Redux

August 7, 2017

I hate feeling stuck, especially with writing, but that’s where I am. I’m taking an older project that was supposed to be a web series and adapting for a stage play. The first act is done, but I’m stuck at Act 2, Scene 1, and it’s driving me nuts. I knew how I wanted the act to end and I got it there, and I know where the rest of the play is supposed to go, but where I a now is unsure. I don’t know where I am and how to move forward (story of my life, I guess). Part of it is I’m used to stopping and starting on a dime, moving on from the end point. Not this time. I’m going back to what I wrote and read it from the beginning, plus rereading my character bios just so I can get reacquainted with the material and get where to go. I don’t like it, but it’s necessary.

Some of the blog writing is helping me climb out of this writing rut. Plus there are a couple of inspired prompts that got some creative juices flowing again. It’s been a while and I am apparently much rustier than I thought. I need to rework some muscles and stretch out after a long absence.

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Marquee Humor

August 6, 2017

This was up at the Apple Cinema Theater in Cambridge, MA about a month or so back:

Wonder Woman
Captain Underpants

Help me out on this one. Is this a) Microagression/Misogyny, b) Bad Publicity, or c) Porn Movie Title?

Summer Fun

August 5, 2017

Yes, I’m really lost these days and not enjoying a lot of what my life is like today. But I can’t keep writing the same blog over and over again thinking it will do me any good. It helps to get it out, but that’s what therapy is for. I’ll probably blog about stuff like this again because, for better or worse, it is a part of my life I have to deal with. However, right now I feel like I’m dwelling on it too much, so for something different.

Sophia finished her summer Arabic Intensive last week. In late spring, she told e she didn’t want to go to the same camp as she did last year because she didn’t like all the activities she was doing (I think mostly the active physical stuff). That surprised me because she seemed to like it at the time and she said she had fun. Now I was suddenly scrounging for another place for her to go to for part of the summer. I told her we’d try to find something she’d have fun doing; the next day she brought me the application for the Arabic intensive. It’s si-days a week over almost all of July learning to read, write, and speak Arabic. I asked is this really your idea of having fun for the summer, and she said yes. So she signed up, she was accepted, and, the Tuesday after graduating middle school, started digging into Arabic.

Despite being quiet all the time about anything and everything, I always asked how she was doing in the sessions. She’d simply say fine and hop on her computer. If I pressed her for details, she was kind of vague about answers. So I let it go and it became a routine for July. The last Saturday session before the intensive ended, she burst into the house carrying three different plastic shopping bags, and yelled “I bought fruit!” The weekend before was their big field trip to the Islamic Center in Roxbury—which I was hoping to hear more about, but no such luck—but that Saturday they went to the farmer’s market is Haymarket in downtown Boston, which had a lot or Arabic and Middle Eastern sellers. They were given a dollar to spend on whatever, and buy and talk to the sellers in Arabic (I gave her allowance that morning so she was able to buy a lot). When she got home she couldn’t stop talking about buying fruit, talking in Arabic, telling me about different character usage in words, and a whole host of other things about the Arabic language that I didn’t understand at all, but she went on for about 45 minutes nonstop. It clicked with me about the farmer’s market because the marketplace is customary in Arabic and Islamic countries, so it made sense that they expose her to some of that directly—though she couldn’t haggle with these sellers as is fairly customary in Arabic markets. We talked about that too and she was pretty much on air the whole time.

The intensive was pretty good for her. She gets some language credit for high school, but she will be taking Japanese when she gets to Boston Latin Academy in the fall. Needless to say she had the right way for her to enjoy the summer.

Things in my life seem to be slipping away. Things that were at the core of my identity, things I could look to and say “this is who I am,” are becoming lost to me over the years. I had creative life goals to work for; now making it through the day is the only goal I hope to achieve. I was a nice guy for so long that it was evident; these days even saying “I’m a nice guy” rings false to my ears. I feel bitter and empty, and it’s showing more and more. I’ve been on a slow downward spiral for close to a decade, even with some financial stability I feel lost. Even though I’ve hit bottom, every time I start to climb out of it, falling back makes the hole deeper.

What’s hardest is I’ve shut a lot of people out. I don’t talk to anyone on the phone anymore, except my parents. Facebook comments to friends are common, but not always updating my status is not so much and vague.Trying to bridge that gap is a major challenge for me. I’ve abandonned them, but I’ve twisted it in my head so they’ve abandonned me. Since reaching out has never been my strongest point, I wind up stuck and alone.

