24 January 2012

NaNoWriMo V: The 20K Club

Okay, I'm a little behind schedule. I was supposed to be in the 20K club 12 November and instead I just cracked it late last night, 23 January. In truth, even accounting for resuming the writing in January I'm behind. I lost several consecutive days a couple weeks ago to being sick. I didn't write this past weekend, either. I'll need to become more disciplined if I'm to become a real writer. Still, I finally have passed the 20,000 word mark and that's cause for taking a moment to reflect.

This is, without a doubt, the most writing I have ever done for a single project--including anything for my collegiate studies. It's strange to me to think I am now 40% finished with the first draft. I don't want to reveal anything about the actual content so I can't really chronicle the progress too specifically, but I have finally introduced all the principals and have begun to have them all interact with one another. I have already had conflict and dipped into my personal recollections for a pair of anecdotes that have been somewhat fictionalized.

I wrote tonight about an incident from my youth that scarred me emotionally regarding girls and I have shared it in this blog before for those who are interested in reading my account of the actual incident. The fictionalized account is fairly close to what really took place, but tonight I married it with an entirely separate incident that took place elsewhere in my development. It was not about girls at all, but rather my studies of India, in which I was first introduced to the caste society system. I had only intended to include the rose incident, but as I wrote, a sort of catharsis took over and I was suddenly struck by the epiphany that I have lived these last twenty-two years believing I belonged to a caste inferior to any girl or woman who ever interested me. I nearly cried while writing this, and the only thing that stopped me was that I was already tapped out emotionally.

On a much less emotional note, I can share that I dressed one of my characters in what I feel is quite an evening dress, the ABS Asymmetrical Silk Gown sold by Saks Fifth Avenue ($510.00). Also, a pair of my characters begin drinking a bottle of Lapostolle Casa 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon ($18.29 list price; sold out on Wine.com). So if you want to begin connecting with my literary world through the one in which you live, those are two new products that have appeared.

Music has been key throughout these last 10,000 pages. I've name-dropped quite a lot, from Those Darlins to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' Wildflower album. I've listened to quite a lot while writing, too, including:

19 January

20 January

23 January

  • Batman - Motion Picture Soundtrack - Prince

I know I've written to more albums than just these, but those are the only ones I seem to have tweeted. Go on and follow those links to buy 'em on Amazon. I get a kickback if you do. They're also available in my Amazon Store (just check out the Go Shopping! tab at the top of the page).

I can't really say that I'm cognizant of any real influence any of this music has had on any of what I have written, but I can say that I really enjoy each of these albums and had no problem typing away while they were playing. I can't always write to music; these were all enjoyable, without being intrusive.

Hopefully, I'll join the 30K club sooner than I managed to get here. I'm not yet halfway finished and I have already confronted some very personal life experiences of mine in the process of imbuing my characters and narrative with content. I have continued to enjoy writing and I think a lot of what has hit the page has been lighthearted and humorous, but I have to say I'm rather daunted by what looms ahead and how much of the heavy stuff I will need to confront in the course of this novel. I know where I'm headed, but I have been surprised so far by several segments that became rather demanding of me. I'll go where the writing takes me, but between you and me...I'm a little scared it's going to take me places I don't really want to go. The rose/caste connection was such a place tonight.

23 January 2012

Depression Sexism

"It's okay to cry" has been the refrain for the last 20 years. Of course, then there have been loud voices belittling those of us who are not stone cold stoic round the clock. I'm depressed. I don't have much of a self-image as a man. I can't tell you how much I appreciate hearing that I'm right to think so little of myself. It does wonders for my progress getting over this inconvenient show of weakness you find so uninteresting. Thanks for that. Yeah, I get it: I'm not a real man. Never was, never will be.

I had a rough weekend. I made the mistake of putting myself in a situation I should have known better than to enter, and it set me back several steps on my progress toward feeling stable. The short version is: I should not be in a bar, or any social setting where it will be made clear to me how entirely little regard there is for me. It's okay, I'm bad at mingling anyway. But it hurt being overlooked and ignored just the same.

Sunday night, I fell into a funk and had a minor freak-out. I felt entirely worthless and scared. I didn't feel like anything that I had tried to believe in about myself the last few months actually mattered. It's the first time I've felt like that in months. I did not feel suicidal, though, so I don't think anyone reading this needs to hit the "Panic" button or anything. I felt lonely. I felt like my future was bleak at best, and that my well-meaning friends have merely tried to mollify me into forgetting the truth about my situation.

I think the key reason for me feeling so marginalized is that I've made the decision to bail on therapy. I met the therapist once in December. All we did was go over her generic new patient in-take questionnaire. I didn't really get to even address much that had been on my mind in the last few months since I was discharged from Our Lady of Peace--and these are the things that are important to me right now. I've been left to fend for myself the entire time; what role has therapy even played for me throughout this trying time? None whatsoever, frankly. What the hell good has it done me to face my world falling apart without that kind of professional help?

I was, of course, hopeful that it might prove helpful going forward which is why I wasn't going to allow that sense of getting by without it stop me from giving it a chance to help me. But then last week, I received a bill for December. I had cancelled my 14 December session with the psychiatrist (I only see him for medication refills) because my guts hurt too much for me to make it. I was in bed that morning in pain and I know when my whole day is shot, so I called pretty much as soon as the office opened. My appointment wasn't until nearly seven hours after I called. They billed me $25 for a late cancellation anyway.

