Wednesday, October 31, 2007

My Letter to the Editor

Okay, so last week I put out a public challenge to myself to actually start taking some action about the Iraq War. I took step number one on Saturday, attending the peace rally. Today, I took step number two, and wrote a letter to the editor complaining about the poor coverage of the peace rally in Sunday's paper. I'm sending an actual piece of paper through the mail (I'm sure there's a tutorial on-line somewhere for those of you who only ever send emails) with a stamp and everything.

Here's what I wrote. I doubt they'll publish it, but someone will read it. If a hundred people sent letters like this one, they might actually pay attention.

Letters to the Editor
The Boston Globe
P.O. Box 55819
Boston, MA 02205

Dear Editor,

What a disappointment that coverage of Saturday’s peace rally at the Boston Common was buried in the Sunday Globe, all the way on page B6. The rally was part of a nationwide public outcry for peace, with more than 100,000 people taking to the streets in 11 cities across the U.S., yet your paper felt that it was less important than HOV lanes, Michelle Obama balancing campaigning and family, and malpractice by one particular doctor.

Our country has lost more than 3,800 soldiers and the Iraqis have suffered tens of thousands of civilian deaths in this conflict. The cost of the war is estimated to be more than $3,000 per person in the U.S. Clearly the push for peace and an end to the war is one that has deep impact and importance. Yet, if peaceful, large-scale protests are barely covered in the newspapers, how can we expect our government to take the public repugnance for this war seriously. Many people are unaware that a significant peace movement exists in this country—not because there isn’t one, but because its actions and demands are not carried in the media.

Newspapers are struggling to maintain their readership. Perhaps if they concentrated more on providing better coverage of news that impacts us all, their numbers would increase.


Patrick Gabridge

P.S. If you're interested in casualty figures, consider visiting

Peer Pressure and Political Action (and a belt system)

Dan's most recent post at Musings of a Minor Mennonite gave me a good laugh. Maybe what we need for more attendance at rallies for peace is a lot more peer pressure and competition.

Maybe social activists should have some sort of belt system, like for Tae Kwon Do (this list came from North Austin Tae Kwon Do).

Novice Students

White Belt The color white signifies innocence, as that of the beginning student who has no previous knowledge of Tae Kwon Do.

Orange Belt – The color orange signifies the changes of Autumn, as the student's mind and body begin to develop and grow as a result of the new Tae Kwon Do experience.

Yellow Belt – The color yellow signifies the earth. The beginning student begins to create a firm foundation in Tae Kwon Do technique, just as a seed begins to expand its root system deep in the earth as it begins to grow.

Intermediate Students

Green Belt – The color green represents growth, like that of the green plant as it sprouts out of the ground. The student has built a firm foundation and now begins to grow in the art of Tae Kwon Do.

Blue Belt The color blue represents the sky. Reminding the student to reach for the heavens and continue their Tae Kwon Do journey.

Purple Belt – The color purple represents the changing sky of dawn, as once again the student undergoes a new change and prepares for the transition to advanced student.

Advanced Students

Brown Belt – The color brown represents the ripening or maturing process as that of the advanced Tae Kwon Do student whose techniques are beginning to mature.

Red Belt – The color of blood signifies danger and is a warning to the student to temper her newly found skills and techniques with control and wisdom.

Senior Students

Black – The opposite of white signifies maturity and dignity, as that of a senior student of Tae Kwon Do who has learned the basic curriculum of Tae Kwon Do and is ready to become a true student of Tae Kwon Do.

We don't need much modification. So, perhaps Howard Zinn is a black belt. Maybe I'm still fighting my way up towards a green belt.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Charity v Justice

Dan over at Musings of a Minor Mennonite has some great words about the distinction between charity and justice. (Plus a good reminder that everything has already been said before.

End of News?

