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Musings

The Smart Money is on Trump to Win Again in 2020

July 29, 2019

In 2016, the United States of America made the biggest mistake (to date) in the nation’s history. Donald Trump, who so many on the left thought was essentially a joke candidate, won the presidency. Though he did lose the popular vote to Hillary Clinton, that was irrelevant because of the electoral college. It’s not the first time that this method of electing American presidents has come into play in a significant way, and the system never favors the Democrats, which is why Republicans will always move to block any attempt to ever change it.

The hope for the left when Trump was elected was that once he was in office, he would tone down the rhetoric. “Maybe he won’t be as bad as we fear,” some of them thought. “Maybe he’ll calm down a little and start acting…dare we say it…presidential?”

But now, here we are, some two-and-a-half years into the Trump presidency, and I don’t think that any Democrat, Independent, progressive, or liberal could have possibly envisioned the nightmare that they would be facing. Trump rallies have come more and more to resemble Hitler-era fascist cosplay, complete with cute merchandise for everyone to wear. It’s MAGA hats and chants of “send her back,” rather than swastikas and armbands, but otherwise, the visuals are all the same.

When you look at the faces (ninety-five percent white) of the individuals who attend Trump rallies, there is a wild light in all of their eyes that is indicative of humanity’s worst instincts. This is transparent evil, some innate, cruel desire to persecute that seems almost intrinsic to our nature. And that is what has disheartened me the most about Trump’s rise to power.

I was born in 1981, and I guess that at some point, probably when Obama became our first president of color, I thought that things were only going to get better in America the longer I lived. By “better,” I mean the liberal version of that word. I assumed that within my lifetime, I would see more African-American presidents. I figured I would see the first female president. I thought maybe, if I lived into my eighties or nineties, that I could even see the first openly gay or trans president.

I figured that the LBGTQ community would continue to gain more visibility and equal footing. I thought that racism, while it would never be eradicated, would be weeded out more and more with each passing generation. I assumed that abortion rights would always be safe. I even had the absurd notion that organized religion would begin to dwindle, replaced by the secular humanism that has always seemed to me like the only logical belief system. I was pretty stupid, wasn’t I?

In truth, the exact opposite of all of that is happening. After Obama, a large swath of America were terrified. They yearned for the old days so badly that they backslid in as dramatic of a fashion as could ever be imagined. That is what Trump is and why his message is so enticing to so many. When he came out trumpeting the slogan “Make America Great Again,” several prominent segments of the population embraced it because of an intense and abiding fear of change.

In the middle of the last century, there were lots of groups who would have loved to see some change. Women were foremost among them, as were members of the LGBTQ community. The same could be said of Jews or people of color. Really, the only individuals who didn’t want things to change at that point were male, Christian, and Caucasian. Things were fantastic for them at that point; they were firmly on top. Why would they have wanted their lives to be any different?

With Obama’s ascendance, rather than the continued progression toward some utopian ideal that I had envisioned, America took a hard-right turn. Trump’s panicked followers embraced him for being a guy who was an “anti-politician,” and why wouldn’t they? In many ways, he was perfect for them, a brash blowhard who didn’t play by the political rules of engagement that had been in existence for as long as anyone could remember.

The real face of many Americans was exposed, to the dismay of people like myself. They didn’t care if their candidate sexually molested dozens of women. Grabbing them by the pussy didn’t matter in the slightest if he could make the scary immigrants and Muslims go away. So what if his claims of being a great businessman were exposed as fraudulent? So what if he colluded with Russia? So what if he was barely literate, or if he had lied about his physical condition to avoid getting drafted into Vietnam?

Here was a man who had only attained his position because of the family into which he had been born. In reality, if he had been born into poverty, he lacked the intellect to ever rise to assistant manager of a McDonald’s, let alone president of the United States.

But none of that mattered. He spoke their language, and I now realize how blind I was in not seeing this coming. With Obama serving two terms in office, I dared to dream too big, and it overcame my natural cynicism. I should have anticipated what was about to happen, and that’s on me.

In many ways, Trump does epitomize America, or at least the worst possible version of it. He’s the guy who got everything handed to him, so he doesn’t need to value intellectualism. He has no use for it. He’s a walking advertisement for all of our most perverse impulses, the president who likes his steaks well done and smothered in ketchup. Maybe, with the run that we’ve had at the top for so long, we deserved him in some way.

Now, nothing is the same. The Democrats are in disarray. They cannot conceive of a plan of attack that is anywhere near as brazen as what Trump can conjure with a few careless, misspelled tweets. They’re dealing with an opponent who has literally no shame, and no conscience. Think of the way that the nation pitched a hissy fit when Clinton had the affair with Lewinsky. Think of how far we’ve come, or, more accurately, how far we have sunk.

As for me, I can’t image a scarier time to be alive in America. This is, as so many people have told me, the darkest timeline. I’m an atheist, but I have a last name that paints me as obviously Jewish, even though I never had a bar mitzvah, and I haven’t set foot in a synagogue in probably thirty years. There’s more violence than ever against Jews, but it’s not like I’m unique in feeling the way that I do. Muslims are in the same boat, as are people of color, or members of the LGBTQ community, or those belonging to a whole slew of other groups.

