Upta Camp

As comedian Bob Marley would say, I’m heading upta camp once more — Camp NaNoWriMo, to be exact. Starting tomorrow, I will be revising Chapter 5 of “Gray Metal Faces,” the first draft of which weighed in at over forty-seven thousand words; a number representing such an overwhelming fact simply deserves to be spelled out. Since my NaNoWriMo experience last November revealed that 20 – 25K words should be my goal for each chapter, that means I need to cut the current draft of the fifth chapter in half by the end of July. No, not an easy task at all; eliminating many of those indulgent “Hamlet” references will certainly help.

Once again, expect longer posts from me until camp is over (I’ll need a daily average of over 600 words to hit my goal). I’ve got my rough outline ready; starting tomorrow, I’ll start another journey into familiar territory with the hope of finding something I haven’t seen yet.

Meds, “Mosquitos,” and the Importance of Honesty

The Manic Years began as a therapeutic exercise, but its author, Megan, has continued blogging “to reach out and help people to open up about their own experiences.” Her latest post chronicles her successful battle against medical bureaucracy and indifference, resulting in a welcomed change in her medication.

Megan’s comments inspired me to write about thoughts I’ve been having about the ending of my story “The Land Without Mosquitos”. Summary: the central character, Jane, believes she is from another dimension, similar to ours but with significant differences in technology; among the many people she meets in the story is a psychiatrist, who offers to write her a prescription to help with her delusion. Right now, I have Jane declining the prescription, and deciding to embrace this strange world she’s found herself in; my intention was to demonstrate Jane’s strength and bravery.

That demonstration, though, is manifested by her refusal to take psychiatric medication. And lately, I’ve realized it would be easy for a reader to see in Jane’s decision a message I don’t believe, one that’s false and potentially damaging: not taking meds is better than taking meds.

I write about my writing in this blog a good deal, but rarely do I convey information about myself. Today, such information is relevant, so here goes: I’ve been diagnosed with clinical depression, and have been taking medication to combat my illness for close to a decade. Seeking professional help wasn’t easy for me, as I believed the message which my story’s current ending unfortunately conveys — only weak people need meds, and I ain’t no weakling. I’d been prone to mood swings,  wild on occassion, throughout my adult life, but was convinced I could not only control my emotions on my own, but also had an obligation to rely on my own strength; it was only when it became all too obvious that my wife and children were suffering from my condition that I chose to seek help. Medication, combined with therapy and meditation and support from my family, has provided me a degree of control over my depression that I had clearly lost. I’m not “cured”; I like to compare my depression to diabetes, a condition that cannot be eliminated but, with proper attention, can be controlled enough to allow a person to live a “normal” life (whatever that means).

People like myself, and Megan, aren’t weak, or abnormal — we have a disease, and we take medications because we have chosen to fight that disease. Jane thinks she’s from another dimension, for crying out loud, and for her to be as honest and brave as I want her to be, she has to acknowledge at least the possibility that she’s delusional. But her refusal of medication is actually a dismissal of that possibility; her decision speaks with a voice from my past, a voice that I now know to be dangerously misguided.

I’m revising “The Land Without Mosquitos” for a writer’s group I’ve joined recently. And one of my principal goals is to change that ending.

Megan writes:

honesty is a valuable tool that can be used to reach out and help people to open up about their own experiences

“The Land Without Mosquitos” suffers from a dishonest ending at the moment. But fortunately, this is a condition that can be cured.

Voices in the Dream

Interesting article in Foregin Policy today about Millennial attitudes towards capitalism. I really don’t think today’s youth believe any less in the American Dream than past generations, but rather that they refuse to play along with a game that’s rigged to their disadvantage. As the Foreign Policy article documents, the economy has reached a point where it’s simply impossible for a young worker with massive student loan debt to get ahead; entry-level wages have been stagnant for decades, and there just aren’t enough good-paying jobs to go around.

This year, both Bernie Sanders and, in his own disingenuous manner, The Fraud have finally given a political voice to this disenchantment, but I’m skeptical whether either of the major political parties in America will pursue policies that level the playing field for young workers; both Democrats and Republicans are too committed to maintaining the status quo to become the required change agent. Top-down change isn’t going to happen; by refusing to play a crooked game they can’t win, Millennials will force the rule changes that have been far too long in coming.

Hirsute Hollering

Anyone who’s read this blog over the past few months is familiar with my contempt for the person I can only call The Fraud. My opinion hasn’t changed: He is an existential threat to the United States; should he somehow get elected this November (wouldn’t bet on that, but far stranger things have happened), the damage he could cause might take decades to repair.

I’ll give him one thing though — he is entertaining. What he says and does can be downright scary at times, but there’s a certain car-crash fascination that comes with every one of his inane ramblings. And there’s no harm in a little amusement, so long as you don’t forget about his very real menace.

Comedians, though — they’ve been largely disappointing in regards to The Fraud. There is a long tradition of brilliant political satire in America, demonstrated most famously by Jon Stewart and the pre-CBS Stephen Colbert. Yet for every Jon Oliver and Samantha Bee these days, there seems to be a dozen pathetic standups, telling the same lame jokes about The Fraud’s hair and poorly imitating his accent. Go for the easy targets, the cheap chuckles; play along with his hucksterism and ignore his vacuous substance, letting The Fraud laugh all the way to the bank, and perhaps the most powerful position in the world.

