Open Books

Does anybody really want to be private anymore?  Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and their many future and inevitable iterations would say otherwise.

The idea that each of us can express opinions on a mass scale and actually be heard – well, read and seen, which are close but not exactly the same thing – feels revolutionary.  Rather than shouting in the wind, or to your family and friends, one can literally shout at the world these days and it is entirely possible that a person or mass of people that one’s never met will see, hear, perhaps even listen… but most importantly RESPOND.   Of course, not always kindly.  File that under be careful what you wish for.

Oh days of yesteryear

Still, one could argue the situation these days is a lot more preferable than it used to be.  There was a time not so long ago that one could die in frustration with one’s inner thoughts or angry outer thoughts that the world too often turned away from.  Certainly not everything one has to say or voice is important to the world but what is certain is that it is very much important to that person.

We all, each of us, have at least one thing in common and that is the desire to be heard, and in turn, hopefully, understood.  By someone.  Or many.  Why?  Well, it varies.  Sometimes it’s on an interpersonal issue with someone we know.  In other more existential moments it is on larger topics and what we believe about ourselves.  about the world, and about humanity.  And in loftier but no less meaningful moments it is about a pressing desire to proclaim what is RIGHT AND WRONG in  ALL of the aforementioned orbits.

It really is hard being the smartest person in the room

When we can’t stop shouting about an instance, an argument or an issue, it’s more than pressing.  It’s crushingly personal.  And we can’t shut up about it no matter how much we try or don’t attempt to.  This, in particular, is where a 2017 life comes in handy.  Even if one doesn’t receive a direct response (DM) there is a feeling that somehow, somewhere, someone listened.  And might act on what was said.  By US.

Oh, and by the way and on a very much-related topic – this – more than anything else – is the dirty little secret about being a WRITER.  (Note:  Though certainly, not the only one).

Was someone spying on me? #meeveryday

On a recent and quite brilliant stand alone episode of Girls, Lena Dunham’s emerging writer Hannah Horvath is summoned to the breathtakingly gorgeous and sprawling apartment of a famous writer played by The Americans’ Matthew Rhys.  It seems Hannah has written a think piece for a feminist blog about this man, one of her all-time literary heroes, and his misadventures with a series of four different college age women he mentored and taught with whom he had unwanted or perhaps manipulated wanted, sexual relations.

Hannah tells him she wrote the piece as a means of support to thousands of young women who are forever scarred by a situation of abuse at the hands of someone more powerful.  But the writer makes a powerful case that although her words are brilliantly executed by someone with rare talents, they only tell a partial story of what she merely chose to see based on second and third hand accounts that she read.  For to be a true writer, he tells her, is to not only respect all sides but to dig deeper into one’s subject and understand reality, motivation, connection and situational circumstance in order to truly determine what constitutes the truth.

At which point, Hannah and the author have their own new interaction that EXACTLY mirrors one of the aforementioned circumstances, leaving it to the audience to determine who was right or wrong.  Or if, indeed, such a thing even exists at all.

Oh how I’ll miss you, Girl #hannah4ever

There are all types of writing and each has their individual demands.  But what they all have in common are two very specific things:

1. The truth

and…

2. What the writer believes the truth to be.

Of course, there are few absolutes in the world outside of math and science and lately even those have been brought into question.  Which really only leaves us with #2 and brings us full circle.

As both a writing teacher and someone who annually reads numerous works of writing from all over the country for various grants and scholarships, it becomes joyously and sometimes painfully obvious to me that when reading a writer one learns as much about that person as one does about the issue or subject being presented.  Often more.

You can’t help but begin to wonder – why of all the subjects in the world did this person choose to concoct a story about homeless LGBT youth?  What happened in their background that provoked this individual to pen a story about a 1930s honkytonk in the southwest with such fervor?  Who would choose to devote years to telling the tale of gnome who appears to a young lad in the middle of a cornfield at turn of the 20th century Midwest?

Or a tiny sprite of a girl who loves eggos

I choose these because in the last year all three have been among the most outstanding student and professional pieces I’ve read from young, unknown authors.  And in the cases of at least two of the three (Note: I do not know the author of the third) I know the writers revealed quite a bit more about themselves than they ever intended.  And to their great credit.

I’ve quoted it before but it bears repeating that no less than six famous writers are credited with having once famously stated (and I’m paraphrasing because five of them most certainly did):  Being a writer is easy.  Just open a vein.

And add to that in less witty parlance:  There is no other way to get to the truth.

