Follow or Face My Wrath

Sunday, October 11, 2015

How I Started Liking 80's Music (Except for U2)

It took me until 2014 to fall in love with the 80's.

I was born in 1983, so to say I "grew up" in the 80's would be a stretch.  I came of age in the 90's.  But I did live through the majority of the 80's, and I was sentient for the last half.  And I remember the music.

When I was a teenager, the 80's were still a recent memory of the generation before mine, so naturally I thought everything from the era was totally lame.  I was, as many are at that age, totally enamored with my generation's flavor-of-the-moment, grunge/alternative.  That gradually segued into a fascination with punk and metal, two traditions that make quite a business out of rejecting others.  My punk and metal phase carried over well into my 20's, whereupon I gradually began broadening my horizons.

I've always been one to seek out the roots of a particular thing I like, and I've often found that whoever "did it first" often did it best.  So it was that I became the avid classic rock fan that I am to this day.

But then a strange thing happened: I started getting old.  New music began to sound progressively shittier and shittier to me.  Sure, an artist here or there would hearken back to the sounds that I've loved, but I would guess I've liked less than 5% of the music published after 2001.

Those of you music fans in your 30's and beyond can probably identify with this pattern.  And I'm betting you'll identify with what happened to me next.

As I settled into my 30's (which incidentally, has been the best decade of my life so far), I found myself increasingly drawn to nostalgia from my own lifetime, rather than from my parents' heyday.  Suddenly, bands like Roxette, Depeche Mode, Poison, and Dead or Alive--bands which had sounded tragically dated to me before--started sounding fresh again.

I'm still a huge metal head; if I'm listening to music, there's about a 60% chance that it's some iteration of heavy metal.  But until the last few years I always hated hair bands and their weepy power ballads.  But lately I've been able to listen to songs like "Home Sweet Home", "Sister Christian", and "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" without a trace of irony.  I genuinely like those songs, and many more like them.

I used to cringe when songs like "She's Got The Look" and "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" came on in my presence.  Not anymore.  

That last example brings up an even stranger twist; I used to have a special flavor of hatred for 80's songs by bands that formed in the 70's or earlier.

And that brings up an interesting point.  Every era has its share of shitty music, but I still feel like the shitty music of the 80's is a special appellation of shittiness.  I think this might have something to do with the fact that much of the subpar output was created by artists whose careers began long before the 80's.

The rock stars of the 60's and 70's enjoyed a unique level of superstardom.  They had the pleasure of being associated with one of the largest and most influential cultural movements in history.  So when the next generation came along, many of these stars didn't simply fade into the background.  They had done so well by their fans that they had artistic carte blanche.  So they kept grinding out records in a futile effort to remain relevant in a generation that had passed them by.

Every generation finds a way to say "fuck you" to the one that came before it.  So 70's artists who wanted to stay relevant in the 80's had to find ways to say "fuck you" to themselves--or at least their old way of doing things--just to keep pace.  If that isn't a recipe for artistic disaster, I don't know what is.

You can see this phenomenon in action in every decade before and since, but I feel like the 80's was the first time it happened on a broad cultural level.  Before the 50's or so, music didn't have nearly the influence on young minds that it has had since then, because owning music simply wasn't as common--or even possible.  Ownership of recorded music has been steadily on the rise since the early 20th century, but somewhere around the middle of the century it crossed a barrier.  Before Elvis, some people had records.  After Elvis, everybody had records.  And the amount of music people encounter and subsequently buy has only increased with each successive generation of music media.

After the advent of music as a widely available consumer product, a different dynamic came into play.  I wasn't there, but I get the sense that 60's and 70's rock music felt like part of the same tradition.  But some time circa 1977, a handful of punk bands came along and voiced the clearest "fuck you" of any generation before or since.  And that changed the game.  Now every new crop of musicians does what it can to stand apart from those that came before.  Those that don't are viewed as benignly nostalgic at best, but usually they're simply dismissed as copycats.

I feel like the transition from classic rock to punk to new wave was a particularly rocky one because it was the first time in the age of music collecting that a new generation of musicians had drastically pulled away from their predecessors.  And the predecessors that survived the transition had some deep artistic challenges facing them.  And the result was that most of the music they made during the new generation's reign was...bad.

