Waiting on Iron and Life

Recently, I underwent a series of iron infusions in order to, well, wake up. The procedure was done at a center mostly devoted to cancer. Sunlight slanted in through the windows of a long, narrow room lined with chairs, each with its own set of instruments and devices. I was pretty much always the youngest person in there. The rest of them were mostly elderly, nodding off as the lines dripped whatever chemotherapies they were receiving trickled into their veins.

Drip-drop, numbers ticking down on those IV thingamabobs, the clock minute hand advancing, the shadows inching across the floor. All very restful in an odd way. Almost makes you want to go to sleep and never wake up.

To be honest, most of the patients seemed to be waiting for things to end. Gray, haggard, reduced. I suppose we’ll all get to that place one day. Sooner or later. I hope, though, that more of us are reduced in a different way. Less of ourselves and more of God. It’s only then that exits and death and even more extreme reductions can be met hopefully and with a certain amount of sturdy cheer.

At any rate, I’m waiting for iron and things to wake up. It’s timely that it’s spring, no? Timely and time to hunt for whatever crocuses or whatnot are about to emerge from each of our particular soil.


Valentine’s Day and Fifty Shades of Goop

As a writer, I have to admit that E. L. James’ success with Fifty Shades of Grey intrigued me. Intrigued me enough to read the sample on Amazon to see if she could tell a story. The quick verdict is that she’s a dreadful writer, so I’m assuming it’s the sex that sells the book. Thankfully, the sample is sex-free, as I’m uninterested in BDSM and her take on intimacy.

Among other issues, there’s one in particular that’s profoundly depressing about Fifty Shades. It’s the idea that the modern American Girl is a complete idiot and unable to make wise choices when it comes to love and the opposite sex. Let’s face it. The main characteress, Anastasia Steele, is a moron.

Troubled by this portrayal of America, I wrote a parody of the Amazon sample, carefully preserving the plot points, the mental discourse of Steele (Swannk in my version) lame tense choice, a great deal of the dialogue, the word “enigmatic,” and many other Jamesian excesses. I took a few liberties, of course, adding such things as monkeys (always an improvement to a story, regardless of genre), as well as a wrap-up that paints a picture of the American Girl who is more sensible than that simpering twit Steele.

So, let me wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day (celebrated in honor of a brutally martyred Christian saint–how does that evolve to chocolate?) and, without further ado, here’s my version…

FIFTY SHADES OF GOOP

I pout at myself in the mirror. Being a humble person, I reproach my hair for looking so perfect. I also mentally reproach my roommate, Lisa Lysergick, for being sick and forcing me to step in so selflessly to help her in her hour of need. My final exams in Women’s Justice Studies are next week. I should be studying, yet here I am, examining my flawless self in the mirror. Having a fault or two is good for the soul, but I guess my fault is that I have none. I roll my eyes like a metaphorical pair of lovely, blue dice and heave a sigh. I stare at the gorgeous girl in the mirror, at her perfect skin and her blonde hair as lustrous and as yellow as a field of buttercup flowers drenched with melted butter. But then I give up trying to find a flaw. It’s hopeless.

Lisa is my roomie, and she has a hangnail. Hangnails can be pretty intense, particularly when you have lovely fingernails like Lisa has. They’re her best quality. She can’t go outside until they’re healed. That means she can’t go do the interview she set up with some super-duper business tycoon billionaire for our college newspaper. That means I have to go instead. If I was a character in a story, instead of a real person, I would consider this a convenient plot device.

I volunteered to go in her place because I’m an extremely generous and kind person. Plus, this will help satisfy my random acts of kindness requirements for my Neighborhood Activism class. Also, Lisa says I can drive her Prius to the interview. I don’t know about you, but I feel cleaner and better when I drive a Prius. At least, I think that’s how I’m supposed to feel.

I do have final exams to study for, but I’m so intelligent that I’ll probably ace all the tests anyway. No, today I have to drive 166 miles to Seattle where I shall meet Mr. Edward Guptra, the mysterious president of Guptra International Industries Incorporated. I don’t know anything about the man, but Lisa informs me that he is a philanthropists, a genius, and as elusive as an Australian wombat addicted to espresso. Apparently, experts say he has the most enigmatic smile in the world. I guess Lisa was very lucky to get an interview with him.

When I emerge from my bedroom, ready to go, Lisa is sprawled on the couch with a bowl of Cheetos and watching Real Housewives of Topeka.

“Hey, girlfriend,” I say.

When Lisa sees me, she begins to weep and reaches for a box of chocolate fudge to console herself.

