Monday, July 28, 2014

why i don't care about israel (but also kind of do)

My woman-friend in Israel who I mentioned before is currently thirty-thousand feet in the air over the ocean. She's moving at around five hundred miles an hour on an El Al flight from Tel Aviv to Toronto, which is why I now care about ninety-nine percent less about Israel and the people therein than I did yesterday.

Isn't that awful?

Here's the thing, though. There are one hundred and ninety-six(ish) countries in the world today, and while most of them are generally peaceful places where folks are content to kill each other one at a time with things like tack hammers and well-aimed baseballs, there are also a good number of countries where they are not. And not only are there a lot of places other than Israel where mortality is routinely sped up by things that go "BOOM," but we as humans have also accelerated the process in many other countries, by allowing economic injustice to go unchecked - ultimately creating the conditions for rampant disease and mass starvation. To top it all off, we're also apparently teetering on the brink of another mass-extinction event (like the one that killed the dinosaurs) that's entirely of our own devising. So pardon me for not caring quite so much about Israel, now that my reason for being concerned has left it.

I don't have to explain that to you, though. You're as selfish and narcissistic as I am. 

It's not just the more grubby aspects of our nasty little natures at work here, though. See, I used to feel it was my personal responsibility, as namesake of the great Yeshua Ha'Nazarei himself, to save the entire world and solve the problems and get the stranded kitty cats down out of the trees.

The fact that I wasn't actually Jesus and had no real superpowers made this kind of hard, so I tended to just get discouraged and then depressed and then do nothing.

Instead, I've learned to take an honest look at what my strengths might actually be and then set about developing those strengths in order to actually do something useful. It seems to me that it's in this way - by being myself - that I'll be most likely to make a difference. Then again, that could just be the self-deluding narcissist in me talking.

Whatever the case, I've discovered that I am a writer.

I therefore spend my days doing what I can to develop my abilities as a writer, honing my craft so that I'll be able to tell the best, most truthful stories I can - stories that (who knows?) might just one day creep down into people's hearts and inspire them to put down their tack hammers and their rocket launchers, and join me on the lawn for a picnic.

Still, given that my two previous posts on Israel don't seem to have done much to halt the violence, I thought I'd have one last go at telling the world what to do about "the situation." 

The truth is, I don't have a clue who did what and when, or how to find that information. I could endlessly run around trying to figure out who's more in the right, but my conclusions would ultimately just depend on whose story I chose to listen to. And as anyone who's ever had to break up a playground fight knows (and yes, I use that metaphor deliberately), there's not really ever a great way to be sure. You can guess, based on the observed character and previous actions of the combatants, but even my sweetie-pie of a son is capable of some nasty, vindictive little behaviors when he's in the mood.

In Israel, nobody really doubts that Hamas is made up of some really nasty dudes who probably oughtta be shut down hard. On the other side, we all know (having watched that fantastic documentary "The Gatekeepers") that the Shin Bet's made up of some really nasty characters, who likewise don't mind killing innocent Palestinians to score a political point.

There is no one righteous. No, not one. Not even you.

Here's the unfortunate fact: for violence to stop, somebody's got to be the first to put down their weapons. It's not about assigning blame to larger groups of people. It's about individuals who will make the insane choice to form communities who say "No." Who will choose together to move away from violence and toward love.

Mahatma Gandhi, who was himself quite a fan of that Jesus cat, showed us that if we do this - if we choose together to "do no harm" - we can together accomplish great things. We can break the cycles of anger and hatred, and move toward a future where each of us will be judged not by the past actions of those with whom we happen to share a national identity, but by the strength of our individual characters.

What does that look like, though, when a group intent on the mass extinction of everyone who shares your national identity is raining rockets, rockets and more rockets down on your families?

Well, I don't know. I do know, however, that I am very, very suspicious of anyone who ever argues that violence in any situation is the only option. I'll grant that it often seems the most expedient option, and perhaps even is. But it is almost never the only option.

What if, for example, the Israeli people agreed that Palestinian children were just as important as their own? What if they committed to expend their national resources on shooting down Hamas rockets indefinitely, if that's what it took to avoid hurting even one Palestinian child? What if they asked the rest of the world to help them not with bombs, but with better and better bomb-detection technologies? What if they expressed their willingness to die rather than to kill, and began to value Palestinian lives so highly that they turned quickly and aggressively against those among them who continue to advocate violence, and to provoke it by encroaching on Palestinian land?

Insane, right? 

But maybe what worked for Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. could work for Israel, as well. Maybe it could make a difference, and change enough hearts in Palestine and elsewhere in the Arab world that they, too, would turn in mass against the crazies, and shame them out of existence.

But even if they couldn't...

And even if you could make the argument for necessary violence, the proper, loving human response to violence must always be mourning. It must be grief. It must be to weep for what we have done, because violence is never, ever good. It is never cool. It is always a shame - our shame.

I have watched in sadness as the facebook-link-wars have gone on, and armchair warriors have continued to click-fan the flames of this conflict by posting more and more lopsided nonsense, arguing against loving-kindness, and for the justification of one form of violence or another.

And even though now that I no longer have a personal stake in it, I don't care all that much on a personal, emotional level about the conflict in Israel, I still feel an encroaching sense of despair over the whole thing.

Ah, the humanity.

