Category Archives: Essay

I don’t believe in heroes

David Bowie performing at the Hammersmith Apollo

It’s unfair to designate someone a hero. Heroes are brave, wise, honorable, honest, and noble exemplars. And if you poke deeply enough into a real person’s life, you’ll likely be disappointed at what you find, what with humans being inclined toward selfishness, spite, and bad decision making. How can we expect someone to live up to the impossible standard of “hero” for one day, much less forever?

Ok, so what is Bowie to me? Beyond all doubt, a musical genius. Most artists stick to the one thing they do well and typically embarrass themselves when they venture outside those cozy confines. Bowie jumped musical genres like a nimble 9-year-old playing hopscotch, effortlessly trying on rock, pop, electronica, techno, folk, glam, R&B, and just about any other kind of popular music style you can name.

Yet, I can’t call him a musical inspiration. His songwriting and lyrical prowess is so far beyond my own that I am unable to channel even a feeble likeness of it. Hunky Dory is the very first album I ever bought, and it’s still my favorite. Every song on it would be the best song most other musicians ever wrote.

Bowie was also avant garde in every aspect of his artistry, be it his clothes, his music, his stage show, or his ever-changing persona. He was a charismatic actor, a playwright, and maybe even an alien. But not my hero. He smoked heavily and became addicted to cocaine and no doubt acted like an arrogant prick at times in the early days of fame. He surely disappointed people throughout his life and may have been rude to a fan or two.

Well, I guess there are two heroic aspects to Bowie, because they inspire admiration in me, and admiration is the main ingredient when you set out to make a hero for yourself. One:  After the Let’s Dance album sold a bajillion copies, Bowie could have spent the next 30 years reaping countless riches doing greatest-hits stadium tours. Space Oddity. Changes. Life on Mars. Ziggy Stardust. Starman. Young Americans. Rebel Rebel. Suffragette City. Ashes to Ashes. Let’s Dance. Modern Love. China Girl. Cat People. Under Pressure. LatherRinseRepeat.

Instead, Bowie continued his experimentation with such commercially inaccessible releases as Earthling, an unmelodic album laden with hard techno grooves that were sure to alienate the “greatest hits” crowd.

Two: Whether releasing albums he knew wouldn’t sell many copies (because he wanted to do something new), or dressing as a woman in public, or performing on Soul Train, or doing whatever otherwise struck his artistic fancy, he didn’t care what you, I, or anyone thought about it. He believed in his vision and followed his muse, and he didn’t need beta listeners or approval from anyone calling himself an expert.

Ok. On that count, I’ll let Bowie be my hero. Just for one day.

 


What is the “point” of blogging?

Fangs

Why did you start a blog? Are you getting what you wanted from it, or has your experience gone in an unexpected direction?

Here are the reasons I can think of for blogging, starting with the most basic:

  1. You like to keep an online diary, which, as we know, was the original purpose of a blog. A web log.
  2. You have opinions and you want to share them.
  3. You want to socialize but are shy or busy, and blogging allows you more control over how and when you socialize.
  4. You want to interact with like-minded people.
  5. Writing practice, argument practice, formatting practice, etc.
  6. You are building a social media presence.
  7. You are promoting your writing, art, photography, business, etc.
  8. You are trying to acquire customers for your freelance editing, graphic design, writing, or other skill-based service.
  9. You intend to create a blog that gets so much traffic you can sell ad space and make money.
  10. You are hoping to leverage your blogging popularity into a full-time career.

I am a writer and began blogging a few years ago to “get my name out there” and to generate interest in my writing. So you can say I got into it for reasons 6 and 7. I have accomplished neither.

The lack of achievement on latter objective–promoting my writing–has to do with the fact that I have little to promote. My stubborn resistance to self-publishing practically renders my blog useless, since writing novels is my game and I haven’t sold one to a publisher yet. Also, let’s face facts. The only people we are blogging to are other writers. Potential readers don’t troll WordPress looking for new novelists. This is an echo chamber.

