books

Fiction Prediction: How Crichton Prophesied Our Awful Internet Age

The past two or three years, in my late twenties, I’ve almost exclusively read fiction. Call it escapism, call it the consequences of a creative writing college program, call it what you want — but after years of reading memoirs, business biographies and spiritual poetry, I’ve sunk my brainteeth into something else. I read fiction because I believe that is where the truth lies.

The author, or the voice, or narrator — whatever — through the guise of fiction is freer to speak.

As original hipster Sir Philip Sidney famously wrote:

Now for the poet, he nothing affirmeth, and therefore never lieth. For, as I take it, to lie is to affirm that to be true which is false; so as the other artists, and especially the historian, affirming many things, can, in the cloudy knowledge of mankind, hardly escape from many lies. The poet, as I said before, never affirmeth… He citeth not authorities of other histories, but even for his entry calleth the sweet Muses to inspire into him a good invention; in troth, not laboring to tell you what is or is not, but what should or should not be. And therefore though he recount things not true, yet because he telleth them not for true he lieth not.”

-The Defense of Poesy (1595)

Kevin, why are you quoting poetry? You don’t even like poetry.

Because I’m about to quote a Jurassic Park book, and I want to seem smart before I do.

What Sidney is saying is that the poet (or the author) has more power to tell the truth than anyone else, because storytelling taps into something that arguments, facts, and heavy rhetoric cannot. It taps into the human experience, which, of course, is truth. The reader is not agreeing or liking characters, but absorbing and experiencing, seeking to understand and further enrich his or her life. We might not agree with Ahab, for instance, on his search for the white whale, and we’re certainly not rooting for Kurtz in the African jungle, but we understand their quests and motives, and it teaches us something about ourselves, even if it’s dark and ugly.  

Whew. Okay, that took too much brain power.

A few months ago I read the sequel to Michael Crichton’s mega-famous novel, Jurassic Park, called The Lost World, and there was a passage in a stretch of dialogue that metaphorically punched me in the proverbial stomach.

Those who have read Crichton’s novels know the man was a genius. Agree or disagree with his logic, the guy had brains. As it turns out, the late science fiction author (that is, science with a sprinkle of fiction) of The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park, Sphere, and a bunch of other fantastic tales, was also a passive-aggressive Internet prophet.

In Crichton’s 1995 novel, The Lost World, his protagonist — the chaos-theory-mathematician Ian Malcolm (played brilliantly by Jeff Goldblum in the movies) — aptly predicts our modern, ultra-aware, internet-addicted, hyper-connected population. His outlook, however, is bleak.

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Our Lost World

“I think cyberspace means the end of our species.”

Say what now? (more…)

Records

Best of 2015: Music, Film, Literature

Oh hey there. Let’s jump right in.

Music

2015 was a fantastic year for music. Adele and Taylor Swift reminded us that people still buy music and that pop stars still exist. Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal and a host of other streaming services pushed the discussion of “music as a commodity” centerstage. Despite where opinions settle, I think we can all agree that our streaming discussions were well overdue (and on two fronts: people paying for their music again and artists getting fairly paid for streaming).

NOTE: Amazon Prime’s streaming service (Amazon Music) is the industry’s best kept secret. It’s by far the best streaming service. Comes with your Prime account, you can download thousands of records, listen to them offline. Why is no one talking about this?

Every year I have artists and their releases that I look forward to, but this year there were some out-of-left-field albums that no one saw coming. Leon Bridges and Sufjan Stevens’ masterpiece, for instance, rocked (and rolled) almost my entire musical year.

Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

Someone once told me that art should look different every time you see it. I think the same can be true for music, where you hear something different every time you play it. Stevens’ latest hits the proverbial mark. Borrowing from Gregorian chants, from 70’s folk, from his own catalogue — Carrie & Lowell is lyrically transparent, musically restrained, and almost perfect. Make no mistake, people: Sufjan Stevens made a masterpiece.

There are instances, such as in “The Only Thing“, where the track is just begging for a rhythm section (i.e., bass & drums), but we don’t get it, and it’s the right choice. “The Only Thing” is about despair, about barely holding on with just a glimmer of hope. Sure, you can sing about depression with a backing band, but it wouldn’t fit here. Stevens isn’t trying to be flashy, and he’s not making anthems, what Stevens is doing is splitting open his chest and singing therapy.

As someone who’s had a similar (not exact, but similar) upbringing as Stevens, I latched onto this record like a child to his mother, and it brought me comfort many times over. Can someone with a glossy childhood enjoy this album? Of course. But who actually had a glossy childhood? (more…)

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My Bill Maher Q&A: Fall, 2015

Forget Barack Obama and Donald Trump, Bill Maher is America’s most politically polarizing living figure. Whether you like him or not, Maher is one of those people you see on TV and go, “I wish I could talk to that guy, just for 15 minutes.” Not because of aligned political ideals, or because of simple celebrity, but rather, because Bill Maher is informed, convicted and unafraid to talk about his beliefs. I got my 15 minutes, thanks to Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living magazine, and those minutes were enthralling. To be honest, I could barely keep up. 

Say what you want about Mr. Maher, but you have to hand it to him: the guy is an entertainer — always on and ready to talk. Speaking of that, Warning: Explicit language!

Between Real Time with Bill Maher, HBO’s Vice, and a national stand-up tour, I’m curious: Are you so busy that you have to stop through Spokane just to pick up some legal weed?

