Broken Watch: Part 1

I decided to add some backstory to a previous project I worked on here. Here’s a draft of it. Enjoy!

Broken Watch

Mr. Guillory was free to wrench the gun out of the boy’s hand and pummel his nose with the back of it until the resulting twisted volcano of blood flashed him back to boot camp. The bald twerp held a rifle like a gangster in a video game holds a handgun. Still his heart swung in small circles, a rhythm he needed to talk to Dr. Starek about.

“If you don’t believe me, ask Tie herself,” said Mr. Guillory.

Tie sat with skinny arms resting at her sides, on a chair of broken computers and laptops that the office workers left behind years ago. Hundreds of outdated electronics held her up. Her black tie ran underneath her large eyes and between her small breasts. “I’m sorry, Cane. I meant to tell you. You can put down the gun if you want.”

Watching Mr. Guillory and Cane, four other teens fidgeted, rope and canisters and bat and bloody fist at ready. The windows at the far ends were wide enough to render the remaining walls useless. One teen’s green necklace of different animals shone brighter when looking at her red hair. One grew a beard on his Arabic chin, his eyes darting to all the exits. The youngest one shuffled her feet as if in a dance. And the non-bloody fist of the big one carried a stack of papers as thick as the skin on his face. There were unknown stains underneath them on the cement floor, and were all over the abandoned staircase.

Cane’s finger, first frozen on the trigger, came to move away from it. He picked up his sleek black cane and held it like a defending sword while his other hand lowered the gun. Mr. Guillory smiled.

Then Mr. Guillory hit the floor.

His chest stung on the outside, dug a hole in itself on the inside. If Cane resisted a smile, nothing about his body showed it. Mr. Guillory coughed. His lucky pocket watch fell out of his breast pocket.

“I thought you said-“

“’Down, lapdog?’” Tie mocked. “I have no more authority over Cane than a fat man in Washington has over your breakfast. Cane is responsible for what he does alone, just as you are responsible for looking like you tattled to the teacher. If you have any grievances, then talk it out like humans.”

The teen with the necklace put a hand under Mr. Guillory’s armpit and held his other arm, both of them lumbering up like a tent blown out by the wind. If anyone else was in the building, they could’ve heard the breaths of the anarchists synchronize against Mr. Guillory’s labored respirations. The swastika-tattooed fist of Cane tightened.

“Cane,” said Mr. Guillory, readying the lie. “Cane, I did not meant to insinuate that I- or Tie- have power over you. You are free- to do whatever you please.”

Cane’s eyes contracted.

“But please understand that Tie invited me here, and that I have no intention to report any of you to anyone.”

“Then why are you here?” snapped the one with the beard.

Mr. Guillory looked to Tie. Tie nodded, and then spoke. “We met at Zeno’s. I happened to be reading Anarchism and The Moral Condition. He kept staring at it. I told him, have it, don’t show it to any librarians. At the end, I left our address.”

All the heaviness of the room funneled into the curses and shouting of the other members. When they finished, Tie spoke again.

“Believe me, I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t read him first. Belt?”

The youngest one, a preteen with a sparkling pink belt buckle, stepped up to Mr. Guillory. She looked at him as if he wasn’t two feet taller. “What is death to you?” she asked.


She nodded.

Mr. Guillory played with his tie in one hand, touched the personal pocket schedule with the other. “… There’s a reason we consider it evil. To be good is to… take care of those who need care. And power’s defined in part by that. I mean, of how many people you reach. Death is the child you can’t touch. It’s an alien power, stronger than us, ruling us without being in the same-“

Belt clapped her hands, shrieked. A great smile flashed on. She ran to another room.

“She does that,” said Cane as Mr. Guillory watched her leave.

“Is she going to write that thing again?” groaned the one with the beard.

Mr. Guillory looked at the stains. Some of them were just ‘The Ultimate Rule is Death,’ written in tight crayon and smudged together.

Tie laughed. “You’re either very fortunate or very right for us. What would you like to be called?”