My blog posts are non-existent as of late, I know that. I barely write anymore. I have so much unfinished work at various stages and they are laying dormant. And much like reaching out, it’s not that I’ve lost a gift as that I’ve abandonned those gifts. Instead of the passion I felt to start writing a project, I feel ashamed to try and start where I left off.

Things are a jumble in my hear. It’s all an endless void of suck. Thoughts and emotions get mixed up and I’m lost. I feel bad not that I’m letting myself down, but that I’m letting everyone else down. I always put myself last, so it’s okay, even though it’s not. I’m not in complete despair but, I can recognize the look and details of it as it appears closer. I knew it before sometime ago so I know what it looks like. A blog post won’t flip everything around, but it’s something.

Dear M,

Hi. I know it’s been a while since we’ve talked/texted/emailed/communicated at all, and I wanted to apologize for that. Actually I want to apologize for a lot of things, the biggest is being a lousy friend. That didn’t start immediately after we broke up, but soon enough.

I know we weren’t together for all that long, but the break up stunned me. Even after talking to death about it–how you weren’t ready for a relationship, how we both wanted different things, how we were better of as friends–it’s not something I wanted. But if I pushed harder I’d lose you as a friend. So I talked myself into staying a friend even though I wanted to be more. But even that was, to be brutally honest, cynical on my part, because somewhere in the back of my mind (the reptilian part I pretend I don’t have), I was hoping you’d “change your mind” and take me back. There was a flicker of hope that kept me going and kept up a “friendship.”

I think I was angry that you got over thing so quickly and I was stuck. You lived your life, and I couldn’t go forward. You got married, had kids, look even better now than you did 15 years ago, and I only grew bitter. That wasn’t your fault, but I resented you like it was. Still, to be your “friend” meant ignoring my feelings; so I did and blamed you for it. I became the jerk I was trying not to be.

That changed recently. I was driving a delivery when a song I never heard before came on the indie station. It was “If I Loved You” by Delta Rae. Great song and the final chorus got me bad:

“But I don’t love you much as I want to
I don’t love you, no it would be a lie
And you deserve love, you’re better than a good day
And you’ll find it but just not in my eyes
‘Cause it ain’t here love…”

It’s simple, powerful and everything you were saying to me 15 years ago but I didn’t want to hear.  It finally sunk in and yeah I get it. I was angry for stupid reasons fueled only by my own ego, and held you responsible for nothing that you did. I’m sorry I’ve been such an asshole and sullen and resentful and not considering your feelings. You deserve better that my attitude and I’m truly sorry for that.

I hope you can forgive me for all this, but (I finally realize) that is your decision.

David

It’s hard to say which I’ve been losing more of: my courage to write or my will to write. I can’t say it’s a lack of ideas, although writer’s block doesn’t necessarily mean a loss of ideas. In all my life, I’ve never been unable to generate ideas; my head is constantly filled with them. While overload of ideas might be a problem, I’m not sure that the case with me at this time. Thinking it over, I’ve narrowed it down to lack of courage and lack of willpower. They are subtle, but there are differences.

Courage is easier to define. It’s having the balls not just to write whatever comes to mind, damn the critics—both inner and outer—but also the balls to do it regularly. It’s not the same courage that it takes to put on a uniform, pick up a gun, and fight for your country; it’s the courage to put thoughts to paper or posts to prevent countries from going to war. That and every bit of sentiment and emotion from there on down. Willpower is the practice itself. It’s the daily effort to stare down a blank page or screen until your eyes bleed or you start writing, whichever comes first. The more often you do it the easier it gets and the more reflexive it becomes.

Mine has always been a struggle between courage and will. There are days I have the time and abililty to write, but my inner voices have me silenced. Other days I know exactly what to say, but get swamped, exhausted, distracted, or all three at once. The end result is the same: months without any writing output and occasionally forced to produce on a deadline. And all that while writing becomes fearful, less instinctive, and less productive.

It’s not effortless to write this, but it’s not easy. This isn’t what I should be writing now, but it’s what I can put out now. I’ve been underusing muscles, not only in the gym, but in my mind. My knees are bothering me, but that can be healed with rest and physical therapy. My stagnation is bothering, but the only way to fix that is to write a little bit at a time. Hopefully I can heal myself, body and mind, eventually.

