Monday, November 16, 2015

GOING VIRAL AIN'T FOR WUSSIES

NOTES FROM THE HENGE




A crowd-funder looking for views
Went viral while tryin’ to amuse
The hoopla ensuing
Involved so much viewing
He’s now drowning in web-clicks and booze.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

So somebody on the internet now wants to translate my YouTube video into Arabic.  Someone else thinks what I’ve done is a total fake and I hired an actor to play young me.  Another thinks it’s all been done way better before.  And I suck.  And my thingy sucks.

Crowd-funding isn’t great for us thin-skinned introverts.  If you normally shy away from social situations, feel uncomfortable asking people for help, and tend to try to be anonymous and/or just mildly amusing on social media, then crowd-funding bites.  Seriously.  But it can also a good thing.  A great thing.

And going viral?  Absolutely crazy.  A madhouse.

First, a little back story.  Lemme explain the weird project I’ve been funding so you get an idea what I’m blabbing about here. 

So way back when I was 18 years old, during the dark ages of 1977, I interviewed my future self. I recorded hours and hours of footage on a state-of-the-art (for its time) video camera my dad had on loan from the local PBS station.  I sat in a well-lit chair in a blacked-out room and asked my invisible future self every damn question I could think of (about career success, social life, health, hobbies, friends, money, politics, sex life, etc.) and then I responded to every possible answer I might get back from Future Me.  Amazing stuff.  A genuine “time travel talk show.” An imperial buttload of raw footage.



Well, I’d been avoiding facing that overly-optimistic bearded teen self for 38 years.  But, following a recent health scare (thankfully a false alarm – whew!), I realized I wasn’t going to live forever and it was time to finish this time-warping conversation.

You can see a fun, short “proof of concept” video here.  Cool, huh?  I’ve recently been told there’s been some other similar projects floating about over the years, but never anything exactly like mine, as far as I know, and never one started earlier than my humble little film.

So I decided to crowd-fund the full project.  I joined a contest funded by Ovation TV’s new Creative Studio project in cooperation with RocketHub.  They were great.  Very supportive the whole way.

But I still had to deal with the fundamental issue: I’d have to reach out to tons and tons of friends, family, acquaintances, and, yes, even strangers, asking them all for money and support and “signal boosting.”   Not even close to my comfort zone.  A truly horrifying prospect.  An introverts worst nightmare.  I hate asking people for help, let alone money.   Yick.  Look up “quiet loner who kept to himself” in the dictionary and you’ll see my picture (next to every serial killer).

But I bit the bullet and reached out.  I forced myself WAY out of my comfort zone.  And it ended up being really cool, actually.  People can be super nice. And it was surprisingly awesome to reconnect with a lot of folks I’d lost total contact with over the years.  The girl I went to the prom with almost 40 years ago contacted me, having seen the video on TV.  Suddenly I was reconnecting with school chums, old work mates, ex girlfriends, college buddies, and folks from my childhood. Peeking out of my shell maybe wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

And then my crazy thing started going viral.  Yup.  This was both thrilling and somehow really frightening. No joke.  It felt like a bizarre tsunami.  All kinds of media sites picked up on my video one after another and tons of people shared the links.  My humble little slapped-together “proof of concept” video was getting a massive amount of views on YouTube.  First there were an amazing 10k views (which seemed very impressive at the beginning), then 20K, then 50k, then 100k, and soon it was nearing a million views.  Freaky.  Very cool, but also very weird.  People all across the freaking globe were watching my short little video, checking out my double chin and pasty complexion.  From India to Canada.  From Saudi Arabia to Fargo.  And they all had opinions. Strong ones.

Almost everything was incredibly supportive, and full of compliments.  It was very sweet.  But it was bizarre to have folks occasionally leaving comments like “This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen in my life” and “You were so hot.  What happened??” and “18-year-old you was a much better actor than you are now, IMO.”  Ouch.

My wife gave me really good advice about all this.  She said:

“You have ignore all of them equally.  They’re all projections of the person writing them.  It’s about their issues.  So the guy saying ‘you’re fat and ugly and a loser’ needs to be ignored.  But so does the guy who says ‘you’re a genius and a god.’  And, as much as the insults sting, the ’you’re a genius’ ones are actually the harder ones to ignore in the long run.  And the ones most important to ignore.”

Wise words.  

So here I am.  Still in a maelstrom of articles and interviews and posts and views and tweets and comments.  But I’m trying to just take a breath now and then.  In and out.  And appreciate the ride as best I can.  And, mostly, appreciate that perhaps I’ve managed to connect with a few folks in a cool way.  The best feedback I've gotten has been about how my short little "proof of concept" film has actually moved people deeply, and motivated them to get in touch with their own inner teenager.  And maybe even reconcile with them.  Some of the emails I've gotten have brought me to tears.  I only hope the final film resonates as much with folks. 


Oh yeah, that reminds me.  Crap.  I still have to make that damn film I promised to make with the crowd-sourced money.  (Can't I just buy a nice new car and skip town??)