“Mary Sue,” she wails, “I’m so sorry to put you through this! You’re such a dear friend. Can you get me another ice-cold orange soda from the fridge while you’re up? Be sure to bring my Prius back with a full tank of gas. Seeing that needle on full makes me feel more smug, because I know a full tank will last so long, due to how the Prius switches between its battery and that horrible fossil fuel in order to achieve amazing mileage. I’d give you some of this tasty fudge, but it might mess up your lipstick. You need to look your best for the interview.”

“How’s your hangnail doing?” I ask. I am a sympathetic person and I am always keenly aware of other people’s pain.

“My what?”

“Your hangnail.”

“Oh, right! It hurts so bad,” she moans, clutching her hand to her breast. “Hangnails are the worst! Dr. Hennepin brought a Sudanese refugee to class yesterday to talk about her experiences being bombed and shot at and starved and genocided and all that other stuff, and I asked her if she had ever had a hangnail. She hadn’t! I was so shocked. I told her they really hurt. And it does! Oww!”

“Oh, my,” I say, not wanting to see her in such agony. “You just take it easy, Lisa. Get some rest. Before you know it, you’ll be back on your feet. Would you like some Demerol or Oxycodone or Vicodin or Percocet or Methadone for the pain?”

“Just more Cheetos, please. Here are my questions for the interview.” She hands me a piece of paper. “Take good notes.”

“Jeez, you know, I know nothing about this mysterious billionaire with the enigmatic smile,” I say.

“Don’t worry, Mary Sue. You have my questions,” says Lisa. “Now, go. It’s one hundred and sixty-six miles. The commercial break is almost over–I mean, I want you to get there on time.”

“Get some rest,” I say fondly. “I made you several pans of lobster ravioli with my own home-made pasta for later.”

“I’ll eat it all right now,” says Lisa. “All of it. I won’t even use a fork, as that would result in more dirty dishes for you. Thanks, Mary Sue. You’re just like one of those inflatable buoy things that sailors throw down into the water for drowning people.”

I pick up my purse and smile wryly at her as I head out the door, even though I’m not exactly sure what wryly means. But that’s okay, because I’m pretty sure that the majority of the English-speaking world can’t articulate what wryly means either. I bet that most of them think it’s some kind of bread that gets eaten with corned beef and sauerkraut.

The weather is perfect as I drive down the road in Lisa’s Prius. I’m heading south from Vancouver toward Seattle. I’m not sure what the highway is called that I’m on, because details like that aren’t important. The Prius is a lot of fun to drive and I think about all the trees and cute squirrels and innocent chipmunks with large, expressive eyes I’m saving as I press my shapely foot to the pedal. A squirrel runs out into the road in front of me and I hit it square on with the bumper, just like my dad always says. It makes a soft splatting sound.

According to Lisa’s directions, I’m driving to the headquarters of Mr. Edward Guptra’s international mega-conglomerate business company, Guptra International Industries Incorporated. After some more time driving down various roads and then through Seattle (which is a large city somewhere in the state of Washington), I arrive at my destination. The place is more than huge. It’s the definition of enormous (which means really big). It’s forty stories tall, with windows that made from bulletproof crystal, girded with solid gold pillars and walls. The sides of the building are crawling with trained monkey window-washers.

I’ve arrived right on time. I touch up my perfect lipstick in the mirror of the Prius, frown wistfully at my perfectly groomed hair and then, with a playful smile playing across my lips, I clamber out of the car and stride toward the front door.

The lobby is so enormous that the entire Chinese army could stand inside at attention if, for some reasons (such as invading the United States) they happened to be in Seattle. I walk across the floor for some time and finally reach the polished granite desk in front of the elevators. An impossible gorgeous young lady smiles at me from behind the desk. She looks very clean and her dental hygiene is perfect.

“I’m here to see Mr. Guptra. I’m Mary Sue Swannk, here on behalf of Lisa Lysergick.”

“Let me check the appointments, Miss Swannk,” she says.

I stand elegantly before her, serenely beautiful and stylish in my stylish and beautiful clothing. I’m glad I didn’t borrow one of Lisa’s shapeless blazers. They’re so stretched out of shape that they could double as tents for elephants. They also smell like elephants due to Lisa’s perfume, Eau du Elephante. She is an Environmental Studies major.

“You’re expected, Miss Swannk,” says the attendant. “Please sign here. Take the elevator on the far right, the one encrusted with diamonds.”

“Thank you,” I murmur.

