Challenging myself

Orange sky over Rye, NY - November 2011For those who don’t know me well, I am not a religious person. I don’t hold claim to any one belief system or ideology, nor do I reject any. I hold a high level of respect for everyone’s individual beliefs or lack thereof. It’s not my intent to prove or disprove, rather, it is to learn facts, listen to stories, and understand our world as it exists today. This level of comprehension includes the natural world and human societies and cultures, for which many are built around belief systems and have significantly impacted on the natural world – good or bad. I am also a strong advocate of the sciences.

In needs to be stated with regard to our current polarized climate of religion versus science, that science does not exist to debunk or counter religion. Nor is science a belief system. It is a methodology applied to the pursuit of facts in how things function in our world. It is the exploration of our intelligent minds, the ocean depths, and the minuscule building blocks of the trillions of atoms that make up each of our bodies.

My views on religion – of any faith – are straight-forward, if not over-simplified. When the supernatural elements are removed they provide frameworks that help some people live their lives, to cope with difficult situations, to provide a community of like-minded people, to serve the less fortunate in times of need. In this high-stress, fast-paced digital era of individual isolation – think of how often people are outdoors talking with neighbors as compared to the pre-Internet days of twenty-plus years ago – religious organizations hold an invaluable role in fulfilling a need to belong to a group and provide a purpose in life. I acknowledge that not everyone seeks these fulfillments, or maybe not in a faith-based setting.

So here I am, embarking on what is the most challenging journey yet in my professional creative life. Without giving much detail away at this early stage, I have committed to writing a biography following the lives of two sisters, where religion and gender identity are major factors in their life stories. Funny enough, the challenge for me is not in taking on the subject of gender identity, it’s learning in close proximity about the high value and trust in a faith that is rather foreign to me, one that I may not agree with at times.

Through this writing exercise I have finally reached a point of clarity consistent with my views: a story about another’s beliefs is not reflective of my own.

My dream job

Storm cloud | source: instagram.com/dtgriffith/I was recently asked by my friend, former MFA classmate, and successful entrepreneur Joe Klemczewski, PhD, what my dream job is in terms of stepping into a company and how I would contribute to improve it. This is a question I’ve heard in various forms on job interviews, which has never been easy for me to answer. After reviewing what I had written in my response to Joe, I thought it would be worthwhile to share and elaborate on my final dream job answer here on the blog.

While it’s hard to pinpoint a specific dream job title and role, I want to ensure that I am contributing in a meaningful way, like helping employees by creating growth opportunities and a positive culture, giving back to a community through volunteerism and donation of goods and services, and improving the business’s bottom line, of course. That said, I would take a holistic approach to any type of business, big or small, by addressing the following broad areas:

  • Branding, which includes public perception that goes far beyond logo design and corporate identity, such as how employees interact with the public, how products or services are presented, and corporate social responsibility initiatives.
  • Publicity, public relations, and corporate communications. These tie directly to branding, in how brand initiatives are communicated internally among employees, and externally for promotions and in crisis situations, to name a few.
  • This, too, falls branding umbrella: the elevation of products or services wherever there is an opportunity to improve public perception, improve quality, and increase profitability.
  • Work with marketing, sales, and creative teams along with other stakeholders on strategy to achieve the above points.

Within the points listed above tactics and projects would include, but are not limited to: all forms of advertising, web and social media, print and out-of-home media, streamlined internal networks like CRMs to support these initiatives, implementing collaborative tools for employees to improve productivity and efficiency, improvements to the product and service development and management, and corporate storytelling.

I realize this is a broad scope description of a dream job with several functional verticals, but it is how I perceive businesses I become involved in. Everything listed above can be boiled down to my two core skill sets – creativity and communication. These endeavors are applicable to large multi-national corporations and small independent book publishers – the objectives and thought-processes are the same regardless of the scale and the methods are adaptable.

Some may call this commercial development or holistic branding; I’m sure there are more that aren’t coming to mind right now. No matter the term, this is what I do … this is my profession.

 

 

 

 

Am I a horror writer?

question mark coverI’ve had stories appear now in six horror anthologies. Some of those books, in full disclosure, I had a hand in designing the covers or page layouts, though completely separate from my story submissions and inclusions. A few more horror-genre publications containing my work are on the way to print in the next few months, but I still often wonder whether I am truly a horror writer.

Before anyone lambasts me for such a self-serving ponderous statement, I’m being completely honest about this question, and this is my personal blog. All organization and personal blogs are self-serving regardless of their intents and purposes, don’t blind yourself to this one truism.

Thing is, I never set out to be a horror writer. I am always drawn toward dark material for the books I read or TV shows I watch, which in turn influences or inspires what I write. I’ve tried my hand at happy stories and they never feel authentic to me. Difficult decisions, personal conflicts, and imperfect flaws that lead to dramatic and usually tragic conclusions are what drive me. They are sometimes allegories, other times criticisms on or responses to our current day culture and society. The messages may not be obvious to everyone, and I don’t expect them to be; they typically serve as starting points from which a story takes on its own life. As a story should for every writer.

