My Sample Ballot

I just received via email my sample ballot for the June 3rd primary in California. As a public service for those of you who may not have the time or inclination to review this document, I offer some of the highlights:

1) The following people are running for Governor of California:

an Assemblyman
a Small Business Owner
a Doctoral Student
a Real Estate Investor
a Psychologist/Farmer
an Author/Non-Profit Director
a Golf Course Operator
an Author/Community Organizer
a Project Funding CEO
a Governor
a Minister/Business Owner
a Small Business Owner
a Business Owner/Engineer
a Businessman

Now, this is a tough one. I always immediately eliminate anyone who is in politics or has “Business” in their title. That takes us down to:

the Doctoral Student
the Real Estate Investor
the Psychologist/Farmer
the Author/Non-Profit Director
the Golf Course Operator
the Author/Community Organizer
the Project Funding CEO

Since I am an author and can imagine no one less qualified to be Governor than I am, I can cross the two Authors off the list. And I think that the Student ought to spend more time on campus because those years are so special and so s/he is out. I don’t know what a “Project Funding CEO” is, so that person’s gone. And Real Estate Investor is too boring for me to leave on any list. So we’re down to:

the Psychologist/Farmer
vs.
the Golf Course Operator

I’ve thought long and hard about this. At first I was smitten with the idea of a Golf Course Operator taking the reins of Our Great State. I’ve spent a lot of time on golf courses over the years and made the acquaintance of some fine Operators in the process. Ultimately, however, I decided that I will cast my vote for the Psychologist/Farmer, for the sole reason that I cannot imagine two otherwise respectable occupations which when combined in one person are more ridiculous.

2) I will be voting for a Security Guard for Lieutenant Governor, over a Father/Software Developer, and a Scientist/Businessman/Parent.

3) There is a Dad/Designer running for Secretary of State. Suffice to say, he will receive at least one vote on June 3rd: mine.

4) There’s someone running for Attorney General who lists no occupation at all. That sounds good to me!

5) There are 15 different Judicial slots on the sample ballot. Typically, most of the people running for these Offices are Prosecutors. This year, I’ve noticed something different: the Prosecutors are not just Prosecutors. They are Gang Homicide Prosecutors, Violent Crimes Prosecutors, Criminal Homicide Prosecutors, Major Narcotics Prosecutors, Gang Murder Prosecutors (as distinct from the aforementioned Gang Homicide Prosecutors, one would presume), Criminal Gang Prosecutors, Sexual Predator Prosecutors, Child Molestation Prosecutors, and Government Corruption Prosecutors. I’m sure that all these Prosecutors are sufficiently morally outraged at the heinous criminals they must come into contact with every day … but how to choose among them? In one contest a Gang/Homicide Attorney is running against a Criminal Gang Prosecutor, and a Gang Homicide Prosecutor. I have resolved this year to skip all the Judicial races.

6) There are no candidates whatsoever with colorful occupations in the elections for Insurance Commissioner, Treasurer, Controller, School Superintendent, Assessor, or Sheriff. Needless to say, I will be skipping all these as well.

7) The biggest disappointments in this year’s sample ballot are the Candidate Statements. These Statements usually contain paranoid ravings, childish rantings, theological diatribes, and apocalyptic warnings about what will befall us if we don’t stem the tide of illegal drugs, illegal immigrants, and other things which aren’t illegal currently but by God ought to be. This year, however, the Statements are uniformly and unremittingly competent.

(However, in the interests of accuracy, I must add that Statements were not submitted by either the Psychologist/Farmer or the Golf Course Operator. They would have no doubt livened things up at least a bit.)

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Mame—Eugene, Oregon

If you ever find yourself in Eugene, Oregon, with about 90 mins to kill, PLEASE do yourself a favor and go eat some sushi & ramen & pork bun tacos & red bean cheesecake at MAME. Insanely good food! Nic and I had our first post-Izzy datenight there on Sunday and can’t recommend it highly enough. Taro-sama and Patrick-kun prepare and serve their food with care and love and the techno/house playlist keeps the joint jumpin. Enjoy!

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Tarkovsky: THE MIRROR

Tarkovsky’s THE MIRROR is ultimately, for me, too free-floating. It is a mesmerizing trip through what appears to be a very personal dreamscape. But, without the trappings of a traditional plot, it occasionally devolves into a series of disconnected images.

While watching it, I had an insight into what makes his films mean so much to me, though. Since you are quickly freed from the need to make any narrative sense of the film, it becomes possible to let it wash over you, to let the stretching of time approach the infinite while not worrying about “story,” per se. As time stretches, and as the camera lingers, caresses, hovers, moves in, pulls out, you begin to feel that what is being shown is not a “film” at all but something much closer to real life.

