Category Archives: Essays

Story: Photo Finish

Sprint finish: Dunaden (top) beats Red Cadeaux to win the 2011 Melbourne Cup at Flemington racecourse (Photo: Reuters)

It has been some years since I’ve gone to the races. Here in Seattle, the racecourse to head to is Emerald Downs. I will be making a return to it on opening night, for the first live race of the season, which is set for April 8th. The race will kick off the 22nd season and it starts at 5 pm. There will be a fireworks show presented by Washington Cedar & Supply to follow. I will place my bet. And I sure hope to be counting my winnings followed by a good cocktail. Such is the plan. For now, I can share with you a story about horse racing.

Now, any sports bet is a highly sophisticated endeavor. Even if your betting is based upon a feeling in your gut. Most likely, you’ve done some sort of research and/or are following some reasoned logic. Maybe it’s just the fact that you always bet on your favorite team. Maybe your dog touched your sleeve and it was Wednesday, your lucky day. Whatever works for you.

How about horse racing? Now, that seems pretty exotic for some folks. You could rely upon the name of the horse for good luck. That’s a start. Following the odds is good. Researching is good. Add whatever extra sprinkle of good luck, and hope for the best.

Ah, then there’s the classic nail-biter of a race with a couple of horses neck and neck. It happens more often than you might think. The horses are out their giving it all they’ve got. They’re competitive in their own way. They’re in it to win it! There are no ties, only one winner. And the photo finish results can prove it down to the slight tilt of a nose.

But getting back to what happened to me. I was a young carefree guy with a bit of a swagger and attitude. This was back in my college days in Houston. We were at Sam Houston Race Park. And I decided that day to place a good healthy fat bet on a horse that caught my fancy for some reason. Hey, I’m no horse guy. I’ve never ridden on a horse. I don’t know that much about them one way or another. But I was there with a few guys and I was dating a girl who I wanted to impress. This was many years ago, mind you. And then the race began. They were off! Sweat was already rolling down by back as I took in the scene and my girlfriend gave my hand a squeeze.

Just like you’d expect, the race got tighter and the real contenders closed in towards the last leg of the track. It was a fierce competition. The horses, the four that had emerged as the finalists, were tearing down the course. It was literally a blur. The announcer rattled off the names of each so fast as to mimmick what we were all seeing. In those seconds I lost myself in the sensation of primal competition. What goes on in the mind of a horse?!

To this day, I don’t recall the exact details, mostly the blur and excitement. At that very moment, I let out the highest pitch shriek I have ever yelled. It sounded like a little girl screaming at the top of her tiny little lungs! It was horrible. The race, ultimately, was not quite as close as we thought it would be. Close but not photo finish close.

My girlfriend gave me a wink. “I’ll have to make sure you man up tonight!” Wow, such a crude remark, in retrospect. But, we were crazy kids. My horse, whatever it was called, had lost. But I had come out the winner after all.

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Filed under Emerald Downs, Essays, Horse racing, Seattle, Sports, Story, Storytelling

Essays: When You Need Help

Bryan Cranston, as Dalton Trumbo writing in bathtub

Bryan Cranston, as Dalton Trumbo writing in bathtub

Dalton Trumbo was a very prolific writer. Even during the time he was black-listed during the Red Scare, he steadily kept on creating screenplays. His one weakness was writer’s block. He solved that my relaxing in a warm bath–with a typewriter. Yep, he wrote his best work while siting in his bathtub. We all do what we need to do.

Some of us out there would never dare ask for any kind of help when working on a writing project. And, sure, most of the time, most folks can handle something like an essay–but not always. There are a number of things that can help and I’ve tried them all at different times. Let’s see, the first thing is to have a clear mind that allows you to focus. But if various factors start to close in on you, and you have a looming deadline, then keep in mind that, all is not lost. You can always find essay writing help.

