A Mathematical Dunce Muses on Global Population

picture taken from WallStreetOTC

picture taken from WallStreetOTC

A lot of ink has been spilled on Ferguson and it might relieve you to know that I do not intend to spill anymore. So many pieces have been written, and they’ve addressed the situation far more poignantly and eloquently than I could ever hope to accomplish.  I do hope that you’ve read at least a few pieces and that more than a few of those pieces were written by people of color. If you’re like minded, you’ve probably already read them. If you’re not like minded, nothing I can say can convince you to do so, but nonetheless I’ve included a few links at the bottom for those who might be inspired to take a look.

End of riff.

I want to talk about global population.

Lately, I’ve gotten to thinking about populations because I write a lot of pieces about the pharmaceutical industry, clinical trials, and medicines in “developing nations”*  I knew before but my work reinforced the knowledge that both China and India have a billion people living within their borders. One billion.

This is like astro-math. I can’t even fathom a billion, and the only way to understand what that means is context.

The United States has 316 million people. That’s a big number despite the astounding wild west efforts of the NRA to make sure we have the ability to pop each other off, and we do. 32,000 gun deaths a year. But still, it doesn’t quite make a dent. Lots of people. Lots of land. Woop.

Australia has a land mass only about 100 million less square miles than the U.S. but by comparison has 293 million less people. This makes sense because the vast majority of the inner part of the large island is DEATH. Really. It’s a sort of desert death that I have no real wish to experience. Do you know how many human flesh consuming animals live in Australia? Look into swooping season, as I have done recently, and say a silent prayer for our brethren down under. Seriously, you guys. Are you okay?

The U.K. is a set of substantially smaller islands (about 30% the size of Australia), and yet despite the rain, fog and criminal lack of culinary spice, possesses about 64 million people. The crowded, kinky, cranky tea-drinking British, how I love you.

Canada has about 35 million, roughly half of England, despite being 1 million square miles bigger than Australia. This is because of ice.

Europe in total (depending on where you draw your lines) has 742 million people. I’ve included Russia. Again, lots of land, not a lot of people. Because ice.

And with that, we haven’t  scratched past the population of India, which has 1.2 billion.

China has another billion.

The populations of these two countries together ::whispers::  outnumber the white people on the planet. By a lot.

Wait, wait, wait. Time out, you say. That can’t be right. You’re right to be suspicious of my math skills, but I assure you I’m in the ball park.

To say that there are 1.3 billion white people on the planet would be a very, very generous estimate. In fact, I’m sure it’s off by a few hundred million. India and Lichtenstein probably have white people locked on their own.

On a planet with 6 billion people, substantially less than 1.3 billion are white people.

Did you just read that with the movie trailer guy voice? Because I did. And it’s a movie that usually ends with tidal waves and people running, screaming, and hiding in caves.

But here’s the thing. Despite being a frank global minority, white people are not really persecuted. In fact, historically, white people have done most of the persecuting.

If you don’t believe me, look at where the money is. White people have most of the money and most of the chemical weapons. I don’t know the exact math, but I’m going to scamper out on a limb and say it’s up there. In fact, just 85 people own more wealth than half the world’s population combined. A disproportionate number of those 85 people are white.

85 people.

That’s a population considerably less than even Australia. So much less that it doesn’t fit on a calculator. (Which I need because I’m a math delinquent.) It’s four people more than Ethelsville, Alabama.

That’s the world.  So ask yourself, how much longer can that last? Maybe it lasts forever, but maybe it doesn’t. It’s a very complex issue, I know. But have you been reading your Darwin? Eldredge and Gould? I have two words for you: punctuated equilibrium. I may be taking some liberties there, but look into it.

Of course, white supremacist groups and neo-Nazis take these numbers as an excuse to declare victim-hood, an opportunity to ramp up persecuting attitudes and stockpiling semi-automatic weapons, but honestly, isn’t this a bit like hocking a luegy in the ocean? A better idea might be to cease all such behaviors if not for moral reasons than for the simple reasoning that someday tempers are going to just snap. Stop all this “the other” crap because it’s senseless and mean, but with “the other” having a 5-1 majority, it’s just stupid.

