Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chapter 68: In Which I Discuss Small Press Things

Had this terrible nightmare the other day where Newt Gingrinch was a viable presidential candidate and the army had the right to indefinitely imprison US citizens, Guantanamo-style. It sucks having an overactive imagination. Must be something I read in a dystopian novel.

I'm in Pittsburgh right now. The holiday break at my school is very long, and I have a whole month with which to hang around my hometown and get work done. Also moved out of my hippie house in Oakland, so I'm looking for a new place. It got too crazy. Left behind some really stellar people who I plan on keeping in touch with. Also left behind a selfish douchebag or two who I'm leaving in the past. So it goes. I can say I am done with communal living situations for the time being. The one I lived in was not a good example, as it was incredibly disorganized and had an almost nonexistent interview process to weed out people who didn't fit. Still, there comes a time when dealing with community issues becomes a liability to personal security and desires, and even if a spot opened in the World's Best Co-op, I need personal space right now. Not ruling it out for the future: communal living seems ever more attractive as our whole "me first" society crashes in on itself. I don't have anywhere lined up, but I'm excited to find a new place, just like with any next step.

Working on the manuscript for Hard Times Blues. The other day I posted up at the library at Carnegie Mellon (yay for finals hours!) and had a successful writing session. A bit on my writing process: I can't just sit down and write. I can type a bit, but then I need to walk around, read something, eat, listen to music. And by music I mean dubstep. I listen to much dubstep these days. I set aside four hours to write, wrote for three hours, then spent an hour researching Haitians in Louisiana for a story that may or may not end up in the final draft. Sometimes I feel unproductive, but as I get older I learn to embrace my own process and own it.

So everything was going fine until...

My computer crashed.

I don't know how it happened. I was writing in Open Office on Sunday morning, working on a commission piece. Sunday afternoon I go to the library and can't open Audacity, Open Office, or anything I use with any frequency. I kept getting a bar saying I don't have the authorization to do this. The only thing I could access was Internet Explorer and all the explanations on how to fix it made my head explode. I'm afraid to fix it myself because I don't want to fuck it up worse. I know a few techno-savvy types, and plan on checking in with them before paying a thousand bucks to the Best Buy geek squad. Luckily, the most important files on there were backed up elsewhere, but I am looking at some that might be permanently lost because of this nonsense. And I really don't get how my computer got jacked up between that morning and taking it to the library. What is this, an airborne computer virus? I just got done re-typing everything I typed on Saturday on the family computer, using Microsoft Word. Life is all about the slings and arrows, as we all know. There are certainly advantages to writing stories entirely from scratch, looking at them from a whole new perspective instead of trying to fit new ideas into an old draft.

Recently checked up on my consignments. As the person who consigned with the stores, every once in a while I need to call and see if I sold any. I didn't. Though I did let one get paid out at a certain store because I forgot to check on it months ago. So it's in a used bookstore somewhere. It's cool that I sold two of three books that I consigned there, though if I'd been on the ball I could have picked up that unsold one and consigned it elsewhere. There are always little mistakes in the learning process when doing things by yourself. Like that time I made fliers for a reading in Pittsburgh and started passing them out, not knowing there was no date on them.

In the interest of promotion: these lovely establishments carry The Jack Daniels Sessions EP. They are independent stores full of beautiful people and always need the support:

Future Dreams (Portland, OR)
Quimby's (Chicago, IL)
Marcus Books (Oakland, CA)
Laurel Bookstore (Oakland, CA)
Boxcar Books (Bloomington, IN)
Blind Willow Bookstore (Emmaus, PA)
Rainbow Bookstore Collective (Madison, WI)

Buy a copy from them and you will get my eternal love. And speaking of bookstores...

Reading tonight!

It's a homecoming, baby. Six Gallery Press presents yours truly, Jason Baldinger, Bill Hughes and Don Wentworth for a night of the literary. Judging by next month's lineup, I'm guessing tonight is "Dude Nite." I assure you, though, that women are more than welcome to come. I'll probably be reading from "Assistant," as I've been growing interested in the last few chapters as performance material. It's good to be home.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

R.I.P. Darrell Sweet

One of my favorite scifi/fantasy mags is Black Gate. They cover all fantasy, from 80s role-palying tie-ins to the pulps to 60s science fantasy, and they do so with unabashed love. I found out from their site that cover artist Darrell Sweet passed away.

Sweet is the kind of person who made people read fantasy in the 80s. After all, the cover is what you see first. He came from the school when fantasy covers were gorgeous, detailed, colorful and blatantly, happily fantastical. Along with the Hildebrandts and Elmore, this guy pretty much set the standard. His portfolio is a treasure trove of halflings, dragons and magic swords. They let you know you were in for adventure. Seeing his covers on the shelves were the reason why I read series like the Deryni books.

Here's Black Gates tribute, which is far more eloquent than anything I could put it. Please, please look into his work if you have not already. I feel lucky to have grown up in a time when every fantasy book was blessed with a beautiful painting for a cover, and Darrell Sweet was at the top of the heap. R.I.P.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Chapter 67: In Which I Discuss Hard Times

Got on the bus today and saw a girl reading a Bran chapter of ASOIAF. Got off the bus and saw a girl reading Neverwhere. This fantasy thing. It's spreading.

I'm putting Motley & Plume Players on the shelf for a while. I'm not saying it was a hard decision. It was a startlingly easy decision. After working on the novel for a year, and getting up to over 400 pages, I'm still learning things about this book and these characters. I need the room to discover this story, and all the blown deadlines should have been my tip-off to give it the time a novel deserves.

Tried to finish the whole book over Thanksgiving break. Soon realized this would be impossible. One trip to the Berkeley Writers Circle convinced me that I would be shooting myself in the foot trying to do a truncated version of this material. Even if I did finish the manuscript, the goal was to edit down to 300 pages, while I was still figuring out the different, wonderful avenues I could take this piece. I know that someday it will be something special. Just not this May.

I also know that me and deadlines don't mix. Hell, I blew an anthology submission deadline just last week because I was feeling sick. As a writer, I'll have to start making these deadlines. This is important for things like anthology submissions. But I cannot actually write a book on any kind of tight schedule. The kind of novels I want to put out will take years. Which sucks. Years are something I have in limited supply. There's so many stories I want to tell. I really envy writers like Gaiman and Catherynne Valente who can produce mountains of quality work every year.

Sigh. I spoke with Christine and my publisher. I let them know I wanted my end of the book to be something I could put together by May, at the level of quality I expect from myself. They agreed. Like I said, an easy decision. The right decision. Motley & Plume Players, you're going back on the shelf. A little bit older, a little bit wiser, a lot longer. Looking forward to seeing you again.

That said...

Hard Times Blues

Rejoice! Hard Times are comin'.


Love that promo. And I'm as hyped up as Dusty.

The tentative name for my next collection is Hard Times Blues, collecting my work of the last year. Zombie stories, fairy tales, Jack tales, poems, and various doodads. I see it as a companion piece to Jack Daniels Sessions, with the skills I gained in the interim. I have four definite stories and I'm debating what the fifth piece will be. I will spend my sabbatical in the wintry harshness of Pittsburgh putting together this manuscript.

I'm about to embark back into the real world from grad school. It's time. So much has been going on, literally on my doorstep, and college feels more and more like a bubble to hide from the troubles of the world. Are there jobs for young men such as me? Will anyone survive 2012? I don't know; these are hard times. That this book will be killer...that's one thing that is certain.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Chapter 66: In Which I (And A Cat) Welcome December

So I slept horribly on the morning of the first. Thanks to a combo of indigestion, insomnia, and an uncomfortable position on an uncomfortable mattress, I woke up feeling like my legs were stuck in my arm sockets and my arms stuck in my head sockets and my head stuck in...well, you get the idea. Sore all over. I literally crawled from my bunk to go take a hot shower.

I live in a hippie house. Since the summer, we have adopted an orange tabby. As far as I know, it was a gift of a man to his daughter, and the babymama had no desire to take care of it. We feed it, so it stays here all the time, and has grown quite fat. I walk in the bathroom and there it is, crouched on the toilet, its eyes shining like sequins. They're such creepy animals. Nocturnal, haughty, and even the smallest kitten has something of the predator. It was staring straight at me.

After showering, I went back to bed for part 2. I settled in, when all of a sudden I heard a tapping, as of someone gently rapping. The cat, trying to get in. Knocking on the door like a person. I thought no more of it, when I heard the door open a crack. A skinny arm, like a prop wielded by a puppeteer, slipped through and started moving up and down, widening the gap.

The cat was opening the door.

And I thought, "Goddamnit, this is Poe territory."

I watched this in fascination a minute before getting up and locking the door. The cat is welcome, of course, just not that morning. The thought of it perching on one of the bunks and saying "Nevermore" at me did nothing for my ability to sleep. I locked the door. The cat knocked harder, and meowed, and somehow managed to swat at the lock. Several minutes later it started screaming to get in. An appropriately creepy way to start December, the scariest of all months. The autumnal change that comes with October can't compete with the pure apocalyptic feel of the last month, when you stand on the brink of a new year, and the weather makes the simple act of going outside feel potentially lethal.

Hans Christian Andersen
Currently reading: "The Marsh King's Daughter." There's nothing better than discovering a piece from a familiar writer that leaves you as riveted as the first piece you read of theirs. "Marsh King's Daughter" is amazing, enchanting from beginning to end. There are familiar Andersen-isms: birds, a princess under a spell that makes her disagreeable, an old king who falls ill, heavy Christian symbolism, etc.