Now, in college, I thought of myself as a perfectionist but, at such a young age, I was still battling a really bad case of procrastination. Lucky, for me, way back then, I had Barbara, a friend I could rely upon to help me out of a tight spot. In fact, she was my best friend in all the world. We’d go out. We’d kiss. She’d tease. But, basically, we were just friends. In the same spirit as our relationship, she wouldn’t come right out and write my whole paper for me, even though I sometimes begged her to. But, rubbing my back, and reassuring me with hugs, she would provide the necessary hints to get me going. And that always did the trick. She got me going really well with jokes, puns, even acting out passages I should dictate. She never charged a fee, of course. But I would easily have paid for her services. One of the best helping sessions, perhaps the most inspired, was Barbara’s doing a sort of charades to “Beowulf.” Yes, all those years ago, before the internet, and before that venerable classic had yet to be turned into a movie. It was such thick reading, I never dreamed it was possible to turn it into a movie!

Inspiration can never be rushed. It’s like they say, a watched pot never boils. But, once you relax, that’s when the creative juices start flowing. It’s as simple as three B’s: in Bed, on the Bus, or in the Bath. Those are three places that you find yourself off guard and ideas bubble up to the surface. I recall another story from my early years. I had a little studio apartment. I had undressed and was just about to jump into the shower when inspiration hit me. I had been feverishly trying to figure out the ending to a short story and, right then and there, I had it. I had the whole ending just dangling in front of me. I knew I could either think about it in the shower or I could rush to my typewriter. I chose to just sit down naked and start typing. It was actually pretty liberating. And, in no time at all, I had my story set down on paper! And there was a bonus to all this. The doorbell rang and I remember, just like an impulsive youth, I ran up and answered it without covering up a stitch. I had a very good guess as to who was at my door. It was my old pal, Barbara. She had never quite seen me in all my glory. I guess she was impressed. I know that we dated seriously for a while after that.

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Filed under Essays, writers, writing

It Happened in Seattle

Photo by Julia E. Light

Photo by Julia E. Light

Editor’s Note: Above photo is by Julia E. Light. Find her work here.

I moved to Seattle many years ago and, while I still like to travel, I find it to make a good home base. It used to be thought that Seattle was, despite the media scrutiny, the best kept secret. I moved in 1993. Grunge was in full tilt, Microsoft was on the rise, and Starbucks and Amazon were well on their way. The gray skies were oddly reassuring. The mellow weather was a welcome relief from the humid burden of Houston. And, just like Elvis, I swaggered my way onto the scene. I painted. I drew. I photographed. I wrote. Little by little, it happened in Seattle.

Today, I continue to paint, draw, photograph, and write. And I blog.

Many years ago, I set out to create meaningful work. In the end, I wanted things to add up to something that could be called art. I never stopped believing. And I never will.

Over time, I developed a specific working method. I write in notebooks that eventually make their way onto a laptop and so on. I sketch in a sketchbook. I draw and photograph something every day. Over the years, along with prose and drawings, I have created a number of comics. One of my earliest creations was a full length comic book entitled, MAN (sic). The title alone cracked me up but the content wasn’t particularly humorous. It was a collection of stories, some based on dreams and some just poetic observations. I believe that was around 1996. It was fun and underground. It came and went.

Today, I have much to be grateful for and look forward to. I have created more than enough work in comics to easily fill more than one collection. For now, I have the book of collected work, A Night at the Sorrento and Other Stories. At some point, it’s important to gather up one’s work, organize it, scrutinize it, and get it published one way or another. Only then, can you feel like you can move on to something else. And I am definitely working on that.

In the future, I want to show my art more, get more work published, and keep on writing. I consider posting to this blog a very important part of my writing. Some posts are only meant to be lighthearted and others run deeper. The activity of blogging is useful in so many ways. It’s one of those habits that I’m more than happy to continue to indulge indefinitely in one way or another.

Times will continue to change. Lives will continue to change. You do well to hold on to as much consistency as possible. Whether as a state of mind, or as an everyday ritual, it has happened, continues to happen, for me in Seattle.

