Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Celebrity Fantasy: Special Panel Edition

My latest fantasy is the only one I have that takes place in my actual house, and it's a three-way.  You see, ever since Ian bought me a full-sized, fully functional replica of Tom Servo, I've been watching a TON of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  And this, along with my rantings about the sorry state of cinema, lead me back to Kevin Murphy's brilliant A Year at the Movies.  Because Jay Sherman is fictional, that leaves Kevin Murphy to be my favorite film critic.  Not only is he a genius, but he is also hysterical and has a strong midwestern common sense, which I can respect, probably because it's a foreign concept to me.  I believe that most movie critics are wimps paid off by the movie studios (how else can you explain Roger Ebert giving Daredevil "two thumbs up!") but Kevin Murphy is no one's man.  He also hated Rocky Horror Picture Show, which almost makes me want to marry him. 

The other participant in this little exercise is Geena Davis . . .  and they both come over to my house and I invite them in to sit on the couch, and because this is a fantasy, the arms aren't all clawed up from Bosco's constant climbing.  I offer them a drink and some spinach triangles and we get down the business of discussing film.  I want to hear Geena Davis speak on women in the media.  I want to hear some of Kevin's own rantings.  I want to add in my thesis and hear them both tell me how smart and perceptive I am for a 28 year old, the exact target audience for drivel like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and yet, how wisely I eschew the pop culture idiocy of my peers. 

We drink some coffee and take some pot-shots at Nathan Rabin.  Kevin gives me a high-five.  Geena Davis tells me I'm the smartest girl she's ever met and offers me a job at the Institute.  Because I want to feel smart.  I want to feel well-versed and intellectual and like someone cares about what I have to say . . . I guess that's the fantasy of every blogger.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

From the Vault: Mix Tape Blues

Something about the summer heat makes me drag out old mix CDs, and this time, I'm listening to the mixes my BFF Matthew and I made for our frequent road trips to conferences and grad school residencies. 

Mix CDs are almost as good as records.  Mix CDs are almost always made with a specific purpose in mind and the memories of that event get locked into the music itself.  When I played "Bizarre Love Triangle" on Beautiful, Terrible Things: The Best (So Far) of Libby and Matthew, I was transported back to the Chicago AWP dance floor, watching two skanks in matching lace-trimmed satin nighties do the whole "get down on my knees and pray" bit more than was called for.  The pounding rhythm of Duran Duran's "Last Chance on the Stairway" is the pavement beneath our tires on peach-colored summer morning drives to workshop and the Psychedelic Furs "The Ghost in You" is pure, nostalgic bliss.

The driving mix CD is the best of the bunch.  It is an adventure for an adventure, a tangible culmination of anticipation and execution.  I've been listening to a mix I made for our January trip to our grad school residency in Freeport, Maine.  Getty Lee's voice on "Fly By Night" reminds me of New Haven, cold and icy and a little bit thrilling.  I cannot hear Squeeze's "Tempted" without hearing our friend Ben groan and roll his eyes from the backseat of our rental car, and I can't hear The Servant's "Beautiful Thing" without remembering how quiet and crystal-cold and beautiful the Haraseekett Inn was.  And when it's 80 degrees and humid in my house, I can't help but long for the snowflakes that fell as "Bring on the Dancing Horses" played.

Come July, I will have been out of graduate school for a year.  I've got the framed diploma and the student loan payments to prove it . . . but the only thing I really miss is that trip, those 6-8 hour drives when it was just us and bad coffee and good music and the frantic, caffinated conversation we're famous for, a language we speak that no one else understands.  We didn't need any major momentous moments . . . just the quiet, intimate ones captured and held forever, a memory in melody.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Since today is writing day . . .

. . . I feel like this is as good a time as any to announce two major successes.

1) Matthew and I's essay "The 12 Conference Commandments" has been scheduled for publication (issue TBD) in The Writer magazine.  Yep, one of the Big Industry Three.  I feel like we've officially made it, and now no one, not even my junior year writing professor, can say I'm not a writer.  The Writer magazine makes it official that I am.

2)  Umbrella Factory just picked up my essay "The Memory of Taste" for their June issue.  Will post a link when it goes live.

Top Secret Notes from an Editor

I just finished the first round of shortlisting/rejecting submissions for The Midnight Diner and I'm sorry to say I rejected far more than I shortlisted.  I hated doing that, and I did what I swore I would never do--I sent a form rejection letter.  The more rejection letters I got, the more I realized that the form rejection letter is one of the most polite forms of rejection (after the form letter with the handwritten) note at the bottom.  If a letter is too personalized, i.e. telling you exactly why they didn't take your story, it comes off as insulting.  Because really, that's just ONE editor's perspective, and maybe that editor ate a bad crawdad the night before or had a fight with her boyfriend or any number of outside factors, so why should I take that editor's advice when I send it out someplace else?  Especially if it's not a "do this and resubmit."  I got some notes from PANK on "Hotel Jesus" with the suggestion that I submit it again, and I did, and it got published--but the "this isn't for us oh and make the main character have an eyepatch" is just stupid, and I would hate getting it so I hate sending it.

Switching gears . . . .

The Midnight Diner is a Hardboiled Genre magazine with a Christian slant.  Yet, I found that I was getting two types of stories--generic Christianity (angels, God, stories we all know and love told with guns) and generic genre ("I'm dead!" in Paranormal and "I'm killing somebody!" in Crime).  I rarely found one that had both a Christian slant without being generic, and a genre slant without being cliched. . . and what I realized was that too much of Christian genre writing is slamming those two elements together and hoping the pieces cling long enough to work.

