Carv's Thinky Blog I'm an author with a focus on satirical sci-fi and agnostic commentary.

19Sep/170

Silent Sky’s Closing Night

(Written December 16)

I have a lot to say tonight, on two different subjects. It was our closing performance of Silent Sky, and yes, I do tend to gush at moments like these. Je ne regrette rien, Gentle Reader.

Part 1: On Producing Silent Sky

Producing a show this big was a first for me. In eight years of college, I don't remember ever once hearing a lecture or reading a book about how to be an executive producer. I made it up as I went, tried to follow the film model when possible and remained determined to admit when I screwed things up. I learned a producer needs to trust her or his creative team to do the creative work the way they know best; your job as the producer is to smooth the path before them and make sure the flow of money and lines of communication remain unimpeded. I learned one may argue with doubters but never with the calendar. I learned the sincerest compliment is often a paycheck. And I learned, sometimes the hard way, a path toward success for Silent Sky.

I mention that because several people came up to me tonight and expressed sincere interest in porting our production to other spaces. As tempting as that may be, I gave them as soft a no as I could manage. It's not that I don't believe anyone else should produce Silent Sky — Oh, my, no, you most definitely should. It's so important for so many reasons that this singular script become part of our regional- and community-theater canon. But not our production. No, your Silent Sky needs to be local, and it needs to be offered from your heart, and it needs something very particular to this story.

I trusted my gut on this one, and I'm so glad I did. I knew this script needed a female director. Maybe not every year, maybe, but this year for sure. Then I went further, and in so doing, I learned something crucial about Silent Sky. Since you might produce it elsewhere, I will give you that lesson for free.

Silent Sky needs women. Great women. Brilliant women. Artistas, if you will.

What you want is to find a female director with enormous skill and a big heart. It doesn't matter if she's a science geek, but it'll be helpful if she's a sister. She needs to be able, as Deane Shellman did so gracefully for us, to convey complex ideas via magical images and sounds. Then, rally female designers to what is now that director's project. I don't mean one or two female designers. I don't mean a few. I mean your entire design staff should be women. Because to this day, even in our relatively liberal field, it's still all too common to see an all-male design staff but rare to see an all-female one. The latter should be and feel no more unusual than the former. As Gunderson points out in her script, "We need a model." We need everyone who does theater to see, and on a regular basis, that talent has no gender.

The rest will take care of itself. With much stress and little sleep, perhaps, but I promise you one day during tech week you'll look up and find yourself beyond the earth's gravity. It'll happen. Enjoy the view.

Part 2: The Meaning for Me

Directing and yes, producing, it turns out, are a lot of work, especially if you do those jobs correctly and with all your heart. And why would you do a job like that any other way? The object of the game is to find that charge of electricity you felt upon first hearing or reading that story and take a good look at it. Ease it out into the light. Name exactly what hooked you, then make that hook the focus of gravity for your own production. I can't and won't speak to what hooked Deane on this story. I can only tell you what captured me. Because just as Laughing Stock was my love letter to the theater that rescued me from loneliness, just as The Credeaux Canvas was my farewell to youth, my instigation of Silent Sky should tell you something about who I am on a very deep level.

Like the heroes of that story, I find a joy in learning I'm wrong about something. It's embarrassing, sure, but yesterday I didn't know what the truth was and now I know one thing it isn't! How amazing is that? Yesterday I imposed my wishful thinking on the world; today it told me its own truth — and entrusted me with the revelation! "You were perfectly wrong," Henrietta Leavitt announces, and her colleague cries, "I was!" — not with anger, nor resentment, but happily! That's part of what I find most persuasive about the scientific method over other ways of analyzing and interpreting the world. A good scientist understands it's better to know a less-than-optimal truth than to bank on vestigial fantasies. She knows graduating from the latter to the former is a moment worth celebrating rather than grieving.

Oh, and then there's that closing monologue. I fall in love with it every time I hear it. "A telescope named Hubble," says Leavitt, "with wings set for space, shows us how vast and beautiful it all is … Because wonder will always get us there — those of us who insist that there is much more beyond ourselves. And I do." And I choke back tears every night because Gentle Reader, that is my heart being spoken from that stage, by an actor who is not me, directed by an artist who felt that truth, too. And it means I'm not the only person who takes heart from that lesson. Lauren Gunderson does. Henrietta Swan Leavitt did. And I know from all the smiling, tear-streaked faces in the theater that our idealism has touched something in a hundred hearts each night at OLT. The audience members believe in that future; they just needed to be reminded of it. Hope is not lost, my friends. We may trip over our foolishness sometimes, we humans, but we do still have a calling. We are made of star stuff, Sagan reminds us, and there is something within us that looks up into the night sky and longs to go home there again.

Yesterday a machine made by earnest minds and begrudgingly rendered tax dollars met oblivion in the atmosphere of Saturn. Along the way, though, it sent us this photo.

Look at that pixel. It's the earth-moon system. It's you and me. It's everyone, in fact; all our stuff, all our art, all our music, all our wars, all our feelings, all our corpses, all our dreams. It's a stunning reminder of our fragility, our lifelong dependence on each other, and the ocean of silence and cold in which we swim. We are not merely a species. We owe each other and the universe — call it God if you like — more than that. We aren't just family. We are one. We are one tiny dot of desperate yearning but we are infinitely precious. Intelligence is the greatest thing the cosmos has yielded to date, and something tells me ours is not the gold standard for intelligence so it behooves us to get out there and mingle with our siblings. They have much to teach us, perhaps art and stories to share with us, and heaven knows we have much left to learn.

