I Just Awoke From A Crazy Dream

Here is just a part of a crazy dream I just awoke from…

There was a flicker of electricity at the top of a tower by the arroyo. The moon wasn’t doing its job very well. I only half saw the stone beneath me as I descended the stairs that led to the infirmed tower.  The tower was built to harness power from the arroyo. But long ago it turned into rusty wrought iron. The question was this: why  was there electricity? I wondered if this place really generated power.

I started up a ladder on the outside of the tower. A door opened suddenly beside me as I climbed. It looked like a bears cave. I saw eyes looking out at me. From the darkness emerged a man, tall and without hair on his head. He appeared to be half black. His clothes looked fancy but also filthy and torn. And then he was speaking to me.

“Sup playa?”

“This place yours?”

“Thas right. You pimpin or what?”

“In my own way, I suppose I am.”

“Thas right. We both pimpin. Yous a pimp an I’s a pimp. And if we both know each other’s pimps then we can do what pimps do.”

“Which is?”

“Come to an understandin.”

The electricity at the top of the tower flickered irregularly and buzzed like a swarm of locusts.

“The power isn’t working right. I could fix that for you. We could get power from the arroyo.”

“You stupid or somethin? Don’t you know that this is how they be wantin it? I you go fuckin with their power, turning that shit off and all, they’ll know. They’ll know and they’ll come here.”

“So what then?”

“What’s in that bag you got on yo belt?

“Rubies, sapphires, jade…” There was no sense lying to him.

“I tell you what, I gots a writ back from them old times, it’s a deed to a town southa here. It be grantin a whole mess a land and some water rights. It be their land, know what I’m sayin?”

“What do you want for it?”

“I want that whole fuckin bag. Every ruby… every sapphire. You give me that bag and yo ass walks outta here. An you get this here writ.” He removed an old, once-laminated piece of paper.

“How do I know the writ is real. It wasn’t exactly written by you?”

“Naw dogg, this shit be ancient. I don’t know if it’ll hold up, but it’s fuckin old I promise you that.”

“What’s your name?”

“Vincent.”

“I think we got a deal, Vincent.”

“One pimp to another?”

I clutched the bag on my belt. On the other side of my belt I had a knife. He wasn’t getting out of this alive.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Kissing Kin Pt. 1

Kissing Kin

The first time I saw her, she was on a Christmas card. The card was a photograph glued to red construction paper. She looked out at me from the mantle top above Grandma Ellen’s fireplace. She stood, triangulated by a mother, a father and a sister that must have been five years younger than she was. I guessed she was a couple years younger than me.

Can it be called lust when you’re nine years old? Or is it a pre-lust that conditions boys to pine for something softer? Her hair was what’s known as a dirty blonde, though I have always hated the adjective “dirty” in that context. Her hair didn’t look dirty at all. It actually appeared to be quite clean. She looked positively baptized by shampoo and conditioner. As far as her hair length, I remember thinking that it seemed a bit too long. I think there is a magic length for a girl’s hair between the top and bottom of her shoulder blades. When hair descends beyond the middle of their backs, girls remind me of helpless Rapunzels.

It’s common for prepubescent girls to have hair that’s too long. In her case, it seemed a case of defiance rather than neglect. It was as though she knew her hair made her feminine and she desperately coveted every inch. Her face was what one might call expressionless, though I’ve never believed there was such a thing. A lack of expression is an expression of control.

We are always asked to smile for cameras. Like the camera was Pee Wee fucking Herman and each flash was a secret message that would make us all smile, yell and jump for joy. But while her mother and father and sister forced their lips into an vertical curl, she kept hers horizontal.

The only aspect of her countenance worth noting is that there was the slightest squint to her left eye. It was a small detail, but it was all I had. It was the only crack in an otherwise perfected mask.

Throughout that Holiday season I found myself thinking of that squinting eye, and that red card, and the words on the card that read:

Merry Christmas Ellen!

Much Love,

Eric, Annie, Zoë and Claire

“Who are these people?” I finally mustered the courage to ask Grandma Ellen.

“It’s my brother Tommy’s wife’s sister’s daughter and her family.”

“So they aren’t our relatives?”

“No not really. I guess you could call them kissing kin.”