So it's easy to see how a guy like me, who was enamored with 60's and 70's bands, might think the 80's sucked.  That decade destroyed half of my favorite bands, and made limp-wristed lounge acts out of all but the sturdiest few.  Even immortal powerhouses like Black Sabbath, The Who, and Yes took more than a few bad steps in the 80's.  And as a fan of first-wave punk, it felt like new wave was a sellout defilement of punk, rather than its logical conclusion.  As a fan of early 70's proto metal, it was easy to feel like hair bands were pandering to the lowest common denominator, which in turn led me to underground movements like early thrash and death metal.

But now that I've grown a little, and put some distance between myself and the quick-tempered opinions of my younger days, it's easier to listen to 80's music without all the baggage that strong, youthful opinions bring.  I'm able to hear these songs without judgement, and when I listen with an open mind, I find that I genuinely love a lot of music from that era.  I even like Dio-era Sabbath better than the last couple albums of the Ozzy era.

My new mindset has enabled me to like stuff I used to hate from the subsequent generations as well.  I'm not ashamed to admit that I can get down to some Backstreet Boys.  My blood no longer curdles when the Goo Goo Dolls come on my 90's Pandora station.

But all of this even-handed wisdom can't change one simple fact:


U2 fucking blows.  Bono is the God of whiny idiots, and The Edge is the lamest excuse for a guitar hero I've ever seen.  

The Edge's guitar tabs:

Tom Morello's guitar tabs:


If I live a thousand lifetimes, I will never like U2.

...except for "Sunday Bloody Sunday".

Monday, August 24, 2015

NEW OLD RAMBLINGS

So obviously, blogging is not a top priority for me.  I've bounced back and forth from blog to blog for the last several years, and I've had long stretches where I post nothing at all.  I do not apologize for this, it's simply my way.
But, periodically, I go through a blogging renaissance, and re-tool my online presence such that things are presented in a more focused, unified manner.
This week is one of those times.
For the last year or so, I've been doing 100% of my blogging over at The Seraphim Universe, a site I originally created to be a news source and database regarding my fiction output.  However, as traffic to that site waxed and traffic to this site waned, I began posting about whatever crossed my mind there.
Then I entered one of my periods of low-to-zero output, and it occurred to me that I have been mixing up my various endeavors.  Pete Rambles was originally created to be a repository of all my unconnected thoughts, which I maintain primarily on the assumption that one day in the far future, historians will want to piece together the psyche of the man whose work altered the bedrock of human civilization.  Much like the students in Rufus's history class were eager to learn about Bill and Ted.
ANYHOW, I am currently preparing to lead a two-part plotting workshop for the Central Arkansas NaNoWriMo chapter, and accordingly, I will be launching a new blog where I will cull various resources for participants and the general writing public to enjoy.  This blog will be called "How's the Novel Coming?" and is geared at no-bullshit writing advice.  The Seraphim Universe site will be reverting to what it should have been all along; a source for news and info about my published works.  I've moved all writing-advice-related posts to How's the Novel Coming, and everything else is being re-posted here.
So for those of you who are interested (or for you future historians who are reading this), here's a look at the fresh junk:

Murder, I Write, a post I did a while back about writing the act of murder.
Johnny and Billy and Baseball and the American Way, a satirical short story I wrote that illustrates my views on the same-sex marriage debate.
Losses and Gains, a random train of thought I had after watching Chef's Table on Netflix.
Drugs Lie, a personal piece I did on my experiences with drugs.
Redeye, a poem about coffee.
Christmas Ruminations, a post about the influence Calvin and Hobbes has had on my life.
and finally, You should like the Foo Fighters, which I hope is self-explanatory.

I hope you enjoy all these new old ramblings, and remember to check out the newly updated Seraphim Universe, and my new site How's the Novel Coming.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

