The Arc of 2016: Fight Smart and Do Less, Better

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I knew Donald Trump was going to win.

At least, a part of me knew it. A part I didn’t want to hear. I suspect there are more than a few of us out there, who knew and yet couldn’t — desperately didn’t want to — believe it.

There’s a friend of mine, out there right now, who might still have a voicemail from me, that I left a few days before the election. I remember knowing what was going to happen, even then, as I clung to the belief that it couldn’t possibly happen, and did my part to avoid the result.

But it did happen. It has happened, hasn’t it — despite any recurring, sudden seizures of bewilderment. (Today, I heard someone say the word “trumpet”, and winced.)

We all know this, by now, that Donald Trump will soon be our President.

Some of us have even begun to accept the fact, as reality, if not on any further basis of principle (more on this later). Others haven’t yet accepted it, may not ever. And I suppose that is their right.

For myself, I was quick to accept the results of the election. They make, in retrospect, a perverse “sense”, at least to anyone who has been paying attention to the mood of the country and the world for the past decade.

This is not to suggest either that I am happy with what has happened (I’m not, if that hasn’t already been made clear) or that I am currently without hope for the future.

But it is a complicated, difficult time for sourcing out hope.

I can remember the day I left that voicemail more vividly now, as well as the scattering of others, occurring more recently, wherein I was similarly seized by anxiety, anger and sadness — when confronted with that sense of knowing what was about to happen, what has happened.

I can remember them more vividly because now I’m looking at those moments for what they were, as opposed to fighting against the knowledge that this is reality, as were the factors which led to (and now sustain) this unfortunate reality (for now).

Most of all, I remember the inner conflict. The sense of sinking dread.

This can be avoided. This can’t be avoided.

I refused to believe it. Still, sometimes, I can’t believe it. Perhaps that’s my sin, shared with countless others on both sides of the political spectrum. Certainly it is the sin of our media, which did not see this coming and, in fact, most likely contributed to this mess in a major way, by validating the theatrics of a bully via their mere “serious” attention.

Make no mistake, a time of reckoning has arrived in America.

People are going to suffer. The arguing will continue. The fear will continue.

Justice, fairness, equality — all supposed bedrocks of our democracy — will continue to absorb blow after blow. And we very well may wonder, soon, finally, if any of these crucial aspects of this contemporary brand of civilization can survive.

But they will survive, ultimately. We will.

I believe that. I can see and feel this belief clearly. The shock of Donald Trump’s Presidency has, at the very least, thrown our failings as a country into sharp relief against the task of safely securing a future — for all our citizens — about which can (eventually) be proud.

My acceptance does not make the pain or the sadness at our plight any lighter to carry, but it does imbue the carrying with a much-needed charge of hope.

So, what does this all have to do with my annual recap, as an artist, as I deliver it here once again? (That is, incidentally, nominally, the reason for this post.)

 

This site, the central hub for my work as an artist and activist, is now four years old.

When I started it, I was still struggling with anger, resentment and fury — against the injustices of the day. I was ready to talk about the issues, but not yet strong enough to truly engage them — or myself.

The year after that saw progress. I re-discovered a consistent creative voice, and I got to work. Along the way, I found myself heartened by the number and quality of like-minded people also working to make this country a better, more accepting, more equitable place.

Then, last year, I found peace. I began to feel capable of showing patience, of practicing faith. I’m still working on this, every day.

And, now, here is a great test. And a pressing question — how to conduct myself as an artist and a citizen during the presidency of Donald Trump?

It is a question, and a crucial one, whether its reality shocks me or not.

I have been turning this question over, regularly — but in a non-obsessive way — in the many days since I shared my initial thoughts on this deeply disappointing turn of history.

As I mentioned in that post, unfortunately, this sort of reaction comes more easily to me by nature of my demographic reality.

As a straight white male, the likeliest form of suffering in store for me has to do with my economic class — the same one I am in now, that I was born into over thirty years ago — even if I am sure to suffer by proxy as I watch friends and loved ones shake with anger and fear, and legitimately suffer, over the next four years.

And yet it is in this fact, in my similarity to Trump, that I find a point of access for the decision and announcement I am about to deliver.

 

The reason I knew this was going to happen is because it was inevitable.

I don’t mean that in a fatalistic way. I’m not being cynical or conveniently revisionist. This was inevitable because of how straight white people like me are handling the type and rate of change currently sweeping through the world — in a word, poorly.

But that is not to say that this is entirely their fault.

If there’s any justice left in the world, Donald Trump will in later years prove to be nothing more (or less) than the last gasp of a fading American power structure owned and engineered disproportionately by straight white males.

He is the face of our enemy, of our collective oppressor, not due explicitly to his whiteness or his straightness of even his maleness, but, rather, based on how he conducts and employs the power and privilege that come part and parcel with these things.

Once a bit of a misogynist, a bit of a racist and a homophobe, but always a skeptic of bureaucratic power — I now state plainly that I pride my contemporary self on being the polar opposite of someone like Donald Trump, despite our shared demographics of gender, race and sexuality.

Personally, at the very least, no matter what I do from here, I can move forward knowing that I struggled through change, learned and trusted in the goodness of people who looked and acted differently than me, and acted out of decency and courage rather than fear and hate.

It is no secret to regular readers, to anyone who saw The Videoblogs, or listeners to the podcast, that I have now absorbed goals of fairness, representation, and economic equality into my mission as an artist and a human being. However, I believe this all bears repeating for one very important reason.

 

While Donald Trump has provided a face to our enemy, he alone is not our enemy.

It is what he represents, and how he came to power, that we must understand and combat.

Politically, the answers might seem clear. And, in fact, they are.

Truth itself is under attack. It has been for a long time. I think the main reason I knew this was going to happen (despite my disbelief) is that I had already been fighting against men like Donald Trump for most of my life. Many of us have been.

Except, oftentimes through no fault of our own, we’ve been distracted from this truth, and this fight. By the machinations of the powerful, we have been bent, manipulated, and pushed away from Truth.

Our lives are not our own, in many respects. We are controlled by a power elite that, despite certain vestiges or illusions of democracy, care very little about the average American.

These people mostly only discriminate in regards to race and creed, insofar as it benefits them financially and politically to do so. They have very little actual faith in anything, apart from money and power, which are themselves faithless things.

These sad, desperate people know all this, and it destroys them inside — but they know no other way to behave, in the face of their own fears. And so they continue to hold fast to that fear, thereby, by virtue of the reality of our contemporary crony-capitalist economics, squeezing us.

And while they squeeze us and misdirect us and distract us, even to the point of their own continued and dangerous disillusionment, we turn against and fight one another, despite the overwhelming commonality of our fears and concerns as citizens. In this way, democracy (rule by the people) remains perpetually arrested, and plutocracy (rule by a wealthy elite) continues to maintain its grip on the throats of the everyday citizen.

Donald Trump may be the face of our enemy, but we must be very careful in the next several years of civil combat not to focus the majority our energy squarely on him and his administration. True deliverance from this plight requires us to go deeper, and fight longer.

This is what I have come to understand in these past few weeks.

My own distractedness, my own fear and faithlessness, have been my failure. I don’t say this to diminish the gains I and we have made over the last several years. I only mean to point out that there’s much work left to be done.

 

Trump is the symptom, not the disease.

The disease is the faithlessness, the dejection, the weariness, of contemporary America — and much of the world. We (the people) are angry, we are depressed, we find ourselves fundamentally exhausted and estranged from true hope. We have been beaten down and driven insane by the elite, confused and harried by the speed of innovation, and neither the tyranny of the elite, nor the advance of machine-dependency into our lives — show any signs of letting up.

There is no other way to explain how someone like Donald Trump can win office by claiming to represent the will of the people, while lying through his teeth about his intention to fight against the very elite that he wholly (and vulgarly) represents.