Yet the aging writer flips the script a bit. First off, it has an international feel where different cultures are allowed to coexist. The titular character is the daughter of an Egyptian princess and a marsh-spirit, and spends half her life in a grotesque amphibian form. Half of our world and half of the fairy world, she is raised by a Viking chieftess, comes to break her spell by the influence of a Christian priest, and is ultimately reunited with her North African mother. Their first goal as mother and daughter is to save her grandfather, the Pharoah. The story is held together by a family of storks, a bickering husband-wife combo who provide both the catalyst and denoument to the story. They are a sort of guardian angel to the imperiled princess and help her family without question. Andersen is not only doing cross-cultural, but cross-species collaboration. The humans even learn how to speak stork!

Though Christianity is lionized, as usual, Andersen affords respect to the pagan beliefs of the Vikings, his own ancestors' beliefs. The Viking chieftess is a loving person who gains comfort through her religion. It is both the pagan and the Christian that influence the princess in a positive manner. Though Christianity redeems in this story, Andersen adds an element to it that is very much in line with the Old Testament. His presentation of Christianity emphasizes the "awe" of God, the ability for religion to burn you.

There's some "Beauty and the Beast" here. The titular character spends half of her life as a perfectly kind and good amphibious monster, the other half as a beautiful, evil and vicious princess. Andersen completely subverts the beauty=goodness stereoptype. The human side of her is the side that is truly duplicitous. This play with binaries is something I would expect from Angela Carter, not one of her literary predecessors.

Andersen is a romantic, as in a main focus of his writing is romantic love. Childhood infatuation, unrequited love for women. Here, he puts emphasis on familial love: for daughters, for sons, for birth parents and foster parents. The ties between family are what ultimately move the story along and serve as its anchor. The storks even become a sort of surrogate family for the human characters. There's also his delightful fairy tale logic: characters don stork feathers to fly between fantasy versions of Denmark and Egypt. Baby girls are born from flowers, Thumbelina-style. "The Marsh King's Daughter" is a later story, a more thoughtful Andersen working with the tropes of his early work. And I would be remiss to not mention the writing style. His strength as a writer was bringing old fairy tales to life through description and characterization. This would not be half the story without the diaogue between the wise stork couple. The characters experience loss and longing, all of it heartfelt.

For all its rambling fairy tale language, "The Marsh King's Daughter" is very cohesive story, every digression leading back to the original plot, all of it coming to a twist ending I sure didn't see coming. Magic is dangerous and unpredictable, and Anderson knew this. Be careful what you wish for.

Good job, Hans.

“I can smell the Nile mud and the wet frogs,” said the stork-mamma, “and I begin to feel quite hungry. Yes, now you shall taste something nice, and you will see the marabout bird, and the ibis, and the crane. They all belong to our family, but they are not nearly so handsome as we are. They give themselves great airs, especially the ibis. The Egyptians have spoilt him. They make a mummy of him, and stuff him with spices. I would rather be stuffed with live frogs, and so would you, and so you shall. Better have something in your inside while you are alive, than to be made a parade of after you are dead. That is my opinion, and I am always right.”

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Chapter 65: In Which I Discuss the Tyranny of Unrealism

I admit I don't understand a lot of geek culture. I am a geek. I feel good in the company of other geeks. But there are certain strains of it I don't get. I will never understand them, no matter how hard I try.

Case in point: True Blood. Yes, I know the season ended months ago. I write these blogs at my own pace. They killed off Tara. Sookie's black friend. Summary: Debbie Pelt, the drug-addicted werewolf whose boyfriend is pining for Sookie, goes after her with a shotgun. Tara pushes Sookie out the way, gets some buckshot to the brain for her troubles. Sookie grabs the gun and blows Debbie's head off.

Very tense scene. And I like that, with all the supernatural goings-on, the climax of the show comes down to two rednecks blowing holes in each other over a man. I told a friend of mine about it, and her response was:

"So they killed off the only woman of color on the show?"

Me: "They also killed off the gay Hispanic guy."

I understand why Rutina Wellsley would want to leave the show. There was nothing left for character to do, other than get subjected to more misery, and she's been on it four years. Still, taking her out the way they did sucks. Tara could have left Bon Temps for good (like she tried and failed to do at the end of the third season). By having her sacrifice herself, they imply that Sookie's life means more than hers. It's also horribly predictable that the best friend character takes the hit in order to prove that people can die on the show. If they had to kill a side character, it should have been Jason. I wouldn't have seen that coming.

Seeing them kill of Tara, and vastly reducing the characters of color in a show that takes place in Louisiana, I remembered how I used to go on Youtube and the Television Without Pity forums to see what people were saying about the latest episode, and read this over and over.

"Tara is so annoying. I wish she would die."

"OMFG I hate that quivering lip."

"Kill Tara she won't stop complaining."

"She's so annoying the vampires need to kill her."

So all the haters got their wish. She's dead. First of all, Rutina Wellesley has more acting chops in her bottom lip than most of the other actors on the show, Anna Paquin included. There is an amount of vulnerability in her character that few actors can do well. I admit that I didn't like how Tara was the dumping ground for every tragedy on the show. Abused, abandoned, manipulated, raped. Yet she always got a significant amount of hate from the fanbase. In examining this hate, I finally determined Tara's purpose on the show.

Tara was the voice of reason.

Case in point: her freak-out upon seeing sociopathic Eric Northman in Sookie's house. Keep in mind that Eric was up in the witch coven threatening Tara and her cousin just days before. So after he shows up at Sookie's, she points out all the obvious reasons why harboring him is a bad idea. Sookie does not think of such things. Eric is just so dreamy and he's having amnesia, which means it's okay for Sookie to keep him around and fuck him in a swamp during that ridiculous scene a few episodes later. It's a known fact that Sookie Stackhouse is the most self-absorbed heroine on television. Not surprising given Alan Ball's previous female characters, but I think even Brenda Chenowith and Claire Fisher would be appalled by Sookie. I seriously wonder why she's portrayed as so vapid.

Tara was the human voice on the show. She's not there to be Sookie's best friend, because their friendship is superficial and weak. She kept the plotlines grounded by using straight up logic. Everybody else is using vampire logic or shifter logic or fairy logic or what have you. Tara hates vampires. Any rational human being would considering the carnage they've committed over the show's year-long storyline. And they would hold onto that grudge, as Tara has. Sookie doesn't, but she's not supposed to act realistically. Her character even works in context, as a person who grew up as a social pariah and only feels comfortable in the vampire world.

"Oh my God tara keeps making the same mistakes! She was with Marianne and now she's with the witch! God they should kill her off!"

Yes, human beings make mistakes. Especially ones who come from an abusive background and are constantly surrounded by danger.

The show absolutely needs a realistic character. Someone who reacts to the fucked up events with sorrow, rage and frustration. If the other characters are supposed to be unrealistic, they need that foil to keep things in perspective. "She's so annoying." I personally find the vampires raping and killing everybody in sight to be annoying. In real life, somebody would be bitter if they were raised by an alcoholic. In real life, somebody might try to kill themselves after her boyfriend is murdered by police. In real life, if a vampire kidnapped you, tied you up, forced you to have sex and threatened to kill you, you would call it rape and feel traumatized. Tara hated Franklin and tried to kill him, though she didn't succeed. Compare this to Sookie, who spent season four having extremely awkward, no-chemistry, short-girl, tall-guy sex with the viking who just chained her up in a dungeon a few days ago. The show absolutely needed a character who reacts to the events like a human being, and now that character is gone, to the delight of many.

There's an element of geek sexism to it. Women in fandom are just as guilty as the men are. Tara is considered annoying. But serial killers like Eric get off the hook because "at least he's honest, and, well, he's so hot!!!" I don't know why this works in geek circles. A realistically drawn protagonist will get the kind of fan hate that would normally be reserved for villains, while the worst characters get let off the hook either for having one-liners or rock-hard abs. The characters who fans either want to be or want to fuck. That's why people love the vampires on True Blood. They're witty and good-looking. I know why that matters so much, but that doesn't mean I like it.

The extreme backlash against Tara reminds me of another one of my favorite fandoms: A Song of Ice and Fire. George Martin's epic is filled with "gray" characters who continually commit atrocities, if not outright crimes against humanity. These characters do not get the most hate. In fact, some of them, like Jaime the Kingslayer, are the most popular.

Catelyn Stark is one of the most complicated female protagonists in all of high fantasy. She is strong, stubborn, fragile, fiercely loyal to her family, smart, at times calculating and at other times tragically impetuous. Fashioning such a character is a sign of triumph for Martin, more than any worldbuilding, plot twist or "grit" that the series aspires to. It's not that Catelyn doesn't make mistakes, but a significant amount of the fandom blames her for everything bad that happens in the novels, while lionizing characters like the Kingslayer or Littlefinger because they are "cool," "sexy" and "badass." And don't even get me started on how they make excuses for Tyrion.

I don't know. If I wanted cool, sexy badasses I'd read the latest paranormal romance book. I read Martin's books specifically for the complexity of the characters and plotlines. It's less frustrating in something like Ice and Fire, where I am aware that the author is crafting complicated characters. The hate is totally an aspect of the fandom. On the inverse, in the last two books Jaime continues to be a deeply conflicted, self-pitying, petty and, sometimes, straight up evil character who gets lauded with praise from the fandom.

 Many ASOIAF geeks hate Sansa Stark. A character who at this point in the narrative is 13 years old, and whose major crime seems to be having a romantic personality. Go on any forum, and you'll find plenty of people saying she should be punished for betraying her father to the Lannisters (being an 11-year-old girl who thought the Lannisters were on her side) and, having said that, reach for reasons to heap hate upon this child. George Martin even omitted her betrayal from the TV version of the book, basically admitting it didn't matter to the plotline. Fand son't care. There will always be accusations about her storyline being boring and slow. She's too naive. She's a bitch, etc.

