Beats in the ‘Cloud

I put some INS beats on SoundCloud. Now you don’t have to deal with annoying MP3s. Make sure you spell my name right on the MacArthur Grant.

Deer, Me

There I am, driving in to Sun Prairie this morning on Highway N like I do every day. Public Enemy is on full, Terminator X pounding through my system. I’m getting psyched for the day ahead as I pass the BP station, ready to wake some heads and rattle some cages.

Then BAM something hits my car — OH MY GOD I hit a deer — and there’s a black piece of something stuck to the door, dragging alongside the car and flipping up to hit the window. I’m freaking out and I kill the radio. My hands are shaking and I almost drop my bagel. I take crazy rapid breaths, trying to calm down as I pull over. I put the bagel in the dish beside me and hit the emergency lights.

It was a deer oh god I hit a deer! How could I hit a deer? I’m always so careful. People who hit deers aren’t paying attention but I hit a deer so I guess I wasn’t paying attention oh god that poor animal why did my industrial machine have to kill it? Is my car totally broken now? What the hell just happened?

I get out of the car and realize that a strip of plastic from the bumper is jammed in the the wheel well. I yank it out and drop it in front of the car. I expect blood and deer body parts, but there’s nothing. The bumper gap has exposed a plastic tank, and it’s dripping onto the pavement. I put my hand under — which I immediately realize is stupid, since it could be really hot or corrosive or something — and sniff the liquid. It doesn’t smell of anything.

A guy who lives in the house across the street comes over and assures me that it happens all the time. I ask if I should call the police and he says “Sheriff’s Department.” I ask if I can use his cell phone because I don’t own one. He dials and talks to someone. I look at my car. There’s no deer parts around, and the splotches look more like mud than anything. I look at my hands, which are filthy. I take the strip of broken bumper plastic to the trunk and put it inside. The towel I expect to find is missing. I look back at the road and there’s the deer corpse in the middle of it. Cars are slowly moving around it.

“They’re sending someone,” the homeowner says, hanging up his cell phone. I thank him and try to laugh.

“Whenever I hear about people hitting a deer,” I say, talking really fast, “I always think Oh they weren’t paying attention. What’s wrong with people? But you don’t realize how fast it can happen until it happens to you.”

He nods and says he needs to start packing up his truck for work. We’re a bit of a contrast — here I am in my suit with my pink shirt and pink tie (I totally forget about the LGBTQ-solidarity rainbow flag lapel pin, which surely adds an interesting element into the dynamic), and there he goes with his jeans and Packers jacket, ready to move stuff into his truck as his kids wait for the bus. I worry that I’m coming off like some effete intellectual (which I am), and I think about the perceived class difference and the probable actual class difference and my brain’s just racing.

Two people pull over and a woman asks if I’m alright. I say yes and she drives off. A second guy in a Notre Dame cap nods and stands near me, tapping his cell phone. I tell him he doesn’t have to wait because I’m fine and the car seems okay and the other dude called the sheriff. He just nods and I think Okay that’s weird. Then I look at his white SUV and I realize one of the headlights is gone.

“Oh wait,” I say, “did you hit it too?”

“Yeah,” he says. “I was going the other way and I guess it bounced off of me and hit you.”  He does that thing Scott McCloud describes in Understanding Comics Chapter Two:

The vehicle becomes an extension of our body. It absorbs our sense of identity. We become the car. If one car hits another, the driver of the vehicle being struck is much more likely to say “Hey! He HIT me!” than “He hit my car” or “His car hit my car”, for that matter.

Oh, so I didn’t hit the deer. I mean, I did, but only because it ricocheted off the other guy’s car. Maybe he wasn’t paying attention. Wait, really? Weren’t you just talking about how stupid it is to jump to conclusions like that?

These are the conversations that go on in my head all day every day.

“It could be worse,” the Notre Dame cap guy says. “At least it’s not raining.” He gestures to the sky. “We can enjoy this sunrise.”

“Yeah,” I say. I pull out my iPod and take a photo of the sunrise, which I often do anyway. Oh man he probably thinks I’m some weird arty geek (which I am) but he doesn’t realize I often take photos of the sunrise when I get to school. My brain continues racing. I get some napkins out of the glove box and wipe some of the dirt off my hands. I get out the manual and find a diagram of the engine area. The leaky plastic tank is for windshield washer fluid. Whew.

We wait. I practice being here now and count my breaths. Notre Dame Cap Guy points out that someone is pulling the deer corpse off the road into the ditch. We wave thanks.

