Saturday, September 29, 2012

I've Got Some Nerve

Some news.

The novel manuscript I've been tinkering with for 3 years now has come to completion. Votary Nerves is coming around the corner.

In 2009, while I was revising Turban Tan and prepping it for publication, I decided to do the NanoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) that November. So I set a little chunk of time each night to pound away at something a tad stream of conscious. I started to pre-plot and outline an idea but threw it out in favor of surprising myself.  And I feel I successfully surprised myself. The only notion I had in mind to explore was "high school" for better or worse. I had at the time realized I never wrote a story revolving around a high school aged character. Even while I was in high school, I was writing about adult characters, because I thought them more interesting. At the time I had just watched Freaks and Geeks on DVD and re-watched Twin Peaks. There was a sort of fresh recklessness I found myself drawn towards through watching high school characters get themselves into trouble. In remembering my high school days, despite the lack of actual stakes in the grand scheme of things, at that time in my life, everyday was fucking vivid. And so my interest was piqued in that sort of naivety, and a perspective infused with curiosity and a tendency towards hysteria. 

So I started writing, and soon a story emerged involving the death of the narrator's father. I myself lost my dad to cancer the summer after I graduated high school. I didn't necessarily set out to write about that, but things spewed, and a different exploration dug itself into my story. A fantasy evolved. After my dad passed away, I experienced little waves of inexplicable anxiety. But I felt I handled that period of my life with some semblance of grace and even temperament. So I thought while writing, what if I handled that anxiety with extreme resignation to my quaking nerves? Out of all of my fiction so far, this one is the most personal. It's certainly fiction, but there are autobiographical nuggets peppered in throughout, and that makes it actually pretty scary, for me, to release. But I decided it was time. The proverbial "they" say to do thing that scare you. Well, here we go.

The first draft was raw and all over the place. It took some time to reshape and fine-tune into something readable. It morphed into some other variations. I played with a section of it to perhaps try as a solo performance piece, and even played with a screenplay version. Both were helpful in developing the voice and action of the piece, but ultimately I brought it back to prose form, because I felt it was the more appropriate medium for experiencing the story from the narrator's head, especially with some of the cerebral, hallucinatory aspects I wanted to keep.

I recently wrapped edits, artwork, and formatting for this bad boy. The release is imminent. 

Notes on the release. There will be a soft launch and an official launch. The soft launch will be very, very soon. Soft meaning, you can order it in paperback and Kindle editions via the internet. The official launch will be in early 2013 and will involve distribution to independent bookshops and a big launch party followed by a little book tour here in Chicago. If that goes well, maybe I'll run around with it in different corners of America.

Stay tuned for my baby, Votary Nerves.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Poon Men

Today, athletes caught doping are left with widespread shame, and in some cases, life time banishment from competing. I don't necessarily feel sorry for them, they cheated. However, it is a game they have dedicated themselves to, and dope tainted life blood should have some sort of recourse. The story of the redeemed athlete is a highly charged one.

Let's look to the effects of space travel for a second. Space men must spend considerable time exercising lest their muscles deteriorate due to zero gravitational conditions. Sinews become strands of jelly.

If we wish to be draconian in our sporting consequences, when the days of easy space departures and arrivals are part of our infrastructure, I predict a system of reprieve and amnesty for physical short cutters in the athletic-sphere. 

In a platinum made moon, a small capsule for a scrunched body, an athlete can spend in orbit of the Earth for X amount of days, restricted from exercise, until his muscles have deteriorated. Then, when he returns to the ground, his training will be re-set. If he wishes to be a champion once again, he must re-invent his musculature.

There will be a subculture of these athletes knocked back a plethora of pegs, self made underdogs, training to get back to where they were, if possible, and beyond, if possible.

Reality TV can launch its own game system, following these disgraced competitors, these platinum moon-men, or Poon-Men, turn their sporting sins into a feat worthy of a new multi-billion dollar docu-drama genre.

Since athletes are masochists, deteriorating muscle in outer space orbit will not tickle their minds as painful. They will be tempted to cheat as to be kicked into this circuit, or better yet, paid by a sponsor to plunge into the challenge regardless, even if they were most pure in their resume of competitions.

Spectators will be glued to the handicapping process because the story of the come back kid has always been more compelling than the seeming alpha male who was born an ace at the game of his choice.  Someday, we'll have the technology to do epic things with the downfall of an athlete.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Guts of Education

Dear politicians, 

I don't fully understand your plans for education. At least in the sense of how they're going work for the betterment of a learning environment. 

So, getting ahead?

In Chicago, 160 schools don't have libraries. Is not addressing that part of the plan to help kids meet and exceed reading standards? How do you get kids excited to explore books and foster their reading skills? Especially since there aren't any Borders around, don't use free market economics to say they can go to the store and get some books. Especially in the case of poor kids. Many don't have playgrounds for recess, or gyms. Running around and playing has been backed by psychologists as important for developing creativity. By limiting such, as well as art, music, drama. Is this how we're going to prepare the next generation of innovators? And on another note, keeping health care costs down, by allowing a lack of opportunity for physical fitness for many youths slide, will this prepare them for a healthy lifestyle, or does diabetes, heart disease and obesity not weigh down health care costs?

Back to the topic at hand. Longer hours, less pay, larger class sizes for teachers and punishing them if their students don't do well on standardized tests. Bogging teachers down, exhausting them, riddling them with fear, is this going to keep everyone sharp in the classroom? Is this going to attract the best and the brightest to make a career in the classroom, or should we take advantage of the good nature of dedicated teachers who already donate extra time outside of scheduled classes and chastise them for not doing enough? Mush mush!