I walk over to the elevator. There are two brawny looking men standing on either side of the elevator. They are dressed in impeccable dark suits and sunglasses. I assume they are security men, but they also look like they could be cabana boys in some elderly lady’s dream. If they were cabana boys in that dream, their names would probably be Ernesto and Rudolfo. There is also a monkey, but he isn’t in the dream (at least, not in the elderly lady’s dream; he might be included in some other weirder person’s dream, but my idle speculation does not extend that far). The monkey is merely polishing the diamond-encrusted front of the elevator.

One of the security men pushes the button that opens the elevator doors. The monkey jabbers something angry sounding in monkey language and steps back. I enter the elevator. The doors slide shut and the compartment zooms silently up toward the fortieth floor. The elevator stops and the doors chime open. I step out into another huge lobby. Another impossibly gorgeous lady smiles at me from behind a desk.

“Miss Swannk, please take a seat,” she says, pointing to a leather chair.

I sit down. The cushions are soft and the leather is both luscious and sumptuous.

“Oh, my,” I say. “This leather feels both luscious and sumptuous.”

“Yes,” says the young lady, “but it is actually an incredibly expensive faux-leather, handmade by happy vacationers in special holiday vacation camps in China. It is even better than the real thing. May I offer you some cooling refreshment, such as organic soy milk, reverse-osmosis purified Fijian monsoon water, or fermented Tibetan yak’s milk?”

I decline, as I stopped on the drive to enjoy a venti mocha latte with a triple-pump ristretto shot, skinny, half-foam top, infused with free trade Kenyan chai berries. I’m feeling alert.

One entire wall of the lobby is pure crystal, a gigantic window that offers a panoramic view of the city of Seattle. It is a beautiful sight, only slightly marred by the presence of several window-washing monkeys clinging to the exterior and busily plying their squeegees. I enjoy the enjoyable sight for a moment and then turn my attention to Lisa’s list of questions. While I know nothing about Mr. Edward Guptra, other than the fact that he’s a billionaire, is mysteriously elusive, and possesses the most enigmatic smile in the world, I am not concerned. Despite the uncertainty of my situation, I am not galled, neither am I nervous. Furthermore, I do not fidget.

I idly wonder how old Mr. Edward Guptra is. People who are ninety-seven years old can certainly smile in an enigmatic fashion. Perhaps he is ninety-seven years old? That is fine with me. In fact, I hope he is very old. I still need to engage in seven hours of social interaction with members of the senior citizen population in order to fulfill a credit requirement for my Meaningful Interactions with Disadvantaged and Near-Terminal People Groups class.

The young lady approaches my faux-leather chair.

“Miss Swannk?”

“Yes?”

“Mr. Guptra will see you now. Please follow me.”

She walks across the lobby to a tall set of double-doors. I follow her. As we approach, the doors swing open and a young Amish man with a long beard walks through. He is fashionably dressed in Amish fashion in overalls and a nice black hat. He calls over his should as he exits, “Barn-raising next Thursday, Goopy?”

The Amish man turns and sees me. He shies away, jumping like a startled deer that is about to be hit by a horse and buggy. Doubtlessly, he is struck dumb by my innocent beauty, for he tips his hat, frowns somewhere behind his beard, and says nothing.

“Please enter.”

The young lady ushers me through the doors and then closes them behind me.

I walk through and find myself standing in a huge office room. It is tastefully decorated with expensive building materials such as mahogany, gold, crystal, rubies as large as coconuts, and exotic artifacts, such as an Egyptian pyramid. At that moment, I discover that I have a small pebble or perhaps an uncooked piece of macaroni inside my left shoe. I bend down to remedy the problem.

Immediately, two hands seize my own hands and pull me upright. The hands are gentle, well-manicured and soft, so I assume that the owner of the hands regularly moisturizes with a moisturizer of excellent quality.

“Miss Swannk, I’m so sorry that you tripped as you entered my office, thus allowing me, a complete stranger, to come into intimate physical proximity with you. My name is Edward Guptra. You are not injured to due to tripping, are you? Shall I examine your limbs more closely in order to ascertain the extent of your injuries?”

“I am fine, thank you,” I say. “I think I merely had a piece of uncooked hard macaroni inside my left shoe. I was bending down to check.”

Mr. Edward Guptra is definitely not ninety-three. He is you and enigmatic–very enigmatic. He’s tall and lean and evenly tanned. He’s perfectly and impeccably dressed in clothes. His ears are a deep, rich blue hue, so warm and melting in appearance that they look like they’ve been dipped in a vat of very hot, semi-sweet Swiss chocolate, that is somehow blue in color, and then surgically reinserted into his eye sockets. His hair is copper in color, but not the color of copper that has been resting at the bottom of the ocean for several centuries, such as a copper kettle from a sunken pirate ship that has turned green due to the depredations of salt water, slowly encrusting over with slime and waving tendrils of sea plants. Rather, it is the bright copper color you find if you strip the rubber coating from an electric cable at your local electrical power station as you prepare to steal the copper inside and sell it to a shady recycling company in order to support your methamphetamine habit.