You should like the Foo Fighters

One of the greatest recurring arguments in my marriage stems from the fact that my beautiful and intelligent wife--whose opinion I respect--does not like the Foo Fighters.
I never would have called the Foo Fighters a polarizing band. Marylin Manson? Sure. Any contemporary country artist? Definitely. But to me, the Foo Fighters always seemed a distillate of pure rock music. Not the lowest common denominator, but a band built around traits that any rock fan can appreciate.
And yet, apparently, it is possible to dislike them.
I have another friend who--as far as I can tell--has never enjoyed a single piece of commercial music unless it was made before he was born.
I respect all tastes in music, but as a highly logical person, I've always balked at the fact that I cannot crack the code of this friend's taste. The formula "if you like ____, they you will like ____" does not work on him. We've been trading compilations since cassette tapes were the preferred medium, and I don't think I've had a single home run in all those years.
It frustrates me, but I know what it's like to be a discerning music fan. Ask my wife. I'm excessively, dancingly opinionated about music. But for me, finding music I enjoy is a logical process. (Which is why I hate the randomness of radio--even Pandora). I'm ALL ABOUT the "if-this-then-that".
And I fucking LOVE the Foo Fighters. Having two people in my life that I can't convince drives me crazy.
Even when I was a teenaged anarchist and professed to dislike anything that made the artist money, in my secret heart I still loved the Foo Fighters.  They have a command of melody that is seldom so at home in hard rock. They exercise restraint in all the right places, and know just when and how to make energetic excess not overly excessive. The music is perfectly proportioned--they rock exactly as hard as you want them to. The lyrics are clever, but never obscure. And they have one of my favorite qualities in an artist: awareness of those that came before them. They don't create in a vacuum.
The Foo Fighters are accessible, and wildly commercial, but never pandering. And they're not sellouts, despite their massive sums of loot. They've been around 20 years, and they've never rested on their laurels or stopped challenging themselves artistically. They've grown with every album, while never letting go of their core sound.
DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW DIFFICULT THAT IS?
And rare. Most 20-year-old bands are content to churn out the same album over and over, or they stop making new music all together and quietly retire into their greatest hits phase, playing 3-4 shows a year and finding new and creative ways to rerelease the same dozen songs.
Finally, Dave Grohl just seems like such a good dude. The kind you would have over for dinner, and drink beers with on the back porch while your kids played together. He is clearly a real musician who cares about music; anyone who argues otherwise is a fool. The stuff he's created over the years has a sense of honesty and genuineness that is almost extinct from popular music.
I think the main reason my friend is ill-disposed to the Foo Fighters has something to do with the fact that their music is meticulously arranged and carefully crafted.  What I call craftsmanship, my friend would call contrivance. And in a sense, he isn't wrong.
See, when an artist cultivates a particular energy in their work, it's an attempt to control how the work is percieved. And I can understand why some people find this distasteful, because when a person does this in social situations, it's vain. So to some people, trying to control an audience's perception of a work of art is also vain. But art is made to be percieved. If it is never percieved, I think it's hard to call it art. I acknowledge that there is value in art that feels off-the-cuff, raw or accidental, but as a meticulous, methodical person, I respect the learning and effort it takes to do it the other way--with craftsmanship.
For me, the problem arises when an artist crafts  their art to control the audiences economic support of it. It's one thing to craft art so that people will see it a certain way. Quite another to craft art so people will buy it. Because at its core, art has nothing to do with money. So anyone who brings considerations of money into the process of creating lowers their art.
That doesn't mean I'm against making money. As a matter of fact, I would very much like to make a fantastic sums of money from my art. But the way I see it, the process of merchandising necessarily comes after--and separate from--creation. I'm willing to work as hard at marketing as I am at creating. But I am not interested in creating just to market. Marketing serves creating, not the other way around.
I think perhaps my friend--whose opinion I respect--does not perceive this distinction between craftsmanship and contrivance. And when he hears the overdubs and double-tracked vocals of a Foo Fighters song, he hears contrivance.
I hear deliberation, knowledge and artistic vigor.
My wife, on the other hand, remains a mystery.

Christmas Ruminations

Sometimes, the best Christmas gifts are the ones whose true meaning only reveals itself upon reflection.  This year, my lovely wife gave me The Complete Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson.  I grew up with this comic, but only by flipping through the pages of this wonderful boxed set have I realized the true impact Bill Watterson had on me.


"Redeye", or "An Ode to Coffee"

I am no poet, but for fun, I submit this little ditty for your criticism:

Redeye

For all who dare put pen to page, I cry!
When sleep doth claw at eyes, words lose appeal
and thoughts do flee like birds to realms surreal.
How can a mind give chase and seek to fly?

When slumber lurks long past its welcome, why
must writers strain to call the muse to heel?
Wherefore me must above our downfall reel?
Some errand we must take; a stiff red-eye!

A shot of black, plunged deep in darkness hot!
Where caffeine lurks, and earthy notes exhale,
where "bitter" tastes so sweet, and sleep rules not.

