Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Facts I'd rather not face...

Another year is about to wrap itself up. Come April of 2008, it will have been officially two years since I've been able to write a single fucking thing.

Every story idea I've had since 2006, ever novel I've tried to write, every world I've imagined, every character I've come up with...all of it has died on me. Every plan I've had, to revive, revise rewrite or rework a story that I have already written and saved to magnetic or optic media has met the same fate.

At first I chalked it up to how 2006 opened: with me filing a grievance against a bullying asshole boss at Bell, then getting laid off two months after the arbitrators ruled in my favour (no coincidence there!), then desperately looking for work the rest of the year, while along the way seeing my first novel get published...and then go nowhere.

A lot of things happened in between those events...some good, some bad, some painful, including my falling back, for a time, into using and abusing marijuana (it almost cost me my marriage), becoming a music journalist for Confront Magazine (which appears to be the only fruitful writing I can do of late--music reviews, interviews and various rapportages on different events), going broke and ruining my credit rating, scaring off an old friend who'd been innocently just trying to get in touch, alienating some formerly close family members (and bidding good riddance to others) and all kinds of shit that finally seemed to take a turn for the better when I landed a job at Starbucks.

Among the things I've come to realize is that I no longer have faith in my abilities to write fiction. Journalism, editorials, reviews and this blog seem to be the best I can do. I don't have enough experience at the former (or the fucking all important Degree of Higher Learning) to make money with it and as for the latter? Well, let's take a look:

Only about a dozen people actually read this thing. Of those that do, about half of them are friends and/or family. And despite numerous attempts by me in the past to get input on how to improve this blog, how to make its audience expand, nobody ever fucking bothered to reply. Not even my c losest friends. What does that say? Then there's the fact that only a couple of people actually reference my blog from their blogs/websites.

So, when even your friends (with a couple of exceptions--you know who you are) won't so much as add a hyperlink to their own site to help, what can you do, except wonder aloud about why do I bother with this weblog, anymore? Why indeed?

Another problem is that my first novel has sold all of seven copies. SEVEN! Of those seven, I've sold three to people I know--one to a friend of a friend (who didn't buy the book themselves), and two to people that I quite literally hadn't spoken to in years until they emailed me to say, "By the way, Steve, I just bought your book!"

Granted, the marketing of The Unearthing was killed when I lost my job at Bell, along with the approximately five grand in stocks I'd have accumulated by the time the book came out in September 2006. That money had been earmarked to finance a marketing scheme that I was working on, with people who actually knew something about marketing. But when the well ran dry, so did the prospects of creating buzz for the book.

Surely, you would think, that my friends with websites would have helped by posting a link? Well, one of them did...


Kind of hard to even get word-of-mouth going when everyone clams up all at once.

But, ultimately, I have myself to blame for the failure that is my first novel. I went with Publish America, knowing full well their reputation and that the onus would be on me to sell the fucking thing. I left Bell with a layoff package that I didn't spend wisely, thus buggering up the slightest chance of a marketing budget, though the leaving Bell wasn't exactly my fault. What few attempts I could make to sell the book, without even the help of a friend with a website, or the magazine I do most of my writing for.

When 2007 began, I have to say I was feeling somewhat more optimistic, but this year, it seems, has been more of the same. In July I changed jobs (for the sake of a much needed higher salary) and started to work in a call center for the world's leading employee share purchase plan management company. Despite my exemplary customer service skills and repeatedly being lauded for doing an exceptional job, just last week--two fucking weeks before Christmas--I was fired; not because of my work ethic but because I was deemed "too negative", by virtue of the fact that I'm too much of a curmudgeon for certain coworkers--one in particular who was traumatized by his abusive alcoholic father and now sees Daddy wherever there's a grouchy male present.

So now, a week before Christmas, I'm jobless again. The money's about to run dry and I'm left sleepless and stressed out at night, my own grim thoughts for company.

And in all that time, from January 1, 2007 to today, once more, everything I try to write, every story, every script, even the stuff I try to revisit and all goes to shit. I can't write a goddamn thing.

Nothing that matters to me, anyway. I've interviewed rock stars, I've been backstage at some major events, I've listened to and reviewed CDs before the general public knew they were coming out...

It occurs to me that all of us spend far more time--far too much time, in fact--at work. Whether we're self-employed or working for someone else. 8 hours or more a day at work, doing labor for someone else's benefit, compensated rather poorly for sacrificing our time, our health, our lives and our sanity so that someone else can reap it all in.

