Friday, March 31, 2017

The Pervasive (and Vitally Important) Nature of Language Today

Language has a problem...and it is us.

I don't think I'm being hyperbolic when I say that we've not only butchered language in many ways (Twitter and text speak, anyone?), but we've also gotten very, very good at layering words and phrases to have multiple meanings.

Practicing linguists probably find this evolution interesting, and in its own right, it absolutely is at the purely academic level. But once we dive headlong into the ramifications of where language seems to be heading, it stops being academic and starts being indicative of something else, something far less pure. Every culture has its own subculture(s) of language evolving up and out into thousands of nuanced levels of slang. In medicine, politics, even just the most basic of corporate offices, language is used to both simplify complex conversations and communicate without being offensive (usually).

But what I want to focus on is the use of language throughout the current electorate. We now have an election process that lasts for an ungodly long 18 months (if not longer, in some cases). Throughout the course of this time frame, we the people are bombarded with campaign slogans and what used to be elevated trash-talking. This last election cycle may have been the worst on record, purely from an outside perspective. .

We were already at odds with each other politically through much of the social media world. I didn't think it was possible for the fever-pitch to achieve its own fever-pitch, but here we are in what can only be described as one of the most divisive times in American history (maybe world history as well, but that's for someone far smarter and more globally-minded than I to decipher).

There was a mass of unfriendings on Facebook during this last election; those on the right unfriended those on the left and those on the left unfriended those on the right. Every day, I witnessed new examples of it popping up in my news feed. I didn't understand why. I understand better now, though I disagree with the response.

I enjoy a good political discourse. Anyone who holds a different opinion than I do always has the opportunity to change my mind based on a few things: the argument/discussion is civil, there are clear, untarnished FACTS being presented, and we're still able to remain friends if the discussion ends in a stalemate where one of us has not convinced the other of our position. Evidence of these three things in most of the public debates I've seen is seriously lacking. In many ways, we can blame the anonymity of the internet (in regards to the comments sections of most news articles). But with Facebook, unless the discussion is completely public, we tend to know the people involved in the conversation.

There's the old saying by Edward Bulwer-Lytton goes "the pen is mightier than the sword." In its original context, the phrase was meant to be empowering, meaning that communication (or the power of an independent press) is a more effective tool than violence. Taken out of context, one could also say that "words cut deeper than any blade is able," and we're getting very, very good at using language as a weapon rather than as a salve.

More often than not, I've seen the political arguments devolve into baseless, presumptive name calling. Part of this is obvious frustration at one party's denial of irrefutable evidence that their position (often also their opinion) is incorrect. Other times, this devolution is based purely in cognitive bias; we believe what we believe and screw you for believing differently.

I'd love to say that I'm some bastion of the unbiased life. I am not. I have, early on, fallen prey to using language as a weapon. Whether aimed at a former lover or at someone who disagreed with me politically, the words acted in much the same manner and garnered the exact same ineffective result, only serving to make me look like a total asshole...which is exactly what I was in those moments.

The current president does us no favors in many ways. And full disclosure: I didn't vote for him, but I hope I'm treating all of this with as much neutrality as possible. Not only do most of his off-the-cuff comments lack a great deal of nuance, the lack of complexity in his language does very little to keep the elevated status of the White House.

Throughout the campaign, we saw and heard things at a linguistic level that essentially made him sound like every trolling Youtube commenter. The way he spoke about women, the way he treated the other candidates that shared stage time with him, and the repetition of zero-calorie phrases (tremendous, the best, are all fairly indicative of where we're at right now. Language no longer seems to mean anything.

There's the pervasive idea that politicians lie, and they do, so we as an electorate expect it. But when the lies are so obvious, then proven wrong, then double-down upon by the people in power, this is an immense problem in need of fixing. When the facts disprove your claim, you should be humble (and intelligent) enough to know when to apologize or retract your previous claim. If these continual lies are unintentional, they can be forgiven. If they are intentional, meant to divide and conquer further, then that is absolutely unforgivable. Using language in bad faith does no one any good save for the speaker.