The scars of the 2016 presidential election will take a while to feel less tender and fade; right now they still hurt. During the summer, there was a lot of animosity on both sides leading up to the general, as well as a lot of backlash to anyone who wanted to vote third party. Or at least for anyone not one of the major two party candidates. Social media of all types was not a friendly place for a good 6 months. You post one meme or a photo and suddenly the comments become the Delta House food fight via the Algonquin Round Table. One meme I posted I actually didn’t get a lot of flack for, but it helped me talk to my now 14 year old daughter about the election.

This was one of those Harry Potter based memes saying “this is what our election is like” and displaying two of the Potter world characters. Usually it was Dolores Umbridge as a stand in for Clinton, and Voldemort for Trump; however this time it was Umbridge and Gilderoy Lockhart. I thought it was cute, but I knew my daughter would love it. She’s read all the Potter books and she can explain all the differences between the books and the movies to me (I never got into the books, but I like the movies). I showed the meme to here and broke out laughing, even more so than me.

“That’s so perfect,” she said. “Lockhart is kind of a blowhard who only thinks of himself, so that’s perfect for Trump.” Then she looked at me a bit quizically, and asked “How Clinton is like Umbridge again?”

I had to think about this for a minute. I know that Umbridge is hated in the Potterverse for good reason, and there are enough parallels to Clinton to make it awkward for me to watch “Order of the Phoenix” any time it came on. Translating what I knew about Clinton to the Potterverse is ticky, but I knew enough to try and explain it via the films.

“Remember how Umbridge was completely unwavering in her belief in what she was doing was right, even though the students and us viewers knew she was completely wrong? Well that’s how she’s like Clinton. They are very forceful advocates of what they think is right, even when it is wrong, and even to the point of being unable to admit it’s wrong.” She totally understood that when I explained it.

The main attack by Hillary supporters about why us progressives don’t support Hillary was sexism. Unfortunately this ignores the fact that many of us were hoping for a Elizabeth Warren run and after Bernie bowed out, many switched to Jill Stein. My issues wit Hillary Clinton, while often about political leanings (third-way democrats have always been far too conservative for my sensibilities), have always been policy based. Using Umbridge to explain Clinton makes it easier to explain. Hillary has always been a smart and fierce advocate for what she believes and champions, which is good if she’s on the right side of an issue; but when she is on the wrong side of an issue—like the Iraq war, the toppling of Libya’s government, the various trade agreements including the TPP, and not speaking out on behalf of activists like Black Lives Matter or the DAPL water protectors—she is a tough opponent, a great asset to the opposition, and makes the activist’s job twice as hard. And much like how Umbridge can do it with a smile makes that all the more frustrating.

Earlier in the year, a friend of mine wrote two very heartfelt essays about her daughter and Hillary Clinton. One was how she wanted her daughter to hear the words “Madam President” and now was the time; the other was a plead asking how can she explain to her daughter what would it mean for her if Trump won the presidency. I don’t have an answer for her daughter except offering up what I told my daughter at different times in the year. I told my daughter I wouldn’t be voting for Hillary, even after Bernie Sanders lost the primaries, because as much as it is important to have a woman in the office of President, it is equally important to have a woman who has the history to back up her own convictions, and is on the right side of an issue more often than not. Yes I voted for Jill Stein in 2016. I am not ashamed of that vote, but I am sorry more people didn’t follow that example. And no, I’m not the reason Hillary Clinton lost the election to Donald Trump: I’m not one of the 46% or voters who left the presidential candidate blank; they cost the election for her. I am almost 48, work part-time, am still using food stamps to survive with my daughter, and the only thing I have to leave her if ever I should go are my values. That’s the only thing I currency I have in my life to fall back on and I’ll be damned if I can’t give that to my only child. If I give up my values I have nothing else. I’m sure I will feel the wrath of friends and trolls alike for this, but I will vote my values whenever given that choice.

When Trump won in the late morning hours of the day after the election, I told my daughter that no we won’t need to move to Canada, we’ll be fine and we’ll do our best to fight. Oddly, I still take comfort in words Dumbledore said at the end of another movie—“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”: “There will be a time when we must choose between what is right and what is easy.” I know I chose right for both me and my daughter.