Needless to say, I feel differently. I think she has one of the more fascinating storylines in the books. Sansa Stark is probably Martin's greatest creation: a completely realistic person put into a fantasy setting. In the first book, she is sometimes snooty and has disdain for her tomboy sister, which in nerd world makes her hateable and in the real world makes her, you know, a medieval heiress. Once she is imprisoned by the Lannisters she endures abuse. She is an 11-year-old girl stuck in a horrible circumstance and reacts as an 11-year-old girl would act. No, she isn't sexy like her ninja assassin sister Arya, or cool like her Professor X-style mystic brother Bran. When faced with danger, Sansa minds her manners, doesn't rock the boat and hopes for the best. Like most people would. Not only this, but she comes through these trials with her sense of decency and justice intact.

Still, Sansa gets heaped with hate. I can't help but detect some sexism with her, too. She is the head cheerleader type of the narrative, somewhat vain and prissy. Never mind that she grows out of this by the second book. To an average male geek, her stuck-upness makes her more detestable than the slew of child murderers, necrophiliacs, rapists and tyrants who make up the main cast. Worst of all, during her journey she is not raped, maimed, tortured, or any other punishment that male geeks like to wish on uppity female characters.

In Martin's world of flawed yet larger-than-life characters, this single practical storyline shines through with its complexity. What makes Sansa's story work is that it is so intelligent. Her chapters in A Feast for Crows were primarily domestic scenes, in which most of her character growth is internal. She is learning the ropes from Littlefinger in a very methodical way. Its all very subtle on Martin's part, and slow, and I'm excited to see where it goes because I know it will be intelligently written.

I think there is a certain subsect of geek culture that really wants to be condescended to. They claim sophistication by liking serious political drama like ASOIAF and adult-oriented shows like True Blood, then cry "Oh my God I hate that" when the creators do anything akin to realism. Sch people say they like grown-up entertainment when they really want Forgotten Realms books. And I can understand disliking a realistic character popping up in a Drizz't novel. But why do you watch a TV show where one character is supposed to be realistic, in a setting that is supposed to mirror our world, then complain about her acting like a realistic 21st century American woman. It's the tyranny of unrealism: the desire for fantasy to be merely wish fulfillment when it's far more than that. It boggles my mind. And I'm sure you'll see me bitching about this at a convention panel someday.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Get Used to It


This horrific footage from today's Occupy Oakland protest came courtesy of Tea Party Tweets on Youtube. I love that the fakeass GOP voter mobilization ruse is not only still pretending like it exists after the midterm elections, but providing useful footage as well. Thanks, guys, for being useful for someone other than John Boehner.

Like when any movement gains momentum, at some point state violence comes into play. Usually this is early on. It's interesting that it took them this long.

I have not participated in the Occupy Oakland protest. I have my own reasons. However, I can say a few years ago I took time off from the struggle to focus on my writing career. To do so necessitated embracing whatever limited privilege I have. I go to Mills College, one of the most obvious white privilege zones in the Bay. If an actual class war were to ever happen in Oakland, Mills would be a main target.

The occupation was a lovely thing to experience, even as an outsider. People from all walks of life dialoguing and creating a non-hierarchical space. Despite this setback, the momentum will not die. That's because the dialogue has changed completely. The dialogue in America (even politicians are recognizing) is about class. And since things will get increasingly worse for the working-class, expect more actions like the occupatons.

Repeat: it's about class. I had to unfriend a few douches on Facebook recently who were ragging on the occupiers as people who need to get a job. The occupiers are working-class people from one of the ruggedest cities in California. My Facebook friends were born and raised in the wealthiest county in Maryland. Class versus class. People who can afford laptops for Facebook versus people who wait in line to use their hour at the library for job hunting. It is about class.

It is also about race. Mostly it's about class. Being white in this country does not have as much capital as it used to. A poor white person will find it equally hard to get a job, and modern protest movements, if they are worth a damn, address issues of privilege in their organizing. And, yes, some people will continue to say it's welfare and Mexicans and liberals wanting to suck the government teat. These people are going to become increasingly irrelevant. Their slogans will, as well.

It is not about politics. I'm actually beginning to think Obama will not get a second term because his base has completely moved beyond him. If so, I don't feel bad for him, because he'll be one of the few people out there whose family will be taken care of. Good for him. There's also the nihilistic part of me that wants the Republicans back just to see what calamities they can serve up this time. It is not about liberals and conservatives. It's not something politicians can fix, and it's something they're to blame for only in an abstract way. The money belongs to 1% of the people and it's never going to trickle down. The industry in this country is gone. Politicians not only can't provide for you, what with the welfare state cracking, they cannot save you from this mess.

I didn't need to be in downtown tonight because the last time I was in a place called Oakland I saw the exact same thing. That was when police tear gassed the Towers on the Pitt campus, after the G20 had already left town. These guys with the fancy toys were mostly out-of-towners, as your typical Pittsburgh cops were out harassing street hoods who they thought matched the "anarchist" description. Stupid fucking yinzers. I know what a police riot looks like already. I'm used to it.

Get used to it. Campuses filled with tear gas. Downtown filled with tear gas. The difference is that those college kids were holding a rally, and were thus on the defensive. The occupations, even with the lack of clear demands they have been criticized for, are by nature offensive. I suspect a lot of college students who might have wasted their time next year with "Get Out the Vote Campaigns' have found their real option.

Expect more of this. Expect to see it in your city. America is facing economic collapse, and no amount of telling people to get jobs, or voting, or sloganeering, or Obma presenting bills, or the Republicans shutting them down, or hating Mexicans or championing corporations like so many Americans like to do for some absurd reason is going to change it. The dialogue has moved to class, and class in this country is not going to change without a fight. It's going to be the 60s all over again. Unlike the 60s, nobody will be pacified with crumbs from the government, and there will be nowhere for the middle-class to retreat to. Except maybe into the streets. I suggest investing in a gas mask.

Friday, October 21, 2011


Fascinating interview, and now I finally see what the big deal is about this guy. We live in an age where a book even making money is cause for celebration. Rushdie is the last author to make people angry with a book. I seriously didn't know. The trail of blood that followed The Satancic Verses is just...wow. Puts a lot of shame on radical Islam, but also speaks to the power of writing. Interesting author, even if his opinion on The Wire is utterly wrong.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Obscure Fantasy: Dreamchild

"What was that name that Lewis Carroll used to call you?"

"That's right. Dreamchild."

That is a beautiful movie poster. Made doubly so by the fact that, in the movie, the moment it illustrates most likely didn't happen. Dreamchild, the first film made by the Jim Henson Creature Shop without the auteur's input, is a film about memory. What happened, what we wish had happened, what we wish to take back. It is also, like the poster, beautiful.

In college I worked at the University of Pittsbugh's Hillman Library. I was in the stacks department. We put books back where they belonged. I believe the department was famous for having Pitt's longest-serving employee, a cantankerous old man who headed stacks for 30 or 40 years and always talked about his trips to the "picture show." It was a job anybody could do and, accordingly, we were paid almost nothing. But it was comfortable, so comfortable it never occurred to me to secure an internship or some kind of real job at any point during my three years of undergrad. For two years I pushed around carts and tried not to fall asleep while shelfreading.

One of the great things about shelving books was the opportunity to lollygag and dillydally. I got plenty of reading done when I was hidden among those metal shelves. A particular favorite place to waste time was the magazine section, an impressive collection of magazines bound in hardback. I would dive into the old issues of Cinefantastique, the greatest magazine devoted to speculative film. It was like having a time machine. I wiled away the hours reading articles about classic movies from before they came out. On-the-set reports from Temple of Doom and Conan the Barbarian. Reviews of Dragonslayer and Krull. Interviews with Joe Dante and Tobe Hooper during the height of Spielberg's media ascendance.

One of these issues previewed a small English movie with an intriguing title: Dreamchild (1985). An intriguing title with an intriguing premise, based on true events: the 80-year-old Alice Hargreaves (nee Liddell), the inspiration for Lewis Carroll's Alice, journeys to America to receive an honorary degree from Columbia University, in honor of the author's centennial. In New York City, she has several fantasy sequences involving characters from the novel, designed by the Jim Henson Creature Shop.

Let me repeat that.

Jim Henson.

Doing Alice in Wonderland.

In the eighties.

For a nerd, I am relatively modest in my fandoms. That said, I have watched Labyrinth from beginning to end at least one hundred times. Like many in my generation, I was raised on Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal, that classic duology of dry humor, genuine scares, big haired eighties pop, Brian Froud faerie designs and breathtaking puppetry. They have achieved iconic status and deservedly so. The Henson fantasy oeuvre is all the more special for how little of it there is. You have the two features, Fraggle Rock and The Storyteller TV series. It seems absurd that anything would pass under the radar, yet you will find many a Henson fan who is unaware of Dreamchild.

After learning of Dreamchild, it shot high on my list of films to see, and stayed there until--thank god for Youtube--I finally saw it this year. It's easy to see why Gavin Millar's film hasn't achieved the cult status of the other two films, and not just because Henson didn't direct it. Dreamchild is not a fun movie. The film is sad, elegiac, has a dark color palette and, for a movie full of animatronic puppets, startlingly understated. No goblin dance parties here. It's not even a fantasy, per se, all of its speculative scenes firmly rooted in dream sequences. The film takes place in the real world, the protagonist is elderly and it deals with elderly issues in a frank manner. Dreamchild is a deeply thoughtful picture with a lot to say.

