Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Collapsing under pressure...

Just a notification that I've given up on any sort of daily blogging for the rest (and week+ before today that lacks entries) of August. Might make a monthly theme of "Wake Me Up When September Ends" for the quickly approaching 30-dayer, but with no pressure, probably equating to more, shorter posts. In other news, my headache appears to be breaking.

Friday, August 14, 2009

"The Respect in Names"

This is something I've been toying around with since I wrote my book in November. Some guy just got named James Bond. This is an excerpt from what would eventually be a novel or novella about how he went from everyman to Bond-like character that would tightrope the fourth wall like a skirtchaser following your sister.

Apologies to what may end up being self-plagiarism--this post is a return of sorts to the blog and I'm just sort of writing out this fiction without a strong amount of planning. What I'm worried about is that this story could end up similar to another I write here someday, with some character names swapped. Of course, with that typed up I can't see any similarities between the story I'm thinking of in my mind and the one I'm writing now, but there might be, and I thought there were when I turned it a certain way at some point.

And now without further interruption, the feature presentation:


People put too much respect into names. I think I'm living testament to that. You introduce yourself as James Bond and people laugh and when they take you seriously, when you show your ID, and then on top of that you've been friends for three and a half weeks, they look at you differently than they do say the Brads or the Phillips, the everyday John Smiths and Does, even though these days those everyman tales of unoriginality draw semi-laughing stares too.

I mean, it's not like I'm mad at anyone, but I think it really lessens the believability of everything I say, everything I've done is endlessly called into question, and the problem I have is gaining any sort of real respect that isn't just formed by the fakeness that comes in my signature. I'm not out here making jokes, not introducing myself last name first, it's always "James..." and a belabored muffled "Bond" to people who keep my gaze, who make it apparent that they know too many Jameses and need me to distinguish more.

I've had reprieves, ten years ago, I moved west under the moniker of James Ballard, a private in-joke for me, that would inevitably bring about the end of my paradise. I'm not looking for pity here, that's not my point, I just mean to put out here the concept that I am telling the truth, not uncoloring and presenting you a G-rated black and white version of my life. If I'm going to actually get into any sort of confession, recollection of what my life has been, I do need to know that it will be believed. I offer this as a way of setting your minds, while I also know that it will inevitably fall through. Like I said, people put too much respect into names, I think it's something we picked up when we invented language, the whole idea that what the name of something tells you has to be true--more contemporarily we see this in radio, print, television, the internet, people like to make assumptions and like to be told things. I'm okay with that.

From that preface, I'd like to move on to what you will see as an unlikely situation, what you will assume is me hiding behind some sort of modesty, putting on the mask of a lesser man. Perhaps what you don't understand is that false respect wears a man down, causes him to eventually question all compliments, all support offered.

Anyway, we get out of the country, across the pond, and I have this odd feeling the entire time that I've forgotten something behind, in my apartment, something important. She's an interesting girl, pushy, and I'm her employee for this little trip, so it goes to say bossy. Asleep on the plane, in a dream, it occurs to me that what I'm leaving behind is not just something semi-important like a suit or a particular brand of cologne, my dress shoes, or anything tangible. What I'm leaving behind is the man I've been all my life, the man who's been forced to be going through the motions, some secret agent man so deceptive he doesn't even know who he really is.

I think the part of me that was gone was the one that at least subscribed to a reasonable facsimilie of some sort of free will. This was a woman who had found me and paid me to come out here and play Sherlock Holmes, something I was unused to. James Bond wasn't known for his paid exploits but rather his comradery. I've at least picked up enough faked stories to keep the water cooler boys happy when we're out on the town playing Bateman. But stories of my skills of detection, I'm especially lacking on those.

In my mind, the memory is fresh, she's opening the box and it's full of Benjamin Franklin, his many crispy faces glimpsing up at me, a man that looks weird in any color other than green. What I warn you to remember about me is that I can be bought, I'm Casey at the bat, easily willing to take a fall if you can give me enough funds.

You don't know what life I've been living, spending more than I have night in, night out, this was an escape route that presented itself to me without any coaxing and now I will have to solve this mystery, put together this puzzle. I didn't ask questions, I don't know what I'm going to be doing, this was a Bobbie Sue course of action, this was just taking the money and run.

Now we're in some luxury hotel listed as a married couple, "undercover," she mouthed to me as we checked in and right now I'm lying on the bed momentarily, before I move myself down to the floor--a transition I plan on making of my own accord--looking up at the fan above me attempting to see one of the blades made distinguishable from the others, but like everything lately, this attempt falls fruitless.

And then I hear her in the shower calling back to me, "Ugh, I can't use this soap, the smell reminds me of my father, a man I'd much rather forget. I have a bar in my bag, could you get it for me?" I get up and walk over to her bag unsure of what to do. "It should be the third flap on the front side," she says. I locate this pocket and pull out exactly, a bar of expensive soap. And I think, do I want to find out more about this woman? Am I coming apart at the seams because of how little consistency my life has had lately?

Suddenly something catches my eye and I look up through the window at the night sky, bar of soap in my hand, and I watch a star shoot quickly across. Normally I'm not one for hocus pocus, but normally I'm not one for business trips out of country with strange women. And so I wish.

2:35AM Wed 8/19/09
Def: 4pp

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Got Ya"

Psych’s basic set-up is just brilliant to me. The idea of Shawn Spencer, brilliant detective, doubling as a fake psychic allows for near unlimited dramatic irony. It also allows for some four wall slippage, since Shawn and Gus know more than everyone else. Their own continued in-jokes can almost be seen as directly referencing an audience. Couple this with what I’ve mentioned before—USA Network’s solid ad campaigns that take the actors out of the show in semi-character and play little jokes and gags with them.

A few of these ads even go as far as to make light of the show’s subtle way of addressing the fourth wall, with Shawn picking the duo’s theme music in one commercial, and asking Gus if he thinks they might just be the stars of a television show in another.

To me, this is the way fourth wall treatments have to stay. Sure, they’ve been done brilliantly in a pure direct fashion (e.g. Grant Morrison’s Animal Man), but canon is ultimately more important, in my mind, in any sort of non-farcical series. I have issues with the use of the term “the real world,” or “your world” (spoken to an implied audience/reader), in fiction, and when you’ve addressed the viewer, you’ve, to some extent, done just that.

Much of my writing makes light of this fact, since I have writers in the universe that I’ve begun to create who both play characters in it and write it, themselves. But the world they came from is not the real world, just one a lot more like ours than the one that they now inhabit. Psych seems to understand my beef with this and avoids direct references to the audience, but still reaps the benefits of an aside every now and then.

The main problem I have with a show like Psych is how often it deals with murder as a comedy. Along with Monk, I would say that Psych’s main problem has to do with the fact that so many of its laughs have to come around death, albeit fictional death. In less talented hands, this type of show tends to fall on its face quite quickly, as could be noted in CSI’s repeated attempts at episodes based in humor.

Psych is generally able to skirt such issues by avoiding direct macabre humor, the sort of thing that actually makes up a good CSI episode. Where the latter falls flat, is where the former is at its best. CSI is written as a dramedy at best, more often than not it is a straight drama show with some chuckles here and there, while Psych is never unsure of itself as a comedy. CSI seems to be a part of new shows that do not bother themselves with preset rules, and like, let’s say, Scrubs, this program will often times look for experimental new styles. Turning an entire episode into a collection of the macabre humor that is barely visible in one show makes for an uninviting program that laughs at death. Psych can draw its humor from its characters and for the most part avoid that sort of black humor because of this. It is a true benefit of the show’s formatting.

Even when the show deals with dead bodies, which I believe I noted already as being nearly an every episode occurrence, we can watch Shawn and his little joking psychic routines, the knowledge of who his character really is allows the viewer to remember their disbelief perhaps and works well in dealing with the problems caused in laughing at a show that deals with death. A similar course of action can be seen in Case Closed, where the detective’s very appearance adds to the humor of the programming.

What is quite interesting about Psych is how much it depends on its own gimmick, but is not enslaved to it. Characters still interact and relationships still change, the way any active show should be, but without Spencer’s fake psychic gig, the show would become your traditional crime drama, oddly then positioned in a near duplicate status to what might be seen as its child program in The Mentalist, a show that Psych even includes in one of its own in jokes.

This all adds up quite well, but Psych perhaps fizzles once again with the Corbin Bernsen character who is Shawn’s father. Whereas one has an easier time with liking Bernsen’s “semi name actor in a small role” cousin (in his position as actor on show and not in blood), Bruce Campbell who portrays Sam Axe on Burn Notice, my view of the father Henry Spencer is a bit mixed. While the acting from Bernsen is not lacking, the main issue is just an uncertainty over whether or not his character can be liked.

Psych operates commonly through flashbacks to when our hero Shawn was a kid and time and time again we see Henry portrayed as the comical over-bearing father (perhaps that’s the wrong term), and these bits generally leave me with a sick taste in my mouth. Uncertainty creeps into my mind, because Bernsen’s character is almost always portrayed in a dark, dark light.

All in all, though, the show does a good job of working its gimmick premise to the extent that it can, both relying too much on it and being quite independent from it at times. Both James Roday and Dulé Hill (Spencer and Gus, respectively) must be credited with making the show what it is, in the end, since it is their camaraderie that truly pulls everything together.

I guess it must be noted that so far I’ve only written of USA television shows, and I’ll try to steady that out a bit. If you’ve been a true reader of this blog, then you will know that I have written about Fox’s Fringe in the past, and I would just like to add that I plan to move on to other channels’ broadcastings as well at some point. Apologies to anyone upset with my apparent network bias thus far, and as always, for boring you all the way through this post.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"The MMP"

The good thing about book clubs that send you books unless you tell them you don’t want them is that you can sample a bit. I started The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb the other day, because it was a very large paperback tome and it interested me to see who this Lamb brother was, writing these big long books and the like. And while the Quality Paperback Book Club’s books are now on their way back to the publisher, I’ve become a reader of our friend Wally.