Last night I looked through a telescope at the Andromeda Galaxy. I gazed across two and a half million light-years of intergalactic space at the waltz of a trillion stars. I imagined them accompanied by all their associated worlds. Most were barren, of course, others spattered with life so primitive it could barely be said to deserve the title. Yet I find it impossible to believe I wasn't also looking at civilizations — starfaring species, perhaps, living and dying on the whims of supernovae and calling to each other dimly across the night. We will never meet those species. Their families and ours will have passed long before our galaxies collide four billion years from now; our sun will, in fact, be in the process of puffing itself up for a turgid, crimson swan song. All of that knowledge, all our music and art and beauty and emotions, will have come and gone long before that collision. So will theirs. Life is precious. Intelligence is a gift. Like all beautiful gifts, it comes with a responsibility to cherish and protect it.

The trick, I think, is not to waste energy seeing God as other earthlings do. We have a valueless tendency to lasso God down to our level, make him fallible and petty and vindictive like ourselves. It's a shame we ever feel that drive to domesticate the ineffable. No, I think the path forward is to see the earth as God does: a pixel in the whirlwind, a sputtering spark in a vast, frozen darkness, an embryo of life in the worthy throes of struggling to be born.

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22Jun/170

Pull It Together, America

Call me crazy, call me a misty-eyed nostalgic, but I believe there was a time in this country, a brief, delightful summer, when liberals and conservatives mostly got along with each other.

Then political action committees happened. Then the internet happened. Then FOX News happened. Then we all learned how to "unfollow" or even "unfriend" anyone with whom we disagreed about pretty much anything. But back in the long-dead halcyon days of, say, 1990, we tended to get along — even in the same actual, physical room. Now we can barely stand acknowledging each other's existence. Our current president offers a platform based solely on undoing everything the last president did, regardless of whom it deprives of health care, where it leaves our country in relation to its international partners or how many campaign promises get shredded and tossed in our faces. Now voters tell you, not which candidate they're happy to support, but which candidate they're desperate to destroy. There are liberal hate groups now, and liberal would-be assassins. I never thought I'd see that day. I'm not sure I thought we meek liberals would inherit the earth, exactly, but I assumed we'd stay meekly nonviolent.

I think some of the blame has to be laid on lobbyists and other paid extremists who tell us compromise is an act of surrender. It isn't. It's how this is all supposed to work. You want something and I want something, and each of us gets as close to 50% of what we wanted as possible. And conservatives, your party is pushing you to want what a greedy billionaire would want. They do so by telling you it's all to your benefit, but of course it isn't. There's no way the estate tax or slashes to Medicaid work in your favor. You never win that one. Sorry. They aren't doing it for "the American people," they're doing it for very rich people. And since almost any reasonable, factual analysis of the world around you would tell you that, they must pretend facts don't matter at all, that there are no facts, only "good news" and "fake news." Listen to them closely; note how many times they say "clearly," followed by something that is clearly untrue. It's become a running gag, and I'm sorry to say the joke is on all of us, even conservative base voters.

It doesn't have to be this way. You and I may disagree on abortion, for example, but I can understand why you feel the way you do. If you believe life begins at conception, then we allow a million prenatal murders each year. I can see why that'd send a reasonable person into hysterics. If I believe differently, then it seems to me the burden is on me to make my case as reasonably and persuasively as I can. You and I should be able to stand in a room together and talk about this because I understand you're trying to keep the blood of babies off our hands, and perhaps when I remind you of prenatal development you can see where I might be coming from, too.

But that's not how things usually work anymore. Our last election was fought between two candidates that most of us disliked. I despised yours, you loathed mine, but we weren't altogether crazy about our own. I could defend Hillary Clinton all year, and God knows I feel like I did, but even I get why she struck some people as shady. I found myself advocating for her in much the same way I'd recommend the flu over hemorrhagic fever. Perhaps you felt the same way about "your" guy. But each side did offer moderate, intelligent candidates, friends. We ignored them because the 24-hour news channels found them less interesting than the ever-controversial Clinton and Trump.

I don't want to play this game anymore. I got 5300 words into a third novel, this time about politics, then had to set it aside indefinitely because I literally have no idea what the country will look like in two years. I don't want to write and edit and sell and promote a novel only to find it irrelevant the day it's released. So friends, I want you to help me find a reasonable place in America again. Maybe the left's best candidate shouldn't be a dynastic power player or a democratic socialist. Maybe it should just be someone who makes a clear case for being kind and welcoming to as many different kinds of Americans as possible. Maybe you can talk your party out of an agenda based purely on "I got mine, screw you." Perhaps I can work harder to help you see that the way to improve your life is not to worsen someone else's, especially if that someone is already poor, gay, trans, a Muslim, a person of color or any combination of the above. Maybe I can remind you of people like my brother, a fiscal and, to some degree, social conservative who simply thinks it's unfair to expect the entire country to behave like either Georgia or Washington state. Maybe I can remind you of me, an agnostic, gay-friendly gun-regulation advocate who yes, dug Bernie but also likes sweet tea, old churches and even the occasional target-shooting excursion. Maybe you get to keep all your guns; maybe I get a national registry, reasonable waiting period and a safe to lock them in. Would that be so awful? Isn't that how every one of us might feel like a valued citizen of these not-so-United States we all call home?

So pull it together, America. Let's stop yelling about how we feel at each other. Instead, let's discuss what we think. You tell me your reasons and I'll tell you mine, and let's understand that in this game, winning should happen on the 50-yard-line, not in either extremist end zone. (Yes, that's a sports metaphor, because the right has no monopoly on either God or the NFL.) Let's be grown-ups again. Let's be kind to each other again. Let's stop thinking and talking and posting in memes. Let's purge exaggerated, bias-flattering, fight-or-flight-response nonsense from our news feeds, not each other. Let's turn off any commentator who says anyone who disagrees with him or her is an idiot. Let's do what liberals always pay lip (and bumper sticker) service to doing: Let's coexist. Strike that. Let's go bigger and better: Let's co-succeed.