I don't write what I call "Christian" fiction, but I've always been fascinated by preachers and I've lately been fascinated by the concept of Grace.  In the past six months I've written a series of unrelated short stories under this umbrella (not counting "Preacher Man/Absolution/First Night in a New Town") and I'm realizing that a good Christian story, like any good story, is about people.  Not just people of faith, but people saved by the grace of a force beyond their control.  For Lila Ann Albany, the narrator of "The Hand of God," it's a teenage preacher's son who saves her life with a hardback Bible in a violent, Flannery O'Conner-esq twist.  For Oren Barry, the protagonist in "Keyton's Keys," which features no direct religious references at all, it's about accepting the grace that forgives his past and trying to be a better man. And for Oswald Lapis, the minister in the untited story I'm writing now, it's a girl who shows him mortal love when he can barely believe in the love he preaches every week.

I've read what seems like a million stories about angry angels, thinly-veiled retreads of well-known Bible stories (usually involving guns and swear words, ooh, how edgy), pedophile priests, one last romantic encounters with ghostly lovers and devils coming to church, and each time they get more and more and more tiresome.  There is so much more to Christianity than Thomas Kincaid schlock and badassed Bible verses.

The supposed Rapture came and went without incident Saturday night (except for my friend Jim, who didn't answer his phone when I called him at 6PM EST and has yet to call back, leaving me to assume that he was, in fact, assumed into Heaven.  Good for him, I say.  I like to imagine that he's eating sno-cones with Patrick Swayze).  I think there's a lot of really great stories in there--none of this "Left Behind" crap, but stories about regular people.  Such as:

--A non-believer laying awake the night before wondering what will happen next and still being changed even after the Day of Judgement fails to materialize.
--Someone who left everything behind and is disappointed that they're stuck here on Earth because they've been scammed into believe Doomsday is coming. (LOTS of good material to milk here) 
--Someone ends up Raptured due to a clerical error
--The character gets to Heaven and realizes that, because of the specifications on who gets in, realizes that all the people they really love are left on Earth and that "Heaven" has become their own personal Hell
--One person gets Raptured, while their lover/sibling/parent is left behind

 . . . and these are just my ideas.  Go ahead, take them.  I'll probably never get around to writing them anyways.  Good luck with them, and send them over to The Midnight Diner.  Direct your cover letters to me personally and although I make no promises of publication, I would like to read them.  And really, when was the last time an author gave away their own specific story ideas?  Not that I've ever seen.

Point is, these are the kinds of stories I want to read in any genre.  Stories about people, just normal people with average jobs and average lives who have something extraordinary happen to them--even if it's as simple as meeting someone on the street . . . but make it someone, some idea, that changes them, because one of the problems we all have in life is that we don't change.  And why should we?  We're always right, everyone else is wrong.  After all, Harold Camping himself said that there was no possibility the Rapture wouldn't occur at 6PM on May 21st, 2011.

Yet, here we all are, stuck in this broken world together.  Who needs sarcastic angels and apocolyptic wanderings when we're surrounded by so many people, all with their own stories to tell?  Find these same people in your imagination and tell their stories--give them words and breath and life.  That's how you write a good story. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bread and Circuses, Pt II

Continuing our discussion from last Tuesday . . . .

With trained actors no longer being necessary, screenwriters obsolete and directors being phased out (I watched The Burbs and Gremlins 2 this weekend and found myself thinking "Whatever happened to Joe Dante?") Cinema is rapidly becoming a fast-food atmosphere. Hollywood wants you to hand over money for a sub-standard product because they know their audience will watch, literally, anything. How many times have you heard a friend say, "I saw it because it was something to do." Now, how many times have you said that? How many times have you forked over $10, more than an hour's worth of the minimum wage the guy at the concession stand is making, to waste two hours of your life seeing a movie you had no real burning desire to see in the first place?

This is known as "Bread and Circuses"--as in, "give people basic entertainment, and they won't notice us over here taking their money, their land and their lives" We're so distracted by the shiny lights and the 64 oz collectable drink cup that we don't notice that gas is over $4 a gallon, gas-drilling companies are threatening to destroy Upstate New York the same way they destroyed Pennsylvania, we're still in Iraq and that so much of the food we eat is pure poison. We've been made too fat and sick on genetically-engineered popcorn topped with chemicals and High Fructose Corn Syrup and Big Macs to protest, too blinded by an endless succession of rapid-fire commercials and piles of toys to notice that we're wasting what little time we have on this earth putting cocaine directly up Michael Bay's left nostril. 

And we're complaing in the whole time.  We bitch that our stomachs hurt, that we're tired, that we're broke, that there's nothing good on TV and they don't make movies like they used to.  Then we eat another Whopper, down another 64oz of Mountain Dew, watch another rerun of Keeping Up with the Kardashians and go down to the multiplex to watch a bunch of cardboard cutouts perform a story we know by heart from the last six times we've seen it.

(Side note: I had a "Last Night Before the Rapture" party this Friday, and I instructed people to bring junk food because what did it matter?  The world was ending . . . but after a weekend of eating junk food, I feel completely gunked up--I don't know how other people go through life feeling this way because they consume nothing but microwave dinners, Doritos and cheap, nasty beer.  I feel like I'm going to die.)

