Saturday, November 10, 2018

New music about bugs and pavement and the inevitable march towards extinction

What can I say, I'm a happy guy. Production, drums and keys by Jeff of Of Heaven and Sea. Album photo courtesy of Kal at Unsplash. "Work for W.A.S.T.E." via Thomas Pynchon. Music, lyrics and guitars are me. Enjoy. Or don't. That's cool, too. Click here to listen on Soundcloud. Or view the video below.

Friday, November 9, 2018

The Open Office Doesn't Have to Suck

Last week, I spoke at Ignite Denver 30 at the Oriental Theater. My topic was open offices. How they kill productivity. And what we can do about it. I worked Lord Byron, drugs and a whole lot of vampires into my five-minute thesis.

Ignite is a unique series. Your slides auto-advance every 15 seconds. So if you lose your flow, you're screwed. It's a lot of pressure. But, man, I loved it. The Ignite staff was passionate and committed. And my fellow speakers were supportive and interesting. (You really should go check out all their talks.)

I left the stage so, so happy. If you want to see my talk, well, here you go.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The subtext to the subtext of The Purge is more disturbing than the text or the subtext

The Purge franchise takes place in a not-too-distant future where once a year, all crime is legal. It began as a low-budget home invasion concept. And inspired three sequels and a TV series that are equal parts Walking Dead-style gore and 24-style ticking clocks.

The government's rationale for the Purge is that twelve hours of anarchy allows America to release all its angry impulses. But over the course of the films, the real motive becomes clearer and clearer until, by the fourth installment, the text disappears and is replaced entirely by the subtext: the Purge exists to eliminate those that weigh the economy down - the poor, the suicidal, the addicts, the criminals, the crazy.

For this reason, the franchise has been hailed as a bit of left-leaning social satire. The New Founding Fathers of America are an extreme vision of where MAGA logic could lead. But there's one thing this line of thought seems to overlook.

In the series, the Purge works. Unemployment and crime have both dropped below 1%. And that, to me, is the most disturbing idea of all.

The idea we'd all act out our violent impulses if we could? That's scary.

The idea we could be used as weapons against each other? That's even worse.

But the idea America'd be better off if we killed the poor? That's just terrifying.

Friday, August 31, 2018

The end of First Reformed, explained!

[Ed. - This post has (duh) spoilers for the movie. So if you haven't seen it, you might want to go explore some other corner of the Internet.]

Yeah, that headline was clickbait. I actually can explain the end of First Reformed. But to understand it, you're going to have to bear with me for a bit. Because there are quite a few theories floating around out there.

This most obvious is that what we've witnessed is a straight-up, Flannery O'Connor-style moment of grace. Toller shucks off the dark night of despair and surrenders to capital-H Hope symbolized by Mary and her unborn baby. The evidence for this interpretation is that this is literally what we watch happen with our own eyes. Anything beyond it is emotion and conjecture. And let's not forget, it mirrors the advice Toller gave to Michael at the beginning of the film. "Courage is the solution to despair, reason provides no answers."

Then again.

It could be the last sixty seconds are Toller's death dream before he gets sucked down to hell as punishment for self-selecting out of the gene pool. There's tons of evidence for this theory. Schrader himself said the climax was purposefully shot with different lighting and reduced ambient noise, which gives it a different texture than the rest of the film. And the abrupt cut in the middle of Toller and Mary's kiss sure does make it seem like it was all a dream that had to end because (in this interpretation) Toller'd just finished chugging a tumbler of drain cleaner.

Or it could be the entire movie is a metaphor. All the way through. No one is meant to be seen as a human being. The pastor is planet earth. The alcohol is pollution. His doctor is the scientists begging us to stop accelerating towards our own extinction. And Mary is the God we are all hurtling toward due to the apocalypse we seem to have consciously opted into.

And then there's a religious interpretation. Toller will step into the life that should have belonged to his dead son (who was named Joseph, in a move that's hit-you-on-the-head-with-a-hammer obvious) and raise a new messiah with Mary. This explains why Michael thinks the baby's a girl, but Mary tells Toller she's actually having a son. And that intimacy ritual? How is that anything other than a reenactment of immaculate conception?