NEXT TIME: I'll share some stuff about being interviewed. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

PLAYING THE LONG CON AT COMIC-CON

NOTES FROM THE HENGE

An automaton recently jaunted
To a con, where he hoped to be vaunted.
Though his “Cosplay” was spiffy
The reception was iffy.
He just wasn’t the droid that they wanted.

I post this by request, as I’ve had a few folks ask me to write about my recent experience at Comic-Con. Here goes. I’m not kidding when I say I may regret doing this.…

I signed up for the Kessel run,
but pulled a muscle so I never did it.
PLAYIN THE LONG CON AT COMIC-CON

This summer’s Comic-Con was the fourth I’ve attended. And it was the first one I went to that didn’t totally burn me out. It was, in fact, great. I think my wife and I are finally figuring out how to do it.

Yes, we always enjoyed catching up on the latest pop culture stuff, and yes we always dearly loved hanging out with our fellow passionate nerds, and yes we always had a blast sharing our enthusiasm for all sorts of random science-fictiony, fantasy-y, horrory, novel-writerly, and comic-booky stuff with other equally (or even more) fanatical peeps.

But…

During each of the previous three Comic-Cons we attended, we were overwhelmed by the crowds and the mere sight of all the long, snaking lines of folks waiting to attend panels. Those years we ended up mostly amusing ourselves by hanging out in the far corners of the exhibition hall perusing the small stalls (turns out you just can’t have too many tribble slippers, wookie pez dispensers, or sonic-screwdriver screwdrivers) and rarely tried to attend any of the other events in the sprawling complex. In fact one year we stayed in town the entire five days but only spent a single, short afternoon at the actual convention before getting so shell-shocked we were over it. We ended up spending our days lazily cycling around the beautiful San Diego shoreline and doing impulsive things like taking the ferry over to the Hotel del Coronado for lunch. (Side question: do people down there realize when they proudly refer to their hotel as “The Del,” they’re calling it “The Of?” Just asking.)

Anyway, this year we finally had an unconditionally wonderful time at Comic-Con. We found out the trick: waiting in line isn’t actually necessary.

It changed everything.

I’m honestly a bit reluctant to tell y’all how we solved this issue because if everyone starts doing it… it’ll mess it all up. But truth is my humble little blog here doesn’t have that big a reach to change much. Hopefully.

And no, our trick has nothing to do with the fact we had our spiffy “Professional” gold badges on. We sported them the other years and, while they certainly don’t hurt (thank you “Pro Lounge” for the welcome respite and free, life-giving lemonade), it’s not what I’m talking about here.

Here’s the deal. There are basically three types of panels at Comic-Con. There’s the massive, freakishly popular stuff that takes place in the 6,500-seat Hall H (impressive panels with titles like “George Clooney, Jesus Christ, Angelina Jolie, and Barack Obama join together to offer spoilers about the new Batman/Hobbit mash-up film”), then there’s the not-all-that-popular stuff that takes place in the smallish rooms (with titles like “Peter R. R. Emshwiller and Three Other Unknown Novelists discuss the use of gluten in science fiction books”), and then, finally, there’s everything else, which falls somewhere between these two extremes.

Okay.

First Extreme: Hall H. Forget it. I’m serious. Watch it later on YouTube in the comfort of your way-overpriced hotel room. Unless your idea of fun is spending all night on line spooning with people who have only a passing acquaintance with personal hygiene, skip it. Sorry, this one I don’t have a magic fix for (short of marrying Benedict Cumberbatch, which would totally work). And, frankly, you’ll probably have a better view on your computer than you’d get from the back of the hall.

Second Extreme: the Not-All-That-Popular Stuff. Go for it. Folks start casually lining up a few minutes before these panels begin and there’s rarely any big wait. (You can easily figure out which ones these are as you begin to sort out which rooms on the schedule are the smallest.) Even if you show up at the last minute and join the very end of the line just as everyone starts to enter, you’ll get in. And these panels are often the best. (The “Pop Culture Happy Hour” NPR one was truly fantastic, as was the “101 Ways To Kill a Man” thriller writer panel.) Attending an event in these rooms is like being transported back in time to an old fashioned, wonderfully intimate, smart & witty science fiction convention panel back in the day. Sigh.

Finally: the Rest of ‘Em. Here’s the big trick. Brace yourself.

See all those weary looking people lining up for hours and hours waiting for the big, star-studded panels? Panels like this year’s Hannibal one? Or the True Blood one? Or Penny Dreadful? Or Sleepy Hollow? Or Assassin’s Creed? Or George R. R. Martin’s “Rulers of the Realm” writer’s panel? Well, my wife and I went to all those without waiting in line for a single one of ‘em.

Here’s the thing: hundreds of people stand for ages in those long, sweltering, hallway queues patiently waiting to be ushered into the room. (You gotta figure that more than half the hours of their precious Comic-Conny day is sucked up with this kind of endless corridor waiting.) Finally the time comes around when the doors creak open and they are allowed to shuffle forward. They shamble in and the hall slowly fills. They pick seats and at last get to plop their chainmail-and-taffeta-clad butts down on the cold plastic. Sweet relief. The lights dim. The panel starts. The moderator enters and cracks a few hi-larious opening jokes before introducing each esteemed panelist. The crowd cheers and claps. And…

This is when you show up.

