Category Archives: art

JKHOA Pt. 2.4 Being Other People


All portraits are self-portraits.

I don’t know how you make up people, but here’s how I do it. First off, when I say “make up people”, I actually mean create a character. I’m of the mind that writers simply call it “character creation” because it sounds more sane. It’s not. At least for me. But I get into it, so I suppose I enjoy it. Here’s how it goes for me.

Let me make clear I’m speaking of intentional characters. These are the ones I’ve intended to be in the story from the get-go. There are other characters that sort of end up happening because plot, but I always try to give them the love they deserve too. This just isn’t about them. The intentional ones get lots of time. I usually first look for a model for this person. An actor, a performance, an actual person, another fictional character. But it helps me to have a visual model. They may experience some drift over time, but once I “cast” my character in my mind it’s a go. And characters that refuse to find a model are infuriating.

I do the written exercises. I write several pages of their biographies, and I do Syd Field three “P’s”. That is: What are their Personal lives like? What is their Profession? And what do they do in Private? My personal favorite is what they do in private. What one does when one is alone is probably more telling than anything else. Rocky Balboa tells stories to his turtles. Gollum talks to himself. Dexter kills people. Walter White just sits there, thinking. And often revealing what a character does on their own is where some wonderful story telling sneaks in.

Obviously, this requires a lot of thought. And how I deal with it is role-playing. I consider my self as this other person and pretend to be them. I do this normally while going about my daily routine. I imagine what they would say or do in various situations. How they walk. What their speech patterns would be like. How they act and react. And if you ever catch me seeming not myself, it’s because I’m trying that person out on you.

I’ll tell you what though, it’s more difficult to be some people over others. I’ve written so many different people from different times and circumstances, I’m not even going to list them. And, yes, of course they all get a lot of me. But, to my mind, finding what’s “like me” in a character is finding what makes them human, to my mind. It’s what makes them sympathetic. And even a “bad guy” ought to have that. But the worst are the ones that reflect back on “like me” something I’m not overly-keen to see.

My latest fellow is probably the worst of a fairly varied lot that includes both the innocent and the wise, as well as the murderous and distasteful, and a lot of places in between. But I just had to pick a depressive this time. It’s very difficult to be objective with someone who is already “like me” in a way that I’m less than excited to admit. He’s a lot worse off than myself in some ways, and I pity the guy. But it’s like looking at your pores in a magnifying mirror, or trying on bathing suits under florescent lights. Uncomfortable.

So even if my carriage of myself may be off, or I may seem a bit down. Don’t fret. I’m taking an honest look at man who of himself, would have this to say, “Think of me as one who died young. All of my life might have been.” And remember that I’m giving him a lot more life than he ever expected or would have wanted. So, he’s in for a lot more pain than he already has. Torture time! Poor guy.

Maybe if I can pity him, I can do the same for others who may or may not be a bit “like me.”  Maybe I can even find room in my heart for just me.


JKHOA 2.3 I am Beat


Albert Camus

Probably ought to have qualified my announcement that I have the Plague. I call any illness plague because I’m really into the plague. It’s true. Goes back to my childhood and my Dad. I remember being about 15 when he threw Camus’ book at me with the statement, “Read this if you want to understand human nature.” (It was a soft-cover.)

He considered himself a “Beat”.  He had returned from Korea and went to art school in the mid-50s, so that was his era. He explained to me that because he could never learn everything, read every book, go everywhere, and do everything in his life, that he was beat from the start. He tried to give me a better shot than he had.

I remember when he’d play music or a movie, he’d shout in his 1st Sergeant way “Listen! Listen! Listen!”,  “Pay attention!” and “Focus!” at the climatic moments of say: Pavarotti’s Nessun Dorma or The Beatles’ A Day in the Life, or at that iconic bone to space station cut in 2001. I found it irritating at the time, but I did develop the habit of listening,  paying attention and focus.

The result has been two-fold. First, I learn fast because I’m paying attention. But dear me, it’s never enough. Now I have to learn everything about everything I learn about. But you know what I’ve realized? I’m beat.

One person simply cannot learn, master and do it all. It clutters the “brain attic” and diverts attention. At some point you simply have to accept not knowing, not being the best and not giving a damn. So you have to give up on some aspects of life, the Universe and everything. You have to choose what matters. You cannot care about it all.

