Flying scud (play) – See a man about a dog – Flying Squid?
Any idea what that means? I sure as hell don’t have a clue, and I wrote it. Some time in 2010; I was living in Chicago, but that doesn’t help. My best guess is it’s something that flittered through my mind in one of those half-waking moments at 3 in the morning. Or maybe I was drunk. Or, worse, sober.
More than a decade on, I think it’s safe to say that nothing will ever come of that tossed off attempt at (anti-)clever wordplay; just word salad. Some six cities and even more apartments later; at least a dozen different jobs and a few dozen different writing gigs since; roughly three completed novels and 500 blog posts on, it’s safe to say I’m never going to figure out what the fuck Flying Squid was supposed to mean.
Folders of Nothing
That one not-quite-a-sentence is the only thing in a Word file I found in a folder titled “One Week” (a subfolder in my “My Writing” folder); in that folder there’s a “One Week” file that contains 2,000 words about a guy named Scott working at a bookstore. Maybe it was going to be a short story, more likely it was the sputtering start of a novel that never went anywhere. More than a few of my discarded stories and novels involved guys working at a bookstore, something I’m intimately familiar with. They say, “Write what you know;” but, god, that shit’s boring. I like writing what I don’t know.
Which is why this “My Writing” folder houses a platoon of half-considered attempts at novels and short stories that died before they even had the chance to become ponderous nonsense.
There’s “Bosworth,” from 2011 and 2012 (my time in Seattle), which, at 4,500 words (and an outline) was one of my more drawn out abortions. It was my attempt at some sort of Bukowski pastiche, a novel about an acerbic drunk who befriends a total square and is a non-stop fount of biting one-liners. Turns out, I was not a non-stop fount.
There’s something from 2007 (I was in Costa Mesa) entitled “Ellis Island and the Gay Messiah,” which isn’t even 500 words, but I love the title (admittedly, it’s stolen from a Rufus Wainwright song).
There’s something called “Sanctum,” which is probably the most fully realized of my long-dead novel attempts, including six different character descriptions. That was also in Seattle, though the idea began years before that; I made an attempt at starting it up again the next year while I was living in New Orleans, to no avail. Maybe I’ll get back to that one day.
There’s even my half-assed attempt at a TV show pilot, simply called Sojourner, about an atheist woman who gets in a relationship with a Christian man. That one, which has its own soundtrack, started while I was in Brooklyn, but I quickly realized TV writing isn’t for me.
Those are a just a few of the writing projects I’ve begun and abandoned, and that doesn’t even include the short stories and character sketches that didn’t make it past a few paragraphs (the less said about the poems the better).
Even with that graveyard of novel ideas, I still have two new ideas I’m developing and two novels I’ve completed writing since the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdowns. One of those, I recently realized while looking through old files, I initially thought up back in 2010, but didn’t start writing as a novel until 2014 when I was freshly arrived in Brooklyn. And then, of course, there’s Yahweh’s Children, the one novel I’ve finished and self-published (oh, excuse me, I’m supposed to call it “indie published” now).
Around the time I got sick of editing, re-editing, and re-re-editing Yahweh’s Children, and finally just threw it up online, I told myself I would never write another novel again. But, goddamn it, the words keep coming and if I don’t write them down, they keep me up at night. A girl named Effie stole many a night’s sleep from me until I wrote her story.
Will either of the two novels I’ve finished writing in the last two years ever see the light of day? I don’t know. If not, they’d join the first three novels I wrote between the ages of 18 and 23 that will all but certainly never be read. But I hated those novels and I mostly like these ones; I’d sure like to see them find an audience one day. They’re good, if I do say so myself, and, frankly, if I do say so myself, that’s saying something because I loathe most everything I write.
And then there are those two other novel ideas – one a relatively new, Vonnegut-inspired satire, the other an old story inspired by my youth in the church that comes back to me every few years – that I suppose I’ll eventually feel obligated to start writing. I have long given up on the fantasy of being a world-renowned novelist (I know too much about the industry to believe that), but I still find a weird pleasure in the process. Masochistic, of course.