I remember, though, that as much as we'd love to put a human face on our enemy and label it "Other," our true battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers and principalities of this dark world. These powers and principalities (like all the beauty and wonder and good in the world) are forces I do not and cannot hope to understand.

I don't have to understand them, however, to fight against them with the best weapons I have at my disposal: love, love, and more love.

Oh, let there be peace on earth. And let it begin with me. 

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Whazzat? You say you really enjoyed this? Well, perhaps if you share it on your social internets, then someone you know will enjoy it, as well.

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. -->

Sunday, July 27, 2014

"if you don't say it, it won't be said"


VSCO x ROG WALKER from Nick Enriquez on Vimeo.

listen to your heart

There are few things more frustrating to me right now than the belief that the chief end of humanity is rational certitude... or that rational certitude is a precondition for loving-kindness.

Loving-kindness is the starting and ending point. It is the filter through which all propositional belief must pass. If your heart tells you that something is unloving or unkind, then all rational discourse to the contrary is WRONG. It's possibly even evil.

This is why I find theological and philosophical "discussions" to be so frustrating. Because when you come right down to it, it's often just two people sitting across from each other with angry grimaces on their faces, using every semantic and logical-mathematical trick in the book to argue that it's okay for them to act like a jerk.

Instead of asking, "What is the kindest action I could be taking in this situation? What's the most loving word I could speak?" it becomes a contest of who can be more precise in their justification of unkindness, and more fine-sounding in their clarification of the death of love.

How do you fight against that? Do you take up their own weapons of logic against them? Do you try to use the brute force of word-bludgeoning to convince them to start listening to the still, small voice of love?

I think not.

I think, rather, that you fight against it with stories.
Stories, love, kindness, more love, and maybe even a little bit of Roxette.



- - -

Whazzat? You say you really enjoyed reading this blog post? Well, perhaps someone you know would enjoy it, as well. I sure would appreciate it if you'd share it with them 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. -->

Saturday, July 26, 2014

your daily whine

Y'all are a real pain to write for.

First of all, there's this endless, angsty feeling kicking around in the subcockles of my duodenum that I'm just not all that good at stringing words together. Like the way I ended that first sentence with a preposition. Or the way I started that last one with an adjectival-conjunction-something-or-other, which might or might not be bad grammar (and then how I did it again with this one, because I'm incorrigible).

Second, there's the sneaking suspicion that the things I'm writing aren't really worth reading... that not only am I bad at saying things, but I'm also picking all the wrong things to say. A good part of me is cocky/confident enough to say them anyway and to believe you ought to read them, but still... I wonder.

It's less difficult on this blog, here, because these are just short one-offs that I can fire and (after a few hours of coming back and compulsively rewriting) forget.

But when I try to write for you the big things - the feature-length screenplays and the novels and so on, well, that's where it gets super-painful.

Take my current project. 

For the past three days, I have been uber-editing my first novel, FOUNDER. Founder tells the story of a genius teenager who hijacks an untested time machine into a future where his is the most hated name in history. It started out as a screenplay (which is currently a quarterfinalist in the Page International Screenwriting Awards thingy), and was inspired by the 1937 Spencer Tracy movie, CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS.

Now, you and I both know that nobody's gonna make a mid-to-high budget film ($50-100 million) from a script written by an unknown dude like me; so last year, I decided that the best thing to do would be to sit down and novelize the script.

That was painful because it was writing and I hate writing.* Writing, as I referenced in my recent post "Lessons in Lovemaking from the War of Art," is war. And no sane person goes happily off to war.

Now I'm uber-editing, though, which is this thing I do where I go through the novel (or screenplay, or whatever) page by page, and if I find anything at all that I need to change, then I force myself to go back over that same page from the start.

I've already rewritten the novel and edited it multiple times, but now I'm getting microscopic - looking for problems in syntax, flow... even for something as stupid as a possibly-confusing comma placement. This means that I may end up reading over the same, double-spaced page as many as fifteen times in a row before I'm happy with it. Fifteen times! One page! Out of two hundred and fifty!

It's insane, and it hurts my brains. 

My brains do not like finding problems. My brains do not like stretching, or trying new things. What my brains want is for it to be easy, and for me to be satisfied with the status quo. My brains want it to be enough to get the basic idea across. They do not want to obsess about the flow and rhythm of the text, and the way each and every word will be read and received. They do not care about the elusive and impossible goal of literary perfection.

Here I am, though, still editing. Still writing.

Why?

I have no idea. I've already been through this years-long process once before with my short story collection, and that whole experience has netted me maybe about four hundred dollars... so it's definitely not for the money.

The only reason I can think of is that I must really, really love you. A lot. I love it when you enjoy something I wrote. Love, love, love it. Your reading-pleasure is where I find my writing-pleasure. Metaphorically speaking, that is.

Anyway.

My point, if there is one beyond just having myself a good winge-fest, is that I'm going to be putting out for you (so to speak) a new novel in the not-so-distant future, and you'd darn well better pony up and get yourself a copy when I do.

Because I love you.

Even if I hate writing.

- - -

* As Dorothy Parker famously said, "I hate writing, I love having written" ...which isn't entirely true for me, since what I hate is not so much the act of writing, but rather the act of sitting down to write. It's hard and painful, sure, but mostly just at the beginning of each session, when I'm still trying to convince myself that I'm not completely insane for the attempt. After the mojo starts flowing, it's a fairly tolerable way to spend a few hours.

- - -

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. -->

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).

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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.

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