Governor Quixote

Governor Quixote

Maybe it’s because money is so tight or because I’m finding Texas increasingly inhospitable to rational speculation, but this Jade Helm bullshit is gnawing at my brain. I realize my output has still been scant and I promise I’ll get back to blogging about movies or writing or art at some point, but I feel I need to unload another rant, albeit a small one…

While everyone laughs at our Governor for his tin-foil/Alex Jones psychopathy, what’s going unnoticed is that Texans, as taxpayers, are paying for this embarrassing nonsense. This is far from the first time Abbott has shamelessly wasted our money tilting at Federal windmills. As Attorney General, he spent $2.58 million of taxpayer money on 27 lawsuits against the Federal Government from the moment Obama took office, attacking frequent Tea Party targets like Obamacare and the Clean Air Act. That’s not conservatism, it’s radical anti-government extravagance. And it’s what happens when you elect someone with the intellectual maturity of a Golden Retriever to run your state. Texas’s “economic miracle” could be coming to a close sooner that most people think. When voters elect these kind of politicians, they only lock in a future of hardship.

Manufactory of Echoes

Texas textbooks

I’ll admit it’s poor form to vent one’s spleen all over the Facebook feeds of others. I’ve been doing it quite a lot recently and I’m not proud of it. So I’ll do my spleen venting here.

Last week, the battle over Texas textbooks shook out pretty much the way everyone who’s grown accustomed to the indoctrination methods of the christian right expected. Moses was a spiritual founding father (probably more important than that god-hater Jefferson), the slave trade was actually the Atlantic triangular trade, capitalism’s not capitalism but “free enterprise”… basically, the kind of shit Orwell would offer an acerbic chuckle at. And, also predictably, my social media feeds were littered with derisive comments from those outside of Texas. And why not? Making fun of Texas, and specifically Texas politics is fun. I sometimes wonder if some Lone Star politicians are in on the joke and merely bored and trolling for laughs. Yes, I’m talking about the living, breathing Warner Bros. cartoon that is Louie Gohmert. The comments that alarmed me were some that came from within the borders of this fucked up Republic, the ones essentially adopting a “who cares” mentality. I’m a native born Idahoan. I’m no stranger to residing in a place that provides the intellectual elite with a comfortable punchline, and I understand steeling yourself to adapt to the reality of living in a right wing playground, but apathy can be seductive and dangerous.

Right off, it’s important to attempt to contextualize rather than oversimplify. No, people in Texas aren’t insane. People in Beaumont aren’t even insane. They’re poor, scared and gullible to the point where they’d elect David Bradley, a real estate broker with no experience in education, who homeschooled his own children, to the state legislative body that oversees pubic education. Yes, that does sound crazy, but the reality is far more insidious. Bradley attempted (and failed) to get claims from the Heartland Institute refuting climate change published in one science textbook. As an insight into the Heartland Institute’s quest for science, Philip Morris hired them in the 90’s to publish a “policy study” questioning the link between secondhand smoke and health risks. And Bradley thinks critical thinking skills are “gobbledygook”. And he proposed an amendment to state social studies curriculum to always include Hussein in the president’s name. And he doesn’t have a firm grasp of what “conflict of interest” means. And he likes to bully women. What’s pathetic is that Bradley’s far from the only demagogue on this school board. Cynthia Dunbar has her own list of greatest hits, Don McLeroy likes to mansplain to the ladies about minorities, and Ken Mercer is my own personal bête noire. He’s a software engineer bankrolled by James Leininger to champion creationism and (again) discourage critical thinking, and because of the anti-democratic scourge of gerrymandering, this lying, lumbering fuckwit actually represents me. Before becoming a parent, that might not have had much of an impact on me. Now it fills me with revulsion.

That’s why I find those “it doesn’t affect my school district” quips from Austinites maddening. I’ll admit to a fair amount of indifference to politics when I was childless and living in Brooklyn, but this state is ground zero for a malady that infects the entire nation. Texas is such a large market for textbooks, its approved primary and secondary syllabi can influence the content of classroom materials throughout the entire country. School board elections, city council elections, and court appointments are where these battles start. It’s where batshit crazy politicians get their teabag sea legs. Again, see Louie Gohmert. The state voter turnout in this last election was deplorable, even with high profile races like Davis vs. Abbott and Van de Putte vs. Patrick, and the sad thing is, it shouldn’t be about the high profile races. It should be about getting to know your reactionary zealots before they make national headlines.

So dismissing the events of the past several weeks as being more “crazy Texas stuff” that ultimately affects only a few may help boost one’s feelings of superiority and serenity, but it’s those very attitudes that have contributed to keeping this ridiculous idealogical ping-pong match that we now call our government dysfunctional and corrupt.