“Mr. Guil-“

“’Oh Officer, I confess! I broke in! And Mr. G helped!’” Tie mocked. Her eyebrows tightened. “I’m Tie. This is Cane, Necklace, Beard, Manifesto, and Belt’s in the supply closet. Who are you?”

He could check the time, find a reason to return to the thundercloud of a home. He raised his head. “The Fixer.”

Beard snorted. Dimples popped up on some of the members.

“All right, Fixer,” said Necklace. “Welcome.”

Mr. Guillory was now a scuba diver ascending, the water pressure dissolving above him. He was about to breathe again.

“You were all at the NATO protest, correct?”

They didn’t need to nod.

“Did it ever occur-“ he continued before his face flushed.

“Don’t self-censor.”

Mr. Guillory wheezed before finishing. “Did it ever occur to you that the police are more free? Because they can do more than you.”

“Yeah, they’re free. Except for their thousand laws and commitment to violence and their addiction to donuts and-“

“Beard is upset about New Caveton,” said Cane. “When we go there, he’s going to suicide bomb them to teach them Allah’s law against suicide.”

“Hey, fuck you! At least when we go up against America, we don’t fold like a bitch ready for a fat one!”

“Our leadership was-“

“You guys are so gross,” said Necklace. “The spirits wouldn’t care about such crude matter.”

“Woman, you need spirits to get your shit!”

“I’ve had enough-“

Before Cane raised his namesake- and before Mr. Guillory walked out- Manifesto rustled through the pages in his book, his glossy eyes scurrying within that square page. Everyone stopped to watch. He hadn’t stopped smiling, nor looked like he was going to. He found his passage and read.

“’Though Death may seem as if the ultimate boon to give under Veritasism, the mysterious nature of the afterlife leaves the question of killing undecided. Shall there be paradise, Veritasism will fail, since the pain of the dead both ends and fails to make a better world. Our power only extends to what we know. If the greatest misery produces the greatest happiness, if the longest shadow means the brighter light, one cannot risk sending friend, foe, or fellow to a better world.”

Mr. Guillory didn’t grasp what exactly was said, and neither did anyone else according to their faces. But they all exhaled at once, and their shoulders dropped.

Tie stood up from her seat. “So because the police are powerful, they are free.”

Mr. Guillory confirmed.

“Are you more free than us, then? Because you have age and a job and a life?”

“That’s why I want to help,” said Mr. Guillory, taller than the growing bodies around him. “You’re the future. But you don’t know what true freedom is. It’s more than all those broken bones. I can teach you. I can make you into builders of the new world, instead of breakers.”

Tie laughed. “That’s the thing, when you leave school. You become your own teacher. We’ll see what you make of us, and we’ll see what we make of you.”

Continued in Part 2.



Writer’s block happened to other people, as far as I was concerned. I tend to think about several projects at once and rehearse scenes in my head until I point out continuity errors, so there’s always something to write. And a consistent schedule commitment means I’m always writing something. In theory. But from March to April this year, my page requirement outpaced me, and I squatted in swamps of unproductivity and wasted time. This writer’s head was as heavy as a… a… I’ll think of something.

Looking back, the project I was working on may have had something to do with the state. You might have seen it: it’s New Caveton, a script whose beginning pages I posted during that sluggish time. Don’t memorize every word; I’m going to post a revision sometime soon. I’m halfway through the script now, bouncing off great ideas and laughing as I go along. Whether the ideas are great, and whether you will laugh with me, is something we’ll decide later. But this is, without a doubt, the project that caused the most ulcers during its creation. Part of this stress comes from the main character, which remains inexplicable to readers no matter how much I untangle him from his current, arguably illogical situation. Most of the headaches derive from the risqué and (dare I say it? There’s nothing to dare) tasteless nature of the piece. I tend to not offend in my writing or speech (OK IT WAS ONE TIME SHUT UP), so talking about anarchists going to what’s essentially Ferguson to, succinctly, fuck shit up is a big risk for me. Making the anarchists the butt of the jokes in this dark comedy helps, but outside that there’s still a white guy talking about one of the biggest events in black America with, shall we say, a bit of irreverence. Either way off the tightrope, it’s spikes or a pit.