I was intrigued by this article in Vanity Fair about the end of news. It's interesting to think of news (as in news from the news business) as a trick designed to hold our attention, and that with the current easy access to information/data from a variety of sources, we aren't so interested anymore. The author's answer,, is an interesting way of building a news aggregator.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Hide in Plain Sight

I did make it to the Peace Rally in Boston yesterday, despite bad weather and having to squeeze it in between grocery shopping and taking my daughter to a birthday party. (I was late leaving the house because I had to hear the details of the first middle school dance of the year, at which she apparently slow danced with a boy. Am I really ready to have a teenager?) Because of the weather, I ended up leaving Tracy and the kids at home, rather than dragging them with me.

I made it just in time to join the crowd for the march from Boston Common to Copley Square and back again. From what I could tell, there were more people there than when I marched a few years ago (about the same subject--isn't that sad). The paper said there were about 10,000 people there, which sounds about right.

It a diverse mix of young granola-types and aging protesters from the 60s, along with families with kids, a group of Iraq veterans against the war, a college group from Clark College in Worcester, Socialists, Jewish-Christian groups, Code Pink, Quakers. Aa group called Raging Grannies, sang on the sidewalk as the crowd filed past. A brass band played rousing tunes--when the march was over, they generated a sort of impromptu mosh pit of folks dancing about to the sounds of tubas and trumpets.

The cops were present but relaxed. They clearly weren't expecting any trouble. Mostly they seemed to be there to make sure that the parade of people went down the proper streets and didn't get themselves run over by crazy Boston drivers.

It didn't take me long to find a friend--Jennifer (who founded the group White People Challenging Racism, with whom I teach anti-racism classes) marched alongside me and we chatted about marches and politics the whole way.

There didn't seem to be much reaction on the streets as we marched past. A few people watched. Some joined in. But it's not like there was any organized counter-protest that I could see.

I wasn't there for all the speeches, but based on the list of who spoke, it was clear that the march lacked the presence of a powerful political leader who made make the protesters feel like anybody cared much about what was being done or said. As far as I can tell, the most senior politician to speak was a Boston city councilor. Okay. Where were our U.S. Senators?

I was left feeling that I'd at least done something. But maybe it's fortunate that I also don't feel like it's likely to make a big difference in the outcome. Not this one thing. But it was encouraging to see 10,000 other people willing to take time out of their days, away from college football and Red Sox pre-game shows, to let the world know they think this war is a bad idea. If all of those 10,000 people keep at it, keep raising their voices, maybe it'll make a difference.

I checked the Boston Globe this morning to try to find coverage of the march. The first page featured a big photo of the Red Sox game from last night, of course. I don't have a problem with that. The column of news roundup gave no mention of the rally. The other front page stories were: Michelle Obama revels in Family Role, a piece about mostly unused HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes in the Big Dig, and a story about a suburban physician who did bad things to seven patients.

Hmm. No protest coverage.

Well, how about the local "City & Region" section? The headlines on the front page are:

"Wired for Excitement" about a non-scientific look at one Red Sox's physical response to Game 1 of the World Series (I kid you not);

"Hub expatriates declare allegiance to Red Sox Nation" about Boston fans who are in Denver;

"Train takes a detour into the past" about a family who took a ride on the newly reopened Greenbush commuter spur to Scituate (their father worked for the railroad for 50 years);

"Baby dies in apparent drowning" about a nine-month old baby who drowned in a bucket of cleaning solution in Quincy; and

"Man glad for arrest in killing of his son" about an arrest that happened on Friday in a senseless killing from more than a year ago.

No mention on page 1. Or 2. Or 3. They did make an effort, though. On page 6 of the City Section, they ran an article with the headline" '10,000 in Boston rally against war" They do mention that the rally was part of 11 protests held across the country, but don't talk at all about what happened in those cities. Total coverage: about half of a column page, buried deep in the city section, with a low-key photo of three performers--nothing of the crowd. No wonder people feel like no one gives a crap about the war. The media acts like it's not important, that people marching in the streets doesn't matter. They'll definitely get a letter/e-mail from me. Not that they might care. No wonder the newspapers keep losing readership--they're too busy trying to keep us entertained to tell us what's happening.

