Counting Jelly Beans

A while back I ran across this post–it was one of those buzz feed things that was intended to make you realize new and startling things about life. Anyway, this particular post was a fast motion video where they used jelly beans to represent every hour of a human life. So that came up to some ungodly amount of jelly beans when they started out. The jelly beans looked infinite. And then little by little they took some jelly beans away to show you as a baby–all that time you spent in the crib–and then they added up the hours you would sleep in a lifetime and removed all those jelly beans, then they figured the average commute to work and added all that up, and took more hours of jelly beans away and on and on, until they got to the end, and they had a very small amount of jelly beans left over. And then they said, these are the hours that you have to produce art. And they amounted to a a few handfuls of jelly beans.

And I said fuck off.

Well, I have thought about it often since then–I thought about it today, that my cup of jelly beans is almost empty, because after all, it is only a small amount of time that I have to produce my art. It didn’t inspire me to go home and write, it just made me feel bad that I only had a handful of jelly beans.

You know, thinking of life like that is about as fun as designing your own headstone.

The funny part of this jelly bean analogy is that when I was a kid, about 9 years old, on a day when I had nothing to do–very normal day, back then–I found a bag of jelly beans left over from Easter. Candy to kids is like gold, you know. You see this entire bag of flavored sugar and you about go through the roof just considering the sugar high that will follow.

Well, not me, not that day. I saw a different opportunity.

I carefully opened the bag and stuffed gobs of jelly beans into my pockets, just raw, no plastic bag–I think we were too poor for plastic bags–no protection, just right into my dirty pockets and I started off for the neighborhood. I went door to door–I won’t say “selling,” there was no sales pitch–I insisted that whoever answered the door, buy my AMAZING jelly beans. They said no, often, but I was not to be deterred. I, like a beggar, simply refused to leave until they bought one or two warm, sweaty handfuls.

I made a little money that day.

But I also gave away handfuls of my jelly beans.

Representing the hours of a life with jelly beans and then taking them away with each hour you sleep or drive to work or eat a meal, makes it seem like you never double up on activities. What if you eat while you drive? Or make money while you sleep? What if you multitask, or get your work done faster? Well, then I reason you should get some jelly beans back. They didn’t add any beans.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that the hours of a person’s life cannot be accurately measured with jelly beans.

But, if we are going to use jelly beans as an analogy for time in a human life span and say that we really do have just a few sweaty handfuls of flavored sugar to beautify the world and make art and write poems and touch the human soul, then my hands are marbled with color, sticky and sweet, because I am squeezing these left over jelly beans for all my life’s worth.

I have not done a post in forever because I decided to go “underground” and put all of my attention on the production of a viable catalog of my work, singling out quantity of works available as the strategic action needed at this time. To that end, I have some things in the pipeline that are about to come popping off, which is most exciting to me. Its what I live for, I suppose, though in truth, I actually live for a whole lot more.

Blogging is strenuous I have found and personally I have very little interest in it. My interest seems to be talking about myself, and my inner monologues which is probably pretty boring to the world at large and incredibly inconsiderate of me in general. I mean, making people sit through all this journaling and public diary writing? It’s just bad taste, and so, I stopped blogging. I did not want to be That Guy who can only talk about his writing, because the problem is, I can only talk about my writing.

So, I am not going to talk about my writing today. I am going to talk about Martin Luther King and the movie Selma. I didn’t know anything about Selma and I didn’t know much about MLK. One of the reasons I wanted to see the film was because I didn’t know much about the man. I knew of his famous speeches, of course. The movie is exceptional, but what captured me was the basis of his movement: nonviolence.

I did not know what nonviolence was before I saw this movie. I did not know nonviolence was anything. I believed in violence, an eye for an eye and all that. I believed that one should fight back. I still do believe in fighting back, I simply did not understand how one can fight back with nonviolence.

