Friday, July 25, 2014

idiot

My friend Aaron Harvey made his short film IDIOT for pretty much zero dollars. It got into a bunch of festivals and won some awards, and I find it quite affecting (not affected, affecting). I mean, who hasn't felt like an idiot, before?

Here's THE LINK to it on vimeo. Fair warning, though... it's a bit dark. Maybe don't watch it with your four-year-old bed-wetter.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

more than your computer

The other night after my son was in bed, I heard him call out "Dadu!"

That's my name, so I said "What?"

"Can you and me have a snuggle?" he asked.

I crawled up into his loft bed, and he told me that sometimes when he's sleeping by himself he gets worried, so he wanted me to come up and sleep with him. I asked him what he was worried about, specifically.

He didn’t want to say, so I started telling him that I love him more than certain stuff. Like, "I love you more than ice cream," and "I love you more than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick," and cetera.

After I'd listed a few things, he said, "Do you love me more than your computer?" 

Ouch.

I assured him that I did, and asked him if he sometimes felt like I love my computer more than him. He nodded, and said that he sometimes feels like whenever he's around, it becomes computer-time. 

Now, this is partly just him being himself, because he wants all my attention, all the time (and I don't think it's healthy to give it to him), and partially because I find six-year-olds draining and need my breaks.

I drew his attention to all the things we did together, that day, and he saw my point. 

Still, I want to take his feelings seriously. Feelings aren't about what's logical, or about the facts. They're about feelings, and they need to be given their due.

Besides, feelings often point to uncomfortable truths. 

- - -

The first of Wendell Berry’s writing that I ever read was his 1987 essay in Harper’s magazine, “Why I Am Not Goingto Buy a Computer.”

The first line of the essay is this: “Like almost everybody else, I am hooked to the energy corporations, which I do not admire.” Then Berry ends the essay by listing his criteria for adopting a technical innovation for use in his own work. They are as follows: 
  1. The new tool should be cheaper than the one it replaces.
  2. It should be at least as small in scale as the one it replaces.
  3. It should do work that is clearly and demonstrably better than the one it replaces.
  4. It should use less energy than the one it replaces.
  5. If possible, it should use some form of solar energy, such as that of the body.
  6. It should be repairable by a person of ordinary intelligence, provided that he or she has the necessary tools.
  7. It should be purchasable and repairable as near to home as possible.
  8. It should come from a small, privately owned shop or store that will take it back for maintenance and repair.
  9. It should not replace or disrupt anything good that already exists, and this includes family and community relationships.
I loved the piece, and as a result went on a Wendell Berry tear. I read three of his essay collections, two of his novels, and a poetry book in rapid succession (except for the poetry, because reading poetry fast is anathema).  

All of his writing could be said to extrapolatable, thematically, from that first essay.

And yet here I am, tapping away at this computer. When I’m finished, I’ll edit the post a half-dozen times, post it to the internets, and then throw a link to it on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Google plus. For the next several hours, I’ll keep checking the stats to see if more than just my mom and my siblings and my woman-friend have looked at it. I’ll do this in a state of low-grade anxiety. Because even though some people will look at it, most of the seven billion on the planet won’t… which of course will mean that I’m not much of a writer, and have once again wasted a whole lot of oxygen and finger-calories, pretending to be one.

And then there’s the nagging suspicion that the work that I do with this computer does in fact replace or disrupt some good that already exists in my family and community relationships. The suspicion that I waste time I could be using creatively with my son, just farting around on the internet. The suspicion that I'm lying to myself when I justify it by saying that I’m doing it to “build an online presence as a writer.”

Not one of the people who reads this blog comes here because I spent fifteen minutes scrolling down my Facebook newsfeed, or reading articles on Feedly.

Those things aren’t inherently bad, but I’ve made them bad by sometimes using them as a quick-fix substitute for real, human connection.

I do it because it’s easier.
I do it because it doesn’t demand anything of me.

But it’s wrong, and I’m ashamed, and I’m going to do what I can to stop.

Right after I upload this post. 

- - -

Whazzat? You say you really liked this blog post and it changed your life forever and ever, amen? Well then, I sure would appreciate it if you'd increase the irony of it by sharing it on your social internets.

Or maybe support my writing habit with one of the options at the top of the sidebar to the right. Like, by grabbing a copy of my short story collection. Or picking an option and paying for a custom blog post. Cheerios, Josh. -->

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Josh Barkey: 2014 Nicholl Fellowship Quarter-Finalist

Thanks, Academy of Motion Pictures, for saving us all from another long-winded Josh Barkey blog post on this fine Wednesday evening.