Maybe next time we should march in front of the Globe's headquarters.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Calling All Daily Show Liberals (you know who you are)

I'm one, too. We tune in to Jon Stewart (online or on TV) and laugh as he makes fun of the administration and the press and the lunacy of our current political situation. Maybe we post clips on our blogs, or links to important articles about the latest element of this fiasco. When we get together, we rail about the corruption and lies and doublespeak of the Bush administration. Even the media is complicit, we huff, and we're forced to rely on Comedy Central, of all places, for a balanced perspective.

It's time to get off our asses. Frank Rich wrote a great column in the October 14, Sunday NY Times: "The 'Good Germans' Among Us." In it, he concludes:

Our humanity has been compromised by those who use Gestapo tactics in our war. The longer we stand idly by while they do so, the more we resemble those "good Germans" who professed ignorance of their own Gestapo. It's up to us to wake up our somnambulant Congress to challenge administration policy every day. Let the war's last supporters filibuster all night if they want to. There is nothing left to lose except whatever remains of our country's good name.

It's no longer enough to complain. I know it's easy to be cynical and feel like no actions taken by ordinary citizens count. The administration doesn't care. Congress is already bought and paid for. But taking no action guarantees nothing will change, and the message given to those in power is that we don't really care. We don't care if they torture in our name, if they hire mercenaries, we don't care how many innocent civilians die for a war that never has made a lick of sense.

We issue meme challenges all the time about irrelevant things, but this time I issue this challenge to myself and anyone who reads it:

Make a list of five actions you’ll take to help stop the war and hold the Bush administration accountable. Maybe I should call this a chain letter rather than a meme, because a memedoesn't threaten you with disaster if you break it. I could call this a meme with teeth. Break the meme and bad things will happen. People will die. Not you. Probably not anyone you know. But to a stranger in some rathole sweaty pit in Baghdad, a humvee, a canal, Guantanamo, or a dark cell in an former Russian republic.

The actions I'm going to take are these:
1. Attend the big peace really tomorrow, Saturday, October 27, on the Boston Common. This is part of nationwide effort in eleven cities. Visit this site to see if your city is one of them. I've only been to one peace rally before (it apparently didn't stop the war, did it). This time, I'm planning to bring my whole family. I want the kids to see free speech and peaceful protest in action. I want them to start thinking about action.

An event like this doesn't make much difference if only the usual suspects attend. But if new people, who don't usually do this sort of thing, show up, the numbers will swell and the people in power will understand that something is up.

2. After attending the rally, I'll observe the news coverage that night and the following day. If the coverage is weak or non-existent, then I'll write to the newspaper or TV station and complain.

3. I will write to my congressman and demand that he press to end the war and demand tougher investigations into the immense corruption that's happened in Iraq. I'm a taxpayer and I want to know where my money went. The tough part of living in Massachusetts is that our legislators are already pretty liberal (my congressman is Barney Frank), but that also makes me complacent, and I need to work harder to express my opinion.

4. I'll e-mail or call or write to my Senators (again pretty liberal--Ted Kennedy and John Kerry) and make the same demands.

5. Something else (I'll figure it out).

The sad thing is that I’m issuing this as an open call rather than a proper meme (partly because I think most people secretly detest memes and I already created one this year). But really it's because I’m gutless and more scared of public political disapproval than makes sense. I don’t mind annoying someone by telling them to write something nice about themselves (how brave of me), but I’m scared to challenge someone to take political action. What a wuss. Is it just me, or have we become a nation of cowards, because it’s no longer polite to actually engage each other, friends or strangers, in actual political conversation?