All that our cowardly, selfish, greedy President-elect intends to do for the next four years is consolidate money and power among his elite.  That much was clear all along, and has been proven by his cabinet appointments. When he’s done he’ll abandon the destruction and foot us with the bill and — barring a miracle — carry on with his greed and destruction until the moment of his lonely death.

To be clear — to repeat — in actual reality, there is no one less-representative of the average American than Donald Trump.

That millions of people either do not understand this, or refuse to believe it, that our political and economic system all but excludes the possibility of an actual champion of the people successfully reaching office (or at least one empowered by a consensus of reasonable political allies on all sides of the political spectrum) — this is the sickness from which we desperately need to recover.

 

For this reason, for myself, I find that this year has brought with it a lesson in focus.

I cannot afford, or tolerate, anything less than fully-committed, principled conduct and expression from myself. I need to fight smart and I need to move quickly. The only way to do this effectively is to put out work of real depth, that is of a larger scope, and work smartly and strategically to get the work out to as many people as possible.

To be clearer, I intend, beginning in 2017, to do less — better.

This site will remain online indefinitely. But this is likely the last blog post for a while, although I might chime in on occasion and will continue to run my email list. Beginning next month, Coffee with Creatives is going on hiatus, indefinitely. My presence here will be sporadic, as compared to previous years.

I have big things to do, in regards to the main areas of battle central to this essay. I intend to go at these things, full tilt. I’m ready to — truly, passionatelly — fight.

Are you? Because we’ll need you.

 


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker 
of hopeful stories for complex people. My first film, The Videoblogs, about mental health in the age of tech, is available on iTunes. I’m currently working on my next film and also a novel. Once per month or so, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this special group here. Thanks for reading.

 

The Benefits of The Small, Achievable Daily Goal

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Move, just a little. That can be enough.

Any move, forward or backward, in any measurable increment, is progress. An opportunity to learn, to gain perspective, to gather courage. And a lifetime of slow progress, or even a few months of it — despite or in defiance of the apparent mad rush of our daily lives — might be enough to promote real growth and change.

Or, to bring things down to the ground level, a little slow progress, today, has the capacity to build up momentum for tomorrow (and so on).

This is something I have learned, in recent years. As I’ve grown up and matured, as I’ve failed plenty and have gained just a few victories.

I wrote a book of fiction this year, in the middle of completing my first feature film. I did it one day, and often only a few hundred words, at a time. If you had told me ten years ago that those would be the conditions under which The First Book would be written — I wouldn’t have believed it.

But I might have smirked a little, in considering the prospect. It’s a subtly bad-ass move. The picture about provides a snap-shot of how I did it. At a certain point, fear had set in, and I was afraid of stopping halfway through the first draft. That would have hurt, so I set small daily goals, to pursue each morning. And it worked.

I believe that the real heavy work behind any big thing, whether a book or a script or a shot list, or an engineering problem or a code problem — it gets done on the peripheries of life and consideration. We think for a while, softly in increments, or even with speed and heat, but ultimately we tire or become frustrated and must turn away. Then, suddenly, something clicks out of nowhere and we move forward in a leap.

This is the way it goes, much of the time. And yet it becomes difficult to depend only on such leaps, of inspiration or intuition, to sustain progress. Too much pressure is put on something outside our control, if not our sphere of influence, and we become constricted.

This is why and how small steps help. It’s why focus, and simplicity, and then deliberate unfocused time, spent without a clear purpose other than enjoyment or physical engagement, lead to  sudden, significant, measurable progress over time.

It takes a degree of faith, to trust such a process, and not wring it or ourselves dry.

In addition, many that don’t have the patience or the talent for it spend much of their time leeching off those that do, intent on convincing the talented how indispensable they themselves are…in their steady blandness.

It’s a much less heavy burden, to proceed at a monotone, than to subject oneself to the rises and falls of creative productivity. There’s some utility in it, perhaps, but not much of that faith, upon which the real success of any one enterprise often rests.

To me, this reproves the proper and natural order of the creative process, within the macro as well as the micro. Keep the creativity, the calling, in first position.

Remain deliberate, and stolid in such deliberation, until all the answers that are going to come are given in the quiet moments of inspiration, themselves providing color and depth to the daily grunt work completed by yourself and others in pursuit of truth. This is all we can do.

No amount of extra magic exists. It is that simple, and that difficult. The rest of it comes second, is so much filler (which can be dispensed with) or distraction (which can be handled by others).

I do believe that, if we march on, we’ll eventually get somewhere. Until the time comes to get up and do it again.

11903868_10102022863132862_3363202786901023781_n-1My name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker of hopeful stories for complex people. Lately, I have been sharing some reflections and stories every morning. Once per month, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive stories and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this exclusive group here. Thanks for reading.

The Waiting Place

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I find myself at a crossroads in my work.

There are two ways to look at this, since I don’t know where each road leads. I can worry about turning and heading down the wrong path, or continuing down one that it would have been better to turn from. Or, I can close my eyes and breathe, and then decide to try my hand at luck. To follow the wind, so to speak.

The first reaction doesn’t appeal to me. Though that doesn’t mean I haven’t incrementally tried it on, by nature of being human.

The second sounds nice, but I have trouble consistently showing the faith it requires. There’s always that voice, prodding me with the question: “But what if it doesn’t work? What if we’re wrong?”

At this point, while I still do worry about these questions, it’s not completely a case of fear of embarrassment. Age and experience has helped to mostly defang that avenue of paralysis. I can’t help how my work might be received. I can only do my honest best to tell an authentic, heartfelt story, and to give it a fair chance in the world.

No, more often, I worry about making the wrong choice because of a fear of lost time. And thus the double-edged sword of age and experience is revealed.

I love The Videoblogs. I’m proud of the film. But I beat myself to crap making it, at such a low budget and while living in New York City and working a full-time job. Beyond not knowing if I could pull off such a feat again, physically — I just don’t want to do it that way again.

I’m working on a few new ideas for the next film. One is big and heady. It’s been bending my brain a little bit, thinking of how to make it work on paper. To make it work as a production is going to take a much bigger budget than we had for The Videoblogs. I’m not sure I’m ready for that, yet. I very well could be, but that script needs to be RIGHT before I’ll move on producing it.

The reality is that it’s only been a few months since The Videoblogs came out.

There’s no hurry. I have other ideas I’m poking at, for smaller films, there’s a silly concept for a short and simple comedic web series I might want to try, and I somehow also have the first draft of a book of fiction waiting for me to re-write.

I’m forced to confront the reality that my fear of lost time is just the same old fear of being wrong, dressed up in a new skin suit it liberated from an innocent soul after its last round trip to and from the hell that it calls home.

Hah. Demon humor.

But, seriously — binary thinking is often a trap. And that’s what I want to address today.

It may be true that I’m at crossroads. Or, it may be true that I feel this way, and will feel differently a few years from now. Regardless, I don’t think what I’m going through is so simple or pat a thing as staring down various paths, from an intersection, and attempting to source out which way to go.

This manner of thinking might be too rigid for me. I might have outgrown it by now, even if I still need to slough it off to make room for a newer, fresher outlook.

I’m into skin imagery today.

Anyway, it could be that every road has its charms, holds its own opportunities. It’s equally possible that I’m meant to set up camp, right at the intersection, and hunt small game and live in a tree and howl at the moon for a while.

Perhaps there will be loincloths. Who am I to say?

During the course of this post, in my mind’s eye, the backdrop to the crossroads has morphed from desert to forest to jungle. This could be reflective of my current ambiguity, or of the proper aimlessness I am in this moment best led to inhabit.

For so long, I have treated myself rigidly, in terms of having to decide what to create next, how and why — right now.

When I have relaxed, and focused instead on the day-to-day, I have been gifted with ideas like Multiverse, The Videoblogs, the book.

