Category: "Background"

Thoughts on my Mom

by Michael  


My mom is dying. Let me reiterate that in a way that emotes more closely how I feel: I’m losing my mommy. But don’t be sad… Okay, that isn’t easy. Not by a long shot. I’m not even there myself yet. But… Yet. See, there’s the thing: she isn’t dead. Not YET. She will be, sooner than I’d like, but the fact is, it’s ALWAYS sooner than we’d like. Always.

There isn’t a way to escape death, and I hate that. I don’t know what perils immortality might bring with it, but there’s part of me that wonders if I could get through the loss of everyone I know… Not a chance. Not alone. And there’s another thing: I’m not alone. And neither is my mom. My sister lives close, and she has an amazing husband who’s love for her may rival even that of her own children. And my grandmother is with her right now too as she starts her chemo. My friends and family have been fantastic so far, reaching out and letting me know that they are there. It’s pretty amazing, and within this maddening shell of sadness, as much as I want to feel isolated in my fear and pain and loss, I cannot. I just can’t. You bastards won’t let me, and I love you all for it from the bottom of my heart.

I’m losing my mommy… But not today, and probably not tomorrow, and in a way, we, she and I and all who know her, are the luckiest types of people in the world. We KNOW it’s coming because we have guys in lab coats telling us so. Most people end up getting to deal with the surprise of death, and that’s another kick in the face that we just don’t want or need when dealing with that loss. Most of all though, it’s a LIVING reminder, here and now, to make the most of whatever sweet, precious time we have. We might like to imagine that we’re never going to face that, but the fact of the matter is, we all do. Everyone you know, have known, or will know, is already dying. They’re already gone in a sense, and we can’t do a thing to stop it. But we CAN love. We can remember. We can make the time we DO have count for something.

I’m an atheist, and my daughter, my precious four-year-old ginger, only understands that I’m sad. Now, she’s a bright kid, and I don’t want to burden her with philosophical or theological debates at bed time, but I felt I needed to explain to her why I’ve been so edgy and sad lately. In the course of our talk, I asked her if she knew what happened to us when we died. She did not. So I asked her if she knew what we were all made of, thinking of Neil Degrasse Tyson. She replied, “Chemicals”. Leave it to her to cite Hank Green, right? Anyway, I explained to her that when a star gets very, very old and dies, it explodes, and becomes a great gaseous nebula. She knows what nebulae are. She’s obsessed with space and wants to be a Martian astronaut some day. I explained that then parts of those dead stars floated through the universe and eventually became part of what makes US. There is part of a dead, ancient star in each and every one of us, and when we die, those parts of us go on to become other great, vast, beautiful things. Forests full of trees are made up of the dead stars that once made people who were loved, and cherished, and remembered. That seemed to comfort her just as much as it did me. She hugged me, and then she went to sleep. I love that kid. And my mommy loves me.

I’m not losing my mommy; the universe just let me borrow her for a bit, and for that I am grateful. I am the luckiest man in the world to have had a mother like her, through the ups and downs, crazy times, happy days, and all the rest. I am a better person for having her give birth to me and raise me. I am an idealist, feminist, and a humanist all because of her. I went back to school and got my degrees and wrote and got published because I believed in myself, but it was my mom that taught me to do that. I’ll miss her when she’s gone. I miss her all the time anyway because she’s a thousand miles away and never picks up the damn phone. But I’ll miss her a little more when the chance of her answering becomes nil… Instead, I’ll talk to my own kids, my wife, and my step-dad. You see, even when we do die and pass back to the stars from whence we came, we also live on… For as long as people remember us. We are eternal in that way, in the things we leave behind. It’s the marks that we leave behind that define us. Maybe it’s a book, or a piece of advice, or a tradition we pass to our children, but what we do NOW… It matters.