And I’m not sure a lack of ideas played a part in this slump. I worked on this screenplay for a Writing For Film class, where everyone else opted to write tasteful, more dignified stories. My teacher’s feedback for the first twenty pages I submitted hinged on two points. The first was confusion about the protagonist, which is useful criticism, if hard to hear. The other was the excessive (in her eyes) violence and sex in the story. Now if she doesn’t like violence and sex in her screenplays, that’s not her fault. We’re all entitled to our personal preferences. Yet I got the vibe that she objected to guns and punches at all in the story, whereas I believe a tale about teens on the fringes of society, libertine in their actions and in social norms, going into a vicious situation calls for violence. But whether or not she was the target audience doesn’t matter, because my script was getting tried as an adult before it even reached the age of 18 pages. It turned out ok: she convinced me to take out an early 10-page scene that set the completely wrong tone for the script. That was in late March. Come mid-April, I knew what I needed to accomplish and what to do, and my pen still rusted inside my writing binder. I tend to think of myself as welcoming to criticism, yet here I was, hiding my newest possible opus in my mind, triple-locked and bolted.

Stephen King talks, in On Writing, about a teacher that banned his work from his high school and berated him on why he wanted to write “junk.” The echo of her voice haunts him, although what doesn’t haunt Stephen King these days. My teacher never censored me, and never intentionally discouraged me. Yet somehow I thing I ended up in a similar situation to King. The author talks later on in the book about not showing your first draft until it’s finished, and I think I see why now.


The same class that seized my writing fingers ended up releasing them. For attendance one day, we all listened in on the Q&A/ script session of one David Milch, the writer behind Deadwood and NYPD Blue. He’s an interesting guy- delivered answers in stilted, loaded phrases that answered as many questions as they raised. He also gave us invaluable writing advice. To him, there are two types of scripts- one written out of fear, and one written out of faith. The best writing comes from faith, faith in the audience as well as in your material. And I flipped through my script archive in my head and noticed how much I’d written out of fear of my audience noticing a plothole or not getting the message or thinking a controversial script was- gasp! – controversial. I now had the strength to open the toolbox again and hammer out something good. My workshop was two days from then, and I blew out ten pages that day.

So thanks to David Milch for seeing writers in a ditch and giving them rocket boots. If you’re reading this- hi! I’m the asshole who meant to ask “What was the process for bringing your first script into production?” and it came out “How did your first script go?” Everyone laughed at your answer (“It was horrible. It does not do well to dwell on this.”), but after my cheeks went back to pale, I realized that that meant you can fail the first time and still have a Hollywood career. You could even argue that Akiva Goldsman’s even more inspirational by continuing to fail over and over again. So to any writer in a slump, I say this: Write stupid. Write silly. Write insulting. Write bad. Nothing turns out good until there’s enough red around its first draft to qualify as one of the 10 plagues of Egypt. Criticism of your writing is not criticism of you. You gotta write not out of fear, but out of fries. Sorry, I meant faith. Dinner’s coming up.

Much better!
Much better!

EPILOGUE: I got my feedback on my Writing for Film Final: the first 50 pages of my script, plus plot point 2 and ending. I’ll go over her comments in detail later this summer, because 1) I still have to submit stories for another class and 2) I can’t read her goddamned handwriting. I got a B+ in the class, likely because I turned in things pretty late even by her lax standards. She appreciated what she calls “intensive rewrites,” and believes my work became a lot funnier when it got a bit lighter and not so randomly violent. No, madam, the thanks go to you. I may have sweated the blood to improve it, and I may disagree with the early timing of the peer-reviews in your class, but it was your suggestions that turned this story into something quasi-readable. You’re a good teacher. Don’t let others tell you different.

