Friday, November 20, 2015

When There's Too Much Real Life In My Fiction

One of the hardest parts of working on a novel is not the actual writing, but the words that come out in the writing. In the post-apocalyptic Utopia I'm trying to describe there's a character who brings out things in me I prefer not to have to deal with because I tell myself there really isn't anything I can do about them. She's a woman who's part of a cult of religious fanatics who have broken away from the rest of the survivors. And like many breakaway cults in current times, her voice is pretty much duct taped shut because she's a woman.

The hardest part about trying to describe her life is that I'm okay as long as I can keep her in the general population of "the cult." She's fiction. I try to keep her fiction. But she keeps emerging as the women who blow themselves up because the men told them to do so. She's the women who stay with abusive men because their religion is based on men having power over them.

In a post-apocalyptic world I have no problem describing her. But at some point my descriptions have to draw on real life. Nothing I imagine comes solely from me. It comes from life experiences I put together, people I knew, women I still know. So it should not have come as a surprise to me that the woman I was describing was one I knew in real life, and her friend, the one who tries to get her to escape with her was also someone I know in real life.

That's the point where it becomes difficult to write the story. I'm not one of those writers who write to get revenge or punish people. I write because I have a story I want to tell. I can't write if my personal emotions get in the way instead of helping to clarify. I can't write if the characters I'm writing about are still alive and living in an emotional prison.

And yet these two women are in a hell as awful as the one I describe in the book. One of them is a complete emotional prisoner of her mate. He decides who she's allowed to have as a friend, and if he gets in any kind of spat with anyone associated with that friend, then she is expected to drop that friend and anyone who has the slightest connection with that friend. Over and over again, throughout the years she just drops out of sight because she's "not allowed" to communicate with people anymore she once communicated with. She can't even explain. The communication just ends. That's how much power he has over her.

Many of you are asking why and how this can happen in the 21st century? It's so freaking easy if you have a substance abuse problem, are an alcoholic, or are simply too insecure to believe in yourself. There are men who are emotional predators who seek the weak to exert their control over. The man who has done this to her has always been a control freak. He lives in a world that refuses to bend to his will, and he found over the years that for many women, love is the only chain he'll need to have total control over her.

The other man is just like him but for different reasons. He finds the weakest of the weak, the desperate drug addicts, the homeless, the socially inept. He takes them in and he enables whatever their addictions. He does this because it's the only way he can have a woman in his life. And they stay with him because as long as they do he will provide them with the drugs they need, the alcohol they crave, and he will feed their insecurity by convincing them no one else wants them.

Both these men disgust me and my heart goes out to the women. But I can't do anything. I can't get them off the drugs and alcohol they need to get by each day without jumping off a bridge somewhere. The men are doing nothing that can be proven enough to arrest them. And then for what? For preying on the weak, the desperate, the hopeless? If  that was illegal, most of the planet would be in jail.

Often, dysfunctional relationships take out the ending on each other with the children. They make them weapons, little missiles of hate and misinformation. They use them to control and coerce. Do as I say of you'll never see your children again. But both these women have no children. But pets are often a handy substitute if you want to control someone. Or a bottle of wine. Or a bag of pills. Or simply a warm place to sleep.

As I write this I'm sure I'm not the only one who knows women like this. Let's face it, we all do. One of the reasons I decided to write this today was because I had a conversation with a friend who was trying to figure out how to get her sister away from an abusive relationship that she refuses to acknowledge is abusive. There really isn't anything anyone can do as long as the cover story is in place and stuck to. I told her this and I tell myself this. It doesn't help the sadness either of us feel.

Meanwhile I have to go back and try to write the woman's story in the book because she is not the people I know. She is more than that. She is every woman stuck in a religious cult that considers her worthless. She is every war victim struggling to keep herself and her children alive when every corner she dares to look around is filled with those who want to kill her. She is every refugee woman facing hate and prejudice as she wanders the world looking for a safe place to sleep.

 In the end, we are all these women, no matter how much we say or believe we are not. They are the canaries in our coal mine of indifference. My heart breaks for them because there isn't a damn thing I can do for them.


Monday, October 12, 2015

The Cult Of Things

Today as I sat at the kitchen table and stared out at the beauty out my window I realized how different my value system is from that of many people. You really can't buy what I saw today. It's not for sale. It's a piece of nature that is available to anyone who wants to take the time to sit and stare and let it in. I rent the house, but the view is free. I often enjoy watching others stop on the street below the house just to take in the beauty. If we see each other we wave. If not, we just enjoy it in our own private front row seat, just us, the solitude, and the perfection of nature.

And yet, such amazing and profound beauty matters little to others. Because it has no admission charge, because they can't outbid someone for it, because they can't hold it in their hand and show it off to someone,  it has little or no value to them.  They are people of things and it is not a thing unless they can own it, log it, strip it, mine it, make it something that becomes a commodity. Then it has value to them.

