This blog is a running commentary on everything I care about: the arts, culture, nutrition, exercise, aging, politics, current events, education, the environment, media, journalism, crime, history, movies, novels, poetry, the outdoors, family, psychology, philosophy, religion, and, perhaps most important, the vagaries of love.
I've been trying to read Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter,by Tom Franklin, a mystery novel nominated for an award in the annual L.A. Times Book Festival, coming up at USC at the end of April.
The book was one of five finalists, so I thought I'd take a look. I am always trying to find a good literary thriller, a novel that combines crime and violence with real fiction, an attempt at discovery of the self, a book about crime and violence that offers insight into human nature rather than simply escape.
Good friggin' luck.
I quit on Page 42, in the middle of a back-story chapter. Some of the writing is very good. In the first chapter, I only found two lines I wanted to scratch out. Of course I didn’t, since it is a library book.
I guess this book’s appeal is based on its exotic details: a body rotting in a swamp, found by the buzzards in the sky; a weird geeky guy who everyone thought murdered a missing girl years ago; the killing of that geeky guy; a love affair between a deputy constable and an EMT (paramedic); another missing girl.
That all sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? I wish it was.
Ultimately, who cares? The back-story slowed it down, and I couldn’t finish it. It just didn’t hold my interest. I was doing OK until the back-story, which just got way too dull. But I saw no hints that the author was after any kind of truth.
I don't understand why these writers hunt such small game. Why shoot rabbits when you could shoot lions? (Metaphorically speaking, of course.)
Are you sick of Libya and Iraq and Iran and Afghanistan? I am. Jesus H. Christ on a Kawasaki I am. I know I shouldn't be, but I am.
I know I should trust our government, but we've been through so much that engenders mistrust. Even with Obama in power. I guess he's in power. Sometimes I wonder.
I long for the days when I didn't know anything about politics or these foreign countries. I just want to live in peace and ignorance. I bet these people in the Middle East do, too.
Why do I get the feeling that the good guys might not win, that everything might go bad? That hasn't happened before, has it? I think of the mujaheddin, in Afghanistan and how we abandoned them and they came back as Al Qaeda. At least, that is the way I understand it.
Living in today's world is just too damn complicated. Before we invaded Iraq, for nonexistent weapons of mass destruction on a misguided mission for an ill-informed president, I had hardly heard of Saddam Hussein. Then there was that photo of our president, G.W. Bush, holding hands with some Arab prince. What the hell was that all about? Who was leading whom down the garden path? I think I can guess.
I don't know what to think about all this. When I was a kid growing up, they told us the Germans were our enemies--damn Krauts--and so were the Japanese--slant-eyed Japs. The movies were full of evil Germans and demonic Japanese. All propaganda, now I know.
A few years later, the Germans and the Japanese were our allies. Admirable people. How does that happen? Don't confuse me. Please. I want the world to be simple again. Of course, I know it won't be. But I hesitate to jump too soon.
How do you know whom to trust? I hope we know what the hell we're doing. Somehow, I don't feel very good about all this.
Not to get all amateur Dr. Freud here, but I think I've figured out why I was feeling guilty about having it so easy these days. (See yesterday's post "Guilty Pleasure.")
My parents struggled through the Great Depression in the 1930s, and my parents wanted me to appreciate the value of a dollar and have a sense of obligation to help others in need.
During the Depression, if a man came to the back door and asked for food, my mother told me, you just fed him, no questions asked. I think some people invited men in and gave them a plate at the table. Don't know if I heard that or if they told me.
I think farmers in Kansas would give a man a job for the day, in return for food. Kind of like day laborers now, who are mostly immigrants. For some reason, the Tea Party nuts want those people to starve. I don't know why. They should have been around during the Great Depression. They should have been out of work.
In spite of being kind to others, in theory, my mother was pretty nuts. I was an only child, and she made me responsible somehow for her feelings. She was hysterical, as a basic state of being, and I could send her into crying fits just by giving her the snake eye. It was great fun till it wasn't.
I have always hated selfish and self-centered people. To me, the greatest evil is someone who cares only about themselves. Ah, the Tea Party again.
I'm a communitarian. I believe in community. Of course, I don't do much to promote that, but I believe in it in theory.
Anyway, I am trying to feel less guilty about having it easy. It isn't easy having it easy. If it was, anybody could do it.
I have a wonderful life. It's weird. I spend my days doing whatever the hell I want. I work on my novel, I work out, I write these self-indulgent blog posts, I e-mail my friends Adam, John, Sharine, and Laurel, among others. Part of the time, I just fart around.
I feel guilty because I'm not really doing much to help others. I've pretty much dropped out of MoveOn, partly because I didn't agree with their goals, and partly because I couldn't see any results.
I'm a results kinda guy. I like doing the laundry because I see the results: warm, clean clothes that smell good. I enjoy folding them and putting them in the drawer.
But I don't enjoy vacuuming the floor. It looks exactly the same afterwards as it does before. I suppose I could scatter baking soda on the carpet and then Hoover it up, but that seems too stupid even for me.
I feel guilty about what an easy life I have now. It's the first time in my life that I haven't had responsibility for others. And I was raised to think that taking care of other people was life's highest calling.
My son is grown, and he has turned out well. (I'm not biased. Just ask his wife.) I spent years as a single parent, and that made a human being out of me. I was terribly self-centered before that.
I've spent some time taking care of my grandkids. When the littlest Angels, er, Angles were in diapers, I used to spend one day a week taking care of them. It was hard and tedious, but it was great.
