Offering This Simple Phrase

For five years I worked for my current boss, but on a different team. And every year around this time, she’d give that team some choice goodies from the Cuba Cheese Shoppe in Cuba, NY about a couple of hours away from us. I’ve moved on from that team to lead my own, and I wondered if I’d get the tasty cheese products this year. Turns out, I did!

My boss really is an example (in many ways, but this one in particular) of the simple phrase “Do unto others….” On one hand, she’s Administration and the general workplace rule is to be as neutral as possible during the holiday season, because we serve a lot of folks at the dayjob who don’t celebrate Christmas, or anything at all. But if you do, she’ll throw out a Merry Christmas in a second, and if you’d accept it you’ll get a gift of fine local cheeses.

For those of who aren’t into this particular holiday, I hope this time of year is exactly whatever you want it to be.

For those who are, Merry Christmas!

Plenty of Fluids

It’s been 9-10 hours days at the dayjob this week even though I was knocked out for a lot of last week by some kind of lung pox. The occasional cough and sneeze hasn’t stopped karma from arranging things for me to work 9-10 hour days. I’ve been trying to drink plenty of fluids, per the advice of the medical professionals surrounding me. Sort of. Okay, maybe this wasn’t what they had in mind.

I’ve become what I have beheld — in this case, my old high school band director who would regularly accumulate coffee cups of varying levels of fullness on his desk (and cigarette butts; it was the ’80s). There’s really no reason for me to have all this fluid on my desk. The sad part is, the coffee is what took my mind back to high school band and not the old Chicago album I had playing when I snapped this.

Anyway, I’m at lunch this second, sitting at a table next to a group of four students who are just chattering away. Writer Me wants to transcribe every word; the stuff I’m hearing is fiction dialogue gold. But not today. Today, I’ll just sip my coffee (that WON’T be going back to my desk) and soak up the fluid of stories gushing out next to me. Somehow, this stuff is actually making me feel a little better.

Serling Awards

I missed the livestream of the 2016 Rod Serling Award for Advancing Social Justice Through Popular Media honoring BLACK-ISH creator Kenya Barris a couple of weeks ago. The presentation included remarks by writer, producer, and director Bill Froehlich, Diane Gayeski, the Dean of Ithaca College’s Roy H. Park School of Communication (where Serling taught),  and actor Marcus Scribner who plays Andre, Jr. on BLACK-ISH.

I miss the old Rod Serling Conferences they used to hold. Full disclosure: I presented at two of them, and was looking forward to more. I’ve no clue why TPTB decided to make the transition, but it’s understandable. Mining the past has its benefits but so does looking forward, which is what this award does.

I will say this year’s award seems an improvement over last year’s with respect to diversity and representation. I didn’t read about (or, look for to be honest) any criticism about the award then, but I have to give it props that it turned things around 180 degrees in a year. Barris was definitely an inspired pick, with his work on BLACK-ISH being the most recent best example of fulfilling what Rod Serling thought as the writer’s role…

The writer’s role is to menace the public’s conscience. He must have a position, a point of view. He must see the arts as a vehicle of social criticism. And he must focus on the issues of his time.

–Rod Serling

Quickie Review: A MAN CALLED OVE (2015)

a-man-called-ove-poster-2It was long enough since I’ve been to my local indie theater that my membership lapsed, so the ticket for this film essentially cost me $83. No complaints at all.

I haven’t read Fredrik Backman’s EN MAN SOM HETER OVE on which the film’s based. A lot of my film-going acquaintances have been saying lately of film adaptations, “I don’t know if I should read the book first.” I’ll usually see an adaptation but rarely go back and read the book. I probably will in this case. I’m very curious to see how many of the film’s themes came from the source material, because I don’t think I see too many films that feature an older character growing, at least in a direction other than “feeling young again.”

It’d be easy to watch the trailer and be tempted to dismiss the film as being about a grumpy old bastard who rediscovers life and joy by the end of it.

What I saw in this film, though, was a character transforming into the role of elder. Ove is someone who moves past simply enforcing the rules as a way of adhering to some idealized past. He comes to accept an expanding world, which doesn’t mean he has to give up on core values. Instead, the elements of the expanding world bring some of Ove’s values into focus, moving him forward which enables him to help others do the same. The best part is how, in the end, he does rediscover life and joy in spite of — and due to — being the grumpy old bastard that he is.

Breakfast with the Social Medias

I’m at the cafe I usually sit in on Sundays, gearing up for today’s writing with coffee and baked goods. I decided to dive into my social media networks (and, tweak the new site here a little bit). I spent what I felt to have been a productive hour interacting a bit. As soon as I post this, I’m going to turn all of that off but then I realized something — sure, the next time I tune in again, I might’ve missed something. But because of how big the big things tend to stick on social media, it’ll be back around again like a TV rerun.

Which then made me think that just because social media is designed to be a stream and is meant to be consumed as such (since it’s on 24/7, nonstop because of its ubiquitous presence on all of our devices), it doesn’t mean I have to treat it that way. Just what is the actual difference between the social media stream, and any other media stream I had coming up in the 80s and 90s (TV, radio, recorded media, etc.) with respect to its demands on my attention and how I choose to respond to that demand?