If you don’t mind not sitting right up front and you don’t mind missing the first few minutes, it’s the way to go. Most of these halls are so big they don’t actually fill up. Yup. (Even on Saturday!) You heard me. There’s plenty of room after the incredibly patient “herd” (sorry, SDCCees) is slowly loaded on in. You can just calmly check your watch from your perch on a stool at a local watering hole and then, when the times comes, casually stroll over to said hall and quietly slip in five minutes late and find a nice comfy seat between a suave storm trooper and a couple of hot zombies. Long as you’ve got a decent view of the massive overhead screens, you’re cool.


An old one I painted many years ago. 
No, it doesn’t have anything to do with the post
 aside from being kinda science fiction-y.  Shut up.
And if, in those very rare cases, the hall does completely fill up… so what? You didn’t invest any time waiting. (Imagine how horrible those at the end of the line must’ve felt!) Just move to the next hall. You’ll probably find something equally cool. Maybe even cooler! (Example: My wife and I aren’t gamers at all but, when we accidentally stumbled into the Assassin’s Creed panel hosted by the lovely & hilarious Aisha Tyler, we enjoyed every single second of it. And, just BTW, the trailers and teasers for this game – which is set during the French revolution – are insanely cool, and the delightfully gory animated “history lesson” about the era was amazing!)  

All-in-all we had a great weekend using this new technique, and went to more panels and parties and meetings and kiss-ass schmooze-fests than we did in all our other Comic-Cons combined. Of course, my enjoyment was probably not hurt by the fact that this year I was also running a big promotional free giveaway of my new ebook (doling out postcards, business cards, and free kisses to anyone interested). This effort turned out super successful, if I do say so myself (except maybe for the “free kisses” part).

All weekend I kept checking my rising Amazon numbers on my iPhone like some nervous investor watching his pork belly futures on a ticker tape machine. It was insane. More copies of my novel were downloaded in those two little days than were actually sold during the entire original print run of the old Bantam/Spectra paperback! Yowza! And in that one weekend my Amazon ranking skyrocketed up a whopping 158,610 points. I’m not smart enough to figure what percentage increase that is, but I’m pretty sure it ain’t chopped liver.

(Dedicated self-promoting ├╝ber-salesman that I am, the law requires that I must now take a moment to note that you can go to the book’s Amazon page and check out the reviews and so forth by clicking HERE. And yes, you can, coincidentally, actually purchase a very reasonably priced copy of this fine digital product while you happen to be hanging out there, if you so desire. It will set you back less than one of those hotdogs they were selling outside of Ballroom 20, and is much less likely to give you indigestion. Okay, slightly less likely.)

The bottom line is we had a blast and we’ll definitely be back to Comic-Con next year. We’re starting to finally figure out how to “work it” now. How to “con the con.”

Hell, I may even dress up in costume next time! Truth is, all I have to do is take off my shirt if I wanna go as Jabba the Hutt.




Wednesday, July 23, 2014

It's Comic-CON, not Comic-Con't!

NOTES FROM THE HENGE

A novelist down on his luck
Went to Comic-Con hoping to f**k
His advances were spurned
And quickly he learned
That being a writer can suck.

This post is a little dated because the special free promotion is over, but the ebook in question is still available for way less than the cost of a tube of anti-fungal cream!

The bottom half looks way funner.
IT’S COMIC-CON, NOT COMIC-CON’T!

You’ll note a slight change in format for this blog post. Instead of drawing my usual self-portrait cartoon, I’ve put up the book cover I recently created for my new ebook.  I slapped it together with the help of lots of wonderful Facebook feedback (comments, vents, votes, and notes). My graphic-designer wife and I then collaborated on the layout and type treatment. Great way to test a marriage. Amazingly, we’re still together. Last I heard.

The thing is, the reason for the change in the format this time around is this weekend I’m off to Comic-Con to promote the re-launch of my very first novel as an ebook. Yay, me! (Took me long enough to join the 21st century!) I’m going to wander among the Stormtroopers and Doctor Whos and Sailor Moons, handing out postcards promoting the book and continually reminding myself how high up the eyes are on those dressed as Slave-girl Princess Leia and Poison Ivy.

Since the Kindle version of the book will be FREE FREE FREE for two days (July 25th and 26th) of this festive weekend, I figure Comic-Conners might be the perfect audience. But you folks playing at home can also get it for free that same Friday and Saturday too! Yup. You heard me. Click here during those 48 hours and enjoy my novel for nothing. It’s worth at least twice that.  

Maybe three times.

Below is the text of the actual press release I sent around to various newspapers and magazines and websites and such as I tried to drum up interest. I’m sure as soon as this press release arrived, shouts of “Stop the Presses!” rang out through the newsroom hallways. Front page stuff here, people.




FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

CLASSIC SCIENCE FICTION CYBERPUNK NOVEL DIGITALLY RE-LAUNCHES AT COMIC-CON.

