Thursday, October 23, 2008

Made my Morning

Days are getting rougher heading into the final stretch of the "job." Strange. I thought it would be easier. But thank heavens for this.

I forgot about this website. They just came out with a book, which is doing quite well. Good for them. Now I have something to do at work today!


Sunday, October 19, 2008

For Better or Worse, A New Yorker

This past week, while walking down New York City streets, I've noticed a trend. On at least four occasions, strangers have stopped me and asked me for directions. In each disparate location, I had the right answer for them.

One time, one man stopped me and asked me the way to Columbus Circle. I told him we were standing in it. Seconds later, another man asked me where 59th street was -- I pointed directly behind us.

Instead of my default reaction of, "Why the hell are you talking to me?" which has evolved swiftly over the past several years, being able to answer these questions for these people has made me envision my place here in the micro-cosmos of this city. I am no longer looking at it as an outsider. I am part of the machine.

When I first moved here, almost 10 years ago, my father had already been living in Manhattan for 6 years. Ultimately, I've had a type of home in this city for nearly half my life. Yet, in those early days, I couldn't escape the constant comment, "You're not from around here, are you?"

I would say, actually, "I sort of am." Even if it wasn't in NYC that I originated, like Walt Whitman, or Teddy Roosevelt, I'd still only come from New Jersey, which in the grand map of the world, is not THAT far from New York.

I learned that when these people insisted I wasn't "from around here," they didn't mean, from across a river. They meant Denmark, or Austria, or some small country in Eastern Europe. I don't know what it was in my demeanor that made me appear so to be so green. I've always sort of had a youngish looking face, but there are plenty of young people who've grown up in New York. And I could sort of say the same thing for myself...

Was it an innocence? A naivete? A profound appearance of one who is lost in the woods? I cannot claim that I possessed none of those things. Somehow, I was proud that the city hadn't claimed me...

I haven't decided whether or not this new-found appearance of me as someone-who-belongs is a good thing or not. Because appearances are deceiving. I could always leave. Anyone could, and many people do.

And if I look like I'm one to ask how to navigate these streets, does that give me some sort of authority here? That is something I thought I never wanted. Not here. New York is wonderful, but anyone who knows me, knows that it has kicked my ass from the Bronx to Brooklyn and back.

I wonder if all this is related to the new direction I'm taking -- leaving the workaday world to work on what I care about? Exploring this city on my own terms, to find inspiration for my writing. Maybe making a choice like that is what gives me authority -- not in the city particularly, but in my life. Maybe that's what people are seeing in my no-longer-so-young-ish face, and maybe that's why they finally feel like I'm someone who knows the way...

Thursday, October 9, 2008

I was right...

Joss did it to me again. Two episodes later. Another major character. Dead.

I'm a masochist...


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Death of a Fake Person

Anyone who knows me, knows that recently, I've become a huge fan of all things Joss Whedon. This either makes me a big loser for pooh-poohing Buffy and Angel for so long (because how could these shows possibly live up to the hype? oh, the naivete of moi...), a big loser for finally becoming a fan-boy, or a big loser because all I do now is sit on the couch and watch 5 consecutive hours of TV on DVD every single g'darn night. I'm okay with my self-inflicted loser-status... I'd proudly wear a big plastic "LOSER" button on my lapel every time I leave my apartment if it came down to choosing between wearing such a button and falling into an alternate dimension where Joss Whedon never existed, which, in the world of Whedon, is always a possibility.

I love his creativity. I love his silliness. I love his shocking twists of plot. But above all, I love his characters. Even the totally EVIL ones... His team of talented writers somehow make you relate to EVERYONE on some level -- which creates an unsettling dynamic between wanting the heroes to defeat the villains, yet wanting the villains to find some sort of redemption... I guess?

However, when I started out watching these shows, nobody warned me the cost which would eventually come with my emotional investment in the lives of these fictional characters. And I've since learned that Mr. Joss is infamous for murdering some of his most Beloved in the most shocking ways imaginable. (Okay, granted, some of the characters "magically" return, but you never know which ones will, and which ones will not.) The fact that I've teared-up over the supposed death of a quirky demon says something about the transcendent qualities possible in these "lowly" genre categories of pop-culture. But it's all good.

Except when my favorite character from the Whedon-verse is killed in a shock-twist final moment of the episode I watched last night. Don't worry - I won't give anything away for those of you who have not yet had the priviledge of being subjected to this torture...

I went to bed, my face tear-stained, my nose stuffed up, thinking "WHY? WHY? WHYYYYY?"

There was so much LEFT I wanted to see happen, to go-through with these people... I had expectations DAMMIT, and now they've all been dashed (no, exploded) to hell!

