Loyalty is a Flaw

I grew up watching Airwolf like a lot of other kids. Either on NBC, or later on syndication on Channel 20. There were a lot of episodes I gravitated towards. But one in particular still sticks with me: “Severance Pay.”

The plot focuses on Larry, an operative and analyst with the FIRM (Airwolf’s CIA stand-in). The day of his retirement, he discovers there may be a mole in the FIRM and dutifully reports it, as he’s done for 20 years. Imagine Robert Redford’s character from 3 Days of the Condor if he’d had an uneventful career. He and his partner, Joe, go to get their retirement checks and bonuses from the pension office. But, the FIRM still has them classified as ‘temporary’ workers. They are due no retirement bonuses. Worse yet, Joe has a heart attack at the pension office and dies in Larry’s arms. We later learn it Joe’s widow isn’t getting anything from his death: as far as the FIRM is concerned, they received medical benefits they were not entitled to and need to reimburse their former employers. No dignity, even in death.

Larry does what any reader would do: he goes to war against the FIRM. The plot escalates and involves the mole, and a termination order. But the part that always stuck with me was the questions of loyalty, and hard work, and how in the end it got them nothing. That’s what sticks with me.

The stories we tell about work, about how it’s supposed to make us feel, about what we expect from it in the end, say a lot about who we are and what we hope for in the US.

While it’s aimed at a cold, unfeeling bureaucracy I honestly see “Severance Pay” applying to corporate thinking, especially in the days since the philosophy of “Shareholder Profits Above All” took root in America. Employees are not assets, valued and given fair treatment for their work. They’re used and disposed of, with no reward for the uncounted hours spent on its behalf. One good visit from a ‘management consultant firm’ and suddenly, your experience and knowledge base is gone. The American Dream was, from what I understood, the fact you could find a good job you enjoyed, work hard, get due promotions, and then be able to retire with comfort, knowing you’ve earned it.

The American reality is very different. A worker is a liability. You have to pay them a salary, give them benefits, and the longer they stay, the harder it is to give them less and less. When a company needs to make profit expectations but sales are not up, people go. Overhead, cut from the bottom line. Then, of course, the pension funds are raided for more money back. Everyone is asked to do more with less. People start working multiple functions and when their work degrades, they get fired. More money back for the company. By any means necessary, the quarterly numbers must be met.

Before you think the non-profit world is any better, talk to someone who worked there. “Non-profit slave” is bandied about quite a bit. You’re asked to give up so much time and effort for no pay to help the cause. “We work until the work is done.” And never mind the consequences. It can create an atmosphere where people break themselves. I wonder how many non-profits run on the backs of people who don’t realize they’re being under-rewarded for their work.

In the US, we turn work into another kind of faith, thanks in part to the Puritans and their beliefs. Work and success are signs of divine grace. If one is poor, or sick, or mentally ill, it is the Lord casting down judgement on their sins. This flows into the prosperity gospel, which John Oliver took on. Success means god loves you. Only the wealthy will enter into heaven. So if you aren’t doing well – if you are not succeeding at your job – it’s your fault. It’s a character flaw. It’s inherent sin. Never mind you may not like, or be suited for the job you’ve been thrust into. Never mind your career progression path has been so chopped up you’re not sure where you’re going. You, and only you, are responsible for your success or failure. No one is ever set up to fail. And those who have grasped success, they deserve admiration, no matter how they did it.

Chuck Wending wrote an amazing Twitter/Storify essay on his father, and how he related to the bosses in his business. I really encourage you to read it, because it captures how the narrative of the American work ethic, and the truth of how American capitalism and ‘merit’ work run in stark contrast. It also shows that when the narrative we’re fed as children does not turn out they way we wish, it’s easy to push the anger on others. And not on management.

These narratives make it easy to blame workers for terrible working conditions, workers in other countries for lost jobs, and anyone but folks who actually make these conditions. When, for example, a new manager comes in and begins assigning people to jobs they are not trained or suited for, and they don’t do well – it’s obviously the worker’s fault. After all, if they were good hard workers they would be successful.

When workers are laid off in favor of technology – it’s not the corporate managers who decided they were not getting a good RoI by giving folks a living wage. It’s foreigners. It’s the workers who asked for too much, like health care or the ability to work with pride. They asked for too much. They could not compete. If only those workers had gone into real jobs, gotten business degrees or… you get the picture. These narratives enable exploitation, and more.

