pavement can create some chaos in your mind and shake you out of your doldrums, but they, too, can be a little too focused at times for that atmosphere writers need to create.

Everyone’s mom told them that distraction-free silence was conducive to concentration.  Yet, every mind works differently, and I have found —much too late for success in school— that I need distraction to achieve focus.  It may not make sense to those blessed with normal brains, but I need a Goldilocks amount of distraction —not too hard and not to soft, and not too aural and not too structured— for me to concentrate and focus.

2) Movies.  Most of the best storytelling being done today, we have to face it, is being done in the movies.  If a Quentin Tarantino were born in the late nineteenth century, he probably would’ve been a novel writer.  He, like all great movie makers of this era, has the storyteller’s bug, but he doesn’t have the patience to sit behind a typewriter/keyboard and compose prose that can take months and years to produce.  These storytellers of our era are taking advantage of the technology offered them and telling their stories on screen.  One thing movie makers can teach aspiring writers, that reading the Russian authors won’t, is to get to the point.  Their audience, our audience, and the audience doesn’t have as much patience for brilliant prose as previous generations.  We have a short attention span, and with a few exceptions (David Lynch, Wes Anderson, and Tarantino of late) most movie makers whittle their scripts down to the germane.

1) My writing.  Most readers would consider it egotistical to list “my writing” as the greatest influence on my writing, but that is not the intent.  It is only added, because I hold my best writing out as beacons in my career that I want to smash the next time I write something new.  It is important that every writer examine what they’ve written on a consistent enough basis that they always try to write better, and different, stories every time they sit behind their keyboard.

{1}http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Hemingway

{2}http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chuck_Palahniuk

How to Succeed in Writing VIII: Elements of Style


One of the questions a writer answers throughout his writing career is: How am I going to write?  What is going to be my style?  Most writers will not discover “their style” until they are well into the process, but that doesn’t stop them from talking about the process of writing.  When I was a new writer, I spoke about the process all the time.  I told people about my artistic mindset, my artistic setting, and everything but my work, because I didn’t have a lot of work to speak of at the time.  Talking about the process was fun though, because it made me feel like a writer.  It gave me a complicated characterization that my friends couldn’t understand at times.  I was purposefully moody and sullen, but that was all a part of “my process”.  There did come a point, however, when this mystique I created was counterproductive.  I wanted to be a writer more than I wanted to write in other words.  Every time I wrote, I received more evidence of the fact that I probably wasn’t as good as I purported.

A lot of new, and longtime, writers write, speak, and hypothesize about the process of writing.  They speak about having post-it notes all around them to capture the ideas of the moment, or a moment, before they forget them.  They talk about the tools they use to create, the mood they need for proper creation, the setting, the mindset, and everything that they’ve defined as the characteristics of being a writer, but are they writing?

One thing I’ve found in the course of my writing is that a true writer doesn’t need post-it notes, recording devices, or anything more than a well-honed brain to record that which is memorable, or noteworthy, material.  If it is, in fact, noteworthy material, it will stick.  It will gestate in your brain, until you have a completed idea of that which you have experienced.  Post it notes and recording devices are for people that enjoy the process.  “Why do you have that recording device on when we speak?”  True writers only need a honed brain that continually processes information for years to retain, process, and germinate all that great material we experience in the course of our days.

james-joyceAre you Kerouac or Joyce?  One style of writing that new writers, and complicated artiste writers, laud is the Jack Kerouac and James Joyce style of writing called stream-of-consciousness (SC) writing.  SC writing is a style of writing that plays out exactly as it sounds: An author sits down and composes 300-700 pages of prose in a matter of months.  The SC author does little to no editing and revising, because in the strictest definition of SC writing there is no such thing as mistakes in a contextual or conceptual sense.  Contextual mistakes, according to those that pursue this form of writing, and the painter Pablo Picasso, are subconscious leads.  What could be seen as an errant stroke by some was something to build on for Picasso…and Joyce, and Kerouac when it came to writing.  They saw mistakes as the subconscious guiding them down a path they hadn’t consciously considered before.  Both of these writers were forced to fight off editors and publishers in the belief that their works should remain as is.

kerouac“I write to entertain myself,” those that adhere to the Joyce/Kerouac style would tell you.  “If anyone else is entertained, that’s gravy.”  The reason we started writing in the first place was to see if we could take all of our influences and combine them with our inner voices, to achieve stories that would entertain us.  Too much editing and revising takes the spontaneity right out of an artistic creation, and trying to make my pieces relatable to all is impossible, so why would I spend too much time trying to correct conceptual and contextual mistakes?

Have you ever attempted to read James Joyce’s Ulysses?  How about Finnegan’s Wake?  Most normal humans, of adequate intelligence, need a guide to help them understand all of the references and allusions Joyce makes in these works.  All of Joyce’s jokes and provocations were “in-house” references that he understood, and that you can understand too…with a reference guide that’s almost as lengthy, but they’re not enjoyable books as a standalone.  No one will know what the heck you’re talking about, in other words, when you write in Joyce’s SC manner.   You will know, as Joyce and those that lived in Ireland at the time knew, but your reader won’t know.  You will get frustrated with them.  “Can’t you see that A led to B, and C was the result?”  Oh ok, they say, now I get it.  As frustrated as you were with them, it wasn’t their fault that they didn’t get it.  It was yours, and you need to edit and revise more.