I watched Gandhi last night because MLK’s movement was based on Gandhi’s movement. I watched a three hour movie about a man who won his country’s independence by turning the other cheek. I watched a man refuse to take up arms and make a statement that spoke louder than any gunshot or bomb or grave. I did not believe you could do this, to become a symbol of peace and freedom so powerful that governments can only concede to the demand, that people must sit up and take notice, that a whole culture can change.

Nonviolence. How could doing nothing, do so much? And yet, it is not nothing. It is everything.

I am reminded of the famous photo of a man in china stopping a tank by standing in front of it.

Yes, people die when they practice nonviolence, but it is nothing compared to the bloodshed of war, of always fighting, of taking up arms forever.

This is the way of the healer, the teacher, the leader, the saint. This is the way out of oppression and Hell and endless war. And it works because we all have one thing in common: our humanity.

This tells me there is hope for this world.

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A Break Up Letter

Dear Rotten Tomatoes, 

It’s been a long time coming that I write this letter to you. I don’t mean to sound too harsh and certainly don’t intend to hurt your feelings, but I am breaking up with you.

I simply don’t trust what you say. 

It’s not that you talked smack about one of my favorite movies behind its back. That simply would not be fair to you or me. 

And no, it’s not that you’re so snobbish and erudite in your opinions that I can barely stand to listen to you sometimes. Believe me, if that were it, we wouldn’t have lasted as long as we did. I do now as I have always done, look past that personality flaw.  

The reason I am leaving you is rather simple. In a word: cheating. 

Yes, I found out. And no, there is nothing you can do. I see now that for the last six or seven years you have been cheating me out of good movies that you did not believe worthy of my attention because you simply did not like the director or his style or some other minor plot point irritated you personally.

I have gone by your recommendations exclusively just as you asked and time and time again I have ended up in a bad way, hurt and outraged and alone. And when I have gone my own way, ignored your arguments, I have found some true gems that have enriched my life.

I feel you are self serving or perhaps, dare I say, too in love with yourself to see the good in others. I don’t know. Maybe all that time you spent in Hollywood has gone to your head. I can’t be sure, but I can say this: I won’t be looking back.

Sincerely, 

Ex

PS. I have already moved out. And I took my TV.

 

 

Vorpal Blade Publishing Now Open

Oh my God, its been such a wonderfully strange week. Things are starting to move in the right direction. Really and truly. I have to take this moment to plug this book. If you’re an indie writer and you haven’t read Write. Publish. Repeat. You just need to literally drop everything and read it.

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I’m just going to say it right now. Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant, I love you guys, man.

This book is what you need. The subtitle of this thing is “The No Luck Guide to Self Publishing.” Get it, the NO LUCK guide. And that was exactly the frame of mind I was in, I had no luck.

But that was the biggest problem, I was relying on luck and not the right actions to sell books.

Yes, I know how dumb that sounds, but I wonder how many other writers are feeling like that. For years and years and years I sent manuscripts to New York and got the rejection slips. I remember advice from people saying, every time they get a rejection slip they cheer because it means they’re that much closer to an acceptance.

Well, that just sucks.

A while ago I began my own little program of reinforcing the positive. Instead of telling myself things like “I don’t know what I’m going to do” and “Oh God, when will it ever work” I decided on this mantra: “I get what I need to succeed.”

So every time one of those nasty little imps showed up, I just told it, “Hey Mother Fucker, I get what I need to succeed” and shortly after that I got Write. Publish. Repeat. and Donald Maas’s book “How to Write the Breakout Novel.”

Well, the first thing I got over was this fear of reading books on writing. I am still very selective, but I am also very open to them  now. This helps.

For the first time, I have a business head for this activity. Not so easily done, but I have always had a good business head in general. Only with my writing I felt like I was swimming in the deep part of the pool with no floaties.

I’ve started networking my writing business just like my other business and what do you know, I started meeting people who want to help me sell my books to other people who like to read the things I am writing. In fact, I have been invited as the guest author at a Gothic Halloween party.