In Camus’ The Plague we find characters quarantined in an isolated port town on the edge of North Africa surrounded by only desert and sea. They have limited choices in the face of the hand life has dealt them, bubonic plague (because sometimes life just sucks for no reason).  Some people use the chaos for their own benefit, some have internal limitations that keep them from doing as much as they could, others rage against the unfairness of the situation, some try to keep up appearances. But eventually an odd kinship grows up around a Doctor and a group of misfits who are willing to put themselves out there in whatever capacity they have to fight for the life of their town and its people.

My favorite character is M. Grand. Grand is a low-level civil servant, but the only person still willing to do his job after all the other officials have either fled or died. He keeps all of the statistics by neighborhood, issues necessary permits and generally keeps the town running.  All while continuing his secret labor, working on his great novel. He carefully re-writes its first sentence every day. He tells the Doctor that he’s even gone back to the original Latin roots of words to get at their essence. His apartment, bereft of love since his wife left him, is full of his notes for his life’s work. His dream is that one day he’ll submit to a publisher, that publisher will complete his manuscript (apparently aloud to a room of rapt listeners), stand, and declare “Gentlemen, hats off!”

Of course, Grand is taken with the plague. And he burns all of his manuscript and notes. It is the low-point of the book. But he is given the first of a new serum, and he lives. And he continues his book.

Of course, the Doctor, the hero, who has coordinated every effort and done all he could, watches many tearful reunions after the quarantine on the town is lifted. But there will be none for him. His wife, who’d been sent away to a medical facility before the book began, has died. No tearful reunions. No life’s ambitions renewed. Just his work.

Pay attention. This is important. Listen. We’re all beat from the start. We all live under the sword. Focus on what you can and must do. Learn whatever you can while you still have time. Never burn your manuscript. Ultimately you do not know. None of us do. We may all be beat, but go down swinging.




Jess Kicks Her Own Ass Pt. 1.2


I knew him well, Horatio!

Alas! I know this feeling well, Horatio!

I suppose I’ll address the issue of my “negativity” or “pessimism”, along with some other words I’ve been hearing in relation to my writing and other media, comments, etc lately  (really, “emo?). These claims have a certain validity, but I’d hardly call my muse “the tombstone”, as someone recently observed. Mostly it’s just winter, and frankly I’m against it. I enjoy freedom of movement and the outdoors. My most cathartic moments are generally spent out of doors with my dog and my man. But let’s sing a song of momento mori today.

I want to feel something in life, even if that be something be “bad.” I don’t even necessarily care for that word or the notion of “negative emotions.”  There’s a time for The Beatles and there’s a time for Mozart’s Requiem or even just a sad etude. Winter naturally reminds us of death. And there’s been more than a few reasons to mourn lately. Bowie has left us for the stars. And Alan Rickman is sneering on us from some celestial plane of infinitely languid condescension.  So what’s so wrong with a bit of sad?

Not a thing. Say I. And dear me, how could I be alone? Why go around with a silly grin plastered on your face everyday unless you fear some unbearable evil will befall if your smile should slip? I’ve never seen anything wrong with celebrating an old cemetery, a moment passed, a shiny yellow memory that’s gotten blue on it. How would we ever know Joy without Sadness? Right my fellow Pixar fans?

I don’t advocate dwelling in grief, sorrow or despair. But ignoring these emotions seems to me far more perilous a thing than letting them grow inside until they own you without your realizing. When your fear of your own Dark Side dictates your very life because you’ve neglected it, then what? If we had no reminders of that eternal loss, our own mortality, how can we be expected to handle the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to?

Denying the Dark is every bit as dangerous as ignoring the Light. That’s why we can experience both. Evolution teaches us that nothing evolves without a reason because nature doesn’t waste energy. All of our emotions are there for a cause, and a very good one. They’re how we learn to live as a human being and survive the process.

I recently heard a phrase I liked. “When you light a candle, you also cast a shadow.” ( Ursula K. Le Guin, The Earthsea Cycle) I don’t know the context of the quote, but I do know that the the Light and the Shadow are always with us. Shakespeare wrote sonnets of loss, and it never dimmed the brilliance of his humor. But it occurs to me that all life navigates that in-between world of mirth and joy, darkness and sorrow.