Gifts to the Stranger

December 1, 2016

Sorry. I didn’t realize “Giving Tuesday” had become an actual thing. Maybe it’s because it’s tacked onto the end of a long weekend—Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday—of hyped consumerism run amok in different forms that it gets lost. Strangely that seems to be the only way to attract attention to philanthropy; we should always be giving of ourselves. But that’s a rant for a different blog. This one’s about Christmas giving.

A few years ago, I was near rock bottom. I had no money, some part-time work, some unemployment checks, was spending all the rest of my time looking for work, while still being a weekend father, and fending off attacks from my daughter’s mom to make this Christmas bigger and better than the last one as it has to be every year and expects me to pay for it all. At the time, I used to make slide productions of my daughter over the previous year in photographs set to music. But with all that was happening, I had no energy, time, or working equipment to do it. What I did was this: I wrote everyone to say that I had no money for myself much less for gifts to buy and/or mail to everyone, and because I couldn’t give anything I wanted nothing in return. Instead I took a page from my friend Reverend Hank Peirce (who got it from another minister) and asked my friends to please donate some money to their choice of a number of worthy causes (e.g. Doctors Without Borders, ACLU, Oxfam, etc). They could do it in my name or their own, but they should give to help others as more befitting the season. Do something nice instead of scrounging for perfect gifts.

This year I have a better part-time job, am a full time single father, have a decent cushion of funds (barring any serious emergencies) and am less panicked about the holiday. However with the way this year has gone and how events are turning out that are beyond our control, there are many who feel as scared as I was then (if for different reasons). So this year, I’m reaching back to that time to do something good. The gift I will be giving out are donations to charitable organizations—here and abroad—that help make life safer and possible for those who need it. I ask that if you wish to give a gift to me, donate to one of the groups listed below. It can be as little or as much as you want, but give to help others.

I was very proud of Sophia when she asked, quite sincerely, “it it’s Jesus’ birthday, why are we getting gifts?” It showed me that a lot of what I taught her had sunk in. With that in mind, remember that this season is about generosity to others and sharing with those in need. There are a lot of needy people out there, but the people generous spirit outnumber the needy. So give freely and make this a great holiday for you and yours, as well as the stranger whomever they are.

Click the name to go to their website:

ACLU

Standing Rock Sioux/NoDAPL

Southern Poverty Law Center

Planned Parenthood

Doctors Without Borders

Black and Pink

Heifer International

Oxfam

Amnesty International

In Defense of Darkness

August 29, 2016

On Sunday, August 28, I delivered another sermon (an annual thing for me) at my home church of UU Church of Medford, MA. I dealt with darkness in literature and religion. The sermon text is below.

In spring of 2015, I finally put together a small collection of short stories for publication online. I say finally because while a few of the stories were older shorts, one was a new one that was at last on paper in a form I liked. Once that was finished, I gathered all of them together, packaged it with an introduction and a cover image, and posted the collection online under the title “Starry-Eyed Halluncnations.” The title is as much a play on words as it is a state of mind at that present moment. In the introduction, I spoke about dreams as a writer that had been deferred by life, economics, choices both in and out of my control. A lot of what I had hoped to accomplish as a writer had fallen by the wayside, what were once hard and fast goals had become mirages and to get anywhere now, I would have to be less starry-eyed in my look at the world.

To say the least, it was a much dimmer view of my life, but then so were the stories in the collection. A monologue by a guy who turns out to be a rapist, a first person perspective of an office massacre, a speculative fiction piece about society where abortion is illegal, and a man so far down that suicide is his prefered option. I never stated the plots so blatantly on the back cover blurbs (you have to leave the audience wanting to read it), but it all hinted at a series of moody and dark tales. When friends of mine bought, read it, and posted reviews online, “dark” was the operative word used to describe the collection. What did surprise me were the reactions from friends in this congregation. The oft-repeated phrase I heard was “How could you write so dark?” or variations of it. My immediate reaction to that was what’s wrong with being dark? For these particular stories the dark mood was necessary and would be a betrayal of the narrative. Thinking about it later, I realized what bothered me was that “dark” was being used as a pejorative, as if being gloomy is a bad thing and against the norm. I think this irked me more than anything else. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect someone or anyone to be in a good mood all the time; so, too, the various things they may create need not always be uplifting and cheery. Certainly life isn’t this way, so I don’t know why we expect it out of those around us. Hearing that review, I had the impression that people expected me to be bright and sunny all the time even in what I write, and I know that I’m not like that all the time, and certainly my writing isn’t like that. So I wanted to look at why we see darkness as a bad thing and how it is used in both literature and religion.

