Posts in Category: Become What You Are

Reader — Book V: Chapter 12

That’s right. I divided Reader, the slim Bukowski knockoff that has ballooned into a Dickensian epic, into five sections. I’m in the homestretch—book five, the chronicle of my time reading for a distributor. Today, I wrote a chapter about my experience buying a new car, a potentially misguided attempt at a Carverian “quietly profound moments from everyday life” scene. Sadly, I am neither Raymond Carver nor Raymond Chandler nor even Raymond Burr. If you believe the profundity of the scene is lost on you because you haven’t read the preceding 137 chapters (you read that right), you might be right. But chances are, it’s just not there.

Nevertheless, enjoy. Or try to.

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The Notorious G.R.E.

On Saturday afternoon, I took a peaceful drive down to Lombard to take the GRE. Some might consider my decision to skim practice tests to get an idea of what might be on the test, rather than studying my ass off, a poor idea. I’m of the mindset—perhaps motivated by overall laziness—that standardized tests should assess actual intelligence.

If I spent three months studying my ass off, I’d forget most of what I’d learned thirty seconds after the test. Because I don’t give a fuck about, for instance, SOH CAH TOA. I haven’t had reason to use it since I first learned it in high school, so I’ve had no reason to commit it to memory. I’m less interested in getting into the greatest grad school of all time than in providing an accurate reflection of my knowledge, not a reflection of what I can quickly learn and then forget about. Maybe it isn’t an airtight philosophy, but fuck you.

So, I pulled into the parking lot of one of the few corporate centers designed by M.C. Escher, quickly drank a cup of coffee (my performance-enhancing drug) before entering the building the required 30 minutes before the scheduled test time.

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Paying for My Misery

I don’t remember exactly where it came from, but I know I came up with the embryonic idea for Girth McDürchstein’s ‘The Hedge’ during my senior year of high school. In high school, I had two major obsessions: Pink Floyd – The Wall and girls. That may be oversimplifying things a bit (just two obsessions in four years? That doesn’t sound like me…), but I’m trying to make a grander point here, so shut up.

I think The Hedge‘s genesis laid in the odd sense of betrayal I felt when I saw the movie version of The Wall. You have to understand: when I first “discovered” The Wall, I knew virtually nothing about Pink Floyd, their history, the intentions behind The Wall, or even the fact that a movie existed. Based purely on the audio recording, I came up with a wide variety of theories for What It All Means, often settling on variations of a Mad Max-style future dystopia in which a ruthless dictator rises and falls. Then I saw the movie and learned it wasn’t much more than self-indulgent mental masturbation about how hard it is to be a rock star. What the fuck?

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Dead Darlings

I’ll tell you what’s not fun: spending almost a year writing like a madman, only to realize around page 800 that the story ended 300 pages earlier. I don’t think there’s a writer alive who wants to cut 300 pages of precious verbiage. I went through every permutation I could think of: “I know! I’ll split it in half”; “Maybe I can make it a trilogy!”; “I could release it in serialized form, like Dickens did, on the Internet—that’ll be a great way to develop a following!”

Ultimately, these were half-assed solutions to a whole-assed problem. I’d lost momentum in writing it, and I couldn’t figure out why. But it hit me one day, like a disappointing ton of bricks, that I’d slowed down because the story had ended long ago. I was just sputtering forward because, to paraphrase Tripp in Wonder Boys, I couldn’t stop.

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Going Primal

I know every new post starts with me apologizing for not blogging, but what are you gonna do? I’ve reached a strange point where (gasp!) writing about me doesn’t interest me much. I keep wanting to turn back to Cannon reviews in lieu of boring personal essays, but I never find the time to sit down and watch a movie.

That leaves me posting only when I have something new to report, instead of straining for subject matter or writing about unfortunate first dates. Luckily, I have something new.

Two weeks ago, I started a 30-day challenge version of the paleo diet. This was designed by a CrossFit trainer and passed along to me, by no means a CrossFit trainee, as a method for detoxing from my unhealthy, gassy lifetime of consuming delicious starches and processed foods.

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Dark Shadows

I hate that juvenile feeling of ownership I sometimes get, which hasn’t really manifested in negative behavior since junior high. Remember that? When everybody was deemed a poseur because they discovered the exact same thing you already liked, but they found out about it two months later through MTV or some magazine, instead of stumbling across it organically like you did, Mr. or Ms. Unique. At the time, it was very serious and only made sense to call out the posing plebes for not enjoying Metallica on as many levels as you do. Now, it seems really stupid. But once in awhile, I do have that annoying feeling of “I saw it first”-style possession.

Such is the case with Dark Shadows. I started watching the original soap when I was 13 and didn’t stop until I was in college and couldn’t find the time to continue watching it. With few exceptions, I watched two episodes a day, every weekday afternoon, and saw the entire series about two and a half times. Long before Buffy or The West Wing, Dark Shadows—low budgets and melodrama aside—showed me the possibilities of television as an artistic medium, and it made me want to write. Numerous sci-fi and horror stories I wrote during this period were “inspired” by Dark Shadows, and it inspired a love for flawed characters and lunatic plots that I’ve carried over into less derivative writing. In other words: everything I write, whether it seems like it or not, stems from the influence of Dark Shadows more than anything else. I cut my teeth on Stephen King and Quentin Tarantino—what a poseur!—but I didn’t start eating solid food until Dark Shadows.