Then for years, I taught mostly high-school kids in Adult School. I felt responsible not only for teaching them academic skills and concepts but for a certain amount of moral guidance as well.
Now all that is in the past. I don't have to be responsible for anyone but me. And it's great. But I feel guilty.
This may sound terribly insensitive, but these days when I'm wandering around the house, fixing food, exercising, thinking about my novel and feeling guilty about having so much fun, if I stub my toe, the swear word that comes to my lips is "Fukushima."
As in, "Damn that hurts. Fukushima!"
I say it several times a day, sometimes as a joke. I don't know what to make of the news. Maybe nukes are bad, maybe they are good. Like that old rhyme:
There was a little girl who had a little curl in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good, she was very, very good. When she was bad, she was horrid.
Perhaps nuclear energy is like that. As long as it doesn't blow up and fry our asses, it's great.
One commentator described a nuclear energy plant as like having a dragon in a cage. As long as the dragon stays in the cage, and keeps the tread-wheel turning, it's fine. But if it gets out, there can be hell to pay.
Last night, for some reason, I got hooked on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." I don't know why. I have always hated those shows, like I've hated most TV.
Then today I watched part of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent." Pretty soon, they are going to have one of these shows for each person, man, woman and child, in the USA. "Law & Order: Roger Angle."
Wouldn't that be fun? And one for Adam and John and Leif and my neighbors Pat and Franco and all my friends. Like everyone has a dog and a bathroom, everyone can have their own Law & Order. "Law & Order: Eat A Banana." One for every activity you can think of.
They already have them set in the UK and in L.A. They will have one in your town soon. And in your car, even if it's in the garage.
What got me about the show was its remarkable moral complexity. This is serious, now. In one episode, a college student pulled an elaborate stunt to get the cops to look for his kidnapped little brother. (SPOILER ALERT) He sent out a video that made it look like a girl was being raped.
In the end, she was part of the stunt, and the cops did find the missing kid. Wow, the bad guy became the good guy, and in the end it seemed like he did the right thing. He got his brother back and freed him from the crazy woman who had kidnapped him.
So the show was morally complex. I found that fascinating. And I thought the show was well done. Good acting, directing, writing. Riveting.
I don't know why I didn't like it before. Maybe I was too busy before and was bored last night before I turned it on. Whatever. I'm on the bandwagon now.
I watched President Obama's speech on Libya tonight, and he convinced me. I guess.
OK, so it was a humanitarian intervention, and we did it to save innocent people, who have been oppressed by Qaddafi for 40 years.
Hmmm. I don't know why the logic of this seems off somehow. Have we not been helping Qaddafi oppress his people? Have we not been buying his oil? Have we not made deals with him so his airplane bomber could get out of prison in Scotland? Wasn't he our ally?
Hmmm. OK. Reminds me of those old photos of Saddam Hussein shaking hands with Donald Rumsfeld and then a few years later he was our enemy.
OK. Things change. Maybe the uprising is a good thing. But if it is a good thing now, what were we doing all those years? How can what is good today not have been good then? Were we on the wrong side and now we are on the right side? I don't know.
I guess we'll have to wait and see. Why am I so skeptical? Am I just an old fart? Perhaps. So many revolutions have turned out badly. The Mexicans, the Russians. Some have turned out well. The French and the USA. So wait and see.
Meanwhile, I trust Obama, at least I guess I do. It does seem right to stop Qaddafi from killing his own people.
As the head of a school district used to tell his board of directors, "All management decisions have to be made with inadequate information."
I don't really mind crappy escapist fiction, a good beach read or airplane book. What I do mind is the lack of imagination and originality in these novels.
And I mind the low level of quality in so-called literary or mainstream fiction. I'm thinking of books by John Banville, Adam Ross, Jess Walter, Jonathan Franzen, John Wray and other respected, so-called literary novelists.
God damn, their stuff is disappointing, to me at least. Sorry to have to say it, but it's mostly crap, what I have seen of it. I even have problems with the works of my acquaintance Michael Chabon, who seemed like a nice enough young guy when I met him once. He's a wonderful technician, full of brilliance, line by line, but he wouldn't know a complete story if it bit him on the butt. (Sorry, Michael.)
The great literary critic Harold Bloom posits several criteria for good literature in his book "The Western Canon." One criterion is originality. He says when you read a great work for the the first time, "you encounter a stranger, an uncanny startlement rather than a fulfillment of expectations."
In other words, a real work of art doesn't give you the same old crap that you have seen a million times before, whether it be in plays, poems, novels, or visual art -- sculpture, painting, dance, movies.
The real thing is new, sometimes shockingly so, although that is not enough to make it art. That sense of strangeness, coupled with truth or insight into the human condition, is one way you can sort the men from the boys, the good from the bad, the wheat from the chaff.
Popular fiction is not usually original. It doesn't go for that. It does just the opposite. It gives you a warmed-over version of the same old story, the same old ideas or sounds or shapes. New wine in old bottles, as they say in Hollywood. Some people, in fact many people, prefer the familiar, like coming home to the same warm oatmeal. They read the same mystery story written under different titles by different authors. And that's fine with me. I don't have a problem with that.
As my friend Adam says, these bestseller writers are not getting paid to write well, they are getting paid to make you turn the pages.
Maybe there is a way to bring them together. We'll see.
I am so sick of politics. And wars in Libya, in Iraq, in Afghanistan.
When will people learn that wars are useless? They just kill people.