The first thing I did, after a little interneting around with his name (something I would consider a one-upping of the term “googling”), was to look up what I could find by him at the local Borders. Some people like Barnes & Nobles, most do, these days, it seems (quite a few even annoyingly give it the misnomer Barnes & Nobles, but that is neither here nor there), but I don’t particularly care for their store style, at least the closest one by here.

What I found was quite delightful, actually; it appears that Wally Lamb is quite the popular author (something I picked up from the fact that his first two books have been a part of Oprah’s Book Club, or whatever it’s called and Oprah’s name is, rightly so, synonymous these days with popularity) and he has his first two books out in mass market paperback, an edition that I think more books should be released in.

I mean, the MMP has become the mainstay of the genre market, with old skiffy paperbacks and John D. MacDonald books, but really, this is only a publishing company created doom. Obviously if you only publish a limited number of books in a certain format, then that format is going to be assumed to be fitting in with the rest of the small group published. And it’s a shame, really, because for someone like Wally Lamb, I think this works particularly well.

Even though he has ridden the Oprah Book Club train a few times, I’d say that Wally isn’t a household name, no Stephen King, not even a John D. MacDonald, for that matter. The benefit of writing a book to be published eventually as an MMP is that a prospective reader is shelling out half as much money to decide whether he (or she as the case often is) might be interested in your work.

What’s funny is that in these times there is a somewhat booming business in the publishing business of doing rough, career-spanning anthology books for different popular writers. The idea is to put a little bit of everything they’ve ever done into one place. Now in all actuality, a marketing plan like this could only work completely successfully in my mind, if the company was willing to eat the cost of these books and release them free. Because if the reader actually does like this author, all of the individual books are still to be bought, paid for at rates of ten to fourteen dollars. Now, of course, libraries and used book stores can alleviate this problem for readers, customers, but not for the publisher, itself, in fact quite the opposite occurs.

It would seem, then, that this would not be an overly successful business plan, but I have no way of testing my theories and am going to leave them as just that, theories, thoughts, and blog posts. However, the lack of use of the mass market paperback outside of the airplane novel is something that truly bothers me.

Trade paperbacks are perhaps more for the book fetishist, the kind of person that any book reader will be in, oh, probably the next fifty years, but still, they can be bulky and useless, and just from the heightened price tag, illicit more care from the constant reader. An MMP is the best type of novel for a long walk, for transportation of any kind, really, and in my mind hardcovers are best suited for reading in the home, in that strange place between being completely awake and dreaming that reading allows us to escape to.

And yet, here I am divided, since I feel that I want to try out some sort of self-publishing within the next year or so, and I, myself, are considering the trade paperback above the mass market. But I am no publisher, and I wouldn’t really be going into this with any sort of goal as to make money or anything, but rather to have a product, something to show for what I’ve done, written.

“Quod scripsi, scripsi,” I have quoted Anthony Burgess quoting Pontius Pilate many a time, surprisingly, not in works that have really lived to see the day. But here I am again. “What I have written, I have written.” And it’s a true thing to say, but I think that to some extent, in this day and age, the physical is actually going to mean more than it does now, an idea I don’t think many people share. I’ve written earlier this month about how I felt about the future of the title of “writer,” which I said was not going to vanish, but rather expand and become everyone, to some extent.

What I mean to say here is not so much a revoking of that, but an addition. Because I think less tangible things will be made by most everyone, blogging will continue to grow steadily, podcasting will only rise in popularity, the tangible things like books or radio station broadcasts will find themselves on some sort of pedestal, not because they are the best of what there is now, or even the best of what there is then, but because they are different, and dying away, going extinct. Like how a lost dodo bird showing up in a zoo would receive more care than the usual chimpanzee.

And here comes the hard part, since this post began as a caution to publishers who fear using the mass market paperback edition—the portable half-price version of your favorite book, I say—and has now gone elsewhere. For me, as a nothing writer with very few ears out there, I have to think that I’d rather not be first put into print in an MMP. The trade paperback is snazzier.

But once again, a good thing this time, I’m not running a publishing company.

12:21AM Fri 8/14/09
Def: 0-1pp [depends on how you look at it]

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

"All these novels unwritten..."

I’ve written something like this before, I’ll admit, and it had virtually the same title, and I’m going to use it as a guide here, but since I wrote it out, a sort of outline on dead-ended plots, I’ve come up with some new ideas, and these are less tried and killed, but rather more insubstantial and uncertain, like a pitcher who does well in college, but has yet to show any big league talent.

When the last Harry Potter book came out, Rowling read the first two chapters at a sort of opening party for the book…I think it was the first two chapters. My father said that he’d rather she just sort of said, “Okay, here’s how the story goes…” and spewed on about it for a while, which I thought was a preposterous idea then and still think of as a preposterous idea now, but only because of situation. This was a book that was in a series, we knew the theme of it already, the style was nothing new. Now if it was a book she hadn’t finished writing yet or one that was just getting ready to be published, but was a stand alone kind of thing, then it would make more sense.

Not that what I’m doing here makes any sort sense.

“A papier-mâché Mephistopheles”

This is the novel that I’m writing in my head right now. It’s a female narrator and I’m looking at unlikely sources for ideas on how I can approach the concept of male writer writing in female voice—Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone, which has just a brilliant title; so far the first book of Lee Goldberg’s Monk series, original novels based on the characters of the USA show that’s now entering its last season, oddly enough, this book, Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse, has been since adapted into an episode of the show, presenting the sort of continuity issues that I find quite interesting; The Spy Who Loved Me, a book I haven’t gotten yet, Fleming’s only first person Bond novel. The plot of the story concerns a mid-2020s school reunion that reintroduces our heroine with the stock character “one who got away,” which I’ve been developing in my mind as some sort of self-pitying semi-successful novelist, autobiographical, only a better man than I am in virtually all ways. The first part of the story I see as the standard romantic comedy, with our narrator watching the now fifteen to twenty year old films The Holiday and Music and Lyrics among others, actually imagining herself attempting to stop her love from getting married, sort of a smart chick flick, as our narrator, her name being Samantha McGee, I believe (the writer named maybe something along the lines of Brad…something, I don’t know…maybe even three names), evaluating her life as it goes through all the little flutters and flights of such films. Then, after this, I’d liked to move onto a new genre, a sort of novel of ideas, about the two of them teaching each other their contrasting views of the world, learning new things, changing their minds. The backdrop of the last section is the presidential election of 2028, whose leading candidates present our couple with a dilemma, since Sam’s family is related by blood, however murkily, to one candidate, who bares their last name, but she is considering voting the other way. An idea I have, for her mother to be coming out of prison in the first section, for gauging how their relationship is changing, is also evaluated here. And then with a final concluding story that is vastly formless in my mind, but hopefully brings us into a new genre again, something, maybe ten to fifteen years later, and—an idea that occurs to me as I type—that could be built our protagonists looking forward, observing, and thinking about the effect of some future event along the lines of ‘69’s moon landing. Think of it as skiffy written with the style of yesteryear, our characters are older, and think differently, perhaps some juxtaposing sentences thrown in, like the carbon copies that Easton Ellis does in Less Than Zero and American Psycho.

“A Working Class Hero”

An epistolary novel between old friends who have grown out of touch; one is running for president, the other is only trying to make ends meet. A sort of rolling narrative might form, but I’d like to keep it in letters…I don’t think I’ll write this book until after I’ve read Dracula and The Gum Thief, and hopefully I’ll get more ideas about it from there. Eventually, the book would expand, and we’d get more letters written by different people to characters we already know, probably, that’s the idea anyway, when approaching an entire book as fragmentary as one made of letters, I think you can fall to breaking style quite quickly. The last story/letter/whatever would probably end on someone saying they were listening to the John Lennon song the other day and then slowly, mid sentence, our book ends. Maybe it starts out the same way, just half of a letter fragment, to we don’t know, from who knows where. And maybe I’d incorporate little articles from Paul Kuberg, my little fictional journalist into this one. Also, now that I think about it, in “paper-thin” the short hand I’d give to the book listed above (the one for this one would be “hero” or “working” probably depending on what I’m talking about exactly), we’d have a bit of this too, since our narrator would read from the books of the writer, Brad Something. I don’t know how well I could write an entire epistolary novel, though, this seems like something that could truly leak through my hands quickly and surely.


This one is the most haphazard. I have the title, I have the immediate idea and then it goes haywire. The narrator might be a writer. He’s disconnected from his father, perhaps knows that his father had an affair, but never told his mother, perhaps not. Mother and wife both die in a car crash. What I want to stir up with the title is the same sense of “ick” that I got from first reading about Bag of Bones, and it being about a writer and his dead wife. Now, in King’s book, the bag of bones has nothing to do with his wife, is actually continuously referenced as all even the best characters can be. In mine, roadkill is meant to mean, sickeningly, the narrators lost wife and mother, and perhaps he would characterize their bodies as that in the book at some point. I want to write a book where our narrator begins to become unreliable, his writing goes crazy, and perhaps he becomes haunted by ghosts of his family that the narrative leaves to you to decide if they are real or not. And that’s probably all I’m willing to write about this one in the stone of the internet at the moment.