Before I go on, I must admit I know little about Lewis Carroll, real name Charles Dodgson, one of the most fascinating figures in English literature. I love Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, of course, and it's way past time I gave them a reread. His complicated relationship with the Liddell family has been subject to much investigation, and centuries later there are still no concrete answers. Was Reverend Dodgson a harmless pedophile? A mentor caught up in the Victorian cult of the child? Whatever the truth was, the movie falls firmly on the side that he loved Alice Liddell. The character of Dodgson is absolutely smitten with his prepubescent muse, and she has a certain affection for him, as well.

As stated, Dreamchild was made by the Jim Henson Creature Shop, not Henson, and it would be illogical to think he had any more to do with it than with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies. Yet somehow it fits with the two Henson-directed films, to the point that I would call it a trilogy closer. I'm sure some people will claim The Witches has that title, but hear me out.

The Dark Crystal is a full-blown fantasy world, every single detail down to the smallest flower a work of imagination. The story is pure monomyth, a child's heroic fantasies (and nightmares) brought to life. In Labyrinth, the fantasy world is conquered by humanity in the form of David Bowie's Jareth. Conquered and ultimately rejected by Jennifer Connely's Sarah, though she retains that fraction of whimsy that will help get her through her adult life. The climax of Labyrinth makes it explicit that the fantasy world is the world of childhood.

The first movie is a child's dreams, the second movie about reconciling childhood concerns with those of maturation. Now we are at Dreamchild, which is firmly about the regrets of old age: the inability to change the past, the loneliness, the approach of mortality and the uncertainty for those you leave behind. The fantasy world that was so vivid in Dark Crystal is now dark and claustrophobic, the realm of fragmented adult memory. It is interesting to me that Labyrinth is also about a romantic relationship between a young girl and a much older suitor; in that way Dreamchild works as a spiritual sequel, the girl coming to terms with the relationship, now that she has nothing left to do but reflect on the past. 

That the world of imagination/childhood is rendered so terrifying makes Dreamchild doubly effective. The Henson duology, particularly Dark Crystal, are often scary, just as childhood can be scary. The adult mind forgets the fear it felt the first time the Skeksis shambled onscreen in their hulking Baroque costumes, just like it tries to forget (yet subconsciously remembers) childhood trauma. Alice's trauma stems from her girlhood. She begins the film by lying to herself, saying she was merely the template for Dodgson to create his stories. As things progress, her repeated question "What does it all mean?" goes deeper than simply wondering why so many people love a children's book.


The movie opens like a horror film: ominous cello music, camera panning over water that does not look entirely natural, to a beach tossed with debris. The Mock Turtle is crying; his fur is patchy, his oblong face is whiskered and a dark green color. The Gryphon looks somewhat like a Skeksi, unfolding his wings so tall they stab at the top of the screen. They do the classic dialogue with the elderly Alice (Coral Browne), insulting and threatening the scared old woman. She turns into the child Alice, who is not so frightened. "Where are you?" the woman thinks as the camera fades. "Where have you gone?"

New York City. The 1930s. We are introduced to the upper-crust Alice Hargreaves and her timid assistant Lucy (an early turn by British TV actress Nicola Cowper). Alice is not particularly likeable. She is judgmental, self-possessed, obsessed with being proper, henpecks her assistant and spends her time ruminating on curious American customs, such as this gummy paste they chew all the time. She's the type of woman who insists on being called Misses Hargreaves. Needless to say, Alice is flabbergasted when they are met at the harbor by a horde of journalists who chase her down, thrust white stuffed rabbits in her face, call her by her first name and generally behave like nuisances. Alice claims to have no idea what the fuss is about, which begs the question: why is she there?

As if to prove this movie was made in the '80s, Peter Gallagher is in it. He plays Jack Dolan, an unemployed wheeler-dealer reporter who sets his sights on Alice as his meal ticket. To get to her he seduces Lucy, then decides to break the young woman out of her shell. It is up to Jack to explain the situation to the audience: America is in the middle of the Depression and everybody is looking for a little wonder in their hard lives. As such, New York City is gaga for the arrival of the "real Alice." Alice in Wonderland is a story embedded in the human DNA: everyone knows the inquisitive little girl's adventures down the rabbit hole even if they never opened the book or know the slightest thing about its author. The reporters who hound Alice certainly don't know their facts, asking her who this "Dodgson guy" is. The idea of art taking on a life of its own is an important theme of Dreamchild.

The film flashes back to Alice's relationship with Dodgson in perfectly executed scenes of Victorian life. These scenes are the linchpin of the movie and they play like scenes from a Victorian novel, patiently told. Beneath every scene is the intense longing of Dodgson (Ian Holm) for his muse. Young Alice is played by Amelia Shankley, a charming child actress who did some period pieces in the 1980s and early '90s before, unfortunately, disappearing off the face of the planet. It is easy to see how the nervous, stuttering photographer becomes so infatuated with her. She is not the Alice of the books, but she is bold, smart and mischievous. She is also knowing, and interested in Dodgson, if only because he is her first experience of a man feeling this way toward her.

In her very first scene, young Alice is already his confidante. She relates to her mother and sisters a story about Dodgson photographing Lord Tennyson. When her mother wonders with concern why Dodgson tells her so much, her response is "Because he loves me." She knows the emotion, if not the extent of the writer's feelings. There is a preternatural sexuality to the way she interacts with this hapless man, showing her interest in the only ways he knows how: flinging water at him during a boat ride, offering to dry him off with her own handkerchief, knowing that she makes him nervous. The movie makes a bold move in having the affection returned. Her feelings for him aren't sexual, and, if Dodgson feels sexual desire, he hides it. They exist in a strange place, child and man-child, with the child often having the upper hand. Taunting him, complimenting him, knowing when to give and hold back her favors. These scenes are filled with tension, and provide a dark undercurrent to the older Alice's regrets.


Dreamchild is not really a film about children's literature, but our relationship to this literature. In exploring this, and the way it blurs the lines between fantasy and reality, it joins a unique sub-genre of fantasy film that deals with this topic. Finding Neverland and The Neverending Story are also in this category, to name but two. The media is wild about Alice because she provides a nostalgic feeling in the midst of the Depression. Columbia University is willing to throw large amounts of money toward this nostalgia trip. Never mind that the book Alice in Wonderland is in no way comfortable children's lit in the way that, say, Winnie the Pooh is. The book is oftentimes frightening, undoubtedly surreal and filled with Victorian-era satire. In the 1930s, as now, many people's fond memories of it had more to do with how old they were when they read it, and less to do with its bizarre cavalcade of disembodied heads, abused lizards and pepper-flinging cooks. The book itself is a weird combination of a child's rambling logic and an adult's cynicism. With this in mind, Dreamchild is one of the more faithful Wonderland pastiches.

As Jack explains to Alice after barging into her hotel room, a world in economic disaster is very open to distraction. For her part, Alice is trying to work out her transition from muse to relic of the idyllic past. The idea of the nostalgic permeates every frame of the movie, with a running theme of how media is used to create fabricated visions of history. Much is made in the flashback scenes of Dodgson's career as a photographer, such as his heroic portrait of Lord Tennyson. The advent of photography changed the Western world and Victorian England, specifically; what was lauded as a means of capturing reality was just as often used to fabricate romantic images, such as the angelic representations of childhood in Dodgson's portraits of the Liddell sisters.

The movie positions Dodgson as a man-child trying to connect with his own youth through indulging his sense of whimsy. Fast-forward seventy years. A generation of people raised on his novels now get their nostalgia through radio, as shown in a scene where Alice visits a recording studio. She witnesses the recording of a melodrama about a singing cowboy, the kind of popular Depression-era entertainment that had little to do with the real Old West. There is also mention of the 1933 Paramount Pictures Wonderland adaptation. Dreamchild positions these media against each other, an ever-evolving search for simplicity for an increasingly jaded public. This makes Alice Hargreaves truly unique: she is not a photograph, or a book, or a radio serial. She is a living totem of childhood nostalgia; "Better than Peter Pan, Huck Finn, and Santa Claus all rolled into one," according to Jack. The 10-year-old Alice had no choice in becoming the subject of Dodgson's art. The 80-year-old Alice willingly exploits herself on the radio for money, clumsily reading a monologue somebody else wrote where she represents herself as the character from the book.

And all the while, Alice continues to protest that she does not understand what the fuss is about. Everything stems from her complicated relationship with Dodgson, a burden that she alone is left to shoulder. Meanwhile, the world around her is trying to make something simple from the difficult life of a woman whose difficult relationship with a difficult literary figure spawned a difficult text, a private old woman who has endured her share of personal tragedy. If Alice is the messy truth behind the art, then Jack Dolan represents the commodifying of said art. When Jack, armed with his charm and bare minimum of knowledge about Lewis Carroll, tries to woo the old woman by evoking her relationship with the author, it seems that, manipulative as he is, he "gets it" better than she does.

"Misses Hargreaves...We just want you to be the Alice we all remember."

Her response: "It would be difficult enough at my age to be what I once was, but utterly impossible to be what I never was."

There is bitterness in that line, as if Dodgson hurt her somehow by turning her into a beloved literary character. Ultimately, it doesn't matter to the book's admirers if she is the "real Alice." A huge part of Alice's dilemma is dealing with the fact that something so personal to her has taken on a life of its own, and making sense of her role in this. That dilemma is what she's willing to acknowledge to others, but Dreamchild goes even deeper.