I am more than thrilled.

Here’s the moral of this story: I’d had the breaks on! I was in, Rejection Slip Mode where everything sucks and where the day is always gray and where people sneer if they emote at all, but more likely they don’t even see you because you’re such a nobody.

Ah, the demons we must vanquish!

So, check this out (and this really does deserve a drum roll), I present to you, the official grand opening with a real business license and everything, of Vorpal Blade Publishing!

Yes, I need to get a logo made up and I will, but VBP is now officially open and officially my publisher. How do you like them apples?

Do I send myself rejection slips? Of course I do!

In celebration–sometimes when I go out and do Day Jobbing I run across folks who don’t want to use old green backs for the transaction. Used book stores often don’t, so we go the old fashioned route and barter. I have tons of second hand books that were acquired in just this way, but last week, I happened upon one of these pre-monetary-system fellows and we made a little deal. And what did VBP acquire? I present to you, the official VBP Machine, ta-da!

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Ain’t she a beauty. And you can see underneath some of my many books from second hand bookstores just sort of slopping all over the floor.

Anyway, she’s a Remington Standard Typewriter Number 10. From 1920 or something like that.

So, all of VPB manuscripts will now be typed on it.

Just kidding. I use too much correction tape on typewriters and got a “D” in typing class because I refused to stop looking at the key board. Yes, I got a “D” in typing. Hey but I got the credit and graduated!

Well, that brings this little event to a close. There are refreshments in the back and, as they say, don’t drink the Kool-aid. At least not the purple shit.

In closing, there are more things coming. Like a fancy Poppycock book trailer which is going to smoke like an Indian peace pipe. And the second Poppycock book is nearing completion. And Thomas Hunter and Godsign and, and, and…

For now, I bid thee adieu.

Attitude Adjustment (because sometimes we all need one)

1. I will not disparage my own work. 

2. I will not compare myself with other writers (artists). 

3. I will not deny the telling of the lesser tale, because there is no “lesser tale.”

4. I will not fail to promote my work to those most likely to enjoy it.

5. I will not  make excuses for failure, since there is no such thing.

6. I will not fish for compliments, approval or praise. 

7. I will never stop advancing my craft. 

8. I will communicate. 

9. I will change minds. 

10. And above all, I will write the next book. 

Gods and Monsters

The next book for the old digital store front hit the proverbial assembly line today. Godsign: The Rise of Zuhk.

Godsign book cover final

This one asks the question: what if, while being mundane in this world, you were a god in another world?

It’s a Greek fantasy.

Instead of doing the usual retelling of Greek myths, I wanted to incorporate the various tropes from those myths to make a new story. For those who aren’t familiar with that word: The word trope has also come to be used for describing commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices,[2] motifs or clichés in creative works.

In fantasy you have different ones such as the quest story, the magic device, the dark Lord. In Greek mythology you have krakens and heroes who are half god, half mortal, but you also have tragedies and destinies that cannot be side-stepped or avoided. Obviously this area is rife with content just as it is, but I wanted to do something different. I turned to the lesser known portions of Greek mythology, like the islands of dog headed men and the land of the blemmyes, headless men whose faces were said to have been in their chests. In addition to the ancient Greeks, Marco Polo and Columbus reported on this stuff.

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Not werewolves either, but, you know, Fido. If you want to see the best version I have seen check out Diantwoord’s strangely disturbing music video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvMXVHVr72A

Of course, my dog headed men, or cynocephali, don’t rap.

In the ancient texts it is said they practiced no trade, but lived by hunting. Well, I thought, what if they had a trade? What might it be? Naturally living on islands, they would be sea faring folk and thus my salty dogs of Umberia were born. Grizzly, surly and possessed of steely eyed stares from a life at sea, there would be few things more formidable than dog headed sailors.

But that’s just the tip of the ice berg. Umberia became a rich land of danger, strange monsters and inescapable destinies.