And then there is the simple fact of the last sixteen days.

What I like about writing here daily is the immediacy of it. The simplicity. It’s uncomplicated. I’m a writer — I write. I share what I’ve written, then I do it again. Is each post perfect? Far from it.

But the pursuit feels pure. That’s what I’m starting to believe I need to wait for, not the next project that feels the least “wrong”, but the one that feels the most right. This has always been when I have known to move forward.

It’s not a crossroads at all. It’s a waiting place.

This is part sixteen of a thirty day trial, during which I am writing and publishing a post every day. No refunds. Comments welcome and encouraged!

Day 01: Struggles and Wonders and Dying in  Chair

Day 02: Fear, Panic, Identity and Anti-Focus

Day 03: Purple Sky of Towering Clouds Over a Far-off City

Day 04: Circle Up and Laugh

Day 05: On The Future of Labor

Day 06: Appreciating Difficulty, Harnessing its Momentum

Day 07: The Word for World is Earth

Day 08: It’s About The Dreaming, Not The Dream

Day 09: Moments of Presence: CWC Interview (Writer Laura Goode)

Day 10: Simmering Little Wrath of The Annoyed Man

Day 11: Tragedy, Remembrance and Wonder

Day 12: A New Light Borrowed or Discovered

Day 13: Productivity Tips for Anyone Prone to Overwhelm (Like Me)

Day 14: Legitimately Va-goo

Day 15: Sex-Bleating and Cat Vomit

Moments of Presence: Writer Laura Goode

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Laura Goode and I studied Creative Writing together ten years ago, and have several mutual friends, but had never really met or talked shop — until now!

Check out the latest episode of Coffee with Creatives to hear Laura’s take on such topics as:

  • How to juggle multiple projects, of varying genre or medium
  • How to find ways to get credit for stuff you’re going to do anyway
  • Why it can be a blessing to fail early — or a curse to succeed early
  • Why she took two years to develop the script for her indie feature film, Farah Goes Bang, along with the film’s director and co-writer Meera Menon
  • The process of raising over $80,000 in production funds for Farah Goes Bang, in the earlier days of Kickstarter
  • The fallacy of the lottery ticket mentality in film, literature and elsewhere
  • Respecting political conservatism within a liberal-friendly narrative, and
  • How a five year fight with a friend led to the publication of Become A Name, her first book of poetry

If you enjoy this episode, read Become a Name, watch Farah Goes Bang, and follow Laura on Twitter.


As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.

Fiction: Threat of Glass

Photo credit: Mohammed J
Photo credit: Mohammed J.

As they parked around what Google had indicated as the entrance to the Venice Beach Boardwalk, Alex reiterated, for the fifth time, her need to pee.

Nick had to pee as well, but Alex had been holding it in for longer, or had at least vocalized her condition earlier and more often. Thus it was Alex’s journey.

Though they were only in the city for about thirty-six hours, two-thirds of which had already passed, Alex had decided she didn’t like LA. Nick hadn’t formed his own opinion yet, but could understand where she was coming from. The traffic was as bad as everyone had said it would be. Still, it bothered Alex more than it did Nick, who had much more experience in traffic. Alex was a native New Yorker, and didn’t even have a license. Driving hardly made sense to her.

Nick killed the engine and was mildly surprised when Alex didn’t leap from the car. He removed the keys from the ignition and looked over at her. Despite being out of traffic and in range of a number of surrounding small-business bathrooms, she did not appear relieved.

He asked what was wrong. She said she didn’t know.

“No. It’s — I’m not relaxed. We’re supposed to be relaxing but we’ve spent most of the day in traffic.”

She went on to remark upon the weather. While in traffic, it had been sunny. Now that they were by the water, the sky was overcast. Also, Alex noted (as Nick well-knew) — that it was getting late. According to the friend they had met for coffee earlier that day, there were only a few hours of peak beach time remaining.

Nick again considered her feelings but also expressed his own. They were here now, the traffic had been definitively annoying but they were also trying to do quite a bit, around the city, in a single day.

Also, he reminded her, they both had to pee. This seemed the most pressing concern.

Alex didn’t reply directly but seemed to hear some of what he had said and, after a moment, asked for some time. He fell silent. He became privately annoyed. Time would still be there after they found a place to pee, in his opinion.

Eventually, they got out of the car. The simple action, while it would pale in comparison to the primal physical relief soon to come, provided some liberation from the lingering trappings of their previously trafficked state.

Nick fed the parking meter with what change he could scavenge from the front pocket of his backpack. Alex crossed the street to pee in a Starbucks — a modern urban tradition that immediately called New York to mind for Nick but probably also occurred throughout the western world and known oases.

Just as Nick was approaching the Starbucks, Alex emerged saying that she would not be using their bathroom. She had more choice words for why. She was upset again.

They argued for a moment, about the exact same things they had discussed in the car. Nick spotted an independent cafe a few blocks down. He remarked that it was time for his afternoon coffee, and suggested they go there for both that and mutual peeing. By now, he had to go badly as well.

Alex remained annoyed but agreed. They entered the cafe and Nick observed the interior and instantly liked it. The place had been designed, and seemed to be run (if early impressions were any indicator) without pretension. Yet by the smell and appearance of things, the proprietors appreciated quality.

Alex bristled at what she perceived as Nick’s dallying. She still just had to pee.

They approached the counter and were met by a pleasant, smiling, tanned Japanese man, who greeted them warmly and inquired as to how he could help. Nick felt comfortable replying that they needed not only coffee but also, urgently, a bathroom.

The man laughed and told them the bathroom was around the corner and in the back. Relieved, Alex smiled and expressed her thanks and went to pee. Nick got his coffee, paid for it, went to drop a dollar in the glass tip jar on the counter and noticed that he had been given too much change. He let the man know. The man laughed and said something about how dollar bills are always sticking to each other. Nick privately wished more of his money would stick to itself and also realized – with bemusement, if not surprise — that the man behind the counter was high.

Nick took his coffee and turned around to the counter of milks and creams and sugars and spices. He put the coffee down, isolated the cinnamon from the cocoa via a careful analysis of each shaker’s pores, and ultimately tapped some cinnamon into his coffee. He picked the coffee up, smelled it, and felt his body relax. Soon, he too would be high.

Nick put his coffee back down on the counter, found a lid, placed it over the cup and then picked the coffee up a final time and wandered to the back to find the bathroom.

It was located in an alcove, adjacent to the cafe’s kitchen, which looked disorganized but not dirty. Still, Nick wondered if Alex had found the bathroom clean enough. Ultimately, he reflected as he waited, that she must have. Or else she had given up.

“You’re lucky you have a dick,” she might say — not for the first time – if the bathroom didn’t end up meeting her standards.

Again, he couldn’t argue.

He heard a flush, running water, and then the churning of a paper towel dispenser (good sign). Then a latch clicked and the door opened and Alex emerged looking much relieved and not at all disgusted.

She held the door open for him and said she’d wait outside. Nick asked her to hold his coffee until he got back and she took it and went.

***

They couldn’t find the boardwalk at first. Alex wondered aloud whether they had started in the right place. Despite the relief that the bathroom break had provided, they both still felt disappointed by the weather. Also, so far, they hadn’t found much activity at the beach.

Nick squinted in the direction where he figured the boardwalk might be. Leaving Alex, he wandered to a bike rental hut nearby. A bored-looking man appeared from behind a partition and Nick politely asked him which way it was to the boardwalk. The man pointed and Nick, somewhat put off by his choice to reply inaudibly, briefly nodded his thanks at the same time that he was turning around to rejoin Alex.

He felt like a tourist. He didn’t like feeling like a tourist. At the same time, it was what he was, today, so he let it go.

They found the boardwalk and, soon, there they were – experiencing Venice Beach as tourists.

