18 December 2010


Michael George Hartley. This is a nasty,
dark little room.

That's right.

We are not happy in it.

05 November 2010

the joys of parenting

After sixteen years and four kids worth of at-home parenting, I have some thoughts.

And right now one of those thoughts concerns the maudlin saccharine nonsense commonly served up as the over-sentimentalized vision of what parenting is like. Sure, there will be those moments where you are sitting around a clean table in a sparkling white designer kitchen as perfect golden light bathes you and your well-groomed child as you both simultaneously and without any rational cause burst into heartfelt laughter as he completes a finger-painting project suitable for entry is a National Idiot's Day competition.

And somewhere along the way you'll likely have a moment where you are in your J Crew finest on an Rockwellian autumn day as your perfect daughter smiles a perfect smile perfectly missing one perfect front tooth as she takes off down your tree-shaded lane on her first ever try on a bike and your perfect wife runs up -- her perfect sweater tied sensibly and perfectly around her shoulders -- and gives you a hug from the side as you both stand there in your perfectness and enjoy a perfect day and she hands you a perfect mug of joe.

Those are the easy days. Those are the 3-inch putts -- the gimme's. To offer such images as examples of Parenthood is an insult, as any parent who can't handle those sorts of infrequent and unexpected moments of blissful ease probably also has trouble with the safe operation of a toothpick, and is likely challenged mightily by such complexities as sandals, doorknobs, or crayons.

The days which matter are the ones you don't see shown on those damned commercials. The moments which somehow never make it into an Allstate ad, and never get commemorated in a school PTA photo collage.

Moments like, "when your kid is vomiting all over the damned place."

You seriously want to take your love out for a test drive and see what it's really like? Then try to act nonchalant and unaffected as you are tasked with cheering up your kid in the middle of the night after already having changed their vomit-soaked bedding twice in the last ten hours. When you enter their room and are greeted with that retchy smell which normally -- rightly -- sends any typical human being diving for an exit or an open window or source of breathable air.

I know this, 'cuz I've been there, man. I've seen things. More times than I care to recall, and certainly more than I care to describe in specific individual case by case detail. And every time I've had such rare and golden opportunities, I grouse and grumble to myself "where are the damned warm and fuzzy ads depicting this perfect moment...".

Because it's these moments which really tell the tale.

As the saying goes, "any jackass can be a father -- are you man enough to be a Dad?" To willfully and unabashedly wade into situations so vile and disgusting that someone from the Geneva Convention really ought to look into things to see if perhaps serious significant violations are being committed. To force a sincere-looking smile on the outside even when on the inside the core reptilian base programming of your brain is screaming "AAAAAARRRRRGGGGGH! FLEE!! RUN AND HIDE!!!" To say -- and not just say, but actually mean and actually believe -- It's OK. Everything's going to be alright..." even when deep down you hear your own vestigial child voice whining "I'm scared and I want this to go away now..."

Those are the moments when your steel will be tested, my pretty -- when there's nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and nobody else to take the bullet but you, that's when your character will be revealed in all its weakness and strength, all its clumsiness and grace, all its enduring shame and glory.

"Oh! I don't know if I want to do that! I'm not sure I'm really cut out for that!" some might lisp. But I tell you what: I bet you'll find more to yourself than you knew was there when such a day finally breaks in your household. When the pompous BS is hosed away and your options are reduced to a clear and simple set of options -- come strong or go home -- clarity abounds.

When you put your hands... into a puddle of goo... that an hour before was your young child's dinner... you'll know what to do.

Now, you sons of bitches... you know how I feel.

I'd say more, but I'm headed back upstairs with a new roll of paper towels and the carpet cleaner.

And a noseclip.

02 November 2010

austin film festival 2010 -- Day 0 (Wednesday)

I wasn't even supposed to be here....

That thought kept coming back to me over and over throughout this year's Screenwriter's Conference at the Austin Film Festival ("the festival"). For reasons which don't rate discussion on a public forum, I'd decided that for the first time in six years I'd simply not be able to justify the effort and expense and time required to make this yearly pilgrimage. No, I was not entirely happy about the decision, but sometimes the right decision is not the happy decision, and this seemed one of those damnable cases.