In the America that Trump wants to create, there are only a select few who are safe, and they’re the braying hounds who you see frothing and foaming at every one of his rallies. They’re the ones with those unhinged looks who I now understand were only waiting for the right candidate, and now the right president, to start up with the dog whistles that they know only so well.

If I were a betting man, I would put up my house without hesitation on Trump winning another term. It’s not cynicism now, just realism. The wool is gone from my eyes, as it is from those of so many other liberals. They realize the monsters who they were living next to the whole time, who are now emboldened to the point where they can cast aside their masks and fly their true colors.

There was a time when I never, ever could have envisioned expatriating, but now I think about it with more and more urgency. I think of where I could move, and how. Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of things that I love about this country. As screwed up as it is, I still feel like we’re doing better than plenty of other places in the world. But when things are getting worse instead of better, where is the tipping point? Might it be when concentration camps are set up, or when there are raids to root out the undesirables? Come to think of it, I guess we’re there right now, aren’t we?

Musings

Washington Irving and Sexism

June 25, 2019

Where I live, in Irondequoit, there is a very nice public library. In addition to the books, DVDs, and other items that you can borrow, there’s also a “For Sale” section near the front where you can purchase such items that have been donated by the patrons.

I sometimes go there to check out what’s for sale because you can get the books quite cheaply. I’m still resistant to reading books on tablets or other mobile devices, so if it’s a good day then I can sometimes get eight or ten books for something like six or seven dollars.

Recently, I went there and got a book of Washington Irving short stories for the cost of twenty-seven cents. It’s a paperback, in pretty decent condition, which was originally published in 1968. I’ve been reading it, and I’m most of the way through at this point.

I believe that this is the first time I’ve ever had occasion to read Washington Irving. I know that he’s most famous for his two short stories “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle,” and both of those are included in this collection, along with “The Devil and Tom Walker” and many others.

I know that Irving is considered one of the greatest fiction writers of the 19th century and beyond, and a master of the short story form. As such, I was looking forward to getting into this collection and familiarizing myself with an acknowledged master.

Here’s what I’ve noticed about Irving so far. I’m quite willing to concede that he’s a master of the short story form. His tales are sometimes funny, sometimes scary or chilling (or at least what passed for such things in the middle of the 19th century), and the language is quite approachable even in modern times. This sort of thing certainly wouldn’t be for everyone, as it’s a distinctly outdated style, but I often like reading older works by famous authors, and this is no exception.

Many of the stories take the form of character sketches of sorts. There’s very little dialogue. Instead, he often writes about “common people” who enjoy things like fishing, and there’s lots of description of the lands in which they dwell, usually in upstate New York or New England. Some of the stories do take place overseas, as in the case of “The Specter Bridegroom,” where the action happens in Germany, and “The Adventure of the German Student,” which occurs in Paris during the Revolution.

On the whole, they’re earthy stories that get to where they’re going quickly and make salient points about the human condition that are as valid today as they were 200 years ago. Each one doesn’t wear out its welcome, being perhaps 15 or 20 pages long.

The one other thing that I’ve noticed about them, though, is how frankly and consistently sexist they are. The men in Irving’s stories are often bold, robust adventurers, or at least that is the depiction of how men “should be.” There are exceptions, like Ichabod Crane in “Legend of Sleep Hollow,” who as the schoolmaster is depicted as a kind of bookish nerd. Generally speaking, though, it is the men of his literary world that are imbued with a spirit of exploration and discovery. They are born to “make something of themselves” and their role could not be more clear: they are the breadwinners, the ones who go out and test their mettle while the women stay behind, rear the children, and tend to the house.

Those women are all shrinking, blushing violets, and if they are jilted they are expected to simply pine away because now they shall become spinsters, and that is regarded as the worst thing in Irving’s world. They seem to take simple pleasure in things like knitting, cooking, and arranging furniture. In several of his stories that are more character sketches than they are proper narratives, Irving ruminates about what he perceives to be the nature of the “fairer sex,” this term, of course, telling us all that we need to know about the prevailing attitudes of the time.

In Irving’s mind, men and women have characteristics which are intrinsic to their natures. For men, it is that spirit of adventure, and for women, there is nothing that makes them happier than domestic bliss. The women are mysterious in their motives other than their wishes to keep a happy home. The men sometimes find them inscrutable; it is almost as though they are a different species entirely.

As I said, this is something that I noticed, but I’m not saying that you shouldn’t read Irving because of it or that he was somehow out of line for saying the things that he did. After all, this was 200 years ago, and his was completely the common belief. It’s not just him that thought this way; most people did. What’s interesting, though, is how progressive he was in some of his other views. There is a story (although strictly speaking it’s more of an essay) called “Traits of Indian Character” which examines what the colonists did to the Native Americans and beautifully speaks out against the atrocities that were committed.

The reason, of course, that men acted as they did during Irving’s time and women acted as they did was because society told them that is how each of their genders should behave. People really did think that women were simply by nature shrinking violets and men were all bold adventurers filled with wanderlust.