The Inner Mind

This is as good a time as any to talk about the puppet work. There are only six puppets in the movie: the Caterpillar, the Mock Turtle, the Gryphon, the Mad Hatter, the March Hare and the Dormouse. The Wonderland characters have aged with Alice; decrepit, sickly versions of Tenniel's illustrations, they are brusque and insulting to the old woman in her fantasy sequences. They also stand up there with the best of Henson's work. Just look at the disgust in the Caterpillar's eyes when he asks Alice: "So you think you've changed, have you?" It's amazing.

As stated, the young Alice in the fantasy sequences is perfectly capable of keeping up with the Wonderland characters. It is when she switches to her current form that she is confused by their well-known dialogues. Her inability to deal with her past has only been exacerbated by age. The puppetry sequences in Dreamchild serve to delve into the complexities of the human heart. Herein lies the power of this movie: in a medium known for being explicit, it allows the characters to say one thing and think another.

In one scene, Alice, getting ready for bed, has a lovely conversation with Lucy about how she has become used to the fact of her death. She believes God is a gentleman, and looks forward to seeing her husband and sons in Heaven. While the old woman sleeps, Lucy goes dancing with Jack. Alice is awoken by a ringing telephone; addled and helpless without her assistant, she walks into another room to find Dodgson sitting on the bed, staring condemningly from the afterworld.

At this point, the movie delves into serious psychological horror territory. Alice is about to answer the phone when she looks into another room and sees the Mad Tea Party. The March Hare is ugly and insolent, with crooked incisors and a wildly twitching nose. You can smell his bad breath through the TV screen. The Mad Hatter is even uglier, and appears to have partaken of the wine that the March Hare offers. Once Alice sits down, they go about the famous dialogue word for word, but their delivery is sinister. The Hatter is violent, splattering hot tea everywhere, pouring it on the Dormouse's nose. The March Hare keeps sticking his ugly snout in Alice's face. The question of "How is a raven like a writing desk?" is thrown at her like an accusation, her inability to answer the answerless riddle only more proof of her helplessness. "Wrong, wrong, wrong!" says the Hatter, scattering dishes. When Alice accuses them of wasting time, she is really talking about herself.

"You half-wit," the Hatter calls her. "Ugly old hag. You should be dead, dead, dead."

This scene is juxtaposed with a flashback of an enthusiastic Dodgson telling the story of the Tea Party to the sisters during their famous rowing trip, young Alice musing on how she wishes the characters were real, while at the same time the characters scare the elder Alice. The scene ends with the old woman trying to make sense of the solicitors on the other end of the phone. She is completely at her wit's end, unabe to reconcile with her past and her shortening future. As beautiful as her conversation with Lucy is, the film makes the point that no amount of age can prepare someone for mortality. Furthermore, the Christian afterlife might be just as full of people you have wronged as those you wish to see. The puppetry sequence is employed to truly get inside Alice's head, weaving the past, present and fantasy worlds seamlessly. This is masterful filmmaking.

Gallagher and Cowper are fine as the young lovers, but this is Coral Browne's movie. It was the final feature for the legendary Australian actress, and it is impressive to think how the proper character she portrays is so opposite to the famously ribald thespian. Her performance is understated and completely natural. Browne is a beautiful woman with an evocative face, and she does a lot with the character of Alice Hargreaves: at turns self-absorbed, frightened, confused, reflective, blunt, greedy, a liar, vain and full of humor. One has to think that the thoughts on Alice's mind were most likely on Browne's, as well. The actress would pass away six years later.

The puppet scenes are used to get to the meat of Alice's trepidations. "Repeat after me," the Caterpillar says. "You are old, Misses Hargreaves." For the life of her, Alice cannot remember why her mother burned Dodgson's letters to her, or why he was forbidden from coming around her and her sisters. It is unclear whether she has forgotten due to age or because she made herself forget. Among these things she has forgotten, she gradually comes to acknowledge the truth of her feelings.

"I used him," she says of her first suitor.


At it's heart, Dreamchild is a love story. Not love with a capital L, but the down and dirty love that leaves people sick and opens the door for catastrophe. All of the events in the movie stem from the sad, doomed and unhealthy love between Dodgson and Alice.

Towards the end of the film, there is a painful scene in which Alice, alone with Dodgson in his dark room, expresses her excitement over having tea with a group of boys, including a certain young sportsman named Reggie Hargreaves. The pain is clear on Dodgson's face, and he comes this close to telling her his feelings. The words of love are right on his lips. Instead, he stammers some advice about not falling for the first lad to sweep her off her feet. She, of course, doesn't get it. It kills him inside when he hands her a copy of his book, this testament to his affection, and all she sees is a story. Then the kicker: Alice races off to join her sisters, blithely tearing back the window curtain, exposing his pictures to light. Dodgson is left alone, spurned, and all he can do is laugh at the absurdity of it all.

It is not Alice's fault that she did not love a much older man, but the trip to America dredges up all the scars. She feels terrible about the way her relationship with Dodgson went. She cannot remember whether it went to an inappropriate level, but the guilt she feels for his banishment from her life is like that of a woman who has rejected her lover. This is underscored by a flashback towards the end where Alice and her sisters, the dashing Hargreaves boys in two, ask Dodgson for a song. He stutters through the "Mock Turtle's Lament" and they laugh at this dweeb, already engaging in adolescent cruelty. Young Alice can't help herself, but the woman she grows up to be finds herself feeling guilty for the fact that she literally outgrew her first love. "I used him." In her mind, she entertained herself with his affection and cast him away, and there is no chance now to make it up to him.

Cinefantastique described the plot as the elderly Alice helping to bring together two young lovers. Thankfully, the movie is not nearly so trite. It is about love in all its hardships. The romantic B-plot is itself complicated and, in a realistic turn of events, largely unresolved at the end. Lucy is unsure of whether Jack wants her or if this is all a ploy for money. It all comes back to children's literature. Alice is the complicated truth behind the beloved art. Jack is its commodification. Lucy is the innocent in the scenario, with this sojourn to America her introduction to the complexities of the world.

That the love story does not quite work is to the movie's favor. It is possible that Jack is charmed by this beautiful and nervous young Englishwoman, equally possible that his feelings are paternal and condescending. It is possible that Lucy sees the vulnerability under his snake oil routine, equally possible that she is latching onto the first man who will have her, transitioning from a mother figure who will die soon to a lover to depend on. That Alice is so impressed by their "love" speaks more about her than them. When we last see them at the celebration at Columbia, Jack is sitting next to Lucy, having successfully insinuated himself into both women's lives. Whatever love they have is the kind that will not solidify in three days, and the movie does well to leave it open-ended. This is no twee romance between Lucy and Jack. The possibilty is there for a relationship just as traumatic as Alice and Dodgson's.

Alice in Wonderland was Dodgson's love letter to Alice. It is in realizing how far this story has gone beyond their personal relationship that Alice finds her peace at last.

Real People

The ultimate strength of Dreamchild is that it allows its characters to be complicated. This is a film about real people. Real people agreeing, disagreeing, loving and clashing. It follows the interrelated relationships of four nuanced characters: Alice, Lucy, Jack and Dodgson. Does Alice love Lucy as a daughter or see her as a servant? Does Lucy depend on Alice becasue she needs a job, or because the way the old woman speaks makes Lucy, according to her, "see through her eyes." Does she fear Alice's death for Alice's sake or hers? Does Jack want Lucy or is his quarry the old woman? Is he in it for the money? Is he a sympathetic con artist or a crass con artist taking twenty percent of Alice's earnings? When Alice decides to do the radio show, is she doing it to work out her feelings or because she wants lots of money? Does young Alice love Dodgson or is she playing games with him? Does Dodgson appreciate her family at all, or is everything just to get close to his beloved?

The answer is, wonderfully, all of the above. These characters are written in shades of gray, and the fact that they constantly use each other still allows for genuine feeling. They're human and are allowed to be as complicated as human beings are. The same goes for their relationships. For all the abusive undertones in their interactions, Lucy seems to be the only person who truly understands Alice. Mrs. Hargreaves expresses her affection the only way she knows how, and it is possible her relationships with Reggie and her sons were just as stilted. In navigating her first experience with a male suitor, Lucy grows disillusioned with both Jack and Alice. She lashes out at them, but she still loves them.
It is in seeing how art moves beyond the personal that Alice finds her solace. At the ceremony, she flashes back to that painful rendition of "The Mock Turtle's Lament." As a men's choir does a rendition of the song, Alice uses her imagination to rewrite history. Instead of laughing at Dodgson, she hugs him, an embrace that strikes the man so much he cant even return it, but lets his arms drop to his sides. He is so lovestruck that he can only receive. Seventy years later, Alice is now the artist recreating the world as she wants it. It is telling that Alice, prior to this a scared victim of her memories, takes control of the world of childhood by embodying her former self. This makes sense, as the child self is the version of her most comfortable in this world. Listening to the choir, she appreciates everything Dodgson accomplished in a way that her childhood self never could. This is a revelation that could only come with age. Whatever occurred between her and the reverend, the product of their relationship has flourished beyond them as individuals. It is now a part of the world, and this fact helps her go to her rest in peace. At least, that's what I got out of it. This being Dreamchild, the final image on the Mock Turtle's beach is both creepy and heartwearming.

Dreamchild is that rare movie, fantasy or otherwise: a film made for adults. You have trauma on the inside, the Depression on the outside, and there are no easy answers. You are required to think. Was the historical Dodgson really attracted to the young Alice? It doesn't matter. This movie is not a biography on Dodgson or Liddell: it is an inspection on the way that art takes on a life of this own. It is a look at how art stems from individuals, and how it affects individuals. With this in mind, the movie works better because they're not striving to tell the 100% truth of anything.

