Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Not Right digital short: Remote

Vote. Don't not vote.

In these politically polarized times, we should all agree on one thing:

Voting matters.

I understand why some people think voting isn’t worth the effort. It requires either a trip to your polling place or going through the process of early or absentee balloting. The effect isn’t immediately apparent. You tend not to have the option of voting for a clone of yourself who will solve all of the problems in an ideological vacuum.

In other words, voting isn’t the sexiest mechanism. It won’t accomplish everything that people often project upon it as an ideal. But ultimately, it’s what matters most directly. You can stand on the sidewalk all day and scream your lungs out, and it might (might) attract substantial attention, but it won’t count at the ballot box. All the fervor in the world won’t put your candidate in office if enough people don’t contribute to the count.

Say what you want about the supposed influence of big money and big power on elections (and there is much to say about that), but ultimately all those millions and all those favors are done for a single purpose — to attract votes. Because those votes are what allow leaders to assume, and maintain, power.

The fact is, there are people who want others to not vote. They know their own vote matters, and they want it to matter more by discouraging turnout among their ideological opponents. Don’t fall for it. Whatever you believe in, stand up and be counted.

It’s often said, “If you don’t vote, you don't have a right to complain.” The good news is, you can do both in America.

So, vote!

When PR goes poorly

Immediately following last night's Cowboys-Indigents game, Washington quarterback Colt McCoy gave a lighthearted interview that ended with head coach Jay Gruden giving his substitute star a hug at his brother Jon's joking request. McCoy then stopped by ESPN Deportes reporter John Sutcliffe, seemingly eager to give another quick interview. Suddenly, a guy in a suit yanked McCoy away, essentially shoved the surprised reporter out the way and barked, "No means no!" in his direction. (Sutcliffe did, in fact, eventually land an interview.)

Watching this live made me perhaps angrier than it should have. But I couldn't get it out of my mind. It's probably my twin biases of having been a reporter (including football) and having once been physically thrown against a fence by an overzealous volunteer marshal at a college track meet (I was videotaping an event, and apparently I sort of crossed an invisible line I didn't know about).

Like most of us, I learned soon after that the offender in question is Tony Wyllie, a public-relations official for the Washington franchise. In other words, a man whose job description is presenting his company in the best possible light at all times. (Though given how many gaffes the team named the Redskins for God's sake has rolled off the assembly line lately, maybe this lapse in judgment isn't all too shocking.)

I get that people in these situations need handlers, and that sometimes you have to be stern to get them where they need to be in time. But there are better ways to do it than to manhandle people. In 2002, I was covering a meeting at the Louisiana State Capitol for a reporting class. Afterward, I stood among a reporter scrum with then-Gov. Mike Foster. He continued to talk through two or three exhortations by his assistant to head over to his next meeting. She was increasingly firm to the point of grabbing his arm at the last moment, but was almost apologetic to us, because she realized we had a job to do too.

Maybe Wyllie is normally that way, I don't know. Maybe the fact that we saw it live overly amplified its effect. And I suppose the "No means no!" cry can divide people among cheerleaders, critics and/or those who found it hilarious. On its own, it's kind of silly. But after seeing Wyllie manhandle two people in excess of what the situation required, I wasn't in the mood to laugh. 

I've noticed from reading articles and tweets about this incident that almost nobody mentions his heavy-handed actions toward the reporter. I guess people raised on a steady diet of prime-time TV think that's an occupational hazard. In a way it is, but angry hands should never be applied where words will do. 

In any case, I can't imagine why anybody thinks Wyllie's actions were laudable. (Homerism, maybe?) At best, they were regrettable and of the moment and at worst, they were a power trip. Nothing to celebrate either way.

Still, I'm glad Washington won.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Trick-or-treat turf turbulence

Here's the best TLDR you'll read all day (thought it's all worth it):

Dear Prudence,

I live in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country ... Halloween isn’t a social service or a charity in which I have to buy candy for less fortunate children. Obviously this makes me feel like a terrible person, because what’s the big deal about making less fortunate kids happy on a holiday?

— Halloween for the 99 Percent

Dear 99,

... Your whine makes me kind of wish that people from the actual poor side of town come this year not with scary costumes but with real pitchforks. Stop being callous and miserly and go to Costco, you cheapskate, and get enough candy to fill the bags of the kids who come one day a year to marvel at how the 1 percent live.