“All these novels unwritten…”

A placeholder title—This would be a book about a writer named Mike (I’ve started a few of the stories and figured that much out), somewhat my form of Mike Noonan, the main character of Bag of Bones, more so just a name I’ve picked, since I consider myself particularly bad at coming up with character names. The novel would actually be more of a short story collection with perhaps some framing involved, but I’m not too sure on that part. What it would consist of are these little vignettes that vary in style and more so in genre, since I do want to make it all in somewhat the same voice. These would be purposely in haphazard chronological order, and perhaps the full extent of an idea of come up with called “hiding a novel,” which I’m sure is not entirely new and created by me, is probably not even coined this for the first time by me, but is an interest of mine lately. The idea would be that the novel—defined somewhat as a singular work of length that is sometimes broken up into chapters and the like, but is still over all unified by more than just a common characters or setting—calling anything that doesn’t fit this as something akin to the concept album of books, rather than the rock opera, which would be the novel. The lead story to this would be called “The Ghost Story,” and although the rest would probably not have such vague, weak names, they probably all would start in the word “The,” linking them, as these are the specific work in this book, that represents the story with that title. “The Ghost Story” itself, which I’ve started, has a bit of a frame around a campfire and the campers look to Mike for a story, since he’s the novelist with the group. I think this would be a book like Bag of Bones or Bret Easton Ellis’s Lunar Park, not in comparison as to skill, obviously, but as to theme, since neither of those are truly about plot, but more about writing than anything else. My own pseudo-writing-memoir, if I had the talent to write it as such, which I might not. Another story which I’ve started would be “The Great Novel Race,” and it might be a closer to the collection or just one somewhere stuck in the middle, slightly closer to the back. This story would take a look at writing that mirrors Junot Diaz’s speaker, Yunior, in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, since there would be some distance between Mike and his subjects who are involved in, obviously, a race to finish writing novels. I would love to be able to capture the sort of commentary on writing that Chabon gets in Wonder Boys here. And then there would probably be at least half a dozen other stories there, each perhaps averaging thirty pages, with maybe thirty pages of frame spliced in.

“A Light in the Dark”

This would be a third person story, one I’ve written once, when I was in fifth grade, but one that derived into an alien invasion story. This, to me, is still a good title for it. Story about Jack Kraloni who’s a detective suffering black-outs and a series of killings going on, and Jack starts to wonder if someone isn’t doing them in his body while he’s decommissioned. Obviously written better than that was. Guest stars would be basically every character I’ve ever written with the thought of them being in more than one story.

And I call this “All these novels unwritten…” with a touch of my general pessimism, since I’ve never written a satisfactory novel, these will probably be forever never written.

8:04PM Wed 8/12/09
Def: 0.5pp

Monday, August 10, 2009

"Somedays aren't yours at all..."

“Music is, to me, proof of the existence of God. It is so extraordinarily full of magic, and in tough times of my life I can listen to music and it makes such a difference.” Kurt Vonnegut

For me, music is a mystery, something I’m never really sure that I’m okay with. By choice—I’ve never pursued any sort of instrument and sing only privately—I’ve never become anything resembling a musician, and so I see it as something magical. Perhaps god-like, as Vonnegut makes the allusion to.

Now for Kurt, I’m sure music did not prove anything. It’s worth saying that this was a man who usually described himself as some sort of atheist or agnostic, and never truly ventured into debates about religion. He was a man who had respect for the things people like Jesus Christ had said, while he might not believe in what they supposedly did. [This would be in contrast to C. S. Lewis’s Trilemma of “Lunatic, Liar, or Lord,” and this suits me fine in my mental picture of Vonnegut. He was often a contradictor, he was probably one of the best at contradicting himself or you, the reader, and he was embarrassingly good at it.] But music might have been a magician’s trick to him as well, something that he kept himself from delving too deep into. I’m not certain of this, the man was a writer, an artist, and, in a very real way, a philosopher, so I would not deny him any titles, but I see his comments on it in this way.

God, in a way, is an answer to the question of “What do we not know?” And it’s a question that plagues creative people, I’d say, since it points towards the origins of their works. “What do we not know?” is answered with where I come up with ideas for stories, for poems, with why you painted that picture that way, or why you think that note is fitting for a song. I think to some extent, any creative person comes to a situation where they do not know why something seems right a certain way to them. This is something Elizabeth Gilbert would like us to re-externalize, call it a muse, call it talent, something that I didn’t make up in my head, but something that a little birdy told me. And that would inevitably take some of the stress off (not to say that anything I’ve written has been good enough to stress me out with the question of where it originated).

Music, then, to me, becomes a question, like god or muses, “Where do your ideas come from?” or “Do you believe yourself to be sane?,” one that I do not answer. And it is, generally, a very beautiful thing. Ranging in its beauty, as it can often be pretty in the fact that there is very little beauty in it. It is an odd thing for me to describe, because I find myself looking at it as art in general, and suddenly instead of an observer, I am a novice, attempting to gain ground, strength, and ideas, and suddenly the way I speak of it is somehow wrong.

Don Delillo said this about novelists, “I don't take it seriously, but being called a 'bad citizen' is a compliment to a novelist, at least to my mind. That's exactly what we ought to do. We ought to be bad citizens. We ought to, in the sense that we're writing against what power represents, and often what government represents, and what the corporation dictates, and what consumer consciousness has come to mean. In that sense, if we're bad citizens, we're doing our job.” And while my simplifications are very obvious, I see musicians as not “bad citizens,” so much as the actual people who express what citizenship is, and do so on a more pure level.

As a writer, I am hiding here behind all these words, this language, a concept that humanity thought up purely for communication, and, in so doing, made it much easier for a person like me to do so. A musician, on the other hand, is forced to do the same with sound, not a created concept, but something handed down from somewhere, whether it be science’s big bang giving gifts, or the love of religion’s god or gods.

Now I will admit to being a young, inexperienced, and unbelievably ignorant man, but governments scare me, and when they are failing people, there needs to be that iconoclastic force out there that can make a difference, that can actually change things. This is generally a spot for the arts to insert themselves as necessary for any sort of human society, and when these situations crop up, I fear that what people do not need is another man in a mask, or behind a typewriter, keyboard; a man or a woman, or both, people, with their mouths sealed shut, writing on little pads with pencils.

And I don’t know if this makes sense to anyone other than me, but music appears to be a truer thing than writing. On a bad day, I can use a book as an escape, but it functions only as that, a temporary departure, whereas a song becomes something more, something undefinable. And it seems to me that music is immediately something of culture, whereas novelists, writers, generally have to look back at the past, to issue statements on it, evaluate it, and perhaps explain it.

Music has none of these motives, it is a pure thing, one that, unlike writing, can be produced through a following of certain rules set down, and still be as innovative as when the lyrics and notes were first written. This is perhaps the one thing that I resent about writing—reading is a thing entirely apart from it and so is typing, whereas “playing,” just from its own associations as a word, comes off as somehow more inviting, more necessary. And I guess that’s what music is to me. Not quite as poetically stated as Vonnegut, but I don’t entirely agree with him and I don’t believe that he was being entirely truthful, I would say that he was, in his quote, cheating off a certain way. But I think that’s a post for another day.

6:32PM Wed 8/12/09
Def: 1.5pp

Sunday, August 9, 2009

"You're killing us, Youkilis!"

You know, even though I’ve been a fairly involved Rays fan since last season and a moderate follower since they came to Tampa in 1998 and my father has always been a Yankee fan, I never really had anything against the Red Sox. I rooted for them against the Rockies in ’07 and these days I like them more than any other team in our division, although this spot might be sometimes contested by the Toronto Blue Jays. My last post, “yesterday,” in this fictionally presented “blogaday” (as the label reads), for the month of August, talked about the irrationalities of baseball and how these are all embodied in the intentional hit by pitch.

Now as anyone reading this blog would know, I’ve obviously slacked off to a regularity by this point in the month, but I can somewhat excuse my course of action in this case (that is for this post), and although my excuse doesn’t really amount to much of anything, it is an interesting situation to be in. But before I move on to that discussion, I’d like to add a little color commentary on the blogging itself. Brad Sucks, a one-man band consisting of Brad Turcotte, has invented, to some extent, the persona of being in love with unpopularity. His band name, slogan (“a one man band with no fans”), and even debut album title (I Don’t Know What I’m Doing), all work on this level. This is a sort of style that I’ve tried out in various horrid introductions to even more horrible writings, but usually knowing the fact that no one will in fact read them. If I do pick up the style here, I guess any readers will just have to bear with me.

If this post had been made on Sunday, half a week ago, now, I would not have been able to bring up the current story of Kevin Youkilis’s storming of the mound at Fenway last night. Youkilis has garnered himself a five game suspension and also one for rookie pitcher Rick Porcello of the Detroit Tigers, who is currently high in the standing for AL Rookie of the Year, and may now see his chances quickly diminish, in response to this.

As I cited earlier (on Saturday, August 8th), I’m no fan of pitchers throwing at hitters, but there are way too many misreads in the major leagues. If you are a major league hitter, you should be able to tell if a pitch is thrown intentionally to hit you. Boston fans will, I’m sure, cite Porcello’s inside pitches to Victor Martinez in the previous inning, as Youkilis himself might point out, as proof that Porcello was paying back the BoSox for an earlier Detroit hit batsman.

This sort of comment is comically incorrect, since Porcello’s pitches against Martinez were brilliant examples of what the inside pitch can allow a pitcher to do. Porcello was able to later on in the at bat strike out Martinez on an outside pitch. By backing him off the plate, Rick was able to pick up the k and even more importantly, the out. The Tigers were up three to nothing when Porcello was pitching and this is a team that is very much in the heat of a division race of its own.

The Tigers currently lead what is debatably the worst division in the American League, ahead of the White Sox who have a pitcher in Mark Buerhle who has thrown a perfect game this season and another potential pitching threat in the inevitable return of their trade deadline acquisition, Jake Peavy, and also ahead of the Twins, who have quietly acquired Karl Pavano from Cleveland, a pitcher who has looked better than his former teammate Cliff Lee, at least while the two played together in Cleveland (as Lee is now pitching dominatingly in the National League, another Indian toss-off this season).

In other words, Porcello has every right to be pitching competitively, and when an inside pitch is direct set-up for an outside strike-out, there is no doubt in my mind that the pitch was intentional for that reason, and not to actually hit Martinez. Following his strike-out of Martinez, and returning to the mound in the next inning, Porcello does have a pitch get away from him. And this isn’t my expert opinion, since my opinion is obviously not expert, it’s the opinion of “Wild Thing” Mitch Williams, and various others on the MLB Network staff. And if anyone knows about pitches getting away from you it’s Mitch.