Overall, in a general way, the beach didn’t seem too dissimilar from Coney Island, or from other boardwalks Nick had walked in the past, both with and without Alex. On the other hand, its carnival feel seemed more stripped down, less urgent, more Californian, than anything in the east.

This minor proof of prevailing stereotypes comforted Nick, somewhat.

***

Everything was for sale.

On the inland side of the boardwalk, vendors stood outside of tiny alcoves selling the usual: t-shirts, pipes, various trinkets.

Fried food was infinitely available.

Unlike Nick’s first visit to Coney Island, he was not tempted to sample any of it. He was similarly disinterested in accepting any of the offers, extended lazily at intervals by either a stoned young white man or woman dressed in bright green scrubs, to pay to see a doctor about getting a prescription for marijuana.

Maybe he would have gone in for that at another, earlier point in his life, in different company (dudes) — but not today. Even in wondering how the process might go, Nick knew well-enough to leave the idea alone. He imagined that paying for the consultation would invariably lead to paying more money for terrible, over-priced weed.

Artists and musicians sold their wares or performed their crafts on the beach side, to the left of Nick and Alex.

Nick mostly swiveled his head while they walked, but paid more attention to the artists. They were his people. Even before any initial estimation of their talents, or any measurements of their offerings against his tastes, he felt his heart reach out to them in solidarity.

As they proceeded, hand-in-hand, with no agenda towards anything but the sensation of seeing (and hearing) the world around them, Nick and Alex, both — began to relax.

***

Walking felt good. The feel of Alex’s hand, soft in his, felt good. Even being among people who mostly appeared reduced, in stark terms, to culturally-defined roles of Sellers and Buyers — felt refreshingly honest.

They arrived at Muscle Beach. A small teenage girl giggled, almost fatally, as a very large, well-built man lifted her above his head, like a barbell, as her similarly afflicted friend struggled to steady herself long enough to take a photo of the action.

Alex’s gaze lingered on the exploit. Nick didn’t blame her, but privately lamented how long it had been since he had lifted weights.

A minute after they had passed, Alex wondered aloud if the man could lift her, too. Nick didn’t answer. He let the jealously ride, and found after a while that it had gone.

Reasoning the scenario out had helped. The muscled man, like the other beachside sellers, was in addition to a (essentially non-real) masculine threat — also a fellow artist. Despite his natural envy, Nick respected the man’s commitment and apparent excellence.

As it often did when contemplating things like art, commitment, and excellence, Nick’s mind then turned his own chosen path of salesmanship: his screenwriting.

Nick had arrived in LA while at a strange crossroads in his life as an artist. He was in the process of completing his tenth year as a writer. There was a clear reason he felt direct kinship with the street musicians and painters who were hocking their talents, with varying results, along the view of the beach. Apart from the comparatively higher costs of film production, he was, after all these years, in a similar position – casting for buyers from the outskirts.

This was not necessarily bad. In fact, Nick had lately, finally, begun to view his own exploits through a similar lens of pride as the one through which he now viewed his brethren on the street. He had come quite a long way over the years (thanks in no small part to Alex, who seemed for the moment to be engaged in her own private reverie). The challenge he now faced, however, was how to navigate the intersection he felt himself approaching, which very much resembled the two sides of the street he now walked.

His art, and his ambitions with it, had evolved now to the point where he felt confident not only putting himself out there, and seeking support in doing so (like the singers, painters, and sculptors on his left), but also, increasingly, crossing the divide between them and the others, who were definitively selling products, in pursuit of not only the means to provide for themselves but also profit and growth.

Nick knew, consciously, that he was not a product (though his scripts were). Still, even as he walked with Alex, reflecting upon this still newly mature point of view, he felt some lingering sentiments of doubt, which were themselves quickly latched onto by all vines of fear that could grasp them as they crept through the jungle of his mind.

More than anything else, Nick wondered whether he had truly arrived at this crossroads, or whether, instead, he had reached only the end of his patience – and then whether there were any real difference between the two states.

***

They remained quiet. There was plenty of sound to soak in, without either of them needing to add anything.

Salespeople sold, most of the fine artists sat quietly beside their wares, incremental live dance performances added some blooded life to the boardwalk’s otherwise steady, lackadaisical buzz.

A soulful young woman with large sad eyes strummed a guitar and sang softly. As Nick and Alex passed her, they paused, realizing almost concurrently that she was quite good.

“Do you have cash?”

Nick nodded, and gave five dollars to Alex. They turned around, approached the woman together. Then Nick slowed and hung back as Alex smiled, dropped the bill, and turned halfway back around to resume their walk in the other direction. The woman kept playing, but smiled at Nick and nodded her thanks.

The transaction had done nothing to dim the sadness in the woman’s eyes and voice.

He hadn’t supposed it would. She kept singing, and he held on to the sound as long as he could as they proceeded. But, invariably, the woman’s voice faded back to where it had come, from within the din of the crowd.

***

When the end of the boardwalk appeared in the distance, they stopped. Nick realized, quite suddenly, that his hand was shaking.

The coffee had been strong, and they were overdue to move on in their tourist-ing to a recommended nearby lunch spot. It would require walking back to where they had started and then driving ten minutes (to go a few miles). Nick addressed Alex and reported on his condition.

She then waited outside while he ducked into a convenience store for a snack. Inside, a gregarious old Korean man was faking his way through a conversation, with a couple of young women, about the wines he sold in the store. They were not wines that merited much conversation. As more people wandered in, Nick realized that he was the only person in the store not buying alcohol.

This was a new experience.

He paid for a protein bar and bottle of water, noted that the prices weren’t nearly as bad as he would have guessed, and went back out to meet Alex.

After a couple of minutes, once the protein bar had been swallowed, he felt better. They took less time to make their way back towards where the rental car was parked.

Still, they mostly remained quiet, as they walked and swapped the water back and forth between them until it was gone.

***

Nick wondered what Alex was thinking. She still didn’t seem to be enjoying LA very much, and it worried him. He neither liked nor disliked it yet, except for the weather, and the relative glut of parking, both of which were a relief compared to New York.

The city would have to be on the radar, if he were to proceed with his planned attempt to cross — or at least jostle his way into to a rare encampment somewhere in the middle — from the busking artist’s side of the street to the salespeople’s side.

He felt his jaw tighten. He paused, and wondered after the accuracy of his conclusions.

There was little fundamental difference between the artists and the salespeople. Most were working on slim margins, probably scraping by, spending just as much time hocking their wares or talents as they were developing or employing them. The real difference rested outside the neighborhood, where the big money was being spent by far wealthier — but when it came down to it, mostly, behaviorally identical — people.

It all came down to where the personal threshold existed, for each man and woman, didn’t it? How much were they willing to sell? What was the right price, what were the true costs?

His jaw tightened further. He glanced at Alex.

Again, she was deep in her own reflections. He realized, then, that there was no way of knowing what she was thinking. She could be worrying about the same things, probably if not certainly as they applied to herself and her artistic career. The constant state of persistent questioning came with the territory – but knowing or suspecting it was shared would not on its own have made the situation any less exhausting for either of them. Talking through their concerns might have helped, but for the moment they were not doing that.

Nick by now had built up a fairly effective practice of taking immediate note of any tightening of his jaw as a sign that he needed to breathe and let go. It could be that simple. He could relax his body and use this is a signal to his mind to follow suit.

He employed this strategy, and soon thereafter found a handhold in reason.

There was no way of knowing what the right move would be, what would happen, whether this abbreviated test trip was a success, a failure, or nothing at all of significance. He knew this, knew that all he could do was what he had always done (keep his head down and work), and also to do more of what has been helping much more recently, which was to actively pursue opportunities to grow and learn – in short, to ask for help.

“I’m hungry.”

“Yeah.”

“Let’s get lunch.”

He nodded.

