Archive for November, 2013

CommittingCover

We’re getting really close to the launch of Commiting. A proofreader is looking over the manuscript as we speak (type?) and in between helpings of turkey and potatoes yesterday me and my sister sat down and drummed out the front and back covers. She and I both are fans of minimalist design and red/black color schemes, as you can see from the blog you’re currently reading.

This is still very rough draft and it’s a work in progress so I’d love to hear what you think. If you didn’t get a chance to read the excerpt you can find it by clicking here. Also, shout out to J.P. Allen for his help with the cover image.

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Two weeks ago I took a trip to New York for some graduate school shopping and while I was there I stopped in at the Museum of Sex, affectionately referred to as MoSex (Mo’ Problems, amirite?).

MoSex, located off of Madison Square Park, is dedicated to the cultural significance of human sexuality. It consists of several floors of exhibits, a bar and lounge and a gift shop featuring the kind of items you would expect at a museum dedicated to the cultural significance of human sexuality.

The museum is more than just rocking beds and phallic art (though it has those too, natch). The top floor is comprised of an interesting exhibit on sexuality and reproduction in the animal kingdom (did you know there are single-cell creatures with as many as 7 genders? Neither did I) which focuses mostly on the more atypical habits in nature, such as male sea horses giving birth, ubiquitous self-gratification among primates and Roy and Silo, the two male Central Park Zoo penguins who built a nest together and tried to hatch a little rock-baby. Their story was also transitioned into the children’s book “And Tango Makes Three,” which is as adorable as you would expect a book about two gay penguins raising a baby would be.

Sidenote: perhaps the 2014 sequel to My Life Online should be my adventures with an imaginary rock girlfriend, “And Trisha Makes Two.” /Sidenote.

But the most fascinating part of MoSex — and the part that relates to MLO — is the “Universe of Desire” exhibit, which is based on the research of Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam, who collected and analyzed internet search data from July 2009 to July 2010 and published their findings in the book “A Billion Wicked Thoughts.”

As the puppets of Avenue Q have made abundantly clear, the internet is for porn, and not surprisingly Ogas and Gaddam found that of the more than 400 million internet searches they gathered, roughly 55 million (or 13 percent) were for some type of erotic content.

The exhibit breaks down these searches, ranking specific terms by popularity. “Breasts” were number 4, separate from “small breasts” at number 81. “Buttocks” came in at number 23 and “feet” ranked 54th.

Many of the terms I had never even heard of. For example, there is, evidently, an entire sub-genre of humiliation pornography in which a naked man is ogled and ridiculed by clothed women. I’m not entirely sure who would be into that, but I’ve never really understood the feet thing either (my brother used to joke that mid-90s singer Jewel had great feet. At least I think it was a joke).

Universe of Desire also included installations on the rise of the sext. A transcript of Anthony Wiener’s extra-marital Facebook chats was displayed, as was an email exchange between two coworkers that was meant to be private before it was accidentally reply-all’d, the horror of every intra-office romance writ large for the world to see.

From the museum website:

“Type. Swipe. Search. Upload. Download. Post. Stream. These are the new verbs of desire. Our most intimate thoughts, fantasies, and urges are now transmitted via electronic devices to rapt audiences all over the world. These transmissions — from sexts to webcam masturbation feeds — are anonymous yet personal, individual yet collective, everywhere and nowhere, and they are contributing to the largest sexual record to date. In short, desire has gone viral. But what does this mean? And what does it reveal about us?”

Dating, too, has gone viral. Online relationship sites love to tout that half of all new pairings begin online, though I assume that claim — much like the claim that half of all marriages end in divorce — is mostly unquantified myth. Regardless of the hard numbers, the way we meet and interact with each other is continually shifting away from “real life,” and it is a well-accepted fact that the first thing you do after meeting someone is stalk them on Facebook, comparing their number of friends to your own and digging through years of old photographs to see how they look in all four seasons.

Sex, money, religion and politics are the ever-present subtexts in a modern society that is increasingly digital. We shop online, we vote on computers, we stream sermons and a sea of skin is always only a mouse click away. I don’t know what it means, or what it reveals about us, but it is the pixelated reality of the world we live in.