See? Everyone else hits you with morals, history, pain, personal expression  and ethics, but I just dropped a steaming pile of logic down on your dinner tray, and I do suggest you eat it.

If you’re a person of color, be encouraged. If you’re not, well…

In the immortal words of the artist formerly known as Prince in his 1995 hit “Pussy Control,”: “You better act like you understand.”

*what the hell is a developing nation? What does that even mean?

SUGGESTED READING

As promised, here are some links. I’m not asking that you agree, I’m just asking that you maybe consider listening. Because morally and statistically it’s a good idea.

Roxane Gay’s “Only Words”

Gina Crosley-Corcoran’s “Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person

Ta-Nehisi Coates’  “Reparations for Ferguson: Total Police Control of Black Bodies Has Echoes in History”

Kiese Laymon’s “My Vassar College Faculty ID Makes Everything Okay”

Ezra Klein’s “How Racial Discrimination in Law Enforcement Actually Works”

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The Cosby Problem: Sometimes Rapists Donate to Charity

cosby show photo taken from eonline

I’ve known about these allegations for years. I’m not sure how many, but I’ve known. But now everyone is talking about it, and that’s a good thing. What Bill Cosby has done is terribly wrong. Yes, I believe that these women are telling the truth. Yes, I believe he must be held accountable. I want to make that perfectly clear before I say what comes next.

All over the internet right now are expressions of doubt. Why did they wait so long? Why did they keep quiet? Why did no one report what happened?

Because they knew they wouldn’t be taken seriously. And they were right.

I watched the Cosby Show as a kid, and I enjoyed it. It’s very funny. It still is funny, but as a grown person I watch it a little differently. I saw Bill Cosby do stand up when I was sixteen. I sat in front row, and I laughed.

Bill Cosby has donated an extraordinary amount of money to charity, given to colleges. There are buildings with his name carved into marble and concrete, museum art collections bearing his name on brass plaques.

These are good and decent things to do, even if a rapist did them.

Sometimes rapists give to charity.

Sometimes rapists tell good jokes.

Sometimes rapists love their families.

Sometimes rapists make good art.

We need to get rid of the idea of pure evil.  It’s a fairy tale as comforting as the godmother with wings. We want to believe that evil people do nothing but twiddle their mustaches and do evil things.

I think horror movies are so popular because evil is instantly recognizable. He’s got a face like a bloody booger and knives for fingers.  Once he is caught or killed, the rest of us are safe, and we haven’t lost anything.

More than anything, we need to believe that evil is somehow separate from us.

This is a damaging narrative. It allows people to continue to hurt other people.  He’s so nice. He’s a prominent member of the community. He gives back.

So what?

A few months back a fairly prominent poet was caught with a substantial collection of child pornography. He has confessed, and he will be sentenced soon. Like Cosby, I believe this man should be punished for his crimes.

This whole affair caused quite the ripple in the literary community, and poets whom I call friends have worked closely with his man.

There was quite a bit of ranting and sounding off. I heard things like: I never liked him. I never really thought he was good. Well, someone thought he was good. He was a tenured professor at a private university.

People who were connected to him started to question themselves. I was friends with him.  How could I not have known? He worked with me on my poetry. Does this tarnish my own work? Am I an idiot for not catching on?

People who commit crimes are usually aware that they’re punishable even if they can’t admit that it’s wrong. They get good at hiding stuff.

We can’t let this all become an issue of pride. If he was pure evil (no one is, haven’t you been listening?), we would have known. We would have sniffed him out. We would have rejected him from the start. Since we didn’t, it can’t be true.

Rape culture persists for many reasons. One of them is the inability to believe that someone we respected is capable of doing it. We believe our former respect makes us culpable so we reject the women who make the claims. It’s easier.

History ends up being sanitized, cleansed and historical figureheads reduced to 2-D caricatures of virtue because it’s easier. Look into Mother Theresa sometime. Or Gandhi. These were not perfect people. Time has made them figureheads of unattainable perfection because it makes us feel good. Problems and brokenness in society get brushed under the carpets because it’s easier.

Human beings are capable of absolutely awful things. Human beings are capable of heroic and decent things. Sometimes simultaneously. Evil is not separate from us. We can’t kill it with bug spray and a sophisticated mousetrap.