Nothing ever seems to change. When I was a young reporter, I thought if you exposed the truth, the people would rise up and change everything. But nothing changed. If anything, things have gotten worse.
Now I'm tired of politics and wars. I don't want to shoot anybody. I'm not sure I even believe in justice anymore. I do believe in truth, but where do you find it?
I worked for an advertising agency years ago, and it was run by a young sociopath who cheated the clients on billable hours and was a great salesman. He could get the clients to go for any damn thing.
The other night, I saw a TV documentary on advertising, on the PBS series “Independent Lens.” They interviewed five or six giants in the ad world, and these rich fat cats all congratulated themselves extravagantly on how creative they were, and how they were doing “real art” and bragging about their famous ad campaigns.
Frankly, it was enough to make you puke.
One guy crowed on and on about "Where's the beef?" as if that was a stroke of genius. Oh, nobody wanted that campaign, and everyone whined about it, and it went on to be wildly successful and it sold millions of crappy cheeseburgers for some fast-food chain.
Oh, goody. To me, that's just another form of bullshit. (See my other blog: http://rogerangle.blogspot.com/.) I don't see any social or artistic value in crappy cheeseburgers, no matter how many you sell.
Another rich ad guy went on and on about Toulouse Latrec, saying that those paintings that are world-famous art now were just advertising posters back when he painted them.
Yes, I would say, but Latrec was an artist first and an ad man later. These assholes think that their ads are art first, but they are not. Sure, sometimes, they rise to the level of art, but not very often.
They showed a commercial for Nike that had a series of girls, from about four to 10 years old, on playgrounds, saying things like, "If you let me participate in sports... I'll be less likely to put up with abuse from a man when I grow up .. I'll be more likely to find myself a career...." Etc., etc.
That was wonderful. It made me cry. I'm not sure I'd call it art, but it sure was moving. A good message presented in fine style. I don't know if it sold a lot of sneakers, or athletic wear, but that was its purpose. Its purpose was not artistic, no matter how touching it was.
Usually, these ad men sell their souls to the devil and then sing about it. They are basically salesmen, and they try to sell you on the idea that they are artists. They call themselves "creatives" as if that made them artists. It does not. It makes them clever hucksters.
To me, advertising is a perversion of the creative process. It puts manipulating people before revealing some truth about human nature, and before presenting an object of beauty for its own sake.
I would have more respect for these ad men if they were more honest: Hey, we're in it for the money, and we make a lot of money, and we make money for our clients, too. We try to do it in fine style. If you don't like it, you can kiss our ass.
That would be OK with me. They can kiss mine, too.
(BTW, this real-life agency was not anything like the one on TV's "Mad Men," which I thought was total BS when I watched the first few episodes.)
Many years ago, when I worked in Newport Beach, CA, which is a wealthy enclave by the sea, I knew a very handsome couple. He had silver white hair, and she was a striking blonde from Eastern Europe. He was an ad man, and when I first met them, I thought they were tres sophisticated and intelligent.
But one day a week, it might have been Sunday, they had a "guru" with an Indian name come over to their fancy condo with an ocean view and conduct sessions in meditation that involved travels in time and space.
She told me that they spent time on some planet in a galaxy far away. She named the planet, but I had never heard of it and assumed it was fictional. I never attended one of these sessions, so I don't know first-hand what they did there.
But I ran into their "guru" by accident one time in an Indian restaurant on Bristol Street in Costa Mesa. He was a fat middle-aged Jewish guy from NYC, wearing white clothing like an Indian guru. He had taken on some guru-like name that I can't recall, Yackywhackydoo or something. He seemed like the most hostile guy I had ever met, seething with anger underneath. Certainly not peaceful. A complete fake, I thought.
Now, my question is this: Why in the world would anybody spend their time like this?
Here is my answer, the Angle Theory of Bullshit: People love bullshit because it's simple and easy and it makes them feel good. They hate the truth because it's messy and complicated and makes them feel bad. Also, there is a question of control. You can't control the truth.
The fact is, in the universe we are surrounded by the Great Mystery. We don't know where we come from, where we are going, or why we are here. In my opinion, coping with that basic truth is a fundamental part of being human.
And in America, we are surrounded by bullshit, which comes in many forms: religious, spiritual, political, cultural, artistic, literary, philosophical, psychological.
My advice: Stay away from bullshit. It's a con and it keeps you from dealing with the truth. It keeps you from being human. It makes people ignorant and stupid.
Many people choose bullshit over the truth. But I think that's very sad.
"For years I was doomed to worship a despicable woman, To sacrifice myself for her, to suffer humiliations and endless abuse, To work day and night to feed and dress her ... Rather than face the scorn of her alluring eyes."
This is the beginning of "The Viper" by Nicanor Parra, a Chilean poet, from a book called Anti-Poems, published by City Lights Books in 1960.
When I was teaching at LACAS (L.A. Community Adult School, at L.A. High), I could not, for the life of me, convince my students that these lines were not literal truth.
They all thought the poet was in love with a terrible woman, that he had no control over his emotions, and that we were supposed to read this poem as the history of a real relationship. I was never able to convince them that this was an elaborate joke.
Perhaps they were too young to understand this one thing about human nature: No one is "doomed to worship" anything or anyone. The myth is that we don't have control over our own emotions. Teenagers often believe this. It may feel that way to a teenager.
I used to have a friend, Tom, who was a psychologist and school counselor. He would often see a rowdy or disruptive or violent student who had been brought into his office by the principal.
