Destructive Criticism

A thick skin.

So many insinuations and finger-pointings made about the habits, ineptitudes, malaise, entitlement and drive of the latest twenty-somethings who are out there trying to make some mark in this “brave-new” world.

I’ll add my own. I often wonder, do they have the thick skin necessary to not let what I say about their work turn them into my killer? Or, perhaps more accurately, I wonder if the way we go about sharing and dismantling ideas with our peers via mostly emails will be the impetus behind my demise. A punishing removal from this plane of me or some other creative who takes the time out of her or his busy schedule to try and help constructively push a youngster who snaps.

Nearly twenty years ago, as part of finding a gig in advertising, I began the grueling ritual of putting my portfolio, ideas, writing, and designs in front of seasoned professionals for their opinions, help, take, connections and wisdom. The process was oh-so-very different from today. It required a physical book. And that book had to be delivered via mail or by hand. And then, though there was email, the dominant method of having these “special” one-on-ones was still mostly over the phone, or if you were lucky enough, in their offices seated across from their sometimes smug faces. It was a far more costly process than today’s, both in effort and actual dollars. Kinko’s printings, poster board, spiral bindings, stamps, travel, dimes or quarters spent on pay phones, the pager and the pager plan, hotel rooms, cabs, trains, and the like. On the plus side though, most of the beat-downs of my work were delivered by an actual voice over the phone or in person with the voice and the added bonus of the human who owned it. They might have hated my book, but most of the time, it was easy to see or hear via those two things that while they thought my work was utter shit, that the opinion was being expressed with my best interests in mind. Sure, sometimes those additional human elements didn’t at all soften the blow-after-blow slaughter of my mental babies by the industry’s in-the-knows. I’m sure I left many an office wishing I’d had the “moxie” to punch faces before finding a bar to nurse the gaping brain wounds.

My experience is that it’s almost all email now. Or even worse, Facebook messenger. And I’m guilty of participating in this new way of exposure and feedback. It’s easier, cheaper, possibly more efficient. It consumes less time I guess for both parties. And if my note back is, “WOW! I think this is the best collection of work I’ve seen in some time. I have a job for you!” or “I’ll hook you up with some other people who have a job for you right now!” sure then, it was a nice win/win transaction for everyone. I get an appreciative email back, saying “Thanks Mr. Rosch!” Maybe the recipient even claims they’ll buy my novel. This is a gross exaggeration of that type of interaction though. I’ve rarely said that; I’ve possibly never said that. Even when I’ve liked someone’s noodlings enough to pass their name along, I’m sure I’ve still found something to try and help better.

There’s talent within all of the people who reach out to me. If I don’t like a book, it’s usually because most of the time there is simply a lot of un-learning to do. Not exactly the same un-learning I had to take-on, in fact, probably a far more aggressive attack on how to go about ignoring the oodles and oodles of heinous real world examples that fester in our brains and sometimes force our own best creative efforts into something passably benign and predictable. We’ve seen it before, it’s the way it’s done, so we put our spin on something that’s been spun.

I don’t care how many emoticons or exclamation points, or “you knows, hey, don’t frets,” I use in an email—at the end of the day, I think it’s far more difficult to get blunt or frank criticism about your work from a digital communication composed of Times New Roman. There are no eye brow raises, no smirks, no shoulder shrugs that subtly say, “I don’t really know what the fuck I’m talking about, kiddo.” It all gets lost. It must sting. It must sting like the numerous form email rejections I get by the dozens when peddling a manuscript. I’d think even more so because I’m not trying to sell someone on a manuscript to get a job or make money or justify the 100K my folks just spent on an ad-education.

I don’t know. I just know that in the past year or so, that a few of the next generation’s 30 under 30 who’ve reached out to me never bothered to write me back after I’d given them my honest and hopefully helpful critique. Just digital crickets after I hit them back.

And that’s fine. It certainly beats getting an email back in which I’m told I’m an old hack who doesn’t know shit about shit when it comes to what’s creative or a sure-bet-fire-starter in today’s marketing onslaught. But sometimes that silence works my brain to the dark spot, and I’ll entertain the idea that the feedback I’ve just given (even in all its peppy-packaged-you-can-do-it-optimism) might be the final nail in a coffin built on this one man’s opinion on what might make your book (website), your writings and shillings better, award-winning or worth a full-time gig at the next hot shop.

