I’m Afraid of Stagnation

So, before I go anywhere, you have to check out this video of some kids doing Rush’s “Spirit of the Radio.” Absolutely amazing!

Now that’s done, back to the regularly scheduled thought balloon. (With amazing art by Michael Guerra).

I was reading an article where an author opined about David Bowie. He kept asking, in a more extended way, why couldn’t David Bowie write “brilliant” things like Ziggie Stardust or “Ashes to Ashes” all the way through his life.

My first reaction was, “What’s wrong with later Bowie?” It’s hard for me to imagine a world where we never had Black Star. Where Earthling never existed or the song that defines our current era, “I’m Afraid of Americans” was never written.

I can understand what he was trying to say. Later on, he explained that everything succumbs to entropy. Eventually, artistic endeavors tend towards blandness because it gets harder and harder to go out there, get a little crazy, unless you make a deliberate effort.

But did he have to use Bowie as an example? This is an artist whose last album in his lifetime was a made with jazz artists and produced a music video so strange, I’ve seen conspiracy theories stating it’s a Satanic ritual in progress.

David Bowie and Prince are the St. Peter and St. Paul of “Hey, let’s try something new.” Maybe one day I’ll write up why I agree with Eric Clapton that Prince was one of the best guitarists out there, but you get the idea. Both of them could have stuck with what worked – with the things that gained them fame. But they didn’t. They deliberately went and experimented. They tried new things.

This was a deliberate, conscious effort to explore and expand. To not stay in the, “Hey, this works. I’ll stick with it.” And they both paid the price for it, but also reaped the rewards. It’s hard work, breaking out of the mold. Especially if you’ve built it yourself.

And you’re certainly not encouraged to do it. But he did, despite market pressures.

So, if Bowie was actually practicing the law – fighting against entropy, trying not to succumb to blandness in a conscious way – why pick him?

I have my theories, but I think they’re a bit unkind to the author. I don’t want to pin him with Boomer style snobbishness. “Our generation knew Bowie at his best. You only got his leftovers, when he was spent, and not a vital artist.” But that’s what it feels like.

And to me, that’s succumbing to entropy and blandness as much as anything else. It’s one thing to say you don’t groove to later Bowie as much as you did to his Ziggy Stardust days. But it’s a disservice to the artist, and those who enjoy his later work to say it’s not worth enjoying. That it’s falling to stagnation just because it’s not what you enjoy.

Try and open up a bit. Might feel something interesting. Maybe a little wonder.

(And, yes, Earthling is my Bowie album. Fight me.)

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C.H.U.D.s of Doubt

(FYI – Amazing C.H.U.D. image from Jorge)

C.H.U.D. – Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers. Humans, through exposure to radioactive toxic waste, have turned into cannibals snacking on the denizens of early 80’s New York. They’re also responsible for recent plumbing issues in my home, but I don’t have direct proof of this… yet…

In this case, though, I’m talking about the CHUDs of doubt. They are frequent visitors to the sub-levels of my mental cityscape. Any time I feel confident and secure, they grab someone off the street and devour them. My city’s not so safe anymore. I don’t feel confident exploring it, or inviting others to explore.

I have a story. I really like this one – think it’s one of the better ones I’ve written. But I’ve been having trouble finding a home for it. Same holds true for a lot of stories I’ve written recently. I look at the Submission Grinder and look at the stories and think, “Am I missing something? What’s wrong with you?” Usually, that’s when the CHUDs of doubt start crawling out of the sewers and feasting on my confidence.

So what do you do next? How do you get the police to believe you, start sending out people to chuck napalm down there and burn the CHUDs out forever?

Well, I’m still working out that part. It may involve finding new writing groups, taking on-line classes, and looking for new ways to look at my work, and how I’m working. Or, maybe it means realizing that my CHUDs are just homeless folk and the real enemy are the folks who dumped the toxic waste that mutated them in the first place.

In either case, my CHUDs aren’t going away. So I have to deal with them.

 

It’s an Older Joke, But It Checks Out

Run, Runner!

This film was beginning pre-production just as I arrived on this world, on the first day of March. When it was released, I was walking and just starting to run. Later on, in my early con-going experiences, I heard a story about a time when DC’s SWAT team was called into a SF con because of someone being reported running around with a gun. Turns out, it was fans in Sandman costumes with working pistols. Luckily, the man in charge of the team had seen Logan’s Run and kept his men from shooting.