I just got word that my script POUNDERS has made the quarter-finals for the most prestigious screenplay competition of them all - the one run by the folks who do the Oscars. Yay, me!

So far this year, POUNDERS has already been chosen as a finalist for the Atlanta Film Festival Screenplay Competition, and a quarter-finalist for the Bluecat Screenplay Competition.

Now, we all know that contest-judging is highly subjective, and should not be taken as indicative of actual writing ability. The Page International Screenwriting Awards people recently turned their noses up at this very same POUNDERS script, but chose FOUNDER (which the Nicholl people rejected) as a quarter-finalist in their little competition. You never know who you'll end up getting as a reader (and which sort of narcotics they'll happen to have ingested just before they got to your script), so it's pretty much a crap-shoot.

Until I write a script that's so good it places in EVERY contest it's in (and wins at least one), I'm gonna be taking all this contest nonsense with a teacup full of salt. Still, a little salt goes a long way toward making all the rejection I've had to swallow a bit more palatable.

So... Yippee!

- - -

NOTE: if you'd like to check out the first few pages from POUNDERS or FOUNDER, you can click their emboldened titles, above, or find them (and a few others) on my script-website, THE FIRST THREE PAGES (click to naggivate).

- - -

FURTHER NOTE: I've written a number of scripts since finishing POUNDERS, so I've become a much better writer and I'm no longer all that fond of it... which means I'm not really expecting it to progress any further. But this is my second year entering the Nicholl contest, and second year as a quarter-finalist. So... third time's a charm, right?

- - -

EVEN FURTHER NOTE: I just finished the second draft of my second novel this very day... and it's actually quasi-based on the POUNDERS screenplay. I don't know what that says about it, but there you go.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Peace in Israel (and let it begin with me).

"Did you hear about the thing?" 
"Yes, wasn't it ghastly?
"Oh my gosh, yes. I can't believe it, how some people are like that."
"Oh, I know. Some people, amiright?" 
"Yeah. Some people."

The sky is falling, people are dying too soon, and there's drama in it... so we care. 

Well, we sort of care. It's not us who're falling out of the sky, or upon whom the sky is falling. So it becomes almost another form of entertainment... just something to watch for purposes of titillation. And what's more titillating than the part where we get to shake our heads at some people? 

You know who I'm talking about - those people. The ones who are so sick and twisted and irredeemable that we are pretty much Glowing Visions of Angelitude, by comparison. Our fear-driven pride cries out for these villains, and again and again they answer the call - these black-hatted messiahs of our fragile little egos.

I could almost laugh at the irony of it, except for the fact that it is this very Othering-instinct that helps create the evil at which we're so piously shaking our heads. 

Take the example of Israel. 

Israel, as I wrote before, matters a lot to me right now because my woman-friend is currently over there getting rockets shot at her. So it would be easy for me to get up on a stump on behalf of the people in Israel who get rockets shot at them. 

Except for, well... the other stuff. Like the fact that my sister's Palestinian/Canadian friend just lost his cousin to a bomb that was dropped on him from my woman-friend's side of the wall. He was riding a scooter in the street, doing nothing wrong, and then... gone. Or how about that same friend's Uncle's house getting blown up, causing a wall to fall on his infant relative. How about that? 

It's best not to think about that, if you're searching for villains. 

You can't think about that, and you can't let yourself really accept the idea of Common Humanity, because the first thing you know it starts looking like everybody's a villain, even you. Even the armchair news-absorber with the Opinions. That relatively safe American who re-posts the one-sided Facebook things that stoke the fires of hatred, all so he can feel like a white-hatted hero for a little while (before the still, small Voice starts creeping back in). 

- - -

So, my woman-friend was going back to her flat last night, and she saw a group of boys at the top of the steps where she usually sits when we skype. These same boys are often there, and I often hear them laughing and playing whilst we talk. Except last night, one of the older ones had a particularly not-nice-looking gun in his hands, which is not what you want to see in the hands of a kid in Israel (or anywhere, really). 

A few minutes later, when she was back at her flat, she heard a bunch of loud noises that sounded like the sort of noises that come out of particularly not-nice-looking guns. 

When she went back to the steps, there were two groups of people yelling at each other in really angry Hebrew, and there were police officers going between the two groups and trying to get things sorted. Eventually the police left and the angry people left, and my woman-friend sat down to check her email. Then a Jewish Israeli girl came and sat down next to her, to have a smoke.