I hadn’t thought of kissing her until that moment. But from that moment until the day after New Years, when I arrived at my Grandma’s and the card was gone, I could think of nothing else.

To Be Continued

Posted in Fiction | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Magical Music Box

Ever since I was a child, I have always been enchanted by music boxes. Though I now have some idea of how they work mechanically, I’ve tried to remain selectively ignorant to avoid demystification—I still want to believe in magical music boxes.

Magical Music Box

The Dancing Clown Music Box

When I was really young I was given the music box pictured above. When I opened the small drawer, the clown would dance to music—what song I cannot recall. There was always something almost-frightening about it. Clowns are frightening after all.

I always felt as though the dancing clown had magical powers. I wondered why he danced. I sometimes thought I heard the music box playing at night mysteriously. I would wonder, while a school, if the clown was dancing to music, or if he was sleeping, waiting for me—and only me—to command him to dance.

Years have passed. The music box makes no more sound. In the drawer sits a diamond-studded key given to me by a girl who used to love me. The clown has long-since danced his final dance. Now he just stands there. But is he dead? Or is he as alive and vibrant as any memory?

Share

Posted in Fiction | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

I Was Born to Love Sad Songs | Why We Listen to Songs that Make Us Cry.

Happiness is a Sad Song

Charles Shultz once stated that “happiness is a sad song.” As a lover of sad songs, I sometimes wonder what draws me to them as opposed to bombastic, upbeat anthems.

I see three reasons why I love to sad songs:

1) Empathy- The bittersweet songs that I respond to seem to be ones that I can most easily identify with. If I hear a country singer sing about a girl who left him or his dead dog, I can relate—I’ve lost girls and I lost a dog. If he’s singing about losing his truck or tractor, it’s probably not going to resonate. It’s comforting to know that someone else has gone through a similar situation. Sad songs tell us that we’re not alone.

2) Catharsis- Sad songs force us to confront feelings that we often bury. When I hear a great song about love going sour like Bob Dylan’s “Ballad in Plain D” or Jeff Buckley’s “Lover You Should’ve Come Over“, I am instantly confronted with memories of my own past relationships. Sad songs allow me to reflect on the past and process my emotions. The danger in listening to too many sad songs is that you might find yourself living in the past more often than you’d like to.

3) Authenticity- I sometimes find myself doubting the authenticity of a happy song. With the noted exception of Paul McCartney (I believe every one of his “silly love songs”), I often wonder if upbeat songs were written are written to top charts rather than to express authentic emotions. Love is never perfect. Songs that frame it as such always carry the scent of a rat (or, if you prefer, a fish). I find that the most interesting and moving love songs are those that highlight love’s imperfections. John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” is a prime example.

Here’s one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard in my life.

I’d love to know your favorite sad song. Please let me know!

Share

Posted in Musings | Leave a comment

How to Properly Adapt a Book for the Screen | HBO’s Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones Adaptation

HBO’s new series “Game of Thrones“, based upon George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series of books might be the most actualized adaptation of a book that I’ve seen on television thus far.

This is no small feat. The first season of the HBO program is adapted from A Game of Thrones, the first book in Martin’s series. The book features more than 50 characters, many of whom are central to the plot. It also rapidly switches between different characters’ points of view. The plot contains large gruesome battles, pages upon pages of political intrigue and subtle supernatural elements that begin to rear their head.

After the early cancellations of “Deadwood“, “Carnivale” and “Rome“, I was concerned that HBO was shying away from ambitious projects with huge budgets. Even though “True Blood” has been a commercial success, I chalked that up to its camp value and the fact that vampires are en vogue. It seems as though HBO has labored long–and spent a lot of money–to get “Game of Thrones” just right. The pilot alone is estimated to have cost between five and ten million dollars to produce. After watching the first season and reading the first book (I’m currently more than halfway through the 1,000 page sequel) I have to say that HBO has successfully brought Martin’s novel to life.

Sean Bean in Game of Thrones

It would have been easy for HBO to emphasize the battles and supernatural elements in the book while de-emphasizing the intrigue. Perhaps shows like “The Tudors” and “The Sopranos” have shown that there is an audience for scheming. I have heard people complain that the show is slow-moving at times, but I think that the pace is absolutely necessary to preserve the spirit of Martin’s novels.