Mom, if you happen to read this, thank you. I will always love you. And no matter why you don’t answer when I call, you will always be in my heart and the hearts of those who you have touched throughout life. I will be positive. I will stay as happy as I can and never forget that you taught me the skills I need to be a happy person. I love you…

Milestones; or Reflection On A Happy Birthday To Me

by Michael  




Thirty-five. There was a time when I seriously didn’t think I’d make it to this age. Some of that was just being young and unimaginative, but there was one time, the first time I failed out of college, that I gave myself the unimaginable goal of being “known” the world over by the time I was 25, or I promised I would kill myself. Of course, the internet happened, I made friends as far away as New Zealand, and I was spared coming up with a ridiculous excuse for why I wouldn’t take what I considered the coward’s way out. The truth is, it was little more than a sad, depressed note I’d left myself somewhere, and I never would have committed suicide, but there it was. I’m a little ashamed that I ever even put that thought into the world.


When I was in high school, I wrote a screed about how we had three options in life. We could join the mindless, mind-numbing zombies of the MTV generation. We could give up, admit defeat and take ourselves out. Or we could wear what Grant Morrison called “The Blank Badge” in The Invisibles. The idea was that we could choose, for ourselves, who we were, or we could be the failures of conformity society wanted us to be. I went off in that handwritten manifesto about how those who committed suicide were selfish and worthless, and deserved none of the sympathy some might give them. I said that suicide was still the failure of conformity, because it meant that you admitted that you had settled for someone else’s standards instead of your own. Essentially, if you took your own life, you won nothing and deserved nothing. There’s a lot of me that still believes that. I might add, now that I’m older, exceptions for the terminally ill, but then again, why not fight to the bitter end? I think about mortality a lot. I fear death in many ways, but I fear not satisfying myself more than I do death itself. But I digress.

I have had two people I cared about, though from a distance because I’ve slowly become more and more agoraphobic as I’ve aged, commit suicide in recent years. I miss them, but I am not sad for them. If anything, I’m angry at them. Even more angry when I consider them amongst those I looked up to when I was 19 and telling myself I only had until I was 25 to make it in the world. I wish they were still around. I wish they hadn’t been selfish. I sometimes start thinking about what might have been if I’d gotten over my self-imposed hermitage and reached out, but I stop myself. They never reached out to me either, so it’s not my cross to bear. Sorry, guys. I love you, but fuck you.


Here I am, ten years past one milestone, and now facing a new one. I’m the age required by law to run for the office of President of the United States. I won’t, mind you, because I curse too much, do not suffer fools, and I’m an atheist who likes porn, smoking, and English Football more than the NFL. Still, if I wanted to, I could. I was thinking about the idea of milestones tonight and I realized a few things. First, after 35, the age milestones are silly. At 16 you can drive. At 18 you can vote. Then at 21 you can drink, and 25 your insurance rates go down. The one at 35 is kind of deflating. Next is 65 and Social Security eligibility? Yuck. Second, milestones are what we make of them. It goes back to that Blank Badge idea, and something one of my former professors asked me once.


We were studying Virginia Woolf and I asked him why we studied her instead of someone more popular like Agatha Christie. I admit, my prejudice against suicides may have had something to do with my bias And besides, I told him, Agatha Christie was clearly the more successful of the two women. Dr. Russell asked me, “By what standard of success are you measuring?” Yeah, threw me for a loop. Sure, people still made movies out of Christie’s work, and her books have been read by more people, but have her books had an impact on anyone anywhere near the level of Woolf? Most people don’t know it, but when they get excited to get a glimpse inside the head of their favorite character, when the author gives them the ability to understand where a character is psychologically, it’s because the ghost of Virginia Woolf haunts all writers today. We explore epiphany and inner motivations because Woolf is our DNA. She changed the game. She forced writers and readers to do something new. Woolf is a weird case for me. She clearly embraced The Blank Badge, and for that, bravo. Yet, she was also a suicide, and for that choice I can’t help but feel animosity toward her. My thoughts on the issue are more complex than I feel I can deal with here. Woolf had a lot of milestones in her career, and while I’m tempted to compare myself to her and other writers, I know, deep down, that I cannot.