Of course, these days, we have a much better understanding that women and men were consigned to these roles not so much because each gender is truly like that, but rather because this was the narrative that we assigned to each of them. In reality, trying to assign common traits to men and women is idiocy. Each person, regardless of the their gender, is different. Even now this is a concept with which some people grapple, but it is true none the less. You can’t expect a person to be a certain way because they were born female or male. It is through social prompts that they learn how to act, and that’s something that was totally lost on Irving and those from his time.

I’m still enjoying reading this collection. Irving is, beyond a doubt, a master writer and one of the best when it comes to the short story form. The last thing I’ll say on the subject is that, while I’m getting every bit of my twenty-seven cents out of these stories, I can’t help but roll my eyes a bit every time Irving starts waxing poetic about the delicate, flowery nature of womanhood and the bold swashbuckling that we men-folk can’t help but engage in every chance we get.

Musings

Game of Thrones Series Drawing to a Close

April 19, 2019

The final season of HBO’s smash hit Game of Thrones is coming to a close, and if you’re not watching, believe me when I say that you’re in the minority. The show has seen viewership not rivaled since The Sopranos, and it would be entirely accurate to say that it has had an impact on TV shows in general that has not probably not been seen since the debut of Tony and his New Jersey buddies some twenty years ago.

Game of Thrones has opened up a world of possibilities in the fantasy genre that were unheard of before. The sheer amount of money that has been spent on the later episodes is staggering, especially when you take into account the special effects budget for the dragons, the White Walkers, and the enormous battle sequences. Those battles rival anything that has been seen on the big screen, whether you want to talk about Braveheart, or the Lord of the Rings series, or anything else you care to name.

Being someone who has always loved fantasy, I have enjoyed the show immensely. I love the visuals, the scope of it, the sheer breadth of the world that has been created, and there are so many unforgettable characters, classic moments, and one-liners. There are so many tragic deaths and rebirths, so many turns and twists, and the show has launched so many careers, from Sophie Turner to Peter Dinklage to Kit Harrington.

I’m going to be sorry to see it go, and of course I’m dying of curiosity to see how they they can possibly tie up the million-and-one loose ends in the next five episodes. Is there any possible way this show can have a satisfactory conclusion, or will it end up being like The Sopranos, where only a small portion of the viewing audience was satisfied with how things finished up?

Then there’s the issue of what’s on the horizon. Game of Thrones might be ending, but what about all of the sequels or prequels that are under discussion? And what might replace it in popularity? Presumably the likeliest contender is going to be the proposed series that takes place in Tolkien’s Middle Earth to which Netflix now has the rights. Visually it’s supposed to be like the Peter Jackson movies, and it’s going to have a budget to rival them. Being as big of a Tolkien fan as I am, needless to say you can count me in.

In the meantime, though, I’m very much looking forward to the debut of Good Omens when that comes out on Netflix later this summer. Indeed, there are multiple big-budget fantasy epics in the works, and they’re all intended for TV rather than the big screen. That’s the way things are going, and I must say that it’s nice to be able to watch such ambitious projects from the comfort of my bedroom where I can pause to take a leak or get a snack whenever I so choose.

As for the conclusion of Game of Thrones, I’m sure I’ll eagerly soak in every minute of the show’s remaining episodes. There has never been anything like it in the history of television, and whether there will ever be another fantasy saga to match it’s awesomeness remains to be seen.

Musings

2019 Brings Things Full Circle

April 11, 2019

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen fit to write on this blog. That’s because I came to the conclusion some time ago that I receive limited catharsis from doing so, and also because, since I’m supporting myself as a freelance writer now, I’ve developed an aversion to writing anything for free. Why should I post on the blog when I’m not being paid to do so, and I am, in essence, expending energy for no reason?

The only reason I’m checking in is because I’m between paying jobs at the moment and I’ve been ruminating on events that are taking place in 2019. This year there will be the Walnut Hills Class of 1999 High School Reunion. I attended Walnut Hills, and though I hated high school I readily acknowledge that this institute challenged me academically at a time when it was probably the best thing for me. I needed something to distract me from my parents’ divorce, and two classes in particular served me well in that respect: English and Art.

I never had much aptitude for art, but it’s obvious now that the seeds of my writing career were planted back there in English class, hashing out Romeo and Juliet, The Sun Also Rises, and The Joy Luck Club. I was the brooding loner in the black hoodie who took the contrary view of whatever anyone was saying. Arguing, spitting venom, was a useful outlet for me.

Now, twenty years have gone by. I neglected the chance to attend the ten-year reunion, but maybe I’m more sentimental now, or maybe I just have some degree of morbid curiosity about the remnants of my class. Perhaps I’m just going to see who turned out to be gay or transgender, or who gained the most weight.

To be honest, I don’t completely know what my motivations are for going to the reunion. It’s something I feel compelled to do, so I’m doing it. I learned a long time ago that to question my motivations too much is futile. At the very least, this trip back to Cincinnati in August will present me with a chance to see the bowling team for the first time in ages, the storied D.O.A. who won the League Championship at Madison Bowl by beating a bunch of guys twice and three times our ages.