What stories will be told about us when this film reaches its 75th anniversary, I wonder?

Anger is an Energy

“Stay angry, little Meg,” Mrs. Whatsit whispered. “You will need all your anger now.” For those who don’t recognize it, this is from Madeline L’Engle’s  A Wrinkle In Time.  It’s an important thing to hear, especially for the young (alas, I’m no longer in that group), and for women, and people of color. Too often, there is a denial of anger. You’re not allowed to be angry. You cannot voice that anger. You can’t give it form.

Why? Because it’s rude. It’s unladylike. It confirms everything they say about you. (Never mind “they” are allowed to be angry, and have think pieces written about their anger, and have talking heads on networks want to explore their anger in depth.) I’m going to quote a young lady, Emma Gonzalez, who said today “We call BS!” Anger is needed right now. And I hope this lady stays angry for a long time to come.

Anger is explosive fuel. It can consume you. You’ll burn out like 40,000 matches. But anger can be channeled and focused. It becomes passion and drive. You can use it to build and create. You can use it to fight back in ways most folks can’t conceive.

Take control of your story. Show that your lives matter. Fight the default narrativeBe the stone that the builder refused.

Please. Because we need the right kind of anger now, more than ever.

 

 

 

So I Turned Myself to Face Me

First, because he caught the sentiment in a bottle:

Another year has clicked away. This one starts with a few changes for me.  But there’s one, regarding my writing, I have to announce now. As far as the IRS is concerned, I am a freelance writer.  Yep. Self-employment taxes start if you earn $400 or more. I’ve earned around $420 from short story publication. It’s not much at all – I’m not going to do without a day job based on this income.  But it feels like I’ve accomplished something. What was Ambassador Kosh said?

OK, maybe not appropriate. But I’ve wanted to share that portrait for a while now. And while pebbles do get caught in the avalanche, pebbles are how avalanches begin as well. Small actions and small changes. A little more rain than usual. A wildfire which takes out just the right stand of trees.  All of these items build into something bigger, until it keeps rolling along. I’m hoping this will start a personal avalanche.

This will take more than a few short story sales and residuals. I need to keep working (and, yes, I do mean the day job) but on other projects as well. So, here’s my 2018 punch list:

 

  1. Write Another Novel – I’ve gotten out of the novel-writing habit as I’ve focused on short fiction. That has to change. I’m working on a book based on a short story wrote last year, and I think it’ll be an interesting story I haven’t seen in the market before.  But, I’ve got to put the work in. The first part of this year will be planning. All planning.  That way, during the second part of the year, I can just dig in and start grinding out the word count.
  2. Submit Stories – This has to continue.  I’ve got six short stories in various stages of planning and writing. I’ve got to work on more, and work on increasing the quality of the stories. If writing a novel is practice for cross-country running, the stories are how I keep my sprinting skills intact.
  3. Get Serious on Education – 2018 will be a learning year for me. I’ll be retraining myself in quite a few skills, but I need to throw myself into a more structured way of improving my writing.  Books on writing books are lovely, but I can only go so far down that road. I’ve been traveling it since I was in high school…
  4. Network – Last year, my wife challenged me: “Have one conversation with someone at a conference that you don’t already know and did not publish you.” It’s her way of saying I need to network more. And it’s true. How many opportunities do I lose because I’m shy? Or I just don’t say, “Oh, why the Hell not?”  Time to say yes, despite my fears.
  5. Photography – To say my photography has suffered in the last year is being kind. I spent most of my energy just surviving. I focused on writing. But I need to make sure I find time, at least once a month, to go and take photos, then post them. Even if it’s nothing fancy – even if it’s just me trying lighting set-ups.
  6. Podcast – This actually combines with photography. I’ve been told I have a decent voice. So I’m planning on a small podcast named after this site. It’ll likely be something thrown up onto either YouTube or maybe my Flickr account, but I figure it can’t hurt to be heard

Yes, this is a lot. Yes, it may be overly ambitious.

But compared to others, I’m in a good place. I’ve got family, friends, and funds I can rely on.  Now, I have to capitalize on my good fortune and see where I can go from here.