Chuck Wendig gave me some advice the other day. He said, “You’ll come back to it.” You see, I finished my novel a couple months back, and I want to do one more draft of the damn thing. I feel like I am afraid to start this last draft though, thus Chuck’s advice. I want this to be the first of many books I write, and so I want it to be as good as I can get it on my own before I start shopping it around. In my mind, finishing the book was a bigger milestone than any birthday has been. I do not have to bind myself to any age. I can and should set my own goals. If I don’t, I’m not embracing The Blank Badge. So, here’s to another year on the planet, but what I’m looking forward to this year isn’t some silly celebration with cake, but writing more, editing more, and hopefully selling my first YA novel. Cheers!




Somethin' A Teacher Can't Teach

by Michael  


What’s a god to a non-believer? I have no clue, but Jay-Z and Kanye West ask it, and it gets my juices flowing. I read a lot of posts from other writers talking about music, and most of the time I’m unimpressed. I mean, if you’re a white guy and you write Nerdcore shit, you probably listen to Prog-rock, or maybe something from the 80s. Last week you probably got excited about My Bloody Valentine. You have a special place in your heart for some New Wave, or maybe your youth was all about Alterna-rock.


Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of this stuff too, but I like a lot more than that too. Lately it’s been all about hip-hop. And let me tell you, it is not easy writing about a teenaged boy that hates hip-hop when you love hip hop. For the record, I’m a HOVA fan, and while I like Nas okay, if I had to take sides, fuck Nas. I don’t get into the whole East/West thing, mostly because I hated rap when that all went down. When the world lost Biggy and 2-Pac, I had two friends named Laurel and Rachel who had to explain it to me. They tried really, really hard, and I finally gave up… But something happened over the course of my life that I fellin love with rap music. The first for me was Dre’s “2001”. I don’t smoke weed, and my only real experience with gangs as a kid was staying out of their way because I wasn’t Latino or black, so they wanted nothing to do with me anyway. But that album wasn’t really about drugs or gangs, not really. It was about success and respect. It was about inspiration and mentorship. It was poetry, and I wish I hadn’t waited to see that.


Today I sat outside of my son’s school waiting for him to get out. He’s a freshman, and I’m that embarrassing dad who sits outside blaring his music. What? Dads don’t usually do that? Big brothers you say? Well, shit… I’m my own man I guess. Anyway… I was sitting out in front of the school, across the street actually, because since 9/11 it’s illegal to park in front, but I’m sitting there, and my music is thumping along. And I’m listening to this:


That’s Sage Francis, a rapper from the Twin Cities. He’s a “slam poet”, and I think his music is fucking awesome. The kids leaving the school in today’s blizzard seemed to dig it too. The non-hipster kids at least. They’d never heard this shit before though. They might have been more familiar with this:

That’s Jay-Z and Kanye. Great song. Great video. It's like the Tottenham riots brought to life and made into a sculpture of light and shadow! These are some of the songs that get me pumped. I get psyched hearing these songs. Saul Williams, T.I., Ludacris… These people aren’t just musicians, they’re poets. MC Lars, mc chris, even The Lonely Island… All poets. I don’t care if they make you laugh, they reach out and do something that I, as a writer, only wish I could do: They touch your soul. There’s something primordial that rap and hiphop taps into. Wretch 32, Example, The Streets… These voices aren’t just black, urban, and American. They’re universal, and they tap into something that’s inside all of us. Maybe it’s the rhyming, I don’t know, but damn if I don’t feel like dancing when Lupe Fiasco or Missy Elliot comes on. Look, if you’re a writer and you limit what you have coming in, you limit what you can put out as well. Shit, Ferlinghetti and Bukowski would be rappers today, and they’d be damn good too. If you don’t listen to rap or hiphop currently, I really, really encourage you to broaden your horizons. It’s a wildly diverse genre, full of men and women who bend words like Neo bent space/time; like Wesley Gibson bent bullets. What do you have to lose in partaking in a journey through some of the names I’ve mentioned? Come on, Sam-I-Am, try them and you may I say! Just for shits and grins, here's a fun one from Macklemore and Ryan Lewis:

So?: Writing about gay characters like you just don't care

by Michael  



It's National Coming Out Day, and I'm wading slowly through the editing process on Dark Days, so like any good author trying to finish a book, I'm procrastinating with what's in front of me. I also haven't posted in a while, and I know that's a cardinal sin, even if I only have something like ten readers. The truth is, it feels good to unleash my typing fingers, flex the word babble a bit, and do ANYTHING besides read through passages trying to figure out exactly what words to tweek.

