Rob Smith

An Active Observer, an Aspiring Writer

Month: February, 2014

Friday Phrases Compelation

I am posting this here, partly so I do not have to dig through two months of Twitter posts, but also to share my contribution to Friday Phrases to date in one spot.  Friday Phrases describes itself as such:

“On Fridays, we Tweet & RT 140-character stories, poems, story prompts, chain stories & other microfiction gems! Join in w/the #FP hashtag! (Not for book promo.)”

Micro-ficton is tricky to produce, which is why I have difficulty enjoying the genre. Below are my  submissions from newest to oldest–

 

He had always handled her with kid gloves. She burned both too hot and cold to the touch. He looked down at his freakishly small hands.

 

The sun cast its first light on the wreckage scattered all around. “We’re still alive to pick up the pieces,” she said with a smile.

 

She looked into his now vacant eyes, sighed deeply. “Where has the time gone?” She closed his eyes, closed the long chapter. Over at last.

 

Image in the mirror looks weary. Still burning mix CDs and now have purchased his first ear wax removal kit. I got old, he says out loud.

 

The sun chased the night away. A new day, like a dream, pregnant with hope, full of potential. A fresh slate, if only we could forget.

 

He looked at his hands, devices of great potential, creation The blood drips from these, his interface to the world. Only ruin emanate

 

No more checking Gmail incessantly ever five minute, waiting the notification that the purchase had been completed. The day the web died.

 

He awakens,”So many things to hate about his world,”dwelling on the day ahead. Gazing over her slumber form he smiles, “So much to love”

 

Coffee, second pot Speeds, the senses the drink dulled Pen in hand, begin

Soft Rock Star: Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Random Song

I needed a little break from the bit of a funk I have found myself in–  a little goal oriented writing never hurt anyone.  Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge of the week was to open whatever program you use to listen to music and use the firsst song that comes up’s song title as the title of the short story. Tried to stay to 1000 words, but whatever.  Without further ado, I give you, Metric’s “Soft Rock Star.”

The Wichita Marriott looked like every other hotel by that brand name. In the cold light of that February Kansas day, it all seemed the same; every day seemed the same. When things reached this same level of sameness, Mick, aka Malcolm “Mick” McGuiness, knew he had been on the road touring for too long.

Having spent every night over the last three and a half weeks quartered with his back up band at one economy hotel after another, in one featureless city after another throughout Middle America, he finally had convinced Phil to put him up at some place away from the hired help.  Phil had put together this tour, having reached a career plateau of low to middle executive status at one record label or another.   Mick no longer knew nor cared which.

Together they had formed the band Breeze back in the musically bland middle 1980’s. Fresh out of high school, they had a great vision of the future; of where the path would lead twenty years down the road. Breeze had experienced a faint amount of success in the later part of that decade, with two singles:  This Love is on Fire and Breeze By cracking the top 50 in the US Adult Contemporary Music Chart, with the former peeking at number 22 for a few weeks.

After the poorly attended first tour it was clear that they would never have any repeat success.  Phil left the band to work as a sound engineer in New York City.  Mick never gave up on the dream, even though he knew deep down inside it had been a rather pathetic dream.  He was and always would be a failed soft rock star; not the rock icon he always had always pictured himself being.  That dream had begun on his thirtieth birthday when he received the Eagles album One of these Nights.

He walked up to the front desk and made eye contact with the deskman, “The room should be under Malcolm McGuiness.” The deskman looked him over and began typing something into his work station.  It was never, The Malcolm McGuiness, of Breeze? No sign of recognition that he had broken the top 25 singles in his genre in 1988. He had been just another anonymous, fifty plus year old guy checking into the hotel.

“You guys have a bar, right?” Mick faintly mumbled.  He knew they did.

 

He had thrown his one suitcase in his room and immediately made his way down to the bar. “I need a shot of whiskey and a beer,” Mick begged of the bartender.  He pulled a hundred dollar bill from his wallet to pay for his order.  He turned it over in his hands, staring at the image of Ben Franklin looking back at him reproachfully.

