My Work

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Writing Life

Ahh, the publishing business, or, why do I write?  After more than fifty years in the news business, I’ve seen my own name in print so many times, I’m sure as hell not doing this to see it again.

On the other hand, yes I am.  There’s a much deeper thought behind writing every day for two to three hours.  I just plain love it.  And I have for a long time.  Since June 1 of this year I have submitted queries on more than half a dozen short stories, more than five queries to agents on novels, and have written two short stories and two poems.  There’s a thrill to writing a piece, there is dread at starting a piece.

Here is a piece that I wrote for the Laissez Faire Electronic Times in November of 2002 that might explain part of this.  And, yes, I own the copyright.

Why I Write
by Johnny Gunn

So why am I feeling this way, and what does it mean?  My sensible self says, it means nothing, it’s just a part of life.  My paranoid self says beware, there are forces about which you know naught.  To which should I listen?  Maybe I should just go back to bed, pull the covers high, set the pillows on my head, and burrow, deep into an ostrich hole, protected from the forces of reality.  Ostracize myself?

When one can’t see, feel, or hear that which frightens, then one isn’t frightened, but right now, I’m frightened; I want to hide, I want to challenge that which frightens, I want to run away, I want to stand tall and win.  Win?  There is nothing to win.  This is life, and when life is through defecating and puking  and evicting, we die.  There is no winning.  Our bodies purge that which keeps us alive, our soul is farted into the ether, and we’re gone.

So why am I striving?  What am I striving to accomplish?  Is bashing one’s head against a theoretical wall that separates winning from losing, worth the war?  I could set all this aside, pack a bag, drive until the tank is dry, and walk into the high mountain desert to await the fate of the cosmos, which of course would be death.  And if I didn’t set it aside, continued battling my windmills, at some point, some morning, days, months, years from now, I wouldn’t awaken.

On the other hand, if I packed a bag, probably a couple of sets of underwear and socks, after all, I would want to be in clean underwear when I’m found, and did venture into these craggy old mountains, spread across what’s called the Great Basin, the first thing I’d find would be a Mountain Bluebird, all shiny and tiny, an antelope following along behind me, so curious and proud, and later that night, I’d be serenaded by singing from long nosed, bushy tailed, coyotes, and in the morning, I’d feel compelled to write about it, it being another day in my journey toward oblivion.

It’s just ‘round and ‘round we chase, oblique at times, with little insight or perception, just onward, floundering in our intelligence, proud of our wisdom, block headed in our understanding, until we reach that ultimate goal.  We die.  Is putting words together in such a manner as they are pleasing to eye and ear a noble effort?  Putting it another way; is it worth the effort?  A newspaper columnist once called me a wise person because of what I wrote.  An editor once railed against everything I stood for because of what I wrote.

Often the wise come in groups of three and seven.  The three wise men, the three kings of Cologne immediately come to mind, along with the seven wise men of Greece, the seven sages, the seven wise masters.  All astute, all sagacious, even referred to as being sensible.  And, along with those who bring wisdom and knowledge to light, there are those who bring so much joy and love through their own lack of sanity.  Did Mozart have a grasp of reality at any time in his short life?  What’s even more profound to think about, those who were considered to have a grasp of reality, were attempting to stop his efforts.  His mania was genius, his zeal and obsession, his legacy.

None of this helps me in my efforts to understand what’s going on in my own mind.  Am I simply frustrating myself with my desire to put words together, to create beauty, to open doors to understanding?  Writing from fact, I’ve been published over and over, for almost a half century, but writing from invention - fabrication, I rarely  solicit a personal comment from an editor.  One of the people under whose tutelage I’ve progressed to this point, calls writing fiction the act of simply telling a lie.  An invention of one’s stimulated imagination, plotted and planned, characterized and surrounded by fiery narrative isn’t an obvious best seller, but coupled with a knowledge of the art, and a sincere desire to become a true craftsman on the part of the writer, should make the story one that would garner at least a gentle comment or two from an editor.

That would be my sensible self talking, wouldn’t it?  What would my more paranoid self say?  The powers that be in the publishing world are not interested in the kind of work that makes one think, nor are they interested in hiring editors who might tend in that direction.  Paranoid or not, the first part of that comment is probably the correct one.  Write to the masses, write to those who have already been dumbed down, who actually believe the characters on Star Trek exist.  That most families live as the Simpsons.  Homer, not O.J.

Once again, Johnny, sir, in your paranoid thoughts, read the Peter Principal.  Almost all publishing today is controlled by giant international corporations, and those corporations are headed by men and women who have risen through the ranks to their personal level of incompetence.  Editors too?  Taking the Peter Principal idea one step further along this journey to oblivion, maybe I have simply risen to my own level of incompetence, and those editors are aware of that.

Stick to what you know and understand, they say, and write from that perception, but I don’t want to be a reporter or editor.  I love fiction, but what I’ve discovered is, I love the old fiction, writers who probably would have their submissions rejected by today’s standards.  I like Hemingway and London, Kipling and Laxalt, and I find myself not fully understanding so many of the short stories that are being published in so-called literary journals and magazines, most put together in university MFA writing programs.

