My Unsolicited Writers-On-Writing Three-Pack; or, a glimpse into what makes me tick as a human who writes.

August 23rd, 2020

1. On Writing, Stephen King.

Stephen King has been teaching me how to write my whole life. Through his novels (my first was Cujo, a book he thinks is good, but apparently does not entirely remember writing), his adapted work, his interviews, his magazine essays, his Twitter account — dude and his deep shadow have always just been there. This 2020 edition of the classic account of his life and words has a few more additional insights, and the book itself is akin to having a conversation with a mentor who just really wants the best for you — and if you still want to write despite that, he’ll help you anyways. Some of his story is strangely like my own, and some of it contains my deepest wishes; if I forever am a literary squirrel, then King will be the gnarled nut tree that is my home.

2. The Writer’s Life, Annie Dillard.

This book was recommended to me by my friend Tracy, and it is the one most buried in my heart. It’s also the one I’m most likely to come back and refer to, again and again. Another conversation, but one with the writer who already knows: the journey, the solitude, the madness, the joy, the peace. It took me a lifetime to find, but an evening to absorb for the first time. This book is a gift.

3. Supergods, Grant Morrison.

Grant is my favorite comic book writer. He is also the insane-est, and the most sane, depending on the page. I get why some people are put off, pissed off or absolutely frustrated by some of his work; I am, too. And that’s what keeps me coming back for more. He’s taught me some of the most mind-bending, soul-stretching ideas and techniques that I know, and inspires me to never say good enough. (Alan Moore does, too, but he lacks Grant’s bleeding heart, which is a fun house mirror reflection of my own.) The novellas I published in my twenties were my punk rock albums; that spirit infuses this work. This book is an autobiography, a comprehensive comic book and pop culture history, and a concept factory installed between two plastic flaps. Absolute joy.

Read one, read ’em all or don’t read any. I can’t guarantee anything, except a better understanding of the writers behind the writing — which has given me a whole darn heck of a lot.

Whisper of Hope

August 20th, 2020

“What we do reverberates through generations.”

I’m not the type to drink the Kool-Aid of any particular brand (you guys, it’s all literally the same drink but they just change the color). I believe in America; not the one we currently live in, but the ideals that were put in place by people who knew that we had to live up to something better than ourselves.

Don’t tell anybody, but I’ve been watching the DNC coverage this week and I have a confession to make. I’ve been feeling something, faint but familiar, stirring in the bottom of my chest: a whisper of hope.

And, surprisingly enough, that feeling isn’t emanating from a candidate. No, it’s coming from a lot of passionate people who care a whole lot about this country, and they’re determined to do something we’ve sorely needed: they want to hold their candidate accountable.

As I’m watching all these people speak about Joe Biden, their highest compliment seems to be that he is a decent man. Which, you know, debatable for some. But these people are also fiercely outspoken, and they are telling us that they will hold this president accountable and continually make their voices heard to him.

And that has been nonexistent in American politics for the last four years; the idea that the president would listen to anybody but himself.

Listen to Obama speak, and hear perfectly constructed sentences (!) and a dignified tone that represent exactly what this country should be.

And let yourself feel it. Maybe not full-fledged hope, not yet. But let yourself feel the whisper. And let us hope that hope will only get louder.

What Lasts Does Not Do So On Its Own

August 17th, 2020

As we watch relationships dissolve en masse, for a variety of valid and irrational reasons, I reflect on how they last.

(It’s almost like social media has publicly revealed that maybe humans are not meant to be exposed to so many thoughts and opinions all the dang time.)

When two people are asked how they’ve kept their relationship, of any kind, going for so long, you will usually get a variation of “It takes a lot of work.”

Well, that’s not a lie, but it also isn’t very helpful, is it?

Generally, at some point in every relationship, something will happen that will make one or both people say “Fuck this.”

At that windy juncture, they have to choose a direction. They can decide to change, or end, the relationship; they can also decide to go forward and make it work.

I don’t think these “Fuck this” situations are always dramatic events. It could be a friend who has backed out of plans with you six times in a row. It could be a relative who has expressed beliefs or thoughts that you can’t find a way to reconcile. It could be a seemingly small thing, which is really the raindrop that shoves over a boulder of pain or resentment.