The fact that the show takes itself extremely seriously really helps draw me into the world. The show focuses on story and characters and therefore allows me to suspend my disbelief, even in the wake of dragons and zombies. Other fantasy adaptations (I’m looking at you “Legend of the Seeker”) were unable to remove their proverbial tounges from their cheeks and sacrificed storytelling for buffoonery, excessive action sequences and hot lesbian love scenes (don’t worry lesbian love fans, “Game of Thrones” has you covered).

George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire distinguishes itself from other fantasy cycles through his use of stripped down language. By comparison, other fantasy authors such as David Eddings, Terry Brooks and Raymond E. Feist sound overly pulpy. Martin’s books owe more to the historical War of the Roses and Ivanhoe than they do to Dungeons and Dragons or Middle Earth. The show’s gritty style really mirrors the tone of his books.

Martin also makes it easy to empathize with his characters. By constantly switching the point of view, Martin allows the readers to identify with many of the characters, even ones who are, for all intents and purposes, villains. HBO accomplishes the same feat, largely through the brilliant casting choices. Like “Rome”, they seem to have chosen actors that are best for the parts rather than those who are famous. Sean Bean (most known for playing Boromir in Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring) gives a gruff and believable performance as the conflicted patriarch Eddard “Ned” Stark. Maisie Williams and Isaac Hempstead-Wright perfectly embody his children Arya and Bran Stark. Though it is Peter Dinklage steals the show as the coniving, fatalistic “Imp” Tyrion Lannister.

Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister

On any occasions whenthe show diverted from the book it was only to better tell the story on screen. By and large, however, the show stays extremely true to the book’s tone and plot. Since “Game of Thrones” has been picked up for another season, I look forward to seeing Martin’s second book, A Clash of Kings come to life. Since I’ve read ahead, I don’t mind telling you that things are going to get really interesting as a new host of players enter into the so-named game of thrones.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Gross National Happiness

King Jigme Singye Wangchuck

I was out drinking one night (okay so maybe it was during the day), and found myself in a conversation with the bartender about music. He told me that he played in a band called Gross National Happiness. When I inquired as to the name’s origin, he told me an interesting story. In 1972, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck of Bhutan was asked about his country’s gross national product, to which he replied, “we don’t have a gross national product; we have a gross national happiness.”  His point was that Bhutan’s economic policies were developed to serve the country’s unique needs in accordance to its Buddhist ideals. The people’s overall “happiness” was the king’s primary concern.

The statement, originally uttered as an offhand remark, became the blanket term for the king’s policies. He was committed to the notion that Bhutan’s economic growth should be in direct proportion to its spiritual growth. The king developed a five-year process in which all aspects of policy were subject to a Gross National Happiness (GNH) review. Though happiness is difficult to quantify, the aims of GNH were physical, mental and spiritual health; time-balance; acceptable living standards; good governance; cultural vitality; and conservation of ecological resources. I must say, it sounds pretty good.

To examine this concept on a micro-level–and to thus explore a perspective contradictory to my previous post—I ask whether money can, in fact buy happiness? A popular study, found that your income can, in fact, contribute to your overall happiness (defined as your “changeable, day-to-day mood”). However, after you have attained a salary of $75,000-per-year, money appears to have no further impact on your daily happiness. Overall satisfaction with the way your life is going might increase, but your mood will remain relatively the same. Essentially, past 75K, the timeless proverb “more money, more problems” seems to take sway—if not more problems, at least different problems will come to light. I think it’s safe to say that stresses along the lines of: “I’m going to be a bit strapped this month after my mortgage payment”, “Harvard raised my son’s tuition” or “there is a three-month waiting list to get the new Bentley” pale in comparison to the stress of meeting basic needs—needs that appear to be alleviated by a 75K-per-year salary.

So if 75K is the magic number, where does this leave “creative types”? I don’t think that it’s much of a secret that there’s no surplus of creative jobs that pay 75K or more. Those that do exists are likely going to be some corporate, formulaic and diluted version of what you “wanted to be when you grew up”.

