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    My daily writing--emails, journal entries, marginalia, more emails, blog posts, and tweets--shapes me as a writer, helping and hindering the big stuff I'm trying to accomplish. Every word counts.

    My name is James Black. I'm on Facebook and Twitter. Friend and/or follow me if you like.

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Take-it-to-the-next-level-ness

I’ve been reading Ethan Mordden’s Buddies about queer life in 1970s Manhattan. It’s inspired  numerous guffaws and clutch-the-pearls moments because, to be sure, I’m an easy mark for stories that involve queens dishing. But that’s a small part of what this book involves.

Mordden develops the characters fully, and their banter peppers conversations that go much deeper than sit-com chat. He uses dialogue not as redundant commentary but to push his stories forward; the characters are talking because conversation is the activity they do most. Exposition works into the dialogue through characters’ lines and narrative comment. To put it in rather simple terms, the balance of showing and telling is about perfect.

That’s pretty much exactly what I want my dialogue to do, and the whole of my writing. But more often than not, my dialogue doesn’t. Dialogue happens to be where I begin in my process of building a scene. I suppose what I do is transcribe what the characters say and note what goes unsaid. In a first draft, when my characters aren’t talking, they’re pointing, raising their eyebrows, turning away–all kinds of pedantic attempts to show, not tell.

It’s potentially interesting stuff, but doesn’t make for engaging reading. So in revision I take out excess words (there are many) and add information that’s missing, gradually shaping it all into something more, I don’t know, full-bodied, maybe. But something about the writing still seems kind of empty. I’ve heard a lot of writers say they feel their work is strong, but it’s lacking a zing or a punch or a something-or-other-to-take-it-to-the-next-level-ness. That goes for me, too. Continue reading

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We Decline with Regret, or Why My Partner and I Won’t Go to Weddings Anymore

In an open letter posted on his Facebook wall, my partner, Doug, informed our heterosexual friends that we will no longer attend weddings or send wedding gifts. He says many things, but unless you’re his friend on Facebook, you’ll have to settle for this key quote:

We have many lovely, caring friends. If you truly value us and agree we should have the same rights as you, please don’t let the excitement of planning your wedding overshadow the reality that we are without the more than 1,138 federal rights that accompany civil marriage, with some additional 300 to 600 per individual state.

Actually, the idea to essentially boycott our friends’ weddings came from me a few months ago. He originally hesitated, and I understood why, because I was not comfortable with the idea either. We’ve been talking it over for a while.

An engaged couple we know visited us recently, and we talked to them about our idea. They said they understood and wouldn’t feel offended if we decided not to attend, even though they would miss us being there. Their support didn’t surprise us, and we quickly retreated. Would not attending their wedding really send a message? The people we worried about offending would understand, but the people who don’t care about or are against marriage equality probably wouldn’t even miss our presence.

It’s ironic that Doug and I can’t get married considering we met while performing in an improv show about a wedding and reception. For 100+ performances, vows were taken, toasts were given, the bouquet was thrown, and we were there for all of it, making sure everything ran smoothly and that the “guests” had a good time.

Our show dramatized what is arguably the most widely produced cultural experience in Western culture. The guests/audience knew what to expect, and we quickly figured out how to fulfill their expectations. The show was not about me or Doug or most of the rest of the performers. Our job was to direct attention back to the bride and groom, who went their separate ways during the reception–ritually, and because they bickered. Would their beginning become their end? Of course not. Continue reading

The Great Chain of Being in Contact

My friend Jane posted this on my Facebook wall: “Had a lovely imaginary conversation with you yesterday, which made me think it’s time for a real one.” Which brought to mind categories of conversations.

Face-to-Face: Or F2F. This kind of conversation happens in real time. You get to experience the facial expressions and gestures of the person you’re talking to and receive and give immediate feedback.

Presentational: Somewhat F2F, but one speaker addresses many audience members. If there’s time for questions, which in a very limited way resembles conversation, some jackass usually eats up the time by spouting nonsense in an attempt to outshine the speaker. Continue reading

Going Around the Block to Get Next Door

1:29 p.m.
AAAAHHHHH! Everybody and everything are in my way today. I wanted nothing more than to get to the coffeehouse and do some writing. On my way out the door it started to rain and so one of the dogs freaked out a little, probably because she expected thunder. I had to wait until she calmed down then repeat parts of my crazy OCD routine because my anxiety was amped up.

On the way I got behind a moron in the passing lane, which isn’t unusual but always bad. The drive-up ATM wasn’t working, so I had to get out of the car and go inside. That took an extra 90 seconds! Then I got stuck behind a truck with an enormous load of lumber. It trudged along and of course didn’t turn off to 522 but continued straight down Market Street, right in front of me all the way to the side street where I usually park, but it was closed so five workers could re-paint lines for the six spaces on that street.

Okay. I’m here. I’m fine. Gosh, that really wasn’t so bad.