In the meantime, I’ll keep churning out nonsense here and elsewhere, because as aware as I am that this is just screaming into the void, I can’t stop. I’d never get any sleep again if I did.
Alright, with that out of the way, on to business.
The day is finally here. More than a decade after typing the first words on a long deceased computer, my novel, Yahweh’s Children, is available to purchase.Right now. RIGHT HERE.
“The subway pulsed with the message,” was how the novel began in its original form. That opening sentence remains, albeit altered, but so much of what follows is completely changed from the first draft. The first chapter used to be twice as long before I cut out all the unnecessary exposition. You’re welcome.
This is a novel with many themes: family and love; pursuing passions and losing faith; the evolution of life and language; the elusiveness of truth. Also, aliens.
This book is a part of me, an avatar for me; which means it will probably be off-putting to some and out stay its welcome with others. But, hopefully, there will be those who find its weird conceits, obsessive minutia, and caustic humor to be oddly charming.
Now, I’m going to ask something of you, dear reader, that in the long history of this project and this website I have never explicitly done: Give me money. Buy my book.
I know some of you out there made a resolution to read more books this year. Here’s the perfect opportunity to follow through and support an independent writer at the same time.
I can already hear some people saying, “Can’t you publish a physical version? I hate reading on a Kindle.” And I get it, I still buy physical books and have never actually read an entire e-book. Believe me, there is no greater dream in my heart than seeing my book on the shelf of an actual bookstore.
For now, though, the plan is to keep Yahweh’s Children digital only. That could change in the future, but only if there is enough demand to warrant it. In the meantime, maybe give the Kindle (or Kindle App) a try.
Thank you so much ahead of time to anyone who does buy and read my novel. I can’t promise it’ll be your favorite book of all time, but I can promise it was written with the intent that it would be. That’s all any writer can endeavor towards.
This is a bit of an unusual post. No pictures of Spain, no travel stories or advice. Instead, I wanted to tell you about my novel. Well, novels.
I wrote my first novel as a freshman in college. It’s called Bankrupt, and it’s terrible. No one has read it. Actually, my college professor read some of it during a semester Private Study I had with him. In the process, he fell so far behind that we never actually finished editing the book. It’s that bad.
Bankrupt is about the titular rock band – a Christian band – that gains massive success to become one of the biggest acts in the world. At the time (early 2000s) there had been a number of bands like Lifehouse and Evanescence who had Christian-origin stories but were downplaying that in the wake of their Top-40 success. That was the spark for my novel.
Inspired by a reading of The Sound and the Fury, the book was broken into four parts told by each member of the band, starting with the most devout Christian and ending with the guy of no faith. In structuring it this way, I was essentially tracing my own personal de-conversion from the faith.
As a concept and as a structure, there’s a really great book to be made of Bankrupt. I didn’t write that book. What I wrote is putrid garbage, and I don’t say that out of modesty. Beyond the fact that I was still writing like a freshman college student, I had no idea what I was writing about, knowing nothing about the music industry or what it was like to tour the country. I still lived in my hometown for god’s sake.
Bankrupt will never see the light of day. My version, at least. Maybe someone can steal the idea and make a decent book of it. Just do me a solid and give me credit in the thank yous.
The Fortunate Ones
The second novel I ever wrote came about in my final semester of college while I was taking four different literature courses and too bored to pay attention. I was never a note taker, but trying to stave off sleep, I started writing out a dream I had one morning and over the next four months, it grew into a novel.
That book is called The Fortunate Ones. That’s probably it’s third or fourth name. Originally, it was called Tabula Rasa, mostly just because I liked the term, not because it bore any meaning for the book.
The Fortunate Ones was my attempt to take the infamous “Bechdel Test” to its logical extreme: I wrote an entire novel where the only characters who spoke were women, and there was no fluffy romance subplots. The book followed four main characters, including the narrator, as they dealt with life’s ups and downs. It was a noble if ham-fisted attempt at feminist literature, I suppose. It also wasn’t very good.
