In Curmudgeon Writing Style


Boris paintings

When asked what I mean when I write “In Curmudgeon” for a particular story, I usually say something about how too many writers, bloggers, social media scribes, etc., focus on the positive and very rarely rant on about a problem. To me, that’s a problem. No one has a perfect life, and pretending you do is problematic. By using “In Curmudgeon” at the beginning of a story, I am signaling that the writing takes a different approach. Life isn’t always a Rumi quote. Below is something of an artist’s statement on the process as I fleshed it out in my head.
The method isn’t anything terribly new, though I believe it can be applied to any writing style, be it prose, non-fiction, poetry; and can work in art as well. My series of Boris paintings would be a good example. Existentialism, brilliantly developed by Simone de Beauvoir, and gynocriticism, with a nod to Elaine Showalter, paved the way for new thoughts, while Poe’s style of gothic prose and Kerouac’s spontaneous prose, further charted a course for the development of narrative techniques. It helped me develop the in curmudgeon style, which I distilled and simplified over the last several years.

Intent: To bring awareness to depression, bad moods, dark thoughts and other forms of negative energy, and illustrate that it is neither odd nor uncommon to feel this way. To stop the common practice of pretending everything is okay all the time. To embrace what is, for some, a natural bend to see the worst in the world, and to put this style in the public eye. Rather than hide negative thoughts, complaints, and rants, even replace them with intentions of beauty and peace; In Curmudgeon takes the honesty back, highlighting what is wrong in the hopes humanity might grow by exposure to it.

Description: Writing in curmudgeon takes the philosophy in narrative writing that not everything is meant to be, not everything ends happily, and not everyone finds joy in simple things. It doesn’t pretend or lie to the reader. It’s about honesty and raw truth, which isn’t always available – thanks to a world that idolizes positivity, often at the expense of a grim reality. For some observers this constant form of positivity makes one feel like there is something wrong with them for looking darkly at the world, for not trusting the world. There are positives in this life, which can be reflected in curmudgeon, but celebrating the honesty in humanity is essential. Rather than face a world of increasing positivity, where popularity is measured by the appearance of success and social bragging, in curmudgeon is a place for those sick of hearing the lies.


Chapter Doodles

We all love stick figures – to the point our hearts will explode in our chests and kill us. So I doodled a few to illustrate each chapter in my upcoming collection of rants, In Curmudgeon (taken from my blog posts over the years), and wanted to share them here. The Saint offered up the best stick figures. Simon Templar’s little halo always looked just right. Mine are just like that. Only worse.INC

How to avoid spoilers (in curmudgeon)

Like blondes, spoiler alerts have more fun. They’re also stupid.

PS –blondes aren’t really dumb, but I don’t feel like scrounging up a different analogy. And the opening sentence slipped deep inside my head while I was driving, so I wrapped my brain around it. Why waste a good driving thought?

Being an American nerd is easy. These days it’s practically synonymous with just being an American. There are movies, television shows, Youtubers, video games, card games, print books, comic books, t-shirts, mugs, USB drives, bloggers, dumb window decals, letter openers, “collectible” toys, underwear, lunch boxes, trade paperback comic collections, television shows, Netflix shows and much more. Being a jock, which used to be easy, is probably the new “geek,” but nerds are still easier targets for bullying because of their lack of muscles. And these days the jocks wear Star Wars shirts, which to this day stirs up a weird gag reflex in me.

And being an American nerd is big business, as the merchandise description above indicates. So of course people with an inclination to write are tripping over each other’s wireless keyboards to produce millennial-friendly content we will all want to click. That race can mean more demanding, sexier content too. Roughly translated: “Let’s ruin the plot of every film and TV show months before you actually see it.” Let’s overkill it all in the shallowest way possible. Let’s make a big deal of something that’s not a big deal (much like this post).

Salivating as we do for every fresh nugget from the set of the new Avengers, Star Wars, or Game of Thrones; we click on it, thinking it won’t salt the wound. But it does. It hurts. If the film is fresh air, spoilers are pollution. And these days, spoilers are everywhere. In the rush to make us click their article over someone else’s, those spoilers are starting to surface in the headlines – often mere hours after the film or television show has gone public. And we read them because we love the nerd stuff.

I devoured those articles, thinking it wouldn’t kill my thrill, but I learned the opposite occurs. I watched Game of Thrones and Captain America: Civil War, as well as others, and came away hardly amused. They were okay, I thought. Then I realized I would have gotten way more excited had I not known everything that was going to happen before it happened. I’m such an idiot.

Rather than me saying, “Please take it easy on spilling big reveals when you write about things. Write like you work for Starlog or something,” and getting nothing but trolled as a response, I figured out a better way. I simply don’t read the articles anymore.