She compared the set-up and outlandish situations in the script to comic books, and suggested I find someone who’s into comic books to read it. And King suggests finding an “Ideal Reader,” so there’s some merit in finding like-minds for critiquing. But there’s a gut reaction I have against finding a hugbox and sticking yourself inside it until your spine snaps from the pressure. Someone else in my class read my script, someone likely closer to the ideal reader my teacher thought of. He loved it, therefore he didn’t give me many ways to improve it. My teacher invited the class to send her their finished scripts in August, though I have a feeling she wouldn’t want to see mine again. What do you think? Should I subject more of my story to a reader that will give honest and useful feedback until she pukes? Or should I find a cheerleader and let him cheer away?

To Kill A Mockingbird: A Newbie’s Perspective

I finished Harper Lee’s only published book (for now) a couple of days ago. I enjoyed it. But that’s not worth a blog post, telling you that something good everyone knows is good is good. I’m reminded of the three friends in high school that had not seen Star Wars yet, prompting me to drag them to my house and stage a viewing of the Holy Trilogy. And they, at age 18, provided a new and thought-provoking perspective of the trilogy, i.e. not loving it. Everybody read this book in grade school but me. I can provide the view of someone who didn’t procrastinate reading until the book report due date or didn’t sit through quizzes asking about what costume Scout wore that killed the tension of certain scenes with her. Does To Kill a Mockingbird deserve to be mandatory school reading?

And no, I haven't seen the movie, stop asking.
And no, I haven’t seen the movie, stop asking.

Some people, according to banned book lists, answer ‘no’ to that question. Now I assume you’re a smart reader and need no preaching about how supporters of banning books never lost their baby teeth and will suffer intense pain whenever they bite into something harder than porridge. And we’ll laugh at them for it, the pernicious poopyheads. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn uses similar language (ok, they only share one word), and it also appears on such lists. But I’ve never seen an edition of To Kill A Mockingbird where the n-word is censored, whereas you can find that for good ol’ Huck Finn. Why not? Both stories use the word to paint a racially insensitive America, and end up with some pretty obvious anti-racism messages.

A couple theories. 1. People want to read Huck Finn more than Mockingbird. I enjoy it more myself, though that’s not a knock on Lee by any means. No one would show a TV edit of Pulp Fiction if no one found anything good about the original. Most people vote Twain higher than Lee in best book lists anyways. But that theory takes second-string pitcher to my main theory: 2. The word ‘nigger’ is integral to the plot of TKAM way beyond TAOHF. The entire conclusion to the court case that envelopes the ongoing Scout-growing-up story hinges on how racist the jury and the society of Maycomb is. This tale can only function in a prejudiced world. With Huck Finn, you only need a few characters to be bigots and people will still get from A to B plotwise. Racism is a great seasoning for Huck Finn, but it’s a starchy side dish for Mockingbird that excellently compliments the main course (note to self: stop writing these posts before breakfast). To erase the word ‘nigger’ from To Kill A Mockingbird is to erase the word ‘mutant’ from X-Men.

But enough about what other people think- what do I think about this book. Well, I can tell you that it’s depressingly relevant, that’s for sure. Just like in today’s towns, many residents of Maycomb remind us right quick how not racist they are and how blacks are too demanding for special treatment and we’re better than those German blokes and slavery was 60 years ago you guys! In that respect, out of many, this story deserves to be read at a young age. Another reason is that you need to be a particularly dumb 8th grader to not get who the mockingbird is. Going into this, I’d heard so many jokes about tequila and about how this isn’t a manual that I expected the reason behind the title to be deep and meaningful. Spoilers: it’s black people. There’s one scene where Scout and Jem attend an all-black church, where the congregation can only afford one songbook. So the preacher says a verse, and the entire congregation repeats it. Now that’s a decent way to establish the reason for the title. The other discussions about mockingbirds (save the precedent-establishing “it’s a sin” one) serve only as opportunities for teachers to ask their students “Do you get it yet!?” For an otherwise quiet story, this constant choice sticks out.