Peter Emshwiller’s Levels: The Host, a post-apocalyptic science fiction suspense novel originally published by Bantam Spectra, launches digitally next week at San Diego’s Comic-Con. Kindle downloads of the ebook will be free on Friday and Saturday, July 25 and 26th, during the convention.

An old painting I did of a goofy spaceship motocross thingy.
I put it on this-here blog post just 'cause it's appropriately science fiction-y.
Levels: The Host follows Watly Caiper, who is framed for a murder he didn’t commit. In near-future Manhattan, poor First-Levelers barely survive beneath a fifth-story ceiling while far above in the sunlight, rich Second-Levelers get their kicks by renting the bodies of First-Levelers in a dangerous ultra-real game called Hosting. Desperate for cash, First Leveler Watly Caiper takes on the dangerous job of Hosting. But instead of using his body for sordid fun, the anonymous Second-Level Donor commits the perfect crime. Hunted by the police and on the hook for murder, Watly must find the mysterious killer before time runs out.

Amazing Stories hailed the novel’s “page-turning power.” Locus Magazine praised its “suspense,” and Analog Magazine said, “This one could make a very good movie.”

Since its first publication, Levels: The Host has been optioned for film development by numerous Hollywood powerhouses, including Jerry Bruckheimer and Buena Vista Entertainment.

Author Peter R. Emshwiller is the son of classic Science Fiction cover artist and avant-garde video auteur Ed “Emsh” Emshwiller and literary feminist Science Fiction writer Carol Emshwiller.

Levels: Short Blade, the sequel to Levels: The Host, will release digitally this fall. The Levels Trilogy will be complete with a third novel, to be published in 2015.

Levels: The Host is available now on Amazon.com.





Sunday, July 20, 2014

DOUBLETHINK DOESN'T STINK

NOTES FROM THE HENGE

A dual-headed feline named Gitties
Hired a dozen expensive committees
To entitle his book
With a real catchy hook
But he settled on “Tale of Two Kitties”



I'm of two minds about this post.
DOUBLETHINK DOESN’T STINK

Back in 2009 I stood in line with some friends to see the first Star Trek “reboot” movie on opening day. First, my bone fides: I’m a Trekkie from the days The Original Series (TOS) first aired, back during the early Cretaceous. In fact, I’ve been regularly credited -- ahem -- with making the very first Star Trek fan film ever, which you can watch here. (I was ten and it’s been downhill ever since.) And if you click here you can read a recent interview I did about this eight-minute masterpiece. Oh, and also, my two Bantam Books science fiction novels even have a few Star Trek “inside joke” references sprinkled in for fellow fans. So I’ve got some pretty decent Trek cred.

Just needed to establish that. Okay, then.

So there we were, me and my wife and my friends, watching the eagerly anticipated “reboot” movie. My friends loved it. My wife loved it. And… I? I loved it. I cried, I laughed, I screamed, I sighed. I loved the casting, I loved the sleek new design of the Enterprise, I loved the score (yay, Michael Giacchino – a brilliant composer and really cool human being I actually met that one time!), I loved the respectfully retro-ish wardrobe, I loved the dazzling modern special effects, I loved all the winking references to the original series (and the non-winking ones), and I loved the campy closing credits featuring the classic theme. I came out wanting to watch it again right away. I felt like I was ten years old again. Great film.

Ten-year-old me chewing the lack of scenery
as Captain Kirk Jr.
Then, just few days later, I had a chat with a close buddy who’s also a Trek TOS aficionado. He hated the film. And he told me exactly why. And I agreed with him. Everything he said was absolutely true. The plot was full of ridiculous holes, the science was pathetically bad, the story made no sense, the attitude and morality was completely at odds with the heart of the original show, the tone was way more militaristic Star Wars than humanistic Star Trek, and so on and so on. Horrible film.

I wasn’t lying when I agreed with him. He was absolutely right.

A few years later I stood in line for the sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, and the exact same thing happened. I loved it. Great film. And, in hindsight, I also hated it, horrible film.

I’ve since bought both of these movies on Blu-ray and watched them multiple times. Love them. And, yes, kinda hate them, too.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

Hmmm. I’m not sure Fitzy would consider my intelligence “first rate,” but I do agree with him that it can be a good thing to be able to juggle multiple views at once. Insisting that all your opinions and thoughts are firm and unwavering can close your mind and you end up missing out on stuff. Being able to hate and love the very same thing is, I think, a plus.

Hell, I even simultaneously hate and love certain people. And I definitely both hate and love, say, New York City (sometimes for the very same reasons). And, of course Los Angeles, where I live now. And stinky cheese. And Lady Gaga. And the beach. And hats.

I just wish I still had those dreamy eyelashes.
The old expression about having a “love/hate relationship” with something doesn’t mean the love is any less real or the hate any less deep.  

A few years back my wife and I, both of us serious anglophiles, were glued to the TV for an entire weekend, watching every single one of the Queen’s “Diamond Jubilee” celebrations taking place across the pond. We had a blast. We happily cheered (and even got misty-eyed occasionally) during all the wonderful pomp and circumstance. We reveled in the glorious, ornate outfits and grand music and all the blissfully-overblown ceremonies. Such a wonderful spectacle to witness. I loved every single extravagant, theatrical, oh-so-British second of it.