Oh coffee stark and true, you find our plot!
Thou coffee black and strong, with you none ail!

Without your aid, our dreams would go unwrought.

Drugs Lie

This is not an easy subject for me to talk about.  Before you read, know that discussing this publicly makes me uncomfortable.  But it's time.  I need to say this.

Those of you who know me personally will know that I'm no stranger to *ahem* the party life.  When I was in college I spent more time and energy on drugs than I did on my studies.  I smoked enough pot for ten lifetimes.  The list of drugs I didn't come into contact with is shorter than the list of drugs I did.  I thank God that I had the wisdom to stay away from the aggressively destructive stuff--I never touched cocaine, heroin, meth, or anything of that caliber.  But if it grew out of the ground, or came in a pharmaceutical-grade pill, I tried it.
I think what drew me to drugs in the first place was an all-encompassing sense of boredom.  I'm a naturally imaginative person, and I drifted through my childhood with my head in the clouds.  Reality could never hold a candle to my rich inner world.  I never focused on school any more than I had to, and even some my extracurricular pursuits didn't hold as much of my attention as they should have.  I always felt like I was waiting for something more interesting to happen.
As I grew older, that childlike imagination world became harder and harder to access.  More and more of my mental energy was consumed with the business of daily life.  I went to college without a concrete idea what I wanted to do. I chose Psychology as a major because it seemed less boring than everything else, but in retrospect, I never wanted to be a psychologist.  Not really.  Maybe in the way a child wants to be a fireman, but never in a serious, dedicated, adult way.
I wasn't content with life, but it had become too much of a task for my to ignore it, and I lost touch with that inner world.  Drugs offered a doorway back to that primal state of imagination.  I clearly recall the first time I ate hallucinogenic mushrooms.  The pervading feeling of the experience was one of coming home.  A deep feeling of familiarity; that "I used to feel like this all the time".  It was hard for me to resist.
I'll spare you the story.  Eventually, as most party kids do, I sobered up.  And for funny reasons.  One of the things about drugs is that even the relatively mild ones entice you to ignore other parts of your life.  Seemingly unimportant things like doing laundry regularly, eating a healthy diet, living in a clean house.  Can you survive without those things?  Sure.  Is that living?  Not to me.  I primarily quit drugs so I could get my domestic life in order.
And after six-plus years of being drug free, it's easier for me to look back and see all the lies I believed when I was on drugs.  And that's the real harm in drugs, even the physically benign ones.  When you take them as a lifestyle, you end up believing lies.  About drugs, and about yourself.  And now, as a cathartic exercise, I want to write out some of the lies drugs told me.

Cocaine:
As I said, I never tried coke.  Not even a tiny sniff.  But I was around it a lot, and I knew numerous people who used it.  And the main lie that they all wound up believing was that they were the most important and awesome person in the world, and everyone else was just a toy for them to play with.  I saw half a dozen people fall prey to this lie.  Their personalities made 180-degree shifts.  Ultimately, what I saw cocaine do was remove a person's identity and replace it with the same paranoid, arrogant, rude, and volatile cokehead personality.  I saw good people turned into ego monsters.  And the damage was always permanent.  Once a person tried coke, they were never the same.  Even if they kept their habit under control, they eventually wound up with no identity.  Which is the irony of cocaine's lie.  It seduces you with your own identity, only to gradually strip it away.

Heroin:
Again, never touched this stuff.  Thank God.  But I know more about it than I'd like.  And I know what its lie is.  Even though heroin is among the strongest drugs, its lie is among the simplest.  Heroin tells you that nothing in the world matters--except heroin.  Once you fall under heroin's spell, everything else is playing second fiddle forever.  I have some experience with recovering addicts, and I doubt they would deny this.  They have found the strength to stay clean for years, but I doubt they would deny that heroin is still the number one thing in their life.  If that doesn't terrify you, you deserve to believe this lie.