These statements or criticisms on the world, our society, or our culture come from a perspective of gritty realism, they are neither optimistic nor pessimistic. They just are. The world exists as we shape its existence, both good and bad. This perspective spawns the perpetual evolution of my creativity: a dark point-of-view mired in grit and horror; a creative process carried by a glimmer of hope that challenges an ominous darkness and crushing fear. Think Baroque music and painting. Think Gothic architecture and literature.

Looking back at these paragraphs I just wrote I realize just how subjective it is to define one’s work in any particular genre. This is art and not science after all, there are no mandated axioms on the natural world’s behaviors that dictate creativity, just concepts and ideas.

So my stories may not contain much gore, graphic sex or violence, or the standard supernatural creatures that account for many horror movie and story tropes, but they do contain accounts of mental anguish, trauma, shock, and the deterioration of one’s mental faculties. In that sense, these attributes are real life everyday horrors of the human experience, whether they are set in a dystopian backdrop or a current-day real-world environment that may or may not be affected by a supernatural influence depending on the protagonist’s perspective.

The answer, then, is yes. I do write horror.

Banksy, my quiet hero

The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised Source: independent.co.uk

I already knew Banksy’s arrest was a hoax by the time The Independent published the story, but I’m happy to see an artist receive on-going international attention, even if it was due to the publication of a completely false news report.

The Independent: Banksy arrest hoax: Internet duped by fake report claiming that the street artist’s identity has been revealed

Banksy has struck a nerve in the global collective consciousness and I love it. I almost as equally enjoy laughing at the poorly misinformed National Report, which seems to dig for dirt on anyone who doesn’t coalesce with their political agenda while not vetting the source material. They reported on the arrest hoax as if it was a true event, detailing his alleged crimes of counterfeiting and vandalism. The undertones of the author’s excitement exuded from each account of how bad a guy Banksy is.

This isn’t nearly a one-time thing with National Report, for those of you not familiar with the agenda-driven publication, wrap your head around this headline from October 8, 2014: “Potential Ebola Outbreak Prompts Martial Law.” The president did not declare martial law. It never happened. There is no ebola outbreak in the US. In fact, it was announced yesterday that several dozen people were just removed from the ebola watch list in Dallas. Read this USA Today article for more about the good news.

It’s saddening to think our culture has produced the need for fake journalism that has only one purpose: propaganda. Rile up the base, persuade new readers to hop on the ideological bus ride into the abyss! When authentic information can’t sell an audience, the subject must not be worth selling. The intermingling of fake news with the real news is exhausting. We’ve reached a point in our culture that the audience wants only the correct news and and agreeable news, not necessarily the factual authentic news. It’s tough to determine what’s even real anymore in our jaded and skeptical society, nor do we have the time to sort out fact versus fabrication and hyperbole. You can thank 24-hour cable infotainment news networks where negative news and politically-biased news means higher ratings, increased advertising revenue, and higher stock yields.

I crave authenticity now more than ever and I always find myself turning to the creative world. There is an honesty that cannot be disputed in creative works; whether you agree with its message is your individual right. For me, Banksy’s work is the epitome of art in that it is authentic, it challenges popular opinion, questions the news media, provokes thought, evokes visceral responses, rises above expectations, and continuously catches the audience off guard.

Does a news source exist out there that meets some of my definitions of art? I have some ideas on who might, but I don’t know anymore. I don’t usually know who or what to trust. Absorbing information from one source is a risk; from several sources a comprehensive story develops filled with self-conflicting statements. I don’t have the time or resources to fact check every item of news I read, so I question everything and challenge popular opinion every day. Facts and authenticity are king and queen, and they are Banksy’s work.

On writing aesthetics: brutal intellectual honesty

Last week I finished reading a selection of essays published in 2011 by the late Christopher Hitchens in his book Arguably. I’ve known his word for over a decade and was a fan of his regular TV news show appearances before he fell ill. He brought something to those TV shows and his published works that I found both refreshing and rare amongst the modern day news media: brutal honesty.

I have been a long time advocate of writing honestly in both my professional and creative lives. When a writer holds back emotions, facts, details – anything – it’s blatantly obvious to any reader. Sometimes a reader may not know why something feels inauthentic, but the resulting uneasiness of having spent five or twenty minutes on a piece that feels dishonest is nothing short of time wasted and a lost audience.

Fortunately, I’ve have a good run of reading material lately. I haven’t felt the need to question any author’s honesty in quite some time. There is something unique about reading Hitchens, though, that goes beyond authenticity. I was granted a peak into his posthumous psyche by way of his essays, a much deeper and more intimate experience that I normally encounter. He took controversial stands on sensitive subjects, particularly with religion, like deconstructing the Ten Commandments – of which there are four different versions, I learned. His candid perspectives were well-informed, thorough, and unapologetic. And often laced with wit and humor.

This fawning over Christopher Hitchens’s work doesn’t mean I will devote my personal aesthetic to copying him. I don’t care to to be viewed as a curmudgeon who writes scathing book reviews or regarded by many as a polarizing figure on religion or politics. So let me be clear. Hitchens has been and always will be a personal inspiration in terms of creative and succinct prose, and of brutal intellectual honesty. If there is anything I can emulate in my writing it is this. Along with the ability to piss off people when I know I’m right and the satisfaction that accompanies it.