I mentioned this to a close friend the next week and he flew into a rage. He hated the monarchy. He hated everything about it. The very idea of it. He hated the massive waste of money and time and resources and real estate, he hated its outdated, backward concept of divine right and strict hierarchy, he hated all the brutal, oppressive history behind it, and most of all he hated the fact that these “Royals” had done nothing at all to earn their glorified, privileged position -- beyond being randomly born into the right family. Celebrating or exalting the monarchy in any way was, he insisted, a disgusting disgrace.

I totally agreed with him.



Monday, July 14, 2014

DEALIN' WITH A GRIEVIN' HEATHEN

NOTES FROM THE HENGE

A lovely young widow named Droste
Couldn’t face that her husband was toast
Suitors pursued her
But no man who wooed her
Could get her to give up the ghost

As always, just thinkin’ out loud here, people.

Comedy is easy. Dying is hard. Wait-
DEALIN’ WITH A GRIEVIN’ HEATHEN

Years ago I used to get Newsweek delivered. At one point they completely revamped the magazine, adjusting the layout and fonts and column titles and whatnot. Part of that “rebranding” involved changing the obituary page to a page they now called “Transitions.” This confused the hell out of me. Every week it messed with my head. I’d flip through a new issue and see something like “Oscar-winning actor John Smith has transitioned….” And I’d automatically think, “Cool! He’s real old so it’s especially inspiring to hear a guy his age is trying different things. Wonder what he’s up to?” I’d read on excitedly, only to find out they meant he died. Their euphemism fooled me every week. I never learned.

But I supposed to some believers, death is indeed a “transition” (beyond simply being a clear transition from a living thing to a dead one). Which brings me to the subject of this post: My advice to the devout about how to behave when an, um, not-so-devout person has someone close to them, um, “transition.”

Here goes.

Dear Religious Folks Who Believe in Life After Death,

When an atheist or agnostic friend or family member suffers the loss of a loved one, please try to be respectful in how you speak to them. Yes: be supportive, be giving, be loving, and express sincere condolences. Be there for them. Bring multiple-beaned casseroles and mango-filled cakes and sappy Hallmark cards and plenty of frosty adult beverages. (Non-frosty ones will do, too.)  Listen to them. Hold them while they cry. Let them talk. Let them babble incoherently, even. Hug them (avoid any untoward groping, though). Offer a monogrammed hanky from the breast pocket of your brass-buttoned blazer, if you’re old-school classy.

But please, if at all possible, take care not to say things like “he’s in a better place,” or “she’s with her maker now,” or “you’ll see him again one day,” or “God has called her to his side,” even if you sincerely, deeply believe those things. I know it’s hard, but keep that stuff to yourself if you possibly can, and – oh, yeah – try not to use expressions like “transitioned,” “went home,” “passed on,” “crossed over,” “entered the great beyond,” or “slipped beyond the veil.”

Just say “died.”

I get why you do all these things. It comes from a good place. I know. To a fellow believer, such sentiments are kind, sweet ways of offering support, comfort, and trying to ease suffering. But to an atheist like myself, in the darkness of that bleak moment it sometimes feels like you’re saying, “Hey, your loved one didn’t really die die, dude, so what’s the big deal?”

A painting I did of our dear cat, Elric, after he died.
Note the fabulously furry halo and wings.
Implying that the dead person is still “out there somewhere” may give fellow believers great comfort, but to a non-believer it feels kinda like you’re trying to deny us the honest grief, pain, and devastating loss of death; trying to whitewash the finality of it and the brutal, soul-wrenching sadness we experience in its wake. It feels, in our anguish, like you’re desperately trying to snap us out of our mourning by explaining to us that, hey, the person’s still kinda hanging around somewhere out in the ether. That our Loved One is actually just fine and dandy, playing Parcheesi with Jesus, bowling with that treasured pet gerbil they lost as a kid, or sharing cheese sandwiches with 72 freshly fluffed & folded virgins… or some such thing.

The bottom line is to be respectful of the survivor’s beliefs (or lack thereof) during their bereavement. Yeah I’m an atheist, but I would never go to a funeral and walk up to a grieving friend who sincerely believed in the afterlife and presume to say something like: “Face it, they’re gone, kiddo. They don’t exist anymore. They’re nowhere, dude. But, hey, you’ve got your memories, right? That’s what matters. And I brought a harmonica – would you like to hear my rendition of ‘Dust in the Wind’?”

The point is I happily shut up about my own beliefs and just listen and support and love and hug (sans groping) and bake (okay, maybe not) and fetch them some generic-brand tissues (since I’m not old-school classy enough to have monogrammed booger-collectors). I’m just gently asking you devout ones to please try your level best to be sensitive and show us non-theists the same kind of respect we try to show you nice folks during these tough moments.

A friend’s loss is not the time to display to the world what you believe, it’s a time to put yourself aside and be of service to the person suffering. Follow their lead.

That said, I’m transitioning my butt out of here.


Saturday, June 28, 2014

TRIBAL PLAYFARE

NOTES FROM THE HENGE
With two sports-related limericks for the price of one!

