Thursday, September 22, 2011

Hey! I AM Spartacus, JACKASS!

I don't always have so-called "normal" reactions to topical events.  Consider this my attempt at full disclosure while reading this piece.

Jamey Rodemeyer committed suicide recently.  The exact date doesn't matter - certainly not to his parents - but the fact that he was 14 years old does.  It matters a lot.

I remember 14.  I was a freshman at St. Francis Prep. High School when I was 14 and I faced that new experience with an daunting amount of fear and trepidation but not because of bullying.  I had just spent eight of the most miserable academic years on the planet in a catholic elementary school.  The institution I attended would have made Torquemada proud.  Things were so bad - for me...I can't really speak for anyone else - that I told my parents, later in life, that had St. Francis been more of the same, I would have dropped out at sixteen.  St. Francis was not more of the same.  It was a gem and I acquired my love of learning within its walls.  I am proud to say that love continues to this day.

That is not to say that I fit in at St. Francis.  I was probably bullied but being the odd duck that I am, I didn't notice and, if I did, I didn't care.  I did the usual high school things.  I tried out for the football team and ended up the water boy.  I segued to track - where no one got cut - even though I wasn't fast.  My nickname was "Physique" which meant I didn't have a single muscle worth mentioning.  The only medal I received was from the end of year meet.  Everyone got a medal.  From there I moved to the Science Club and the Drama Society and the School Paper.  I was a geek.  Still am...but I went to dances and wore the school beenie at football games and attended all the sport rallies "in the alley" (we were an urban school) and had a genuinely good time.  Good enough that I would do it again.

That is not to say that I didn't notice other people who didn't quite fit in.  Some of those guys (it was an all boy school) were unhappy.  Most, I realize now, were gay or gave the appearance that they might be gay.  They went through their day scared; the fear wasn't always noticable but it did percolate to the surface often enough to be obvious.  One guy routinely flinched if you went to touch him even if just to shake his hand.  I never occured to me that he was in pain almost everyday.  14 year olds shouldn't notice those things.  It's part of the innocence of youth and it shouldn't race out the door too quickly or too early.  Sadly, today, loss of innocence is an olympic event.

Some years later, I met several openly gay men - some from work, some from the theatre - and one of them became a good and steady friend.  He was, in the mid-eighties, just beginning to find his voice as an advocate for gay rights.  He wrote letters and complained vehemently about discrimination and celebrated joyously when the City of New York passed a gay rights bill.  We went to gay bars together - I think he wanted to see if I would be shocked - and attended at least one gay play.  I was never uncomfortable.  I didn't waste time thinking about being straight in a bar or a theater peopled with gay men.  I am proud of the fact that I have always been content in my own skin and have rarely lost sleep over what other people think of me.  The downside is that you don't always notice all the crap that bothers, frustrates, damages and sometimes kills other people.  It's not water off a ducks back.  And it shouldn't be.

Another thing I don't understand is why...why, why, why!...human beings find it necessary to draw distinction between each other and, even worse, waste all that time deciding which distinctions are worthy of praise and which are deserving of ridicule.  I find the whole thing stupid and I've never been good with stupidity.

In the movie Spartacus the Romans demand that the slaves surrended Spartacus.  "Who is Spartacus?"  The slaves respond, to a man, "I am Spartacus...I am Spartacus".  All of which brings me back to the title of this piece and Jamey Rodemeyer.  His blogs (the excerpts published in the news articles at least) say a lot of things.  Some of them scream to the pain he was feeling and some scream to the universe.  "Is anyone out there?"  Jamey Rodemeyer felt isolated.  I do not know if it would have helped but if someone...anyone... had stood up and shouted, "I AM SPARTACUS" maybe there would have been something more than an echo in the void.  Maybe then, someone else would think to join the chorus and maybe that is all that is needed.  In the face of bigotry and fear and abject stupidity, three simple words:


Think about it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

On the Eve of Execution


When the old junk man Death                                                  
Comes to gather up our bones
And toss them into the sack of oblivion
I wonder if he will find
The corpse of a white multi-milionaire
Worth more pennies of Eternity
Than the black torso of
A Negro cotton-picker.
                        - Langston Hughes

A quiet message to the Governor
of the State of Georgia...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Writing IS Work DAMMIT!

Nothing irks me more (except maybe Tea Party rhetoric, that nagging, insipid voice on my GPS and the work "irk") than people who don't consider writing work.   For the record, it is not a fad, a hobby, a distraction or a pick-up line. ("It's true.  I'm working on that new Johnny Depp movie.  Of course I know the title but I can't tell you.  Very hush-hush...")  At the end of the day, future doctors and lawyers have a better shot at nailing the prom queen than writers ever will...even if we can make it sound better - and probably last longer - on paper.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary the word "Work" means:

The result of the action or operation of some person or thing; ‘effect, consequence of agency’ (Johnson); (one's) ‘doing’; the device or invention of some one.

