Saturday, January 29, 2011

State of the Onion

Digression!! (If anyone gets that reference, they get 5 bonus points should they ever find themselves in my American Literature class.) So I'm way off topic today and delving into the world of politics. My second genre in my MFA program was political speech writing, so I know of which I speak. I felt like today I would tell you exactly why Barack Obama is a genius.

Four words: State. Of. The. Union. First off, the "prom date" seating arrangement, keeping Republicans and Democrats mixed instead of sitting in their typical partisan arrangement, went very well. I think I might ask my students on the first day which party they identify with and then make a seating chart to force them to sit next to those they disagree with.

Sure, the symbolism was great, along with the purple ties by all three men filling our widescreen, HD, plasma televisions, but the practical results were more impressive. While the Repubs, of course, weren't impressed with the rhetoric in their post speech reaction, and some Dems met it with a luke warm reception, it was the undecided, moderate voters that Obama was looking to capture with this speech anyway. And that he did.

For undecided moderates watching at home, they were forced by Obama to make up their own minds on his ideas. In past speeches, a Republican leaning moderate, undecided voter could take his or her cues from the crowd. Which of Obama's ideas did I like? The ones where the right side of the isle stood and clapped. Which scared me? The ones that got liberal Democrats frothing at the mouth. The crowd could easily influence the opinion of the viewer at home.

With this seating arrangement, NONE of the lines came across as upsetting to the Republicans because we didn't know where or who they were. Every single idea he put forth seemed like it got applause from everyone because the applause came from all around the chamber. Viewers at home had to get the feeling the crowd loved his ideas; therefore, they should love them, too. Brilliant.

The other result was our elected leaders, men of conviction, intellect, and principles, didn't even know which ideas THEY were supposed to like. Never before have we seen our leaders exposed as such puppets before. No, they were a puppet show BEING PUT ON by lemmings. Here and there, you'd hear this Congressman or that Senator starting to clap on his or her own...and then awkwardly...silence. They were more confused than the teachers at graduation. Maybe they should have invited THEM to the rehearsals. Just sayin.'

Obama praised the hard work and dedication that led to Joe Biden, the scrapper from Scranton, and Boner, the whatever from where ever, getting the privilege of staring at Obama's bootie all night long struggling to see the special guests in the crowd through the President's ears. I think Boner almost cried. Not that making him cry is very difficult these days. He delivered lines about business that would have made Ronald Reagan cry, too. He sounded like a Democratic Republican. Let's cut every program we can possibly afford to cut, as long as they're not really important. Let's do this, but not that. Constantly placing himself right in the center of the isle on a night where isles finally didn't matter.

For one speech we forgot about all the divisions, and really did concentrate on what brings us together. Obama finally made good on the promise of not red states, not blue states, but THE UNITED STATES. Sure, this might have rubbed some the wrong way. Pelosi probably downed a few extra martinis afterward, and once Boner touched up his mascara in the bathroom, he probably went right back to wanting Obama's head of a stick. But what the American people saw and heard during that snippet of TV time was just what it was starving for--an end to the BS fighting and a look at what matters to all of us, bringing American back to the forefront of innovation, making us once again the center of the Universe. Together.

Then, it was over, and the Republican response was everything it shouldn't have been. Instead of riding the wave of bipartisan cooperation, instead of building off the hope, optimism, and forward vision of the President, they turned back to doom and gloom. It was 2008 all over again. Obama: YES WE CAN. Republicans: NO WE CAN'T. And in the tradition of Republicans underestimating the intelligence of the American people, they chose some sniveling little whiny bitch boy to annoyingly condescend to a camera, basically telling us Obama is going to bring on Armegeddon, and our kids are going to be living in a desolate wasteland where recycling their own urine is their only option for drinking water. (Enter Kevin Costner)

See, after Obama clocked Grandpa "Green Jell-0" McCain in the 2008 election, they named that idiot Michael Steele head of the RNC. See, "America's African-American community will automatically switch over to the conservative side because we named a black man our leader. That will show Obama." Their intended message--we are diverse, too! Their actual message--we believe African-Americans only voted for Obama because he was black, and they would totally dig us if we were black, too! Guess what, Americans vote based on policy and their beliefs, not color.