Really? I have Crohn's disease. The effect it has had on my life is the whole reason I became so depressed this past year in the first place. And you're going to stick it to me like this anyway? Thanks. I appreciate the message, which is clearly that I am a source of income. I'm a statistic. I'm a condition. I'm a second-class citizen. "You've got a chronic, incurable disease that makes it impractical for you to make and keep appointments? That sucks. Yes, we're here to help you feel less worthless. Here's a bill for not helping you. It's your fault, you know, not ours."

I cannot afford to take the chance that I'll get stuck with $25 charges and only periodically actually get in to see someone...and I'm even less inclined to roll the dice given that so far, they've done nothing for me. I reset myself in OLOP. I can get prescription refills from my general practitioner...who, by the way, is understanding about my health condition and the impact it has on my ability to make appointments.

Some have insisted I should appeal the $25 cancellation fee. I suppose I would suggest the same thing. "Stand up for yourself," they say. "Give the therapy a chance to help," they advise. I don't want to stand up for myself; not to the very people I'm supposed to entrust with my emotional care. If I have to fight them, and they're supposed to be key allies, then what the hell is the point? Don't give me that "It's nothing personal; it's just business" defense, either. Their business is extremely personal. If they want to make money without being involved with people on a personal level, then they ought to have chosen something other than helping people with their innermost mental and emotional states. They forfeit the right to hide behind "It's just my job" by the nature of their line of work.

It may seem I've gotten off-track from the suggested focus of this post being about sexism. As I previously mentioned, I had a rough weekend the last few days. I continued my texting relationship with a new friend and I went out Saturday night with an old friend. Both had upsetting days, for different reasons. Both are young women. I'm quite sensitive to their concerns. At the bar Saturday night, I saw how several different guys treated my young friend being visibly upset: They tried to ply her with "Aw, it'll be okay"s and drinks, and when her mood didn't immediately lighten and she didn't become slutty, they lost interest and moved on to other women at the bar.

We talk about how demeaning it is to not allow a man to be weak, but what we forget to discuss is how we also marginalize the emotions of women by clinging to the misguided notion that it is in their nature to be "emotional." There's a view that we ought to patiently indulge a woman and wait for her to "get over it." It's insulting, frankly. A woman is entitled to be overwhelmed, hurt, angry, sad, insecure and/or lonely without it being because she has ovaries. Those are legitimate feelings to have and they deserve to be recognized as more than nuisances to be waited out. Oh, and guys: She's not sobbing in public because she wants to fill a White Knight role play fantasy. She's sobbing because she's upset. It's not an invitation for you to try to make her forget her pain by indulging your lust.

20 January 2012

84th Academy Awards: Free Screenplays

It's that time of year again! Most casual movie fans are oblivious to them, but the studios all roll out special websites during Awards Season to promote their contenders. The majority of this content is confined to lists of nominations and wins, reviews and glowing praise. You can often stream music from the soundtracks, as well. Last year, I found a handful of .mp3 downloads but alas, it's all streaming so far this year. The important thing is, there are plenty of screenplays to be downloaded entirely free of charge! You'll want to download them soon, because these links will not stay live long after the Academy Awards are presented in February. Here's a handy guide.

I've made it simple; studio titles link to the main awards site for each studio and film titles take you directly to the available screenplays. No link = no screenplay.

Disney Awards 2011
Movies: Cars 2Gnomeo & Juliet, La Luna, The Muppets, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger TidesWinnie the Pooh

Dreamworks Pictures Awards
Movies: The Help, War Horse, Real Steel

Focus Features
Movies: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Pariah, Beginners, Jane Eyre, Hanna, The Debt

Fox Searchlight | Awards 2011
Movies: Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Descendants, Win Win, The Tree of Life, Shame, Margaret

Lionsgate Awards 2011
Movie: Warrior

Paramount Pictures
Movies: Rango, Kung Fu Panda 2, Super 8, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Like Crazy, Puss in Boots, Hugo, Young Adult, The Adventures of Tintin (no screenplays)

Roadside Attractions Awards
Movies: Albert Nobbs, Margin Call (no screenplays)

Sony Pictures Awards
Movies: Anonymous, Arthur Christmas, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Ides of March, Moneyball

Sony Pictures Classics
Movies: Carnage, A Dangerous Method, The Guard, Higher Ground, Midnight in Paris, Take Shelter, The Skin I Live In, In Darkness, A Separation (no screenplays)

Universal Pictures--Awards
Movie: Bridesmaids

Warner Bros. For Your Consideration
Movies: Contagion, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Happy Feet Two, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2, J. Edgar (no screenplays)

The Weinstein Company
Movies: The Artist, Coriolanus, The Iron Lady, My Week with Marilyn, Undefeated, W./E. (no screenplays)

You may also want to check out last year's roundup; several of those are still active.

19 January 2012

NaNoWriMo IV: Channeling Jason Segel

A lot of people don't know this, but Forgetting Sarah Marshall was semi-autobiographical for star and co-writer Jason Segel. His girlfriend had come over for something "important," and he mistakenly thought that was code for sex, so he decided to strip down and greet her in the nude. Lo and behold, she had come over instead to break up with him. Even during that agonizing and humiliating experience, Segel had the presence of mind to take note of the potential value of the episode for a movie. He mined and fictionalized other anecdotes and worked them into the story that became Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

I've quoted from The Untouchables several times recently, and again I call to mind a line of dialog spoken by Robert De Niro as Al Capone. It's in the very first scene, as Capone holds court with several journalists while receiving a shave from a barber. One of them quips about Capone being named Mayor of Chicago, and the rest chuckle. "We laugh because it's funny; we laugh because it's true," the film's antagonist affirms.

