The Illusion of Free Speech

•September 25, 2017 • Leave a Comment

If you told me five years ago that millionaire athletes kneeling during a song would become a symbol of First Amendment rights in America, I would have been like, “Uhhh…what?”

 And yet here we are.

 What started with a second-string quarterback kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police violence against POC has blossomed into a national conversation on first amendment rights. It doesn’t help that the President of the United States is calling people who protest “sons of bitches.” Typically people don’t like that and will then do the opposite of what you want them to do.

 This is nothing new. The question of free speech was buried in the foundation of our nation. Hell, it’s the FIRST amendment. It was so important it got top billing over all the other amendments. Even guns had to take a backseat to free speech! The problem with free speech is the same today as it was at the beginning. It’s an illusion. A fallacy. A mirage.

 No one understood this more than my personal hero, Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau popularized non-violent protests in America in his famous work, Civil Disobedience. He inspired non-violent protesters throughout history including Martin Luther King Jr. and even Gandhi. He refused to pay his taxes in protest of the Spanish-American War and ended up in jail because of it. What Thoreau understood was that actions have consequences. Freedom of speech gives one the right to say anything one wants, but that freedom doesn’t come consequence-free.

 Colin Kaepernick, the original kneeler, is no longer employed by the NFL. Why? Because he’s a sub-par quarterback? No. It’s because of his protest. 100%. No doubt. And that’s the Catch-22 of freedom of speech. NOTHING is free. He’s paying the price for his actions. Just as Trump paid for his “sons of bitches” comment. He was free to say it and the NFL owners and players certainly reacted. Trump ended up expanding the protest far beyond anything it would have reached on its own (even if its meaning is convoluted and unclear now). Every action comes with an equal or greater re-action. Words have consequences. Actions, too. That is a truth we can never escape.

 Writers have always known this. They are the keepers of words, the keepers of Truth. That’s why today, more than ever, the written word must remain sacred. In the era of “alternative facts,” the Truth needs a sanctuary but only the words can reside there, not the writer. The writer will always be subject to the slings and arrows of the mob.

 Now excuse me while I take a knee…

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Short Story: Synthetic Love

•August 28, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I’m just finishing a first draft of a new science-fiction short story. It’s about the wife of a man who’s trying to invent the first synthetic human beings with authentic emotions. While the husband is immersed in his work, his wife falls in love with one of his prototypes and carries out a weird synthetic affair.

Here’s a taste:

Liz poured two glasses of champagne and sat next to Curt (Her new name for the prototype synthetic human her husband had gifted to her). She ordered him to take one of the glasses.

“To us,” she said.

She clinked her glass against his and then downed her glass in one long chug. Then she took his glass and did the same.

“Delicious.”

“But not as delicious as you,” it responded.

She blushed even though she had programmed the response. It still caught her off-guard, made her forget for a few seconds that he was a synthetic human. He knew just what to say.

Liz ordered it down onto the bed and climbed on top. Curt was cool to the touch, like lying on a linoleum floor but his words kept her warm. Her pelvis searched for him by instinct, found nothing, and finally relaxed. She rested her head against his chest and closed her eyes.

“How do I look?” she asked it.

“You are proof there is a God, Liz.”

She pressed down harder.

“How do I look?” she asked again.

“You are proof there is a God, Liz.”

She loved hearing her name on his lips. She asked him again and again just to hear him say her name. It was the last thing she heard before she fell asleep.

Thoreau Day 2K17

•July 7, 2017 • Leave a Comment

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I’ve always hated the 4th of July. Nothing good has ever happened to me on Independence Day. It’s like the day is cursed or something. The curse goes all the way back to when I was ten. My hamster died on July 4th. Well, he didn’t actually die. He was eaten by his big brother. I guess that still counts. Anyways, ever since then the 4th and I have just not gotten along.

It probably doesn’t help that I hate fireworks, too. Hate ’em. A bunch of idiots gathering in a field to stare into the sky at bright colors and listen to loud noises is way too American for me. One time I went to a fireworks show and this idiot teenage girl took a picture of every single firework. Every…single…one. And the camera made this annoying beep every time she prepared to take a picture so the entire show was like this: BEEP…BOOM! BEEP…BOOM!. Idiot. Another time a bunch of people sitting behind us talked about what they ate on each day of their vacation DURING the fireworks show. Why even come? Morons.

I’m not one to complain without actively trying to improve a situation so a few years ago I invented my own holiday to replace Independence Day. It’s called THOREAU DAY in honor of my favorite American writer and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau is famous for his treatise on nonviolent resistance against the government called “Civil Disobedience” that was later the inspiration for men like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. and he’s also best known for his social experiment where he lived alone in the woods around Walden Pond which started on (you guessed it) July 4th.

So how does one celebrate Thoreau Day? Forget about picnics and fireworks and sparklers and all that shit. Thoreau Day is a day of quiet reflection where one spends his/her time reading transcendental works and critiquing the job of the government in running our country.

It’s a good time.