Back when Livejournal was a thing, I created a new site to post chapters from the book. I had one random online stranger who read the whole thing. She gushed about it enthusiastically, and I always appreciated that, but I have no idea who she was and we didn’t keep in touch.
A couple years back, I was in the midst of a writer’s funk and decided to revisit some of my old writing. I started rereading Tabula Rasa and reworking it, eventually leading to an almost complete rewrite of the second half of the book. When I was done, I changed its name to The Fortunate Ones (a bit less pretentious title) and threw it up anonymously on Amazon. I’m pretty sure no one has ever downloaded it, and that’s probably for the best.
I started writing Invasion during Year 1 in Charlotte. It’s probably the most personal of my four novels, and honestly I don’t remember it very well. Like Bankrupt, I think the concept is sound, but also like Bankrupt, I know that I wasn’t a capable enough writer to do the topic justice. I’ve never re-read it.
Invasion tells the story of a gay college student in Kansas who is attacked and left in a coma. That’s chapter one. The rest of the novel explores his relationship with his mother who is devoutly religious and unable to accept her son’s “lifestyle.”
Their relationship is explored from many different angles, with the cornerstone being their mutual love of the music of the Beatles. I used a lot of Beatles lyrics in the book, something that I realized would probably make getting the book published an expensive proposition (especially for a first-time novelist), but those lyrics were the heart of the story.
The novel plays around with shifting perspectives, an erratic timeline, and, what has become a hallmark of my writing, mixing global and local perspective. I tell very personal, human stories against the backdrop of a larger narrative, some bigger event going on in the world that puts things in perspective. I was just starting to develop this style with Invasion.
My next novel honed it.
Originally just titled Yahweh, my fourth and final completed novel has been around for roughly a decade at this point. I started writing the book at the end of Year 2, Philadelphia, after reading a book called Joseph’s Bones: Understanding the Struggle Between God and Mankind in the Bible, by Jerome Segal. Segal’s book sparked my novel’s initial raison d’etre, though in its final form, the connection is tenuous.
The first draft took a year to complete. I edited it, and edited it, and edited it. I would submit it to agents and publishers and here nothing, then go back and edit some more. I’d start working on a new novel, get bored with those fresh efforts, and go back to Yahweh.
About two years ago, having sat on this complete tome for many years, I sent it out to a journal that offered editing services for $250. They said they would read the book over a month and then get back to me with their thoughts and suggestions and edits in the margin. After two months, they still hadn’t sent back the edits. Finally, I was contacted by the guy who was reading my book and he said he’d have it for me in a week.
When I finally received his reply, there were no edits in the book itself, or really even any concrete suggestions for improvements. Instead, he sent three pages explaining why the book simply didn’t work. He didn’t care much for the characters or the stories, and thought one of my subplots was homophobic, interestingly enough. There was no mention of the humor in the book and seemingly no understanding that the book was meant as a work of satire.
I was angry about the review, as any writer would be who just had years of work trashed in a hastily completed “edit.” At the same time, this stranger was the only person who had actually read the book (presumably he finished it), and he had clearly hated it. That led to a dark moment of the writer’s soul. It took months before I could even look at my novel again.
(The most aggravating part of the letter was him ending it with the condescending, “At least you finished writing the novel. That’s something to be proud of.” I don’t need your pity, random half-assed editor.)
When I did return to Yahweh, I committed to killing my babies. I scrapped a large chunk of the opening chapter that I had always loved but now realized was superfluous. I took entire chapters and rewrote them from a different character’s perspective. I expanded the roles of the women characters and tightened up the ending.
The name changed to Yahweh’s Children (which, if I’m being honest with myself, should have always been the book’s title).
I submitted this new version to a host of agents. And the roaring sounds of “Meh” came crashing in. To be fair, I did receive a couple of responses saying, “Sounds interesting but I don’t think I could represent it.” I’ve spent nearly as much time crafting different cover letters and synopses for the book as I did writing the thing.
