Oh hey, I do have a blog, don't I?
I've been much quieter than usual this year. I keep promising more content 'soon,' but then not delivering. It's surprising that all two and one-sixteenth of you checking this blog with any kind of regularity have yet to gang up on me in a very small mob and threaten me with a crowbar. Still, there's a reason for my near-silence since early last November. There's a lot to be less than happy about these days - frustration with ongoing publishing efforts, struggles to get a paid writing job, the end of a very disappointing winter, fading hope of escaping the south this year already, my dog's declining health, the shocking earthquakes and tsunami that just hit Japan hours ago, and the state of both the country and the world. All of these things are weighing heavily on me at the moment, but the last one in particular has essentially clogged my resolve in recent months. I've had all these thoughts - intensely negative ones on the whole - stuck in my head for months now, interfering with my sleep, souring the enjoyment of my hobbies, disrupting my daily life, and keeping my stress levels high. I need to wake up earlier. I need badly to get out of this house. And I need to clear this blockage - this post is months coming, but hopefully it'll help.
This post is intended to be something cathartic. It is rambling and unpleasant, but if you feel like proceeding, go ahead and click the title to proceed. You've been warned. I have to admit, though, in finishing this post, I feel it's one of the better things I've written in a while - hopefully a testament to why maybe, just maybe, I should someday be able to make a living on my writing - and I'm sacrificing sleep for it, of course. Maybe I'll sleep better with all this off my chest. I hope to.
Where to begin?
Election Day, last November, I suppose. That's where the bitterness blockage - and its effects on this blog - seem to originate. Back then, I made my reasonable, rational plea to America not to sit back and let terrible ideas flood back into power. I was so much younger then, those four months ago. Once again, less than half of the country's registered voters turned out. Those who did were largely galvanized by the propagandizing of Rupert Murdoch's Fox News and many sponsored by the Koch brothers, among others from America's ruling class. Rather than being energized to respond to the dangerous rhetoric of the corporatist Tea Party - the purpose of which runs wholly counter to that of the original Boston Tea Party - rational-thinking Americans stayed home and after two years of Democratic government often foiled by Republican obstructionism, America took another step backward.
Today, we're watching protests and revolutions take place across the Middle East as the peoples of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, and others have stood up against their oppressors - some in Iran and Saudi Arabia have again tried in vain. Here in America? Our 'revolution;' our 'retaking' of America? Angry protest against the best interests of the people - against the workers, for the corporate CEOs and Wall Street bankers; calling for smaller government, but demanding legislation that restricts our most vital personal freedoms and greatly affects our personal lives; rhetoric driven by greed, bigotry, and xenophobia, wrapped up in the American flag.
In the November 2010 midterm election, the voices of those who voted rang out and called for us to continue our decline: to truly become a nation ruled, not governed.
In the past twenty-four hours, revolting things have happened. In congress, New York Republican representative Peter King held flat-out bigoted hearings targeting America's Muslim population. You'd think we haven't bullied our pitiable Muslim minority enough since 9/11, considering the relentless attempts to tie their entire religion and all associated ethnicities to terrorism and common calls for genocide smeared across the ugliest parts of the internet, but apparently not. It's hard not to wonder if we'll ever grow up enough as a nation to start treating these people like the actual human beings they are. Experts and statistics have already invalidated King's baseless arguments that American Muslims "aren't doing enough" to foil domestic terrorist plots within the American Muslim community and that they're being radicalized. That didn't stop him from not inviting any experts to actually testify at the hearing, of course. Facts have no place in a GOP discussion. Like the fact, as Reza Aslan mentioned on last night's Colbert Report, that there have been more non-Muslim domestic terrorist threats in America than Muslim ones in the past decade as well. It's also worth noting that Peter King is a passionate supporter of Ireland's IRA political terrorist group, which he doesn't consider a terrorist group because they haven't attacked America. When people like this are elected, something has gone deeply, horribly wrong in your country.
