Calling Out My Fellow White Males

The Southern Poverty Law Center has been tracking hate groups and hate crimes since 1971.

The SPLC has verified 1,094 “bias-related incidents” in the period from November 9th (the day after the election) to December 12th of 2016.

The majority of these incidents (29%) were “Anti-Immigration” in nature.

A white male, for example, told a woman who he thought was Mexican that, “I can’t wait until Trump asks us to rape your people and send you back over the biggest damn wall we’re going to build. Go back to hell, wetback.”

20% of the incidents were Anti-Black.

In Massachusetts, a white male called a 14-year old boy riding his bike in front of his house a nigger.

10% of the incidents were Anti-Muslim.

In Washington State, two white male students pulled the hijab off of another student. They were each suspended for five days. When asked why they had done it, one responded, “We won.”

Listen: (that’s right; I’m stealing rhetorical strategies from Vonnegut)

Listen: Not all Trump supporters are racist/sexist/xenophobic/bigoted/fill-in-the-blank. Of course not. And not all white male Trump supporters are [insert same].

But listen: that racists and sexists and xenophobes and bigots feel emboldened and/or validated by Trump’s election is undeniable.

37% of the bias-related incidents from November 9th to December 12th referenced Trump by name or a slogan of his campaign or “his infamous remarks about sexual assault.” (In case anyone’s forgotten, his infamous remarks about sexual assault were that if you’re famous, you can just grab them by the pussy.)

46% of the incidents occurred in the days immediately following the election.

At Baylor University, a white male shoved a female black student off of the pavement. He told her “No niggers allowed on the sidewalk.” When a bystander asked the man what he was doing, the man responded, “I’m just trying to Make America Great Again.”

Here’s another interesting statistic: of the 1,094 bias-related incidents from November 9th to December 12th, only 4% were “Anti-Woman” in nature.

BUT: Of the 37% of incidents that referenced Trump and/or his campaign, 82% were Anti-Woman.

Two white males in Virginia yelled at a woman crossing the street that “You better be ready because with Trump, we can grab you by the pussy even if you don’t want it.”

In New York, a white male told a girl taking the subway to school that it was now legal for him to grab her pussy.

So here’s a message to my fellow white males.

First: if you are a white male who harbors hatred toward those who deviate from either “white” or “male” (or both) and who allows said hatred to manifest itself in either word or deed, then you are a horrible, horrible human being who either…

A) will remain a horrible, horrible human being until your lonely death…

or

B) will someway, somehow (in Ebenezer Scrooge fashion) come to see the errors of your ways, appropriately revising them and thereby becoming either less horrible or not at all horrible.

Listen: the truth is that you really just hate yourself. Rightly so! And now that you have been so informed, kindly redirect said hatred appropriately.

For the rest of us: it is contingent upon us not-horrible-horrible white males to resist and reject the words and actions of our (horrible, horrible) brethren. It is the right thing to do, and the American thing to do.

We must also be aware that when that resistance and rejection is quiet/silent/unheard, it in fact (or in effect) does not exist.

We must also call things as they are. One of Trump’s selling points was his lack of political correctness. People are tired of being politically correct.

Let’s extend that to bigots. Let’s call bigots bigots. And likewise call racism racism, sexism sexism, and homophobia homophobia.

And let’s call the Alt-Right what it is: white nationalism. Changing the name masks the connotations.

Listen: Donald Trump won the election. That is a fact. But what is also a fact is that despite his victory the majority of Americans did not vote for him.

Here’s another fact: the future of our country—the future generations of voters—are more tolerant, more inclusive, and value diversity more than their ancestors.

The bigots are outnumbered, and they are running out of time. This country is leaving them behind. Rightly so. But they are going kicking and screaming, and for the next four or eight or however-many-years-it-takes, they will fight.

And it is important that we—the non-horrible, non-deplorable white males—engage in that fight and stand beside our fellow (non-white and/or non-male) Americans who (for the next four or eight or however-many-years-it-takes) are most vulnerable.

I’m not saying it’s up to us to ride in and save the day. I’m saying that we need to realize we have a dog in this fight, and to show up for it.

 

Borges at Disneyland

I read a lot of Borges.

My critical thesis in grad school was on Borges’s influence on the fiction of John Barth.

There’s a framed illustration of Borges in the hallway of my house, surrounded by pictures of my family. The Borges picture is bigger than the other pictures.

See:

20160907_162906

In Borges’s fiction, there is a finite number of possibilities–a finite number of things that can happen to an individual–so what separates, or sets apart, each individual is the particular things that happen to each of them, and to Borges these particulars are limited by time, so that if everyone was immortal, then all things would happen to all people, and all people would therefore become one person. Each individual, for instance, would at some point write Hamlet, so each individual would be Shakespeare (or would have lived the particular events of Shakespeare’s life), but each individual would also be Justin Bieber, having also lived the life of Justin Bieber.

Because of this worldview, characters in Borges’s stories (for example: The Immortal, Shakespeare’s Memory, Borges and I) often blend into one another (or, to put it another way, using Borges’s common motif of the mirror: characters become reflections of one another).

And that’s what I kept thinking about when we took our kids to Disneyland.

Everywhere I looked, I saw a reflection of myself (or, to put it another way: everywhere I looked, I saw my own life being lived by hundreds and hundreds of other men).

For example, here’s a picture of my kid eating a churro. I’m not in the picture, but there’re at least four other versions of me that are in the picture. Can you spot them?