The texture of plaster on a wall, the whorls in the grain of a polished wood floor, the lines in a woman’s face, the movement of wind across a field of grasses … all of these become somehow elemental, in that they are not the “things” themselves, but rather the archetypes that exist beneath the level of language, and which constitute what many regard as “reality.”

That is the gift Tarkovsky has given me, in THE MIRROR: to see the world, for brief moments, as it really is, without the distractions of time and all its accompanying concerns.

BALLARD ghost #1

Night has fallen through the screen door out in the back yard. Bugs humming out there, batting themselves against the porchlight.

—Ghost be walkin everywhere. Here. There. Down by the river. River full of ghost.

Five children hunched over a kitchen table covered in newspapers. Eggs and egg dye in front of them. Some half-colored eggs in egg cartons, their dyed halves drying in the still kitchen air still smelling of spaghetti. Adults in the other room. Kids picking up uncolored eggs with wire hooks. Dipping them in bowls of dye; in the bottom of those bowls, little undissolved wafers of dye fizz.

—You ever hear of Pee River? continues RC.

—What? No, says Joe.

—Back up the canyon. Pee River’s where some bad shit went down.

RC and Joe are cousins. The other three kids at the table, all girls, and younger, giggle amongst themselves about the eggs and talk of chocolate bunnies, not really noticing the conversation between their two older cousins.

—Like what? asks Joe.

—There was a ghost back up in there. Would get inside ya. Make ya do things. To girls.

Joe shivers a little, dips his little wire hook into and out of a bowl of pink egg dye.

—Uh-huh.

RC goes on: —Yeah. Ghost has the run a the place back up in them woods. Right outta town. Still up there I heared. Ghost walkin everywhere.

The adults, three sets of parents and a grandmother are in the sitting room next door. Not really visible but their words drift under the swinging saloon-style kitchen doors:

—Right there in the church?

—Yep. Passed out. Cold.

—Christ. Did he hit his head or something. On the way down.

—Naw. He was OK.

—He hadn’t eaten anything. And it was the long Latin mass. And the incense.

—Those take forever. Poor lil Joey.

—Yeah. And he was close to her. A pallbearer. He’d never been to anything like that before.

—He said something. When he came to.

—Yeah? What?

—About the last thing he remembered hearing. Just before he fainted.

In the kitchen, the three little girls pick up their eggs and disappear out into the backyard, the screen door banging shut behind them. Joe looks across the table at RC. Who smiles underneath bangs bleached blonde by the summer sun.

—Shit, man, he mutters, shaking his head.

—What, asks Joe.

—Ghost, man. That’s all. Bad-ass, man. Ghost. Makin people do things they don’t wanna do.

—Yeah.

—That’s bad-ass.

Back in the sitting room, coming in from under the saloon-style kitchen doors:

—Uh-huh.

—It was about the Holy Ghost.

—In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.

—No, something else.

—What then.

—He heard Veni, Sancte Spiritus. He knew it meant Come, Holy Ghost.

—Hmm. And so?

—Said he thought the Holy Ghost was coming to get him, coming to take him over, or take him away, or something.

—And that, ladies and gentleman, is why the Catholic—

—Shut up. No one wants to hear it, Lou.

The girls bolt back in from outside, slamming the screen door behind them and crashing through the saloon-style kitchen doors, past the adults, on their way to one of the bedrooms in the rear of the bungalow. They have colored eggs in their hands and flowers in their hair and are laughing.

RC pushes back from the kitchen table, egg dye on his fingers and newsprint smeared on his bare forearms.

—You got any money, he asks.

—Some, replies Joe.

—Cool. Let’s go get some candy.

Joe gulps, his adam’s apple bobbing up and down his skinny neck. Nods his head.

—Cool.

RC yells into the sitting room: —Ma! We’re goin down to Blackie’s.

The boys head for the screen door. RC pauses:

—Hey man.

—Yeah.

—What’s up with that fainting at Gram’s funeral?

Joe gulps again, then brushes past him, into the night, past the bugs and porchlight, sucking in huge draughts of nocturnal sea air and heading for the alley.

Influences at the core of BALLARD bonus expeditionary force

This book came together—compared to the earlier two—in straightforward fashion. I wrote the Prologue and the Epilogue kind of in the middle of the composition process. But the body of the book rolled out in mostly chronological order, with almost no rearranging in the final proofing.

This is in dramatic contrast to the methods behind BALLARD motor court and BALLARD the republic of dogs. Those books were both significantly “cut-up,” to use a Burroughsian term; and in neither case did I know exactly where the story was going to end until approximately halfway through.

But with BALLARD bonus expeditionary force there were some documentary influences which made it easy for the story to flow to its inevitable conclusion. This book is in no way “factual,” but at its core has certain consistencies relating to two historical events:

In 1932, at the height of the Great Depression a group of WWI veterans journeyed to Washington, DC, and camped out in protest. They had been promised a “bonus” for their service and, times being what they were, had come to the capital to ask for it now, rather than in another five years when it was legally “due” them.