His attempt to bed a groupie after last night’s show in Oklahoma City had failed on several levels. Gone were the days where the fans were young and fresh, eager.  She had been in her late forties and had that look about her that only drinking a bottle of gin a day could explain. As he left the back stage area of the venue with this haggard, very inebriated fan, into the parking lot in the back where she claimed she had parked, there was a car waiting for them right by the exit.

Upon getting into the back seat with her, she quickly moved to the zipper of his pants. Mick’s looked into the rear view mirror, his eyes now locked with the driver’s.

“Who the in the hell are you?” Mick demanded from the driver.

“I’m her husband.”   That had hung in the air, wife’s head now in his lap. He reached for the door handle to get the hell out of there.

“Wait,” the man said, and Mick complied.  “A hundred dollars.”  This had Mick’s attention.  He needed some pocket money. “But I get to watch,” the man added.  Mick sighed heavily. The idea of some cash in his pocket, hopefully a few more drinks, sex for the first time in a year, muted the adult voice in his head that was telling him that this was ridiculous; even by his standards.

 

“Here on business?” said a voice far in the periphery.  He had been staring into the pint glass of his beer for lord knows how long.  He had quit his job selling cars in order to go on this tour, this self indulgence.

He looked down at the white tee-shirt, leather vest, tight jeans, and cowboy boots that he donned.  He looked up and around, searching for the voice that had knocked him out of his trance.  A couple stools down, sat a rather bland looking twenty something year old woman; business suit and all. Though she has been rather unremarkable at first glance, there had been a fire in those deep, blue eyes; something that rekindled an urge to live, to live for the moment.

“Does it look like I’m here on business, honey?” he observed with a tired smile.  “I’m here to get good and drunk.”  She looked down at her drink. He was afraid that he had totally put her off.  “You?” he added in an attempt to re-engage her.

“I’m here on business,” she said flatly.

“What sort of business are you in?” he needed to keep this conversation going.  This was the first woman under the age of forty that had shown even a glimmer of interest in these old bones.

“I’m a blogger for HuffPost,” she said as if name dropping; in the same dismissive manner he was all too familiar with, something from the past.  “I’ve already been with Don Henley,” said the groupie dismissively, two decades in the past.

“I think I’ve heard of that,” Mick commented.   “That is one of those internet news pages.”

She looked at him like he was an alien. “Yes, kind of like that,” she said as she took a sip from her drink.  “I’m here to cover Jean Howell’s announcement that she might run for Governor.”

“He’s that tranny, right?” Mick asked, smirking.  He saw that she didn’t find this remark remotely entertaining. “I have several friends who are transsexual;” he attempted to recover. “People are people, right?” he offered his nearly empty pint glass up to toast. She hesitantly toasted glasses with him.

“And what bring you into town?” she inquired.

“I have no fucking idea, really,” he said as he finished his pint.  “A month ago I was selling cars in Erie, Pennsylvania.” He paused. He wanted to say more, but opted instead to keep it short and sweet. “I guess you can say I’m here chasing a dream.”

She laughed slightly nervously, motioning the bartender to refill his drink.  “What sort of dream are you chasing, Mister….” here she faltered.

“McGuiness,” he said offering his hand.  “Malcolm McGuiness.”  She took his hand.  For once, he was happy that someone hadn’t recognized the name.

“…and this dream??” she said with a more relaxed smile.

“To be adored by my loving fans,” he said sarcastically.

“Yeah?” she laughed.  “A car salesmen from Erie, PA in Wichita looking for adoration?”  Why should she picture him to be the rock star he envisioned in his mind’s eye?  Even he could no longer maintain this pretense.

“Someone bought a car online from our dealership and I’m just here delivering the goods.”  He looked into the drink that had now appeared in front of him.

She looked at her watch, laid down some cash on the bar.  “Well, it was good meeting you, Mr. McGuiness.  The press conference is in an hour.”

“Good meeting you, too;” he realized he never got her name.  He reached to shake hands with her and came away with a room key card in his hand.

“Room 2203,” she said.  “I should be back by eight.”

The car sales man from Erie was living the dream that the aged soft rock star could no longer maintain.  It was time to stop pretending.

