Categories
Journal

Won’t You Be My Neighbor

Last night we watched the Mister Rogers documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor. My hope was that it would be a bit uplifting, maybe make me cry in a good way, and serve as a balm against the horrific world of 2020. Instead it just made me feel guilty, and the wrong kind of sad. When I was a kid I looked up to Fred Rogers. I still do. I have a stuffed elephant that I named Fred because he’s a comforting presence. But I carry too much anger and frustration to be the sort of person he is. I want to walk through the world with positivity and grace, but I’m not wired that way. There’s no amount of meditation or happy thoughts that will ever make me that way.

Toward the end of the documentary we get to the period where he was being vilified by conservative media. Oh the audacity, telling children they’re all special without having to earn their specialness. Mister Rogers was right. Everyone is a child of God, deserving of love, dignity, and respect. Any Christian that says anything to the contrary isn’t a Christian. Of course they had to reframe his message in the context of who works hard and who doesn’t, who is worthy and who isn’t, the typical late-stage capitalist, bigoted, zero-sum, rhetoric. Which got me thinking, of course, about Black Lives Matter.

Let’s Make the Most of This Beautiful Day

Toward the end of his life, Fred Rogers wondered whether or not he’d made a difference. In fact, he seemed convinced that he hadn’t. For all his efforts, people were still being terrible toward one another. Things were getting worse. We know what he’d have to say about things today. He was taking us on visits to the Neighborhood in the 1960s, after all.

The film is supposed to be a tribute to the lives he touched and the impact that he did have. I’m still left lingering over how he felt toward the end, though. With all he accomplished, he felt it wasn’t enough. If he felt that way, damn, what have I done with my life? What have I accomplished? How am I having any positive affect on the world?

All I can do is keep yelling. My voice is small compared to the Tucker Carlsons and Ben Shapiros of the world. This blog doesn’t have the sort of reach that their media expressions do. I still need to speak up. Call bullshit. Be an advocate for truth in a world full of gaslighting and propaganda. Doing something might not feel satisfying, but it feels a whole lot better than doing nothing.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor
Categories
Journal

May 15 2020: The Problem of Problematic Celebrities

May 15 2020: I want to say this as concisely as possible, and try not to ramble. The problem of problematic celebrities is not my problem. It doesn’t have to be the new cause that I take up, either to defend them or to get them “cancelled”. I can, if I choose, quietly unfollow them, stop watching or listening to or reading their stuff, and get on with my life. Alternately, I can choose to believe their side and keep on enjoying their work, quietly, out of the public eye.

More than likely, though, I’ll just walk away. Guilty, innocent, it’s not only drama that I don’t need in my life, it’s extra work. To continue to consume their content with a clear conscience, I need to do some research. What did they do? What are the facts? How do I feel about that? Where does this fit in with my own personal sense of morals and ethics? If I do decide to keep enjoying their work, I either need to take pains to hide is, as to avoid more drama, or be ready to defend my choice in the court of public opinion where this all goes to trial. It’s more an an investment than I’m willing to make.

Bah. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. All I want is a some distraction, a little bit of fun. It shouldn’t have to be another project. I have more important things to worry about. I always regret spending the little time that I did looking at the accusations. There is more quality entertainment in the world than I could every consume in a hundred lifetimes. It’s easier to go dive into that, and skip the spectacle and turmoil of real life.

May 15 2020

  • If you get anything out of these blog posts, consider buying me a coffee. You can also purchase one of my books or zines from Gumroad or DriveThruRPG.
  • I check all email and Twitter DMs, personal and professional, three times once a day. I respond  as time allows; if it requires some thought or research on my part, it will take me longer.
  • I am actively avoiding news and social media to focus on writing. Please take your information from reliable sources and certified experts, not the Mad Carrot and its puerile cultists.
  • Today is Day 60 in isolation. 
Categories
Journal

A Big Movie Deal

Would you rather get a big movie deal for one book, or be on the bestseller list several times? I think I’d rather have the one big book. Here’s my reasoning on this:

A movie deal presumably means money. Likely more money than I’d make off of several best sellers. At the very least, the kind of money that would render me financially stable enough that I could keep writing things that will only sell moderately. I’m a frugal person, and a minimalist. A movie deal could set me up to write what I want to write, without having to sweat the what the market wants.

Unlike best selling books, a movie wouldn’t require me to do interviews. When’s the last time you saw an author doing press for an adaptation of their book? I mean, an author that wasn’t already famous? I hate being in the spotlight. To get to best seller status would likely mean coming out of my hole to do interviews, and then achieving best seller status would require even more. Nope.