As it happened, I got back from my New York trip just in time for the latest anti-pornography White House Petition to start gaining steam. A person identified solely as M.G. has a beef with porn, and is asking the government to step in and require service providers to only allow access to adult content if a customer “opts in.” M.G. is not alone and as of Monday 34,000 like-minded individuals had signed on, although one has to wonder if they’ve really considered the near-impossibility of the proposal or the unprecedented government intrusion into the private sector that they’re calling for. (It should also be noted that the vast majority of signatures come from Utah, a state notorious for 1) it’s opposition to pornography and 2) it’s highest-in-the-nation pornography consumption).

Then there was the news last month that Silk Road, a relatively unknown-to-the-lay-person corner of the deep web, had been shut down and its facilitator, known online as the Dread Pirate Roberts had been allegedly arrested. For years the site had served as the Amazon.com of online crime, allowing individuals to purchase everything from illegal drugs to child pornography to assassins in convenient secrecy through the exchange of bitcoin, which functions as the digital equivalent of cash.

I don’t have the technological head to comment on bitcoin or Silk Road, suffice to say that it’s a fascinating example of something that exists unseen in the world around us. If you’re curious, I suggest listening to this podcast by the Stuff You Should Know guys.

But there’s the lighter side of the internet as well, even when it comes to sexuality. I recently came across the site GhostSingles.com, a satirical online dating service that plays at arranging relationships between the dead. If I search as a male ghost, seeking a female ghost, between the ages of 18 and 200 who died “tragically,” I get six matches, including deadgrrrl, whose profile reads as the following:

Hi guys! My real name is Dorothy, and I’m from West Virginia. Do I say where I’m from as where I was born or where I died LOL?

ANYWAY, I used to like to sew, and miss it so bad! I also miss honey butter like nothing else.

I used to miss my cat until she died. That was like seventy years ago, and then she was fun to have back around. Now she disappears for like a decade at a time, then comes back for a few years. Don’t ask me what a dead cat’s doing. Hey, I thought they had 9 lives! lol!!

Anyway, shoot me a message! XXOO

The take-away message? It’s nice to no there’s a niche online dating service out there if this project kills me.

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As some of you know, for the last two years I’ve been working on my first novel, ‘Committing,’ about a group of friends in their mid-20s dealing with the transition into adulthood while reacting to the death of a friend.

I’m pleased to announce that we are on track for a self-publishing date in early January and possibly late December (right in time for Christmas, eh?) and so to whet your appetites here is an excerpt from the 2nd chapter of the book, which sees our protagonist attending the funeral that sets the story in motion.

Keep checking Wood’s Stock for updates on the (relatively short) book, which will be available in both e-book and paperback formats. If you see any spelling or grammatical errors let me know. I’m self-editing and as my former co-workers at the Statesman will tell you, micro-editing is not my strong suit. Also, any and all feedback would be much appreciated.

Enjoy!

…………………………………………………………………………………………………….

The church was beautiful, a display of minimalist perfection with only a few muted white blossoms and black and white photographs drawing attention away from the ornate structure and its elaborate stained-glass windows. As he entered, Charles couldn’t help but think how lucky Devin was to have married Stephanie, and how lucky Stephanie was that Devin would never plan her funeral. Charles was no more than two steps through the door when little Daniel bounded up to him and wrapped himself around Charles’ leg. He always greeted him this way. Charles called it his Daniel-Socks and would walk around with the young boy sitting on his foot, arms and legs firmly secured behind his calf.

“Uncle Charles!”

“Hey Dan,” Charles said, reaching down and tussling the boy’s head. Stephanie arrived immediately and bent down to smooth her son’s hair back into place before rising to give Charles a hug.

“Steph, this is beautiful.”

“Thanks Charles,” she said before directing her attention to her son. “Come on Dan, Uncle Charles needs to go sit down.”

“I can take him with me, if you want. What do you say Dan? Want to sit with me and Uncle Tyler?” Charles said, noticing the small line of arriving guests waiting to give their condolences to Stephanie. She merely nodded and mouthed the words “thank you” before turning to embrace a large woman, trembling visibly between unsuccessfully muted sobs.

“Hold on buddy,” Charles said, feeling Daniel’s grip tighten around his leg in response.

He walked with a dogged gait, making a louder stomp each time his loaded right shoe struck the floor. He wondered what malady people must assume had befallen him if they were sitting more than 10 feet away and were therefore unaware of the 30 pounds of three-year-old attached to his pants. Tyler was sitting 6 rows from the front and was watching him arrive, having turned like everyone else to see who was making all the noise.

“Hey Dude,” Tyler said, sliding over to allow room. Tyler was a large man, the kind that you assume had attended some junior college on a football scholarship.  In actuality, he was an engineer or something.  Charles wasn’t entirely sure what Tyler did for a living besides get paid more than he deserved.