But a funny thing happened. As has been the case more than a few times throughout this ongoing pursuit of screenwriting glory, something totally unexpected and wonderful falls from the sky to change the specifics of some critical moment. This time, it was a bit of unexpected generosity and encouragement arriving at precisely the critical moment. "Oh, you're going. That's not open for discussion." Again, the specifics are not the stuff for a blog like this, but I'll say this much: if you're very very lucky, you'll have good friends around you who refuse to let you make certain mistakes.

So there I am rolling hard down Highway 71 towards Austin, with some tunes cranking on the stereo, and in another of those improbably perfect moments which reminds me that God might make a decent director if he ever feels an itch to try that game, at precisely the moment when I crest the last major hill south of Austin and see the Capitol Dome haze into view, I find I am singing along to a certain lyric:

"Hey, amigo -- don't just play the part.
Wherever you go -- go with all your heart."
-- "Tucson", L.L. Cooper

One of the things about Austin which has become second nature to me is the way that I refuse to allow myself to feel tired or exhausted, no matter how badly run-down I might be due to the long days and short nights and copious flow of beverages. If the scene demands my presence and involvement until 5am, then that's where I'll be, and I'll be back in the Driskill Lounge by 8:30am the next day no matter what -- showered and awake and ready to charge once more into the breach. I no longer even notice this behavior: it's just The Way Things Are. But others seem to remark on it and marvel.

"Dude, how can you do that? I'd be a wreck."

I explained again this year how I just can't allow myself the lazy luxury of feeling tired and acting exhausted. It's cost too much to get here. Too much effort and sacrifice was required to get me onto this field for me to not give every last bit of effort come game time. Ten or twenty years from now I do not want to look into a mirror and know in my heart of hearts that there was something more I might have done to maybe have made that screenwriting dream happen.

Because regardless of what the t-shirt slogans might say, failure is always an option. If you doubt that, just look around and see how many failed dreamers stand eternally willing to give you their sad personal story full of explanations and excuses and justifications and rationalizations.

Simple choice: go hard or go home.


So I sang along with Coop, swung off to Austin-Bergstrom Airport and picked up Zoe, who'd flown in from Australia just to see if this circus I've sung about for years was really as wildly wonderful as I've been making it out to be. Actually, she'd driven ten hours from the bush to get to Sydney in order to catch a 14 hour flight to LA to then layover for a few hours to then fly another 3 hours to Austin to then spend a whole bunch of money hanging out with strangers, so again I am reminded of just how much I feel riding on me to make this event and this career chase work out.

We cruise into Austin and down Sixth to the Driskill and I stow the car and wander in to find my badges and registration info, and I'm struck as always by the weird sense of ownership: this is my space -- this is where I do the work.

I hook up with Tom, my hotel roommate for the week, and we find Zoe stumbling along with an Olympian case of jet lag, and we head off to grab some dinner at Threadgill's (chicken fried steak, gravy on the side, with mashed potatoes and San Antonio squash casserole).

Halfway through the meal, I see a woman standing at the hostess station, scanning the room, and I run to see Lori, an old high school friend of mine I've not seen in something like 26 years. We'd reconnected via FaceBook this past year, and when she moved to Austin over the summer, we'd agreed to grab a beer when next I came to town.

She joins us for the rest of the evening, and I'm suddenly left feeling an even stronger sense of urgency and commitment for this stupid writing pursuit: if it was that easy to lose touch with a really good friend for a quarter-century, how easy would it be to lose sight of this often-frustrating career chase?

We wind up back at the Driskill, and Lori and I natter and chatter as if 26 years never actually happened... well, except for a whole bunch of kids and some marriages and several relocations and blah blah blah. More festival folks wander through, waving and high-fiving as they pass. At some point we get joined briefly by Franklin Leonard, the dude who started the now mighty Black List. He turns out to be a totally likable self-effacing guy with great attitude about the unexpected prominence and power of the Black List, and again I am reminded of how weird and wonderful these random meetings in Austin can be.

Zoe collapses early (apparently 26 hours of air travel plays havoc on some folks...), Tom wanders off in exhaustion as well, and eventually everyone is being ushed from the room after last call, so I see Lori to her car and we laugh "let's do this again sometime without such a long break in between."

I stroll back to the Stephen F Austin hotel, taking a few extra scenic turns to let things percolate a little longer in my brain, and by 3am I'm back in the room. Tom's sleeping, so I take the laptop into the bathroom and spend a half hour typing up my daily notes and thoughts as I do every day when on the road. It's a weird tradition, I guess -- the nightly recap into .TXT form -- but it helps remind me that this is not a vacation. This is work, dammit -- I have big things I need to accomplish, and dreaming don't get them done.