 

Dreams/Delusions of an Artistic Libertarian Utopia

The dream of no boundary between artist and audience is not an original idea. This utopian ideal is only enjoyed by a select few in a rather narrow artistic spectrum…  the group that enjoys this sort of unbounded freedom is populated primarily by street performers.   For the rest of society, artists appear to filtered into– usually by their own desire not to starve to death outright– into marketing departments of middle to large sized corporations.   Those who prefer to peddle their own product and not write copy whose goals are wholly predefined by some soulless bureaucrat, or worse, are defined by some bureaucrat who believes they have a soul, usually interface with their audience through some intermediary medium.  This medium could be anything from the coked up owner of a small local art gallery, to an agent & publishing house, to a booking agent who can get your band into a few bars (albeit on a Tuesday night, but hey that’s something right?) to whoever the fuck it is that is in charge of hiring talent at a circus.

Which brings me to the subject of this post: (in 200 point font) the self publishing revolution.  My opinions on this matter have been formed based on the plethora of commentary out there, and holy fuck is there a lot (they are writers after all) and I see a clear divide on this matter.  People who believe this revolution to be, well revolutionary, and preferable to the established old school routes to getting your works out there, tend not to be established writers.  By established, I mean established by the establishment.

From my perspective, in the beginning, Hugh Howey’s intent was to encourage other unrecognized writers to take the chance and publish online.  In the last few months, and even more so these last few weeks,  it has morphed and ramped up into a bit of an anti-establishment crusade. Now don’t get me wrong, I can really get into a good anti-establishment crusade.  Maybe not quite to the extent of some soon to be college drop out, rallying his friend to not only flip a car over outside of a WTO event, but light it on fire. But I was raised by a bunch of reformed hippies who instilled into me a deep paranoia of large soulless corporate organizations.  For sake of full disclosure, I work in middle management for a large soulless corporation–  so I’m at the WTO protest, watching people doing batasscrazy things, not actually participating.

In quite a few ways, Hugh is correct about the new paradigm–  but what you must keep in mind is that this isn’t isolated to writing- but is a function of what the interweb enables in terms of propagation of information. I can go online and say whatever the fuck I want to Derek Jeter via a tweet if I so choose. That doesn’t mean the tweet is going to have near correct grammar, as if I was to build up the courage to tweet shit at Jeter, I’d probably be drunk. This analogy holds true with self publishing in that without the gatekeepers–  there is a noticeable lack of quality control.  This should not be interpreted as being directed at any of Hugh Howey’s works, as this poor illiterate soul didn’t find any errors, or anything at all that distracted from his text.

As I have drilled down the rabbit hole of self published works, 99 cents at a time, I have come across more gems than smoldering piles of crap. I did come across one work, one which received hundreds of rave reviews on Amazon, was filled with so many misuses of words, grammar errors, ect. that I had to stop reading.  I have read hundreds upon hundreds of books- possible a few thousand.  I have never quit a book.  I view it as a badge of shame to put down a book once begun even if the story doesn’t go where you want it to– or you find out something questionable about the author after you have begun– or you realized you purchased something that is wholly contrary to your world view.   You don’t quit.  You finish it just in case it doesn’t end how your mind has played it out.

Fuck I have read all seven volumes of Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time.”  I hated ever moment of the process after the middle  portion of volume three, The Guermantes Way, when I realized the whole work to be the trite piece of shit it was.  It took me the next nine months, at the very least, to plow through the following four fucking pieces of shit…. but I got through it.  4215 pages….  fucking 4215 pages…

I found Chuck Wendig’s musings on the subject closest to my own opinion.  The market is being inundated by crap, that very soon it will be impossible to distinguish good from bad self published material.  At least if you only purchase though an established publishing house, the work can be considered vetted–  polished and edited.  But this is my main complaint about self published works–  so I am an easy sell there.

Ultimately, though Wendig suggests a second phase of (sic) self publishing revolution- and suggests a few sketches of what this might look like.  I believe it is up to the futurist authors out there to flesh it out a bit and let the chaos fall into whatever ideas they pull out of their asses and make into our next reality.

 

March Madness 1: Bold Predictions

When it comes to sports, I have little to no interest in following anything on a daily basis.  I used to consider myself to be an avid Major League Soccer fan– but I have found my interest waning these last few season–  to a point where I barely watched a match in 2013–  though I had the online season pass account through the league. I predict my interest to increase this season, with my side DC United getting considerably stronger in the off season.