As far as a social media presence goes… I have done zero research and am speaking anecdotally, but I don’t see much overlap between blogging and other forms of social media. This blog has almost 3000 followers. I’ve been on Twitter for a two years and have 160 followers.

Do you want to hear about a social media experiment I’m conducting? Four days ago, I created a second Twitter account with a different name and much more Twitter-friendly identity and have collected close to 200 followers already. I also started a WordPress blog associated with that account and have made two posts. Not test posts, either. True content-heavy, image-saturated, well-researched posts that should appeal greatly to my new followers. I have gotten all of 7 hits.

fangs2My preliminary hypothesis (and common-sense observation) is that blogging does not draw the same audience as do Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and the like. Ergo, blogging does little to build your social media presence, and your social media presence does little to promote your blog content.

I’ve left out one major social medium that is unlike all the others, and it seems to be the only one that offers a path to the top of whatever mountain you are climbing: YouTube. More than a couple of YouTubers I’ve followed when they had fewer than 100 subscribers are now regularly appearing on MTV and other youth-oriented television channels and making a living at it. I’ve even made a few dumb little videos of old Motown songs–built from scrolling B&W photographs and nothing more–that sans any promotion have collected 10,000-20,000 views and counting, which is more than I can say for any WordPress post I’ve written. Maybe I should invest in video equipment.

How about you? Have you ever thought of packing it in as a blogger or does blogging offer its own intrinsic value? All opinions and perspectives welcome!

 


Dating Advice vs. Writing Advice: Which is worse for your self-esteem?

Those tall dudes get all the chicks!

Those tall dudes get all the chicks!

Hey. This new thing came out the other day ago and it’s called The Internet. You should get one!

The Internet offers four things: The chance to insult people anonymously, porn, photo-shopped celebrities, and relationship talk. All of which, when swirled in that crazy blender known as your brain, conspires to foster body-image anxiety and ruin your self-esteem.

In real life, you prioritize. Your house is burning down = important. The creepy guy across the street who lives in his mom’s basement and never talks to anyone = not important.

On The Internet, however, everything is your house burning down. If some anonymous creepy guy who lives in his mom’s basement says, via an online comment, that you look like a squid, then OMG, people think you look like a squid. If a Love & Relationships columnist makes a generalized statement about attractiveness (you expect her to come up with actual content? She’s on a deadline!), then that statement applies to everyone all the time.

I’m glad the internet did not yet exist when I was a wee, insecure lad. Instead of blundering through my adolescence oblivious to all my shortcomings, I would have discovered just how unappealing I really am.

pierceFor example, it has come to my attention, thanks to The Internet, that body hair below the neck is disgusting. Thank you Pierce Brosnan for wallowing in repulsiveness with me all these years. You’ve been like a brother.

I’ve also learned that my speaking voice is a whole note too high. That’s only about 1/6 of an octave, but the ladies want what they want. It turns out they want blue eyes as well, not the brown ones currently soiling my skull holes like sad circles of fetid mud. And, of course, at 5’9”, I am two inches too short to ever get a ride on the love train. I actually read this matter-of-fact statement online last year: Men under 5’11”, who are not considered attractive…

What’s cool about the internet… the vast amount of information available at a single click… is also one of its problems. Your mind can’t process it all and it blurs together. If 51 percent of people think something, that “majority” turns to 100 percent in our heads. Yeah, probably more than half of the women out there would rule me out because of my height, but there are over 3 billion women in the world. I applied the Barry Manilow approach to dating my whole life without even realizing it. Barry Manilow didn’t care that 95% of the western hemisphere mocked him in the 1970s. He focused on the 5% that loved him and ended up selling 80 million albums.

Writing advice works the same way. We are bombarded with it daily (admittedly a self-induced affliction for most of us bloggers) and read way more of it than we can possibly soak up. The sum of all this advice, once it forms an opaque gelatinous substance in our minds, is that we need to be The Perfect Writer. The one who hits every possible style and substance point with each sentence. Nothing less than total awesomeness will do.

Rather discouraging, isn’t it, to try and please everyone?