We work hard our ideas, even when they are godawful. And maybe the criticism we wield at one another has never been more deserving of some actual face-to-face time. Of course, then I’d only be giving you a leg-up in your ability to jab a pen through my neck. So, for now, even though I’ve identified it as problematic, I’ll be sticking to winkys and extra exclamation points when I tell you through the most impersonal of correspondence that I think you (and even I) can do significantly better.

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Beware of The Bean

spiffCan’t say for sure how many more days our little lad will stay snuggly-safe within the womb of the most amazing woman I’ve ever known. You don’t have to be a paranoid freakazoid to wonder and worry what kind of world, life, and situations your current kids, newborns, or future spawn will endure, take-on, or even conquer. I half-jokingly said to Ariele the other day that I thought our boy would be the kind of genius who’d ultimately do some padded-white wall time. It didn’t go over well, even though I’d meant it as the highest compliment possible. “How so,” you say? I guess I’m a firm believer that (at times) if you are really in-tune with everything going on around us, the good and the bad, that you would go nuts, you’d have to go nuts, I’ve gone nuts and I am most assuredly no genius. “Oh sure, Rosch, you would think your kid was going to be gifted,” some Frenemy might be condemning. Yeah, I’ve got a big ego. Which is odd, because I’m also acutely aware of my simultaneous esteem issues. I’ve also put into the works the possibility that he could just end up being another constructive cog in the machine. A kind cog, hard worker, responsible, respectful, etc. but no more special than shoes. Though recently I heard the phrase, “You’re as cool as shoes.” Think about it, they actually are pretty f’in cool when you remember what they do. Either way, I can’t shut off the brain on this anymore than I can shut it off on any of it. I can meditate it out, run it off, carb-load it out of my system momentarily, but ultimately the endless spirals of what-ifs will always come crawling back. And so then, I got to thinking: maybe The Bean will lead the resistance against the robots or machines. Maybe he’ll be part of a larger group of people his age who actually change politics as usual. Maybe there’ll be no politics. Maybe he and his generation won’t even have to read an article about an NYC development with Rich/Poor entrances. One can hope. Will he write ads for a living? I doubt it. I’ve got a feeling computers are damn close to having the IQs and algorithms necessary to deliver marketing that isn’t too far removed from the shlock and drivel that inhabits a good deal of whatever space me and my cohorts can stick it in, on, and around. I’m not damning the fine-advertising, the kinds that inform and entertain (hopefully both), but if Amazon is working on programs that write books based off of collective-human narrative preferences, you can be sure shorter communications about the latest x, y, and z aren’t far behind. Like so many before me, I’m jumping the gun by twenty years of course. Who can say if he’ll be a rockstar, a writer, a fighter or a lover, or something not yet a thing? But, until he decides in some future unrealized reality on what to “be?” Well, I’m kind of vibe-ing on the notion that he might just become the guy whose decision or insight almost singlehandedly ends wars forever. I mean human wars obviously. After all, by then we’ve got to be taking on locust-like aliens hellbent on devouring what natural resources The Bean and his cohorts have managed to restore and protect, right?

The Best Lie You Ever Told

I heard a while back that the average person tells three lies every ten minutes. When my friend told me the statistic, I was astonished. In fact, I wondered if she was lying just to help us boost stats for our project. We were relating it to strangers meeting strangers when dating or trying to land a date, and so it seemed more believable as a number in the setting of men and women trying to impress/attract/bed other men and women. It’s possible even the stat itself, which litters the internet, was fabricated just to get more clicks.

Nonetheless, for some time, it really had me thinking hard as I spoke, concerned about the validity of every word I put forward during a day. It took me out of the interactions I’d had with others, as I listened carefully to their words, trying to discern what might possibly be lies, mistruths, and minor-bendings-of-reality—some made in the service of advancing agendas, others made in the name of protecting the innocent, and the daily embellishments used to bolster a good tale or fill in the gaps when we can’t quite remember the whole story of a story we are inclined to modern-day campfire with our friends.

Like so many recent subjects bouncing around my head, I got to thinking about lying again as I speculated, hypothesized, “roll-played” in my head how I might address dishonesty with my future boy. As a child, I was notorious for my ridiculous fabrications. As a young adult I think I told my fair share, though I’d imagine it pales in comparison to the total told by much larger fish in this global pond. The phrase “Honesty is always the best policy” has stuck with me since the day some poster in some elementary school classroom introduced the notion. And, of course, now I agree. But I got to thinking in a horrible Carrie Bradshaw kind of way, “Is lying sometimes the best policy?”

