Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Big Idea

Their faces were blank, eyes devoid of expression. Some had pimples. The pimples at least looked interested.

"You have to have a Big Idea. When you sit down to write an essay, you have to have something to communicate to your reader. You can't just start writing, going all over the place, and then hope that by the end of the essay that things fall together. You have to start with the end in sight. You have to have a Big Idea that you want to communicate."

Someone moved. One of the students blinked. Another one scratched herself. I could hear the sound of nail over dry skin. Some had pimples. The pimples were the only ones
still looking interested.

My students struggle with non-fiction writing each year. Okay, they struggle with everything. But it occurs to me that some bloggers struggle with it as well. I won't point any fingers, but as you zip through websites, you'll find postings which meander this way, then that...finally ending, mercifully in a picture, or a meaningless quote, the author thinking that these flourishes compensate for a lack of substance. They don't, unless you are a horribly undemanding reader. Unless you are pumice.

"Once you've struck a main idea, you have to develop it intelligently and express it with clarity. That's CLARITY. In caps. It's pointless to write something unless people understand what it is you are trying to express. And you can't be clear about what it is you are writing if you yourself are unclear about what is is you are trying to communicate. In short, THE BIG IDEA."

The students have vanished. There are now only pimples and swaths of greasy hair seated where once there was flesh.

I could go on about elements of essay. I could talk about using lists, facts, opinions, story, strong voice, and elements of language as a way to communicate The Big Idea, whether they are trying to inform or persuade, but I stop. Damn it, I stop. I want to go on, but one idea at a time is a big idea.

Besides, the pimples are starting to pulsate. And I'm frightened.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Dinner With The Guys

Here I am on the left, hanging out with a group of guys, just trying to enjoy a Passover. I was going to do a photoshop of me and Mohammad, but I didn't want to cause a riot somewhere.

I'll tell you my take on God. I want God to have an incredible sense of humor. I don't ask for much more than that from the deity. I want a God who can give me an amazing belly-laugh and an astonishing smile. I don't want Him or Her to sigh over the sins of the mortals or be lectured to. I want my God to nod appreciatively and say:

"So, Stew, did you have a good time?":

"Yeah, it wasn't that bad," I'll say. "Oh, there were some curve balls, but..."

"But that's life," He'll say with a laugh. I'll agree.

So here's a few quotes I think the Deity would enjoy:

"When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realised that the Lord doesn't work that way so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me."
Emo Philips.

"I was thrown out of college for cheating on the metaphysics exam; I looked into the soul of the boy next to me."
Woody Allen.

"If a kid asks where rain comes from, I think a cute thing to tell him is ‘God is crying’. And if he asks why God is crying, another cute thing to tell him is ‘Probably because of something you did’."
- Jack Handey, Deep Thoughts

All gods are better than their conduct.
Mark Twain's Notebook, 1902-1903

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Rod's Butt

Saturday afternoon. I'm not going to get too serious here. However, the other night I watched a dvd of Rod Stewart's last concert with The Faces. We're talking seventies here, as Rod's solo career was taking off. You know: "Maggie May," "Every Picture Tells A Story". The film quality was horrible, the sound sucked. If you want to watch a decent concert video, stay away from this one.

However, the one thing that amazed me was Rod Stewart's Butt. Notice it deserves its own capitalization. I had never seen him in concert, and as I watched him prance on stage, I was awed by the number of butt shots. I mean, several times through the concert, he actually turned his back to the audience, bent over and wiggled it, keeping the moon going for an amazing period of time. I half expected him to put a microphone up to his derrière and start singing through his sphincter.

I guess the emphasis of butt was for the benefit of the ladies. I must admit they responded well to the various wiggles, grinds, flexes, etc. However, as a fan of rock, I found myself mongoose mesmerized. I tried to imagine Meatloaf doing such moves. It hurt me. I tried picturing David Bowie giving butt. More pain. What about Ozzi Osborne? I went blind. Lar's from Metallica? I've lost a slice of my life. Bono? NO!!!!

The only other male performer whose butt received such attention was George Micheal (I could mention Marilyn Manson's butt, but I don't think that one counts) . Of course, George wore tight fitting jeans. Rod wore bright yellow jumpsuits and tartan scarves. We could mention Prince here, but Prince's Butt never seemed to take center stage like George's and Rod's.

Some of you will doubtless be asking: Why were you looking at Rod Stewart's Butt in the first place. Well, because it was there. And it sang. It even did harmonies.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Read Me A Story

She's in her late sixties, slightly overweight, hair dyed dark brown with red highlights. She has reading glasses resting low on her nose. She reads from the page, the words coming easily to her lips, each one richly expressed:

"'Do you know you’re bleeding?' Carol asked. She was on top, straddling him, but not allowing him to enter. He shifted under her, the tension of arousal making him uncomfortable.

"Glancing down at his chest, Mark was surprised to find his sternum flecked with blood. He jerked at the handcuffs.

"'It must have happened when I kissed you,' she said.

"He ran a tongue along his lower lip, tasting the blood there, feeling for a bite. She watched him, amused.

"'No, I didn’t bite you,' she said. She reached into her mouth and carefully pulled something from under her tongue. She had a razor blade between her fingers; a safety razor carefully cut in two."