Meth/Speed:
Ironically, living in a mostly rural state, I have little experience with meth.  But it's lie is essentially the same as all uppers, and I do have extensive experience with the more benign cousins in this family of drugs.  I abused Adderall and Ritalin on numerous occasions, and according to my sources, those are essentially slow-release diet meth.
The lie of speed is perhaps one of the most insidious.  Speed tells you that you are--in a way--more sober than sober.  You feel alive and awake and fantastically in control of your faculties.  Words come easily to the tongue.  Plans and ideas come easily to mind.  It feels like the world around you is moving in slow motion, and you have control over it like Neo had over the Matrix.
But the lie is in the fleeting nature of this feeling.  The words that come so easily are never written down.  The ideas and plans are never acted upon.  And always, they wind up forgotten, buried under the next avalanche of nervous energy.  Eventually, speed degrades you to a shivering shadow of a person, still making big plans in their mind, but whose actions are all consumed with one thing: staying high.

Painkillers:
While these belong to the same family of drugs as heroin, I feel that nice, clean pharmaceutical painkillers tell lies all their own.  Physically, the lie is the same with all opiates and their cousins: "you feel great".  Painkillers make it feel like your entire body is having an orgasm, and it can last for hours.  The second-order lie that pharmaceuticals tell you, however, is that because they aren't "dirty" street drugs, they're safer.  Oh sure, you know they aren't safe safe, but they're pretty safe, right?  No.  Hydrocodone will make a raging addict out of you as fast as heroin.  Sure, you don't have to pierce your veins to get at it, but that hardly mitigates the risk.  And it will kill you just as surely.  Unchecked, all opiates are leading toward an overdose.  It's the inevitable end these drugs pull you to.  Every time you do them, you feel a little less great than last time.  Your tolerance increases, but your hunger will eventually outpace your body's ability to protect itself.  Unhindered, all painkillers--street or office--are trying to kill you, and lying about it.

Hallucinogens (Acid, Mushrooms, Peyote, Mescaline, etc):
Of all the drugs I did, none held a grip on my heart longer than hallucinogens.  Of everything I did, this was the hardest thing to let go of.  It was the hardest thing to regret.
The thing is, I was attracted to hallucinogens because they turn your brain into a playground, returning you to that state of imagination.  Hallucinogens wildly alter the way you perceive the universe, inside and out.  They take a page from the book of almost all drugs.  They make your body feel good.  They put you in a good mood.  They give you energy.  They allow words and thoughts to come easily to mind, and the nature of those words and thoughts is often unexpected and novel.  They have been described as "blowing wide the doors of perception", giving the humble human mind access to greater realms of thought and existence.  It removes your brain's filters, and suddenly everything attains a deep, spiritual significance.
I can tell you from experience, the feeling of peeking into a richer, more complex world is very real.  It's the main reason I stuck with hallucinogens so long.  I felt as if I was perpetually on the cusp of stumbling on some great truth.
After a long time, and a lot of soul-searching, I've come to realize that that is the lie of hallucinogens.  As a person of faith, I still believe in great truths, but I've come to accept my own humility and know that those truths are not for me. My mind isn't capable of perceiving such things.  What hallucinogens did to me was lock me in a near-permanent state of Apophenia, a state of perceiving meaning and patterns in random data.  In essence, it's advanced wishful thinking.  Hallucinogens saw me amazed by tautologies and truisms.  Letting go of the lie has allowed me to see what is really significant in life.  Those filters exist for a reason.  If everything is significant, nothing is.  Of all the lies drugs told me, this was among the most destructive, because it was the hardest to overcome.

Marijuana:
But if I'm being honest with myself, the most destructive lies that drugs ever told me were told by marijuana.
Marijuana in itself is as benign as candy bars.  In excess, it can wreck your life, but it has to be wretched excess.  Marijuana will never kill you.  It probably won't even keep you from graduating college, or getting a job.  In my experience, it doesn't significantly impair your ability to drive a car, participate in a conversation (even with a cop), perform menial labor, read, write, play music, or anything.  I can't think of many tasks that were made significantly harder by marijuana.  In Situ, in reasonable doses, it's as inert as coffee, sugar, or Tylenol.
But that's how the lie of marijuana seeps into your life, and eventually comes to define you.  Weed is so harmless, that you'll never see it coming.  Over the course of a lifetime (or in my case, a decade or so), the effects of weed are more apparent.  It's still not harmful to your health, unless you count the fact that it encourages poor eating habits (But who are we kidding?  Americans don't need much encouragement there).  No, what weed does that's so subtly devious is it makes you content.
Doesn't sound so bad, does it?  Who wouldn't want to be content?  Isn't that what everyone wants?
I would argue that contentment is just the consolation prize compared to what people really want.  People want to be happy.  But the truth is this: in life the only ways to be happy are to work hard to accomplish something that matters to you; and to surround yourself with people you love.  Nobody will be happy who does not have those things.
Weed will not necessarily prevent you from obtaining those things.  But it will sap your drive to work very hard toward those--or any--goals.  You might overcome your lack of motivation, sure.  Many pot-heads do.  But for every Carl Sagan, who gets to smoke weed all the time and still matter to the world, there are a million Peter McQueeny-s, who sit in their arm chairs, dreaming big, but putting their own life on hold to take another toke.
Weed saw me waiting again.  Waiting in contented ignorance for my life to become more interesting.  I had goals, but I never worked toward them, I played with them.
Even though I say this, I still think weed should be legal.  Because the fact is, most people are mediocre, and they don't mind.  We need those people.  I think society could do worse than offering them a consolation prize.  But if you want to be exceptional*, you need every ounce of drive you can find.  The odds are still stacked against you, but at least you're not cutting yourself off at the knees.
It's a curse to be content.  When you're content, you stop growing as a person.  You stop challenging yourself.  You stop learning.  And it doesn't bother you.  When you accept the lie of Marijuana, nothing bothers you.
And some things should.

Maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe I'm not painting an accurate or fair-minded picture of drugs and their effects on a person's life.  Maybe I'm casting overly harsh judgement on people whose lives disprove my conclusions about drugs.  Maybe I'm being too nice on some points.  Whoever you are, you're bound to disagree with something I've said, or to notice some glaring error or omission.  You might even point out my hypocrisy for feeling this way about drugs and still allowing myself to drink alcohol, which is doubtless one of the more harmful drugs out there.
I'm not perfect.  You caught me.
I never was, and I never will be.
But I've learned a few things, and the most important of them is this:  You have control over very little in this world.  Most control is an illusion.  Letting go of the illusion is good, but it's harmful to stop believing in control entirely.  If you want to be exceptional, you need to be the master of yourself.  And believing a lie is one of the worst ways to hinder your progress.
---------------------------
*When I talk about being exceptional, I mean being exceptional to yourself, and the ones you care about.  I don't believe in an objective measurement for success.  I would never look at someone who is happy with their accomplishments and think they're mediocre.  Happiness comes in many flavors, and I'm not one to judge a person's preference.

Losses and Gains

Over the last week Stephanie and I watched a six-part documentary series called "Chef's Table".  It's a Netflix Original (there are so many now!), and definitely one of the most fascinating food documentaries I've ever seen. It followed the stories of six fine dining chefs from various walks of life, and delved surprisingly deep into their personal life and philosophy of food. They were each so different in their origins and motivations, yet so similar in their goals, and the food was mind-blowing. In short, a wonderful series, and worth the time even if you're not a foodie.
But that's not what I want to talk about.
In "Chef's Table" a couple of the interviewees touched on an issue that I think about a lot. They talked about the way that ancient cultures lived and cooked, and lamented the things we have lost since those simpler times. It's a thought you've all heard before; that we're spoiled by our life of abundance, and something crucial has been subtracted from the human spirit.
I'm calling bullshit on that.
On the one hand, it's absolutely true: we have lost something. For example, I cannot tell the difference between an edible mushroom and a poisonous one. I cannot fashion a bow and arrow with my bare hands. Hell, even with the best modern weapons, I probably couldn't even kill a deer. These are skills I did not learn growing up.
But I did learn how to do algebra. And how to write (how many hunter-gatherers could do that?). And how to use email. And I spent many formative years studying philosophy; wondering after the meaning of life, wondering what this thing I call "me" actually is. I learned that Earth is but a speck in an infinitely vast universe, and I gained a casual understanding of the physics that drive that universe.
Are these things worth nothing? Are these mere vanities? By virtue of knowing these things, but not how to strike a fire with rocks, can I no longer call myself a man?
Sure, we're fat. Sure, we're lazy. Sure, we spend more time staring at LED screens than we do talking to each other. But we also know what a microorganism is, and how to kill many of them before they kill us. We know how to fly jet planes. Through those little LED screens that everyone is so proud to condemn, we have the ability to speak to each other from across the world. I have clients in England, Australia, and the Phillipines. Through our work, we are able to share our cultures with each other. Is this worth nothing?
And there are people today, in our own society--maybe just around the corner from you--who do not have the benefit of education. Who cannot read, write, or perform basic math. Do you think they're glad to be free of such burdens?  Given the choice, do you think they would choose the wooden arrow and the earth oven, or a smartphone and an air-conditioned house?
I don't condone laziness, and I don't condone taking our civilization for granted. The abundance we enjoy is nothing short of miraculous, and we would do well to remember that every day. But I REFUSE to apologize for it. Because to me, that is the greatest vanity of all. To stand in front of a world filled with people who would die to have the abundance you have, and say that abundance is your greatest weakness, and that you would give it all up if you could. To stand before a parched man in the desert, lamenting that your water-filled canteen has made you weak.
We've lost something, its true. Everybody and everything must lose in order to gain. It's called growth. We may have lost something, but we've gained something of greater value. Survival is no longer the highest goal.