That said, Kevin Youkilis got hit by a pitch, and was in line to collect his tenth HBP awarded base of this season—I think we have to allow him some slack, you’re going to be angry when in two thirds of a season you’ve been hit a number of times in the double digits. But what Youk then did was to throw his helmet towards the mound and storm Porcello. Awkwardly, Rick stepped back, both hands raised, in a “Why are you coming after me?” stance, and continued to retreat, but Kevin wouldn’t run out of steam.

In my opinion, the man on the right side won in this battle, however, when Youk’s attempted tackle of Porcello ended in Rick throwing him to the ground. No matter how much slack you want to give to Kevin Youkilis, the main question I have to ask is “What the hell were you thinking?”

The whole idea of hitting a batter is to diminish the opposing team’s greatest hitter. If I were to think that Porcello had been after Youk and Martinez, this rule of thumb would hold true. Although he might have great respect amongst the Boston crowd, Big Papi, David Ortiz, has not been dependable this year, and a team that at one point had what many say as an “overabundance of pitching,” has been able to blame a lot of its failings on lackluster offense. In fact that is what actually sparked the acquiring of Victor Martinez in the first place. But one person you couldn’t blame for lackluster playing of any sort was Youkilis, who quickly became one of the most feared in this year’s Boston line-up, a position he has been in before. Now, as Boston’s pitching has begun to unravel, their offense is even more needed.

Kevin Youkilis, in running to the mound, tossing his helmet, and just generally acting like a hooligan in some pick up baseball game had to know that he was going to get himself tossed out of the line-up for a while. In fact, I find MLB’s disciplining weak and one-sided. I could see a fine towards Porcello, but he does not need to be suspended, and I don’t think Youkilis should be hitting again until September. In his storming of the mound, he has truly showed himself as a bush league ballplayer. Compare him to Gary Sheffield, who just a few days ago basically asked a pitcher to avoid his head, while accepting the fact that a pitch was coming at him.

No matter what it comes down to, the inside pitch and the intentional HBP (two different things in my opinion) are very much a part of baseball. The Red Sox’s fate during his suspension was apparently not on Youkilis’s mind when he gave in to rage.

[May it be said that the Red Sox would come back from a 3-0 deficit to win this game, mostly due to the play of Mike Lowell, who would replace Youkilis at third base. Boston is a very deep team, and with Youkilis only gone for five games, it is totally possible that they will suffer through his suspension only minimally.]

5:38PM Wed 8/12/09
Def: 2.5 pp

Getting back to it...

The whole idea of this "blogaday" run was to check writing stamina. In a race of any sort, you can always fall behind in the pack and jump back up later on. It was something you could do during National Novel Writing Month--go on tears of six to eight thousand words a day. What I'm going to add here is a "running deficit," a sort of footer to a late post, with a time and date stamp and the length of the deficit. Goal would be to be at zero by 2:59AM EST September 1st. Then maybe another run of blog goals along the line of the Green Day song.

So, today's Wednesday, August 12th, it's 5:01PM EST, and I'm behind since Sunday, not including Friday's half post. Deficit=3.5 at least for another seven hours.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

"Well, when you put it that way..."

[Note: This is not a Sunday post, but is a post about something that perturbs me in baseball, so other than creating a whole new label, I've just maintained "Sports Sunday." I do plan on posting Sunday's post at some point in the next 24 hours, but I can't help but add something like "knock on wood" to saying that, since I still see this as a large undertaking.]

I know tomorrow is the day I’ve designated for sports related affairs, but I don’t think I can put this post there. I’d like to somehow come off as the sports analyst that you see on TV now and then in those posts and this is just going to be a rant for all intensive purposes.

You know how they say that basketball is a non-contact sport and how that’s turned into as much an in-joke as any really comment to be made about the game? Well, in my opinion, baseball truly is about as close as you get to non-contact and that’s pretty much the way it should be. I understand the moves running the bases—sliding into the second baseman to break up a double play or the catcher in an attempt to score—but watching a batter get hit by a pitch, especially when it appears to be intentional, this kind of thing just rubs me the wrong way. It is one of those things that put everything into perspective and it really makes the whole sport look quite silly.

A man steps up to a plate with a club to defend himself from another guy who’s going to throw a hard ball at him that will probably come reasonably close to three digits in MPH. That sort of thing is just purely irrational. And what bothers me about it is that it is considered a respected part of the game.

I caution now that I am no pitcher and I watch enough MLB Network to understand that you have to pitch to a batter inside to throw him off track, you have to be able to throw things that he can’t predict, and you have to be able to keep him on his toes. And the unintentional hit by pitch is something I understand, something that doesn’t bother me for the most part. But a lot of these pitches are thrown blatantly at a batter and for no other reason than to hit him.

The other day, what was it? Friday? I’m watching MLB Network waiting for the Rays’ game to come on, since they’re playing in the northwest and puts their starting times near 10:00PM for the most part, or it might have been Thursday, their day off, when I see Vicente Padilla, a starter for the Rangers (who was recently designated for assignment, I’m pleased to add), hit Kurt Suzuki, because in a near-quote from Mitch Williams, “he gave up a home run earlier.” This kind of senseless violence is just the sort of narcissism that team sports are supposed to evaporate from our youth. And yet, stupidly and stubbornly, here they have held on.

Consider this: the pitcher is an even more removed character than the quarterback is in football. In the American League, the Junior Circuit, the one that includes the Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics (the ones unfortunate to become the vented upon victims of someone like Padilla), the pitchers don’t even hit unless some traumatic course of action has forced them into the batters’ box. I’m never going to be a hitter in any sort of baseball game other than the one where a few people get together to play a few innings and even then I’d undoubtedly get picked last, but I think I can imagine the kind of fear you must feel coming up to the plate knowing the ball could be coming at you at any moment.

This Padilla to Suzuki (ironically the catcher for the As) HBP of course brought about the Oakland response in the form of hitting Texas star third baseman and starting All-Star (due to an infected cut in the hand of Evan Longoria, if I heard it right) Michael Young. What this brought about, in the long run, for someone like me, was vindication, in the form of a Suzuki home-run against Padilla after the Athletics’ retaliation forced warnings from the home plate umpire about the possibility of hitting batters and all but retired the inside pitch for the night.

This is, however, no isolated incident, and, sadly in my opinion, a very respected and continued part of the game of baseball. Even in the National League, where I think the pitchers who do hit people intentionally should be the ones to get pelted back, this same soreness leaks in quickly.

I think it was the day before when Manny Ramirez, the star player in Los Angeles, the one I would contend to say does not mean as much to the Dodgers as most people think, got hit by a pitch that it seemed like everyone, even Manny, saw as an innocent mistake by the pitcher. Well, maybe not so innocent, but an inside pitch that wasn’t meant to hit him. Like I’ve said, I’m more than willing to give you the benefit the doubt here, if you’re on the mound in a situation like this.

Guillermo Mota is the one who pissed me off in this game. Coming in the ninth inning of this smashing of the Milwaukee Brewers (the Dodgers lead at this time was by a score of something like 17-4), he hits one of Milwaukee’s star players (and one of the biggest guys in baseball), current Home Run Derby champion Prince Fielder in the foot. This was completely uncalled for and Prince showed himself to be heated at the time.

The story to hit SportsCenter was, of course, Fielder’s later attempt, after the game, to get into the Dodgers’ club house and get at Mota. To do what exactly, I’m not sure. Perhaps I am biased by a personal liking toward Fielder and the current Milwaukee team, but I can’t seem him beating Mota senseless. However, I can feel his hatred to some extent. It would seem like such an irrational play would strum up more than just personal anger toward the pitcher but also some disillusionment toward the game itself. Bobby Jenks, the Chicago White Sox closer who openly admitted to throwing behind a batter intentionally was fined a reported $750. Chump change to professional sports players in America, no matter what they play these days. And similar cases that have followed have done little to elevate this slap on the wrist.

And finally, on a somewhat more personal note, I would like to discuss the tale of Winston Abreu and the Cleveland Indians. The first bad taste from the Indians that I got this year was I believe game three of the four game series against the Rays at the Trop, here in Tampa. Kerry Wood, the relatively recent addition to Cleveland, a man with enough control to have struck out twenty batters in one game, was brought in with the apparent intention of hitting BJ Upton and no other goals in mind. Good luck for the Rays came in the form of two inside pitches that both barely missed their center fielder and the anger I felt for my team was obviously multiplied on the face of their manager, Joe Maddon, who was shown in uncharacteristic fashion, cursing from the dugout back towards the umpire.

This left a sour taste in my mouth in strict contrast with what was otherwise a very solid series, the Rays taking three of four from Cleveland. My team would fair much worse later on in Cleveland where they would get swept in four games, but the story I have to tell has to do with current Rays’ minor leaguer Winston Abreu.

Abreu was brought up only once, in my knowledge, by Tampa Bay, and would find his way to Cleveland. Remembering their earlier incident with Wood and Upton, consider my chagrin upon hearing that Abreu was fined and suspended (I think it was both), by MLB for throwing at a batter. Shortly thereafter Abreu was sent down to the minors by the Indians and was able to find his way back here to St. Petersburg, the part of the Tampa Bay area where the Rays play. Now, of course, he’s pitching with the Triple-A team in Durham, but please grant me poetic license.

And I got to thinking—that has to be a horrible life, strolling around the minor leagues, never being good enough to be kept around by a major league team, and only being called up to hit batters because you’re expendable. Playing a sport you love in a way that you’d most certainly hate.

Friday, August 7, 2009

You can force it but it will not come...

is the opening line to "Planet Telex," and no matter what I've already said on this blog about writing no matter whether you can or not, forcing fiction is a very hard thing for me to do without ideas. I intend to do something of a "Fiction Friday," at least for the month. I did get an idea on Friday for a story to write, but as Warren Ellis once said, writing is something that can take a while. His actual quote was something along the lines of staring at a "project" (I think that was the word) from the 2PM to 2AM (as I've already said, I think that was the quote, so please don't quote me quoting him...) I plan on editing in my fiction piece for Friday once it's done and hopefully I can get a little bit ahead on this thing and be able to write these things to post live at the time I've stated. Hopefully. I've already somewhat amazed myself here and felt like I was writing quite badly (and sometimes at the same time), so we'll see. Rays won tonight/last night/Saturday in Seattle. I liked watching the Seattle games last year, perhaps the only series I can distinctly remember watching, due to the late start times. So, until I update here with a story, I guess that's about it. See I would try to run it out right now, but I think I should do today's/yesterday's/(from the perspective of the last finished piece) tomorrow's little rant, which I'm thinking is going to be about throwing baseballs at batters.