So, there's Obama being all youthful with his Just for Men suave hair and his basketball fit abs. "Let's just find a really young guy to put up there to compete. Then, surely all young people will vote for us!" Not gonna lie, that's, like, totally condescending. Just sayin.' You might as well run subtitles of the speech across the bottom of the screen with "hahahahaha" or "LOL" after each major point. The guy was a total wiener. Obama has more cool in his left fist bump than that punk has in his whole erector set. I felt like telling him to go back to his RPGs and leave us alone. I don't want a lecture from some guy that speaks fluent Tolkien Elfish or whatever the hell they call it. Way not cool.

And when young voters had just seen a room full of adults cheering and crying over a President being all presidential, casting himself in the light of Kennedy (there was a Sputnik sighting over the White House later that evening), and even getting his freakin' autograph afterward, do they want this loser whining about how his kids are going to inherit death and pain. I mean, they're all convinced 2012 is the end anyway. Can't we just give them SOME hope there will be a class of 2013? Geesh. It was a bad move and made Obama look even more brilliant.

So, in the final tally, Obama just won the 2012 election about 70-30 over anyone who runs against him. Game. Set. Match. Sure some Dems are going to think he should of pushed more liberal ideals, but they won't vote Republican anyway. It's about the moderates. The undecideds. And they want unity and jobs for crying out loud, and Obama has the long-term, big-picture ideas that will get all of that done. I guess we won't have a President declaring "I can see Virginia from my house" any time soon.

Looking for proof that even the Republicans agree he won big the other night? Arizona conservatives are actually trying to pass a bill that would force "all" candidates to present PROOF they were born on American soil before allowing them to run, questioning the legitimacy of our Executive Branch of government in wartime. How patriotic. They're getting desperate again!

In memory of Kieth's Countdown...."Good night, and good luck."

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Too Hot for Tots?

As an author of young adult, cross-over fiction that is currently writing a novel with teens that have sex (lots of it), I find the discussion over MTV's show Skins very interesting. After reading the online posts, it seems the argument comes down to--primarily--whether this is an accurate representation of the way kids behave and if it encourages teens to act like these kids. This, of course, is idiotic at best.

This, like all works of fiction, is a representation of how THESE teens act. To say that it's not like this in real schools is ignorant. There ARE teens that act like this, and that's the story the writers are telling. Nobody says, "Don't watch Fringe because real FBI agents don't investigate people from parallel universes," do they? Did ER represent what it was like to work in a real ER? Is any show an accurate depiction of what is going on in the real segment of the population it depicts? Not often. I think Skins may actually be coming closer to presenting a certain counter-culture in today's schools than most of those other shows.

Furthermore, sex and drugs are a huge problem. In fact, where I'm from, the number of kids that smoke pot WITH their parents' permission is astounding. I think a significant population of even good kids smoke weed. It's becoming as common as smoking cigarettes in the 20s. Some governments are decriminalizing it and fully legalizing it. The hippies didn't just put down the pipe. As far as hard drugs, that's a much smaller group, but it's still there. The show doesn't say THE WHOLE SCHOOL is doing it, but this group of kids the show follows does.

If you're upset with the show, it's because you recognize it's reality and don't want to deal with it. Do something to fix it. It's out there. Watch with your kids and talk to them about it. MTV is actually doing you a favor. Now you don't have to find a way to bring up these discussions. MTV has done it for you. And Taco Bell? Do you know how many sex-crazed, pot-smoking teens LOVE late night runs to Taco Bell for "4th meal?" There's a reason so many young people are hungry at 2 a.m. It's hypocritical to sell them a cheesy crunch wrap supreme to cure their marijuana induced munchies and then not advertise to them on a show that shows kids gone wild. You think this is bad, you should watch the movie Kids and see what Chloe Sevigne was doing years before she ever did that hard core oral sex scene in Brown Bunny. I remember being a baseball banquet in Darien, CT where my wife commented on Darien High grad Sevigne probably sleeping her way into roles. A mother there said, "I can't believe that for a second. Not a nice, clean Darien girl." Can you say ignorance...or was it intentional blinder time for that lady? IT'S OUT THERE.