2019 calls back to my mind thoughts of who I was twenty years ago, what seems like a lifetime and a world away. In the intervening time I’ve grappled with my demons, gotten married and started a family, (of pets, no human children, thank god), and I’ve come to appreciate a kind of mental equilibrium that I once thought it impossible for me to ever achieve.

A lot happens in twenty years, and who knows what will happen in the next twenty? I think that might be part of my reason for wanting to attend this little soiree. I feel that twenty years further down the line there will be even fewer of us Walnut Hills graduates from that fabled class than there will be this time. It becomes a matter of percentages: the more time passes, the fewer of us are left standing. And maybe this line of thinking is part of what draws me back. It’s the thought that I want to show my peers that I survived, that I walked through the maelstrom and I’m still above ground.

Few of these people might be my friends, but we do share some history. I guess, come August, we’ll get a chance to talk about it, and maybe that’s reason enough for me to fly back to the city of my birth for an event that might be auspicious, or perhaps an unmitigated disaster. Time will tell, I suppose. It always does.

Musings

No More Creative Writing?

July 21, 2018

For the past several months, I’ve been spending time putting together my horror short story collection, Fear the Darkness, Shun the Light. Horror is one of my favorite genres in which to both read and write, right up there with fantasy and crime. The collection is available on Amazon for Kindle, and hopefully the print-on-demand version will follow suit before much longer. What I’ve been wondering as I put this collection together is whether this is the last feature-length fiction project I’ll ever publish. It’s been upwards of a year since I’ve done any creative writing. I’m burned out on it. I worked so hard writing fiction for so many years, and I self-published so much, but I never saw the financial dividends that I wanted from it. I always had to support myself in other ways. This past week I turned 37, and I feel like I’ve missed my chance. The spark that I had for it, the drive, the desire, has burned out.

I know that it was always a long shot that I would succeed as an author anyway. There’s just so much competition, and while I’ve liked some of the stuff I’ve written over the years, very little of it ever reached the high standards I set for myself. Any lit agents or publishing houses I queried seemed to feel the same way. It’s true that many of my short stories were published, but I wanted more than that, and it felt like I had a window of opportunity to get noticed in a big way, and now, with me pushing 40, that window is closed. I’m not as bitter about it as I thought I might be. I just don’t care as much about succeeding as a novelist as I used to.

Perhaps part of the reason is that for approaching a year now I’ve been making a living through my writing. Granted, it’s not writing creatively, at least not in the sense that I always envisioned. I’ve been working mostly as a blogger and a copywriter, things of that nature. It’s steady, and I get to work from home, which automatically makes it one of the best jobs I’ve ever had, if not the best. Since there’s no commute, I don’t have to worry about driving through the snows of a harsh Rochester winter to get to some job where I don’t even want to be. But since I write now for many hours every week, my desire to make up stories that nobody seems all that interested in reading is almost nonexistent. Meg compared it to a chef who cooks every day not wanting to come home and having to cook dinner for their family. I think that she’s on to something. If you do something professionally, you seldom desire to do it creatively in your spare time.

It’s okay that I didn’t make it as a novelist. It was a nice dream to have for a while, but I’m at a different stage in my life now. I’m more content than I ever remember being. I have pretty much everything else I ever wanted. I’m in a healthy, loving relationship, I have pets, a house with no mortgage on it, a lovely back yard, and it’s all on a quiet street where there’s virtually no crime or shady characters anywhere nearby. It’s as close to the American dream as I ever thought I would be, and it’s perhaps more conventional than I imagined when I was younger. It’s unexpected, but delightful.

Will the horror collection be the last fiction I write? It’s hard to say. I have another novel that I wrote, the sequel to Transitional Period, but I don’t know if I like it enough for it to ever see the light of day. It goes back, again, to the tough standards I set for myself. Perhaps when I’m older and I retire, assuming that day ever comes, I will return to fiction writing as a hobby. Maybe my writing will even be better for all the living I’ve done in the meantime, all the experience that I’ve compiled. I’m glad that I wasn’t so fixated on becoming a successful novelist that the failure depressed me too badly. It was something that I wanted very much at one point, but the older me is a different version of me, and I’m fine with it.

My thanks goes out to anyone that ever bought one of my novels, or story or essay collections. I know that there weren’t that many of you. I guess it’s nice just to think that maybe one or two people out there who I never met read something that I wrote, and enjoyed it. That was just as important to me as the financial gain ever was. Perhaps you might see something new from me down the line. How many years might pass between now and then, I couldn’t tell you. I feel like I’m in semi-retirement as a fiction writer. I took my chance, I did the best I could, and now there are other vistas that have opened up for me. From where I sit, it’s a damn fine view.

Musings

Celebrity Suicides

June 9, 2018

Within the past week, celebrity fashion designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain both committed suicide. Early reports indicate that they each hung themselves, so there was no doubt that it was intentional for both of them. Bourdain left a note in which he spoke about his reasons for making the choice that he did. It seems that he struggled with demons in his life; at one point he gave an interview where he talked about being addicted to heroin and cocaine at some juncture, and although he seemed clean in recent years, he often ruminated about the pushing of boundaries. He said at one point “I also do feel I have things to live for. There have been times, honestly, in my life that I figured, I’ve had a good run- why not just do this stupid thing, this selfish thing…jump off a cliff into water of indeterminate depth.” It seems clear that ending his life by his own hand was something that he had thought about before.

