Saturday, April 05, 2008

Tired, banal and deeply rutted roads

Do you ever look at something and misread it or put it together in a way that just comes out wrong, like being partially deaf and not hearing well?

Once my mother called and asked me what M-I-S-L-E-D meant. She pronounced it MI-ZEL'D. I told her it was MIS-LED. That finally made sense. WHOREPRESENTS becomes WHORE PRESENTS instead of WHO REPRESENTS, a web site about who represents what artist, writer, poet, actor, etc. This morning, ANGELICLOVE became ANGELI CLOVE and that didn't make sense. It's really ANGELIC LOVE. Sometimes connections misfire or your mind takes you on a different path and you come out at the wrong end. It happens with other things than just words.

When I was a teenager working at McDonald's I made a little mistake that kept co-workers chortling for a couple weeks. It was grade card time and each child got a free cheeseburger for being on the honor roll. A girl came up with her grade card, all smiles and dimples, and motioned me closer. "Can I get a cheeseburger without the cheese?" I told her yes and made a grill order on a cheeseburger without the cheese. It didn't occur to me at that moment that I had just asked for a hamburger and there were already a bunch under the lamps. Oops.

Sometimes the mistake occurs because your mind is on another track, like making a grill order when anything on the usual fare is changed. It's the truck stuck in the tunnel surrounded by police and firemen and engineers who can't see what a little girl can see -- all you need to do is let a little air out of the tires. We get stuck in a mindset or a way of doing things that is so ingrained or dominates our mental pathways we can't see what's really happening or how to change gears. Being able to change gears or go against the grain or think outside of the box (or into it in the case of the cat) is the essence of genius. That's what successful authors, playwrights and creative people do, even if the creativity is building a new electronic circuit out of found parts or throwing together an impromptu stew or hash.

Writers are especially susceptible to the mind rut. Some writers get so comfortable with a certain topic or way of writing and they end up redoing the same old thing, rewriting the same story or article over and over and over. Spread it out over enough periodicals and books and most people don't notice because they haven't read your articles before. There are, of course, different ways of saying the same thing and can be very creative, but, like lying, the product becomes parody, heavy with layers of exaggeration and schmaltz designed to play on the emotions. It's why liars always get caught; they don't know when to stop embellishing, telling the same story over and over and over until everyone has heard it and begins to see the changes, subtle at first and then more outrageous and blatant. So, too, with writing, which is always my main concern.

I've fallen prey to reworking an old idea when I didn't think I had any because the act of facing the blank page is too much to bear. Where do I start this time? How many characters can I come up with? How many times can I write "roiling river" or "lambent gaze" without emptying the contents of my intestines onto the keyboard? It's too easy to fall into that trap, to keep reworking an idea until it's threadbare and worn and you can't wring tears or smiles from the readers -- or yourself -- any more. The writing becomes stilted, a worn bromide, and goes from bad to worse. I can think of several writers who fall into this category, which is why I no longer read them. Some are still cranking out the same out story with different hair/eye colors and jobs, but still the same old-same old. Those writers have blind, sycophantic fans and friends who would applaud if they published their grocery list. Other writers finally gave up and went in a completely new direction, repudiating everything written before, as though fleeing a particularly bloody and vicious crime scene, and those writers, no matter how successful their new venture, end up denying the gift that made them good writers in the first place. Their only refuge is in faction, or what is currently known as creative nonfiction, and it is very creative.

So, where does all this lead us? I hope it leads to a good creative spring cleaning, throwing out what doesn't work and hanging on to what does and building on it. We all need to let the air out of the tires when we get stuck or simply step back, sit down and take a look from a different angle, tackle what has frightened us before and take a less well marked and traveled path. In other words, it's time to shake up the ant farm and clear out the cobwebs to get a fresh perspective and a deep, mind cleansing breath of fresh air. It's spring after all.

That is all. Disperse.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Nothing new here

If you're curious about what Hillary's colleague and boss on the Nixon impeachment trial thinks of her, check it out. No surprise here. It's just a continuing pattern that goes back over 30 years. And this is what the Democrats want for their presidential nominee? As far as I can tell, neither of the Democratic candidates are very honest, but that's par for the course. Still, Hillary's evil goes far deeper, to the point of flouting the Constitution she says she will uphold with her life -- not if it isn't in her interests. You can that to the bank.

That is all. Disperse.

Monday, March 31, 2008

No more free ride

Beanie emailed me to call her this morning. I was up at four, so I called. She said our brother is having a midlife crisis. I had an idea what she meant but I didn't say it right out. "Did he buy a corvette?" Her voice was thick with surprise and tears. "He left Bobbie last weekend." I wasn't surprised. Of course, when Mom and Carol find out that I urged Jimmy to do what would make him happy they will blame me. I'm used to it. They've been blaming me for everything that goes against the grain since I was ten.

Several months ago, my brother emailed asking if I would be willing to ghostwrite a book for someone in his department. I explained what it would take and he said he pass the information and my email address and phone number along. I teased him and asked if the woman in question was his girlfriend. What he said made me curious and I asked if he was all right. That's when it all came spilling out about how miserable he was and that he felt trapped in his marriage. He wasn't happy. His wife wasn't happy. He didn't love her even though he said he had tried. He admitted he never should have married her and that he regretted asking her to marry him when he was driving home the night he asked, but he went through with it. Now, more than 20 years later, as he approaches turning 50, he looks back at how miserable he has been and he decided he doesn't want to spend the rest of his life the same way. His youngest daughter, Alex, is crushed and upset but this will be better for her in the long run because my brother will be happier and by extension be able to show Alex how to be happy. He certainly couldn't do that living the lie he's lived for over twenty years. His two older children will be fine and they will understand. I think they knew this was coming but it doesn't really affect them so much since they are out on their own.