[Laughs] Believe it or not, it’s actually legal where I live in Los Angeles. See, I have a medical marijuana card to treat my infirmity. I don’t remember what that infirmity was, but I do know that marijuana is very helpful in treating it.

Being an outspoken proponent for drug legalization, do you see Washington and Colorado as the first dominoes to fall?

We’re hopeful of that. There are some unfortunate rearguard people. Chris Christie is very much against any sort of legalized marijuana. Because, you know, he’s very disciplined about what he puts in his mouth. [Drug legalization proponents] have waited. Obama fixed the economy, healthcare, gay marriage, he opened up Cuba, he made a climate deal with China, and a nuclear deal with Iran. I’m hopeful his last thing out the door will be … Weed! “Weed, bitches!”

Turning to the 2016 presidential race, it seems like both a comedian’s goldmine and low hanging fruit. How do you maintain a balance when writing? (more…)

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29

At 29 years old, I’ve discovered the truth.

Everyone is lying to me.

It’s not so much a realization, but a confirmation. The truth is that getting old isn’t all that bad.

Sure, there’s the aches and pains. That much is true. The other night I got off the couch and proceeded to the bed and upon lying, realized that, somewhere along the way, I tweaked a back muscle. Lift, turn, walk, lie and… my back is destroyed? Guess I’m not as spry as I used to be.

And sure. The mind starts to go. I’m more forgetful than I’ve ever been. Words are becoming harder to recall, and I’ve never been a worse speller. This became all too apparent at work the other day when I created a flyer for a football-themed event, misspelling Cincinnati in big, beautiful bold letters.

And okay. I’m taking medication. Dermatology stuff, but still — medication. At the onset I experienced side-effects. Nothing drastic, just irregular doses of dizziness accompanied by brilliant flashes of drowsiness, like some ill-fated celebrity duo tromping down a red carpet determined to prove the world wrong only to wake up six months later in rehab. I lowered the dosage.

And yes. I can no longer fit inside my own clothes. My pants have shrunk like raisins, my shirts like voodoo heads. But it’s not the clothes! It’s me! You see, I didn’t know I could gain weight. But then 29 happened. That magical time in my life when everyone said, “You’ll fill out one day.”

That day is today. (more…)

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Hot Leads and Lonely Stakeouts: My Day of Freelancing for the NY Post

The sky wasn’t dark but it was getting there. My phone had 8% battery charge left. My sunflower seeds were almost gone. I was sick to my stomach — with myself, the media, Internet readers. All this bullshit, because of a rumored sex tape.

I thought back to how it began — an email I thought was a prank.

Kevin,

Are you interested in working for the NY Post today? We need a local reporter to cover the Rachel Dolezal story.

Rachel Dolezal, if you remember, is the white woman who pretended to be black. Err, the transracial woman. At the time, she was making national headlines for being ousted by her parents; she was also the president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP.

The email I received went on, outlining details of a one-time payment in exchange for eight hours of work. It was signed by an editor/reporter.

Sure, I thought. Yeah right.

Obviously my friends back in New York were making fun of me. See, two weeks prior I had moved from Rochester, NY to Spokane, WA. I was an easy, serendipitous target, as Spokane was steeped in national controversy. I promptly texted my friends and revealed the screenshot: “Ha ha. Very funny guys.”

Really, I was pissed. I was broke and desperate for work after yet another cross-country move — this time post-college. I was living in my parent-in-law’s basement with an interesting amount of credit card debt.

A text returned from my friends. “It’s legit,” they wrote. “We looked the editor up.”

Sweat dripped onto my phone as I hastily replied to the email, my fingers tapping like a jackhammer as if oil hid below my screen: “Yes, yes! God yes! I’m a broke writer in need of work! Will do nude.” I erased the draft, composing myself, returning with tempered thumbs.  

Hello, is this job still available? I have cleared my schedule for the day.

-Kevin

(more…)

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Launching a Career in Freelance Writing: Leads, Clients and Pay Rates

Like a pack of baby seals conscious of the ever-pervasive and always hungry predator, writers stick together. One question I often hear is, “How can I make money on my writing?”

My answer is usually the same: build a blog, makes business cards, and network until you bleed.

Then I hear: “Shut up — it’s not that simple.”

I say: “Yes. It is.”

Them: “What can I do?”

Kevin: “Whatever they want.”

They say: “What if I’m not qualified?”

Me: “Can you write?”

Them again: “Do pigeons crap in the winter?”

Me: “Weird question, but yes. Then you’re qualified.”

#FreelanceMagic

There are too many obstacles keeping writers from working professionally. The biggest one is insecurity. That’s how it was for me, at least. I had been writing (creatively) since I was 10. Yet, I believed — before I could ever sell my skill — that I needed to be a perfect writer, that I needed to reach some rarefied echelon, some snooty status.

Then I realized: The only way I’d get there is if I started writing. And if I did it all the time.

Then I realized: I didn’t need to be Hemingway to write a business blog. Or advertising copy.

So then: I wrote.

And then I found: Most of my clients couldn’t write a sentence to save their lives. Or they hated the effort it took. Or they just didn’t have the time. Whatever it was, they needed my help for a reason. To them, I was the second coming of Hemingway or (depending on the client) Dr. Seuss. (more…)