The truth is, I don’t know how to sell this book, but I believe in it. It’s the only one of my four completed novels that I would call “good.” There are genuinely passages in it that, when I re-read them, make me laugh out loud, which sounds ridiculously egotistical, but if you’ve made it this far, you have to know I’m not exactly a toot my own horn guy.
Yahweh’s Children is a bit unwieldy, incredibly difficult to explain, and deeply yet subtly satirical in a way that, apparently, doesn’t register with some readers. It simply doesn’t fit into easy genre terms. It’s science fiction to a large extent, minus any interest in most of the tropes of that genre, but it’s also just a story about fathers and sons. And aliens. And God. Or god. Like I said, unwieldy.
Now that I’m in Madrid, I have so many new priorities and concerns, searching for an agent/publisher just doesn’t register in my top 10. Plus, with how rapidly world events are transpiring, the book might be hopelessly dated by the time I ever did manage to find representation for it (the book was written during a time when a Trump presidency seemed less likely than the discovery of aliens).
And so, for that reason, I’ve decided to go a route that, frankly, I’ve never had much interest in pursuing. I will self-publish Yahweh’s Children on Amazon and let the chips fall where they may. It’s quite possible no one will ever buy it, and that’s fine. No one is ever going to buy it if it just remains on my hard drive, either.
I have a new novel idea that I’ve been picking at for a couple of years, but as long as Yahweh’s Children remains in front of me, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully commit to it.
Yahweh’s Children may hold no interest for any of you readers, but I figured I’d let you know anyway. My aim is to have it online and available first thing in the new year. You know, right when everyone stops buying things because they’re broke after Christmas. I’m good at business.
I’ll post when Yahweh’s Children officially goes live, but in the meantime, here’s a book jacket synopsis so you can gauge your interest:
In the early decades of the 21st century, SETI researchers receive the first confirmed transmissions from an alien species. These messages, transmitting from far beyond our galaxy, arrive as indecipherable gibberish, except for one word written in an ancient human language. It’s a name: Yahweh.
Yahweh’s Children follows three generations of the Priestly family through interweaving timelines. The Priestly men are a stubborn and gently misanthropic tribe, driven equally by their passions and their disdain for their fathers. Wyatt, the patriarch, is a frustrated writer-turned-professor and Luddite, living through one of the most revolutionary moments in human history, and frankly, he doesn’t care for it.
Wyatt and his wife, Mia, have twins: Gwen is charismatic, brash, confident, and outspoken; and then there’s Parker. Parker lives in the shadow of his beloved sister, a bitter also-ran in the race for their father’s admiration. He grows into a man of reckless affection, flitting from marriage to marriage, seeking an ever elusive contentment, with his children always in the dust.
Nearly 50 years after the reception of the first “Yahweh Messages,” Parker’s eldest son, Alex, lives in a world haphazardly transformed by alien technology. As a journalist, Alex stumbles upon a mysterious government project involving the alien messages that may hold the key to the next stage of human evolution. Or it may herald the death of Yahweh’s Children.
That’s about the best broad synopsis I can give for a novel that deals with wide-ranging subjects including Climate Change, gender identity, slang evolution, and, of course, alcoholism.
If that sounds interesting to you, I hope you’ll support my art and travels by purchasing the book when it’s available in January. Thank you to everyone who reads these posts week to week, next week 10×10 will return to its regularly scheduled programming.
Too complex for words, we are every casual and causal link that has built to this moment, from Adam’s dust to the steel and rubber that transports us into one another’s lives and pulls us apart.
All of human history at our fingertips and we’re stuck on the last page, reading over and over again as madmen and mad women tear it all down, to start over again or to rebuild, but not to make a better world for our children; for we are childless, and we are children.
I could cant plaintive aspirations for the future and the utopian landscapes of post-crisis self-realization, cry that you are an end in and of itself, the omega. But you don’t listen, and I’m not speaking; somehow, the silence gets filled up all the same.