And on that matter I think I'll note that I know a lot of my ... metaphors? ... tangents, I guess, are actually these weird little ruts I get into, like always quoting from the same person or referencing baseball (which I would right now blame on the fact that it is the only major American team sport to be in season), and I guess I apologize for that. And out--

1:48AM EST 8/09/09

LEVERAGE [heh heh, the title of the show I'm listening to as I stare at the computer while typing this]

I am spreading the peanut butter out on your sandwich for today, something I never foresaw for myself, and something that might continue now for some time. I know that when I was a little girl going to school, I never really knew where my lunches were coming from. This was early on, maybe the first three years of classes, and I don’t really recall most of my thoughts back then, they’ve become as insubstantial as ghosts or dreams, but I’ve talked to Martin about what we expect from your first day. Neither of us could really say anything authoritatively about today’s schools, shucks, we’ve spent how many hours just seeing where you should head off to kindergarten and so our conversation soon derived into stories of our own first few years’ worth of school experience. It wouldn’t be the first time that Martin and I have talked about times like this—I’m sure if you ever read this that you’ll know what it’s like to have a spouse, sometimes you just assume you know everything about a person, even though you have nothing to back up this belief. I think that conversation helped to break this assumption in ourselves, became somewhat a turning point in our marriage. Of course I don’t know anything about the future right now…I probably shouldn’t predict. And, right, back to the fragment I’ve left, Martin and I had talked about our childhoods before, but only rarely and brokenly, we both came from…not bad homes, but places we wanted to leave behind. I would hope that although you may be able to understand this thought, that, if you do read this, you wouldn’t have experienced the same as us, but sometimes I fear that our parents had similar wishes. Sometimes I think that are no bad people in the world, there are only mistakes, misunderstandings, and that bloody thing called mortality, and this scares me as well. But right now I’d assume you don’t think anything can scare me, scare us, Martin and I, your daddy and mum, your godly parents. I haven’t really put an enormous amount of studying into this whole thing, I don’t know when the average child learns that his (or her as it could’ve been if your father’s genes went differently) parents aren’t infallible. I’m deep in these thoughts when I reach in the refrigerator for the jelly.

Ordinarily my daydreams are not spawned by such direct thought processes as these, but the glass I pull from the fridge makes me remember how I first saw your father, probably something like you see the man that greets you whenever he can, whenever his schedule permits. I surely thought he was a man who could not make any mistakes. I surely thought he was the perfect gentleman, but not the one for me.

We were out at the beach for the weekend before school started up again in the fall, I was going to be a senior, can you believe it?, I would whisper to myself time and time again, because, I for one, could not believe it. I still felt like the freshman I’d been three years before. Still gawky, still unnoticeable to the majority of students, the sort of character in a novel that gets named once every hundred pages for the readers to say in their heads, who?

Still, somehow, I’d gotten myself amongst a group of kids for the summer that year, we’d all worked together at the drive-in, and we were all happy to be rid of our jobs for the time being. It was a Sunday, I remember that because I’d skipped church, knowing my mother wouldn’t be happy about it, but also knowing that since I’d gotten my own car, there was very little chance of a terrible reaction from the woman. I’d driven down with two girls, Jenny and Lacy weren’t their names, but in the years past, I can only really recall their likenesses, names just won’t come, and I must’ve left my yearbooks behind in one of the house I’ve moved out of in the years since.

Lacy’s brother was named Spencer and we always called him a square, but I think we knew this was a misnomer, since we were the ones who never really got high, tried to skirt that ecosystem as we jogged through adolescence, or at least I did. It occurs to me now how much of what I remember is colored by who I am now, and so much of what I characterize as the three of us, a tight little trio for one summer, maybe even a little ways into September. Well, Spencer’s girlfriend used to be with your father, and we all knew this from junior, when I’d played a part in spreading a rumor, that she would spread them for any man, much like the peanut butter I just spread on this bread.

The first time I’d ever been introduced to your father, I was walking away from my friends, up the beach, my eyes on the surf, thinking about all the time I’d wasted idling, doing absolutely nothing, and how little time I could have left. Your…great-uncle…I guess, Nathan, he’d just passed at the age of forty, in a car accident, and automobiles were still a new thing to me then, something both dangerous and exciting, deadly, but soon enough I couldn’t get through life without a car. When I look over it now, it was like my thought process was what summed him up from all the inequalities that had formed my relationships with boys, with men as they were becoming ever so quickly, in those years.

He was sitting on a rock and looking out at the sun as if he’d stared at since it had come up and planned to see it down. I stopped and looked to him and he said, “You’re Doris, aren’t you?” which I guess somewhat floored me, that someone like him—like anyone really, since he didn’t have extreme social status or anything, but was someone I’d never spoken to—could know my name, and I momentarily lost my train of thought, which he took for lack of recognition. “I’m Martin,” he said, and hopped down from the rock to take my hand. “I used to be Natalie’s boyfriend, I guess maybe we never directly met…?” I think I smiled dumbly and he continued, “If you were planning on walking down the rest of the way, I’d have to caution you to turn around. This is jellyfish country and they can sting out water too, the sand up there is peppered with them and here you are, walking off alone and barefoot.” I looked down at my feet as if I was surprised to find them naked, mumbled a thank you and turned around.

As I walked off, he called my name again and I turned around. “Hey, Doris, look,” he started, looking me in the face again, searching for my eyes behind sunglasses I’d just bought the week before, “it must be weird to see me here…I’d assume you came with your friend…whatsername, Lacy? And her brother’s here. I…Natalie calls me and invites me out here just to show me how much of a bitch she is. First person I see here is her new man, Spencer without Fear and I started running back here to get away. Climbed yonder cliff,” here he pointed off to the point that I think we both knew was the highest in town and also the local version of lover’s lane. I wondered vaguely if he’d ever taken Natalie up there, or if Spencer had ever been there, before I caught myself and looked back at him. “And then I chickened out and came back here and sat this here rock.”

When he’d finished with that, he scooted off the level place where he’d been and left what was effectively a seat for me to sit in. He took a few more steps and picked a rock up off the boulder and tossed it into the water. As I sat down I watched it skip in the water once, twice, three times, and then I looked into the water where it went in and I saw a jellyfish.

Now, opening my eyes, I’d squeezed them shut in concentration, I look down at the jelly side of your sandwich as an almost afterimage of that water jelly in my past. And as for how your father and I became anything more than that one afternoon’s worth of acquaintances, well, Fred, I think you’ll have to ask him about any of that.

Heh, you know what the funny thing is? Other than seeing what I thought was one in the water, I have no more evidence that anything Martin said to me that day—about jellyfish and about anything else—was even close to true. Sometimes life is like that, I think. Truth is perhaps the most elusive thing there ever was.

11:20PM EST Wed 8/12/09 Back on track, seriously?!

Formatting information...

I plan to keep times on posts as 11:59PM for all that qualify as a part of "blogaday" and 12:00AM for "pacecar" posts that relate directly to me falling off pace or getting back onto it. All off pace posts will be labelled "pacecar" as well, so this will show that I was behind at this point, although the time/date will not. Probably no one cares about this, but I just wished to get it out there.

Random posts that I make (if I ever do make them) will hopefully only go in at the PST of when I made them.

*Achem*, well, I didn't make that the url for nothing.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

"One Two Punch"

The main issue I have with American TV is the same one I have with mainstream comics. Basically these creative endeavors generally end in writers establishing the general plotted episode (or issue, as it may be) and avoiding changing character dynamics. This is what generally places cartoon characters into never ending cycles of the same age/grade. I understand this is the general fault of any sort of serial, the basic falling into a pattern and then later almost a template.

To step away from this habit in TV storytelling, I’d say you move to a less commercial network than say Fox. And of course I’m biased in pointing the way to USA, but then again, this blog post is about two of their shows, and I need to segue in on them at some point, somehow, got it?

Two shows that generally avoid what I’d see as a strict formula set-up that leaves virtually no character changes are Burn Notice and Royal Pains, a one-two line-up on Thursday nights that I think blends quite well, over all. Burn Notice adds a touch of the fantastic to a semi-realistic show involving a former spy and Royal Pains is House at a later time, minus Hugh Laurie, and injected with quite a bit more comedy than House’s dramedy.

My opinion on Royal Pains is perhaps a little premature, since the first season of a program tends to be the least formulaic, but the show seems to be overly fresh in its writing—the sort of thing that a complex almost never ending romantic comedy is made of, which, I guess, in a way, is what the show really is. I’m a sucker for the whole idea that entertainment is supposed to just entertain us (something I may have already attached to Chabon), so I think the happy go lucky ending is the best in romantic comedy, and Royal Pains has yet to really disappoint on that front.

The idea of the two shows as a “one-two” punch generally has to do with the way that Burn Notice is mainly an action program that has a bit of romance on the edges—a guy show that the girlfriend isn’t going to continuously complain about. While, as I’ve already mentioned, Royal Pains is a sort of romantic dramedy. Both shows have a similar feel to them—enough so that my father remarked that all USA shows seemed to be the same when he saw the promo for Royal Pains, but of course this was without really watching either program.

This, along with USA’s brand of co-advertising (something I noted on the first of the month) that throws characters from multiple shows into a semi-canon universe all their own, gives the two weekly programs the feel of a split movie that blends genres quite well. In a comic book, one could imagine one show ending and the next being introduced on the next page with the caption, “MEANWHILE…”

Both shows seem to know that character dynamics do not need to tossed completely out of whack or shredded all the time, but that subtle references and in-canon continuing storylines are even more than welcomed, more like strongly suggested.

