Tag: craig gusmann (Page 1 of 2)

Uh-oh

Me looking for anything else at all to get excited about.

Sunday night I couldn’t sleep. The day before I had read my novella out loud, making edits in preparation for next steps, and as I did that I kept returning to the same thought: This would really work as a screenplay.

The idea for the novella, sort of a Haruki Murakami-type story about two people exploring the weird crevices of their city, was originally meant as a noir screenplay. I first wrote it as a short story a few years ago, and then (having sort of given up on screenwriting), expanded it to a novella last year. I’ve revisited it from time-to-time since, always with an eye toward self-publishing, and it has always occurred to me that it might make a fun little indie film, but that’s not realistic. Movies are too big, too complex, too collaborative, and too expensive to just do. I spent nearly ten years learning that between Buffalo and DC.

Still, the simplicity of the dialogue-driven story. The rotating locations. The potential for actors to sink their teeth into these characters…

Sunday night I found myself fantasizing about self-funding the film, going home to Buffalo, gathering up the old crew, and shooting it. I lay in bed working out logistics, trying to figure out what sort of budget I’d need, thinking of locations, picturing the set-ups. It was bad. Really bad.

So, where I’m at is trying to adapt my own work. I’ve done this before, with my novel (which started as a screenplay), but I think it’s a bit easier to expand on ideas than the opposite.

This doesn’t change any of my short term plans surrounding the short story collection, or even self-publishing the novella. If, and it’s a big if, I were to seriously consider self-funding this film, it’d take a couple of years to get off the ground. It’s a lot of risk with very little chance of return. I’d really just be squandering away my family’s savings for a passion project that I’ve not demonstrated the talent to bring to fruition.

But there is something to be said about that giddy feeling of excitement I get when I think about it. I wish I felt that sort of passion about sitting in an office 8-10 hours per day.

So we’ll see.

Organizing a Short Story Collection

These are short story collections.

Last year I made a plan. In 2020 I was going to build a website (check!), consistently update that website (mostly check!), and I was going to self-publish a novella and a short story collection (… not check…).

So obviously, 2020 being what it is, things have changed. When I made this plan there was no Covid on the horizon, I wasn’t thinking about buying a house, and I didn’t expect to become a father. Yet, somehow, all of those things happened. And you know what? I kinda like the unplanned stuff more (except Covid–that can suck a big fat donkey dick).

Anyway, all of those things are a delay, not a cancellation. The novella is written (but needs some editing, and a rewrite of at least one section), and I have enough stories to put together a collection. The plan was always to pull down the vignettes and collect them with unpublished stories. I’m going to do that, but as I sat to think about what that could look like I realized that short story collections are more complicated than just taking a bunch of stories and throwing them together.

First, if I’m going to self-publish something, even if it’s only priced for $0.99, I want the reader to get value out of it. A book made up of 12 vignettes would top out at 15,000 words, if that. I don’t think I’d buy that book, especially when the vignettes were already free online at some point. This wouldn’t be as simple as just collecting and self-publishing what is already on this site.

The idea was never to only do that, but I did want to ensure that I had enough stories of varying lengths to make a purchase worthwhile. I went through everything I’ve written, including what I knew I wanted to include, some works I wasn’t sure about, and ideas that aren’t written but I’m excited about. I put them all into a spreadsheet (youse know how much I love spreadsheets) and wrote down the exact page count for each, as well as whether the writing was a vignette, short story, or poem.

Seeing all the stories laid out quelled my fear that I wouldn’t have enough writing that I was proud enough to publish. I saw there was a decent mixture of lengths that, together, added up to something worth $0.99. The next step, then, was figuring out how to organize them.

I didn’t quickly find many articles online for organizing short story collections. That said, much of my thinking from here on out is influenced by this blog post from BOOKFOX, so instead of cribbing from it I’ll just point you there.

Specifically, I found guideline #3 to be helpful: “Build your own structure, and then order stories according to that logic.” The post describes five different types of structures for a collection–hourglass, möbius strip, mosaic, musical improvisation, and instant replay. The hourglass structure most appeals to me for this particular collection.

Having decided on a tentative structure (it may change as I work toward publication), I had to figure out how to fit the stories I chose into this concept. My stories tend to wander between genres, but touch on common themes or play with similar styles. I went back to my spreadsheet and added “Genre” and “Subgenre” columns. Sticking to only a few genres so as not to overcomplicate the exercise, I put the writings into loose groupings.