***

They passed a small crowd that faced the beach, at the center of which was a thin, slightly-hunched, middle-aged Caribbean man with a folded bandanna encircling his head around the temples.

Nick craned his neck to look back as the man loudly corralled people into the painted white square he supposed the man was renting from the city for his performance.

Nick noticed that the man was holding an empty bottle of rum with the bottom broken off, and a large bed sheet, folded like a sack, that appeared to hold a heavy load of variously-sized, similarly broken glass bottles.

Alex’s gaze was drawn to the scene as well. The man continued to gather his crowd.

“Come in close! Come in close! Don’t be shy!”

Nick slowed. Alex did also. The man let go, partially, of the sheet, dropping it and its contents, not very carefully, in the middle of the square. He still held loosely onto the back two flaps of the makeshift sack, which he kept bunched in one hand.

Then there was a popping and a tinkling of broken glass as the front of sheet opened and several large pieces and shards were revealed. The man dropped the bottle of rum, atop the sheet and onto the sidewalk. The top broke off.

“Don’t be shy! Last show of the day, ladies and gentleman! Last show before I go back to the island!”

The man cackled loudly. The cackling had a hidden air of privacy about it, but Nick felt even this was part of the show — feigned madness but with a touch of the real informing the performance. He recognized the exploit.

He looked at Alex.

“I kind of need to know what’s up with that glass.”

***

Nick sensed a disappointing ultimate result almost immediately.

He remained watching, though, standing beside Alex, their bodies pressed especially close together to offset their discomfort at being part of an also-pressed-together crowd of strangers.

Partially Nick remained because it had been his idea to stop and watch — which was a decision they were now invested in, which he would realize later was part of the trick — but also he did so out of some morbid hope that the man would eventually perform some sleight-of-foot trick that might at least momentarily flirt with a real possibility of blood.

The man would, eventually, strategically, briefly — via a prior training that to Nick would seem incomplete and honestly not impressive enough, given all the build-up that would first come — make good on his unspoken promise to endanger himself.

But a matching act in New York, he knew even then, at the beginning of the performance, would not succeed.

New Yorkers would need to see a real trick, and would need to see it sampled more quickly. Fake blood might even work, but a true and obvious magician’s exploit would have to go on display, sooner and with escalating stakes, for a show such as the one they now witnessed to work effectively.

Then again, New Yorkers might not even be impressed by broken glass at all. They saw it every day, anyway. Nick additionally began to doubt if such a performance would even be permitted back home.

The man was at least a good performer.

He strode energetically about the circle he had created out of the crowd. As a few police officers in the distance ignored him completely, he continued to loudly cite and leverage an obviously overstated need to keep them from writing him a ticket, as an excuse to address lingerers directly, drawing them more tightly in on the circle, usually via an outdated and/or racist (but effective) name-calling joke.

Any white male was Eminem. Asian males were Jackie Chan. While he spoke to women as well, he did not assign them names in any matching fashion.

Nick considered this an important detail. If not a true endangerer of the self, the man was at least a practiced and ruthless performance salesman. He was going after men. He was highlighting the differences between they and him. The women, he flirted with — mildly, just enough to cause discomfort. Machismo. Race. Sex. He was aiming for the strongest, and most primally-based, social power structures he could manipulate.

For several minutes, the man continued to play the crowd, returning only to the pile of glass to tease various methods of harming himself with it. Each tease was well-timed to arrive just at the edge of audience impatience. All were abandoned abruptly once people were reintroduced to their initial dark curiosity, and followed by more crowd work, more jokes tinged with racial tension — until suddenly and quite unceremoniously — he performed what Nick guessed would be his only move, a definite but well-orchestrated two-step shuffle onto the pile of shards that was over as soon as it started.

Nick didn’t check for blood, figuring there wouldn’t be any. Indeed, there was none (or someone would have said something). He glanced at Alex, who looked bored and a touch uncomfortable. Nick also felt uncomfortable, and he wondered after the emotion, even as he realized that the show was already over even if it hadn’t yet ended.

The man brought out his hat, finally, and became instantly aggressive in soliciting payment for his services. He addressed couples, particularly, often playing a stoic unimpressed male against his more gregarious girlfriend.

Many of these couples had already been primed, by the man’s prior crowd work, for a direct ask. When he was done with them, he thrust the hat towards whole groups of tourists from foreign countries, briefly summarizing, in his own fashion, how the whole transaction worked and how much it was worth here in this country.

The man leaned over and addressed children, sending them to ask their parents for money. He eventually put the hat down, resumed his flirtations with the glass, and then, perhaps marking the beginning of his final act, the tone of his voice shifted again and Nick sensed hostility, within a now barely-veiled demand for compensation. This attitude had the effect of illustrating (and exaggerating) a non-verbalized accusation that the people who were left — and had yet to pay anything — were cheating him.

He wasn’t entirely wrong. He was leveraging his true talent beautifully.

While all this was going on, Nick felt Alex growing increasingly restless beside him. He turned almost completely around to face her this time, at the same time withdrawing his wallet. Alex nodded when he asked her if she was ready to go.

While the man was busy trying to extort an a Korean male tourist, who clearly resented being called Jackie Chan, Nick withdrew the two dollars of cash he had left on hand, quickly entered the circle, dropped the money and nodded curtly when the man swiveled his head to address the contribution.

A child ambled into the circle by the time Nick was almost out of it, dividing the man’s attention once again. In his performer’s tone, with the hostility gone at least for the moment, he quietly looked down at what was in the child’s hand and then told him to go back to his parents and ask for more.

***

They went to lunch, which was delicious and relaxing. Nick thought back to the man and his glass. He thought about his current existential dilemma.

He compared the two situations.

There had been something beautifully naked and honest about the man’s hustle. The racial aspect of the transactions, and the socio-economic reality in which they existed, too, couldn’t be ignored.

In a way, the artistry of the performance was genius. Re-considering the show in this light, as a white man who had paid to watch a black man threaten self-harm — led Nick finally towards both an understanding of his discomfort and an appreciation of the lesson.

But it also made him sad.

He did empathize with the performer, but even in his sadness he could not shake his disappointment in the hollowness of the man’s promise. The threat of the glass, upon which the entire artistry of the performance relied, had just been a guise for the more real and uncomfortable pressured reparations that the man had been in the midst of bringing to their final pitch when Nick and Alex had left.

The man could not be blamed for what Nick supposed was an underlying righteous anger that informed his performance. He continued to respect the effort, and to see the sense and appropriateness in it. There were artistic merits to his exploits. And he didn’t know the first thing about the man’s overall story.

Still, the man had made a clear choice, to organize his performance in the way that he had. He had chosen cynicism, of that common and damning sort which in Nick’s opinion cut even righteous effort off at its nub.

Nick, too, he acknowledged, had made a similar choice, in recognizing the dangerous potential of the pile of shards and deciding to stay and watch to see what would become of the man standing behind it.

Yet he had been waiting for a trick. For a real performance, steeped perhaps in the realities that informed its genesis — even if those realities were huge and hidden, as ugly as racism or inequality — but crafted from some burning desire to see a true and heartfelt empathic connection form between artist and audience. Even the blissful pause provided by true entertainment would have been enough.

He did not suspect that many of his fellow observers had dug into their discomfort as he had. Neither did Nick believe that the complete onus should be put on them to identify the possibility and/or to try.

It all just would have been better, he decided, if there had been magic.

Everything else, every invisible social strand or historical or ongoing sin, would have fallen away momentarily — if there had been magic. Nick believed that.

Enough people would have thrown their money in the hat. The manipulations could have been avoided, or at least abandoned after they had done their good work of bringing charged discomfort to the surface. There was always a threshold, in such cases, a chance point at which the artist could decide to pivot and forgive, to embrace true vulnerability.

That was the space in which art lived, Nick reminded himself. To be naked and honest but to also leave the audience with a promise fulfilled.