The Last Jedi: A few thoughts

Artwork by the amazing Phil Noto. Seriously, this man is amazing.

Just to throw out my bona fides regarding Star Wars: when I was a kid, my family would find me under the table with my original Kenner action figures. Everyone would ask me what I was doing and I’d say, “I’m off with Luke Skywalker.” For Halloween, I dressed as Darth Vader and Boba Fett – mostly because they had cool armor, and no one could recognize me under the mask. When someone asked me who I wish I could be, I said I wish I was Han and Leia’s kid.

As I grew older, I read the Timothy Zahn books intensely. When I played the West End Games Star Wars game, that’s when I started noting a change in me. I didn’t play a Jedi. I played a solider. Or a pilot. Or a smuggler. A nobody with no real history who knew no-one. That, to me, was where the real rebellion lay. Rogue One’s Cassian Andor — he was one of my characters brought to life.

But I’m no longer the kid under the table, wishing he was Luke Skywalker’s best friend. I’m looking for something more.

I’ve argued The Force Awakens needed to be very retro, and close in beats to the original, because it was attempting to bridge the faith lost with Lucas’ prequel trilogy. But, Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi is the film I, the adult Andrija, would have made. It had enough cool stuff for the kid in me, but said a lot more. I can see why a lot of folks are not happy with it.

I mean, what are the messages?

  • Legacies can choke you, crush you with expectations, and leave you vulnerable to radicalization by men who prey on your anger and privilege.
  • Think with your head, not with your flight stick…
  • It’s about what you save, not what you destroy.
  • The best examples of the older generation are the ones who realized they failed, but didn’t run from their responsibilities. They owned up to it, and tried to teach the new ones so they could take on the fight.
  • The biggest hive of scum and villainy: It’s Monaco in space, filled with arms dealers and one-percenters. (Irony: An anti-capitalist Star Wars film).
  • And the hope? It’s not in the shiny center of the galaxy. It’s in the kids, playing Star Wars, dreaming of standing up to authoritarian rule by the cruel, callous, and blind.

I’ve supported Rian Johnson since his first film. This is a man who loves filmmaking, and it shows here. There are echoes of WWII films in the opening bombing run. There are samurai films hidden away in here as well – in multiple places, not the least of which are the scenes with Luke at the start of the final act.

And then there’s the use of color. And simple cuts to convey deep meaning. And silence. Oh, the devastating silence.

As time goes on, I’m sure I’ll begin picking apart the structural issues. I can already see them and I imagine the fans & think-piece authors have begun dissecting everything that went wrong. But I will be thinking about this film for a while. I’ll be thinking about the silence in space as true heroes act. I’ll be thinking about Red, White, and Black in stark contrast with each other.

And I’ll be thinking about how true resistance, real rebellion, doesn’t begin with bloodlines and miracle births and money. It begins with people, in small ways, telling stories and dreaming.

Have Yourself An Upgraded Christmas

IMG_20171211_192305_827Once again, I reach a time of year where I’m reflective. Luckily, the day job has been doing its level best to keep me busy, making sure all my energy is spent there and not on frivolities like everything else in the world. But, moments of introspection still creep into my head.  I need to remind myself I’ve actually accomplished a few things:

I’ve been published in two anthologies now. The latest is The Death of All Things and I had the distinct honor of being edited by two authors I admire: Kat Richardson and Laura Anne Gilman. I learned more than I can say working on that story, and have been working on applying those lessons in all future stories.

I’ve got five stories out on submission, and three more in various stages of completion. And, I’m diving back into planning a novel, based on the character from my short story.

My photography has not expanded much this year. I need to change next year, and actually get back to creating and posting images as well as text. But, speaking of images, I’ve made my first AMV in ages. That and a test recording I did had folks suggest I create a podcast which only a few isolated folks will listen to. I think I might mix the two: have the podcast style ramblings but with images I’ve taken, or art by my friends.

But I have to invest more in my writing. And that means moving away from comfort into areas of fear.  It means trying to come back from conferences speaking to at least one person I had not met before. It means making contacts, networking, and all the things my introverted nature hisses at. It means pushing my boundaries. I must improve. I must adapt. I must upgrade.