Tag Archives: New York

What I Liked This Week: 4/13/13 (The Devilish Disruptor)

I had a dream last night that I can’t fully remember but I can still grasp the ghost of it (that’s right, I can grasp ghosts), and its nature seems to me delightfully mischievous. There was some sort of show going on that I was responsible for — perhaps a play, though I’ve never been responsible for a play or involved in one — and there was a sudden commotion among The Organizers of said show, because they had heard a rumor that someone in the sub-basement of the building, who I understood to be a bit of a devil, was going to cause some sort of disruption.

So I said I would go check it out and try to talk to him, but even now I remember being more interested in this devilish disruptor than I was worried about what he was going to do to The Show. The journey, in search of the sub-basement, as well as I can remember it, was similarly tinged more with excitement than concern.

At one point I found The Door I needed to go through to find The Disruptor, after eventually making my way to the basement-basement and asking someone for directions to said door. I only got as far as opening the door, which was heavy, strong and appropriately “rough around the edges.” I remember it being pretty dark on the other side. But, again, I also recall being more intrigued than afraid.

Aren’t we supposed to be everyone in our dreams? Is that What They Say? I like this idea. It seems healthy to me, that some waking part of me went in search of the devilish disruptor. That he wasn’t afraid. That he asked another part of me (the basement-basement guy) for directions.

Perhaps I should also mention that I’ve been reading Henry Miller.

Perhaps I should move on to the list:

Tropic of Capricorn by Henry Miller. Henry Miller is insane. And brilliant. And horrible. And I love him — just a bit more than I fear him. Tropic of Capricorn isn’t as good as Tropic of Cancer so far (I’m halfway through the former) overall. But if you’re a New Yorker, the passages about living and working and walking around the city, circa 1920, are worth the price of admission. When I was working my way through them, I had the uncomfortable feeling that, fundamentally, not much has changed from then till now, in terms of how life goes for most of the people who populate the city and keep it running. Also, despite what I just wrote, I’m enjoying it about as much as I enjoyed Tropic of Capricorn — for the lengthy, surreal passages in which Protagonist Henry Miller (pretty much the same as Author Henry Miller) details the internal realizations and processes that led to him becoming “himself,” or the version of himself that dominated the period following the timeline of the author’s life that generated this story. Also-also, don’t read Henry Miller in ebook form. It feels wrong and you wonder the whole time if the author’s ghost is leering at you while making lewd gestures and “farting in your general di-rection.”

Leaving the Atocha Station, by Ben Lerner. Wonderful book. Absorbing. It was a delight, following the protagonist through the trials of his year in Spain as a poetry fellow. Spending a year in Spain as a poetry fellow may not sound trying, except that said protagonist suffers from severe anxiety, and probably some other legitimate (perhaps also “common”) mental health issues as well — despite his clear intellect and apparent talent. Also, it’s fundamentally trying, living in another country (any country) where you don’t speak the language. Although I like that Lerner, via his intensely aware (in some ways) and intelligent protagonist, probes through the entirety of the language barrier situation from an internal perspective. It felt right, to go searching for that link and seeing the Paul Auster quote (see last week’s WILTW for my feelings about Auster), front and center. I can see the overlap in sensibilities (and I can probably feel it as well). Thanks to pal E.L. Kensky for sharing.

I also liked spending time with Sophia The Great this week, after several weeks away from the script while I let the notes from our reading sink in, and worked on some business-related development items. I have never felt so much affection for one of my characters, one of my stories. When I think about making the film, I feel an excitement unlike any I’ve felt before. Don’t get me wrong, I always feel excited about my projects — and I’m just as excited to finish Multiverse as I am to get truly started on Sophia. But there’s something about the latter that feels a touch different. This could have to do more with a change in me than anything else, a comfort with finally feeling ready to take on such a big undertaking, and with confidence. I think, though, it has to do with the place Sophia has taken me. I believe, to be truly genuine, that a film must represent not only a story told from the point of view of the filmmaker, but a story pulled out of the filmmaker (or the writer, and then the director, if they are two people). Writing Sophia was a journey for me, as all my stories have been journeys — but this one seems to have landed me in a more solid, discernible place than the other features I’ve written. A place where I want to be. Multiverse compares, but it’s a short little devil. It’s more about unwinding a moment. Sophia, I think (hope), is about rising to the moment.

Thanks, as always, for reading. May your week find you, at some point or another, for even a moment — exactly where you want to be.

Sandy Hook And America’s Sickness

My first reaction to Sandy Hook wasn’t shock, to be honest. I’ll leave the task of hypothesizing as to why I wasn’t shocked, to the words that follow. But, no, I just cried. On and off for days. I didn’t even get angry – at least not in the ways I know how to get angry.

When I did get angry, however, at the facts and nature of what, with all apologies to the families involved, is and should remain a national loss – something strange happened. There’s no way for me to completely contextualize the causality between the tragedy and my eventual feelings about it – not without making this too much about me (in the wrong way) – so I’ll just say it.

Shortly after Sandy Hook, I decided for the first time that I wanted to be a father someday.

I work hard to be a good person. My wife does the same. We’ve both been through some shit. More shit than some, less shit than many others. We’ve put ourselves and each other through shit. We’ll fuck up more shit today and tomorrow.

But we’re good people. We care, and we struggle – and we fight. I guess, after turning over my emotions in regard to Sandy Hook as best I could, that’s where I landed – in a place where I felt the most appropriate reaction was to acknowledge the goodness in myself, which I probably too often forget is a reflection of the good that still exists in the world, and decide for myself what I was going to do to make sure it survives. If the world’s going to get better (it’s still pretty shitty in many spots) more good people are going to have to start doing more good things.

I’m not having a kid anytime soon. But neither can I conscientiously hold on to the reasons why I was, very recently, very afraid to commit to the idea. Apart from the reasons that can be inferred from what I’ve said already, the rest of my rationale is my own. But I believe the impetus, to respond to the sadness of such a tragic event as Sandy Hook with not only sadness and anger, but love and defiance…is something worth exploring.

Much has been made of the official comments made by the National Rifle Associate (NRA) in the wake of Sandy Hook. I’m not going to dignify what was specifically said with a response. However, I will say that I find it odd that less has been made of the days-long silence of the NRA (and the similar silence of a large percentage of our population) in the wake of the shootings. Say what you will of the appropriateness or necessity of discussing topics like gun control and mental health in the immediate aftermath of the event itself, but the fact that the NRA remained sinfully silent for such a long stretch – when the right thing to do would have been to condemn the violence and lament the tragic abuse of firearms at Sandy Hook, regardless of any impact on the overall agenda of the organization – and the lack of a widespread dialogue condemning this conscious decision to do or say nothing, to me speaks loudly of where we are as a culture.

We simply can’t talk about these things.

I get that it’s hard. Little seems harder, in the wake of such a painful example of societal dysfunction, than discussing the fact that children were murdered, and that, beyond matters of faith or fate, there are several reasons and possibilities as to why. But if we don’t talk about these things when something so completely horrific happens – when do we talk? And I mean really talk.  Further, when do we act?

Children are dead. Why haven’t assault weapons been banned already? Why did the uproar die down so quickly? Why, in 2013, isn’t mental health more of a national concern?

Why did it take an outburst of outrage, from the populace as well as local New York and New Jersey politicians, for the Speaker of the House of Representatives to schedule a vote to pass part of a Senate-approved bill to get aid to victims of Hurricane Sandy?

Have we become so dispassionate – that these forms of meandering and inaction are acceptable to us?

Do you know what I did to help victims of Sandy? Not enough, compared to some of my friends and neighbors. But what I did do, I did quickly and to the best of my ability. I donated what money I could to relief organizations. When a friend from Staten Island posted “live from the scene” on Facebook, while he was helping neighbors sift through the remnants of their homes, and said that they had plenty of food and clothing for the time being, but needed shovels and gloves and facemasks –went out and charged what I could find from that list to my credit card, and delivered it to a neighborhood crew who was making daily deliveries to the hardest-hit places in the city. When that crew said that food was needed in a certain area, I packed a bunch of lunches and dropped them off the next morning.

Is that a humblebrag? Maybe. Don’t care. It’s also an example of fucking helping people who need it. Of doing something, to try to help bring the world back into balance after some bad shit goes down.

I’d argue we could all do plenty, on a normal day, to live a more balanced life as a member of society. As it stands, we in America – supposed land of the free – cling to a guarded, fractured, selfish, ghostly existence, in human terms. Most of them times, when we help, we do so remotely – with money, by clicking, sharing. I implicate myself in this behavior as well, and don’t completely fault us all, given where we’re at this crossroads in our history, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be asking questions. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be struggling a bit to figure out what exactly is going on out there, within people, that allows us to remain so callously self-interested and distant in the presence of a crumbling social compact that is failing so many of our citizens – including our children.

The issue here, for me, is the closed gap between how we live and how our lives are run, in terms of humanity and justice. It has become woefully apparent, in the age of information, that many of the terms by which we live out our daily lives are controlled and dictated by the networks of power and of powerful people who, at this point, are infinitely more concerned with assuring their continued dominance than with the good of the people, the planet, and even themselves. They’d sooner turn a blind eye as it all bleeds out than be cut off from the money, influence, and especially the illusions, that keep them safely separate from the travails of life on the ground as an otherwise “average” American.

I grew up in a middle class community of workers and entrepreneurs. I received a pretty decent public school education. I then spent my undergraduate years among a population that was mostly white and wealthy (and diversified occasionally by “minorities” playing by the same horrible rules as the old guard) and whose students and alumni have long been associated with “the elite.” Over the last several years, I’ve lived the unglamorous life of the artist-working-a-day-job-to-make-ends-meet. The point is that I’ve skipped around between social classes. And I’m telling you, there’s not a whole lot of differences between anyone, in any environment, when you start digging as deep as you have to dig to get at the reasons why it’s “normal” in our country for the majority of the population to sit idly as the leaders of the day – that we elected and/or keep in power – spend more time haggling over taxes on the rich than they do helping to avert tragedies and/or speedily address the destruction left in their wake.

I’m sure I’ll get around to discussing politics and class in more detail at a later date. My belief, however, is that if you take away all the supposed differences between the majority of the privileged class and the rest of us – the money they have, the material, situational, geographical advantages they enjoy – all you’re left with are: people. People like you and me. Maybe that sounds obvious, or trite, but do we really spend enough time acknowledging this to ourselves every day?

Since September 11th, people in America tend to also be scared people. Worried people. Despite all claims to the contrary, and whether we admit it or not, we’re also a fundamentally godless people. Regardless of whether you agree, with all that stripped away – and I don’t understand how it can’t be momentarily stripped away at times of great tragedy – still we’re incapable of looking at a day stained by the blood of children as a day of reckoning.

The clamor for new laws and better and fuller access to mental health services was and is right and just. But we won’t truly start getting better, won’t be fully able to honestly say we did about as much as we could to prevent tragedies like Sandy Hook from recurring, if we don’t admit that something corrupt has poisoned our souls.

Following the lead of our politicians and leaders, and the media empires they control, we mostly just ignore this unfortunate truth. We avoid it.

Well, I’m sick of it. More than that, I’m sick of the fact that we don’t talk honestly about these issues in a widespread way.

I’m sick of the inaction and the squabbling of our leaders and our population. Of our lack of courage and compassion. I’m sick of the outdated, out of touch moralities that we continue to cling to as our culture cannibalizes itself on every level. I’m sick of ignoring the smell of death that has crept into our daily lives.

If I ever have a child, he or she is going to know love. To me that means teaching my future children that life’s contradiction – that we are all complex, unique souls, fundamentally linked by our humanity – renders us ultimately the same.

When children die, we all die. When we fail to ask why, once they are dead, we fail them all over again, and further endanger a world already left less bright by their absence.