Tuesday, March 03, 2015

My creative week

Shortly after I got Family Blood up, I knew there would be a Family Ghosts, but I thought that I was going to write a screenplay first. I found I could only work on Family Ghosts. I started that and wrote two chapters. That's about when the overtime kicked in.

It started right around Christmas. I did work extra hours that week, and then it was six weeks of fifty or more hours per week, and then there was still a little bit of overtime but it was tapering off.

I was not making any progress with writing. Mainly, I was just really tired. I know I mentioned the tiredness in the blog, but I started to think about how I really wanted to take some time off, and this idea began to take shape.

I wanted to take a week off to just be creative. If I were a professional screenwriter, or other kind of writer, and could focus on that, what would my life look like?

I have gone through times of being more or less disciplined with my writing. When I was unemployed I wrote a lot, but there was also a lot of job hunting going on, and the fear and worry may have hampered some things. I had vacation time saved up, so that would remove the worrying aspects. The idea burned in me and I started to long for it.

I tried to be strategic about requesting the time off. I wanted it to be after the rush. If I had the week off after working a 50-hour week, I would just sleep. I didn't want it to be the week of President's Day, because holiday weeks are restorative in their own way. The most likely option seemed to be the week before, but the Friday of that week would be my sisters' birthday, and I was afraid they would take the day off and be around. I wanted it to be as normal a week as possible. My sisters assured me they were working that day, so I scheduled February 9th through 13th. It did not go as planned.

The first wave of sickness started working its way through the house the weekend before. (I say first because there seems to be a second one going through.) Julie came down with it first. She was home Tuesday and Wednesday. She made her way back to the office just in time for Maria to get sick. Maria stayed home Friday. Then, as I finished up my long weekend and started back at work, I got sick.

I don't want to complain too much about the disruption. It was much worse for them being sick on their birthday week. They had to cancel a lot of plans and it was pretty miserable for them. They did cramp my style and eat into my time somewhat, but I still had some time. The rest of it was me.

I had really ambitious dreams. I imagined writing three chapters a day, and in between writing sessions I would draw comics, and practice my bass, and read. I would daily give special one-on-one attention to all three pets (which was going to include bathing) and my mother, and get some home projects done too.

I did no pruning, and have still not completed this evaluation that I have been meaning to do. I did read some. I only practiced my bass once. I did not draw anything. I did not exercise as much as I meant to. I did spend time with Dellie, Maeve, Cody and Mom, but various specific goals were not met, and Dellie still needs a bath.

And I only wrote one chapter a day. I often do that on a work day!

I knew on one level that I would not do all of the things, but I thought I would do more and it turned out that all I could really hack was the writing. I went from multiple false starts on Chapter 3 to Chapter 12. That was good, I just wanted to do more.

The family crowding and oncoming illness may have played some part, but also I really underestimate how long it takes to do things. This novel especially is slower going, which I will write more about tomorrow.

The week was not everything that I dreamed it would be. I am not Wonder Woman; I am merely woman. That is disappointing.

It was also not a total loss. I was able to recalibrate. The extra work hours had really slowed me down, and taken me out of my writing groove. The vacation gave me time to get back in. There was progress, and progress continues to be made.

I have had doubts in the past about whether life as a professional creator would be too unstructured, and I would have a had time being productive. I have been productive under some pretty horrible circumstances since then, so I was pretty sure that would be okay, but it was nice to test it out and get confirmation.

It also probably helped prepare me for the understanding that some other things need to be put on hold for now, with priority going to the writing. (Sunday's post has more detail on that.) That works too.

I would still like to see what the magical week would look like, but this was okay too.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Writing Business

Cara can be downloaded free today: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00O9A9QV6

There is a free Kindle app that you can use on other devices, including a desktop PC. I have heard that it is easy to use, though I have not tried it yet.

I had enrolled the book in the Kindle Unlimited program to see how it worked. When I needed to make Family Blood free, I discovered that the promotions go through that program. You can either do a countdown where the price changes each day, or just make it free, but there is a limit of five days of promotion within the ninety day Kindle Unlimited enrollment. Cara ends its ninety days today, so it was make it free now or never. (And yes, I started Thursday for the full five days.)

I mention this not just so you can get your own free copy if you read this in time, but also because I have been having some related conversations this weekend. One happened Friday night, comparing notes with a musician friend. I was saying how I have a royalty deposit coming in today of $3.49, and perhaps I would splurge on Taco Bell. She had bought a couple of cables with the proceeds from her album. We are living the dream.