It’s not that people in long-term relationships don’t have times when they say “Fuck this”; it’s that they decide their relationship is bigger than the moment.

And, in a way, that’s the secret to every relationship that we all keep to ourselves. I have no idea how many times I have inspired the people in my life to say “Fuck this.” They have no idea how many times I’ve said it, either.

But when I think about it, the fact that we do it and we still decide to stay together is one of the most beautiful parts of being a human. We get to determine its worth with our time and our hearts.

Up With Down

August 15th, 2020

A few times in my life, I have discovered something at the exact right moment I need it. Maybe you’ve had similar gifts. A book, or a film, or a poet, or a fan club; art that transcends base entertainment and emotion to help you along a particular path or over an incredible obstacle.

I’ve been chattering about it quite a bit over the past few weeks, but Watership Down has been that for me this summer.

To be honest, Hazel the rabbit is the only reason I’m still on social media.

I’ll explain why.

I won’t get into the depth and multitude of ideas and themes present in the novel (that’s what a book club is for!). But the myth behind the rabbit is simple: Frith (their God, the sun) made all animals, and made them equal. When rabbits multiplied and took over the Earth, Frith then gave each animal special gifts; this made a Thousand enemies of the rabbit, with wings and teeth and claws. Frith finally gave the rabbit long, powerful legs, in order to run.

Your enemies will kill you, Frith says, if they catch you. So don’t let them catch you. And thus, a rabbit must always run, or die.

And that’s what the rabbits, led by a Hazel, do. They confront many enemies; they meet massive obstacles with near-impossible odds; they go through nearly every conceivable trauma; and then they keep running.

Which, in turn, inspires me to run.

Hate is loud. Violence is loud. Bigotry is loud. Ignorance is loud. Oppression is loud.

So we keep running.

If you believe in compassion, and empathy, and equality, and logic; if you practice your faith, instead of using it as a shield or a sword; you’re a part of my warren.

And just like Hazel speaks for parts of his warren, I speak for mine.

Where there is hate, violence, bigotry, ignorance or oppression: we speak.

And there is so much right now. And some days I want to quit running.

But to quit running is to die, and I don’t feel like we’re done yet. The book lovingly writes of our world; the sunrises and sunsets, the trees and winds. The sights, smells, sounds, thoughts and feelings of being alive.

Hazel-rah, a plain and friendly brown bunny, can fight for all these things. With him in my heart, I think we all can, too.

Plain & Friendly

August 13th, 2020

“He did not want to appear at a loss or to let his followers down. He decided that it would be best to be plain and friendly.”

– Watership Down

If you ever run into me in real life, this is my goal.

I often feel like a let down, or that I’m lacking to live up to expectations; the least I can try to be is nice.

Sometimes that kindness is plain; sometimes it results in me teasing. Sometimes it comes out as an odd mishandling of words; sometimes I get out exactly what I mean to say.

Constantly reminding myself that kindness is the best we can do is how I can be content.

And if I’ve ever been less than that to you, for that I apologize; you can be certain I’ll be better the next time around.

We Can Care For All

August 13th, 2020

If you’re one of the people jumping on the social media trafficking bandwagon, please take a few minutes to read this information I’m sharing below.

I call this a bandwagon for a number of reasons:

1. None of this is new. To make it appear that it is or that it is worse than it has ever been is not only misleading, but wildly incorrect.

2. It is designed to detract people from other issues, and very intentionally. People are allowed to care about more than one thing at a time; to create a campaign about children only makes it easier to shame people who dare cry out against anything else. Even more than that? A lot of these issues go hand-in-hand, and can be worked on together.

3. Show of hands, people sharing about hashtag children now: how many of you have also shared about the children we’re currently holding in cages, and have been for years? Is it all children we’re concerned about? Or is it specific children, the guidelines of whom are being designed to incite some kind of particular fear in you?

4. Where are your protests? I actually Googled this, to see if there was a massive wave of protesting I missed. I hadn’t. You see, when an issue hits this close to home, as it appears it has for many of you, there tends to be action. Unless, of course, the problem doesn’t actually affect you in the way that you say it does. It sounds harsh, but if you actually believe all of Hollywood is behind some nefarious scheme, then get yourselves down there and do something. I’ll get you a map and donate some gas money.