A baseball fan hopped in his car
And sped to the nearest sports bar
This might appear lame
(Since there wasn't a game)
But the place served the best caviar

A golfing fan wracked with remorse
Tried to talk his wife out of divorce
But as much as he pleaded
His words went unheeded
Which frankly, was par for the course.

I’ve been enjoying watching some of the World Cup games this year, which pretty much proves me a hypocrite and negates the entire post below. Ah, well. As usual: just thinkin’ out loud here, Peeps.

There's no "ME" in "TEAM!" Wait --
TRIBAL PLAYFARE

In October of 1986 my then-girlfriend and my 27-year-old-self decided to watch the World Series. No, we weren’t into sports even a teensy-weensy bit, but we lived in Manhattan and there was such a fury about the Mets being in the series that year we thought – what the hell – let’s give it a shot. Go Mets.

I’d been raised in a family that had no interest in watching any sports (my father, I think, would rather’ve suffered through a Novocain-free root canal than a sporting event) and, with the occasional exception of catching a televised tennis match or some non-team event in the Olympics, I’d happily maintained that proud Emshwiller tradition right up to that point in my life.

But there I was, watching the World Series. And I could not have picked a better introduction to baseball in particular… and team sports in general. It was a thrilling, nail biting, breathtaking, neck-and-neck seven games – ending in the Mets squeaking by to glorious, well-earned victory. My girlfriend and I were captivated. During those seven amazing games over those seven amazing days, we sat on our couch, yelled at the TV, and fell in love with our team. We learned the names of all our favorite players (she particularly liked the cute, curly-haired catcher, Gary Carter), and started to figure out each guy’s strong suits, weaknesses, quirks, and personality traits. (Who was a spitter, a cusser, a brooder, a wack-job, a nut scratcher? And what the hell was a “breaking ball?”) I still can remember many of the names: Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Rick Aguilera, Lenny Dykstra, Mookie Wilson, Ron Darling, Keith Hernandez, Howard Johnson, and on and on. They became like family in seven short days. We happily rooted for them. They were our guys. Our Mets. 

We were sold. During the long winter that followed we could barely wait until the next season started. When it finally did, we eagerly turned on the very first game our Mets competed in. And were crestfallen. Half the players on the team had been traded and now played for other teams. Our Mets weren’t our Mets any more. They were different people.

Suddenly we didn’t care.

This, I think, is why I’ll always have trouble with team sports. I don’t really know how to root for an abstraction. I’m a person-rooter, not a concept-rooter. I can get excited about particular, specific homo sapiens, but I can’t get all that excited about a flag or a city name or a logo or team moniker.

If, in the end, it doesn’t really matter if all the players get traded to Podunk, the coach leaves to open a vegan steakhouse, and the manager retires to paint gerbil portraits, then who exactly am I rooting for? My uncles used to joke about “Granddad’s Hatchet.” This was an old family hatchet which, over the years, had gotten its handle replaced multiple times and even its head swapped out more than once. So there was actually nothing of the original left to it. But it was still “Granddad’s Hatchet,” just because reasons.

This is how I feel about team sports. I’m supposed to care about one team over another (even if all the human “parts” involved have been swapped around) because reasons.

But I do kinda understand. I do. Sociologists often spout off about how team sports are a way for fans to channel their natural aggression and release all their innate warlike tendencies in a (hopefully) non-violent way. Us against them. Our tribe against those assholes on the other side of the hill. Maybe so. Evolution and whatnot. Cool. I don’t begrudge anyone this cathartic experience if they need it. And, no joke, I support all my friends and family who love team sports. (Heck, my ‘86 Mets experience was matched by a very similar Lakers one not too long ago. ‘Nother story.)

Extra team members are a good thing, right?
The thing is: It just isn’t for me. Probably never will be.

Maybe some of my lack of “team sports love” comes from being a loner most of my life. I don’t seem to feel that same sense of “My Tribe” that some do. When there’s a disaster overseas and hundreds of lives are lost but the U.S. news reporters focus on the fact that “three of those killed were Americans,” I can’t help but think, “Why should I care more about those three strangers than I do about those hundreds of other tragically dead strangers who don’t happen to be American?”

I occasionally even, and I know a few of you will consider this despicable, feel that way about issues like our jobs being outsourced. When someone rails, for example, about losing American jobs to India, I know I’m supposed to be super upset. Yet (exploitation and salary abuses aside), if I’m really honest with myself, I’d be delighted if some person in Calcutta who’s a huge Star Trek fan and who loves reading fiction, eating Italian food, listening to Broadway musicals, and blogging about nothing-in-particular snagged a decent job so he/she can now feed the family… whereas I wouldn’t necessarily feel all that horrible if, because of that particular Calcuttian’s new job, some tea-partyin’, Ted-Nugent-loving, Duck-Dynasty-watchin’, Chick-fil-A-lover from Duluth (who runs a dog-fighting ring on the weekends) lost his gig answering phones for Time Warner Cable.

I guess my “tribe” is more about personality, common interests, and common loves than about common borders, common language, flags, and arbitrary labels.