In addition to that, after weeks of protest and polls showing that the public has turned sharply against him, the Wisconsin state senate and governor Scott Walker found a legislative loophole by which to successfully strip the public workers' union of nearly all of their collective bargaining rights. This after the 14 Democratic state senators stood by the people by fleeing to Illinois to prevent the Republicans from holding a quorum. In the end, the GOP senators separated their union-busting power grab from the budget - on which the Democrats and unions had already given up all ground outside of the collective bargaining rights issue. In sneering at and shrugging off weeks of protest and the people of Wisconsin turning against them, both governor Scott Walker and these GOP state senators made it abundantly clear that the term "public servant" is a contradiction in their cases. Textbook examples of the sorts of people who should not be in any form of public service, let alone actually elected. The silver lining in this is that recall elections are looking very likely for many of these state senators and possibly Walker himself.
At the center of the attack on unions lies a much, much bigger issue that has been gestating within America for decades, and hasn't been improving. This attack on American workers was orchestrated in the name of so-called 'fiscal responsibility' - a popular Republican banner flown today in the name of attacking any and all programs and rights that benefit the American people and American workers. "Wisconsin is broke," said Scott Walker. Similarly, GOP leaders in congress like house majority and senate minority leaders John Boehner and Mitch McConnell have echoed that sentiment on a national level. The truth of the matter is, that's a lie: the GOP's modus operandi. Wisconsin was in fine shape financially until they passed a bunch of corporate tax cuts and ceased to properly, progressively tax the wealthy. We've witnessed the same problem on a national scale. While claiming to be the 'party of fiscal responsibility,' the GOP ignores their eight years of frequently unchecked reckless spending under George W. Bush that turned a massive surplus into an incredible deficit. They attack president Obama by saying that he's spent even more, but even that's a lie - they continue to cite the Bush administration's fraudulent financial records in which they chose to conveniently omit the insane costs of our violent ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. A major part of the explosion of Obama's spending comes from the fact that his administration has not continued the Bush administration's deceptive bookkeeping practices.
Where the Tea Party-backed Wisconsin GOP leaders seized on the budgetary crisis caused by irresponsible taxation of corporations and the wealthy to attack the unions, we're watching a similar crisis unfold on a national level as congress attempts to avoid a government shutdown by the GOP. This week, both Democrat and Republican budgets were defeated in each of the houses of congress. Neither of them were good, but the Democrats' was the lesser of two evils. The GOP's budget continued their usual strategy of staking out an extremist position and watching as the Democrats and so-called "socialist" Obama capitulate and give them close to everything - if not outright everything - they demand, much to the detriment of the nation and people. In the GOP's budget - and I'm sure we'll see them continue to press the attack - were efforts to completely defund Planned Parenthood, PBS, and NPR, among other programs and services vital in both our dangerously corporate public media and to the general public. And NPR is likely most at risk thanks to another Andrew Breitbart backed and distributed 'sting' video by professional scam artist and privileged conservative white kid James O'Keefe, both of whom have discredited themselves repeatedly and shown themselves to be among the slimiest of the crooks lowering the political discourse in the country year after year. NPR didn't stand up for themselves, and even sadder, the NPR executive on tape wasn't wrong in his statements on the Tea Party - when recognizing the objective fact that racism and ignorance are driving factors in that increasingly thug-like corporatist group is enough to wreck your career or lose your job, we're witnessing the rise of a legitimately dangerous mob. Apparently we learned nothing from what Breitbart and O'Keefe did to Shirley Sherrod last year.
America's biggest problem is by no means the deficit - that can be resolved quite comfortably, but we have no one in power willing to act like responsible adults, let alone responsible leaders, and begin closing corporate tax loopholes and raising taxes on the wealthy as necessary. And of course, that's not to forget the vitally important reduction of our incredibly bloated defense budget, much of which goes into feeding the toxic military-industrial complex. Our biggest problem as a nation is the continued spread of poverty, and since John Edwards withdrew from the public eye in personal disgrace (While the just-as-personally-slimy Newt Gingrich is planning on running for president now and recently tried to credit his 'passion for America' for his cheating on his wife while she was in the hospital being treated for cancer. What.), we almost never hear any politicians speak of poverty anymore. That would, after all, entail actually regarding the impoverished as human beings instead of sneering at them and blaming them for their own hopeless situation.