We can certainly branch off into the unfortunate nature of news as a business model, but the way headlines in periodicals of all political stripes have become hyperbolic (and quite frankly, ridiculous) also does us no favors. They appeal to our deepest, but most easily accessible, biases. Are there some news outlets that favor one party over another? Certainly. Does every news outlet have a political bias? I'd argue no. I believe that mostly comes down to the individual except in cases of obvious political leanings on the part of the organization (Huffington Post, Fox News, etc.).

But here we are, wondering why we can't talk to each other while all the evidence is right there staring us in the face every day. We don't seem to care about language unless it does something inherently beneficial on our behalf. We need to break ourselves of this. We continue to use language as a weapon and we keep sharpening the blades like we're preparing for war when we should be preparing for deep, in-depth discussion instead.

There are plenty of instances I could continue to point to that show just how far down the rabbit hole we're going in terms of language being abused rather than being used to its full potential in better, more meaningful ways. And lord knows I'm constantly trying to be better about that myself, though I falter the way a normal person does. But I've also kept all the people I disagree with in my Facebook news feed. I find it more interesting to see their opinions, to engage them when I'm in the mood for a political conversation. I have no problems with changing my mind; having an opinion flipped on its head due to facts is how it's supposed to work. Your opinions aren't supposed to be set in stone, especially when there's evidence to the contrary.

But we should all be doing a better job of preserving and using language in better, less self-serving ways.


Friday, March 10, 2017

New Writings, New DJ Mixes

February was crazy busy.

With all the trappings that come with getting promoted also came a lack of anyone being hired to replace me in my old position and it seems like we got hit with twice the work. I've had quite a few 60-hour weeks just trying to help us get caught up. It's been exhausting, but a good learning experience as well. I went from *maybe* 5 emails from writers a day to about 40 from writers, higher-ups, and outside contacts.

A lot of office fires have been put out since my last post almost a month ago.

Sales of "Scaring the Stars into Submission" have....let's say, dwindled. It's not surprising, but it's mildly disappointing. There was a 10-day stretch where nothing shipped. That was rough, especially since I bought ads hyping the book to show on three sites: Goodreads, Facebook, and Instagram.

I started with the Facebook ad. Figured it would reach the most amount of people, and it did. But I found that the most action came from the Instagram ad. Something like 15,000 people physically interacted with the ad (liked it), while only about 400 of them actually clicked the link to check out the book. There was zero bump in sales.

So I moved over to Goodreads, a place full of nothing but readers and authors. To date, 45,232 people have seen the ad; 17 have clicked on it. Maybe 2 or 3 people have added it to their reading queue. No idea if they've bought a copy or not.

But as of right now, 177 copies of the book have sold since it's debut on New Year's Eve; 8 kindle copies and 169 paperbacks. That's a pretty damn good number two months out considering I don't have the backing of a publishing house or anyone else to really help me hype the book in other markets. Response to it, thus far, has been overwhelmingly positive, which is great considering how strange a book it will be for most people.

And honestly, I'm just really happy it's out there. I hope it gets a small cult-ish following of rabid fans ready for the next collection (which is done, but won't be released until the end of the year or early next year).

In the meantime, as I wait for the foreword and cover art to be completed for "The Machinery of the Heart: Love Stories," I've been working on a few new pieces for the third collection. At the moment, it's tentatively titled "Trying to Prepare for a Life I'll Never Have." Where TMotH:LS ventures into more realism in most of the stories, I'm actively trying to bring out the weirdness that made StSiS such a fascinating read, both as a writer and as a reader.

After all, if I'm not excited about what I'm putting on the page, why should the readers get excited? If there's no passion there, people can tell. In writing, in cooking, in art - people know when something's been done half-assed. It's often easy to tell.