Most new writers should be advised to follow the editing and revising school of thought for just this reason.  This line of thought suggests that a story matures in the editing process.  It suggests that the framework of a story can be borne in the stream-of-consciousness (SC) stage, but that the marrow of a story is created when we go back and live through the story again and again, until we reach a readability stage.  This theory also suggests that editing and revising stories gives the author greater objectivity than he can achieve in the creation process.  Objectivity gives the author the chance to attempt to read the story in the manner a reader may read their story.  It gives the author some distance from the relatively narrow position one is in while creating the piece, and they can correct some of the errors of flow and characterization that may not be apparent in the creative process.

We “editing and revising” writers find it hard to believe that Kerouac and Joyce were able to develop their story, their characters, their pace, and their setting on the fly in the manner they suggest.  It just doesn’t seem feasible—no matter how brilliant they may be—that they could make all of the connections, and all of the asides mesh well into a story on the fly, but if you believe the Kerouac myth—that Kerouac created—he wrote his classic On the Road in a drug-frenzied three weeks on a scroll of paper.  How much of this myth is true should be left up to historians to debate.  What cannot be debated, however, is the fact that Kerouac and Joyce submitted relatively raw pieces of work that achieved historical status.  What also cannot be debated is that—if everything they’ve said about their process is true—they should be held out as the exception to the rule that editing and revising are the keys to achieving a complete and readable story.

Most of us are not a “Man of Golden Words”, to borrow a phrase from lyricist Andrew Wood.  Most of us write stupid things, bad scenes, flat characters, sloppy sentences, too much setting, unnecessary asides, and our flow isn’t quite right the first time through.  We also write “great scenes” that appear foolish in revision.   Most of us need advice, a second reader, and a vocal read-through.  Most of us are not spontaneous, artistic geniuses, and our work could use a lot of sprucing and pruning.  If you are an artistic genius—and I’m not one of those that claims that no one is, out of spite for not being one—God love you.  I wish I was one that could create spontaneously without having to work so hard at it.

Editing and revising are definitely not the fun part of artistic creation.  They are, for the most part, tedious activities that require training and discipline, and training and discipline are not the artistic principles that complicated, non-writing writers want to endure when they think about, talk about, and write about the process of their creations. The Joyce/Kerouac process appeals to them, because it makes them feel more like an artistic genius.  Writing should be about writing, they are likely to say.  It should be about spontaneous creation, and when they can’t spontaneously create, they tell people they have writer’s block.  Writer’s block is a fundamental element of the complicated, non-writer’s writing life, and they all have their processes to help them out of it.  True writers, in this writers’ humble opinion, never experience writer’s block.  They may have moments in which they are more inspired than others, but to be unable to think of anything to write just seems impossible to those of us that have written so much that we’re now disciplined enough—after hours of exhaustive training—to always write something.

Fruit and Flowers: On that note, for those of us that don’t constantly receive divine inspiration for artistic creations, there is a cure: “Paint fruit and flowers!”  Flipping through various collections of art, I was surprised to find so many benign and boring creations by artistic geniuses.  Flip through any Van Gogh collection, Picasso collection, or Matisse collection and you’ll find them—relatively boring and seemingly benign paintings of the sky, shrubs, trees, fruit, and flowers.  I was shocked at how many of these paintings there were in the anthologies of these artists.  Why would such talented artists waste their time painting such seemingly benign and boring paintings?  Answer: They were keeping their artistic muscles taut and honed.  They were learning color and contrast, and prominence and shadowing.  They were finessing their God-given talent.  They were becoming artists, in other words, and they were getting better, and when divine inspiration eventually struck they would be ready for it.  Some of the complicated, non-writing writers have this Hollywood image of writers that tells them they need to be inspired to write.  These writers know that their best material will occur when the Danube River is just outside their hotel’s window sill at a time when the first storks make their appearance in Petrovaradin.  These writers know they can’t be too happy, or too sad, and that they need the finest Columbian coffee scents in their nose to receive divine inspiration.  A drafty writing room with Gatorade and Diet Sunkist is just not conducive to inspired writing.  They’ll tell you that they have writer’s block, when you ask them what they’re writing.  “Well,” I want to scream at them.  “What are you doing about it?!  Try writing Fruit and Flower stories!”

“That’s easy for you to say,” will be the theme of the “complicated” writer’s reply, “But I can’t write when I’m not inspired.”  If I were to see something they wrote that was at the artistic genius level, I would have no ammunition in these conversations, but they’re usually just boobs like me that want to purport some sort of artistic genius persona.  They’re usually not writing anything at all.  They’re usually just lazy, complicated, non-writing writers.  “Write something stupid,” I want to say.  “There are fruit and flowers everywhere.  You don’t need to write Crime and Punishment every time out, but if you continue to write your Crime and Punishment may fall out from between the cracks.”

Therein lays the key to great writing, in my humble opinion, that in your discipline and exhaustive training, something may eventually fall out.  Others (most) will never have a Ulysses, a World According to Garp, or a Crime and Punishment fall out, and they may be so frustrated that they don’t want to continue.  Maybe they shouldn’t.   Maybe, they’re not cut out for all this, and they should consider quitting.

This may seem antithetical to everything I’ve written over the course of these eight blogs, but the question is a vital component to writing fiction. Do you enjoy writing, expression, and artistic creation, or do you want to be famous?  Have you created a number of good works, but none of them are of the highest quality?  How do you handle that?  Do you feel like an utter failure, or are you aching for more?  If you’re a complicated artiste that hasn’t achieved the fame you believe you should’ve at this point, you may want to give up.  Maybe you just weren’t meant to be a writer in the first place.  It’s a very important crossroads for you.  If you have the temerity to push ahead, there are a number of things that you can do to keep ‘it’ all shiny and honed until you receive divine inspiration.