So what the hell. I tag Dan, Malachy, Laura, and Adam. (These are safe tags. I respect them and don’t think they’ll get pissy at me.)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Nick Hornby

Last night I skipped out of coaching (I'm just the assistant coach) my daughter's soccer practice, to go see one of my favorite writers at Brookline Booksmith--Nick Hornby. The event was actually held at the nearby school, and it was sold out--about 250 of us filled the auditorium (@ $5 a head).

Raymond Chandler famously said, "If you liked a book, don't meet the author." But Nick was as funny and witty as you'd expect him to be. And a terrific reader--he read for 20-25 minutes, though I think I prefer it when authors read from the beginning, rather than the middle of a book, because I don't like for them to give anything away.

The questions afterwards weren't particularly inspired, though it was interesting to get Hornby's thoughts on a possible takeover of Arsenal by a Russian oligarch (he's definitely against it). There was the requisite "what's your advice for young writers?" question. He wasn't particularly inspiring on this point--at first he just said, "Get an agent." Oh, thanks. But then he said "If you can quit, then you should. And if you can't, then you're a writer." Sound advice, but nothing new.

He did talk a bit about his process, which was interesting to me. He said he spends weeks or months trying to get a handle on the character's voice in his head, all before he starts writing. Then once he's got it, the book comes out as sort of an extended monologue. This is part of the appeal of his writing to me, the fluidity of these monologues (Long Way Down wove four different voices into one book). Part of the reason I wrote Tornado Siren in first person was that it felt like the smallest jump from writing plays. My new novel has two different first person narratives, but again, I feel like I can use my playwriting skills in a different medium. (I seem to recall elsewhere that Hornby was interested in writing plays as a young writer.)

I'm glad I went, and I'm already enjoying the new book, Slam. (I've got eight hours of bus rides in the next 48 hours, so I have a good chance of finishing it soon.)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Den of Iniquity in New York and Chicago (NY here I come)

My short comedy, Den of Iniquity, will be part of a two-day festival in Chicago, A Table and Chairs, October 21 and 22. The festival will feature nine short plays by writers from across the country, with the plays directed by some Chicago's up-and-coming new directors. In Den of Iniquity, Gerald sneaks off from his wife and kids to a shady part of town, to an illicit studio, where people come to try an addictive pleasure. Gerald scrambles to hide his desires when his wife Maggie comes pounding on the door. The festival runs at the Bailiwick Repertory Theater, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, 8pm. Call 773-282-0344. Tickets are only $10.

Den of Iniquity will also appear in New York (it actually opened last night) as part of the Emerging Artists Theatre's Fall EATFest, from October 16-November 4. My play is in Series B, which runs Wednesdays at 7pm, Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 5pm. Ian Streicher will direct the play.

I will be in New York to see the show on Saturday, October 20th. (Gotta love $30 round trip bus tickets from Boston to NYC.) The festival plays at the Producer's Club, 358 West 44th Street, 3rd Floor. Tickets are $18 ($10 w/ student i.d.) You can buy tickets by calling 866-811-4111 or at or

I wish I could see both productions, back-to-back. I've done that once before, with my play Insomnia, and it was a really instructive experience to see how the timing and interpretations shift the audience's experience of the play.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Handyman Can

Today I spent all day on home repair/maintenance projects. Most of the time, I was assembling PVC pipes to reroute water from our downspouts into a newly cleared drain (I also put sealant on a brick wall). It was beautiful fall day, a perfect day to be outside working with my hands. As projects go, it was ideal--I had to do some mental puzzle solving, but I arrived at the right answer; I got to use my cool Ryobi 18v cordless reciprocating saw; putting together the pipes feels a little bit like playing with legos; if I messed up, I probably wouldn't get hurt or cost us or the condo association much money; it was a task that was new for me, and I like trying new things.

It was one of those days when I think to myself, maybe I should forget the whole freelance editing/article work and hire myself out as a handyman to make the money I need. I have decent skills for a variety of small home repair and maintenance projects. I like working with my hands. The pay probably isn't too bad. I wouldn't use up my writing energy on writing projects for other people. I might meet some interesting people to write about.

