Not Ballers

"Ballers." Why does it suck? I'm not sure. Maybe it's the writing. Maybe it's the casting. Maybe it's that The Rock doesn't seem sure how to be anything other than a cartoon. Force him to act like a worried money manager for athletes, stick him in too tight suit pants, make him talk finance, and he gets lost in translation. The biggest problem "Ballers" has isn't ballers. It has plenty of those. A crew of athletes in the various stages of their wound up careers: climbing, struggling, out of it. The biggest problem is that there isn't anything counterintuitive about it. It's all a series of grand cliches. The great hub upon which "The Sopranos" spun was that it was about a mobster who was seeing a shrink. What the fuck is up with that? it made you wonder. Watching "Ballers" is like watching the dramatic version of "Hard Knocks," and, shit, we've seen that already. The closest thing to something interesting is Rob Corddry, who's a fucking freak -- but even then they've got him on too tight of a leash -- and Omar Miller's inhabituation of what happens to players after the NFL. Maybe the problem is that while all the active ball players on the show, the ones whose lives we follow as the plot meanders about confusedly, are black men, and, unless I missed something, and feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, not a single one of the show's executive producers is a black man. But, hey, it's Hollywood, and I guess that's how they play ball.

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For the Sad

I spent a long time reading this very sad piece, "Five Hostages."

"According to several freed hostages, Kayla was not tortured or sexually abused. Didier François, the French journalist, sometimes heard Kayla asking her jailers for fruit or sanitary napkins. The male hostages wondered who she was. At one point, they heard a guard say that she was Muslim, and Kayla corrected him. The guard was impressed. 'She’s stronger than you,' the guard told another prisoner. 'She doesn’t pretend.'"

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I Spent Too Much Time Focused on Drugs

Well, drug tattoos, that is. I spent way too much time searching Instagram for drug tattoos to create what I think is actually a pretty cool post for my Forbes blog, which should've been titled: "Instagram Your Drug Tattoo And Everyone Will Heart You." Or what have you. Do you know how goddamn hard it is to get good results for #cracktattoo? You're looking for someone who's posted a shot of their crack-inspired tattoo, and you end up looking at people's ass cracks with tattoos in them or on them. Also: #coketattoo. You think it is easy, but it is not. Do you know how many idiots have Coke the soda tattooed on them? Way too many. Also: People, get more XTC tattoos. Or at least let me know what hashtag to search so I can find them. There was also this insanely interesting one that had to do with like heroin and a pregnant woman combined in a tattoo -- or something??? -- and I saw it once, but I couldn't find it again. What I think ended up being the most interesting part were the sobriety tattoos. They were powerful, and I like how they had a function: to remind their owners not to go down the road again. Kudos. Oh, one more thing: Where the hell are all the flakka tattoos? Man. All I got was Waka Flocka Flame.

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The Zombie Hunter

The other day I got my contributor's copies of the latest issue of Clackamas Literary Review, which features a new short story I wrote, "The Urologist." Thanks, Trevor Dodge! You can buy a copy of it on Amazon here. I was delightful to be featured along pals of mine: Lydia Netzer, who wrote the widely-acclaimed Shine Shine Shine and contributed a wonderfully weird short story called "Suicide Doors," which is about a woman who tries to write erotic fiction and keeps getting distracted by life, and Kevin Sampsell, who wrote A Common Pornography, published my very own You're a Bad Man, Aren't You?, and contributed a series of fantastical collages. In any case, I hope you'll pick up a copy. Here's an excerpt from my story:

"Sometimes, at dinner parties, someone would ask her why she had married the husband, and she would say, 'If there is ever a zombie apocalypse, my husband will hunt other humans for us to eat.' Invariably, the person would laugh, thinking she was joking, and she would laugh, too, playing along. She wasn't kidding. The husband was a killer."

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How to Not Choke When You Blog

Now that I'm back at Forbes, I'm trying to post a fair amount, but on Friday, I sort of choked. I'd written a post about a python pizza, and a post about porn on HBO, and then it was Friday, and I got stuck. I spent way too much time overthinking it: Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Then on Sunday, I realized I needed to post anything, which actually prompted me to write the post that I originally wanted to write, which was about a work of art made of crack vials.