Well, you get the idea. One really great thing is that on this one, the second book is already written and as far as manuscripts go, it’s not in too bad of shape. The old digital mercantile book store is coming along nicely.

I find it difficult to stay focused on putting up the next book. I itch to go off and market my existing wares, but without second and third books to back up the first, I quickly recognize the futility of marketing before its time. Nonetheless, I fret constantly over sales and the abstract “critical mass” level of production. 

It is a constant push-pull and sometimes it makes me just want to watch cartoons. Well, you want to see your little ones go out into the world and not just make a few friends, but flourish, come into their own and find their people. 

It’s the indie life for me. 

I think I’ll go watch Fantastic Planet again. 

“Poppycock!” she screamed.

My book Poppycock: A Midsummer Night’s Mare has been set free this morning. At least the digital edition, the print book is not far behind.

It’s been a long road on this one. I wrote it in 2008. It originally began as a musical and I had written songs for it. I won’t say I wrote music. I wrote the lyrics and the tune. I have lost all those notes and cannot remember any of those songs now.

Poppycock is special to me for many reasons. One being that it is inspired by a favorite of mine and many, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which I had the comic relief part. We had such a wonderful time looking between my legs and proclaiming “I spy a chink in the wall!”

The best part of that play, however, were all the girls dressed up like pastel fairies that I kissed and flirted with backstage. Oh, youth!

Poppycock represents coming into my own as a writer. In this book I really worked to present only those elements totally necessary to the story. Indeed, I cut and slashed, rewrote and rearranged until I had it right. It was the first book I had done that with and at the time, I considered it a kind of Frankesteinian exercise, but years later, when I read it again, I appreciated my younger self’s foresight. It was damn good. I don’t say that as self promotion, but honestly. It was a tight, swift to the core read that was funny, sickening, humorous, fun, dark, scary, bloody, ridiculous and aptly true.

I remember the day I first envisioned him. Poppycock. He was so angry, so filled with hate. He was enraged of what his name had come to mean down through the ages.

My first encounter with the killer was when I saw him at a pastry shop. The owner of the shop, behind the counter, said something that rubbed him the wrong way. The level of utter contempt Poppycock displayed for that poor shop owner was truly disturbing. I knew then the shop owner was going to die.

That shop or its owner never made it into the book, per se, but was just one of the  many who was reported on the nightly news.

It was that encounter where I learned something about Poppycock. He hates humanity. Hates with a terrible loathing, but only because humanity has turned him out. You might say, he is terribly jealous.

The idea was borne. Such a disturbing emotion could only be conveyed by a character who had a story to tell, or star in. In this case it is the latter, though Poppycock is forced to share the limelight with his brother, Puk, and well, history repeats itself, doesn’t it?

Alex Donovan did a wonderful job on the cover and I have to thank my Beta readers, editors, wives (sorry…wife) and, of course, Mr. Sederquist, because, without him (or you, if you’re reading this, sir) I probably never would have written it.

 

 

SF Morgue Tour (Dead Man Toga Party)

A couple months ago I had the chance to take a tour of the San Francisco Medical Examiner’s facilities. I made an appointment with the director and he was gracious enough to allow me to come and walk through their morgue and generally ask him anything I wanted, for which I am eternally grateful.

I began my “day in the crypt,” not in a the crypt at all, but running around 850 Bryant Street bugging cops and administrators. Well, I really had to. I simply could not have my characters going to the wrongs floors and divisions.

The first thing I learned is that they don’t want to talk to you, generally speaking. Well, Homicide had no interest in seeing my face. They just gave me a flat out “No.” All right, fair enough, I can take a hint.

I did, however, meet one police officer who took the time of day to explain the set up of the departments a bit. I asked him, jokingly, if they had a paranormal department. Quite seriously he explained to me they take reports from people who call in complaining of ghosts or paranormal activities. He cited one incident wherein the caller complained of dead police officers going through his drawers. Such reports eventually make their way over to Special Victims unit where they do a follow up on the reporter to make sure everything is A Okay, as in, they’re not going to jump off the bridge or something.