We shake hands and, as our fingers touch, our fingers touch. I feel a strange, exhilarating quiver run through my body. It’s almost like someone is stroking the back of my bare legs. Someone with very hairy fingers.

“My apologies about the monkey,” murmurs Edward Guptra.

“The monkey?” I say.

“Yes, the monkey.”

I look down and realize that a monkey is stroking the back of my leg. The creature has a thoughtful, meditative look on his face.

“He is mistaking your leg for the tender, edible branch of a young banyan tree,” says my host. “When a monkey gets that thoughtful, meditative look on his face it means he is about to take a nibble.”

“Jeez,” I say. “Oh my.”

Edward Guptra makes an enigmatic shooing motion while uttering a stream of clicks with his mouth. The monkey does not look convinced. Edward then does a series of complicated dance steps with his feet. This seems to impress the monkey and it scampers away.

“That showed him who was the leader of the pack,” says Edward Guptra. “Monkeys often like to test authority, so you must show him who is number one. Impressing them with dance steps or reciting all the periodic elements tend to work well. Monkeys make very good workers. They do not belong to any unions and they do not demand much pay other than a tree to sleep in and plenty of bananas.”

“Miss Lysergick is very ill,” I say, “so she has sent me in her place. I hope you don’t mind, Mr. Guptra.”

“Who exactly are you, Miss Swannk?” His voice seems enigmatic, but it’s difficult to tell due to the enigmatic smile on his face. “And how did you get roped into doing this interview?”

“My name is Mary Sue Swannk. I’m twenty years old and I’m studying Women’s Studies with Miss Lysergick at university.”

“Fascinating,” he says. “Truly fascinating. Shall we sit down on this soft, white couch?”

He ushers me over to a white leather couch situated in front of a huge crystal window. On the wall beside the window hang a large number of small paintings. All the paintings are of trout. The paintings are exquisite and heartbreakingly beautiful.

“A local painter,” says Guptra. “His name is Slunk. He only paints trout. His skill with paintbrushes of various sizes is legendary.”

“Delicious,” I murmur enchantingly.

“The paintbrushes?”

“No, the trout.”

“Ah, yes,” he says, nodding enigmatically. “Shall we begin the interview, Miss Swannk? We might as well start. While my schedule today is flexible, I certainly don’t want to tie you up for too long.”

He gestures at the couch. I gracefully sit down and take out my notebook. He sits down beside me. When I look up, he’s tapping his fingers on his lips while smiling enigmatically.

“Take all the time you want to prepare, Miss Swannk,” he says.

“Actually, I’m ready to begin, Mr. Guptra,” I say.

“Please, call me Goopy. All my friends do. All my close friends.” He inches a little closer to me on the couch.

“Very well, Goopy.” I look down at Lisa’s page of questions and read the first one. “What does it feel like to be a billionaire?”

Edward Guptra laughs. It is a low, pleasant, full-throated laugh. I laugh with him. We spend some time laughing and then we subside into chuckling.

“Actually, I’m not a billionaire,” he says.

“You’re not?”

“No, I’m not. To be honest, I’m a zillionaire. I have zillions of dollars. I have to tell you, Mary Sue–may I call you Mary Sue?–it feels incredible to have zillions of dollars. People will tell you, people with a lot less money than I have, that being rich does not make you happy. People will tell you that if someone is rich they are in bondage to their wealth. They only say that because they are jealous. I will tell you, Mary Sue, having zillions of dollars is a lot of fun. Why, just yesterday I bought a country in Africa and passed a law requiring all the citizens–men, women and children–to only wear tight lederhosen Even the babies must wear lederhosen.”

“Oh my,” I say. “Why did you do that?”

He laughs. I laugh with him. I’ve heard that it is best to humor crazy people, and I’m becoming suspicious that this guy is crazier than a bedbug.

“Because I can,” he says.

I look down at my paper again and read the next question. “What sort of name is Guptra?”