The woman reading this passage smiled to herself, satisfied by the moment. The rest of the group waited for her to turn the page and resume the reading. The story was mine, a bit of uncomfortable eroticism called "Eating Cake". The location was a writer's group. Listening to this being read by someone else, someone whom I never would have imagined reading this work in the first place, accented the rough points in the tale for me and showed me what worked and what didn't.

In almost every writing class, students read their stories out loud, emphasizing those points needing emphasis, interpreting their work as a form of performance art. Except when they turn their writing over to a reader, there is no guarantee the reader will faithfully interpret what is before them. So, what's a writer to do?

Give that work to someone else to read out loud. Give it to someone who isn't necessarily going to read with the finesse of Meryll Streep or the knowing smirk of Jack Nicholson. Give it to someone to read what they see. Someone who will let the work speak for itself.

It's amazing what you will hear. All your missteps will be laid bare. Passages which you thought were clear will show themselves as muddled. You will see your work in a whole other light.

Reading your own work out loud is critical. Listening to someone else read your work is illuminating. Both are valuable tools for proof-reading. Okay, so it's not always practical, and not always desirable. But it's still another strategy. And isn't that what we're looking for? Using different approaches to proofing and editing your work keeps you fresh.

So ask Aunt Maggie if she'll read to you, just like when you were a kid. Or ask that hottie at the bar to read a page to you, maybe offering one drink per page, or perhaps per paragraph (I'm thinking about free verse). Hell, see that guy hanging outside the playground, the dude with the rubber bands around the knees of his pants and the raincoat? Okay, maybe not him.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


I have begun working on a romantic fantasy, and as a result have engaged in world building...sort of. It started with a short story, then at Kate's urging, it exploded in a different direction until I had a novel begging to be written. Of course, I'm still marketing "Palpable Illusion," working on "Food For The Flies", revising and hopefully sending out "Dark Haven" by summer's end. "Dark Haven" is probably the most marketable, being about a haunting in a domestic violence shelter. Anyway, the new book, which isn't titled yet, features a character whom I created about twenty five years ago when he appeared in the first novel I attempted to write: "White Raven".

Allow me to emphasize that I am not rewriting "White Raven" now. I have always maintained "White Raven" will be the last novel I write. I have held off working on it. Maybe when I'm eighty-five. I'm so paranoid about that novel, that I nixed adding Greljo Satori as a character to the new novel.
Some of you seeing the name Satori will think: "Ah, so that's why he uses the name Satori." Yep, Wayne, that's where comes from.

So permit me to introduce Levon, not exactly as he will appear in the soon to be outlined novel, but as he appeared in the short story which ignited the novel. You'll also notice a picture of Bud Cort from "Harold and Maude". That's because I usually pick a film character for a visual which matches the character. Forgive me for not including more of the story, but I still intend on submitting it around:

“Where are you going, Levon? What, without your breakfast?” His mother surprised him as he tried slipping out the door. He flinched and mumbled:

“I’m going downtown.”

“Downtown? What’s downtown? Are you going to the doctor’s?”

Late spring sifted through the screen door; he inhaled green and yearned for the feel of dew.

“No, I’m not going to the doctor’s.”

“Are you feeling okay?”

“I’m fine, Mom. You don’t need me hanging around here feeling sorry for myself.”

“You’ve never felt sorry for yourself. I would have felt better if you had.”

Levon smiled, reaching for his mother. “I have you to feel sorry for me. Two of us would be over the top.”

He looked at his mother with youthful eyes that belied the terrible missteps he had taken over the last seven years. At thirty one, with a face that appeared barely touched by manhood, he found himself returned to his parents’ home, a survivor of a failed marriage and a ravaging illness, without savings and without employment. He wasn’t sure what he had hoped for in moving back in with his parents, but he hadn’t found it. He didn’t regret it. He didn’t regret anything in his life.

His mother studied his face and for a horrible moment he thought she would enfold him in her arms. Instead she gave him a gentle push toward the door. “Go downtown.”

He nodded. “I’ll be back after dinner.”

“You come back when you’re ready,” she said, and added: “Tough it out.”

That last phrase alarmed him. That was something she said when his life was most difficult to bear. She spoke those words when his wife left him for another man; when his employer let him go from his job after ten years; and before the cancer surgery when there was no insurance to cover the hospital bills. She intoned those words like a solemn prayer. Tough it out.

Levon remembered her at his bed side in the hospital, stroking his face and speaking to him in a gentle, worried tone. “I used to be so afraid of losing you when you were a baby. You laughed so much, and you hardly ever cried,” she said. “I was terrified I’d look in your cradle and find you gone. You were such a good child; I used to think so much goodness had to be punished. It all balances. I believe that. I keep waiting to see what will happen now to make up for all you’ve been through.”

“I don’t think life’s been unfair to me, Mom.”

“That’s what’s so unfair,” she said. “Tough it out, Levon.”

Monday, February 19, 2007

Turn The Other Cheek...Unless It's Tattooed.

I'm not a fan of tattoos. I would never have one inked into my skin, but that's personal preference. I don't begrudge other people their bodyart, even if they look like the unfortunate gentleman on the right. And I also feel bad for teens who ink their favorite bands all over their bods (I love Alice Cooper, but...). I also reserve a special place in my heart for those kids whose ink runs over their necks and heads, it must make after college job interviews very interesting for them.

