Those I trusted and learned from most were not only those whom I listened to at length, but…
Those who listened to me if I needed them to do so.
Those I trusted and learned from most were not only those whom I listened to at length, but…
Those who listened to me if I needed them to do so.
There’s this actor, maybe you’ve heard of him, a fella by the name of Tom Hanks.
Mr. Hanks has been in a fair number of films, he’s produced some, he’s directed some. My personal favorite of his movies is the one pictured above, Cast Away, and it was my favorite movie of all time for a long time. I still watch it about once a month; it helps me process loneliness back in solitude and gratitude when I need to.
Cast Away did not make Tom look glamorous. Hanks’s character (and to play the character you have to look the part) started off the story overweight and a control freak of time (which he tries to explain to the Russians, if you want irony in 2017); by the end of the story he is shaggy and rail thin, no longer a lover of seafood, grateful for something as small as a Swiss Army knife, and someone in awe of time and fate. There are now a lot of photos and memes of this film on the web and social media of Hanks looking nearly gross; ain’t nothing gorgeous in it.
For the past three years Hanks has also been working on a collection of short fiction for publication. The work isn’t necessarily Pulitzer-worthy, but it’s entertaining and touching in some places; one short story is so funny it took me about two hours to read it. Shortly after I finished the book I looked for media supplements on the book; this task was a bit of a struggle because the book was released right before the release of Hanks in the film The Post, and most interviews involve the book for about 30 seconds and the film for about 12 minutes. But there was an interview filmed for The New York Times, on their program Times Talks, where Hanks was interviewed primarily about the book and answered questions from social media and the audience.
One question asked Hanks how he overcomes self-doubt. The question was ambiguous enough to apply to any career in creative work, and Hanks answered as though it applied to his acting, since that was the creative work most folks knew him for. His belief is that self-doubt is the same as self-consciousness; get rid of both and you can create. Sometimes the role requires that you look ridiculous or that you do something you don’t want to do to play the role because there might be a picture of it later…you have dispense of that. You have to make the mistakes and trust the process, he explained.
Just before I read the Hanks book I read another book, Sourdough, by Robin Sloan, that took me to the same place as Hanks’s thoughts on creative process. In the book the main character of Lois has to deal with Silicon Valley hipsters who are too cool for school in product development and nutrition; she also has to deal with analog purist foodies who think that anything high-tech is a fad or corruption. Lois, from the Midwest and feeling far from cosmopolitan, finds joy from simple food and makes mistakes in learning to cook and bake, not to mention making lots of mistakes in marrying tech and life hacks in that cooking and baking. Lois looks silly a lot. Lois is nowhere near glamorous.
Yet, in the reading of Sloan’s book and Hanks’s book and his interview, I feel like I’ve got a standard to move toward. Make mistakes, Jo; so I go back to cooking myself, making messes. I pull out the baseball novel I was working on and botch it up or improve it for one of my writing sessions; I do the same with sessions devoted to other writings. I very well may be making all kinds of mistakes right now in this blog post. I think that’s the place where the best stuff comes from, and I’ll continue to do so. ✨
Sorry, Mom…not my f-bomb, but still my amen to Mr. Kennedy’s sentiment.
It’s no secret: my apartment is a structural testament to a deep love of books. I have multiple bookcases, one of them taller than I am, and multiple prints from the designer at Ideal Bookshelf, artwork of differing genres all over the apartment, even on the bathroom walls and over the kitchen sink. I have a pin-up calendar in the kitchen of Hot Dudes Reading, because I think the sexiest thing a man can do is read. (The other stuff a man can do is nice, too, but kind of down the list after reading, writing, cooking, and playing a musical instrument.)
This love of books has gained me some grief in my time…painted me as a hermit, a snob, and a…nerd. The last distinction was the easiest to take (hermit is a struggle because reading is often mistaken to be exclusively solitary an activity, and snob is hard to take because I like literary fiction but the super-pretentious stuff I cannot handle well), after all I have “my books and my poetry to protect me,” to start with from Simon & Garfunkel. The definition of nerd-dom from my past experience (whether with books, in high school band, or in my choice of PBS) has usually involved some kind of social banishment. Sometimes there would be other nerds, a breakfast club of us playing all the tubas and bullied by the football players.