Let's face it: most people in the lower and middle income brackets are nothing more than slaves, because we cannot live in this modern world without money. We certainly cannot prosper without it, and the things that it can buy, like shelter, utilities, food, clothing and medicine. And the same society we help prop up by sacrificing 2/3 of our waking life for its sake then tries to get us to work even harder, even longer, by enticing us to go into debt (or put money aside) for luxury items that are so ridiculously superfluous as to be nothing more than legalized drugs. an iPhone for the tech addict, an iPod for the music junkie, a Wii for the videogame freak, a Blu-Ray disc player for the cinephile...consume, consume, consume...and to consume, we must work, work, work...and as I found out last week, to be able to have the privilege of working, we have to conform. We must wear the face of the happy Field Nigger, proudly picking massa's cotton, not minding the lash, always glad to have such a lenient whip-cracker at our backs, always thankful for the privilege to work towards someone else's benefit...because let's face it: we sure as christ aren't working for our own. Even the self-employed are ultimately enslaved by long hours and deadlines, to meet the needs of their fickle and fleeting customers. Only the very rich are the ones who profit from their own labours.

Let me quote a younger version of myself, who wrote about this far more eloquently, back when I could still believe in myself enough to write:

Alec stretched out and leaned his head back.

“Tell me, Brian, have you ever thought about life? About freedom?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

Alec laughed.

“I mean that we’re all a bunch of fucking slaves! We go to school so we can learn a trade and learn to conform to society’s expectations…then we enter the world and every morning we wake up, go to a job that about ninety per cent of us are gonna hate, where we’ll spend eight to twelve hours of our waking life every day, making sure the engines of this great machine called the economy continue to run!

“Tell me, Brian? Do you know how we’re rewarded for our efforts? We get a mediocre wage to pay our bills and buy food…and if we’re lucky, there’s enough money left over for pointless luxury distractions we’re programmed to desire by the media and maybe two or three weeks of the year where we have the privilege not to work and maybe afford a vacation if we scrimp and save.”

“Jesus,” I laughed, “It sounds like you’re turning into a communist.”

“Communism? Bri, Karl Marx said religion is the opium of the masses. He was so fucking wrong; movies, TV, videos, videogames…those are the tools of control. Those are the drugs we use to dull our senses, to keep us from realizing how bleak and pointless it all is! Fuck, if there was no entertainment, no distraction, people would realize how badly they’re getting fucked over by their jobs, their governments and their fellow man! We’d have a fucking revolution inside of days, because people would start asking the kind of questions nobody in power really wants to have answered! Instead, we go to work, go to school, come home, veg out in front of the TV, go out on the weekends to some stupid movie or some stupid bar, get drunk, get high, get laid and then we keep on doing this same routine day in and day out like happy little drones, until we die!”

“And then sometimes,” Alec said, looking at me intently, “Sometimes, the universe decides to fuck you up, completely! Sometimes you’re ripped out of your complacent existence and you realize that we’re still a bunch of savages; we’re still a bunch of fucking animals, brutal, stupid and fragile and we do die…we do die…and if we don’t do something to change this world, if we don’t do something to make a difference, Brian, then we die in vain. We have to make a difference, Brian!”

We have to make a difference. We do. There hasn't been a revolution in labour since the early days of the union movement, back when they weren't corrupt, self-sustaining entities and industries unto themselves.

It's time for a change, for a new deal, for employees to demand the respect that their employers aren't giving them. It's time for employees to take back their lives from these corporate monsters, who force their workers to live in fear of being fired, or of having their benefits cut, or whatever else they think they can get away with doing, to keep their flocks of sheep in line. It's time that people stood the fuck up and said to themselves and each other, "I only have one life to live, and it's too fucking short to live like this!" It's time for the economy to stop working for the majority shareholder and to truly start working for the benefit of all humanity.

It's time we stopped being slaves to the artificial world of the corporate consumer class structure.

Everyone should go into work tomorrow and as one just stand on their desks and yell "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!"

If I could, I'd mobilize and motivate everyone to do just that.

Of course, there's little I can do about it, by posting about it here.

A dozen of you read this thing.

Ten of you don't give a fuck.