So, how do we change things?

We need to change the narrative. We need to tell different stories. Maybe ones where we don’t value wealth over humanity? Or maybe stories about people finding jobs they’re good at, and being allowed to work there and improve, without having to jump to another position they hate. Is the idea of being paid well for a job you love so strange?

On the same day I re-watched “Severance Pay” I also saw the film Your Name. At the very end one of the protagonists, Taki, is job hunting. In the interviews, he explains he wants to be an architect because he wants to create places in Tokyo which bring warmth and good memories to people. And as I watched, I hope he would find a good place that let him do just that, and appreciated what he wanted to create.

I’d like to see a story where someone, in the modern world, finds a job that they can appreciate, and can appreciate them. But maybe that’s why we call it the American Dream –  we have to wake up at the end and face reality where the workers we admire, the ones we put in our highest office, are these guys:

 

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Closing the Bag of Doom

As I cause the chains I forged in life
To shatter on the floor.
– “Crime Scene Part One” from Black Love.

I completed a difficult story today; one which pulled from ugly source material, but which demanded writing. The Afghan Whigs provided a soundtrack. Greg Duli’s vocals carried me into old hallways, and helped me dig out sensations I never quite succeeded in letting go.

My question, and the challenge for the story (and future revisions of the story), is can I really translate what I felt, what I saw, into a story any reader can pick up and read? Can I generate sympathy? Did the language alienate potential readers? Or help them get into the moment?

I now have a bouquet of stories either in second or soon to be third draft stage. Outside eyes are still needed, and I have at least two more I can write this year before going into editing Ivre and, gods help me, the treatment for Piranhacane.

Jodorowsky’s Dune

I encourage anyone who has a passion for art, film, madness and Dune to see the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune.  It is the closest one will get to seeing his version of the novel until a brave filmmaker decides to animate it based on the artwork created.

It’s a great sadness we’ve lost so many tied to this film: Dan O’Bannon, Moebius, and now H.R. Giger. Hopefully this will also bring more of Chris Foss‘ work to light. The animated renderings of his ships are stunning.

As I watched this film with my very patient and loving partner in crime, at the end I said to her, “This is what I want to write. The feeling you get when you see these images – I want to write books which capture it.”

I just wish I had Jodorowsky’s uninhibited enthusiasm and drive. Watching him on film made me wish he was my crazy uncle, pulling me into his home filled with art and strangeness and telling me, “You are a warrior! A spiritual warrior! Fight and make your dreams reality!”

We need more Jodorowsky’s in the world. We need to all be Jodorowsky on some level.

 

You’re Joking, Right? Or Goals for 2013

Goals are important. They help one forge through the year ahead with some sense of purpose. This year, aside from surviving the miseries and privations placed upon me by the day job, I have a few other things I want to try.

Note, my photography goals are very slim. I haven’t focused as much as I should on that side of my creative half, but I’m hoping some forthcoming trips change this.

2013 goals –
– Complete first draft of 2012 novel
– Complete outline for 2013 novels
– Win NaNoWriMo
– Complete three short stories within the course of the year.
– Revise at least 2 short stories
– Submit at least one short story to fiction items

3 Month Goal (end of March):
– Complete 2012 novel outline by end of March
– Revise at least one short story from 2012
– Begin first short story.

6 Month Goal (End of June)
– Finish last 30K on Ivre by end of June (Hopefully book itself)
– Complete first short story
– Begin second short story
– Begin outline of new book

9 Month Goals (End of Sept)
– Finish Ivre novel
– Complete second short story
– Revise first short story
– Complete outline of new book
– Begin third short story

12 Month Goals
– Win NaNoWriMo (Novel from the outline)
– Complete third short story
– Revise second short story
– Submit first short story

Edit: Book PR0n – really an in joke for the folks in my writer’s group.

Madness Updates

(As a quick aside, if anyone wants to suggest good typewriter based writing images, please let me know. Otherwise, might have to convince someone to pose with the typewriter.)

First day of the great madness is complete. If anyone wishes to see my stats, check my NaNoWriMo site. Aside from a few hand written items beforehand (thank you, strange week), today’s writing was the first focuses push in conjunction with my writer’s group. Despite a drafty meeting room (our usual spot was being used by election monitors), I got quite a bit written. I was forced to remind myself, over and over, to just write. This is a zeroth draft; the initial hose hitting the crowd of rioters. No accuracy is needed.