It seems, though, as Dan has so eloquently stated above, that nerd culture has kicked out some of its base. In some cases, some of us have to apologize for liking Coldplay, the planet formerly known as Pluto, The Big Bang Theory, or (gasp) Shakespeare. Can’t I just like the sonnets and be done? But there’s proof now he didn’t write them. So Pluto and Shakespeare can go the way of symbols, like Prince or Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street.
Look, newcomers to my lifetime of separation from society…if you find my eyeglasses and my Bradbury suddenly so very fascinating, can you…let me have my Richard Bach and my Woody Allen and my Hemingway anyway? I promise to love the rest of your hipster crossover and borrowing, and let you continue to pretend that you have the same awkward default as Issa Rae. I’ll look the other way at your new-found love of Trapper Keepers if you don’t say that my definition of nerd, lived so long, isn’t enough. 🤓
The past couple of weeks in my world have been a bit hairy at work, for reasons it’s best to keep confidential at the moment, so here’s how I’ve been medicating lately…
Reading, lately: A lot of chef, food critic, and restaurateur memoirs for some reason…but I am trying to give up a lot of meat, dairy, and eggs and therefore my excitement about food is a bit diminished, so I’m hoping to gain some food love back, somewhere.
Listening, lately: nothing in particular and everything in small doses…from Jidenna to Marcus Mumford covering Dylan to James Bay like an old blanket to Ahi to…Springsteen, always. Repeat gets abused.
Watching, lately: HBO’s Insecure, because, well, she IS a nerd, ain’t no hiding. A lot of baseball because the MLB put a For Sale sign on the rest of the season and instead of $25 a month, the rest of the year is $10. Not sure how much of that applies to post-season, but I guess I’ll find out, right? With the current work situation I watch a lot of dumb comedies, like Disjointed on Netflix and Never Stop Never Stopping on HBO, sometimes on repeat like the music.
All of this, and it’s still hot and sticky in San Diego. I still run air conditioning. This forgotten corner of the world is always sunny and festering like a Petri dish. I’m looking forward to autumn, well, someday. 🍁🍂
Comic Con came to San Diego last weekend, and I have never been in San Diego during one. As a literary snob I'm not much on pop culture, particularly ad nauseum, but I kept my mind open in the beginning days of the con, enjoying the Greek chorus of Cartoon Network balloons:
And the Batmobile:
And, to be fair, half of these pop references came from literature; Congressional Representative John Lewis's graphic collection March, and handmaids, and pedicabs with chairs a la George RR Martin.
But by Day 4 I wanted the lot of the world gone, and got depressed by so many people, and calmly stayed in my apartment under the A/C fan and read and watched the entire first season of HBO's Insecure. I probably drank too much, which didn't help for the long term, but helped at the time.
I needed a game plan after that week, because if situational depression hits you, you need a game plan to deal with it. I write every day, and every day the writing is more of a drill than a process; sit down with a notebook the size of a bar of soap, spit 6 pages, go home. More of a nervous tick than a process, more of therapy than a process (which isn't bad as an approach to therapy, but still), and I realized there was no process.
So there's a new mission: Saturdays I write short fiction. I write a short story a week, like Mr. Bradbury recommended once, and the editing would come when that fiction muscle hits the wall. When the first drafts no longer become a process, then I build on the process. But there was no fiction before, and there shall be now.
The story came out scared and stilted but it's out, and next week there'll be another. I'll stack 'em up. I was so scared in the Midwest of rotting on the couch in bad winter and summer weather; and I lost all patience after Comic Con. If it's going to be hot and weird humidity, and if I have to struggle viciously with loneliness, then dammit…all this shall be to do what I love. I shall make up facts…and fashion them into stories…and tell all the fake news I want, but in a way revealing more truth than idiots in all the governments.