All that being said though, here is a news story that got my dander up.

According to different sources, a family in Bakersfield, California was refused services for their young daughter because the mother had tattoos. Dr. Gary Merrill of Christian Medical Services explained that he was following his beliefs, creating a Christian environment for his patients.

The story I am paraphrasing from, which appeared on a local television news show, went on to quote the doctor, who refused to go on camera , as saying that he has standards for his office based on his values and beliefs. That means no tattoos, body piercings, and a host of other requirements (not sure what that meant).

Yeah, nothing says "Christian" like refusing to treat a little girl for an ear ache. Can't you just see Jesus turning away a child because her parents didn't live up to his standards?

The medical community is probably in an uproar, right? No, according to the AMA, and other doctors, Merrill has the right of any other business to decline service to anyone. And that includes patients who chew gum. I'm sure there's something about gum chewing in the New Testament.

If you want to read the full story, then go here for Channel Seventeen. Pictured to the left is the little girl who the good doctor was too moral to treat.

Poetry...Let's Talk (part two)

Okay, I'll put aside the poetry that I learned in high school, college, and which I read occasionally at home. Why dissect Tennyson anyway? Who cares about Coleridge, Yeats, Burns. Screw them. I spit on their brilliance. I sneer at their mad ability to distill human emotion into a few breathtaking phrases while following carefully constructed forms. No, give me instead: Free Verse.

That's not really fair of me, is it? Let's try again. Free Verse, according to some, doesn't follow the classic standard of construction. It doesn't rely on meter or rhyme.

According to the University of Victoria's writers' guide:
"Free verse, on the other hand, has no rules whatsoever. The lines are irregular and may or may not rhyme. Instead of fitting content to form, the poet allows content to shape the form, changing line length and meter to emphasize words and sounds. Free verse develops its own rhythms, most often annotated by the use of the line-break, and is capable of complex effects of rhythmical and syntactical ambiguity."

If we accept the above definition, or the other reactionary definitions I've read (I'll justify the term reactionary presently), then how do we critique free verse? How do we understand it? To what criteria do we hold it accountable to?

(pictured to the right)is often held up as a fine example of free verse. Whitman was one of several writers at the time who were seeking to create a culture apart from Europe. They were seeking a new American identity. I would argue that this identity was borne of a major inferiority complex stimulated with just the right amount of jingoism. The poetry that it produced was therefore a reactionary art form (See, I told you I would justify the term).

"You start by experiencing it and using your own emotions as a touchpoint for interpretation."

Freud would have wet himself.

So again, and forgive my sloppy structure do we interpret or judge free verse. And I don't want to hear "I can't tell you, but I know it when I hear it."

Oh..and here's a little poem I fell in love with. It isn't much, but it touches me for its innocence. And maybe for its sense of time. I could break it down much according to structure, but I'll leave that for others so as not to further detract from the above posting and posed questions:

Jenny Kissed Me

by Leigh Hunt

Jenny kissed me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in.
Time, you thief! who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in.
Say I'm weary, say I'm sad;
Say that health and wealth have missed me;
Say I'm growing old, but add-
Jenny kissed me!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Poetry...Let's Talk (part 1)

I recently maddened some people when I attacked contemporary poetry. I apologize for that. Instead of my usual negative comments I am going to examine poetry and see if through dialogue and analysis, I can come up with any meaningful observations. At least meaningful for myself. I think this will be the first of several postings on this topic, mostly because it's a broad discussion, and I don't want to do a long treatise. Instead, I want to turn the stone and look at a few facets.

I spoke to my friend Chuck (who should update his blog) recently on this topic. He finished writing a poem about a personal experience. The poem was a paragraph of feeling, well expressed and obviously drawn from a raw pool.

A good paragraph. But poetry? Since when did paragraph writing become poetry? Someone will immediately respond: "That's free verse." Yeah? Maybe. But what if a short story writer decided to do that? What if we ignored all the structure and conventions? What if we wrote our story without punctuation, without any respect for the conventions of plot, character development, or theme? What if we wrote a story that spun wildly about, bouncing from point to point until it flamed off the page?

If we responded like some of the poets, we'd say: "Well, I was expressing myself. I know it doesn't have any structure, it's "Free Prose." Right.

So allow me to return to the first point of this posting: What is poetry? or at least what is it today?

Unlike "novel" or "short story" I don't think there are any good definitions. Many people will respond intuitively: "I can't explain it, but I know it when I read it." In fact, this echoes a statement made by the self-destructive and neurotic Emily Dickenson: "If I read a book and it makes my body so cold no fire ever can warm me, I know that is poetry."

Yeah..well..thanks Emily. Lemme jot that down.

William Wordsworth, defined poetry as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings."

Another source asserted: Poetry is formed by sounds and syllables of language combined in distinctive and sometimes rhythmic ways. It can rhyme or have no rhyme to it at all, have structure or none at all.

Rhyme or not rhyme...have structure or none at all?

What the hell??? I sometimes feel most definitions of poetry are significant for their inability to express a definition, or none at all. It's feels too much like a justification or a defense than an honest attempt to develop an intelligent definition of an art form.