Michael Weston (the ex-spy star of Burn Notice who is trying to get his old job back)’s narration during the show picks up the kind of mood as the anonymous narrator of Fight Club, telling all these little violent factoids, the kinds of things that got Palahniuk to represent the repressed male in today’s culture, and this is done quite well.

Weston helps accomplish the hard task of giving a movie or show a sort of first person feel to it, rather than your usual third person edge given to camera work (an idea referred to in my last post, that a camera records stories in third person while eyes are needed for first person work).

A tight-knit cast in each series helps keep character interaction important enough so that it is easy to spot at least one major progression in nearly every episode, which, like I’ve said, I find to be a good way to write any sort of serial. Expanding out from here, what is also necessary, in my opinion, is a strong background cast, enough recurring characters so that one to three can be featured in a episode here or there and not wipe out the stock of them.

What I want to be able to do one day is to write various pastiches of TV shows without naming characters and collect them as a book called CAN YOU SPOT THIS ONE?—an Eric Clapton quote from his album, Unplugged, before he plays “Layla.” The idea would be that I would at this time be good enough to characterize the different characters without naming them and without going straight to the physical aspects.

Interestingly enough, I guess, if I were to do this with shows that I particularly liked, I might enjoy formulaic scripting from the writers of the shows, but that would make it too easy, now wouldn’t it? I think the good benefit of a book like this would be the ability to blend so many genres so deliberately in one place, like sitting down and watching a night’s worth of television.

Of course I’m not that good of a writer at this time, at least I don’t think of myself as a good enough one. I fear that if I were to write them now, my own narratives would come off forced, my own writing formulaic, and unlike some talented bloggers, I can’t exactly give a solution to every problem I bring up. I can tell you when something is working for me, when I like what a particular is doing, but very rarely can I pinpoint the problems in a show that I don’t quite think is up to par.

I guess this is the secondary reason, other than the boredom no doubt caused by my writings, that I should shut my mouth and type no more—mother always said if you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all. Don’t bring up problems when you don’t know how to fix them, yourself. But I’m not going to listen to that advice that my mother probably never gave me.

Sorry for that, and as always, for consistently boring you.

Not that anyone would be on pins and needles or anything...

but I just napped through my shot at being right on with this "blog entry a day" business. Slept through even the delayed Pacific time zone that I really should attempt to change at some point. I've done a bit of pre-planning, so I'm going to try to throw up two entries tonight. Apologies to myself and the faithful audience (read "constant reader"), but that's all just under the bridge now. In more enjoyable news, the Tampa Bay Rays with their two game home series sweep against the Red Sox are making the AL East pennant race interesting. And out--

4:27 AM EST

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

"Finding King"

NOTE: This is probably the post that so far (as of the sixth), I’ve had the least confidence in. I’m pretty sure it’s boring and useless and goes nowhere, but I’m also a pessimist and generally dislike what I’ve written, so whoever knows, I definitely don’t.

I am fussy about any number of things and believe that admitting to your pet peeves is a good way of denouncing guilt towards having them. One is that the term “Jesus’ [space provided to show possessive more easily]” is apparently grammatically correct—something I refuse to see as rational or even right. Along the same lines, I have a problem with people who pluralize abbreviations with an apostrophe ess, since there is no real reason for such (RPM’s, 50’s, etc.). I approve of this only with the case of letter grades or single letter abbreviations, namely “A” which when pluralized without the apostrophe is almost certainly going to be mistaken as aptly enough, “As.”

Another problem knit-picky thing that really gets under my skin is the use of the terms “author surrogate,” “literary alter-ego,” “author character,” and the like. What people have to realize is that there Kilgore Trout is in no way an alter ego of Kurt Vonnegut and I really shouldn’t have to explain that to anyone. But besides that point and digging a little deeper towards the topic at hand, I wish to discuss Stephen King’s personal store of the first person narrator and how each of the few times he touches on this front, it comes off a bit differently.

For discussion, I plan to stick to King’s first person writings in Christine, Different Seasons, Bag of Bones, and Duma Key. I think the only major works missing are The Green Mile (which I’ve yet to be able to finish) and Dolores Claiborne (which I split from the batch due to the odd female monologue style of the novel).

In Christine, King does an interesting emotional back turn, coming off of such overarching epic third person tales as The Stand and ‘salem’s Lot, he moves back to the juvenile story, something begun in Carrie. I evaluate this as an exaggeration on his youth by King, something mirrored later on by his choice of older protagonists to exaggerate (most apparently in The Green Mile). Here we kept a glimpse of King hiding in the shadows of Dennis, the narrator of two-thirds of the novel; King, a man scared of his age, to some extent, perhaps best summed up in Dennis’s own words, “If being a kid is about learning how to live, then being a grown-up is about learning how to die.”

The main issue with using first person narrative to track an author, in my opinion, is to trust it as an exact science. I plan on tracking Bret Easton Ellis in a post later this month on a more exact level, charting an evolution in his style through his books. For King, progression in first person fiction can perhaps give us rough snapshots of the man he might have been at that time, but this Polaroid has been charred around the edges and you can never quite be sure who you are staring at in this photo. (Maybe for some fun, I’ll extend the metaphor along the lines of “the figure appears almost ghostly,” you know, for chuckles.)

This image has changed quite a bit by the point of Different Seasons, which I move out of chronology here to track the elusive storyteller that King has become in modern myth. Different Seasons only came out the year before Christine, and perhaps the complex themes of this collection are what led King to write Christine, his first blatant horror novel since his debut (Carrie).

A good place to start discussion on Different Seasons is with “Apt Pupil,” which is actually the only story written in third person, King’s accustomed POV. Writing about Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door, King mentions the necessity of distance between our protagonist and the villain in a story (notably citing American Psycho as failing because of a lacking in this principle). This shows why he could not put himself inside “Apt Pupil,” but was forced to take his general role as a camera*.

For the most part in Different Seasons (three out of four stories, to be exact), King sticks with the speaker approach, addressing us through the various masks of narrators. The true horror story in the bunch, “The Breathing Method,” can be all but thrown out as giving us any insight into King, due to the reliance of the story on distance and frame narratives leaving us with “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” and “The Body.”

Once again, in “Rita Hayworth,” King digs into character and for the most part, in my opinion, becomes someone else. This progresses in The Green Mile and From a Buick 8, which is the first and so far only time that we’ve seen King use multiple narrators, blended in with third person. (He previous used a first person, third person blend in Christine.)

This leaves us with “The Body,” which is probably the truest story in the collection, not so much in pure facts, but in how it blends fact into fiction and portrays us with one of the first (if not the first) straight King author narrator, Gordie Lachance. The novella shows us King’s views on the life of the writer, while once again digging back to childhood to give us the actual story being told. What we get about Gordie Lachance, the successful writer, is located throughout the present tense parts of the story, that occasionally break up the flashback that makes up the plot.

This is further progressed in Bag of Bones, where King has a clear author surrogate in the form of Mike Noonan, a writer who eventually admits to having written the book as a memoir. This leaks a bit into metafiction, but is on the fringes of it, and since King thinks very little of metafiction, it is probably best to avoid that moniker. The most interesting idea coming from Bag of Bones is the idea that fiction writing, especially Vonnegut’s style of it (wikixample** – “Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”), is an evil, dark thing. As Vonnegut directly believed, King condemns it as sadistic. And yet, interestingly enough, we can’t be catch another snapshot of the author, this time winking at us from behind the face of Mike Noonan, because the horrors that Noonan went through to get him to condemn fiction are just that, stories that King has made up. Here perhaps the picture of the man we have found looks more like a monster than a ghost.

And finally we come to King’s most recent novel, Duma Key, where he has all but completely escaped his author surrogate. With this return to first person long fiction, King gathers some of the non-writer energy that he had in Christine and channels it into a classic horror yarn. He gets over the top in places, but that’s the way horror is supposed to be. Edgar Freemantle, King’s new mask here, is perhaps just as inpenetrable as his faces in “Rita Hayworth” or The Green Mile, but this face is more free of the exaggeration in both the latter and Christine, and the mask that King puts on this time appears similar to his own. (One such similarity being that Freemantle and King have both survived life threatening and changing accidents.)

Here’s to hopes that these changes, this growing chase for the author behind the mask, continues to be as enjoyable. Predictions aside, King’s mask appear to be growing closer now to his own face, like Murakami’s growing amount of self-addressment in his fiction, or Bret Easton Ellis’s pseudo-memoir, Lunar Park.

*This metaphor is inspired by Goodbye to Berlin (1939, by Christopher Isherwood), a book I have not read, but am familiar with the opening line by way of James Wood in How Fiction Works. The amazing first line is “I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.”

**Fairly self explanatory, I believe.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

"Smash my head to make it spin"

Starting it off with a title taken from “Thrashing Days” by The Notwist, what might be apparent from the tag I’ve put on today’s post is that I see this one as little snippets, clips, like a news update, bite-sized little morsels. Think of each new title as a headline or better yet, as the cards they show before the scenes in episodes of Frasier.

“Print as the Phoenix”

There’s been much debate about how much longer paper publishing is going to be able to hold on and not enough insight into which way it is really heading. We are not approaching so much an end to books, but a specialization of them. As Jay Leno talks about how electric cars will allow gasoline vehicles to become niche items, the same is going to grow true for paper. When it comes down to it, people are going to have to want to read books, and not screens that replicate books to near exactness (and believe me, they aren’t that far away from getting there).

The great thing about paper, though, is its versatility. The free newspaper is generally well received and considered unmenacing, has an approval rating leaps and bounds above junk email. Warren Ellis has an idea of a company that takes a set number of blogs that you like, collects a word count or an entry count, page count, whatever would work best in this case, and spits you out a paper every now and then. I’m not sure how developed his idea is, and I don’t have his blog post handy at the moment (I know, I know, I’m playing this one close to the chest), so I guess I’ll just have to assume that I’m adding to his thoughts, but if not, his idea is brilliant enough in its own to be spread. How I would tweak this is through mail delivery and ad space. Suddenly you have regionalized ads floating around, perhaps even better than TV. You have a publishing company making a newspaper out of individual blogs that all they have to do is get a minor profile on, and I would expect advertisers to go wild. The best kind of commercial is the one that’s selling something the customer is likely to want, doncha know?