Entertaining the thought of writing a book on lying. Non-fiction. More of a collection of stories from people, rather than a bunch of musings from my own head. I wonder how open people would be to discussing their lies. I think we’ve all told at least one or two. Big ones, little ones. Even if it was just to spare feelings or keep a child as a child for a while longer. If you have absolutely, never, ever, not in your whole life, told a lie—well, I’d certainly be interested in your story too. But what I’d really like to know, in a somehow anonymous way, is what lie a person told that had the biggest benefit to either them, a family member, a friend, or even the world I suppose. In other words, perhaps you told the single lie that saved the world from destruction many moons ago? Would you even know? Perhaps some minor fib you told had a butterfly effect, and without it, we’d have already gone into a The Road-like type of existence. (Never miss an opportunity to plug my fear of mass cannibalism).

Conversely, what if you only think the lie you once told has served you or whomever else well? By which I mean, you look at the reality you know that exists around that lie, it seems awesome because it is, but perhaps without the lie, the reality that would have spun forward without your fib might have been even more amazing. Or, what it someone else’s reality is a living hell all because of that lie you told?

I’ll give you an example: You told a lie in college to keep up with the path you were expected to take. The lie worked, you moved forward as had always been the plan. You graduated in a timely fashion and went on to get a job, and other jobs, climbed ladders and so forth. You can look at your life now, it’s pretty fucking perfect, you’ve no issues with it whatsoever, but… what if that tiny fib you told to stay on track cost you your chance at some other even more meaningful existence? Or, perhaps you were never meant to be in the spot you are now, your lie somehow pushed you into the fated spot of another, leaving them out in the figurative cold.

Maybe I’ll need to create a system of measurement in order to keep everyone’s judging on par with the rest, if anyone decided to participate at all. How many of us are ready to cop to the best lie we ever told?

Let The Vitriol Begin (Again)

But I Love YouThis week I’ll be pushing my sophomore literary effort, But I Love You, into the world with a plug-it-until-it-makes-people-puke enthusiasm. Then, when the dust settles, the pride built over a two-year crafting of words into story will do its best to withstand the free-flying stink of negativity that might eventually accompany it on its humble sale pages scattered across the internet. They’ll be good reviews (written by moms, friends, and even strangers), and they’ll be stuff that makes me question wether writing is my thing. That’s just part of the game. And like the first time, I’ll abstain from writing any particular individual to tell them just how wrong they are about it. I’ll remain chipper in the face of phrases like, “Do yourself a favor and skip this one. You’ll be glad you did,” and “Such promise to fall so flat.” There’s a bevy of other choice barbs and stinging insults, some written by folks who were kind enough to only read the first chapter before “awarding” My Dead Friend Sarah one or two stars. You take the punches and move on. Hell, if you are me, you secretly hope that your book turns the insides of someone so intensely that they decide to come after you. You wonder how hard it is to get a restraining order. You fantasize about a blurb on some celebrity dot-com rag that mentions how you went to court to testify against the stalker. You aim for the kind of crazy that drove you to write the book in the first place. I didn’t set out to create a polarizing tale the first time. And though I’d toyed with the idea of doing so for the second story, the notion lost steam as I realized that action in and of itself would betray me. In the end, like the first time, I’d like to think that I’ve managed to merge some very real-world observations on the way we live with a story that moves quickly and keeps people entertained and wanting more. There’s more to the story, but I’ll need that material to bug you later in the week as I try and coax you our of a few bucks and some of your time.

Sing Sing for my Son

A quick-ish lesson in the train of thought that leads one man to decide that, yes, he is capable of serving hard time for his unborn son. The Mrs. and I went to see Transcendence this past weekend. If you haven’t seen it, I’m recommending you wait until it’s on one of modern day’s home viewing options. Save your thirty to forty bucks for the umpteenth remake of Godzilla. Not sure why that trailer has me hooked, but it does. Now then, the Johnny Depp flick has nothing to do with child rearing specifically, but even if you haven’t seen it, you can deduce that it does construct a story that dances around notions of what the future might hold for our civilization.

And so, if you are me, you are watching and thinking in the voice of a ninety year old man, “Hurumph, lots of changes comin’, yes sir, yes sir!”