Someone else wrote: "Perhaps the characteristic most central to the definition of poetry is its unwillingness to be defined, labeled, or nailed down. But let's not let that stop us, shall we? It's about time someone wrestled poetry to the ground and slapped a sign on it's back reading, "I'm poetry. Kick me here."

Amen!!! Of course, the person who wrote the above paragraph, Mark Flanagan, after stating the problem was ineffective in his ability to slap the sign on Poetry's back. I have that sign in my hand, and I am more than willing to attach it and follow through.

So, what is poetry? Is contemporary poetry different from classic or traditional poetry? Is it an art form, or is it a sloppy rendering of words from an attention deficit group of would be writers who lack self discipline?

I pose that question here, without answer. Consider this an underpainting. In my next posting on poetry, I will sketch large my ideas, offering broad strokes to begin building a broader, more detailed picture of this "art form" which many claim to practice.

J.R., you're going to need to get that stethoscope ready again.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Ah, Spring!!!!

For My Father...

It's Spring. Yes, there's snow on the ground in Michigan and the temperature won't get above freezing. Doesn't matter. It's Spring. Sweet Spring. Want proof? Today the Pitchers and Catchers are reporting for Spring Training.

For the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of the song of the birds has come,
And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.

Those words were spoken each Spring Training by the man pictured here: Ernie Harwell, the now retired Voice of the Tigers.

I know some of you won't care, but allow me my eccentricities. This is important to me, it keeps me sane, it gives me breath. The beginning of baseball season isn't about sports, it's about passage. It's about the relationship I had with my father, a relationship similar to the one Kevin Kostner had with his father in "Field of Dreams". I can't tell you how pained I was as the main character struggled with his past.

So baseball to me isn't a sport, it's so much more.

Or as James Earl Jones spoke the words with greater eloquence :

The one constant through all the years has been baseball. As America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers - it's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again - baseball has marked the time. This field, this game is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.

So today is the first day of Spring. I won't talk about what teams stand a chance, or what players are up or down. This is the day the pitchers and catchers report. That's enough for me.


Thanks for the well wishes yesterday. I'm feeling much better. I hate Michigan winters. Below is my assignment. I told people it would be posted Tuesday or Wednesday, so here it is.


Mike hated the boy more for crying. They pushed him under the staircase, warning him against crying out. Lewis held the kid’s arm behind his back, wrenching it upward to keep him on his toes and off balance.

“Don’t break it, for crying out loud,” said Mike. He checked to make sure no teacher had seen them, then stepped into the shadows.

“What you got in your pockets, homo?” asked Lewis, shoving a hand into the boy’s loose fitting trousers. The boy squirmed, but Lewis twisted the arm harder to make him cooperate.

Mike combed his pompadour back into place as he watched. This wasn’t going to end prettily. He found himself thinking of his stepfather, hearing the man’s slow speech.

“It ain’t like Mikey is the only boy who gets into trouble,” his stepfather would say. “Things ain’t the same they was when we was growing up.” Strangely, Mike resented his stepfather for standing up for him.

”No,” his mother would say: “Things are better. A hell of a lot better.”

Mike remembered how his grandfather took him aside at his father’s funeral. There hadn’t been a coffin, but instead a folded American flag and a picture of his Dad taken in uniform on one of his leaves from Korea.

“You ever been hit so hard you can’t breathe?” asked Grandfather as they stood looking at the picture.


Grandfather nodded, taking a one dollar bill from his wallet. He handed it to his grandson.

“What’s this for?” asked Mike.

Grandfather looked embarrassed, his eyes were shiny, and his face was red. He turned without answering and left the funeral home without another word. He hadn’t seen or heard from his grandfather since that time. He and his mother seemed to have been cut off after that, as though they were somehow responsible for the death of his father.

Mike heard the bell ring. Kids poured out of classrooms. Lewis looked up at him with concern. Mike wasn’t sure what took him over at that moment, but without understanding why, he balled his hand into a fist and punched the kid as hard as he could. Lewis’s mouth dropped open.

“Oh my God, that was boss,” said Lewis.

The boy slumped, then as Lewis released him, fell in a heap on the floor. Unconscious. Mike wanted to hit him again. Lewis leaned over to unbuckle the kid’s pants. He swiftly jerked the trouser legs over the kid’s shoes.

“Trophy,” said Lewis, rolling the pants up to shove them under his arm. “Wait till he comes around and has to go through school in his underwear.”

Mike reached into his back pocket and took out a one dollar bill. He bent over, shoving it into the kid’s half-open mouth.

“Let’s get out of here,” said Lewis. The next bell rang. It was amazing no one had come close. The sound of people on the stairs was loud. Mike felt as if time had stopped. They were invisible.

“You think he’ll squeal?” asked Lewis.

“It won’t matter five years from now,” said Mike, leaving the security of the stairwell.

“I ain’t worried about five years from now, I’m worried about now.”

Mike nodded, stepping away from Lewis and lost himself in the throng of students hurrying through the hall. He stepped outside, lighting a cigarette. The bell rang behind him, announcing the beginning of the next class period.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Best of Years

Dear Friends, I planned on posting a story tonight, however I am sick. If I had a webcam some of you, the more compassionate among you, would be going: "A-w-w-w-w." The rest of you would go: "E-w-w-w-w." Anyway, I am going to bed. Before I do though, allow me to post two bits of fiction offered up first by Kate and then by Lucas. I will try adding my own tomorrow. Until then: Peace

First, Kate's 1964 offering...she's just a young un, don't you think?