Like I said, I’ve known about Cosby for many years. I just didn’t want to know. I looked back on all the times I laughed and felt dirty. I couldn’t reconcile it so I ignored it. Most of us did.

Enjoying the Cosby Show does not make you a bad person, but ignoring these women does.

24 Things More Likely to Kill You Than Ebola

Image of Ebola Virus Courtesy of NBC

Image of Ebola Virus Courtesy of NBC

One of the pitfalls of doing an MFA late is having a cohort full of people 10 years younger than you who question your research about pieces written about the early 90’s. For example, I wrote a piece about a woman in 1991 diagnosed with HIV and people were incredulous. People really thought you could get AIDS from a toilet seat? Yes, they did.  With time, comes wisdom. It came for AIDS. It’ll come eventually for the biggest trending healthcare topic in social media right now.

Ebola.

Statistically speaking, Ebola is big, but it isn’t.

As you might expect, the leading causes of death in this country are still heart disease and cancer, but Alzheimers is gaining a substantial lead in the rankings. The number one cause of death of people between the ages of 1-42 is accidents. The usual suspects are to blame: fire, drowning, accidental shootings, car accidents, and falls.

Last year, 54,000 people died from the flu.

Last year, 45,000 people died from Nephritis. (Do you even know what that is without looking it up?)

Last year, 32,000 people were fatally shot.

Last year, 25,000 people fell off something high up. It killed them.

What are the statistics on Ebola. The WHO estimates (they can’t be sure due to problems with reporting) the deaths in West Africa have already reached 15,000. That number is growing, and yes it is our problem. There are a hundred reasons—both ethical and fiscal—why trade and contact with West Africa must remain open. The risk reduction from locking borders is negligible and morally abhorrent.

So far, in the U.S. this year, there have been seven people who have been treated for Ebola. Seven. One of them died. One. The rest have recovered or are in recovery.

None of these people caught Ebola from an airplane or a subway. They caught it from coming in direct contact with the bodily fluids (urine, feces, blood, semen) of people actively showing symptoms. Not feverish people. People who were actively bleeding to death. How many people got it from someone with a fever? Zero.

The shutting down of bowling alleys and bridal shops is a precaution to make you calm down. There’s no real risk, but they’re doing it anyway for the same reason they fleeced grandma of her tweezers after 9/11.

All this effort. To make you calm down.

By all means, let me help.

I seem to be following these things around. I was in England during Mad Cow. I was in Romania during the Chicken flu. I have some experience of media hyped health bulletins and the precautions taken at airports.

From a very young age, I’ve always been convinced that I’m going to die in a manner too embarrassing to put on a tombstone. Being found both naked and dead is one of my primary concerns. Bizzaro yet low-odds death has always intrigued me so let me share my knowledge.

In 1996, Mr. Engler told me how Catherine the Great supposedly bit it, and I’ve never forgotten that tale of equine lust. Edward II of England also met a profoundly horrific end which I am unwilling to discuss at this time and may also just be rumor.

King Adolf of Sweden ate himself to death in 1771. The 5th Earl of Carnarvon died from a mosquito bite, but not really. Everyone knows he died because he messed with King Tut, and you just don’t do that.

What else?

In 1567, an Austrian man tripped over his own (4 ½ foot ) beard and snapped his neck. Look out, hipsters.

In 1871, a lawyer demonstrating in court how a victim might have accidentally shot himself, accidentally shot himself.

In 1974, an English health guru drank ten gallons of carrot juice in 10 days to prove its health benefits. He died of liver damage.

In 1982, a guy was shooting shotgun rounds into a Saguaro Cactus which broke apart, fell on him, and well…you can imagine.

In 2010, a cellist was killed when a huge bale of hay rolled down a hill and crushed his van.

In  2012, someone choked on a cockroach.

In 2013, a Belarusian man tried to take his picture with a beaver who objected so harshly he chomped down on the man’s thigh and severed his femoral artery. He bled out in minutes. The man, not the beaver. No one knows what happened to the beaver. I suspect not good things.

Also in 2013, a Brazilian man was crushed by a cow which fell through the roof of his house.

This year, a Chinese man whacked off the head of a cobra, and twenty minutes later, the head bit him. Like everyone else I’ve mentioned thus far, the man died.