Why not choose winter, when the light is cold and Persephone still walks in the underworld, to meditate on those quiet, and not so quiet, shadow moments? Just don’t live there. The Spring will come.

And on the next sunny day, “Let’s go where we’re happy. I’ll meet you at the cemetery gates. Keats and Yeats are on your side. But Wilde is on mine.” (The Smiths, Cemetery Gates)

PS – I’m still with Johnny Cash on wearing black though.  I’ve got that which passeth show. Good grief!


The fab four stages of my needing a haircut.

Ladies and gentleman: My Haircut! Follow the gear fab layers my hair gets up (and down!) to as it slowly descends into post-apocalyptic madness before finally groping its way through the fires of Mordor (where it presumably ends up in the toilet after being bitten off)! We are pleased to bring you: The Spock, The Arthur, The Daryl and The Frodo. And, while it pains me that this may be necessary, I’ll link to “The Arthur” to explain.

PS – Currently reaching critical Frodo. I cannot recall the snip of a scissor, the smell of product or what my neck looks like…

Tolkien: Lessons from an Amateur

I simply invented Mordor.

I simply invented Mordor.

I suppose it would come as no great surprise, given the nature of this blog, that I adore the work of J.R.R. Tolkien. Personally, one of the most enlightening  elements of the special features of the Extended Editions of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (now officially the Middle Earth Saga) is hearing the writers of the films discuss the difficulty in translating Tolkien to film. But it isn’t the length or density of Tolkien that troubles the nights and days of Phillipa Boyens, Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson most, but the distinctly unprofessional style of his narratives. Tolkien, after all, was foremost a professor of linguistics who made up fake languages and an alternate universe on the side. In fact, taking a step back to view the scope of what he has written for and about Middle Earth, it verges on monomaniacal madness.

But then there’s the undeniable success of both the books and films to attest to the deep meaning and love that so many people find in Tolkien’s work. So, let’s toss the style sheets and the outlines, the synopses, log-lines, character breakdowns and pitches for a moment. Let’s look at what writers can learn from the greatest amateur of our age.

1) Write something that you, yourself, would like to read. The driving force behind The Inklings, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis’ group of literary friends, was the lack of modern literature that they found interesting. While Da-da, surrealism and absurdism reigned between the First World War and the Second, naturalism and social-realism seemed to dominate after. But for Tolkien, neither complete rejection of all meaning and the past, nor the hard-bitten acceptance of the post-nuclear world would do. If anything, by reaching into the literary and mythological past, Tolkien strove to re-write (and, thereby, to right) the wrongs of the world as he experienced it. By recasting old heroes and stories in a frame for the modern audience, he strove and found in that fertile ground new meaning and new relevance. It just so happened that in his traumatized times (and ours), he wasn’t alone. The moral for writers being: if you feel the lack, then likely others do as well.

2) The importance of being named. Naming is ancient magic. A name gives form and reality to the formless. Naming a star, a weapon, a space-mission, a child all still hold resonance somewhere deep in our human soul. Names came first for Tolkien, and yet are sometimes problematic. Sauron and Saruman spring to mind as a sticking point, but are they? True, these names are but one of many for these two characters. Like most in Middle Earth, they are known by various names in his various tongues. But while a pro might never have two antagonists with names so close in sound, doesn’t the sound also link them? Those sulfurous S’s and thunderously rolling R’s are evocative of their particular form of evil. Just as the cozy familiarity of Sam, the woodiness of Frodo, and brightness of Merry and Pippin all give us character information before we ever get to know them. Which leads me to…

3) Trust your audience. Not everyone will be enchanted into the dense, footnoted, and appended world of The Lord of the Rings. Like any good myth, Tolkien plops us down in the vaguely familiar world of the Shire before whisking the reader to “the heart of the forest” where, as Joseph Campbell noted, “the journey begins…where it is darkest and there are no paths.” And what holds for the journey of the reader, holds as well for the writer: every story is a journey, an adventure. Tolkien dared to lead us into a world-apart, into territory he himself was still discovering, and his lust for the thrill of discovery draws us with him. Perhaps this world is not for all, but then again, not everyone wants to live in a world of giant CGI robots and Adam Sandler movies either. Like a wise and forbearing Gandalf, Tolkien suffers the reader, gives us sign and sage advice, and leads us with him, and we follow, even to the Fires of Mount Doom (and the appendix on calenders).