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Filed under Art, Comics, Creativity, Essays, Julia E. Light, Photography, Seattle, writers, writing

On Isaiah Berlin’s ‘The Hedgehog and the Fox’

Isaiah-Berlin-The-Hedgehog-and-the-Fox

Roy and I were just hanging out at the offices of Comics Grinder when we began to consider the current crisis in the Middle East. I had told Roy that Hillary Clinton was talking, actually warning, about the possibility of an Islamist state emerging from Syria and Iraq. This brought to Roy’s mind an essay by Isaiah Berlin, “The Hedgehog and the Fox.” The Hedgehog represents Plato and Big Ideas. The Fox represents Aristotle and Small Ideas. It is a classic that explains the virtues of knowing many small things as opposed to knowing, embracing, being blinded by, only one big thing.

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Filed under Essays, Geopolitics, politics

Furor Over Basic Comics Criticism: Janelle Asselin and the Attack on Women

teen-titans-janelle-asselin

As many of you can imagine, there is a lot of cheesecake that makes its way into comics. As a critic, this is a can of worms that you open when you’re ready for the shit storm that follows when daring to criticize a major comics title. This is what just happened to Janelle Asselin, a seasoned professional in the comics industry after she dared to criticize the above cover for “Teen Titans #1,” published by DC Comics, home to Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Can you guess what Ms. Asselin may have taken issue with?

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Filed under Comics, Essays, Janelle Asselin, Sexism, Women, Wonder Woman

Lost Cat: Fremont’s Grey is Missing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Easter turned out to be a very nice day. I’ve just walked around my Seattle neighborhood of Fremont to surmise the current situation, take the pulse of the zeitgeist, and just get some fresh air. There’s a flyer I’ve seen a number of times and I thought I’d share it with you. Apparently, there’s this neighborhood cat, Grey, who loves to take strolls and just wander about. But he keeps getting picked up by well-intentioned people who turn him in to the local shelter! I had friends who were constantly compelled to pick up neighborhood pets they were certain they were lost only to find out that these pets were simply doing their own thing, not lost at all. Anyhow, as the above flyer makes clear, Grey, and his owner, have been dealing with this for quite some time and so a flyer went up pleading with people to just leave well enough alone. Here his Grey’s message in its entirety:

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Filed under Cats, Essays, Portlandia, Seattle

Justin M. Damiano, You Are One Of Us; We’d Embrace You, If You’d Let Us

daniel-clowes-shia-labeof-justin-damiano

“Justin M. Damiano” is a short work in comics by Daniel Clowes that appeared in an anthology edited by Zadie Smith, “The Book of Other People,” in 2008. As a satire on our current state of being, it should be required reading for anyone who regularly comments on the internet. Shia LaBeof is accused of, and apparently admits to, lifting this story and turning it into a short film, “Howard Cantour.com.” Maybe LaBeof appreciated the story or maybe he just thought it was cool. His arguments, if they at least came from him and weren’t more of his prank plagiarism, might be interesting. What is most interesting is how this little story of Justin M. Damiano has come to light to a wider audience.

Clowes has proven to have an uncanny feel for contemporary alienation and the skill to say something…er, original. Here is where Shia LaBeof would take great issue with the “discredited” concept of originality. He would cry out someone else’s words about Duchamp’s recontextualizing and that would be that. Okay, so Clowes has not literally created something “original” but, then again, he has. LaBeof can skywrite his apologies but he’ll still be dealing with Clowes’s attorneys. That’s not to say that, in theory, LaBeof couldn’t end up a pretty decent provocateur. But, no, if you view his movie lifted from the Clowes story, word for word, you see a pathetic amateur move to steal someone else’s work. In other words, it’s an asshole move. That means Shia LaBeof is an asshole, not a bad boy artist.