Both Kate Spade and Bourdain were celebrities, and because of that, they were forced to spend some portion of their lives in the public eye. Maybe that adds more pressure to a person’s life; not being a celebrity myself, I don’t know. But there are plenty of people who lead quiet, unassuming lives who also kill themselves, so I don’t think that fame can be the single determining factor. No two people have the exact same reasons for killing themselves, I suspect, but everyone has pressure in their lives. Many people suffer from depression, whether they are clinically diagnosed or not. Many more of them have down periods or black moods, and I would certainly categorize myself among them. But I’m one of those who eschew therapy, so I’ve never been told exactly what’s going on with me, nor am I on any drugs to treat it.

I’m not suicidal. There’s a lot in my life for which I’m thankful, and being in a happy marriage and living in a nice house that I own outright are at the top of that list. I have a dog and two cats that I love, and within the past year I’ve been able to get out of an industry that I despised and start supporting myself exclusively through my writing, which is what I’ve always dreamed of doing. And yet, when I hear about someone committing suicide, all I can say is that I understand. I get it. Val Kilmer was quick to call Anthony Bourdain selfish for doing what he did, but who is he to judge? Nobody knows what it’s like to walk a mile or even an inch in anyone else’s shoes, and some people are just miserable. Life is no longer for them.

And it makes so much sense to me…life is just so tiring. It’s exhausting sometimes. In my case, approaching the age of thirty-seven next month, I never imagined that I would still be here. I don’t want to pile on the melodrama, but I was quite sure at one point that I was going to die in my late teens or early twenties. I don’t know if I was exactly suicidal at that point, but I thought about my death nearly constantly during that time. I did an incredible amount of drugs, and I put myself in situations where I could have been seriously harmed, where I could have died. I was so angry and despairing because of my parents’ divorce and the disintegration of the family that it made me crazed. I got through that time, mostly due to the incredible resilience that a young human body possesses, and now I’m staring down the barrel at middle age. I’m better mentally, but I feel on some occasions like I’m living on stolen time, a sentiment that was echoed in certain comments made by Anthony Bourdain.

I don’t have any plans of killing myself, but because I’m the morbid person that I am, I wonder what I would do if Megan died. If she got killed in a car wreck today, would I mourn for a while and then pick up the pieces, perhaps start dating again? Or would I start looking into the direction that Bourdain or Kate Spade took, or uncounted others since humanity began? Would I just say enough is enough, I’ve had a good run, and I can let go, because I don’t feel like I have anything to look forward to anymore? That’s not something that I could know unless that situation came to pass, so it’s pointless to speculate…and yet I can’t help it sometimes. It’s just the way my mind operates.

I don’t know what it was like to live as Anthony Bourdain or Kate Spade, or anyone else but me. Each human experience is perfectly unique. But I would never call someone selfish for taking their own life. Living is hard, and if you don’t agree, then that’s bully for you, but it’s hard sometimes for me. To Bourdain and Spade, wherever you are now, maybe you just didn’t want to deal with the bullshit anymore, and if so, I completely get it. I understand.

Musings

A Family Interlude

April 22, 2018

This past week, Megan and I had several visitors. My mother was here from Cincinnati, as well as my father and his wife. My sister and her partner were here from the West Coast, along with Ezra, my nephew. The break in the routine was welcome, but it also felt a little odd. We don’t entertain much. I had the opportunity to cook a big elaborate dinner for the group, which I enjoyed, since I don’t have any friends or family nearby for whom to prepare meals. There was warmth and fellowship; everyone got to meet the new dog, who acted protective of Megan and I at first, but soon enough calmed down and behaved himself. Food was consumed, and everyone spoke well of my pumpkin bread, a new recipe I’d never tried before.

They were here for a few days, and during that time we went to the Strong Museum of Play, which Ezra enjoyed. We went to a trampoline park, which he also liked, and I must say that Megan and I enjoyed it too, though we were sore for a couple of days afterward. Closing in on middle age, our bodies aren’t as flexible and durable as that of a four-and-a-half year old.

All in all, it was a nice visit, though by the time it was over, I think everyone was ready to go back to their own homes and resume their own routines. Ezra was a good barometer for that. The last day of the trip, he was fussy. He fretted and seemed irritable, and he said in his own limited vocabulary that he was done with vacation; he wanted to go home. Now he’s gone back to Berkley with Ann and Brian, and he’ll resume his California upbringing.

It was nice to see my nephew, as he is starting to develop his own personality. At his age, his vocabulary is growing, and he is learning more about the world. I’ll see him again in July, and we can continue forging our own relationship. It seems evident, though, that he is a little wary of me. It’s understandable. I’m a large physical presence, taller than either of his parents. My voice is deep, and I’m heavily tattooed. I don’t know if he finds any of that intimidating, but there’s more to it. I think that I’m not able to identify with young people very well. Not being a father myself, I’m seldom around them. When I am, I try to be as friendly as possible, but it’s hard for me to get back into the imaginative, playful frame of mind that children seem to occupy so easily. I’ve been in the adult world for too long, and it’s made me rough and cynical.