Merry fucking Christmas.
Happy fucking New Year.
Let's hope 2008 is better, because I don't think I've the strength to live through a year worse than the last one's been.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Rainbow Disconnection

The End of the Rainbow

SteveK examines the aftermath of the Radiohead ‘In Rainbows’ experiment

So, for a couple of months it looked like Radiohead was about to lead the vanguard charge against the way music is distributed to listeners, as well as deal a direct hit across the bow of the music industry, with the pay-as-you-please download distribution of their latest album, ‘In Rainbows’. Yes, there was the issue of the poor quality of the MP3 (160 KBPS compression rate as opposed to more standard 320 KBPS), but surely such a little thing could be forgiven at the start of a new music revolution.

The record charts couldn’t track the phenomenon of the downloadable-only album, which was promoted almost exclusively online, by the word-of-mouth enthusiasm of the fans and online music critics alike, with YouTube playing host to the music videos that the band did put out. Record executives were scrambling, music promoters were updating their resumes, file-sharing enthusiasts were cheering and independent artists and musicians were looking ahead with hope to a potential new era in music.

So much for all the hype.

As of the 10th of December, the downloadable (and Digital Rights Management-free) version of ‘In Rainbows’ is no longer available, at least through official channels; no doubt it’s still out there on countless file-swapping networks worldwide.

Instead you can get either the “discbox” version of the CD for £40.00 (approximately $80.00 US/CDN) which comes with the album as-downloaded, along with a 12 inch vinyl record of the same, an “enhanced” CD with additional songs, accompanying picture booklet and lyrics, or on January 1st of 2008 you will be able to buy a regular CD version of ‘In Rainbows’ from just about every major record retailer in North America.

And although the band maintains that they had originally released the album as a pay-as-you-please downloadable in order to “…Make people stop for a few seconds and think about what music is worth…” their management maintains that this was done solely to boost sales of the “real” album, whether the “discbox” or CD that will be in stores in three short weeks. Needless to say, the quality of the songs on both “hard copy” versions of ‘In Rainbows’ will be much higher

The band has fairly well betrayed anyone and everyone who believed that the downloadable ‘In Rainbows’ would usher in a new era of music distribution, one in which there would be no record label middleman between the artist and their fans.

Instead, in a move as cynical and as commercial as the fabricated feuds between supposedly rival pop stars, we’ve discovered that Radiohead did all this merely as an elaborate publicity stunt to generate buzz in advance of the physical CD release. We should have known better; we should have seen it for what it was but we didn’t. We all wanted to believe that a music revolution was coming.

Radiohead should be ashamed of themselves for being so callous, and for profiting from those who paid good money to download very poor quality recordings. It is my sincerest hope that the fans will stay away from buying the CD, and thus voting with their pocketbooks, send a message to the band about being loyal to and honest with their fans.

I suspect, however, that the fans are far more forgiving, and that this CD will not only sell, but will indeed revolutionize the way music is distributed, by selling well enough for the concept of a low-price low-quality pre-release promo download to become a standard music industry marketing ploy to squeeze even more money out of fans, listeners and music lovers.

We got our revolution, it seems; just not the one we’d been hoping for.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

More censorship by so-called "Christians"...

Yet another school, this time in Calgary, is pulling the His Dark Materials children's book series.

This proves, at least as far as I am concerned, that one religious zealot is as bad as another.

Let's not forget that the central theme of the series by Philip Pullman is to get children to understand that taking any belief system and following it dogmatically, fundamentally and zealously is absolutely, positively wrong. The overriding moral of the story is to not let anyone use religion to empower themselves at your expense, that we should not live under the yoke of religious oppression.

What astounds me is the same people who were outraged by the Fatwah placed on Salman Rushdie over The Satanic Verses are the ones who are banning this book in a free, Western democracy. I wonder if the so-called Christians who are performing this act of censorship would feel the same about a book written by, say Irshad Manji, a Muslim who is very critical of Islamic fundamentalists...probably no, for the simple fact that she criticizes Islam, not Christianity. But those same Christians who would support her condemn Philip Pullman...claiming he's "indoctrinating" children into atheism. The last time I checked, the indoctrination of children was being done by people who force their children to be baptized and then drag them to sunday school and mass every week...or by missionaries setting up "schools" and hospitals where among the medicine and "education" a rather unhealthy dose of Christian fanaticism is doled out, as well.

I'm not saying people don't have the right to their beliefs. I, myself believe that there is something greater than ourselves out there; however, to claim that any one religion has all the answers, or for that matter the ONLY answers, or to turn around and not only attack other religions but to attempt to ostracize, censure and censor people whose views are not like theirs, well, that's got nothing to do with God. In fact, it's the most Godless act of cowardice I can imagine.