“Where’s Trish?” Charles asked, peeling Daniel off and setting him down on the bench beside him.

“Work. She’ll be here later.”

Trish and Tyler made up the third branch of their little family. Tyler had lived down the hall from the dorm room Charles and Devin shared their freshman year. He had dated Trish in high school when he was a senior and she was a doe-eyed idiot of a sophomore cheerleader.  When she finally graduated, she conveniently enrolled in the same university they attended, poised to win back her man. After four years of unrelenting affection – during which Trish was a constant presence in all of their lives despite Tyler’s insistence that they were not, nor would ever be, in a relationship – he had finally succumbed to reality and proposed.

“How are the plans going?” Charles asked.

 “Well, my criteria for ‘success’ is not being bankrupt after the honeymoon,” Tyler said. “And in that sense, it’s not going well.”

“Isn’t her dad supposed to pay for everything? That’s a thing, right? Father of the bride and all that?”

“Her dad’s a stingy bastard and she’s a feminist,” Tyler said, “which apparently means she wants the wedding she feels she deserves, paid for with her own money, which really means she wants the wedding of her dreams paid for with my money.”

 “All’s fair.”

“Is it?”

Someone that Charles should have remembered walked by and gave both him and Tyler a handshake, the kind where the person clasps you with two hands, over and under simultaneously. The woman, probably in her late 50s with slightly graying hair, gave each of them their own individual two-minute session of hand-swallowing and fixed, compassionate eye contact. She said nothing, apparently confident that her condolences were being adequately transmitted either telepathically or through touch.

For their part, Charles and Tyler both put on an appropriately sympathetic and affectionate smile and nodded in that way people do at solemn occasions.

“Who was that?” Charles asked.

“No idea,” Tyler replied. “So Trish is mad at me, we kind of had a fight this morning.”

“What about?”

 “Well, she was on my case about not caring about some dumb wedding detail, centerpieces or something, and then all the sudden she says ‘if you hadn’t waited so long to propose then maybe Devin would have been at the wedding.’ Can you believe that shit?”

Charles wasn’t looking at his friend and didn’t respond immediately. His attention was focused on Daniel who was struggling to un-tuck his little white dress shirt from the waist of his pants. “That’s messed up,” he said finally.

Tyler looked to see what Charles was watching and fixed his eyes on Daniel, who had succeeded with his shirt and was now fumbling with cherubic fingers to loosen the bow tie that had become twisted and tight around his neck. Tyler turned back towards the front of the chapel. “Yeah man,” he said softly. “It’s messed up.”

Charles scanned the room. He could see Devin’s parents toward the front of the chapel, sitting hand in hand with rigid backs. As if sensing Charles’ gaze, Devin’s mother turned and met his eyes with an affectionate smile, dipped her head slightly and then turned her eyes back toward the casket that was placed directly in front of them.

It was large, even for a casket, but was otherwise unimposing. The lacquered chestnut was broken only by the silver handle that ran along the side. For the most part, it blended in with the dais at the front of the chapel.

Charles didn’t recognize many of the other guests. He swept his head in one last 180-degree pass from side to side, touching briefly on a few cousins or family friends that he thought he recognized from encounters over the years. Just as his view returned to the front of the room he felt Tyler’s elbow jab his ribs.

 “Oh man!” Tyler said in an excited whisper, “Back door, right side. Look who just walked in.”

He put his arm on the bench behind Tyler to better turn himself and froze when he saw her. Blond hair that fell between her shoulder blades. A sleeveless black dress that stopped just above the knee, giving way to two flawless legs held in perfect shape by a pair of striking heels.

Jessica.

“I didn’t know she was back in town,” Tyler said. “How long has it been since you saw her. Three, four years?”

“Five,” Charles said, his eyes still fixed on her as she passed behind the pews toward Stephanie. She moved effortlessly, the kind of woman who was born in heels and confident in any setting. It wasn’t so much a step as it was a sort of gliding motion across the floor, like a the bow of a ship piercing through ocean waves. In every way she looked like she had just walked across the street from where she was filming a Maybelline commercial.

“You gotta talk to her after, get her number,” Tyler said. “Damn, can you believe how good she looks?”

“Dude, I hardly think it’s appropriate to pick up chicks at Devin’s funeral,” Charles replied, louder than he intended. He quickly ducked his head down, hunkering into the pew like a frightened turtle. He could feel his pulse on the left side of his neck.