The movie is also a swan song. Both Browne and Henson died shortly after the film's release. Henson left us with a few more creations before his untimely death, projects that he was more personally invested in. However, his genius is all over the puppetry in this movie. As such, Dreamchild is an opportunity to see two master artists at the top of their form, before they became a part of history.

For a movie with so much to say, Dreamchild is both short and inconclusive. I feel myself drawn nowadays to storytelling that does not tie everything up. As the story of Dodgson shows, even death is not the end. The story will always go on, and as long as we live, we will retell it in our own way.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Chapter 64: In Which I Mention the Next Reading

So what have I been up to? Wrote a five-page paper about images of Islam in America on Monday. Taught a lesson for my multicultural YA lit class on Tuesday. Workshopped novel exerpts on Wednesday. Did about ten English tutorials with undergrads and sat in on two of their classes for my TAship. Worked on my novel. Did some writing for the next "Obscure Fantasy" post. Looking for a new place to live. What does this mean, other than the usual no blog update?

I am straight up missing this year's Litquake. Karen Joy Fowler did a talk on Sunday. Missed it. Karen Russell? Missed her. The way things are looking now, the only Litquake reading I'll make it to is my own.

Despite my calm, reserved demeanor, I am so excited to be participating in this year's Litcrawl. I was invited to do the Carl Brandon reading after the organizer saw me read at IWL. The lineup looks out of this world.


The other readers seem to be doing multimedia/performance based speculative work, which is the kind of stuff I'd like to do, and would have done if I had the time to put something together. This time around I'm resorting to good old-fashioned oratory. I had a lot of ideas for this reading, all of which I'll push back to next summer's tour. Will it still be fun? You bet your ass.

Some friends of mine from IWL will also be reading. Here's the skinny on it:


I make no bones that I think Litquake is the bee's knees. It only takes place in SF, NYC and Austin (the San Francisco of Texas), but I think every city should have a multidiciplinary week-long literary festival. Litcrawl is a blast. There will always be drunks wandering around Valencia Street on Saturday. But this time they're going to readings! Crowded readings that people actually attend! Oh my God!

I'll have the next "Obscure Fantasy" posted by Sunday. It's about one of my new favorite movies. see you then.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Chapter 63: In Which I Let the World Know We Have Distro

The Jack Daniels Sessions EP has distro! Small Press Distribution as a matter of fact, my good neighbors in Berkeley.

Just spoke to Nathan at Six Gallery. They've requested 60 copies to sell through their distro. With the deadline for submission extended to November, it should be available for order in their spring 2012 calendar. Yay! SPD has been championing independent publishing for over four decades. Read their catalog. A lot of weird stuff in there, and I'm happy to add mine to the mix.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Chapter 62: In Which I Rant About College

So I'm in grad school. Mills College. I'm in grad school because I want better job prospects. I go to Mills because I got rejected by my other two choices. This was a choice I made. Its astoundingly expensive and I had to take out mad loans to do it. Fine. I'm told the twenty grand I owe (after cutting every possible corner) is modest by loan standards. The economic prospects for my generation are so dead that everybody's in the same boat anyway. All of us who aren't inheriting money are going to be working two jobs for the rest of our lives. When I asked the people at the school about grants and that sort of thing, they told me there was nothing out there. The whole published author deal didn't mean anything to them; they let me know pretty firmly that it was my privilege to be there. Fine. Some people are just hard to impress.

Is it just possible to eat the food?

Today was the convocation/inauguration of the new president. I'm told she is the first black president in the history of the school, which means just as much as it does any time a black person becomes president of something. This is the post-racial America, meaning we are now aware that having people of color at the head of racist systems has little significance. African nations learned that a long time ago, by the way.

Anyway. In case you don't know what a convocation is, its where the trustees, alumnae and graduating class of the college are shuttled around to different events and have this sort of "pre-graduation" ceremony. At least, that's what I got out of it. There was tons of catered food for the Mills community, wine and exotic foreign foods like quesadillas. One stipulation: you have to RSVP. To RSVP, you have to be in the procession. To be in the procession, you need the cap and gown. To afford the cap and gown, you have to make far more money than I do. Sure, plenty of students got around the food situation. I chose not to, as I kind of stand out (only black male student on campus, as far as I know) and don't like dealing with lots of bullshit. It feels surreal to me that the “Mills community” taking part of the festivities is mostly comprised of rich people people who haven't seen a lecture hall in twenty years. Because I can't afford it, I am not allowed to eat a sandwich next to them.

Nobody's fault but mine. I chose to be in the academy and reap the career benefits. I chose to watch them eat right in front of me.

It's hard not to be bitter sometimes. What I find interesting is that the staff at the school is aware of the dynamics. Of course they are; it's a women's college in the Bay. Everyone in the Bay is "aware," the question is whether they care or not. Because they are aware of it, that makes everything okay. “Yes, this is a wealthy, exclusive campus in the middle of the inner-city. All the workers are people of color and the student body is white. It's awful and problematic.” And they leave it at that.

The first time I ever came to Mills, security literally trailed me across the whole campus. Like, right up to the admissions department. Like most servants around campus, they were people of color who internalized certain rules about who should be allowed. One thing I find aggravating about racism (as opposed to the non-aggravating parts, I guess) is how infantilizing it is. There's a reason they call us “boy” in the South. Anybody who looks at me can see I'm in my late 20s. Do you seriously think I'm coming here to fuck with teenaged white girls? Seriously? Never mind the fact that the only available English faculty I talked to, when asked what opportunities were available for poverty-level students, said maybe I should consider not going to grad school.

Which is fine. Again, I chose to come here. It's just hard to be in such a place and not feel like I've fallen somehow. There was a time I took what I wanted and didn't care whether someone said 'Hands off the food.' There was a time I got a full ride to a school based on the quality of my work, a quality which has multiplied exponentially in the last few years. The older I get, the more inclined I feel to follow rules. Today I went to People's Park and joined the other poor people in the Food Not Bombs line. A wonderful, beautiful and encouraging way to spend the afternoon. That food was free. I pay to go to Mills and feel alienated.

And that's fine. They are who they are. I've looked at the prospects of teaching college when all this is done. After all, it's a job and I'm qualified. Whatever enables me to keep writing. Would I then be the asshole telling a hungry person they can't eat?

And I know it's college. I know everybody else figured this out years ago and dropped ut to go ride trains. I know you'd get the same bullshit at Stanford or anywhere else. There's a certain amount of responsibility that comes with self-alienation. People who choose to come to academia should not bitch because its elitist. People who vote should not complain when the politicians do things they don't like, such as escalating the Middle Eastern wars. Man, you surrendered your agency to this person, sothere you are. And this is the last time I'll bitch about my own choices. Many essays have been written about the plantation-style aspect of higher education. I don't want to write another one. I just want a fucking sandwich.


I want to be a detail-oriented writer. I'm not saying I am. It's what I want. Sometimes I get so caught up in writing that I skip all the juicy little things that make a world come alive and just jump into the plot.

Which is why I need to go to a jazz concert.

The characters in my novel like jazz. I don't, but they do. They're currently at a jazz festival. When I think of jazz, I think of Count Basie. But when I go on the SF jazz festival website, I see all kinds of things. All the different musical genres blended together, which I guess is the essence of jazz. Certaibly not just the New Orleans or New York or Chicago stuff that developed in the 20th century.

One of my sisters from IWL is doing a show with Brenda Wong Aoki next month. Brenda's performance consists of Noh-inspired storytelling, accompanied by jazz/traditional Japanese taiko drum. I can't even begin to fathom what this looks like, but it sounds awesome. I need to know what modern jazz looks like. Where it happens. Who goes to see it. What do the musicians look like? What is the between-song repartee? It's time to learn some specifics. That's my next field trip for this book.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Chapter 61: In Which I Discuss A Reading in Buffalo

One day I'm going to find out how Google ranks what comes up on its search requests. Right now I'm simply too lazy to google the answer.

I google myself evey once in a while. Vanity is naturally the reason. Googling has become annoying since my laptop picked up a virus that keeps redirecting me to spam sites. "Congratulations! You've won..." Shut the fuck up. It's interesting and validating to see that record of what I've accomplished. It's also interesting to see the strange places my name turns up (AAEA Hollywood, I'm looking at you). And there are nice surprises, such as the fact that the JDS Amazon page is no longer a giant block of text. We'll see how long that lasts. The top-ranked site is this blog, which makes me do a happy dance.

A site that has has without fail, consistently, for over a year been in the top five is the reading Dan and I did at Talking Leaves Books in Buffalo. A reading that the owner warned us would be sparsely attended, and it was. Four people came. Two of them were journalism students at the college who were required to review a reading, and left right after Dan, presumably to write about how dirty his clothes were in detail. Then there was a friend of Dan's. Then there was an enthusiastic young lady who told us we inspired her, and thank goodness for people like her. I'm an emerging artist and don't expect large crowds. Just one person, one in the audience with enthusiasm for the written word makes it all worthwhile.

Was Talking Leaves a good reading? Sure. I think we were up to the task. Afterward we stayed with Dan's friend, had dinner, drank 40s, and watched Steamboy and Legend back to back. A viewing of Steamboy will make any evening just right.It's like Akira with all the brain cells taken away.  If you have trouble sleeping, Legend with its ultra-soothing Tangerine Dream soundtrack will do the trick.

Today I google myself (sounds so dirty) and find that the Buffalo reading is number two in the search. Seriously, how are these ranked? Is there just posthumous interest in the lost Elvenslaughter reading? Or does the store pay to bump up their site like BP pays to bump up sites about their lackluster cleanup efforts in the gulf?