Perhaps (?) (!) that was what Margaret Atwood was doing in the early eighties when she wrote the now famous A Handmaid’s Tale – a work of fiction in a dystopian world that not only went on to become a best seller which has since never been out of print but has spawned both a feature film and an upcoming Hulu television series where Ms. Atwood herself makes a cameo guest star appearance.

And…… PEGGY!

In her story, a Christian fundamentalist movement takes over the United States -which reeks of pollution and sexually transmitted diseases – and installs a totalitarian regime that subjugates women and forces a particular class of them to serve as the term vessels of unwanted pregnancies to a more powerful group of men forcing their wills on them for what they believe to be the ostensible survival of society.

Well, of course this is a work of fiction!

Fact almost seems more surreal than fiction these days

So much so that Ms. Atwood herself penned a piece several days ago for the NY Times explaining where she was and what she was thinking when she first wrote her perennial bestseller.

As well as what she could offer as to it’s meaning in what has been promised to be a new and improved United States that will once again be great again.

It’s a curious position to be in – addressing the real possibilities of a fictional story written in the past of an unimaginable dictatorial future some believe we are headed towards in the present.  But like any great writer she demurred on how prescient she was, attempting to be vaguely encouraging without providing answers.  In the age of what we’re constantly being told is instant communication, it’s up to all of us to draw those conclusions in the present.  Loudly.  For our futures.  Revealing not only where we stand but real parts of ourselves.  Before that is no longer a possibility.

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Seven Ways to Survive

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The Chair (that’s me) is on a deadline with the finish line in sight. But here’s the thing –

HOLD ON.

We all simply have to

HOLD ON!!!

The emails, the sex scandals, the WEINER OF IT ALL!!

Seriously, how do you deal with it?

Well, here’s what I do.

1 – Eat pizza – There is just something soothing about all that forbidden cheese. (NOTE: No, not cheeZE – we’re getting enough of that in the news). Dripping in deliciousness. Though I’m partial to extra crispy crust.   But there’s only how well you can do with that at home. For truly near burnt dough, you’ve got to have your own pizza oven, turn it up to 600 degrees and resist the temptation to stick your head in. Chair advice: Turn off your device of choice and leave the house.

Welp, that's one way to do it

Welp, that’s one way to do it

2- Exercise – Yeah, I know. But if anything can get you out of the house to do it, this can. It’s going to be depressing, that first day back at the gym. But you’ll feel so good when you’re done. I promise. And you’ll look that much better at the HRC victory party.

3- Sex – I’m not going there. Though I just did. But given this election cycle it feels appropriate, doesn’t it? And besides, I could have gone further. A lot further. But unlike the rest of the middle-aged to old white men surrounding HRC, I’m not a sleaze, a predator and have nothing unsavory on video of tape. I promise. Yes, I know you’ve heard that before. But this time it’s true. ‘Nuff said.

4- Rant on social media – Many people have asked me how I can stand following all of this. (Note: Yeah, That). But many more have thanked me for speaking out, keeping them entertained and generally providing commentary on what has over the months become an impossibly ridiculous real time Black comedy. Right, Black. As in “my African Americans, where are my African Americans????”

It's the little things

It’s the little things

One former student asked me on Twitter, how can you stand it? My answer: It keeps me sane. I’ve now got her tweeting about It. Well, not me – I won’t take full responsibility. But if I can provide some small inspiration in the name of sanity, Hey, I’m there. #DealMeIn.

5- Listen to your favorite female diva – In the car. And sing along. LOUDLY. In a very, very FIERCE voice. For me, this worked with the re-mastered re-release of Bette Midler’s debut album, The Divine Miss M.  Do you know that I actually did a commanding solo of both Delta Dawn and Leon Russell’s Superstar in the VW Bug Convertible going up and down Mulholland Drive? Now, how gay is that??? (Note: In a good way). Full disclaimer: The top wasn’t down. There are limits. Even for the Chair. Though not many.

BRB, getting fitted for my fins #boogiewoogiebugleboy

BRB, getting fitted for my fins #boogiewoogiebugleboy

6- Plan an election day party – You’re probably thinking, oh please, I just want this to be over. That’s party enough!! But I beg to differ. You didn’t come this far to just let it all go, did you? It’s like what I tell my writing students. You mean you’re going to hand in your final script to me without printing out a title page with the phrase of your choice, followed with BY (Fill in your name). You did not come all this way to not take some credit for all of your hard work – even if what all of your hard work amounted to is just listening. Because listening, and enduring, and listening some more, and living through this sh-t show, deserves some sort of celebration. Or are you just the kind of person who denies yourself that particular type of joy? No, I don’t think so. Not on my watch.