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18May/171

On Success

After a long conversation with my mom the other day, I've been thinking a lot about the nature of success. Sometimes it's happening to us and we don't even notice it.

Forty years ago, a silly space opera hit theaters. Little did I know it'd be one of the pivotal events of my childhood. On the heels of Ray Bradbury's S Is for Space, it set me on the path toward being a professional storyteller. And I am. I tell real stories; I tell stories I made up. Every April I get to tell the IRS I write for a living...and I'll pay them when I can. It's not the best-paying job in the world, at least for folks who aren't Ray Bradbury or George Lucas, and that makes it harder for me to see when I'm succeeding day to day.

Thirty years ago, I was utterly lost. Two years out of high school, I was still paying heed to a religious sect that forbade me from going to the college I so desperately needed. Instead, I knocked on doors as a full-time evangelist. Yes, me. I honestly can't tell you how many Watchtowers I distributed, but I can tell you for sure it was more than the number of OLY ARTS I've distributed. My mom's patience was running out, though, and it wouldn't be long before she paid a visit to East Central University to enroll me behind my back. I gave her hell for doing that...but I was only playing the role expected of me by our moral "superiors." I knew she was right and all my other authority figures were wrong. You can feel that sometimes.

ANY success I've had in my adult life was the direct result of her act of rebellious frustration. Rebels are important; they certainly have been to me.

Twenty years ago, I was graduating from SIU-C after three of the most difficult years of my life, less than two months before I filed for divorce. Graduation is a success no matter how you slice it, especially for an ex-Witness trailer trashbag from Crowder, Oklahoma, but all I could feel was relief. I escaped. I escaped Illinois with my MFA, I escaped Crowder, I escaped a foolhardy marriage, I made it all the way back to L.A. and earned work in the entertainment industry. Simply braving the freeway was one of the greatest achievements of my life. I had a serious driving phobia back in those days, and merging onto the 110 felt like diving into a tank full of sharks. I arrived everywhere dripping with flop sweat. It was like that EVERY DAY. People tell me I was brave for trying to "make it in the big leagues." I wasn't. That was something I just had to do. The brave thing I did was arriving where it might happen.

Did I succeed in Los Angeles? To this day I don't know. I worked for Warner Bros. I passed that shield every day on my way into the office. Can you say something similar? I was on network TV dozens of times and appeared on screen in big-budget features. For a week, so I'm told, I was the writer of Terminator 3. I attended movie premieres and hobnobbed with the stars. But I was only a credited performer in two indie projects, neither of which I'd ever show you on a dare. My video-directing project collapsed into ignominy when my editor couldn't put her bong down for half an hour straight. But I did have my writing produced and performed on Sunset Boulevard. I had lightning shoot out of my eyes on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And when I left Hollywood for good in 2004, I knew I could hold my head high after all those slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. I could do that because, while I never really "made it," I also never lost my integrity or ability to tell a story in a meaningful, from-the-heart way. I never once created product; I told stories. And oh, my friends, the Hollywood stories my Hollywood accomplices and I could tell you.

Ten years ago I arrived in Washington state and auditioned for my first play here, TAO's Taming of the Shrew at the Minnaert Center black box. I made my first Pacific-Northwestern friends and earned a job teaching remedial algebra at Olympic College in Shelton. I started work on Salvation, the novel renamed Lightfall for publication in 2010. Sounds pretty good, right? But I was a lonely guy earning minimum wage, living with his mom at age 39, with no romantic prospects in sight, angry and so, so depressed from what felt like a life going nowhere. I told someone at a PARTY for God's sake that I'd been a disappointment to everyone who ever cared about me. What I didn't know was my life was about to take off like an Independence Day rocket. The seeds had already been sown. I was months away from my first date with Amanda (also my first date in Washington). And though Lightfall would come to feel like a nine-hours' wonder, breaking my authorial spirit for years, it would actually lead to writing jobs at the Weekly Volcano and Cengage Learning. Those would in turn prepare me for Chegg, then OLY ARTS.

I don't know if I'm a success. I look at my sister and brother-in-law's restaurant or my brother's inauguration at Valdosta State University and I'm not always thrilled by the comparison. But I have two novels and at least a dozen short-story publication credits to my name, I've written for a national magazine, I have loyal readers and a thriving marriage. I get to travel and see parts of the world no reasonable person would've predicted for my life thirty, perhaps even twenty years ago. I read the other day success can be defined as stumbling from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm. If that's true, then yes, I suppose I really am a success. For no matter how bad things may seem sometimes, I can still feel the fire inside me burning. I have stories yet to tell and opportunities to tell them. And my goal for the next year or so is to keep telling your stories with you. Success, it seems to me, is never really a solo enterprise. You and I, we're in this together.

Let's be successes. Let's never, ever, never, NEVER give up.

"Let me tell you something you already know," a fighter once explained. "The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place; and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you permanently there if you let it. You, me or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done. Now if you know what you are worth, go out and get what you are worth; but you gotta be willing to take the hits and not pointing fingers, saying you ain’t where you want to be because of him or her or anybody. Cowards do that..."

And that ain't us. I know it ain't you...and I know it ain't me. Not for long. Not now, not ever.

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13May/170

3 Impossible Questions

Given that it's mentioned in the Fishnapped! program, I believe I can safely announce this now: A play I'm in the latter stages of writing, called 3 Impossible Questions, will be the fourth play in Olympia Family Theater's next mainstage season. It adapts fables from all over the Islamic world and introduces Western audiences to a beloved figure in many of those countries: Mullah Nasreddin. Nasreddin is a sort of wiseacre imam who teaches via riddles and paradox. I compare him to Bugs Bunny in American popular entertainment. For folks who think of Muslims as humorless, especially with respect to questioning Islamic beliefs and traditions, his popularity will come as a shock; but he appears in comic books, TV cartoon shows and bedtime stories all over the world.