JEWISH ISRAELI GIRL: Did you hear the bombs?
MY WOMAN-FRIEND: Mmmmm.  Yea… was that what it was?  I thought it was fireworks.
JEWISH ISRAELI GIRLThey say it was the children, making fireworks for Ramadan.  But that is what they tell the police, the children did this, they are celebrating Ramadan, we are as shocked as you.  Because then the police, they cannot do anything to the children. 
MY WOMAN-FRIENDYea, the kids have been playing with fireworks for a while now --
JEWISH ISRAELI GIRLNo, no, it is not fireworks.  [This was when she started to get high-strung.]  They were saying [something-something in Arabic], of course they are not celebrating Ramadan.  They are celebrating the deaths of Israeli soldiers, and those are not fireworks. 

- - -

It just. never. stops. 

It might have been Arab Israelis celebrating the death of Israeli soldiers, then hiding behind their children. Or it might just have been kids with toy guns, setting off firecrackers. I don't know. But I do know that that's not the real problem. 

The real problem is human nature. The real reason it keeps going on and on is that a Jewish Israeli girl comes upon the scene after the fact, and immediately assumes what her fear has taught her to assume... that it's just those people. They're just like that. They're always like that. 

The real problem is that reaction. It's that person on the other side of the wall who hears about some Jewish-committed atrocity and thinks the exact same thing. It's you and me, with our armchair prognostications and our Facebook sanctimony, shaking our heads at those inhuman monsters over there on the other side of the puddle, on the (take your pick) side of the wall. 

Can it ever stop?

I don't know. But I do know that what we're doing now is only making it worse, and that if we're going to have a chance of healing this world, then Jews and Arabs are not the only ones who'll have to lay down their weapons and start assuming the best, for once. 

As Nicholas Kristof wrote a few days ago in his New York Times piece, Who's Right and Wrong in the Middle East? "This is a war in which both peoples have a considerable amount of right on their sides. The failure to acknowledge the humanity and legitimate interest of people on the other side has led to cross-demonization. That results in a series of military escalations that leave both peoples worse off."

Let there be Peace on Earth.
And let it begin with me.

- - -

Whazzat? You say you really liked this blog post and it changed your life forever and ever, amen? Well then, I sure would appreciate it if you'd share it on your social internets.

Or maybe support my writing habit with one of the options at the top of the sidebar to the right. Like, by grabbing a copy of my short story collection. Or picking an option and paying for a custom blog post. Cheerios, Josh. -->

Monday, July 21, 2014

christian erotica

The first and last bit of erotica widely accepted by the Christian Church was published around three thousand years ago by a guy named Solomon Davidson, and through clever use of metaphor explored things like genitalia, orgasms, and maybe even oral sex.

Or, y'know, it could be just a list of non-metaphorical details about plant and animal biology. 

Back in those days, the Church hadn't yet clued in to the fact that sex was a force so potent they'd never be able to control it, and for that reason failed to tell Mr. Davidson that what he was doing was dirty. Well, that and the fact that Christ hadn't yet been born, and it hadn't yet occurred to anybody to invent the organized religion that we today call Christianity.

But once the early Church fathers discovered that people were more concerned with getting it on than getting it in the offering plate, they tried to argue that sex was the Original Sin - the very thing that got us all kicked out of the garden. They said that it (sex) should only be done now with great reluctance, in order to get women pregnant with Christian babies so that the Muslims, Buddhists, and New York liberals wouldn't procreatively inherit the earth.

By then, of course, it was too late.

This "Song of Solomon" had already been confirmed as Holy Writ, so ministers and pastors and priests were stuck with a little pocket of dirtiness, right there in the middle of their squeaky-clean book. They dealt with this pocket of dirtiness in a number of ways, most notably by holding it up and saying, "See! The Bible is absolutely in favor of sex... in the right context," implying that Mr. Davidson had undoubtedly written this little bit of erotica specifically for his wife, to be read to her, in the privacy of their bedroom, before his annual dipping of the proverbial wick.

This was an easier line to sell when the Bible was in Latin, and nobody but the priests understood Latin. 

But then some idiot translated it into German, then English, then everything else, and suddenly any old body could read for his or herself that not only was Solomon a bit of a philandering letch, but the entire Bible was full right up of people getting it on left and right... and didn't seem to always and only be condemning this behavior.

As difficult as it became for these Church Leaders to condemn sex, and as pretzelly as they had to get with their words in order to try and cram sex down into the hush-hush world of a (patriarchally-dominated) marital bedroom, they nonetheless still managed to quash the very idea of Christian Erotica to the point that among the more belligerently-dogmatic of these anti-sexers, movies and books with explicit, non-FADEOUT sexual references are still condemned as being dirty and sinful.