And, please, Lord, let me tell it "puddle-wonderful." ✨
What I Have Been Reading Lately: So much, because, the library for free, and it's too hot and pricey to go out much, so a LOT of reading…How To Be Human, Lucky You, The Zookeeper's Wife, and, currently, Faithful by Alice Hoffman. I get through a lot of New Yorker issues.
What I Have Been Watching Lately: The Zookeeper's Wife, and, predictably, not as good as the book. Paterson over and over because it soothes me. Moneyball because I miss Aaron Sorkin dialogue. Insecure because it makes me laugh and I love her rhymes. Okja, and a documentary out of the Bay Area called What the Health. Cut back on a LOT of meat, eggs, and dairy because of that movie. No, I'm not vegan (I can't be that disciplined and love tasting as I do), but when I mindlessly snack it's mostly hummus, veggies, and fruit. I feel a lot better but I'm still waiting for my skin to clear.
And baseball…so…much…baseball. If you watch enough baseball nuances start to amaze you or crack you up. I was watching a broadcast of the Blue Jays/A's game in Toronto last Thursday and was having a hard time determining the strike zone by the ump's calls. I thought I was losing my mind until I realized that both batters and pitchers were getting frustrated as well. By the 5th inning the Blue Jays' manager had enough and started heckling the ump from the dugout, and then was promptly ejected. Rattled, the Blue Jays' pitcher started grousing to himself on the mound, so one pitch later the ump tossed him, too. The catcher came unglued because his manager and pitcher were ejected a pitch apart, so…yep, the catcher got tossed, too. The crew chief for the umps had to come over and stand by his home plate ump, but I hope the communication was something to the effect of "Cool it, will ya?"
Weird, but funny as all get-out to watch.
Sometimes a girl needs distractions; sometimes she needs any game plan to get up off the dirt.
June’s gonna get away from me and then I’m going to feel the failure more, so here’s a blog post in recap, a replay of a little ditty I like to call “So This is How We Treat Each Other Now.”
The ditty with verses about how during and after the election the catfish walked off wearing a red trucker’s hat, and you miss that catfish, but maybe them dumping you like a school lunch was the final indicator that maybe you shouldn’t have spent so much time getting attached to start with.
Not great timing, though.
So the introvert spends some time alone, finding out more about humanity in fiction than in people. I hate doing that. But I’m alone a lot anyway, alone in passions and in person, so might as well disappear into empathy:
This book, like many others, utilizes a wild animal to demonstrate kindness. One of the characters gets it. The rest would rather not go there. While I don’t advocate befriending foxes in order to have companionship, I am encouraged by the fact that foxes or rabbits or squirrels or seagulls don’t use social media.
Yep, it’s a blog…online, nonetheless…and I’ll drop the subject there.
It turns out that my friends can be found in the following pools:
Not a great pool. Some great people in it, but they are busy, and most don’t read. The danger is, the ones who have the most time for me are the first group and the last.
Which means I’m working too much and I’m spending too much and I have no boundaries. Alone time, then. With foxes. Not so much social media. I don’t want to see who else has walked away because I’m me, and not, instead, loved me because I’m me.
On to what I have been doing lately, as Jamaica would start. ✨
What I Have Been Reading Lately: The afore-mentioned fox fable, written by a lovely Brit from the Guardian. Between this lady, Jeanette Winterson, JoJo Moyes, and JK Rowling, the UK seems to have my ears these days. I am still working on the Chabon book, though (Moonglow)…more like lingering in it. Today’s library visit will hopefully include a book on Islamic issues and an old Edward Abbey favorite my brother got me hooked on about six years ago.
What I Have Been Watching Lately: Still watching Last Week Tonight, still working my way through the entire series of West Wing (again; I usually do this about once a year), still watching a LOT of baseball. I say “watching” but most of it is the free MLB game of the day playing on my phone and I glance at it if I need a distraction from another work nightmare. The broadcasts are a boys club of guys trying to crack each other up and sometimes they succeed in getting me to do that. The free game is rarely the Giants, which is probably a good thing; I still bleed black and orange, but years like this means I get back to the passion of the game in general…and other players in their glory. Also, I am hooked to the footage of the Flash and the exciting installments of his wins and losses.