No pigging out, no mandatory family visitations, no loud, obnoxious fireworks booming all night long. Our forefathers questioned the job the British were doing in running the colonies. Shouldn’t we do the same with our own government? After all, they work for us (Although that no longer seems to be the case in recent years and now we seem to have many kings instead of just one). That’s as far as I’ll go into this year’s critique but, trust me, it was a doozy. Can’t say America is doing too well grade-wise at the moment.

So I encourage all of you to ditch the burgers, hotdogs, and sparklers for quiet reflection and government critique. Ever since I did I look forward to the 4th of July every single summer.

A thoughtful and somber Thoreau Day to all!

Memoir of the Living Impaired (Part III)

•June 23, 2017 • Leave a Comment

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The finale of my three-part short story, Memoir of the Living Impaired, is posted now on my website.

In the first two parts, our narrator died but rejected the afterlife to watch over his young son and his wife. His wife, Laura, eventually moves on and gets remarried and his son, Jason, grows into an angry teenager with self-destructive tendencies. Now Laura is pregnant and Jason is heading off to college with his ghost father at his side.

Check out the third part here: Memoir of the Living Impaired (Part III)

Seven-Year Writerversary

•June 5, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Happy seven-year writerversary!

 June 1st marks the anniversary of when I started taking myself seriously as a writer. I was starting my Creating Writing Masters program at Wilkes University and I figured if I was going to dump that kind of money into being a writer I better actually be one. So I made a vow to write every single day.

 That was seven years ago. I’ve kept that vow since then. I have written every single day for 2,557 days straight. Through the birth of my two children, moving into a new home, vacations, and just not really wanting to, I’ve produced words every single day. I’ve accumulated over 7200 writing hours (and counting). I’ve had fifteen short stories published in that time and written five pretty good novels and three pretty ok but probably not as good as I think screenplays.

 I almost missed my writerversary this year (which is why this post is four days late). I just didn’t really think about it until it was already past. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I’m leaning towards good. Writing isn’t even a “thing” anymore. Now it’s just a regular part of my day like eating or getting dressed. I’d say showering but, if I’m being honest, I haven’t even done that every single day for the past seven years (Damn kids…). One way or another I’m going to get my hours in. People ask me how I manage to write every single day and the answer is that I stopped watching television. So if you’re looking for the key, that’s it. There are only 24 hours in the day. Something has got to go. Sacrifice.

 So what’s next? Year #8, of course. Eventually I figure the world will give up trying to stop me and I’ll get one of these novels published. It’s a war of attrition and I’m in it for the long haul.

 FORWARD!

Memoir of the Living Impaired (Part II)

•May 11, 2017 • Leave a Comment

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Part II of my short story, Memoir of the Living Impaired, is now available on my website.

In Part I, a father died unexpectedly and shunned the afterlife to stay behind to look after his young son, Jason, and wife, Laura. He quickly learns that being a helpless bystander in his family’s life is a torture he never could have imagined, and his presence in the household is preventing his wife from moving on.

In Part II, a new man enters Laura’s life and a teenage Jason falls in with the wrong crowd…and our ghost father is helpless to do anything about it.

Check it out: Memoir of the Living Impaired (Part II)

Part III will appear in June.

Diversity in Literature

•April 27, 2017 • Leave a Comment

A lot has been written about the lack of diversity in literature (especially YA books).

Because of this, there has been a slew of “issue” books that have been released the last couple of years to offset the deficit. Most people see this as a step in the right direction. Books about being gay or books about being Muslim in America or books about being autistic or books about being deaf. People view this as progress.

But is it?

When I first started teaching 10th graders, the curriculum at the school was chosen specifically to cater to our large Latino population. We taught novels with Latino protagonists that were about being Latino in Latino families. And…the kids hated them. Especially the Latinos. The problem wasn’t that the protagonists were Latino but that the books just weren’t very good. Students in my 11th and 12th grade classes (also heavily Latino and non-white) were much more into the classic books that we read where the protagonists were more traditionally white European types.

The difference had nothing to do with the ethnicity of the protagonists. It had to do with the quality of the books. In the classic books, the race of the protagonist never came up. It was never an important part of the novel. In the 10th grade books, the race of the protagonist was a constant discussion point and it obviously burned the kids out.

So here’s my challenge: Can’t there be books with diverse protagonists (transgender, Latino, African-American, disabled, autistic, whatever) that AREN’T about being transgender, Latino, African-American, disabled, autistic, whatever? That needs to be the next step in the “diversity in literature” discussion. Just write compelling stories where characters who just happen to be whatever and its’ not a discussion point. I want to read a really great book and learn on page 56 that the protagonist is a gay, autistic Muslim and have those things affect the rest of the story 0%.

If my students have taught me anything about how best to approach diversity it’s to…not. They don’t focus on it. Race doesn’t define them. They are more than their ethnicity. In the end, they’re all just teenagers trying to figure life out and that’s the same whether they’re white or black or brown or whatever.

Instead of obsessing about diversity and making sure everyone has a book that speaks specifically to them, let’s focus on telling good stories. Yes, let’s have diverse characters in those stories, but the best stories are about being human. They shine a light on the human experience that we can all relate to. Let’s have more of that because that’s something that doesn’t speak to a certain demographic; that speaks to all of us.