20160511_185241

And, of course, it’s not just me. The lives of my wife and of my kids are repeated over and over, as well. Some of those repeats are in this picture, too.

Take, for another instance, the picture above of Borges in my hallway. Next to Borges is a (much smaller) picture of me and my wife and my mother and my kids with Mickey Mouse. What the picture does not show is that we had waited in a long line of families (dozens of families) all of whom took that same picture, and that same long line had formed dozens of times over the course of that day, as it did and as it will do on all other days, including today, such that thousands of thousands (millions?) of families have the same picture with Mickey Mouse hanging on their wall (though probably not next to a picture of Borges).

So we are all at the same place having an individual experience that thousands of other people are also having on the same day and that thousands and thousands (millions!) of other people also have had or will have on each day prior and each day after the day that we had it.

Yet: it’s an incredibly individual and magical experience. Or at least Day One is magical.

Most of the people who are on that day living the same life as you are living either Day One or Day Two (for some, there is also a Day Three, but for almost all, there is Day One and Day Two).

And because you are at Disneyland and not at California Adventure, then you and most of the other people who are also living your life (specifically, the ones with strollers and giant, over-stuffed diaper bags) are living Day One.

All of you individually planned a trip, and all of you are on Day One of that trip. Day One is Disneyland. Day Two is California Adventure. If there’s a Day Three, it’s back at Disneyland (which means that, everyone who is living Day One will encounter some people who are living Day Three, but it’s easy to tell the people living Day Three from the people living Day One: the people living Day Three are the people who look like they are trying to recreate the magic of Day One, quickly, before driving home, but failing).

It was pretty much the same when I was a kid, except that Day Two was Knot’s Berry Farm, or later Universal Studios, because when I was a kid California Adventure was the parking lot.

Anyway, Day One is magical. For everyone, but especially the kids. And the kids don’t know and probably wouldn’t care if they did know that thousands of other kids who are living an alternate version of the same life are also having an independently magical experience. Each of the dozens of kids who are lined up to meet Princess Aurora has the individual and magical experience of meeting Princess Aurora, and that experience is unaffected by its repetition for dozens in front and dozens behind (plus hundreds and thousands and millions who have done and will do the same on a day that at Disneyland always looks the same and that repeats itself into infinity)

20160511_104638.

About Day Two:

Day Two is pretty awesome, but perhaps less magical. Day Two is about strategy and efficiency. Everyone living Day Two has lived the magic of Day One and is now going to get their money’s worth, because this s-word is expensive.

Day Two begins at the rope line. Everyone living Day Two has read on Pinterest that they need to get there (to California Adventure, where, as mentioned, Day Two is lived) before it opens and to line up at the rope line.

Some people who are living Day Two have read on Pinterest that as soon as the rope drops they need to speed walk straight to the line for the Cars Fast Pass.

Other people are living a version of Day Two in which the thing to do is to speed walk past the Fast Pass line and directly to the Cars ride itself.

A few people are living a version in which the thing to do is to go do something else other than Cars precisely because everyone else who is living Day Two is going straight for Cars, but this way of living Day Two basically means foregoing Cars altogether, and Cars is pretty awesome.

We lived the version of Day Two in which we went straight to the line for Cars. It was pretty awesome. We were glad we lived this version because the people who lived the version of Day Two in which they got into the line for the Cars Fast Pass had to wait a long time for that Fast Pass, and the Fast Passes were mostly for late that afternoon, and pretty soon they were gone altogether.

Anyway: everyone who is living Day Two has a strategy with which to conquer Day Two, most of those strategies meant to outsmart everyone else who is also living Day Two and who have the same or similar strategies.

The rest of Day Two is basically a contest to see who in the family first gets to the point that they’ve had so much fun they could kill someone.

And then the next yous arrive and you go home.

 

 

Married Couple Abandons Parenting for 3 Months to Write Book

Potential headlines for this story:

Married couple writes book.

 Married couple writes book in only 3 months.

 Married couple abandons parenting for 3 months to write book (ultimate winner).

Married couple surprised by how little they come to hate one another while writing book in only 3 months.

Married couple, as side effect of co-writing book in 3 months, becomes those people at Starbucks with all their computers and cords and stuff and about whom you wonder Don’t they have a home?

Parents of infant and toddler who placed ad in search of parents found at local Starbucks, indexing.

 

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post titled, Things that Have Happened Since the Last Time I Posted on My Blog, in which I singled out five things:

Thing #1: I quit blogging.

Thing #2: I had a second kid.

Thing #3: I (we) took first kid and second kid to Disneyland. Twice.

Thing #4: I wrote a book with my wife.

Things #5: I was informed I have high cholesterol.

 

In that last post, I went into more detail about Thing #1 and Thing #2. This is Part 2 of that post and will be about Thing #4, skipping Thing #3 for the time being, just because.

 

Thing #4: I wrote a book with my wife

A full explanation of the book’s intent and the impetus behind it is explained here.

So we (Liz and I) had this idea for a book. We’re both high school English teachers, and it’s a book about teaching high school English.

The idea started out as a book about teaching Slaughterhouse Five, the idea later expanding to a book about teaching Slaughterhouse Five as well as half-a-dozen other books we like to teach.

We batted it around for six months or so, getting serious enough from time to time to draft some chapters and eventually reaching the point at which we began to think about the possibility of submitting it, at which point we learned about book proposals.