Of course the reality is that it's not quite the same as working on your own house, and just like writing, it requires time to build up a clientèle. It's physically taxing-- I'm totally beat, trying to keep my eyes opens as I write this. My experience is mostly at an amateur level. The list can go on, I'm sure.

Still, on a day like today, it seems very appealing.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

NBC has ruined my life

Tracy and I borrowed the first season of the NBC show Heroes on DVD from a friend last week. Now we're totally hooked. We'll start the evening planning to watch just one episode, but at the end of each one, we look at each other--"How about another?"

This is really my preferred way to watch television--on DVD, at my leisure, rather than on the network's schedule (and I love having no commercials). An hour-long drama fits much better into our fairly short evenings, better than a movie (though that's all psychological, because if we watch two or three episodes...) (We don't have cable, so it's nice to watch a show that doesn't involve fiddling with the antenna.)

At the moment, I'm enjoying the show too much to step back and be objective about how good it really is or isn't. I just know that I'm interested in the characters and totally hooked by the story. We take a certain delight in trying to predict what's going to happen in each episode and who's going to get killed. I like the feeling of being so engrossed by this massive tale. (I could be getting work done on some these nights, at least in theory, but that's just not going to happen until we finish the first season.)

I had lunch on Friday with my good friend Dan, and for a while we talked about television, and he postulated that at the moment, some of the best dramatic writing anywhere is happening on television, rather than film or theatre. I think he's right. The one-hour drama format has turned into the venue for our modern epic storytelling. The writers are able to develop characters over stories that stretch over 22 hours, but they are only able to do it if they're able to completely rivet the attention of their audiences. Is it great poetry? Not always. But it is memorable and has a cultural resonance that might make it live a lot longer than we expect.

Anyway, I've got to run. Tracy's just fired up the DVD. Time for another episode. (or two) (or three).

Interesting Thoughts on Failure from John August

I've been enjoying following John August's blog (he's a screenwriter and now a director of The Nines), and he mentioned this terrific article about failure that he wrote for Men's Health Magazine. Check it out.

I haven't been blogging much lately because I've been looking for work, which takes more time than one might think. At the moment, it involves a fair amount of trying new things, connecting with new people, and sometimes (often) failing. In some ways, I'm pretty used to that, because I'm a writer, and I'm used to sending out 10 scripts and only getting one acceptance out them. This is just a different version of that game, but in the process I'm learning a lot about the way businesses work and editing and all sorts of stuff.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Good News: Chicago

A bit of good news. A friend is staging a bunch of short plays in Chicago (the plays had to utilize one chair and one table) later this month (at the Bailiwick Theatre) and my play Den of Iniquity is supposed to be part of the line-up. I should know more details by the end of next week. It always feels good to land another production. This is the same play that opens in NYC on October 16th, as part of the Fall EATFest. (I'll put up more details about that in the next day or two).

Too bad I can't make it to Chicago--it's so interesting to see two different versions of the same play running at the same time (I've seen this before with Insomnia). I'll have to rely on friends for reports.

I am my own (house) wife

As I attempt to transition from writing novels and scripts to also trying to make a little money, I feel very much like a typical housewife trying to enter the workforce. In some ways, of course, this is exactly the case, because I've been a stay-at-home dad for the past 13 years (while also doing a few other things). Now I'm trying to find a way to earn cash, though I still need to be available for my kids and to handle basic household duties.

In theory, of course, my wife and I could hire people to handle these chores and childcare, but there's a inherent circular conundrum to working a job in order to earn enough money to pay someone to watch your kids and cook your dinner and clean your house in order for you to work your job. And I face the classic housewife's problem that the tasks that I've been performing for the past 13 years, which involve a great deal of carting around children, multi-tasking doctor's appointments, play dates, grocery shopping, laundry, reading stories, bandaging skinned knees. Though I understand how the ability to do all these things would be useful to an employer, it's not clear the rest of the world sees it that way. They prefer employees with skills that are bit easier to document and who come with references written by people who have finished elementary school or are not married to me. Plus most of them don't want to hire someone only for a few hours a day.