The teacher who teaches next door to me pulls over. As soon as I see that it’s her I laugh and approach her car. “I’m fine,” I say as she rolls down the passenger window. “Everything’s fine. We hit a deer.” She asks if I need a ride and I say no. “Thanks, though. I should be in soon.” She nods and heads off.

We wait some more. Eventually a cop car pulls up and an officer approaches us. I think about Philando Castile and Alton Sterling and how different I might feel in this moment if I were a black man. The officer takes down our info — I’m visibly delighted to see that I have an up-to-date insurance card in my wallet — and goes back to his cruiser. A minute later he comes back with a report number scribbled on his business card. We thank him.

“So you’re both okay?” he asks. We nod.

He pauses. “Do either of you want the deer?” he asks. We say no, but I wonder if maybe one of the hunter kids at school would like the meat. Oh well. We pack up and drive off.

I feel really bad for the deer. I hear the line from My Cousin Vinny, in Marisa Tomei’s thick New York accent. “Imagine you’re a deer.” The only thing that animal did wrong was frolic through the prairie at the wrong time. Our industrial automotive fixation killed it, as it kills thousands of other animals every day. One of those hideous, acceptable tragedies that probably could be avoided if we transformed our entire society.

Oh well. It could have been worse.

Back in the Day

While home over the holiday, I digitized some photos from back in the day.

The Worst Part of Writing

I have started the most frustrating, demoralizing, and tedious activity every writer has to endure: I have begun begging agents and publishers to promote my work.

I’m a damn good writer. I’ve been doing it for decades, and I know I’ve got skills. When I took a writing class this summer, the instructor (a nationally known writer with years of experience in the industry) said: “I can’t help you with the writing.” Fortunately she offered plenty of assistance with the publishing process, which has been a great benefit.

I can’t stand this stuff. A 2012 article by Michael Bourne explains — with an insider’s perspective — what I despise about the business of publishing:

If that sounds like I’m saying, “It’s all about who you know,” that’s because that is exactly what I’m saying. You can rail about how unfair that is, and how it makes publishing into an incestuous little club, and to a degree you would be right: a lot of very dumb books get published because somebody knew somebody. But that’s the way the machine is built, people.

He says if you want to get published “you have to immerse yourself in the literary community”. He explains his own poor results with “cold-calling” submissions to agents and publishers, and how the response rate skyrocketed after he “went to a couple writing conferences” and “met agents in person and told them about [his] book”.

Well, there’s a problem here: Those conferences cost a lot of money — money most schoolteachers don’t have. They also require lots of time, which is also in desperately short supply for someone like me. Meanwhile, spending hundreds of dollars to attend these things is no guarantee, and the chances are slim that agents I do meet will have any interests that align with my book. I hate the thought of turning myself into a sniveling self-important toady, following agents around and begging them to consider my writing.

Yesterday I got a very nice rejection email which included the sentence: “You seem like a really cool person and an amazing teacher.” It went on to explain that, given the woeful market for books today, most publishers simply will not take a chance on a first-time nobody.

In other words: It doesn’t matter how good my book is. It doesn’t matter if I’ve got important things to say to the world, or how well I can say them. It doesn’t matter how much skill I have in writing about video games and education — I’m nobody, and therefore no one cares about my writing.

Dead Prez said it best in their song “It’s Bigger than Hip Hop”:

This fake a** industry — gotta pay to get a song on the radio
Really though, DP’s gon’ let you know
It’s just a game of pimps and hoes
And it’s all ’bout who you know
Not who we are, or how we grow

 I can’t imagine my favorite writers — Nelson Algren, Stanislaw Lem, Marge Piercy — paying hundreds of dollars to shmooze with industry folk in the scant hope of scoring a few seconds of one-on-one time to bloviate about their writing. The whole thing turns my stomach.

As I’ve often said, the only alternative is for some well-connected individual to stumble upon my writing and make it a personal mission to link me with an agent or publisher. And obviously that ain’t happening, so I gotta just keep at it.


Didactic SynCast #86: This Ain’t The SynCast You Rung For

This week I’m doing something different: Selections from my new book of stories, along with trivia and behind-the-scenes stuff. Enjoy!

DS #86: This Ain’t The SynCast You Rung For

The only link for this episode (aside from how to order the book at IndieBound) is the Chemical Brothers remix of “Voodoo People”, to use with “Lost Track”. So here it is.