So we spent (spent should be precisely defined here as referring to no more than ten to fifteen minutes every few days scratched [into? out of?] an at-home schedule dominated by parenting and grading and Netflix) the next six piecing together a book proposal, which included a query letter and an overview and an annotated table of contents and market research (I say included market research not actually knowing by any degree what market research is and therefore whether or not what we did is it but anyway we analyzed who/what our market is and other books for which the market is the same and how our book was/was not similar and etc.) and a sample chapter.

We sent the proposal out to a handful of education publishers, from which we received rejections, some of which were non-form and encouraging, before finally hearing from a very nice acquisitions editor at Rowman and Littlefield named Sarah (in fact, R&L had been suggested to us by one of our previous non-form and encouraging rejecters).

Sarah asked for some additional materials and some revisions to the sample chapter and then needed to take the proposal to the editorial board. A few days later, she wrote back with an acceptance. We were delighted.

Here’s the said-sarcastically-fun part. Sarah’s acceptance came on July 23rd of 2015. In the same email, Sarah expressed that it would be an advantage for the book—though it would not yet be published—to have an ISBN number and be promotable at the NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) conference that November, and for that reason Sarah wanted to know if we could submit to her the final manuscript by early September (this would later be extended to the first of October).

Now, at that point (July 23rd), we had the sample chapter and a couple of other very rough and incomplete chapters, all amounting to less than fifty pages.

We also, at that point, had a nearly-three-year-old and a nearly-three-month-old, as well as full-time jobs: me teaching and Liz at home with the kids, Liz having taken leave from that upcoming school year. I also had a part-time teaching job some evenings and Liz also was working on her Master’s degree.

But I had this memory from grad school of one of the faculty members, a novelist who also wrote screenplays, giving the advice, said advice delivered within an anecdote about a screenplay, that the answer is always, Yes! Like, for example, if “they” ask you if you happen to have any stories/manuscripts/screenplays/whatever about bla bla bla, you always answer Yes, and then go write a story/manuscript/screenplay/whatever about bla bla bla, and it was with this anecdote with its embedded advice that I convinced Liz that despite the apparent impossibility of pulling it off we should just say Yes!

So we did.

For the several months that would later follow the book’s release, when people would ask something along the lines of How’d you do it, I would repeatedly give the same jokey answer: “We just quit parenting for 3 months and did it.”

But we didn’t really quit parenting or abandon our children–Liz in fact clutched our three-month-old and declared that we could not let this affect our time with the kids–though we did for a time parent them less.

We wrote early in the morning. We wrote at night after bedtime. And for a rather large chunk of each of about twelve consecutive Sundays we got a babysitter and went to our local Starbucks.

 

Things you notice when you spend 10 or more hours per month at your local Starbucks:

  • Much like Walmart, people will wear almost anything to Starbucks.
  • In any span of several hours at the local Starbucks, a lot of people come and a lot of people go, but the four or five people who remain through all of those hours are pretty much the same four or five people who are also there week after week.
  • If you are one of those four or five people, location is everything, and the ideal location depends upon your purpose. For some, it’s those comfy chairs. For us, it was a balance of table space and access to a power outlet.
  • Though you may not start out there, if you stay at the local Starbucks long enough and if you’re willing to repeatedly pack up all of your stuff and move, you will eventually get your ideal spot.
  • If there are two of you, and you each have a laptop and papers and books, you may very likely need to initially split up, but you will eventually (see above) reunite.
  • Starbucks food seems wholesome and even kind of high-end. And you get the impression that they (Starbucks) don’t even really see it as food people would regularly eat, like at McDonald’s, but food people get to go with their coffee or food people need because they’re starving after waiting in line so long for coffee. It seems more like premium food.

But it’s not. In reality, it’s food taken out of a plastic package and put in a microwave, which is what you get when you eat at a gas station (which I happen to know a lot about), except at the gas station you do the microwaving yourself, and when you eat enough re-heated Chicken Artichoke on Ancient Grain Flatbreads, they just start to taste like gas station food.

My first book took three years to write. All the same things happened with this book—frantic drafting with the recurrent thought that nothing that I am typing right now can ever be in a book in fact it’s so awful it can never ever be seen by anyone ever; never-ending laborious revisions such that one reads the same chapters and the same pages and the same paragraphs and sentences over and over and over again; that feeling that when this is over I never want to read or see or even think about this book ever ever again in fact I’m never going to do anything difficult with my free time again just Netflix and ice cream from now on. All the same stuff, just this time crammed into 3 months.

But it all worked out. We finished. On time. And the people we need to thank are: Sarah; our babysitter, Lizzie; our two readers, Susan and Ellen. And of course our kids, for getting along without us for a while.

 

 

I did not vote for Trump. Many of my friends will stop reading there. But I hope they don’t.

I did not vote for Donald Trump. Many of my friends will stop reading there. They will stop reading and possibly unfriend me and/or possibly compose a comment in response to that single sentence, all of which they have every right to do.

 

But I hope they don’t. I hope they continue to read.

 

I am a white male. I grew up in a rural area of Northern California. I was raised Catholic and went to private Catholic schools from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

 

I grew up in and around the horse industry. My maternal grandfather was a rancher and National Reined Cowhorse Association Hall of Famer. My father is a horse trainer and breeder. He bred and raised AQHA’s current all-time leading sire.