We are our shared perspective, from where we see the world and agree, that yes, from up here, it does look to be burning. Or perhaps it’s just the stifling, unifying cigarette plumes of eight billion cave dwellers who have agreed that the world has little time left, so why not just light one up and wait it out. If the world doesn’t end, well, we will anyway.
We will always have our history.
Preserved in museums and memories that come back to us when the night’s libations have let us down, our history is the story of a species gradually, painfully, resiliently gaining consciousness and then, upon achieving this feat of evolution, imbibing every painkiller until we are no longer conscious.
We are our ancestors.
They cower, afraid to look up.
I tried to be a stone wall in the nuclear holocaust predicted by you, but every shadow that burned into me was just another reminder of all the ways that I am, too, human, too human, and made of skin that ripples and stains like a leaf of paper. On it, written the words you have already acknowledged as the pleas of a coward. I am shaken.
I’m stuck between wanting to tell you that you are a towering example of strength and a sharpened shard of beauty, but I know the words only get lost from my mouth to your ears; impossible to cross the divide that separates us now that you have heard it all.
I talk about history.
You talk about dying.
We both get it.
I don’t get what I’m doing here, each passing moment stretching out to eternity and then it’s tomorrow and nothing has changed; I’m still failing at everything I try to do. I could see the whole world from down here; I don’t, though.
I was sitting in your living room when I received the note; a sky so full of clouds that I thought it must be night. It was the end of a day.
Another history brought short.
Another shadow on my wall.
History is what we label that which we cannot change; this is another part of our history, even if it isn’t ours.
I go on. You go on. She go on. We go on.
And then you’re gone and I go alone.
It used to be that if “love” were spoke with enough hope, with all the power of Hannibal’s elephants and all the radiance of Chernobyl and all the precision of Oswald’s bullet, any broken heart could be mended, no matter how many times it had been shattered.
That is now a part of history, too.
So what if there’s nothing to be done? So what if our history is a collection of stolen artifacts and carefully curated facts to placate our brittle consciences? If our time is short, why shouldn’t our memories be, also?
I want this to be all okay; you, me, her/him, all with the collective sigh of our history.
It isn’t, though.
It is rotten, I know.
It isn’t true.
It only trickles through.
We are guilty
of faux civility
weak and shallow
nothing more than a show.
This is our legacy.
This is our destiny.
This is our history.
I don’t control what I’m saying. I think in couplets when I’m away from you and you are acting as though nothing has changed. Everything’s changed. You dismissed my lips, unkissed.
We have history.
You have history. It’s not easy to forget, it’s not easy to forgive, and when the cruel gray crows scatter your smile across a desolate field, it’s not easy to let go.
I am not a historian, I cannot be that detached.
Nor am I merely a supplicating audience member, waiting to applaud, steady with my tears, happy to concede defeat to the playwright. I write, too, and I don’t care if they are Shakespeare’s Histories, I make up my own endings.
You will loathe this, every word.
You will loathe me, too, and find my incessant presence to be a bother. This is already of history.
Yet, here I am, in attendance.
I bought the ticket, I took my seat, I put the world on silence for you.
So sing your song, recite your monologue, hit your mark, and kill the critics in the crowd who will insist that you’re not right for the part. The part is right for you.
I should’ve said that.
I didn’t say anything. You wept like Ophelia’s willow, threatening to drown all of Europe, but it only rains in London these days; the skies are gray, sure, but also close enough to touch. We didn’t touch. We stayed dry, we stayed indoors.
And then, that was it.
I’ve returned to this place I’m calling home now.
See the world, learn its histories, trace the rivers diverted by time and escape to the cities built on bones. Every street, every window, all of the tastes and smells, they lambast us with the history we think is behind us. Paint the walls, if you must, climb the scaffolding; it will all be history soon enough. History always wins.
Truman Capote’s famous dismissal of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road has been spat at me dozens of times. The book that, for a time in American history, defined “hip” is now a very uncool thing to like. To be fan of the book, as I am, is to come to terms with troublesome characters and cultural representation that hasn’t aged well. Perhaps, though, the book’s greatest sin is that it aims for profundity – and achieves it.