So I’m also thinking, how hard would it be to take this and streamline it a little bit, make the paper something you just write off, send out to everyone in a certain area, perhaps collect profile posts of different bloggers, the like, would this sort of thing have a market? And if so, suddenly money and advertising can come from all sides. Bloggers hoping to boost their credit to companies and thus sell more ad space could pay this company to publish them and then you have the same process. Or you can piggyback this into the first idea; add a new blogger to each copy sent to a perspective reader, sort of like TiVo suggesting new shows I might like.

The reason that the newspaper is going out of style definitely has nothing to do with the newsprint itself, but with the fact that television news and the internet make your regular newspaper obsolete. But think about a collection of different people’s minds, made manifest in your hands to open and read their thoughts. And whether or not this is a group that you have chosen for yourself, I seriously doubt that there’s anyway that clicking between tabs is going to be seen as a cooler thing than just turning pages.

“Baseball as the Human Sport”

In Futurama, of course, if I remember correctly, there is some humor poked at baseball’s history. As America’s pastime, it is easy to foresee that most of the problems that the country might face would be mirrored in its ballgame, its relaxing night on the couch with a beer and the son watching the country stage little city versus city or league versus league rivalries. From 9/11’s delaying the season into October (its notorious play off month) and pushing the World Series into November, baseball and the country have sure come a long way. But when we go back, we have a time when baseball would actually make the first move, like watching your mirror reflection part your hair a different way, before you begin to do so yourself. What I am talking about is the story of Jackie Robinson, which is one I’ll assume you know moderately well. Although conditions were not as they should’ve been, baseball did take steps towards integration before the country, as a whole, under Johnson, would begin to resolve this growing problem of second-class citizenry. Tracing back from number 42’s unprecedented career, we are led to the silver lining of baseball’s segregation: the Negro Leagues. Supplying a new think tank on baseball and a new experimentation process, these independent baseball leagues would help form some of today’s endearing concepts in the majors—fan voting in the All-Star Game, inter-league play, etc. And it is this era that Futurama parodies. Bender is of course a fan of the robot blernsball (an evolved form of baseball played in the 3000s) players who are not allowed to play in the big leagues. This paragraph thus serves as a caution that I do not mean to point out that baseball is a sport without robots with the title to this section.

What I do mean to portray here is that baseball is a sport that will always come down to someone calling the game. Replays should not ever be allowed outside of their current use in home run calls, and balls and strikes should vary from umpire to umpire. This is an idea that baseball itself even upholds in its uneven ball parks, that once they stretch past the infield diamond, can become completely different affairs, perhaps built to suit particular stars of the team playing there at the time or only incidentally brought up to cause certain peculiarities and differences. From turf to grass, even, baseball fields have their own characteristics, like people in their own ways. From the baggie in right field of the Metrodome to Tal’s Hill in deep center of Minute Maid Park in Houston, baseball presents its venues as each a little different, each needing a little time to get used to.

And that’s really what makes the game what it is. Because everything is a little bit different, a little bit more left to chance, in a baseball game. And with 162 games per team per year for the regular season, each game is like meeting someone new.

“My Novel as a Movie Franchise”

The book that I have mainly in my head right now is growing in its own way, little bits of plot, tiny shards of knowledge forming in my mind that will hopefully be able to be pieced back together into a worthwhile mirror once again at the end of the day. It’s an odd thing, because I think I’m so used to short stories, things that have beginnings, middles, and ends, whereas a book can obviously have those as well, but the middle generally becomes its own set of crests and troughs, that are, in their own right, new beginnings, and new ends.

What is interesting to me at the moment is how I’ve been basing all my stories in the same sort of universe for a while now, basically our own, but with a hazy illustrator who leaves key differences here and there, as well as major ones that could in themselves be written of in stories (one of which I have begun writing), and now this book has somewhat spiraled forward and planted itself into this world that I had already begun to create.

This is what Tolkien did, definitely, and what Alan Moore suggests. Sort of like starting with the setting of a picture before you paint any people in it. And, even though this isn’t generally the way I write things, I like the way my mind is thinking right now.

The original Casino Royale film was actually a satirical James Bond film in 1967, and even though this film may not have been greatly well received, I think it does go somewhere we rarely see, which is a film franchise that not only switches leads or minor characters or canon, but actually genre as well. My novel I see as something along the same lines as this. Mayhap in three parts, the first presenting one genre and then perhaps even an interlude allowing time for our actors to get backstage to change their clothes into the costumes for the next part, making sure that this time they have the right mask. And even if that might seem more like a play than a movie to you, I just say that the way I see my novel now is like waves lapping the beach, one comes in and has a certain majesty to it, something that can’t be truly replicated, and then the next comes down on us, and no matter if the water looks exactly the same in either image, both waves hit in completely different styles. Equally original, and equally as hard to surf.

And that’s the only three of any value in writing that I can pluck off the top of my head at the moment. (Value in my opinion, as self-evaluation, or as Vonnegut put it, comparing “myself with myself.”) Another idea I may try out on another Tuesday could actually be a form of non-fiction symmetrina, but for now I’m quite whipped.

Monday, August 3, 2009

"Why I'm mad at Stephen Jones"

Sometimes people really just have to listen to Stephen King. I mean, the guy’s sold how many books? I think he might know a thing or two about publishing. And even before he became the self-titled brand name he is, King could see that no one really makes money writing horror stories. Edgar Allan Poe died a strangely mysterious death at forty without ever making a solid career out of his writings, and this was a man who was writing Sherlock Holmes stories before there was a Sherlock Holmes. H. P. Lovecraft, commonly cited as a best of the genre, would never thrive financially as a writer. King, himself, would perhaps grow to be the exception to this rule, but I think that what can be said about horror can be said about genre writing in general. Consider Philip K. Dick, a prolific skiffy novelist and short story writer who would hit it big posthumously.

So the other day I’m flipping through the erratically published Cemetery Dance Magazine, and decide to read the interview with Stephen Jones. When I first subscribed to CD for six issues, I had hopes of possibly writing a horror yarn of some sort, but as those dried up, the magazine’s aforementioned lack of timeliness in publishing also took some of the fun away. What I came away with, interestingly enough, was one author whose writings I considered my self quite fond of, by the name of Stephen Graham Jones. This was a man who seemed to actually understand horror and what it was supposed to do, where it succeeded, where it failed. I think it’s quite obvious then, that Stephen Jones is another horror character, but one with an even bigger reputation—Jones is an established British horror anthologist, someone I had heard of through his previous collaboration with Neil Gaiman.

The bone I have to pick with Mr. Jones is that he seems to blame the dwindling amount of book sales on a certain “sub-literacy” as he puts it in the article. This is just outright outrageous, since literacy rates have very little to do with why books don’t sell extremely well. What is funny here is that Jones says that the profession “writer” will become a “quaint historical curiosity” at some point in the future, and neglects to mention how this might actually occur.

While criticizing the illiterate masses for not reading his genre’s books, he maintains that newspapers have essentially dumbed themselves down to this level of sub-literacy and that the public’s attention has been fully stolen by celebrity pop culture.

The only point I really think needs to be made here is that there was a time when writing was considered something that one should not make a profession. Writers were treated as transgressors and disrespected because of their career status. Today the writer is much more respect than in the past, no matter how many people “read.” And to borrow something from Cory Doctorow, I believe, no one has stopped reading, something Jones seems to mesh over as somehow supporting his point, while he is actually stacking up contradictions. With the internet itself, it is quite true that we might lose some respect for the price of literature, since blogs and internet articles are commonly put out freely and supported by advertisements, making themselves quite often cheaper than even the “dumbed down newspapers” of which Jones speaks.

The fact of the matter is that some writers make it big and then become, once again, in the words of Stephen King, “a brand name.” King has tackled this concept well in both non-fiction and fiction, devoting enough side thoughts in Bag of Bones to the topic at hand. For the most part, then, other people cannot find much money from writing, over all. Bret Easton Ellis always appears to be tempting fate with his finances as he spends another seven years or so writing a novel, and even his story is a rare one of success.

For Jones to take such an issue as lack of readership and claim it for the horror genre and then on top of that for the contemporary time period is not only astounding, but plainly wrong. And his reasons for this drudging amount of readers are also easily seen through. It isn’t that people cannot read, but rather that reading becomes a part of school work for students. It is because kids are forced to read people like Aldous Huxley, rather than because they don’t read him, as Jones cites, that they grow up not wanting to reading.

It is due to the fact that students also do not enjoy doing arithmetic in their spare time or creating science projects during the summer, that very few people read an awful lot. What it comes down to is there are alternatives to reading a book: you can watch a tv show or a movie. But the one thing that our boy Stephen seems to have really forgotten is that these things have writers too.

And most people do a lot of reading online these days. Perhaps in short choppy news bites, but this cutting of news stories does not involve dumbing down, but rather cutting to facts and what people consider the main ideas of their article. Look, the world has really sped up since the invention of the automobile, and it isn’t going to slow down, so what people read might become bite sized, but to call these people sub-literate and uncaring towards actual events, is only to alienate your own consumer base, namely people who read.