The student would invariably say, "I can't control myself." Tom would point his finger at the student's head and say, "If I put a loaded gun to your head, could you stop?" "Yes, of course," the student would say. In other words, the student did have control. He chose not to use it. Or he didn't see it at the time.
The same is true of the speaker in this poem. People who are insane, who hear the voice of the devil telling them to kill someone, may not have control over their emotions or their behavior.
Maybe a two-year-old, throwing a tantrum, is out of control. But not the speaker in this poem. This an elaborate ruse, a way of saying something else. It's like that old joke: "I shot a bear in my pajamas last night. I don't know how he got into my pajamas."
There was no bear in the pajamas. And no despicable woman. It's like a tall tale, like Paul Bunyan and Babe the blue ox. But you have recognize that it is a joke to be able to get the joke.
Which leads me to my definition of a poem: a coherent object in words that says something that cannot be said in any other way, that cannot be paraphrased. You can say things about a poem, but you cannot say the same thing in different words.
There is an element of humor in the Parra anti-poem. My students believed in the despicable woman, like believing in the bear in the pajamas. They did not get the joke. I hope someday they will. Otherwise, they may be doomed to worship a despicable woman. Or man.
Liz Taylor died yesterday, at 79. That is amazing to me. She was a movie star when I was a child. I remember in high school her movies were playing, it seemed, all over town, all over the world.
I was impressed, like everyone else. Her picture was in the newspaper and she was on TV. She was hugely famous, a big deal, even in the 50s. I graduated high school in 1956, and she was a famous beauty then.
When she died, yesterday in Los Angeles, just a few miles from here, at the hospital where my neighbor used to work, Ms. Taylor's age was not that different from my own. She was 79, and I am 72. When I was young, and Liz Taylor was everywhere, she seemed like a grown-up, from a different generation. She was an adult, and I was a child.
But as you get older, those differences narrow and disappear. Seven years now seems like nothing. It's bizarre, like a time-warp. She and I were virtually the same age.
What does all that mean? It has something to do with the difference between the way the world seems when you are young and the way it turns out to be when you grow up.
The meaning of fame changes, for one thing. On the one hand, as the old song says, "celluloid heroes never really die." Liz Taylor's image and movies will live on. On the other hand, her fame will diminish, I believe, as new heroes and heroines take her place.
Nobody occupies that place in my world now. There are no more Liz Taylors, or Paul Newmans, or Jackie Gleasons, not in my world. I look at the magazine covers at the grocery store, and I have no idea who those people are. And I don't care.
The few famous people I've met were totally unimpressive. I liked Allen Ginsberg, but just because he was smart and thoughtful and seemed to really care about people. He seemed OK, but no more interesting than my friends, who were artists and writers and musicians and interesting in themselves.
There is a difference between the image of someone, especially someone famous, and the real person. Which do you want to know? Which do you care about? Myself, at this point in my life, I only care about real people. Fame doesn't interest me or impress me, and it hasn't since I was a child. I don't know why it impresses anyone else.
I am an interventionist. I believe the fundamental answer to the Biblical question "Am I my brother's keeper?" is yes.
If I see a woman being raped, I believe it is my duty as a man to rescue her. No matter the risk. It I see a dog or a horse being whipped, it is my duty to stop that abuse. If I see a crime, it is my duty to report it or stop it.
I wish the USA had gone into Europe to stop Hitler instead of supporting him in the early years. But first do no harm. I wish we had stayed out of Viet Nam when we had the chance. Because that civil war was none of our business and had no strategic interest to the USA. Also, we couldn't tell the good guys from the bad.
Now, I think President Obama is right when he says we should help Latin American countries to improve their economies, partly to slow down illegal migration to the USA, and partly just because it is the right thing to do.
But in Libya, I am stumped. What the hell should we do? I am glad, very glad, I am not the president right now. Although it would be nice to hear them play that song every time you walk into a room, and to have everyone stand up out of respect. Oh, well. Some things are never going to happen. Too bad, but we have to move on.
I read today that it has cost the USA $100-million a day to intervene in Libya. Sweet holy Jesus Christ on a crutch. That's a lot of do-re-mi.
I agree with the columnist Tom Friedman of the NY Times: We cannot afford it. And I doubt if we know what the hell we are doing there anyway. As Friedman says, we don't know if this is a tribal war or a democratic revolution.
Friedman added: "We have got to get to work on our own country. If the president is ready to take some big, hard, urgent, decisions, shouldn’t they be first about nation-building in America, not in Libya? Shouldn’t he first be forging a real energy policy that weakens all the Qaddafis and a budget policy that secures the American dream for another generation?"
I think so, too. Don't we have enough problems here at home? I know Qaddafi is a bad guy, but I can't tell if these "rebels" are good guys. Maybe that will become clear soon. Meanwhile, $100-million a day? Gee-zus.
I am in the process of rediscovering Borges, to me one of the great geniuses of the 20th century. It is a shame that he didn't win the Nobel Prize.
For those who don't know, Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) was a writer from Argentina. My friend Florinda Mintz used to drive him around Buenos Aires when she was a teenager. Her mother and Borges were friends. Florinda, who later became a poet, had no idea at the time that Borges was a great genius. To her, he was just an old man who was partially blind and could not drive.
One of the things I love about Borges is his intelligence. When you read American popular fiction, you are struck, or I am, by the stupidity and banality of the writing. Oh, God, this stuff is dumb. I am talking about virtually all the bestsellers I have tried to read.