I've had a wonderful time getting to know Mullah Nasreddin (as I also spend time with the congregants at the Islamic Center of Olympia), and I look forward to helping introduce him to you. This show will be directed by Ted Ryle, and it's my debut as a full-length, professional playwright. (I've had short plays produced in four states.) Look for exact dates and audition notices as we get closer to Questions' early-2018 run, insha'Allah.

Incidentally, my Muslim friends know I'm agnostic and are absolutely fine with it. One of them, in fact, likes to introduce me to other congregants at the mosque as "Christian...who isn't one."

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1May/170

OLY ARTS, Spring 2017

Often when I'm directing a play, there's a moment early on when I take stock of everything that has to happen and think, "Hm. There's a good chance this may not come together. It's too much." But then opening night, as the cast and crew accept their justly earned praise, there's me in the back of the house smiling quietly to myself because I see now the enormity of what we've accomplished. We built and decorated a room including furniture, we built or found costumes and props, we generated print and video content, we learned 80 pages of material so well we have actual emotions about it...It's easy to lose sight of that gestalt "when your head's down over your pieces, brother."

So it is with OLY ARTS. When Ned Hayes recruited me to be the editor of that publication, we had less than two months to hire a staff while creating a brand, a media kit, an entire website including a functional calendar, a social media presence, a weekly newsletter and not one but two print publications. (The first was a 12-page demo edition seen only by advertisers.) It seemed impossible--but then we got to work and forgot how impossible it was. Then, seeming days later, it was finished and holy...We actually managed to pull this off! Look at everything we got done! When our first official issue of OLY ARTS rolled off the printers in the nick of time for Lakefair 2016, we were so proud and excited we couldn't contain ourselves. Look at it: 16 whole pages! With advertisements, some of which we hadn't given away free in order to build business relationships!

If you have one of those copies, keep it; it's a collector's item. We "sold out" the entire run of that issue, but it wasn't easy. No one knew what we were trying to hand them. Several venues didn't want to let us in. I encountered residual bitterness from years as a theater critic. Here we were, though, hawking a magazine that looked like a real, honest-to-Dionysus arts magazine. Now the question that loomed, it seemed, was this: Could we possibly maintain that level of quality issue after issue?

Flash-forward ten months. Now when the spring 2017 issue arrived, I was so busy stuffing it into our new downtown office that I barely snapped a look at the cover. ("Yes," I thought, "it's bright green. That should move.") Then came Arts Walk. Our distribution team handed out many thousands of copies, a much easier job this time because people came asking for them. Olympia knows us and likes us now. I was told people read the issues cover to cover. We're entirely advertiser-supported, including the five podcast episodes we produce every week (84 to date). Our advertising and business managers, new acquisitions since the summer edition, are both aces. Not only is our spring issue over twice as long as the Lakefair 2016 issue, I'd say it's at least twice as good--but we produced it in less time.

As crowds gathered for Procession of the Species, I saw hundreds of people reading their copies and showing each other photos and articles. Ned drove past Starbucks and saw a line of people absorbed in OLY ARTS as they finished their lattes and Unicorn Frappuccinos. One woman told me she noticed my writing and would look for my books. That's good for us, it's good for local business, and it signifies an important fact about our publication: It gets read. I walked around downtown Olympia after the Procession and, of the thousands of copies we gave away in two short days, I found exactly two lying in the street. Instead what I saw was copies rolled up and tucked into back pockets. People kept OLY ARTS as an ongoing entertainment reference. When I offered a copy to one guy, he said, grinning, "I already have one sitting on my coffee table at home."

So this is me expressing gratitude to everyone who contributes to OLY ARTS, from our writers and photographers to Tabitha the ad champ to our outstanding distribution team to, of course, publisher Ned Hayes. I can look around and see what we've accomplished now. I see the house we built rather than the rough spots I need to find time to sand down. Our writers already have their assignments for the summer issue, our sixth print edition, coming just in time for Lakefair 2017.

If you'll excuse me, I need to get to work. I have four new articles stacked in my inbox, and those need to be edited and posted this week. Tomorrow's StoryOly podcast episode is edited and ready to take live, but I've barely started Thursday's installment of Sound Stages. With a well-deserved mini-vacation coming next week, I need to make two of everything by Sunday, not to mention ensuring our employees get paid. Duty calls...but oh, what a thing we've all managed to build here, and what a community we've built it to serve.

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7Mar/170

Why It Happens

This morning my wife told me a story about a woman who discovered the profile of a guy she was flirting with on an online dating site was a sham, designed for the goal of exploiting women like her. Basically, the guy pretended he was someone else in the hope of soliciting nude pics and/or sexual hookups. My wife asked me why guys do that. It's a tough question to answer. See, I abhor guys who do that. And if I'm able to explain it, doesn't that mean I sympathize with guys like him, people who are basically sexual con artists?

Well...I think I do know where some of this comes from. But please, please understand and believe me when I say I'm in no way endorsing this behavior. If you're a guy who sends unsolicited crotch pics to women, you're on your own, dude. Not only do I find such behavior boorish, I'd be shocked if it even achieves senders' goals. I can't imagine a blushing bride recalling, "I was sitting at home minding my own business, when Joey here sent me a photo of his penis. I mean, I barely knew him! He was just some guy who worked on the other side of my office! But the moment I saw that photo, I called my mom and said, 'Well, Mom, start planing a wedding, 'cause this is the one.'" More to the point, can the reciprocation rate possibly be worth the risk and trouble? This is the kind of thing that should get more guys fired.

What I do know is this. Growing up, I somehow absorbed the notion that a man's true value was measured largely by his ability to get laid. I didn't act on that, mind you; I was still one of Jehovah's Witnesses back then, and I took their anti-premarital-sex policy seriously. But I did assume all my high-school friends were shagging each other all the time when I wasn't around, and I understood all too well it made them cooler than me.