I missed several days of writing because I was sick (one of my friends checked my symptoms against WebMD, which suggested I may have had West Nile Virus, so I'm sure it was bad), but I finally resumed writing tonight. I had occasion to insert a (somewhat) fictionalized account of one of my own embarrassing anecdotes. I didn't insert it because I'm lazy, though I admit it was nice to know how that passage actually began and ended before I even began to type. Rather, I borrowed from the past because it suited the story and I hope that, like Segel, I'm able to parlay my own humiliations into storytelling gold.

Segel is not, of course, the first person to do this. But I have long admired that he was courageous enough to not only write that experience into the film, but to then play the part himself essentially ensuring that he would need to relive it during take after take...so that it could be immortalized in the final cut of the film shown to the world. Our society has a tendency to either worship or deride actors. I'm not saying that Segel is somehow a greater human being than any of the rest of us, and yes, his courage is of a wholly different variety than that of the men and women who serve in the military or stand ready to assist us in emergencies as police, firefighters or medics.

But I would challenge you to ask yourself: How comfortable are you about not just owning up to your most embarrassing and humiliating experiences, but in sharing them? Would you want to tell complete strangers about these incidents? Would you be willing to allow these shameful moments of yours to become fodder for everyone else's amusement?

Most of us can think of stories of ours that have become the stuff of legend among our families and friends. When it's just the guys, we might invoke these stories to bust each other's chops. We cringe at the idea of these tales being made known to the girls we bring around. Maybe that level of story is okay to put in a story.

How far would you go, though? How personal are you willing to get?

I'm not asking because I want to challenge anyone. Nor am I at all insinuating that I possess that level of courage. I merely wish to draw your attention to the fact that the stories that entertain us do not originate in a vacuum. Someone has spun those yarns from at least a modicum of actual, real life experience. As I progress on this novel, I find myself increasingly cognizant of the kind of selflessness that the really good writers must possess alongside their quick wit and deft use of vocabulary and grammar. I am into Act II now, and I wonder...how much of that selflessness will be asked of me before I complete this work?

18 January 2012

"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Starring: Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong
Based on the Novel by John le Carré
Screenplay by Bridget O'Connor & Peter Straughan
Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Theatrical Release Date: 6 January 2012 (U.S. wide release)
Date of Screening: 17 January 2012
Tinseltown Louisville
"That part of Smiley which survived [his divorce] was as incongruous to his appearance as love, or a taste for unrecognised poets: it was his profession, which was that of intelligence officer. It was a profession he enjoyed, and which mercifully provided him with colleagues equally obscure in character and origin. It also provided him with what he had once loved best in life: academic excursions into the mystery of human behaviour, disciplined by the practical application of his own deductions." - Call for the Dead
That was how John le Carré introduced the world to his leading protagonist, George Smiley, in the first few paragraphs of his debut novel in 1961. Gary Oldman is not short (as we're told Smiley is), but he does manage to affect Smiley's "waddle," he so thoroughly animates the forty-one year old literary character. The passage quoted above is the perfect summation of not only Smiley, but the world of le Carré. It is not a realm populated by high octane excitement. No one will be climbing the Burj Khalifa in a le  Carré story. The work of the intelligence community isn't the glamorous, sexy lifestyle of Fleming's Bond. Rather, it is mostly the tedious work of seasoned professionals sequestered in dark rooms poring over scraps of intelligence and learning when to jump at shadows and when to resist.

In this specific tale, veteran overseer of British Intelligence, "Control" (John Hurt) has deduced that his Soviet counterpart, Karla, has control of a mole at the highest level. He even knows it's one of five men...but which? It's a yarn that pits factions of agents at one another's throats, with ambition and fear driving the antagonism. Ultimately, it falls on venerable George Smiley (Gary Oldman)--himself implicated as one of the five possibilities--to sift through all the lies and half-truths and expose the real plot.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was le Carré's sixth novel to feature the world of George Smiley (his sixth overall, as well). Readers had, by then, acclimated to the author's slow burn approach to intrigue and suspense. The question that I had going into this was...what sense did it make to adapt Book #6 by itself? How would that play with audiences? Certainly, this is not the first time that any le Carré novel had been adapted; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy itself was made into a BBC TV mini-series starring Alec Guinness as Smiley. Still, I couldn't help shake the feeling that screenwriters Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan had to walk quite a fine line between giving us the rich story from the source material and creating an "in" for audiences devoid of any familiarity. I saw the film with five friends, some of whom had seen the movie version of The Tailor of Panama but none of whom had ever read a le Carré novel. I was curious to see how they took to it.

The consensus was that there was an awful lot of information that called for at least one subsequent viewing before a final, decisive understanding could be had. Even having read the first four novels (I haven't quite gotten to Tinker yet myself), I found myself alternately excited and befuddled by various references and allusions. Thank God nobody said anything about Thomas Leamus or I may have missed several minutes of dialog before pulling myself out of The Spy Who Came In from the Cold recollections!