In any case, one of the sports I really dig is NCAA basketball- for a few reasons.  First off, unlike other major sports, the Western NY region boasts quite a few middling programs…  which gives me a little something to cheer about.  Secondly, the Tournament is so random at times, that it is quite a bit of fun to load all of the plethora of statistics out there into spreadsheets–  and find the dark horses before anyone else.  As I said earlier, and which also applies to basketball, my interest in doing this was reduced to nothing over the last three years– the brackets I did submit were based on increasingly random guesses with each passing year.

When I do play in excel for hours, like in 2009, the brackets I came up with were between 95 to 98% accurate.  2010 I was way off target— and from that point on I was basically throwing darts at the board to come up with results.

Like with MLS, I am going to put in a little more effort to the endeavor this year.   Partly because I miss heavy excel based projects at home over a few beers.  Partly because Buffet is offering a billion dollars for a perfect bracket.  Odds are no one will do it–  but it is by far a more entertaining form of gambling for me than playing the lottery or black jack tables.

We’re about a month away from Selection Sunday–  and I would like to make a few bold predictions.  As my readership is relatively low right now, I might as well do it here–  better than being saved in a Word Doc somewhere.

1- The SEC and ACC will get thrown a bone in bids at the expense of the Atlantic 10.  By the numbers, the Atlantic 10 should get 6 bids at this point to the SECs 4 and the ACCs 5. There is no way I can see this occurring.  My money is on Richmond and Saint Josephs being on the outs with an undeserving Florida St or NC St and Mississippi or LSU being added.  The BOLD PREDICTION is as follows–  it will be NC ST and LSU based on who is on the selection committee.  Additionally the Atlantic 10 will retain 4 bids and the election committee will do nothing about propping the Big East up past the three bids they get.

2-Seeding.  I think the following teams will be over seeded and struggle as a result – San Diego St, Louisville, Iowa, Memphis, UConn– and WV.  Teams that will be seeded too low and that will surprise from the get go are VCU, UMass, Toledo(if they make the tourney), UCLA and New Mexico.  The BOLD PREDICTION here, and one that has one of the smallest chances of occuring out of anything I say in this post, is that Toledo knocks off UConn in the round of 64.  I ran the numbers two different times independent of each other, and this is one of the first round match ups that keeps coming up.

3- In the round of 32, look for Louisville and San Diego St to collapse. BOLD PREDICTION: UCLA goes deep in this tourney at the expense of San Diego St. Look for UCLA to be the darlings of the Sweet 16, making it to the Elite 8

4- From the Elite 8 forward, there are far too many variables in the preceding steps to really get a very clear picture.  The BOLD PREDICTIONS that are a little clear are:

a- Wichita St exits the tourney at the Elite 8.

b- If Arizona has Kansas in the Elite 8, Kansas upsets Arizona.

c- If Arizona has anyone else, I believe they win the tourney over Florida in the final.  Otherwise look for Florida-Kansas final or even potentially a Florida-Villanova final of all things.  Kansas wins the former, Florida wins the later.

d- As for Syracuse–  I don’t see them getting past Florida, Arizona or Kansas.   The only way they get to the final is if they somehow face Villa in the final 4– it’s like a 10% chance of that specific match up there

5- Probable final 4:  Arizona, Florida, Syracuse, and Kansas.  BOLD PREDICTION: actual final 4 is Syracuse-Florida Kansas-Villanova with Kansas winning the championship.

6- Overall ranking of teams chances winning the Tourney are 1) Arizona 2) Kansas 3)Florida 4)Syracuse 5)Villanova 6)Wichita St 7) Duke  8)UCLA   DARK HORSES (who will probably be in the Sweet 16) Wisconsin, Michigan St, Kentucky, Creighton, Cincinnati, Michigan, Saint Louis AND while we’re at it

7- The last Sweet 16 Participant will be whoever faces Louisville in the Round of 32… and that could be practically anyone.  Most likely teams are Ohio St, Pitt, Memphis—  and MOST interestingly, Toledo. Louisville probably beats Toledo, but not the rest–  but could you imagine Toledo of all teams in the Sweet 16?