(to be continued)

31 October 2010

farting brilliant

Found this while googling for an extra soupçon of snark to hurl at a friend who tried to yank my chain over a perceived/alleged/irrelevant breach of linguistic fussiness.

I only wish this was available in a form suitable for delivery via water cannon, as there are a great many ass-puckered armchair grammarians out there who deserve a good soaking.

And yes, I am back. Thoughtclouds are building on the mental horizon, and some verbal rain shall surely fall soon enough.

Better grab a poncho.

14 July 2010

Greatest Song Lyrics Ever, vol. 39

"Placemat Blues," by Slobberbone

Get up from the table and just walk away
There's nothing for me anyway
No reason that I should stay
Where's the place at the table for folks like me?
There's not one that I can see
Not one I can see

Used to be nothing sweeter than the signals it could send
The musical hand it could lend
Could be a lonely man's best friend
Where's the place at the table for folks like them?
Do you not want what they can spend?
Where's your place for them?

Now don't tell me that you don't see these things all sideways
I wish that you might one day see things my way

I know what you say, you say you serve the youth
You serve them Bizkits and Korn with a spoon
But I think you just serve you
Where's the place at the table for folks like us
When there's no one that we can trust?
Where's the place for us?

Now don't tell me that you don't see these things all sideways
I hope that you might one day see these things my way

That's my rant, I bet it don't make a dent
I waste all these little laments
And wait for accidents
So go on buy it all, buy it all and sell it off
The towers, the meters, the speakers, the knobs
Send it back to God

Just don't tell me that you don't see these things all sideways
And don't tell me that I might one day see things your way

We should kick your ass from here to Friday
Then maybe you might one day see these things my way


Defiance is its own reward.
too dumb to know better B

11 July 2010

a great deal remains unreported

Stuff is going on.

For now it still feels more like leaves swirling in a dust devil -- lots of commotion, fluttering, interesting to watch -- but not a lot of form or purpose.

Maybe stuff will coalesce into stuff worth publicly commenting upon.

Maybe it will continue to not.

Maybe a blimp will fall on me.

Life is funny that way: whatever bad news you think you're prepared for, you get the other kind.


25 May 2010

one more time

And so it ends again.

Trailing by 3 with two men on, a 9-year old strikes out, an umpire says "BALLGAME!", and we clear the dugout, trudge to meet beneath the big oak tree near the third base field gate, and I again tell the kids "I'm proud of you, you played hard, it was a tough game..."

Blah blah blah.

I'm not minimizing the message or even the delivery, but after a point -- after so many seasons and so many end of the year final post-game speeches -- it all starts to seem... anticlimactic.

We gathered into a circle to call out the team name, as per tradition, and as we all had our hands in the circle, I found myself just pausing. Hesitating. Refusing to pull the trigger on that last gesture which would, officially, end our season.

Some of the guys looked up me, noticing in their own minds the odd delay, the hiccup in the normal sequence and timing of the ceremony. All I could do was force out a half smile.

"OK, guys -- this is the last time we will ever be us. This is the last moment that this team will ever exist. Any of you guys who decide to come back and play again next season, I will do what I can to get you back on my team, but there are no guarantees, and the chances of this same group of twelve ever suiting up as teammates again is basically zero. So if you have any desire to tell the world what team you are on this season, here it is: your one last and final chance. Tell those bums who they just beat."

One, two three... a shout, and we're dissolved.


I make a point to go to each player and shake their hands, say "I love you, man" and "thank you for playing for me," and thank the parents for all their time and effort. I pour the equipment bag out onto the grass and do one more final inventory to make sure I have all the proper gear stowed and ready to turn in. I fart around and pick up a few stray pieces of trash -- gum wrappers, a drink cup, an empty bottle of Gatorade -- but then chuckle at myself as I recognize what I am doing: stalling. Delaying that inevitable next step, where I carry the equipment bag back to the storage barn, open the door, and add my team's bag to the pile of other team bags already growing in the corner, bags from teams like mine who have now completed their season and played every game on the schedule and every game allowed by the playoff structure and who have now come to... the end.