If someone hopes to fit a (fictional) beauty standard that is attractive to 100% of the population, he is going to end up a hopeless wreck with shattered self-confidence. One doesn’t need to attract everybody, just somebody who appreciates the combination of quirks and qualities that make him unique. Fair warning: you may have to meet 50 people before you find that one. Now consider that your reach as a writer is rather broader than your reach as a potential romantic partner. If 1 out of 50 potential readers appreciates your quirks and qualities that make your writing unique, you’ll end up with a successful story.

♥♥♥

This post partly inspired by a comment thread on Timi’s blog, which included contributions from Timi, Uju, and Nancy.


The Banality of My Own Evil

AKA – How I helped kill the bookstore through depraved indifference

chimp feet3I’m going to take a guess and say our local Borders bookstore occupied its spot for about 18 years. Perhaps it was more like 20 years or as few as 15. Anyway, Borders always appealed to me more than Barnes and Noble because it seemed less corporate. Inside and out, it lacked B&N’s architectural finesse and refinement of design. It was a bunch of tall shelves full of books with no particular sense of order. They cared more about books and less about coffee shops. It felt authentic.

They offered obscure titles, too, as if they were a cool bookstore in the city rather than a boring one in the suburbs.

So was it two years ago they closed? Three? It’s hard to say for sure, since we all saw it coming for ages. This much I recall: Who didn’t feel bummed out when it finally happened?

Whenever a big store closes, some are sad, but we are also intrigued by what might replace it. In the case of my local Borders, they put in a DSW, which, if you are unfamiliar, is basically a warehouse store for shoes.

Are you kidding? They took away our bookstore and replaced it with a shoe store? How boring. Row after row after row of shoes on display with the boxes crammed right underneath, self-serve style. I’d bet that a single DSW has the combined inventory of an entire shopping mall’s worth of shoe stores and then some.

Yawn.

Thing is, I have chimpanzee feet. Thanks to a dreadful experiment conducted by a mad scientist named Dr. Moreau, I was changed from one primate species to another… except the equipment malfunctioned before the transformation was complete.

[I’ll let you guess whether I changed from human to chimp or chimp to human]

Because I am burdened with chimpanzee feet, my shoe options are rather limited. I needed new shoes for the office and a pair of trail hikers for the summer. To find those items in size 8.5, quadruple wide, I pretty much had to hit up DSW.

Saturday, I entered the retail space that formerly housed tens of thousands of books and walked out with two pairs of shoes in size 8.5, 4E.

Standing there on the sidewalk in front of the store, the transaction from moments earlier replayed in my mind: The cashier scanning the bar codes and telling me the total, me handing over my Visa card, the cashier swiping it, me signing the little screen with the rubber pen, and the cashier giving me a receipt and a shopping bag.

I waited for a car to pass then crossed the lane to the parking lot, disturbed by the realization I had just spent more money at DSW in 2 minutes than I had at Borders in 18 years.

*****

chimp feet

 

 

 

 


“Diversity” explained for racists

Warning: Eric is on his soap box again. He still managed to throw in some gags, though. Always with the jokes, this kid.

lupita2

As anyone with an internet connection could have predicted, the long-anticipated and finally confirmed casting of Lupita Nyong’o in the new Star Wars movie caused an uproar among racist idiots online today.

For those who don’t pay attention to Hollywood stuff, Ms. Nyong’o won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar this year for her performance in the acclaimed film 12 Years a Slave. Meanwhile, if you have never heard of Star Wars, I can’t help you.

lupita6You can probably tell from her photograph that she’s black. This is very upsetting to a lot of people. Of the principle cast of about 15 actors announced for the new Star Wars movie, 13 are white. Clearly, white folks are being robbed of their cultural identity by the producers of this movie!

Side note: I don’t recall anyone being upset about the number of green characters in the original Star Wars trilogy. Yoda, Jabba the Hut, and Greedo vs. Lando Calrissian. Greens outnumber blacks 3 to 1!