As for the sexy nudity by 17 year old actors? Depends on the rules of the state doesn't it? Some states have age-of-consent laws as low as 12. Which is another issue that deserves to be discussed. But the average teen girl loses her virginity at 16. I don't think that's some kind of epidemic. High school girls were putting out back in the 50's, too. Let's stop being hypocrites. We adults lost our virginity in high school (or at least tried very hard to do so). Our parents lost their virginity in high school. Their parents...on and on. This is a very small percentage of religious extremists trying to dictate their morals to all of us.

I know students at my school (where I teach) whose parents have had "the talk" with them and taken them to their family doctor to start them on birth control knowing what's going on with their kids and their boyfriends. But are there cracked out kids having dangerous sex with multiple partners. Yes. In most cases they have absentee parents who do drugs and screw everyone they know. The point? If you're a good, concerned parent, your kids will probably watch Skins and be upset just like you. If you're not, you're kids are probably doing what you're seeing on that wide-screen, HD, plasma television screen, and you should shut it off and get involved. Period. What you're really saying is having this show on TV makes you actually have to parent and deal with something you've been ignoring for years. They can see the same thing with their friends at school if they aren't already making their own real-life version of Skins in YOUR bedroom while your at you business meeting or dating yourself. And before you roll your eyes and gasp about today's youth, think back to the 60s, 70s, and 80s high school scene and remember all the sex and drugs happening then. YOU ARE ALL HYPOCRITES.

My final message--don't blame the messenger. Thanks.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

You Can't Polish a Turd

How do you know when something you've written just can't be saved? You're writing along, spending months of your life creating that first draft, thinking all along you're writing the next Great Expectations or A Tale of Two Cities. You finish, you show it off to the world--which includes like three people at first--and it bombs. You're expectations are shattered, and your book becomes the tale of two shitties: crappy plot and stupid gimmicks.

Suggestions come at you like "lose the ghost story," though that's the story's backbone, and "rewrite it in a different time frame of the character's life," though that defeats the purpose of writing it in the first place. So how do you know when it's time to put it in the scrap heap and forget about it? The passion for the story is gone. The character has been exercised. You have nothing left. So do you move on to another project, or do you pig-headedly plow forward trying to polish your turd?

Now, I've never tried to polish an actual turd. Have you? If you have, I'm assuming what happens is you just keep wiping away layers of human fecal matter to reveal more. So you keep polishing, buffing that sucker with all you've got (wearing rubber gloves and a surgeon's mask I hope) until there's nothing left but a brown (or green) smear on your latex covered hands. Then what? Do you have to start over again anyway, pushing out another turd?

But there might be that one time, when you're polishing away at yesterday's dinner in waste form, that you come across that stray piece of undigested corn--the kernel of truth. The kernel that you take and harvest and build a stalk of pure, unsoiled, non-turd writing that becomes the next Great Expectations or A Tale of Two Cities. The next GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL. Okay, so Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities were British novels, and you're no Dickens, but you've got something you can work from; whereas, before you only had a turd.

So how do you know? Is there a way to know that there's a kernel deep within your turd of a novel that you can cultivate before you spend time, energy, and gag-reflexes on trying to beautify a giant piece of shit, ending up with nothing but a palm full of crappy residue?

I think you should just be able to tell. There should be a gut feeling. I'm worried I'm getting that gut feeling. That feeling that I just spent six months breaking off a turd that cannot be polished. How do you deal with that? How do you deal with that when it's your thesis, and you only have three months to make it golden. Is there a fairy godmother out there somewhere that can turn literary turds to treasure, taking this book from poop to published? Doubtful.

I suppose it's time to stop whining and being the cliche tortured soul and actually get to work figuring this out, to start polishing my turd. Anyone want to join me?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Civil War?

The holidays are over. It's a brand new year. And I'm back with my first post in a while. The class is over, so what do we write about now? Unfortunately, watching the news this morning sort of forced my hand. What is wrong with this country when we are shooting our elected leaders simply because they don't agree with us? Are we on the verge of a Civil War? Not the "two defined regions participating in a military conflict" kind of Civil War we fought in 1863, but the "small bands of conservative rebels out to take power through fear" kind they are all too familiar with in countries like Colombia. Not here. Not in America. Well...?

On a sadly ironic note, Representative Gifford spoke out against the vitriol being used by our elected leaders to drum up anger and passion in voters. She warned that there would be consequences if groups like "The Tea Party" continued using loaded language to rile up supporters. Someone should "assassinate him" has been uttered far too often in every day discussions about leaders, even President Obama. Where have we gone and where are we going? It's scary.