I toss the bag onto the pile and look around the room. Dusty old catcher's masks which only a few short months ago were shiny and new and still sporting their tags from the warehouse. Some leftover uniforms from Opening Day which were extras and never issued. A few sponsor and manager "thank you" plaques waiting to be handed out. Racks of trophies which will be distributed to some of the teams whose bags are not yet in this pile, whose seasons have not yet crashed to earth, who still cling to that delicious thing known as Hope.

I sigh, turn and walk out, making sure the door is well secured behind me, and I hear a burst of insane screaming of the sort that I laugh to recognize as unique to parents of 5-year old tee-ballers. I look to the tee-ball field to my right and see what look like large toddlers in oversized uniforms -- the Cubs and the Cardinals, blue versus red -- as a ball rolls somewhere towards a centerfielder who is watching an adjacent field, as a runner waddles as fast as he can manage toward second base. Surely one of the best hit balls of the entire season in that age group, as it actually left the infield. Dugouts are screeching. Parents are going wild. Kids are running around in what seems the earliest onset of panic. Coaches are bellowing "GO! GO GO!" or "THROW THE BALL! THROW THE BALL!"

I laugh and clap for the play, then turn and head back to my wagon full of gear: extra bats and buckets of practice balls and wiffle balls and scorebooks and folder of schedules and waivers and rosters. I pat my son on the head and say "let's get going -- it's a school night" and we walk past the next 9-year old game, already in progress after ours.

Past the 8-year olds where this is the season where they learn just how much anguish a scoreboard can deliver.

Past the Majors field where the 11s and 12s are suddenly starting to look and play like the young men we will see on high school fields, college fields, pro fields. In each case, on every field, one set of fans is always screaming, the other always pleading with uncaring gods to somehow deliver some impossible redemption.

We head to the van, and I notice how we've left the silver-white glare of the vapor lamps and are now heading deeper into the gloom of the parking lot, and how our shadows grow darker and longer out in front of us as the field lights fall farther and farther behind us with each step, and I laugh to myself for noting the drama of "leaving baseball." And I again remember my favorite baseball message:

That is why it breaks my heart, that game--not because [they] they could win because [we] lost; in that, there is a rough justice, and a reminder to [the other team] of how slight and fragile are the circumstances that exalt one group of human beings over another. It breaks my heart because it was meant to, because it was meant to foster in me again the illusion that there was something abiding, some pattern and some impulse that could come together to make a reality that would resist the corrosion; and because, after it had fostered again that most hungered-for illusion, the game was meant to stop, and betray precisely what it promised.

Of course, there are those who learn after the first few times. They grow out of sports. And there are others who were born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts. These are the truly tough among us, the ones who can live without illusion, or without even the hope of illusion. I am not that grown-up or up-to-date. I am a simpler creature, tied to more primitive patterns and cycles. I need to think something lasts forever, and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the sun.

-- A. Bartlett Giamatti, "The Green Fields of the Mind"

By that measure, I guess this season was a success, as I find myself heading home, broken hearted yet longing to do it all again, just one more time. Please. Just one more time.
simple creature B

21 April 2010

Happy San Jacinto Day

"On this field on April 21, 1836 the Army of Texas commanded by General Sam Houston, and accompanied by the Secretary of War, Thomas J. Rusk, attacked the larger invading army of Mexicans under General Santa Anna. The battle line from left to right was formed by Sidney Sherman's regiment, Edward Burleson's regiment, the artillery commanded by George W. Hockley, Henry Millard's infantry and the cavalry under Mirabeau B. Lamar. Sam Houston led the infantry charge.

With the battle cry, "Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!" the Texans charged. The enemy taken by surprise, rallied for a few minutes then fled in disorder. The Texans had asked no quarter and gave none. The slaughter was appalling, victory complete, and Texas free! On the following day General Antonio Lopez De Santa Anna, self-styled "Napoleon of the West," received from a generous foe the mercy he had denied Travis at the Alamo and Fannin at Goliad.

Citizens of Texas and immigrant soldiers in the Army of Texas at San Jacinto were natives of Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Austria, Canada, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Portugal and Scotland.

Measured by its results, San Jacinto was one of the decisive battles of the world. The freedom of Texas from Mexico won here led to annexation and to the Mexican-American War, resulting in the acquisition by the United States of the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah and parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas and Oklahoma. Almost one-third of the present area of the American Nation, nearly a million square miles of territory, changed sovereignty."