In college, I was no longer a Witness. Instead, I was a serial monogamist. When I made a relationship agreement, I stuck to it. But as my "number" increased, however slowly that happened, I felt better about myself. I was never the handsomest guy on the block, or even in my own house, though, so I had to learn "game" to land those first and second dates. I developed a comedian's patter and a knack for the unexpected but memorable romantic gesture. Yeah, I did okay on that front. I'm not bragging. I'm sure most of the other guys in my circle posted higher numbers. I'm just saying I did well enough I could feel relatively okay about myself.

Now. Let's go darker. Imagine there's a guy with my looks, or lack thereof, and no game. Imagine a guy who possesses no special wit, no creativity, no career to keep his wallet full of spending cash. Imagine that guy's social life. Imagine a guy--I don't know, maybe this is tough for some people to envision. Imagine a guy who has very little prospect of having sex with another person in any given week. Or month. Maybe even the next year. Understand that this guy's sense of self-worth, his own self-perceived value as a human being, comes largely from his ability--or lack thereof--to have sex with another person. I'm not saying he should use that metric to judge himself. I'm saying he does, because his culture's spent decades making sure he felt that way. If you were that guy, how would you feel? I'm not trying to get anyone to empathize with a sexual predator. I'm just saying I believe I might understand. I don't approve. I don't condone. I have no interest in further normalizing any of this. I'm just saying I think it's what's at the root.

See, a lack of self-worth is an intolerable situation. It can't be borne. We'll go to vast lengths to make that go away. We'll do stupid things, crazy things, to feel any kind of better about ourselves. If you don't think that's true, consider all the crazy things we do to lose weight...gain hair...lose hair...lift our breasts...hasten our erections...minimize wrinkles...maximize dental whiteness. We spend significant fractions of our few days on earth making ourselves look better. And we can say, "I'm not doing it for you, I'm doing it for me"--which is true. Sure. It is. But when I do it, I'm doing it at least partly so you'll help me feel better about me, by complimenting me, looking at me favorably, perhaps even sleeping with me. If it weren't for you, I wouldn't care how much hair I've lost. I'd lose only enough weight to keep myself out of immediate heart-attack danger, and that'd be fine with me.

The problem, I think, is how we treat sex in western culture. By creating and insisting on a complex code of rules and taboos and thou-musts and shalt-nots about it, we all but ensure it'll be central to our feelings of value. I can understand that set of rules in a world where sex runs a high probability of inciting pregnancy. In that world, yes, one needs a system of cultural rules to ensure guys stick around and help care for little humans. But in a world with effective, affordable contraception and meaningful sex education and yes, safe first-trimester abortion as a kind of last resort, that approach makes less sense. In that world, sex doesn't have to be as dangerous as it is in our world. It also doesn't have to be as venerated.

I know this sounds crazy, but maybe what we need is a world that doesn't find sex all that special. We need a world where women feel valued for their brains, absolutely, but we also need a world where the amount of sex a guy is able to have or the number of sexual partners he acquires (whether through seduction or something uglier) has no bearing on how we feel about him, nor on how he feels about himself. Gandhi wasn't amazing because he was a stud muffin. Hedy Lamarr's sexual attractiveness wasn't the most interesting thing about her. We don't need to live like this. We just do.

I hope I've made it clear I'm sex-positive. I think sex is natural and fun and good exercise and often hilarious, even for two people who may not be each other's true loves for life. I'm in favor of people dressing or undressing however much they want, whenever they want, and I don't consider exposed skin a sexual invitation. I don't think a culture of puritanical clothing ends sexual desire. I'm not even convinced it's any safer for women. The problem isn't how we enforce rules against sex. It's not that we don't have enough sexuality in our culture. The problem is we act like it's the brass ring of male existence, so of course our male culture demands women present themselves as sexually attractive--and available, for me but not for him (because even if you sleep with both of us, that wouldn't raise my value relative to his). It's appalling. It creates so much risk and mistrust and ugliness. But I have to let you know, this doesn't happen because men are generally happy or fond of themselves. In fact, I think the opposite must very often be true. And while that isn't as sad as rape or sexual harassment--not by a long shot, of course--it's still no sunny afternoon at the beach.

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16Dec/160

A Slightly Longer Time Ago…

"A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..." says the familiar graphic, and then we're back in the Star Wars galaxy. Everything feels a bit different, except nothing has changed.

I have no interest in spoiling Rogue One for you--that's the full on-screen title--because its pleasures deserve to be discovered in situ. What I will say is we know the plot already, for the most part, assuming we've seen a heist film like Ocean's Eleven or a Mission Impossible before. That's not where the special treats lie. Rather, this is a basket of Easter eggs for fans both casual and obsessive. We're talking deep, old-school geekery here.

The movie has two flaws, both of which are significant but neither of which are utterly damning. One is the repeated use, dare I say overuse, of cameos from the Holy Trilogy of 1977-1983. ILM deploys cutting-edge effects wizardry to make this happen, and it works more often than not. Still, I bet there will be at least one occasion, perhaps in Jedha City, when you find yourself wondering, "Was that callback really necessary?" The other flaw, at least as many viewers will perceive it, is the pacing of the first hour. I should point out the original Star Wars is paced rather slowly in its own first hour, more like a Western than an action movie, but The Empire Strikes Back accelerated the pace to a clip seen as impatient by critics of its day but expected by popcorn blockbuster audiences now. Let's be gracious and call the pace of Rogue One's first two acts "leisurely."

