On Positivity (Trigger Warning)

Three years after my last posting, I return changed. More of life’s roller coaster rides, — including more losses, new alliances, and revelations — have left impressions on me.

I return angry and shaken. Some people deserve some dark mojo. Some don’t. Maybe this could lead to a discussion worth having, one in good faith. I can’t promise an easy one either way.

Hence, this entry. A stream of consciousness at three in the morning. Shelved for three weeks. After all the edits, it’s still shaken, still angry.

Trigger warnings: Descriptions of discriminatory conduct. Harsh language.

Audiodrama cliques.  I met a wretched tangle:  oh, the feels and pleas and plays at community.  With strings attached.

The gates were guarded.  The moats, full of shiny happy alligators.  Predators declared themselves my brothers. Adolescents with grey neckbeards and twenty-dollar microphones clutched their pearls.  They cornered me and peppered their calls for civility with gee-whiz euphemisms cribbed from pulp sci-fi.

They’re not fans of my work though.  They tell me so. Too scary. Too weird.  Too original. Too many notes. But nice of you to show up, I guess.

They marginalized me.  Symbols of my heritage were mocked and called Pokémon. Podcast networks and radio productions withdrew their invites to contribute when they realized my audio fiction wasn't corny, campy, insipid clones of Old Time Radio.  I was once told, “I’m sorry, Joe, but Afterhell is out.” They didn’t promote my audios or tolerate any more lip from me.  But to this day, they stuff my mailbox with spam.

They are positive.  Supportive. And so inclusive.

Fine, so I walked.  I didn’t miss the control freaks, the Howdy Doody pablum, or the nonexistent bump in my sales from all that “exposure.”  Sometimes fulfillment is a solitary path. Boo hoo.
Now there’s a bigger, tighter, younger, more motivated community of podcasters out there.  Solitary, it turns out, is a rotten way to do time. “Should I reach out,” I ask myself.

I pop my head out from under my rock and perk up my ears.

“Positivity” is the watchword.

Oh God, I have to write for some happy time fun place?  Nah, I’m not gonna fit in here either.
I grow weary of Wonder Bread old-guy radio and kumbaya pixie-dust fantasies.  I’m wounded. I’m angry. I was dumped in the shadows. Part of me always lingers there.  I see the bad we do. I’ve heard worse. And I bloody well say so.

I reserve the right to be myself.  And to me, “fuck you” is a positive message.  It says, “You can’t break me.”

If dreams must be treasured, that includes my nightmares.  I never wanted them. But they’re mine to process. And I’ve learned that all dreams carry meaning, not just cheery blessings but warnings.   

Maybe my dreams ain’t pretty, but they get me there.  They’re mine. I got this far. However short the distance, I got here.

And no thanks to the “don’t worry, be happy” crowd.  

I am sick — tired — of narrow-minded Audacity jockeys telling me to write pretty.  I write pretty well, thanks.

But my stories would be so much prettier if they made people smile more.

Look, my work might not be your cup of tea.  But I never tried to fool you. I make it quite clear:  “Listen at your own peril.”

In contrast, I’ve heard a lot of podcasts over the last 15 years that were supposedly good.  Hackneyed writing. Music and effects from a boombox in front of a mike. Different room tones for every actor in the same scene.  Cheesy accents. Spousal assault for laughs. Non-binary characters as laughing stocks. And the price of admission was always, “Be positive, Joe.”

Well, the fuck I will.  I’ll like it when it’s worth liking.  The same deal as everyone else. I like what I like, I make what I make.  What I do, I do.

I suggest you learn to cope.  Y’know. See the positive side of it.

Long Live Spock

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything.  But unlike most folks online, I’m not fond of sharing every last detail right down to pictures of my food.  If I’m going to blog my crap, I need a reason.

I’ve had lots of reasons of late.  But it was all grief and loss.  It got overwhelming, so I left it offline.

Now I feel compelled to post.  And it’s given me a rather striking revelation.   About love.   Love is harder to express — or even experience — when the object means so much, so many things, than a relationship on the surface is very specific.