Whenever I see Ezra, who at this point is the last of the Finkelstein bloodline, it makes me think about the decision by Megan and myself not to have children. It’s not one that I’ve ever regretted, but I’m glad that my parents have a biological grandchild with whom they can play, and on whom they can lavish affection. I don’t know if I would have made a good father, or if Megan would have made a good mother, but I feel like, each time I see Ezra, that our decision is validated. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a perfectly lovely boy, energetic, full of that spark of life that makes one feel confident that there’s hope for the next generation. But at the same time, after a few days I’ve had my fill, and maybe that sounds bad to say, but it’s the truth. If Megan and I were parents, then we wouldn’t be able to ever have a significant respite from the responsibilities that Ann and Brian have shouldered. It’s nice that my sister is so engaged with being a mother. The thing about kids is that once you have them, there’s no putting them back. You have to deal with them till they turn eighteen…and beyond. I’m glad that she hasn’t regretted her decision to make such a dramatic change in her life.

As for me, I’m fine with being Uncle Steve, and I’ll see the youngster soon for the family vacation. And for now, I’ll go back to the routine, blissfully free of children, unless you count our canine baby that’s intent on digging as many holes in the lawn as he can. More soon, true believers.

Musings

A Writer Indeed

April 1, 2018

I’ve been writing seriously for approximately the last twenty years. In 1999, while attending my freshman year at Point Park College in Pittsburgh, I wrote an essay contest for the school paper which I called “The Essay on Pharmaceutical Disobedience.” It won the top prize, which was forty dollars. I used it to buy acid. I’ve come a long way since then. Twenty years is a long time in anyone’s life. I’ve worked more than a dozen jobs, lived in five different states. Now married, I live in upstate New York, with two cats and a dog sharing my house alongside my wife, Megan. I don’t know that I necessarily mapped out my life years ago to get to this point, but here I am, and I’m enjoying myself.

In 2009, when I moved to New York, I got into the security industry. I wrote blogs about it: the monotony, the lousy pay, dealing with inconsiderate businessmen, homeless people, and perverts. My memoir “You Never Know Who’s Crazy” captures that time in my life pretty well. I was in the security industry close to ten years. I took a security gig here in Rochester when I first got here, because it was what I knew, I had my license for it, and I didn’t know any other viable ways to support myself. But this past October, I quit. I’d had enough…more than enough. The security jobs made me miserable. I had an aptitude for it, but that’s doesn’t mean I ever liked it.

In the meantime, of course, I had been writing. I’d been doing it the whole time, on the side. Or maybe the shit jobs that I was working were on the side, and the writing was what actually took precedence…it was hard to say sometimes. When I was introduced to someone for the first time, and they asked what I did, sometimes I would say “I’m a writer,” while knowing that wasn’t my primary source of income. In point of fact, I was a writer, whether I was in Cincinnati working as a parking attendant at DuBois Bookstore, in North Myrtle Beach working at Applebee’s as a line cook, or in New York City working a variety of security jobs. Yes, I was a writer, but it came off more like a hobby if it wasn’t how I was putting food on the table. I was a writer, but I was also a bouncer, or a fire safety director, or whatever else was paying the bills. It was like that for a really, really long time.

But late in 2017, it finally happened: I went pro. I quit my last security job, and I do mean my last security job, because I never intend on getting another one. I’ve been a novelist for years, and I’ve had several of them published, though I’ve had to handle their publication myself. If you’ve followed my work over the years, you already knew that. But now I’m a freelance writer, and I’m being paid for it. I’m being paid consistently, and hired consistently too. The reason I’ve been able to make the transition fairly smoothly is because I’m a good writer, and once my employers see that, they usually want more of my work. I’ve signed up and created a profile for myself on a freelance writing site, and I’ve done about ten gigs since October. Some are for less money, some for more. Some are for longer periods of time, some shorter. I get paid by the hour for some of them, or by the gig for others. But I’m in demand, and I don’t think it’s at all likely that the work will dry up. I seem to have found a niche for myself: writing professionally. Who would’ve thunk it?

It’s true that in these gigs, I’m often writing things that it wouldn’t be my first choice to write about. I’d still like to make my living creating the fantasy, horror, and crime stories that I love so much. Maybe that will still happen some day. Never say never. But in the meantime, when I meet someone new, and they ask me my profession, I can proudly say “I’m a writer.” There’s no caveat. I don’t also have to mutter “But I do security work to make ends meet.” I’m a writer, and that’s my sole means of income. At the age of thirty-six, it’s the first time in my life that I can say that. And that’s pretty cool, don’t you think?

I wanted to close with the news that my new horror story collection “Fear the Darkness, Shun the Light,” will be out soon for Kindle and in print-on-demand format. More information on that will be forthcoming. Till next time, true believers, this is Steven, professional writer, signing off.

Musings

The New Baby

January 29, 2018

I’ve never wanted children.There was never any kind of uncertainty for me. It’s lucky that I fell in love with a woman who felt the same way, or it probably would have proven problematic at some point. I guess that if Megan had really, really wanted kids, then I might have acquiesced. I don’t know…it’s hard to say, and luckily, since we feel the same way about it, it’s never going to be an issue. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a parental streak, and that’s why we’ve had cats for more than ten years now, and why we got the dog, Jimmy Bagels, back in September.