 

My stepfather is a team roper, and around the age of fourteen I also became a team roper. I signed up for high school rodeo, and my family began to supply me, as they would continue to do for the decade-and-a-half that followed, with horses and trailers and trucks and tack and all the other accoutrements necessary for a team roper.

 

I competed in high school rodeo for four years, college rodeo for four years, amateur rodeo for fourteen years, and professional rodeo for twelve years (the latter three overlapping).

 

The rodeo world is predominately Republican. I am a Democrat. I have “felt” like a Democrat since I was about twelve years old. I didn’t get it from my parents or from Catholic school or from anyone around me. For whatever reasons, I developed a worldview that more closely aligned with the Democratic Party than the Republican Party. This worldview developed with positive intent: it is based upon things that I believe in, not things that I hate.

 

For most of my life, I didn’t know many fellow Democrats. But that was never much of a problem. I got into spirited debates from time to time with some of my friends. These debates were always about issues. They were often fun.

 

More recently, it feels different.

 

On Tuesday, a close friend posted on Facebook about having voted for Hillary Clinton. She received multiple comments, one from a mutual acquaintance of ours from college who replied with, “Nice knowing you. I love my country.” Perhaps I’ll receive similar comments.

 

I suspect that my declaration that I did not vote for Donald Trump will lead some to the conclusion that I am therefore less American. That I love my country less. That I am less concerned about the threat of terrorism and about the lives of our military. That I am disqualified from descriptors such as patriot and family man and hard worker.

 

To this I take great offense. In fact, I will not tolerate it. I am American. I do love my country, I do care deeply about its safety and the safety and well-being of those who defend it, and I am a patriot and a family man and a hard worker, despite the fact that I exercised my right to vote for a different candidate than those who might claim otherwise.

 

Many of my friends may also view my vote as a sign of deficiency in my character. I admit it: I am deficient in character. As are we all. And I hope, as I assume we all do, that as each year passes those deficiencies decrease in number. But, in the end, we are all flawed characters, and some of us, who were friends before Facebook hijacked the word, know one another’s flaws all too well, and hopefully rejoice for one another as we shuffle them off.

 

Speaking of Facebook, the past two days of scrolling seems to be revealing a troubling trend in which, at the end of an election in which issues were less and less the issue and more and more the issue became the extent to which the other candidate was criminal/evil/treasonous/demonic, what is spilling out, there now being no candidates left to demonize, is the demonization of the supporters of each candidate by the supporters of the other.

 

At this point, I was going to write, “Both sides need to listen to one another.” But a major part of the problem is that we are being placed ever more permanently on sides.

 

We all need to listen to one another.

 

We also need to remember that information in service of a single point of view is propaganda, and it is in the best interests of each of our respective parties (or at least of elements of those parties) that we be divided.

 

Said parties seem to have been remarkably successful at said division, and certain particulars of our contemporary society—the multiple 24/7 news options, the echo chamber of the individualized social media feed, and the handheld devices that keep us constantly fed—have made the delivery of divisive propaganda more convenient and more effective than in previous generations.

 

We all need to listen to one another.

 

Said listening requires what F. Scott Fitzgerald sort-of-famously prescribed: “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

 

We need to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time. It’s actually not that hard, and I don’t even have a first-rate intelligence. I do it every time I order three cheeseburgers on the way home from work while making plans for getting into shape.

 

We need to listen to one another, and we need to do this because our individual experiences are not all the same.

 

On Wednesday, after the election, at work, I sat in a meeting (or, more accurately, sat waiting for a meeting to begin) with two other white teachers. The population at our school is around 80% Hispanic. The two other white teachers mocked the fact that some of their students were demonstrably in a state of grief over the election of Donald Trump, mocking in particular a girl who had cried.

 

We must not dismiss or discredit the American experience of others because it is not our own American experience.

 

We can hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and continue to function. If you are opposed to President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) as a policy, you can hold that thought in mind while also recognizing that the tears of a seventeen year old girl who is months from graduation but who may lose her DACA status are legitimate and understandable and deserving of our sympathy, not our mockery.

 

It is also possible to hold in mind the two opposing thoughts that while her parents have committed a crime, they are not criminals, a paradox that is proven true by the fact that we unevenly extend (or withhold) it when that extension (or withholding) is convenient to our social, political, or religious points of view (see above definition of propaganda).

 

We all must listen to one another. We must listen with sympathy to the American experience of displaced factory workers or coal miners. You can hold that sympathy, and the desire that each and every one of their jobs comes back to them, in mind alongside the logic that because of automation and the simple fact that we now burn less coal, each and every job won’t be able to come back, and that a promise that each and every job will come back, though we may root for it, sounds like propaganda.

 

We must not dismiss or discredit the American experience of others because it is not our own American experience.

 

We must listen to the American experience of factory workers and coal miners and farmers and small business owners with as much sympathy as we listen to the American experience of those who feel threatened and unjustly treated by law enforcement or our justice system.

 

In the past year, several of my friends shared a meme (it might be a meme—I’m not entirely confident that I know what exactly makes a meme a meme, but it had a picture and words) that told the story of an African American man who was carrying a firearm when he was pulled over by the police. As a result of his courtesy and obedience, the man experienced no issues with the officer.

 

It’s an interesting story, though statistically insignificant (just as this man’s experience multiplied by a thousand would be statistically insignificant), and it does not dismiss or discredit those whose experiences are counter to it.