This is not to say that it's an impenetrably dense film. In point of fact, I found it quite accessible and so did my friends. Rather, there are so many details imbued into the source material, being the sixth in the series, that were included and treated as matters of fact that we clearly were in a very thoroughly crafted world. These are not the kinds of touches one finds in an original story. For instance, we are left to pick up that Smiley's wife, Ann, has not been particularly faithful over the years, having left him and returned only to leave him again. That seems the kind of thing that ought to be its own film; here, however, it's almost entirely peripheral. It comes up in conversation as easily as one might fit into exposition that Smiley prefers books to television for his recreation.

The effect all this has on the newcomer is that their interest is piqued by everything. Every allusion seems a potentially relevant plot thread of its own, and so my friends paid attention to as much as their brains could process. After the film, I heard various questions from each of them--some of which I could answer based on my readings, some I could answer from speculation and others eluded me entirely. This is not a particularly exciting story...and yet, it's wholly captivating in large part because the film is willing to treat its audience as adults capable of rewarding its deliberate pace with respectful attention. Le Carré requires a particular kind of investment from his reader (or viewer), but always rewards those willing to make it. This, perhaps, more than anything is the most glaring contribution I can trace to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but I'll refrain from exploring the le Carré/DS9 relationship further here.

One point that was raised by one of my friends was how she reacted any time a gun appeared on screen. We had seen Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol together just a few weeks ago, and gun play in that was par for the course. Here, however, it was jarring and inspired immediate apprehension and discomfort in us. It's curious how that can be; excessive violence is amusement, but just a little violence can be gruesome. "Less is more," I suppose.

I would be remiss not to also mention the film's soundtrack. Alberto Iglesias's measured score contributed greatly to the atmosphere...but was also willing to throw in some surprises along the way. Terrific stuff, and it's a soundtrack album I think I may just track down to add to my library at some point. I quite liked it.

Because we're in awards season, Focus Features currently has the screenplay available to download. I can't promise it will still be up after the Academy Awards are handed out 26 February so you'll want to snag it while you can.

Incidentally, Focus has already set a 20 March release for the Blu-ray Disc.

15 January 2012

"Like Me" & "Lifted Off the Ground" by Chely Wright

Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer
Date of Publication: 4 May 2010
Cover Price: $25.95
304 pages

It's not uncommon for a recording artist to pen a memoir, or to release a companion album. It is, however, unprecedented that a mainstream country music artist would use the tandem to step out of the closet. Some balked that Wright was a "has-been" who was trying to "cash in" on her sexuality for an extension on her 15 minutes of fame. I suspect those people failed to actually read Like Me or listen to Lifted Off the Ground, because they are exemplary works worthy of recognition. It's as though her entire public career existed in many ways just to allow her enough celebrity that she could publish this work.

Of course, my biases are well documented; of being feminist and pro-LGBT, certainly, but also in my undying admiration of soul-baring courage. I was struck while reading Like Me just how often Wright shared a very specific anecdote from her own life, but found it evoked visceral memories of my own. I could share hers, or mine, but I think it's sufficient to note that a well-written memoir does this. It's uniquely the story of the author, but touches on such universal themes that each reader should be able to find himself or herself in the pages.

I was surprised by some of what Wright elected to share. She was particularly forthcoming about her relationship with Brad Paisley, for instance, and there was some attention paid at the time of the book's publication to a passage in which she took John Rich to task for his homophobia. It was not the first time I read of Rich's views to that effect and I've not consciously put a penny in his pocket since.

I have not been in the closet, so I can't speak to how Like Me will resonate with those who have. But I can tell you that even though I'm "straight, but not narrow" (meaning I'm heterosexual, but pro-LGBT), Wright made me feel more sensitive to ways in which we as individuals can make things harder--or easier--on our LGBT brothers and sisters.

Though mine was brought on for wholly different reasons, I certainly connected with her story of suicidal depression. The back cover contains the passage in which she recounts putting her 9mm handgun in her mouth and being prepared to end her life. I wasn't going to use a gun; I had resolved to use a bottle of bourbon and sleeping pills. But I know how that felt to be at that "Oh my God, am I really going to do this?" point. I've written extensively about it in this blog over the last few months. Those who denounce Like Me as self-exploitation have clearly never experienced anything that requires a cathartic release. I have, however, and I get it. I really do. I just wanted to hug her throughout this entire memoir and even knowing she's now happily married to a woman who makes her happy, I still just wanted to reach through each page and reassure her that it would be alright.

Readers will also find some fascinating anecdotes from Wright's extensive tours for the U.S. armed forces. Her devotion to the troops is well documented and by all accounts very much appreciated. The stories she shares in Like Me are as warm as they can be funny or heartbreaking, and this is just as true of her military tales.

Chely Wright is a complex (though, I don't think, complicated) woman. She balks at those who invoke the Bible to crusade against the LGBT community, but will not apologize for her own faith. Some liberal readers may be upset that she continues to be conservative in many key parts of her life; some conservative readers will, of course, have their own obvious qualms with her. I think in this, above all else, she epitomizes modern day America. It can be particularly upsetting to have one's beliefs and experiences held against someone else's rubric and be told, "You can't be/say/think/feel that because then you're not a real [insert group name]." She is exactly what is wrong with our two-party system of absolutes...and she is exactly what is right with our society at large.