— Prudie

I love this SO much.

For me, Halloween is an era frozen in time. I grew up in a neighborhood that was scary enough every other night of the year, and where the number of houses offering candy sufficiently withered to where I never trick-or-treated there again after age 7. (That year, I landed two tiny bags of Red Hots and a fun-size Butterfinger from two houses. You remember that sort of thing at an age where you don't yet have real problems.) After that, the emphasis was on having trick-or-treaters visit my grandparents' house (and occasionally mine next door). My grandfather had rigged a PA system into a plastic pumpkin he'd hang from his front awning. The light inside the pumpkin would dim ominously when we spoke into the microphone. Kids loved it so much that they followed that glowing beacon every year in droves, even though we were the only house on that entire block offering candy (and we were halfway down that block). I grew to enjoy watching kids' reactions to our words from a discreet spot behind the blinds, or holding the microphone looking like a creepy TV host upon opening the door. These days, I would have filmed the delighted reactions on my smartphone.

I only went trick-or-treating twice after age 7: once at the mall when I was 9, and again at either 14 or 15 when we took my little sister, then 4 or 5, to another neighborhood across town — not a rich one, but one plentiful with candy.

For us, this wasn't a pitchfork thing; it was a way to introduce a little girl to the fun of Halloween, something she could not experience in her own neighborhood. No one fussed, and I like to think that it was because the residents were nice people. But it probably didn't hurt that it looked like we belonged there.

Rich suburbanites complaining about trick-or-treaters is remarkably petty and hilarious in a "can you believe human beings think like this?" way. Treats are not expensive (after all, we bought plenty of snacks in our pumpkin-PA days), and who cares whose kids you're giving it to? We didn't request photo IDs from our visitors, though that sounds exactly like something these people would get behind.

As the economic divide gets worse in America, the wealthier among us are retreating more and more to outlying and/or gated communities (full disclosure: I live in a gated apartment complex, because most of them are gated here, but the gate annoys me, and anyway I am riffraff). One of the consequences of this is that different income brackets are interacting less and less, engendering fear, anger and distrust on all sides. For those on the extremes, Halloween could serve as a sort of social equalizer, if only for a couple of hours. Families who travel to better neighborhoods to trick-or-treat are looking to provide a better experience for the children. Those who live in such neighborhoods would be wise not to turn it into a lesson in affluent arrogance.

To quote Hank Hill: "Trick. Or. Treat. Trick. Or. Treat."

Revised Saints prediction, part V

8-8 or even 9-7 

(Last week: 5-11)

I know, I'm hedging here and perhaps am reading too much into the Saints playing a stellar game at home in prime time, which is just a thing they do.

But it's hard to ignore that they beat the Packers, a team not without its issues but still one of the best in the league. The Saints were solid in all aspects, especially in the second half, and the boisterous home crowd can only claim credit for so much of that. Maybe.

The difference in this game from all others this season is that the Saints looked truly inspired. Even in their other home wins this year, they seemed to be just hanging on. But this was a capital-W Win, looking like it wandered in from 2009 or 2011. Those teams knew how to win on the road, so it offers a glimmer of hope that this bipolar team might figure it out too.

A scant three days from now, the Saints hit the road to play the Panthers, with the division lead (!!) at stake. I don't doubt New Orleans could top Carolina easily at home on Sunday or Monday, but a road win on so little sleep is something they'll have to show they are capable of doing. If they can, I see them running (limping?) away with the division at 9-7. If not, they're going to continue to be the local darlings and road worriers at 8-8 (which still might win the putrid garbage pile that is the NFC South).

Either way, yesterday's game marks an apparent improvement in mojo that has me thinking the home stands could continue after all. The rest remains to be seen.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

When writers discourage writing

So I've decided to give National Novel Writing Month another shot this year. I did it in 2012, had a lot of fun, made many friends and did, in fact, hit the 50,000-word mark (though the story was far from finished, to say nothing of its quality).

I'm not sure yet if I'll continue with If That's What You Want or start something new. The manuscript might decide that for me. I wont bore you with that process, opting instead to bore you with what results from it.

Calling yourself a writer opens you up to all sorts of Brian Griffin jokes. George Carlin claimed running wasn't a sport because "My mother can run! You don't see her on the cover of Sports Illustrated!" Writing is very much like running — most people can do it, and it's healthy, but few work up to a professional skill level and even fewer can claim it as a legitimate meal ticket.