Summer Blockbuster Season is descending upon us, not unlike the fire, brimstone and earthquakes that were supposed to start at 6PM this past Saturday, only more painful.  We've got a record number of sequels, reboots, remakes and other useless garbage coming out this summer, and the best way to show Hollywood that you're not going to take their crap anymore is to stop giving them your money.  If we don't see bad movies, in theory, they'll stop making bad movies.  Think about it.  Do you think there would be a Transformers 2 and 3 if no one went to see Transformers?  No, there wouldn't be--you are part of the problem.  Try being part of the solution. 

So here's a nice list of things you can do other than wasting money, time and your health in the cinema this summer:

1) Make your own damn movie, either as a group effort or as a contest.  Divvy up your friends, set a minimal budget ($15?) and either a) Remake a blockbuster a la Be Kind Rewind (I can guarentee that even the most cardboard box imagining of Transformers 3 will be loads better than the one playing in theaters) or b) challenge everyone to make an original short film.  Give them a time limit, like 24 hours.  Host a red carpet event and screen all the films.

2) Volunteer.  Work at a soup kitchen for an evening.  Pet kittens and walk dogs at a shelter. 

3) Go for a walk--not a walk to the convenience store to buy some Fritos, but a walk in a nature preserve or a mountain or down streets in your neighborhood you never explored.

4) Go to a religious service (maybe try a faith that you don't belong to) and think about how you can be a better person.

5) Host an Iron Chef potluck--pick a theme ingredient and have everyone make something to share

6) Pick a current movie you want to see, then go through Netflix and find either the original or one similar.  Japan has more giant robot movies that you can even begin to imagine.

7) Write letters to all your far-off friends--not an email, not a facebook post, but a real physical letter.  Include newsclippings, recipies and other fun things.

8) Have a craft party.  Make paper, sock puppets, tee-shirts (I love Generation Tee) voodoo dolls, chapbooks.

9) Have a slumber party and watch movies you used to watch as kids.  Try Flight of the Navigator or The Explorers.  Have everyone bring cute pajamas, a lovey to snuggle with and a cereal their mother wouldn't let them have for breakfast the next morning.

10) Run around outside like you're eight years old again.  Play Frisbee, Calvinball, Tag, Fizzball.  Toss a football or a baseball around.  Bonus points for wearing tuxedos!

11) Go through all the crap you've aquired in life and divvy it up into piles--keep, sell, toss, donate.  Be brutal, because really, do you need that stuffed Pikachu?  Are you ever going to wear that long black lace Lip Service dress again?  Wouldn't it be better in the hands of a kid who's going to love it, or a teenage girl who can actually fit into it?  Hold a yardsale and make some extra cash.  Put the good stuff up on ebay and let people duke it out.  Donate stuff for a tax write-off.

12) Learn to do something that will save you money--grow a plant you can eat.  Take a hunting course.  Learn to fix your toilet or your windowframes or do your taxes so you don't have to hire someone to do it for you. 

13) Take an adult ed course.  Learn to ballroom dance or write or paint landscapes or play piano.

14) Audition for a play.  If you don't get in, offer to help paint sets, make costumes or hunt for props

15) Clean your entire house.  Scrub grout with a toothbrush.  This isn't fun, but you might be amazed with the results.

16) Make an episode of a reality show about your life.

17) Set aside the admission price every time you decide not to go to the movies.  At the end of the summer, go to eat at someplace you normally wouldn't be able to afford.  Remember to dress nicely. 

18) . . . or if you're really nice, donate all that money to charity. 

19) Read all your old diaries and the bad poems you wrote in high school.  Use them to start a fire in the grill and have a BBQ.

20) Play mini golf or paintball.  Divvy up into opposing teams named after TV shows or movies, such as Farmington PD vs Oswald State Pen. 

And if you must go to the movies, why not check out a second run theater?  They're cheaper ($2-$5 instead of $8-$12) and half the time, empty.  Or an independently owned art theater where you can pretend to be a film snob?  Or better still, a drive-in.  You pack a picnic and not be chained to bad popcorn and neon nachos.  Bring some chairs and sit out on the lawn, under the stars, enjoying even the crappiest of movies . . . or if the weather is less than ideal, inside your car, making MST3K-style commentary.  Dwight and I once went to the 3-screen drive-in in Warwick, NY and halfway through War of the Worlds, switched the signal over to Herbie, Fully Loaded.  The results were hysterical.  And if the movie really, really sucks, enjoy the age-old tradition of making out in the backseat.

It comes down to this--in the words of the great, two-time Pulitzer Prize Winning Film Critic Dr. Jay Sherman, PhD, "If the movie stnks, just don't go."

Friday, May 20, 2011

It was too awesome, that's what happened

There's a sequel to American McGee's Alice coming out in a few weeks and the part of me that is still twenty and listening to Coldplay's "Clocks" is thinking "Awesome!  I've been waiting forever for this!" and the part of me that has a job and a boyfriend and a life is thinking "Ugh, enough Alice--and hey, whatever happened to American McGee's Oz?"

And I'm not going to
give you the satisfaction
of a screen shot.

I'm not going to talk about how much of a stupid, pandering retread Madness Returns is probably going to be except to say that okay, so her parents didn't die in an accidental fire the way they did in the first game, which is why she was in a mental hospital and got out at the end to live free and happily.  So now she's still in therapy, and goes back to Wonderland in repressed memories, and in the end we're going to find out that . . . what, they were murdered by someone she imagines as the Queen of Hearts/Jabberwock/Mad Hatter?  Gruesome--so will there be a third part where she avenges their murder?  Were they murdered by her?  Then why would I want to play a murderous pseudo-goth teenager, that doesn't sound fun

I don't know.  And I don't care.