So I couldn’t write about my father.  I tried.  For his eulogy, I spoke off the top of my head, checking my watch to keep myself from rambling.  I couldn’t write it all down.  He had done so much, been so much to me.

But I can write about Leonard Nimoy.

Now people are going to deplore, rightly so, that he was more Mister Spock.  Actor.  Writer.  Poet.  Musician.  Photographer.  Jew.  Science advocate.  Filmmaker.  Producer.  Family man.  A man with a dry, wicked sense of humor.

But that one character and Nimoy’s performance — that’s the basis of any relationship he had with the world at large.  He created the role on the original Star Trek.  Even when that was over, he was defined by it (admittedly the bane of any character actor) so much to the point that he wrote a book insisting “I Am Not Spock.”

And then many years later, as the benefits finally began to outweigh the negatives for him, he reconciled himself to the worldwide attention on this one job he had and declared “I Am Spock.”

As a kid, I marveled when I saw him on “Mission: Impossible.”  Relished his narration on “In Search Of.”  Whined, begged, and agonized when I couldn’t see his one-man show “Vincent.”  Stunned while watching him play the baddie in a Marco Polo mini-series.  Darkly amused and a little shocked when he punched the Shatner in the face during a guest stint on “TJ Hooker.”

And if there is one role where Leonard Nimoy blew me away, it was holocaust survivor Mel Mermelstein in the cable tv-movie “Never Forget.”  He delivered a subtle, warm, and conflicted performance as an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary events, tasked by history with a heartbreaking legacy, who must bear public witness to the Holocaust even in the face of skeptics and deniers.  I loved that movie.  I loved him in it.  He moved me.

But to me, he set an example as Spock.

Spock was an outsider, caught between two worlds, mocked and judged for it.  And for all the conflicting drives inside him, his intellect won out.

That spoke volumes to a kid like me — a brainy nerd, a Chicano kid who spoke and wrote American English better than some native-born Anglos.  I wasn’t Mexican.  I wasn’t white.  I wasn’t a jock.  I was into weird stuff.   Science, computers, space, the future.  I didn’t fit in anywhere, not even at home.

But Spock was cool, in every sense of the word.  Willpower.  Logic.  Knowledge.  But he wasn’t some cold scientist.  He was slick.  Dude had a Vulcan nerve pinch.  He got the ladies, just not as much as Captain Kirk.  And when push came to shove, his friends stood by him.  Even in death.

Neither “Star Trek” nor Spock taught me to think.  But they showed me that it was cool to think.  And as I was growing up, that Vulcan aplomb and insistence on logic got me through a tumultuous adolescence and my first truly dark bout of depression.

And as flawed as the Trek movies often were, by expanding the character of Spock even further, I got some much needed guidance when all that cutting off of my emotions left me feeling empty.  Logic and knowledge are not enough.  I had to reconnect with humanity.

Spock is my connection to Leonard Nimoy.  A personal connection.  It means a lot for me.

So forgive me when I remember Spock above everything else Leonard Nimoy has done.  That is the extent of my memory — because I never knew him as a person.

I knew his face.  I knew his voice.  I knew his art.  And he did a great many works.

But he touched us first as Spock.  His legacy will be that, a character of deep and private emotions in conflict with an inhospitable universe, who won over dear friends and staunch allies with integrity, wit, and courage.

May Spock live long and prosper.  And may the memory of Leonard Nimoy live eternal.

Update: “Proteus Rising”

An update and a few statements.

The last time you humored me and checked out this cyberwordspace, I was imploring the cosmos at large for a home.  Not for me, but for a story.

I didn’t do it for myself, not at first.  I did it for a friend.  Then I was abandoned.  Not cool or perfect enough.  That friendship, that trust, is gone.

All I’ve got left… is a story.  And dreams, like people, should belong somewhere.

I didn’t think it would happen.  But I found a place.

McMinnville, Oregon.  In the heart of Oregon’s wine country.