You continue this conversation with yourself, recalling a brief back and forth with a parenting friend about the impossibilities of knowing exactly what technologies you’ll be disallowing your children to use in the near to not-so-far futures of their lives. And if you’d been reading about haptic suits and a life lived almost exclusively as an avatar online in a book like Ready Player One, you start wondering if your future son will even go outside at all. You start thinking about what you’ll ban, remembering that all pre-parents had similar conversations about video games, cellphones, and the lot, only to ultimately be confronted with newer things you couldn’t have fathomed that come along with the pleas of, “But so-and-so-friend’s parents let he or she have a blankity-blank already, come on, I’m eight or nine or ten or five!”

You move forward, remembering that because you only intend on having the one that it’s important to put him into social situations with other babies, children, and grow-ups. You don’t want him to be a shut-in. Suddenly, all thought deviates to an entirely different possibility, “No way my kid is going to be living in a haptic suit, he’ll be a chip off the ol’ block. Very charming, a real go getter. Devilishly handsome too.” You condemn yourself momentarily for letting your ego turn your child into the inwardly projected image of yourself. Somehow, age fourteen comes into play. You wonder how you’ll convince him to have protected sex if he has sex at all. You didn’t have sex at fourteen, but your mind tends to bolster the prediction with its vague recollection of scattered news mentions of promiscuity occurring at younger and younger ages.

“I hope he’ll be smart enough to not take the risk so young,” you say, but before you can even finish the thought you’ve already scripted a scenario in which this young-man-about-town of yours has dazzled the pants off of some young lady at age fourteen. You change the age to fifteen to feel better about yourself. Next thing you know she’s pregnant. He didn’t listen. You think about how you’d handle that situation, and then with no invitation to the thought party whatsoever, the thought, “What if he feels trapped? Kills her and hides the body?” pops into your head. You know almost certainly that this won’t happen, but even as you watch Johnny Depp “die” (oops, Spoiler Alert) on a table in front of you, you can’t help but shake the possible reality that you’ll be faced with that difficult decision of either turning your pride-and-joy in to the authorities, helping him live a life on the lam, or figuring out a way to take the fall for the atrocity he has committed.

“I’d turn that lil’ shit-head in,” you reassure yourself, even as you begin to accept what your remaining years look like in the slammer. “It’d have been an act committed under intense duress. My son is a good boy. He’s a good boy. It won’t happen again,” you repeat to yourself. “It was my fault. I didn’t do a good enough job of explaining the consequences of the birds and the bees. This is how it has to be.” And so there, under the darkness that accompanies the screening of a so-so film that isn’t holding your attention, you silently proclaim, “It’s all good. I can do the time.”

Ga-Ga-Voo-Doo

It's Alive (B&W)

Will our baby be smart? Will our baby be handsome? Will he be healthy? Will he try to kill me?

Yes, I’ve done thunk it. The baby inside my wife’s belly could kill me. Could kill you. Could try to kill us all. 

If you are my age, give or take a year or two, there’s a good chance that you too spent some parts of your summers between the grades of elementary school and junior high watching a few things that maybe your prepubescent brain wasn’t quite ready to reasonably consume on what used to pass for HBO, Showtime, and The Movie Channel. I’m not talking about the soft-core porn, aka what I used to refer to as “The Happy Music Movies,” though I’m sure plenty of us only accidentally managed to view some of that as well. I’ve referenced some of the films from those salad days of my youth in previous posts. Clockwork Orange, Motel Hell, The Tin Drum, just to name a few. Many of my most disturbing daydreams are certainly the direct result of those three specifically. I’m fascinated by the idea that a handful of prophetic, polarizing, and/or horror films seen at a too-soon-age might have formed long lasting sinister effects on my gray matter.

It’s Alive was released in 1974, but must have been in heavy rotation a decade or so later for me to have seen it. If you were to study up on the film, you might decide that there is some credible subtext to this B horror film regarding the rights of the unborn, some segment of society’s ethical implications revolving around the use of fertility drugs, and possibly even abortion itself. All of that might be a stretch, but I’ve seen a few things suggesting as much on the internet. For me though, it was a simple story about a horrible demon baby that was just cute enough for you to not root against completely as it tore through the city on an unintentionally murderous rampage. “The child is just frightened,” Lenore Davis (the mother) was fond of saying throughout the film—the baby monster would coo just enough in between its blood curdling screams to keep you from rooting for it to be captured and killed. At least I remember wanting it to live despite all of the horrible atrocities it had committed.