I like the "device or invention of some one" part but I had to look all the way down the page to find it.  This particular definition of the word was several notations below one or two sports references.  In truth, the act of writing takes time...

 (I sit at my desk every morning)

...effort, talent and determination...

(it is a lot easier to get up and turn on old episodes of "Law and Order" than it is sitting at desk scribbling feverishly in composition notebooks. I still use those marble, bespeckled books that were part of Catholic School ethos.) takes accounting...

(I know exactly how many words I write at the end of a work day.)

...uses resources and materials...

(beer, wine, coffee)

and produces a product.

(which, actually is why we do it.  There is nothing better than inscribing that last word on that last page and revelling in having nailed it.)

This Little Piggy Belongs to the Devil is my first novel.  It is a thriller told in the first person and the writing quite literally kept me sane.  That may very well be a story for another day but, in keeping with the sentiment of this blog, the work required to magically transform 56,722 words into a book is an all-consuming effort.  In the movies "the book may sell itself" but on this planet it is easier to sell a Ronco Pocket Fisherman (buy one get the second for $19.95) on a three in the morning infomercial than it is moving a book. 

Why do I do it?  This Little Piggy... deserves it.  And, I love the work!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Why the Hell Would I Self-Publish!

I am a neophyte when it comes to self-publishing.  As I type this I am slowly preparing to self-publish my first novel, a thriller entitled This Little Piggy Belongs to the Devil.  I have to admit, when I took a break from This Little Piggy in February (when I completed the third draft) I expected to take a more conventional approach.  Going it alone, being the one person responsible for every aspect of the life of my book, terrified me.  A lot of research and a conversation with someone I consider the most level headed sibling on the planet helped assuage those multiple xanax moments.  The final decider ( I'm pretty sure I got there on my own but lets blame the literary agent) came when I opened one particular SASE, unfolded my query letter and watched a crudely cut, one inch strip of paper flutter to the table.  On it was inscribed one sentence ("Does not meet our list requirements.") followed by the agency name.  I remembered this agency.  They demanded a complex set of submission requirements (14 pt. type, self-sealing return envelopes, etcetera) and I complied with all of them.  That ragged piece of paper staring up at me from the dining room table irked me.  I'd spent a lot of time on that query letter (and a lot more time on the novel!) and I didn't even rate a whole letter response.  On two previous occasions, I received rejections printed on the back of business cards.  While that might have been just as insulting, at least I had something to pass around at the bar.  It was good for a few laughs.

There are a number of really good reasons to self-publish.  We are no longer in the day of vanity presses and the negative connotations ascribed to them.  Computer technology has opened a wealth of opportunity for the publishing industry.  I've read, in other blogs, that Literary Agents (some, anyway) have taken to publishing their clients' books (some of them, anyway) on their own.  The proliferation of ebook readers (Kindle, Nook...) have made acquiring books and libraries cheap, easy and instantaneous.  That same technology allows publishers and self-publishers to produce quality product cheaply and quickly.  I had to ask, why shouldn't writers get in on the ground floor.  My answer?  This Little Piggy... will be available to the public in November as an ebook and as a print-on-demand (POD) paperback.  The distribution network will place it on (and other vitual stores), some physical bookstores and libraries throughout the country.

Maybe the best reason, however,  arrived by .pdf late last night.  I recieved the mock up of the first chapter.  Let me tell you, seeing that title page (with my name underneath) and the copyright page (with my name) and my words formatted to a 5.25 by 8 inch trim size provided some serious juice for the ego.  Some years ago, I directed one of my plays (Ice Age) at a small theater in NYC.  The actors were perfect but the technical side lagged way behind.  My scenic director, who had been paid in advance, kept saying not to worry but I wasn't seeing a set.  On the evening of the technical rehearsal, I arrived at the theater with a bag of tools and a plan to stay on that stage until the job was done.  When I opened the stage door, I was greeted by the most cacaphonous scene imaginable.  Wires were strewn everywhere.  Lights were being rehung.  Sound levels were being adjusted.  Actors, already in make-up, were doing vocal exercises and my scenic designer was on his knees adding gold gilt to a fireplace that hadn't existed the night before.  It was a perfect mess and nothing felt so good or so right.  When I opened that .pdf file, at 11:30 last night, it was that same type of WOW!; the file isn't perfect - there's is a lot of work ahead - but the book is real; it is coming together. feels so right.