So anyway, the racists are angry because, if I can boil it down for you, “diversity” is being shoved down their throats (the de rigueur expression of bigots who resent having to accept the existence of anyone not like them). Everyone knows that characters in popular films are all supposed to be white, so when a black (or Asian, etc.) person is cast, it is nothing less than political correctness gone mad.

These are the same folks who lament, with sarcasm, that we don’t have “White History Month” and “White Entertainment Television,” as if history and TV weren’t already that.

This explanation is for them, but they aren’t here, so please read anyway and help my words feel noticed:

“Diversity” is not a weapon being wielded against you. It’s the intermediate step between the Civil Rights movement of the past and future total engagement, in which people of all ethnicities and cultural backgrounds participate equally. It means getting used to a more culturally diverse world, whether you like it or not, because you can’t stop the world from changing. It always does.

The outrage about Star Wars is particularly dumb, considering the story takes place in another galaxy. There is no reason to believe humanoid life forms there would favor one skin color over another. Think about that next time those jerks in Hollywood ruin your favorite movie franchise by casting actors who actually reflect the variety of people living on the real planet where it’s filmed.

Lupita Nyong’o was cast in Star Wars for the same reason people always get cast in high-profile Hollywood films: She is young, talented, trendy, likable, and photogenic.

She also earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from Yale Drama School and has directorial credits on her resume, which is more than most movie stars can say. And she is fluent in four languages. I hardly think she represents a token sacrifice to the gods of political correctness.

In other words, her “15 minutes of fame” as you say (good lord I hate that misused and abused cliché) is not going to be over any time soon. Sorry (not really).

Hard to find, work is, for green actors.

Hard to find, work is, for green actors.


Why Godzilla is the Best Thing Ever

godzilla new

A group of business professionals with college degrees sat around a table in their office building today discussing the most critical topic of the week, far more important than any potential merger, major new account, or policy initiative: When to see the new Godzilla movie that opens this weekend.

Thank you, world, for finally catching up with me. It has been a lonely bunch of decades.

I am a man of many interests. Music. Writing. Art. Film. Architecture. Science. Multiculturalism. Civil Rights… Drums. Guitars. Rock. Soul. Jazz. Metal. Funk. Pop. Classical… Horror and science fiction. Star Wars. Star Trek. Doctor Who. Zombie movies. Italian Gialli. Friday the 13th. Tarantino. Kubrick. Cronenberg…

I remember where I was in my life when I discovered all these things, and I know how each interest has helped shape my identity.

On the other hand, there’s Godzilla. I don’t recall discovering Godzilla, simply because my memory has not retained anything prior to age three. I was already a veteran at that point.

My mom has photos of the toddler me sitting on the floor, staring in wonder at our grainy old Zenith TV while the world’s most famous monster stomped across the screen, kicking up a maelstrom of fire, debris, sparks, and wind as he obliterated yet another Japanese city. The TVs have gotten better, DVDs and blu-rays offer picture quality undreamed of in the days of Saturday-morning monster marathons, and a 180-million-dollar epic remake is about to shake theater speakers all across the world, but the star of the show hasn’t really changed, other than cosmetically. Godzilla is still the coolest, baddest, biggest character in all of cinema.

Yes, the budgets were low in those old flicks. Of course it was a guy in a rubber suit. No, I don’t believe Godzilla exists on the same artistic plane as Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, or Martin Scorsese.  But as much as I revere those artists, only Godzilla:

  • Inspired a shy, scrawny little boy feel strong for the first time in his life
  • Awakened that boy’s imagination and stimulated his drive to tell colorful, fantastical stories
  • Impressed upon that boy what wonderful, unreal things were possible if he was open to them
  • Put an appreciation, fascination, and respect for other cultures and ethnicities into his young, impressionable mind before forces around him had a chance to indoctrinate him to a life of judgment and intolerance

If you didn’t grow up watching this stuff, there’s little I can do to convince you Godzilla is great. I will only say that what’s ridiculous about those films is also what makes them so spectacular: The outlandish, implausible monsters and the manic plots. In one, a metallic bird monster with a buzz-saw chest and a bomb-spitting giant cockroach from an undersea kingdom team up to fight a robot that can change size at will and a 30-storey Tyrannosaurus who shoots blue fire from his mouth.