Then, on the advice to start with your strongest story to draw the reader in, I arranged the order from that story down. From there, I tweaked the order in which stories appeared to have a better flow from genre to genre, and from idea to idea. Now, the collections starts with a series of horror stories, eases into existential dread, turns into experimentalism, dovetails into romance and sci-fi (I tend to use sci-fi to explore romantic notions–who knew?), and ends on a dramatic note.

This collection has required far more thought than I expected, but it’s also challenged me to think deeply about what I’m including and why, and illuminated common themes in my work.

I hope to have the collection on Amazon by December or January.

Building on our Political Foundations

“Capitol Hill fox, National Mall” by Lorie Shaull is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

I’m no political junkie or pundit, but I have had a more-than-passing interest in politics for a long time. My earliest political memory is going to vote for Bill Clinton with my mother when I was 9 years old. My awareness of politics grew with each new crisis: the 2000 election recount, where even 13 year old me understood that Al Gore got fucked in Florida; 9/11 shortly thereafter and all its fallout; the start of the 2003 Iraq War, Haliburton, and nonexistent weapons of mass destruction; Howard Dean’s “yee-haw!” that unfairly (and, perhaps, quaintly in today’s climate) tanked his campaign; the excitement and anxiety of watching the rise of the nation’s first Black president and the racist backlash (when President Obama won I was convinced that we were going to see him assassinated not long afterward and it made watching everything he did in public nerve-wracking); watching the Democrats lose the House and Senate in the 2010 mid-terms and the unprecedented blockages of President Obama’s agenda; every government shutdown thereafter; the slog that was the 2012 election cycle and Mitt Romney; and consoling my wife in 2016 after Trump won.

Obviously, that’s barely scratching the surface of the dysfunction that’s personified our political processes over the past 20 years or so, and really only covers things happening at the federal level, which generally has the slowest and least wide-affecting change, but those are the high-level events that jump to mind.

There are times when I think I might want to go into politics. It was that thinking that led to my political science minor in college, where I began to learn how ignorant we are about our own country. One of the first things I learned in my political science classes was that the main goal of the Founding Fathers was to prevent the populace from having too much of a say in government (and not only because the Founding Fathers were racist, sexist, and classist, either). They didn’t trust that most people in the country are anything but reactionary and ignorant, driven by selfishness with little concept of the greater good. So they created a complicated system to slow change. What they couldn’t know then, and what we’ve only just begun to realize despite its consistent happening over the past century or more, is that the safeguards they put in place to prevent reactive change would be weaponized to prevent any change. As of right now, those “safeguards” may actually cause our country to regress in values and freedoms.

But I digress, as that’s not the topic I want to discuss. As a professional facilitator in my day-job, I’m a firm believer that debate is pointless without agreeing to a the context in which that debate is being held. In short, what agreed-upon truths are we building our conversation on? I want to lay out what I find to be the unalienable truths about the purpose of government and what I think that means for how the government should treat its people.

The Purpose of Government

Government serves one main purpose: To protect the people between its borders. The core argument of the Federalist Papers is that a single, unified government can do more to protect the people than some combination of independent states or loose collections of confederacies.

This is accepted fact and informs the entirety of our approach to government.

Where disagreements begin is in what “protection” means. Is it a standing military? Does protection include freedom from persecution, whether for religious beliefs, or sexuality, or speaking out against the State? Is universal health care a form of protection? What about housing?

In short, as far as I can tell, disagreements center on the question, “How much responsibility do we as Americans have to protect ourselves?” Republicans, being the party of small government and personal responsibility, believe the answer to that question is that we have all of the responsibility to protect ourselves. It’s why they are against universal healthcare, but for guns. Against providing housing to the homeless, but for tax cuts for the upper classes.

Except, the government is already large. And a lot about our society has changed in the last 250 years. So these beliefs aren’t aligned with the context of our current situation.