But what if they stopped with this logical double-jointedness, and instead opened their eyes to a creative field that is wide-the-heck open for exploration: Christian Erotica. 

Think of the possibilities! Think of the three-thousand-year hole in Christian expression, just waiting to be powerfully, explosively (so to speak) filled!

Think, dear internet-friends, of the MONEY!!!

In novels alone, the "Romance" genre (code for "sex books") generates nearly one and a half billion dollars a year in this country annually, with nearly a fourth of the population reading at least one "romance novel" a year. And yes, I might have pulled those statistics off a random website that might or might not be based in fact - but still. Think of the possibilities.

Sure, yeah, Christian bookstores have long since figured out that they can make a lot of money by pumping out their own brand of saccharine, sexless romance - and that probably does account for a significant portion of the above-mentioned statistics. As Christian theologian Hans Rookmaker said in his book Modern Art and the Death of a Culture, "out of this [defensive attitude toward sex] grew the notion of 'romantic love,' a love pure and beautiful and eternal, virgin-white and virtually sex-less."

But it's not like Church-people aren't still craving their Fifty Shades of Gray experiences. It's not like they're not YouPorning it up, and renting Fatal Attraction on pay-per-view every time they get a hotel room.

What are they learning from all that?

I'll tell you what they're learning. They're learning to believe in an escapist fantasy - an idea of sex that no real-life partner could ever fulfill. You know that. I know that. Heck, the pastor of your church knows that - which is why you've heard a dozen sermons railing against the evil of it.

But what hasn't happened in the Christian Church over the past three thousand years is that no one has stepped up to offer an alternative. No one has created a line of Christian novels that subvert what has come to be the prevailing narrative of the genre - that sex is best when it's anonymous, extra-marital, and accompanied by whips, chains, and large tubs of yogurt.

People love sex.

People love erotica.

So if the church can't figure out how to give it to them, they're going to keep running around getting it elsewhere - spending all that money elsewhere. And money, as we all know, is the root of more money, and the True National Language of America.

Whaddaya say, fellow-artists? How about instead of the pasteurized nonsense of church-based Fireproof movies, we start making movies with some really juicy sex scenes? How about instead of this Francine Rivers garbage, we start writing some real bodice-rippers, where people who wait for marriage to have sex eventually work through all the awkward confusion of it and end up getting it on in hotter, heavier, and more explicit ways than anything the rest of the world has to offer.

As Madeleine L'engle said in her wonderful book on creativity, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, "There can be no categories such as 'religious art' and 'secular' art, because all true art is incarnational, and therefore 'religious.' "

So, let's do it. Let's get out there and make some Christian Erotica. Let's get rich telling the world just how sexy Christianity can be.

- - -

Thoughts? Questions? Suggestions for my sex-book pen name? 

- - -

Whazzat? You say you really liked this blog post and it changed your life forever and ever, amen? Well, share it on your social internets, already!

Or maybe support my writing habit with one of the options at the top of the sidebar to the right. Like, by grabbing a copy of my short story collection. Or picking an option and paying for a custom blog post. Cheerios, Josh. -->

Saturday, July 19, 2014

high anxiety

I wonder what "anxiety" means?

I mean, I wonder what that word "anxiety" means to you, when you say it. Because every one of us is incrementally different, and even sometimes astronomically different. 

So when I say "I feel anxious," I mean something different than you mean, just as we each mean something different when we say "blue," or, "pseudo-intellectual," or "sex." 

I feel a little anxious, but I don't know if it's worth saying so. Because I know that when I do, you'll hear me speak that word, and then you'll translate it from what I'm meaning into your own internal conception of "anxiety." And unless you're an extremely dedicated, self-reflective psychologist/philologist/epistemologist, you won't have much of an idea what that is, either. 

Language is fascinating. It's a story we agree on, without even knowing how much of that agreement is based on fact - without ever bothering to nail down precisely what we mean by any single word we use, or how well we and the people to whom we're talking actually line up, meaning-wise. We don't bother, either because A. We've never wondered about it, or B. We have wondered about it, and we'd much rather not. 

Language is imprecise, but precision might just be overrated, and it's definitely a little annoying. 
So let's get back to my feelings of anxiety.