(Not Really a) Status Update

I’ve been doing a lot of apologizing lately. If my own self-generated publicity is to be believed, I’m a creator of images (both moving and still), a writer, and an all-around creative factotum. The thing is, over the past several months, I’ve had very little to show for all this bluster. My blog, rather than full of behind-the-scenes stills, sketches and production logs, is full of excuses and complaints. The events of this summer have only compounded the frustration and I’ve come to realize that it’s probably best to offer some details. So consider this an explanation—a record—but not another apology.

This year got off to a difficult start. As parents of a preschooler, both my wife and I discovered first-hand the reality that all parents of preschoolers discover: you/they will be sick constantly during their first winter of school. Constantly. From January to April, there was little more than three or four consecutive days that I actually felt like a real human with functional lungs and an unfogged head. Days passed in a phlegm-clogged narcosis, as we both went through the routines of keeping a child fed, bathed and clothed, while simultaneously holding down our jobs and the house. Working on creative endeavors was on a burner, but I’ll admit it was toward the back.

As spring gave way to summer, all those maladies from previous months started to seem trivial and silly. Every visit to the doctor felt like a spin on some malevolent “Wheel of Misfortune”. It started with an eye exam. I had apparently been misdiagnosed with an astigmatism ten years prior in New York and, as a measurement of the curvature of my corneas confirmed, actually had a rapidly advancing case of keratoconus, a degenerative eye disease. After consulting with my ophthalmologist and a specialist, it became clear that the best course of action was corneal cross-linking treatment, a parasurgical procedure commonplace in Europe but not yet approved by the FDA. Because of this, I was only able to qualify as a subject in a “clinical trial” and, naturally, our insurance won’t chip in for any of the $4000 bill. So, still working out the schedule of our late summer/early fall engagements, we decided on a couple of weekends in October where, hopefully, my sight won’t be all that necessary. I actually felt a little settled for a brief period of time, the four grand notwithstanding.

Then, two weeks before our trip to the Northwest for a family reunion, I received more shitty news, this time in a twin dose. The first was a loss of a freelance client. In and of itself, not that earth-shattering of a development. After all, it’s a harsh reality of freelancing that clients will come and go with little to no notice. This client, however, had grown into a primary source of income; I’d been billing upwards of 30-35 hours a week for them, and an overly dependent relationship had developed that I don’t recommend for any freelancer. While it was a serious blow, it hardly came as a surprise. The work that I was doing for them had become obsolete, they were growing financially weaker as a company and, again, I was merely a freelancer. You never really know what job will be your last job.

Several days after that dilemma, I received the results from the biopsy of a pair of moles shaved several weeks before. My dermatologist had been mapping and monitoring the abundance of moles on my body and I made the mistake of assuming that diligence and scrutiny were all that were required to keep me in the clear. Whether out of avoidance or blind ignorance, I had prepared for nothing. I simply anticipated a positive result. The call from my dermatologist altered my thinking drastically. Both samples (one from the back, one from the arm) came back positive for melanoma. The only thing my mind could conjure at that moment was, “Huh. So cancer happened.” I don’t know if flippancy is a coping mechanism or just a result of being a dummy or maybe just an expression of numbness, but this is the point of the blog post where I must make a serious recommendation: never google a condition you’ve been diagnosed with. It really doesn’t help. So now I get a lot more doctor visits, know where my lymph nodes are, and I know how to check them. At least, I think I’m checking them. And I have two impressive scars that I can convincingly pass off as old wounds from a particularly savage knife fight. Empty handed I am not.

And while my recent (scant) posts have blamed fatherhood as an excuse for not getting anything done, I’ll reiterate that there is something to that, and it’s not necessarily negative. Yes, I haven’t been nearly as productive as I’d like but if you want your kid to have a somewhat healthy personality, it’s important to be there for him, not just taking up space, but engaged, connected and patient. And, luckily enough for us, our kid is pretty fun. That’s not to say that working from home has been sunshine and chocolate-covered bacon for either my wife or myself. It can be a strain. You can tell yourself that you’ll sit down at the computer and pick up the work of tweaking “the rest of that last shot” at night after everyone goes to bed, but when it’s your genes responsible for your child’s high octane imagination and he’s going through his first bad dream phase, it’s also your responsibility to talk him through it at two in the morning.

So there it is. I didn’t write this out of self-pity or to elicit any sympathy. Honestly, as my angry, all-too-self-reliant Welsh blood apparently runs pretty deep, sympathy is something I dread more than Texas politics. After all, this is the summer where I was invited to become a member of two support groups. There’s a surplus of shoulders to cry on. I’m purely proposing that the next time a friend or acquaintance isn’t quite up to speed on something, seems like they’re behind the 8-ball, working at a snail’s pace, or some other inane cliché, it’s possible that it’s not because they’re lazy or apathetic. Sure, don’t rule out that possibility, but maybe leave room for other reasons, reasons that they could probably appreciate a little help with. As for me, I’ll be fine. I have two short films that are nearing completion… yes, it’s the two that I keep rambling on about on this blog. And they’re going to be fucking fantastic. And I’m already in pre-production on another short and prepping yet another, with a feature on the horizon. I’m not sorry.

