They couldn’t pay their rent and now make $400 a day? What? Just by playing games on their phone? Who are these people supposed to be? Failed Only Fan models?
And what is with the disinterested look? The vague shrug? Pointing up at silly text? Does this actually sell? How am I supposed to relate to a someone pointing up and shrugging and clearly doing nothing with their lives?
My autobiographical writing on teaching practices, Fuck Pedagogy, has been a challenge to because a clear through-line is needed for the reader to follow along. The point of the book is to emphasize teaching with knowledge of content and engagement with students. The following bits didn’t make the cut: I fell from the jungle gym and my Kindergarten teacher split her head open on the same bars when she came running to help me. She was young and beautiful and they took her away in an ambulance. She never came back. An old bitter woman took her place.
I found a stack of old Playboy magazines down the block from school and was crazily delighted by that. I couldn’t look inside, fearful of the nude women I might find, and instead shoved them all into a post box, thinking the postman would like that. Principal Fair told me what I had done was a crime and made me promise to never do it again.
I skipped Grade Three. I didn’t understand why, but they told me to get my things and move to the next room. And there I was, suddenly in Grade Four, taking a spelling quiz along with all of the other Grade Four students. It all seemed fine until I couldn’t spell the word “sheep”. I think I put an ‘a’ in there somewhere. Anyway, that was the end of that. I was solemnly walked back down the hall and returned to Grade Three. It’s an experience that has confused me to this day.
I’m in the Outer Banks, North Carolina. I’m sitting at my table, David McCullough’s Wright Brothers biography at my side, and looking out at the clearing skies. It’s beginning to get warmer.
I’m writing now. That’s what I’m doing because I’m a writer. I write. Not that I’ve been feeling clear on that for some time. I know that I’m a writer. I know that is who I am. I know that is how I feel most myself, doing that, writing. As Wilbur Wright said about flying: When you know that the whole mechanism is working perfectly, the sensation is so keenly delightful as to be almost beyond description. More than anything else the sensation is one of perfect peace, mingled with the excitement that strains every nerve to the utmost, if you can conceive of such a combination. That is the sensation of writing for me.
And yet, given my failure to have anything published in 38 years, I often don’t feel a writer and know that few others consider me as that. I’m a writer. I’m nothing. I’m a writer. I’m a failure. I’m a writer. I’m a loser. I’m a fucking writer. If you say so. This isn’t a series of thoughts, one after the other, but a garble of it all at once, puking through my head. And the idea of failure dominates.
That said, I’m glad to write about that. And I’m happy to be here on the Outer Banks with my view over the dunes of the greening sea and brightening skies, a triangle of pelicans flashing overhead. That’s something to write about. Which is what I did.
My betting app cares about me. I know this because they tell me to be sure to ask for help every time I bet. Do I have a problem? Text: Y-O-U-L-O-S-E-R. If that’s too complicated, call the suicide prevention line. But remember to double down.
Gambling is like being in the Death Zone. You can only stay there for so long, but what a fucking high! I almost nailed it! I only missed one game of my twelve-part parlay. Only one! If I only knew that Farleigh Dickinson was going to upset Purdue. I mean, come on. So crazy. But my betting app always remembers to talk me down with sensible points and a pretty lady to keep me focused. She’s right. They’re right.
I’ve got to stop doing this. I realize now that I’m just ruining my life. I’m not eating properly. I’m not paying my bills. I’ve lost all sense of hygiene. It’s time to stop. But wait! They sent me a notification! A power boost of 50% off my next bet! Okay, just this last one. And that’s it. Well, maybe a quick side bet as insurance. And then I’m done.
I vividly recall watching the The Swiss Family Robinson, the Walt Disney film of a shipwrecked family living in harmony with the land. Why not then read Jonathan Wyss’ original 1814 story to reconnect to that innocence?
The systematic slaughter of every living thing doesn’t come as a huge surprise in the beginning. We heard the boys popping away at the birds as we drew near. (107) Ernest ran into the water with his hatchet and killed the fish. (112) After all, this is a story of survival.