But, as usual, I digress.

Okay. Back to sports to finish this mess up. I mentioned the Olympics earlier in this post. I love watching them, but, as you’ve probably guessed by now, I watch them a little differently than most. I don’t find myself automatically rooting for the USA as a rule. I instead tend to root for any cool athletes who’s skills and talent I admire, or who seem to be interesting people, or who are fun long-shot underdogs, or whose life-stories and personal struggles touch me in some compelling way. And those kinda folks hail from all over the freakin’ globe.

Truth is the only team sport I currently watch now is professional cycling (yes, it's a team sport – look it up!), yet, true to form, after following it for a dozen years I no longer actually cheer for any particular team. I instead cheer for my favorite specific athletes, who are, at this point, spread out in all over the damn board on many, many different teams and from many, many different countries. It’s actually a pretty fun way to watch. Any game, I think. Give it a shot, sports fans.


That said, if you can gather the 1986 Mets team together again, I’m in. Go Mets.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

YOU, ONLY LESS SO

NOTES FROM THE HENGE

A talented actress named Anne
Snagged the lead in the new Peter Pan
But in tights and a tunic
She looked like a eunuch
Disproving that “clothes make the man.”

Not that eunuchs aren’t men, but it fit so well in the limerick I went for it. Apologies to any eunuchs out there. As for what follows below? To paraphrase someone-or-other: “I would’ve written a shorter blog post, but I didn’t have the time.” 

Because fezzes are cool!
YOU, ONLY LESS SO

I’ve wanted to be an actor for as far back as I can remember. And part of that passion was a fascination with transformation. With being a different person. It naturally followed that at a very early age I began experimenting with, you guessed it, hallucinogens. 

Nah, I’m kidding. I experimented with theatrical makeup. I particularly enjoyed “special effects” makeup. I loved creating putty noses, wax chins, fake mustaches, and convincing scars. Anything from subtle tweaks (slightly thicker eyebrows) to the dramatic and monstrous. I was barely out of kindergarten when I freaked out half my neighborhood by trick-or-treating in pretty darned realistic burn-victim makeup. (Even our pet cat was terrified.)

But my absolute favorite thing back then was to age myself. I’d happily spend hours lovingly spraying in streaks of gray hair, stippling on age spots, faking a receding hair line, and either carefully painting trompe l'oeil “stage-worthy” wrinkles one careful brush stroke at a time, or creating “film-worthy” 3-D sagging flesh using liquid latex. I loved making myself old.

Ironically, I now have all those issues for real. Mostly this fact kinda upsets me. Yet sometimes I find myself looking in the mirror and, channeling my inner eight-year-old self, thinking: “How cool! Crows feet! Grey hairs! Lumpy parts!” (Though I never exclaim happily about the encroaching nose and ear hairs. Those just plain suck.)

That interest in character via appearance never left me. As I grew older, it didn’t take long to realize that we all wear “costumes” and “makeup” every day. That we create our own character.

When I moved to LA and signed with my very first commercial agent, I had an eye-opening experience. I actually wish everyone could go through it. The thing is, commercials are mostly about your appearance, so when you go on an audition, you’re going with a bunch of other folks who look just like you. Your exact “type.” It’s sobering. And illuminating. No matter what you think you actually look like, unless you’re a supermodel, it’ll be a shock. 

11-year-old Stoney ages himself.
I vividly remember my first Los Angeles commercial audition, some 18-odd years ago. I walked into the crowded waiting area. It was like entering the Twilight Zone. Everyone sitting there, every single one, was a tall, slightly paunchy, sweet faced, thick-nosed, non-threatening white guy with a warm smile, a bald spot, and a slightly receding hairline. Perfect casting for the gay best friend, kindly next-door neighbor, beleaguered dad, “henpecked” husband, trusted pharmacist, or, maybe in a stretch, the slightly cranky mid-management boss.

Blew me away.

But the thing is, it’s not written in stone. Your “type” can be changed. Played with. That's what I learned as a kid and still remember today.

No, you can’t change your basic features and body type (unless you have an awesome plastic surgeon -- text me!) but you can change everything else. You can change all the trappings.

Everyone wears a costume. And I get that there’s tons of peer pressure to keep wearing the same one.  You might even get fired if you stray too far from the “uniform” of your particular job’s culture. I grock. But how about changing it up now and then?  It isn’t who you are.  It’s just the role you present to the world. Switch it out, just for fun. 

Any question why this kid doesn't have a girlfriend yet?
When my first science fiction novel was published years ago, I was invited to a convention to speak on some panels. I remember tearing my closet apart, desperately looking for clothes that a “writer” would wear. I needed an “author costume!” But I didn’t really have anything appropriate (nothing tweed with elbow patches or the like). I wound up in my one-and-only dressy outfit: a tuxedo. Yup. And in the end I had a blast at the convention, looking, completely inappropriately, like a high-priced hit man instead of a writer. I even heartily enjoyed when Harlan Ellison gave me some good-natured sh*t about my outfit. Loved it.