Poke around on Reddit and you'll find a fifth theory. Mary was a classic noir villainess, a femme fatale who murdered her nervous-wreck hubby and seduced the substantially more godly and slightly more stable village pastor. The evidence for this is that Mary is creepy AF. She performs physical intimacy rituals with men she's neither physical nor intimate with. She claims she found and then re-hid Chekhov's Gun - errrr, Michael's suicide vest - before re-finding it later. And she's creepy AF because she's creepy AF. She levitates, man. I mean, when I saw Michael's body it crossed my mind, "Hey, maybe Mary blew his head off."

And that's the point. First Reformed is not like Mulholland Drive, where you leave the theater wondering what just happened, go to a coffeeshop, talk a bit and suddenly it all makes sense.

At the end of First Reformed an interpretation will suggest itself to you. And in it, you will reach a revelation about the way you see the world.

And then the other theories will come creeping in, spiders each spinning their own little webs. And through these webs you will explore your own capacity for imagination and empathy. And learn not just what you believe happened to Toller, but what you believe will happen to all of us when our day of reckoning finally comes.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Our relationship is happening all the time

[Ed. - I recently had to send a "see you later" email to a very special group of people. The sentiment is important enough that I wanted to share it here, too.]

 At the end of the 2002 movie Laurel Canyon, blithe spirit Jane asks her straightlaced son if they’re “ever going to have a real relationship.” He replies, “Here we are – having it.”

It’s tempting to believe that to build a relationship, you need to schedule quality time. Sneak out for coffee. Share a secret. Celebrate a birthday. Plan a goodbye toast.

But all the moments we spend together are meaningful in equal measure. Sitting in the conference room. Standing in the elevator. Shuffling in the kitchen. These aren’t hurdles to some other, better relationship. They are the relationship. And they are happening all the time.

I hope on Monday you pause to appreciate the divine nature of mundane moments. And instead of resenting or numbing them, imagine them all as part of the same single sprawling sea, immeasurable and immeasurably important.

This is your life. And here you are – having it. Together.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

I've written an unpublishable mashup of a novel

Between January 3, 2013 and February 8, 2017, I put out eight novellas. That's a clip of a new book every six months. What's been the hold-up since?

The good news is I'm on my third draft of a novel. The bad news? I'm fairly sure it's unpublishable.

Mary Monster isn't going to be easy to sell. It's a mashup of urban surrealism and gothic horror. Dance Dance Dance meets Penny Dreadful. My first-person protagonist narrates the story in an awkward combination of 1976 Manchester and 2002 Manhattan slang. He drops dozens of indie music references, some explained and some that'll only make sense to the sort of person who obsesses over The Smiths. Meanwhile, the titular Mary speaks in wholly imagined accents, double entendres and literary allusions.

I tried to embrace all this artifice. In fact, I ran at it. In places I rewrote things to feel purposefully self-conscious, so readers have to slow down and make choices about what to Google and what to let go.

How do I explain this work in a query letter? And even if I could, who'd want it? Fantasy publishers will find my style obtrusive. While literary agents are going to be turned off by all the zombies.

But I can't self-publish, either. The type of people who download self-published fiction are looking for error-free genre fun. That means the first wave of consumer reviews would be terrible. Some jerk would claim my book was filled with typos. Another would drop the where-was-the-editor bomb. And snap, Amazon's algorithm would bury Mary Monster before it got a chance to find a niche.

To publish this book, I either need to find a publisher who believes in it. Or an audience ready to champion it. And I'm not sure either exists.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Things I thought after rewatching Frailty

1. "I can't believe how accurate my memory of this movie is." Typically I forget scenes and transpose lines. But my recall of Frailty was almost shot-for-shot accurate. I suppose that's because it's a movie I've replayed in my mind constantly since the day I saw it.

2. "I wish I was watching this movie with an extremely religious person." The end of Frailty left me absolutely floored. For awhile I considered it one of cinema's greatest twists. But the second time through, I saw how completely Paxton telegraphed the solution. So was Frailty a twist film at all? Or did my secular paradigm make it impossible for me to put the clues together?