Saturday, November 13, 2010

Gnostic Unemployment

This five-year-old laptop is giving me fits. Earlier today I shut it down and sat here looking around my office, which doesn't look much better than when I photographed it in May for that last post. A mess. I've been too busy writing and trying to sell myself to tidy up.

On a shelf, I saw some old notebooks. I pulled one down, opened it up to some notes on gnosticism from a lecture I went to in the early '90s, and found this:

Moses supposes
his gnosis Jehovah's,
but Moses supposes theistical-ly.
For nobody's gnosis
is strictly Jehovah's,
as Moses supposes his gnosis to be.

Semi-clever, but "strictly" is a sonic wrong note--it needs something that sounds like "posies," as in "posies of roses"--like "mostly," maybe, but the sense isn't right. I struggled with it there in the margins, writing a list of possible words to rewrite the thing around:

chose his
shmos (shmoes?)

I'd have no recollection of having written any of this if I didn't have the notebook, which takes me back to the time and the place: 1994, a conference called Body & Soul.

Isn't it handy, the way my iPhone photos arbitrarily load upside-down or sideways? Nice. Flipping pages, I see that Deepak Chopra gave the keynote and told a story about his friend Bob, who got electrocuted on top of a house, fell 15 feet to the ground and landed on his chest, which defibrillated his heart. "He was dead when he fell off the house. The fall brought him back to life."

I didn't write down what this story was meant to illustrate, but I instantly connect to it. I got zapped off the top of a nice, homey career, hit the ground, woke up, and starting running.

What I've done since May:

1. Wrote two big fat humor book proposals--chapter outlines, sample chapters, market & promotion stuff, the works. Two publishers recently expressed interest, but my agent thought I had a deal at Random House in July, and that fell through. So we'll see.

UPDATE: Mr. Agent called to say that Sourcebooks will publish my Tea Party lampoon next fall. The advance is small, but the royalty structure looks good. I'm thinking pseudonym, supporting the book with a political satire blog.

2. Did a couple of consulting days with Infinium in June, working to map out the future for a big local bank. More fun than it sounds like it would be.

3. In August, I hooked up with a former Sprint VP and another business genius to develop a start-up idea. We entered a venture capital contest (mainly to give ourselves a deadline to develop a pitch, for which I wrote and directed a video, among other things), but did not win. We're now working on the business model, web content, and other stuff. These people are so smart. I've learned a ton.

4. Started Hebrew classes. Penny and I are trying to keep with Jonah, who's in Hebrew school now and will be studying for his bar mitzvah over the next four years. Man, it's a mindfuck to study a new language. Spanish in high school was like eating flan compared to learning Hebrew at my age. But I can feel my old language-learning muscles stretching and flexing. It's cool.

5. Adapted a novel by another of my agent's clients. The script is now in the hands of a director who just sent me another set of revisions to do. I'm 50% assured that funding is just around the corner and this won't be yet another spec script thrown down the rabbit hole. The other half of me suspects that it'll all fall apart, as happens far more often than not. The novel, by the way, is called Keeping Time, by Stacey McGlynn.

Turns out, when I don't have a day job, I can write a script in less than six weeks. It used to take me a year, starting and stopping through weekends and evenings.

6. Started a novel of my own, which is really the only thing I want to work on right now. It's going to be a very funny, very sad, very vicious corporate satire. I'm now into the third chapter and completely in love with the first two, one of which is nearly 50 pages long and delights me every time I read it over.

I have to keep reacquainting myself with it, because the search for gainful employment takes a lot of time and energy. I try to accomplish something every day toward that end, viz.:

7. I've been doing some freelance brainstorming and copywriting for a local brewery, which I've really enjoyed.

8: Interviewed at a big marketing/ad agency. Feedback has been encouraging so far.

9: Reconnected with a friend who owns a web design company, and I may have a "freelancer with benefits" deal there, which would really take the worry out of the Damoclesian health insurance sword that's hanging over the end of the year.

Between those last three things, I think financial survival is likely. And if the script can just get a green light, which my agent seems to think will happen early in 2011, or if somebody says yes to one of the books, I'll breathe easier.

In this old notebook, I find the following quote from Elizabeth Roberts, whoever that is:

"To be a human being is to be a swinging door. The inner life and outer life must connect."

I scribbled in the margins, "Also, if you get too busy rushing in and out without paying attention, you'll smack yourself in the face."

The wolf is still at the door. But I do think my inner and outer lives are connecting, especially across the pages of that novel. And I have reason to hope that everything I've done these past six months will make it harder to blow the house down.

Moses supposes
what blows or bulldozes
his house is neurosis or anx-i-e-ty...
Prognosis for Moses?
His prose comes up roses,
if Moses lets goeses and shows he be me.

Some of you have been very supportive during this scary stretch of time. And I love you for it. You gno who you are.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Career Is Dead, Long Live Career

So, I lost my day job. From the inciting event to the wrap-up of the terms of my "retirement" (to which terms I acceded yesterday) took exactly three months. And what a quarter it was.

I got sick in the early throes, immune system no doubt depressed, a brief flirtation with death-by-sepsis that followed an inflammation of my--who knew?--carotid artery sheath. I take that to mean "heartsick."