Be fucking specific

One thing that's sort of a challenge when you write about vice is that you can write about a lot of shit. You can write about: heroin, cam girls, internet gambling, a line of wine named for dead criminals, a gun show, pruno, DeLoreans, and all kind of other things. I spent too much time casting too wide of a net in the form of Google News, which sucks. When I wrote about things successfully, I realized, they tended to be about the intersection of two things: vice and something of particular interest to me. So, for example, I'm not that interested in pizza, but I am interested in Florida, so an Everglades pizza made sense. Be as stupidly specific as a PhD candidate in your endeavors. Niche your brain.

Write something, anything

I think one problem was that I was focusing too much on what people would maybe want to read. This is an old bad habit that comes from having jobs that required heavy traffic-getting writing, and it can ruin you the way love can get ruined for an old whore. Also, Forbes has a somewhat different way of paying bloggers for traffic nowadays -- because that is how it works there -- and so far it's been ... well, I'll give it a positive slant by saying I'm sure I'll figure it out. But it's different. In any case, post what you love, and fuck everyone else. After all, most people are dumb.

Do shit, dumbshit

I wrote a nice post on my Forbes blog a couple years ago: "A Girl and a .22." It was fun to do and fun to write. I went to a firearms superstore with a big range and shot some guns. If you don't have to be a churn-and-burn blogger, why would you act like one? Use blogging as excuse to go live a more interesting life. For me, that's meant going to porn shows, and gun shows, and drinking expensive Bloody Marys. Find what you love, and then fuck the hell out of it. I'll be going on another adventure later this week that should be interesting. Stay tuned.

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I Heart New York

After I went to the journalism program at Yale, I spent a couple days in NYC. It was an amazing time. I ate at The Breslin, which I Ioved. I sat at the bar upstairs and enjoyed a Brooklyn Bramble cocktail (I tried the Pickled Gibson, but it was too weird for me), the market salad with tahini dressing (tasty!), and the duck and sausage (delicious). Thanks to Matt for being a cool bartender. I stayed at the Algonquin, which, oh my god, I loved so much. Dorothy Parker and the Vicious Circle! Dark wood! A cat named Matilda working the front desk! A copy of the New Yorker in every room! I will definitely return. On my first full day there, I went to see the Alexander Calder show at Dominique Levy. Everything was white, white, white there, and you had to wear booties to not scuff up the floor. The Calders were mostly small-sized, and there was a very dear set of miniature sculptures that fit into a cigar box, a gift for his wife. The rooms in which the pieces were shown were designed by Santiago Calatrava. After that, I saw the Richard Prince show at Gagosian. The show featured cheesy pulp books that were coupled with the original artworks that had been commissioned for them. It was a little odd, and somewhat amusing. Of course, the infamous appropriated shot of an underage Brooke Shields in the nude was included. As usual, Prince underwhelmed. After that, I went to the Met.  This show required a warning, and I loved the China fashion exhibit. There were some amazing Tom Fords and a lot of glorious Galliano, but I wished there were more McQueens. Don't miss the weird, watery floating box on the roof garden. The next day, I had to check out the new Whitney Museum. So glad I did. It is super cool. It's like a stack of fantastic shoe boxes, or art-filled jewel boxes, and the views that frame the art make you feel agog. The all-floors show is America Is Hard to See. The top floors with older works were crowded and less impressive, but the lower floors with newer works were just spectacular. Oh, and I walked the High Line, too.

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I Went to Yale -- Sort Of

A couple months ago, I saw an ad for Thread at Yale on Romenesko. It's basically a new three-day writing conference at Yale, although it describes itself as "a gathering of professional journalists and storytellers that does not care whether you work in print, radio, podcasting, or some form we haven’t even thought of yet." It's a hybrid event: there are lectures, Q&A's at bars, and workshops. The cost: around $2K if you choose to stay at the Yale dorms. So, I applied and was accepted. This was the inaugural Thread at Yale, and here's how, for me, it went, the pros and the cons.

OMG Yale

The main reason I went is because Yale. I mean, you know, it sounds fancy. I went to the University of California at Berkeley, which is not the Yale of anything. True to form, Yale didn't disappoint. I had imagined it as "where the one-percent go to school," and a lot of it looked like a church dedicated to elitism. And I mean that as a compliment. Yale is like Berkeley, but with way less communists and, as far as I know, no one going to class naked.