 

We can hold in our head respect and regard for the job that police officers perform alongside sympathy and concern for African Americans, for whom the American experience is filtered through government policies—slavery, Jim Crow, the Federal Housing Administration—that have discriminated against them (and empowered terrorism against them) since the country’s inception.

 

We must not dismiss the American experience of African-Americans or other people of color because it differs from our own.

 

We must not dismiss the American experience of the white working class because it differs from our own.

 

We must not dismiss the American experience of women because it differs from our own.

 

We must not dismiss the American experience of Muslim Americans because it differs from our own.

 

We must not dismiss the American experience of the LGBTQ community because it differs from our own.

 

We all must listen to one another.

 

What we do not need to listen to—in any way, shape, or form—and what we must instead fight against in any way we can, is speech that categorically limits or dismisses the views, concerns, rights, or humanity of our fellow Americans—according to race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or any other category.

 

We can hold in our mind hope for the economic renewal of our nation and the safety of our nation in a Trump presidency alongside an outright rejection of bigotry, racism, sexism, and xenophobia that may be emboldened by his election. In fact, it is our duty as Americans to reject, if not combat, those elements.

 

You can hold in your mind that you voted for Donald Trump out of a belief that he was the best choice for your country and your family. You can hold that thought right alongside the recognition that in his words and in his actions Donald Trump is not the embodiment of your moral, family, and Christian values. He is not the man you want your children to become.

 

During the campaign, the argument at this point would turn to “Well, she’s not any better.” But Hillary Clinton has been rejected, and is no longer a factor in this conversation.

 

Donald Trump no longer benefits from the comparison. He is now accountable to all of us. She is not.

 

 

THINGS THAT HAVE HAPPENED SINCE THE LAST TIME I POSTED ON MY BLOG

The last time I posted anything on my blog was March 22, 2014. Two-and-a-half years ago.

 

Here are things that have happened since then. All these things are about me, which seems self-involved, but then it is my blog, so…

 

An increasingly regular responsibility in my capacity as a high school English teacher is convincing/encouraging/suggesting/urging teenagers not to end every statement with so…. Or so yeah…. Or just or

 

So, here are the things:

 

Thing #1: I quit blogging.

 

Thing #2: I had a second kid.

 

Thing #3: I (we) took first kid and second kid to Disneyland. Twice.

 

Thing #4: I wrote a book with my wife.

 

Thing #5: I was informed I have high cholesterol.

 

Other things (in no particular order):

  • Read a lot of David Foster Wallace
  • Read Finnegans Wake (spellcheck understandably wants me to put an apostrophe on Finnegans but there’s no apostrophe)
  • Got a part time teaching job to go with my full time teaching job
  • Sold my horse, thereby becoming horse-less for the first time since I was 14 years old.
  • Wrote/compiled a story collection
  • Got said collection rejected
  • Started a novel
  • Started another novel within that novel
  • Built a patio

 

There are other things, of course.

 

Here’s more about the first two:

 

Thing #1: I quit blogging

 

I started blogging in 2011 because I had a book coming out. It was one of the things you were supposed to do. For the same reason, I also opened a Twitter account and added like 2,000 strangers as friends on Facebook.

 

There’s no big reason as to why I quit blogging. It wasn’t a conscious decision. It was just much easier to stop than to continue. In that way, it’s like jogging (and blogging and jogging rhyme, so…). And like the opposite of smoking, or eating cookies. It’s like this thing you do that you know you should do more often—in fact, you’ve been told by people for whom it seems supernaturally easy that if you aren’t doing it blank many times per week then you may as well not be doing it at all. So then it becomes this thing that when you do do it you feel pretty good about it (Dorothy Parker: “I hate writing, I love having written.”) but mostly you just feel guilty all the time for not doing it or not doing it enough, hence it being much easier when you finally make the decision to just stop doing it altogether.

 

But it (blogging)’s not like jogging because it’s fun. Nothing about jogging is fun. It’s good to do but not fun. Writing, though, is fun. And it’s no-or-at-least-less-pressure writing, so there’s less of that ohmygodthisisallcrapi’mafraudihatemyself part.

 

But, anyway, I’m gonna give it another whirl, so we’ll see.

 

Thing #2: I had a second kid.

 

The second kid’s name is Sam. Sam is eighteen months old. His older brother, by the way, is Tom. Tom is four.

 

Sam’s birth story is far less dramatic than Tom’s birth story. Because Tom’s birth story ended with a C-section, Sam’s birth story begins as a planned C-section, planned C-sections, as you can imagine, eliminating much of the apprehension and anticipation surrounding imminent birth because you make an appointment.

 

The wrinkle in this planned C-section, though, was that when we arrived for our appointment, come to find out, Liz was in labor. The very early part, but labor (and then Liz read the handwritten draft of the sentence currently being parentheticalled and shouted at me across the kitchen that it wasn’t the early part of labor it was labor labor then insisting that I add parenthetical reference to said shouting).

 

But other than that, it all went as planned and it all went fine, and Sam was born and he was healthy and, to be honest, he was much easier than Tom had been, which may very well have had a lot or mostly to do with the fact that this was our second rodeo, but, anyway, Sam screamed less and “latched” better (those two probably related) and, speaking of Tom, the most challenging part of the entire three days in the hospital came when Tom’s Grammy, with whom Tom had spent the last three days, brought Tom to the hospital to see the parents he had not seen for three days and also to see his new baby brother, Grammy and Tom happening to arrive at the hospital at the same time that Tom’s other grandma and Tom’s aunt and uncle were also visiting, such that the scene Tom walked into was just about half the people he knew on the planet all huddled in this strange room, plus this baby. He immediately lost his s-word. What followed can best be described as an existential meltdown—think Luke Skywalker after finding out Darth Vader is his father, but of longer duration and with more agony—the shrill screams of No No No prompting everyone but Mom and Dad to file out into the hall, the nurse shortly thereafter rushing in to retrieve the bassinet because apparently it’s against the maternity ward rules to carry a newborn into the hall, the screaming toddler evading both parents, dodging behind medical equipment, eventually taken against his will into the arms of Dad and held literally kicking and screaming for the what-seemed-like-much-longer-but-was-probably-like-five-minutes that it took Mom to coax him back from insanity.

 

Existential crisis if not resolved then at least silenced, consensus was reached to just send Tom back home with Grammy. But, in the hall, before leaving: a curious peek, on tippy toes, over the bassinet wall; a glance up at the adults; “Do you want to see your baby brother?”; a nod in the affirmative; a trip, for baby brother, around the ward, pushed ever-so-carefully by big brother; a reading, with considerable concentration, of I’m a Big Brother; a kiss for everyone, including Sam, before leaving.

 

Sam is now eighteen months old, and several of those months ago he ceased being Tom 2 and became his very own Sam.

 

He smiles a lot.

 

He roars a lot. He has various roars. A tiger roar, for example, and a dragon roar.

 

If the roars don’t work, he’s a pretty good screamer.

 

He climbs. Everything. Chairs must not be left adjacent to things taller than chair or Sam will be on top of that thing.

 

He runs. Walking seemed to take a while to get going and I guess we were worried at the time but that’s a distant memory because now he’s a runner.

 

He signs. He uses the signs for All done, More, and Please. More is the most often used sign and has evolved into the sign for More as well as for Do! Like, Hey one of you two tall people that does things, do something. Do something else. Do it now. Determine from my pointing and other wild gesticulations what it is I exactly want and do that thing. More. Please.

 

We were worried about having two brother—you know, because of Sam Shepard plays and the Book of Genesis—but so far they get along great. Sam will begin speaking in sentences soon, though, limiting Tom’s ability to say, “He said I could I have this” without protest. So we’ll see.

Blog Tour, Yo.

My good friend Natalia Trevino, author of the poetry collection Lavanda La Dirty Laundry, was nice enough to invite me to participate in the following blog tour, in which I answer the following four questions, which I’ve answered in pairs.  Thanks, Natalia.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS–THE WRITING PROCESS–BLOG TOUR OF WRITERS, 2014

Question Number One: What are you working on? and Question Number Four: How does your writing process work?

Just yesterday I finished the first draft of a short story.  It’s called The Anti-Story, and it’s kind of a long short story (46 pages; 11,500 words).  I just googled How long is a novella? and apparently a novella is like 20,000 to 50,000 words, so this is just a long short story.  Maybe too long.  It’s about a guy named JW who discovers that another writer has written and had published the anti-story to his own story.  It begins like this:

When JW opened his just-arrived copy of the review, inside which were published the winners and runners-up of the contest to which JW had submitted his own story and thus, as a condition of his entry fee, had received a copy, JW found that the winning story was not his own story, but rather the anti-story of his story.

If you’re wondering what an anti-story is, here’s JW trying to answer that very question in a conversation with a friend:

“The winner wrote the anti-story to my story.  To the story I submitted.”

“The anti-story?”

“Yes.”

“What does that mean?”

 “You know.  It’s like…it’s the anti-story.  To my story.”

  “But what does that mean?”

  “It’s like…it’s like this guy’s story…it’s everything that mine isn’t.”

  “Like so much better?”

  “No.  It’s not that it’s so much better.  Maybe it is.  It’s just…not mine.  In every way.”

  “Oh my God.”

  “Right?”

After submitting the final manuscript of my novel, Parnucklian for Chocolate, to Red Hen in the spring of 2012, I didn’t write much at all for quite a while, maybe a year.  There was just so much to do.  I work full time, teaching high school English, and in September of 2012 our first child was born, a little maniac named Thomas.  Plus book promotion and all that, so no writing.

But several months ago I managed to get back into a routine, and in doing so, I have been able to complete a draft of a play and the story mentioned above.  I get up at 5AM, put on the coffee, shower and dress, then sit down and write.  I do this Monday through Friday, usually only writing for 15 to 20 minutes (sometimes just 5 to 10 minutes) before I need to feed the cats and start on lunches and so forth.  Then the rat race takes off and twenty-four hours later I do it again.

Even though this isn’t much time, I’m usually able to get out at least a page of fiction (5-6 pages of dialogue, when working on the play), which by the end of the week adds up nicely.

I do all of this writing by hand, in those little 70 sheet one-subject notebooks that come in assorted colors and that you can get at Target during Back to School for seventeen cents apiece, and on Saturdays I type it all up.  I’m a terribly slow typist, but this is my first edit.  On Sunday mornings, I try to submit stuff.  Lately I’ve been sending out flash pieces that I’ve written the past couple of years, one of those, titled “A Choice,” having recently been accepted by The Los Angeles Review for their fall issue.

So that’s my routine.  Once I have a typed draft of something, my first reader is my lovely and brilliant wife, Liz, who gives me lots of notes and lots to think about.

The play I mentioned is titled Before We Were What We Are Now.  It’s not all that great, but I’d never written a play before, or tried to write a play, but I read a lot of plays and I love dialogue and it was a lot of fun.

Question Number Two: How does your work differ from others in its genre? and Question Number Three: Why do you write what you do?

I guess my genre is literary fiction.  So one way my work differs from others in that genre is that other works are a lot better than my works.

Beyond that, I’d say that my writing leans toward the postmodern, which doesn’t really make it different but maybe helps to categorize it.  Though I wouldn’t necessarily say this about my novel.  I was told by my editor that my novel is naturalist, which sounds alright.

I’d say what makes my novel unique but not entirely unique is the style, which has been compared, in reviews, to Vonnegut (which I was actually maybe kind of going for and which makes me blush) and to Gertrude Stein.  I write often quite long, perhaps challenging to read, sentences in what Stanley Fish would call the subordinating style, though challenging to read is not what I’m going for.  Fun to read is what I’m going for; the sentences are fun to write.  Here’s an example, from Parnucklian for Chocolate:

The miniature golf game began with Johnson Davis announcing that they would be playing “Boys against Girls!” and then demanding that both Josiah and Bree, as the representatives of their teams and in order to determine which team would go first, engage in a match, best two out of three, of Rock-Paper-Scissors, which Josiah had never actually played before, though he had seen other boys, such as Joey Simms and Eli Koslowski at the group home, play Rock-Paper-Scissors, usually at the start of a game of kickball or basketball, all of which Johnson Davis learned upon asking Josiah before the match with Bree began if he had ever played Rock-Paper-Scissors, leading Johnson Davis to provide Josiah with a short tutorial which included a basic outline of the rules and a brief history of the game’s genesis and a slightly less brief discussion of the irony of the fact that though Rock-Paper-Scissors is itself a game it is often used, as the current situation shows by example, in the facilitation of other games, and a practical demonstration of the proper hand movements and positions required, at the end of which Johnson Davis took Josiah aside, placing a hand upon his shoulder, and whispered into his ear that a strategy that had served him well over the years was choosing the same object—either rock, paper, or scissors, it doesn’t matter, any of the three would do—in all three turns, turning traditional strategy on its head and thereby often confusing the opponent, a strategy that proved unsuccessful in Josiah’s match against Bree, Josiah choosing scissors in each turn, given that Bree, as a member of the family of Johnson Davis, had had extensive practice in the playing of Rock-Paper-Scissors, Rock-Paper-Scissors having been used throughout Bree’s childhood not only to determine order of competition but as a mediator in nearly all decisions, thus Bree had equally extensive exposure to the favored strategy of Johnson Davis and easily defeated Josiah with a volley of rocks.

 

This can be tiring to a reader, so I try to counteract this prose style with my dialogue.  I tend to write short, minimalist maybe, Hemingway-y or Carver-y dialogue.  I guess those are the two chief features of my style: convoluted, subordinating prose and minimalist dialogue.  That plus just not being good enough.

What I meant earlier in saying that my work leans toward the postmodern is that I seem to naturally gravitate toward metafiction.  Parnucklian for Chocolate contains no metafiction, but the story I’ve been working on, The Anti-Story, includes a lot of it, and when I started writing short stories, as an undergrad taking creative writing courses, they were all metafictive.  Borges says that “every writer creates his own precursors”.  I certainly don’t think that I created my own precursors, but I find it interesting that I discovered my influences after already being influenced, which is sort of what Borges is talking about there.  Writing bad metafiction as an undergrad without knowing what metafiction was led to comments from professors like bla bla postmodernism bla bla John Barth Metafiction which led me of course to John Barth, who I went mad for, and Vonnegut, who, you know, is awesome and all.

So there. Thanks for reading this.

Aggressive Sprinkling and Selfie Confusion: Evidence We Are No Longer Young

In December I turned 35.  Which is a hard number to lie to yourself about.  34, at least, can be referred to, perhaps erroneously, as early thirties.  Early to mid.

Liz, in January, turned 30, at which point her good-natured jabs about my debilitating old age in contrast to her everlasting youth came to a halt.

Recent evidence that Liz and I are, indeed, not kids anymore:

1.  This past fall I turned my sprinklers on a group of middle-schoolers I felt were walking too closely to my front lawn.

2.  On Monday (or sometimes Tuesday) nights, Liz and I have a “Downton Date”…

3. …in which we watch the latest episode of Downtown Abbey On Demand.  We can’t watch the latest episode of Downton Abbey on Sunday night, with the rest of America, because it comes on at 9PM, at which point we are both already asleep.

4.  Similarly: on a trip to Portland in October Liz and I decided to go dancing.  Like at a club.  Fighting off our yawns we donned our best and made our way to a nightclub across from our hotel.  We were surprised at how empty the place was.  So we asked.  It was empty because it was 8:30.

5.  A conversation we had yesterday in the car:

ME:  Have you ever taken a selfie?

LIZ:  I’ve taken pictures of me and Tommy.  Are those selfies?

ME:  I don’t think so.  I think those are just pictures.

LIZ:  Then no, I don’t think I have.  No…well…yeah…when we were first dating I took that picture of my hair.  When I got that        haircut.

ME:  Oh, yeah.  (pause) What’s the purpose of a selfie?  Like, what are they for?  Is it, like, for your profile page, or something?