And now it’s time for the fun part: what in the book doesn’t work? The conclusion to Scout’s womanhood arc, for one. In another universe, I may have liked it. Scout’s a tomboy, see, running about and getting in trouble and being told to act like a lady. Jem and Dill consistently tell her “you’re a girl, you wouldn’t understand,” and it peeves her right off quite rightly. She stumbles into more trouble as the book goes on, and she learns how dark both her world and the social systems around her are. Atticus crashes a lunch meeting between Scout and the women of the book to tell them about Robinson’s death. Somehow, this prompts Scout to shape up and think “…if Aunty (Alexandria) could be a lady at a time like this, so can I.” That’s it. Scout’s gender role arc ends with her giving in to an outdated social system. Don’t mistake this objection for a purely feminist PC complaint. A story about a tomboy discovering some good in femininity… there’s an interesting tale in there about finding identity in unlikely places. If you, or any of your characters, like something, enjoy it, don’t let others tell you that it’s wrong. BUT. This entire book conveys how stupid people act when following the crowd for treating/characterizing others, be it blacks or Boo. Scout knows about this folly at the end, and jumps to follow a crowd to treat and characterize herself under illogical and harmful standards. What makes ladyhood worth striving for in this book? It only rears its dainty head to keep Scout down. She should stick to her slingshots, is what I’m saying. If I were inclined to be generous (and I am- the simple narration serves the story exceedingly well, and balances several character arcs without giving predominance to anyone but Scout), I’d argue that she’s finding comfort in sisterhood, the same way the blacks in Maycomb bond so as not to break. And if I had to write Scout’s arc, I’d guard it from falling anvils of a gurl-power message. I still question how the most important aspect of a socially aware and conscious book ended like this.

I read To Kill A Mockingbird at the wrong time. It presents an engaging and poignant read for everyone, but I can’t imagine calling it life-changing unless I read it at age 14 or in 1960. All the more reason to keep the diseased fingers of moral guardians off of this and inside a meat grinder. Give it a reread and tell me in the comments if it still warms and chills like it used to. Although watch out if you read it after losing a father figure, because you’ll otherwise drench the book in so much watery salt that swordfish will infest it. That’s probably why this book resonates at such a young age- Atticus is the perfect father. He’s brave, calm, human, and most of all, respectful to those on different social standings to him. My parents embody wonderfulness, and I still want someone like Mr. Finch in my life. He’s presented with no description for a few chapters at the beginning, allowing him to evolve from an unapproachable being in Scout’s life to a loving and caring and kind of nerdy rock of a man when everything in our protagonist’s life is changing. I’ve been told Gregory Peck portrays him like an expert thespian, but I can tell you right now that most of that beauty comes from the book.

To Kill A Mockingbird should be read in schools for the same reason you plant a seed in the spring- timing is everything.

SOON: A review of Go Set A Watchman!

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On Writing With Depression

You are not a special salamander if you have depression. About 7% of U.S. adults suffer it. Doctors diagnosed half of those people with an anxiety disorder. Let me tell you what it means to lose that genetic draw.

Only two years ago did I look back and understand that I felt anxiety for my entire life. It’s an unholy combination of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Attack Disorder (short version: it’s all the time, and thinking about the next one makes it worse). It manifests in my gut as an eternal furnace, always churning, sometimes empowering, never quiet. Sudden changes to plans? Ambiguous social cues? Time for a shower? All coal to add. But anxiety’s something to live with, and even benefit from. My therapist connected anxiety and depression thusly: depression’s the circuit breaker. The anxiety works you up, draining everything, until depression snaps in and calms down everything by removing everything.