The speakers were super cool

The second reason I went: the impressive mentors lineup. The most famous mentor there would be Steven Brill, founder of CourtTV and Important Person in Media. He's also behind the Yale Journalism Initiative, and Thread is an "offshoot" of that. He was the second speaker on the first day. I wanted to like him, and I even hit him up about his mysterious media project with Jill Abramson, but for some reason he reminded me of Roy Cohn. He spent a lot of time sneering at most topics that were raised, which was sort of unfun. Suffice to say, Steven Brill is not my spirit animal. By contrast, Glynn Washington was the first person who spoke on the first morning, and he was endearing -- example: "Stories are magic." There were two evening events at bars, one featuring Emily Bazelon and the other featuring Gillian Laub. They were OK, but there was a bucket of beer being handed around, and Laub said "I" so many times it made me want to stick my head in the bucket. The second morning, we heard Steve Brodner speak, and he was hilarious and smart and irreverent, although I had to go take a call (journalism related!) in the middle of it, so I missed part of it. After Brodner, Catherine Burns, who's the artistic director of The Moth spoke, and she got way upstaged by the guy she brought with her, Matthew Dicks, who did a Moth story live about the day he died (and came back to life, obviously) that made me have feels, which was good if you want to have feels. (Seriously, it was great. It made me want to cry.) The last morning, we heard from John Branch, who was the most amazing of all the speakers, and who talked a lot about "Snow Fall," which was intoxicating and made you want to work for the NYT. That shit was inspiring. The last speaker on the last day was Ann Fadiman, who I thought was a bit meh, but she told a highly hilarious story about Tina Brown, and who doesn't like a good Tina Brown story?

I loved my mentor

Other mentors weren't there to lecture; they were there to lead the workshops we did in the afternoons. Reportedly, there were 72 attendees, and we were put in six groups of twelve, and we spent three hours every afternoon for three days with the same group workshopping whatever individual project we were working on in our real lives. The workshop mentors were: Mark Oppenheimer, Sarah Stillman, Jake Halpern, Graeme Wood, Roya Hakakian, and Linda Gradstein. My mentor was Sarah Stillman, who writes for The New Yorker, and is a deeply awesome person. She ended up being my I'm So Glad I Went. (Read her "The Invisible Army" if you haven't.) I heard one of the mentors (not mine) was not good at time management, and some of that group's participants were disappointed by the consequences of that.

The biggest issue was ...

I felt like a good-sized chunk of the attendees were a disappointing lot. Some attendees were great. I met some really awesome people, and I hope I made some friends, and there were some young people there that I learned from and who were awesome. But the group of attendees was about -- I don't know, like, 80% women? And that's just never a good thing. I wondered why this was the case with several people. Why so man ladies? Somebody thought it's because Thread used the word "storytelling" a lot in describing itself, and that sounded like some lady shit. Another person thought that it's because men don't think they need mentors, and women don't mind asking for help. At one point, some chick was knitting in the back of the room during a lecture, and it made me want to grab the needles and stab out my eyes. I guess because Yale and because High Caliber Mentors, I thought this would be a group of brilliant, hostile, drunken, ambitious male and female journalists who would be violently dissecting each other's work, drinking too much, and engaging in non-stop witty repartee. Instead, it felt more like a support group for women who wanted to tell their stories, but were like, oh, gee, I don't know, I need validation and permission, and there was way too much hand-holding, and getting along, and nurturing. Nurturing is to vom. I would not go back for this reason. I don't need a support group. I need a friendly flogging. But, hey, that's me. Knit on, sister, or whatever. (There were a lot of inexperienced people among the attendees. Or at least it seemed like it. I would have liked more experienced people. More rigor. More cranky veterans from the field. At one point, I looked around and wondered where they were, these working journalists who are fearless and don't need permission for anything, and then I realized they were out there doing stories and being cranky in the field. They were not at this event. I suppose this is what happens when the barrier to entry is money, not talent. C'est la thread.)

A bit of the bait and switch

I felt like because there was so much stressing of multimedia in Thread's description of itself on its website, that I would really learn a lot about multimedia. I did not. Sure, there were people from NPR and people from The Moth and photographers and a political cartoonist as speakers, but I wanted to learn more about how "Snow Fall" gets made, and how I can make a "Snow Fall," and what are the tools available to me, and how do I integrate words and these tech tricks, and there was none of that other than Branch. That made me feel baited and switched. So that was disappointing. Fix that for next time, Thread at Yale.