When I read the first few lines of Elan Mudrow‘s recent poem on The Fraud, I feared this would be more of the same, a rimshot in verse. But Elan’s too insightful to be satisfied with easy answers, and her poem uses his hair as a metaphor for our angst-ridden age, where a bad case of bed-head can send us into a frenzy of angry despair. In her poem, The Fraud is a symptom of our collective anxiety, and his outrageous behavior a sign of our desperation:

We’re you poking your nose

in some other country’s junk drawer

Hoping to find a flat iron?

“Hair Yell” is the best poem, and one of the best overall commentaries, about The Fraud to date.

All This, From Just a Sentence

Steve Geise writes stories that begin with a sentence submitted by one of his readers. His latest, Extra Crispy, is about a fast-food worker with a sordid past that he can’t escape. I’ve worked similar jobs, and have met personalities similar (although not as extreme) to this character; his story resonates very true to me on both the experiential and emotional level. I also admire Steve’s unique approach — take in a few words from a contributor, and run with it.

Awesome and Whoaful

Today’s solitary word prompt from The Daily Post — Awe

“I couldn’t believe it!” In the back seat of Coach Dan’s sedan, Butch rolled his body forward, his chin coming to rest on the top of the passenger seat. “He was so FAST!”

Annie lifted her left index finger, which hung in front of Butch’s face as she continued looking out at the road in front of them. “Anatol’s faster, really. Believe me, I’ve fenced both Anatol and Francis — nobody can beat Anatol’s speed.”

“Economy of motion.” Coach Dan tilted his bearded head back. “Notice how Francis just stands there, most of time? Never moves, until he has to. Makes him seem faster, than he actually is.”

“Oh!” Butch sat back in his seat, his face contorted in thought. Annie twisted, straining against the shoulder strap of her seat belt as she looked back at her teammate — “Distance, and tempo. Really, that’s Francis’ game, not speed.”

Coach Dan looked up at Butch’s reflection in the rearview mirror, as Annie twisted back into the passenger seat. “Awesome, isn’t it?”

“Oh!” Butch nodded, then — “No, wait,” shaking his head, “not awesome, more like, whoaful.”

Woeful?” Annie couldn’t suppress the annoyance in her voice.

“No, whoaful. Because when Francis was fencing, I was going, like, whoa a lot. If I’d said awww a lot, that’s what would’ve made it awesome.”

Annie blinked, her face dissolving into a scowl — “That’s not — ”

Coach Dan laid a gentle hand on her forearm, as he glanced up at the rearview mirror again. “My friend — how about we just say we all could learn something from watching Francis today.”

Anxiety in the UK

Interesting post from Jack Binding  (whose language can be, shall we say, colorful at times — you’ve been warned) about tomorrow’s United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, or as it’s commonly called, the Brexit Ballot. Like most Americans, I’ve let myself become far too distracted by events both important and trivial to give much attention to this issue; at the end of the day, we’re a very parochial people. From what little I’ve read, the Brexit coalition has a distinctive nativist streak, so it comes as no surprise that The Fraud supports Britain leaving the EU; the Bremain argument, meanwhile, has relied on nuance and long-term vision, always a danger path in the what have you done for me lately world of politics.

My vote doesn’t count, but I’d hate to see Britain leave the EU; the shock to global markets would be intense, and isolationism is no longer a viable option for any nation. Let’s hope cooler heads prevail in the UK tomorrow, and that sentiment makes its way across the Atlantic this November.

Companion

At times when inspiration feels more like consternation, it’s good to know that resources such as prompts from The Daily Post are available.

Janet Wernick brushed a lock of hair from her face, sighed, then raised her right fist to face level, bringing it forwarded slowly until it connected with the door to her daughter’s room, tok. And again, a bit more forcefully, tok-tok.

A voice from behind the door muttered unintelligibly. Janet knew better than to ask whether she could come in — “Sandy?” The sound of a bed mattress squeaking under the slight weight of her daughter’s body. Then silence. “Sandy, I just need to know . . . that you’re OK.”

The mattress squeaked, then her daughter’s voice, saying she was fine.

“I know you’re upset.” Janet scratched her shoulder, covered in a thick sweater. “But this is what has to be done, there’s no other way. I’m your mother, Sandy, it’s my job to make these decisions.”

A grunt. The bed was just past the door, and it occurred to Janet that she was no more than five feet away from her daughter. She could take two steps, reach out her hand and touch her, were it not for the physical barrier of the door and the far more formidable emotional distance between them.

“I don’t expect you’ll forgive me, and that’s fine.” She saw a knot in the door’s grain, reached out and ran her fingers over its rough surface. “I’m reminded of something Ed — Mr. Nestor — told me once, about his own children. He said, the worst thing a parent can do, is try to be a friend to their kids. Because parents have difficult decisions to make for their children, ones they’d never make for their friends.”

The voice inside the room softly replied that she’d be OK. Janet nodded, then realized how dark it was in the hallway, felt an urge to turn on the overhead light; the closest switch, though, was several feet away, and Janet felt she needed to finish this conversation first.

“Sandy, please know . . . there will always be a bond between us. I won’t allow anything to come between us. Ever. And if I can’t be your friend — I’m always going to be your companion. For life, Sandy.”

A weak OK, followed by more mattress squeaks. Janet sensed further words would elicit the same response, so she spoke a brief word of excusal to the door, then walked swiftly towards the light switch, the hallway erupting in light a moment later.