I’d like to additionally go on the record to share that these issues have personally and deeply affected me, from when I was a child.

And it wasn’t traffickers or the Hollywood elite behind any of it.

It was people we knew.

Pay attention to your own communities, families and friends. Have conversations. Enact personal change. But stop fear-mongering and shaming; there is so much on everybody’s plates, and we’d do best to help clear them, not add to the burden.

The following information was shared on social media by Raven Lo Wise Uh

So I have seen a major influx of sharing about child sex trafficking and the info being shared is quite concerning! My team and I just had this discussion last week! We have been working tirelessly for years on eradicating human trafficking. Where have y’all been? While we think it’s great that people are calling attention to the atrocity, unfortunately, it comes at the cost of no one wanting to address the issues that have been at hand and want to change the narrative to a “more comfortable topic”. But here’s my take anyway! (Note: some of this is copied from another post and I added some.)

There is great intention but much guidance is needed!

Sex trafficking isn’t new. It’s only trending. And it’s leaving out the whole topic of HUMAN trafficking which includes both sex and labor trafficking. If we talk about one, we gotta talk about both because they go hand in hand!

1. I am thankful for an increase in compassion & care for the vulnerable. I want ALL people on board to help bring about the change we so desperately need.

2. I am deeply concerned & I’ve been talking with other advocates about this lately. They are feeling the same concern. Many of us have been speaking out against and fighting human trafficking for years. All of the sudden it is trending due to trying to change the narrative on other forefront issues like racism.

3. The issue with this is that many are spreading fear that our children are going to be snatched off of our streets and that is simply NOT true & incredibly harmful to the work of awareness that is credible.

4. I would really plead with all of my wonderful well-meaning friends to really research human trafficking and sign up for the long-haul of the fight. Please don’t follow sensationalized organizations/conspiracies that create a issue that has never been the true face of exploitation. Unfortunately, there are some political motives in this sudden influx of awareness and that is sickening!

5. Be careful with hashtags. I have recently seen one trending that I have never seen in all of my years of advocacy. I’ve been doing some digging and that hashtag doesn’t link to anything that is truly helping the vulnerable.

6. Human trafficking doesn’t look like children being snatched off the streets. Human trafficking looks like children and adults, both girls and women & boys and men being lured & groomed usually by someone they know and exploited for commercial sex and/or labor. It doesn’t look like IKEA stalkers, Target parking lot creeps, zip ties on side mirrors, conspiracy & wayfair cabinets. I am not saying that it never does because evil is evil and can take many forms BUT I have never heard of a story where this is the case.

7. It shouldn’t take trending hashtags and sensationalism for us to get on board with things like this. I understand that we all have a moment where we are awakened to true suffering and I am deeply thankful for those moments! And if you have recently had a moment like this, great. Please follow organizations who have been leading the way for decades and decades. Please follow sources that will give you credible information. Please continue to educate yourselves and share with others. Please be informed on trauma and the ways we are communicating certain words here. It matters so much.

Follow-

— Northwest Ohio Rescue and Restore Coalition

— Polaris

— National Center on Sexual Exploitation

— National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

— Exodus Cry

— NightLight International

— Project Rescue

— International Justice Mission

If we want to fight human trafficking we need to…

— Invest in safe houses & restoration centers.

— Value family & invest in young boys & girls about their worth & create safe places.

— Start treating our fellow humans,  (and yes, even immigrants!) like fellow human beings.

— Talk with children about their own safety & boundaries with others.

— Diligently manage children/teen social media usage.

— Invest time & resources into the foster care/adoption system.

— Understand the very real connection between pornography and sex trafficking. STOP the demand.

— Help take care of the most vulnerable around us. Help safeguard them from being vulnerable to trafficking.

— Set up your churches, daycares, schools and organizations to safeguard from abuse.

— Create an understanding of BOTH labor and sex trafficking and what it looks like in our area.

— Set a standard in our communities that we value people, not bodies. We should not use people. We should validate people’s experiences. We should speak up for justice. We should walk  alongside the vulnerable.  We should truly love our neighbors.

