Thursday, May 29, 2008

Punkin' Donuts Terrified by Conservatives Blasting Rachel Ray

This blog doesn't really enter frivolous current event politics. I generally end up being the progressive in a political debate that often tries to defend conservatives, as group, and sometimes even ultra-conservative right-wing Christians as having just as much right to be involved in the political machine and most of them actually meaning well. Even considering all of the above, I just can't resist this one:

Rachel Ray's 'Terrorist' Ad Yanked

What the hell?!?!?!

Dunkin Donuts has pulled an ad featuring the Food Network star after concerns grew about a scarf she wears during the commercial, the pattern of which bears resemblance to a keffiyeh, the traditional headdress that Arab men wear. The scarf has enraged conservative Fox News pundit Michelle Malkin and some others.

Just how dumb has our ideological media become that Dunkin' Donuts takes down an ad with Rachel Ray in it because the scarf "bears resemblance" to a traditional Arab male headdress (please note that someone has decided to equate Arab culture with terrorism. . .a little prejudiced?)? Of all people, Rachel Ray. . .terrorism? Did she just stumble onto that career unwittingly, too?

Sheesh!

Honestly, I wouldn't have let the ad reach the air waves because of that scarf. . .and not because it bares resemblance to anything. No, I wouldn't have let it hit the airwaves because it just looks ugly with the rest of her outfit.

But damn!

Please, commence scathing barbs toward the conservative media on this one now. I mean NOW!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Asking for and Accepting Constructive Criticism

I find it re-affirming to ask people critiquing or giving back notes on your unreleased work to focus on an aspect or two and for them to return with responses similar to your own suspicions. Hearing their different articulations of their responses also helps address a problem or see something good in your work.

This past Wednesday, I attended the Chicago-SF Writer's Workshop. About a month beforehand, I submitted my 10 double-spaced pages. A couple weeks after that, I sent out an inarticulate questions inspired by Alex Epstein's blog entry, "PLAYWRIGHTS". After having made a link to Alex's entry, it's kind of odd since he compares TV writing and theatre writing, whereas I write fiction. Right after reading his opinion on the different styles behind TV and theatre writing, though, I had the question, "Well, how do novelists treat their writing style and characters?"

I still haven't gotten an answer to that question, and other than to fulfill my own curiosity, I didn't see much of a point in asking Alex's to compare novel writing with those two other forms of writing characters. Instead, I asked the Chicago-SF Writer's Workshop the following:

I want to know if it feels like there's too much meaningless squabbling amongst the characters and if that gets in the way of the story moving forward. If so, does anyone have any thoughts how these types of dynamics work? When do characters work too well together, making a story somewhat boring because there's no tension? When do characters argue and squabble too much, thus distracting story with too much frivolous tension? That's all the questions I can think up at the moment, but any thoughts on this topic (at the workshop), would most certainly be appreciated.

More succinctly (especially after the workshop on Wednesday), is the novel more character or plot oriented, do the characters get in the way of the plot, does the story dwell too much on some things so the plot doesn't progress, does so much focus on the characters get repetitive and boring?

In the entries, "Finding My Beat and Chugging Along" and "Keep the Story Linear and Interesting, Stupid, and Other Writers Facing the Problem," I explored this topic somewhat; just mostly in the form of avoid repetition from showing the same event from different perspectives.

I think the issue here may actually arise from trying to write similarly to a TV or movie writer. With a visual medium that allows for splitting the screen for different perspectives and other tricks, the whole different perspective trick can be accomplished easily without too much annoying the audience. The split screen trick allows for showing the story from different perspectives at the same time. Further, the visual medium itself doesn't take so much time or demand too much cognitive processing by the audience to see the scene at hand.

With prose, the visual can get difficult because the author needs to write from different character's viewpoints, which also includes their sense of things that are significant. Two people in the same room with a specific design aesthetic, different objects in it, different actions occurring in it, etc. etc., have different perspectives and assign alternate interpretations of significance to each other, themselves, the design of the room, the objects of the room, the location of the room in the building, the building, itself, the location of the building and the whole matter of significance can go on and on into infinity.

So unless an author wants to go in the direction of James Joyce's Ulysses or various novels of William Faulkner, both of which have infuriated many readers and load readers with much cognitive work, an alternative approach needs to be taken.