When faced with all the questions about the tone of my stories, I flashed back to a source I rarely think about: the fables of the Brothers’ Grimm. I say rarely because when one often thinks of the Grimm’s work, they are thought of as fairy tales for children. While they are mainly for children, these stories are not exactly fairy tales and not as innocent as people are often led to believe. The collected works of 19th century folklorists Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm are actually much darker than we may remember them. In any strange forest, wolves, witches, any number of animals or beings lie in wait for our protagonists to come in and be taken under their spells or guile for whatever purpose they seek. Make the right choices and you will be rewarded; the incorrect can cost you your humanity or life. And these are the tales that were told to their children for years and years hoping to impart wisdom and common sense.

Of course we don’t seem to remember the dark qualities of the stories, but often the lessons. Part of that isn’t because of the material but the attempt to brighten up things to the extent that dark elements are wiped out. The most egregious offender of this is Walt Disney and his company. For example, Disney’s first major animated feature was the Grimm’s “Snow White.” In the Disney version, the Queen, jealous of Snow White’s fairness, gives Snow White a poisoned (or at the very least cursed) apple that puts her in a deep, death-like sleep that could only be broken by a kiss from a handsome prince. The original Grimm story was different. The apple was truly poisoned and meant to kill Snow White. The rest is a comedy of errors. As the dwarves lay a vigil over Snow White in a glass coffin, a king rides through the woods and is enamored by her beauty. He asks the dwarves to allow her to be interred in his castle. As the king’s servants carry her down the hill, they trip, throwing Snow White out of the coffin, hitting the floor that dislodges the apple stuck in her throat and not digested, at which point she awakes from what can only be described as the strangest diabetic coma in recorded history. By trying to make the ending more palatable, it obliterates the original morale. Whereas the Grimm tale told of the folly of trying to stem youth and beauty and the consequences of ego, Disney changed it to be about goodness and beauty rewarded by true love.

While this may seem like subtle shift in tone, it has led to serious ramifications on societal thinking. The idea that someday my prince will come is a mantra we struggle against in stories, life and a patriarchal society. How many of the baby boomer generation had to be deprogrammed in that “it’s only a fable?” How often is such a lesson required in the movies produced and are inundated with? How many people still hold onto that moral? By making the original story all sweetness and light and family friendly, a false narrative emerged that was strong enough to have a life and consequences on their own.

One reasons for altering the events is out of protection, especially as these were lessons for children. The urge to protect our children from harm is natural and good. Trying to protect our children from everything is smothering and can lead to harm. While in later editions, the Grimms edited their stories to remove any sordid sexual innuendoes, the violence was kept in. In the “The Frog Prince,” while the Grimms took out the implication that there was an intimate relationship between the prince and the princess before they were married, they kept in how the frog was transformed back into a prince: the frog was thrown into a wall (it was changed to a kiss much, much later). In many ways the violence carried the moral weight of the stories. The protagonist was rewarded for good behavior and the antagonist was punished for their cruelty. In their story “The Juniper Tree,” the stepmother kills her stepson, tricks her stepdaughter into believing she killed him, and then cooks him for dinner to cover up her daughter’s crime. At the end, the stepmother is killed when a millstone is dropped on her head, and the stepson is brought back to life.

It’s also important to note how context can affect how we see how dark a story or action can be. Take the song “Long Black Veil” by Johnny Cash sung earlier. One of the lines in the first verse is “there were few who saw but all agreed/the slayer who ran looked a lot like me.” Having the Man in Black sing that lyric back in the 1960s obviously sets the stage for a gloomy song to follow. But having a black man sing that same lyric in 2016, with all the historical problems of the criminal justice system in a media driven society, has more sinister implications. Different context, different perception.

Cultural differences can also determine what might be considered appropriate. This is key to look at, as the Brothers Grimm were very keen to portray their stories in the light of a national identity (German in this case). In 1893, folklorist Marian Roalfe Cox collected all the variations of the fable “Cinderella,” and found 345 distinct versions that vary by countries, cultures, and morals. In the Grimm’s version, the punishment for the stepsisters’ cruelty was that birds—that Cinderella communicated with—pecked out their eyes, blinding them. As dreary as that may be, this was in the middle of the punishment levels. In the Philippines, the stepsisters were torn apart by wild horses, and in Indonesia, the stepsisters were killed, chopped up and presented to the stepmother as salted meat to dine on. On the lower scale, India had Cinderella forgiving the stepsisters who came to live with her and the prince (this is also the same ending as the Sesame Street version with Elmo). Yet no matter how harsh the punishment in any version, each one is considered a family fable.

