Wednesday, November 5, 2008

It's Like Someone Dialed the Gravity Back to its Proper Setting

After I voted yesterday I colored four prints. I had to get my number assignment printed and I wanted enough material ready to go to make the trip to the print lab worthwhile.

I've adopted a coloring procedure that surely marks me as a hack. There's a function in Illustrator that will take an initial color and generate a whole slew of pallets from it.

I'll use that to get an initial collection of colors and then when I've used them in the print, I'll use Photoshop adjustment layers to adjust the colors until I've got something I like. Of course I'll make changes based on what my eye tells me -- the sky in the above image is an example. I didn't like any of the pre-generated colors for the sky so I lightened and warmed it.

For some of these images flat color seems appropriate, for others toned color seems best. At first I thought it would depend on the coarseness of the dithering but that ain't the case -- each image seems to have its own opinion.

Here are some random thoughts from last night:

Up until Obama was declared President, I was expecting him to lose simply because I wanted him to win so badly. Same reason The Tick went off the air.

But he won! I bet this is how it felt for the Munchkins when the house landed on the witch. I am so fucking relieved.

Huh. I kinda assumed that if McCain lost he'd just burst into a thousand pieces like Rumplestiltskin at the end of the story. This speech ain't bad. He's got a good speechwriter who understood that Junior High students will be reading about this in Civics. He's hitting some points that surprise me -- this ain't bad at all. Of course I'm still damned glad he lost.

Funny how Obama's speech isn't as thrilling. I guess that's because I expect him to say the right thing, unlike McCain. That's why I liked that speech -- shock value.

Proposition Eight passed? I haven't been this ashamed of my state since the time they voted a killer cyborg from the future into the Governer's office twice -- and even he's against Prop Eight... Jesus, that's awful.

Cool. We're getting the kind of solid majority in the Senate that needs to cooperate with the Republicans to pass stuff. That's actually pretty perfect.

Huh. I'm already starting to think of mocking points for Obama -- a voice in my ear just whispered he looks like Spock and he's got the body language of a game show host. I am so going to hell.

Thank you, America. You didn't screw it up this time.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Looking down at my ballot I almost lost it for a second -- I really, really wanted to vote for Cynthia McKinney on the G. Harrold Carswell principal -- there are a lot of crazy people in the US and don't they deserve representation?

But I voted the Obama/Biden ticket. The only frivolous vote I cast was for a local fellow named Igor Tregub. A little post-ballot research revealed a worthy candidate, thank goodness.

But he got my vote because, well, you know.


Monday, November 3, 2008

Why I Oppose Proposition Eight

These were done for the missus's business card back when she was the one trying to make it as an artist. They're based on two of her porcelain sculptures.

Last night I saw that Rory Harper of Eat Our Brains had posted a link to this video of San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders. I immediately sent Mayor Sanders an email of support and I'm posting this essay in order to affirm my solidarity with his position.

If I had my way there would be no laws at all regarding marriage. It is usually a religious ceremony and as such the principle of separation of church and state seems to cover the matter...

But since there is special legal treatment of married couples, it's only right to make legal marriage available to anyone. Here's an essay I wrote a couple of years back that should make my feelings clear.

Book People was losing money, and it didn’t look like that was going to change any time soon. That was the basis for my position. Book People was a book distributing company that had an unusual structure. It was an employee-owned corporation, which was different than a co-op. The employees were also stockholders, so if the company turned a profit, we all got dividends. Rather than having corporate decisions made by the company as a whole, we elected a board of directors.

Book People had originally acted as a liaison between the small press and independent booksellers. During its glory days, the salaries that people were paid were insignificant next to the yearly dividends. I had heard stories of people taking their dividend checks and buying cars, cash, or making the down payment on a house. Those days ended shortly before I started working there.

The book industry was changing. The mom and pop booksellers had to compete with big chain bookstores, and they weren’t doing well. As a result, we were doing a lot more business with businesses like Borders and Barnes & Noble. At first this was heralded as Our Next Big Break, but it soon became obvious that things didn’t work like that. We were acting as an interface between companies that were in a position to dictate terms to us, and now we our profits were whatever was left over after the big boys took their bite. I hadn’t seen a dividend in the four years I’d been working there, and there had been a freeze on raises for the last year.

So when the question of whether or not to extend health insurance benefits to unmarried partners of employees was brought up, the answer seemed pretty clear-cut to me. We weren’t making money, and all of a sudden a very large expense is being proposed, an expense that has nothing to do with the business itself. It was just more money being spent. It just didn’t make sense.

I thought that was the only factor affecting my opinion on the situation. That wasn’t true; I hadn’t examined myself and the question thoroughly enough to really understand it.
Part of my position was due to the fact that I hadn’t really made use of our insurance program. We had full dental and full optical, and I never made use of either. At that time, my only major health crises had been mental, so I didn’t know how important it was to be able to deal with a health issue without having financial issues come into play. It was all abstract to me, except for the drain on the company’s cash.