There was already enough threat in the world. Enough broken glass already scattered the paths of life. It didn’t need to be collected and repurposed in only half-honest ways.

Nick looked at Alex, smiling in the sun across the table from him, sipping an iced tea, and he felt at least momentarily up to the task of proceeding down whatever path might soon open up before him. He looked down at his beer, watched a bead of condensation reach critical mass and then slide down the side of the mug.

“The glass isn’t enough.”

“What?”

He had uttered the words softly, almost as an afterthought. He looked up and saw Alex squinting at him. She was still smiling. She always smiled, when there was sun in her face.

“Just the threat off glass isn’t enough.” She lowered her tea and cocked her head slightly.

“You talking about that guy?”

He nodded. She picked up her tea again, wrinkled her brow ironically. The expression momentarily vanquished her smile. He could sense the decisiveness in her gaze, even though she wore sunglasses.

Then, as she often did, Alex described the whole situation much more simply, and succinctly.

“Yeah. That was disappointing.”

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Fiction: The Jogger

11119135_10101866321049452_4701603461474492922_n

The Jogger had only been The Jogger for eight minutes.

For those eight minutes, The Jogger felt amazing. He had once been an athlete, had even found intermittent joy in athletics (mostly when there was no pressure to win). During those brief early moments of movement, it had felt right to ignore reason (which told him to pace himself) in deference to the rediscovered joy of simply going. Life felt simple — perfect.

As the ninth minute approached, he devolved (his words) back into A Walker. After about two more minutes had passed, spent breathing and checking in on the seriousness of a number of bodily alarms (no emergencies), he returned to being The Jogger again. Then, once more, he had to walk.

This was his first jog as a man over thirty.

The ease of those first moments, of this “first” jog, that muscle memory had afforded — they gave way to the reality of his condition. Not only was he “jumping in” as a non-twenty-something, but, more and more time, in recent years, has been spent sitting behind desks, at computers. And had he taxed his body in other ways, for too many hours at a time, for too long.

His feet began to ache. Their bottoms burned a bit, from the sudden, foreign friction, as well. The Jogger wore rough old socks, and new sneakers that had hardly been broken in at all, despite a few days of warm-up speed-walking with the dog.

The Jogger thought about the dog, while fending off the decision to become A Walker again. He wondered if he should or could have brought her.

He quickly decided against it. She couldn’t be trusted to keep pace without pulling away against the leash, potentially running ahead of him and into the street. His path, which he was letting the cross-lights dictate as he wove among the relatively quiet, tree-line streets in his Brooklyn neighborhood — there was still too much traffic.

And there would bikers, at some point. Men and women on bikes. Even before he became The Jogger, he had learned to regard bikers with distrust (to put it mildly).

Some were probably fine people, but the majority seemed all too prepared to skirt the city’s traffic laws, to constantly take risks with their lives. They too often risked the lives of others, as well, in the opinion of The Jogger.

After over a decade in the city, he had long ago lost count of how many times he had almost been hit by a bike. It had only gotten worse during The Reign of Bloomberg — especially in Manhattan, where The Jogger worked. Bloomberg had liked bikes. He’d made more room for them. The Jogger wasn’t against this; he hardly understood it. Bikes didn’t affect him directly. But there did seem to be more bikes, and except for the dumbly moving CitiBikes (which often moved in slow motion, under the direction of tourists or inexperienced citizens “just trying it out”), they seemed hungrier for human flesh.

The Jogger was conflicted on the legacy of Bloomberg. Manhattan seemed to no longer belong to most New Yorkers, but the cause and effect appeared complex and unclear.

To be fair, much of what ailed The Jogger’s New York (he was a transplant) was not unclear.

The Jogger decidedly believed that his city and country could take better care of its general citizenry. But he also saw the world getting smaller and faster, every day, and wondered just where the threshold began to fall between meeting the needs of globalization, of leveraging the ability of capital to bring speedy change and growth and progress, and the responsibility of each individual to himself and his closest neighbors.

He knew that much was out of proportion, politically, and in terms of the national power dynamic, which had all but consumed local dynamics as well, through politics and via the media. But he also felt change occurring slowly beneath his feet. It’s pace couldn’t yet match that of money and fear, but The Jogger had hope.

He couldn’t quite identify any concrete solutions. Things still felt too big. His younger self, as younger selves are meant to do, had bristled against the clear injustices of it all, had responded with anger and indignation.

But, now, he kept his head down, and he worked. He fought, from his own corner, and sought to match what progress he could identify. Indignation, he had discovered (without much surprise) was mostly a trap. He found motion — any motion, honestly undertaken — a much more effective reaction than anger, when met by examples of personal endangerment and social injustice.

Such as the threat of bikes.

The neighborhood where The Jogger lived wasn’t, on average, considered completely safe. Some areas were safer than others, depending on what block you were on, the median income of the residents on said block, the rate of gentrification on your street and its related effects on police presence and strategy. But, generally, The Jogger still felt his life was more likely to end via bicycle than gun.

He walked again. For two minutes. Then he jogged again, then walked again, and continued back and forth in this way until twenty minutes had passed.

That had been and would be the goal. Twenty minutes. He wished to remain focused on the process, on the more important benefits of exercise, and not some competitive standard of results.

He went home.

***

The next morning brought soreness, but The Jogger had slept well and had actually been expecting to wake up in worse condition than he had. After a long day at work, he returned home legitimately looking forward to His Second Jog.

His wife made him run earlier than the night before. Someone had been shot and killed on a nearby corner, twenty minutes after the jogger had passed it.

He exited his building and nodded to a few neighbors sitting outside in lawn chairs. One had brought out his dog. The Jogger pet the dog quickly, toggled a workout playlist on his phone, and, when he saw the crossing light begin to count down across the street, started jogging.

The Jogger considered his route, but he was not afraid of being shot.

***

A delivery man on an electric bicycle almost hit The Jogger, who leveraged his resultant anger to run faster, for a while, before quickly burning out and slowing down to a walk.

It was day three of jogging. Earlier that afternoon, The Jogger had remarked to his therapist that he was proud of his ability to slow down and take the walking breaks, in between the quicker-paced jogging. He expressed a sense of being more in tune with his body than he ever had in the past, despite not being completely satisfied at present with his endurance or shape.

During stints of either jogging or regular weightlifting, in his twenties, The Jogger had been narrow and unforgiving in his focus. As opposed to what he was doing now — the twenty minutes of exercise, almost every day, without attachments to pace or distance — he at that point in his life would have set a minimum distance and a minimum duration of his run. Then he would have pushed to scale those minimums up, sooner and faster than was healthy. Looking back, now, he realized that this had removed much of the joy from the activity.

He did not talk with his therapist about his anger towards bikers.

Despite this growth and maturation, however, The Jogger still wanted to learn, and to get the most out of his runs. He focused, on this third occasion, on finding a pace whereby he could begin to shrink his intervals of rest, even if his intervals of higher exertion were less pronounced.

The Jogger’s wife had months ago summarized for him an article she had read, the core concepts of which had made sense. He had entered into this new stint of jogging with the advice in mind. The gist of it was to run until you could hear your breath, to then pause, and walk, until you no longer heard your breath — and then to repeat this pattern for as long as you can or would like to proceed. He found the advice helpful.

The jogs had not been going perfectly, though. He had been growing consistently irritated by the propensity of the stopping and starting to cause his earbuds to pop out. It broke the flow of the activity.

In the past, this would have been an opportunity for anger, or, worse, fuel for an excuse by which to pause the jogging until he could find a better headphone solution — which would eventually become a smaller and smaller priority, day by day, until jogging itself had devolved from an active goal to a taboo subject at home.