The writing is mindless and full of cliches. It seems that every male hero is a macho ex-special forces stud who is armed to the teeth and can kill 20 men in a single whack, while he's taking a leak with one hand and using his American Express credit card with the other hand.
I am always struck by how limp and lifeless the language becomes in their clumsy popular hands. I am talking about Lee Child and Faye Kellerman and Dan Brown and Harlan Coben and Denise Hamilton and Tana French and James Lasdun (who is mostly an academic) and Scott Smith, and many others, probably anyone who is usually on the bestseller lists.
It seems to me that stupid writing implies both stupid writers and stupid readers. Maybe I am being too harsh. Maybe these pop fiction writers and readers are smart people who want to rest their brains. Somehow I doubt it.
On the other hand, when I read Borges, I am struck by his vast knowledge and erudition and by his remarkable intelligence. I have to get out my dictionaries for French and Italian and look up words in Latin. And I have to get out my Bible, for Christ's sake.
Borges seems to have read everything in the world worth reading. Yet he writes about knife fighters and gauchos and thugs and gangsters in the slums.
When I was young, I loved to read, but I was too lazy to look up words. But when you read Borges, you have to know the words to get the entire meaning. So I look them up.
Borges pushes your imagination, your vocabulary, your intelligence, and your knowledge. He would be good for old people, like me, to read because he forces your mind to stay nimble.
Borges was fascinated by many of the same things that fascinate me: violence and genres and meaning in fiction.
One of the Borges's favorite things was false scholarship, dramatic and complex references to obscure texts that never existed. In one story, as I recall from when I first read him years ago, he posits the idea that if two people wrote the same exact book, word for word, one could be a world-famous classic and the other unknown and worthless.
Borges played with meaning and ideas in a way that made the stories have multiple meanings on different levels. In the book I am currently reading, "Collected Fictions," Borges quotes George Bernard Shaw as saying, "all intellectual labor is inherently humorous." I believe it should be. Life is too short to be gloomy all the time.
Borges also said, "good readers are poets as singular, and as awesome, as great authors themselves." What a delightful idea. It is hard to find good readers, especially these days. It's getting rare to find people who even like to read. It is fun to think that the ability to read is as valuable as the ability to write. Not quite true, but there is a grain of truth, and much humor, in that idea. Writers do need readers, otherwise their work never comes to life.
Borges brings me an intense joy, a sense of limitless possibility, an excitement just to be alive.
I've been away from Borges for years, and I am sure glad to be back.
You know I'm always having trouble finding something I like to read.
Well, I just read a story by Jorge Luis Borges, "the Intruder," from an old TriQuarterly anthology called Contemporary Latin American Literature, published in 1969.
Ah, how far back I have to go to find something good.
Anyway, Borges was a wonderful storyteller, a spinner of yarns. In this one, which is only four pages long, two brothers are deeply, emotionally entwined, and they are wild, tough men who sleep on cots and ride horses and gamble, and fight with knives as a form of entertainment.
They both fall in love with the same woman. There's the conflict, and it plays out wonderfully and brutally and ends in bloodshed, as it must.
This is what I love about Borges and the other Latin American writers. No gringo could have written this story. No white, middle-class, suburban man or woman would admit such intense passion into a story. That lack of passion is what I find so boring about Updike and Cheever and even Carver, although Carver was a great stylist and technician.
What I seek in fiction is intensity, magic, flights of fancy and deep insights into the human heart.
As Faulkner said, the human heart in conflict with itself is the only subject worth writing about.
Why are most movies and plays and novels so bad these days?
For example, I just tried to watch "Paranormal Activity," the first one.
I had mixed feelings, from boredom to terror and back to boredom. Yes, it did freak me out, but I don't enjoy that kind of fear. I thought it was well done. Yes, it did seem like a home movie. But I got bored and fast-forwarded through a lot of it and never saw the end.
It was not at all entertaining, to me. I had to force myself to keep watching, because I didn't find any reason to care about the characters or their situation. The acting, BTW, was superb. But the premise -- a quiet suburban life interrupted by demons -- who cares?
I needed some other reason to care about the couple. Maybe if she was pregnant and he was getting turned off by the way she was changing, so their love was threatened and she was feeling insecure. Maybe that brings on the demon. and that would have hooked me. Some real emotional issue would have held my interest. But their life was too boring to care about.
The demon scared me, but I didn't care. That kind of setup is so lackluster. I don't care about boring middle-class people living a boring life in the boring suburbs. You almost want some demons to stir things up.
That is my main issue with movies these days. I don't usually care about the characters or their situation. The list of movies I have hated and turned off recently is endless: "Knocked Up," "The 40-Year Old Virgin," "Shutter Island," "The Town," "The Next Three Days," "Mind Prey," and "Paranormal Activity," 1 and 2.
To me, as a writer, reader, and a sometime movie lover, the hardest thing to find is a story where I care about the main character and the dilemma.
I guess what I want is real drama, "Hamlet" or "Oedipus Rex" or "The Great Gatsby" or "Moby Dick" or James Joyce's "Ulysses" or Tolstoi's "Anna Karenina."
Good new drama is hard to find, and it seems to be getting more and more scarce in today's world. I don't know why. But it is frustrating.
I hope you all know that I don't choose these ads that appear on my blogs.
Lately, I've noticed a bunch of ads for self-publishing, which I don't believe in. I think it is a huge waste of time and money. It's OK if you want to distribute some family history to your cousins or grandkids or something. But it is NOT real publishing.
