Thursday, June 26, 2014

Tavern at the Crossroads: A shrine to the traveling writer.

This article originally appeared in the Dreaming in Ink newsletter.  

I'm going to keep things brief for a couple of reasons. First, I am Marla's victim for the monthly interview and the last thing anyone really needs in this newsletter is more of my special brand of bullshit. Go read that to get some insights into my odiferous inner self.

Also, I don't have much to say when it comes to writing this month, because I didn't get much time to do any of it. Life kinda exploded on me this month. Not in a completely bad way, mind. Not all bad anyway. Just a very time-consuming way.

But I found something weird in my travels. And I want to talk about it. So I'm gonna.

There's this strange little place off Interstate 80 in Iowa. The word 'shrine' comes to mind, although most shrines don't have toilets as their primary feature. There is a rest area in Iowa dedicated to the art of writing. I'm not sure what, if anything it means. It's probably just one of those weird little relics one finds on the road.

I'm on the road all the time, so I know my rest stops. I know them well. I've bolted into most of them with a special kind of urgency. That's what they are for. They exist so that the traveler may rapidly discharge the extra cup of coffee in a dignified, sanitary and ,this is the important bit, a not-peeing-on-a-bush-in-front-of-God-and-everyone kind of way.

Iowa takes their public restrooms a step farther. Their rest areas have themes. There's one near Des Moine that is a salute to wind power. There's another by Ames in honor of the Iowan farmer.

And there's one near Iowa city for the writers.

The first thing I noticed was the word 'Iowa' written in huge, black script on the front of a building around the size of a small house. Well that and the giant sculpture of a pen out front. In retrospect it's hard to figure out how I was able to pass by so many times and not know exactly what I was looking at.

Inside there are digital scrolling signs continuously displaying quotes from Iowan authors. There are others cut into the enclosures around picnic tables. It is every functional rest area you've ever seen... with a shout out to writers. Vending machines and deep thoughts. Water fountains and fountain pens.

I don't think I ever stopped there before this month. There's just no reason to. I travel through Iowa a lot. A LOT. Like two or three times a month sometimes. Like any repetitive task, I have a rhythm. A routine. This was not part of it.

So I don't know why I stopped in this time. Maybe it was a little present from the Universe since this month devastated my productivity. Or maybe it was the coffee. Okay, is was definitely the coffee. Maybe a little bit of the Universe. Coffee and the Universe working together. To make writers. And a rest area in Iowa to honor them.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Templum Veneris, 1st draft completed.

Hear ye, hear ye.   Or something.
On May 5th 2014, I finished the first draft of the second book in the Reconnection series.

 25 Chapters and 71,640 words.

*blows party horn*

Okay you may all go about your business.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Relax. It's not as bad as you think. It's much worse.

The much contested minimum wage bill was officially defeated yesterday.  I’ve read figures that put over 70% of Americans in favor of this bill.  And when the GOP does what the GOP has done best over the past few years, there was a real groundswell of outrage.  At least that’s my unscientific impression.  But the anger is real.  And it’s building.  And while I agree in spirit, I have to remind myself that the argument is inherently meaningless.

So everyone just relax.  It’s not as bad as you think.  It’s actually much, much worse.

I’ve heard arguments over the minimum wage from both sides for years and both sides present more or less meaningless arguments. For the record, I think any change would be miniscule.  From the worker’s perspective all a minimum wage increase really does is increase the number of minimum wage workers.  Businesses are forced to pay more in wages which they gleefully pass on to the consumer, the price of goods increases and…. ta da!  Now you have more people living at a wage far below what is reasonable in this country.  It’s like a trick where a magician takes a twenty dollar bill and turns it in to a piece of shit.  Then he takes that piece of shit and turns it into… two pieces of shit.

From the perspective of an employer, the small business suffer most.  For them, the increase in cost can be a real and maybe even debilitating blow.  Walmart will be fine.  They’ve already figured out ways to avoid little annoyances like paying employees.

A minimum wage increase isn’t the answer.  What this country really needs is good, middle class jobs.  But that’s a whole different rant.  I didn’t see a solution to the nations problems get shot down yesterday.  What I did see was a giant middle finger courtesy of the richest Americans to the rest of us.

Dear America,
Fuck You

Love, The People Who Ran Off With All Your Money

The actual statue in front of the Milano stock exchange. 

In my mind the whole debate is fighting over scraps from the Master’s table.  There are numbers everywhere.  The numbers we’re talking about here?  According the the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2012, 3.6 million people made at or below minimum wage last year.  The operative words here were ‘at or below’ but let’s just assume everyone there made $7.25 per hour.  They didn't, most actually made less, but let's assume.  They were going to get a raise to $10.10.  We’re talking about an increase of 10.26 million dollars in total that would need to be paid out every year  Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPmorgan got a 20 million dollar bonus last year.  Correct my math, but that means that one CEO could have given his bonus (not his salary mind… just his bonus.  Just the extra money he gets for being such a swell guy) and raised the minimum wage twice.