I participate in public readings on a fairly regular basis, offering poetry and short fiction, and am well received, by the general audience and my peers.  So, I think the best way to end this rant is to make a simple declarative statement of what the hell I’m doing with the time left to me. 

1.  I’m writing.  I will continue to write, poetry, short fiction, essays, free lance articles until there is no thought pounding my temples, no words flying through the vapors and invading my conscious and unconscious psyche.  No word shall be unused.

2.  When all the free flowing words and phrases are used up, misspelled, misplaced, broken and ruptured, I will die.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Civics Lesson

It’s been reported recently that some seventy five percent of our eighth graders nation wide have little concept of what our constitution says, what the Bill of Rights mean, or even a basic understanding of democracy.  The report was issued by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a non-profit organization that issues these national report cards on a regular basis.

Many school districts throughout the land have either pulled back or quit teaching civics, and we have a population of people under forty that are not knowledgeable about why we enjoy a way of life that is not known in many other areas of the world.  Many are graduating from high school without an understanding of the First Amendment, the Second Amendment, or even what the three branches of the federal government are or why there are three.

This probably answers why so many young people turn out for a presidential election but ignore all others, the opposite of what an informed and educated populace would do.  Without a full understanding of how our government works, why it works that way, and who is responsible for what, electing a president sounds like it should be important.  If asked, most people today actually believe the president can get something done, but little of what is done in the White House has an effect on wallets and bank accounts.

Members of Congress seem to be spending more time chasing skirts than working to once again enable an active economy, and again, the electorate rarely stands up and bites back.  The Tea Party Movement is working to change that, but it will still take years for those in congress to remember who they represent:  The People.

So, which elections are most important?  Those that put people in office that are responsible for taking the most money from you paycheck.  City Councils and County Commissions are responsible for most of the tax money that is raised in this country but elections for those offices are the ones in which the least number of people turn out.  In a recent city and county election in Clark County, Nevada, less that fifteen percent of the registered voters bothered to go to the polls.  Those that vote in municipal elections put people into office that are responsible for more tax money than all of the presidents alive today.

In the near east right now, people are fighting and dieing for the right to vote in a free election, for the right to voice an opinion in public, for the right to not be harassed by the police and military, and for the right property and personal dignity.  In Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, and other countries, thousands have died fighting for those rights that in this country are deemed the cornerstone of our way of life, yet our educators don’t feel that our young people should understand why we are able to live the way we do.  Without an informed and educated public, we are open to armed rebellion by forces that don’t want us to be free.

What can you do?  Write letters to your individual school systems and demand they teach civics, make those letters public by way of letters to the editor of newspapers, and spread the word in everyway possible that without the teaching of civics, this country is in jeopardy.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Campaign Finance Reform

There has been some movement in the right direction in Carson City this legislative session as regards Nevada’s election laws, among the worst in the nation.  During the years in which I was editor of the Nevada Observer, we wrote often about the problem of campaign finance reporting, in reality, lack of reporting.

Candidates are required to file contribution and expense reports (C&E) regularly with the Secretary of State’s office, but there were few requirements to follow.  Some candidates actually filed their reports in pencil, most were hand written making it virtually impossible to follow the dollar.

We wrote often that the filings should be done electronically, that data base computer programs should be used, that the listings, at the least, should be alphabetical.  It appears that someone has been paying attention.  AB452, offered by Secretary of State Ross Miller, would require C&E reports be filed electronically, and Miller said he would then create a date base in order to follow the contributions.

Flaunting of the election finance laws in Nevada has been a game that should have been eliminated a century ago, but it’s so much fun to shove a stick in the eyes of the public by politicians that the corrections are just now being made.

The sticky part of Nevada’s election law is not being addressed.  As it stands today, an individual and a corporation are treated similarly.  When we speak of contributor, it could be a person, it could be a corporation.  The law says contributions cannot exceed $10,000, which breaks down to $5,000 for the primary election, and if the candidate is successful, another $5,000 for the general.  One would think, then, that an individual would not be able to contribute more than $10,000.  Not so, McGee.

Developers and gaming operators have been contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars, regularly, and legally.  If a man also was responsible for five corporations, he would be able to contribute $10,000 for himself, and $10,000 for each of those corporations.  Some developers in southern Nevada own and operate tens and more corporations.  Some legislators have been known to respond to large donations.

The law needs to be changed so that the officers of the corporations are listed in the C&E reports.  In that way, at the very least, we would know who is trying to buy their way into the warm and fuzzy hearts of our legislators.

It would be a good thing to separate individual donators from corporate donators, but that might be a lot to ask of those fine men and women in Carson City.  This first step by Mr. Miller is appreciated, but more steps are needed.  Our horse and buggy approach to campaign finance is deplorable in the 21st Century.