I am really sick and tired of people telling me that I have to play a game because it has a "good story."  Frankly, I hate being told that I "have" to do anything but eat, breathe and sleep, but with as little time as I have now, the last thing I "have" to do is sit on my butt.

I like games with Rabbits in them
If I wanted a good story, I'd see a movie or watch TV or, I don't know, read a book.  And some games DO have good stories--like Sam and Max, which is all story, told in puzzles and dialogue.  Or Epic Mickey, but Epic Mickey would have been a lot more awesome as a movie or a comic than as a game, because in order to get to the awesome story parts with Oswald, you have to wander through a bunch of mind-numbing gameplay.  The story of Bioshock is very neat (and supposedly, Atlas Shrugged taken to it's logical and extremely bizarre conclusion) but again, hours of wandering around collecting items and shooting a series of identical bad guys.  And I've got serious mad old-skool love to Chrono Trigger, but again, I'd rather watch it as an anime or read it as a comic than have to fight my way through the Black Omen one. more. time.

But by contrast, games like Katamari Damacy and Rabbids Go Home and the old-skool Mario Bros games have only the most basic of storylines--Fix the universe.  Pile stuff up to the moon.  Save the Princess.  And the gameplay is simple, and it's not pretending to be something that it's not.  It's just a game, and it's fun, and I have wasted more hours than I can count trying to roll up the right sized cow.  They're cute and they're simple and I don't ever feel like I have to try and justify it to anyone because it's just a game

Besides, most modern video games seem to take far more effort and frustration that the story is even worth.  Like Epic Mickey.  It's easier and less involved to just read Alice Through the Looking Glass, plus you can take it outside and maybe follow a white rabbit someplace on your own adventure.

This isn't even, of course, touching on how stupid and tiresome "dark" fairy tale retreads are.  That's for another day.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bread and Circuses 2011

I think we have officially reached the end of the era of the Movie Star.  Gone are the days of Humphry Bogart, Sean Connery, Harrison Ford, George Clooney and Johnny Depp.  We are entering the era of the franchise, where the only quality an actor must posess is a generic enough face and enough talent to shout "Oh no!  A giant robot!"

As we head into the summer, most of the movies we've seen coming out from major studios have either been franchises (Harry Potter, Transformers) reboots (Batman, Planet of the Apes, the upcoming Spiderman) or sequels (Johnny English Reborn, Pirates of the Carribbean 4, The Hangover 2).  Even movies that seem original (Cowboys and Aliens, Sucker Punch) are based on pre-existing material, in those cases, comic books no one's ever read, hence the originality factor.

The problem with franchise films is that they strip away any chance the actor has of, oh, I don't know, acting.  Because Spiderman has to be Spiderman, damn it, or the fanboys will mess their underoos, Andrew Garfield has to be pretty much the same as Toby McGuire.  James Franco and Shia LeBouf are interchangable, just slightly-updated Hayden Christensens and Elijah Woods.  Blockbusters don't make Hollywood names anymore because Hollywood doesn't want pay someone $20 million dollars for a performance.  Imagine, if you will, a world where Han Solo didn't say "I know" in response to Princess Leia's "I Love You" in The Empire Strikes Back because Harrison Ford wasn't allowed to be Han Solo--he was just allowed to wear his clothes for a few hours.  That would have sucked, because that one line, which Harrison Ford improv-ed based on his own interpretation of his character, tells us so much about Han that two hours of exposition couldn't have revealed.

Because there aren't characters anymore, the actors aren't allowed that grace.  It's basically Halloween every day--Shia LeBouf gets to put on his Transformers-guy costume, but he isn't allowed to create that character because that character doesn't exist.  He's basically a prop for a bunch of special effects.

And hell, even Christensen and Wood, who were in two/three of the highest grossing films of all time can barely get work anymore--because they're too recognizable as Anakin and Frodo, so they get replaced with someone of equal nerdiness who comes cheaper and no one will notice.  (Also, because Hayden Christensen can't act.)  Jesse Eisenberg is (was) a cheaper Michael Cera.  Seth Rogan, Zach Galifanakis and Jonah Hill (who Matthew says "looks like he invented pink eye") can all play the exact same character (fat stoner asshole) with almost no difference between them.  There was a big difference between, say, John Belushi, Chris Farley and Horatio Sanz as far as filling the "fat funny guy" role--Belushi was crazy, Farley was sweet but dumb and Sanz, well, he's just unfunny.  But now we've got three fat guys all trying to play the same role in various incarnations.

I have a whole theory on guys like Seth Rogan anyway--women are expected to see these nerdy, fat, loser guys as their new romantic leads (like Knocked Up)  We've been asked to lower our standards without men lowering theirs--if anything, now the average sclubby guy thinks he DESERVES a hot girl, simply for being "who he is" (we'll call this the "Nathan Rabin" trend).  The horror of that aside (The tagline of Knocked Up was "What would you do if this guy got you pregnant?" and my answer is "grab the nearest coat-hanger") having the "everyman" (because let's face it, American guys aren't getting any hotter) be the romantic lead just furthers my theory that actors are becoming interchangable--because with Jonah Hill finally succombs to fatal pink-eye, they can just pick another fat schlub from Nowhere, America to replace him, probably without anyone noticing.