Saturday May 14th at 2pm, the Willamette Radio Workshop will perform “Proteus Rising” live on stage at the McMenamins Hotel Oregon, as part of the 12th Annual McMinnville UFO Festival.

I don’t have the words to describe how great this show is going to be.  Talented professionals with experience in stage, screen, and sound are the backbone of WRW.  I work with them often and, well, basically they’re all friends of mine.  At the very least, they don’t burst out laughing at the first sight of me.  So to be fair, personal bias could inform my appraisal.  But the sizes of their audiences and the cross-generational appeal removes all doubt.

But on top of all that, many of them are fans — many more than I expected.  An impetuous, tongue-in-cheek query over pre-Super Bowl brunch has regenerated into another draft of the script and reports of enthusiasm from the group.

They can do it.  They know how to do it.  And they don’t merely want to — they’re freakin’ out.  Or so they’re telling me!

Now here’s the real point.  Hope.  The point of this story.  Of writing.  Of blogging.  Of voicing your thoughts and sharing links in cyberspace.  It’s all self-expression.  You have to share it.   So out it comes.

It’s also communication.  You don’t know who you’re talking to.  Not really.  Therefore you never know what response you’re going to get in return.  Maybe someone lays down a snark or a cheap shot.  Maybe someone accuses you of preaching to the choir.   You can’t affect any real change doing what you’re doing.

But the real value of writing, of any art, comes when someone else really needed that thought — that voice — to come from you.  This world can be a long, hard ride.  And it’s not always easy to clear one’s mind of the many loud voices all slagging you, criticizing you, telling you lies.  So when you write something or post something, and someone else gets it, suddenly you’re connected.  You’re not alone.  You needed that little bit of reinforcement, of validation.

We shouldn’t have to fit in.  We should belong.

Conformity, making oneself less so the collective can become more, is not belonging.  It’s neither improving, maturing, strengthening, or nurturing.  It’s using perfection as a blunt instrument, pounding the vulnerable and the unique into a convenient shape, something easy for the weak-minded to absorb.  It’s breaking a runner’s legs to keep everyone in lock-step.  And of course ee cummings said it better and it’s a cliche now, but the truth remains.  It’s a bitch to be yourself.  And even when you master it, the collective breaks you the first chance it gets and forces you to start over.

That’s the point.  The point of “Proteus Rising.”  Of writing.  Of anything we do that says, “This is me.”  You’re using your voice.  Testing the waters.  Putting yourself out there.

We take the dive with ever changing mixtures of courage and false bravado.  Even the so-called experts.  Even Olivier puked his guts out before every show.  So when someone busts your chops — I mean, knocks you down hard — knowing that someone else relates to you, knowing they like the way you transmit things to them and that they want you to, sometimes it’s the only thing helping you pick yourself off the ground.

For much of my life, I’ve been asked why I write.  I write to keep sane.  To stay myself.  But now I see:  Maybe I’m helping someone else stay sane, to retain his or her own identity.  Something I said resonated.  And that was enough to make the soul-killing lies of a false world ring hollow again.  When you preach to the choir, it can be forgiven — if you make the church bells of the world ring properly once again.

But that won’t happen if you give in to the silence.  If you submit to despair.

It’s not easy.  I fight despair all the time.  I take meds for it.  I seek inspiration and encouragement constantly.  Doctor Who is one of those inspirations, one of those encouragements.

All my life, people have told me not to write. To give up on my talents or my beliefs.  To be less smart or more smart.  To be less ugly, to be more rich.  To be perfect.  To be a drone like everyone else.  To be seen instead of heard, to give in and join the silence.

Now the silence swallows me up like a whale.  Some days, I barely speak.  So I write.  I blog.  I post links.  I preach to the choir.

And somewhere out there, the lies ring hollow for someone other than myself.

And one day soon, for an hour, someone else will hear the groan of ancient engines.

True, we’ll be surrounded by folks in tinfoil.  But I won’t be alone.  And neither will they.