In real publishing, a recognized and respected publishing house pays you for the legal right to publish and distribute your work. They usually pay an advance against royalties and then pay subsequent royalties on books sold. They print the books, warehouse them, and distribute them to bookstores and other book sellers. The publisher pays to advertise the books you have written and they do public relations for them. They send advance copies to the New York Times and other legitimate reviewers.
You don't pay them, they pay you. Legitimate reviewers will not review self-published books.
I think I read that there were about 185,000 books self-published in the USA last year, and about 90,000 legitimate books published by traditional publishing houses
You can always tell a self-published book. Just read the first page. These books are amateurish and self-indulgent. They often have misspellings and bad grammar.
Anyway, don't kid yourself about self-publishing. Do you want to build your own car, from scratch? Good luck.
I've also seen ads on here for schools I have never heard of before. Make sure that any college you go to is for real, that it is accredited by a real agency. I would check on the U.S. Department of Eduction website first: http://www2.ed.gov/admins/finaid/accred/index.html
I heard on the radio this morning that a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan killed about 40 people, mostly tribal elders gathered to hold peace talks. (See link below.)
Oh, good, another example of U.S. blood lust and disregard for human life. You can just hear the guys at the controls now, probably in Nevada or Florida or someplace else miles away:
Oh, look, there's a bunch of towel-heads. Hell, they're probably up to no good. They never are. Yeah, let's bomb 'em back to the stone age. Hell, yes, let 'er fly.
Then they pull the trigger and high-five each other like they are playing a video game.
I've seen those drone video images online: gray and green and grainy. It is impossible to tell who those people are on the ground or what they are doing. All you can tell is there is a bunch of people gathering to do something, but you cannot tell what they are doing or who they are.
In one video I saw, I think from Iraq, two or three SUVs pull up to a building. Maybe a dozen people get out of the cars and go inside the building. You can't tell if it's a wedding party or a coffee shop. Then we bomb them, and the building blows up, and a few survivors come running out. Then we chase them down and kill them. Hurray. The USA strikes again. Oh, goody, let's kill some more innocent people.
What the hell is that for? It reminds me of Viet Nam. They had to burn the villages down to save them from the Viet Cong. How dumb can you get? Now we are killing innocent people in Afghanistan and Pakistan to save somebody from something, I don't quite get what or why.
What produces this attitude on the part of the good old USA? How did we get to be so indifferent to other people in the world? How did we get to be the butchers, the bad guys?
When we went to war against Iraq, then-president George W. "The Moron" Bush couldn't explain why. He just said something like, "In my gut, I know it's the right thing to do."
OK, George. Let's go kill 100,000 innocent civilians and then claim to be the good guys. Whoopee.
Now we are doing the same thing in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Does that make any sense? Good God. What is wrong with this country? Where did we go wrong? We sure as hell did go wrong.
Now that I am apparently over my computer virus, I can once again focus on the novel I am writing. It got screwed up, but I think it's OK now.
Since I've been back at the actual writing again, yesterday and today, I think I've found the center of the story, the theme or premise, which is its heart and soul.
This premise has to do with a core belief of mine, and I don't want to say what that is, for this novel. I want to work it out in the book first, and I'm only on Page 115.
I always think a story has to have a premise, in Lajos Egri's terms, and the premise should be something you truly believe. You have to prove it in the book, and that is easier to do and more meaningful if you really believe it. (This is different from Hollywood, seems to me. And different from most pop fiction.)
To explain how the premise works, let me use an earlier novel, "The Disappearance of Maggie Collins." The premise was, The perversion of love brings destruction and death.
The main character was a killer who became a monster because of his demented mother who abused him. It was her way of expressing "love." So when he grew up, he expressed "love" by kidnapping a woman and holding her captive in a kind of home-made dungeon.
This all seems pretty routine now, but 20 years ago, when I started the book, it didn't.
Anything supporting or developing the premise went into the book and anything that didn't went out. This method became a good way to organize the writing and keep it on track.
Anyway, I think I have found the center of the new book I am writing now. Of course, this new one is different from the old one, but the center seems to be working, holding the story together and keeping it on track.
We'll see how well it works. I've only got 500 or 600 pages to go.
As always, wish me luck. If it was easy, anybody could do it.
At this stage of my life -- and I guess old age is a stage -- I am so glad I've done all the things I've done in my life, especially the outdoor things.
I am so glad I skied and mountain biked and traveled and lived in NYC and went to a million art galleries and wrote poetry and novels and loved all the women I have loved and had all the friends I have had and helped raise a son and helped with my grandkids.
Because now I don't have many regrets. I do have a few, sure. You wouldn't be human if you didn't. Mostly I regret the beautiful women I let slip away and the places I haven't lived and traveled.
I'm sorry I haven't kayaked the rivers in South America and mountain biked those hills. I'm sorry I have not published a big novel, mostly to prove I could do it and to leave something behind.
Now, if I wanted to go rock climbing or mountain biking, today, it wouldn't be the same. When I first went mountain biking, I didn't feel like I was really doing it unless it was so steep or rocky or muddy that I had to carry my bike.
My old mountain biking buddy Jonathan and I were going to take our bikes to Asia and climb all the mountains we could find. I said to him one time, "If I die over there, just get some gasoline and set me on fire. Don't feel bad about it. Just figure I died doing what I loved."
I still feel that way. Life is for living. Balls out. (Pardon my French.) All the way. Pedal to the metal. That's the way to live. Otherwise, you haven't lived at all.