Lifted Off the Ground
Date of Release: 4 May 2010
List Price: $12.65

Lifted Off the Ground was written in the aftermath of Wright's near-suicide not with the objective of becoming a commercial album but simply to help her process everything. She wrote every song herself, except "Heavenly Days," which she co-wrote with album producer Rodney Crowell. This album is the product of a woman digesting nearly forty years of turmoil and there is a rawness and vulnerability that make it captivating in the way that only the purist and rarest works of art can manage. Her mood swings wildly from loneliness to anger; from despair to hope; from surrender to defiance.

The most powerful song in the collection is surely "Notes to the Coroner" in which she sings of her posthumous curiosities ("Who found me?") and makes clear that what caused her death was heartache. Not in the typical, hyperbolic song way, but rather that the culmination of her life experiences were literally to blame for her suicide. It is among the darkest songs I have ever heard. I played it five times the night I almost ended my own life. I don't know if I was trying to work up my nerve or talk myself out of it, but I can tell you that I hope you never experience that firsthand. It still scares me.

In one of the reviews I read, someone noted that this may as well be Wright's debut album because it marks such a dramatic departure from the more commercial-conscious work in her discography. I would be lying if I claimed enough familiarity with her work to concur entirely, but the point is well taken. Lifted Off the Ground stands as one of the most human albums in my library. I won't say it's necessary to read Like Me to fully appreciate the songs, but I will say that doing so "unlocked" a lot of the lyrics for me.

Everything (Part II)

Amazon offered an exclusive version of Lifted Off the Ground that came packaged with a DVD, Everything II that contained three different "home movie"-style short films. "My Life" followed Wright around New York and other unidentified places, showing her with family and friends. "The Making of Lifted Off the Ground/Slide Show" is self-explanatory. "I Have the Coolest Job" is a look at touring, with an emphasis on Wright's U.S.O. performances. The DVD concludes with a music video for "Bumper of my S.U.V.," a song released prior to this collection. To be honest, I was disappointed by the video content. Not being a longtime fan of Wright's, I was unfamiliar with a lot of the people who appeared and I felt like I had walked into a private party. Still, I thought I'd mention this for those who may be enthusiastic enough to want to know about its existence. Amazon has been sold out for quite a while now, but you can check the secondary market.

Amazon also has an exclusive bonus track for the album, "Don't Look Down." Oddly, this is only available as an .MP3 download and not included on the CD.

Like Me and Lifted Off the Ground are two admirable and courageous works. My only regret is that I took so long to find and read Like Me. Some have praised me for being so candid and "brave" in what I have shared in this blog. I sincerely appreciate the kind words, but I have to admit that I'm not even remotely on the same level as Chely Wright. I applaud her resilience, her courage and I sincerely wish that she allows herself to finally enjoy the happiness she was denied for nearly forty years.

12 January 2012

Playlist: Dwight Yoakam

Notice: All links go to Amazon.com, and include my personal Amazon Associate's code. I will (theoretically) benefit from you purchasing these songs from these links.

Also, be advised that I have endeavored to link you to the original album on which a song first appeared. There may be a remastered version available elsewhere.

I've loved Dwight Yoakam's music since I first heard his cover of "Honky Tonk Man" in 1986. However much I liked it, my brother was absolutely obsessed with that song and its music video! I can't hear the song or even think about it without picturing my baby brother turning up the TV as loud as it would go the moment that music video would begin playing on CMT. He didn't care that the TV speaker wasn't capable of actually processing that volume without sounding terrible. He didn't care whether anyone else in the house minded, either. He needed to blast that song! We've been Dwight fans ever since.

Anyway, an online pal from Sweden informed me he only really knew Dwight as an actor through his film work and that occasioned me to revisit one of the coolest discographies of all time to compile this playlist. I agonized over some of the cuts I had to make to this list, and there are some less-than-obvious inclusions that may baffle other fans.

"Suspicious Minds"
(Mark James) * from Honeymoon in Vegas: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

This is from the Honeymoon in Vegas soundtrack. The opening guitar work is just killer and frankly, I don't mind saying this is one area where someone bested Elvis. I love, love, love this recording!

"Guitars, Cadillacs"
(Dwight Yoakam) * from Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.

This is the thesis of the entire Dwight Yoakam discography. Healing from a break-up with "guitars, Cadillacs, hillbilly music/lonely, lonely streets that I call home." Such a visual song, with that classic Bakersfield sound behind it. I'm told the original line was, "guitars, Cadillacs, long-legged women." Sometimes when I sing along, I go with that.

"What Do You Know About Love"
(Dwight Yoakam) * from Tomorrow's Sounds Today

The steel guitar on this is spectacular. This may well be my personal favorite Dwight Yoakam recording ever. It's energetic, it's sexy, it's taut...it's the perfect microcosm of the guy's whole aesthetic.

"I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide" [album-only track]
(Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill, Frank Beard) * from Sharp Dressed Men: A Tribute to ZZ Top

Dwight covers ZZ Top...and it couldn't be cooler. I want to be in the car with Dwight and I don't care if I'm sitting next to the beautician.

"Crazy Little Thing Called Love"
(Freddie Mercury) * from Last Chance for a Thousand Years: Dwight Yoakam's Greatest Hits from the 90s

This first appeared in a Gap commercial. I readily admit my bias here, but I think Dwight topped Queen.

"Things Change"
(Dwight Yoakam) * from A Long Way Home

Everything was great, until she declared that "things change" and left. It's a great characterization about abrupt relationship endings (and believe me, I've quickly become an expert). What makes "Things Change" so perfect is that it takes a nice detour into Revengeville.