So, Coming Out Day... It was about 20 years ago that my first friend "came out", though it was only to me and a few others at the time. I sat in my mother's kitchen on the land-line phone in a three-way call with this friend and another. I remember that there was this build up about revealing a secret, and then WHAM! I was told. I guess I was supposed to be blown away, but the truth was, I kind of suspected it was the "secret". After all, I have two uncles who have been together for a very very long time, and though no one ever talked about it openly in the family, it was pretty evident to anyone who paid attention. My reaction to my friend coming out to me was a resounding, "So?"

"So"? Okay, maybe I should have been more sensitive. After all, over the coming years I would see him power through some amazing bullshit. There was the show choir camp we went to where no one but me would room with him. The most vehement homophobe of that group would later come out himself in a college editorial. I should have been better prepared to defend the ever loving hell out of my friend, but my response to anyone who trashed him on the grounds of him being gay was also usually, "So?". I didn't care what his sexuality was. I liked girls, but I didn't like ALL girls, so why should anyone assume that my friend liked ALL boys. In fact, he didn't. He did find a few mentors, one of which killed himself after struggling to survive the ravages of HIV/AIDS, and he was lucky enough that we had a very young, open-minded new choir director who befriended him. His family loved him, and his mom was supportive. His family even took me in when I needed a place to live at the age of 16. My friend didn't have it easy, but he was certainly lucky to have these people in his life.

FLASHFORWARD to last year. This part isn't going to make sense at first, but stick with me through the divergence, and I promise it will. Last year I was in a novel writing class and started working on a project I've been toying with for ages. The basic gist is that it's a horror satire of the TV biz and horror hosts like Elvira and Son of Svengoolie. I got a lot of bad advice on it from the meddling professor and a few of the other students, all of which were decidedly not fans of the genre I was trying to lampoon. They didn't get why I had to be so specific about someone driving a 1958 Plymouth Fury, or why it was funny that the local pizza joint was named Dellamorte's. Most of all, they didn't get why the successful female TV producer didn't have a sexual history with the preening jerk-face TV host/bad boy character.

Facepalm. I was dealing with a group of women who thought it would be more interesting if I turned my horror satire into a cut-rate romance novel. They didn't care if I insisted that she would never have fallen for his "charms", that she was career minded and had "taste". They didn't care that all my heroine cared about was running a successful television show. They wanted to know more about how he had broken her heart and how she was going to save him from his drunken, womanizing ways. Never mind the fact that they'd sen the plot outline and that there was none of that in there, that's what they wanted. I got an A- in the class after refusing to whore her out. In fact, I went so far as to make her a lesbian.

J.K. Rowling famously outed Dumbeldore as gay after her series was finished. I'd planned on making my character gay in the same way. It was happenstance. It was "So?". But in the year since that class I haven't touched the novel. Not once. I've been focused on finishing my YA Horror novel Dark Days, but I've thought about what I'd done a lot. Her sexuality didn't define her, and whenever I get back to her, I doubt I'll even make it an issue on the page anymore. Authors of fiction, in print or video, are the only ones with the power to magically make someone gay. Should we make their sexuality a matter of happenstance? I don't see why not. I think we take for granted heterosexuality, so why not homosexuality as well? I said before that my response to my friend, my "So?", was somewhat insensitive, but I want to look forward to a world where teenagers who come out don't have to torture themselves over it and their friends are as unperturbed at the revelation as they would be if that friend came by one day and said, "I like cake.", because who cares if someone likes cake or not?