I woke up this morning, the episode replaying in my sleep-addled brain, like a post-traumatic stress disorder flashback... And as I made myself coffee, the brilliance of the episode began to work itself into my nervous system... And I recognized carefully crafted early clues that indicated I should have seen this coming -- I should have been prepared...

But I guess that's what makes my Whedon so compelling. I'm never prepared. I'm always shocked into laughter, or fear, or revulsion... and I think that's what makes good story-telling.

So even though I'm pissed, and hoping, improbably, that maybe this plot-point will be one of those "ha, ha, just kidding" moments, I understand that these things are what make us "losers" keep watching. At least until the networks cancel the shows prematurely. I, like many Joss fans, am keeping my fingers crossed for his next project: Dollhouse.

Hopefully, we, the faithful, will have the opportunity to love the next generation of Whedon creations before he, or someone else, decides to pull the plug on them. Despite the pain, I will always return for more... Like the vampires who populate his worlds, I'm totally addicted...

Monday, October 6, 2008

Is "Bad" Contagious?

Last night, I watched my latest Netflix arrival, The New Kids, a "thriller" from the "80's" starring a bleachy-eyebrowed James Spader as a coked-up, Floridian "Redneck" teenage psychopath, who, along with his posse of dim-witted backwoods cliche friends, decides to "terrorize" a fluffy-mullet-headed Lori Loughlin and her short-shorts wearing older brother (the so-called New Kids) simply because Lori refuses Spader's creepy "I don't know you but I'm entitled, improbably rich, and James Spader, so love me" invitation to the school dance.

The "terrorizing" begins slowly, with said posse tossing around lascivious stares and pick-up lines at which any two-dollar hooker would roll her eyes, cutting the school water-fountain's long line, and hocking loogies onto the library's microfiche machines. As the tension grows (or something), the Spader group's rage quickly devolves into unjustified stunts such as grafiti-ing the amusement park where the New Kids live with their uncle and aunt, killing the fuzzy bunnies, ducks, and goats that live at the New Kids' very own petting zoo, and finally kidnapping the doomed Lori from the school dance, dousing her with lighter fluid, threatening to set her face on fire with matches (I love that she simply keeps blowing out the flames), pulling off her tight white dressy jeans, smearing her granny panties with calf's blood, shooting her uncle in the stomach, and rampaging through the darkened amusement park (mirror-maze included), while the "New Kids" escape, then pick off the bad-guys one by one in a not-so-high-stakes violent game of cat and mouse. (The very first scene of the film sets up how well-prepared the "New Kids" would be in case of a scenario such as this, when their (soon to be dead) military father tears them from their beds to jog, punch, crawl, and wear head-bands, montage-style, with him, which the kids happily agree to like members of some strange Manson-Family Exercise Cult). As one might imagine (after observing the extensive military preparation of his rivals), this duel ends badly for Spader, when his overly hair-sprayed head adds fuel to the fire of his drug-induced obsession after he's doused in gasoline by Lori's brother and gets his pretty face blow-torched off. Oh, and all of this is set to a power ballad with lyrics proclaiming several "80's" themed philosophical arguments such as the importance of being strong, doing your best, winning, and not being a big fat loser.

I really don't know what inspired me to rent this movie. Early Spader? Memories of the video-tape cover my eleven year old self was fascinated by in the horror section of the local video store in Lincoln, Rhode Island? That it was directed by the guy who made Friday the 13th (which, in retrospect, is probably not a great reason to rent a DVD...)?

If you can't tell, I didn't think this was a very good movie. Duh. But The New Kids was the type of "not very good" that makes me rethink some of my own material, questioning whether I've made similar mistakes in plotting, characterization, dialogue, mise-en-scene, verisimilitude or what have you.

In my experience, writing novels (or, I suppose, any kind of story-telling) is a bit like getting lost in the woods. When you're in the thick of it, (oh let's just go with the cliche) it's hard to see the forest for the trees. For me, it's mostly in editing that I gain any sense of perspective. And really, only after I've received feedback from trusted reader-friends, am I able to see the shape of what I've done and whether or not it "works."

I'm currently awaiting feedback on my second manuscript, not only from my editor, but from my writing-group, and I have to admit... this is a frightening time. Terrifying. Ultimately, I have confidence in what I created, or else, I would not have shared it. But then I go and watch an abomination of story-telling like The New Kids, and it makes me wonder -- what if I'm like that. What if I just didn't see it... What if I suck?

