Category Archives: Shaking My Head

Post #102: How Far Can We Really Take This?

smanI thought I’d reached the point where I’d finally grown numb to the constant barrage of product placement that saturates and infests my viewing life. From Adam Levine’s Starbuck’s cup to the Dell screens on VEEP to the kick you in the balls with it stuff on shows like Top Chef where not just the products but the actions of the contestants themselves (“The Ziploc Quickfire Challenge,” “The Glad Family of Products Elimination”) are for sale. I mean, it’s a given now, isn’t it, that you will be sold to every minute of every day that you interact with media? And with the advent of DVR and TEVO, which allows viewers to simply fast forward commercials (not to mention the fact that regular TV totally blows and more and more people are getting their television from paid cable services, or just buying the shows or streaming them on Netflix), the traditional route for companies to sell you their wares through your television screen has largely been squashed, and the companies are getting desperate. I read the other day that the NBA is going to start allowing teams to display ads on the court itself, as well as atop the backboard so that when LeBron is going up for a monster dunk and you get that above the rim looking down shot, you can be reminded to drink RedBull while you appreciate his ferocity. And don’t tell me we’re not going to be victim to a whole hell of a lot more slow motion when those logos are on screen.

But where does it end? Does it end? It must end, right?

Call me naive, but even as its grown more egregious, even at it reaches the pitch of pornography, it always seemed like there was some kind of invisible barrier, some unspoken standard that we would bump up against to keep our souls from turning completely to dust. You weren’t sure what that standard was, or where the threshold lived, only that you would know it when it had been obliterated.

And I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but it appears that the hull has been breached and friends, there is no going back because, mayday mayday, we are going down. Observe.

I just watched that ad three times in a row and I feel so dirty I want to take a shower. And I just took a shower. Maybe it’s that it’s Superman that makes this feel so particularly wrong. When the staffers on The West Wing drink Starbucks it kind of annoys me because I feel placated to, but I can at least rest on the fact that the staffers on the West Wing, though made up, are supposed to be like real people. Not only is Superman a fictional character, he’s not even supposed to be real. And he’s not not supposed to be real in the way that George Costanza isn’t supposed to be real. Superman’s not real in the sense that his existence is not merely fictional, but physically and scientifically impossible, which of course, makes his interaction with everyday household products like razor blades all the more insane and insulting to ponder. We are really blending it up here. How does Superman shave? Are you kidding me with this stuff? I want to find the advertising team that cooked this up and find a way to make them feel as dirty as they made me feel. Wait, that’s impossible.

I know none of this is all that new. Celebrities and even fictional characters have been selling to us for a long time now. I’m sure I see it all the time and barely bat an eye. But it’s Superman! Superman! They’re commodifying  generations of hero worship, trying things up together that should be living apart, I tell you.

What’s amazing, of course, is that it will work like a charm. Gillette will sell a ton more razors. And before you know it we’ll be asking what kind of underwear the Hulk wears (Hanes) and how Wonder Woman keeps her designer mascara (Cover Girl) so perfect all the time. And don’t be surprised to see Jay Gatsby shilling for Tanqueray any day now.

Engine room, we need more power.

 

Post #93: Molly

BreakfastClub16If you’re like me, the words “Molly Ringwald” come accompanied by a set of 1980’s based imagery and cultural association. Swatches, Levis stonewashed jeans, Reagan. You know, the big stuff. But there’s also much more specific imagery from the handful of iconic films Ringwald starred in during her brief stint as America’s girl next door. I’m speaking of The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink. And fine, even The Pick Up Artist. I see Molly learning sadly against a locker wondering why she gave her panties to a geek. I see her leaning across the table to kiss dreamboat Jake Ryan. I see her loudly admitting she’s a virgin while Judd Nelson goads her. I see her dancing horribly in a long leather skirt. I see her putting on lipstick with her cleavage. I see her breaking poor Jon Cryer’s tiny little heart so she can galavant with the “richie” Andrew McCarthy.

I like these images. I go to them often. They make me smile and laugh. And I like having Molly there in the frame, right where I need her.

Maybe when you think of Molly, if you think of her at all, you think of other things. But, regardless, you know what you don’t picture when you hear the words “Molly Ringwald?”

This:

Yeah, that just happened.

I feel such a confluence of emotions when I see this that I honestly lack the words. Is she…singing jazz? She is, isn’t she? She’s not…terrible. Is she? I’m so distracted by all the other associations I have with her that I can’t even tell. I have vertigo. I need a place to lie down.