Johnny and Billy and Baseball and the American Way.

Once there was a boy named Billy.  Billy was a good kid, did well in school, and liked to learn.  When he grew up, he wanted to be an astronaut.  So in other words, he was just like most little boys.
The only thing different about Billy was that he didn't like dodge ball very much.  At recess, most of the other boys would go off and play dodge ball, but Billy would just play on the swings or the monkey bars.
There was another boy who went to Billy's school, and his name was Johnny.  Johnny liked playing dodge ball, and he thought Billy was weird for not liking it.  Every day, Johnny would throw a dodge ball at Billy's head on purpose, to show everybody else what a sissy Billy was.  Sometimes Billy would cry, and all Johnny's friends would laugh.
Some of the teachers saw this, but they didn't feel like there was anything they could do.  Johnny wasn't breaking any rules by throwing the dodge ball--after all, it was recess.  Once or twice, they told Johnny he wasn't being very polite, but Johnny just asked them if he had broken the rules, and of course he hadn't, so Johnny just kept on doing it.

Then one day, the school decided to form a baseball league.  Billy loved baseball, and he wanted to join.  But when he went to sign up, Johnny and his friends got in front of him and told him he wasn't allowed to play baseball because he didn't like sports.  Billy said that he liked sports fine, just not dodge ball.  Johnny said he didn't care, because baseball wasn't for sissies like Billy.  Baseball was only for normal boys.  Billy complained that he was a normal boy, but Johnny didn't listen.  Johnny just pushed him down in the dirt and laughed.
A teacher saw this, and felt he had to do something.  He sat down with Johnny, Billy, and some of the other teachers, and said that since the baseball league was run by the school, all school students should have a right to enter.  Johnny complained that baseball wasn't for kids like Billy, but the teacher knew that Billy was a normal kid like any other, and just wanted to play baseball.  So the teachers got together and told Johnny he had to let Billy play baseball, and if he tried to stop him, or if he was mean and unfair to him, he would be breaking the rules.
Johnny didn't like this, not one bit.  So he went back to his mom and told her that the school had told him he couldn't stop this one sissy from playing baseball.  He told his mom that if Billy got to play baseball, it would ruin baseball for everyone.
Johnny's mom talked to the teachers, and the teachers explained the situation.  Johnny and his friends weren't being excluded from baseball, and in fact, they weren't even going to be playing on the same team as Billy.  Johnny's mom explained to Johnny that he had no reason to be mad.  This made Johnny even more mad, and finally he stomped his foot and screamed "But they're not letting me be mean to him!  If I'm mean to him, I'm gonna be punished!"
Johnny's mom just nodded and said "Well then, I guess you'd better be nice."
"But Billy's a little sissy boy, and he doesn't deserve to play baseball!"
"You can think whatever you like about Billy, and you can say so to your friends all you want, but that doesn't mean you get to be rude.  If you start your own baseball league, you don't have to let little Billy in, but you can't ask the school to exclude him just because you don't like him.  And just because he's playing doesn't mean you won't have any fun."
Billy stomped his foot again, but he couldn't think of anything else to say.  So he went up to his room and downloaded a copy of the Anarchist Cookbook, built a pipe bomb, and put it under the hood of his teacher's car the next day.  When his teacher went to get into his car, it blew up, scattering the teacher's smoking remains over a quarter-mile radius.  All the kids started crying, but then Santa Claus flew down out of the sky wearing a bitchin' camo bandanna and carrying two AR-15s in his muscly, hairy arms.  He landed on the playground and said "Let's get this party started!"  and then fired the AR-15s into the air while blasting LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem" from the wicked-loud subs in his sleigh.  John Cena was there, and he started a fist-pumping match with Andre the Giant's reanimated corpse, and Abe Lincoln came through a time warp and fed everybody spaghetti tacos, which he invented on a trip to ancient Rome.  Billy morphed into a jet and flew into the moon, which exploded into a cloud of super-pure extasy that rained down on Earth, ensuring that everyone was rolling balls forever.  And Barak Obama looked at all this, and saw that it was good.  Then he leaned back, lit up a fat blunt made of $1000 bills and stuffed with the constitution, said "Fuck yeah!", and blew his brains out with a crossbow.
The End.