Whenever the proper progressive taxation of corporations and the wealthy is brought up, the GOP begins rattling their sabers about "class warfare" and "wealth redistribution," while the Tea Party crowd feels they're being clever by saying they've been "Taxed Enough Already," despite our unsustainable obscenely low tax rates today. You cannot have a functioning, thriving 20th - let alone 21st - century society without a functioning central government working to serve the people and a populace mature enough to understand the importance of a strong progressive system of taxation. We take everything the government provides for granted and like self-entitled children, we demand it all for free, while also thumbing our noses a government and telling ourselves we're "fighting the man," when we're instead further enabling the corporate interests that have all but snuffed out democracy in America.
Just days ago, in a fantastic speech in Madison, Michael Moore brought up the issue of wealth redistribution that the GOP loves to attack American's working and shriveling middle classes over - the very fact that the income disparity in this nation is the largest it's ever been, and that 400 people have the total wealth of half of the rest of the country combined. We've had the "socialism" the GOP sneers at for decades since we began a program of corporate/privileged appeasement and welfare back during the Reagan years that began a dramatic redistribution of America's wealth from the many to the few, undoing decades of hard-fought workers' rights and the very basis of our middle class. Class warfare has been waged from the top to the bottom for decades in America - those of us in the middle have fallen hard, and whenever we even observe what's happened and suggest fighting back, the right-wing-owned media noise machine quickly shouts that down in an effort to keep it from public consciousness. Limp as ever, the Democrats continue to allow the GOP to frame every debate, allowing America's working public - and teachers especially as of late - to be vilified while upholding the horrifyingly wealthy corporate leaders and Wall Street bankers who fill Republican campaign coffers and successfully got our conservative-bent Supreme Court to sell out democracy in the Citizens United case ruling in January 2010. Not one person on Wall Street has gone to jail in the wake of the economic collapse their reckless gambling has caused.
As the American people continue to sink into destitution, the Republicans in congress are set on balancing the budget on the backs of the working class and dying middle class. They nearly shut down congressional procedure at the end of 2010 to essentially blackmail their way into an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2%, even holding up health care for 9/11 first responders. This is the heart of their party's professed 'morality.' Morality that dictates that, as Gloria Steinem put it beautifully on last week's Real Time with Bill Maher, "life begins at conception and ends at birth." They speak of the need for "everyone" to "sacrifice." But what they really mean is something more in the vein of, "If you aren't obscenely wealthy, you can go fuck yourself." If you're rich enough, you "win," apparently - I'll get on to another "winning" disgraceful figure who's gotten far too much media attention in just a bit - and get to be exempt from making the same "sacrifices" as the rest of us. The policies the GOP continues to push forward will cut hundreds of thousands - if not ultimately millions - of additional jobs. They focused heavily on job creation during the 2010 campaign season, then changed their tune immediately, refocusing on cutting jobs as they did during the Bush years with a callous lack of caring reflective of their increasingly cartoon-level sociopathic agenda.
Throughout the protests in Wisconsin, you couldn't swing a dead cat on a major news outlet's comments section without hitting a seething comment about "union thugs" and how "hard-working" America's wealthy are. All this of course ignoring that only 7% of our workforce is now unionized, and many states are outright union-free - even the GOP's beloved Ronald Reagan called the death of unions the death of freedom a good 31 years ago now - and that's just another part of our dramatic wage stagnation since the 1980s. Of course Reagan would be a key link in the chain of leaders that began putting down the American union and taking away workers' rights. In this, we've even seen the right-wing phenomenon of support for union-busting from impoverished individuals envious of union workers. Instead of finding inspiration and seeking to fight back for union rights - a long, hard battle America has to fight a second time because we got complacent and let our rights be stripped away - they'd rather see union workers as miserable as they are. The fact that this is commonplace speaks again of a great illness that's infected the American character quite visibly in recent decades.