How messed up is that? So messed up that it's at the root of the illness facing this country right now. People no longer learn for the sake of learning. They learn enough to qualify for the job that will allow them to buy things. They no longer buy a house to live in. They buy a house to show off, to claim status above someone else. They live in a commodity instead of a home and wonder why it feels so empty. A car is not something that takes you out of the madness of the city and into the peace and quiet of nature. It is a status symbol to impress people who at the heart of it, don't really give a crap about you anyway.

Right now a very large part of this country is caught up in the thing trap. They vote against their own interests because the people with all the things have convinced them if they vote for them they will also have things, and we all know that the more things, the happier one will be.

Except it's a lie. I've seen people who should know better, and many who once did, get caught in the cult of things. They amass housefuls of things. They have to rent storage units to store all those things. They build extra rooms in their houses for those things. They live in a timid little crouch of approval-seeking misery in their massive piles of junk they bought believing one day they would reach critical happiness mass.

But they never do. They never find that happiness because it's not in things. It's in those around us, in the love we share with each other, in the meals we sit down together and form memories around.

It is not getting up each morning caught in the trap of things. It is not buying something to impress someone rather than for your own pleasure. Has it ever occurred to these accumulation fanatics that the people they are trying to impress either don't even know they exist, or they are frantically buying their own things to impress someone, too?

I suspect we went so wrong when advertising became non-stop indoctrination selling us underwear, toilet paper, and politicians. It wasn't enough to watch sports. You had to wear your team. It wasn't enough to enjoy a certain type of music or performer. You had to buy all the trappings to turn that admiration into cult status.

Advertising makes us think we were worthless, uncool, out of touch, unless we have whatever is  being shoved at us through the TV screen. And it's made worse by the whole consumer mentality we have to deal with in high school, college, and whatever job we end up with that enables us to buy things.

When did we stop learning that what matters most in life is not things, but love and friendship and the beauty of nature? When did we start judging each other for not having things, money, the right travel destinations, the best gifts, the most prime seat at the table in the most expensive restaurant? When did we start ending friendships, relationships, life-long dreams because they had no monetary value, they couldn't do anything for our career, they conflicted with the expectations of those who had the things we wanted to have for ourselves?

I think we've been played for fools. We have poor people judging those who have even less. We have clubs devoted to nothing but buying more things and if you're not a member of that club, you have no value. We have so many things but no compassion anymore. Most of us could probably feed a  hungry family for a month if we sold just the things we have stored that we never use.

But no, we have to keep those closets crammed full. We have to have that house, that car, those clothes, that membership, that gated community, that job because face it, we lost our souls a long time ago and those things are a last desperate attempt to prove we haven't.

So we pop our happy pills, drink our booze, smoke our weed, and make that plastic credit card scream to keep the facade alive. We hide behind out pile of things and say look at me, I have all this stuff! I'm so frigging happy!

Except the happiness doesn't come from inside you. It doesn't let you gaze upon the beauty of a piece of nature that belongs to all who set eyes on it, and not just you, not some rich asshole, not some greedy jerk who wants to fence it all off for himself. And until you realize that, your happiness will be temporary. It will be artificial. And it will be incredibly lonely because you can't buy what you really need.

I've never given a damn about things, which is why I have just what I need, and most importantly, why I've lived the majority of my life on my own terms with my own choice of friends and loved ones to share it with me. I grew up in Las Vegas, the town of things. There's nothing that money can't buy. You can impress anyone with anything as long as they are more miserable and empty than you. But a truly happy person, well, we're not for sale.

Monday, October 05, 2015

How Zazzle treats its designers

I've been designing for them for several years. I've had the same paypal address for payouts for at least five years. This month I will not get paid because they claim my address changed. It did not.This is concerning. Are they going under? Hurting for money? Have an incompetent staff who can't get it together to do payroll right? I'm sure a lot of us would like to hear the reason. Until they get their shit together I recommend not doing business with them. In all the years I've been designing never has a professional company found an excuse not to pay me. This is a first and it does not bode well for #Zazzle or those who design for them.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Me, Sports, and an email from a friend

First of all, let me make it clear that I do not hate sports. I'm a competitive person and I see  sports as a way to compete without dropping nukes on each other. I also occasionally enjoy watching a game or two with friends. I've yelled and hollered with the best of them. I don't like the violence that comes out on the screen. I don't like the break his arm break his leg kill him that passes as cheering. But again, it's better than nuking your rival.

But in saying that I also have to tell you about my relationship to sports as a young adult still living at home. It involved cringing and hiding somewhere until it was over, and by over I don't mean the game itself. I mean the aftereffects of a father who used it as an excuse to inflict verbal and physical abuse on his family. If his team lost, the endless beer and cigarettes kicked in and if by some miracle the physical abuse was saved for later when he could inflict it on my mother in private, the verbal abuse didn't.

It was an endless stream of unrelated to the game itself blaming and accusations. It was having all your imaginary faults dragged up and flung in your face, even if there were no faults and nothing of any validity to drag up. It was being made to feel like a failure just because his team lost, even though you didn't fail and in fact were succeeding in school and in just about everything non-home related.