“Ah, that is an excellent question,” he says, inching a little closer on the soft couch. “Guptra is an Eastern name, a name of silken veils and incense and mysterious gods with elephants heads and many arms. I changed my name to Guptra when I decided to become an Indian swami. I am a real, genuine, one hundred percent swami, and I am legally able to conduct official swami ceremonies, wear an orange colored robe and have people scatter flower petals in front of me as I walk down paths. Before, my name was Svenson. My parents were Swedish, from Minneapolis, but I had them forcibly converted to Hinduism. Now, my whole family is one hundred percent Indian.”

“Wait,” I say, feeling somewhat confused, even though I am incredibly intelligent. “You’re saying you’re Indian, but your parents are Swedish? Jeez, how is that possible?”

“I am a zillionaire,” he says, smiling enigmatically and inching closer on the couch. “Money can buy you anything.”

“I see,” I say, wondering if now is the time to take out my mace and give him a spritz. “Let me proceed to my next question. You are very young to be a zillionaire. To what do you owe your incredible success?”

He nods in a mysterious fashion at my question. “Most people do not realize it, but business is all about making money, Mary Sue, and I know how to make money. There is an old swami saying. I will tell it to you. If you climb up to meet the monkey with bananas, do not squeeze the bananas. That is my business philosophy and it has never led me wrong. I have more than forty million employees around the world. The entire population of Finland works for me. I have cornered the nylon sock market, the world supply of soy sauce, and, as of last month, I now own every sauerkraut factory in Germany. I legally own thirty-seven of the senators in the United States Senate. If you pull down their pants, you will find a tattoo of my company’s name and our toll-free 1-800 number on their left buttock. I bought Mount Rushmore last year and my international team of sculptors and monkeys will soon carve the presidents’ faces into my enigmatic and handsome likeness.”

“At the end of the day,” he continues, inching closer, “it is down to instinct, my brain, and many well-trained monkeys. Also, a large supply of delicious bananas is vital.”

I stifle a yawn behind one hand and try to look interested in the crazy stuff he’s saying.

“You are weary, perhaps, Mary Sue?” he says, inching closer on the couch. “You had a long, tiring drive to reach my office. I think you should lie down on this couch. You may interview me horizontally. I will instruct you in certain swami ways. If you have knots anywhere in your muscles, I will rub them like this. The rubbing motion will untie the knots. Like so.”

He reaches for my shoulders and manages to briefly knead them before I can squirm away. I am running out of couch.

“Uh, no thanks,” I say, glancing down at the next question. ‘Moving on. Can you discuss the philanthropic goals of the Guptra Foundation? What do you aim to achieve with your charitable giving?”

“The Guptra Foundation is the real heart of my global empire,” says Goopy, looking somewhat enigmatic. “The Foundation is dedicated to promoting peace, solving world hunger by reducing the population so that fewer people are hungry, and the advancement of personal sanitation minimization everywhere.”

“What does personal sanitation minimization mean?”

“It means using only one square of toilet paper a day.” says Goopy. “This minimization saves trees. We are having excellent results in certain countries where we pay citizens to reduce toilet paper use. Inexplicably, newspaper subscriptions are sky-rocketing in those same countries, but we will deal with that later.”

“What about the monkeys?” I murmur.

“Ah, yes, the monkeys. They are proving are resistant. They lack discipline, but I am excellent at teaching discipline.” He inches a little closer to me.

I decide to move onto the next question before I back myself right off the couch. “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?”

“Ah, what an inspiring question,” he murmurs. He stretches his arms above his head, mimicking a tree’s branches, and then lets one arm fall down along the back of the couch behind my shoulders. I scoot away from him, but he scoots closer. “I think I would be a banyan tree with tender, lissome branches that you, if you were a monkey, but not as hairy as these monkeys that work for me, would delight to nibble on.”

“That’s freakishly weird,” I say. “And not in a good way. It’s weird in a very unsettling and somewhat nauseating way.”

“I find your honesty extremely magnetic,” he murmurs, scooting a little closer. “Dishonesty binds up the soul with shackles of iron that only the keys of honesty can open. May I be your little swami?”

“I’m not really into swamis,” I say. “The color orange, you know, and all those robes. They look like window drapes.”

“Not even zillionaire swamis with enigmatic smiles?” he says.

“I guess I’ve gotten more than enough for the interview,” I say, standing up.

“Oh, but Mary Sue,” he says, “I have not yet show you my private collection of South Sea Island totem poles. You will find them thrilling. They are very vigorous.”

“That’s a tempting offer, Goopy,” I say, “but, no. You better keep ‘em private.”

He escorts me to the door of his office. I turn and offer him my hand, but instead he sweeps me into an embrace before I have time to dodge. The guy has more hands than an octopus. I knee him in the groin and then karate chop his neck several times for good measures. He groans enigmatically on the floor. It’s a pity there’s no rope hand. Otherwise, I would tie the creepy pervert up and leave him for the monkeys.

