March 23, 2014

FAMILY MATTERS

Posted in Fiction tagged , , , , , , , at 9:57 am by pstravlo

People let too many little things ruin their day, their week, their relationships.

A perceived tone of voice, reading unknown thoughts instead of what is said, believing the worst case scenario, about someone’s intentions, motives, love or lack thereof.

How many special moments together are lost because a mother and daughter aren’t speaking; how much love left unexpressed.

Why do so many people prefer conflict, bearing a grudge, exaggeration in place of forgiveness?

One life to live, such a short time to take advantage of time with loved ones.

If I think someone is not considering my feelings, it probably says more about me than the someone. I can remove myself any exposure to that person, or forgive (see, it was about me all along,) and enjoy what that someone brings to my life.

I am never going to agree one-hundred percent with anyone, we are all free, unique individuals. Not even my spouse and I will always agree, and to take offense at a disagreement is but destructive.

 

 

March 2, 2014

US In No Position to Criticize Russia in Crimea

Posted in Fiction tagged , , , , , , , , , , , at 9:52 am by pstravlo

Before we Americans get all holy roller about Russia sending troops into Crimea let’s not forget we set the standard for invasion, and the bar is damned low. I’m against Russia’s action, but they have more legitimate interests in Crimea than the US ever had in Iraq.

W instituted a policy of engagement to prevent a perceived threat, and Russia is just taking up our mantle. Don’t be a hypocrite. If you were for the Iraq war you can’t criticize Russia for this.

We are witnessing the consequences of our own short term thinking. Any despot can now claim a perceived threat anywhere in the world regardless of how flimsy the evidence (think WMDs and when Al Qaeda actually gained a presence in Iraq) and send in the troops. That’s what the US continues to claim with our drone strikes, and we gave the world a glaring example in Iraq.

Is the US the world’s policeman? Is the US a moral authority and example for the world? I believe we have forfeited any right to criticize Russia’s actions from the moral high ground.

War on the face of it is immoral. Thirteen civilians die for every soldier’s death worldwide. We should support any person(s) or people(s) who want the freedom to determine their own life (lives.) But the policies of the US are too selective (Ukraine but not DRC? Syria? Ethiopia? Mexico?) and screams ethnic favoritism.

We all have to make difficult moral decisions in our lives, and often not making a decision is the decision we make that’s the most harmful. At least strive to be consistent, as an individual, a family, a people, as human beings.

The US could make the world such a better place, if we just had the moral and rational backbone to attempt to live up to our rhetoric. It’s OK to fail, it’s not OK to fail to try.

February 26, 2014

MFA VS NYC

Posted in Fiction tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 7:39 am by pstravlo

Nough said? The real question is: Are we encouraging technically competent fiction over great writing. I certainly get the feeling that one of my problems getting published (besides running two companies and having to steal hours in the middle of the night to write at all) is that my fiction does not conform to what editors look for. They want to check off the boxes. Below is one suggested structure by Philip Brewer.

  1. a character,
  2. in a situation,
  3. with a problem,
  4. who tries repeatedly to solve his problem,
  5. but repeatedly fails, (usually making the problem worse),
  6. then, at the climax of the story, makes a final attempt (which might either succeed or fail, depending on the kind of story it is), after which
  7. the result is “validated” in a way that makes it clear that what we saw was, in fact, the final result

There’s nothing wrong with this kind of structure, and certainly any aspiring writer should be able to do it. My wishful thinking has been: As soon as I publish enough stories that fit the model and develop a following, then I can stray from the approved norm. It reminds me of freshman composition: write a beginning, middle, and end. It’s easy to understand, tells a story, and it’s great for freshman comp or a newspaper article.

But my stories don’t always follow this path. At a recent conference I workshopped a book of short stories. Yes, they weren’t all as polished as I would have liked. Yet many of the stories were exceptionally well received. They were uplifting, inspiring, clever, upsetting. The instructor said, “Start sending these out. I love it. You’re taking chances.” Toward the end of the workshop I met with an agent from a top NYC agency who had read two of the stories. She remarked, “Very creative. I really like the endings. You’ve never published, so here’s what you do. Send them out like crazy. It’s a numbers game, a full time job. After you get three or four published I can pitch the book to a publisher with the promise of a novel to come. Here’s my card.”