What's interesting is that I've doubled-up the housewife syndrome, by having spent my previous years primarily writing plays and novels (and making theatre). In many ways, I've nurtured and sustained these works not entirely unlike I've done for my children. I've done my best to develop them into fully-formed works of art that are now somewhat on their own in the world, interacting with readers, audiences, actors and directors. They don't need me so much anymore. And much like raising my children, experience writing for theatre (and writing novels) is not inherently commercial. Folks who are looking to hire freelance writers for actual paying gigs look at my years spent writing fiction and drama with some puzzlement. "Yes, we suppose he can write, but he doesn't have relevant clips, or references from actual employers." (And I look back at them, suddenly worried that maybe they're right and I won't know how to handle whatever they throw at me.)

I'll find a way to squeeze my way into some sort of freelance work, or some sort of paying gig doing something. Somehow. But like the other former stay-at-home moms and dads, it's going to be a slippery, half-lit path, with lots of stumbles, stubbed toes, and more than a few lost trails. And it's going to take longer than I hoped or expected. (I have a feeling there are more than a few other writers in the blogosphere who can vouch for the same challenges of moving from writing fiction to writing to try to help support the family.)

( So far, I've been very fortunate to get lots of input and support from my friends. I've gotten some very useful tips, advice, and more.)

P.S. I have been putting a little time into, but no luck yet. I've made ten bids so far. It seems a system that inherently favors the employers. The secret bidding on the part of freelancers, seems like it will deeply suppress wages (we don't know where the basement is for work rates). Most of the projects described by employers looking for writers or editors are too sketchily described for me to put together an intelligent cost estimate. I'm guessing that most of the employers are looking for a deep bargain, or are barely qualified to hire anyone to do anything. We'll see.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Playwriting by the Numbers: Good News/Bad News

For a guy like me (a numerical obsessive), having a play published by Playscripts is a good thing. I get an e-mail every time Christmas Breaks sells a copy (it's now in an anthology, Great Short Plays, Volume 1). This happens at least a couple times a week (but don't get too excited, I make ten cents with every sale). I also get an e-mail if performances are licensed. This is better news--I get 60% of the royalties paid. Playscripts interface allows playwrights to check on the status of all scripts orders at any time, as well as how much the next royalty check will be.

The good news is that I got an e-mail last week saying that a company in Florida licensed 7 performances, which should bring me a little more than $100. Yet another good thing about Playscripts is that they pay you when you reach a certain threshold in a given month (usually $100, in two months you only need to earn $20), rather than only paying you once or twice a year.

This is good news, since I'm starting up my new push for freelance work, hoping to earn a minimum of $300 a month. So this month, I'll be part of the way there from playwriting, which is really cool.

The bad news is that those 7 performances licensed this past month are not common. This is an unusually good month. I'd need to license 21 performances a month (and really closer to 30, to cover taxes) in order to reach my minimal needs.

Productions of my newly published Tightly Bound collection would bring in about $50 per performance, so if I had one production every month (say 9 performances per run), I'd be in great shape. But the tough thing is that productions of unknown full-length plays, published or not, are very hard to come by. My sense is that, although it's gotten easier to get productions of short plays over the past few years, it's gotten harder to get productions of full-length plays. (I'd love to know if there's data out there about this.) I wish I could count on my plays to bring in the money I need, but I know better.

I spent the morning working on Plan C for raising money, signing up for a profile on where I hope to be able to make some bids for freelance work. I discovered that the free basic level account is basically worthless, so I've invested $75 for one quarter of more complete access. Now I just need to earn that money back. The first few assignments will be the toughest to win, since my freelance experience is on the thin side. I'll catch up. I'm going to need to make as many bids as possible. There are some interesting projects out there. We'll see what happens.