As we bring the Cinderella story into this, one important feature that bears mention is the use of the “fairy godmother.” This was not in the Grimm version of the tale, but was a creation of French author Charles Perrault in 1697. He also introduced the glass slipper and the pumpkin carriage to the tale. In the Grimm’s story, as well as other versions, the magic interaction was at the hands of “natural magic.” Various Asian versions made a fish the girl’s protector and guardian; the Chinese version, the fish is the reincarnation of the mother. In the Grimm story, Cinderella took a twig given by her father from one of his journeys, planted it at the mother’s grave, and it grew into a tree which she would pray under; later a white bird would perch in the tree, Cinderella would tell the bird her wishes, and the bird would bring what she wished for. The version we hear and are more accustomed to—and codified by Disney—is the Perrault interpretation.

Part of the reason for this is religion and its impact on culture. While 19th century Germany was a Catholic and Christian majority, German paganism still survived at the time (in part due to the Grimm’s preservation of the folk tales of the German homeland). Meanwhile, Roman Catholicism was the overwhelming dominant religion in France despite racial diversity. At the time Perrault wrote his Cinderella tale, Catholicism was the state religion; so the necessity for an otherworldly intermediary to grant magical wishes to those worthy and of good virtue is more in line with canonical religion than say asking a tree or a fish. This in turn translates well into American Christian thinking when Disney gets a hold of it. Again it is this way of presenting the story—watched over by “fairy” godmother, the divine providence of the glass slipper fitting only her—reinforces a form of Christian magical thinking that is prevalent in society today. Not that the fable caused the thinking, but it certainly exploits a deep undercurrent within Western Christian thought.

This leads to a common problem in Christian thinking that unless it is of divine providence and affirming of God, it is heretical and inherently evil. Monotheism sets up an incorrect narrative that only the one God can bless, provide for, and rule the believers (“True Believers”), and that others are to be punished for their failure to believe, Having said monotheism does this, I must point out that Islam and Judaism recognize other faiths even if they don’t profess their beliefs, and they aren’t known for converting at the point of a sword as Catholics or Christians. One can also see the harsh, punishing God of the Old Testament as a very foreboding presence on the faith, however it seems that the stories of the Old Testament and Talmud are much like Grimm’s morality tales, warning people on what good behavior looks like and the rewards it entails. Also with the development of the Catholic and Christian churches and/or organizations, practices arose that normalized certain black and white perspectives that even subvert the idea of an all forgiving God. A perfect example of this would be the idea of Original Sin and views on homosexuality. Thus I use Christianity as the moral absolutist group, as the evolution of the church lends itself to such criticisms more so than Judaism or Islam. The lens through which one sees the world in the Western Christian thought is divided into black and white, good and bad, dark and light. If it doesn’t conform to Christian normative standards, then it is heretical, pagan or simply inappropriate.

What gets lost in all this moral absolutism is the nuances. Not everything in life is necessarily black or white, but often choices etched in gray that need to be decided by other human beings; and this can be seen in religions as well. Buddhism doesn’t see actions by judging them good or bad, but in terms of the impact of actions on our lives and others. In Roman and Greek paganism, the various deities had similar human vices, passions, and foibles, yet they were still deified. Neither of these contain black and white thinking or moral absolutism, but still imparted important lessons to their precepts. But the best example I can use to talk about nuances in religion and stories is the Taoist concept of yin-yang. This concept is about not opposites, but contrary forces that are complimentary and interrelated. The symbol is well-known: a circle with two swirling sides, one black, one white, with different dots inside the halves. Yin is the black swirl with the white dot. Yang is the white side with the black dot in it. It has been described as sunlight moving across a mountain and valley: with the light gradually moving across and revealing things not seen and visible things retreated to the shadows. In fact, one doesn’t exist without the other. One simplistic, yet meaningful definition I’ve come across said “the black side is the bad within nature; the white is the good within nature; the black dot is the bad within the good, and the white dot is the good within the bad; the whole circle makes up nature as we know it.” This is also reminiscent of a lesson learned in dramatic writing: find the comedy within the drama and the drama within the comedy. Well rounded storytelling isn’t a matter of either or, it’s about measures of both. Hence when stories are glossed over to paint a prettier picture than originally expressed, or sanitized to eliminate certain aspects, the stories fall flat or present a false positive meaning than intended. Stories and parables that make up religious texts are also about both, as well as the transformation of any character along the way. Good stories with a moral still can be the best way to teach young children (and some adults) life lessons; the ones that stand the test of time are not one-sided but have more nuanced tones, characters, and actions leading to the main theme.