Protection is our Inalienable Rights

Before I dive into what I think “protection” should entail, let’s outline the context I’m talking about. Just so we’re all on the same page:

  • More people live in cities than in rural areas
  • We are the richest country in the history of the world
  • Our country is geographically disparate, and very large
  • We live in the most interconnected time in history
  • Because of this interconnectedness, the world has gotten smaller and we are increasingly reliant on foreign nations for trade and labor

With this context, all of which are truths that can be ignored but not denied, I believe all Americans have the right to the following protections from our government:

  1. Health: A healthy society is a strong society. We can spend hours going over the facts and figures around health care in America, how much money we would save in health care costs if we had universal health care, how unfair it is to laborers that they are tied to a job because of how health care is managed in our country, and how other nations have succeeded in providing their people health care. Regardless of all of that, if a government’s sole purpose is to protect its people, that should include from disease.
  2. Education: An intelligent society is a strong society. Set aside the fact that America prides itself on innovation and without education (or immigration, for that matter), innovation becomes more difficult. Instead, let’s focus on the inequities of education. How minorities and poor families (often one in the same) are not provided the same level of education as white and middle-class or above children due to how schools are funded. Let’s focus on the disparities in what is taught and how topics are taught between States. Every child deserves an honest, high-quality education regardless of where they’re born or what family they happen to be born into.
  3. Housing: A secure society is a strong society. Without access to the safety and security of a home, people can find themselves in a downward spiral that is nearly impossible to free yourself from. For example, to apply for certain benefits of our social safety net, you often need an address. To apply for a job, you need an address. Without those, homeless becomes impossible to escape from. And that’s not even taking into account the economic cost of homelessness on our country.
  4. Religion: Yes, freedom of religion is in the Constitution, but in our current society freedom from religion is also necessary. If church and state were really properly separated, there would be no challenges to Roe v Wade or Obergefell v. Hodges. Woman would have the right to do as they feel is necessary with their bodies. Everyone should be able to practice what they believe, but they should not be permitted to use those beliefs as a weapon against others’ rights.

If we accept these as forms of protection that the government is designed to provide us, then prioritizing how we spend taxpayer money and how we legislate becomes much easier. I firmly believe that most people agree on these foundational values, stemming from the government’s single purpose. The problem, then, is taking the necessary step back to reframe our arguments as arguments for these inalienable rights. The talking points have gotten too complex, the media too filled with noise, and if we can just take it back to our core, foundational values as a country, we can make everyone’s lives better.

Thoughts on Impending Fatherhood

In January, God willing, my wife and I will be having our first child, a boy. We plan to name him Elijah.

I wonder a lot about who he might be, aware that we simultaneously have a lot and a little influence over it. We’ll prepare him for the world, teach him to interact with it in a healthy way, but no amount of teaching or preparation can really inoculate you against society. School may make him cynical. Other people’s beliefs may make him uncertain. There’s no controlling for the worst, just as there is no guaranteeing the best. All I can hope for, then, is that he can recognize one or the other for what they are and react accordingly.

The cliche is that when you have a kid, you develop all sorts of hopes and dreams for them. Sometimes unrelated to your interests, and sometimes so intertwined with your childhood dreams you risk living vicariously through your child. I don’t feel any of that. I honestly don’t care what Elijah wants to be. My only hope is that he’s a good person. I think everything else, any success or accomplishment (or lack thereof), will flow from that.

Lately I’ve found myself trying to picture the world through his eyes. Or, more accurately, remembering how I saw the world when I was a child. Colors were more vivid. The air a cleaner scent. I think about how Elijah will slowly develop nostalgia and wonder what it will be tied to. Sitting at our kitchen bar watching his mother and I cook and wash dishes? Watching the world from our front window, next to our cats, smelling the cold in the air as summer transitions to fall? Will he read with me in our basement study?

One thing that’s weird to me is that he won’t be a Buffalonian, as I am. He’ll grow up near Philadelphia. And he’ll be a suburbanite, no less! If I successfully indoctrinate him into my love of hockey, he’ll probably root for the Flyers and not the Sabres. His cultural understanding will be different than mine. He’ll say “soda” instead of “pop,” or “wooder” instead of “water,” or “creek” instead of “crik.”

Elijah won’t know the bitter cold that comes with the wind off of Lake Erie. He won’t smell Cheerios from the General Mills factory on his way to school. We won’t take him to our favorite spots–the Botanical Gardens, the Basilica, or the Albright Knox–instead, we’ll find new ones with him. And then he’ll find his own.