Depression was always in my genes, but if I were forced to pick a starting point, it would be the beginning of February 2009. I just finished an insane weekend of high school extracurriculars. Friday worked lighting crew for school talent show, Saturday debate tournament and lighting crew again, Sunday swim conference. A weekend of finals and sleeplessness. I showed up to school Monday, then collapsed that night and took the next day off. This was when general moodiness at my fatigue transcended into a numbness that needed more than just a day off to understand. Someone described depression as when you’re drowning and you see everyone around you breathing. It’s a great description, but I’d like to add an oil fire on the surface. If you do feel anything, at least in my experience, it’ll be anguish and pain.

Most people who know me claim I radiate a never-ending smile and constant chipperness. A lot of it’s probably nervous energy, but I’ve interacted with enough people to confirm it’s a natural social state. I just look happy. So when I was bed-ridden that Labor Day after a energy-less 2009 summer, and after the hospitalization that followed, the lack of results from the thousand blood draws and tests suggested chronic fatigue. It explained my mood. Of course I got miserable, I was fatigued through no fault of my own! How could someone so happy, with so much fortune in family, class, gender, skin color, and mind, have depression? Here’s the truth (for me… ask a hundred people how their depression manifests, you’ll get a hundred and fifty answers). Fighting depression in the long term takes logic and medicine (which I have), structure (which I have), a job or activity you enjoy that holds you accountable (which I have), and a healthy body (which I’ll get back to you on). But in the short term, when that exploding emptiness inside paralyzes the body and soaks up the mind, logic is the enemy. Logic tells you that this agony will never fully go away and the longer you live the more you’ll experience it and the more intense it’ll get and the more it’ll ruin your life and your life isn’t ruined and the fact that you’re even thinking that shows how pathetic and weak you are and you know what? We’ve calculated the best possible course of action for you, and it involves duct tape and a plastic bag. Lindsay Ellis describes this as “the alien brain,” utilizing a logic system that only makes sense once you’re assimilated. Logic will not save you in depression. “I can’t kill myself, I’ve got work in the morning,” is such a stupid statement, and it has saved my life many a time.

I started running with track shoes with my writing two and a half years ago. You can mark the days I fell in a depressive state by the zeroes on my writing log. I don’t even think this affliction helped me on a qualitative level. I’ve written about depression before, and about people with depression, but how much did I gain that couldn’t be researched or interviewed for? That’s the first myth I want to dispel: you, fellow depression victim, are not a special salamander. Your ‘curse’ will not improve your writing: practice, research, and human interaction will do that. Don’t skip your meds so you can understand the mindset of a woman losing her job and her mother- learn to emphasize instead. And empathize with yourself when you fall in such a state. If I wrote better and more often about depression, I’d have written this post months sooner.

I’ll make my second point through a story. A couple of weeks ago was finals time. Finals stress out everyone, and devastate my mind and body. I tell myself, “You test well. Student Disability Services gives you a special testing room so you can have more time than everyone else.” But again, logic need not apply when you’re in a sky of quicksand, sinking up. I enter this state a day after Best of No Shame, after a descent into junk food, Internet submission, and bed living. Anything that distracts you from how you feel right now, you take. I already submitted two finals beforehand, and only had two left: the test and the portfolio. I mustered one reading of my notes before the test, and one scan of edits before the portfolio. I made it. I got to the test on time and turned in the first half of my screenplay a few days before the deadline. And it did a whole mountain of jack for my depression. Maybe I was stressed because I planned a big cleaning expedition to the jungle that once was my apartment before I traveled home, but nothing changed in this cocktail of sludge and vodka that was my head. It ended that night, but that’s not the point. I lifted the greatest stress from my mind only to find more cobwebs underneath. There’s the second lesson: no amount of success will get you out of depression. This includes writing. This is still my dream, but even when’s it’s realized I’ll still have to wake up.

I don’t intend for this post to start a pity party, just stand as a statement of what depression is to me as a writer and not a special salamander. If you’d like to learn more about the subject, I’d recommend here and here. Depression hasn’t kept me from updating the blog yet, but if you see a lot of my old work getting posted, send me an email, won’t you?