I managed to squeeze out my 5K, and I will need 1.5 k per day to keep up with completion, but I think I could have produced more if I was not so damned exhausted. One night in the city, with the Washington DC Metro Transit Authority deciding to shut down and re-route trains, and I found myself being dragged home far to late. What was to be a pleasant night of dreams involving Tesla coils and technomancers became an endless chase through orange brick Metro tunnels. Every train was cancelled and re-routed, dragging me further from home and a good night’s sleep.

Tomorrow, I have the day to get in my 1.5k, and do other things such as dishes, laundry, and a movie. The evening features speed dating for SF geeks. Which will be interesting and fun and weird. I very much expect the following conversations:

“Oh, I think Phillip K. Dick is such an overrated author.  E.L. James is far better with conflicted characters.”

“I looked up Giger after seeing Alien vs Predator and it weirded me out. I didn’t expect it to be so scary and sexual.”

“Babylon what? Wasn’t The Prisoner that thing on AMC? Anyway, my favorite show was Star Trek: Voyager. I loved how well thought out it was.”

Hope for the best, expect the worst.

 

 

 

November Insanity

My normal fall insanity has been replaced by a lockout. So, aside from indulging in the usual melancholia and existential torment, what am I to do with myself? I could take part in more photographic nightmares, but I want to be insane, not suicidal.
It was up to my writer’s group to propose a solution. And it was not speed dating for SF geeks, though I am participating in such an event. No, I am taking part in NaNoWriMo. If you are reading a blog in the modern internet age, you should know all about this event.

I will focus my efforts on Ivre for the duration. Right now, I’m 47K into draft zero. I still have a ways to go before I get near the end threads, so I’m hoping this will bring me closer to a conclusion. But really, it’s so I can go through my own version of Bastogne with my writer’s group. A little esprit de corps, but without being shot in the backside or watching trees explode.

Progress will be tracked here. If I’m at 97k on Ivre, I’ve succeeded.  If not, well, then we shall see what has resulted.

Masks and Armor

Masks

Masks, Armor, things hidden beneath layers of disguise.

Ever run into a theme in your work and never realize it was there? I ran into this while discussing my writing and photography with a new acquaintance. It had me look back at the last few things I’d worked on. First, with my photography, you’ll notice how often I have masks involved. I love masks as photographic devices. They’re freeing and paradoxical. You’re hidden, yet because of it you can expose yourself. You’re free because no one knows who you are behind that mask.

My life consists of a series of masks. I wear different faces for different occasions. The Andrija you find at work is not the Andrija behind this keyboard. It’s not the Andrija who is listening to rain late at night while jazz rolls in the background. Growing up, this was particularly important. I remember being in kindergarten when a classmate, Russ, gave me advice I tried to follow. “Don’t tell people you like science fiction. Star Wars is OK, but anything else and they’ll think you’re weird.”  I failed at developing that mask – the weird went too deep – but it did lead me to wonder if my humanity itself was a mask. I felt so much more comfortable around strangeness and aliens. Things tied to the normal world felt strange. maybe I was an alien? Was this body the right one? I’d never felt comfortable in it.

I discovered the idea of mecha and powered armor during my teenage years. The idea of losing myself inside a suit dedicated to just strengthening and protecting me became dreamlike. Mecha are beautiful constructions. I was a chubby Serbian kid. Why wouldn’t I want to ditch my body and just be the machine? Small wonder Cybermen were my favorite Dr. Who villains. I especially love the new ones, but I also adored Maria’s design from Metropolis so the art deco touch is nice.  My reading fell in line soon enough, as did movies. Give me a film that uncovered the strange and bizarre hiding under the world’s mask.

That abandoned house? Not just a place where kids go to get stoned. No, look at the strange paintings on the walls. It’s a gateway to a Satanic dimension…

My two trunk novels, Elemental Metal and Running Black are urban fantasy books. The entire theme is a world hidden from our own.  The books are layers and layers of masks. Even the main characters, who everyone thinks they have pegged, are more than their mask shows.

I’ve written two short stories now with the theme of bodies and identity. Ivre is filled with characters who wear different masks. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when the masks are torn down. And Metaphysical Graffiti is all about what is hidden beneath our lives, memories and cities.

Now, the question becomes… if I’m aware of a theme, does that change me? Have I shifted under my mask?