Last night it was with Scott Timberg, author of Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class, which deals with the effect of the economy on the creative class. I have not read it yet, and will have to wait a bit to do so, but I am sure I will get into it more. He asked if I did something (I imagine there were a lot of creative people at the event) and I said "I have written seven screenplays and am working on my third novel, and I have made $13.00." (That's counting the $10.00 I made last year.)

I realize that can sound bitter, but I have consciously chosen to make both of the novels that are out free. I do get a lot more downloads that way, but I also advertise them more when they are free, so I acknowledge that I am part of the problem.

Part of it is that I expect any actual money I make to come from the screenplays, and it just hasn't happened yet. The novels feel important, but I am afraid that maybe they are novels that are good for you, because they help you process emotional and relationship issues, but not fun reading where people are going to be all "Wow! I loved it!" (I don't get much feedback.)

But I write them anyway, because I have to. I also keep a day job. I called the cable-buying musician a friend, but we are also co-workers, because we have day jobs, and will keep them. The economy needs to be better for a lot of reasons, but my writing doesn't depend on that.

There were some interesting points made about technology, which plays a role but is not the sole factor. Yes, part of the issue is people streaming music for free instead of buying it, but other factors include a lack of willingness to pay for reporting or upgrade infrastructure including public buildings, and though it didn't come up last night, even to see people who work for charities have comfortable incomes. It affects the communities we have.

Right now I feel better about it because I've had a few paychecks with overtime on them, and my tax refunds just came in. Right now there is money in the bank. We also finally just got the stove replaced after losing use of it in November, and that was just the first thing to fix. The relief is temporary, but for now it feels good.

That is just life; it should sound familiar to a lot of people. My life is richer and more rewarding for having a creative outlet. I feel it is one worth sharing, and that is apparently more important to me than making money. I am grateful there are tools in place that make doing so easier. Kindle Direct Publishing and Amazon are a part of that, but so are Facebook and Twitter, where I tell people about the books, and e-commerce in general. It helps.

March 31st Family Ghosts will be out, and I will go into that a bit more in the next two posts. For now I am saying that I will not make it free, at least not right away, but I could be fooling myself.

If you wish to fund more cables: http://drsomething.bandcamp.com/

Friday, February 27, 2015

Band Review: Milo

I may be premature in reviewing Milo now, because there is a tweet today about finishing the album two days ago. It felt like the right time to do it.

As part of the Hellfyre Club, which many of the links focus on, my listening was skipping around a lot finding different work, some by Milo and some not. I ended up focusing more on A Toothpaste Suburb and Things That Happen At Day // Things That Happen At Night.

There is a mellow feel to the music. Milo does rap, but it is rap that could be accompanied with lava lamps and crystals. The rhythm hypnotizes instead of attacks. It is fitting that it references Freud and Schopenhauer and bergamot.

At the same time there is a playfulness, where the video for "The Confrontation at Khazad-dûm" shows a day of sledding and a costumed white ape. Plus, it's called "The Confrontation at Khazad-dûm". (That's another name for Moria, where Gandalf battled the Balrog.)

There are many references to pop culture and geek culture. I had wondered if "Hellfyre Club" was an X-men reference, and I wasn't sure, but the Kitty Pryde references have to be. I find that the references to cartoons and games and television shows lighten the mood when the subject matter is heavy. There are serious things being sung, but then there are sly smiles inserted with familiar names and nostalgia. I found it enjoyable.

Music can be purchased via Bandcamp and iTunes.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Band Review: TAKNbySTORM

TAKNbySTORM reminds me of All-4-One. Some songs are slightly less mellow, but it is still in that vein.

The artist brings his personal faith and feelings into the songs, which is good, but at the same time it just doesn't seem to go deep enough. A song about starving children should stir deep emotion, but feels amateurish.

This seems to be more of a product of the lyrics than the music, with simplistic rhymes and phrasing. I believe is something that can be improved. It should be improved for the music to stand out.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Selma - Lessons For Now

I don't know where I saw it, but I remember reading that the original script for Selma was much more focused on King. Part of DuVernay's contribution was broadening the focus.

It is important to do that. Martin Luther King Jr was gifted in oratory and inspiration, and more charismatic than most people, but he could not have done it alone. That is not taking anything away from King, just as the movie does not take anything away from President Johnson.

This is a story of many people. So you see Diane Nash. You may not realize how instrumental she was in the organization for the Selma Voting Rights Movement or know her history with the Freedom Rides, but at least you see her there.