Books to read-

— Scars & Stilletos- Harmony Dust

— Girls Like Us- Rachel Lloyd

— Paid For- Rachel Moran

Some words to look out for-

X Prostitute = prostituted person but does not always mean trafficked

X Child Prostitute = there’s no such thing! They are child victims!

X Pimp = Trafficker

X John/Trick = Person buying sex

One final note…we cannot solely focus on children here. We must also focus on adults AND the immigrants in our communities who face additional barriers and can become prey so easily.

There are so many in our community listed online for sex and/or labor exploitation every day.

There are people in our community who are being trafficked.

They are children in our community experiencing sexual abuse and exploitation.

We don’t need to sensationalize the issue. It’s horrific enough.

May we get behind people and organizations who have put their hand to the slow and steady work of restoration.

If we can come together, learn together, empathize and pray together, imagine the dent we can make in this injustice. Let’s do this well.

#endit is a helpful hashtag. I would avoid the hashtag that says “save the children” as it has ties to conspiracy & unproven info.

Thoughts on Prayers

August 11th, 2020

As a kid, the practice of prayer fascinated me.

The way I (and, it seems, a whole lot of adults) understood it, if you needed something, you prayed for it.

Your grandpa’s sick? Pray for him.

Your cat got run over by an ice cream truck? Pray for her (and, while you’re at it, pray for ice cream, too).

Crops won’t grow because there’s no rain? Pray for it, then ask the rest of your community to pray for it, then ask people who don’t even practice the same faith as you to pray for it, because we’re all in this together, right?

But then my child brain would take a logical journey. If a prayer isn’t answered, then it would have to mean one of two things:

1. God isn’t real; or

2. He exists, but he is a cruel God.

When I brought this up, I was given conflicting and sometimes confusing responses, none satisfactory to me.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that someone explained it to me in more certain terms: when one prays, they do not pray for a someone or a something. They pray for God’s will to be done.

And that was absolutely brilliant to me. Because, you see, it closes the loophole. The prayer is answered, God exists; the prayer is not, God exists, but this was not a part of His plan.

But then my adult brain took a logical journey; if all we’re praying for is what God is going to do either way, then why do we do it?

I feel like we do it for ourselves.

Which may be an uncomfortable thing to consider for some. But I find it to be magical, and comforting. By making it personal, it transcends any one belief or religion; it becomes a person consciously, individually donating their compassion, thoughts, time and hope to another.

On top of that, it takes the pressure off. By letting go of the idea that your prayer will save someone, or it has to, you’re more able to deal with any and all possible outcomes.

Prayer with perspective makes you proactive.

And now the idea fascinates me more than ever.

Unconditionally

July 28th, 2020

I’m seeing a lot of copying & pasting. An abundance of sharing of other people’s words.

I don’t give advice, but as someone who cares deeply about humans, I feel like there’s a better way.

Maybe you could speak from your own heart. Maybe you could use your own words.

A generic message that took someone mere seconds to share has rarely changed a world, big or small.

I’m also seeing a lot of people feel called out. It’s especially telling when the written thing they feel called out about never mentions them or the thing they feel passionate about.

I’ve been attacked a lot lately.

Again, no advice, but a suggestion: maybe — just maybe — the reason you’re constantly feeling called out is because that fiery voice in your chest we call a conscience is trying to tell you something.

Nearly everything I post is from a place of compassion, hope and love. Everyone has the right to be; if something you do or say infringes on that right, then you’re wrong. I don’t claim to know Jesus like some of y’all, but he seems like a good dude who would be mighty disappointed at the state of the way some people are treating people.

I included these insights with a cute picture of my dog for a variety of reasons.

To get your attention. To get those likes. To show people my dog.

But my dog is also a great equalizer. She’s a neutral subject; she loves every single person unconditionally, whether they deserve it or not.

Even those people on the internet who hate me, or call me an idiot, or a snowflake, or a piece of shit. Which they do, with gusto.

She loves me even though those people don’t think I deserve it.

And because of her, I love them, too.

Walls Come Down

July 26th, 2020

This is America.

So, you can look at this photo; but I need you to really see it.

See her face. See her behavior. See her shirt.

This is the kind of facade that hate has built in this country.