I was ecstatic. And I’m also building up a nice collection of rejections. The problem, it seems to me, is the stories are missing some of Mr. Brewer’s elements. They are creative yet easily readable (one of my problems in the past was asking too much of the reader.) Sometimes the main character is somewhat passive while the supporting characters react to her/his reactions. The endings are poignant, but often not validating, though always relevant (I must admit here that I find many endings, in all forms of published and even celebrated fiction, disappointing.) In short, I’m not playing the game.

Methinks there are many of me out there. I’m not a young aspiring writer. I’m a middle aged (whatever that means these days) man who has a modestly successful career and is prudent enough to not risk my family’s future over a Twilight dream. I shouldn’t have to get another degree or to move to NYC to be taken seriously.

Yes, I am still learning how to write, but the writing is good. The stories are fun, the reader can identify with the characters and still leave their world for a while. Some are more serious than others, and they all have an original voice. Maybe too original.

The debate is really MFA OR NYC, not VS. I don’t fit into either category. I’ve been in workshops with MFA students who have the same dream as I, are younger, but unfortunately have little chance of developing into good fiction writers. They’re being sold a bill of goods, and this is why many people are led to the cynical view that the MFA system in America is basically a for profit industry. An industry must have standards, and if the nuts and bolts of your product are metric it will be hard to sell. Strict standards are fine for freshman comp, but this is a Masters of Fine Arts. It’s supposed to be creative.

It is a shame that even most good fiction writers must teach to earn a living. That’s a statement about what capitalism values. The internet should provide an outlet for more creative endeavors. It’s done a fairly decent job as an outlet for the visual arts, but visual artists have for a long time been granted more license than fiction and even poetry.

MFA or NYC, Walmart or Target, TGIF or Olive Garden, Hampton Inn or Motel 6, available on any E-reader along the information interstate.

Do we feel validated now?

January 10, 2014

Movement on the Right

Posted in Fiction tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 6:22 am by pstravlo

John Brooks column in the Jan 10 New York Times points to a shift in conservative thinking, a reasonable path towards the future.

Conservatism would have been well served to adopt this approach when the financial crisis hit, or specifically after the 2008 election, when Obama took office, so the two parties could have worked together to address the severe problems facing our nation and the world at that moment.

The Conservatism of Skeptical Reform, Mr. Brooks calls it. He outlines a softer attitude towards government, one that acknowledges government has a role in helping to solve the country’s problems and assisting individuals in need so they have a better chance to improve their lives.

This is a welcome acknowledgement that government is in fact necessary for the American Dream to be possible. After all, without the democratic government set up in the constitution the entire idea of an American Dream is a chimera.

It is a shame that it has taken five years to get here. I won’t go into specifics in this post, but conservatives’ focus on opposing everything their opponents wanted to do- opposition based on principle alone, instead of what Brooks terms populist conservatism ‘about ends and not means‘ - battered everyone’s dignity.

Mr. Brooks goes on to say ‘Members of this conservatism are more likely to conclude that, in fact, problems are complex and there are no easy answers, but there is room for policy expertise, and perhaps philosophical rigor, even if it comes from Washington.’   

Finally conservatism admitting that humans are complex, thus we have complex problems. This is why democracy is the best idea around which to construct a society- many of us have loony, out of mainstream ideas about how to live our lives. This loony-ness is where innovation comes from, where art and beauty become manifest.

Conservatism is a fantastic counterbalance to ideological overreach. But it tends to see the world as black or white, right or wrong, and that way of looking at the world isn’t a fair picture of reality. So conservative answers to our complex problems tend to address only parts of problems, leaving a broad swath of its citizens’ needs unaddressed.

I am a business owner and modestly successful entrepreneur. But I’m also a loony. My accountant is always complaining how my wife and I never take his advice. What he means is we don’t always take advantage of laws that favor our income bracket or our business interests.

My accountant’s position in relation to my wife’s and my affairs is analogous to a conservative’s position to society as a whole. His view of our life is not complex: he’s only concerned with what’s good for our bank account, how’s the cash flow. That’s his role, and we appreciate his advice. But we are more than how much money we do or don’t have.

Society, too, is more than what one swath of its citizens thinks. Just as my wife and I might donate more money to charity than my accountant thinks prudent, or offer benefits to employees beyond what is standard in our industry, or, to quote Mr. Brooks again,  ‘Engage in a constant process of gradual concrete reform even as you are aware that most of your efforts will not pan out.’