And one month into it all, before there was any hint that it might end this way, I celebrated my 30-year anniversary on the job. I remember saying to the group of writers and artists gathered for the party that I didn't want my remarks to sound like a retirement speech, but that, then again, "you can be about to retire and just not know it yet." Nailed it!

30 years of fun and creativity and collaborating with some of the coolest people on earth and maybe caring just a bit too much, and it's over. So. What's next?

I don't know. I have another consulting job in June. I'm working on a book, a couple of scripts, and taking, as they say, some meetings with bona fide literary agents and publishers. So I hit the ground running. But now I'm skidding through 30 years of accumulated office detritus. A few of my darling co-workers stuck around after hours last week to help me box it all up. It filled a friend's pickup truck (seriously, getting the last box in was like playing Tetris®. Now with profanity!™). There was no time to sort while packing, and my home office was already pretty crowded. Now it looks like something out of Hoarders.

I had a manila folder for every one of those 30 years. Back before I started storing stuff on hard drives, I kept copies of everything. Thousands of jokes, little verses, names for products, sell-lines and slogans, new business ideas, memos, thank-you notes from editors, consumer letters, goofy poems to read aloud at people's birthdays or milestone anniversaries. The early stuff is either hand-written or typed on a Smith-Corona (and then on an original Mac, saved to flexi-disks I can no longer access), so unless it got accepted and applied somewhere, the writing only exists in these photocopies or on scribbled 3x5 cards. And I'm jettisoning almost all of it. I put eight grocery bags of paper out for the recycling truck yesterday.

It's weird, but the handwritten-ness of some things makes me unable to pitch them. I found two pages that I evidently submitted for a 1990 assignment to predict the next decade's big changes. If it were a Word document, I'd just pitch the hard copy. But it's the only existing version of this thing. You can see some of it here, with a couple of jokes from the brainstorm bowl AND a "modest proposal" I wrote when writers were asked how we could help the company save money back in the mid-90s.

Since Blogger loaded that photo sideways and you can't read it anyway, the cost-cutting proposal starts out, "Kill people." And it goes on from there in Swiftian mode. My predictions included environmental trends, "rampant religious fervor," musings about computer networks (I was still moonlighting at CompuServe in 1990), and "I would also like to mention desktop publishing." The 3x5s say, "You gotta laugh at your problems, cuz let's face it, that's what everyone else is doing" (a little Cope & Encouragement workin' for ya there) and, under the title, "NATURE & YOU: A Poem," this beautiful Message of Love:

If I had plants
instead of thighs,
you'd make them

Hadn't heard that rhyme before, and haven't heard it since. I should do a Wikipedia entry on it.

There's a long to-do list before I get to that. It's a big world out here and I want to do big things in it. Not sure if I'll have time for blogging along the way, so there may be even less to see here than usual.

But never doubt my love, O faithful few readers, commenters, lurkers, and drive-by glancers. Hold me close, ya tiny dancers. You know I dig you like clams.

Yr humble,
Jas P Howard

Available for parties, partnerships, and odd jobs befitting a guy besotted with words, words, words.

Friday, April 30, 2010

NaPoWriMo Winds Down

I missed the first day of National Poetry Writing Month, but wrote a poem every day in April thereafter. Might write one for May Day, just to get to 30.

Odd stuff happened along the way. The first poem I wrote inspired my friend Deb Beroset to do a lovely painting that she posted on her Zesty Artista blog. Subsequent poems got me in trouble at work. And a few caught me by surprise, expressing things I didn't know I knew.

If you just keep writing, things happen. Here's what happened today, end of the month, beginning of who knows what:


April Ends In Rain

You don't know what could come down
on your head. Every day, we wander out
into the world, avoiding car wrecks
or not, unknowingly dodging bullets flying
elsewhere in the city, pile-ups and ricochets
behind us, fate rolling its red carpet back up
like a tongue that licked around our edges
and decided to eat something else.

There's a man who's been struck by lightning
several times and lived to tell about it,
some magnet in his body drawing down
the charge, boom, and the air crackles,
his hat's on fire, or he's holding a torch
that was a book. Maybe those words
were just asking to be set alight.

Maybe the rain this morning was just to say,
yesterday was a dream. You worked
in the sunshine, you made love, you talked
with friends and played with kids, you wrote
about a wind that blew through and now is
gone. The weeping cherry you planted
when your son was born has shed its last
blossoms for the year. Look how green
the world can be when you wake up
and it's today, and today only.

The sleepwalker has left you, shuffling
off in slippers, a light rubbing sound
like a samba under the echoes of
his song, the one he's been mumbling
since you first fell in love with dreaming
and writing and women and the music
of your own wild imagination. You still
remember the words, 35 years later:
Green, it's your green I love.
Green of the wind. Green branches.
The ship far out at sea.
The horse high on the mountain.
Shadows dark at her waist,
she's dreaming there on her terrace,
green of her cheek, green hair,
with eyes like chilly silver.
Green, it's your green I love.

