Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ban Me, Baby

It's banned book week kiddily-winks, and through all the hoopla about celebrating banned books, something strange occurred to me. I want to be banned. Now, I know I'm not even published yet, and sure I don't even have an agent, but when the day comes when you can walk into a Barnes & Nobel and pick up a copy of Scout's Honor, I hope the first thing you do is run to your local library or school board and petition to ban that bad boy. Ban it all to hell!

Why? All my favorite books have been banned. The Catcher in the Rye--banned. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn--banned. Prep--banned. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian--banned. Ban 'em all. And ban me, too, baby.

And why might they ban my book? Sex. Drugs. Suicide. Murder. Cutting. 9/11. Teen pregnancy. It's in there. I'm sure you can make the case none of those little whipper snappers should be reading anything that I write. I mean, maybe it's books like The Catcher in the Rye that has them on your lawn in the first place.

Not only do I want to be banned, but I want it to be real public-like. Scream about it on the news. Rant about it in letters to your editor. Make as much noise as you can to bring down the abomination that is my book. Really show me who I'm dealing with. I deserve it. I won't argue. Ban that bad boy as hard as you can.

Now, I'm not saying you should protest outside my house or dump pigs blood on my children or anything like that. I don't need that kind of protest. I really like going out to dinner and driving my own car. Body guards and security systems are expensive. So be mad at the book, not me. But as long as your ranting about the book, and not me, that's really cool.

Also, if you could, maybe you could ban it from just like one store or library or school district, but then put a label on the front for all the others warning them of the edgy content. Something that says, "This book is all kinds of naughty, and nobody under the age of 21 should ever look at it's contents or really, really bad stuff may happen like the the Mayan calendar ending early." That would be cool, too. That would keep those youngins away. Protect them from me, please!

You could even make up t-shirts with pictures of the book on the cover with one of those cool red circles with slashes through it over the book. That would be creative. And on the back you could put DO NOT BUY THIS BOOK from, Barnes & Nobel, and Borders, and what ever you do DO NOT go to because the author of this book is combined with Antichrist.

Now that I really think about, in order to truly protect America's youth, I hope you make up lots of picket signs and stuff. Maybe you could march on Washington, too. Make sure you call CNN, MSNBC, FOX NEWS, CSPAN, and LMNOP-whatever before you go. Don't want the cameras to miss those picket signs with my face and book plastered on them as you march toward the capital or Lincoln Memorial or whatever other symbol of freedom you want to march toward while burning The Constitution.

Hey! While you're in Washington, you can probably find the actual Constitution, the original bad boy, the original scandalous script, the original dirty diatribe, and wipe your ass with it. That'd make the trip worth-while, wouldn't it? Don't forget to get some on the Bill of Rights. Never do anything half way.

Maybe you can get them to put me on trial in front of Congress, too. I mean, since you're down there and all. Worked for Arthur Miller.

And then, the best part will be when my second book is about to come out. The one with a twin brother and sister who have sex with each other. Yeah, that one. That one you can start protesting and banning before it's release. I figure a month in advance should work. I can't afford to really go on book tours or make commercials or anything, so maybe you could make it two to three months in advance just be safe. It's about the kids, after all.

So, I don't want you to feel bad if you try and ban my book some day. You have my permission. I'm cool with it. I'm down. Just make it big time, okay? Be loud. Be passionate. Be public.

Thank you, and enjoy Banned Book Week.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Charmed Life

It's becoming more and more apparent to me that the rest of the world should be jealous of me. Most of you go through life playing various roles that are assigned to you by some Big Brother, bossy turd-monger that doesn't give a rats ass about YOU.

Sucks to be you! I have bosses, don't get me wrong, tons of them. There's the home boss (Hi, sweetie!), several levels of work bosses, professors and mentors, agents I'm trying to land, and even my own children serve as bosses from time to time. But what can't be denied is, no matter what role I'm playing, I get to be me.

There's not a writer me, a teacher me, a father me, a husband me, or any of that bullshit that I find in the lives of others--and I consider me at any other period of my life as OTHER. No, I'm me no matter where I am or what I'm doing, and I get away with it. Unfair you say? TOO BAD!