Sure, only one in ten of the gang members or work-release inmates we’ve hired over the years works out in any meaningful way, but what if no one had given me second and third chances? Sure, we spend too much on art, but the flatness of our lives without it is unimaginable.

Skeptical Reform Conservatism is a welcome adjustment to our political landscape. It’s a more nuanced view of how to make people’s lives better, a view that more closely matches the realities of this country’s citizenry.

Thanks for letting me in.

 

Postscript Note:     Mr. Brooks lumps in the Head Start program with Empowerment Zones as examples of programs with no ‘identifiable long term gains.’ I don’t know the details of Empowerment Zones efficacy (a program my wife and I decided not to participate in, because we didn’t think it was fair to take the tax breaks when we were hiring people in the neighborhood anyway and the business was doing OK. And who wants all that government paperwork?) but Mr. Brooks is wrong about Head Start. Programs like Head Start and WIC and Snap all have demonstrable positive effects on our society- children benefitting from these programs stay in school longer, go to jail less, are more stable in their relationships, are more upwardly mobile, make more money in their lives, etc. My wife is a prime example; she got food stamps and assistance as a single teen mom, her children haven’t needed assistance to raise their children. (One of capitalism’s deficiencies is it promotes short term thinking. What my father used to call ‘a dollar chasing a dime.’ Democracy is the counterbalance to this. Cutting these programs is going to have deleterious long term effects on many lives and society as a whole.) And please admit that Obamacare is a Heritage Foundation idea. Not owning it now is an prime example of opposing just to oppose. Everyone who attempts to look objectively at health care knows that the way to provide quality health care at a reasonable price is single payer.

 

January 9, 2014

BloggingTo Myself

Posted in Fiction tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 7:11 am by pstravlo

9th January, 2014

Coffee, half a cinnamon role, same news I heard last night, yesterday afternoon, every outlet on the planet.

Stayed in bed so long don’t have time to work on my novel before work. Maybe I should just write poetry. Short, malleable, vague. Mysterious and deep, like Ulysses or a computer chip. Alas.

I could believe in something. Get a reason to get up, daily chores with aplomb, happiness. It’s a new year, after all.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s lots of fascinating things in the world to occupy time. And time’s, my time anyway, is finite, a necessary condition of mortality, uh, meaning.

I could believe in something. Helps with family relations, standing in the community, lessens tension at cocktail parties. Path of least resistance.

Another cup of coffee, half a cinnamon role, same news as last night, yesterday, same stories all over the planet.

July 13, 2013

been a while

Posted in Current, Life, Philosophy, Poetry, Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , at 5:52 pm by pstravlo

Stuck in airport
Bars all closed
Beer not what labelled
Flat view
Mayo -only
80th birhday
Mark died
Pick up the cat
Taos conference
Waiting for Godot

December 21, 2012

My UnAmerican Holidays

Posted in Current, Fiction, Life, News, Philosophy tagged , , , at 6:53 am by pstravlo

I live in a country full of all kinds of people

A country based on freedom, on the idea that I have an inalienable right to my own belifs, and the right express those beliefs without being persecuted.

I understand this means my next door neighbors, those worshiping in a church down the street, across town, in another state, from another culture, don’t necessarily share my beliefs.

And I by living here I have explicitly agreed to co-exist with all these diverse individuals, groups, cultures, freaks, bozos, ignoramuses, deep and shallow thinkers, those who love and hate me, for whatever reasons.

So I extend respect to all my fellow citizens, and I tolerate them, and expect them to tolerate me, even when I’m irrascible.

By definition then, we are a tolerant nation. This experiment in tolerance has worked quite well, producing the best place to live on the planet. Not just at the moment, but the best place to live as a human being in the entire history of the human race.

Not only am I proud of this, but profoundly humbled. Why am I so lucky? Why is it I was born a white male in the mid-twentieth century in America? What did I do to derserve the life I enjoy, the wonderfu;ly diverse people I share this life with, the unprecedented opportunity to learn from all these people that tolerate me?

At times I have to compromise my beliefs in order to allow others that disagree with me to tell me what they think, why they think what they think. Yes, I have to allow the laws I live under to govern me. Often I grit my teeth at perceived injustices that I think are unnecessary.

And I am humbled in the knowledge that others have to grit their teeth to tolerate me.

All this makes me happy.