Happy San Jacinto Day, y'all.
under the "A" in "TEXAS" B

20 April 2010

once upon a time at starbucks



BRETT (40-ish, pissy, ruggedly handsome) wanders to the
counter, sighs.

Good afternoon! How can I help you?

Medium latté, please.

Oooooo, I'm sorry! My cash register
is broken...

Starbucks Lady gestures towards register like some
hostess on The Price Is Right.

... so I can't make any coffee

Starbucks Lady now gestures towards coffee maker, again
like some hostess on The Price Is Right.

... but is there anything else I can
offer you?

Starbucks Lady gives a Stepford smile. Brett glowers.

You mean, besides this scintillating

Starbucks Lady smiles and tilts her head in confusion,
a la RCA Victor dog.

BRETT (cont.)
Ya know, a Starbucks that doesn't offer
coffee really doesn't require a worker
in an apron, does it? It would get a lot
more use from a sign saying CLOSED --

Starbucks Lady still smiles, head still cocked.

World music soothingly annoys from somewhere.

Brett still glowers, then turns to leave.

BRETT (cont.)
(to self)
I'm surrounded by idiots...

Thank you! Please come again!


19 April 2010

A Momentary Bout of Clarity

It happens sometimes that when writing on some project you will find some odd clue or hint of bit of cosmic guidance from nowhere -- a trail of cookie crumbs the Universe seems content to leave every once in a while if only to foll you into thinking that the great slobbering beast called "Reality" gives a fig for your happiness and well-being.

So here I am, contentedly banging my face onto the keyboard in an effort to make beauty fall out my ears and eye sockets and arranges themselves into words on a screen, and iTunes per usual is cranking through a random play of a few thousand songs, when that weird thing happens yet again: some totally random song cues up which not only fits the mood but actually totally describes the entire damned story in a way more perfect than you'd ever manage if you sat there face-banging for a hundred years nonstop.
I -- I wish you could swim
Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim
Though nothing
nothing will keep us together
We can beat them, for ever and ever
Oh we can be Heroes
just for one day

I -- I will be king
And you -- you will be queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can be Heroes, just for one day
We can be Us
just for one day

I -- I can remember (I remember)
Standing, by the wall (by the wall)
And the guns shot above our heads (over our heads)
And we kissed
So nothing could fall (nothing could fall)
And the shame was on the other side
Oh we can beat them, for ever and ever
Then we could be Heroes
just for one day

We can be Heroes
We can be Heroes
We can be Heroes
Just for one day
We can be Heroes

No, this doesn't describe any specific story to you, but trust me -- it *is* this story I am working on, totally nailing the emotional core that I was trying to describe to some... well, "persons of surpassing relevance."

And there most surely is joy in Mudville tonight.

13 April 2010

Greatest Song Lyrics Ever, vol. 63-A

"Bubble Gum," from Adam Carroll

Three sixty-five for a can of snuff was money poorly spent
Didn't see a girl or a car around so I threw it on the hot cement
Well I parked the car and I went to school when I came back in haste
There was a big ol' wad of bubble gum that was stuck there in its place

The sticky side of the yin and yang on my shoes cramps my style
Some joker's chompin' on a big league chew with a big fat Buddha smile
Countin' out my change from the I Ching I can't help but hold a grudge
Was it bubble gum or bad karma? Let my guru be the judge
Was it bubble gum or bad karma? Let my guru be the judge

My foot got stuck when I hit the gas and I swerved to miss a skunk
And I ran into a bus load full of ten Tibetan monks
Their bus was wrecked, nobody got hurt, but they cussed me really loud
This had to be the first time that they broke their silence vow

I said please don't call the cops and I offered them some wine
We played chinese checkers and they beat me every single time
They stole the car and they grabbed the wine they said "you were bound to lose"
And I got left on the side of the road with bubble gum on my shoes

The sticky side of the yin and yang on my shoes cramps my style
Some joker's chompin' on a big league chew with a big fat Buddha smile
Countin out my change from the I Ching I can't help but hold a grudge
Was it bubble gum or bad karma? Let my guru be the judge
Was it bubble gum or bad karma? Let my guru be the judge

Stumbled my way back to town and the blues came down on me
I couldn't get back to my humble home cause the monks had took my keys
I sat down on the doormat -- I hung my head and wept
I spent the night trying to meditate out on my front porch steps