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Briefly: I don’t know why I trust Rolling Stone and PopMatters anymore. Maybe it’s because I Want To Believe. In this case, I wanted to believe Springsteen had made yet another staggering return to form in the vein of Magic (his last truly great album, now five years old). I was heartened by reports of a bold new sonic template and new energy fueled by the economic collapse. Instead, it’s a 50/50 mix of slowed-down rewrites of “Devils & Dust” (a great song, but not with the new pandering lyrics of the handful of Wrecking Ball songs that ape it) and bland Irish drinking songs with new lyrics about blue-collar jobs. In effect, Springsteen has turned into a stereotype of himself, which is disappointing.

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The Forgotten Fake

Several years ago, as I watched the burgeoning self-publishing market grow in both popularity and quality, I came up with a brilliant idea: what if I created a small press so convincing, nobody realized it was 100% fake? What if I made a charming, professional-looking website, created book covers for nonexistent novels, and then buried my own, actual writing within it? Operating under the theory that as long as a con looks convincing, the mark won’t look too deeply at it, I invested in a domain name, whipped up a nice-looking web design, and then got to work on the artifice of the actual company.

The Backstory

I decided the company, Idle Valley Press (named for the elite town Raymond Chandler modeled on the San Fernando Valley in The Long Goodbye), would be based in Lafayette, Indiana, founded by bitter Purdue grads looking to make their mark. Their first decision was to purchase the entire back catalog of an obscure, long out-of-print author named Greenfield McKenna. Who is Greenfield McKenna? Somebody I made up, inspired by the words I hear when Lafayette native Axl Rose squeals “Down in the gutter” in “Back Off Bitch.”

The focus of Idle Valley Press was satirical novels—social satire, political satire, literary satire—to coincide with my own satirical agenda and the fact that I found very few small presses that would publish humor novels. In that spirit, McKenna was a Beat poet who had a sense of humor and was ostracized by his San Francisco community because of it. I’m pretty sure the founders of Idle Valley Press only liked him ironically, but their strategy of reprinting his old books paid off and gave them enough seed money to take on new projects.

Over the course of five years, they developed a reliable stable of writers. In my ideal life, I would continue to perpetuate this company’s existence and write all the books I made up and ascribed to these fictitious writers. I didn’t spend much time or energy on spewing out these ideas, but I kinda started to fall in love with them, especially when I started writing the excerpts.

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Teach: Tony Danza: A Story of Nope

Last week, I didn’t really have the time to ramble about how great it feels to have someone pursuing me for an opportunity, instead of scratching and clawing my way into opportunities the way I usually have to. Here’s the short version: after unsuccessfully applying to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s MFA creative writing program, I found myself being pursued quite intently by the MA teaching program. I have no teaching experience whatsoever, but I have made it clear that I’d like to move in a teaching direction because, frankly, I feel good helping people who strive for improvement. I don’t feel good begging stupid people to make smart decisions for the first and only time in their lives. And yes, former movie-industry employers, I am calling you all stupid. And boy do I ever mean it.

At any rate, here’s the functional difference between the MFA creative writing program and the MA teaching program: SAIC never got my transcript from Columbia. Why? Because, evidently, Columbia College Chicago still has the world’s worst administrative staff. (That’s right, I’m calling everyone out today.) Nobody contacted me from the creative writing program regarding this fairly serious issue. I received a rejection notice in early March, and that was that. Per usual, nobody gave any hint as to why I was rejected. It may have nothing to do with my transcript; they may not have pursued the transcript issue because they already knew I wasn’t desirable for their program.

On the other hand, the teaching program contacted me near the application deadline and announced that they’d never received my transcript. I badgered Columbia into actually sending it instead of just sending me a receipt that they’d charged my credit card for something they didn’t actually do. When they received the transcript, they called to schedule an interview with the program director.

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No Time for Blogs, Dr. Jones

It’s no surprise that my neglect of this blog coincided with perhaps the most delightful, galvanizing epiphany of my life. A single conversation with a friend crystallized years of personal soul-searching and advice from others. I’ve felt great ever since, which creates two problems for this blog: first, the entire foundation of this blog is rooted in the paralyzing anxiety and fear that has driven me to a heady combination of inaction and overthinking; second, and perhaps most importantly, I’ve lost interest to proving anything to anyone, including myself. I know my value; I know what I’m capable of accomplishing—and what I need to do to achieve my goals—and I have no particular interest in either lording my accomplishments over others or of begging for their attention.

It occurred to me, when I remembered I had a blog and tried to figure out what I ought to write about, that that’s what this place has really been to me: a place to prove to anyone who will listen that I’m smarter, funnier, more talented, and more worthwhile than everyone else. That hasn’t exactly paid dividends, although I took some solace in the implied knowledge that Diablo Cody did not like what I wrote about her stupid movies.

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