The name Jimmy Bagels was given to the animal by Megan. It was her turn to name the next pet; we take turns, and at one point, while we were living in Brooklyn, there was a big mob bust that netted over a hundred members of organized crime families. They all had nicknames like Jimmy Bagels and Tony Pizza, and I guess she thought it would be cute to have a dog with one of those as his actual name. We originally thought the name Jimmy Bagels would be good for a bulldog, but we weren’t looking for any specific breed. We were looking more for a medium-sized dog who wasn’t a purebred, since purebred dogs tend to have more health problems than mutts.

We’d wanted a dog for more than a decade. We didn’t think it was right for us to have one in Brooklyn, living in a small apartment. It was hard enough with the two cats who don’t get along. But once we got out of the city, once we bought the house with the back yard, and once we put in the new deck last year with the gate, it was finally time to get the dog we’d wanted for so very long. We went to an adoption event that was about a twenty-five minute drive away, and on the way there, we talked about how we would only get the dog we were going to see if we felt like he was a good fit. Privately, I knew that the chances of us not getting the puppy, who was five months old at the time, were remote. Unless it had three eyes, or had some other visible deformity, that animal was going home with us. We had waited for so long, how could it have been otherwise?

To see the animal in the flesh, a stumbling, bumbling, brown-and-white creature of indeterminate breeding, didn’t seem like an emotional event to me at the time. He seemed nice enough, happy to meet us, but also happy to meet everybody else around. What I’m getting at is that it wasn’t like he went right up to us and claimed us as his owners, as you sometimes hear about dogs doing. But we were there, and he was there, so we went ahead and signed the papers and took him home. It was only when we had driven back to the house, and we had taken the little guy into the back yard, so he could sniff around and start to learn his territory, that I unexpectedly found myself tearing up. I think it was just that we had talked about that moment for so very, very long: having the house, two cars in the driveway, the back yard, with the puppy running around in it. We had been talking about it, literally, for many years, and usually in the context of how, while we were living in New York and busting our asses to get by, we wouldn’t ever be able to have those things. But life is funny, sometimes. It giveth and taketh away, as they say, and when I put my arm around Megan and watched the dog frolicking in the back yard we had done so much work on over the spring and summer, it really felt like a special moment. It felt like a time to count my blessings, if there ever was one.

That was four months ago, and since then, the dog has basically destroyed that same yard. He chewed up the rosebushes, despite their having thorns. It didn’t seem to bother him one bit. He’s shit everywhere back there, and they’re usually these liquid puppy shits that are impossible to clean up, so going back there, you have to expect to step on a fecal landmine at any moment, and then, of course, you’re going to track it back into the house. He chases the one cat around, the more passive one. The older, more aggressive cat, chases Jimmy around…and sinks her claws into him any chance she gets. I try to get between them, and usually it’s me that winds up getting scratched. Even as I write this, there’s a nice new gash on my thumb from this morning. Jimmy farts any time he feels like it, his breath stinks, and he refuses to chew the Dent-a-bones we got him to improve it. He barks at the neighbors. He understands the commands we give him, but he’ll only obey if he knows we have treats for him. He rings the bells that we hung on the doorknob for him incessantly, and usually it’s not because he needs to use the bathroom, he’s just bored. He’s chewed strips out of the carpet in the guest bedroom, he’s chewed patches out of the carpet on the landing of the stairs. He tries to eat the cats’ food, he tries to eat the human food that more than likely would just make him sick, and he usually needs to go outside to use the bathroom at least once or twice during the night. That’s just the stuff I can think  of off the top of my head.

Of course, we got him young. He’s still less than a year old, and he’s going to calm down a little bit eventually. But it’s going to take a couple of years, probably, for there to be anything resembling the equilibrium we had in the house when it was just the two humans and two cats. The house feels very full, now, with the addition of this new canine personality. He’s only getting bigger, too…he’s probably approaching fifty pounds, and he could get up between sixty and seventy. Do I regret getting him? No, I don’t. This is what we wanted. And when he’s sleepy in the mornings, and he looks up at me with those big, trusting eyes, I do understand all the “man’s best friend” stuff. When I say the magic word “walk” to him, and he gets all excited and starts jumping around like a fool, it makes me smile. Yeah, like I said, I do have a little bit of a parental streak in me, and the responsibility of having a dog is the perfect amount. Having a human child would have been way too much. As for destroying the house and yard, yeah, it irks me a little, but I don’t care that much. It’s just stuff. It’s nice to have, but it doesn’t matter that it’s in pristine condition. This was part of our dream, and our lives feel very complete, now, but in a good way. It took a long time to get here, but I’m glad we finally did. A big thank you, once again, to my mom, Kathy, for the financial boost that helped get us here. And as for our dog, Jimmy Bagels, for whom we waited for so long, I’m glad you’re a part of our lives, even though you’re a holy terror. Welcome to the family, little buddy. Here’s hoping you don’t get fleas again.