I bumped into Molly Ringwald the jazz singer the other day when looking over the new jazz selection on iTunes. Hence my whiplash. This is all new. I saw her name and image, thought “no fucking way,” and had to click. The samples aren’t half bad. If you didn’t know it was Molly Ringwald, you could almost sit down and listen to it. But…it is Molly Ringwald. I feel for Molly here. Clearly, she’s a more than capable singer and not just whistling dixie up there. And others must think so as well because she’s #4 on the iTunes jazz chart as of right now. Yep, #4. Just ahead of some guy named Miles Davis.

Of course, this isn’t exactly unchartered terrain. I mentioned Reagan above and we all know the journey from Hollywood hunk to the White House is far less likely than that from 80’s film sweetheart to jazz ingenue. Same for the journey from world champion body builder to the governor of California. We all survived that. Hell, maybe jazz is what Molly had her sights set on all along. Maybe she and John Hughes used to sit around and dig on Monk and Prez between takes. Honestly, I stopped paying attention to her around 1988. But I kind of figured she stopped too.

I guess what I’m saying is that Molly’s different somehow. I can’t explain it. She’s ours, isn’t she? All right fine, she’s mine. And these images of her are such a part of my past that they’re burned into my subconscious. I can’t help it. Even more so…I need them there. Need her there.

By the way, I’m well aware of how weird and unfair I’m being. I don’t care. I have needs people. Just please tell me Anthony Michael Hall isn’t running for Congress or I’m going to need medical attention.

As a final thought, if you’re reading this and you find yourself intrigued or wanting to pick up some Molly Ringwald to canoodle you and your lover on some upcoming candlelit journey, go for it. If you can forget who’s singing,  you might even be able to enjoy it. Just pick up some Sarah Vaughan or Billie Holiday first.

I’ll sleep better.

Post #92: This Will Only Hurt a Lot

I got a very polite rejection yesterday from The Florida Review. They apologized for the delay in responding, contextualized the long wait around some editorial and personal changes, yadda yadda yadda, told me they’d found my story “Unsayable Things” engaging, but that it didn’t meet their editorial needs at this time.

As I do when I get rejections, which I get frequently, I updated my “Short Story Submissions” database, my digital warehouse of failure and ball kicking and invisible bruising that helps me keep track of all the places that are turning down my work, when they’re turning down my work, how long it takes them to turn down my work, and with what tone they’re turning down my work. If you’re unfamiliar with the process, there are a variety of different brands of rejection. Impersonal form rejection? Impersonal polite rejection? Mildly personal encouraging rejection? Re-write suggestion rejection? What’s fucked up is that you get to the point where when the rejection even names your story, or suggests that a human being actually read it and enjoyed it, even if it’s a no, you come to love that no. The polite rejection becomes it’s own form of yes. Welcome to the twisted world of writing for publication.

And when I opened up the “Short Story Submissions” and navigated to the story in question, then to the journal in question, I noted that I’d submitted to my good friends at TFR in March of 2012. Yes, you read that right. March of 2012. A full thirteen months after I’d submitted. When I submitted to them, Obama hadn’t been reelected yet. I was a year younger. As were my children. Of course I’d long ago forgotten about the submission. TFR assured me in their rejection that they have fixed whatever was taking them so long to respond and that they are committed to honoring the 2-3 months time frame they normally take to kick people in the balls wearing blindfolds. I believe them, and in a twisted way, was still glad to hear from them. Unlike agents and publishers, who only respond to you if they’re interested, and let silence stand as the sign of rejection and lack of interest, most literary magazines, eventually, do get back to you. Provide you with that human need for closure.

The adage among writers is that you’re not supposed to take rejection personally. Don’t let it get you down. Build a thick skin. It’s so frequent, rejection I mean, and the odds of sneaking a good, or even perhaps excellent, piece of writing through to a respected journal, are so slim that lit mags spend most of their time saying no. With such terrible odds and so frequently hearing “no,” it’s better to protect your heart, not take it personally, and keep submitting, knowing that they’re saying no to great stories all the time, and that half of it is kismet, luck, or some nepotism that you can’t even control. So, don’t take it personally. And I don’t. I don’t let it hurt me.

Except…that’s bullshit.

It hurts like a motherfucker. Not every time, mind you. But the entirety of it hurts, I mean. A deep aching something that you pretend isn’t there because if you acknowledge it too much, it becomes hard to do good work.

Mostly, I don’t take it personally in the way that traditional people take traditional things personally. Like most writers who want to publish, I’ve gotten pretty good at being rejected. Repetition does help make you numb. I see the brief form response, thanking me for the opportunity to read my work, telling me how many submissions they get and how many worthy stories they pass on, etc. Sometimes they say something nice about the story. Mostly they don’t. Sometimes they tell me to submit again soon. Sometimes they don’t. And, even though it all adds up to the same thing, mostly I believe them. It must be mind numbing to receive so much work, a lot of it shit, but a lot of it totally fine, and even some of it rather fantastic, but to have only so many feet for all those shoes. I update my database like a good soldier, may submit the story to another five or ten places, then begin waiting again. Rinse, wash, repeat. But this idea that it’s not supposed to hurt you to be rejected over and over is hilarious. And totally unrealistic.