"Fast as You"
(Dwight Yoakam) * from This Time

This song is pure defiance. Even if there's no one who's done you wrong lately, it's easy to get caught up in the attitude of this song and just want to find some way of belittling and crushing someone who has it coming. It can also be tempting to want to drive faster than you should.

"A Thousand Miles from Nowhere"
(Dwight Yoakam) * from This Time

Lyrically, this is quintessential Dwight. "I've got bruises on my memory." Who the hell writes like that? Dwight, that's who! I just want to live in this song, somewhere between apathy and restlessness.

"Long White Cadillac"
(Dave Alvin) * from Just Lookin' for a Hit

This tribute to Hank Williams is so badass that I traded two songs to make room for its nearly 6 minute length. I just don't want this song to end. Also, I can distinctly recall blasting this loudly as I drove my friend's Silverado to the Louisville International Airport to pick up my then-girlfriend. I won't tell you how fast I was going on the Watterson Expressway, but I will admit that I was in excess of posted limits.

"Turn It On, Turn It Up, Turn Me Loose"
(Kostas/Wayland Patton) * from If There Was a Way

A story song about going out to try to weather a heartache by "dancing to an old Buck Owens song," mutually using a stranger who's dancing to escape her own woes. It's the kind of down-and-out experience that country music does better than any other genre.

"Act Naturally"
(Voni Morrison/John Bright Russell) * from Dwight Sings Buck

Can't talk about an old Buck Owens song without hearing one! The entire Dwight Sings Buck album is well worth adding to your library, really. I didn't at first want to pick this because it's the obvious Buck Owens song but 1) given Dwight's acting career it seemed appropriate and 2) I can't help it; I love it.

"Streets of Bakersfield" with Buck Owens
(Homer Joy) * from Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room

The accordion has never been cooler than it is on this song. "Hey, you don't know me, but you don't like me." I'm already in on this song of a pair of drifting outsiders. The lyrics are great, the sound is amazing; this is a 5-star recording. An absolute masterpiece.

"Pocket of a Clown"
(Dwight Yoakam) * from This Time

The video to this is absolutely surreal. The backing vocals singing their "ooh-wa"s are mesmerizing. This is one of the most unique songs in Dwight's entire discography...and that's saying something!

"Try Not to Look so Pretty"
(Dwight Yoakam/Kostas) * from This Time

Such a simple song, but it speaks to a very specific experience: Seeing an ex and just wanting her to not look so good. This is one of those songs where I just know in my bones, it was borne from a very specific personal experience. I think we've all had our own variation on it at one point or another.

"Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room (She Wore Red Dresses)"
(Dwight Yoakam) * from Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room

One of the traditions of country music is that of the misogynistic murder ballad. This is one of the darker ones I've heard, in large part because it sounds so pretty. The first time I heard it, I got lost in the sound of the song and forgot to pay attention to the lyrics. I was rather shocked to discover what it was actually about!

"I Sang Dixie"
(Dwight Yoakam) * from Buenas Noches from a Lonely Room

A sad story song about a Southerner dying on the streets in L.A. Growing up in Kentucky, I've always been conflicted about my Southern heritage. I reject the backwards, xenophobic/racist/isolationist culture but I do appreciate a lot about our way of life down here. Some of it might be a bit hokey sounding, but I really do like it when neighbors wave back to me. I love lightning bugs and honeysuckle. Even as drawn to the city lifestyle as I am, I would feel homesick for the Southern life if I was away from it too long. This song has always symbolized my feelings about all this.

"Honky Tonk Man"
(Johnny Horton/Tillman Franks/Howard Hausey) * from Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc.

The one that started it all. I'm listening to it right now as I type and I have no idea how many times I've heard it over the last 25+ years. I still love it.

"It Only Hurts When I Cry"
(Dwight Yoakam/Roger Miller) * from If There Was a Way

It seems rather obvious and natural that this was co-written with the legendary Roger Miller. It's a perfect illustration of the Southern sense of humor. It's not really even meant to make anyone laugh, so much as demonstrate that even at our lowest point, we can resist being somber. Sometimes this attitude of ours can be confusing to people who think we're trying to be funnier than we are, or that we don't really understand the gravity of a situation. But even if you can't learn about the Southern sense of humor from this song, just enjoy that delightful fiddle and steel.

"Ain't That Lonely Yet"
(Kostas/James House) * from This Time

Ouch. Talk about spiteful! This is one of the most scathing rebuttal songs I've heard yet. Again, you may not even have anyone who deserves this kind of attention, but it can make you start running through the Rolodex in your mind to think of who you're still not so desperate you'd take back. It's a nice ego stroking, this song.

"Little Sister"
(Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman) * from Hillbilly Deluxe

Now, it bears repeating: This is not a song about hitting on a guy's younger sister. It's about hitting on an ex's younger sister. Much more tasteful. I can't say that Dwight bested Elvis this time, but his cover is certainly solid and I love the way his voice plays with the lyrics; some syllables are almost lazy, while others are exaggerated. Sheer fun.