Here's what it means to me on an existential level: It means my legs feel jittery. Its means I'm hungry for ice cream, but mostly just because eating it would give me something to do and because ice cream is delicious. It means I want to be somewhere else. I want to be moving. I want to be anywhere and do anything that gets my mind off the fact that I feel tense and edgy and directionless right now. It means I want to connect with another human being - like maybe I should go talk my parents into playing scrabble, or something.  

Anxiety means I spend a whole bunch of time getting caught in these cyclical thought patterns where I wonder if the source of these weird, off-kilter emotions is having just finished the first draft of a film script, which is followed by the thought that the only thing that would keep me from feeling anxious would be to always be working all the time. And that thought makes me anxious, and keeps me from actually doing it. 

It's not major. 
I'm not having a panic attack. 

I'm just mildly off-kilter, and feeling a little lost to myself - wondering if/when it's going to stop, so I can go back to whatever "normal" is. 

While I'm not sure of the source of the anxious feelings, I actually do know what to do to make them go away. There's the "making stuff" thing and the "interacting meaningfully with other humans" thing, Then there's exercising, and my personal favorite (ha-ha): stop being a whiny little narcissist and do something kind for someone else, for a change.

The anxiety makes me unwilling to do any of those things, but here's the trick... I wrote this, and somehow I now feel just a little bit better. Possibly almost better enough to go do something even more effective, like write a kind note to a friend who's struggling. 

Or maybe I'll just go to the store and buy some ice cream. Because ice cream.

- - -

Whazzat? You say you really liked this blog post and it changed your life forever and ever, amen? Well, share it on your social internets, already!

Or maybe support my writing habit with one of the options at the top of the sidebar to the right. Like, by grabbing a copy of my short story collection. Or picking an option and paying for a custom blog post. Cheerios, Josh. -->

Friday, July 18, 2014

15 Reasons Why "The Princess Bride" is the Most Overrated Movie Ever Made

We've seriously gotta talk about this click-bait problem of yours. 

I mean, yeah. I get it. The Princess Bride is awesome, and we all love it more than is probably healthy, but come ON. Why would you subject yourself to some stupid list written by someone with a chip on his shoulder, who was probably repeatedly dropped on his head as a child?

Maybe it's curiosity.

Maybe you thought, "Is there really someone out there who is that insane - the internet's last madman?" But I assure you, I am not insane, and the internet is still rife with madmen (There are a few madwomen, too, but not as many as men, because men apparently have glandular issues that make them act like jerkwads all the time). What is going on here is that someone (namely: me) has figured out a way to activate some sort of emotional response in your amygdala, in order to bend you to his will.

Now, this is not a bad thing in and of itself

For example, I just finished writing my second novel, and not only did I work hard to ensure that the first line of the book would hook you in and make you want more, but I also tried to end each chapter with a line that'd leave you desperate to turn to the page and find out what happens next. I did this because I wanted you to feel yourself being pulled inexorably, rhythmically through the pages to a glorious, climactic, shout-out loud finish that would leave you weeping for joy and (possibly) craving a cigarette.

Here's the difference, though. When I wrote each chapter-ending "click-bait" line, I did my darndest to fulfill what was essentially a promise. I made a covenant with you that if you'd trust me and keep reading, I would make it worth your time. And I would resolve the tension I'd created with that "promise-line" of mine.

People who write click-bait lines on the internets don't even bother to try to follow through on the promises they're making, because they don't care about their integrity, or about you. They aren't trying to give you a satisfying, creative experience... they just wanna use you for your click-finger.

This troubles me not just because they are liars and their pants are on fire, but also because they're increasing your cynicism about promises. Click enough times only to find that what happens at 1:54 does not blow your mind (and actually isn't any different than the rest of the video), and you'll eventually stop believing that anything could blow your mind, ever. You'll be so sick of lies that end with a whimper that you'll lose your capacity to wonder - to chase mysteries into the unknown.

So stop.

Please, just stop following click-bait. If you can't help it, get off the internet and go read a book, or something. Or at least deflect that attention to the "Saved You A Click" website, where they reveal the answers to those burning lie-questions these click-monsters keep throwing at you.

But for the love of everything good and decent, stop clicking your way around the internet, trying to get your jollies making fun of some idiot too stupid to admit that The Princess Bride is the frickin' cinematic masterpiece of the whole past century.

- - -

Whazzat? You say you really liked this blog post and it changed your life forever and ever, amen? Well, share it on your social internets, already!

Or maybe support my writing habit with one of the options at the top of the sidebar to the right. Like, by grabbing a copy of my short story collection. Or picking an option and paying for a custom blog post. Cheerios, Josh. -->

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