While we face all of these things, the GOP continues to encourage the country's woes to only worsen so that they can blame Obama and the Democrats for the state of things as they attempt to retake the White House in November next year. Thankfully, they have nobody electable to run. But still, president Obama does the American people no favors by continuing to capitulate to the GOP at every turn. We're still in Iraq and Afghanistan. The virtually criminal Bush tax cuts weren't allowed to expire. And Obama just gave up on closing Guantanamo Bay this week and joined George W. Bush in tossing the rule of law away to side with continuing the indefinite detention of suspected terrorist detainees that we cannot convict due to a lack of evidence. And these are only a few of the things he's capitulated on. It's a wonder we got Don't Ask, Don't Tell overturned just before the end of last year. And while it's also appreciable that the White House will no longer defend the similarly bigoted Defense of Marriage Act, the Republicans have their true colors on display as usual in their announced plans to defend it themselves.
In the end, we attack teachers and public workers in general; we attack any and all efforts to begin working on fixing America's infrastructure, which would create tons of jobs; we demonize the idea of improving American transportation by joining the rest of the modern world with high-speed rail; on top of all that, we desperately suck up to corporations and engage in welfare for them, while deriding welfare for actual human beings. And of course, after getting depressingly watered down health care reform the other year, the GOP is now set on trying to repeal it entirely and continue to prop up our broken system that's still more focused on profits than providing actual health care. They won't succeed - at least, not as things are now. But what we got in 2010 was more for the insurance companies than the people - being able to receive treatment or go to the doctor for a check-up is increasingly becoming a privilege in America. Our grave national illness is not merely a matter of metaphor.
As all of this goes on, we the people busy ourselves with irrelevant matters while learning nothing. We complain about the fluctuation in gas prices over Middle East unrest instead of investing in green energy technology. Even China's well on the way to leaving us in the dust on that front now. Fox News keeps busy by telling us that Middle Eastern revolutions will lead to more enemies for America - ignoring our long history of violence and propping up oppressive dictators there, earning our hatred - while arguing that we also need to increase our fossil fuel addiction and dependency even further. Continuing our focus on what's on television, we distract ourselves from any real news by laughing at the crazy antics of a drug-addicted actor with a history of abusing women that we love to shrug off with an, "Eh, they're just whores." Something symptomatic of our longstanding misogyny problem.
In January, Democratic congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot in the head at a public meeting with constituents in Arizona, which is increasingly turning into a portrait of the end of America. The shooter was very mentally ill and obsessed with anti-government conspiracy theories, but neither a clear "leftist" or "right-winger." We spent weeks slinging mud, each side trying to pin this individual, Jared Loughner, on the other. The argument was eventually made that the heated, increasingly violent political rhetoric - primarily from the Republicans, but not exclusively - could have contributed to his snapping and going on his rampage, in which even children were killed. This led to a facetious play at civility and feigned bipartisanship in congress, with the Democrats and Republicans even sitting together for once - and our lone real socialist, Vermont's Bernie Sanders, one of our only senators actually working for the people - while president Obama gave a rather weak State of the Union address in February. It's enough to make you wish our politicians were more honest about how disinterested they are in actually serving the public - to make you wish these individuals were as politically unviable as they should be. A silver lining, at least, is that Gabby Giffords is making an impressive recovery. And a much rustier and more corrosive lining is that every time we have a public rampage like this - every few years - instead of having the gun rights discussion America sorely needs, the far right scrambles to deregulate guns even further. The obsession the American public has with firearms is not something healthier nations have in common with us.
Ultimately, that's the theme of what I've needed to get off my chest today. That America has been infected with an incredible cancer for decades now, and as we continue to undo decades of progress, dismantle the "American Dream," and turn increasingly into a nation of the deluded destitute, it's hard not to feel hopeless. The state of things today is exactly why I'm a misanthrope. We're not learning. And most of us don't even vote. We're witnessing the result of the failure of democracy in America, a system which itself fails when you don't have an engaged, informed populace. We have neither, and haven't had either for decades now. I've been losing sleep over this for months. I've had these thoughts and feelings rattling around inside, and they've impeded my forward momentum in this blog. Maybe that will change now that I've written this. I hope it will. But I can't promise an outpouring of optimism.