I don't want to mince words here: The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite movie of all time. I couldn't tell you how many times I've watched it, but I can promise you that number will go up. Empire expanded on its fairy-tale predecessor by enriching the dialogue, finessing the cinematography, and upping the stakes for its characters. At the age of 12, I perceived the movie as more "grown-up" than "A New Hope." And when Return of the Jedi was released three years later, I loved it, of course, but recognized it as a retreat to Toys 'R' Us immaturity. In The Force Awakens, cowriter-director J. J. Abrams nailed Star Wars' wide-eyed innocence. Rogue One steps deep into Empire's moral complexity and more stylized cinematography. You might expect, then, that I enjoyed Rogue One even more than the giddy degree to which I loved The Force Awakens, but that wasn't the case. Both films are deeply entertaining, but I suspect I'll rewatch The Force Awakens more often. You may disagree, but I found Rogue One rewarding, exciting and tense without always being...well...fun.

It's a war movie. People get killed. Actually, a lot of people (including nonhuman people) get killed, though I don't recall a single drop of blood. The good guys don't always hold the moral high ground. The baddies are at times sympathetic. I admire that. Is that Star Wars? Is it a family film? I don't know. I suspect we'll be debating that for years.

Because the rest of Rogue One is so Star Wars! If you love this stuff at all, the last half hour will make you wriggle in your seat. I heard grown men gasp and commend the action on the screen. (True confession: I was one of them.) The last word of dialogue and crash to end credits earned a round of enthusiastic applause. Online chatter from critics and fans alike would have us believe Rogue One is the best Star Wars movie since 1980; I'm afraid I can't go that far, but it is very, very good, in exactly the Empire vein adult fans have been craving. I don't think there's any denying this is a better film all over than Return of the Jedi. Without all the clumsy fumbling of Episode III's final minutes, Rogue One transitions perfectly into Episode IV--so neatly, in fact, that the Holy Trilogy can now be said to comprise four films.

There are three characters at least that you'll fall in love with, including protagonist Jyn Erso (played impeccably by Felicity Jones). Rogue One's scale and spectacle are jaw-dropping, its action scenes tense and geographically clear. I'll happily buy it on video and pore through every arcane bonus feature. It seems clearer than ever that Star Wars is in good hands at Disney's Lucasfilm, respectful of fans but eager to please the movie masses. Grade: A-.

Now bring on Episode VIII !

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8Dec/160

Sore

sore loser: a person who becomes very upset or angry when he or she loses a game, contest, etc.--Merriam-Webster

I've been accused of this a lot lately, so I looked it up to make sure I knew what it meant. When I first read the definition above, I thought, yep, that's me, all right. Because I am mad as hell. I really am. I haven't gotten over it one tiny bit. I'm amazed that almost a quarter of all Americans would be so selfish, short-sighted and logic-proof as to elect a guy who stands squarely against decent treatment of women, Mexican-Americans, Muslim-Americans and anyone who doesn't think Trump is God's gift to the stars and stripes. I'm angry that even as I keep getting told to get over it, give him a chance and quit playing the victim card, he keeps appointing staff and cabinet members who represent the absolute worst of us. I mean, actual neo-nazis--Didn't we agree decades ago that those were despicable people? I'm angry at the news for false equivalence and normalization of fascism and nazism, I'm angry at Facebookers for embracing memes and propaganda, and I'm angry at people I'm trying to love despite their hurtful vote against fairness for my loved ones.

Except here's the thing. I guess in some sense an election is a contest, but it isn't a game. Elections have consequences. Elections tell the world how we want to look and act. Presidential elections decide who we want representing us and our ideals to other countries. Elections embolden outsiders--good sometimes, not so great now. Yet we treat our presidential election like we're voting for American Idol. We're drawn to the most entertaining candidate, even if that entertainer plays to our basest characteristics. We devolve into a binary, us-versus-them mentality that leaves no room for compromise or conflicting information. Then, once the election mercifully arrives at a decision, the "victors" act like hey, we won, the game is over, why are you still crying? The rest of us moved on to the next thing. Why can't you?

I'll tell you why. Because every time a candidate for leader of any other country in the world ran the kind of campaign this guy did, it led to fascism. Fascists don't choose the best candidates for staff positions, they choose the most loyal. They choose rubber stamps.

Okay, let's say Trump turns out to be an absolutely godawful president who somehow avoids impeachment. The other thing about fascists is they don't give up power easily. They don't submit to fair elections. Hell, they don't even like reviews of the election they supposedly won.

Meanwhile, as of this morning, Hillary Clinton leads the popular vote by 2.6 million and growing. I know that's not how the "game" is played, that in fact it's only the electors who count. I get that. But let's not pretend we should all submit to a decisive victory, because that's not what happened.

So no, this election outcome isn't a game to me, and it shouldn't be to you. If you think Donald Trump is a relatable comedian who's about to boost employment for high-school-diploma folks, lessen the influence of lobbyists in D.C., improve health care for poor and working-class people and revitalize inner cities, I sincerely hope you're right. Honestly, nothing would make me happier. I would love that. I would love to be wrong, because I can be a pessimist--but when I am, I almost always turn out to be right. But if I'm wrong, fantastic, and please check to make sure I admit that down the road. It's only fair, right?

But I do want you to do one thing for me. Just one, okay? Tonight, when no one but you and your conscience are looking, I want you to look in your bathroom mirror and ask yourself one honest question: What if all your friends who are scared to death of a President Trump turn out to be right? What if attacks against women and minorities continue to increase? What if, as I contend, Donald Trump is a b.s. artist who has no idea how the American economy and healthcare work or how to improve either? What if yelling memes eclipses reasoned debate based on facts in the national dialogue? What if your wife, mother, sisters and daughters aren't as safe as they were a few months ago? What if non-Christians like me get marginalized, harassed or attacked? What if my Mexican-American family members, all of whom were born here, get treated like second-class citizens and told to "go back where they came from?" What if we turn the clock back on civil rights, social security and just basic community-level kindness? How would you feel about your vote then? Would it still be a game to you? Would you still wave your as-long-as-I-get-mine pennant? Would you ever in a million years admit you were wrong?