Today marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of Kerouac’s most famous literary work.
The story of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty is so ingrained in our cultural consciousness that any discussion of it almost feels like parody; but I’ll do it anyway. The thinly-veiled memoir-turned-novel tells of the aimless escapades of Kerouac and his friends from 1947 to 1950. The novel, which Kerouac famously typed on a single “scroll” of paper over three weeks while his then-wife fed him drugs, was published in 1957. The real story of the book’s creation, like the story itself, is lengthier and less sexy than the legend, but what difference does it make?
On the Road is one of the defining American myths, like Johnny Appleseed or George Washington’s cherry tree or Trickle Down Economics. Its veracity is less important than what it says about the culture that created it. As the United States is currently embroiled in startling regressive fights over nativism and isolationism, let’s remember that On the Road, more than almost any other book by an American author (certainly more than Capote) spoke to our nation’s historical roots as a nation of immigrants and wanderers.
There’s no escaping it: Sal Paradise, Dean Moriarty, and almost all of the other (male) characters in On the Road are loathsome people. They’re selfish and loutish, at times cruel, abusive towards the women in their lives, and ultimately wanton addicts that can barely stand themselves, let alone one another. In a word, On the Road is problematic.
So is history. So is art. So is life. I do not meant to wipe away the offenses of the characters or the real life people on whom they’re based, but rather to argue that there’s still a baby in that dirty bath water.
All art, especially historical works – and at 60-years-old, On the Road qualifies as an artifact – requires acknowledging flaws along with merits. Kerouac had questionable racial politics, no doubt, but for his time, the book’s sympathetic portrayal of the Hispanic immigrant populace was incredibly progressive. Frankly, it’s fairly progressive for our time. Despite all that Kerouac gets wrong in terms of cultural misappropriation and othering, he was at least willing to surmount walls to engage with different cultures.
Kerouac writes with considerable sympathy, especially for the cavalcade of degenerates that made up his beatnik circle. Dean Moriarty, in particular, was the quintessential anti-hero decades before such figures were the center of every TV show. There’s clearly a touch of Dean in Don Draper. The most common criticism I see lobbed at On the Road is that it glorifies these unlikeable characters as heroes. On the contrary, though, the desperate finale in Mexico is a denouement in the vein of Breaking Bad. We’re meant to live vicariously through these characters, but that doesn’t mean we’re meant to absolve them of all sins.
As far as Capote’s charges of “typing,” well, there’s really no accounting for taste. More than a few respected writers, both living and dead, have hailed Kerouac as an innovator and an influence, for what that’s worth. Kerouac’s breathless writing technique could certainly lead to paragraphs that feel aimless or empty, but there are also passages of pulsating beauty, exhilarating in their jazz-infused momentum and startling in their revelatory power.
For those who hate the book, for whom the characters are irredeemably repugnant and the writing is slapdash puffery, I make no effort to convince you otherwise. No, I’m writing for a different audience, for Kerouac’s audience, a crowd that has shrunk over the decades but that I suspect still exists in greater numbers than one might expect. It’s okay, you can come out of hiding.
Reading On the Road as a teenager should be transformative, the eye-opening experience when you realize that the world extends beyond your own yard and everyone’s life doesn’t have to follow a single path. For most readers, that philosophy resonates for a few years until they get a job or finish college with a stack of debt. Then, On the Road suddenly morphs into something far less profound, something childish.
Maybe you backpacked Europe or tried to make it as a musician for a few years. There might have been some poetry readings or even a Buddhist phase. Admit it: you were once idealistic. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.
Grotesquely, the Beat Generation was long ago co-opted by corporate interests and sold as action figures and t-shirts, as is the fate for all forms of art and rebellion. There is no counterculture movement that can’t be neutered and decimated with a logo or a catchphrase. When a thousand drop-outs followed in Kerouac’s footsteps and hitchhiked across America, they were merely substituting one form of conformity for another.