The days go by with the sun and the moon, no better or no worse
Bubble gum and bad karma is gonna be my dyin' curse
Well I might come back as the Dalai Lama -- I might come back as a clown
I hope that things are different in my next time around

I might come back as the Dalai Lama -- I might not come back at all
I might come back as a holy cow that's grazin' in Nepal
I think Ho Chi Minh's got herpes but Confucious he was cool
Bubble gum makes you stutter and snuff just makes you drool

Well I might come back as an outlaw rickshaw driver named Omar
But if I had things the way I wanted them...
I'd be picking the hindu blues...
with Keith Richards and Ravi Shankar

The sticky side of the yin and yang on my shoes cramps my style
Some joker's chompin on a big league chew with a big fat Buddha smile
Countin out my change from the I Ching I can't help but hold a grudge
Was it bubble gum or bad karma? Let my guru be the judge
Was it bubble gum or bad karma? Let my guru be the judge


Think about it, darlin....

26 March 2010

another dawn breaks foul

So I'd been told that we -- The Wife and I -- needed to be at the elementary in time for the "televised" morning announcements this morning. She said Daughter was being mentioned in the announcements, and I shrugged and mumbled and said "yeah fine whatever..." as I am wont to do.

We rise, get the kids prepped and loaded and fired out the tubes toward their respective targets, and then The Wife and I then turn our focus to getting into clothes presentable to normal humans.

I'm culling through the t-shirts, looking for one that won't draw *too* many stares of unspoken complaint (but still won't draw *none* -- there is a required balance in such calculations...), and I then grab a favorite (iow, "ratty") faded sweatshirt to pull over that, as it's a "brisk" morning.

"You're not going to wear that, are you? she asks in that way women do when they pose a question in the form of a complaint.

"What -- would that leave me looking not pretty enough to stand against a wall, uninvolved and wishing for coffee?"

"Why not wear this?"
she instructs, pulling a nice oxblood sweatshirt that still has the tag it's had since I opened it as a Christmas gift at some point in the past decade.

She hands me the sweatshirt and retreats to finish her own prep. putting on a blouse which seems oddly... nice just for a walk to the school and back.

At that point I groan, as it becomes clear that I am being "handled" -- something is afoot, and I'm the lucky surprise recipient-to-be.

"Crap," grumbles I.


I hate awards and acclaim.

It's all surely tied into a host of bizarre and for-purposes-here-unimportant childhood episodes, but the gist of it is I simply do not trust public shows of acclaim and approval. They make my skin crawl, make me want to dig a hole, drop into it and shudder like a flounder to cover myself with a concealing layer of silt and grit.

Some people seem to not understand that, as I am (admittedly and proudly) the possessor of one of the world's truly great Egos. It's not that I think I'm all that and a bag of chips. It's that I am, baybee, and I don't need no silly damned trophy or certificate or round of applause to give me additional unneeded proof of such. BUT -- and here's where it gets screwy and demented -- I am also sufficiently aware of my own overlooming arrogance and Ego freakitude that I very much dislike feeding that particular monkey. I therefore make great effort to remain detached from my Ego, and I like to yank its leash every once in a while to remind the beast that I remain (mostly) in control.

And so, rather than allow that Ego to further inflate with stupid moments of self-adoring public adoration, I avoid them. Instead, into mine own ear I whisper that old warning, that "all glory is fleeting." Every new victory and elevation just gives me that much more which I will surely soon lose through clumsiness, arrogance, and gross staggering stupefying incompetence.

Yeah, yeah, this whacked-out little internal balance of terror is demented and twisted and surely deserving of professional corrective attention and analysis, but in the mean time it's also just who I am.

Deal with it.


Earlier this school year I once again volunteered (with the usual scowling and complaining) to head up the design and construction of all the stage sets and props for the school musical.

Stagecraft is a goofy and largely unprofitable skill, so of course it's precisely the kind of thing I love and excel at. I started helping with stage stuff when I was maybe 10 years old and my mom was in charge of the local small-town beauty pageant, and we'd be part of a volunteer crew that would be tasked with turning a junior high stage into a fantasy castle or a Ziegfeld visual using nothing but spit, toilet paper cartons, and 73 pounds of duct tape.