4) Little heroes in a great big world. If Superman were never Clark Kent, no one would ever care much about him. Where is the human connection with an indestructible alien? The same holds for the hobbits of the world of Tolkien. We might all admire and wish to be like the heroic men and women, elves (and even dwarves) that populate Middle Earth, but at heart most of us are closer to the hobbit who wishes for nothing more than to sit in his favorite comfy chair by the fire tucking into second breakfast. And here lies the heart of Tolkien. His faith in the essential goodness and decency of common folk to pass through the worst of times may have been forged in the fire and fog of war, and that unwavering faith ultimately forms our bond to the high-flung drama and darkness of his creation. It gives each of us the hope and strength to believe that we too might be able to combat the evils we face in our daily lives, no matter how small we may sometimes feel.

Finally, as writers, Tolkien reminds us that we are the ring-bearers. We must decide. And though it may be a burden that drives us nearly to despair and madness, hopefully we will find along the way a Sam and a Fellowship to keep us on our path and pick us up when we stumble. As for a Gandalf, well, as I said, Professor Tolkien has passed through fire and shadow before us, so that we might know better the way.

Lord of the Things

Lord of the Things

Oh Say, Can You Sing?

Shut up, kid. I'm trying to hit the high notes.

Shut up, kid. I’m trying to hit the high notes.

World sporting events such as the World Cup and the Olympics make me cringe. Not because I hate sports. I hate the American National Anthem. And it’s during such world-wide displays when this awful truth really red glares.

Before anyone gets all jumpy, let me say that this has nothing to do with love of country or patriotism, or any of that. It’s just a terrible song on so many levels. It’s embarrassing.

First, no one can sing it. You have to hire someone to sing it at events, while everyone else just stumbles through this ridiculous, octave-jumping, un-melodic mess. Happy Birthday has a catchier tune.

Second, what’s it about? Some guy’s impressions of a naval engagement during the War of 1812?! I guess that was an important conflict, but, seriously, I remember the Maine better. Oh, and those ‘rockets’ red glare’ everyone gets excited about? The British were shooting those off.

Third, it’s long-winded doggerel. ‘Oh say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light, what so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming’? Lost me already.

And there are so many better choices! How about America the Beautiful? Nice tune and I know (some of) the words. Columbia the Gem of the Ocean? My favorite one to sing in school was Woody Guthrie’s catchy, upbeat This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land. That’s an ‘everyone join in and clap your hands!’ kind of song. Sing it around a campfire or on a long drive. It’s fun!

Or, how about something with some guts like The Battle Hymn of the Republic? ‘Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord/ He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.’ Awesome. Makes me picture a giant, super-Lincoln striding across the land dealing righteousness. It’s rousing, and anyone can sing it. A bunch of men marching off to war could belt that out. And they did, in various forms from the Civil War to WWII. The only way to sing that song properly is standing or marching.

I mean, let’s face it O, Canada talks about the nation. ‘The true North strong and free!’ Put that in Latin and stick it above your town hall. The French have the gloriously strong and defiant Marseillaise. I can’t think of one classic movie scene where people sang down Nazis with ‘Oh say, can you seeeeeee?’

I guess I feel worse for the British. Here’s a nation that has Rule, Britannia! There’s a rousing one. Britain rises from the sea, and, while other nations will fall to tyrants,  ‘Britons never, never, never, shall be slaves!’ Heck yeah. But what do they have to sing? God Save the Queen/King. Kind of an ‘FU’ to the British people, really.

In the end, I guess no one can top the Russians. I have no idea what they are singing about, but whatever it is that song makes me want to pick up the gun of my fallen comrade and rush to the defense of the Motherland. I’m not much of a nation-state chest-thumper. My favorite theme is the one to Star Trek: TNG. But until Roddenberry’s Vision is realized, can we please have a national anthem that we could all at least get together at a ballgame and sing?



Heisenberg Cookies

I'm the one who knocks!


Girl Scouts: the Walter White of the cookie world.






Shut Up Wesley!

Shut up Wesley

Inspired by Captain Picard Sings “Let it Snow.” We were all thinking it, I just. . . made it so. . .

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