Then: Lucas' 1982 offering...god...I got coldsores older than him.

If anyone else would like to contribute, email me. I swear I'll post mine tomorrow. Please visit these two and give them feedback. I think you'll enjoy yourself.

Active Listening

Back in the day, when I left journalism behind and started down the road of social services, I took classes and went through training to help people open up so I could show them the path to self-healing. Hahahahahahahaha. No, seriously. I remember this one workshop I attended (people in the social service field are big into workshops) on active listening...

The facilitator, an impossibly tall man with the sort of suntan that had to have been painted on, role modeled active listening techniques.

"Have a seat, please," he said, waving to a chair opposite him.

I had decided to volunteer for the roleplay. I sat, as I always do, crossing my legs, and leaning back a bit. He sat, crossing his legs and leaning back. He asked me a question about my relationship with my mother (I suppose that mother/son relationships are such fertile territory that it's a MUST in role plays).

"Well, sometimes we argue. I think she tends to be manipulative." I shifted. He shifted.

"So you feel your mother tends to be manipulative?"

"Yeah," I said, uncrossing my legs, he uncrossing his legs.

"And how do you feel about that?" he asked.

"It annoys me," I replied.

"So it annoys you?" he asked.

I looked around, wondering if there was an echo. He looked around. I leaned back again, he leaned back again. I had this horrible Marx brothers' moment. For those who aren't in the field, he was "Mirroring". That's where the therapist mirrors the body language of the client. Of course, one should never be too obvious or else the client will follow you to your car after work and kill you. I called him on his mirroring and he said:

"Does my mirroring bother you?"

"Yes, it does?"

"So, if I hear you correctly, you're distracted by me mirroring your body language."


Active listening: mirroring body language, responding to verbal cues, rephrasing responses for to allow the speaker to elaborate or clarify, showing empathy. In "Silence of the Lambs" this is why Miggs, the guy in the cell next to Lecter, killed himself.

The facilitator smiled with perfect teeth. Handsome man. He smelled of watermelon. I have no idea.

"Do you think this distraction, or your pointing out this distraction, is a way for you to avoid talking about your relationship with your mother?" he asked.

"I think it's a way for me to avoid killing you," I thought, but responded:

"So, you're asking me if I'm using my distraction as a way to avoid talking about my relationship with my mother?" I asked.


"Yes?" I asked.

"Yes, do you think you're avoiding talking about your mother?"

"Do you think I'm avoiding talking about my mother?"

And with that he ended the role play. I went back to my seat and decided to practice oregami for the rest of the afternoon.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


You're going to love this: according to the Journal of Neuroscience, there is finally direct evidence that humans secrete a scent that changes the chemistry of the opposite sex. Let me translate: MANSWEAT MAKES WOMEN HOT.

"This is the first time anyone has demonstrated that a change in women's hormonal levels is induced by sniffing an identified compound of male sweat," according to Claire Wyart, postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley.

The study conducted last year involved 48 undergraduate women who took 20 sniffs from a bottle containing androstadienone, a compound found in male perspiration and other bodily secretions. Apparently the womens' blood pressure and other vitals increased, a sign that their sexual arousal was boosted. Oh, yeah.

The researchers measured the women's levels of the stress hormone cortisol and compared them to the women's responses to a control odor. Cortisol levels in the women rose within about 15 minutes of inhaling the androstadienone scent and remained elevated for more than an hour, UC Berkeley researchers found.

Of course, I want to know more. For instance, do women respond differently to sweat from different areas of the body? Is there a failsafe level for sweat? Am I in danger at the gym? These are things I demand to know. And what about men? Are we in danger of succumbing to the allure of other men's sweat???? Is it possible to be attracted to one's own sweat?

Movies In Context

Posts coming into Monday should be fairly light, don't you think? I considered writing about Trotsky and Lenin, but I don't know, I just couldn't get my enthusiasm up to speed. Instead, I want to write about something dear to my heart: film.

I have been watching many films this weekend, sort of a mindless marathon. As I watched "Saw III", a film I can't recommend, my mind started wandering and I found myself trying to identify films which are tied to a decade. Some films can be seen over and over again, regardless of time's passage: "Casablanca", "Gone With The Wind", "Apocalypse Now", "The Godfather". However, there are some films that are noteworthy not as film but as timecapsules. They exist as a little window into a removed time and culture. If you want to take a look with me through that time portal, here are some suggestions which are certainly not inclusive. I'll only cover forty years with lists that are woefully incomplete. Note, this is not about quality, this is about films for the cultural historian.

1950's -- James Dean as angst ridden bad boy in "Rebel Without A Cause"; Marlon Brado as biker punk with the heart of gold in ( "What are you rebelling against?" "Whattya got?") "The Wild Ones"; Glenn Ford tacking teen delinquency in "Blackboard Jungle" (which by the way launched "Rock around The Clock" by Bill Haley and the Comets); "Baby Doll" by director Elia Kazan (a man who would later sell out his own in the McCarthy hearings) and based on a play by Tenessee Williams. This film about the life of postwar Amreica behind the gray flannel facade irked then New York's Cardinal Spellman to declare the film "evil in concept... certain to exert an immoral and corrupting influence on those who see it." Spellman should have lived to see "Revenge of the Nerds".