But, whatever. Clowes (just like Chris Ware, Charles Burns, and Adrian Tomine) has tapped into something sad and has plucked some gems of excellent satire in his day. In his story about a movie review blogger, Clowes gives us another character for him to hang his social commentary on. Justin M. Damiano makes it clear that we see the problem but we’re so much a part of it that we’re okay with letting out of big sigh, just before we plunge right back into the void: the world of gazing, self-importance, and blather. That is the world that Damiano is immersed in and so are the rest of us. We can pull ourselves away from it but it’s still there. It’s bigger than all of us. And, worse still, it’s not going away. That would take a whole new shift, a fundamental change in behavior, and we’re just not ready for that. He can’t help his compulsion to write movie reviews on his blog because that is who he is. He claims to be a champion of cinema but that’s just an excuse to hide from life. With a better balanced life, he might write better balanced reviews, perhaps less often, perhaps not at all.

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Filed under Comics, Daniel Clowes, Essays

WHERE HAVE ALL THE HEROES GONE? Gloria Swanson and a Talk About How We Got Here From There

Gloria Swanson photograph by Edward Steichen, 1924

Gloria Swanson photograph by Edward Steichen, 1924

“Where have all the heroes gone?” asked Sherman. He asked this plainly and earnestly, without even a hint of irony. He looked to be about 16-years-old and not remarkable at first glance, just a kid. He wore a cardigan sweater, had messy hair, a well-worn t-shirt, jeans, and Converse high tops. Maybe a geek but not a proud geek.

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Filed under Commentary, Creative Living, Culture, Essays, Facebook, Henry Chamberlain, Heroes, Hollywood, Internet, Media, movies, Silent Movies, Social Media, Superheroes, writing

GUEST COLUMN: Webs in David Lynch’s Closet? by R.W. Watkins

Spider-Man-Blue-Velvet-001.jpg

Here is an unusual essay that argues that the screenplay for David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” was lifted from classic “Amazing Spider-Man” comics. Republished with permission, this essay originally appeared in The Comics Decoder by poet/cultural subversive R. W. Watkins:

Webs in Lynch’s Closet?
Similarities Between Blue Velvet and Early Spider-Man
by R.W. Watkins

Like the classic Stan Lee-era Amazing Spider-Man comics (1963-c.1972), the films and television series of David Lynch depend on a precise combination of suspense, melodrama and jet-black humour amidst a cast of extreme and offbeat characters. This is certainly more true of Lynch’s 1986 neo-noir masterpiece Blue Velvet than any of his other celluloid creations for the big and small screens. In fact, one can make a reasonably sound argument that Blue Velvet not only resembles early Amazing Spider-Man in its tone and aberrant dynamics, but indeed also owes a great deal to the actual early plots and characters of the classic comic magazine.

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Filed under Comics, David Lynch, Essays, film, Guest Column, movies, pop culture, Spider-Man, Stan Lee

THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914

1914 Christmas Truce

The Christmas Truce of 1914 is a moment in time that is an object lesson for us all.

The First World War (1914-1918) was six months in when a push for a cease-fire for Christmas took hold mainly between the German and English infantry. The men stepped out of their trenches and met the enemy on the No Man’s Land fields. And they discovered that this war, fought in the trenches was, indeed, fueled by entrenched hatred.

The fires were constantly stoked by each side’s propaganda machine. Entrenched hatred, whether on the battlefield or wherever, is a powerful force not easily overcome. And yet, the Germans and the British, on that Christmas of 1914, found common ground.

How many of us can find common ground? It is such a fundamental question applicable in a myriad of ways. Why don’t we try harder to find common ground? Is it because we don’t feel compelled enough to do so? Do we prefer to inflict pain and destruction? Too often, we want to maintain our position at all costs and find it difficult, if not impossible, to compromise. This can be in matters small and petty all the way up to matters of life and death.

The solution to many, if not all conflicts, is to step back: find perspective, see the big picture, do not take one’s self too seriously, and act in what is truly the best interest of us all. These are words but, for each of us, in our own lives, they can become acts of peace, love and understanding.

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Filed under Essays, History, Holidays