I am 100% convinced that pure happiness comes only from living this sort of life. I find myself trying to figure out just how and why this has happened. I'm at the point now that even when money is tight or things are going a bit wrong, I'm still blissfully me. I can't be unhappy. WTF??? I get angry. I get frustrated. I get worried--for sure! But it's all temporary, and in the long-run, my life is pretty perfect. Am I crazy? Probably. But that's okay because that's part of me, too!

So why? Well, one thing is my natural rebellious streak. I've always wanted to be a rock star, and since I suck musically, I just decided to be a rock star on a daily basis. What does that entail? Doing what you want, when you want, how you want, and not caring what others think, I suppose. Fuck the man. Punk oi oi oi, and all that. But I do care. I want others to appreciate me. I want to be told I'm doing a good job. But I want to be doing a good job and getting attention for it not because of the attention, I don't think. It's just because it kind of makes people happy when you do great things, even if you're not them, so why not spread the happiness. I like making people happy or proud or whatever they feel when they smile and tell me I did a good job.

As far as rebellion goes, that kind of helps out a bit with shredding those labels and roles. I'm myself in the classroom. For some reason, it just works for me. I don't have to be some holier than thou dictator. Turns out teens are people too (a basic premise of this blog if you've been reading). They respond to leaders that recognize that. Maybe I don't speak perfect English 100% of the time in front of them. Maybe I indulge some of their tangents a bit too much because they're fun. Maybe I end a lesson prematurely, not to give in to their boredom, but because I, myself, am bored. Kill me. It works for me, and for some reason, I've been allowed to do it.

As a writer, I've been able to indulge in my weirdest fantasies, strangest worries, and most complex dreams, nightmares, and just plain philosophical ramblings. And, for the most part, people like it. It amuses me when some of the ideas of my characters are referred to interesting and great fiction, but like way totally fucked up. You're talking about me, people! You realize that, right?

I don't really play down to my own children at all either. I'm myself with them as well. Of course my wife would say letting them listen to Murderdolls while riding in the back of the car is probably bad for them, and that I'm not much more than a big kid anyway, so of course I can relate to them on their level (I suppose this goes for the classroom, too). But just because she's right, doesn't make me wrong.

Some how this "big kid" dilemma, though, has no negative side-effects. I still get all my work and then some done. I'm currently an MFA student with a 3.93 GPA, a teacher who advises both the school paper and the yearbook who spends way more time on them then anyone could possibly ever imagine, an obsessive writer who is working on his second novel in two years while painfully holding himself back on the third that is formulating in his mind, and a father of two kids, etc etc...and my work is always on time or early, done to the best of my abilities, and done well according to most observers. How do I do it without snapping?

I love it.

See, all of that doesn't seem like work at all. Not that I'm offering to do it all without pay, but truly it seems like teaching, running teen publications, writing, parenting, and being a student are just my list of hobbies. They're what I do to unwind. So, I guess that means I'm almost always (unless the children are being pure evil--at home or school) unwinding. I'm seldom wound. People sometimes ask if I take anything seriously. The say, "Do you take anything seriously?"

The truth But in a strange way I take everything seriously. I just ENJOY taking it seriously and doing it "all the way," so it doesn't seem so serious.

It's like Aldus Huxley's A Brave New World (one of those novels we teach to children without batting an eyelash despite drug use and orgies--pass the Soma, fuck, fuck). It's like I've been bred scientifically to just love everything I'm doing.

I think that's why I've become so attracted to YA. I can't separate the writer, the teacher, the father, the reader, the student, etc etc. But in YA, I don't have to. It all overlaps in the YA. In YA I'm just me, the way I always am, and that's just that. Why they let me get away with it, I don't know. Perhaps people just like me. When I'm not playing the right role, they let me pass with a chuckle and a "that's just Friskey being Friskey." I don't know. I just win. Either I've been brainwashed, or I've brainwashed you all. I get away with being me. It's sad the world won't let everyone get away with the same.

So why be YA or A when you can be U.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Did He Just Say Queynte?

I was in class discussing sex and naked girls with my students...

Wait a second. What was that? I should be fired? I'm a sick pervert? Maybe. But not because of what was happening in class that day.

Don't blame me. Blame Arthur Miller.

See, Mr. Miller's classic play The Crucible begins with a bunch of teenage girls (and younger) dancing in the woods like a bunch of, well, teenagers. One plump little sexpot Puritan, Mercy Lewis, is taken by the Barbados spirit (maybe she thought Tituba was from Cancun) and strips down to her birthday suit. Girls Gone Wild: Salem Style.