I helped there annually for years, and eventually became the defacto stage director. I was in charge of pretty much everything from the curtains on back. (If any wonder WHY I would be interested in this, remember that by that point I was 17 years old and the gig put me solo backstage for a few long nights with 40+ totally nervous totally hot high school girls in low-cut evening gowns -- it was a good gig, guys.)

So I honed (stagecraft and other) skills there, and over the next few decades I'd duplicate that kind of creative silliness in the name of a dozen other similar crafty things like Cub Scouts and PTA and dance class, where I'd be the dad tasked with making a giant teacup or a pirate ship or a Viking longboat or a jungle or Monument valley, all built from chicken wire and whatever I could pull from a dumpster.

And 73 pounds of duct tape.

The local elementary stages two musicals every year -- for the fourth graders in the fall, and for the second graders in the spring. With four kids having passed through the halls there, all spaced just right, it's worked out that I've had a kid in line for a musical pretty much every year for the past decade, so years back when they posted a call for folks interested or experienced with designing stage sets, I said "sure, why not."

And done it again almost every year since.

Thus I've become a sort of annual tradition. I internally giggle at how the PTA ladies seem not totally thrilled to share my air, as I am a grumpy grumbling snarling hissyfit in human form most times when I am compelled to endure the butt-puckering bureacracy of the public school system (where it usually feels that I need to have my ID checked and two forms approved before I even think about bending at the waist or scratching my backside), but by the same token they are always totally stunned and overjoyed by whatever insane construction I ultimately reveal on Opening Night. It's not my Ego talking when I say I'm good at this stuff. Damned good.

And I know that. And I don't need or want anyone else's approval or celebration in order to know that and take pride in it. Making castles from cardboard and jungles from cheesecloth is just one of those totally odd things I am way better at than most normal people.

As he says in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, "I cannot fiddle, but I can make a great state from a little city." Or a Mother Goose fairy tale land using finger paints and butcher paper.

And 73 pounds of duct tape.


So there I stand in the AV Room "studio" for the CCTV "broadcast" the kids make every school day as part of the morning announcements. I see my daughter standing there, dressed slightly nicer than normal, ostensibly to look good for "her" moment onscreen. And I notice my 4th grader son also there, grinning, and I just roll my eyes at the attempted deception: why would he be here just to see his sister when she is being broadcasted into his classroom? Why did The Wife uncharacteristically give a fig what I wore today? Why were all the front office folks greeting me by name when I did the required handprint, retinal scan and voice analysis to gain entrance to NORAD Elementary?

Come on, guys. Credit me with SOME snap here.

One of the cool little traditions at the elementary is the award of commemorative boomerangs to the "Outbacker of the Month." (The school has a pervasive Aussie/Koala/Outback theme). 'Rangs are awarded to students who do exceptional stuff in volunteer service, or who have some spectacular achievement in academics or service or whatever. They also hand out a boomerang monthly to the parent volunteer of the month.

My kids have long remarked that it seems strange that I've never been awarded one of these Outbacker of the Month boomerangs, given the insane work I've done over the past eight years in building sets and installing props and building stuff for the PTA carnival and building 3D bulletin boards and blah blah blah.

"I don't do that stuff so I can win a silly danged boomerang. I do that so you guys love going to that school and take pride in what you attempt there."

"Yeah, but people need to respect you for your work!"

"I'd rather they just respect the work itself. I'll respect the exhausted fool who did it."

So I am standing there, dressed nicer than I'd like to be dressed (per The Wife's command) and I see both my kids standing there grinning at me like a pair of Wonder Twin Idjits, and I see there are six kids in line to be awarded Outbacker Boomerangs, and I see there are seven boomerangs lined up to be handed out, and I see Daughter covering her mouth like she knows a secret and then pointing to the boomerangs being handed out and then raising her eyebrows as if to say "golly I wonder what's going on today" and the whole damned charade is just so clumsy and pathetic that I am half-tempted to duck out a side door and diminish into the west before I am forced to come up and listen to a bunch of noise and feel Ego writhing around in disgusting appalling self-adoring paroxysms of ecstasy.

But I don't.

'Cuz these silly people all mean well and want to enjoy their little game, and making me squirm and feel totally uncomfortable apparently brings great joy to folks, so I get called onscreen by the Principal and she reads some maudlin overblown and entirely too grandiose bit of niceness to/for/at me, and I accept the silly piece of painted wood (which is not even a real damned boomerang, BTW -- totally useless for throwing or hunting) and we all wave and smile to the camera as the announcements wrap up and we then get photographed for the newsletter or yearbook or whatever and my kids say "were you SURPRISED, daddy?" and I smile and lie and blah blah blah get me the hell outta here NOW.