Because if you are wrong--IF, I say IF, so many of your intelligent, well-informed, essentially decent friends are right about this man and his crusade to reshape America to his own, greedy liking--then we'll need you to fight with us. We'll need you to fight FOR us. I worry you won't be able to admit your mistake and commit to real change. But I will do my best to get along with you now, because if things go the way I increasingly dread, our neighbors and loved ones are gonna need all the friends they can get.

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23Nov/160

Here’s Why It Hurts

I address this to those in my circle of friends and family who voted for Donald Trump. If you haven't already unfollowed or unfriended me on social media, then at least I must be trying your patience. For Pete's sake, the election was two weeks ago! It's just politics! Get over it, am I right? Well, unfortunately, no. It isn't that simple this time. If your vote for Mitt Romney resulted in a win, I doubt you and I would have nearly as many issues. If your vote for John McCain yielded a McCain-Palin administration, I'd have done everything in my power to keep John McCain alive and well, but my Facebook photo would not be a rebellion symbol with a safety pin through it. I'd let it go—for the most part. I would.

But it's important to me that you understand this is absolutely, categorically different. What happened here is much worse, and you were one of many who helped light the match. Look, I'm not asking you to read this just so you'll feel guilty. You should, I think, but that's neither here nor there because it isn't my job to fine-tune your conscience. I'm asking you, for just a few minutes, to put yourself in my shoes. Forget my liberal friends. Buncha kombucha-sucking, tree-tonguing, Trader Joe's shoppers, am I right? Spoiler alert: I am right. But they're also Americans like you, folks struggling to raise their kids and pay their bills and get some enjoyment out of life, the best they know how. They fill jobs you don't want, like processing L&I claims so injured workers get checks in a timely fashion. They wear jeans, at least on laundry day, and ask their kids not to go postal when your kids call them horrible names. ("Libtard?" Really? Is that a word you feel good about?)

But seriously, forget liberal activists. They're not your people; they're mine. But so are you, so let's just talk about me and my wife and family instead.

I'm Mexican-American on my dad's side, which means I have Mexican-American family members. I've been told I don't fit your stereotype of Mexicans, so you may think I don't count as a Mexican-American. But trust me, if you met some of my cousins and aunts, you'd agree they qualify. Their ancestors were legal immigrants from Mexico. When Donald Trump literally began his campaign by saying most Mexican immigrants were rapists, that amused you and horrified me. When Trump said the federal judge overseeing his fraud case couldn't be trusted, solely because he was Mexican-American, I was already finished with "giving Trump a chance." I knew immediately that when he said he wanted to make America great, at least part of what he meant was minimizing my family's place and success in this country. He meant we didn't belong, that this country would be better if we'd just go away.

You may not hate Mexicans. You may think that means you're not racist against Mexicans. But you seem to agree we can't be trusted, and guess what? That does make you racist. I know you don't like reading that, because you know racists are bad people and you're not a bad person so how could you be racist? Well, it's the same way I can be a good person and still be a grouchy snob sometimes. It's simple human imperfection. We aren't living "Good/Evil" switches stuck in just one position. We have ranges of ethics, you and I. That's why it's so important that we look at ourselves honestly. I need to acknowledge my reflexive distrust of people with southern accents, and you need to acknowledge you weren't crazy about the notion of a mixed-race president. Because that's racist. You can justify it by saying you also distrusted this or that policy decision or statement, but let's be honest: it was mostly the fact that he was browner than you feel comfortable around. He didn't look like your mental picture of a president. And that is racist, racist, racist, and you need to deal with that. I can't make you deal with it. You need to process that for yourself.

My Mexican-American ancestors passed through Mexico on their way from northern Spain. They were Sephardim, which means they were Jews on the run. I'm ethnically Jewish on my father's side. Donald Trump has openly courted the white nationalist movement, which believes Jews aren't fully human. Trump's chief strategist and senior advisor, Steve Bannon, was the executive chair of Breitbart News. That's important because this summer, Bannon himself called Breitbart "the platform for the alt-right," a softer name for the white nationalist movement. That movement, by the way, includes neo-Nazis. Yes, actual neo-Nazis—or, as some dub them, "skinheads in suits." They insult the press in German and give heil-Hitler salutes. I'm not kidding. You probably haven't seen this, because your social media feeds are more conservative than mine, but you should pay attention to actual video of that happening in a government office. It's a red flag to end all red flags, because it's a red flag with a swastika on it. Yes, this really is happening, here in America, NOW. The time to prevent it has already passed. This is already a national emergency.

Incidentally, I myself am in the press. I'm the managing editor of a multiplatform arts publication. So when Trump pulls news reporters into a room, off the record, as he did two nights ago, and berates them at length for telling the truth, I need you to understand this is unprecedented in modern American history. The president-elect doesn't get to scream at and threaten the media. The news media exist, in part, to make presidents nervous, not to flatter them like toadying flunkies.

My wife Amanda is my best friend. I'm a mama's boy and a proud feminist. So when Donald Trump says horrible things about women and how they look, it disgusts me. Fine, you're no fan of Rosie O'Donnell. I get it. But what do you think he'd say about you, if you're a woman, or the women you love? Trump said plainly that he enjoys walking up to women he barely knows, even married women, and kissing them and grabbing them in ways they didn't ask to receive. Then he walked over to a married woman he barely knows, only months after his own marriage to Melania, and did exactly that. It wasn't just talk; he came right out and did it. That was sexual molestation, and we have very good reason to believe he does it all the time. Now you've rewarded him for that. You've said it's okay for our president-elect to harass women, and frankly, that makes me violently angry...yes, at him, but sometimes at you, too. It's not okay. You can't say to me or even yourself that he really didn't do that, because he did it on camera. It's not your job (nor mine) to decide reality. Reality happens, and then we must deal with it. The way you dealt with this reality is to spit in the face of women you care about, and I'm not okay with that.