7- Choose your drinking game of choice. This needn’t include alcohol. In fact, it can also be your eating game of choice. Or your – anything consumable game of choice (Note: We take no responsibility for your choices and it goes without saying – nothing dangerous and no driving. You’ve seen those commercials. BUZZ driving is DRUNK driving).

I'M WITH HER

I’M WITH HER

Still, when the day comes that this insanity is over – or, at least this chapter of the insanity, make a game of it. Life is too serious and the fate of the world is too precarious to not indulge. Just a little. So once Rachel, or Brian Williams, or Blitzer, or Meghan Kelly or Chris Wallace or George Stephanopoulos or whoever the hell you’ll hear it from, announces that the U.S. has its first female president in more than two centuries – take a VERY LONG SWIG – of something. And celebrate the fact that you are alive at this time. And managed to live through it. MORE LATER.

MUCH, MUCH MORE.

PS – No, the WORST will NOT happen. Say it with me. Again. Then Again. Now – One more time. Now Rinse. And repeat your Seven Steps above.

Breaking News

Hashtag News

Hashtag News

The 24/7 news cycle ramped up through social media is one of the BEST things to happen to society in recent decades. Don’t believe that?  Then you’re not paying attention.

Twitter, Facebook or  (fill in platform of choice) enables information to be dispensed to massive numbers of people in mere moments.  Television stations like MSNBC (my addiction), CNN (no one’s real addiction) and Fox News (unfortunately, too many people’s addiction) are forced to cover and convey information on stories way beyond the mere half hour networks used to devote to their nightly news broadcasts.  People in general are engaged and MORE informed (no, the more is not a typo) on world issues than they ever have been at any time in history, partly because they can’t help but not be.

PLUS – two terrorists were brought down within days after blowing up hundreds of people at the annual Boston Marathon (3 dead, scores of others with severed limbs) in part due to the massive dissemination of information through these means.

Busted through broadband

Busted through broadband

That would be information on a story you wanted to know about but, after a bit, also wanted to turn away from.   Except nowadays you don’t have a choice.  You can’t. Every time you turn around someone is telling you something you don’t necessarily want to know.  But probably should.

We can never be sure how much television news and social media contributed to that key person in Watertown, MA being so acutely aware so continuously of this massive manhunt that they couldn’t help but notice that there was blood on the tarp of the boat behind their house – a boat where Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 19 year old bombing suspect was hiding after managing to escape from the police showdown where his 26 year old accused fellow terrorist brother Tamerlan was killed (some say by the car Dzhokhar was speeding away with).

But what we do know is this:

In the world of police work and reportage one clue leads to another, information begets information, and it is the piecing together of all the facts by dogged reporters and investigators that in turn leads to the solution of a case and the satisfactory completion of a story. 

There is no telling what the alternative ending would be if you removed any of the steps along the way that led the person to go behind the house, and check out the boat, and notice the blood, and look further in to see the guy moving in the boat, and walk back out without going further to call the police at the number that was posted everywhere you looked, to tell them about the things that they saw before the guy had enough time to regroup and flee.  If there were a way to predict such things, Back to The Future, a film that cautions against playing with the sequence of events that have already occurred, would not still be a perennial piece of movie wonderment that held any meaning at all among my young twenty something students (and, I can assure you, it still is).

Twitter as the new flux capacitor

Twitter as the new flux capacitor

Why is it then that much of what I heard in my informal survey during the last week were endless complaints of the sensationalizing of a situation on TV that couldn’t get any more sensational, of the news gone amuck, and of a society that was being encouraged to fixate on this latest unfortunate event of world terrorism the United States was currently enduring instead of fixating on…. well, what I’m not sure.

Of course, I have NO IDEA why people incessantly posted on sites that the 24/7 news cycle is trying and taxing and sensationalistic.  This IS life.  This IS what the world is about now.  This IS the connection technology has wrought – for both good and bad.

Perhaps I’m wondering aloud now but here’s a question to ask ourselves — what should television instead be showing? More episodes of Ready for Love  (cancelled after just two) or The Bachelor (which, like Celine’s heart, will go on and on and on) — is that what we’re missing?  What SHOULD be broadcast instead of 24/7 news?  How many more game shows? Soap operas?  Local news about the weather or perhaps chance of bad weather?  Or maybe a 24/7 obsessional show about bad weather (Intervention: Doppler Edition?).  Maybe more reruns of I Love Lucy or Cheers or The Cosby Show?  Or Friends?  Maybe more Dr. Phil?  How about an extra episode of Smash? (Yes, it’s still on).  I mean, I do love Mad Men, but the current number of episodes on the air (all 10,000 of them, including reruns) is just right, thank you very much.

Though I would be in full support of all day re-airings of episodes of Baggage. (petition to bring back the show on next week's post)

Though I would be in full support of all day re-airings of episodes of Baggage. (petition to bring back the show on next week’s post)

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not even close to saying that the cable news stations or their network counterparts are getting it right all of the time or are necessarily in it to make the world a better place.  You couldn’t possibly think that when you see something like this on CNN right after the terrorist face off:

The only thing Zooey likes about this... is being mistaken for 19

The only thing Zooey likes about this: being mistaken for 19

No, our New Girl had nothing to do with this.  The best anyone can figure is that the computer auto correct of Dzhokhar is Zooey.  Also, Zooey has forgiven them.  And if you want to know how I know it’s because Joel McHale from Community and The Soup tweeted it to Ms. D via Twitter and she tweeted back and those tweets were both run on a website I frequent and all of it was then reposted on Facebook by my most intimate of Facebook friends, who never lies to me about such stuff.  So there!!

But if the Zooey mishap and too many human interest stories related to major crime scenes that seem neither particularly human or even very interesting is the price to pay for being that much more aware of the world around us, I say we should keep ponying up.  See – the networks have realized even before us that breaking news is not only much cheaper to produce than fictionalized drama but that it is inherently more….dramatic.  Even better, technology has enabled them to present it in a way that is not dissimilar to a fast-moving hour procedural drama, albeit over an eight-hour period of time.

Yeah, I'm looking at your Caruso.

Yeah, I’m looking at you, Caruso.

Here’s what I got watching television all day Friday:

A major American city on lockdown.  A fugitive at large who might have a bomb (or two or three) in one of the most densely populated areas in the US.  Not enough clues to figure out what happened and a metropolitan dragnet and cast of characters better than any of the ones in any of the 23,432 Batman movies.  Jigsaw puzzle pieces of info on the shooters, the victims and the families of each and endless speculation of too many talking heads about all of it (really a show all on its own).

Then suddenly at the all is lost point at the end of act two, (screenwriters will best understand this), right on cue we get new gunshots fired in Watertown, MA. They think they have the shooter surrounded. Wait!  Weren’t we just told live by the police chief that it was more than possible the suspect had fled the area and that you couldn’t keep the entire city locked indoors any longer?  Well, maybe that was a ruse to smoke the guy out?  Or perhaps it wasn’t and time was just running out?  Oh, who cares.  This is real life. Not TV drama. (Or is it?)  Wait, now there’s spontaneous cheering from a crowd on the streets.   Then a firefight around a boat behind a house.  Followed by a lot of silence.  Followed by reports of a suspect bleeding.  Or not.  Then reports of a fire, which could be from the shots.  Then background on a woman who reported blood on the boat in the back of her driveway which, thanks to Google maps, we can see a visual of as we get reports that the bleeding suspect has been apprehended and now is in police custody.  To which we then hear thunderous rounds of applause from hundreds and then thousands of people gathering around on the streets of Boston to thank law enforcement.  A spontaneous show of affection that many on the air are saying is a first.  Or at least the first in a while.  Cue end of scene and end of story.  At least for now.

Freddie said it best: Is this real life or is this fantasy?

Freddie said it best: Is this real life or is this fantasy?

Since this took place over the approximately 8 hours I was watching television, I suppose I could be making this seem more exciting than it was in real 24/7 news time.  But if you want to live in the real world and see how real life happens this is it.  The reporting of stories is not what it is in the movies or on series television.  Neither is police work.  It happens in actual time and it doesn’t have three or five or seven act structure that will induce you to stay tuned in through the commercials or network IDs.

My time in journalism school and my early years as a reporter taught me that working on a story can be almost as slow and tedious as the “hurry up and wait” feeling you get being on a movie set that I experienced as a screenwriter – only 12 times as frustrating.  This is because eventually the scene you are waiting for on a movie set will be filmed.  Yet there is no guarantee or even likelihood a story will ever get written or aired if it doesn’t pan out.  And most times they don’t.  Except when they’re newsworthy.  That means that eventually….some do.  One way or the other.  And living in 2013 we are all lucky enough to be there watching it live.  If we so choose.

There are lousy journalists and great journalists.  That’s what we’re getting.  And we’re really, really fortunate to get it.  If we don’t like what we’re getting – we can TURN. IT. OFF.  But we have to stop complaining.  That includes you and me too – because given another particular issue – I’m no better than anyone else.

As a public, we’re already amped up.  The news doesn’t make it worse.  Information is power.  The lack of it is when we get in trouble and the bad guys win.  Or worse – take over when our backs are turned and we’re not paying attention.