I’m also still watching Real Time. Judge away, America; while you’re at it, I also like other stuff I’m not supposed to, like Hemingway’s fiction and Woody Allen films. The floor is yours to throw stones. Yes, Bill Maher does offend me from time to time. But he wakes me up, too, like Friday’s opening segment with Maajid Nawaz. Some of my teachers in university angered me beyond measure and got me thinking in the same semester, and I’m used to be offended in otherwise productive discussions.
What I’m Watching On Film: Last weekend was The Edge of Seventeen–dark, but I love the actors, so that one’s a keeper. (Pro tip: I have to dock all movies with puke scenes as 4 instead of 5 stars, so this film had a blemish in case you are also of the nature that you don’t feel you should have to pay any kind of admission price for pieces where someone pukes/pees/poops/etc.). On the rental list is The United Kingdom (David Oyelowo strikes again) and I Am Not Your Negro, which I saw at an indie theatre here in San Diego but which I loved enough to watch again. Also, I have been rewatching, over and over, the movie Paterson with Adam Driver and Moonlight. They soothe me. When movies about verse-writing bus drivers and violence soothe you something’s probably not right in Denmark, but that’s my inclination these days.
What I’m Listening To: for starters, today with the current social situation, this. That song is a recurring theme in my life, and I take full responsibility. Also, a band called First Aid Kit has a lovely song called “I Found A Way” that paints me over so that I can sit in a shadow and nod my head to the beat and agreement. Also, the remastered Sgt Pepper’s, and the solo album by Dan Auerbach (don’t strain yourself; if you are trying to place that name then here’s a hint–Black Keys). I have got a dosage of country from the latest season of The Ranch on Netflix, a wonderfully senseless show that I can also play while working to keep from getting spooked (like cattle might), and danced a little in my living room with Garth Brooks’s “Friends in Low Places.”
I do get out, too…dancing on Friday night to a jazz band by the harbor…walks down the jacaranda lane of Kettner…fireworks…cattle drives to promote the local county fair.
Still looking for humanity, after all. ♥️
Looks like a dorm room, doesn’t it? But instead it’s an artist’s studio, and it’s in a metro location, so I am no longer roaming the countryside like a nomad, my life in a knapsack heavy with pens, books, and blank paper. April was just moving, so, yes, I have been conspicuously absent (or not…depends on your dependence, I suppose), but this is a three-day weekend and I have some time and I have missed spending whole days reading and writing, so the NightStand returns, in the form of two wicker baskets at the head of a futon.
San Diego proper is still as sprawly as all get-out, but in the event of a natural disaster or extreme illness I could make my life continue in the span of a city block. It helps to live next to a grocery store. It also helps to have my gym across the street from the grocery store, and about four cafes in the area, and two ATMs, and you get the picture. For less needs and more wants I have to walk farther: library at 8 blocks, ballpark at 6 blocks, harbor lights at 6 blocks.
This is my first foray into living among skyscrapers; even in San Francisco I lived by the park and among buildings that topped out at 3 or 4 stories. Here I wake up in the morning and there are more than six buildings out my window that exceed 20 stories. Their placement is such that I feel I live in a city but they don’t block the sunset or the occasional fireworks from Sea World. The tallest of them, a condo building, has an art installation at the top; think of a lighthouse where the light runs a cycle of the complete spectrum of ROYGBIV. The colors fade into each other, and cycle and cycle until about 3:30 am. I know this cut-off firsthand; someone pulled the fire alarm in the building in error at that ungodly hour a week or so ago, and I got to meet a lot of neighbors. My neighbors are animal lovers and a lot of them have medical issues, so finding the silver lining in such a strange evacuation was a challenge that night, but still…community. Writers need community.