The first time I heard of parallel universes, I think it was through Jorge Luis Borges, the famous Argentine writer, whom I loved for his depth and originality, and for dealing with novel-length themes in short fiction.
Now I have my own ideas about parallel universes. In mine:
I overcame my early childhood and my fear of beauty, and dated all the women I ran away from in this universe. The woman on the plane, the one at the Newport Harbor Art Museum, the one in line at Mother's Kitchen, the one who stood in line to talk to me after my reading at Beyond Baroque in about 1975 or whenever it was. I loved them all, but that is another story.
I published my first novel when I was 21 and became a wunderkind. Been famous ever since. Traveling the world and meeting the most interesting people and making love to the most fascinating women.
President Obama has pulled us out of Afghanistan and Iraq and left only enough troops to guard U.S. engineers as we build hospitals and schools. Our goal is helping people, not killing people.
People all over the USA have given up junk food and now they eat mostly beans, brown rice, vegetables and fruits. Healthcare costs have plummeted, and everyone has universal health coverage. No one complains. Our life span now is above 100.
What goes on in your fantasy land, in your parallel universe? What is your wish list? And how can you make it come true?
Is this a valid subject for fiction? I believe it is. I think all subjects are valid. It's the way you treat them that is good or bad, art or not art, crap or work of genius. Borges was definitely a genius.
It's raining today in L.A., and all over Southern California, a fairly good rain, not the usual wimpy drizzle.
But it's a mixed blessing. Rain washes the air clean, so you can take deep breaths without worrying about the diesel particles and the smog going deep into your lungs, and without coughing. The rain washes the streets clean, and the ubiquitous small yards and millions of houses and cars and miles of freeways, all clean, as clean as it ever gets.
But the rain also washes all the dog poop and pesticides and motor oil drippings and surface trash down the storm drains and into the poor suffering sea. So the ocean absorbs all this pollution, or doesn't quite, and I feel sorry for it, and for the fish and sea lions and all the creatures of the deep.
I can picture them out there now, a whale and a dolphin talking: Man, I love to see the rain sparkle on the surface up there. Yeah, but don't drink this crap. I know, it's bad for your health. When will those stupid humans learn? That they need us as much as we need them? Probably never. Yeah, they never have before.
Again, it might not be that bad. We have done a lot to clean up the water, but not enough.
Years ago, when I lived in NYC, I used to go hear Rahsaan Roland Kirk at the Village Vanguard.
It was a wonderful time, with great music. Rahsaan had amazing chops, musical taste, and energy. He was one of the best jazz musicians I've ever heard. He was a musical genius and a musical freak. He could play two or three wind instruments at once, and he could hold one note forever. He could breathe in through his nose and out through his mouth at the same time. And when he was in "cutting" sessions with other jazz greats, he could cut them down, man.
Anyway, the great Rahsaan, who was blind, BTW, would sometimes march through the audience and play a song called "Volunteer Slavery," which had a line, "something that we all know."
The idea was that each of us chooses to enslave ourselves to something or someone. For a jazz musician, I'm sure it was the music.
For me, it's the writing. The idea of writing a real novel, a work of fiction that swings for the fences while it also swings, in the jazz sense.
Anyway, today it's back to work for me. I'm over a horrible stupid computer virus my system had for the last few days, so it's time to hit it again. As my son would say, it's not going to write itself.
Back to volunteer slavery, something that we all know.
Wish me luck. I'm humming Rahsaan's song as I open the file and start to write.
Today, I was supposed to go out to coffee with a woman I met last week.
I guess it was to be a first date, although I don't believe in "dating" in the traditional sense. I just like to hang out and get to know someone. Go places and do things. Cook for each other. Walk, talk, maybe dance.
Meeting someone brings up the whole issue of relationships and the single life. To tell the truth, I love being single. I am completely free, to do whatever I want whenever I want. I don't have to listen to anybody's bullshit. (Pardon my French. But then you speak French, don't you?)
I go to bed when I want, I get up when I want, I take naps when I want. I eat what I want when I want. I spend my days writing and reading and working out. Usually, I work for a living. Often, I spend time with my grandkids. But that's a free involvement. I leave when I want.
It's the ideal life. So why would I want to screw it up by getting involved with a woman? I don't know. Good question. Let me think about it.
I'm sure a lot of women feel the same way. After a certain point in life, relationships seem like more trouble than they are worth.
I'm sure there are advantages to being with someone. But right now, I can't think what they are.
Anyway, she called this morning to cancel. Hmm. Not bad. Another day of freedom. It's hard to beat that.
As my son said when he was a wise teenager, It takes a damn good woman to beat no woman at all.
It is weird that some of us devote our whole lives to art. In my case, it's writing -- poetry and fiction and dramatic forms.
But I don't know why.
In my case, I think I saw the respect that teachers gave it in school. You know, Faulkner, Hemingway, Shakespeare. Whole classes were devoted to these dudes.
I started writing, and I thought I could do it, and my teachers encouraged me, and I sent stuff out, and it got published.
At one point, I thought I was writing for future generations. I imagined I would be studied in English literature classes in a hundred years.
"Well, now we come to this amazing 20th century writer, Roger Angle." I could hear it in my head.
I actually thought I could knock James Joyce out of the ring. I wrote a 98-page novella called "Kissing The Mermaids Goodnight," which had no story and no characters, just a voice, like a prose-poem. I thought, hell, James Joyce never did that.
Lord, the things we do when we are young. Well, I was awfully literary and awful full of my own talent. Or so I thought.