I have one simple request. If you do not want to tolerate me; if you disagree with me so much that you think I should conform to your way of thinking; then you should move somewhere else, because you are UnAmerican.

It is UnAmerican to not tolerate me. It is UnAmerican to not take my views into account. It is UnAmerican to not compromise or take me and others who don’t agree with you into account.

If you want to live in a society where you don’t have to compromise (I don’t really think such a society exists) then move somewhere else. I can suggest a couple of communist nations. Or perhaps you can discover a time machine and go to Germany or Italy in 1938. There was quite a society in Espana in the 1400s that might work well for you.

But if you decide America is where you want to live, I welcome you. Just keep always in mind that by living here you agree to compromise, so we can all live a better, more fair, more just, and more fulfilling life together.

September 7, 2012

An Atheist’s Prayer to His Faithful Friends

Posted in Current, Fiction, Life, Philosophy, Poetry tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 2:40 am by pstravlo

Facing wonder
Envy
Humility
My small back bowed
To divine
A scrap of insight

I watch my faithful friends
Bent and twisted under the burden
Taking comfort in our communion

They murmur
Feel the weight grow
Between us

Knowing
I do not know
How they rise
So easily

It is heavy
This failure
To straighten our backs
Together

Every time we shut our eyes
We shrink to our knees
Every time the morning beckons
We beg to know
Like an honest prayer
That goes unanswered

September 5, 2012

Fun Facts and Fiction

Posted in Fiction tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 6:55 am by pstravlo

Fun facts to consider before voting:

Over the last 50 years Republicans have occupied the White house 27 years, Democrats 23. During that time the US economy has created approximately 46 million jobs during the Democrats time, 23 million during the Republican occupation.

From 1948 to 1973, American worker’s productivity increased by 100%. During this period, the average worker’s hourly compensation ( wage plus benefits) increased by 100%. This period witnessed the largest growth in wealth ever in the history of humanity, as well as the largest expansion of the American middle class. With tax rates higher than current rates.

From 1973 to 2006, the year before the recession officially started, American worker’s productivity increased 80.1%. During this period, American worker’s average hourly compensation increased 10%.

The other 70% of weatlh generated during this period increased the wealth of high-income individuals and corporations, while tax rates went lower and lower, and the middle classs shrank.

The average American worker hasn’t seen a real gain in her or his purchasing power in over a decade. The way Americans have gotten by over the last 4 decades is by putting a second bread winner to work and borrowing more.

The last three recoveries from Recession has been ‘jobless.’ The Stock-Market has recovered; corporations have done well, and the jobs that have been created have been low paying jobs.

Americans work more hours, and spend less time with their families, than anyone else in the developed world, except China.

There is not one example in history that I can find where austerity measures alone stimulated an economy and increased tax revenues. In the one case most commonly cited, Ronald Reagan’s presidency, President Reagan cut taxes in 1981, then, when the deficit soared he raised taxes in 1982. It’s that tax increase that spawned the famous ‘Read my lips, no more taxes,’ statement by Bush Sr.

I suppose the other fact demonstrated here is that people don’t vote based on facts.

That’s one of the ‘flaws’ of Democracy, and one that I am willing to live with. The US experiment in Democracy is a leap of faith, a belief in something like Christian Charity, or the Islamic principle that you have a moral obligation to feed and shelter your fellow traveler.

Will we live up to our religious principles?

 

Fingerprints of You

Posted in Fiction at 6:25 am by pstravlo

pstravlo:

Finished Fingerprints of You. Methinks we have a talented new writer in our midst. I had the priviledge of workshopping with Kristen-Paige at the Taos Summer Writer’s Conference this year and her stories lead the reader to their own feelings. Very elegant, a joy to read.

Originally posted on Peter Stravlo's Blog:

Reading Kristen-Paige Madonia’s Fingerprints of You, and certain passages strike home.

p.38: Inner voice of Lemon, a 17 year old pregnant girl who has never known her father, who resents her mother for moving her around so much as a child;

I remember our shitty little house with the stained carpet and the worn-out couch waiting for us on the other side of town, and I realized I’d spent most of my childhood being angry at her (Mom) for making us live like that, for not having enough money for us to rent a nicer home, and for refusing to pick a place to settle in. (End of Quote)

I have a similar situation in my family now, adult kids struggling with their resentment of moving a lot when they were young, of Mom being married multiple times and having boyfriends, of feeling when they were kids they didn’t have…

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