On the ride down the in the elevator I have a few second thoughts, but they’re more about whether or not I should’ve kicked him in the ribs while he was down. The elevator door dings open and I head across the lobby to the front door. It’ll be good to get out of this place. I don’t know about you, but I’m not into metrosexual guys with enigmatic smiles, not matter how good-looking and rich they are.

I hop into the Prius, gun the motor in order to use up as much gasoline as possible, and lay rubber as the car roars out of the parking lot. I roll down the window and the wind blow through my hair.

About twenty miles down the road, I pass an Amish guy driving a horse and buggy. It’s the guy who came out of Goopy’s office when I entered. He glares at my Prius when I pull alongside.

“Priuses are piles of sanctimonious junk!” he yells.

“Shove it, Amish boy!” I yell back. Spending half an hour with that creepy idiot Goopy has put me in a bad mood. True, I’m an extremely kind and wonderful person, but that stuff will only get you so far these days.

“Hey, you’re that girl from Goopy’s place,” he says.

“Yeah, so what?”

He starts laughing like a loon. “Did he get all enigmatic on you?”

“I decked him,” I say.

He laughs even harder. “Lemme buy you a beer.”

“Sure,” I say.

“I don’t need to point out that I’m a real man,” he says.

“You don’t so shut up,” I say. “Just lead me to that beer.”

“Did you know you’ve got a dead squirrel stuck in your grille?”

“Yeah, I know,” I say. “I’m saving it for dinner.”

He laughs some more, and off we drive at a very slow speed.


Bill Cosby and Bill Cosby’s Art

The spectacle of Bill Cosby imploding across the American skyline is a sad and dreary sight. It’s no shooting star, that’s for sure. It’s more like a radioactive barrel of garbage, flaming down through the concrete highrises of Hollywood.

Cosby’s treatment of women over the decades, if true (and it certainly looks like it’s more than true with the multitude of accusers and painfully specific detail), is reprehensible, evil, and without excuse.

However, the situation brings into focus an old question: is the art separate from the artist? Can we still enjoy Cosby’s art (his sitcoms, standup, etc), despite his despicable actions?

Many people are returning tickets to his shows these days. Networks are canceling reruns of the Cosby Show. It’s clear that sentiment is on the side of not separating Cosby art from Cosby the artist.

But, is that logical?

Many artists down through history were reprobates, villains, loathsome creatures. Richard Wagner, the composer, is often cited as an example of a foul individual (given his views on races and master races), despite the beauty of his music. Should we not listen to his operas because of who he was as a person?

George Bernard Shaw, the fantastically talented writer who, among other works, wrote the play Pygmalion (remade into My Fair Lady, for those fond of Audrey Hepburn). But Shaw was also an ardent defender of Stalin and an enthusiastic supporter of eugenics. He believed that the less desirable portions of the human population should be culled out. Shaw considered poison gas an admirable solution for mass killing. Shaw, obviously, was a monster of a human. Does that mean we should stop reading Pygmalion and stop watching Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle?

Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood figures investigated in the 1940s by Congress for Communist connections. By his own admittance, Trumbo was a dedicated Communist. For some people, myself included, such a philosophy is highly distasteful, particularly in light of the fact that Trumbo was a Communist during the Stalin era, a time of brutal repression and mass murder in the USSR. Despite being such a worm and an apologist for a bloody dictator, Trumbo also wrote some fantastic screenplays, among them Leon Uris’ Exodus, Spartacus, and Roman Holiday.

Roman Holiday! Who doesn’t love Roman Holiday? Never before has film seen such a heart-wrenching romance. Two hours with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn in Rome contains more bittersweet fire than a thousand Nicholas Sparks movies.

So, back to the original question: can one still enjoy Cosby art, despite Cosby the artist?


Tomi Ungerer and other wonderful oddities

As far back as my memory can stretch, back to the time of the dinosaurs, wooly mammoths, and 5 cent ice cream cones at the Thrifty’s Drugstore (you know, the kind they would scoop with those weird vertical-sided cylinder scoops), my life as a tiny sentient being included the books of Tomi Ungerer.

Ungerer, as you doubtlessly already know (and if you don’t, well, all I can say is: may deep and everlasting shame be poured upon your head like warm chocolate fudge syrup, running down your beard, or lack thereof, in great cascading rivers until you either become engulfed in hungry ants, jump into the shower, or ameliorate the situation by running out and buying all the Tomi Ungerer books you can get your fudgey hands on), is a brilliant writer-artist of French birth, responsible for such classics as Moon Man, Crictor, The Hat (one of my perennial favorites), and Orlando the Brave Vulture.