I still recall some of the lines: "He ran, I saw that he ran." I think I was writing about myself, watching myself running away from something, perhaps it was life itself.
I know the writers of the past had their own troubles making a living. And I know that some of the greats died broke. Aye, there's the rub.
I don't understand the salivating, the drooling, the excitement people get over new consumer products--new fashions, new technology, new computer toys, new gizmos of any kind. New stuff.
A lot of it isn't that different from the old stuff. Our economy relies on consumer spending. Something like 66% of the GDP (gross domestic product, all the goods and services produced in the USA in one year) involves consumer spending. New cars and TVs and computers and clothes and stuff.
Lots of people get excited over consumer products. The hoople-heads (a term for the masses, from "Deadwood") think they have to have the latest product from BMW or Chanel or Louis Vuitton or Pucci or Gucci or Rolex or Sony or Apple. They have to have a new iPhone or E-phone or BS phone or WTF it is. They don't seem to notice that an iPad is just another computer with a slick user interface.
Talk about status symbols. Why would anyone want a Rolex or a Tag Heuer watch? I don’t get it. Why not just get a foot-long sausage and pack it in your pants?
Do you really give a damn what other people think? Why not just say on a T-shirt, I have lots of money, and I am richer than you, so you can kiss my ass. Or better yet, I own you, kiss my fanny.
Does the country benefit from this worship of wealth, or like Thorstein Veblen said, conspicuous consumption? In this country, we worship money, status, and sex. And of course ourselves. What good has that done us?
Why is creativity so lowly paid and little respected in our society?
Why do we have “the starving artist”?
Why are Vincent Van Gogh's paintings worth millions now, a lot more than when he was alive?
I think I know the answer: Because we don't know how to judge art or creativity. We don't know how to value it.
We know how to measure stock values on the NYSE. Prices go up and down in hard currency. We know how to value bread or cheese, jeans or gasoline. We know how much they are worth to us.
But when we see works of genius, we don't have a clue.
Hollywood is full of creativity, yet it values mostly those movies that make the most money. The almighty $ is their yardstick.
In the art world, B.S. reigns supreme. As a friend says, If you can convince the right six or eight people you are a genius, then you are. People will gather around and kiss your fanny.
But that isn't valuing creativity. That's valuing BS. And people do love their BS. More on that in a later post.
Another thought on Van Gogh: His paintings are worth millions not because they are great art, but because they are unique, highly recognizable and highly prestigious objects. To own a Van Gogh, presumably, you have to be rich. And it is because a Van Gogh is a status symbol that it is so highly prized. At least that's what I think.
I just spent the last few days hassling with a computer virus. What a pain in the butt.
If you know any hackers who create these viruses, please tell them for me I'd like to break their fingers, one by one, until they stop.
This virus was like a bad joke, a prank. It changed certain character names in my novel to "I," so that a sentence that might have read "John hated Jeannie" now read "I hated Jeannie." The sentences still made sense, but their meaning was changed.
It was maddening. I am now going through 100 pages of edited work, line by line, sentence by sentence, to double check. And I will have to keep an eye out for these weird changes in the rest of the 650-page typescript.
Yargh. Of course, it could have been worse. At least, the hacker didn't destroy the whole book.
My advice: always have a good, up-to-date antivirus program installed and working. I use Trend Micro (which I must have mis-installed), but Phil, my computer guru, recommends Norton, by Symantec.
The other night, I watched Part 1 of a two-part docu-drama called "Mesrine," about a famous French criminal.
According to the movie, Jacques Mesrine was a violent, vicious thug. But he was also a natural man, who went without hesitation or scruples for what he wanted, who let no man and no law and no convention stand in his way, and who was quick to land on his feet.
In one scene, he and a buddy get caught burglarizing a house. The unlucky victims, a couple, come walking in. Mesrine quickly impersonates a cop. "We have come from the police department to tell you that your home has been burglarized."
In a way, it is hilarious and even admirable. But of course Mesrine deserves to get locked up, which happens.
The odd thing about the movie (or at least the first half) is that it has no conventional dramatic structure. No through-line, no central dramatic question. The only question in the back of your mind is, What in hell is he going to do next?
Being constrained by the bio-pic form, the story is necessarily episodic. But it is fascinating. I can't wait to see Part 2. Do I want to be him? No. I am glad I am not Jacques Mesrine, but he is fun to watch. He goes to jail, but I don't.
I don't believe in God. I think the whole idea of God is a fabrication by Man. I'm not an atheist but an agnostic.
I believe in the great mystery, that we are surrounded by the unknown and the unknowable. We don't know where we came from, where we are going, or why we are here.
Did we exist before we were born, or not? Does our soul come into being when we are born? Or when we are conceived? When our parents make love? When they decided to have a child? We have no clue.
Do we even have a soul, separate from our body? We don't know that either. Certainly we have an animating spirit that moves us, but we don't know what that is.
Does our soul go to heaven when we die? Hell, we don't know. We can't know.
Why do so many ignoramuses prattle on about God and what God knows and what God wants? I am not sure. Power, I think. It gives them a certain amount of power over others to pretend to know what they can't know.
Reminds me of a quote from the great lawyer Clarence Darrow: “I do not consider it an insult but rather a compliment to be called an agnostic. I do not pretend to know where many ignorant men are sure -- that is all that agnosticism means.”
Apparently people were appalled that Darrow was an agnostic. I'm proud to be in his company.
I do not fear the great mystery. There is no point in being afraid of what you can't understand and can't see or describe or hear or remember. No point at all.