I wasn’t as bad as some people were. At least my concern was for the company’s well being. I knew a few people whose position was based on selfishness and resentment.
“I don’t wear glasses,” Gary the Receiver said. “Why should I have to pay for your glasses? Hell, I don’t have kids. Ron’s kid broke his arm, and I had to help pay for the cast. Why doesn’t he have to take responsibility for his decision to have the kid? What makes it my problem?” He stamped the packing slip for the shipment he was processing and counted the boxes, pointing with his finger and moving his lips, then wrote down the number on the slip.

“You’re looking at it wrong,” I said. “You aren’t paying for a pair of glasses, or a kid getting a cast put on his arm. What you’re paying for is a quality of life. I mean, if you’ve got to see benefits from your perspective, you want people driving forklifts with glasses they’ve been wearing for five years because they don’t want to pay for new ones? You want to have to listen to Ron complaining if in addition to worrying about his kid he’s also blown a few thousand dollars on doctor’s bills? And what if something happens to you? You want us to walk around talking about how much you cost?”

“Whatever,” Gary said. (Of course, he got his. Kidney damage brought on by overconsumption of liquor store vitamin pills. Two weeks in the hospital. And I got to hear Dave from Returns asking why we were paying money because Gary was a drunk and an idiot…)

“What I’m saying is, you aren’t paying for any specific item. You’re paying it so that you can live in a society where you and everybody around you is taken care of. Basic compassion, dude.”

“Whatever,” Gary said.

Looking back on it, I don’t really understand how I could have failed to apply that argument to the issue of partner support. For that matter, if I was so concerned about expenses, why wasn’t I trying to have health benefits cut? There was an inconsistency in my position.

But the last big influence on my position was ignorance. I didn’t understand what the “unmarried partners” thing meant. There was part of the situation that I didn’t see at all. And I still feel guilty, because I should have seen it.

Book People culture was to a considerable degree lunchcentric. It had been decided a long time ago that it made more sense to hire a cook and have lunches prepared every day than it was to have people going out for lunch, skipping meals, having to spend time at home making lunch – this was our lunch money, and this was how we chose to spend it. There were a lot of divisions inside the company; the offices vs. the warehouse, returns vs. the order department, and so on and so on. The lunchroom was a place where those barriers broke down. There were the people you worked with, and there were the people you ate with.

I have to wonder why Wendy decided to sit at my table. I call it “my table” because, well, I’m a bit of a loudmouth and a semi-high dominance individual, and if you ate lunch with me, the conversation was going to tend towards the weird and the loud. In fact, we were described by others as ‘the loud table.’ Not everyone is going to appreciate a mealtime discussion of the reproductive habits of the Guinea Worm, or why the Schwarzenegger Conan bore no resemblance to the real thing as written by Robert E. Howard and no one else.

Wendy was a soft-spoken woman, one of those people whose gentleness forms an element of charm. If you were really sick, you’d feel better if she was in the room. Usually, I feel a little uncomfortable around those types. I have to hold back, soften myself. I’m always afraid that something grossly offensive is going to slip out of me.

Wendy seemed perfectly comfortable with the tone of conversation we had going, and when her devotion to decency was brought into the mix, it didn’t dampen things. She was able to check my tendency to hypothetically slaughter vast numbers of people without being a drag. It was nice to have her with us. These days, niceness is seriously underrated. It’s associated with wimposity. I disagree. In this world, being nice takes strength. I may not be nice myself, but I am militantly pro-nice.

Wendy was a mother, and was raising her daughter along with the two children of her unmarried domestic partner. Her unmarried domestic partner was a woman, and this was where I had failed to understand the hidden meaning behind the phrase ‘unmarried domestic partner’.

The insurance question was going to be decided by the Board of Directors, but before that happened, there was to be a company wide meeting so that everybody could have a chance to make their opinion known. Towards the end of the meeting, I raised my hand and made my point. We’re in debt, this will cost money, end of argument.

And then Wendy spoke. “There are people in this room who are in gay or lesbian relationships,” she said. “We aren’t allowed to be married in the eyes of the state. Our relationships,” and here I could here her voice crack, the way it does when your throat aches from tears that you’re holding back, “our love, isn’t recognized. It’s as though it doesn’t exist.

“Book People prides itself on being a community that accepts people as people, that treats all people equally. If Charise and I could get married, we would, and Book People would give Charise coverage. By denying the partners of gay employees coverage, Book People is supporting the way the state treats us. It’s a way of saying that we don’t matter.

“I just don’t think that’s right.” And then she sat down.
I raised my hand. “I withdraw my opinion. I was wrong. I agree with Wendy.”

After the meeting, I went to apologize to Wendy. “I feel like a complete ass,” I said. “I still think that we can’t afford it, but if Book People can’t afford to do what’s right, then maybe we should go under.”

Wendy seemed angry. I couldn’t tell if she was mad at me, or at the whole situation. “Thank you for saying sorry,” she said. “It’s just so… I thought that Book People was supposed to be a place for people who were more,” and she waved her hands. “You know. Conscious of things.”