Ungerer, being vastly imperfect like the rest of us, also wrote some erotic twaddle for adults. However, I won’t comment on that, other than to say that everyone has a streak of idiocy in them (yes, I consider erotica idiotic, so sue me).

But what, you might ask, seeing that your brain has been laboring all day with images and thoughts of ISIS, Putin and his recent nuclear remarks, Ferguson, Jonathan Gruber, and Albert Gore’s insistence that the weather is changing (yes, it is does change, you poor Ritalin-deficient man; it changes like the roses in my garden, the length of hair on my children’s heads, the entropic state of their bedroom, and the price of gasoline), what does Tomi Ungerer have to do with the anything of anything these days?

Ah, well, somewhat excellent question, but don’t you know that the best children’s stories offer a way of understanding the world? They make sense of things that don’t make sense anymore, particularly from our adult perspective. Take those murderous cretins that compose ISIS. The hat in The Hat would make short work of their diabolical plans, being a hat with a sense of justice and a great deal of autonomy. I imagine the hat would fly hither and thither (pardon me, Mr. Ungerer, for borrowing your words) until it plopped down on an wittering and nattering imam, sending him stumbling about until he realized the errors of his ways, shaved his head and became a devotee of Richard Simmons.

One can only dream. But that’s the power of (excellent) children’s stories. Sometimes dreams have much more truth in them than the prosaic tedium of our everyday lives.

No. I am not currently on any medication.

What about those other wonderful oddities? Well, one can wonder, but that isn’t odd. It’s quite normal, so carry on.


Love Song!

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Yes, you read that correctly. I just wrote and recorded a genuine love song. For my wife (who patiently puts up with me, etc). The song is a bit on the messy side, but who cares? I don’t. I just enjoy the creative process. I tend to forget the bouquets of roses and the Hallmark cards and the trips to Tahiti, but I guess I can write a song every now and then.

So. Man up. What’s the last creative thing you did for your spouse? You don’t have to write her a book or build the Taj Mahal or conquer Persia, but, hey…the creative impulse is one of the few things that sets us apart from the raccoons and the moray eels. Even those little wiener dogs. They don’t have a creative bone in their wiener-like bodies.

Get going. Even if it only consists of toothpicks and superglue. It’s still creative.


Technopeasants

The Middle Ages aren’t that long ago. If you look hard enough, you can still see them in the rear view mirror. What’s even worse is that we’ve driven in a circle and we’re right back in the middle of serfdom. The view in your rear view mirror is the same scene you’re seeing through your windshield. The only difference is that we aren’t peasants; we’re technopeasants.

I’m not a Luddite by any stretch of the elastic imagination, but modern technology has minced us fine, mixed us well, rolled us flat, and then stamped us out into cookie cutter serfs, bumbling about with our iPhones and wifi and recycled lives. Our words and thoughts are second-hand, bought and sold by the pop-culture ragmen who collect their pennies and then trot off to the castle to pay their dues. Diversity is mandatory and tolerance will be strictly enforced by the royal executioner. Joy and happiness have been traded in for fleeting pleasure.

The main difference between a peasant and a technopeasant is speed. The peasant couldn’t read. He didn’t have a microwave. And he probably had to go milk his own goat for his breakfast gruel. The technopeasant can read, but he reads microwavable disposable stories. He gets his milk out of carton and wouldn’t know what to do with a goat if it kicked him in the stomach.

The technoaristrocrats are a mix of business lords and government bishops, colluding and collaborating and grown fat on their schemes of style, regulatory indulgences, convenient spectacles.


The Offense (and Pain) of Joy

No, this is not a post about Fifty Shades of Grey. Far from it. And I mean extremely far from it. As far as the east is from the west, both in navigational and theological approaches.

I recently wrote a piece about joy for a friend’s blog. Misha Thompson runs a site dedicated to joy and all the different aspects of what that entails. Before you start thinking of bunnies and small unicorns frolicking on hills of candy, let me set you straight. Joy has nothing to do with happiness. They’re different beasts. One is as insubstantial as the average politician’s code of ethics. The other is ponderous and powerful and reaches through time to other places.

I wasn’t too happy (there’s that blasted word) about writing on joy, because I had a sinking feeling about where the essay would take me. Anyway, hop on over to Misha’s blog and give it a read. Joy and happiness both have a great deal of influence over how people write. And what people write. More on that some other day.