There was no Film For Lovers series in Feburary this year primarily due to a lack of material. I might have covered Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which I plan on blogging about at some point anyway, even if it's already been done to death. It's a brilliant film - and one of Jim Carrey's legitimately good ones - deserving of unceasing love. I haven't seen much focused on love in months (I'm not sure if I'd spotlight Scott Pilgrim vs. The World in a feature like that or not - love plays a big role, but it's more fun and nerdy than anything else. If anything, it's a work of love for its source material by everyone involved.), though, and my own film collection's growth has slowed to a relative crawl as of late. To toss some recommendations out there from what I've watched the past few months, The Social Network, The Kids are All Right, The People Speak, Monsters, Temple Grandin, Micmacs, and Cyrus are all worth your time. I'll try to do some more film themed blog posts again soon - I'm hoping to start writing a bit more about music this year too. I've been meaning to contribute my own thoughts, and I have a few videos I'll be posting on here as short posts (Like last year's Trains Through Tokyo), for a little more content. Music journalism as a whole is pretty terrible, but I like the idea of sharing a bit of what kinds of music I like, and what inspires me. Plus, M83 has a new album coming out sometime this year, which I can't wait for - I need to pick up Asobi Seksu's new album still, too. Basically, I'm a Shoegaze nerd. Prepare your ears for walls of harmonious sound. For the hell of it, my current state of mind, through M83. One of my very favorite albums and album cover images.
I don't write about writing or the craft nearly as often as I probably should, and since my older brother - in encouraging me to 'get with the times' and get into self-publishing - sent me a link to this blog post the other day, I've felt a good diatribe against self-publishing and the deeply sleazy, anti-literary vibe I'm getting from all this coming on. My views all make me sound like an incredibly pretentious, narcissistic asshole (And really, what that I write doesn't?), but I have some very strong feelings on that while self-publishing can be beneficial and valuable for some, it's ultimately damaging to literature. As a writer devoted to cultivating his literary writing craft, I take tremendous offense to the commodification of books to the point of dumbing them down to treating a novel like a cheap 99 cent iPhone app. If the internet self-publishing eBook revolution is going to kill literature, then I'm going to go down with the ship and die in the gutter. The revulsion I felt in reading that, if anything, really helps me define even more of my identity as an author (And not just the aforementioned pretentious narcissist), and further establish my absolute need to find an agent and through them an editor and publisher. I will not settle for sinking into a sea of professional-contact-free low-effort dirt-cheap digital pulp - my desire, my need is to produce works of far more substance and authenticity than that. I'll leave it at that, because I can elaborate much more in the inevitable self-publishing rant post that I'll probably end up doing within the next few days.
Also, I'm probably going to finally cave and rework this blog's appearance soon with a Blogger template even as much as I dislike the idea of it not looking entirely unique. Spiral Reverie needs more readers - this thing needs to look more appealing if it's going to draw them. In addition to more content. I'm not good at selling or marketing myself in general. My approach, ultimately, is more in the vein of "If you build it, they will come." That often doesn't work on the internet, of course. You're supposed to track down other authors and communities of fellow aspiring authors and start networking if you want to get attention - I can't really do that. Extreme introversion extends to the internet, too. I don't even like posting on message boards - I'm a lurker at heart, creepy as internet lingo makes that sound. I'm well aware of the fact that while I like Spiral Reverie's "shades of gray" visual theme that I put together myself, it's ugly. As fun as it is to revel in writing massive, near-unreadably long posts of tremendous substance that almost nobody will ever stumble across and read like this - as fun as it is to be underground, which isn't hard to be on the internet - a writer needs readers. And even if it means temporarily sacrificing some of the blog's uniqueness, a visual look that won't drive off visitors is more important right now. I'm no web designer myself - I know what I like when I see it and have a lot of vague ideas, but I'm not good at articulating, let alone expressing, my aesthetic sense - and so I'm probably going to have to wait and see if a day ever comes that I can afford to spend thousands of dollars hiring a web designer to make my presence on the internet as cool as, say, Haruki Murakami's. His western website is the epitome of cool author websites. Maybe someday I'll have a publisher that loves me enough to foot the bill to make my internet presence that cool. It's nice to have dreams.