A Little Less Mirth, Music, and Mayhem

Best Show Poster

So my favorite radio show ended last night. Yes, you read that correctly, radio show. Not a podcast, not a YouTube channel, an absurdly old-fashioned medium wherein the human voice provides the bulk of the entertainment, whether it be drama, pathos, or comedy. In this case, we’re talking about comedy. An odd kind of comedy to be sure, but once the rhythms and pacing were able to fall into place and the tone was adjusted to, a brilliant kind of surreal, satirical madness… and all without the aid of obscenity (which is an accomplishment in this writer’s book, as he happens to be a big fucking fan). Tom Scharpling finally finished his 13-plus year run on WFMU, an independent, free-form radio station in Jersey City, New Jersey and the gushing accolades are pouring in, an irony both predictable and biting, as one of Tom’s many bête noires was the lack of appreciation and respect he gained toiling away for no pay. Well, as tardy as the praise may be, it’s certainly deserving. Here are some links to help journey into the world of Newbridge:

  • The Best Show Gems Archives may be the easiest place to start. These are edited, bite-sized chunks of the best routines (usually over the phone) between Tom and his foil, Jon Wurster, funniest drummer alive. There are a few exceptions sprinkled throughout, one of note: a back-and-forth between Tom and a Smirnoff Ice Regional Sales Rep played to perfection by H. Jon Benjamin.
  • The Best Show Archives are, obviously, archives of the 3-hour show in its entirety. They go all the way back to 2000, but you’ll need RealAudio to listen to the earlier episodes. It’s worth it.
  • Paste Magazine put together a decent list of the 10 best fake callers (all voiced by Wurster).
  • New York Magazine’s Vulture blog had a candid interview with Scharpling about his favorite Best Show moments.
  • Finally, The Awl assembled a comprehensive tribute soon after Tom announced the show’s final run of episodes.

There are rumors that Scharpling is planning to put together a similar show in podcast form, with an eye toward actually generating some revenue from the endeavor, which will clearly come as welcome news to listeners all over “radioland”.

Texas Never Whispers

Scanners_-_head_explosionThis place is a lot to take. While I knew that before moving down here, I wasn’t prepared for how Texas state politics can become so personal and infuriating. Perhaps it’s because the bills the State GOP and the Governor tend to set aside as their pet projects are so Draconian and overreaching that anyone with a functioning brain tends to react with outrage, bewilderment, or ridicule. Often all three. Or maybe it’s because these bills are written by people like this. Or this. Or this. To make this post, unlike much of what I’ve harangued all over Facebook and Twitter for the past several weeks, short and sweet, I’ve been distracted by the corrupt circus that passes as politics in this, the Republic of Texas, to get to the serious work of making films. The animated short, Yellow and Red Make Orange, is moving slowly along (as in frame by frame) but it’s nearing completion. And it has a ridiculously impressive score, provided by Will Johnson, of Centro-Matic, Overseas, and… well, Will Johnson. I watched a rough cut with the score mix last week and nearly cried. Maybe it was exhaustion. Or anger.

Later this week, I also hope to drop some news about From the Gut, the other short that I’m in post-production on. So that’s good news, I guess. And that walking Aqua Net ad Rick Perry isn’t running for reelection. Maybe things are looking up.

Lucky 13

In an attempt to resurrect this blog from its year-plus-long coma, I’m going to admit to some harsh realities. Last year was difficult professionally, even as it was completely fulfilling from a personal perspective. Fatherhood is as gratifying I expected and then some, but a project that I spent most of the year slowly piecing together fell apart like a stack of newspapers in a windstorm. This isn’t a blog about fatherhood, it’s about making stuff and making stuff was a tough haul for me last year. I suppose that’s what you get when you commit to creating media on your own, without financial subsistence or complicity with outside interests. It’s why the man calls it “independent”. Buy the ticket, take the ride, as a writer, much more familiar with forced consciousness expansion than I, once said.

The failure of 2012 did rattle my cage and redirect me back to a handful of projects that have always been close at hand. Hopefully, throughout the year, I can share the details of these projects, as they each evolve and take shape. Then again, I make no promises.

Check, check… is this thing on?

I guess it’s some kind of perverted accomplishment to actually have a blog and let half of a year go by without writing a post… so here’s to me. Clichéd I know, but fatherhood is a full load, plus some. As this thing was created primarily as a means of providing detail about my work, it’s probably painfully obvious that there’s been a profound dearth of work right now. And I have no real desire to write about the Red Sox or politics because, currently, both are loose threads on the sweater that is my waking consciousness.

Hopefully, things are about to change… with work, not with the Red Sox (until they fire Bobby Valentine). I’m trying to round up some creative people to collaborate on what will undoubtedly be a weird, insanely ambitious project. So, stay tuned.