“Are you kidding me?” Tyler said, oblivious to any sense of volume decorum. “You know Devin would be proud if his funeral helped you get back together with Jessica Warner.”

“Just … shut up man.”

“I think she’s here alone, I’ll waive her over,” Tyler said, rising halfway out of his seat before Charles forcefully grabbed his arm and pulled him back down.

“Dude, they’re starting,” Charles said. Tyler looked embarrassed and quickly composed himself as the pastor took to the pulpit and invited everyone to take their seats. From the corner of his eye Charles watched Jessica move into a pew by herself near the door. His attention was snapped back forward when Stephanie began addressing the guests.

“Thank you all so much for coming,” she began. “You may not have known this, but Devin hated hosting parties. He told me once that in high school he had tried to put something together last minute on Halloween. There was a single bag of chips on the kitchen table, about a dozen guys taking turns playing foosball and one girl, just one, sitting sullenly in the corner. He was so shamed and scarred by the experience that he vowed to never host anything for the rest of his life. If I ever approached the subject he would throw one fist to the sky and scream ‘Never Again!’”

She paused for a moment and pressed her hand to her mouth, her eyes wet with suppressed tears.

“When his condition worsened, we knew that certain preparations had to be taken care of. He wrote his will and something like 40 letters for my son, Daniel, to open on specific birthdays. I have them at home, in a box tucked away in our closet. He said that it was important that a boy learn certain things from his father and it took him about two weeks to decide at what age Daniel should get the sex talk.”

Charles put an arm around Daniel and scooted him close to his hip. The boy was completely naïve to everything being said but was frantically waiving at his mother, trying to draw her attention. Stephanie looked down and saw him and broke into a wide, tearful smile.

“Hi Daniel,” she said with a little wave. “I’m glad you’re listening because you’re going to get an awkward letter from daddy in 11 years.”

Everyone laughed as Stephanie stood there, beaming with glistening eyes.

“Whenever the funeral came up, Devin would just stop the conversation. I remember one night he said to me ‘Babe, you know what the silver lining in this is? It’s my party, but I won’t have to plan any of it and if no one shows up, well, I’m dead anyway.’”

Stephanie didn’t talk much longer. She retold the story of meeting Devin, how his diagnosis had arrived like a lightning bolt just as things where starting to get serious between them. She told how they both decided they weren’t ready to give up on each other and that come what may, they would face it together.

And that was it. She stopped abruptly, which led Charles to believe that she had prepared more to say, and walked down into the audience to sit by her mother, who pulled her daughter in tight and set her head down on her shoulder. After Stephanie, Devin’s mother spoke, then his father and then the pastor gave a few last words.

Charles stood, holding Daniel, and walked to the front of the chapel with Tyler close behind. He handed Daniel to his mother then turned, joined by the other pallbearers, and lifted the casket up over his shoulder. There had been no rehearsal, or even instructions given, but somehow the eight men seemed to operate with a robotic precision, dipping and lifting in unison and marching in step to some silent drummer.

He had not been to many funerals and he had never been a pallbearer. As he walked down the steps and to the hearse he thought of how many times he had watched the scene play out on movies and television shows and wondered whether he looked the part of the dutiful best friend: somber in his black suit at the front corner of the casket that held his most trusted confidante.

The sun was shining, and Charles thought inside himself how it’s usually raining at the funerals on TV.

He rode to the cemetery with Tyler and when they arrived Trish was waiting for them. They stood at the edge of the grave, just behind Stephanie and Devin’s parents. He could see Jessica standing across the casket from him and for the one second that he allowed himself to look at her she returned, and held, his gaze.

Charles quickly dropped his head and stared at the casket. He was close enough to see the pattern in the wood and he traced the lines along the lid until they disappeared beneath the bouquet of white flowers placed on top. The pastor finished his prayer, a piper began to play and Charles watched as the patterns blurred and then disappeared. The flowers shrank and a dark shadow passed over the casket as it dropped, slowly, into the grave.

He placed a hand on Stephanie’s shoulder. As she reached up and pressed her fingers around his, he could feel her shaking.

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Stockers, it’s that time of the year again, in which we pit our new television shows against each other in head-to-head contests based on arbitrary groupings and score them based on the American Football point system (why? Because it’s fun).