The kicker is that one of the girls, Abigail Williams, was drinking blood in order to cast a spell to kill Goody Proctor, the wife of the man twice her age that was knocking boots with her behind the barn "where his beasts are bedded." As she delivers the line (well, as the student reading her part delivers the line) "...sweated like a stallion whenever I came near" the class chuckles and a few cat-calls go up from the crowd. I chuckle, too, playing up the soap opera-i-ness of the whole thing. At this point, they are hooked and are actually upset that class is about to end. Score one for Mr. Teacher Dude.

When I have a chance to reflect later in the afternoon, on the drive home, I realize something. I have an epiphany. All of the literature schools force students to read was originally written for adults. Who was Fitzgerald's target audience? Poe's? They were writing for adults. For literary types. Not a single thing I will teach this year was designed with young adults in mind. Furthermore, most of it has been, or could have been, banned in districts throughout the United States.

Let's look at the facts. The Crucible is edgy. People are hanged until they're all dead and stuff! WTF? A thirty-something is banging a teenage girl (who was actually 12 if we look at the true history of the whole debacle) for crying out loud! But it's literature, so it's okay.*

In preparation for The Crucible we read Cotton Mathers's "Wonders of the Invisible World," which discusses a sore "breeding" in a man's groin that has to be lanced by a doctor. "Several gallons of corruption" pour out of another of his sores once cut. This is graphic. This is gross. This is STDs, dude! But it's literature, so it's okay.

What about "The Masque of the Red Death?" It's a total blood-bath! A thousand "light-hearted" friends lie dead in the "blood bedewed halls of their revel." Picture the morning dew drenching the grass. Then, picture the dew is blood drenching a hallway of a castle in the same way. Move over Freddy Krueger, make room for Edgar Allan Poe's Read Death Dude of Doom! This is gratuitous gore the likes the big screen has never seen. But it's literature, so it's okay.

How about the homo-erotic, racist, violent classic, The Great Gatsby. Come on. If Nick wasn't a flamer, than I'm a Vermicious Knid. Look at the language: "groaning down the elevator," "keep your hands off the lever." After a break in the text indicating time has passed, Nick leaves some dude he just met at a party in his underpants in bed, and nobody says a damn thing. Of course Nick thinks Gatsby is "worth the whole damn bunch put together." He wants his sexy Gatsby body! If Gatsby hadn't been shot (did I mention the violence), and Nick had gone over that afternoon for a swim, what might have happened? Gatsby and his pink suite on the rebound. Nick jaded by the immorality of the East. A match made in homo-heaven. Sam Waterston breaks out some cuffs from the now dismantled set of Law and Order and dangles them in front of Robert Redford's taught face wearing that sexy, striped swim suit. You do the math. But it's literature, so it's okay.

Finally, we end with The Catcher in the Rye. I actually start the unit by listing all the scandalous topics covered in the book on the board, not telling them why they're up there until a half hour or so into class. Nothing makes a teen want to read a book more than writing "kinky sex acts in a hotel," giving them a good thirty minutes to contemplate how that can possibly be written on a whiteboard in an English class, then telling them that IT'S IN THE BOOK. Holden talks about "perverty things," engages a prostitute, contemplates suicide, and discusses the pros and cons of spitting water "or something" in a girl's face, and in most schools, it's just peachy keen. Why? You should be all over this by now. It's literature, so it's okay.

None of this literature was meant for "children" when it was written. And this is just a small sample of what is read in high school--just the junior year. Throw in Chaucer and Shakespeare, and we're talking real perversion. Chaucer's got a cock, a chick farting on a dude, and a woman being grabbed by the "queynte," which loosely translate to the mother of all swear words (according to most woman)--C U Next Tuesday! Can you imagine! All okay. All literature. Go figure.

So it strikes me funny in that "do we ever even think about what the hell we are really doing on this planet anyway" kind of way that parents get all frothy at the mouth about some titles being marketed toward teens, when the schools their kids attend are making them read ADULT titles with all kinds of naughtiness drenching the pages. (Along with who knows what else.)

What's the point, you ask? I'm not exactly sure. I just know that it would be way super cool to see what's being taught in schools in 100 years. 200 years. Will adult books that are interesting to teens like Prep and Election be taught in schools as "the canon" while YA novels that are equally as well-written and literary are being shunned?