Currently, I have 22 stories in various states of completion for TtPfaLINH. I'm most excited about the ones that have come quickly and decisively, the ones that actively tried to claw their way out of my brain onto the page.

"Dust" - The story of a woman who has lost interest in her marriage, but finds a kind of exhilaration every Tuesday when she cleans her house from top to bottom in a very unconventional way.

"The Museum of Mirrors and the (Mostly) Dead" - I started this one a week before reading Millhauser's story "Miracle Polish" and decided after that I'd throw in a little homage to his piece. 10 mirrors from different historical points in time are on display in a nondescript museum. Each has a wild story to tell, showing the viewer different things.

"Terroir" - The story of a man's morning ritual being turned on its head while he recounts the way in which he ended up in his current situation. This one is very Kafka-esque in a few ways. I'm curious to see how it plays out.

And now, for some music news. I've got a few gigs coming up in the next few months, so I've been trying to put out new mixes again post-back surgery. Sometimes a mix just doesn't want to be made, which sucks, but then other times a mix HAS to be made and comes out far better than you originally expected. Below are two of my latest mixes along with links to where you can hear them over at Mixcloud.

Upcoming Gigs: 

Gate 89 @ Niche, Kansas City, MO. - 03.16.17
Selekta & Friends Present: Warehouse Revival, St. Louis, MO. - 04.15.17
Hit Squad Reunion, Topeka, KS. - 04.29.17
Escape in the Beats @ the Kirkwood Lodge, Ozarks, MO. - 05.26-05.29
Wet Hot Electronic Summer @ the Kirkwood Lodge, Ozarks, MO. - 07.21.17
(I've not been booked for this one yet, but I'm hoping it happens. I'll be going regardless.)

New Mixes:
(Click on the title of the mix to head to the streaming site)

19 Tracks
85 Minutes
117 BPM

Guaranteed to shake the junk in your trunk and put a hobble in your wobble.
All eras of caboose juice ready to let loose.

Kashif - Don't Stop My Love
The Temptations - Treat Her Like a Lady
Gino Soccio - Try It Out (Instrumental)
Discotron - Disco Ballin'
First Light - Daybreak
Rockers Review - Walking on Sunshine
Newcleus - Jam On Revenge (The Wikki Wikki Song)
Evelyn Champagne King - Your Personal Touch
Kashif - Stone Love
The Pointer Sisters - Automatic
Dayton - The Sound of Music (Extended Version)
Curtis Hairston - I Want You (All Tonight)
Newtrament - London Bridge is Falling Down
Roger Troutman - West Coast Poplock
Dam-Funk - Boogie Slyde
Delegation - You and I
Midnight Star - Wet My Whistle
Aurra - Such a Feeling
The Detroit Experiment - Think Twice

Jazzy, heavy on the basslines, and plenty of horns.
The soundtrack to the spy movie you never seen,
but maybe the one you wanted to act out.

19 Tracks
75 Minutes
90 BPM

Kool & the Gang - Messenger of Wisdom
Beanfield - Breeze
Rae & Christian - Catch a Rude Awakening
Coffee Shop - If You Got Soul
George Pallikaris - In Search Of...
Alex Cortiz - Afterworld
Ingrid Schroeder - Paint You Blue (Muggs Instrumental Mix)
Guardner - N.Y.C. (Edit)
Air - Modular Mix
David Axelrod - House of Mirrors
Omega One - Body Double
Anitek - Chamomile
Sven Van Hees - Ocean Jive
Towa Tei - Technova (La em Copacaban)
3582 - Early Morning
Alex Cortiz - Room 505
Anitek - Fixation
Menahan Street Band - Karina
Dj Cam Quartet - Tribute to J. Dilla

Things are about to get busier on a personal level, what with gigs, this new writing momentum, and all the traveling and pool time that comes with summer, but hopefully I'll have more to update with soon.