Show that to a three-year-old child and see if he lacks for imagination when he grows up. I may not recall my first experience with Godzilla, but I remember my son’s, and I will admit to more than a little satisfaction when he became mesmerized in an instant. Years later, he speaks with reverence of the different films and monsters, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention he is a rather imaginative writer himself.

I’ll also invalidate the frequent criticism that the films are “cheesy” because of the obvious special effects fakery. Realism and naturalism in art is a western convention. East Asian art has never aspired to look “realistic,” so comparisons are irrelevant. But I’ll make one anyway: watch any of the contemporaneous monster movies filmed in the west. With rare exception, the creatures and sets are rather shoddy compared to those constructed by their Japanese counterparts.

Oh, and making fun of the dubbing is misdirected superiority. The bad lip-syncing is the fault of the American distributor, not the filmmakers.

End of mini-lecture.

I have no idea if this American remake is going to be any good, though it is getting excellent reviews and appears to pay great respect and homage to the source material. I guess I’ll find out Saturday morning, when I invite the whole world into my house for two hours.

***

A gallery of big G through the decades

Godzilla 1950s2

The 1950s, as a metaphor for the atomic bomb

Godzilla 1960s

The 1960s, as a burgeoning global icon

godzilla 1970s2

The 1970s, as a children’s superhero

godzilla 1980s2

The 1980s, once again as a metaphor for nuclear proliferation

godzilla 1990s2

The 1990s, as a super-sized commercial property

godzilla 2000s

The 2000s, highly stylized and re-imagined for 21st-century tastes


Libraries vs. Criminals

Look. I'm one of those bloggers who decorates his posts with generic book stack images!

Look. I’m one of those bloggers who decorates his posts with generic book stack images!

How to tell if you live in a good neighborhood: Type the name of your county into the Google search box and see what autofills.

The very first autofill for my county is “… library system.” I’m gratified by that result, which is a preferable one to “… crime statistics” or “… murder rate” or “… piranha attacks on land.” Our county has 10 libraries, which sounds like a lot, but with a population of 325,000, that’s over 30,000 people per library. Still, it’s the number one thing on people’s minds when they do a Google search. Either our serial killers are remarkably discrete and our land piranhas travel out of the area to feed, or the people around here a generally good lot who would rather read books than steal cars.

See, libraries fight crime.

No one but the dumbest of criminals would try to rob a library, because there’s no cash on hand (unless you consider not paying late fees to be a form of backhanded robbery). Not a single library in the United States or Canada has ever lowered nearby property values. And I’ve never heard of a kid who didn’t enjoy going to a public library. In the kids’ section of my local branch, you’ll always find at least one starry-eyed child wandering up and down the rows, dazzled by all the choices.

You know where there are not a lot of libraries? Crime-ridden towns. People and governments give up on crime-ridden towns because giving up is easier than fixing. Libraries in poor towns are amongst the first things to be chopped in budget-cutting sessions. Those kids don’t get to wander up and down the free (!) library, gazing in wonder anymore. Maybe they can hang out on the street corner instead.

You know, if everyone in my county tossed in 20 bucks, we’d have 6.5 million dollars. Surely that’s enough to keep one library in one rough town somewhere opened for at least a year or two. Is that so appalling, giving up 20 dollars to invest in someone else’s future?

One of my local libraries. It looks dangerous, but it's kinda nice on the inside.

One of my local libraries. It looks dangerous, but it’s kinda nice on the inside.

Note: The median household income in my town (a postage stamp on the large envelope that is my county) is $120,000. If you took my 510-unit apartment complex out of the mix, you’d probably see that figure rise to 200K or more. I know the property tax burden is high. It’s expensive to live here. I also see as many late-model Audis, BMWs, and Benzes crowding the streets as I do Hyundais and Chevys. How about it, folks? Why the outrage over helping feed poor kids?