Thanks to that pesky Mayan calendar, we may never know.

*Literature is defined by as...

writings in which expression and form, in connection with ideas of permanent and universal interest, are characteristic or essential features, as poetry, novels, history, biography, and essays.
the entire body of writings of a specific language, period, people, etc.: the literature of England.
the writings dealing with a particular subject: the literature of ornithology.
the profession of a writer or author.
literary work or production.
any kind of printed material, as circulars, leaflets, or handbills: literature describing company products.
Archaic . polite learning; literary culture; appreciation of letters and books.


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Dear Borders

Really? One small bay of young adult? What, 15 books? Or was it 12? It wasn't even a section. It was a promo--blah, blah, here's the best in YA we want you to buy. Do you realize the hottest sellers (besides non-fiction with a major platform directed at the mindless reality show fanatics) are YA? Where do they store the YA, then? I didn't have any idea. I had to ask. What did Joe Borders, an average height, average weight, twenty-something male with average length hair, tell me? "Literature. It's mixed in."

Brilliant! Why didn't I think of that before? What gets teens more interested in reading a book than calling it literature? I mean, that's why high schools and colleges name courses things like "American literature," "British literature," Chicana lesbian literature," and "sex and the human body in literature." Students rejoice at the opportunity to read literature. They run through the streets with copies of Norton Anthologies of literature, waiving them in the air, proclaiming their admiration for literature. They sit home late at night lovingly running their fingers through 2.3 billion pages of onion skin pages unable to control their teen hormones. Seduced by lore and "thou"s and page long sentences, they eat, sleep, and even make love with literature under their arms, basking in the glow of literary literosity. Literature is "bomb." It is "legit." Yer!


Truth is, there is no quicker way to turn off young adults than telling them they have to read literature. It's a burden. You could put Green Eggs and Ham in the literature section and some teenage guy will run over to the Cliff's Notes rack to try and find the Dr. Seuss edition. Actually, Borders, that would at least get you a sale. No, they'll go home and use Spark Notes or E-Cheat. What the hell are you thinking? You have a sci-fi section, a mystery section, a horror section, and even a philosophy and new age section. But not YA. You wouldn't want to make it easy for kids to find the only thing they want to read. Come to think of it, I didn't see a single young adult in the store. Hmmm... Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Of course, this is the former retail manager in me coming out. And I hate that bastard. Fuck him. But the teacher in me agrees with him. I want teens to read. Why not give them their own section, which would be undoubtedly huge considering the success of YA? They could walk in the store, head straight for their section--even put some bean-bag chairs and a rack of silly bands there to make them feel at home--buy what they want, and get out without having to contemplate the fact that they were in the same building with... ::shudders::

Condescendingadult (whispering): L.I.T.E.R.A.T.U.R.E.

Teen (sarcatically): I'm 16 years old. I can spell.

Of course, there is the writer in me. That butt-munch thinks it's kind of cool. It's a sign that YA is being accepted as a legitimate (not legit) art form in the writing community. After years of being pushed aside as dumbed-down versions of real literature (eww...the "L" word again), YA is getting it's due. It's being read by adults for crying out loud. It can be analyzed. It can have critical essays written about it. Ex-hippies with pony tails and tweed blazers with patches on the elbows can lead class discussion about it. We've made it! Look how far we've come! If mommy could see us now!

Okay, that's enough of that. The world knows YA is real. It's catching on. Do I need some huge, money-hungry conglomerate of a book store telling me that YA is real literature (I feel dirty). Screw Borders. Screw The Man. If YA's so legit in their eyes, so goddamn literary, why have the 15 book bay of extra-special, extra-legit books to force on us--none of which I have ever heard.* It's not like it was Mockingjay or something. What are you thinking Borders? Why are you so damn confused?

Or maybe I'm just being a whack-job. Maybe it just fit better that way. Maybe they didn't even put that much thought into it. Maybe I'm just venting because they made an assignment for my "individual aesthetic and process" course difficult on me. Maybe that's it.

But what if it's not? What. If. It's. Not.

*The italicized portion of this sentence, the part after the dash, was meant to be read in a snooty British accent.** I bet you wish you knew that while you were reading it.

**Scientists have yet to discover the un-snooty British accent.***

***That, however, does not mean it does not exist.