New Project: Ford F5

Ford F5My new project. Restoring this old Ford F5. It’s somewhere between a 1947 and a 1952. I’m not doing the actual restoration, but I’m overseeing the various people working on it: one to cut away the superstructure and lines on the back and build a metal frame for a flatbed, another to sandblast and paint, one to build the wooden flatbed, another to stencil, glass and rubber, reupholster, a few missing parts to be replaced (headlights, some chrome work), mechanic to check the engine (decent chance it’ll run; if not, it’ll become a static decorative piece at our farm). Should be fun…


Advice on Writing and Publishing

booksBeing an author can be a job just like any other job: raking leaves, coding software, flipping pancakes, working as a mercenary in the Golden Triangle, you name it. I say “can be” because many writers choose not to treat writing stories as a job, but consider it a hobby or something of a similar nature. That’s fine. Both approaches are equally valid. However, I’d like to address the writing-as-job approach.

A recent post by Michael Bunker, author of Amish science fiction and other works, makes the assertion that one shouldn’t ask other authors for advice. I tend to agree with him due to two reasons: first, most authors don’t know what the heck they’re talking about (as most authors don’t sell many books), and, second, the modern publishing industry is such an apparently chaotic and random world that anyone claiming to have a comprehensive theory of how to deal with it is essentially whistling in the wind (or a huckster).

Don’t get me wrong. Individual authors do sometimes achieve partial enlightenment, just like certain restaurants can successfully cook certain items on their menus. Author Jones might figure out a bit of wisdom in relation to pricing. Author Garcia might stumble on a clever way to secure reviews. Author Xianjing might discover the path to serial pacing. However, like I said before, nobody has the comprehensive theory. In fact, most advice is poorly thought out and written mainly to draw tangential attention to that particular author’s books.

Therefore, if you do want advice but are wisely reluctant to ask other authors who either can’t write their way out of a paper bag, or aren’t selling enough books to support their mocha habit, where do you find advice?

Here’s my advice (ironic, isn’t it, that I’m offering advice as an author after saying you should steer clear of advice from authors?): given the seemingly chaotic nature of publishing, seek advice from people who have absolutely nothing to do with publishing.

Go ask your plumber or your banker or your local swami what their advice is. It might not make any sense. It might make a lot of sense. It might make a great deal of sense simply from the perspective that people are people, entertainment is entertainment, and money is money. Ask your newspaper delivery boy (does such a thing even exist anymore?), your hair stylist, your stock broker, your local politicians.

You might be surprised at what you hear.

And if your swami says something inscrutable, such as, “the bullfrog of wisdom hops onto the lilypad of Marxism,” well, there just might be something in that. True, you’ll have to spend some time unpacking his utterance, and it might result in a brain aneurysm, but you might end up with the key to Jeff Bezos’ mind.


Jobs jobs jobs and Michael Bay’s Transformers

If you are in need of a job, may I suggest working on a farm? True, the work is back-breaking, exhausting and often involves hours of being bent over like a croquet hoop (if you’re picking strawberries). However, there’s work here in California. Plenty of it.

In other news, I recently made the mistake of watching Michael Bay‘s current Transformers. $6.50 for a late afternoon ticket. Kids were off camping with the grandparents, wife was down in LA visiting her grandmother, self was alone and in need of seeing robots blow stuff up. So, I went to see Transformers. This might be the understatement of the year, but they blew up a lot of stuff in that film.

That’s also the plot line: an exciting story in which robots blow stuff up. Or smash stuff.

The film seems to be doing very well, scooping in tons of money here in the States and overseas (see: Michael Bay laughing all the way to the bank). But there’s not much of a plot. So what does that mean? My storyteller’s mind stumbles and trips on this. I guess one answer is that Mark Wahlberg has a lot of diehard fans. I also guess that’s not the right answer. Maybe the answer is just that a lot of people like seeing robots blow stuff up. Or smash stuff.

By the way, Mark Wahlberg is an immense improvement on Shia LaBeouf (or however you write that kid’s name). Better actor. Generates more empathy. Plus, he doesn’t go around getting plastered and tossed out of nightclubs and generally behaving like a lobotomized chipmunk.

Which means a lot of people don’t really care about coherent stories, as long as there are robots smashing stuff, and there’s a cute girl who wears short shorts for most of the movie.

Hmm. This has implications for writing stories.

In other news, I ate my first Moon Pie. Ever. I only made it through two bites and then a great deal of my body said, “what the heck is this?” and “get this away from me now or I’ll file a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services.”

So, no more Moon Pies. And no more stories with coherent plots.