(Long pause)

LIZ:  We sound old.  This conversation would make a good twitter.  (pause)  Tweet.

Workshop on Barth and Borges at Wordstock Festival (Portland, OR Oct. 3-6)

A few weekends from now Liz and I will be flying up to Portland, OR for the Wordstock Festival, where on Saturday (October 5) I will be reading with Don Waters at 2PM, and on Sunday (October 6) at 4:30PM, I will be conducting a workshop titled, “The Problem of Originality.”

The workshop is based on a paper I wrote and a lecture I gave as an MFA student in University of Nebraska-Omaha’s Low Residency program.  The paper was ridiculously titled, “John Barth’s Lost in the Funhouse, Which Is to Say All Literature, And on That Note Everything, And How It Relates to Me, Me Being Everyone, And What Borges, Also Everyone, Also Me, Has to Do With All of That, Which Is to Say Everything” and both it and the lecture focused on how Barth, and Jorge Luis Borges before him, deals with a medium that is “exhausted,” or finite.

Neither Barth nor Borges find this exhaustion to be a problem, or at least don’t find it to be a limitation; rather, they use the fact that there are only so many things to say to say something entirely new.

A great example of this is Barth’s story, “Frame Tale,” which is the only story I know of that requires, in order to read it, scissors and glue.  So if you’re in Portland the first weekend of October and you come to my workshop, you’ll get to read said story using said scissors and glue, and then, amongst other things, we’ll discuss what we, as fiction writers, which we all in one way or another are, can learn from it.

The workshop will address the question: how does one create a truly original work of art in a medium—or a world—in which originality is impossible?  As a preview, here’s a segment of the talk when given at the Univ of Neb Residency:

Roping, Winning, Losing, and Sam Peckinpah

A few nights back, Liz and I watched a documentary called Sam Peckinpah’s West: Legacy of a Hollywood Renegade.  At one point in the film, the actor Michael Madsen discussed a favorite line of his from Ride the High Country, in which a character expresses his aspiration to “enter [his] house justified.”

Now, a few nights back was not the first time I had seen this particular documentary, having for many years now been quite a fan of Peckinpah’s, particularly of the films Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and Junior Bonner, and while I have never seen Ride the High Country, this concept of entering one’s house “justified” is one that has always, as it did with Madsen, resonated with me.

However, I think the line, and my own view or definition of such justification, has changed since I first saw the documentary about nine years ago.

Nine years ago, at 25 years old, I only really cared about one thing (and for that matter, had only cared about that one thing for nearly ten years prior and would only care about that one thing for another five years after), that one thing being team roping.  At around fifteen years old, as a freshman, I started team roping, first competing in high school rodeos, then later college, amateur, and professional rodeo.  I was obsessed with it.  I watched hours and hours and hours of video.  I read team roping magazines (yes, they exist) cover to cover and over and over.  I roped the “dummy” (fake steer) tirelessly.  In college, there were many days when I skipped all of my classes and stayed at the rodeo grounds roping the dummy.  All day.

And then there was the actual roping.  The live roping, with horses and cattle and an arena and so forth.  From the ages of fifteen to twenty-five I was at a roping or rodeo very nearly every weekend (I say nearly, though I can’t specifically remember a weekend that I was not), and more often than not two or three or four.  And if I didn’t practice every weekday of every week during those years, I at least practiced two or three times a week.  In fact, no day felt quite complete if I didn’t rope.  Somewhere.  Not roping depressed me.  If there was nowhere to rope, I found a place.  My first year of college, I drove fortyish miles from San Luis Obispo to San Miguel and back every afternoon to practice.  They offered practice at the college, where I kept my horses, but that was only on Mondays and Wednesdays, which didn’t work for me.  Later in my college career, during a period when—for various reasons, all valid—the powers that be saw it fit to suspend my driver’s license for six months, I turned to Amtrak.  One weekend, I rode Amtrak from San Luis Obispo to Klamath Falls, OR (and back) for a roping.  That same year, I won second at the amateur rodeo in Chico, and I’m pretty sure I was the only contestant who’d arrived by train.

But roping itself—the physical act of roping—was not my only obsession.  Its sister obsession—winning (specifically, winning at roping)—was just as strong, and each obsession fueled the other.  Which brings me back to Peckinpah.  When I first heard that expressed desire to “enter [one’s] house justified”, I saw the means to such justification in winning.  For many years, I allowed my own to self-worth to be defined by and my self-esteem driven by whether or not I was a winner or a loser.  In fiction—Peckinpah’s films included—the truly and deliciously compelling characters tend to be—for me, anyway—the losers, but actually losing (in real life) can be devastating, particularly when you need to win (for aforementioned purposes of defining self-worth and so forth).  Losing, in my past, seemed to cast a pall over everything.  Having lost, it was difficult to feel comfortable in my own skin, a feeling that could only be assuaged by more practice, in the pursuit of avoiding such loss, or, of course, winning.

This, thankfully, has all changed.  I am now knee deep in what I used to apathetically observe in other ropers: the transition to family life, which then seemed like merely a distraction.  Or perhaps an obstacle.

But now, with a wife and ten-month-old, whose securities and happinesses are my new obsessions, what gets me through that door feeling justified is doing right by them.  Loving and being loved.  Being present, because the present—the thirty inch and thirty pound and counting little dragon monster squirming around our living room floor—is pretty darn good.