I imagine far more people have seen Alien than It’s Alive, and so I’m guessing a far more common and utterly disturbing vision had when observing your baby momma’s belly is the infamous emergence of the true star of that futuristic film. I ping-pong between the two narratives, though thankfully not on a daily basis.

Spoiler Alert: The fanged little nipper from It’s Alive didn’t kill its Pops. In fact, by the end, and despite Frank’s (the father) original intention of killing it, their bond was pretty strong. The majority of this post has been a soft-set-up for the real question that’s been on my mind. Maybe it’s too dark a suggestion to make on a blog that was original born to playfully mock my madness and whet the appetites of what I’d hoped would be a growing readership patiently waiting for new musings in the form of novels—but has it ever occurred to you that once you commit to brining a new life into the world, that it’s possible—I’m not saying probable—but possible that the added being may very well be the one that takes you out of this physical realm? I’ve not bothered to look up the odds, though foggy memories of statistical analysis done against murder does seem to conjure up some claim that a good many of them are perpetrated against the victim by some one they knew.

As macabre as it may be, it seems to this odd duck that along with what I’m guessing are the fairly typical concerns of a would-be parent, that a sort of peaceful acceptance of the possibility of your own demise by its hands is about the only sane way to move forward.

 

 

BlackBerry Between the ButtCheeks

Five years ago today, I awoke to find myself in what had basically become my home away from home–the psych ward in yet another New York City hospital. I lay shivering in the fetal position on top of an over-sized Lazy Boy recliner coated in plastic wearing nothing but my skivvies, suicide socks, and a hospital issue gown. As my body shifted in its state of semi-consciousness, I realized there was something stuffed in my drawers. “Ahh, my BlackBerry.” I’d outsmarted yet another intake team, and managed to sneak my cellular salvation into the observation room. “I’ll have myself out of here in no time,” I thought.

I pushed myself off of the chair gently in order to make sure the device didn’t find its way to the floor with a crash that would most certainly alert the gentleman seated on the other side of the plexiglass window to my possession of it. Success! The phone stayed neatly snug between the thin cotton layer of my over-worn Hanes and my lilly white cheeks. I shuffled like a crippled sloth, past the third of three occupants sharing the room with me that morning, and into the attached bathroom without making anyone the wiser.

Surprisingly, that restroom had a door you could shut for privacy. And once I’d closed it, I reached into my underwear to retrieve the phone so that I could go about the business of texting friends and family with a familiar refrain: “I need help, but I don’t need to be in this hospital.” Followed by what I’m sure would have been desperate digital pleas to my locals to come and pick my sorry ass up. I held the BlackBerry up, in, and around every square inch of that bathroom–no luck though–like a stranded honeymooner desperately fighting their way out of The Grand Canyon, I was teased with the occasional single bar indicating that just enough reception would soon be mine. And then, the track ball popped out of the phone and into the toilet itself. Did I fish it out? Hell yes. Did it matter? Not one bit.

Later in the day I would attempt for the third time in as many years to convince the doctor and or shrink that I had no business being there–that I’d simply had too much to drink the night before and that my friends mistook my mention of committing suicide as the truth. Had I been sitting on the floor of my apartment with a knife, pushing it into my wrist to test out the idea? My memory seems to suggest that was the case. Either way–I had no intention of staying put and the way out was simple. Twice before I’d managed to get myself out two Manhattan psych wards, my spiel was well rehearsed, and so I sat shivery in wait for my opportunity to speak to the next city rube who’d decide to allow a mad man back out onto the streets in order to make room for the real head cases.

I’ll never remember the doctor’s name, and while my brain can sometimes reconstruct hints of his thick accent, I’d only be guessing when I say that I believe he was from some part of Africa. He was kind, patient, and relentless. No amount of bullshit I shoveled his way could penetrate his firm belief that I was in need of help, and despite what seemed like an hour’s worth of cleverly constructed pleas made by me, he finished our meeting by simply stating, “You aren’t going anywhere.” I had finally been defeated. Bested by a stranger who didn’t care about the threats I’d made of lawsuits, powerful friends–who ignored the typical city protocol of making a quick assessment and just sending another citizen back out into the world to fend for himself.

24 hours later, you’d have found me on a flight from NYC to SF in order to attend my second rehab. And while my successful sobriety is the complex creation of many many things, to this day I hold that stranger who looked me in the eyes and said, “I believe you are lying” in very high regard.

And yes, when he was finished, I did go right back to the bathroom and try to put that little poo-pee-covered track ball back into my phone in order to find the signal that had previously eluded me.