Bayard Rustin is not the best known name from that time period; he was homosexual and that was at times considered to be a detrimental. The movie still shows that he was the one who had the connection to Harry Belafonte, and that is how you got a chartered plane full of celebrities to the final march.

There were many marchers, and many of them participated in organizing. Seeing Amelia Boynton beaten unconscious may lead you to her writing. Seeing Annie Lee Cooper (who had been a registered voter in Pennsylvania) be denied registration in Alabama may make the conflict more personal (and more satisfying when you see her punch the sheriff).

It is vital to see that there were people contributing of all races, genders, ages, and sexualities. It would be unfair to them, and poor gratitude, to diminish their achievements, but it is also important to remember that everyone has the ability to contribute now. That is an important lesson, but there are other lessons for those contributing now, or wishing to do so.

Activism is hard. It takes a toll. Sometimes it is a physical toll, involving tear gas and clubs and hopefully only bean bag bullets. It could just be aching feet. There is an emotional toll of abuse and exhaustion and being discouraged when nothing seems to change. Also, the emotional toll can take a physical toll.

You can take some tactical lessons from the movie. This is again where I will recommend Abernathy's And The Walls Came Tumbling Down, valuable not just for the warmth of his voice but for being written twenty years later and having the advantage of hindsight.

What I carried away was more the importance of interpersonal support. In one scene, King calls up Mahalia Jackson in the middle of the night because he needs to hear the voice of the Lord, and she sings for him.

What I saw in the movie is them needing each other. They feed each other and care for each other's children. They go on drives together to sort out their thoughts. They joke, and it may be gallows humor, but that can help too. And when there are fractures in their relationships, they need to address them.

"Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare."  -- Audre Lorde

It is true. Eat, drink, and rest. That will still not be enough.

Do you have friends that you can call in the middle of the night? Find some. Find someone who will sing to you, or hug you, or tease you if that is the thing that you need, and do it back for them. The relationships will help you survive, and remember what you are fighting for.

It is all about people in the end.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Selma - Not Even Past

In the Oscar post I mentioned the excellence of the costume design. One aspect that I found interesting was the wardrobe worn by Common's character, James Bevel. He wore overalls, a denim jacket, and a skull cap while the other SCLC members were generally wearing suits. I eventually found this article by Tanisha C. Ford:

One thing it points out is that normally the clothing of the SNCC members would be more similar to Bevel's. The movie did not show that to keep individuals more clearly identifiable, but it is worth noting that Bevel's activism got started with SNCC.

Before I found that article, I had gone to the messages boards for the movie at IMDB.com, because I thought other people might be discussing it. Someone may have posted about it, but it was pretty hard to find in all the racism.

I was not really surprised that trolls were tearing down the movie; that the majority of them posted multiple times, repetitively, to drown out productive discussion; or that the complaints about the movie started before the movie was released. Being a glutton for punishment, I still read some.

One of the recurring themes by one of the frequent posters was that it was just stirring up trouble now. These things are past and talking about them stirs up bad feelings. I wish it were past.

Thursday will be the 50th anniversary of Jimmie Lee Jackson's desk. (He was beaten and shot on February 18th but lingered in the hospital for several days.) The Voting Rights Act itself was signed on August 6th, 1965. It is not even at the 50 year mark and it is already being dismantled:

That's just one article. It's probably not alarming enough. Read more by Ari Berman. There is reason to be alarmed.

Police brutality is still a problem. I know, I keep quoting this from Spies of Mississippi:

"The Jackson Police Department operates with the best demonstration deterrent of any city in the country. In addition to Thompson's Tank, armor-plated and equipped with nine machine gun positions, the arsenal includes cage trucks for transporting masses of arrested violators, searchlight trucks, each of which can light three city blocks in case of night riots, police dog teams, trained to trail, search a building, or disperse a mob or crowd, mounted police for controlling parades or pedestrian traffic, and compounds and detention facilities to hold and house 10000 prisoners.

Along with these ironclad police facilities are new ironclad state laws, outlawing picketing, economic boycotting and demonstrating. Other laws to control the printing and distribution of certain types of information, and laws to dampen complaints to federal authorities."

Now, let's look at this article from less than a month ago:

Commissioner Bratton announced that the extra heavy protective gear, the long rifles, and the machine guns are "designed for dealing with events like our recent protests, or incidents like Mumbai or what just happened in Paris."

Bratton later walked back that protests against police brutality should be handled the same way as terrorist incidents, but his other quotes and track record make the original quote seem more reflective of his actual beliefs.