But the narrative goes well beyond that: Franz shot a beautiful blue jay and a couple of parakeets. (162) I could not consent to keep more than two puppies, and the rest disappeared in that mysterious way in which puppies and kittens are wont to leave this earth. (198) I sprang upon the onager’s back, and seizing her long ear in my teeth, bit it through. The result was marvelous, the animal quivered violently and stood stock still. (205)
The family evolves into a sort of serial killer gang: We were obliged to do our part with clubs and sticks. At least forty apes lay mangled and dead. (260) Franz was overjoyed to find that he had shot the capybara, a creature that was new to everyone. (308) They kill ostriches, bears (referred to as “bad rubbish”), whales and walrus. The head of the walrus, the head! We must have the whole head’ cried Jack. (375)
The Disney Corporation has always been the master of gutting original stories. (Remember that Pinocchio kills the cricket at the beginning of Carlos Collodi’s tale and is then haunted by its ghost.) It’s just that here, Disney might have done me a favor, banishing Wyss’ repetitious violence for pirates and ostrich races. And so…this one time: Thanks, Walt.
Forget that Everything Everywhere All At Once won everything – including a script that used an everything bagel as a metaphor of nothingness. Forget that Maverick was nominated for Best Picture. And forget that Jafar Panahi’s No Bears – the best film of the year everywhere all at once – wasn’t even nominated for Best Foreign Picture.
To understand what a mess the Oscars are – like this world – you only have to look at the winners in Best Shorts, Live Action and Animated. Sara Gunnarsdottir’s My Year of Dicks is a remarkably compelling feat in storytelling and animation and would qualify for the best animated short of the last fifty years.
Charles Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and The Horse is fine for a six-year-old (and perhaps anyone suffering PTSD) but is predictable and bland.
The difference is that Hollywood power brokers JJ Abrams and Woody Harrelson led the Mole crew, while a group of lesser-knowns – women too – helmed Dicks.
Meanwhile Berkeley and White’s The Irish Goodbye won Best Live Action Short over the far superior films The Red Suitcase and the Greenlandic entry, Ivalu.
Like The Boy and the Mole, The Irish Goodbye is predictable and bland. As remarkable as it is to have a lead actor with Downs Syndrome, that is no reason to award this prize.
Hollywood is exceptional at playing teary-eyed soundtracks of those we have lost. But when it comes to recognizing artistic talent and vision, and actually moving this damn society forward, the dream factory remains clueless. Like social fashionable movements such as Me Too and Black Lives Matter, it’s the show. And nothing else.
My creative writing teacher in college, Viktor Coleman, told me that I obfuscated too much in my writing, meaning that I put up barriers to avoid sharing my genuine voice. His analysis pissed me off. “All this guy cares about is fucking his hot students,” I railed to friends. “He doesn’t give a damn about what makes writing work.”
I don’t shy away from sharing my thoughts and experiences in my writing through my alter egos Buzz, Dee and Davis. They’ve been shamefully drunk, horribly abusive and have fucked whoever and whatever they could, including a bean bag chair. They just don’t dwell on what they’ve done. There are no revelations. These things happened; they accept that and moved on. Like real people do.
Which Coleman and others might argue is where the artifice comes in: the arc, denouement and lessons to follow. I don’t agree, Life isn’t like that. Life is a teacher fucking his student and nobody giving a damn, including the students. There is no Me Too. No clever point of view. It’s just things that happen, and that’s it. The characters are still alive and looking for the answers in all the wrong places.
Things happened and here we are. That’s my narrative. That’s what I see in our world. My heroes – super or otherwise- don’t save the day. They takes care of themselves first and then whoever suits their needs. Nobody’s buying that yet. I just need a couple more years of scrolling and we’ll be there.
The ice sheets roiled up, the glaciers and jagged mountains blinding in the distant midday sun, all of it intermittently obscured by the wild tossed seas as we descended the immense trough and then rode back up, the terrifying magnificence there again.
I had come out to this vastness because I had failed at life. I was unable to moderate. Or so she said. It was immoderate of me to reply to a “friendly reminder” from work with a “go fuck yourself”, immoderate to have another when I had so far to drive, and most definitely immoderate to call her a bitch – worse actually – when she told me about her friend who had never thanked her for the thank-you card. “Never replied,” were the exact words, but there’s no point in going over that again.
I was adrift now, alone with my failures and losses, just as I had predicted too many times in my head. The rocks and ice were my only buddies now. I couldn’t even get a signal to watch the game..