The little girl that wanted to be a writer, for example, might find herself writing copy for camping tent instruction manuals, SEO-friendly sales letters or bills for a lobbying firm. She might save some time on the nights or weekends to work on her book, but if she wants to get ahead and put in those “Don Draper hours“, she likely won’t have the energy to do much at night save watch the latest episode of Mad Men.

It seems as though there is a constant war being waged in the American psyche between our desire for freedom and our seduction by luxury. We want I-Phones, laptops, nice cars, pretty houses, expensive educations and/or stylish clothes. However, rarely do I hear someone say, “my job is a drag but I’m really happy to do it because it lets me have all the creature comforts I could desire.” Usually I hear people lament their jobs, qualify them as “temporary” and give speeches about things they’d rather be doing with their lives.

My last blog post discussed the sacrifices that are often involved in attaining success. On the flip-side, if you want to forgo that route, and chase your gross personal happiness, there will be sacrifices as well. I have an uncle who lives in northern California. He’s a writer and has lived in log cabins, retired boxcars and Lord knows where else? Luxuries like nice cars or health insurance have not often been part of the equation. He and his wife made a choice to sacrifice security for freedom. Though the bohemian lifestyle isn’t for everyone, time can be bought through this sacrifice. I have a friend who enjoys living in third-world countries because he can enjoy a greater quality of life for less money. In Thailand, for example, I assure you that the yearly “magic number” is far less than 75,000 U.S. dollars (it might be one-fifth as much).

Politicians, especially the GOP, seem hung-up on the idea of economic growth—a bigger economy is posited as being synonymous with a better economy. Things like creative fulfillment and overall happiness do not seem to be taken into consideration. Perhaps there are ways to lower that magic number from 75K. A single-payer health care system would be a good start. Another idea I have is that there are a lot of 40-hour-a-week office jobs that don’t need to be done in an office and/or don’t actually require 40 hours-per-week. There are a lot of bored people in offices sitting on facebook, playing Farmville, and trying to run out the clock. Maybe people could work more diligently for less hours, receive the same pay and produce the same results, all the while having more “free” time. There are some people who are extremely career-driven and want to work 60+ hours, rise to the top and buy a Bentley. There are other people who simply find joy in the act of working. This should always be encouraged! However, there are other people who would be happy to find a way to meet their basic needs while still having the time for creative growth. Like most people, my own work ethic falls somewhere between the two. Admittedly, I’ve yet to find anything resembling my dream-job.

Work From Home!

As I continue to find my balance between the respective pursuits of freedom and security, I will do my best to remember that both ideals are mere ingredients in the greater cocktail that is happiness.

Share

Posted in Musings | 1 Comment

Don Draper Didn’t Work Eight-Hour Days

Don Draper, the protagonist of AMC’s Mad Men, perfectly embodies the successful businessman. He has money, power, and women; he drives a fancy car; and he always seems to get his way. Although it’s easy for Mad Men’s fans to focus on Draper’s alcoholism, womanizing or his checkered past, in order to truly comprehend Draper as a character, it is vital to examine his drive.

Don Draper is not afraid of hard work. In fact, he is rarely seen outside of Sterling/Cooper (or Sterling/Cooper/Draper/Price as it becomes known). It is implied that Draper regularly pulls 10-12-hour days—sometimes longer. Being that he lived through the Great Depression, it makes sense that he would be willing to do whatever it takes to climb the ladder and achieve his goals.

Those men who were part of the Greatest Generation, who endured the Depression in their childhood and the War as adults, understood the value of hard work.

The so-called “Millenials” have largely adopted an entitled attitude. Many of the Gen-Yers that I meet see work as  a necessary evil: a clock to be punched in order to facilitate the party. I think that our reduced attention spans have given way to an over- compartmentalization of personal and professional time—we work so that we can play.

Perhaps living through the Great Depression taught The Greatest Generation the value of sacrifice. Perhaps World War II taught them to delay gratification. I think it is important to realize that if one wishes to be successful, chances are it’ll involve a lot of hard work. It might be necessary to fully dedicate yourself to your career. If you wish to distinguish yourself from the other members of your generation and rise above them, it might take more than eight-hour days.

It may require days, nights and weekends but if you persevere, you just might be able to achieve success (and then work even harder to maintain it).

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments