Bristle While You Work

I’ve spent pretty much all my working life, those times when I’ve actually had a job anyway, working in places where music is played constantly throughout the workday, and I know how emotional people get about what they like to listen to when they work. I knpw places where fistfights have broken out over what kind of music is played, and one place where they had to come to an agreement where they listen to one kind of music on certain days and another on a dfferent day. Personally I like a little peace and quiet when I work, music is a distraction for me when it’s music I like, and an annoyance when it’s music I don’t like. I despise any top 40 radio station of any genre, because they tend to play the same music over and over again, and that’s irritating to me when it’s music I like. I still remember calling up the DJ at a “classic rock” radio station in Atlanta and telling her “I happen to know for a fact that the Beatles sang more than six songs”. I gave up listening to radio by choice around 1975, tired of loud commercials and idiotic DJ’s talking over the music.

I do like listening to music, obviously: at last count I had over 24,000 songs, more than 100 GB of assorted music in my music directory, running the gamut from punk rock to 40’s ballads, showtunes, music from movies and TV, anime soundtracks, comedy and other “novelty” songs, alternative, you name it, there’s a song or two in every genre that I’ll admit to liking. And when I listen to my music, I really tend to get into it: I don’t read or write or do anything else. Looks kinda silly really, though Cathy didn’t think so. But I don’t listen all the time. Like I said, I prefer a little peace and quiet. That’s not even an age thing, I’ve been like that as far back as I remember.

Now lately I have been forced to work at a lot of low-wage, low-skill jobs that are populated mostly by black people, which is fine, because I get along with black people pretty well: most of them, at least the ones I work with, are like me, in the lower middle class and we have a lot in common, and I’m pretty comfortable around them, more comfortable than I would be around, say, hipsters. But the one thing that really annoys me about working with black people is that they never want to listen to anything but hip hop, they want to listen to it loud, and they take offense when anyone suggests they change it or make them lower the volume of it or if people have the nerve to tell them what a piece of shit most hip hop music is, which of course it is. That’s not an issue of debate with me, it’s just horrible, horrible music that is pretty much the lowest common denominator, and the fact that it’s been the dominant form of music for the last almost thirty years means nothing to me.

And you know it would be OK if they listen to rap music as part of a variety of music, like I said, even I like one or two songs in every genre. Even if it was a race thing and they wanted to listen to nothing but music by black performers, that would be great, because you know, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Chuck Berry, Gladys Knight, Nat King Cole, Diana Ross, Billy Preston, Dionne Warwick, Michael Jackson, I mean seriously, that’s some of the best music ever made. But they don’t do that. It’s the same thing over and over, day in and day out, hour after hour of mind-numbing, brain cell killing garbage. And most of it is the absolute worst kind: motherfucker this and nigger that and bitch and ho and “look at the money I got”, I mean how do people do that to themselves?

If there’s a genre of music I like more than any other, it would be what we now call “classic rock”. The Beatles first and foremost of course, but even within that genre the music is very diverse: from Pink Floyd and ELO to The Sex Pistols and Nirvana, lighter stuff like Paul Simon, great voices like Linda Ronstadt and Freddie Mercury, there’s a ton of variety even within the classic rock genre.

But if I were to go in to work with seven hours (a normal shift) of self-picked programming of all the kinds of music I like, within fifteen minutes my co-workers, who don’t seem to understand why I make such a big deal over it, would be looking for an excuse to leave, or screaming bloody murder to turn it off. Yet meanwhile I am expected to “be considerate” and just accept the fact that this is what we’re playing so fuck you. And that’s what really pisses me off. There’s no point in trying to force them to change it, or even turn the volume down, that’s what they want to hear and nothing else. I’ve told them to their faces that they ought to be ashamed of themselves for listening to it, I think it deadens their minds and it speaks volumes about their character, or lack thereof, that they demand that everyone else just go along with it. It’s the kind of thing that, if I didn’t so desperately need the work, I would leave what is an otherwise very good job rather than be subjected to what amounts to me as pure torture. Don’t tell me to “tune it out”, that’s hard to do when the music is so loud you almost have to yell to be heard over it.

Anyway, that’s my rant.

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On Editors And Censorship

“Creative people listen to [editors] because [they] make that a condition of employment. [Editors] are worse than useless when it comes to creativity. [They] are intrusive.”
Dave Sim

I think Mr. Sim is equating editors with censors here, and in that vein I disagree. Even the best writers can get caught up in their own work and not see how it appears to others. A good editor, who has the respect of the writer, can actually improve on a work with subtle changes. And all due respect to Mr. Sim, whose work I admire, someone could have told him to tone down the rants or at least publish them separately, as I feel his personal issues became far too much of the Cerebus story.

Even censorship can be a positive thing: after all, the Smothers Brothers thrived on pushing the edge, it was CBS that went overboard by canceling them. Two of Seinfeld‘s classic episodes became that way because they had to find creative ways to get around censorship: how funny would The Contest have been if they were free to just say “masturbation”? Or Not that there’s anything wrong with that?

I agree with Mr. Moore (from the article) that working for a big corporation like Marvel or DC can really stunt the creative process, and he has every right to disassociate himself with them (and kudos to him for continuing to work even when the situation changed, as he pointed out, he had a responsibility to others who were working), and of course Sim, to paraphrase one of his own characters, did more than just pick a side and start swinging, he started his own side.

I made a point in an earlier post that I don’t submit any of my work for critique: I’m confident enough in my own writing style and skill that I don’t feel the need for that kind of validation, if a company wants to perform my play, that’s recognition enough for me.  And I can also edit my own work, and a harsh editor I can be: I’ve had to remove some very good lines because they don’t fit into the greater work that I’m doing, and I will rewrite whole scenes if I don’t like the tone, even if they’re important to the story.

But if someone makes a very constructive comment, I listen, and sometimes I wish I had someone working with me who could show me a new angle or way of thinking.  I still have the final say, as I think all artists should, but I won’t discount any constructive comment out of hand.

Happiness

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This little comic shared by someone on Facebook recently kinda got to me, because it’s so simple and happy. There’s so much cynicism in the world today, so much negativity about who we are and what’s happening to us, not just in America but all over the world, except for a very few places that seem to have figured out that it’s not always about money.

Even the stuff that is supposed to be uplifting comes across to me as either creepy Randian “success” stories or syrupy, condescending twaddle. I was starting to watch a documentary on PBS about North Korea and I just had to turn it off, it was so disturbing to me.  And as much as I feel for the people who live there, I also feel for the people of West Virginia, who for years have enthusiastically voted for people who have, for decades, been poisoning them. And I have very little confidence that things will change: like alcoholics, it’s not something that can be imposed from without, it has to come from within, and after so many years I just don’t know if they’re capable of understanding that there’s no honor in suffering.

I wish things were that simple, that life wasn’t such a hardship for so many reasons. It doesn’t have to be this way, but we work so hard in making it that way that you wonder if this is what people really want: to work at jobs that make them miserable, to watch TV shows that are primarily about people screaming at each other or ridiculing people who are less fortunate, to take pleasure when they see someone else suffering. To literally take food away from children and just throw it away. This isn’t happening in some Third World country like North Korea, it’s happening here, and there’s absolutely no reason for it.

Something has to change, and what makes me sad is that it will either take so long that I won’t be around to see it, or that the change itself will be worse than what we have now. And what makes me sadder is that we bring it on ourselves.

If the circus was in town, maybe I’d go. If I could borrow a couple of bucks from someone!

We Paid For This Mike

With the recent Federal Court ruling that says the FCC “doesn’t have the power to require Internet service providers to treat all traffic equally”, there is reason to be concerned about the future of the Internet as we know it.  Though I’m not as worried as some (and it bugs me when people set their hair on fire and demand that I do, as well), it doesn’t mean the concerns aren’t justified. The decision is based primarily on a legal technicality: specifically that the FCC didn’t label the Internet as a “common carrier” such as telephone or television service, and thus shouldn’t be treated in the same way. Allow me therefore to digress just for a moment to make a bigger point.

I dislike cable TV. I dislike it not because of lack of content, but because there’s too much. So much useless garbage on hundreds of channels and the few things that might appeal to me tend to be on channels you have to pay extra for. I’d rather have more choice as to what content I’d like to see instead of having so much of it rammed down my throat, especially since a lot of it I never have any intention of watching. I don’t want ten home shopping networks or sixteen religious channels or twelve channels showing the same reruns of the same shows over and over and over. And I’m not one of those who can just watch television for hours at a time: I like a few specific shows and that’s all that really interests me. I have a standard digital broadcast antenna and for the most part that’s good enough for me, everything else I can locate via the Internet in various ways. Streaming TV is here to stay, and for good or ill it’s affecting the way we watch TV.  The question is only how it will work in the future, and a lot of that depends on how this recent ruling is interpreted and acted upon by the ISP’s.

I don’t know whether we will lose “net neutrality” or not, but I assure you, if there is a serious attempt to turn the Internet into cable TV, I will disconnect it completely, and I hope everyone else does as well. The great thing about the net is that it gives us choice, there are people who want to take that choice away in the name of profit. And the only way to stop them is to let them know they won’t get a dime from us if they go through with it. Not that I’m confident we’ll have the balls to do it, but if we did, it would work.

Sounds like a bold claim from a spoiled person who wants stuff for free, but that’s just not true. I’d be much more willing to invest in cable TV if a) it more suited my needs and b) I could afford it to begin with. The hard truth that the ISP’s want us to disregard is that both computer technology and the Internet itself were created using taxpayer money via NASA and DARPA respectively. And the bulk of the money for the infrastructure likewise came from taxpayer money: subsidized funds to run the cable in cities and communities across the country.