The lesson of Kerouac’s travels is not that travel makes you free or that America is a nation of squares. What On the Road conveys is that we are all on a journey, that the perfect metaphor for life is the road, and ultimately, we alone are responsible for choosing – and reaching – our destination. Do with that what you will.
For me, that meant 10 Cities/10 Years: I took a decade out of my life to move across the country, meeting people from every corner of America and experiencing its wealth of stories. Diversity is a pleasure.
A year after finishing my project, I re-read On the Road for the first time since I was in college. I wondered – worried, really – that the book would have greatly diminished in the interim years, that adulthood would have dulled its potency.
Instead, I found that the book had evolved just as I had through my own journeys. No longer a guide to the unfettered thrill of escaping, the novel was a ledger for the costs and rewards of pursuing a dream. That was a life of travel for me, but it could be anything to anyone, the pursuit of any passion.
As you read this, I am currently embarking on a new travel journey, this time abroad. Though I’m eschewing a schedule like I had with 10 Cities/10 Years, the spirit that embodied that project remains. I will follow opportunities where they lead me. I will make my way as I always have, by working hard, saving money, and taking risks.
Before I departed, I’ll sold or gave away most of the few possessions I still owned. Things are a burden. I held onto a few essentials, though: Clothes, a laptop, old journals, and, of course, a dog-eared copy of On the Road.
Our entrance into the Gilded Phage erupted in protests, violence, and hate speech, while Twitter fights, Facebook rants, and, most vital, thoughtful blog posts remain at pre-Election levels. Voices are still reaching the cheap seats as dire warnings of an encroaching wave of racism and bigotry are met with caustic dismissals demanding people “Wait and see” and “Stop whining.” It’s a wall of sound that would make Phil Spector tumescent.
This election proved one thing: there are a lot of white, heterosexual, cisgender males in this country, and despite assertions that they are the new oppressed minority, they remain both the most powerful and vocal force in American politics. As a member of that demographic, I have never felt so dismayed to be so visible.
For the last year, ever since I completed 10 Cities, I’ve been largely silent. Up until last week, this website had gone dark and I had minimized my Facebook presence (I’ve remained somewhat active on Twitter; my apologies). I’ve been practicing a skill that doesn’t come naturally to me: Listening.
Listening to voices that aren’t white, heterosexual, cisgender, and/or male is critical for the continued growth of our society and for our growth as individuals. We only need look at last Tuesday to know what’s at stake when we don’t.
One of the ways I’ve been reminding myself to be a better listener is intentionally seeking out voices that wouldn’t naturally enter my sphere of interests. As a white, heterosexual, cisgender male, I’m striving to engage with the points of view of those who aren’t. I’ve not intentionally avoided or ignored those voices in the past, but by nature of our societal structure, I’ve done it all the same.
So far, this endeavor has had the greatest impact in my consumption of art, particularly music and literature. I’ve read assault narratives and about rape culture (Alice Sebold and Kate Harding), read fiction from people of color (Colson Whitehead and Zadie Smith; Zadie pisses me off because her first novel is just so damn good) as well as non-American authors (Arturo Perez-Reverte). I’ve read many other authors (including plenty of white males) this last year, but I hope to find even more diverse voices next year.
Additionally, and to a much greater extent, I’ve been listening to a more varied slate of musical artists. My musical taste has always been eclectic, but my go-tos have generally been white, straight dudes. It seems like a trivial thing because it’s an easy thing; I love music and I love finding new artists. And yet, as easy as it is to do, it still had to be a conscious choice. Ultimately, that minimum effort to expand my palate has been deeply enriching.
To that end, I’m concluding this post with a by-no-means-exhaustive list of artists who are not white, or not male, or not straight, or not cisgender. The list could expand indefinitely, but these just happen to be some that I’ve come to really appreciate over the last year and who, importantly, offer a broader perspective.
And, finally, to my fellow white, heterosexual, cisgender males: There’s no prize for listening, no pat on the back; there’s just the pleasant reality that so many voices deserve our attention and we are invariably enriched by the simple experience of hearing a new perspective.
I hope you enjoy the music and that you’ll keep listening.