It wasn’t the logic of what Wendy said that changed my opinion. I agree with the logic, and I’d like to think that it would have been enough to make me change my mind. But it was the sound of her voice that got to me, the way it made me feel that this wasn’t a matter of dollars and cents. It made me think about all of the people who felt that kind of pain, and it made it intolerable for me to think of myself as someone who would support the conditions that led to that pain. The logic worked for me; Wendy’s argument made sense. But in the end I was swayed because I felt that her love mattered.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Some Trolls Guard Treasure

So I've had an interesting experience over the last couple of days. I've had my first run-in with a troll and it's proven to be very rewarding. I reacted to him, then blew him off, then found myself processing the interaction in a way that took me by surprise. He strikes me as the kind of person who'll interpret any kind of attention as a victory so I told Rob-the-editor that after our first exchange I'd just ignore him -- but I think this is interesting enough to justify giving him some satisfaction.

Here's what he wrote to Swill, the lit mag for which I'm partially responsible -- it came to Rob-the-editor and he passed it on to me.

> Date: Thursday, October 30, 2008, 5:51 PM
> What the piss is the pay for publication in your magazine?
> Most lit mags list it, why should I need to contact you
> about it? List it, Goddamn it! Do it NOW!! I write stories
> that make Hemingway, Fitzgerald and others of their ilk look
> like candy asses, suckling at their momma's tit. I
> don't have time to be coddling dirt dumb editors who
> can't even layout a guidelines page - wake the hell up!!
> Christopher Roberts

Now when I received this it was four in the morning and I'd been in a shitty mood for days so I rose to his bait like a trout to the fly.

This was my response.

And this was his.

Sean - So entirely wrong. You are not the first to have received my missive - not a hobby, but blood sport. I've had editors check themselves into asylums due to the abuse.
As to being an asshole, dickwad or jerk,(do people still use that tired "epithet" dickwad?) I can only give the standard reply I give other editors I victimize - never me, always you.
Whether you like Hemingway or Fitzgerald (Both of whom I've read - so there, wrong again) is immaterial. They are merely reference point - bloodless.
Fourth-grader, again, you not me.
"(I wonder if this is your problem – were you breast-fed? It is important to an infant's physical development and ability to resist disease. Perhaps you suffered an early fever or a diet deficient in protein?)" Need I say it? Not me, that's all your trip. It seems as though you were pissed-up (Cockney for drunk) when you wrote this bit of tiredness.
"Perhaps you should consider text messaging as your medium of choice." No, I'm a true writer - nominated for the Pushcart. Perhaps you might think of putting your magazine to sleep and hop behind the counter at 7-11 and get to work.
Interesting you mention the New Yorker. I have a reportage/essay on the 3:AM Magazine website entitled, "The New Yorker, Collusion and All That" in the nonfiction section. Read it. The ending is a killer and speaks to the nit- picking proper grammar editors (ever hear of Kerouac?) like you. Thus they deserve the fate I mete out to them, as do you, at the end of my piece.
Veni, vedi, vici, - no!
I fucking rule,
Chris Roberts

The whole interaction did get on my nerves. And so I had to analyze why I reacted the way I did. What it comes down to is that I come from Richmond. I learned early on that if you let people get away with disrespecting you, they will eat your fucking life one bite at a time because they know they can. So if anyone gives you shit the only functional reaction is to jump on them hard, fast, and continually until only one of you is capable of walking away.

This just doesn't work on the internet.

Letting go of things is difficult for me. I wanted to send this guy another email pointing out how everything he said in his second note was covered by things I'd said. I wanted to point out that his writing in the second note was still lame. I wanted to go read his article in order to tear it apart. I wanted to explain to him that if he wanted to really get to me there were ways of doing it that he hadn't even touched on. (Just to start with, my response to him was pompous and clumsy and in bad need of an edit.) I wanted to mock his self-importance. Etc, etc.

And of course what I really wanted to do was put my fingers in his eyes and dial his face like a rotary phone. But I knew that any response on my part was a victory for him. He decided what the game was, he started playing, and he's the one who gets to pick the winner.

What he wrote bugged me. It bugged me because I'm still the kid from Richmond who gets beat up every fucking day and that kid is going to be pissed-off and ready to react for the rest of his life. I've got a seething cauldron of anger in my chest that will keep boiling until I die -- and it'll probably be a big part of whatever kills me. It's not like yanking my chain is any kind of a challenge.

I've been working on a big novel for the last four years. (If you're curious, look under The Ghost Rockers in my labels list.) And today I wrote the climax of the first volume. (That's why I didn't post earlier.) Even after all the time and thought I've put into the work I was still surprised by the way I handled the ending. And my approach came about as a direct reaction to dealing with ol' Chris.

See, when I looked at the way I felt about what he'd written to Rob and then to me, I had to ask myself some big questions and in the end they boiled down to something direct and powerful.

What kind of person do I want to be?

How would that person deal with this situation?

And when I looked at it like that the ending to The Ghost Rockers came into clear focus. It was a real gift. And it lifted my anger in a way that took me by surprise. I'm kind of glowing right now.

And that's a lesson I'll keep learning over and over again. Anything that happens to you can be processed productively as long as you ask yourself those two questions, the questions that help this kid from Richmond to keep growing up.

What kind of person do I want to be?

What would that person do now?