Instead, now, he chose to experiment for a brief interval and found that if he held the lengthy cord to the earbuds loosely in his opposite hand (from the one in which he held his phone), that the held slack precluded any yanking caused by a sudden change in pace. The tactic would work until he found (bought) a better solution.

By the time The Jogger had figured out The Headphone Problem, and resumed a steady cadence, his third run was almost over.

He paused, raised his phone, and snapped a quick photo of the sight before him.

Dusk was in process. A large corner apartment building stood, tall and atypically alone from its spot beside and above the neighboring bridge that crossed over the subway train tracks. Deep yellow light glowed steadily, invitingly, from a few east-facing apartment windows, as well as from the entrance.  Across from the building was a large, thriving, well-shaped tree. Both were wrapped in warm, soft, purple-pink light.

***

On the fourth day, The Jogger struggled mightily. It had simply been too long since he had last exercised regularly, and on top of that his body seemed to be bouncing back from exertion more slowly than it had in recent years. He chose not to dwell on this. There was no way to stop aging.

Still, The Jogger felt he had to keep going. He did not want to keep going.

His feet, which had been cramping up painfully at intervals throughout the day, felt swollen and heavy. His calves — which he had been stretching, along with other parts, before each run — felt tight. His quadriceps were holding up, but this otherwise balancing factor was offset by the tightness in his upper arms and shoulders. He had been forgetting to stretch his upper body. His knees felt swollen.

He initially lasted only four minutes, on his fourth jog. The early goings-on of the experience were further sullied by the decision of the music app on his phone to sputter consistently, as it failed to buffer a “stock” workout playlist. The Jogger walked minute five, then jogged again. The music continued sputtering in his ears and his thinking became fractured. His mood sank.

He wondered if he was going to fail already. After four days.

Then, The Jogger remembered his reflections from days before. He recalled The Way He Had Been, and re-considered that version of himself.

For all his supposed faults, his previous incarnations had been able to keep going. For the first time in such a context, The Jogger began to recall memories of his earlier self through a lens of compassion, pride — and respect.

He saw himself, fattened and stupefied and depressed, at eighteen, entering the spring semester of his first year of college, having already gained his freshman fifteen (and then some) after only four months. He remembered how he had responded then, by changing his eating habits, beginning a workout routine — and running. On one day in particular, he remembered, he had run five miles, loop after loop after loop of the short indoor track at his college’s gym in Manhattan. It hadn’t even been planned. Something had just shaken loose that day. He felt glad to remember it now.

His current pace got easier. The Jogger breathed deep.

He thought back, also, to a only few years before. He had began running then, at a difficult time in his life, in pursuit of some taste of freedom, to direct an angry and desperate, trapped energy — one that had felt almost demonic — towards an outlet that could hurt no one.

The Jogger had used a treadmill, then. He had really ran. Several times per week, he would rush from work to the gym, would begin slowly — but then he would let loose, with the treadmill elevated, increasing speed every few minutes until his chest burned and the dark thing in his soul slouched back temporarily to its deep, hidden home.

The sputtering of the music suddenly seemed fixable. He decided to check his phone to see what playlists or albums he had downloaded, that had a quick tempo and would play uninterrupted.

Only one. Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life sat waiting. So, that had been the problem. The jog had wanted Iggy.

In the end, the fourth jog went smoothly.

***

The Jogger took a day off from jogging. He went to work, got home, and ate dinner and watched TV with his wife. He took Advil for his knees, went to bed early, and slept well.

***

Saturday arrived. After breakfast and coffee, The Jogger invited his wife to run with him. She appeared surprised, and touched, and accepted. She asked — with some fear in her voice, he thought — whether he would be all right running with her, if she had to proceed at a slower pace than he otherwise would on his own. The Jogger said that it would be fine and he meant it.

He did end up having to keep a slower pace. He didn’t mind. The jog went by much more quickly with her there.

602066_10100681300095942_1773576913_n (2)Like the story? Consider Subscribing to my list for advanced access to new (creative) content produced by yours truly. I send one email per month and almost always send stuff like this to subscribers before anyone else gets it. Because they’re special. You can also Share this post via social media if you’d like. That would be cool!

Multiverse at 2015 Katra Film Series

Edit: I forgot to mention that there’s a discount code for tickets. KATRA10.

"Do you know what you want?"
“Do you know what you want?”

Hey, Wonderful People.

Just a quick announcement that Multiverse will be screening again in its native NYC, this time at the Katra Film Series in Manhattan.

Details below! If you live in the city, please come by, say hello to me and Rebecca De Ornelas, and watch a bunch of other curated shorts. There will be drinks.

And there will be a vote at the end of the night. Per Katra’s site:

Each selected work will compete for the audience prize voted by the folks in attendance and the winning film will advance to the 2nd round which takes place in July.

Launched in the Summer of 2012, Katra Film Series screens a selection of quality shorts by emerging and award-winning filmmakers in NYC and provides a great networking platform for industry professionals. In partnership with Everyone Matters and Rhino Films the 2015 Grand Prize Winner will be awarded a one-on-one meeting with acclaimed Producer Stephen Nemeth from the Academy-Award Nominated The Sessions and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

We’d love to see you there! In fact, I’ll bring a few copies of my book as an additional incentive. Say hello, get a free book. Who says I don’t take good care of you?

2015 Katra Film Series – Sat. Feb 7th, 6pm-1030pm

217 Bowery St. between Rivington & Prince St.
New York, NY 10002

  • 2 for 1 house drink specials from 6p-8p
  • $15 advance online ticket sales (includes screenings, Q&A, and afterparty)
  • $20 door price (includes screenings, Q&A, after party)
  • Full dinner menu available
"You're going to do it again?" Probably. Ugh.

The Arc of 2014: Movement

Vee (Phoebe Allegra) and Margaret (Rebecca De Ornelas) aren't completely on board with Cass (Masha King) for the moment.
Vee (Phoebe Allegra) and Margaret (Rebecca De Ornelas) aren’t sure if this year was even real. From The Videoblogs.

I’m going to try to keep this brisk, if not short, because I’m always in a hurry lately because I want to keep moving.

Movement, as revealed by the title of this post, is a key word to the coming discussion.

Last year, I wrote a piece titled The Arc of 2013: The Beginnings of The Pushback. The gist of its messaging can be summarized by restating my belief that, last year, people began boiling over and finally fighting back against social injustices and unsatisfactory socio-economic conditions. If I spent most of 2012 expressing anger in this space, when confronted with these realities, 2013 was spent consolidating and channeling that anger.

Riding off of that, I believe 2014 was about using that anger as fuel for movement. This year was about making moves.

It was fucking hard.

But…damn…did it feel good.

During some recent, rare downtime, I spent a few hours customizing that cute little Facebook Year In Review Thing. For the fuck of it, really.

What I realized, upon doing so, however, was that I had not only achieved my year’s goals, of shooting a feature film and mostly surviving the process — but I had also put out quite a bit more than that, in terms of work. After so many years of toil, in a word, I finally began to grow.

So, yeah, I put out more work than ever before, this year. More importantly, though, I diversified my work more than ever before as well.

Traffic to this site increased over 130% from last year, despite a 20% drop in the number of posts from the previous year.

This tells me that the diversification and focus paid off. Since this was mostly a Year of Creative Content, it also tells me that you like it better when I make things and share them than when I just write about what I think or how I feel about society or politics or the whatever bullshit is being slung at us by the media on a given day.

Along with the traffic increase, my family (that’s how I think of you) grew as well, on Twitter and on Facebook and in terms of my email list. I feel honored to be able to say that. Truly.

 

But, what happened? What made the difference?

Heading into 2015, I wanted to identify the answer(s) to those questions, not only so that I can repeat or expand my efforts but so that others who are interested can attempt their own journey using any methods that might similarly apply.