And like running, many people will groan if you're giving constant writing updates to everybody. Indeed, the very first article that comes up in a search of NaNoWriMo (after its official site) is titled, "Attention, #NaNoWriMo Fans: No One Cares How Your F***ing Novel Is Going." The premise of this article seems to be, "Keep your tedious novel updates of the Internet because no one cares, and there are cats to be seen." But I tend to err on the side of, "Let people ignore you." The logic about groaning over updates can apply to literally anything anyone shares. In that respect, people accomplishing a goal, like writing or running, tend to be ahead of the pack. I'm certainly more interested in that than in inside jokes or what someone's drinking at the moment. But those people can keep on posting too, because freedom of expression isn't governed by what I'm into.

That's a lesson that Laura Miller should heed. In her article "Better yet, DON’T write that novel: Why National Novel Writing Month is a waste of time and energy," she makes a multitude of claims that not only rub me the wrong way, but could permanently discourage promising writers:

"I am not the first person to point out that 'writing a lot of crap' doesn’t sound like a particularly fruitful way to spend an entire month, even if it is November."

Well, to quote Dave Grohl, "Musicians should go to a yard sale and buy an old f****** drum set and get in their garage and just suck. And get their friends to come in and they’ll suck, too. And then they’ll f******* start playing and they’ll have the best time they’ve ever had in their lives and then all of a sudden they’ll become Nirvana. Because that’s exactly what happened with Nirvana. Just a bunch of guys that had some s***** old instruments and they got together and started playing some noisy-a** s***, and they became the biggest band in the world. That can happen again!"

"Writing a lot of crap" is exactly how good stuff gets written. Even if the manuscript itself can't be saved, the practice is equity. I have piles and piles of awful writing in a closet allocated specifically for that purpose and on numerous thumb drives (and here) dating all the way back to childhood that ensured that some of what I write now is readable. Every creative process — hell, pretty much every process — requires this. Why on Earth would anyone discourage that?

"Why does giving yourself permission to write a lot of crap so often seem to segue into the insistence that other people read it? Nothing about NaNoWriMo suggests that it’s likely to produce more novels I’d want to read."

Ah, she's apparently inundated with manuscripts. Everybody can stop writing now.

"NaNoWriMo is an event geared entirely toward writers, which means it’s largely unnecessary. ... Writers are, in fact, hellishly persistent; they will go on writing despite overwhelming evidence of public indifference and (in many cases) of their own lack of ability or anything especially interesting to say."

I'm as self-motivated and hellishly persistent as any writer, but those 50,000 words I wrote in November 2012 would not have existed had I not jumped into the NaNoWriMo fray, where I got to meet fellow writers, received feedback and was motivated to try something different. Isolation fosters composing, but it isn't a virtue in and of itself. Indeed, some feedback during the process can help steer a story into readability before it has a chance to careen off the rails.

"Why not direct more attention, more pep talks, more nonprofit booster groups, more benefit galas and more huzzahs to readers? Why not celebrate them more heartily?"

Interesting logic that writers are supposedly narcissistic for seeking motivation but readers benefit from it. I have no problem with reading groups (which exist in droves), but let's be consistent here. Both writers and readers can function with a support group and both without. Everyone's different, and sometimes people are different within themselves. Why slam on people for doing what they want?

"After all, there’s not much glory in finally writing that novel if it turns out there’s no one left to read it."

Any good art is done with the intention of expression. Anything that comes after that is gravy. 

I've been writing long enough to have confidence in my processes — and to know which advice to heed and which to ignore. But I worry that someone else — a first-timer, perhaps — will read these anti-NaNoWriMo screeds and be discouraged from even trying. They'll think that writing is something they have to get perfect every time, and that interacting with peers is narcissism. They'll believe that they'll get lost in the fray and readers don't even want to have time for them. They'll take the words of an overworked literary critic at face value and snuff out their fire before they have a chance to strike the match.

Those are all the wrong reasons to quit.

I'd rather endure a million bad novels than kill one good one. Not everything can sell, but creativity is an infinite resource. If you have that drive, in any endeavor, try it! Even if no glory ever comes of it, you've added some color to the world — something to enjoy, dissect, talk about. Even if you or no one else ever sees it again, it's served a purpose. 

Just do it.