At any rate, the 3DS launch is 16 days away now. I'm really looking forward to that, but also stressed out at the same time. Money is a big problem. I'd ideally like to be able to snag one by late spring or early summer, but the system's going to quickly get as rare as the Wii was for years, and they're launching at the same $250 price point the Wii did. The system's hardware power, fantastic array of built-in features and games, and incredible announced lineup of games coming in the future more than make it worth the cost of entry - that thing's going to be beautiful and revolutionary. (Some people get extremely excited about new Apple releases - Nintendo's my drug.) But getting hold of one won't be easy, and while I've been working on getting a freelance writing job to start making money, it's tough to balance that with work on Project Princess - which is coming along again, and in the least, will be less weird and more marketable than project 27 Days, though just as literary in its ambition - regular query letters, and at least the occasional post here. If I can find some decent-paying freelance work and actually get the job - I've had some stumbles and been ignored before, much like with the query letter process, which I've at least started hearing more responses to here and there though nothing elaborate - I can quickly see all of my early money disappearing into a 3DS and some early games for that, though.
Considering that the last time I went to a game store was over 5 months ago now, as helpful as games are in my stress management, I don't seem to be able to sponge off loaned money from my father to sustain my hobbies for much longer. And that's something to deal with in trying to gain difficult financial independence - losing the ability to buy games, books, music, movies, and more tends to raise my stress levels tremendously, as much of a privileged first world problem that I really shouldn't even be complaining about as that is - and similarly, my hopes of escaping the south and moving to San Francisco this year have already more or less sunk. The friend I was going to move in with forgot about our plans and moved in with another friend out there, so the costs of moving and living out there just went from potentially affordable to unlivable, as they are for someone as literally broke as I am in any major city - and as a writer and someone needing to actually experience more of life at my embarrassing age of coming-up-on-27 (See ya, mid-twenties. Hello, near-thirties.), anywhere less than a major city would be profoundly dissatisfying. When I find concrete numbers for paying freelance writing work on the ads I've been checking out in working hard on finding work in these first months of the year, what I get out of them is that I'd have to focus more on freelance work than creative work and absolutely scramble to make so much as $1000 a month. And even that would barely cover rent in a decent single apartment in San Francisco - it wouldn't be remotely enough for the overall costs of living, let alone furniture, hobbies, and responsibly saving so I can actually build up the kind of financial reserve everyone needs. In short, like in my less than cheery New Year's post over two months ago, life is still kicking my ass. But hey, all the authors worth anything who've made any kind of meaningful mark no the world and produced authentic, substantive works of literature that could touch people's lives all had to face tremendous hardship - even if mine pales horribly in comparison - before achieving even a modicum of success, right? Right? Of course, a lot of them died miserable and destitute and never really make much of a mark or achieved any kind of following until after they were dead. This is why - for all my ranting - people write for the money, not to produce meaningful art.
All this, and at the end of this horribly self-indulgent blog post, I've still barely mentioned the incredible crisis that Japan is going through as we speak. Compared to that, my existential, creative, professional, and personal sources of anguish are minimal. My hopeful thoughts? Right now, I've reserved those for the survivors. In the least, the world is pulling together to offer what assistance and relief we can - the more, the better. Just last week, I watched the season premiere of No Reservations and was devastated by the state Haiti's still in, even after what the world contributed. Years before that, Anthony Bourdain did a show in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, reminding that in the wake of disaster, we often don't even take care of our own here in America. Considering its vital place in the world, I'm convinced we can all do better with Japan, but at the same time, we shouldn't forget New Orleans or Haiti. One of the most heartbreakingly common human traits is our capacity to turn a blind eye to profound human suffering. I'm afraid that even by the substance of this blog post on its own, I've provided ample evidence that I'm no better.