So, in defiance of the intro to last year’s post, which included a mild critique of lists — here’s a list of what I did in 2014 that I believe made it a year of movement. Following the list, I’ve also taken a moment to reflect broadly on what I’ve decided to aim for over the course of the coming year as a result of what I’ve learned since launching this site and rededicating myself to professional development and growth.

Multiverse Completed and Distributed

Laughter without voices.
Laughter without voices.

You’ve probably heard enough from me about this, but I’m still thrilled that Multiverse has been so well-received by most people who have watched it. Also, I feel validated by the decision to let the film speak for itself. While I ultimately chose to submit it to some standard festivals after the fact, I think it was the right decision to debut Multiverse to those of you who are in New York, as lead-in to The Videoblogs (more on that exciting event in a moment) and to then push it out online to everyone else during the ensuing Videoblogs funding campaign.

Did Multiverse become a viral hit? No. It was never going to become that. Realistically, more than anything else, Multiverse was something that I had to do to break free from some lingering difficulties in my life. I continue to take pride in how it came out, to appreciate the contributions of my collaborators and all our crowdfunding supporters, and I’m heartened every time someone reaches out after seeing it to tell me that they feel (or have felt) the same way. A film’s life is never fully realized until people start watching, and when they do, despite the many months of struggle and fear and confusion leading up — all the work and the sacrifice become worth it.

Comedic Voice Let Off Leash

I didn't say it was a tasteful comedic voice.
I didn’t say it was a tasteful comedic voice.

I had a great time this year experimenting with comedic writing. It’s something I used to do when I was younger, which I lost my passion for as I got older and more cynical. Jokes always make it into my films, somehow, but riding off the end of 2013, when I collaborated with The Motel Staff on several holidays videos, in 2014 I decided to brave the waters in a more direct way. This resulted in a few sketches and a five-minute set of stand-up that I did, which was a blast in itself and lead to this post about how I am The Wolf. The effect of all this was that: 1) I proved to myself that I could do it; 2) I rediscovered how much I like making people laugh; 3) I met new people who would prove to be invaluable collaborators later on in the year.

Got Fictional

You too can get a hold on some DREAD.
You too can get a hold on some DREAD.

I returned to my roots in another way in 2014, by writing my first short story in over seven years. In drafting, that short story became something longer than a short story and shorter than a novel. Despite it’s slight stature, A Night Alone in My Dread became a major accomplishment for me. I was not expecting to write fiction this year. The fact that it happened, and that hundreds of people read my little book — I can’t begin to express how grateful I am. To put this in perspective, my creative output took the form of narrative fiction probably 90% of the time for most of my life, up until I started making films almost ten years ago. In many ways, this aspect of the year feels like renewing an old friendship.

Produced, Crowdfunded, and Shot The Videoblogs

Cass (Masha King) waits for an explanation as to how this all happened.
Cass (Masha King) is also waiting for an explanation as to how this all happened. From The Videoblogs.

I don’t understand. I’m being honest with you about this for the first time. I don’t understand how The Videoblogs happened. It’s still hard for me to process, that as I work to finish transcoding and organizing footage, and syncing picture to sound — that soon I’ll be editing a feature film that I wrote and directed, and that YOU made happen because you believed in us.

You’re fucking beautiful. That’s all I can say. What? Where am I?!

Became A Professional

The script for my new project, the story of which, I hope, is just beginning.
When The Videoblogs was just a stack of pages.

I’m not sure when this happened, either. I just know that it did, and that I’m extremely grateful. Why do I feel like a professional, now — when I’ve been “making stuff” for years?

Partially, I think I just started bumping up against “minimum time served”. Ten thousand hours and all that. Another big help was The Artist’s Way. But the biggest difference, I think, came from accepting myself and my circumstances and building my work flow around that.

What does this mean? For me, it meant looking at the reality of how I work best, and what the conditions are that I have to work within, and finding a system that works within those “constraints”. Because I struggle still, on occasion, with anxiety and depression, this system also had to take things like daily mental toll and daily mood into account.

What did I come up with? I write in the morning — something I had never done before. I get up earlier than ever before (usually) and focus on self care for an hour or so and then I write as early as I can in the day. My goal is an hour of writing. If I get through thirty minutes, I’m okay with it, not only because it’s still progress but because, on most occasions, I end up getting more done later in the day as well, which results in multiple hours of progress that probably wouldn’t have been possible without that earlier healthy start.

And I don’t restrict myself to a single project. It’s too much pressure. When I did that in the past, I ended up obsessing and the work suffered. Instead, now, I turn to whatever project or outlet seems to need my attention for that day. In short, I learned for myself what many more accomplished artists than me have said before — that I had to start treating my art like a job. Not only has my art not suffered as a result of this decision — as the above proves — it actually began to thrive. Despite being born and growing up inside the stormy hair-cave that is my head.

Why We Move

I began by saying that I wanted to outline all of that so that I can keep up on my efforts, and also to share them with others, in case my testimony could be of some use. But, getting back to the idea of movement, there’s another reason why I wanted to take stock of the year.

This is far from over.

Much of what saddened and frightened me in recent years is unfortunately still going on in the world today. I’m not going to recount any of it, because I’m not sure any longer that doing so is at all useful.

Instead, I want to keep focusing on movement. On grassroots efforts. Somewhere along the line of shepherding all of the above artistic efforts, this year, I realized something. I realized that nothing is going to systemically change, politically, economically, morally or conscientiously — until I change. Until we change.

So much of life is about perspective. And we’ve truly lost perspective as a society, in a lot of ways. We know it, most of us know it, but we don’t seem to be able to deal with it.

It doesn’t matter how this happened. It doesn’t matter if some of us can talk more confidentially about how it did, or are more certain about how to fix it, or whether you believe one argument or another or none of them at all.

What matters is that we talk through things, so that more of us, in more places, can begin once again to see life as it is rather than what we’ve been told it’s meant to be.

We cannot become empowered until our hearts are full. Our hearts cannot be full until we feel out the pain that we’re in, nationally and, perhaps, the world over. We cannot begin to heal until we’re sure of what’s happened inside of us and begin opening our mouths to speak about it with one another.

This has been a long time coming. We must continue to reflect on hard truths, must challenge each other to look at things differently, must be patient as everyone exerts his or her right to be heard. Maybe it’s all been going on for a long time. Probably I don’t even have a full idea yet of what I’m talking about. But I’m trying to understand. I’m choosing…to hope.

I guess that’s the main thing that changed for me, this year. I realized that I don’t have all the answers, or even any of them at all. All I can do, as an artist, is struggle with what questions call to me in the loudest voices, present that struggle to you, and encourage and engage in a dialogue.

Here’s to more in 2015. Thank you for reading, and I wish you the very best, for all the days of the coming year.

Happy Holidays, Have Some Dread

Happy Holidays, Dearest Readers!

Thanks for sticking with me for another year. I’ll write up a recap of the past twelves months, and/or a “Kicking Off 2015” post soon, but for now…

…please note that the Kindle version of A Night Alone in My Dread is now free until Monday, 12/29.

You too can get a hold on some DREAD.
You too can get a hold of some DREAD.

If you don’t own a Kindle but still want a free copy, let me know and I’ll send you a PDF or a paperback (only ten available). I’ll need your address if you want a paperback so send me a message through this site.

My best to you and yours, lords and ladies.

Multiverse Screening at Videology on 11/17

"Do you know what you want?"
“Do you know what you want?”

Just a quick announcement, for any interested NYC/Brooklyn area friends, that Multiverse will be screening at Videology this coming Monday, 11/17, as part of the bar’s LOCAL FILMMAKER SHOWCASE. The screening is for Short Shorts (tee-hee) and it begins at 8PM.

I unfortunately can’t make the screening BUT if you attend: 1) I have been told they have great nachos available, and 2) Let me know, and I will find a way to get a free copy of A Night Alone in My Dread out to you as a token of thanks.