I worry sometimes that we writers focus too much on things like "the character is gay" or "the character is a woman". Yes, those are defining characteristics, but they can't be the ONLY thing that makes the character who they are. Fantasy writers who are good at their craft just happen to have characters who are half-man/half-beast. Sci-Fi writers who have any lick of talent just happen to tell stories about robo-aliens who fight future crime. The plots, saving the kingdom, or catching the cyber-killer, are more important than dwelling on the social ramifications of difference. Yes, sometimes those things can be used as well-spun allegory, but more often than not, if a writer spends too much time on gender, sexuality, race, creed, color, or any other difference, it comes off as preachy and that's no good for anyone. Get your readers to acknowledge it, accept it, and move on. After all, isn't that what anyone who musters the courage to join in on National Coming Out Day wants? To have their difference acknowledged and accepted so we can all move on to more important things like catching cyber-killers? Love your friends, your family, and your fictional characters for who they are, because there's only one of those three you can change, and that one should matter least of all.

Truth to Power - 10 Things I Really Want to Say to Ultra Conservatives

by Michael  




Yes, this is political, and has nothing to do with writing or entertainment, unless you've been watching the improv comedy extravaganza we call "The Republican Debates".  So, without further adieu, and accompanied by some works by one of my favorite painters (Francisco Goya), I bring you my list. Remember, I'm not ranting, I'm being educational!

1. Corporations are NOT people, and no logic game you play will convince a sane person that ANY non-sentient entity is a person.

2. Call it pro-life if you want, but it's anti-women's rights. It'd be one thing if you guys wanted to just chase after abortion, but going after stem cell research, contraceptives, and rape victims shows that what you really want is to micromanage the lives of everyone else around you.


3. Marriage is a function of the state, not the church. I'm glad that your church has a ritual to go along with the state's recognition of two adults who have chosen to share their lives, but it does NOT mean that you are the only one's entitled to enjoy the privileges of marriage. It's a legal status, regardless of religious covenant, proven by hundreds of years of atheists, agnostics, and other non-christians doing it.


4. Back off the hate against homosexuals. This goes back to number three, in part, in that no one gives a shit about what you do in your bedroom or if you prefer blondes to brunettes. Stop trying to regulate morality between consenting adults.

5. Speaking of morality, quit trying to convince us all that we can all be better off if we just would get rid of all the pornography. Ever heard of the Venus of Willendorf? It's a statue, thousands of years old, of a naked woman with gigantic breasts and good breeding hips, and you can't make out her face. Some cave man probably jerked on off to it. Guess what? We still invented the light bulb, French New Wave Cinema, and the iPad.



6. Gridlock isn't the answer. I get it: politics is like football to you. You think there needs to be a clear winner and loser, and you hate when ANYTHING ends in a tie. Political compromise, thus, is your bitter enemy, but guess what? America was BUILT on political compromise. I won't get everything I want and you won't get everything you want, but in the middle there will be sanity. If you refuse to compromise, you aren't just part of what's wrong with our country, you ARE what's wrong with our country.


7. Science is NOT your enemy. Maybe you don't understand it, but science doesn't care. Stop trotting out the same bullshit after it's been proven wrong. Leave the conspiracy theories to the Elvis hunters and JFK spotters, okay? Climate change is real. Evolution is real. Magnets, believe it or not, are real. If science is so scary that you really can't deal with it. We have plenty of forest and farm land you can go live on and stop fucking it up for the rest of us. Of course, that means you'll have to give up your internet porn. Sorry.

8. Back off teachers, unions, welfare recipients, and any other scapegoats you've come up with. This includes immigrants, homosexuals, atheists, and muslims as well. Until you can start taking responsibility for your own fuck ups, don't try pointing fingers at everyone else. By trying to blame one of the above-mentioned groups for failing marriages, economies, or morals, you do us all a disservice because we first need to debunk your crazy bullshit before we can address the real problems like drug abuse and tax evasion.



9. Speaking of taxes, quit brainwashing people into thinking that taxes are the enemy. NOT paying taxes means giving up things like paved roads, fire departments, and basic health standards. Do you really want that? If not, then shut up and pay your taxes. When you wind up on Social Security and need to be rushed to the hospital for your heart attack, you'll be glad for all that "socialist spending".


10. Take the blinders off. No one who is that extreme can truly maintain those stances without being either crazy or a hypocrite. Ted Haggard is a hypocrite, so was Gaddafi. I'm pretty sure no one wants to be in their company, so, again, take the damn blinders off and I'll gladly meet you in the middle.

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