One good movie can also create fans. I don’t need every book to be in the Top 10 on the New York Time or Amazon. Having the access point of a film will get people to seek out the book it’s based on. That will lead a handful of people to find my other works. I’d rather have that small-but-stable fan base.


The Merry Writer is a writer’s game on Twitter run by Ari Meghlen (@arimeghlen) and Rachel Poli (@RPoli3). Each day there’s a new question, and each month there’s a new theme. In these posts I expand upon the answers that I’ve posted on my Twitter.

Categories
Create Journal

And Yet Remain Lonesome

Television is a medium of entertainment which permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time, and yet remain lonesome.

T. S. Eliot

The fact that I already live largely as a hermit, while beneficial in these times, allows me grater opportunity to pretend everything is normal does not escape me. One of the reasons that I have been blogging more, and checking in on social media daily, is to keep me from losing touch with the reality of the world. Normally I’d be more critical of people amusing themselves to death, but what else is there to do? It’s not as if we’re the ones fiddling away while Rome burns.

Movies

Last night, after I ran out of spoons, I tried to watch Shawn of the Dead. Throughout this pandemic Katie has been quoting the line “go to the Winchester, have a nice cold pint, and wait for all of this to blow over” whenever the topic of social distancing comes up. I keep thinking about the scene where the main character walks across the street to the store, and is so self-absorbed that he misses things like bloody handprints, dead bodies, and zombies shambling down the street.

It’s too on-the-nose for the current situation. We have photographic evidence from around the world, there are people on the front lines sharing their experiences, all of the evidence is readily available, and there are still people not taking precautions, thinking that this is all overblown, and treating it like it’s a joke.

Wrestling

As a respite from the real world, I’ve been watching a lot of professional wrestling. Except, well, the real world has intruded. With everything shut down, the WWE has been broadcasting from their training center in Florida, basically a fancy gym, with no audience. AEW has likewise been taping episodes of their show in empty arenas. To their credit, neither promotion is trying to pretend that this is normal. They’re simply doing their best to provide entertainment in a landscape where all other sporting events have been cancelled.

Where it’s gotten weird has been the run up to Wrestlemania, the biggest event in the wrestling. Normally it’s a huge spectacle in a packed stadium. It should have been cancelled, or least rescheduled. Nope. They’re filming it in the training center. Not exactly an enticing pay-per-view event. To make it even weirder, they’ve already filmed it, which is now causing some problems.

See, they filmed the TV episodes for the next few weeks first. Those build the feuds and promote what the card is for Wrestlemania. They shot the Wrestlmania matches on Wednesday and Thursday, and therein lies the rub: healthy wrestlers decided to stay quarantined and didn’t come in, came down sick, or showed up with fevers and were sent home. This forced the card to change.

We know this because announcements have been made. Roman Reigns, who made an historic comeback last year after overcoming leukemia, bowed out. He’s immunocompromised; his match should have been cancelled weeks ago for his own safety. Last night on Smackdown they were still touting his match for next Sunday. That wasn’t the only match affect. They’re still advertising matches that we know aren’t going to happen, because the people involved were quarantined during taping.

Music

Nine Inch Nails released two new albums this week, and gave them away for free. Fortunately they’ve now added a direct link. When I grabbed them yesterday I went through their web store, and then had to wait several hours to receive an email link allowing me to download them. It was frustrating, but seriously, I’m not complaining about free music. I’ve been listening while writing, and it’s great ambient stuff.

Frankly, it’s been so quiet in and around my building that most of the time I’m not listening to anything. There’s very little activity in the hallways. No delivery trucks, cars coming to pick people up or drop them off, or groups of students laughing and walking together. I have no idea who might remain lonesome, still here in the building, and who might have gone off to visit family or to dig in elsewhere with friends or significant others.

And Yet Remain Lonesome

As I said, I’m trying to pretend everything is normal. I’m baking more bread, because flour keeps and sandwich loaves don’t. The pantry is stocked so we don’t have to go to the store for a month or more if we don’t have to. My focus is on writing and publishing, not worrying about whether I’ll have an audience, or if they’ll have any money to buy my books, in the coming weeks and months.

 

Categories
Journal

What Did Jack Do? An Analysis

On 20 January, 2020 David Lynch’s short film What Did Jack Do? was released on Netflix. It’s not exactly a new film, although it’s had limited distribution until now. Lynch shot it in 2016, around the same him he was filming Twin Peaks: The Return. The short was shown once in Paris in 2017 during for the launch of a book of Lynch’s photography, and again at a festival in New York in 2018.