"Thinking About Leaving"
(Rodney Crowell/Dwight Yoakam) * from Last Chance for a Thousand Years: Dwight Yoakam's Greatest Hits from the 90s

A song about considering giving up the touring life, but it's easy to think of it as an allegory for quitting a job or leaving a relationship, or any other major change of lifestyle. "I've been thinking about leaving/long enough to change my mind." I'm glad he did, because I hadn't seen him perform in concert when he recorded and released this song in 1999! Incidentally, there should be an entire collaborative album made by Dwight and Rodney Crowell. Just sayin'.

"Little Ways"
(Dwight Yoakam) * from Hillbilly Deluxe

The "encore." This is an old Dwight staple. I picked it here because it opens with Dwight's voice rather startling, and I like the effect of following what feels like the finale of the playlist with this last burst of defiant energy.

NaNoWriMo III: Game On!

Okay, so NaNoWriMo ended at midnight on 30 November. I clearly failed to meet that deadline (though I was well on pace to finish on time). I got off track because of my personal life drama, and it just seemed impossible to even care about the novel. Thanks in large part to a new friend of mine, though, I have renewed my enthusiasm for the project and a couple nights ago I resumed writing. I left off at 10,397 words. I left off tonight at 13,367 words and have finally begun to get to the guts of the story. I dashed off almost 2,000 words tonight in less than two hours. I'm excited to be writing again and I look forward to chronicling my progress here until I can report completion of the first draft. Then, of course, comes the fun stuff.

It has come to my attention that there will be a Pitch the Publisher event in my area in the coming months. Publishers are invited now to begin committing to it, and authors (or would-be authors like myself) are allowed to begin registering 1 May. I intend to complete my first draft well before then, and to revise, revise, revise until the event itself. Then, I'll hope my guts cooperate and I get to actually attend. After that, of course, the plan is for every publisher present to become embroiled in an outrageous bidding war over my novel, which will then become a national bestseller and I'll make a killing off the movie rights. I look forward to mingling with Mila Kunis at the premiere party. It's not a concrete plan, of course. I'll be happy to mingle with Emma Stone and/or Kristen Bell, as well. You can't expect every detail of a plan to work out in life, you know.

In reality, of course, I'll be very fortunate if anyone is interested and I know that if they are, there'll be a lot of editing and rewriting that they'll insist upon before they're willing to consider publishing my novel. That's okay with me, of course. I know that just finishing it doesn't make it ready for public consumption. I'm willing to do the work until it is. And you better believe I will shamelessly promote the ever-loving hell out of it if and when there's an actual product for sale!

By the way, for anyone who may care to know these things, last night I listened to Dierks Bentley's Up on the Ridge while writing and the night before, I played Rolfe Kent's score to Sideways. I figure I only wrote for the first six days of November. I resumed writing on the 9th of January (just a few touch-ups, but they count). So by my reckoning, if I can finish by 2 February, I can have the consolation prize of knowing I could have made my 30 day deadline had my world not become upside down a week into it.

10 January 2012

Permission to Cry

"If you prick us, do we not bleed? If
you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?
And if you wrong us, do we not revenge? If we are like you in the
rest, we will resemble you in that."
-William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice (Act III, Scene I)
Shylock was speaking of Jews, of course, but the soliloquy has been taken out of context and adapted by many a group in the last five centuries. I invoke it now to describe those of us with emotional or mental health issues. It seems that once we begin treatment, there is an expectation that we will henceforth be emotionally invincible. Rather than fall apart at trivial things, we are now expected to be superhuman and plow through the gravest scenarios in life. "You're on those happy pills now; can't you handle this?"

This pressure comes at us from outside and within. There are always family members, coworkers, classmates, neighbors, even Facebook friends who seem to redefine their sense of what we can handle. Before treatment, we were too fragile to handle even innocuous events; once we fill those prescriptions, though, we're expected to be emotional rocks. It's as though there are people who keep an eye on us at all times just to challenge whether we're really healthy. "Ah, ah, ah! No getting upset, remember? You're better now!"

This is, of course, absurd.

Life is full of events that provoke visceral emotional reactions. Are we to never again feel anger, or sadness? My marriage is disintegrating, for instance. Am I to shrug it off? Perfectly "normal" people are overwhelmed by something like that with a wide range of reactions. Am I not entitled to them? Can I not want to lash out in anger one minute and fall to my knees crying the next? Did I forfeit my right to those feelings by having problems controlling my emotions in the first place?

Our greatest critics are ourselves, but for someone with emotional or mental health issues, there is another critic just as powerful and inescapable: the abstract "They" who lurk just out of our sight, waiting to pass judgment on us for every gaffe and faux pas we may commit. I could give myself permission to get worked up over my situation, for instance, but I couldn't stand the thought of giving "Them" evidence to use against me. I couldn't bear to think of proving "Them" right, that I can't keep myself together. So I've clung to a false poise and stoicism whenever the issue has arisen in conversation. I've refrained from discussing it in this blog.

I share this now not because how I'm handling this needs attention or anything, but rather as a real life example of the greater issue of how those of us who are managing emotional or mental health issues can and will continue to face events in our lives that can "legitimately" overwhelm the average person. We're no different. We have the unique problem that we can be more easily overwhelmed, of course, and that can be dangerous. But we are not, and cannot be, exempt from such events. We will lose our jobs. Our marriages will fail. We will attend funerals.

We must be allowed--by ourselves, as well as those around us--to experience our genuine reactions to these events when they occur. We must be vigilant and not allow them to get out of control, and of course that requires a lot of honesty on our part. But we cannot be held to a higher standard for reactions than anyone else. We still have emotions, and as human beings, we are still entitled to feel them.