I understand that I'm supposed to be thrilled and happy about all this, and I guess on some level that's hard for me to access and enjoy like normal people apparently do I am, but on the whole I'd be far far happier with just a casual nudge as we look at the work itself, and maybe one quiet yet sincere "that'll do, pig. That'll do."

And I could really use a new roll of duct tape.

20 March 2010

I'm still here

The itch to post new content to the blog...?

Not so much.


What happens, happens. What don't, doesn't.

Such is life.

30 January 2010

sometimes i miss this thing

The blog.

The feeling usually comes on at some odd moment spurred by some odd impetus or provocation -- some totally random encounter with the name of a long-misplaced friend, some flicker of memory relating to some curiously powerful moment from a decade or three mostly forgotten, some up close and personal encounter with a mouth-breathing dipshit at some local business or office -- and suddenly I feel an instinctive need to blather on about it.

I have no idea if most people understand this urge, or if this is a strange affliction seen in only that verbose and pale minority known as "writers," but for me somehow dissembling a thing and grinding it into mnemonic paste and then mixing the resultant slop back into a meatloaf of memory, spiced with whatever I feel like throwing into the bowl and fluffed up by what breadcumbs I can find and then kinda sorta held together by spit and egg whites.

Drizzled in ketchup.

A hundred odd questions I want to ask myself and then hang around and hope I bother to answer.

Strange connections between stuff I'd forgotten I'd once felt to stuff I didn't know I now was feeling.

Grievances and complaints and grumblings and assorted pissy little blurts and burps which as often as not are a reminder to myself to shut up and laugh off the minor complaint and remain more aware and thankful for the big ticket items which far far more often than not still seem to break in my favor.

Song lyrics that make me laugh, frustrations that make me want to punch a nun, and obscure admissions of things most folks will never even suspect.

I still have no idea what the purpose of a blog is. I still have no clue why anyone reads these things. I still lack any understanding of how to turn this waste of words and bandwidth into anything potentially useful or lucrative.

Yet still I come back, urping up words.

On the bright side, maybe I'll become rich and famous at some point and all the crap smeared about here will then become a lovely ego-crushing embarrassment.

Now *that* would be amusing.

10 January 2010

Ursula K. Leguin resigns Authors Guild

And the legendary fantasy writer's reasons for doing so should be of extreme interest and urgency to pretty much anyone out there who now or ever has cuddled close to the fast-fading fantasy of making money from the printed word.

This new "Inter-net" thing you may have heard the kids rapping about is a wonder: all the information and text of the world, available 24/7 for free on pretty much any computer anywhere.

Huge companies like Google racing to continue to convert every piece of visual information -- words, drawings, photos -- to digital form which might then be rammed down the wire or radio waves to anyone wanting that info.

Libraries will no longer need to invest in monstrous collections of books and magazines and journals and newspapers and microfiche copies of such, instead now free merely to subscribe to streams of ever-expanding collections of digitized material.

But what about the lowly authors in this? What happens when suddenly there is no incentive for anyone to actually purchase copies of their work -- when any book that previously needed to be "purchased" can now just be downloaded from some online archive? What happens when Google is actually granted free rein to ignore issues of copyright and to start scanning copies of existing books and turn those loose onto the uncontrollable 'net, with no royalties or restitution to the creators?

That's exactly what's already going on, and (like many) Le Guin is rightly upset -- so much so that she's now resigned from the Author's Guild which negotiated with Google on this unprecedented land grab of of intellectual property. Le Guin is not content merely to voice her discontent on her blog -- she's actually collecting "signatures" from other published authors who share her disappointment and anger at the Guild's decision (published authors be sure to add your names on her site).

If you're a published author or wish to be one (or have a scintilla of respect for those poor pathetic souls cursed by such aspirations), this is a truly terrifying development, and you need to understand it -- NOW -- and speak your peace while there's a snowball's chance of it still mattering.


BookViewCafe.com: Le Guin On The Google Settlement

UrsulaKLeGuin.com: "My letter of resignation from the Authors Guild"

(And thanks to Pooks for her post which brought this to my attention: Ursula Is Rallying The Troops!)