Stay off social media until you’ve seen it, hide or unfriend the entertainment sites you once frequented, and you may find you’ll enjoy the experience of the nerd much more. It’s an easy fix and may cause writers and entertainment sites to rethink how they deliver the goods, rather like training an algorithm.

Being like a blonde, it took me WAY too long to figure that out.

And maybe, but not likely, I’ll read more New York Times instead of Cinema Blend.


An open letter on open letters (in curmudgeon)


Dear Open Letter Writer,

We all care so much about your opinion. We want your open letter so bad.  Please write it as long as possible, as passionately as possible, and tell us all how you feel. Of course we know you have no real connection to the topic, no stake, but don’t let that get in the way of adding to the conversation.

It’s an important topic, so make it noisy. Blur the lines of discussion, add your own story to the mix whether it’s only partially similar to the topic, whether anyone asked for you to chime in or not. We promise to hang on every word of your open letter as if we needed only your voice to make the discussion saltier.

Your open letter isn’t going to make us think you’re riding on the coattails of a trending topic. It’s going to make us want to know more about you. It might make us sad for you. It might make us nod our heads in approval, and if your instincts are right, it might even make us want to share it. So write it. Please write it. Your experience is just what we need right now while the discussion is slow, but do it before the news cycles on to the next trend. There’s nothing worse than starting an open letter and abandoning it in favor of a different open letter.

Every random thought and unimportant detail, written by way of abusive and uninformed language, should be in there. We know you know how to write like that. We all do, at least those of us on social media know. Share your personal story and school us on how it’s similar to the trending political topic of the day. Explain how your court experience, your arrest, and your violent crime is just like the one in the news. Make it seem like there are no differences. Make it seem like you know those involved in the topic intimately and we will believe every word. Do whatever it takes. It might be difficult since you aren’t involved, and your opinion wasn’t solicited, but we don’t care. We so don’t care.

We need your opinion. It makes all the difference. Really.


Lulled by the lullaby

So lovely. So soft. Fuzzy. Warm.

On Effexor, paranoia is spread out like peanut butter on white bread. It’s diffused, all concentration gone. It’s less important. That’s what happens when the salmon-colored tablets pole dance down my throat. It brings my humanity back to a bearable point and whispers to my mind that it’s been wrong all this time. But who is right? Should I be paranoid? Isn’t there a truly dark and terrible reason for my depression? Or is Effexor right? There is no reason for the depression. There isn’t really anything to be paranoid about.  And if there is a reason, who cares?

Romanticizing authors for their love of alcohol is why many are as popular as they are, or at least one of the reasons they’re adored. Everyone loves to think someone so messed up can create something so loved. And there are a ton of messed up authors. Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, Poe; the list (15 top drunks here) is pretty endless. All the cool writerly types get hammered when getting fat at their keyboard. At least they used to.

Now they’re on Effexor.

Effexor is why I can listen to Linkin Park’s Meteora album while driving (at the speed limit) in my Volvo without feeling like people will think I’m old. I was already old when the album came out.  It’s why writers don’t need to drink. It’s a lullaby for an anxious existence. It’s Wyeth-Ayerst Lab’s gift of sublime “synapsical” serotonin. Thanks you guys. I can alter my existence without throwing up now. Only I can’t leave your drug. It won’t let me.

The mid 90s came with turbulence. Bad relationships, new homes, mortgages, higher incomes, 3-D puzzles, Voltron, Princess Diana, Mike Tyson’s ear eating, and then came Effexor. It’s been a smooth ride since, like sitting in the backseat of your grandpa’s Buick Park Avenue.

Only he was a drunk.


Writing in curmudgeon

Cover-2.jpgJD Salinger almost nailed it. He didn’t like art on the covers of his books. It took away from the tale by creating what might be a false sense of the story inside, by telling the reader (by default) what they should see in their heads when they crack the spine. Even his name confused his gender, were he not already known.

But shouldn’t a book be about the story, not whether the author is male or female?

If the idea of male dominance still exists in today’s literary community, which is arguable, then let’s end the argument by taking Salinger’s idea a step further. Take away the cover art and the author’s name. Go with “by a writer” instead of our own names.

Every writer in the world would have to agree to do it, so it’s obviously doomed to fail. Writers, like children and politicians, fight endlessly. Writers want to be known, they want the accolades, and they aren’t putting their stories out there for the sake of the story, but for the sake of their ego and checkbook.

Boil it down and there’s cash at the root.