But you can't replace Leonardo DiCaprio.  My guess is, and I hate admitting this because I hated him for years. DiCaprio will be the last movie star.  He's the last of those big-names with any screen presence or charisma.  You can't make a new Johnny Depp just by giving someone a hipster haircut and a fedora.  These are actors with real raw talent, but that's not what Hollywood wants anymore.  Talent is too hard to replace.

Hollywood is creating a class of actors who will never be household names.  James Franco's name alone will never be enough to sell a film to a wide audience, which is good because the less James Franco we have, the better off we'll all be. This new class of Hollywood actors has a shelf life of about ten minutes, which is, frankly, fine with me because they all suck.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

New Interviews, Guest Postings and Links

If you'll look over to your left, you will see that I have added a bunch of new links to other blogs and several links to interviews and guest postings I have done. If you have a blog and would like me to add you, please shoot me an email and I will gladly do so!

Also, new story this week: "The Gypsy Girl's Guide to Knitting," link under "Stories and Essays."  More housewife dread, if you're into that sort of thing.

Scenes From An Italian Shut the Hell Up

It's time I took issue with something I should haven taken issue with a long time ago.

Billy Joel.

I have a love/hate relationship with Billy Joel.  His was the first concert I attended, with my then-boyfriend Aaron and his dad (my mom wouldn't let me go unless I had a chaperone) He would have also been my second concert, if that same boyfriend hadn't decided to give my ticket to his friend Mike and go with him instead.

So needless to say, since we broke up almost seven years ago, I haven't really listened to all that much Billy Joel.  Every so often I'll get a craving for, say, "Summer Highland Falls," which reminds me of a boy I was in love with at summer camp, or "Allentown," which despite the fact that Billy Joel is hardly the working-class hero he's always claimed to be (see also: "The Downeaster Alexa,") is a pretty awesome song.  But for the most part, I leave those albums on my shelf.  Joel seems like a parody of himself these days; I remember seeing him on VH1 Storytellers back at the height of my Billy Joel craze (I had yet to discover the Smiths or Tom Waits) and he claimed he never wanted to become a "Las Vegas version" of himself.  Well, I saw his concert at Shea Stadium on TV late one night in NYC when I couldn't get to sleep and Two and a Half Men wasn't on yet, and he was exactly that.  No, he was worse than that.  Las Vegas requires a little showmanship, so unless the show was Billy Joel puppeting a Billy Joel puppet clinking away on a piano in a whimsical fashion, what I saw was a tired old man trying to smile and clank out the same old tunes he'd been playing since 1984.  So much for retirement, Mr. Joel.

Since I don't have a picture
of Geza, this one of Cillian
Murphy will have
to do
No, what I want to take issue with today is "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant."  I used to sort of like this song because it reminded me a bit of my ex-boyfriend Geza, who, despite the fact that I dumped him in eleventh grade after three months of dating, still remembers my birthday and meets me for Japanese food whenever I'm in NYC.

But it got stuck in my head this afternoon while I was making dinner for my boyfriend's mom, and I realized something so utterly and unspeakably awful about it that I almost want to throw out all my Billy Joel albums.

Please, sample these lyrics, won't you?

Got a new wife
Got a new life
and the family is fine

This is a real sentiment of the baby boomers.  Just get a new wife, an new life and sure, everyone will be just f'ing fine with it.  What about the old life, Mr. Joel?  The kids you left behind, the wife you left?  Are they fine?

It's a sentiment that, as you can imagine, really pisses me off.  Baby Boomers think that the whole world revolves entirely around their happiness and only their happiness.  I can't tell you how many times I've heard "Well, if I'm not happy I can't be a good parent."  No, SCREW YOU.  I'm sorry that your kids and your wife prevented you from banging models or getting a Ferrari or somehow came along and made things not a never-ending party FOR YOU.

And here's Billy Joel, trubador of the Upper Middle Class, singing cheerfully to a woman he left about a woman he left and the new bride and the do-over family.  Fucking classy, Mr. Joel.

That's not to say I'm against divorce.  Sometimes things don't work out despite the best efforts of all involved.  I don't think people should stay in relationships that aren't working, especially if there's abuse of any sort, but all too often I see abandonment predicated entirely on selfish needs to "find" oneself.  I see parents abandoning their kids and taking on new "special friends" because being a parent no longer suits their immediate needs.

 Newsflash, Parents:  You are always going to be parents.  That's not to say you don't get to have fun, especially once you've got empty nest, but your needs NEVER come first.  Ever.  When you create a child, you are passing on your genetics and throwing away the idea that you are the center of the universe.  You're not.  And frankly, neither is your dumb kid, but that's not the point (of this essay).  The point is that you create something that is both outside of you and a part of you--and that part can't just be pushed aside when he/she interferes with your mid-life crisis party routine.

Even worse, and this is going beyond Billy Joel and into the realm of Baby Boomer Writing (because I'm on a tear and you can't stop me now!) is the idea that divorce, especially for women, is something to be proud of.  Like it's so brave to tear your family apart so that you can feel "free" again.  Because the kids that get left behind will never be free.  They develop complexes that inhibit their abilities to have meaninful relationships.  They settle down with men they don't love because at least it's something stable between the back-and-forth shuffle from one parent to another.  They go through the rest of their lives looking over one shoulder because if they can't trust a parent to love them enough to not exit their lives at the earliest convenience, how can they expect anyone else to stick around?