Murder, I Write

 I've been thinking about the way I want to write murder. Before I go into it, however, it is important to define murder.
Murder is clearly morally wrong. Killing, however, is not necessarily inherently wrong, and I think that the distinction isn't always clear to people. Killing is the simple act of ending the life of a living thing. Spraying Round-Up on a weed is clearly killing, but it is just as clearly not murder (unless you are the most fanatical sort of Buddhist). In my opinion, even formal execution carried out by the state is not murder. It is often the punishment for murder, but though the primary event is the same, the motive makes all the difference in the world. Formal execution generally (I am not so na├»ve as to say 'always') is the result of a due process, in which a group of people soberly weigh the facts of a given incident and decide upon the guilt of the accused, and only then further debate the means of punishment. 'Punishment' is a misleading word, however. In my opinion it gives a sense of society taking revenge upon the guilty, which is clearly not the purpose of formal execution. Execution is chosen as a 'punishment' when the guilty party is so morally off balance, so heinously violent that the only prudent, reliable way of protecting society from them is to end their life. We as a society aren't mad at them (as individuals we surely are, but as a society I think it's hard to argue this in most cases), we merely need them gone. The death penalty is a means of permanently assuring that unrepentant murderers are removed from society and can never commit such atrocities again.
Murder, on the other hand is motivated by emotion, not reason. Murder is often committed in an effort to reach an individual goal of some kind. Murder is often committed – with or without forethought – as an individual's way of administering punishment or obtaining revenge. It is motivated by anger or self-interest, not reason or the common good. Murder is what happens when people kill because of how they feel.
So often in fiction, the act of murder is bound up in a lot of gloating or drama. Villains often make speeches as they prepare to murder the hero. But in life, it is seldom – if ever – this way. In reality, the act of murder is often impulsive and sudden; and even when premeditated, the actual act is carried out quickly. And that's the true horror of it; in an instant, something that was is no more. And this change is rarely marked with any fanfare. It happens so fast we barely notice the moment itself, and yet once it had passed, it is unchangeable, immutable, eternal. Dead is dead.
When you think about it, it's terrifying how something so permanent can happen so quickly. And I think that's why murder is often written the way it is. Because it's so horrible, all the drama surrounding it serves not only to prepare us for what is coming, but to allow us to feel more relaxed, to remind us that what is happening is fiction, to cushion the blow, in a sense. It's more comfortable we are protected from the reality of it. In a way, the drama can even glorify the act, or make it seem justified, which I think is a disservice to society. Murder – no matter how evil the victim – is always wrong, even if killing is not.
And that is why all my favorite scenes of murder are the ones that have no pomp and circumstance. My favorite scenes of murder are jarring, sudden, unexpected. The murder of Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire comes to mind. So does Don Corleone's first murder in The Godfather 2. In both scenes, the victim's life is abruptly ended, with a lack of physical violence that somehow makes the murder even more vicious. Because the act is inherently violent, and not in the obvious way. Even when murder isn't physically violent, the sudden shift from life to death, from existence to non-existence, is violent in the way that a fast-moving car hitting a wall is. It happens so fast that rippling waves of destruction explode out from the moment and wreck everything they touch, most notably the lives of the people involved. The people who survive the victim have to live on with a terrible loss. The murderer themselves bear the stain of their actions on their soul for all eternity, and it can often poison their mind beyond all repair. When the act is dragged out in fiction, this impact and immediacy is often lost.

So when I write the act of murder, I want it to come at you from out of nowhere. I want your reaction to be “Wait, what? No!” I want the character to be gone so suddenly you have to go back over the last paragraph to make sure you read it correctly. When I murder one of my characters, I want it to fuck you up for life. Because that is how murder really happens.