Writers write because they would go mad if they didn’t write, right? Their intellects would vaporize, leaving nothing but gray jelly behind, if they didn’t tell a story. Being a story-teller has nothing to do with sales. It has nothing to do with awards. If you want to write, then do it. Don’t write because you want to be famous. Don’t tell a story to make money. In today’s world, platforms exist for authors that make publishing as easy as clicking the word “upload.” If you want to be a writer, don’t worry about sales or fame, because it might never materialize. Write because you don’t like the idea of gray jelly. My latest book, “Mantula,” currently in the editing process, exists because my son and I had a blast making up a fictionalized story based on a photo I took of a dead tarantula. I didn’t write it in the hopes it would sell. I don’t even care if anyone other than my son and I read it. I wrote it because at that point in time it was a story I needed to tell. To me there’s no better reason to write.

I also read about the publishing industry for fun, which leads to an unending stream of frustration. I read magazines that focus on literature because it’s something I’m passionate about. For better or worse, many now focus on sexism in the writing world. Articles focus on male writers, hinting at the demise of the male dominated writing community, or bemoaning what the article’s author believes to be an unbalanced field favoring men.

If the “world of male dominated literature” is coming to end, I will still write. I didn’t start writing because I felt privileged. I like to tell stories. That’s why I started writing. I read VIDA: Women in Literary Arts counts and shake my head, both out of regret that we live in a world where balance is needed and out of a nebulous suspicion that I’m being hustled, fed an “underdog” story by an organization that doesn’t want to put itself out of business. It could be I can’t see past the privilege of male authors, but I’m beginning to doubt it. Sell me on a good argument, though, and you might turn this consumer into a believer. Only it hasn’t happened. I think I’ve looked beyond my privilege. And I still don’t see scales tipping toward men in the literary community. I see anthologies seeking only female authors. I see contests for female writers. I see articles written only by and only about women, and I read about the largely female workforce behind the scenes in the publishing world.

I grew up reading female authors thanks to my single mom, to this day I read literary magazines managed by a largely female crew (with articles that cover women in literature out of a perceived 1980s-era view of sexism), I read literature articles that largely focus on gender over literature (thanks Huffpost books for politicizing the “Books” section, not to mention alienating male readers by making us feel less liked than female readers). And I’ve taught my children to prefer stories over anything else (my son wanted to be Katniss for a while. So did I).


Screenshot from HuffPost Books.

Since when has literature been more about the author than the story? Since Hunter S. Thompson? Since the dawn of the Me Generation? With HuffPost Books, which I still land on, but rarely click further, I counted 14 separate posts about women writers (and specific women writers in particular). Four women authors were mentioned in the headlines by name on this particular day (March 31st, 2016) while the only male writer mentioned by name was Shakespeare. I don’t care about these things as long as the articles feature something worth reading (I can only read so many JK Rowling pieces), but it did seem odd that a story on the male-dominance in literature was mixed among the female-dominated story line up.

Then there’s a recent Jezebel article on a male literary icon accused of inappropriate behavior with a whole host of women –  like Bill Cosby with the Literati. It leads with the headline, “Is This the End of the Era of the Important, Inappropriate Literary Man?” But not all literary men are either or both. And if there is an end to such an era, another will begin (the era of the inappropriate literary woman for example). This article would have been better met had it remained laser focused on the individual. There will always be a larger problem. We are all human and humans are inappropriate. The news is important for so many reasons, but to herald the end of the inappropriate literary man is not one of them.

This shouldn’t even have to be typed out, but here it is. Not all male writers are sexist. Not all male writers believe their stories are any better than any other writer. A lot of us read books written by our favorite males, Kerouac, Coates, Steinbeck, King, Palahniuk, Rushdie – and we also read books written by our favorite females, Rice, Rowling, Angelou, Nin, Christie, etc., And, just like female writers, males have important stories tell, even a few that have nothing to do with their gender.

While readers may wonder if female authors really do get reviewed less, if they do win less awards, and if they do feature more male characters, perhaps they should also wonder what drives books to do well, and in turn which makes some authors write a certain way. The answer is easy: sales. It takes people buying copies, it takes the right people talking about them at the right time to buzz it along, but mostly it’s about the money. Maybe education needs to come into play here. Teach us readers that what we like to read is wrong. Like any cantankerous child, we won’t do what you tell us to do. We may even do the opposite. Reading is about the story, and great reading happens when readers really dig a story.  Again, we’re human.

Telling mass market readers we need to rewire ourselves to be less ignorantly sexist, to appreciate less masculine story-telling, however it’s presented, will be the death knell of popular literature. The publishing world, in this respect, follows sales, and shouldn’t be in charge of telling readers what they should and shouldn’t read.