1960's -- David Niven took a turn as a befuddled parent in "Prudence and the Pill" a statement about the decade's perceived promiscuity as symbolized by the development of birth control; "I Love You Alice B. Tolkas" starring Peter Sellers as an uptight middle class bachelor who suddenly embraces the sixties drug culture; and more promiscuity with "Bob, Carol, Ted and Alice" and "Three In The Attic". On another front Sean Connery took the role as James Bond in "Dr. No". I love the Bond series, but this film is pure Cold War. It's a wonderful look at early sixties fashions, automobiles, and technology. The same can be said for "Goldfinger" which had Sean Connery mouthing the words: "Get lost, darling, this is man-talk" and "The best way to appreciate the Beatles is with a good pair of earmuffs." And Vietnam? "The Green Beret" with John Wayne on the right. Antiwar films weren't front and center until the seventies, and even then they were mostly allegorical.

1970s -- "The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh" is pure disco culture as is ""Roller Boogie" and"Xanadu", which was actually released in 1980, but I will keep it here as born of 70's culture. And if we're talking disco, we're talking "Saturday Night Fever". The seventies also gave us films that purported to reflect black urban culture in America: "Shaft", "Superfly" and "Dolemite".

1980's-- The Eighties gave us AIDS. Under the Reagan administration (someone will have to tell me sometime why history has been rewritten around his administration) we saw the rise of the ME generation, a burst of excess and self-centeredness. In film,"Hollywood Hot Tub" is pure kitsch and a great glimpse into the culture that the media tried to push on America. " Also, the youth movement of the sixties and seventies continued with the self absorbed eighties version in such films as "Sixteen Candles", "Dirty Dancing", and "The Breakfast Club".

Forty years there. Obviously, I'm just picking examples to prove a point. When I watch a film made in the thirties, part of the fun for me is to listen to the dialogue for slang and cultural references, to study the interior decors, to watch the exterior shots of cityscapes that are no more, painted over by time and progress.

Thanks for the indulgence. I think I'm to go now and watch Friedkin's "The French Connection", great shots of the New York during the early seventies, and gritty as they come.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


Sheila, on her blog, raised the issue of censorship. I have a slightly different take than she does. Only slightly.

About four years back I was at a Barnes and Noble and found a magazine in their "Current Affairs" section which purported to expose the secret conspiracies operating to destory us as Americans. The villains, of course, were African Americans and Jews. The magazine was basically a neo Nazi rag.

I went to the desk and complained. The woman at the counter told me central office determined control of what magazines were made available in the stores. I contacted the central office and was told that Barnes and Noble was loathe to practice censorship. I followed my initial contact with a letter writing campaign and a petition. I also threatened to enlist the aid of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The corporation pulled the magazine from their shelves.

I felt I had acted nobly. Some people wondered if I had interfered with freedom of speech.

So, the question posed is this: When is censorship, if ever, justified? In the case of Barnes and Noble, they had every right to pull the magazine. They are a private corporation and they were responding to consumer pressure. But what about Rush Limbaugh's statements directed toward Barrack Obama as a Halfrican? What about the numerous statements by radio talk show hosts, left and right wing, which are nothing more than cruel ad hominem attacks that are nothing other than slander and do nothing more than serve to polarize our country. Should we try and censor them? Should we hold them accountable in any way? Should we reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine that Ronald Reagan demolished?

I argue that freedom of speech comes with responsibility, and sometimes it carries a consequence. Sheila's major complaint in her most recent posting was that in college she felt certain professors were forced to walk on eggshells for fear of punishment for espousing views contrary to the mainstream. Perhaps some of these views dealt with homosexuality, abortion, or the use of words not accepted by the FCC. However, what if these professors were espousing views that genocide was a good thing, that the holocaust never happened, that Muslims were subhuman. What then? Should we still stand for complete and unabridged freedom of speech?

I am a writer and as such, I am quite sensitive to freedom of speech and censorship. However, freedom of speech carries with it responsibility. It is NOT always okay to say what one wants. I don't believe I have the answer to what is right and what is wrong. I believe it's a matter of each situation being taken on its own merit and in context. Do I believe Janet Jackson should be fined by the FCC to the tune of five hundred thousand dollars? Of course not. That's just right wing hypocrisy. I do believe though that we should always guard our freedom of speech and at the same time hold all accountable for what they say.

Remember, whatever freedom is given to one point of view, must be given to another point of view. And all rules should apply equally.

As a writer, I understand that from time to time my views will be challenged. Editors will shut me off. People will criticise me. It's been the plight of writers for centuries, and maybe that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Some of us play it safe. Some of us challenge the status quo and accept the consequences as a badge of honor.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Rabbit Is Boiling

The female astronaut who has recently been arraigned for attempted murder, following a cross country drive in a diaper has got me thinking about Dangerous Women.

When married I never cheated on my wife. I am monogamous. So when the divorce finalized, I moved out and ran around the block flapping my hands and hooting like a little boy. Oddly, not something women found appealing. So, I got my bearings, hitched up the old belt (literally) and went out to taste the fruit that had been denied me those many years. That's when I found them. Dangerous Women.