‘Super’-dramas: Bananas and Cheese division

SHIELD premiered to much fanfare and aplomb, only to fall flat on the face of its own efforts to be mass-appeal. You know what the average TV viewer doesn’t like? Shows with complicated mythologies that exist in a litany of off-screen comic book source material. You know what the average comic book fan doesn’t like? Shows that you can safely watch in the company of a group of kindergarten students. And you know what everybody doesn’t like? Milquetoast protagonists and a will-they-won’t-they couple who have the chemistry of lukewarm tap water.

Somewhere at the core of SHIELD is an amazing television show, and while the series has shown some improvement in recent weeks it has a long way to go if it wants to step out of its glossy Disney PR-machine packaging.

On the other hand, Sleepy Hollow is a gonzo smash that almost seems like the writers are constantly attempting to one-up what they can get away with. It’s got a charming fish-out-of-water star with a British accent (swoon bait) hunted by various baddies that go bump in the night and, most importantly, the showrunners aren’t afraid to get a little blood on their hands, employing some impressively cinematic gore for a one-hour drama on Fox’s primetime lineup. It’s positively insane, and I love it.

Winner: After a slow start that saw SHIELD pull ahead in the first half, Sleepy Hollow rallies to a 10-point victory.

The comeback kids

I’m told that Robin Williams is a bonafide TV comedy actor, having starred in an ABC series that went off the air before I was born. Since then, Williams’ particular brand of humor has grown increasingly one-note, with “comedy” amounting to little more than Robin muttering nearly-incoherent nonsense before making some sort of shrill exclamation or launching into an impression to bring the joke home. All of that also applies to The Crazy Ones, which would actually be a better show if RW’s character was killed off entirely, allowing the impressive but under-utilized B-Cast to transition into an ensemble comedy.

But where Williams is an acquired taste, Michael J. Fox is peanut butter and chocolate in the sense that if you don’t like him you clearly have no soul. Unfortunately for his eponymous NBC comedy, the writers have essentially gone “all-in” on MJF’s likeability, forgetting to invest in things like plot, stakes or purpose. It still kind of works, though, because Marty McFly really is that endearing.

Winner: The Michael J. Fox show wins 20-3 after Crazy Ones recovers a late fourth-quarter fumble, runs it to the 5-yard-line and is forced to settle for a field goal.

Family Feud

Family comedies are one of the constants of broadcast television – like police procedurals, medical dramas and ‘Friends’-type sitcoms – so it’s no surprise that so many of this year’s debuts revolve around the home.

Between The Millers and The Goldbergs, only the blast-from-the-past Goldbergs could even hold a candle to reigning champion Modern Family, and even then just barely. The most amusing part about the show is the 80s references that distract from the cast – who are fine as individuals but don’t quite sparkle as an ensemble – and Reno 911s Wendi McLendon-Covey as overbearing matriarch Beverly.

Oh and if you’re wondering where The Millers are, they likely got lost in an unending sequence of flatulence jokes.

Winner: The Goldbergs score two touchdowns early on before The Millers are forced to forfeit the game out of exhaustion.

The sexier side of violent crime

“Hey!” says one of the people behind CBS’ Hostages “Let’s make a show about a surgeon forced to kill the president because her family is kidnapped! We’ll call it…’Hostages’.”

“Yeah, and we can make each member of her family a bundle of clichéd archetypes with soap-opera-esque challenges to deal with, like a secret affair or a drug debt!”

“Boom! This is gold. We’ll have their captor be a morally ambiguous government agent with an adorable daughter and a wife in a coma.”

“Dyn-o-mite! Wait, what is this show about again?”

“I don’t remember. ROLL CAMERA!”

Meanwhile…

“Hey!” says one of the people behind NBC’s The Blacklist. “Remember how good Hannibal is, even though no one is really watching it? What if we did that same show, only made it lighter and more approachable, with a super-charismatic protagonist and a convoluted mystery backstory that we can tease the audience with for years on end?”

“Yeah! Like Fringe meets Lost meets 24 meets one of those CW shows with all the pretty people!”

“Love it! Do you think James Spader is available? We could have him wear a fedora.”

“Sold!”

Winner: While everyone is watching the cheerleaders, the Blacklist sneaks up and puts 100 points on the scoreboard, then buys everyone drinks.

Dads vs. Mom

One of these shows is a live-action comedy by Family Guy creator Seth McFarland about two obnoxious fathers who move in with their bonehead sons. The other is essentially Generational Poverty: The Series! in which a woman tries to reconnect with her mother and pregnant teenage daughter while also working to curb her alcoholism.

Which is which? Who cares, they’re both terrible.

Loser: America

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