To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, we paid for this mike, and we’re fools if we let someone take it away from us.

On Writing

Someone on a FB page geared towards playwrights was asking a lot of questions seeking advice about how he should go about writing a play, lots of questions concerning length and subject matter, and finally I got to a point with the guy and said look, never mind what we think, just write, and deal with technical questions after it’s done. I personally don’t ask for anyone’s advice about writing (or much of anything else for that matter), and I don’t give it, either. Advice is a dangerous thing, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill, said Gildor to Frodo, and that’s the philosophy I follow.

I will, however, talk about what I do when it comes to writing a play, for no other reason than to talk about myself, which I’m wont to do at great length anyway. Now it’s true my first two works have been derivative, and while I am working on some original ideas, I don’t mind writing plays based on other stories: some of Broadway’s greatest plays, after all, come from other sources. So it’s not like it’s a break with tradition or anything. I also don’t do “fan projects”. Fan projects, to me, are stories geared to a very specific group of people, I prefer to write stories that appeal to a much larger audience.

I tried to write a novel once, which is something I may still do at one point, but I found myself writing basically dialogue and what sounded like stage directions, so I switched to writing plays, and it seems to work for me. I tend to say the conversation out loud or in my head before putting it down on paper, and as the adage goes, if it sounds like writing, I discard it. I like my dialogue crisp and sharp, and I like to keep things as simple as possible. I also prefer small theater to these huge Broadway spectaculars, so I don’t waste time describing outlandish sets or costumes. However much I like a well-directed TV show or movie, and special effect-laden blockbusters, to me there is nothing better than talented actors doing their craft in front of a live audience.

I also don’t offer up my finished work for criticism: I offer it for submission, and if it gets produced that’s answer enough for me. That doesn’t mean to say I refuse to listen if someone suggests a better line, or if slight changes are made during production. I recognize that all plays are an evolution, and nothing is written in stone. But I only make those kind of changes during production, once a play is complete, for me, I don’t go back, I move on. I really dislike being anal, because I know once I get started making changes I won’t stop. And I’d rather have a slightly flawed play that’s finished on a decent schedule than seek perfection, I know too many people who never release projects, or took far too long to finish them, because they weren’t satisfied.

So anyway my best advice to anyone if they ask, is not to give advice. What works for me may not work for you, what I have to say may in fact make things worse. Have confidence in your own ability, and trust your own judgement, and don’t listen to anything I or anyone else has to say.

On Being Single

Those of you who know me know my wife died a bit over 8 years ago, and before I was with her I was single all my life. I think a good part of that was that, having fallen in love with her way back in high school (when she was engaged to another man), I spent a long time pining for her. I’m not entirely sure what it was about her that attracted me to her (and I was far from the only one), I think a lot of it was knowing that, with her, there was no bullshit, no concerns about the little mind games I see so many couples play, and there was something innately sexual about her, an open-ness, a snse that she was a very giving person.

It was many years (and for her, two husbands and three kids) later that we were finally able to get together and we were both very happy in those five years, though money problems made things uncomfortable for us. She was always, unfortunately, very sickly (and she had even survived cancer before she came to be with me), and eventually it caught up wth her, and she died after a long illness.

I don’t often think about getting involved with someone else, a good part of that is my lingering feelings for my late wife, but also money plays a big part of it; I’ve always had trouble supporting myself, and to me it seems unfair to subject a potential partner to the trouble living in poverty can bring. Even if I were an aggressive person in that regard, which I most decidedly am not, not having a lot of money is a huge obstacle for seeking out a relationship.

Being lonely, however, means that I occasionally stick my toe in the water, mostly online because I am not a very social person, but also at local singles venues. And my personal experience with the singles scene, for want of a better term, is that the women outnumber the men 10 to 1, and can therefore be very picky (“Well he meets every requirement I claim to like but he has one eyebrow longer than the other, so that’s it for him!”), and the men are mostly creeps who are only interested in getting laid. It’s nearly impossible for me to get a response at all, and the rare times it’s happened it usually ends once they discover I’m broke, or I’m short. And of course, the impression I get is that these women are being very dishonest, not so much with us, but with themselves: as I’ve said before, I think you can fit entire galaxies into the space between what a woman says she wants, and what she really wants.

And this doesn’t even include those who apparently seem to live in an alternate universe: I actually posted this comment on one site:

“Dear Ladies:
Vampires do NOT exist.
Sincerely,
-J”

It’s just not worth it any more. All I can say is I was very privileged to make someone very very happy in all ways while I was married, and the fact that I still think of her so many years after she died is a testament to how much I loved her and how lucky I was to have been a part of her life. It was the kind of relationship most people fantasize about on lonely nights when they think about who they want to share their lives with, and if I never have another relationship again I can at least know I did a good job when I was in one.

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The Snow!

The Snow!

This has been the coldest and snowiest winter since I moved here to Chicago! I took this picture from the window of my apartment a few hours ago…