Musings

I’m Still Here

January 19, 2018

It’s sad when a dream dies. It’s not usually like the death of a person, when there is a group of people, perhaps large, perhaps small, depending on how much of an asshole the deceased was, who stand around for a while and mourn. They’re able to mourn together, to be there for each other, and it helps with the pain. The death of a dream is a small and private death. It occurs in a person’s mind, and perhaps in their heart a little bit, too. That’s kind of what I’ve been feeling lately in regards to the dream I once had of becoming a professional writer. I first conceived of being a writer around 1999 or 2000, and hard to believe, that’s almost twenty years ago now. Since then, I’ve written several books, and many short stories and essays. I’ve liked some of them, others not so much. I think, more than anything else, that what I’ve discovered about myself are my limitations as a writer. If I try to judge my own abilities objectively and fairly, then I would say that I’m not a total hack, and I’m able to write semi-convincingly in certain styles, or genres. However, I’m never going to be as good as the writers I most admire, be it a Tolkien or a Stephen King, an Elmore Leonard or a Brian Lumley, a Lovecraft or a Cormac McCarthy. Compared to them, I just don’t have it. They’ve achieved success commensurate to their abilities. Now, approaching the age of forty, I have to face the fact that I probably have too.

It’s always possible that I might still write something that takes off and becomes popular, but the fact is, I’m burned out. When you’ve been pressing and striving as a writer so hard for nearly twenty years, and you don’t have much to show for it, the constant rejection after rejection by lit agents and publishing companies gets to you, no matter how tough you are. When you’ve been told “no” dozens or hundreds or even thousands of times, it has to take its toll. I’m only human. Any author is. Being burned out, and not even having the urge to start any new projects, is a new sensation for me. It’s been a very long time since I wasn’t somewhere in the process of starting something, working on it, finishing it, shopping it around, getting turned down a bunch of times, then moving on to the next thing. That’s been my life for nearly two decades. Since the writing hasn’t been paying the bills, I’ve had to work day jobs, and I’ve hated all of them, without exception. The only difference has been the degree to which I’ve hated them. The food-service jobs were all uniformly awful. Grocery store jobs, a bookstore, working in a costume/party store, and the many years of work in the security industry…there’s probably some that I’ve forgotten along the way, but they all served the same function, keeping me afloat. Since I got married, almost eight years ago, they’ve been helping to keep Megan and the two cats and myself afloat, and now, the family dog as well, who we got back in September.

I quit my most recent security job in October, and since then, you may notice I haven’t been writing here on the website much. I said a few months back that I wasn’t going to be posting here on the site as much as I used to, and I’ve lived up to that. The reason is that what money I’ve made in the past three months has been coming through freelance writing jobs that I’ve done online. I have a profile on a sort of online marketplace, a site where freelancers list their qualifications, and potential employers post jobs. The writers and employers connect, and the work gets done. Usually, it doesn’t pay very much. It’s not glamorous. And yet, with all that being said, I’ve still made more through my writing in the past three months than I have in my entire life prior to this period. The work is monotonous, repetitive, and doesn’t require a lot from a creative standpoint, but at least I’m being paid for my writing. It’s not writing bestselling novels like I always wanted to, but at least it’s something.

Of course, the other aspect of freelancing is that sometimes, when the work dries up, there’s downtime, and sometimes it’s extended downtime. That might sound nice, but it isn’t. I don’t like being at home during the day, at two in the afternoon, while my wife is at work, like most normal people. I don’t like not making money. It makes me frantic. I wish that money wasn’t so important, so that when I wasn’t making it, I wouldn’t feel so down on myself. But as I’ve said before, the world is how it is, it’s not how we wish it could be. Money is important, and when I’m not making it regularly, I’m still going to feel down on myself. I am and will always remain my greatest critic, and I’ve never liked myself very much, so it’s easy to speak ill of myself and take my words to heart. That’s another thing that I wish was different, but probably never will be.

I figured if I wrote this post that before long it was going to get all mopey and sad, and sure enough, here we are. The thing of it is, I don’t do therapy, and I doubt I ever will, so putting my thoughts out there on paper (or onscreen) usually remains the best way for me to get things off my chest. Therefore, you would think that with my not having work, I would have been posting more regularly again these days. But that hasn’t been the case, and the reason for it remains the same as my reason for not posting more regularly for the past year. I’m tired of writing things…anything…for which I’m not being paid. I’ve been doing it for far too long. That’s why, even though my work life is uncertain at the moment, it’s unlikely you’re going to be hearing from me much these days. But as I sign off here, I ask the same question that I have been for the past couple of years, as it relates to this blog. Who am I even writing these things for, anyway, if not myself? I don’t have any fans, or at least, I don’t think I do. That’s the entire point of all this: if I had fans, then it would mean that my writing, most likely my books, had been selling, so I wouldn’t feel like my dream was dead to begin with. But I don’t have fans, at least none of which I’m aware, which is why I’m in such a fix for work, and why nobody should expect more regular blogs from me, even though I certainly have the time to write them these days. But just in case I do have one or two fans out there, by accident, or whatever the case may be, I am still here. I just wouldn’t expect to be hearing much from me, in any form, anytime soon.

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