If you’re a male and you feel the literary world frowns on you, write about it. If you’re a male and you don’t care what the literary world thinks or if you ever get a book deal, keep writing anyway. If you’re a female and you think the literary world isn’t your friend, write a damn good book about it. If you’re a female and you think now is the time to be noticed, keep writing until you get a book deal.

And if you’re male, female, trans, or anything really; write a compelling book with a wicked plot and I’ll buy it. I don’t care who you are. But I may want a signed copy of your work.


De Young Museum in curmudgeon: 10 things that didn’t help the experience


Art Museums crack open young minds and pour in bravery. They make us think outside of our boxes (those selfish things that are covered this year in Bernie or Trump stickers) and look at them from new selfish boxes, maybe even from a perspective where the artist selfishly thinks they are outside of a box. The de Young Museum in San Francisco is no different. Famous paintings by artists like Diego Rivera, Salvador Dali, and Pablo Picasso titillate the imagination inside, as do other pieces of art, including Mayan artifacts and breathtaking Hawaiian feather work. It’s a beautiful place, first and foremost, and worth visiting, as are all Museums.

But the de Young left a lot to be desired in comparison to other museums when viewed through the lens of a first time visitor with no idea what to expect, or even how to get there. The following ten points are observed from that perspective.

  • Could not find parking. Are there signs anywhere? Is there really an underground parking area? Where is it? Do I need to know a guy who knows a guy to find it? On a Saturday, during an opening, seek parking in Golden Gate Park wherever you can find it and just hike in, even if it’s pouring rain. Parking should really be the first amenity.
  • Terrible signage in the park. Not until you’ve found a spot along the busy roadway do you see small “You Are Here” maps and only then do you know if you were luckily enough to park close to your destination. Usually you’re about a mile away. Consider some clearly visible signs. Please.
  • Signage on the de Young building’s exterior. Is it a myth? On March 12th, 2016, the only indicator the building was indeed the de Young Museum happened to be a giant, pinkish Oscar de le Renta banner. Maybe put the name outside in someplace clearly visible.
  • Long waits for tickets. With the de la Renta opening, lines were long and boring. There were three people operating ticket sales, one reserved for “will call” geniuses and two for the not-so-genius people that thought coming on a Saturday would be fun. One of the people operating ticket sales went on break, which leaves one to handle the long line, and leaves those standing in line wondering if the Museum has a staffing shortage. When it’s busy, see if there are extra bodies available.
  • Lunch at restaurant a confusing mess. You can simply grab items 7-11 style or you can get a menu, which you bring to the register (there may be two registers) and then order. From there you get a cafeteria style tray, your drinks and a number. Someone brings food to you later once you have found a place to sit amidst the throng. Luckily a meal for two is only about $50, which isn’t bad if you’re a Hilton. Order fast food style, order cafeteria style, or order menu style. Pick one.
  • They use the sticker system. Apparently, the two people operating the ticketing are supposed to tell visitors to peel a sticker off a portion of the ticket and affix it to their clothing. This gets you access to the galleries, as apparently just buying a ticket and wandering around just isn’t done there. Expect to be stopped if you haven’t put your sticker on. Consider making the sticker thing clear when the visitor pays.
  • No clear flow. If you use your intuition to wander the halls of larger museums, expect it to kick the bucket at the de Young. Is everything up the stairs, to the left as you leave the café, or what? Signage seemed lacking in this area as well. There was no rhyme or reason to finding it all and the little map, which most of us have folded up and put away by this point, do little to help. Consider directional arrows.
  • Truck stop bathrooms. The building has opted to herd the visitors into a single bathroom area, located not in the center of the building, but at one end. Should you have to go, hope that it isn’t a busy day and hope you’re not all the way at the other end of the Museum. Because that would suck. Consider more plumbing.
  • A minor point. Many museums offer books for bibliophiles to stick on their shelf. They’re all around the same size (art books) and give a little info on the galleries and their permanent collection. Not so with the de Young. Their art book, the one titled Inside and Out, is small enough to fit in the glove compartment and does not contain as much information. That and it doesn’t match on the shelf. Gift shop staffers, however, proved to be quite nice, which was a bonus. Consider a bigger, cooler book.
  • Stopped for suspicious purse. Expect a security person to stop you if you’re wearing a backpack or purse strapped to your back. Apparently this is also something those two people at the front desk are supposed to share with visitors but don’t. At least not every time. Consider making the rules clearer so not to disrupt someone’s museum experience by making them feel like they just got in trouble.

Consider The Portland Art Museum, The San Diego Museum of Art, and the Saint Louis Art Museum, even the Phoenix Art Museum, and their layouts. Most have these matters hammered out in an easy to comprehend way, even for introverted, anxious bibliophiles. Especially those who are visiting for the very first time.