01 January 2012

On the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" Movies

I began using Swagbucks little more than a year ago and in that time I have racked up a decent amount of $5 gift certificates to use on Amazon. The week of Thanksgiving, I seized on a sale on the Star Trek: The Next Generation Motion Pictures Collection Blu-ray box set. It lists for $69.99 but was on sale for less than half that. It wiped out my credit, but I only paid 32¢ out of pocket. Hard to complain. I live-tweeted my viewings of the four movies, which was a lot of fun.

There is a correlation between the number of costume changes for Captain Picard and the quality of the film. To wit:
  • Star Trek Generations - 3 costumes: 19th Century ship captain; Star Trek: The Next Generation-style Starfleet duty uniform; Deep Space Nine-style Starfleet duty uniform
  • Star Trek: First Contact - 8 costumes: Star Trek: The Next Generation-style Starfleet duty uniform; Locutus; Starfleet duty uniform; 21st Century civilian; commando vest; Dixon Hill white tuxedo; Starfleet space suit; muscle shirt
  • Star Trek: Insurrection - 3 costumes: Starfleet dress uniform; Starfleet duty uniform; rebellious civilian attire
  • Star Trek: Nemesis - 2 costumes: Starfleet dress uniform; Starfleet duty uniform
I think we can all agree First Contact was the best of the four (by this system, it's as good as the other three combined) and that Nemesis was the weakest. Generations and Insurrection are fairly comparable, I think, for a lot of fans. There is a deleted scene from Insurrection in which Picard would have been seen wearing his commando vest in his quarters. That would have cemented its superiority over Generations.

As with The Sopranos, I found various moments and plot points resonated with me differently this time through in light of my recent experiences with depression and suicidal urges. Here are some of the key instances that struck me.

Star Trek Generations
One of the patients at Our Lady of Peace expressed frustration during one group session that no matter how well he reconstructed himself there, once he left he was at the mercy of the outside world that did not respect his struggle or offer the kind of environment that allowed him to be at peace with himself. I knew instantly what he meant, of course, so I can't say this viewing made anything click that hadn't already. But I was more sensitive this time to Dr. Soran, who is overwhelmed by the anguish of having lost his family and is desperate to return to the Nexus where he can escape the pain.

The Nexus, much like addiction and depression, works by tempting a person into withdrawing from reality into its world. Like addiction, it can appear at first to offer an understandable (even healthy) escape from the misery of life but there comes a point where the reprieve becomes the objective and that's not healthy at all. Soran fell prey to it, withdrawing from everyone for eighty years.

Fans have never really liked the Nexus because it was obviously little more than a plot contrivance to explain how Captain Kirk wound up interacting with Picard and I still see it as such. But I do concede that, as plot contrivances go, there's more to this one than many others.
Star Trek: First Contact
For me, the key moment here is Picard's explanation of his "unique perspective" on the Borg to Lily. I feel that way about depression (though I'm not so obsessed that I'll likely begin smashing things). I honestly do feel that I was assimilated by depression but that I've escaped it and can fight it now--and I can help others fight it, too.

Of course, Picard outright shot the one guy who actually asked him for help. It's not a perfect allegory.

Star Trek: Insurrection
The way the Ba'ku have rejected the hustle and bustle of life in the 24th Century for the contentment of simplicity holds an obvious appeal; unlike the artificial Nexus, these people have made a functioning, real life out of finding peace. It would be very nice to belong to such a community, I would imagine. It may not be practical, but that's no reason not to strive to make the idea of being contented practical.

Specifically, there is that moment where Anij shows Picard how to change the perspective of the passage of time; to be able to live in a moment. It's somewhat clumsy in the film but I still love the idea. I felt a moment like that in 2006 when my wife and I hit a deer on I-71. I'm sure it all happened in an instant, but I was conscious of everything that happened. Before we even hit the deer, I had the conscious thought, "This is going to suck." I can still remember vividly the sounds, the sensation of spinning, the impact... What I want to do is find a way to have that kind of experience for the enjoyable moments in life. That would be quite a weapon against depression.
Star Trek: Nemesis
There is a discussion between Picard and Data concerning Shinzon and B-4. Picard is deflated to think that he's ultimately no better than Shinzon (the imperfect clone of himself). Data counters that he and B-4 are almost entirely identical but that they're still different beings. Data argues the point of divergence is that he aspires to be something better than he is, whereas B-4 does not. I feel that there are two Travises: Healthy Travis and Depressed Travis. The latter does not aspire to be something better than he is. Each day will bring me countless opportunities to choose which to be; whether to aspire, or not. I won't always make the right choice, but I will know I have the choice to make.

The interesting thing about allegories is that they can be construed from nearly anything if the mind is creative (or sensitive) enough to find the parallels. There were other moments in these four movies that touched a nerve with me, but these are the most noteworthy ones from each.

As I write this, I have spent a while contemplating New Year's resolutions. I've never made them in the past, but I feel compelled to at least consider it this year in light of the state in which 2011 left me. It may be geeky, but I think in 2012 I'm going to resolve to be more Picard-esque when it comes to confronting depression. I will resist artificial escapism, but will make a real effort to find contentment that does not originate with society. I will remember that I am not Depressed Travis and that even though he's a version of me, he is not who I am. And I will not sacrifice the Enterprise!