Of course it hurts. Last time I checked there was blood pumping through my veins. So…what to do?

Day to day, you play dumb. You don’t let it hurt you. Every no can’t be the end of the world or you’d never have the courage to write another word. That’s no strategy. But pretending you don’t feel is insane too. I’d rather accept the hurt as part of the journey and teach myself how to manage it, rather than to become a robot who doesn’t feel. Robots don’t write very good fiction.

Post #90: Control

john-lennon-and-mark-david-chapmanI can’t deny I’ve thought about that moment many times. December 8th, 1980. John Lennon had just come back from the recording studio, had just emerged from his limo and was walking through the arched doorway of the Dakota building, an arm full of cassettes, when Mark David Chapman emerged from the shadows, pulled a Charter Arms .38 Special Revolver, dropped into a firing stance, and began his well planned work. A life long Beatles fanatic, yes, I’ve thought about it. Even researched and read about it. You might have done the same.

“I’m shot, I’m shot!” Lennon is said to have called out, staggering up the stairs in a blind panic. The nearby Dakota doorman shouted to Chapman, “do you know what you’ve done?” To which Chapman calmly replied, “I’ve just shot John Lennon.” By the time they got Lennon to the hospital, he was already dead.

Completing the haunting scene, when the police arrived at the Dakota, Mark David Chapman was sitting on the sidewalk, calm as a Hawaiian Buddha, holding a paperback copy of The Catcher in the Rye, awaiting his arrest.

It’s the suddenness of the whole thing that stays with you. The moment between calm and chaos. The tension between life and death. Between breath and the darkness. Four squeezes of the trigger and one of the all time greats was gone forever. A wife lost a husband. Sons lost a father. The world lost a hero.

I don’t bring this up to bum you out. Okay, I sort of bring it up to bum you out. Why? I feel bummed out and I need some company. Sorry. But I don’t do it randomly or without purpose because what’s on my mind is intriguing stuff and I need you with me. Wednesday morning, Yoko Ono, who’s been trying to draw attention to gun control and the recent debates over guns in America, Tweeted a photo of Lennon’s blood caked glasses. The ones he was wearing when he was shot. She Tweeted the image on what would have been her and John’s 44th wedding anniversary and she did so four times, each Tweet containing a different message about gun control, and the photo, whose caption reads: “Over 1,057,000 people have been killed by guns in the U.S.A. since John Lennon was shot and killed on December 8, 1980.” The stark, wintry New York skyline is hazy in the distance, though, if you look closely, it’s a bit clearer through the lens of Lennon’s bloody glasses.

yoko-ono-guns-lennon-glasses

My first thought was of these glasses themselves and the lonely, dirty life they’ve lived for the past thirty plus years. I wondered where Ono kept them. I wondered about the courage it took to keep them and to leave them in this condition all these years. To leave them in a position to make her most vulnerable, perhaps as a reminder of her love for John, of the moment he was taken from her. Taken by a man and a gun. The say an image speaks a thousand words, but I’ve already written nearly 600 about this one in the last few minutes alone and it’s put so much on my heart and mind that I think I could write about it all night and never come close to exhausting its power and the clarity of its purpose.

For all the apparent complexity of the debate over the 2nd Amendment and gun control in America, I have to say it seems pretty goddamned simple to me. Guns=death. As a Beatles fanatic, I don’t say so lightly, but I’m with Yoko.

Post #87: You See!

??????????????????????????????????????????So, you know how last entry I was talking about that new magazine Kindling Quarterly and about perceptions of men and fatherhood and how they’re represented and perpetuated in the culture and how it all kind of pisses me off?

This morning, I took my kids to the dentist. We had  a near flawless experience, thank you for asking. My kids were so good they took a picture of them before we left and hung it on the wall below a plaque that read: BE MORE LIKE THESE BOYS. However, one moment stood out negatively and is the reason I’m sitting here ranting. My 4 1/2 year old got his first x-rays today. He sat there like a champ, chomped down on that razor sharp negative thing they make you bite on that cuts up for gums and everything. You know the one? He didn’t flinch. Just took it and was motionless with that heavy lead jacket on. I was beaming. No joke. As a reward, the hygienist, who was super nice I might add, maybe even the nicest hygienist I’ve ever seen, gave him a sticker for his good effort. She offered to put the sticker in his “goodie” bag, already stuffed with new tooth brush, floss, and toothpaste. He said, no, that he wanted to keep it in his pocket. “Okay,” the hygienist said, “just make sure to tell your mom later so it doesn’t go through the wash.”

Mom. The wash. Get it?

I was so incensed that I temporarily lost control of my body. I tripped her, then laughed as she went sprawling to the carpet, then stood over her Ali over Liston style, shouting “I do laundry too, goddammnit.”

Actually I did what everyone does, ignored it and smiled.

I know what you’re thinking. Shut up entitled white man of privilege. The world is built entirely to honor and protect your dominance so deal with the tiny silly assumption on her part that the kid’s mom is the one who does the laundry. Maybe the men she knows don’t do laundry or something. But still!

Why do these things bother me so much? Am I the only guy out there who notices things like this and gets annoyed?

What’s even more troubling to think about is this: Do I do that to other people? In fact, it’s not even really do I do that to other people? It’s when and how often do I do that to other people? And who do I do it to? Women? Gays? People of color? How often do I let slip a small little pice of bias that irks someone and sends them running back to their computer to blog about it?

While I ponder that, I’m going to go fold laundry. Seriously, I am.

Post #79: If I had Any Feelings Left, I’d Probably Hate Lance Armstrong

215549-lance-armstrongBeen puzzling over how to feel about Lance Armstrong. And the only word that’s approaching any kind of accuracy and truth for those feelings is: numb.

That’s all.

I don’t feel much of anything about it. It’s just what’s next. The coverage comes at me like a rogue wave but somehow I remain impervious, my little vessel soundly sailing, unfettered by its size and potential. By next week, the wave will have made so little impression on me, I will have forgotten ever flinching as I glimpsed it over the horizon.

I mean, I’m not a bag of rocks. I feel stuff. Like he’s a lying douchebag. Like, his poor family. Like, I feel bad for what his heart looks like. Like if bullying were water, Lance would be the Indian Ocean. Like, doesn’t Buzz Bissinger feel like a monumental horse’s ass for that Newsweek cover story? Like, wouldn’t it suck to never be able to wear yellow again, ever? Like, this all started over cycling right? Like…cycling? But also like we’re (you and me) kind of to blame for creating a culture where a man has to go to the far edge of dishonestly and barbarism just to win a bike race, dupe us about what he had to do to win because we pushed him beyond reason into an unachievable athletic super-stratosphere that was always more hypothetical than we cared to admit, have us be happily duped about both pushing him that far and it being part of the reason he had to dupe us in the first place, have him publicly flay and take legal action against anyone who would claim that there was duping going on when all parties pretty much knew there was even if they didn’t want to believe it, then, way too late for it to matter, watch in “shock” as he pretends to set himself on fire in front of the big O as a bizarre form of catharsis that, in its mixture of faux and actual sincerity and the impossibility of discerning the two in Lance’s horrible eyes, approaches catastrophic levels of weirdness and toxicity.

You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Post #77: Haunted

I was at the post office the other day. The line was painfully long, crawling in fact. All I needed was stamps. I was kicking myself for not having ordered them online ahead of time and saved myself the torture.  It was a week before Christmas and all around me people had holiday packages stacked up to their chins, or resting on the counter before them. We were all miserable waiting.

Standing there, I began to imagine that a gunman was about to walk in and begin shooting at us. And when he did, I wondered, what would I do? There was a frail old woman just to my left, her hair a sculpted frozen wave, a Certs jogging around in her mouth, appearing sporadically between her ruby lips. Would I help her first? Pull her down behind the island? Throw my body in front of hers? Or would I knock her out of the way and hurl myself over the counter to escape the rapid spray of automatic weapon fire as it peppered the plywood and people started screaming?

I wasn’t imagining this is the typical day dreamy way you do, when silly thoughts come into your head. When you see your reflection and pretend you kind of look like Harrison Ford, or wonder if it’s too late to become an astronaut. For a few seconds, I full on expected it to happen. Right there in my local post office, it seemed entirely plausible.

A few nights ago, I took my wife out to dinner and a movie. We ate like royalty, then saw “Silver Linings Playbook,” which is great, by the way. Same thing happened as at the post office. The theater was crowded. Packed nearly to capacity. And as the movie began playing, the thought came to me again: what will happen when one of these people stands up with an automatic weapon and starts shooting at all of us? Will I be able to protect my wife? Myself? What will it sound like? Feel like? Will I ever make it home to see my children? How many of us will die before he either shoots himself or someone takes him down?

This is dark terrain, I know.

But that most recent shooting at Sandy Hook is pinballing around in my subconscious and I can’t seem to make it stop.