This is why I don't have kids.  Because I'm a flighty narcassist.  But I hope one day I can put my own needs aside to get up in the middle of the night with a crying baby.  To sit through a ballet recital or a soccer game.  To clap during a high school performance of Anything Goes and not be wishing I was somewhere, anywhere else but sitting next to other beaming parents watching a bunch of acne-ridden teenagers in cheaply-made sailor costumes clomp around to "It's De-Lovely"*.

That day may never come.  And I'm okay with that because I understand the sacrifice and as of this writing, I'm not willing to make it.  Maybe that makes me more selfish than Billy Joel, I don't know. 

But what I do know is that "Scenes from an Italian Restaraunt" sucks.

*For the record, I played Mrs. Harcort in my high school's production of Anything Goes.  I should have played the mobster's girlfriend, but I didn't . . . ah . . . give the right kind of audition, if you catch my drift.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Alot of Idiocy

This is a day late and I'm sorry.  For those of you keeping score at home, Tuesdays are Boys on Film, Thursdays are Writing and Saturdays are Record of the Month.  But it's Friday, and this is the weekly writing column .  . . but I think it's worth the wait.

I was in Walmart today buying envelopes and I saw a teeshirt with a picture of Marilyn Monroe and her quote "I don't know who invented high heels, but women owe him alot"

That's not a typo on my part.  The shirt actually said "alot"


Guess that stereotype of Walmart being filled with ignorant illiterate rednecks has to come from somewhere.

It's bad enough that I still see "alot" in college papers, but someone actually passed that through.  Some corporate CEO looked at that product and said, "Yep, it's good" despite an enormous, glaring typo.

Or maybe it's no longer a typo.  Maybe we've just becomes so stupid and lazy that "alot" has finally become a word, like "bootyliscious" or "crunk."  I mean, our teachers are just glorified babysitters (at least that's what I'm expected to be when I'm in front of a college class and was fired from SUNY Cobleskill for being, among other things, too educated (I also had the nerve to slip on some ice on their sidewalk and injure my back)) who are expected to teach to a test so schools can get the government funds that allow administrators to collect salaries of 100K while their teachers qualify for food stamps . . .but it doesn't matter, because even if they were trying to use their six years of college to actually teach anything, the students themselves are so coddled by their helicopter parents that if little Madison or Jayden wants to spell it "alot" well, she/he's so special and perfect and precious that she/he can go right ahead because whatever she/he does is just perfect, like her/him.

Maybe it's a class issue.  "Eh, they're poor and uneducated, they're shopping at Walmart, they won't notice."  Whatever it is, it's obnoxious as hell, and it's wrong.  We should be ashamed of ourselves . . . that is, if we can tear ourselves away from watching Ow, My Balls long enough to feel shame.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Making Her Triumphant Return to the Stage . . . .

I auditioned for the first time in ten years last night, for the Oneonta Stage Players All-Female version of The Odd Couple.  I went in with the basic expectation of trying to prove to myself that I could still do it, with small hopes that I might somehow end up with the role of Vera, which, when I saw The Odd Couple with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick (3rd to last show, by the way, and I have no idea how my friend Ann got tickets because the run sold out faster than a garage band), was played by Lee Wilkoff, who originated the role of Seymour Krelbourne in Little Shop of Horrors.

And I got it.

I got the part.

I read cold and I was suddenly inspired by a girl I went to grad school with, a girl we'll call Princess.  Princess was not the brightest crayon in the box.  She was a few tacos shy of a combo plate.  A few ants short of a picnic.  You know the drill.  And she had this voice, this little stupid idiot vacant voice that allowed you to actually hear the flies buzzing inside her empty skull.  I played Vera like that, with that same tight, clipped little speech pattern . . .  and I got the part. 

I got the part.

Ten years after I swore off acting, I got the role I really wanted.

Guess I owe Princess a thanks.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Independent Ink now avaliable!

I'm on the cover,
so you know it's good

The innaugural issue of Independent Ink, which features my short story "The Weather Girl" (with bonus interview!) is Now Avaliable for Kindle download.

They're also currently seeking new fiction, so all you writers out there, get those cover letters ready!
At Matthew's recommendation (after all, he watched The Shield for me) Ian and I started watching Nip/Tuck, which now we can't get enough of.  It's not like we even like it all that much.  It tends to wander off and drops storylines and whole characters for episodes at a time, and the wife is annoying and sex-addict Gina has just climbed above Corinne Mackey on the list of TV Women I Hate.  If I have to see her again, she might just top Ava.

It's basically television methodone. The Shield was heroin, and we were going through withdrawl, and although Nip/Tuck isn't as good a high as the real thing, it might allow us to get back into watching TV like normal people, without the big heaving sighs of "well, it's not the Shield . . ."

But man, oh man, is this show dark.  And depressing.  There is not a joyful moment to be had in the two seasons we've been watching.  I mean, even The Shield had some genuinely sweet, touching moments--BBQs in the Mackey's backyard, Shane's clogging routine before Lem enters the arm-wrestling contest, the decoy squad streaking through the Barn, and plenty of one-liners to keep everyone smirking. 

But my God in Heaven, there is never a break in Nip/Tuck--whether it's Julian losing his infant son or Sean's girlfriend committing slow suicide while he watches or his ugly horrible son Matt almost killing a girl or one of the nine million times Sean's wife threatens to leave him, it's all so mired in heavy-handed angst. 