Statistically, all of these things are more likely to happen to you than Ebola. Remember that.  In the meantime, eat an apple. Ditch the fries. Get someone trustworthy to hold your ladder. Mind your kidneys, and remember to hydrate.

Stress sells newspapers but it doesn’t save lives. It takes them.

Recipe: Romanian Birthday Cake

cleanhouse 010

Step 1: Go to the store and discover that Romanians do not offer pre-packaged cake mixes for lazy American bitches such as yourself. Contemplate your privilege.

Step 2: Go to the internet café and Google “cake” and “scratch.” Try not to sweat.

Step 3: Realize you forgot paper, so write down the gist of the recipe on your hand and wonder why anybody buys cake mixes. This shit is easy.

Step 4: Return to the store with renewed confidence. Buy necessary ingredients. Including pre-packaged frosting mix. Well, at least there’s that. Lick the frosting recipe off your wrist. It will not be necessary.

Step 4: Proceed to the bus stop with your plastic bag of eggs. Wait for the appropriate bus and board it with the egg bag held out in front of you to prevent damage. Scowl at anybody who jostles you and your precious cargo. You’ve got this. You’ve bought eggs before.

Step 5: Assemble the ingredients on the counter and go in search of your British roommate.

Step 6: Discover your British roommate is not home and you will have to light the oven yourself.

Step 7: Sit down at the kitchen table. Stare at the oven. Wonder if cake is worth the price of eyebrows. Drink wine.

Step 8: Fasten a candle to the end of the broomstick using your hair-tie. Start the gas and light the candle with British roommate’s discarded cigarette lighter.

Step 9: Creep towards the oven with the lit broomstick. Lower it into the oven. Jump back as the fireball shoots out of the oven and try not to drop the broomstick.

Step 10: Extinguish broomstick and drink more wine.  Bask in self-satisfaction. Hum theme to MacGyver and stroke your eyebrows affectionately.

Step 11: There are no temperatures on Romanian oven. The dial reads 1, 2, or 3. Choose 3. Everything is baked on three. 1 and 2 will only make the cake miss its mother.

Step 12: Following instructions on your knuckles, mix the batter together. Grease pan and pour the mixture in.

Step 13: Place the pan into the oven. Drink the wine. Take a brief nap. Your scratch cooking has exhausted you. Wake up with the words “ ½ cup” milk written backwards on your cheekbone.

Step 14: Remove cake from the oven, noting that one half is cooked to perfection and is a full inch thicker than the other half. The other half is black.

Step 15: Kick the oven.

Step 16: Construct a ball of aluminum foil to compensate for the fact that the oven rack, the oven or perhaps the entire house is ever so slightly slanted. Repeat steps 12-13.

Step 17: How have you not noticed the slant? Is everything slanted? Experiment with a rubber ball. Everything is slanted. Open another bottle.

Step 18: The second “cake” is still burned on one side. The opposite side. Throw your aluminum ball out the window because it’s worthless. The oven is fucking with you.

Step 19: Slice black end off each “cake” and prepare frosting knowing the ancient wisdom of your foremothers dictates, frosting will fix everything.

Step 20: Romanian frosting has the same consistency of hot  chocolate. It’s not going to cover shit.

Step 21: Jigsaw acceptable cake into a pile and pour the liquid down over it. Realize you’ve not made a cake. You’ve made a visual representation of a digestive ailment. Finish the bottle.

Step 22: Fetch the broomstick. Retrieve the candle and stick it in the top.

Step 23: Call your friend. Say to him: “Happy Birthday! Come over! I’ve made cake!” Try not to slur.

Step 24: Grab keys and go to the store. You will definitely need more wine.

A Novel In Progress

I was nominated for this blog hop by Lawrence Coates, novelist and one of my professors at Bowling Green State University. His new blog The Formalist Fiction Writer is now live and in it, he plans to talk about fiction writing techniques. Shouldn’t be missed.

images

Furthest man to the left is my g-grandfather, Clarence Newton.

1) What is the name of your character? Is s/he fictional or a historic person?

I have two main characters: Claire and Howin.  They are fictional, but I did pull inspiration from a handful of histories. Chief among them were the first and second wife (my great grandmother) of my great grandfather, Clarence Newton. Their lives formed the impetus for the book.