Random Friday

While the wife putters for the next 45 minutes- getting ready for Valentine’s Date Night 1, I thought I’d spend a few moments babbling here to pass the time…

An official apology to the participants at 81Words.  My previous post regarding the ‘suckiness’ of the work I found on the site was meant to include any work I posted on there as well.  It is my personal opinion, that all micro-literature sucks, because I  need to get something when I interact with a piece of work.  In short, I  suck. I’ve had this exact same issue with being able to sit down and enjoy a short story, since before I can even remember.  To some extent, I am rehabilitating myself very slowly from this (probable) self inflicted state. Hugh Howey’s short story Wool is the first positive experience I have had with the form– and that is as a result of not allowing myself to need a complete world built before me–  an inability to enjoy a perfectly painted image of just one moment. I always demanded more….

And to put this in this in a little context of who I am–  albeit a slightly different circumstance- One evening, after a local art festival featuring everything from crafts you would find in the basement of a church rummage sale attended by two or three people to opuses being presented by established regional artists, a friend and I were drifting around the bars in the surrounding area.  My friend starts chatting up this girl, who is the girl friend of one of the regional artists.  It was a painful 30 minutes as he is convinced that he has some way in there–  which he didn’t– listening to this girl go on and on about her boy friend’s art– which was kind of silly and abstract– using descriptive terms that didn’t really fit the genre he painted– name dropping left and right to impress….  The only thing that kept me planted in that spot for the duration were the four to eight drinks I had previous and the fact that he was my ride home.

At some point, she started speaking in cliches about art as a whole-  which though true was annoying as hell… because it was nothing new and I was getting aggravated.  The specifics of what occurred next have only been relayed to me by my friend–  as I don’t remember the finite details.  What I do remember- after being silent for the proceeding 30 minutes of his failed courtship and her press release, was a lecture I gave her entitled–  ALL ART IS SHIT.  After being silent for 30 minutes, I laughed at something some what ridiculous she said and uttered those words.   She was stunned, primarily because this guy who was not an active participant, suddenly burst onto the scene, ranting these contrarian objections to everything (I  guess) she held near and true.  She let me go on and one for a full 15 minutes until she stormed off.

I don’t think All Art Is Shit.  I didn’t 15 years ago when that occurred and I don’t believe that now.   What I know to be true is that some of the things I do and say are a bit heavy handed–  for the sake of being heavy handed.  In the case with the artist’s girlfriend, I said what I did to vent the frustration of being stuck in that environment…  especially with fangirls who put a little too much stock in the beau’s work…

In terms of what I said about the works on 81Words, I was both frustrated with the restrictions it put on both the ideas in my head..  in addition to the restrictions I felt in some of the works…  BUT primarily the restrictiveness I felt as a reader.

That last bit, the largest bit, is on me.

Lets Not Shit Ourselves

LETS NOT SHIT OURSELVES – We all spend quite a bit of time lying to ourselves on a plethora of topics.  What we have accomplished…  what we are trying to accomplish… what we plan on accomplishing in the near and the distant future.

I read an article earlier in the week about cognition and our interpretation on past shit.  It turns out, in the final analysis, we all probably live in a fantasy world.  Okay, cool… I’m alright with that as it is pretty consistent with my experienced reality thus far.  My only issue with this idea is that it’s a lot like the moment the curtain slips on Oz, revealing him to be not being the Almighty, but instead the weak person that lies underneath each and everyone of us. Once the idea that there is a potential, a chance that your brain might remember the past in a massively divergent way than the manner in which events actually occurred, it interrupts the narrative you had running behind the scenes…  a story line you created.

This leave quite a bit in doubt….. probably best not to dwell on such things.

 

Have you ever read Julian Jaynes?  It’s alarming how little our insight to the idea of consciousness has progressed since the 1970s. Jaynes’ ultimate conclusion might be… hmm…  a little out there- but he poses quite a few questions that still remain unanswered 40 years after the fact.  Sadly, 90% of what he put out there hasn’t been refuted to this day—–  and we should find that very disturbing because who in the fuck wants to live in that narrative?