What Jones really needs to learn is that evolution is a real thing and it exists outside of Darwin's area of study. Just because people who write novels may not get as great a paycheck as they once did, does not show any sort of death to the author, but really only a shift in the way things need to be sold. The entertainment industries are not going to be able to sell ideas to a public for much longer and need to learn some respect when it comes to the inevitable downfall of cover price. What this does not say is that the writer will cease to exist, but quite the opposite, in the brave, new world that you can just be able to see on our future's horizon, the writer is going to be anyone and everyone. As Miranda July might put it, me and you and everyone we know will be out there sharing opinions and ideas in the way that Socrates thought distasteful. Yeah, we're all going to be writers.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

"Trading Places"

The biggest story in baseball for at least the next week I’d say is the trades made before the deadline of 4PM last Friday. The Pittsburgh Pirates butchered their line up in an attempt to show that they are set to start over in the next few years. This from a team that hasn’t had a winning season in more than the past decade and a half, and if you ask me, is going to go at least a score of years before they can win 82 games in a year. As a fan of the former Tampa Bay Devil Rays, I guess I can’t help but push the story of how bad Pittsburgh teams of late have been, their tale offers some sort of excuse as to the Devil Rays own horrid beginnings, a team who themselves had not won more than seventy games in a year until they took “Devil” out of their name and powered their way into the World Series last year. But enough has obviously been written about Tampa’s Cinderella Season in 2008, I should get back to the trading deadline.

One guy who has really gotten around in the past two weeks began his routes with the above mentioned infamous Pirates playing along with his brother as both a respected hitter and a strong first baseman. Adam LaRoche has to have some mixed feelings over his recent road trip from Pennsylvania into Massachusetts and then down south to Georgia. The interesting thing with this story, in my opinion, is just that LaRoche has different reasons to be at any of these three teams. In Pittsburgh, as a part of a losing line-up, he at least got to play along with his brother Andy, and they’ve helped the team compile the most Baseball Tonight “Web Gems” this season so far. As for Boston, I think any player would enjoy playing for the team that I’d still pick as the best in the AL East and the likeliest to win that division. Even though I’m probably in the minority in thinking Boston will finish ahead of the Yankees at the end of the year, they are the leading team for the AL Wild Card, and LaRoche would have to be psyched to have a chance at October baseball, wouldn’t he? But the funny thing is that he was with Boston for about a week before he got traded to Atlanta. The Braves, in a way, for LaRoche have to be homecoming of sorts, since he played his first three major league seasons in Atlanta, but this has to be a step down from the Red Sox.

Moving on from Pittsburgh, the inevitable segue has to be made to the Indians, who’ve also mined the cores of their line-up this year. Cliff Lee, last year’s AL Cy Young winner has been sent to the Phillies, which makes it back to back years that Cleveland has not only had that particular award winner, but has dealt him to the National League. Now Cleveland has been taking a lot of heat for this trade in particular, which few say seemed like an even swap, but I’m willing to give that some time. What is amazing though, is Lee’s debut in Philadelphia, where he pitched a complete game and got the 5-1 win. In my opinion, people saying that the Phillies have all but clinched the NL Pennant are definitely early in their predictions, but this is a major addition for the defending MLB champs. Philadelphia might be almost assured their division title with Lee in their rotation, but the Dodgers have to be considered a potential roadblock in the post season as well as whoever wins the NL Central, since the tight battle there will probably force some really strong baseball in the last sixty games (and even the Giants, my personal pick for NL Wild Card, and the team I’d most like to see the NL Pennant).

Following the movement of Lee, Cleveland gave up Victor Martínez to the Boston Red Sox in other trade that I see as more even sided. Justin Masterson, a respected right-handed relief pitcher who has made some starts in place of “Dice-K” Matsuzaka. Masterson’s impact in Cleveland is yet to be seen, but what I really think is interesting is that the Red Sox are so involved in these trading moves. Both the Red Sox and the Yankees of this year (and to be frank, of most years) have been listed consistently as the two best teams of the American League. Yet, my team, the pesky Tampa Bay Rays, are the team to be almost uninvolved in the trading game. I mean, the Red Sox picked up Victor, a catcher/first baseman, while having a catcher already who is the team captain (Jason Varitek) and three different players who play first base either primarily or secondarily. They then traded newly acquired Adam LaRoche, a move that made sense because of his status as a first baseman, for Casey Kotchman, a move that made no sense, since he is also a player of the same position.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that I support my home team for not dealing players willy nilly. Although Martínez is most definitely happy to be in Boston, with a team leaps and bounds above the basement dwelling Indians, he had hoped to be a franchise player, and to finish his career in the place it started. This is not a common mindset among baseball players these days, and even though it is refreshing to see it, it is also understandable that players have to see the game as a business, since it is their job. Regardless of this, however, the fans’ standpoint has to be to hold onto the players that they like to watch play. (In Tampa, the name that comes to mind is Edwin Jackson.) Many people have criticized the Rays for not making more moves on the trade market, but I for one am glad that they didn’t, since it would be difficult to see anyone go. Looking at sports as some sort of warless nationalism, it makes easy sense why fans would be attached to players to such an extent.

An idea I may get back to in a week or two connects around this idea that my team is good the way it is. I’ve heard critiques of lack of an “established closer,” but see J. P. Howell as a relief pitcher who is establishing himself in that role. Even Mariano Rivera didn’t begin pitching games in the ninth inning, and it just seems like the Rays’ way to grow a player for a position than go out and get one (perhaps a side effect of the not unlimited pay roll of the club, but also an ingrained part of the team’s cultural history). I really think that most baseball commentators are not as up on the game as they should be. Perhaps I am just an angry fan in this thought, but I think I can throw some evidence together to support my process.

As for now, I can’t much throw together grammatically correct sentences anymore, so I guess this’ll be the end of this one. Against the suggestions of Radiohead, this time I’m going to stop whispering before I start shouting.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

"The Television Commercial"

I don’t mean to throw stones or to insult anyone specifically, but recent treatment of the television commercial has come across to me as quite stupid, indeed. A quick wikicheck* shows me that the commercial break traces its origins to the first televised commercial which occurred one month and sixty eight years ago during a baseball game. The four dollar watch ad was probably able to gather more service from its pure newness than from any actual thought process put into making their advertisement. However, Bulova appears to have made a solid commercial, in my opinion, ten seconds of a clock over a map of the US with accompanying voiceover spouting out what could be seen as the first television advertising catch phrase, “America runs on Bulova time.”

This is a satisfactory approach for any number of reasons really; the ad is short and to the point enough to possibly work itself into viewers’ heads, and many, seeing their old watches break or die in the coming months may have sought out Bulovas thinking that if the whole country was running on them, they might as well too. I’m fairly sure that in ’41 television was trusted much more commonly than it is today, and certain that the first advertisement these people had seen come out of their picture boxes would not be as distrusted as the masses that they must deal with nearly every program these days. So, congratulations to Bulova aside, I would like to trace the sides to my observance of the pure bush league approach taken from almost all sides in today’s television commercial culture.

Sure, some disparaging remarks are due the commercial sponsoring companies themselves, but first I think I need to blow off some steam towards the television stations themselves, namely Fox, and their recent attempt at metamorphosing television advertising. What I speak of directly here is the attempt with new shows Fringe and Doll House from last season to incorporate a “Remote Free TV” approach to programming. My main issue with Fox’s attempt here is plainly the destruction of an important element to television viewing, “the commercial break.”

What commercials have become, to some extent, is a time to get things done around the house, or to do your homework, or whatever else your mother tells you, it is an added element of control for the parent who gives their child the remote, the ability to say, “and I want you to get this done during the commercials.”

Now this isn’t to say that a shortened number of ads in an episode of some show is such a bad idea anyway, but rather that the whole concept of “Remote Free TV” is perhaps a last dying wish from the advertising world. The fact of the matter is, television commercials are going to have to be innovative enough to make people pay attention to them, and shortening ad breaks will do nothing for this. The rise of DVR use effectively crushes the television commercial, no matter how long each break is made.

No one is going to stop and sit through 90 seconds of ads when they don’t need to, but I don’t believe it’s such an absurd thing to see someone pause and watch a commercial they particularly enjoy, or that piques their interest for the first time. The point I’m trying to make is that the commercial break has found its way into our culture, just as television has so firmly put its hand around our lives, and for regular television channels to begin experimenting with this concept is a horrible idea, and one that ultimately benefits very few.

The idea of the commercial as enjoyable programming, skewed towards one product is perhaps the best way to approach the issue. Gatorade’s ads preceding their rebranding that were only asking the question of “What’s G?” were just blatantly useless, as far as any serious ad campaign goes. Spreading buzz really has no place in a thirty second ad. One should stick to humor for the most part, although innovation is always useful.

This is why people like the late Billy Mays and Vince Offer can make their sales pitches into straight commercials. Innovation works very well on television. We, the viewers, have grown skeptical of how truthful our picture boxes really are, but we’ve also grown more sure of the pioneering process. Often times, I’m sure, advertisements for new products leave people thinking, “why didn’t someone think of that before?,” and this works just as well as any humor in winning a viewer over to the advertisement’s sponsor. This concept has spun itself into new life, interestingly enough, with such things as American Inventor and Pitchmen. People like to see new inventions, creations, and ideas made manifest. I’m sure once and awhile even made those of us most skeptical of the worth of the human race**, proud of humanity.

For me, the ad campaign that tickles me the most is USA Network’s series of little interlocking tidbits tying different television series together into one close-knit family. This might just be my own fondness for inside jokes and reoccurring characters, but it is also a good way to make commercials entertaining. It is quite apparent that USA can be more involved with its original television series, because of its smaller network status, but it just seems obvious to me that new semi-canon segments outside of television shows, things like USA’s concept or simple minisodes are perhaps the best way to advertise for television programming.

And now that I’ve truly found myself to have my fill of this particular topic, and my butchery of typical informational journalism, I think I’m pretty much done here. I tag this as a rant as well as whatever else it is, because I’m speaking off the top of my head for the most part, and, in so doing, I’m sure, have devolved at least partially into a raving lunatic. So, if you have made your way all done this line of type to this sentence, than I both apologize and thank you for your effort.

Perhaps the best way to end this whole segment is to segue out on Radiohead lyrics, thusly adding my own little advertisement to this extended monologue…

I’m not here, this isn’t happening.

* A phrase I may have just coined that I intend to only mean checking Wikipedia for facts. Noteworthy in that it allows one to inform the reader that yes, this isn’t just made up, but no, the most suitable source for said information was probably not tapped.
** I’m thinking of Kurt Vonnegut, “Father Kurt,” according to Tabitha King.