Of principal interest to me is their absence in historical records. You see my great-grandfather mentioned quite a bit and quite a few women missionaries and wives of missionaries from this time period. Not these two, though.

The second wife I know because I lived with her when I was a child in the last years of her life. The first wife, I had to do quite a bit of digging, but I found her –lots of credit there to her decedents who wrote their mother’s history down. I know she spent the last years of her life in a mental health facility. There is one mention of her in a book which quotes a letter written by a woman missionary who talks about the community of foreigners she lives with in China. “Mrs. N. is off somewhere.”  This can be interpreted a variety of ways, but it seemed that in a community that small (8 people) the lack of specifics when all other descriptions are so detailed was very telling.

So two women. One Chinese. One American. Both forgotten. Why? That’s kind of the question that forms the backbone of this whole thing.

2) When and where is the story set?

The prologue and epilogue take place in Chetopa, Kansas in 1953. The bulk of the novel takes place in Hainan, China between the years 1896 and 1922.

 

3) What should we know about them?

Claire is a big and stalwart woman from Missouri, convinced that she’s called to China to be of service to God. Her parents tell her she can only go if she is married so she marries the first man she meets (Jonathan) who is on his way to China. She’s passionate, if misguided. In the prologue, it’s suggested that she committed suicide.

Howin, born in Hainan, is six years old when we meet her on the day that the matchmaker tells her parents that there can be no marriage for her. At her uncle’s suggestion, they enroll her in a school run by American missionary women.

They’re both stubborn as hell.

All pictures taken from M. Moninger's Isle of Palms: Sketches of Hainan, published in 1919

All pictures taken from M. Moninger’s Isle of Palms: Sketches of Hainan, published in 1919

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up their lives?

I think its easy to just say Jonathan and be done with it, but it’s not that simple. This is why I wrote two  story lines. Jonathan’s villainy in one makes you question his heroism in the other, and vice versa.

So what’s the conflict?

The lessons of their mothers and their own fears of breaking ranks.  Neither can fully achieve what they want but they continue to try to make palatable compromises, often with disastrous results. Then, of course, there are pirates, monkeys, typhoons, poisonous bugs, warlords, malaria, mudslides, floods, early 20th century psychiatry, and the Presbyterian Church. 

 

5) What is the personal goal of the character?

I think they both want to be distinguished, independent, and safe in a world where the best a lady can manage is two out of three.

6) What is the title of this novel and can we read more about it?

Right now it’s called The First Wife but that’s going to change in the near future. .You could go look at the thesis version, but don’t do that. Wait a few years. I’m getting there.

7) When can we expect the book to be published?

I suppose when I finish and if I get lucky.

Isn’t it Ironic? No.

abused lexicon

During the end of my first year at BGSU, we were all trolling the facebook pages of incoming students who’d be joining our cohort as one half of us were graduating. One of the potential incoming students was wearing a football jersey.

One of the other girls wrinkled up her face, “Do you think he’s maybe being ironic?”

She said it in a way which implied that if the gentleman had put on the jersey because he liked it, his attractiveness had just dropped through the floor.

Make no mistake, I love this girl straight to the moon and back down to the dirt. But in that moment, I was angry with her.

It’s become passé to dig on hipsters, and I insist that’s not what I’m doing. There’s a lot of things attributed to hipsters that I enjoy. Pour-over coffee is delicious. The beards are sexy. Flannel is comfy and warm. Vintage clothes are fun.  I find out about all kinds of new books and bands this way. I’m all for the cultural pioneer.

But I can’t get behind the ironic. I just can’t.

The “ironic” has grown black and insidious. It’s developed a smell. It’s been over-used and misused so much that now people have started using “unironically” to specify their joy over something is not taking a piss.

It’s not irony’s fault. Irony is not intrinsically bad like racial or sexist slurs which were invented to be used ignorantly.   I’d love to see irony roam free and unmolested in a safe habitat with other abused members of the lexicon. It deserves a few years convalescence to skip and cavort with words like “winning,” “ghetto,” and “literally.”