Dressing for the Job I Want

I finally bit the bullet and got my own hosting. Not everything survived the Blogger-to-WordPress transition, but I’m working on it. Yeah, yeah, I know. Say what you will about Blogger but the fact is, most of my life is in teh Googles and rolling a Blogger blog (tackiness and all) was more efficient. Still, this move had to happen sooner or later. As they say, “Dress for the job you want.” and the people with the jobs I want roll their own sites.

I still have a punch list of issues to work through. So far, the only two “cons” of this whole process are: (a) The random few pictures that didn’t import from my old site. I went back and manually updated the last few posts, but not any further. (b) The fact that my research led me to believe I could write posts in Markdown (my style of choice for drafting every text-related thing in life), and I can’t seem to enable the feature. Yes, the WP editor is so much better. Still, it annoys me that I can’t just bracket words and just copy/paste a link without having to use the link UI like a peasant. Oh well.

I guess now would be a good time to actually do some writing. Have an essay and an overdue (by my personal calendar) story to edit.

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Today’s soundtrack: Jean-Luc Ponty, “Aurora, Pt. I”

This Is My Thanksgiving

In the immortal words of Don Henley…

And I don’t mind saying that I still love it all
I wallowed in the springtime
Now I’m welcoming the fall
For every moment of joy
Every hour of fear
For every winding road that brought me here
For every breath, for every day of living
This is my Thanksgiving

Missing the Magnetic Je Ne Sais Quoi

2011

I’ll forever know 2016 as The Year of Silenced Voices. The  year we lost Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, not to mention all manner of actors, writers, is broadcasters, will be the year we lost Miss Sharon Jones.

I know the whole Daptone Records thing is sometimes seen as retro at best and white hipster appropriation at worst. I heard the some of the same criticisms of the so-called “Young Lions” of jazz back in the ’80s, who made music that Miles called “warmed-over turkey.” But I always appreciated the Daptone vibe and the aesthetic, and Sharon Jones will always be at the forefront of that in my mind.

I watched – more importantly, heard – that vibe in action in 2011, when Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings came to my neck of the woods. And after the show, I got to exchange words with Sharon and some of the other members of the band. I got to see firsthand what a true artistic collective looks like; how a group can make a single member’s voice shine and how that single member highlights the rest of the group. Sharon herself, of course, is one of the best examples I’ll ever encounter of someone who succeeds by fighting to do what she does, whether it’s ANR people’s perceptions or cancer. That, to me, was her magnetic je ne sais quoi.

Today’s playlist: the whole SJDK catalog. Probably for the rest of the week too, I think.

A Voice Missed

In this age of media distrust and echo chambering, the loss of Gwen Ifill’s voice in the news landscape saddens me.

I’m a regular PBS Newshour viewer, going back to when Jim Lehrer was still running the show. I remember noticing near the end of his tenure, the growing prominence of Ifill, Judy Woodruff, and a few others. From my perspective, it was done quietly, almost subversively. I remember thinking for sure it’d be Margaret Warner at the desk after Lehrer left, but seeing Ifill and Woodruff center stage gave me real hope for the future of good reporting. Reporting that really sought to deliver us the news from as many different perspectives as possible.

People point to institutions (every institution, really) all the time with justified criticism, but most folks can point to individuals in those institutions who represent the ideal. The ones about whom even reasonable detractors can say, “If everyone in that instituion had the professional skills and personal integrity as X, I’d have no problem.”

Gwen Ifill was one of those folks. I’ll miss her presence and her voice, especially during these trying times.

A New Old Writing Manifesto

I was reading the latest issue of Warren Ellis’s ORBITAL OPERATIONS newsletter this morning and while I myself didn’t expect a Spider Jerusalem rant, this shouldn’t have surprised me:

I’m sure some of you tuned in today expecting a Spider Jerusalem-scale political rant. Some of you may even have been wincing in expectation of it. But I’m not Spider Jerusalem. He was my Id from twenty years ago. Going off here would be empty virtue-signalling from someone with no serious skin in this particular game. Whatever I say next, it’ll be through the work.

And so it immediately brings to mind how I resolve that conflict as I write. How do I make whatever I say come through the work? As always, I’ve had the answer all along…

What are you dealing with now in terms of plot points, themes, concerns now? The world and everything in it: Hunger, poverty, the anguish of the human race, the desperate sense of self destruction that we entertain all the time, the deep pervading gloom that comes with our inability to cope. Of course, you’re going to over-concern yourself with issues. It’s right that you should do so, and it’s expected… this year. Next year. But not three years from now.

Leave that soapbox behind. Carry with you, at all times, your sense of caring and your concern. But put it into the mouths of flesh and blood people. If not, write tracts.

Now, not to be critical, but I think it’s fair to say there’s a certain privilege in being allowed three years before transforming your soapbox feelings to good fiction writing. But that part of the prescription isn’t important, really. And I don’t want to dismiss tract and pamphlet writing, either; lots of folks do both. But the principle is sound.

As for me and my writing though, I have the motive, and now I have the means. And now I have some writing to get back to.

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Today’s soundtrack: BLACKLISTED by Neko Case