I've had similar experiences in creative malaise while watching the brilliant Strangers With Candy. If The New Kids makes me realize all the ways a piece of crap (I mean art) can be bad by being bad, Strangers makes me realize all the ways a piece of art can be bad, by pointing out the cliches which make up the badness. For anyone who lives in a dark closet (and if you do, I suggest opening the door), Strangers With Candy takes the "after-school special" formula and turns it on its head, making fun of the teenage "problem" story by exploding all the YA stereotypes: drug-abuse, sexual abuse, disabilities, pregnancy, disease... joining cults. You know, the usual? As someone who's written a couple of (admittedly un-good) unpublished YA books, I can say that watching Strangers With Candy while working in that forest I mentioned earlier was a real confidence-shaker. How does one continue writing, when you know someone out there might tear your work a new a**hole, or worse, satirize you into oblivion?

I suppose I'm writing about this now because, as I begin my next book, I fear the mistakes I've made in the past. It's paralyzing. I've plotted and planned, made notes for the journey forward, but still, it's frightening to step into the woods, because, as always, the path is difficult to see. Plus, Jason Vorhees, or Amy Sedaris, might be hiding behind a mulberry bush with a machete, or an empty scotch tape-dispenser. ("Hobo Camp!") For the past few weeks, the thought of opening the laptop has filled me with a sense of "Naw, not yet." Watching The New Kids only compounded this feeling...

Is it all part of the game? They say a good writer can benefit from reading(or watching) "the bad." (You know... they? Them? Those people who say things about writers?) Because being aware of what to avoid is the best way to avoid... those things. Still, it's difficult to prepare yourself for the ego-busting effect of the truly Bad.

I've since gone through my Netflix Queue and deleted all the films but the ones which I'm certain will inspire me, at least until I'm a little farther into my own journey -- when I can observe such atrocities from a distance, through binoculars, without fearing I've become one of them.

If I took anything away from The New Kids experience, it was a stronger desire to do my best, to win, and avoid being a big fat loser, which, I suppose is worth something at least. All I need now is a power-ballad soundtrack to get me through it... No synthesizers, please.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Leap

I put in my notice yesterday. I'm giving them four weeks. Then I'm done.

That's what I said to my boss: "Four weeks, then I'll be done."

He sort of laughed, sort of scoffed: "That sounds so Dramatic and Final..."

Me? Dramatic. That's arguably true, I suppose.

But Final? Well, yes, that's an absolute.

What he didn't mention, but very well may have been thinking, was that my decision is simply Stupid. Quitting my job - my comfortable, cushy, soul-crushing non-profit job - in the midst of one of the most woeful economic moments of my semi-short life, to pursue unemployment (ah-hem, my creative passions), may not be the most mentally sound step one might make at a moment like this.

I never claimed to be mentally sound. In fact, I'm pretty sure I'm not.

But I've saved up some money, and hopefully, the banks won't crash before my planned four month sabbatical comes to an end.

My purpose: To finish my next manuscript, find an agent, and sell the book for a great deal of money on which I can live comfortably, while writing my next manuscript, selling that for a great deal of money, and so on and so on.

Then I'll be done.

No, really. For the past several months, I've begun to realize that, although I can afford my rent, my meals, the occasional social outing, and the modest vacations which have peppered recent years with little deer-poops of excitement, something has been missing. Working full-time while churning out several novels, two of which will soon be published, has sort of worn me into the ground. As I've tread a familiar path to my lonely Upper East Side office from Brooklyn on a daily basis, looking down to avoid eye-contact with strangers, I've often recognized parts of myself stuck in the sidewalk cracks... "What's that? Oh, just a piece of my Oprah-Lovin' Spirit. Leave it. It's dirty now."

Do any of you find yourself talking to people silently during your own commutes? (I've seen your faces, heard your screaming fist-fights, I know what you've been thinking...) Well, my internal conversations have become a little strange (okay, scary) for my taste. I've felt myself retreating from opportunities towards which I once would have sprinted happily. "Drinks after work? Blind dates? Fun? ... Naw. I think I'll stay home and see what new collections PackRat added to Facebook this week. Or maybe I'll nap! Napping is good! It helps me prepare for another day of soul-suckage..."

Once upon a time, I was able to rise before dawn, plug away for hours on my fiction, then shower, moisturize, dress, and rush to work on time. "Yes, sir! Right away, sir!" For some elusive reason, I cannot do it anymore. Not even with all the psych meds... I kid. I kid...

...I kid about kidding.

And so, I've decided to leap. What will follow here is the chronicle of my possible descent into the abyss of poverty, the frustration of working without structure, the loneliness of living inside my head for hours, even days at a time.

Or maybe, I'll find a way to recover from whatever's been ailing me... Maybe (just maybe *squeak*) in four months time, all my dreams will have come freakin' true.

This is an experiment. My own Manhattan Project. The possibility for destruction is great, but I, like 'Guns and Roses' before me, seem to have an appetite for it. I guess we'll see what happens.

On November 7, 2008, I'll be done. Finally, dramatically... Stupidly. Then, it shall begin...

Stay tuned.