So what’s irony even mean? At the risk of redirecting you towards a blog leagues funnier than I will ever be, the Oatmeal offered a break down on irony for those who, like me, grew up with Alanis Morissette song and are confusing it with coincidence.

It’s not coincidence. The form of irony under the microscope here (if you’ve skipped your Oatmeal) is making a point by deliberately doing the opposite of the truth. It’s a joke.

I have a lot of friends who fling this word around all the time, and I beseech you:  Put the word back where you found it and don’t forget to launder it first. The party is over.

I didn’t always feel this way.

At first I really wanted to embrace it as a safe haven for my almost permanent uncool-ness. At any given point in time, I’m about six months to five years from anything trendy. This new ironic thing could be my savior. I could continue on in my resplendently outdated taste and everyone would just assume I was trying to make some tragically hip point. To the best of my knowledge, this never worked.

As I overheard one of my cohort say in the hallways of East Hall, “What if I’m not being ironic. What if I just have seriously questionable taste?”

What if, indeed.

But the goal here is to not be serious. In a world where corporations are taking themselves seriously to the point of declaring themselves  legally human and defending their branded identity to the point of global blow apart, our artsy types want to be seen as a joke.

So it’s all a joke. Okay. I get the impulse. But the joke’s not funny. It’s not even poignant. It’s certainly not new.

In 1999, my first English professor offered this critique of day-time talk shows that ran so rampant during the nineties. He did it casually during a lecture on Beowulf, and we walked straight into it like overproud Geats, and not for the first nor the last time during those sixteen weeks, we got our arms ripped off.

“Don’t you just love them?” he began.

Naïve assholes that we were, we all nodded eagerly.

“Remarkable,” he said. “It gives all you rich kids a chance to laugh at poor kids. Poke, prod, jeer, cheer and push people into behaving like the animals you secretly believe that they are. Marvelous.”

God, I hated that guy.

But I’ve never been able to stomach one of those shows ever again. Because before I saw crazy fun, and now all I can see is a cattle prod directed towards human beings. Youtube a show or two. Look at the audience. Who are those people? Now look at the guests.

For those too young to remember, guests and storylines used to revolve around cheating boyfriends, who’s the father mysteries, and abusive households. They almost always ended in fist fights while an audience giggled and chanted encouragement. Later it came to light that guests on these shows were urged by show producers to get physical with each other.

That programming isn’t on television anymore, and I’m glad for it.  But its absence left a vacuum, and something had to fill it. Pardon my impertinence, but could this ironic thing be it?

Mockery and sarcasm has its place. It does, and I should know. I’ve been declared the queen of both more than once. But this particular form of expression can’t take a seat next to Jon, Swift or Stewart. And I’ll tell you why.

This irony makes no point, and it serves no purpose or greater good beyond proving you have an expensive education and geographical proximity to the more obscure music and beer.

Maybe that’s not how this all started, but that’s where it ended up in ninety percent of the instances I witness. Nobody’s challenging the system by wearing a John Deer cap or drinking PBR. The Koch brothers don’t wear shirts with wolves on them.

When the sauce boils down, all that’s left in the bottom of the pan here is a rich kid making fun of a poor kid. Wearing what you wear, but not seriously. Because haha how tacky! I’m better than that.

Best case scenario, you’re misusing the word. Worst case? You’re Jerry Springer. Think. Think seriously (unironically) and carefully if spitting from the rafters is what you want to be about.

The argument “We’re just responding to absurdity by being absurd” doesn’t work because why is it absurd?  If you mean to indicate you refuse to participate in the corporate machinery to which you were born and bred, for god’s sake, don’t do it by making another class of people into a costume and smirking at how funny it is.

If something is bad, it needs to be mocked. If you truly believe so, be prepared to defend why. Wouldn’t that be something.

Ironic even.

Don’t you just love it?

Blog Tour 2014: The Writing Process

2014-09-17 15.48.53

Jason Marc Harris (www.jasonmarcharris.com) tagged me for this “blog tour” activity where writers share their answers to the following questions. Read along and then have fun exploring the blogs of the writers I nominate at the end.

What are you working on?         

