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Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Morning Page

I had thought of something to write about earlier today, but now it's gone. That's the limitation of blogging as a kind of journal: You need to be near a computer in order to do it.

Back in the olden days, we had things we called pens and other things we called notebooks, and we used to use the pens to write in the notebooks. Now, I understand how quaint and all that sounds, but it's true. And it worked, too! Nope. You never had to reboot your notebook, although you would occasionally have to replace the pen or at least get a refill for it. It was a good system, though, and it worked just fine. Oh sure, you couldn't spend time researching Britney's latest haircut or play a game of something other than tic-tac-toe or hangman, but we muddled through somehow.

Still, despite my complaints about all these newfangled ways, I find myself as trapped in them as anyone else. I, personally, have two computers and a third at work. I carry a cell phone, own a website, and keep a goddamn blog. I'm stuck, stuck in a world not of my desiring, but of my undoing. It seems to me that all this technology that alleges to draw us closer really pushes us further apart and cages us in our separate high-tech boxes.

The problem with the virtual world is its virtualness, and it only offers virtual experiences. We get lost in personas and handles and screen names, and try in vain to connect with illusions and stand-ins for authentic selves. The virtual world is a lonely one, a desolate road, not a superhighway. O! for the return of the lowly pen!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Good Advice

Last night, my dear wife made an observation about blogging in regard to the love/hate relationship a fellow blogger has with the medium that struck me as sound advice for any writer who also blogs. There are probably loads of people out there who pursue blogging from this angle, but I have not. Shame on me.

The great insight was this: A blog is a great way to do what adherents of the book Writing Down the Bones call the daily pages. As my wife pointed out, this used to be known as keeping a journal.

One of the hardest things about writing is doing it every day. There are always excuses to be made: I'm so busy. I need to give time to my family. I want to see the chick with the wooden leg on Dancing with the Stars. Ironically, one of the best ways to keep on track with any creative writing project is to do other kinds of writing as well. Truman Capote liked to start his day with correspondence. Many other writers are known for their journals--some of them better know for their journals than anything else.

Blogging is, of course, the modern form of journaling. To use it consciously as such is only sensible. And that is what I am going to try to do.

I wouldn't expect the contents of this blog to change much, since I've never been much prone to confession either online or in the various journals I've kept over the years. With any luck, the kind of nonsense that I've gotten by with for several years now will just appear more frequently.

In further news, Chapter One of Michael Drayton, Detective Guy has been closed down for viewing after its two-week run. We'll find out next Tuesday whether Chapter Two will go up or not. If it does, that will give me something to journal about next week. If not, I'll just begin the search for an agent.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Why It Matters

Chuck Klosterman has written an interesting and provocative essay that originally ran in the March 26th issue of ESPN: The Magazine and is now available online. In it, he makes a number of points concerning the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in the NFL, but most of the attention that I've seen paid to it concerns his assertion that

It can be strongly argued that the most important date in the history of rock music was Aug. 28, 1964. This was the day Bob Dylan met the Beatles in New York City's Hotel Delmonico and got them high.

Obviously, a lot of people might want to disagree with this assertion, but the artistic evidence is hard to ignore. The introduction of marijuana altered the trajectory of the Beatles' songwriting, reconstructed their consciousness and prompted them to make the most influential rock albums of all time. After the summer of 1964, the Beatles started taking serious drugs, and those drugs altered their musical performance. Though it may not have been their overt intent, the Beatles took performance-enhancing drugs. And this is germane to sports for one reason: Absolutely no one holds it against them. No one views "Rubber Soul" and "Revolver" as "less authentic" albums, despite the fact that they would not (and probably could not) have been made by people who weren't on drugs.

He uses this line of argument as a basis for saying that using performance enhancing drugs may be at least understandable, if not permissible, in the NFL. He draws no hard-and-fast conclusions, except to say that this is something that fans will have to make judgments about in the future. Fair enough. It's an interesting article and good reading, as well.

However, I'd like to take issue with a couple of points that Mr. Klosterman makes.

First of all, I think that it's rather facile to refer to the drugs taken by the Beatles as "performance-enhancing." There is no evidence that many or any of their songs were written while the composer or composers were stoned and the whole idea of someone being able to write a coherent song while tripping on acid is absurd. They didn't use the drugs to enhance performance, but to alter perception. And the truth of the matter is that they in no way smoked a bone or dropped a tab in order to make themselves better musicians. They did it because they thought it was fun and, in John's case, it made it easier to handle a success he felt inside that he both did and didn't deserve.

Second, he is comparing apples and oranges. Art is not sport and sport is not art. Art is not a competition. Artists create in order to create, not in order to win. There is no winning or losing, just success or failure, and that is experienced on a very personal level in regard to each specific work.

Performance-enhancing drugs should not be allowed in the NFL for the same reason that we do not allow corked bats in baseball or let boxers clutch rolls of nickels: It's cheating. The assumption behind every sporting event is that everyone involved has an equal chance in terms of equipment and playing surface. The difference comes from superior skill and a certain amount of luck. When steroids and human growth hormone enter a sport, the so-called level playing field becomes a field of ridges and rises. As George Orwell put it, all are equal, but some are more equal than others.

This undercuts the fundamental assumptions behind athletics. Sure, it's an entertainment, and it's mostly about money, and the players, while highly paid, are chewed up and spit out with extraordinary disregard. However, part of what makes it entertaining is the notion that some players are more adept than others, that some teams are better coached and are more cohesive units. Performance-enhancing drugs undercut all of that. They reduce any sport to a competition between pharmacies. Is this player better than that one or does he just have a better connection?

Two more small points about the Beatles. First, we can't know what kind of records they would have made without pot and LSD and heroin. Given the extraordinary growth their work had already showed before meeting Dylan, we can assume that they would have made great records anyway, because that's what they did. Second, their meeting with Dylan was not their introduction into the world of illicit drugs. They took prellies by the handful in Hamburg, uppers given to them by a bouncer named Horst so that they could play eight- and twelve-hour sets. So, if Mr. Klosterman wants to give credit where credit is due, he should skip the fashionable Mr. Dylan and go straight to Horst Fascher.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Timing Is Everything

I read the following in a story about how Zsa Zsa Gabor's husband is suing Bill O'Reilly because O'Reilly called him a "fraud." (And, yes, I could say that it takes one to know one, but I don't think Mr. O'Reilly is a fraud. I think he really is a belligerent, know-nothing blowhard. At least in my opinion. And that's the difference between slander and mere insults: While Mr. O'Reilly presented his opinion as fact, I present mine purely as my opinion, however factual it may turn out to be.)

But on to the quote from the story, which refers to Prince von Anhalt's claim to be the father of Anna Nicole Smith's infant child:

"Von Anhalt came forward with his belief that he may have been responsible for impregnating Smith the day after her death on Feb.

Now, is it just me or does this smack of necrophilia? Or was it some kind of Frankenstein deal? To be fair, he has the name for that sort of activity. Was he father to the child in the same manner that Dr. Frankenstein was father to the monster and Dr. Pretorius father to the tiny people in the glass jars (see The Bride of Frankenstein)? To quote Dr. Harry "Happy" Cox in The Firesign Theatre's "Everything You Know Is Wrong," "Could be! Could be!"

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Today's Nag

Read and maybe even vote on Chapter One of Michael Drayton, Detective Guy. It's a lot easier than Finnegan's Wake, better than the back of a cereal box, and a lot more fun than the headlines on Yahoo! or Google.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

My Vast Empire

Even though it seems like the fad of blogging has peaked, there are those of us who soldier on, typically in obscurity, getting hits mostly from people googling "I hate symantec" or "beyond fringe peter cook bench." I don't know whether the typical blogger maintains one site or more, but I doubt that many attempt what I've attempted: I have four blogs. (I used to have five, but I deleted one. That blog name now sells jackets. I wonder if I could sue them?) Juggling that many blogs can be cumbersome, and I have thought about deleting or abandoning some of them, but have decided to keep them and use each according to its own purpose.

The following is a summary of how I intend to use each blog:

This, of course, is the central blog. Originally created to promote the radio show I developed, I use it now as a kind of all-purpose emporium of my thoughts and notions. This will continue, with the emphasis being put on social issues (such as my recent post on arts competitions) rather than politics. Flights of whimsy, passing thoughts, and random reflections will predominate.

The next blog I maintain is the one devoted to the progress of my novel, Michael Drayton, Detective Guy. Since the novel is now complete, I will probably use it to track my progress in marketing it. Of course, right now, the most important aspect of it is that it get people to VOTE FOR MY NOVEL in the First Chapters Competition at Join the expectant crowd gathering now and read the first chapter of Michael Drayton, Detective Guy and maybe vote!

The third blog I maintain is now called Shooting Off My Fat Trap, and it features my thoughts on the current political scene. Since I have no illusions about my lack of influence, this is a place where I just spout off and have a good time making fun of our leaders. Try it. It may just be the least successful political blog in the entire blogosphere.

The fourth blog is perhaps my favorite, but it is, unfortunately, dormant. It is called The Conning Tower after the column of the same name by Franklin Pierce Adams. It is a compendium of short, usually light, verse, jokes, anecdotes, and other miscellany. In order to work right, though, it needs outside contributions and only one guy was sending me stuff regularly. That turned out to be a lot of material for me to churn out while holding down a job and living life as I find it. And so, it has gone into a gentle coma, awaiting its opportunity to awaken.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Novel Competition

You can now read the first chapter of my novel. It will be up for 14 days or until March 27th.

The Competitive Arts

I have been reading lately on Baby Got Books about something called The Tournament of Books at a site called The Morning News. What they do is to set up pairs of books in brackets in imitation of the NCAA basketball format and have judges (I'm not sure what actually qualifies someone as being a judge) decide which book is better. The winner then moves up to the next bracket and the loser is consigned to the dustbin of history.

While on its face this might seem like a rather fun and innocuous pastime, the trouble is that the perpetrators of it forget one thing: Art is not a competition.

Now, of course, they merely represent an entire society that forgets that. We have the Oscars, the Emmys, the Grammys, the Tonys, the Bills, the Freds, and the Nancys, none of which really amounts to a pile of warm spit. There are also, the Pulitzer Prizes, the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Awards, and many other specifically for books. Now, don't get me wrong, if somebody out there wanted to give me a prize, I would gladly show up and give them thanks for loading me up with this tripe. That's just being polite.

Sports, politics, and war are related elements of the human character. The point of each is to win and pursuit of that victory must be total, dogged, and complete. This is why participants in each are always at risk of cheating--whether by taking performance enhancing drugs or tampering with the mechanisms of voting or using biological or chemical weapons or blowing up innocents with car bombs--since winning is everything, it is easy enough to rationalize winning in unethical ways.

However, there is no cheating in art. The point is not to win, but rather to explain, point out, and question. The artist tries to tell the truth or whatever portion of the truth they think they have a grasp on in as palatable a way as they can figure out how to.

Sports and art exist in different worlds. Sports are based in the objective. Either you get more points or the other guy does. Or fewer, depending on the sport. Even that event in the Olympics that mystifies so many men, that part of the gymnastics programs in which young ladies dance around while holding ribbon-bedecked sticks, is a competition with winners and losers who have been judged by an allegedly unbiased panel of experts. Despite the inherent subjectivity of being rated, there are still specific things that must be done and no amount of stylistic flourishes will compensate for falling off the mat or bumping into a spectator.

Art lives in the subjective. While a consensus concerning the value of a given work can be arrived at over time (usually a period of generations), it will always strike different auditors differently. My experience of "Starry Night" or "Eine Kliene Nachtmusik" or "Hamlet" or "A Tale of Two Cities" will always be different from yours, sometimes radically so. What mystifies one may delight another and no one can really explain why.

While the purveyors of the various arts awards and competitions may have the best of intentions, putting works of art in competition with one another debases them all. It takes the sublime and tries to make it concrete and attempts to reduce the ineffable to the pedestrian. The only exceptions are the Nobel Prize and any Lifetime Achievement awards, both of which reward a body of work for the simple act of being.

Monday, March 12, 2007

You Should Have Gotten It in Writing, Love

I just read a story on E! Online (courtesy of my My Yahoo! homepage--and yes, the Internet makes you type some damned strange things sometimes) concerning the divorce settlement being negotiated between Paul McCartney and Heather Mills:

Under the terms of the couple's alleged agreement, Mills will reportedly drop those demands and will in turn receive $48 in cash, plus a Georgian mansion worth $8 million.

Heather really should've held out for an even $50. Paul's got it. Just look inside his right shoe.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Contest

I've just posted an item about entering the First Chapters contest on my Michael Drayton, Detective Guy blog

Friday, March 09, 2007

Let's Call It Adieu

I just finished the first complete draft of "Michael Drayton, Detective Guy." It stands at 42,000 words over 18 chapters, and I will submit it to the First Chapters contest tomorrow. I'll post the details about the contest and how people can vote for their favorites. (I believe it involves signing up on, but that's free.)

In the meantime, I'm just stunned. After that passes, I'm going to go to work on a non-Drayton short story in the hopes that I can forestall the plunge into depression that usually follows completion of such a task. I'm going to try, as best I can, to not think about Drayton for at least a month. Maybe by then I'll be ready to attack the rewrites.

That's the thing about this writing business: It never stops.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down

Again with The Simpsons.

There's an episode--a clip show, actually--in which the plot is driven by it being April Fool's Day. Homer plays a series of practical jokes on Bart, and Bart responds by shaking up a beer in a paint mixer and getting Homer to flip the top. In the next shot, we see the roof of the house being blown off by a kind of mushroom cloud. Homer ends up in the hospital, possibly paralyzed for life. Homer entertains himself in the hospital by electronically raising and lowering the head of the bed while saying, "Bed goes up. Bed goes down." (Later someone else imagines him on a cloud in heaven doing the same thing: "Cloud goes up. Cloud goes down.")

I only bring this up because it reminds me of the limited approaches to policy--and the question of how to extricate ourselves from the morass in Iraq in particular--that our political leaders take. Every question devolves to a toggle-switch kind of answer. Stay or go. Fund or withhold. Bed goes up or bed goes down.

It seems to me that there are other ways of looking at this situation than just in binary pairs. I'm on record with thoughts for how to deal with Iraq that, whatever their plusses or minuses, are not just toggle-switch thinking. Good policy cannot be made just by a shortsighted, kneejerk opposition to whatever the other guys advocate. In order to make good policy, our policymakers need to get beyond the pairs of opposites and stick a toe into the great ocean of complex options that might be available.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Or Maybe Some Greenstamps

Well, now that Scooter Libby has been convicted by a jury of his peers, I suspect that it is about time for the President to award him the Presidential Medal of Freedom or some comparable honor. O! Scooter! O! Scooter! If you knew they were using you as the fall guy and a patsy, why didn't you cut a plea deal and rat them out? They have no loyalty toward you. People, to them, are merely objects, meant to be used.

Poor sap.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Homestretch

I did manage to finish the next-to-last chapter yesterday and carved out the beginning of the last chapter as well.

At the rate I've been going, I'll be done by the end of the week.

Monday, March 05, 2007

It's a Novel, But Not a Doo

Back in an earlier life, I worked for a relatively small company, under 100 employees, and we had staff meetings for our entire department of 60 or so people every Wednesday. One Wednesday, one of the supervisors, a black guy named Charles, who was one of the nicest people I've ever met, led the meeting his only flub came right at the end when, instead of bidding us adieu, he said, "Let's call it a doo." Now, I called this a flub, but I actually thought and still think that it is inspired. Even though it's been almost 25 years since I heard it, I will still from time-to-time call it a doo, but only when appropriate to the circumstances.

Well, a few minutes ago, I crossed the 40,000-word threshold on Drayton, which means that even the most persnickety editor will have to consider it a full novel and not a novella. However, that being said, I am not done. I should have the chapter I am working on now done by the end of the day, leaving only the final chapter to write. I'm nearly there. But it's not a doo.

Friday, March 02, 2007

This 'n' That

First, I'm happy to report that the Drayton novel is now up over 39,000 words. I'm about a chapter-and-a-half from the end. And while this chapter is coming out with surprising fluidity, the final one might be a jumble and merely a cascade of revelations. I have 13 days to finish it.

Second, I would like to note that, in fairness, the Bush Administration has suddenly and without warning showed some small amount of sense in its dealings with other countries. From what I've read, Secretary of State Rice has removed the neocon rubber mask she's been wearing for the last six years and has revealed herself as a pragmatist. I'm sure she's making Brent Scowcroft very proud.

The good news is that it only took six years of continuous bungling for Dick Cheney's cabal of fantasists to be discredited. The President himself has been notably quiet lately, which also has to be counted as a good thing.

At any rate, diplomacy has come to replace sabre-rattling as the preferred mode of expression, and I am delighted. If these negotiations with North Korea and Iran and Syria turn out well, and I am hopeful, we might be able to regard this as a true turning point in the progress of our nation.

Give peace a chance. It works.