My day job is a bit of an attention hog these days due to the fact that I am often forced into the practice of metaphorically paddling a battleship with a toothbrush, but I’m working on that, too, now that I have personal independence. In terms of the arts and crafts, though, here are the latest indulgences:
For the time being, c’est moi. More, hopefully, barring any drama, in June. ✨
I’m rewatching the television series “The West Wing.” That statement in today’s political climate is relatively on par with “I’m treating my depression with alcohol,” but it gave me a fair bit of insight in the first episode alone, so it did help, of a sense. First, though, a background story so that you get an idea of its affect on my thought processes.
When my mother was in her last stages of cancer a whole collection of hospice nurses were in and out of the house to help (some were a help, like the lady I’m about to mention, but most were uncomfortable and I had to work for them to help them feel better; all part of that acute politeness and nothing bad should be acknowledged attitude the Upper Midwest is so good at), and one of them came in every other day to take vitals and answer questions. My mother was pretty much unconscious at this stage, and the nurse new my parents; it was a small town, and everyone knew everyone, particularly in specific generations.
I liked this nurse, enjoyed her visits, but she had an odd assessment of my parents. She told my brother and I that we were lucky; we had the perfect balance of intellect (supposedly my dad) and compassion (supposedly from my mom).
Something about that never sat right with me, because it seemed to add up to the following sum: my mother, in being compassionate, must be missing some IQ points, and my father, smarter of the two, must be lacking in compassion.
Ever since then I have looked for smart and compassionate people to look up to. Sadly, the nurse was mostly right…especially in today’s news cycle, it seems we have to “win” by being smarter than the other side, and “how are the Dems going to get the upper hand back when they are so nice all the time,” and “empathize with the struggle of the Right and you’ll win them back, ” (there’s that word “win” again), etc.
I’m seeing a lot of intellect right now, and no wonder…compassion is portrayed as, and is perceived as, a weakness.
My questions are these:
Enter “The West Wing.”
The scene pictured above is in the pilot. I won’t explain the whole thing; you can find it and watch it if you are so inclined. In the pilot episode, the communication staff and Deputy Chief of Staff meet with Christian leadership to smooth over a snafu that occurred on a talk show between their representatives. One side is secular government, the other side is impassioned Christianity. The White House staff are accused of being smart and not compassionate to the needs of the Christian Right, but the Christian Right wants the apology cemented with commitments from the administration to things such as school prayer, cracking down on the accessibility of porn among kids, and discontinuing distribution of condoms in middle and high schools.
Now, I’m all for school prayer, if you could be compassionate enough to do it and not make those kids of different faiths (or atheist) uncomfortable. I’m all for cracking down on porn accessibility for kids, but…isn’t that a smart decision we should be compassionate enough to allow parents to make? And no condoms in schools…the smart and compassionate answer for me seems to me to make them readily available.
But there are different definitions of compassion and intellect, aren’t there?
For me, finding someone who is equal parts compassionate and intellectual has become so exceedingly rare that I only seem to find it in art…and not the kind of art you would find in the movie Snakes On The Plane. George Saunders, on tour for his first novel Lincoln in the Bardo, mentions the importance of kindness in every interview, and he learned that lesson from a critic’s review of his short fiction that expressed Saunders was a better writer when he wrote from a point of view of “love instead of hate.” That review was before Saunders went on special assignment for The New Yorker to do an in-depth piece on Trump supporters. In a recent Vanity Fair interview he conveyed that he still didn’t understand why Trump supporters wanted Trump, but he understood their working class frustration.
Working class frustration isn’t always thought of as cerebral. Maybe, though, we should use our noggins to understand that frustration, and then find a compassionate way to alleviate it.
The challenge though, is finding the smarter, kinder way to do it.
February got skipped in this blog for a few different reasons: the unreliable nature of my current employment, my changing living situation, the month is short enough to sneak past me, and my mother’s memory kind of takes over the first couple weeks. But here’s the leap back into something stable, a run-down of the art I’ve been trying to stay sane with lately:
Here’s hoping, until April, I gain compassion and smarten up, in equal measure. ❤🤓