Oh. All kinds of things. I have several short stories that I want to get brushed up and sent out. I rarely send out and this is a problem. (By rarely, I mean twice, I’ve sent out twice.)  I’m working on a play right now that’s interesting to me. Theater is a medium that I haven’t worked on in a while, but I like its possibilities and there are several local avenues for me to put it out there.

And of course, I’m revising a novel which I’m trying to get back into.  I usually like revising, but not in this instance because there’s so much more research to be done and so much tricky ground to navigate.                                                                                                   

 How does your work differ from others of its genre?

This might sound stupid, but because it’s mine?

One of my favorite filmmakers is Jim Jarmusch, and I read an interview once where he said something like (and I’m going to try not to butcher this) that there was no such thing as originality, only authenticity. (He also has this great quote that goes something like: “People who don’t understand that filmmaking is a collaborative effort need to be hung by their toes and asked why the world appears to be upside down.” That’s completely irrelevant to the topic, but I don’t care.)

We all worry about being derivative and in our early days the urge is there to “sound like Hemmingway” or “be like Hempel” and this never works out well for anybody. When the story-telling urge is abstract like this, you’re going to hit the dirt hard. However, I really believe that if someone sits down to write a story because it’s a story that is in their mind and they’re just itching to tell it, it’s going to stand apart from the rest.

That said, I like to play with humor. I like it when it comes from unexpected places and in real tragic circumstances. There’s this dichotomy between comedy and tragedy which I find really artificial. Humor is a natural reaction to tragedy and they exist simultaneously.  Most of my favorite writers are my favorites because they ignore the distinction.

 How does your writing process work?        

My writing process has really evolved over several years and really boils down to “sit your ass down and do it.”  But there is a sort of ritual to what I do which some might find interesting so here it is.

I usually think about a story for months before I actually do any solid writing on it. I carry it around with me and take it apart and examine the parts of it before it gets to paper. I take a lot of walks, acting things out and testing dialogue, talking to myself on non-busy side streets. Yes, I’m aware how it looks.

Next, I usually go sit somewhere (I like it when it’s outside, but I’ve been known to do this in bars) with a flexibinder with loose leaf paper in it. I sit and I sketch out scenes and come up with lines. Ya know, the fun stuff. When I think I have enough raw material, I sit down with it.

I play a bunch of mindless internet games to empty my mind out and drink a lot of coffee/dietcoke/tea and jump up and down on the trampoline, whatever to keep myself awake all night. Then I just sit down and go from front to the back, referring to my notes as needed. It’s usually a lumpy ass mess. Then I open up a fresh document and place the lumpy bit right next to it and retype it, referring to the original document as little as possible as I go on. And Presto! First draft. For revisions, I always print out and mark it up physically rather than edit in the computer.                                                                                      

Why do you write what you do?

Lorrie Moore said to try everything else and if you’re not good at anything else, you can be a writer. I’ve tried everything else.

Also, I did my first reading of a short story when I was seventeen. My first play was on stage when I was 23. I watched people laugh and cry because something I did in front of a computer, and fuck me if that wasn’t addictive as hell.

Introductions! Cue the trumpets.

Now done, let me introduce you to the blogs of three of my local (or semi-local) writerly friends.

Amy Purcell

Amy attended the NEOMFA and was the founder and first leader-ish person of the Akron Writer’s Group. By day, she works for Luxottica and is the best person, bar none, to take with you to choose eyeglasses for your face. I’m still wearing the red ones she helped me pick out in 2008. She’ll be scandalized to know that.

Her blog is here: http://www.amypurcell.com/blog/

Shannon Waller

Shannon Waller writes sci-fi/fantasy novels and is also a pretty splendid visual artist.  Her pencil drawing of a demonic duckling terrorizing an oil refinery will soon be on display in downtown Akron. She also drives a Harley Davidson, which is pretty badass.

Her blog is here: http://shannonwaller.com/

Cristy Wright

Cristy Wright is a Northeast Ohio native temporarily marooned in Arkansas. What little fiction I’ve read from Cristy has mostly been about badass rock n’ roll chicks. She’s been working and writing pretty exclusively for the past five years (?) as an advocate for living donors.  I didn’t ask her if she’d take part in this little exercise, but I think she might do it anyway.

Her blog is here: http://livingdonorsarepeopletoo.com/  and http://cristywright.com/FromOhioToArkansas/