1:47 p.m.
Some under-parented child keeps hovering at the end of my table. She’s wearing ruby slippers (well, red sequined slippers, but still very Dorothy (Gale, not Zbornak)). So I’ve got to give her props, but her constant dancing and jabbering and staring at me are really pretty distracting, mainly because the two adults with her (parents I presume) aren’t paying much attention to her. They could be interacting with her, but apparently a laptop and a newspaper are more interesting than a child.

If it were a loud, annoying adult, I could just turn up my music. And if I were a truly vicious person, I’d have to point out that her little ruby slippers don’t exactly go with the lilac stripes in her sundress. But I hate to see a kid ignored. They probably think the looks I’m giving them is judgment on their kid. No, dude; I’m judging you. Parent is also a verb. Try it.

Oh, he’s talking to her. Hey, I’m good. Like a psychic supernanny.

2:03 p.m.
What did I come here to write? Continue reading

Who Put the “Blah” in Blogging? Oh, I Did.

The title of my last post explains why it’s been five months since I’ve written here. I had enjoyed blogging but hit a wall and hit it hard. I thought too much about audience and shut down. Basic Peter Elbow stuff.

It didn’t help that I know some terrific bloggers who balance head and heart in their writing while posting enough content to readers interested. Most important, they care what readers think, but they’re really doing it for themselves, which is a generous gift to one’s readers.

Not posting felt good for about a month. Then I wanted to but got busy with my day job, so I didn’t have time to focus on blog posts that mattered-but-not-that-much. So I didn’t post, but the not-doing didn’t feel good so much as it felt relieving, as it does when I avoid the pressure of other challenges that I really don’t want to avoid. Writing, even a silly ole blog, meant too much. What could I write about writing, tutoring, teaching, learning, politics, being gay, and other topics important to me, that hadn’t been said before and more effectively?

I’m not fishing for compliments. I know that I’ve written some things that others have enjoyed for whatever reason. The point is that I tripped myself up. I fell to the ground, and it was just too easy to lie there.

It’s like party conversation. You’d find me near a corner or along a wall talking to one or two people, getting really into the discussion and probably saying geniunely interesting things I didn’t realize I’d be talking about. I love that. I’d also love to be the person who feels comfortable making the announcement about the honored guest. Sure, I could do that kind of thing, but would forget what I meant to say and, instead, say genuinely disjointed things I never meant to be talking about. Continue reading

An Olive Branch Wrapped in a Burning Rainbow Flag

In last night’s debate of the candidates for vice president, there was a disturbing moment when Joe Biden pointed out that he and Sarah Palin agreed that marriage should not be redefined to include same-sex couples. As I remember it, he extended his arm, as if he grasped an olive branch or a burning rainbow flag.

If all else fails, politicians can express bipartisanism by playing smear the queer, or in this case by steering clear of the queers as fast as they could. What disturbed me was that Biden retreated from the position he’d taken moments before. After Gwen Ifill asked the question about the rights of same-sex couples, Biden said, “In an Obama-Biden administration, there will be absolutely no distinction from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple.” He didn’t hesitate, spoke passionately, and seemed proud to speak out.

Palin’s response was tepid at best. She said that she would not interfere with adults’ choices of partners, repeated a few times that she is “tolerant” as she made a “ewww” face. She made it clear, though, that she doesn’t support marriage equality, but didn’t explain how such a position is even remotely tolerant. She mentioned having friends who disagree with her position on these issues. Apparently she thinks it’s important for voters to know that some of her best friends are liberal and/or gay, and she tolerates them. I wonder if they tolerate her? Continue reading

My Internal Editor Is a Big Nag

Referring to internal editors in my last post made me realize that mine has been sabotaging me lately. Ze tells me that none of the manuscripts I’ve submitted in the past few months is going to be accepted, and adds that if I really plan to submit more in the next few weeks, then that’s up to me, but why would I want to waste my time on that when nobody really gives a shit about what I have to say. Of course, I’m also wasting time on this blogging; ze suggests that perhaps that’s the reason for my failure to get anywhere close to finishing the rough draft of my novel this summer, as I had so ambitiously planned to do.

So, basically, my internal editor is a big nag who assumes that time is a vessel to be filled and that goals (must) never change.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been feeling very rebellious. As usual, I’ve been focusing on what I haven’t done rather than what I’ve accomplished. Not that I buy the internal editor’s bullshit, but I don’t quite have the energy to challenge zim on my own. A few friends have heard my call for help, which I communicated in the form of whining, and they patiently let me talk it through. I know what to do in these situations. If this were happening to you, I’d pump you up to help you externalize all the negative messages you’ve internalized over the years. My friends helped me get that kind of critical distance. (Don’t worry; I’m not going to start singing, “You’ve got to have friends,” or anything like that. Yeesh.)

True, I could be further along with the rough draft, but I was never going to finish it this summer. That was a ridiculous goal that desperately needed to be revised. I need to push past all of this, finish revising another piece, send it out, and get ready to send out another while I keep the novel going in the background. That’s reasonable. It’s a short-term goal that invites momentum. For now it’s all I can do.

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