I didn't expect the discussion would pretty much go in this direction along with a couple comments that my characters were becoming stereotypes/caricatures (I want to know that this is occurring, and I'm not necessarily sure it's a bad thing; if it serves the novel, it should happen) because of certain degrees of repetition. The direction of discussion shouldn't have surprised me, though, seeing as how I have the same complaints and already have figured out some structural ways to address the matter.

One option for me would be to complain that the workshop doesn't fit my needs because of the page limit for submissions every month (10 double-spaced pages or 5 single-spaced pages) and that the limit doesn't allow the group to critique my current writing (I've submitted work I've done from 5 or 6 years ago and am now submitting work I've done 3 to 5 years ago) and how the writing style has changed. Submitting current work from the novel could get confusing because the group hasn't read everything previously (even though the repetition in the writing could negate that issue since it would provide a tool similar to the "previously on. . ." montages at the beginning of some TV shows, which I think might have been the intention with the repetition originally, after hearing people complain about some shows being too complicated and requiring a person to have watched since the first episode to understand what's going on).

Neither do I have the intention to edit anything I've written first draft yet to provide a satisfying storytelling from the beginning for the workshop because I could get frustrated with the process and not actually reach the end of the novel. I followed the technique of writing and editing a section at a time until I got a satisfactory response from a workshop, and after awhile, I just had to scrap that version of the novel and start over from the beginning. In the process of trying to get that satisfactory response, I ended up getting influenced by other things I read, which ended up changing the whole story, anyway. I figure that I might as well just write, write and write until reaching a conclusion, absorb influences through the process then go back and address points of fact and reader satisfaction at the same time. To me, a lot more efficient than trying to get section by section perfect.

I guess it just gets dissatisfying when, to a certain degree, I've already answered questions that I raise and have addressed, to my satisfaction, discussion points that arise during workshops. . .but to adequately address current work, these conversations have to start by virtue of submitting short clips of the story in relation to what has already been written. It feels kind of like wasted time because some amount of my time during the workshop involves me saying, "Yeah, I know, I've already raised that question, I'm going to address that when I rewrite it" to a lot of critiques.

Every once in awhile, though, it's nice to hear something new that I haven't thought up, from praise to frustration/dissatisfaction. It also helps to hear my dissatisfactions get articulated differently or even receive some suggestions on how to address an issue (especially when I haven't put too much thought into correcting it).

Hopefully I've come up with a good tactic for cutting down on the inefficient discussions that I've already had with myself. For future submissions, I will do a minimum of editing, taking the form of excising repetitious parts of the text and asking the workshop if they feel like they've missed anything, tightening up the language and welcome any other critiques that come up, which hopefully don't address matters that I've already thought a lot about.

In the meantime, I've got a fair amount of research and writing to do for the academic side of things. The fact that I could do a fair amount of writing for the novel without distracting myself from writing the academic side has just occurred to me. Will have to put some thought into that. . .but not addressing that matter probably won't affect my working with the workshop. Ahh well. . ..

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sadly, All I Wrote a Couple Days Ago

Last week, back home in Boston, visiting friends and family, I had a common refrain when people asked me "What's up?" I would say, "Not much. Everything's pretty much the same, just a different city and different bosses." This quote is more succinct and articulate, but it pretty much says it all.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Heather Raffo's 9 Parts of Desire

Last week, a friend of mine in the theater scene here in Chicago offered the wife and me a couple tickets to the premiere of Heather Raffo's 9 Parts of Desire (please note that this link will probably become obsolete in a couple weeks), put on by The Next Theatre Company in collaboration with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. The wife couldn't make it, but I found another friend who could take advantage of it.

I'm not really a theatre person nor do I have the best memory in the world, so I really don't have the best concept of what was going on in the play. The essential part is that Heather Raffo plays the part of nine Iraqi women, most of them in Iraq but one of them in the US, watching TV and freaking out, of all ages, from one young girl responsible for the kidnapping of her father by Saddam's men to a few old women who remember times before Saddam's oppression and when Iraq actually was a prosperous nation.