Knowing that nature doesn’t exist without both positive and negative elements, why do we act or insist that all negative aspects or emotions of life is a bad thing? The answer can be as varied as the number of people on the planet. For many it’s a matter of not wanting to feel bad or feel the negativity of others. That to feel bad is only the start of a downward spiral that may have seemingly no end, so to ward against that is to never surround yourself with anything negative, dark or depressing. The biggest problem with that is no one can ever be constantly positive. If darkness, negativity, or however you would describe it is a part of nature, then such darkness is natural and a part of life. This is seen in basic psychology in that repressing unwanted emotions has deeper and more serious consequences than feeling it to begin with—supressing anger can lead to depression, unchecked depression can lead to potentially suicidal thoughts and possibly actions. Better to admit and deal with the negative feelings than wishing them away.

In some cases it is still a matter of societal pressures. Our society still sees things in black and white despite all the shades of gray surrounding us. We’re still under the influence of Western Christian normative standards and all that entails, including a disdain for anything dark or negative (“sinful”). As such that makes it harder to even approach the subject without scorn or derision, so we avoid it. That brings us back to the whole repression of negativity I just mentioned, and the vicious cycle continues without remedy.

Having said that, the question still remains as to why the stories I wrote were dark. In all honesty I answered that in the introduction the collection in “Starry-Eyed Hallucinations.” Each individual story had their own reasons for why dark and gloomy was the way to go, in subject matter as well as tone. The rapist monologue was a story that happened when the main character started talking in my head, and wouldn’t shut up. To quiet him down, I wrote his story. In 2005, I wanted to do a story cycle as a critique of the George W. Bush Presidency. Each story would revolve around a theme of despair that America was headed at the time: the uncertainty of the economy, polarization of discourse, disappearing ideas of how American life should be, and so on. The cycle never really manifested but the stories of the office shooting and the suicidal man in the hotel are now in this collection. The speculative fiction piece about abortion being illegal was something I had in my head for a while, but wasn’t able to work on for a long time. That was the hardest for me to write as I was doing it in my own downward spiral. Despite the spiral I kept trying to write. As I said in the introduction: “I’ve always been a writer, but for the longest time, I thought I didn’t have the time to carve out to write. The truth is I never had the wherewithal to make what time I had count. It’s a skill I never mastered. It’s one that every writer needs and has to make count. The way I realized how to do this was embrace any short form writing as a way to maximize time. It also gave me the accomplishment of finishing an honest writing project. Damn the word count, write a story and make it mean something.” Rather than repress the negativity, work with it. And it worked.

Not everything I do requires me to be positive, upbeat and perky all the time. More often I need the wherewithal to stand against a barrage of dark thoughts because that’s where the story is at. One of the great things about being a write is the ability to take negative energies and work it to create works of art, even positive ones. In my old apartment, I had hanging over my desk on the wall a Chinese caligraph of the word Chaos. I had heard that the chracters have within it for crisis and opportunity, but that is actually a mistranslation now taken advantage by motivational speakers. However there is something to be said about positive and negative energies to be creative. In the Hindu tradition, the universe was created out of the dance between Shiva the destroyer and Brama the creator. Destroying the old to make way for the new. We need to have a better relaitionship with negarive or darker things because both are needed. Positive cannot exist without negative, light can only exist in the darkness.

Blessed be.

Closing words:
“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”—Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

My friend, Adam Dickstein, is an old friend from high school as well as one of my RPG GMs. He wanted to do a profile on some of his favorite players and I had the honor of going first. I love the guy, but a couple of his stories of me are a little exaggerated (when we met in the city a few weeks ago, he told my daughter a great story involving a spy game he said I was running, but when he told me the same story when we were in tenth grade, it involved completely different people), but I’ve learned never let that get in the way of a good story. He’s a great guy and I was glad to be a part of his blog. Check out the profile at the link below.

http://barkingalien.blogspot.com/2016/07/player-profiles-david-concepcion.html