Switch it out. If you usually dress like a hippy horticulturist, try the Hillary Clinton corporate look for a day. If all your buddies dress in polo shirts, loafers, and dockers, show up for their BBQ in skinny jeans, a porkpie hat, and an ironic t-shirt.  Goth chick? Go for southern belle one day. College professor? Try dressing like your students instead. Bearded biker dude? Give the off-duty cop look a shot. Straight-laced exec? Go for the Big Lebowski thing one weekend. Change who the world sees you as.  And who you see yourself as.

Seriously creepy corner of my childhood bedroom
The amazing thing is people will treat you differently. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, but always interesting. (I gotta say this fact actually doesn’t speak well for our culture, but I suppose that’s a whole ‘nother post.) When my wife and I travel, even if the place we’re headed involves cargo shorts and flip-flops, we’ve learned to “fancy it up” for the flight. With her in a nice “conservative” dress and me in a sports jacket and tie, we always get better service on the plane and occasionally even snag an upgrade. We play the game.

Sadly, people of color and the like have a lot less leeway in this “reinvention” area. Having dark skin, Asian features, a thick accent, etc. is, in our culture, already considered a very specific “costume” with all kinds of baggage and preconceptions attached to it. The same goes for women. And the physically challenged. And, of course, those too poor to spring for fun thrift store outfits. Being a (relatively) able-bodied white male with some spare cash I definitely have the advantage as far as character reinvention goes.

But whatever societal or financial limitations you have, shake things up a little anyway. Be a different you this weekend.


Playing dress-up was fun as a kid, right? Why stop? Mess with the world. Mess with your own self image. Scare your cat.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

THE SCOURGE OF UNLAWFUL INFANTS

NOTES FROM THE HENGE

A baby just recently born
Was promptly the subject of scorn
He’d no skills and no job
And just sat like a blob
And his English? You’d think he was foreign!

Below is, I’m embarrassed to admit, kind of a “rerun” post. It’s actually an essay I wrote a few years back for Asinine Poetry, my friend’s awesome site. (Check it out!) I reprint it here partly because I still stand by these words 100%… and partly because there’s something on TV I want to watch.

Give me your swaddled masses
THE SCOURGE OF UNLAWFUL INFANTS

Okay. Those concerned about illegal aliens often cite the huge strain put on our social infrastructure by undocumented immigrants. They talk of schools, hospitals, welfare, etc. But they ignore the gargantuan elephant squatting dead-center in their parlor. The biggest strain put on the system is caused by our very own people making babies.



Here's my point: Why should the offspring of Americans automatically be U.S. citizens? Why is that a basic ''given?'' I don't get it. What have these children done to earn this right? Some newborn Kyrgyzstanian, Belizean, or Upper-Voltan kid has done no less nor more to deserve being (or not being) an American.



Look, we're supposed to be a meritocracy here, yes? Why should one get to be a citizen just because one's parents were? If you really think about it, the concept is downright un-American. In fact, it smacks of the same kind of unjust birthright notion inherent to a monarchy, for goodness sake. And, lest we forget, our nation was created by wriggling free of just that kind of institutionalized nepotism.



You wanna talk merit? Some Mexican hiding in a sweltering Toyota Corolla's wheel-well has arguable proven his grit -- and his genuine desire to be part of our country -- way more than some proto-RugRat who arbitrarily popped out of an American womb on NY's Upper West Side. Truth is, being born of an American pudenda is a matter of sheer luck -- no skill, talent, or basic worthiness is involved.



So here's the deal. I say we ship every single newborn out of the USA immediately upon delivery. I know it sounds crazy, but please hear me out. Let's use all the cash we regularly spend on education, childcare and, uh, playground-repair or whatnot, to immediately banish these infants to the far corners. Every newborn is henceforth instantly classified an illegal alien and deported to Siberia, Maruitania, or some-such-foreign-land. France, even. (We'll pay off assorted random countries to take 'em.) And don't worry, parents can travel off with their child if they so desire -- but on their own dime. (I suspect many folks will choose this option.) We might even make a tidy profit if we play that part right.



Anyway, years later when the kid hits eighteen, he/she will have a right to go through the usual process of applying to become American, just like everyone else. Background/loyalty checks, U.S. history tests, health screenings, temporary provisional work visas -- whatever hoops we typically make potential immigrants jump through.



And I suppose we could occasionally make exceptions about the age requirement. Sure. If a kid is a genuine prodigy -- great at math or baking or karaoke -- we might consider letting them apply sooner.



But the bottom line is we make everyone go through the same basic process, whether they were lucky enough to be the product of an all-American, red-white-and-blue egg/sperm combo, or happen to be from some Norwegian, Peruvian, or Ugandan set of, ahem, primary ingredients.



What could be fairer? Seriously. This way, within a few generations, we'll be absolutely certain each U.S. citizen truly deserves to be part of this great land of ours.



And, hey, here's an awesome bonus to my plan: Very soon there'll be nobody younger than eighteen living in our country! Things will be a lot quieter, and a lot less smelly (especially on airplanes).

There'll be no Barney the Dinosaur. No gummy worms. No Chuck-E-Cheese.



And we won't have to watch our language in public.



Or wear pants.




Please write your congressmen.