The perspectives of the various women did a great job of addressing the complicated situation. Some of the women were glad that Saddam was deposed (and I think killed), some welcomed the US as liberators, at least mentioned that they would have rather the invasion of Iraq by the US didn't happen, much terror, fear and sadness in the face of both Saddam and the US. The play really made for a montage of mood, throwing in the audience's faces the feeling of life in Iraq for women and the effect of it on some Iraqi women outside of Iraq. At the same time, the women had sprinkles of laughter, joy, whimsy and a bittersweetness mixed with all the horribleness.

For the last year or so, I've done a lot of not paying attention to the news and feeling major compassion fatigue in regards to the Middle East, Iraq, Israel, Afghanistan, etc. etc. A lot of the stuff that has become topics nowadays (torture, depleted uranium in bullets, Iraqi casualties not being counted, etc. etc.) are things that I had read about four or so years ago when the Iraq war had begun and soon after through the not-so-mainstream news sources that I had found on the Internet and the Web. I started early and by the time all these horrible topics reached the mainstream press, I had become fatigued, tired, felt powerless and frustrated with the American people for not realizing all the atrocities that we had entered when they had been occurring.

Now I can only look with cynicism at a lot of the news, talk about the situation by the people on the street, etc. etc. that goes on these days while I moodily retreat into my apartment. I work on my bachelors project, hoping that it will bring knowledge to the world, hold a mirror up to people's faces of how people anesthetize their own consciousnesses and possibly bring everyone hope that there's something better for us, if we just put our minds to it. There's also a little bit where I hope that publishing this novel, selling many copies, getting the attention of the press and the people of the nation, maybe I can spend more time being politically active and doing charitable things to better people's lives, maybe I can spend more attention to world events and actually do things about them instead of feel pulled to reading about them and signing petitions and also toward my obligations and duties.

Heather Raffo's 9 Parts of Desire did a good job of throwing the atrocities happening in Iraq in my face, though, while also keeping things human. When the atrocities were brought up, I felt reminded of everything that I had stayed away from because I could do nothing about fixing them. I witnessed the witnessed confession of torture witnessed and torture testified to. These confessions awoke the tears (that never came) in me and the twisting grip on my heart. I remembered that somewhere, people lived lives much worse than me, and I really didn't have much right to complain about my own life. . .but neither did I have the right to remain complacent and wallow in self pity.

Tonight, I may not accomplish a ton in the true trajectory of my life, but even by doing rudimentary, maintenance type of things, I work to bring myself closer to the point where I might have some influence on the world to improve it or at least have more time to join masses in their attempts to make the world better. I was reminded, without really any preaching, in a complicated fashion, that true evil exists in the world, ultra-egoism exists in the world, blind eyes exist in the world and all types of ignorance, hate and so on and so forth that contribute to the horribleness in our world that also holds so much good (and the only way to truly fight the evil is to promote good acts and kindness in the world around us. . .and there's probably plenty of complicated non-violent ways to try defusing evil, too).

So, all in all, Heather Raffo's 9 Parts of Desire works very well as a mood piece that provides snippets of humanity and victims of inhumanity to an audience that lives a fairly comfortable life. Some may even say that our comfortable lives come from the evil elsewhere in the world.

The whole piece generally drew me in and only near the end, during a self indulgent part or two where I thought would make a great ending, did I feel distanced and pulled out of the play and the mood. It felt as if the art became more important than the mood, even though those moments of self-indulgence would have made great endings to the play that would have struck home with the humanity of the piece. Nonetheless, baring through a few minutes of endings (probably 1/15th of the play or so) proves quite rewarding as the stage fades to black on a poor peddling woman, selling the leftover ruined artifacts of a once great nation, destroyed by ideology, greed and war.

Even with the few minutes of distancing self-indulgence, the play still hits hard and will make the most cynical and withdrawn anti-war human remember their sentiments of hoping to make a difference and helping the world be a better place, even if they're just one person without much wealth or influence. Before the play started, the person introducing it asked people to turn off their cell phones but to please turn them on when the play ended, so everyone could call their friends and tell them what a great play Heather Raffo's 9 Parts of Desire was. He didn't lie. . .except that maybe it took a little time to compose myself before being able to speak and give the play its due. . .without letting my emotions choke up my ability to articulate the power of the play.