Much love to Talking Leaves, by the way. Friendliest people and so accomodating. The next stop (Cleveland) was our only real bullshit stop where I could tell they put no effort into it. Seriously, people, promote your readings. At least let the employees know there's going to be one. If an audience shows up, they buy things and you make money. Or don't promote. Get swallowed by Barnes & Noble for all I care. Argh.

I've been reminiscing a lot about my first tour. Time for another "Music of the Elvenslaughter," methinks.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Quick update

So Christine and I made our Kickstarter!!!! Thanks to everybody that contributed. We have a nice chunk of change to work with next year. I've also bee nlooking into travel grants for next years tour. It would be nice to ease the gas burden a bit.

Next up on the agenda: making good on our incentives. And I will. Everybody will get what they were promised on the Kickstarter. I've been busy as of late. Three grad classes and a TAship that by itself takes up 12 hours a week. The main challenge in following on incentives will be editing the audiobook tracks to send to people. Audacity, here I come. Did I mention I just did some studio time for the audiobook? Yeah. Chapters 3 and 4 of "Assistant." It's all coming together.

I am very much about revising as I go along. I've learned this working on Motley & Plume the last few months. I'll do 5 pages, just freewriting and inserting ramdom bits. Then I'll go over those same five pages again. And again. And send them out for critique. The first 130 pages have been laid out for a while, and I'm about to give them another once over.

I've never been much for outlines, so I'm discovering this story and these characters as I write it. The process is magical. I won't lie. I've got a good 400 pages of material. About a third of it is loose notes, and it's all way more than I'm going to use. The goal is to cut it down to 300. In other words, the real challenge will be once all is on the page.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Chapter 60: In Which I Discuss True Blood Again

The problem with my favorite guilty pleasure is that it's a dumb show written by smart people.

Two episodes left and I'm enjoying this new season for the junk food it is. There are still too many storylines, but at least they're integrated better. The vampire vs. witch storyline is being handled decently, and thank god Bill has something to do other than moon over Sookie. Stephen Moyer's been a jem this whole season, but a lot of the actors are doing great. At this point in the story, the vampires are suited up in their black leather to go lay the smackdown on the witch Marnie and her group of human hostages. Other than Marnie, all of the witches want out, but the vampires, as usual, don't give a shit. And we're supposed to root for them and cheer them on as they blow everyone to Kingdom Come.

And I would, but the show is too smart for it's own good. What makes it smart is that the vampires aren't a romanticized group like, say, pirates in a Douglas Fairbanks movie. Or those sparkly vampires everybody keeps talking about. The True Blood vampires are vampires. And that's what I like about it. Bill being king has allowed him to indulge the slimier impulses he only used to get out occasionally as Sookie's love interest. Pam's rotting curse and subsequent vengeance quest has revealed that, under the witty oneliners, she's completely, irredemably evil. I like that King Bill is basically operating a Blackwater-style paramilitary organization that kidnaps his enemies. I like that puppy-dog amnesia Eric will still rip the heart out of a defenseless woman. There is no sparkle to these vamps. Kill, kill, kill all the time.

Which is where the complications arise. We're supposed to root for them, and they are often compared to an oppressed minority. Never mind that, four seasons in, the Academy Award-winning writing crew still hasn't figured out what minority the vamps are supposed to stand for. Comparing murderous, immortal cannibals with no impulse control to any real world group will always be problematic. In the first season they were unsubtly hinted to be analagous to homosexuals, "coming out the coffin" and all that, which I'm sure made gay people happy. In the second season, I guess vampires were supposed to be blacks, with the Southern fundie-style Fellowship of the Sun standing in for the Klan. Sorry Alan Ball, but I'm black and I don't eat people. In season three, I'm guessing they were Muslims, what with the "vampire terrorist" Russell Edgington messing things up for hard-working, honest serial killers like Bill and Eric. I actually like that one. In current American society, a Muslim might as well be a vampire.

By season four, I'm of the mind that vampires are supposed to represent the southern planter aristocracy. Let's see. They live in the South. Check. Overpowered bullies who pull strings in politics and the media. Check. Hold the upper hand in every confrontation. Check. Prone to acts of random and sadistic terrorism and are completely above the law. Check. As with the aristocracy, you have some who are image-conscious (David Duke/Nan), some who are image-conscious but handle it poorly (Strom Thurmond/Bill), and some who are just murdering thugs and rapists (the Klan/Russell/Lorena/Eric/Pam/Jessica/Franklin/ Luis/the Magister/the Texans).

Their claims at oppressed minority status echo current white supremacist doctrine, especially the kind coming out from the zenophobic elements in Scandinavia. And in case you don't think the show makes such an analogy explicit and I'm just pulling this out my ass, watch those scenes from last season where Tara's running for her freedom from Russell's plantation home wearing a 19th century chastity gown. This shit could not be more obvious. I wonder if somebody made a show about sexy Klansmen suiting up in black leather to go burn a colored church in Shreveport whether it would go over.

So the writers are aware of this analogy they've crafted, and at least aware that they don't portray the vampires as your typical heroes. I will watch this show to the end. Why, you ask? I could care less about the romance stuff. I will endure the substandard worldbuilding, too many subplots, inconsistent characterization and horrible main protagonist just to see what the POINT is. Another running theme of this show is that humans aren't so great either. While the vampires hold the monopoly on sadism, a lot of the non-vamp characters are murderers. Jason's first instinct when seeing his friend threatened was to blow the black assailant's brains out. An honest reaction and very telling for that character. Will that be the final message, that a vampire is just a human with super powers and no consequence? Or will the message be that we've all been duped by a species of sexy ghouls who want to eat us? The problem is that I don't know if there's an endgame. They might just be running all these plots without thinking it through. Which would not be a surprise, but would still be disappointing.

Nobody is claiming that True Blood is a masterpiece. The show gets campier every season. But it's also not completely disposable. If this were just a Twilight level shitfest I wouldn't watch it. There is a level of awareness of human nature and contemporary society that informs the show and keeps it interesting. Alan Ball crafts complicated characters like Bill Compton, Sam Merlotte, his brother Tommy, Eric, Terry Bellefleur, Lafayette, Tara, even Jason (that's mostly the acting, though). The relationships between them are the best part of the show. The down-to-earth elements, while they get repeatedly stomped on by scene after scene of vampire sex, are what make the show what it is.

Ball&Co. chose an edgy path by creating a world where it would actually make sense to be scared of vampires. Even then, they pull their punches. All the vampire opponents on the show are raving ultra-conservative lunatics. Never mind that an ordinary person, like Terry or Arlene, would be smart to be wary of them. The show paints Arlene as a bigoted redneck. I get it, Alan Ball. Conservatives are bad and should be mocked. Now can we actually explore what a world with supernatural creatures in the open would look like?
Think about it. The Great Revelation causes new religions to pop up. The police investigate unsolved murders that could be vampire-related. Makers go on trial for killing their progeny. Special government forces are trained specifically to deal with vamps. The whole world is turned upside-down by myth made flesh. The show raises these possibilities but never follows through. Just thinking about it makes me sound like a shitty fanfic writer, but how awesome would it be to have some kind of look at these possibilties? It doesn't have to be realistic. It can be halfway realistic. Instead we get fundies waving "BLOODSUCKERS SUCK" signs and, well, vampire sex. Why is their imagination so limited?
There is a lot of crappy writing on the show, as I've mentioned. There's also a haphazard magic system and a frustrating unwillingness to delve into the most interesting storyline, i.e. vampire politics. Characters hint at vampires pulling the strings, Illuminati-style, and a schism between the American Vampire League and the Authority. The time to pull the trigger on this plotline was yesterday, and instead I'm subjected to literally hours of Anna Paquin and Alex Skarsgaard stinking up the screen with their lack of sexual chemistry. Oh yes, and halfway through season three they decided to turn the show into Heroes, introducing a flurry of new supernaturals, more than can be developed in an hour-long episode.

Which would not be so frustrating if the writing was crappy all the time. It is not. I loved the intervention scenes between Terry and Andy last week. And you have a character like Jessica, whose evolution from cute innocent to bloodthirsty vamp has been handled naturally (absentee maker, early influence from Eric and Pam, realization of her physical strength, discontent with a domestic life she can never really have, kills two humans without repercussion). When she gets gung ho for Bill's kill squad, I buy it. Hell, even her romantic storyline with Jason and Hoyt has been good. You have a character like Tommy, who, in all his frustrating ways, was one of the most realistic depictions of an abused youth I've seen on TV. I even like how he died just as his story was getting interesting. Happens in real life all the time, and will have serious repurcussions for Sam's storyline.

The quality of these individual scenes/characters does not change the fact that Terry, Andy and Sam, the very definition of supportng characters, should NOT HAVE INDEPENDENT STORYLINES. Sam's two season-long sideshow has yet to intersect with the main plot. It brushed up against Jason's terrible werepanther storyline but that's it. Jessica can have a storyline or two because she is a VAMPIRE. The werewolves on True Blood suck. The fairies on True Blood suck. The only mythological creatures they do any justice to are vampires, and even their story is not as compelling as it can be. These writers are skilled. They can craft sympathetic characters and nail the small details, but they pick and choose when to do their job, so I don't know if there's a point. Underneath the trainwreck style camp, there are hints of an actual compelling show. Can somebody please write that story?

Rant over. It's Sunday. Time to go watch.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Some thoughts and some very good news

The month is almost over, and me with two posts. What can I say? A lot has been on my mind.