I am not positioning myself as an expert on Lynch; that would be this guy (some of my conclusions are based on his slam-dunk analyses). Lynch does have his own visual iconography, themes and motifs that he returns to again and again, though. Based on those, I’d like to share my own interpretation of what I believe this short film means.

The Groundwork

What Did Jack Do? is in black and white, which to Lynch represents the world of film. The noir-ish elements establish that as well; it’s not known as a television genre. We know that Lynch respects film and has low regard for television, so what he’s saying here is that this short is within his comfort zone.

We’re not in an interrogation room. It’s a train station, a location associated with transition. People move from one place to another. At the beginning Jack, the monkey, is already there. The Detective, played by Lynch himself, enters early on. In the end Jack leaves, followed by the Detective. He’s telling us that this film is about change.

The Characters

The Detective is Lynch playing himself, or a version of himself, much as he did when he portrayed FBI Director Gordon Cole in Twin Peaks. The director playing the Director. It’s an intentionally meta self-insert. It’s easy to assume that’s what he’s doing here as well.

Jack is also Lynch, or an aspect of Lynch. I’m fairly certain that’s his voice. Jack and the Detective are even wearing the same suit. What the two characters are discussing is a serious issue, and both of them are giving it the gravity it deserves. But Jack, as a monkey, is also creepy and funny. This is the way many people perceive Lynch and his work. The audience, presumably, is going to focus on the monkey, not the context or the entirety of the film. That’s why he didn’t case an actor. It wasn’t just to be weird or surreal. Jack symbolizes something.

The Message

Coffee has been ordered, but it takes a long time to get there. One trope of Twin Peaks is that coffee fuels investigation. When people are going to look into something, and answers are going to be found, the investigators are always drinking coffee first. But it’s not the Detective who ordered it here. Jack, the suspect, did. When the Detective asks if he’s going to drink it, Jacks says he may or may not. He never does. The message is that this isn’t an investigation. Lynch is simply talking to us.

The Detective smokes cigarettes, though. Lynch uses images of fire, electricity, and flashing lights to indicate when he’s making commentary on television and film. Within the film he’s the authority figure, he’s in control. As the director, he controls the fire here. He’s the persona in charge of this narrative, the non-monkey avatar that’s taken seriously.

The waitress that finally brings the coffee is played by Emily Stofle,  Lynch’s real-life wife. She wasn’t cast for convenience; the crew listed on this film is long, and he could have gotten anyone to do a walk-on. It’s Stofle for a reason. I interpret this to mean that she’s peripherally supporting his endeavors. Notably, she waits on the creepy comical persona, the passionate Jack, and not the serious one, the Detective.

What Jack did, he did for love. He doesn’t care what happens. He did it because he had passion. People don’t understand why he fell in love with a chicken, but that doesn’t matter to him. This describes Lynch’s whole career. He doesn’t rightly care if you get his films or his TV show or not. He never explains himself, or his work. What he does, he does his way, in his time, to his vision.

Twin Peaks

This is where I think it connects to Twin Peaks. Not the continuity of the show, but the making of it. Again, this was filmed during the period when he was making Twin Peaks: The Return. We need to revisit a little back story here.

During its original run, the network wanted Laura Palmer’s murder to be resolved. Lynch didn’t want to do it. To oversimplify this, he was making a commentary on the episodic procedurals where murders were neatly solved in an hour. He was interested instead in exploring the impact of the murder, the things that happened and the way people were affected as the result of the killing. When you solve it, you cut the heart out of it. The thing becomes forgettable because it’s just like a hundred other shows.

After the reveal of Laura Palmer’s killer, Lynch left the show. It went on without him for the remainder of the second season. The chicken, Toototabon, represents Twin Peaks. The rational and grounded Detective, the real Lynch, knows that she wasn’t unfaithful. Jack, the creative and emotional Lynch, still got his feelings hurt. In the run-up the The Return, there were reports of battles between him and Showtime over budget and creative direction. At one point it was even announced that the project was cancelled Lynch won. He killed Toototabon’s other suitor, i.e. the other influences over the object of his affection.

The Conclusion

Upon seeing Toototabon, Jack runs after her. He has an opportunity to pursue what he loves. The Detective follows. Off-screen, where we cannot see the characters, the Detective orders that Jack be locked up.

I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that Lynch released this to Netflix on his 74th birthday. It was filmed in 2016, as he was completing what might be his last major project, and shared sparingly before going public. This was the coda on his career. I think he just announced his retirement, a transition from public life to private. It’s something that already happened behind the scenes, with the full support of his wife. He’s now sharing it with us, even if we don’t completely understand what he’s saying.