It’s pocket change to these people. 

And in the end it doesn’t do much to raise the standard of living.

In fact with the figures in mind, I’m almost forced to the conclusion that the only people a minimum wage increase would help would be the richest Americans.  Think of it as a nice little gesture to prove that the ‘job creators’ really, really do care about America.  Like a twenty slipped into the country’s collective g-string while they pat our ass and say, “Here you go, sweetheart.  Buy yourself something pretty.”  It would be insulting, but at least we would be an entity worthy of placating just a little.

We don’t even rate that level of respect.  This is short-sighted greed and stupidity on a scale that even my cynical heart has trouble comprehending.  People without money have almost no say in government anymore that’s becoming clear.  Not only are we losing say, but those in control are actively ignoring the will of the people.

I’ve been listening to the Revolutions podcast for a while and I’ve always been interested political upheavals in history.   I know two things from what I have studied.  First, when the revolution does hit, things that seemed impossible twenty-four hours ago become real.  Second, they are violent, unpredictable monsters.  People get hurt.  People die.  Some that deserve it, most that don’t.  It sometimes leads to freedom.  It just as often leads to violent oppression and subjugation.

I like to wonder if a time traveler from fifty years in the future came to this time and warned them of the coming revolution.  Say he managed to fill a stadium with the one-percent and warn them that the guillotine blade was being greased as he spoke and it would come down soon.  What would they do different now?

Sunday, February 2, 2014

I’m aware there is a game today, I’m not that far gone, although I had look up who exactly was playing.  Apparently it’s Denver and Seattle, two cities I have personal connection to but not for their professional football program.

“The sad fact is the game has become secondary to the antics and the hype.  And I can’t decide whether I’m alright with that.

The first real memory I have of the Super Bowl and its parade of insanity was in the third grade. The Chicago Bears were dancing on television and rapping in one of the most overt trash-talking incidents of all-time. The song was so flashy and spurring (read: disrespectful to the Patriots) that even the backup quarterback, Steve Fuller, had a verse.”

Dexter Manley

Superbowl Sunday has become one of the two quintessentially American holidays, right up there with Black Friday.  Days when the ugliest part of Americana are flaunted in front of the wold.  We display what kind of horrible, vicious, mindless consumers that everyone in the world assume we are.

Maybe that’s me.  Although the fact that people are regularly trampled to death trying to get in a Walmart in November is at least evidence in my favor.

The Superbowl is worse for me.  My lack of participation in Black Friday is viewed as an anomaly.  But to not know what happened during the Superbowl?  I can feel suspicious rising all around me.  To not care about football?  Not care about the Superbowl!  Someone check this man for signs of terrorism.

‘“This is Super Sunday!” I screamed. “I want every one of you worthless bastards down in the lobby in ten minutes so we can praise God and sing the national anthem!”
Hunter S. Thompson
After being forcefully pulled from his Superbowl Sermon on the Balcony.

I remember the first time I felt this suspicion.  It was in college around the table with some drinking buddies.  It was the Superbowl of the Wardrobe Malfunction.  The date when American was outraged at a titty covered with a pasty, but Laughed Out Loud at a horse farting in a woman’s face.  My friends were talking about it at length.  I drank and listed, for… i don’t know how long.  It was late in the night and I might have been fortified with drink.  Had I been sober I might have known just enough to understand that my ignorance on this subject would paint me as, at best, a sort of cultural idiot.

I wasn’t sober, so I asked, “What are you guys talking about?”

It stopped the conversation cold as everyone tried to come to grips with the idea that there was one among them who didn’t Know.  They explained it to me, but to this day I think they tolerated my presence in the same way on tolerates a homeless man who always sits on the same street corner, present, but not a participant in any meaningful way.

“I have watched every Superbowl.  It’s important for man to have a ritual and the Superbowl occurs once a year, on a Sunday… so at least I’m trying.”
Lewis Black.

Here we are again.   Part of me feels like I should bake a pizza, grab a beer and participate.  I don’t have to like it but just go.   Like a man with no religion who goes to church every Sunday, go and pay lip service.  Watch it for the commercials.  Lots of people do that, right?  If football is not your thing, Corporate America has spent billions to make commercial messages that will dazzle the populous into submission. 

But I probably won’t.  I just don’t have the will and, besides, there is other crap to do. 

 I don’t know what that says about me anymore or my relationship with my native land or it’s people that I don’t even feel the urge to pretend anymore.   Maybe it’s me and my natural contrariness.  Maybe there really is something evil brewing behind the Pop singers doing Pepsi commercials and endless hype around a game that could never live up to that level.

Just do me a favor.  Someone let me know how it ends.

Just in case.