So, if you see a ghost in San Francisco, call the cops.

My appointment for the morgue was at 3:30. Chris, the director, greeted me and showed me the ropes. I didn’t know this, but as recent as the late 80’s the old Medical Court was still in practice. This is where, in order to “determine” cause of death, they would call the decedent’s family and friends together and just sort of talk it out.

After that we made passage to the viewing room. The decor was akin to the greenish overlays of the Matrix universe. A lot of green actually and old paneling. Contrary to movies and TV shows, people don’t go into the crypt. And when I say people, I mean, if you’re not a doctor you don’t go in there. Cops aren’t just waltzing in and looking under the sheet at the mauled dead guy. Nor are family members going into the crypt to stand over the decedent to identify their son or daughter.  That’s what the viewing room is for. There is a big plexi-glass window and a small chamber on the other side where the corpse is displayed. The family member stands in the other room and identifies or, more likely, grieves.

Next stop: crypt. You ever smell a dead mouse? How about 15 of them? The decor looked to me like a 1950’s high school locker room. Greenish tile on the walls, cement floors and white porcelain sink tables. I’d say there were about 6 of those tables, where you had a sink at one end with the table tilted to drain into the sink. When we walked in, two techs had a cadaver laid out, partially obscured with a sheet. The big, strong looking tech began zipping up a body bag and shoving the head inside, slightly reminiscent of packing luggage.

They really don’t want you seeing the dead when you go in there. Not totally sure why. The doc made this comment: “Oh come in, you’re not going to see anything, well, other than this poop.”

Chris explained it very aptly. “This is a messy job.” You just don’t appreciate the meaning of those words until you perform an autopsy or, perhaps, three hundred.

Anyway, he showed me the scales where they do some detestable things like weigh brains and hearts and livers. All the body organs. Then came the industrial bone saw. And what is this used for? Cutting around the head and phlewlck off comes the skull cap.

Every sink table had a big pair of branch clippers hanging off the side. Those, my guide said, are the best tools for opening a chest plate. Home Depot employees have no idea why I buy so many.

The air filtration system is set up with vents in the floor so that the air flows downward. In other words, to ground airborne diseases.

Piles of implements commanded one side table. Lots of scalpels and knives and scissor-like objects. They were clean, of course.

We discussed the various storage techniques. They don’t have those oh so sleek morgue freezer drawers you always see in the movies. You know, the stainless steel kind that slide open like the newest Frigidaire. Nah, just a big refer, like in a commercial kitchen where they might keep the lettuce. The gurneys stand side by side, a bunch of stiffs laying around under sheets, feet sticking out, like some fucked up toga party. They can fit 16 gurneys in there at the same time.

We examined the drying chamber. It sits in the corner like an enclosed shower stall. It’s for drying off the dead found in the bay. And they get some doozies from the bay. You see, marine life are awfully fond of fingers, toes, noses and wait for it, penises and testicles. Yeah. What else can you say? Yeah.

In the end, we stood there in the middle of the morgue, the scent of decaying flesh all around us, discussing the hard realities of what it means to be dead. Nothing quite spoils human dignity like death.

If the death wasn’t expected or obvious, these folks are there to find out why. These folks have a hard job and as Chris said, a messy one. And when they’re not carving up cadavers, they’re dealing with survivors and that can’t be easy.

I asked Chris if he got a lot of requests for tours. He said he did and that he almost never grants them. I wondered why he toured me. Whatever his reason, I am glad he did.

Expecting to be horrified, have nightmares, or at the very least, lingering thoughts, I was struck with something else entirely: the sentiment of “it’s not so bad.” Quite simply everyone dies. What a terrible thing to say, and yet, when you can admit it, you find a kind of peace with it.