I don't know...if you have information proving that these things promote academic success, do sell us on it, please. Instead of harassing teachers behind closed doors and villainizing them when they stick up for themselves. You talk about how times are tough, how we need to share in the sacrifice. Rahm Emmanuel, his school board, his CEO, his executives all have their salaries preserved and off the cutting board. 

Anyway, I'd really like to know how your education plans are going to work. It's all rhetoric with a framework of cheapening, at least as far as what you're currently showing us. No real specifics are being laid out by your campaigns, aside from an agenda of trimming and scaring teachers while waving pictures of children with puppy dog eyes. Ah, the emotional appeal, kind of a redundant tactic. Lipo-suctioning the guts out of educational resources doesn't excite me personally. Show us differently, please.


Jeff Phillips

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Elephant Conquest

My sophomore year of high school I felt the itching of rebellion and drifted into a subtle bad-ass stage, or I should say, attempted to promote the appearance of one. I didn't have the balls to really get in trouble, but I did little things to sprinkle my angst into the world. When the new Super Wal-Mart opened, my friends and I would go there, fill up a shopping cart with ice cream, some perishables and other items throughout the store and then just leave it in some aisle. I justified this asshole move to myself since I worked at CVS at the time and my favorite task was restocking the returned/discarded bin around, so I could zone out and not talk to people. 

I also found myself apt to doodling. I particularly enjoyed drawing big, powerful elephants. I thought it was a beautiful animal, thought it could maybe be my power animal. I would doodle these elephants using a sharpie on the cafeteria tables where I had study hall. I fantasized that if I was ever working some corporate job, the greatest rebellion would be to max out the company credit cards on the purchasing of many elephants to be delivered on the vicinity. A kind of fuck you for no specific sake, fueled by the movies that came that year with anti-corporate tones; Fight Club and American Beauty. Amped up by the Fugazi albums I was absorbing. 

I wasn't truly sure why the elephant was this power symbol to me. I could look to other cultures and their spiritual representations. Ganesh for example, the elephant headed god in Hinduism. The collective subconscious maybe. I changed my AIM screen name to RadElephant. But when my friends noticed and asked me if I was Republican because I was so into elephants, I was immediately embarrassed by my oversight. I had forgotten this beast was the symbol of the Republican party, and here I was spreading their image around thinking I was cool, thinking I had a thing of my own. And if you're not a young republican, whoa man, being young and thought of as a Republican kind of hurt. Especially if you thought you were parading anti-corporate ideals. What a fucking misunderstanding, I thought. Why'd they have to go claim that beautiful animal, man? But I wasn't rooting for the other side necessary, I was voting for Ralph Nader in my school's mock election. 

The two party system is a chess match of driven blockage, finding opportunities to push through moves. But democracy isn't, or shouldn't be a mashing board of opponents knocking down the other side's pieces. Democracy should consist of many voices, having a say, and coming to a reasonable accommodation of each other's liberties and wishes. Democracy, if it were a game board, should look more like a Chinese checkers board with all the marbles intermingled, independent in one's own pock space, multiple views competing, just as fierce, yet co-existing beside a marble a bit different from itself because it has to interact, it doesn't have huge mob of buddies to back its arrogance. I speak like a Millennial, in the gyst of "everyone is a winner" because that's what democracy is, correct? Everyone having a say? Being a participant? Shouldn't capitalism thrive off of more options? Or does plan A or B suffice for our desperation? Platforms pieced together by desperation, because previous platforms laid the groundwork for desperate situations. The longer the two party system persists, the more losers we will accumulate, players checked and placed aside, forgotten about, because the game then focuses on taking down the other's King. One side muttering "dirty, bleeding heart liberal..." and the other muttering "heartless conservative greed ball." Each piece is pressured into accepting the aspersions of their side and bouncing fiercer ones back. 

Like a football game in perpetual overtime...

Stalemate, exhausted eyes, pissy spirits that don't want to play anymore but are obliged to keep on tearing up the grass while supporters pin on them their championship dreams. 

I am a political news junky in the way one is hooked on a soap opera.  The political arena is indeed a soap opera, but with actual consequences.

But the reasonable players keep my attention and earn my enthusiasm. And there are those players not so reasonable, they become villains, but not before declaring their opponent the villain.  They're less so playing for an underdog's cause. They're playing to win for themselves, maybe because there are certain monetary stakes, reelection funds, and that obsession makes for inconsistent, sloppy moves. The idea of winning becomes too important, fantasies of knocking out the opponent is the objective at hand. It causes them to drool it excites them so damn much. Solid strategy goes out the window. I like seeing smart defense when the offense is erratic. Bill Clinton's speech at the DNC was delightful.

I'd like to see a third party called, The Reasonable Party. Strength in conviction is a virtue to a degree, it's important to stick up for what we believe is right, apathy isn't a good option either. Standing up, voicing opinions is respectable until one party becomes blinded by the full speed of their quest that they forget other's have points of view. And rather than bolster up their own cause with supporting evidence and case studies, the energy of one's conviction is spent on belittling other perspectives because they may not understand them, or realize that asking to be understood themselves may be an effective strategy, because if another side is so fervent against them too, perhaps they aren't being understood either.

The fervent dream of an elephant conquest for an elephant conquest's sake is civically nauseating. And without effectiveness, much like my rash markered etchings on cafeteria tables. The recent Tea Party rally cries reminds me of my own rebellious immaturity at age 16. Perhaps the party should go all out, max out their coffers on a parade of elephants, shitting in the streets, making a dire mess of everything, so the extremism will mellow post overdose.