There may be less vigilante lynchings now, but there are more executions by cop:

And the anonymous academy voter was offended by "I Can't Breathe" T-shirts, and school counselors and police sergeants have said they will run over protesters, plus one protester was hit by a car and the driver was not cited.

No, this isn't old news. Talking about it may stir up bad feelings for some, but there are bad acts already happening. Dealing with that is necessary, and I believe the movie helps.

"The past is never dead. It's not even past."

Faulkner was from the South too.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Selma and LBJ

One of the saddest parts of the backlash to Selma was the number of articles that focused on defending President Lyndon B Johnson, as if he needed defending.

I am mainly thinking of Joseph A. Califano Jr. and Maureen Dowd in this, but I think there were a few others. It's nonsense.

The movie shows Johnson hesitating to push through legislation on voting rights because they had just gotten segregation and he wanted to work on poverty; he didn't think he could get voting rights through. Once the climate had changed with the television coverage of Bloody Sunday, and some of the other news that was coming through, Johnson moved forward and it passed.

The movie never indicates that Johnson was against voting rights - it's pretty clear that he wants it passed - but he is being a politician. That was Johnson's thing. Do you know what the third book in Robert A Caro's series on Johnson is called? Master Of The Senate. It's not sarcastic. The combination of Johnson's political savvy and skill and his commitment to progressive causes was really important. I remember a history teacher talking about Johnson waving Kennedy's bones at Congress, exploiting the circumstances of Kennedy's death, but he used it to accomplish good things. He was also willing to alienate the South, which was a big deal.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference was not against fighting poverty. King was turning his attention to that before his death, and in spite of his death the Poor People's Campaign still happened. It is largely regarded as unsuccessful, but a lot of the goals were accomplished. Johnson prioritizing poverty does not make him a villain.

Director Ava DuVernay, in commenting on it, said she considered Johnson to be a hero. Now, he is a hero who thinks about maintaining order at the same time that he thinks about justice, but that has been true of every president and remains true today. That is one very valid reason why some people that we can imagine making excellent presidents might legitimately prefer to not be president.

He is also a president that kept J. Edgar Hoover employed. I had never thought about that before, but it occurred to me watching the movie that Hoover would have been very hard to remove. Luckily, we had a good friend over for dinner last night, and we were talking about this. She had a quote for me on that"

"It's probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in."

Point taken. Johnson didn't fire Hoover, but no one else did. He needed to die to get out of office, and that was serving under six presidents.

The other thing we talked about was Johnson's ambition. I tended to think of him as not ambitious enough, because if he had just been all out idealistic, we are going to go for what's right even if we fail, that could have meant not just pushing through more legislation without waiting for politically opportune moments, but also could have meant getting out of Vietnam instead of not wanting to be the first president to lose a war.

Cathy looked at it differently. His ambition was to have a strong legacy. (She got that from Doris Kearns Goodwin.) If you want to be remembered as a winner, then maybe you don't want to push legislation that is destined to fail, or withdraw troops.

The movie gives a hint of that when Johnson is meeting with George Wallace. Johnson is not only thinking about how he will be remembered (which Wallace does not care about), but Johnson is determined not to be lumped in with Wallace.

Selma has some unflattering portraits in there. In addition to Wallace and Hoover, there are Sheriff Jim Clark and Colonel Al Lingo. That covers some great performances in there from some actors I really like, but you do not come away liking these historical figures. That's not what is happening with Johnson. He is shown as flawed, but so is King.

I think part of the problem may be miscasting. Tom Wilkinson is a good actor, and he does okay, but his craggy face doesn't look very much like Johnson. If he had some of that Southern good ole' boy charm it probably wouldn't matter, but having neither the look nor the charm is a drawback. It's not a bad performance, but casting an Englishman is not always the right way to go.

I think the bigger problem, though, is a resistance to letting people of color be the heroes of their own movements. Some of it may be an adherence to the Great Man Theory, which I think is bunk anyway, and which Selma counters. There are many organizers shown, and many people who had been working with voter registration and education. To try and cast the march as Johnson's idea is an insult to them, and Johnson does not need it. The people who have a problem with that need to de-center.

We have seen many movies about Civil Rights, and Native Americans, and other cultures where somehow the protagonist has to be a white person. Mississippi Burning, Dances With Wolves, even Avatar going off-world has to fall into that trap. If you aren't comfortable watching people of other genders and races take center stage that is all the more reason you need to watch that type of content.

That breaks into a discussion for another day though. The message of today is that I am really fond of LBJ, and the movie Selma is not a problem for that.