But what about those dorms

I stayed in the Yale dorms. Maybe the architecture was Brutalist, and the room looked like a Chinese prison. But, whatever. The twin bed did the job. I had a roommate. We each had our own bedroom. I mean, it was a dorm room, for fuck's sake. (If I had to go again and wanted to be fancy, I would stay at The Study.)

For fuck's sake, what did you eat and drink already

Ordinary is a super cool bar in New Haven. Recommend. Mory's is fucking bizarre. Probably the most WASPy place I've ever been in, and I don't get why you keep doing your Yale chants. For sure the only time George H. W. Bush and I have been in the same club. We ate breakfast (included!) in some Yale cafeteria with a giant moose head on the wall.

Um, no

Someone at the start of the conference, a leader, indicated we were not to quote with attribution what was said at the conference. At least, that's what I and others understood him to say. (Here's me not doing that: It was Mark Oppenheimer who said it.) Are you fucking kidding me? Tell writers what they can't write. That's how you start off your writing gathering. Sign me out. Thank you for not successfully censoring me.

Here's the thing

Am I glad I went? Yes. I learned a lot in the margins. In the spaces between events, and in the random connections with cool people, and in the time I spent walking around and feeling like, you know, I'm a writer, and I'm good at this, and this is great. I happened to embark on another journalism project with a great publication at the same time, so I'm really excited about that. I took one road there, and being there kind of led me down another, and while I believe in Janet Malcolm wholeheartedly ("Every journalist who is not too stupid or full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible"), and I wish people who choose to tell stories would spend less time pretending their committing some valiant act and more time admitting they're parasites upon the human race, I felt invigorated by the fact that I was, at least, you know, thinking about these things, and grappling with these things, and not sitting at a fucking computer staring at some screen waiting for me to put something on it. At one point during the event, as part of The Moth presentation, we watched an excerpt from this story, the late Mike DeStefano talking about his wife, who was dying of AIDS. At one point, he says, "You know, and we're junkies. You know, we were junkies. We were different. We were fucking freaks. People crossed the street when they saw me, you know?  And her. She was a prostitute. She was a fucking drug addict." Great stories are not about $2K conferences at Yale, offering each other nurturing support, and vague stories about some love affair you have had with a narrative that goes nowhere. It's about peeling back your skin and exposing yourself, going deep and revealing the unseen, being out in the field and forgetting about what everyone else's doing as the story unspools before you. Don't be safe. Be brave. Stop asking for permission. Do the stories. The hard ones. Easy is bullshit.

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No Big Eyes

I watched "Big Eyes." I didn't care much for it. I like some of Tim Burton -- the scissors kid is my favorite -- but this one just bit. First of all, I don't care much for the real paintings: these wide-eyed waif things. And while Christoph Waltz is a pleasure to enjoy as a monster in "Inglourious Basterds," in this role he just grates. Amy Adams is the put upon artist/wife, but here again I prefer her better as a tough-talking bartender in "The Fighter." What's glorious and great and fantastic in the movie is everything behind these two quarrelers: the mid-century modern houses, and the alarming Burton color choices, and the surrealist eyeballs of ladies at the supermarket. The rest is a mess. If you want to watch a couple fight for two hours, this is your movie. I guess I would've had more sympathy had I liked the artworks, but, you know, I don't.

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The Confederate of Florida

There's a lot of this in the south end of Florida: Confederate flags and anti-Obama bumper stickers, red trucks and patriotism, hunting and swamp life living. After a while, it becomes part of the scene. The Confederate soldier descendent hawking redneckabilia at the flea market. The house painter who bleeds red, politically-speaking, that is. The stories about the time a wild hog killed a dog. Maybe they're clinging to the past, or maybe they're hoping for some kind of other future. They're wary-eyed and weary of the current United States. If you could let them secede, they probably would. Meanwhile, technology is racing past them, transforming everyone else into someone else. I'm not sure if they're close-minded or just afraid.  

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Press Rewind If $1 Doesn't Blow Your Mind

When I self-published THE TUMOR -- my awesome, terrifying, twisted, weird, cool new short story about a man who wants to kill his wife and the tumor that stands between them -- my goal was to sell 100 copies.

Thanks to your fantastic taste, I'm almost there! To date, I've sold 98 copies.

If I sell two more copies today, I'll have reached my goal and will feel better about myself, and you will feel better about yourself, and the world will keep spinning, and the universe will be pleased, and we all want that, don't we?

Buy it here!

(It's been called a "masterpiece of short fiction.")