We’re privileged enough, now, that Elijah won’t grow up to want for much, as my wife and I did. He’ll have more than two pairs of jeans to wear to school. He won’t wear his sneakers until they’re falling apart and, even then, glue them together. He won’t have memories of his grandparents bringing bags of groceries to the house when the factory went on strike. My parents worked in that factory so I could eventually give this luxury to Elijah.

Unfortunately, Elijah also won’t know his grandparents well. He only has three to start with, and two are in Buffalo while the other is just outside of DC. Because of our location, extended family will be a foreign concept to him. But on the plus side, maybe that means he’ll get to choose who he considers family. And maybe he’ll do a good job of it.

I’m fascinated with the fact that he’s going to enter our home “tabula rasa.” It’s a huge responsibility to teach a child, to instill in them the values that will make them a good member of society. Not necessarily successful (although of course I want that), not necessarily respected (of course I want that, too), but good. Someone that cares for others. Someone that gives a fuck.

I keep telling my wife that I need to get my shit together. Build good habits. Because I need to model these things for him. I need to show him with my actions what it is to be curious, and healthy, and empathetic, and kind, and respectful, and charitable. When he’s young he’s going to watch me and copy the things I do, if only because there is no one else. That means picking up my flaws, too.

I used to be afraid of that. I don’t want to fail him. I probably will. But it’s also a challenge I’m excited to meet. I don’t fantasize about watching Elijah hit a home run or earn scholarships or anything like that. I fantasize about the conversations we might have. Listening to him figure out the world and helping him along where I can.

I feel most excited when I picture the small moments we’ll have together. When it’s quiet. When it’s still. When I can soak in who he is and feel awe at the potential of who he’ll become.

Re-Centering

I’ve felt overwhelmed, lately. Between the house, work, Covid-19, protests, and personal things I began to have trouble sleeping, was dealing with anxiety, and generally just felt stressed the fuck out.

So, I’ve taken the last three days off work to recenter. I do feel better, but I’m realizing that the things I would normally due to find my equilibrium aren’t possible in this environment. See, I generally feel at my best when I’m able to fulfill three parts of my life:

  • Work
  • Creative
  • Exercise or play

Work is a constant, and often is the reason I lose my handle on the other two. Creative pursuits are something I need to actively do, but if I’m disciplined and comfortable it’s usually not a problem. Exercise or play I take care of, in normal times, with hockey. Covid-19 has taken that away.

Over the past few days, in between taking care of the house (a pipe burst and flooded our basement, so it’s been constant contractors in and out) and trying to relax, I’ve been thinking about how to update my equilibrium in these strange times. What I’ve settled on, for right now, anyway, is to change how I treat myself and how I define certain activities.

First, I’m forgiving myself for not going the extra mile right now. If I miss blog posts, or if I don’t write a thousand words per day (or at all), that’s ok. I’ve lost my designated space, my mind is distracted with new stressors, and because it’s our busy season at work I need to stay as sharp as I can be to focus on that.

Instead, I’ve changed my idea of creativity to include “passive creativity.” Stockpiling knowledge and ideas for when I’m able to attack it again. I’ve committed to reading more non-fiction (starting with Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants and Ibram X. Kendi’s How to be an Antiracist to deepen my understanding of the things I’m interested in and that have profoundly affected my thinking recently. I’ve already felt inspired by both, for different things.

The last leg of the stool, so to speak, is exercise or play (work, the first leg, is a given). Hockey is more than exercise for me. It’s almost the entirety of my social life. That can’t be replaced. Due to my family situation and our low risk tolerance for anyone getting sick, until there’s a vaccine I’m afraid that’s a “c’est la vie” situation. Instead, I’ve settled for making working out as fun as possible for myself. When quarantine began I bought a set of dek tiles from a local rink to practice my game on and support the rink while it was shut down. In addition, I recently bought a standing punching bag to do cardio on (I hate running) and vent frustration. I had a hanging bag when I was a kid, and lost a lot of my form since then. I’m looking forward to getting it back.

Whether or not these changes in perspective and approach actually help or not, I won’t know for a while. This whole year feels lost in a lot of ways, and I think accepting that things will be different for a long time so an adjustment in perspective and approach may be necessary is helpful to me.

Once I get back onto a regular schedule with this blog, I think you’ll know I’ve made it out of the woods.

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