The Catholic league is leading an attempted boycott of "The Golden Compass" movie and the books. I have to wonder: where were the outcries from the Catholic League, when priests were raping and molesting children? Where was the outrage when the Archbishop of Cologne revived the Nazi-coined term "Degenerate Art" to describe works of art he disapproved of? Where were the Catholic Leagues protests when their own Pope, and former member of the Hitler Youth and Nazi Party Joseph Ratzinger describe Islam as an evil, violent religion?

If one movie, if one book is such a danger to the hearts and minds of the people of your religion, you should ask yourself just how meritless your religion really is.

As an author I find the censorship of any book reprehensible, and disconcerting; because it's so easy to ban one book, then another, and another and another...through fear-mongering, hysteria and populist ignorance, freedom of expression is curtailed and crushed...boycott a movie, ban a book, burn a CD...and then there's a new movie to boycott, another book to ban...soon enough, the movies don't get made, the books don't get published and then it's only a matter of time before the writers, the artists and the intellectuals are silenced, arrested, made to disappear.

History, even in the supposedly "free" West, is rife with examples. Below is just a partial list of names of authors whose works have been banned from libraries, here in
North America, in just the last century. Philip Pullman is in exceptional company:

Amis, Kingsley
Angelou, Maya
Auel, Jean
Baldwin, James
Balzac, Honore de
Bamford, James
Bannerman, Helen
Benchley, Peter
Bennett, D.M.
Bett, Doris
Beveridge, J
Blume, Judy
Boccacio, Giovanni
Bonner, Raymond
Bradbury, Ray
Bryant, John
Burgess, Anthony
Burroughs, Edgar Rice
Cabell, James Branch
Carrol, Lewis
Calhoun, Mary
Chandler, David
Chomsky, Naom
Coleman, Benjamin
Cormier, Robert
Davis, Deborah
Debray, Regis
Defoe, Daniel
De Sade, Marquis
Dos Passos, John
Dreiser, Theodore
Duesberg, Peter
Ellison, Harlan
Ernst, Morris L.
Farrell, James T.
Faulkner, William
Favel, J.
Feuchtwanger, Lion
Fitzgerald, F. Scott
Flaubert, Gustav
For, Dario
Foucault, Michel
Frank, Anne
Franklin, Benjamin
Friedan, Betty
Fuentes, Carlos
Gautier, Theophile
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang
Golding, William
Green, Graham
Guest, Judith
Hawthorne, Nathaniel
Heller, Joseph
Helper, Hinton
Hemingway, Ernest
Holmes, Peter
Huxley, Aldous
Jackson, Gordon
Jones, James
Joyce, James
Kauffann, Stanley
Keyes, Daniel
Khair-Eddine, Mohammed
King, Stephen
Klein, Norma
L'Engle, Madaleine
Lawrence, D.H.
Leary, Timothy
Lewis, Sinclair
Myra Cohn
Luise, Reuban L.
Lurie, Reuben
MacElroy, Wendy
Machiavelli, Niccolo
March, J.M.
Marchetti, Victor
Marks, John D.
Marks, Percy
Marquez, Gabriel Garcia
Mather, Increase
McGeehee, Ralph
Mencken, H.L.
Miller, Arthur
Miller, Henry
Milosz, Czeslaw
Moore, Carol
Moravia, Alberto
Morse, Ann Christensen
Murdock, Iris
Nin, Anais
Orwell, George
Paine, Thomas
Parsons, Jonathan
Plath, Sylvia
Pound, Ezra
Pullman, Phillip
Pynchon, William
Rabelais, Francois
Reich, Wilhelm
Remarque, Erich Maria
Rice, Anne
Rouseau, Jean-Jacques
Rushdie, Salman
Salinger, J.D.
Sanger, Margaret
Sartre, Jean-Paul
Sewall, Joseph
Shakespeare, William
Shaw, George Bernard
Snepp, Frank W., III
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr
Stein, Gertrude
Steinbeck, John
Stern, Howard
Stopes, Marie
Swift, Jonathan
Thompson, Linda
Tolkien, J.R.R.
Tolstoy, Lev
Twain, Mark
Velikovsky, Immanuel
Vidal, Gore
Von Mises, Ludwig
Vonnegut, Kurt
Whitman, Walt