And yet, we keep watching.  We have to.  We have to make sure these people are okay even though we don't like them.   It's a train wreck.  It's a soap opera.  It's bad for me and yet, I have to have it.  But, just so you know, I can quit any time I want.  

Saturday, May 7, 2011

From the Vault: Nightmare of You

By all rights, I should absolutely hate Nightmare of You.  It's a holy hell of pop-indie cliche horrors by a dude who has clearly never, ever been touched by a girl and takes this out by playing his Smiths albums and crying.  Don't get me wrong, I have cried over many, many Smiths songs ("Rubber Ring" is perfect for all occasions of weeping, from break-ups to quarter-life crises, although I have shed tears for "William, it Was Really Nothing" and "These Things Take Time")

It's as though lead singer Brandon Reilly dug through Morrissey's garbage and found his high school notebooks, helping himself wholesale to lyrics so melodramatic that would make even Robert Smith say, "dude, chill."  From the ever-present romanticism of death (especially car crashes (a la "There's a Light that Never Goes Out") as featured/stolen in "Dear Scene, I Wish I Were Deaf" and "I Want to Be Buried in Your Backyard") to use of Morrissey-tinged words like "dismal" and "charming," and seriously, (stop using the word "romantic") and the sort of creepy obsession with violent crime, the whole package reeks of scattered gardenia petals and sad, lonely desparation.

And you just know Brandon Flowers of the Killers could take this guy in a fight.  And I could take Brandon Flowers in a fight.

But they've also got these charming Johnny Marr styled melodies, which make even shlock like "Why am I Always Right" (sample lyric "I love you terribly/I swear that this is true/but I just can't stop my hands from smothering you," which I put on a mix CD for someone and probably shouldn't have been surprised when he broke up with me) is undeniably catchy.  I like to think of it as Morrissey for beginners--because listening to the Smiths is a life-changing experience.  I remember listening to my older sister Shaun's copy of The Queen is Dead and hearing that opening melody and knowing that my life would never be the same.  That song forever changed how I heard music and how I understood lyrics.  It had a profound effect on me as a writer, the beginning of a change in style from overwrought to carefully, cleverly constructed.  I won't say I've gotten to Morrissey-level lyricism yet, but I'm making strides.

When you're a teenager, it might just not be possible to absorb that much change.  I'm still absorbing the Smiths, still hearing new melodies and understanding new lyrics (the vinyl really helps on the former) even though I've been listening to the same songs for 10 years now.  Although I only recently discovered "Our Frank" and any song that more or less declares, "If you do not stop talking, I will puke blood" speaks volumes to me.

But alas, I guess we can't all be Morrissey.  And for those days when we can't be Moz, Nightmare of You will do.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

"What have I remembered
what did this used to be?"

Crash Test Dummies, "Winter Song"

I finally decided it was about time to do some spring cleaning.  I've held onto just about everything I've ever written, from the first story I attempted back in fifth grade to triplicate contributor copies of the magazine containing my first paid writing gig, an essay about chem-free college housing.  (I bought an $18 Sephora lipstick with part of the money)

So I dug up my trunk and dove in.  Out went the workshop manuscripts from an undergraduate memoir class I hated (the teacher made us read Dave Eggars, ugh) Goodbye letters from people I don't remember writing to.  So long early drafts, bad poetry (SO much bad poetry) and X-Files fanfiction.  I saved a few pieces of writing from old friends, including "Betty is a God," by Jason Bates, which remains one of my favorite stories of all time.

To prove how hip and with it I am,
here is a picture of Jeff Goldblum from 1996
I also found my old diaries.  I didn't dare looking at anything from earlier than college; it might just all be too embarassing and sadly, a lot of it has degraded, faded and smudged over time.  I took a peek at my 8th/9th grade diary and all it did was make me laugh.  I was such a dweeb.  Good thing I've gotten over that phase and am now completely cool.
I've been keeping a diary since 6th grade, but my late college diaries are the best.  I'm not sure if it's because I had a lot of fun in my senior year of college or if I just more creative with collages and little pictures glued next to my entries--mostly pictures of Ewan McGregor and Clive Owen, although there are mementos from dates, movie tickets, secret confessions of love for movie stars I would die before admitting I liked*.  Programs from plays and my first public reading, a wrapper from a Dum-Dum a crush had given me and entries written in colored gel ink.  It was this wonderful time of anticipation and excitement and fear--I'd started a new relationship with Ian, Sin City had just come out and I'd just discovered Tom Waits and Raymond Chandler.  I had all these great friends and threw fun parties and headed up the Pen is Mightier fiction club (yes, named for the Celebrity Jeopardy skit).  Everything in those days seemed perfect, and I chronicled every cup of Bubble Tea, every SVU marathon, every pulp novel and every late-night conversation after fencing club over Dr. Pepper and curly fries. It was a bittersweet read, because a lot of those people aren't in my life anymore, and I miss them.

I was also happy to notice that I was extremely funny in my diaries.  I made all these weird little observations and thoughts and captions for pictures.  But I was also extremely melodramatic at times, which is not as cool.  What can I say?  I was an ex-goth English major.