The crowd grew to thousands. The US gov’t got increasingly nervous. Eventually, the Army was sent in and tanks rolled. Douglas McArthur was among the most zealous of the officers leading the charge; Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton were more conflicted about their roles in rousting the vets from their encampments. Fires were set—or broke out—and many people were injured and a couple of klds died.

In November, 1969, on the back of their classic Beggar’s Banquet and the unreleased but soon-to-be-classic Let It Bleed records, The Rolling Stones embarked on their first tour of America in over three years. Anticipation ran high. The Stones were at their peak, both musically and as cultural touchstones. There was an air of danger about them, a touch of the satanic (which was mostly clever marketing, of course).

After a series of solid if unspectacular dates, the tour moved eastward and the band rolled into Detroit on November 24th. From the 24th through the 29th of November, they played over six CONSECUTIVE nights EIGHT of the most incendiary shows in the history of rock’n’roll in Detroit, Philly, Baltimore, New York, and Boston. The tour then concluded with a free concert at the Altamont Speedway on December 6th. At that show, an audience member was murdered by Hells Angels hired to provide security and the decade of the 60’s ended on a sour, nasty, apocalyptic note.

Two other factors are “mashed-in” to the phantasmagoric soup that is BALLARD bonus expeditionary force:

1) Barack Obama’s drone program. (It’s not really his program, of course, but given the extent to which he has expanded it beyond its original, more modest origins, I think he can be said to have laid claim to a certain “ownership”!) I was not thinking of the recent NSA/Prism revelations; those happened after I wrote the book. I was more just imagining a time in which drones became a significant element of domestic policing. I become more convinced every day that this will happen here within the next five years.

2) Francisco Goya’s “Black Paintings.” Sometime around 1820, Goya, then an old man, moved into a house outside Madrid, Spain. Over the next several years, he painted 14 paintings directly onto the plaster walls of the two-storey house. It is said that he never intended them for public display. (After Goya’s death, they were transferred to canvas and now hang in the Prado.) The subject matter of the paintings ranges from pastoral to utterly horrifying. I like to think that Goya made these paintings from a very deep place and that he thought of them as the ultimate expression of his artistic purpose.

So, there you have it. Those things informed what BALLARD bonus expeditionary force became.

Oh, and Joe’s talking motorcycle? The 1922 Indian Scout? Of course, that is totally a nod to the wondrous Japanese “light novel” series, Kino no Tabi!

Self-promotion

I think about this a lot.

I wonder: if Kafka were alive today, how would he market himself? Would he tweet? Would he blog? Would he network? Would he do an AMA on Reddit? How would he “get the word out” about stories like “The Hunger Artist,” and “Josephine The Singer”?

Would he ignore “social media”? Or would he just suck at it?

Because if you’re THAT good at one thing (writing stories) can you possibly also be THAT good at promoting yourself?

And, today, if you cannot promote yourself effectively, does it even matter how good your work is?

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions, but that doesn’t keep me from obsessing about them. I spent a career in “business” trying to “promote” many different things to many different kinds of audiences. Some of those efforts succeeded, others failed. But were any of the ones that worked a product of classic marketing or promotion? Or did they work because all the stars aligned and the product being promoted had an intrinsic worth and I was just lucky enough to sense that?

The internet has of course made people more skeptical than ever of marketing and promotion. People know it’s a scam. This book! This movie! This band! This game! In spite of their ultra-clever cross-platform multi-media marketing campaigns, most of what is being promoted sucks … and people know that now. They instinctively distrust the “sell.”

So maybe it’s more about keeping your head down and doing good work and getting better and better with each project … and hoping? Hoping you have a friend who digs your stuff and tells someone else who tells someone else who … what? Works at Fox? We all know what the chances of that are. Plus, Fox would just want to own your IP and fuck it up, anyway!

As a result, part of me has just stopped thinking about self-promotion. Oh, I make half-hearted attempts at it. Facebook updates, tweets, Tumblr posts, targeted email blasts, even LinkedIn messages. All to let people know that I’ve just finished something and I’d appreciate it if they checked it out. And some of them will check it out. And most of them won’t.

That used to bug me. But now for some reason, I’m becoming OK with it.

I do what I do because I love it and because it helps me understand my life, my sense of reality, my conception of art, my knowledge of consciousness. I also have the unmitigated gall to believe that what I am exploring about MY LIFE will be interesting to others as they navigate THEIR LIVES. What a concept, right? But there you have it. You keep going because … well, because you want to get better, you want to get closer … to the quickening moment, the spark that makes us human, the things that unite us as we stumble forward with our arms outreached into the darkness, feeling, fearing, hoping.