Dangerous women are different from Dangerous Men. They have a different look about them. A look that says: "I boil rabbits".

I joined a dating service. This group had books with pictures and videotapes. What they should have had was a shrink that stamped foreheads with some sort of psychotic ratings system. The first woman I met this way, whom I had to assume knew what I did for a living, started out the date like this:

"You're a teacher? I've never met a teacher before. I don't like them. I think most teachers just go through the motions and don't care if they're screwing up the kids. Don't you agree?"

The entire evening went that way. And while in the movies the couple that engages in such stimulating and heated conversation always end up trying to undress one another over the table, the two of us ended up wishing one another to death.

I picked another woman from the dating service based on looks. Call me shallow. I should have read the description. We met at a restaurant. She sat down, eyes searching my face for something. She finally leaned forward and said: "I think before we start anything, you should know I'm co-dependent. "

I looked up.

"I've been in therapy and the approach that's working best is to not fight the co-dependency . I need to deal with it as a disease. My parents would tell you I had a fine childhood, but they don't know about me. All they saw was that popular little girl in school. They didn't feel my pain. They didn't understand what I had gone through."

I nodded, looking back down at my salad. I'm not a fan of croutons and I found myself working them to the edge of my plate. The lettuce was crisp though.

"I know that I'm too sensitive," she continued. "I get too involved. I need to learn how to make it just me first. I have trouble. I tend to take care of everybody but me. I know I come across as intense sometimes. Do I strike you as intense?"

Oh well, I thought, I would just have to count on eating some of the croutons.

"I feel people should put everything out on the table. We need to know who we are. It's part of a process of self discovery. It's a way of cutting through the red tape and getting in touch with our vulnerable selves..."

I think she is still at the restaurant talking. At night they probably just clean up around her.

One of the most intriguing women I met seemed normal enough until we went to a movie theater. As we were walking along, she pulled me aside and I couldn't help but feeling that we were hiding from something. I challenged her on it.

"I just don't want my husband to see me," she said.

"You said you were divorced?"

"Well, we're seperated."

"So you're not living together?"

"Well, not exactly."

"Your living together?"

"Yes, but we're going to be serparated."

I could smell the rabbit boiling. I could hear the the lambs screaming. I had forgotten what dating was like.

The Best of All Possible Years

The Bay Area Writers' Group meets this coming Thursday at the library in Chesterfield. If you live anywhere near the New Baltimore, Chesterfield area, Clinton Township area, I hope to see you there. It's pretty casual. Ordinarily members would have received some writing assignment to help them over the hump if they were having trouble overcoming writers' block, or wanted something to focus on a particular area of their writing skills.

Although it is too late to hand something out for this upcoming meeting, I am giving myself an assignment and as usual, I am inviting everyone to come along for the ride. If you're interested, I'll impose a deadline of next Monday to complete the task. If you want it to be read and possibly critiqued, then email me the link where readers can come and partake. I will post the links on Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.

Take the year you were born. Do a little research on the net to get some information about the culture of that time. Then, write a seven hundred to one thousand word sketch or story that takes place in that year. The purpose? Work on setting. Work on creating a sense and feel for a particular place and time. What research you do or the extent of it, I leave to you? Me? I'm going to look at fashion styles, music, politics, etc....for May 1955.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Look Into My Eyes...

They say that seven out of ten people are susceptible to hypnosis. A hypnotist who entertains seeks these people out in an audience by giving numerous suggestions through his introduction and then watching who responds. Those are the folk who will end up on stage with him through the show.

It's not magic, it's about the ego. People want to believe, they need to believe. I've been doing demonstrations for a long time. They go like this. First, I ask for a volunteer, but I preface my request by stating that the experiment will only work with someone who is intelligent and creative. That being said, I give a person several suggestions. Voila, the suggestions hold. Why? Because if they didn't the ego might have to admit that the person wasn't creative or intelligent.

I remember once looking at a co-worker who was scheduled to meet a parent at the door. The parent was a short, offensive man, with buggy eyes.

You're going to laugh," I said. She looked at me in horror.

"Don't do this," she said.

"Too late, the suggestion has already been planted."

"Take it back."


Our supervisor stepped in. "Stewart, stop it. You're being ridiculous. And Sarah (that was my co-worker's name), you're not going to laugh."

"What if I do?" she asked, scratching herself. She was getting nervous. When she got nervous she broke out in hives. "Make him take it back."

"Stewart, take it back."

"I can't," I said. "It's out of my hands."

The day passed with Sarah becoming more and more anxious as the appointed hour neared. Being young, she worried about being taken seriously. Finally the parent arrived and Sarah met him at the door. She was wonderfully professional as she escorted him to the waiting room.

The supervisor, who had been worried about her, stopped by to make sure everything was going well. He poked his head into the waiting room to check on things. That was when I heard him laugh. Not a chuckle, but an uncouth bray that exploded into the room. He excused himself, hurrying away, face red, a vein rising at his temple.

As he passed me, he leaned close and spat: "You're an ass, Stewart."