Trevor Noah was on Hot Ones last year, and he had an interesting thing to say about hate. He compared it to hot sauces. He said some bottles say “Hot Sauce” and you put it on your tongue and it’s hot. But some sauces, you put on your tongue, and it’s not hot at all. It’s only when you go to the bathroom later that you realize it was, in fact, hot sauce.

He said he prefers to deal with the first kind; at least they’re upfront about their hate, and it gives you somewhere concrete to go. You can ask specific questions and they’re not hiding their intentions.

Beware of the second kind, though. Good luck with them, he says.

That’s what this woman, photographed yesterday in Bloomington, embodies.

Her shirt says Love Love Love.

Her words and actions scream hate hate hate.

The couple who were captured wearing Nazi masks at a Minnesota Wal-Mart, however, were the former — and it made my blood boil watching nonetheless.

So, I’d like to make an update to the hot sauce metaphor: it’s all bad. There is no preferred level of hate, nor should there be a kind that is tolerated.

This isn’t a matter of free speech. This isn’t political; the people who call hate political are the kind who can’t deal with the fact that it exists simply as a human problem.

It’s human, which means it can infect anybody, and that is what scares people.

There are infinite, complex reasons to hate, as there are to lie. People see the world changing, and if it’s currently a world that benefits them, you’re seeing their true colors now.

The facades exist beyond clothing. People hide behind their religions, their families, their friends, their philosophical or intellectual strengths. But if you look past all of it, you will see love or fear. And if you see fear, then know that the person behind it is wrong.

Some us are trying to push open ourselves, our capacities for compassion and reason and respect.

And some of us are wearing shirts that say Love Love Love while trying to destroy the world.

Take the time to figure out who you are.

You’ve Already Done Enough

July 26th, 2020

This was crazy fun to discover tonight; it’s definitely a highlight of my summer.

Like so many before me, I feel like I artistically wasted my twenties (despite releasing three albums [with accompanying music videos], playing countless shows, putting out a web series, publishing three novellas, blah blah blah).

Then you find a treasure trove like this and you remember things a little differently.

This dusty box I found while organizing my junk was filled with scripts that I had written throughout the decade. And since some of you have known me for a while, I thought I’d give you an update on the projects. 

JARGON
WHAT IT IS: A four-episode web series that tried to find a balance between The X-Files and Adult Swim. Taking place in my hometown of Faribault, Jasper Line’s girlfriend is apparently murdered, turned into a tiny ball of metal, and suddenly a mysterious organization called the H.I.G. is after him and his friends.
STATUS: Completed. All four episodes of the first season were released on my YouTube channel ten years ago this summer.

THE GREEN HOUSE
WHAT IT IS: I wrote two half-hour long episodes of this comedy; a couple of bachelors accidently adopt a child and decide to keep it. Hilarity ensued.
STATUS: We actually filmed about 50% of this, but not enough to put together an episode. Usually when this happened, it was hard to get everyone back together to complete the work.

THE PROGRAM
WHAT IT IS: This was the first time I legitimately created A SHOW; I wrote seven half-hour long scripts to make up the first season. This was about a couple of friends who decide to start their own news show; they team up with the local public access television station, who desperately needs new content dedicated to their town.
STATUS: This is actually one I would love to revisit. We did a half-assed read-through, but nothing was ever actually filmed. There is a lot to explore with this concept and these characters; it very much has a It’s Always Sunny… vibe.

THE VISITOR!
WHAT IT IS: A feature film musical about an alien and the dude who finds him. I wanted to reimagine E.T. with music and a Judd Apatow sensibility, and I wrote a movie about friendship, loneliness and fear.
STATUS: This is absolutely “the one that got away,” and the one I would do in a heartbeat if it was possible. We probably filmed about 25% of it, but much of it is unusable due to my inexperience and time constraints. On my YouTube channel, we even got so far as to release a teaser trailer and a video blog, where I demonstrated a song from the film called “Not That Easy.”

Honestly, even though they all got to various stages of development, just the fact that I completed so many stories gives me a sense of accomplishment. Every project taught me things and strengthened me as a writer, as do my blogs and other social musings. These stories could even still have different lives in different formats, but they exist all the same.

I post this to hopefully remind you of all you’ve accomplished; the things you don’t necessarily think about, but you definitely did.

And maybe that’s enough to make you want to start what’s next. Or — maybe that’s just enough.