I won’t stop. Because this is what I do now, who I am.

My gratitude for life, for being conscious in this particular place at this particular moment in time, has been electrified by the experience of writing the three BALLARD novellas.

And I know that better (not unlike winter) is coming!

 

The characters from the BALLARD trilogy

Seventeen characters occur in each of the three BALLARD e-novellas.

But the “incarnation” of each character in each book is different from the book before. For example, the character Ballard is a private detective in his 30’s in BALLARD motor court, a 50-something guy who doubles as the town auto mechanic and projectionist in BALLARD the republic of dogs, and a female painter in her 20’s in BALLARD bonus expeditionary force.

Each incarnation of a character in the three stories is really the same “soul.” They just represent different aspects of that soul, or different possible incarnations of that soul. I don’t mean this in a classic transmigratory sense, as in, these different “versions” of the characters are literally reincarnations of the same essential soul. It’s more like … when I think of Ballard as a character, I think of lots of things that that person could be, lots of jobs s/he could hold, lots of people s/he could fall in love with. But each of those possible versions is still … Ballard.

In any event, in case you’re interested in seeing this layed out across the three novellas, you can see it all in a chart here:

BALLARD_Chara_Chart Sheet1

David Bowie’s THE NEXT DAY

 Between 1970 and 1980, David Bowie released the following 12 studio records:

THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD
HUNKY DORY
THE RISE AND FALL OF ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS
ALADDIN SANE
PIN-UPS
DIAMOND DOGS
YOUNG AMERICANS
STATION TO STATION
LOW
“HEROES”
LODGER
SCARY MONSTERS

Scorecard for the above:

4 masterpieces (HUNKY DORY, ZIGGY, STATION TO STATION, LOW)
3 great albums (ALADDIN SANE, “HEROES,” LODGER)
4 very good albums (THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD, DIAMOND DOGS, YOUNG AMERICANS, SCARY MONSTERS)

(PIN-UPS, a delightful album of covers, is exempted from this discussion.)

Bowie has done post-1980 work that is, in parts, as interesting, innovative, and challenging as anything he did in the 70’s (parts of the Tin Machine records, OUTSIDE, and HEATHEN, especially). But his reputation as one of rock’s greatest stars rests in that incandescent run from the 1970’s.

Which brings us to THE NEXT DAY, which, among many other things, is the non-1970’s David Bowie record which FEELS and SOUNDS most like a 1970’s David Bowie record. It’s provocative, tuneful, filled with irresistible hooks and memorable lines. It’s the record of an old man, but not one who’s preaching wisdom from a mountaintop. Bowie’s personae here range from acidic resignation through raging fury to haunted self-doubt.

And yet it doesn’t matter. Not at all. Bowie’s record, as accomplished and fascinating as it is, just doesn’t matter. And that’s largely because music doesn’t matter anymore.

There is no band or solo artist alive today whose new records command the attention, sense of anticipation, and cumulative pop-cultural mind-share that rock stars of yore (beginning in the late 60’s) commanded. Music today occupies a far narrower niche than it did when new records by The Beatles, the Stones, Zeppelin, and Bowie, et al, were milestone rite-of-passage-style EVENTS.

All of which, in a weird way, makes me love THE NEXT DAY even more, while noting its irrelevance. Bowie’s newest rock record is as obscure as a poetry reading or a sparsely-attended gallery opening. Not one of these songs will be on the tips of everyone’s tongues for years like “Rebel Rebel” was; not one of them will confound the pop cognoscenti like Side 2 of LOW did.

And so, ultimately, you could say about THE NEXT DAY that this new tune echoes that one on “HEROES,” or that the sax on this record is a buzzing, sexy, honking beast, or that most of these songs not only have hooky choruses, they also have actual, musically integral BRIDGES, for chrissakes … but its most accurate description may be that it is: quaint.

A really good old-timey record that will be heard by relatively few made by a old guy who thinks he still has things to say about how we live today.

There’s a poignance to that which makes me wonder: why did David Bowie make a record at all, at this point in his life? He’s too smart not to know how the landscape has changed. And yet he soldiered on, as if it were 1978, and released an album of new material as if it mattered. Why?

It’s not like he made a difficult, arcane record. He did not write an ambient opus or dabble in post-modern electronica. He recorded an album of Bowie-esque pop-rock songs … expecting who, exactly, to listen to it?

Perhaps at this point, Bowie is simply playing the long game. Has decided he’s still got something to say, and has the means to say it. It’s what he does, after all, make pop records. He “gets” the lay of the land, the new digital world order, and is just working, just tilling the soil, trying to lay good seed and hope that one day, some day, someone will come along and appreciate the fruits of his labor.

Which, ultimately, of course, is what all of us in the “art” game do: challenge ourselves, work hard, worry, and keep our fingers crossed. Why should David Bowie be any different?