You'll notice I haven't said anything about Trump's qualifications to be president. He has none. Being rich is not a qualifying credential, though it is the fastest way to buy ads and gain media attention to get there. Mr. Trump is a flat-out con artist. In fact, now that he's settled out of court for $25 million in the Trump University case, I can accurately call him a fraud. He conned you. He defrauded you. He has no idea how to fix your problems. In fact, not to put too fine a point on it, Donald Trump does not give two shits about you. He told a restaurant full of rich Manhattanites at the 21 Club their taxes would go down, but experts agree yours will not. He has no idea how to bring jobs back to the Rust Belt. His stated plans are all "trust me, believe me"—all sizzle, no steak. He told you he'd lock Hillary up for, you know, something, but now he says he won't. He told you he'd dismantle the ACA, now he says there's no guarantee and by the way, it won't happen overnight. Overturn Roe v. Wade? Enh, we'll see. He's a bullshit artist. Longtime readers of my blog know I don't often swear here, but I can't think of any clearer way of saying it: Donald Trump is completely, 100% full of shit. And you bought it. Doesn't that make you embarrassed? It should. But that's okay, because embarrassment can turn into righteous indignation and we need you to feel that right now.

I haven't mentioned the distinct possibility that Russian hackers altered voting in Trump's favor in three swing states, thereby tipping the electoral college. I haven't mentioned Hillary won the popular vote by (as of this morning) two million votes, earning more votes than any presidential candidate in history other than Obama in 2008. I haven't mentioned the pernicious campaign of lies and character assassination that made even liberals reluctant to vote for Trump's opponent. I haven't mentioned the CIA carefully timing false announcements about Hillary's email. I certainly can't prove Trump raped a 13-year-old girl, but I can tell you he's friends with a guy who was found guilty of running a child-sex-slavery ring for rich, Manhattanite friends. If Donald Trump is a Christian, then I'm a Rebel X-wing pilot. If he's a humanitarian, I'm Grace Jones.

I feel grief about this, and I'm hardly alone. My doctor tells me much of Olympia is on antidepressants right now. This isn't just depression, a condition I'm used to, it's a sadness that won't go away. I find it difficult to think about anything but the election and the very real possibility you voted for an aspiring fuehrer. It's affecting my work, my sleep, my health, and yes, my feelings about you. And even as I think about that in the self-judgmental, cynical light of day, it makes perfect sense that I would feel that way. You voted for the antithesis of every one of my values. You voted for a guy whose vice-president abhors my gay friends. You voted for a guy who won't accept the idea that presidents should avoid conflicts of interest. You voted for a guy who's been following the Hitler playbook, emboldening American terrorists and meeting every definition of a fascist. Should I really overlook that? Should I really shrug off what you've expressed with that vote about my family, friends and beloved wife, let alone what you've expressed about me? Am I really supposed to think our friendship should be bigger than that, when you've effectively told me you don't consider me a friend?

To be honest, I've given up hope I can reason with you. I can't persuade you by thinking, so instead I must talk about how we feel. You obviously feel I can't be trusted. You feel my wife is fair game for a sexual predator. You feel LGBTQ people should be ostracized. You feel people of color aren't as deserving as white people. Last week I visited a mosque, and when I looked into the eyes of the men, women and children who worship your shared God there, I saw real terror. You helped cause that. And I do want to meet you in the middle and talk about how we might continue Obama's crusade for jobs (you're probably unaware of this, but unemployment is actually quite low right now), but I can't do that until you admit there's a problem that needs fixing. And in order to do that, I need to make you see how you contributed to that problem. You were scared, you were played by a guy I've come to realize is a media genius, and it made you gullible. You have to join the fight on our side now. You have to push back against white nationalism and "post-facts" propaganda and mistreatment of women and minority groups. You have to cite legitimate sources when you post things on the Internet. You have to get smarter about how to recognize illegitimate sources. You need to put what's right and kind ahead of party loyalty or your identity politics. Be a grown-up, okay? Be a good person. Put your arm around the shoulder of someone who's scared and upset and ask how you can help. Understand we're not just whiny sore losers. We've been hurt to our very guts by the feelings you've expressed about us, and we can't somehow make you not have done that. All we can ask now is that you roll up your sleeves and help us limit the damage you helped cause.

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9Sep/160

Two Quick Links

Words, Words, Words: Science Fiction

Before I write anything else, I want to thank everyone who came out to hear me read from Mr. Klein's Wild Ride this week in Lacey, Olympia and Tacoma. If you bought a book, double thanks. Let me know what you think of it. In fact, please let everyone know, especially if you enjoyed it. Go to my Amazon page via the links in the post below and leave a critique. Authors say this all the time, but we say it because it's true: reviews from readers like you matter. If someone looks for my book and finds few or zero reader responses, it de-legitimizes both me and the book. So even if you don't like it--and I'm pretty sure you will--post a review. It shows the book is getting some action. And it may just talk someone else into buying it!

Now, then. In addition to writing novels and being the managing editor of Oly Arts, I also still write for the Weekly Volcano. This week's cover article is a preview of 10 shows planned for this theatre season that I think you're most likely to enjoy:

"Top 10 Shows Not to Miss"

And here's an essay about why you should attend a show I curated, called Words, Words, Words: Science Fiction. It's a benefit for Theater Artists Olympia that collects beloved tales of the fantastic from 1897 to the present. I chose half; our stellar cast chose the rest. You're gonna love it. And if you buy one of my books while you're there, I'll donate two bucks to the Midnight Sun Performance Space. Everybody wins!

"Futures Past and Present"

I hope to see you out there in the stars!

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