As Randy Hickey once said, "That was fun until it was sad." The flipside to reading old diaries is that I read a lot of stuff I wish I hadn't written down, stuff maybe I would have been better off not remembering in such detail.  I had to relieve the death of my cat Scallion, the slow decline and eventual death of my grandmother, my mom and stepdad's awful divorce.  It's not like I was going to forget those things, but reading how I felt at the exact moment they happened seriously bummed me out.

So why do we keep diaries?  Is it to remember what we might otherwise forget, good and bad?  Is it so that we can share them with our children (God help me if my kids ever see some of the stuff I wrote--I can't afford that kind of therapy on a Plucky Journalist salary) or is it in arrogance and hope that two hundred years down the road, someone might read and put them in a museum to display what it was like for a 21 year old girl in Binghamton, NY?  I'm not really sure what the point is.  But I know I can't part with a single one of them, from the Kerioppi notebook to the oversized sketchbook which, at last count, was 50% Jeff Goldblum, 40% Walton Goggins and 10% complaining about my family. And frankly, Walton Goggins is the only real change since 6th grade.

*It's Jude Law, okay?!?  I think Jude Law is kind of cute . . . you know, for a total cad. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I recently had this weird craving to watch Children Of Men.  I have only three things to say on that film:

1) Watching a dystopian war-ridden nightmare before bed was not the brightest idea I've ever had
2) Clive Owen is amazingly hot and we don't see enough of him
3) That movie is still awesome

When I was lying half-concious from food poisoning in my hotel bed in DC back in Feb, I was flipping channels and came across Sin City, formally My Favorite Movie of All Time.  I saw it twice in one weekend--the only other movie I've ever done that with was Predators, and that's only because I lived above a $2 movie theater and had, literally, nothing better to do. 

So I watched "The Big Fat Kill" section, and man, he is so hot and that movie is still great.  Mostly because of Clive Owen (and Mickey Rourke, of course, but he's not hot like Clive Owen).

I sort of let my obsession with Clive Owen fall by the wayside because he reminded me a lot of my ex-best-friend, but it's been a few years and I'm ready to love again.  Now if only he would start showing up in movies again . . . .

I left my knife at home, so I'm just going to smash the glass and eat my beer with my hands
I like Clive Owen because he is a man.  Manliness drips out of every pore.  This is not a guy who plays World of Warcraft, he goes to the horse races.  Clive Owen does not keep Smirnoff Ice in his mini fridge, he drinks pints of beer so thick you have carve them with a steak knife before you can drink them.  Clive Owen does not wear skinny jeans or white belts or ironic teeshirts.  He's so damn manly that I'm surprised he doesn't chafe himself on his rawness.

When he comes on screen, you know Clive Owen means business.  He has a monotone and a grizzled face and a crooked nose and when he grins he looks like he wants to eat you.  But he also has a stage presence unlike anyone else (except maybe Mickey Rourke) and he commands a screen.  He's the kind of men women want and men want to be.  In an era of pretty boys with names like Channing and Shia, a dark, dour British man is a much-needed breath of fresh air .  . and yet, he was gone almost before we really got to know him.  He was a big thing for a hot minute, and then . . .nothing.  There's Trust, which I didn't get a chance to see, and The Boys Are Back, which Ian refused to see with me, but otherwise, he is gone.  If I really wanted to get melancholy, I could point out how much this mimics my ill-fated relationship with Dwight, but I'm not that silly.

The other thing I like about Clive Owen is that he is devoted to his kids and his very . . . ah . . . British-looking wife.  I love married men, and better still, I love a devoted married man.  I can't explain it--preachers, professors and married men.  Those are my kinks. 
Ewan McGregor is charming.  Jeff Goldblum is coy.  Walton Goggins is clever.  But Clive Owen is manly.  And can't a girl have one of each?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Stories and Essays UPDATED

After many requests (okay, so just one--thanks Dan) I've finally gotten around to updating the STORIES AND ESSAYS tab over there on the left. 

There are a few ways to read this, but here's how to maximize the enjoyment:

--"The PI's Wife" should be read BEFORE "Friends and Other Lowlifes."  There is a 3rd Victor and Sheila story due out later this year titled "Midnight to 6AM.

--"Gin for Two" and "Unplanned" go nicely together.  Mostly because they're sort of about the same person.  There's a third one that hasn't been published yet.

--There is a sequel to "Spare Change" in the latest issue of Criminal Class Press titled "Vice Undercover."  They asked me to set it in the 80's, but you can imagine it otherwise.

--"This Charming Man, Still Ill," "Death in Hollywood Anonymity" "Pretty Boys Need Not Apply" and the Best of the Web/Best American Essays nominated "No Valentines for Generation Twilight" are all nice off-site additions to the Boys on Film catagory of this blog

--"Johnny Strikes Up the Band," "Love and Vinyl" and "Wallflowers on the Dance Floor" is a good triple-play of music-related fiction.

--Ideally, and this means a little extra searching (or emailing me) The Crimson City/Loring stories should be read in the following order:
1) "First Night in a New Town"
2) "Big Night Out" (Hardboiled #39)
3) "Until Proven Guilty" (Needle Winter 2010)
4) "The Carpool" (Hardboiled #41)
5) "Last Night"
6) "Absolution"
7) "Road Trip"
8) "Preacher Man" (The Midnight Diner vol 3)
9) "Merry Christmas Mr. Taylor" (Pulp Empire vol 3)
10) "Props"
11) "Broken Dreams at the Clover Leaf Hotel"

These were from a short story collection that never got published in it's entirety--when I sell a book, I will probably compile all of these into an fan-only ebook.