It was never like this when George Bush was president. No matter how much the Left, Center, and even the Right at times lashed out at Bush in hatred, it never got to this level. For some reason Obama has become a lightening rod for pure hatred of people who simply disagree with your beliefs. Take a look around! There are probably people at your job, at your school, in your own house that don't agree with everything you do. Your wife, your sister, your closest friends may not agree with what you believe. Do you hate them? No. You agree to disagree. Why, then, does this reality not trickle up into our political theater.

Elected leaders of the United States of America, the greatest nation on Earth, there is a reason you are called LEADERS! When you lose, when the votes come in on issues such as health care, tax cuts, anything for that matter, the correct reaction is to be a good sport, shake the other guy's hand, and move forward. Drumming up hate in order to save face and stay in power is not the lesson I want you teaching my kid. I want my kids watching the player that watches the other team run out the clock in the victory formation and goes over and hugs the other teams quarter back, wishing him luck in his next playoff game. I do not want my kids watching the player that takes a pot shot at the other team's quarter back as he takes a knee just because he can. You talk the talk. You have to walk the walk.

Are we hypocrites, or what? Here we are hunting the planet for terrorists while we breed them right here in our country. Sure, we don't have organized groups looking to affect political change through murder and mayhem--YET! Many Americans look at the Middle East like they're some kind of backward, violent heathens since they raise, cultivate, and produce folks capable of such atrocities. Look around America, we're producing them here, they just have guns instead of hijacked jets. Our political discourse has elevated to jihadic levels right here in the good 'ole USA.

So what's the solution? Gun control? We have to think about it, but can't terrorist Americans looking to affect political change through fear simply get guns illegally or use even more dangerous weapons like 747s or anthrax? No, we need to stop trying to treat the symptoms and treat the disease. We need to educate, set examples, and change our ways. We need to preach tolerance.  For much too long we've thought of tolerance as a racial thing or maybe a religious one. It needs to extend to all areas where we differ as human beings. Religious tolerance, racial tolerance, political tolerance, handicap tolerance, sexual tolerance, gender tolerance--all tolerance. We need to realize that everyone is different, so no matter how terrible our lives may get, no matter how much we feel like we need a scapegoat, we cannot simply shoot everyone we don't agree with.

Now, I know what's going to happen. We're going to brand this guy a lunatic. We're going to say he had this problem and that. He was a loner. A recluse. He was on the verge of snapping since he turned 13. Whatever. We're going to use every excuse possible to turn our attention away from the real issues, to avoid examining our own demons. But that's not going to solve anything. Look deep inside yourself. The evil is there. We're all capable of atrocities if pushed far enough for long enough. The more we listen to the piss and shit being excreted from the mouths of politicians and political activists only concerned with power and their own personal agendas, the larger the chance more and more of these "lunatics" are going to be coming out of the wood works. How many have to die? How many leaders have to be targeted? How much pain and anguish need to be caused to families across the country before we learn? I know one "tragedy in Tucsan" is enough for me to try and affect change.

Two years ago, in an English class I was teaching, I had a girl wonder why we were debating religious and political issues so often when it was impossible to change anyone's mind, and we just kept going around in circles seemingly getting nowhere. The class seemed to agree. I didn't have an answer for her that day, but I went home and thought about it.

The next day, at the start of class, I gave a little speech. I told them that we lived in a world where pro-life activists have murdered abortion doctors and people with political differences hijack planes and drive them into buildings to make their points, a world where political and religious discourse has elevated to the point where people are killing each other over differences of opinion. I told them the idea isn't to change minds, but to voice opposing opinions without losing respect for one another. Without losing our heads. And to understand each other's side of the story without hatred or condemnation. The class was quiet. They were moved. They got it.

And I'd like to think that lesson will stay with them for the rest of their lives. This stuff can be taught, and it's up to us adults to do it. It's up to parents, teachers, and religious leaders to spread the word to our youth, to tomorrow's future. But most importantly, it's up to our elected leaders, the one's who spend their lives embroiled in this political discourse, to set examples--as leaders for God's sake--for the rest of us to follow. If not, we're only a few more incidents away from Columbia, from Civil War. I, for one, don't have the energy or time to fight one. So, as Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world" and start setting the example of tolerance...before it's too late.