Beanie was in tears. She feels she's been abandoned, first by Dad and now by our brother. There was some comfort in knowing that she wasn't the only one who was miserable in her marriage. She had company. Now that Dad is dead and Jimmy is getting a divorce; she's all alone in her misery. She has a right to feel jealous. Mom has pressured her to stay married for years, threatening to cut her off from the family if she got a divorce, and promising that she would see to it that her husband got custody of their children. Now that Jimmy is getting a divorce, Mom is behind him all the way. She said she would support him no matter what he chose to do. Talk about history repeating itself.

I was the handmaiden of Satan because I divorced my cheating, abusive husband because I had three children. Carol, who got a divorce the year after I did, was a saint because she was supporting her children working two jobs (so was I) and needed all Mom and Dad's help with the kids. Carol's kids were over at our parents' home more than they were at their home because Mom wanted to relieve Carol of some of her burdens, even to the point of taking the kids over the summer and giving Carol a break by taking them for a two-week vacation. My kids didn't go and I had to pay a babysitter to watch them in the evenings when I worked my second job. I had made my bed and I was supposed to lie in it -- alone.

Ever since I left Columbus, Beanie has been the scapegoat for everything and the bad seed, the black sheep, because of her indiscretions. Jimmy had his indiscretions but Mom always backed him up and blamed it on everyone and everything but him. He and Carol were the favored children, and Beanie was part of that until I was gone and unavailable for emotional floggings. She finally began to see that what I'd said about how I was treated wasn't a lie, but the absolute truth. She apologized for ever having doubted me and for believing that I was a liar when she knew better. I didn't lie about anything else, so why would I lie about that -- unless it was because, like Mom always claimed, I couldn't get over the fact that I was adopted and believed no one cared about me. It didn't hurt that Mom reminded me often enough that I was not as good as the others because my mother was a whore, that she was from an inferior family -- the same family, by the way, from which Dad came. That was different. It always is when you're splitting hairs and casting blame and serving up emotional abuse. But Beanie finally understood and it isn't the kind of thing that anyone else in the family would see or even admit to seeing. They had a vested interested in keeping me on the outside.

So here it is at last. The bad influence (that would be me) has destroyed yet another family member's life by whispering lies and holding out the fruit from the tree of self knowledge, only this time it was Adam who took a bite and didn't share with Eve. I guess that makes me worse than the Serpent since I corrupted Adam directly and didn't work through the weaker and more pliant Eve. In a way, that makes me more powerful, too. I wonder if I'll get horns, a pitchfork and a tail, too.

While it is a homespun bit of Peyton Place, I am proud of my brother for being willing to stand up and do the right thing for himself, his children and even for Bobbie. He said he misses his things but he doesn't miss Bobbie. People missing their things (like Beanie having to give up her horses if she gets a divorce) is the reason why they stick it out. It's not really about the children; it's about their stuff.

I guess that means Bobbie will finally have to take her income and start paying some of the bills and part of the mortgage on the house if she wants to keep it because Jimmy's not going to keep footing all her bills, too. It's about time she contributed more than her self-important, selfish, self-centered and egotistical self because the free ride is finally over.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The right end

I stumbled onto this by way of chuckles48 who got it from joel rosenberg and it is the clearest and most intelligent view I have read by anyone, including David Mamet. He has the right end of the stick.

I especially like his explanation of the Constitution and the way it sets up the three levels of government: executive, legislative and judicial.

I'd observed that lust, greed, envy, sloth, and their pals are giving the world a good run for its money, but that nonetheless, people in general seem to get from day to day; and that we in the United States get from day to day under rather wonderful and privileged circumstances—that we are not and never have been the villains that some of the world and some of our citizens make us out to be, but that we are a confection of normal (greedy, lustful, duplicitous, corrupt, inspired—in short, human) individuals living under a spectacularly effective compact called the Constitution, and lucky to get it.

For the Constitution, rather than suggesting that all behave in a godlike manner, recognizes that, to the contrary, people are swine and will take any opportunity to subvert any agreement in order to pursue what they consider to be their proper interests.

To that end, the Constitution separates the power of the state into those three branches which are for most of us (I include myself) the only thing we remember from 12 years of schooling.

The Constitution, written by men with some experience of actual government, assumes that the chief executive will work to be king, the Parliament will scheme to sell off the silverware, and the judiciary will consider itself Olympian and do everything it can to much improve (destroy) the work of the other two branches. So the Constitution pits them against each other, in the attempt not to achieve stasis, but rather to allow for the constant corrections necessary to prevent one branch from getting too much power for too long.

Rather brilliant. For, in the abstract, we may envision an Olympian perfection of perfect beings in Washington doing the business of their employers, the people, but any of us who has ever been at a zoning meeting with our property at stake is aware of the urge to cut through all the pernicious bullshit and go straight to firearms.

But no less -- to borrow Mamet's word -- brilliant is what he wrote about the similarities between Bush and JFK, points I made last week to a fire breathing, rabid, young Democrat:

I found not only that I didn't trust the current government (that, to me, was no surprise), but that an impartial review revealed that the faults of this president—whom I, a good liberal, considered a monster—were little different from those of a president whom I revered.

Bush got us into Iraq, JFK into Vietnam. Bush stole the election in Florida; Kennedy stole his in Chicago. Bush outed a CIA agent; Kennedy left hundreds of them to die in the surf at the Bay of Pigs. Bush lied about his military service; Kennedy accepted a Pulitzer Prize for a book written by Ted Sorenson. Bush was in bed with the Saudis, Kennedy with the Mafia. Oh.

Great -- or in this case, brilliant -- minds think alike.

That is all. Disperse.