I managed to survive that and while the spousal unit loves his sports and loves to yell at the TV in encouragement and wrath, not once has he directed his disappointment at me. He knows it's just a game and I am much more than that to him. He's also not an abusive man or we would not be together. I had enough of that crap in my childhood. If he even sounds like he might be disrespectful to me, he hears about it, and most importantly he hears it. It's how the men in my community of friends treat each other.

Or I thought so until this morning when I received an email from a friend who recently moved in with  a sports fanatic. She hates sports but following my example, figured she could find ways to live with it. As she said, she has lots of things to catch up on while sweetie is yelling at the TV.

But today I received an email that started out with "Is this normal?" She went on to describe how her sweetie's team lost and that for about half an hour he sulked in silence. And then to her bewilderment he started criticizing her over meaningless things. He didn't like the color of shirt she was wearing. The neighbor next door was too nosy, they might have to move. It soon turned into a full-blown argument with him accusing her of things she didn't do, attacking her for personality traits he made seem like fatal flaws. I could see the tears in her words.

I immediately wrote her back and told her that no this was not normal but it was not uncommon. I suggested therapy for both of them because my own issues with this topic were too painful to do either of them much good. She asked if I was sure and was slightly offended that I didn't have the heart to hear her out on it much. So I told her my personal story that happened pretty much a year ago this December.

I remember that Seattle won. In fact they knocked San Francisco out of the play-offs. To me it was okay,  it's just a game. Our side won. It was an incredibly busy time of my life, probably the busiest of the year. I went back to work. I also picked up a small writing gig that would bring in some much needed holiday cash. In other words, I was busy and not in the mood to be bothered.

But I was bothered. I received this awful email from a fan of the other team. Yes, it was someone I knew well, a little too well. Ordinarily I would recognize the opening salvo for what it was, the disappointment of someone whose team lost. I would ignore it, let them vent and delete it and go on.

But maybe because it was "my" team who knocked his out of the play-offs, he was not going to let it go. He needed a victim much as my father needed a victim to blame. It got strange really quickly and awful. The writing gig I was working on was about the crazy teabaggers and Obama Derangement Syndrome. Someone writing a larger piece hired me to put together some words based on one of my blog entries. I was in a fantastic mood. I was thrilled to get some extra money. And I was writing about my favorite subject, crazy people whose prejudices are played like a perfect racist fiddle matching their biases.

Then I got the email that set me off. It was about how "my boy" Obama was keeping marijuana from being legal. Keep in mind this was from someone that hasn't gone a day in his adult life without getting high. He kept going on that now that Republicans were in charge, weed was going to be legal nationwide and Obama wouldn't be able to stop it.

Setting aside the fact that this person's grasp of how government actually works was pretty much on a third grade level, and that his comments were revealing his inner racist in a way that was making me extremely unwilling to continue the conversation. He was one of those people who care for nothing but sports and their lack of the basics in a lot of fields is pathetic. Being me, I tried to give him a brief primer on how it wasn't Obama's call. I sent him a short civics class in two paragraphs.

Trust me that it did not go over well. If I was less tired I would have let it drop, but I just finished reading a whole bunch of conservative sites where the comments were deranged conspiracy theories by people suffering from advanced Obama Derangement Syndrome. I got the feeling this person had finally developed another interest besides sports, but unfortunately it was listening to and embracing the most lunatic of conspiracy theories. I wondered how much he spent on tinfoil that year? It must have been considerable.

He then proceeded to attack people on my facebook page, making bizarre accusations of me enabling and featuring welfare queens. I realized I was not dealing with a sane person. I blocked him from my page and email. I deleted his phone number. I cringed in fear that he would call me and be verbally abusive. In other words, it was my childhood all over again for one of the same reasons.

That day ended my relationship with this person. I left open the possibility that it may resume if he got therapy, something he desperately needs for this and other things. I was able to separate his reaction from the normal behavior of the men I know because he was not normal. He was sick. You see, this person was like my father, and the poor women in his life no doubt got a heaping helping of his verbal abuse whenever his team lost. I say "women" because with such an abusive personality, maintaining a relationship is impossible. Every time his team loses, he will find a fault in his current partner. It's the way men like him behave. It was my father all over again.

But the difference was that I am not my mother nor am I this man's wives/girlfriends. I don't allow anyone to abuse me for any reason, especially over something like their sports team losing. He needs therapy to deal with what his own father left him as a legacy if he ever wants a genuine relationship based on respect and love. I feel sorry for him but I can't let him back in my life until he fixes what ails him.

And that's precisely what I told my friend. I told her she can't fix him. He has to fix himself and until he realizes he's broken, nothing will change. I told her if he won't go to therapy, then she needs to go alone. She needs to hear from someone other than me that although there are men like this, many of them, and also women to be fair, there is never an excuse to take out something as ridiculous as a team's loss on your partner, even if there's no violence, no hands laid. It is still abuse and unacceptable and over a period of years, it affects you as much as if he had beat you daily. The majority of men yell at the TV, drink a few beers, mourn their losses, celebrate their victories and don't have to top it off by abusing those in their space.

I hope she listens to what I said and what I wrote in this blog. I hope many women, with the beginning of the football season, listen to what I say because there is never an acceptable reason for abuse. Never.