Who knows what it means? You never did.
But you love it to your soul anyway.
Everything that has conspired to kill
what is most alive in you could not do it.
You are awake.


[The quoted section is from Lorca's "Sleepwalker's Ballad," translation by John Frederick Nims, whose book Western Wind cracked me open just enough to glimpse a poet inside.]

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dog Cat Rat (Man)

While dining in a sidewalk cafe on Throckmorton Street in Ft. Worth yesterday, I saw these four creatures:

Yep. A rat sitting on a cat standing on a dog being led by a man. I said to my colleagues, "Hey, look, a dog and a cat and a rat." And they double-took. And one of them said to the guy at the next table, "Hey, did you see that rat on the cat on the dog..." and the guy said, "Oh, yeah, that dude's always walking around downtown. Crazy homeless dude."

Back at my hotel, I googled Ft. Worth+dog+cat+rat, and this vid came right up. The "homeless dude" doesn't seem crazy at all--he just prefers animals to people, sort of like Temple Grandin. And I'm actually more interested in the animal pyramid than I am in him--especially that cat, which didn't fall off when I saw the act live. The balance of a surfer, the restraint of an aikido master, and the bored expression of...a cat.

Now I'm home from Ft. Worth. There's nothing quite like this oddity here. But having seen their little promenade makes me want to pay closer attention to beautiful obsessive weirdness everywhere.

By the way, I also recently met Temple Grandin, which is a whole other story, involving a whole other hotel. And pig-stunning. Also: Throckmorton. Just wanted to say it again.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Books Ruin Everything

February 2010 was the first month in which I failed to post anything since I started neglecting this blog back in aught-six. At first I neglected it in favor of freelance work. Then I neglected it in favor of Twitter. But lately, I've been neglecting Twitter, freelance, this blog, and life itself, in favor of books.

Books. Remember those? They're supposed to be part of what this blog is about, but when's the last time I wrote about a book here? Well, this is about a bunch of books. In the past six months (mostly in the past three), I've read the following:

Netherland by Joseph O'Neill ★★★★½
(I loved this novel so much, I started writing one, then began to suspect that my opening was plagiaristically close to that of a novel I'd read a few years ago, so I checked to see, and got hooked again by that all-too-influential opening, and thus ended up rereading in its massive entirety...
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen ★★★★
East Is East by T.C. Boyle ★★★
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan ★★½
Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem ★★
Nobody Move by Denis Johnson (★★★½) which made me reread...
Angels and Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson (a composite ★★★★)

But did I just read novels? Nay, I did not, viz.:

No One Belongs Here More Than You stories by Miranda July ★★★½
Haywire poems by George Bilgere ★★★★
Refusing Heaven poems by Jack Gilbert ★★★
Dearest Creature poems by Amy Gerstler ★★★★
Open House poems by Beth Ann Fennelly ★★★
Unmentionables poems by Beth Ann Fenelly ★★★½
All In The Timing fourteen plays by David Ives (funny little one-acts) ★★★★

I read a memoir:

House of Cards by my pal David Ellis Dickerson (must recuse myself on the rating, because I'm pseudonymously featured in the book and heavily biased in favor of the author)

I read a screenplay:

A Serious Man by Joel and Ethan Coen (I give the film ★★★★, but the weirdly flat script ★★--I don't know how they knew they could make a great movie from it.)

I read what I guess you'd call a how-to:

Story by Robert McKee ★★★ (the best thing of its kind, but that's damning with faint praise)

At work, I was researching The Beatles and ended up rereading In His Own Write, by John Lennon ★★★★. What a hoot.

I also read a fat, densely-packed old issue of McSweeney's, guest-edited by Chris Ware--mostly comics, but it took me longer than any of the other books. I'd rate it from no stars to ★★★★★, depending on where you are in it.

I think that's it.

Why list all these? Simply to say that I'd recommend every one of them, except maybe Chronic City, an oddly detached disappointment. And that I was reminded, these past few months, of how thoroughly books kick television's ass. TV had begun to swallow the evening hours with a habitual couchslump, apr├Ęs-boy-bedtime. I haven't cut it out of my life entirely, but I've begun shoving books between it and my face. They almost always win.

I'm back to reading like I used to read: compulsively. Now rereading Humboldt's Gift and loving it. So there'll be more blog lapses. I suggest Joseph O'Neill et al. as worthy blank spot filler-inners. If you've let books slip to the periphery of your busy life, bring 'em back to the center of the camp. It feels good.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Number Nine

The yungest turns nine tday

Hw weird that my cmputer keybard refuses t prduce the numera nine

The etters " " and " " mysteriusy stpped wrking, t

And I can't type a perid, thugh cmmas and excamatins wrk fine!

Perhaps a series f iPhne birthday candids t cmpete the picture:

Kid surveys treats frm big bday grab-bag as kitty gives us the evi-eye

Presenting Pptarts, rdinariy a frbidden fruit

And ast but nt east, "the beef stick f wisdm" brandished as a weapn, the way wisdm shud be

Party this afternn incudes skating with friends, then dinner with grandparents

And maybe a trip t the Appe Stre is in rder, eh?

Happy Birthday Jnah! We ♥ yu even bigger than nine!