Yeah, well...maybe he was right.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Ripping ahead

Let me begin this post by acknowledging that I have once again backed a losing team. Whoa, there's something novel. Congratulations all you Manning fans. Chicago? We are enemies again. I have decided to cheer for the Lions yet again. And you know my stance on the evil White Sox. Wayne, beware. This is war. All that being said, I will now proceed with our regularly scheduled blog.

Well, I have received my quickest acceptance. I sent out a story entitled "Fishing With The Little People" on Saturday, and on Sunday morning I received an acceptance letter. That's less than 24 hours. And I'll even be compensated. Five dollars. Hmmm. Okay, so it's not enough to buy an XBOX, but at least the short story, which has been sitting on the harddrive, will receive some minor attention. I suspect I stand a better chance making money with the anthologies. And of course, I am still trying to find an agent for my novel.

If any of you know an agent, please put in a good word for me.

At this time I am continuing with my plan: to get out at least one hundred submissions by the end of the year. So far I have eight things out, with one acceptance and one rejection. By Wednesday or Thursday I hope to have another story into the mix. At the rate I am going, if I don't hit a wall, I think I am going to be able to go well over a hundred. This Spring I will also start sending stuff out through snail mail, although I prefer to do the electronic submissions.

And people, it's only eleven days until Spring.

Saturday, February 03, 2007



Let me begin by saying that this year there will be tension in the Sternberg household over this game. My wife is cheering for The Indianapolis Colts. Me? The Bears. I am betting this is a conflict occuring all over the United States today. You see, for some reason, Peyton Manning is a favorite of the women folk. Or seems to be. The men? We're tired of watching him whine. We're tired of the dramatics.

Watch him. When the Bears start pressuring him, it will be everyone else's fault but his own. He'll scowl, whine, pout, frown, roll his eyes, and do everything but suck his thumb and curl into a fetal position. And if things get desperate, he'll try to throw it downfield instead of trying short passes to slowly grind to a first down. No, Manning is a showboater all the way.

Men, or at least real men, will plop down in front of the television tonight and cheer each time whiny boy gets sacked.

So ..GO BEARS. Oh, and here's a trivia question for you: How many times has my home team, the Detroit Lions, been to the Superbowl? Wait....okay think....okay times up. The answer: NEVER. NEVER. Fire Millen, please. Ford, sell the team. Move them out of Michigan. Anything. Spare us the indignity of another season of mismanagement and excuses.

Finally, here's one of the best things about the Superbowl for me: baseball season is just around the corner. Go Tigers.

Romantic Kind of Guy

Who's hotter? Me or Fabio----->

I am currently researching romance writing. I went to the library and asked for what women between twenty and thirty might be reading. The librarian gave me a look. I wanted to respond: "Well, I've kept her chained so long that I thought I would provide her with some entertainment besides the tazer."

I took out three books, one old one by Janet Evanovich called "Woman Overboard", something by Nora Roberts "Blue Dahlia", and a third by the woman who wrote "Princess Diaries". I am currently halfway through "Woman Overboard" and I don't understand how this woman got published. That's not a comment about the genre, but about the woman's writing. No character development, simplistic sentences that wear you out, plot action that comes from nowhere. I find myself rolling my eyes a lot.

Janet, if you read this, I'm not saying you haven't improved as a writer (I haven't read your later work) but as an editor I would have sent you back to the drawing board.

One of my coworkers, a gym teacher with a shaved head, nodded at the desk. "What the hell is that? Tell me that's not your's."

"It's mine."

"You are not reading a book with a pink cover and purple lettering," he said. "It has a heart on the cover."

"I'm doing research," I tried to explain.

I have a shopping list of books to read over the next month. However, I can't continue to read things like "Man Overboard". I would end up scanning the text into a computer, editing it, and sending it back to the author. Sort of like I want to do when I read certain Stephen King novels.

When someone asks me what are my top ten most important horror novels...I tell them. So, let me pose a question to any women who may be reading a writer researching borderline romance, or at least stuff which may qualify as chick lit...what are my "must reads'? Earlier I posted about supernatural romance. Maybe I should start there?

If you aren't a woman between twenty and thirty, then think back to what you were reading at that age or what you would recommend to a woman of that age. One last comment: I am not implying that women of those ages will only read certain books. I just want to expand my awareness as a writer. You know what I mean.

I'm going out now to spackle my butt crack, see you later.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


I know I promise not to get political on this blog, but I have to comment on this. Or maybe, I'll just post the story and let it speak for itself. If you're a conservative Republican, God love ya, please don't take offense at what follows.

A press release issued today by the Landmark Legal Foundation announced that the group has nominated nationally syndicated radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

The group's President, Mark R. Levin, said Limbaugh had been nominated for his "nearly two decades of tireless efforts to promote liberty, equality and opportunity for all humankind, regardless of race, creed, economic stratum or national origin."

According to the release, Rush Limbaugh serves as an unpaid member of Landmark's Board of Advisors.

Rush Limbaugh...Nobel Prize? Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha...
Obviously the Landmark is a right wing group of whackos...who have received money from the likes of Exxon. And imagine this, Ken Starr has ties to this group. Hmmm. But all that being said, if Rush can be nominated, then I want to be nominated for a Nobel Prize.

By the way, the above picture is me and Rush having a Brokeback Mountain moment at a halloween party. Rush is standing on a box, he's really not that tall. Cute little man. I found that he sweat a lot though.