Tonight I went to see Andrea Gibson perform at Mills. I missed her when she came through College Park on the Salt Lines tour, so this was my first time seeing her. She spit her poetry on the stage on the campus green, with students camped out on the lawn. Andrea is worth the hype. Powerful. Chilling. Warm and positive. Reminded me why I got interested in spoken word in the first place. Her delivery is very reserved, so the listener can focus on her wordcraft. She not only performed her poems, but explained a bit of the thought process behind them, and how she's rewritten some as time goes by to reflect her changing politics. What I found cool is that, well, Mills gave her the rock star treatment. Advertisements everywhere, what I can only assume was a nice honorarium culled from my $50000, a large and receptive crowd. This is good and bad, as Andrea herself pointed out: she feels that people who disagree with her views should be listening to her poetry, and she inevitably finds herself reading to the echo chamber most of the time. But anyway, to see Mills pull out all the stops for a poet was super.

There was also something cool and unifying about seeing so many of my fellow students in one place together. As a 27-year-old black man, I sometimes feel alienated in a space designed for and populated almost entirely by middle to upper-class white women, most of whom I never interact with. The stratospheric tuition also adds to the feeling that this is just a place I go to get a piece of paper. I feel far more distanced here than in my previous college endeavors, College Park (where I connected with other people through our art) and Pitt (where we all loved alcohol). It was nice to just groove with my fellow students to this artist who we all enjoy. However fleeting those moments are, they're good for the spirit.

So is Andrea's work. Positivity is something I've had in low supply lately, and there's a stream in her work about the beauty of life. Can't sweat the small stuff.

My work on The Motley and Plume Players has stalled. Mostly because outside word drama has been on my mind so much. Instead of sitting down and typing, I find myself picking up bits and pieces every day. A phrase here, a word there. All of which I hope to explode onto the page, whenever I sit down and start typing. Checking out of the writing process usually means that now's a good time to shake up the narrative, blow something up or kill off a character. Anyways, I'm working on the crucial middle portion of the story, in which the characters go on a romantic vacation.

I've decided that Motley & Plume will be my thesis. It was originally going to be another project, but in order to get this novel in shape I absolutely NEED my thesis director Micheline Marcom to go at it with the red pen. Micheline is an incredible writer and teacher and everybody wants her for their director. I know how lucky I am.

Still time to donate to the Motley & Plume Kickstarter: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1329246557/guerilla-fairy-tale-marketing-for-elwin-and-christ Oh my god we're so close!

Now is as good a time to mention...I GOT NOMINATED FOR THE 2010 CARL BRANDON AWARD! Both of them! To paraphrase the message they sent:

"The Jack Daniels Sessions EP by Elwin Cotman, published by Six Gallery Press, has been nominated for the 2010 CBS Parallax Award (for an outstanding speculative fiction work by a self-identified writer of color) and the 2010 CBS Kindred Award (for an outstanding speculative fiction work dealing with race, ethnicity, and culture). Carl Brandon Society awards include a $1000 cash prize. The awards will be announced by the end of 2011."

Yay! Carl Brandon is a prestigious organization dedicated to supporting and promoting speculative writers of color. These awards have been bestowed upon some of the greats. If I win, I'd be standing with Walter Mosley and Nnedi Okorafor, among others.This nomination makes me feel content, and proud. Not just for me, but Dan, Nathan and Rachel, who also worked so hard on this spectacular book. Here's the CBS page: http://www.carlbrandon.org/

I was contacted recently by Diesel Books to come and pick up my consignment copies. I sold two of four. So I spend an hour waiting for the predictably late Oakland public transit, ride over there, grab some money and the two books. This is the first time I've had to reclaim unsold merchandise. As I handle most consignments myself, I'm sure it won't be the last. Simply knowing I sold two books is pretty amazing. It's interesting to me, knowing I got nominated for this major award and still having to personally pick up unsold merch. A very weird, cool place to be in. Anyways, hey two people who bought my book! I appreciate you!

More updates soon. I promise. But don't hold me to it.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Chapter 59: In Which I Get Autobiographical

Reason #250 why I love Prince: he has respect for his catalog. I don't mean this in the sense that he spends half his time pulling his songs off Youtube. I'm talking live performance. The last time I saw him in concert was damn near ten years ago on the Musicology tour. All the songs were awesome, but there were three he absolutely killed, stretching them way beyond their album lengths with improv and additional bits. They were "The Question of You," "Sometimes it Snows in April" and "Take Me With U." In order, a three-minute track off his most reviled album, a non-single off the soundtrack to one of his movies,  and the lowest-placing single off Purple Rain. He KILLED these songs. Did 'em to death. It's very cool that, after so much time, he sees the worth in his more obscure work.

Another artist that thinks this way is Korn, who I also love. While they don't have the energy as a live act that they once did, being in their 40s and all, they make up for it by not going up there and playing a bunch of singles, but revisiting and re-imagining their obscure work. They retire songs from their setlists and bring others back. Green Day is one of the greatest live acts I've ever seen, but I wish their shows weren't so single-tastic.

I've been publishing writing since 2005. My goal is to still be reading early work like "Prodigal Child" or "Sacred Duty" at events when I'm 40. Hell, I may dust them off sooner than that.

Leaving Washington DC

The lowest point in my life in recent memory was the autumn and winter of 2008. I had just returned to Washington DC from a productive summer in Pittsburgh working for the Carnegie Library. It was also a socially great time for me, as I got to hang with my family in Pittsburgh. I've never been close with my blood relatives, extended or nuclear, but there are people I consider my family by more than blood. Ties of love and trust. Many of them live in my hometown. So I returned to three realities.

1) I had no money to finish grad school at the University of Maryland.

2) I could not find gainful employment.

3) I was a politically active person in the most oppressive city in the country.

Dropping out of College Park was one of the first things. I was enrolled in Maud Casey's workshop and was really excited to take it. The girl who was my counselor was pretty much useless. We had several conversations about financial aid in which she acted annoyed I was even there and told me every time there was nothing out there for me. At all. But I had a talk with Maud that really put things in perspective for me. Grad school was not the end-all, be-all. I could always return to College Park if I had the funds later on. So I left Maryland, a school I had grown to love with a community where I felt welcome.

My B.A. in English got me no work, even after I'd already taught middle school for a year and a half. I took a job as an ESL teacher. I sucked at it. My one student told me straight up that her English was getting worse. There was some other part-timey thing I did, none of which earned me a dime.

I am a person whose politics are left of center. Prior to moving back to DC I peacefully protested the Republican National Convention in the Twin Cities. I returned to a city where being an activist feels like banging your head on a wall, for obvious reasons. I also returned to a city where I had few allies. The local "radical" scene had a lot I objected to. It was predominantly white and suburban, and a lot of people seemed more dedicated to making spaces where they could feel comfortable and unchallenged than in working toward any kind of social change, or even in getting to know their neighbors. There was a ton of white privilege being exercised and the whole scene was alienating, the kind of experience that makes people join APOC (a group which, by the way, I hate). Just an overall clique-y, high school atmosphere. It wasn't everybody. There are lots of DC folks involved in organized resistance who I have love for. The ones who weren't about shit know who they are. After coming from a city of blue-collar anarchists working to reclaim space and build their alternative, hanging out with a bunch of Capture the Flag-playing scene punks, well, sucked. I was lonely, miserable, broke and drunk, and the few cool things that happened during this time (such as really developing my reading style, and meetng WENDY PINI) meant little to me at the time.

Which brings me too...the Coldsnap Legal benefit.

I'm writing about it because I was just thinking about it today. As someone who wasn't arrested at the RNC, I thought it paramount to do something for those who were. That same year I had visited Barcelona and was wowed by the meals served at the local squats. Once a week or so, squats would cook up a giant meal. You could just show up, drop a few Euros and enjoy the company of intelligent people from around the world. This way, certain squats were able to stay afloat and self-sufficient for DECADES. It occurred to me that if you do an event where there is food, real food, people will show up and they will pay money.

So I decided to plan a multi-course fancy dress dinner as a benefit for the legal collective in the Twin Cities. My favorite part of planning was the company. I got to work with friends old and new. One was an high school friend of mine who had just moved back to the city and his girlfriend. Another was a fellow I had met in DC, an absolutely lovely guy named Mike who is one of my favorite people. Another was this young student at Corcoran who I met through doing the benefit, who has since become a great friend. Then there was an older punk who helped us the night of and a younger punk who made some ice cream. It was a melding of people from different stages in my life helping out on this one project.

The benefit, which took place at St. Steven's church, went awesomely. The food was delicious, we made a nice chunk of change for Coldsnap Legal. The cello player even came through! What felt most touching was seeing all the people who showed up. So many friends who I met during my time in DC attended. Never did I feel more connected with them than when I saw them all in the same room, simply enjoying each other's company.

I moved from DC to San Francisco a month later. The city simply had nothing for me anymore. I don't think I could have asked for a better goodbye to DC than that night. I also got to do a final feature at TerPoets, the College Park open mic that was so important for me as a writer, and that was my goodbye to the University of Maryland. That stage of my life got some pretty solid fucking bookends.

And that's what I remember, now that some time has passed. The alienation and depression are afterthoughts. The lost friendships are dead and buried. The pain passes but the happiness lingers.

Life is defined by its struggles. Moments of happiness are by nature fleeting reprieves from the troubles of the day, and the best a human being can hope for are extended periods of contentment. Still, ultimately, we are our memories. Hurt fades. Love survives. I love my friends from DC. I love the moments we shared. Those moments survive. They live.

That's the truth. And I just wanted to say that.