Writing & Stories

Running With The Devil

[This is a recent excerpt from my newsletter where I send out thoughts and links and stories once a week or so about whatever happens to be on my mind at the time. That is to say, the topic below isn’t something I write about all the time, but I do every once and a while.]

Speaking of the pre-internet early 90’s when I was in high school and controversial topics – In HS I had an english teacher who I thought was the coolest, though he had an obsession with The Rolling Stones that I could never quite wrap my head around. Anyway, his name was Jon Scott and he was one of the few teachers I ever interacted with who I felt I learned something from and helped me along the way. At one point, in an exercise about journalism and writing from a non-biased perspective, he assigned us to write a paper about something controversial that would have clear opposite sides that we could examine. Not to decide which side was right, but to be able to write about differing viewpoints without taking sides – and compare and contrast the viewpoints. I recall other kids in my class choosing things like “which are better, cats or dogs” and “why SPORTS GUY changed the face of SPORTS” and things like that. For my paper I decided to write about Satanism. I don’t think I could pinpoint exactly what led me to that decision but my family was super religious and took huge offense to any questioning of things they felt were unquestionable so probably played into it on some level.

Mr Scott had to approve everyone’s topics and when he got to mine he asked to talk to me after class and wanted to know what I was getting at. I must have made a convincing argument though I don’t recall it because he signed off on the idea and let me write the paper. I wish I still had that paper because I’d like to see now how my 15 year old brain was processing things, but I remember that after spending countless hours in both the school and local public library I couldn’t find a single book making the case for, but there were endless writings against. I thought that was odd, it was like there was this giant discussion about something but no one actually involved was included. So instead of writing a compare/contrast piece I wrote about this bias and wondered how all these authors could have so many opinions and consider themselves authorities on something they had never had any actual interaction with. Seemed odd to me. I remember Mr Scott liked my approach and gave me a nice grade on the paper. He told me later that he was very used to topics having two sides and that I’d approached this from a completely different perspective and surprised him which wasn’t something he was used to happening at the middle of nowhere Florida high school where we crossed paths. I’ve thought about that many times over the years and think I owe much of my approach to research to his encouragement of my questioning the motives of the sources. I imagine if I had known then that Satanists were not in fact devil worshipers but rather atheists I could have written an even more surprising paper. Speaking of memories, turns out morality, not memory, makes us who we are.

Anyway, there’s a point to this and that is that the other night I fell down a google search rabbit hole and found a 2014 article called “Satanism and Scholars of American Religion” by John L. Crow which I found fascinating. He wrote:

“If we look at Oxford’s recent volume, The Devil’s Party: Satanism in Modernity, of the twelve scholars, only one teaches in America, Eugene V. Gallagher, a prominent scholar of New Religious Movements. The rest are from or teach in Northern Europe, mostly Scandinavian countries. While a number of the scholars in the book examine Satanism in a European context, seven of the essays look at aspects of American Satanism, many focusing specifically on the founder of the Church of Satan, Anton LaVey. Why is it that European scholars of religion have more to say about religious Satanism, a religious tradition that emerged in America, than American scholars of religion?”

“The answer to all of this is that scholars of religion in America are deeply ambivalent about Satanism, and much of this ambivalence comes from the field’s theological history and the theological commitments of its members. American scholars of religion are frequently uninformed about religious Satanism, and more importantly, due to a variety of reasons, mostly theological, do not consider Satanism a “real” religion or a religion worth study. Satanism shares many of the same problems as the traditions in the field of New Religious Studies. However, it has the added burden that, unlike other traditions studied and engaged by the field of NRM, Satanism rarely has anyone clarifying and educating about its historical background or place in American religious practice. Our field repeatedly attempts to portray itself as secular and independent of theology, particularly Christian theology. But the ambivalence about Satanism brings into focus the ways in which theology still shapes the field of religious studies, especially in America. Ultimately we need to ask ourselves. Are we theologians or are we social scientists? Sadly, when the topic is Satanism, the field, as a whole in America, looks more like the former than the latter.”

He followed that up a few months later with a post on his own blog with more thoughts on the topic and links to some other books addressing the issue. I bought all the books and can’t wait to read them.

Covert To Overt

[This is a forward that I wrote for the book “Covert to Overt: The Under/Overground Art of Shepard Fairey” which was released today. Shepard has been a trusted friend of mine for close to 20 years now and he remains someone I have unmeasurable respect for – I was honored to contribute something to this book. I though I’d post what I wrote here in case some people didn’t see the book but might enjoy it – though I fully recommend grabbing a copy for yourself regardless.]

1985 was a rough year for me. At home, at school. The fact that my recently divorced family had just moved across the country to somewhere in rural Texas, and had started using an assumed name didn’t help things. What did help things was a tutor that a teacher suggested I spend some time with after school. The tutor was a kid from a few grades above who seemed equally excited about the situation. We actually clicked right away. This was noteworthy because I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t quite fit in with the other kids. Not saying that I didn’t get along with them, I did, they were just into things I couldn’t really get excited about. I often felt like more of a spectator, just kind of watching things play out around. At that time I didn’t know any better and assumed I was just weird. Not that I’m not weird, but that’s a different story. Anyway, this tutor and I were supposed to work on my math and Latin (yes, Latin) skills which were sub par apparently, though they didn’t get any better during our lessons. Thing is, he didn’t teach me any math or latin, but he did clue me into everything awesome in the world.

The people you can point to in your life who had a significant impact are rare, but this guy, whose name I don’t even remember, introduced me to both Monty Python and the Circle Jerks, among other things. If you know me today you can see how much credit is due this one guy. On his suggestion I snuck home his loaned cassette copy of Group Sex and within seconds of putting it into my walkman I had an overwhelming feeling of “Finally!” Until then music had been one of two things for me – either the slow, mopey and depressing stuff that my mom way constantly playing at home, or the stuff on the radio that people were always dedicating to each other. One psudo-father figure who used to hang out around my house was a big Casey Kasem fan and was always listing to the weekly Top 40 countdowns. I found all of this to be terribly boring. Conversely, this cassette was exciting and scary.

This resonated, and made me excited about what else was out in the world that I didn’t know about. I dove in deep and had similar reactions upon hearing Minor Threat, Sex Pistols, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, Suicidal Tendencies, Black Flag, Run DMC, Gorilla Biscuits, NWA and Sick of It All not long after. I’d found my people, and even if they weren’t right there with me physically, knowing they were out there in the world somehow made things better. Knowing that these people who weren’t happy with the way things were and wanted to make a change could do something –even if it was just to sing about it. This was incredibly powerful and meaningful for me to learn at such a young age. Unconsciously these bands became my social litmus test, I could gauge right away where new people I’d meet fit in my world view. Were they people who would accept things as they were, or were they people who would try to change things for the better.

I had a similar experience with art. Growing up I’d been to museums and found them largely boring. I know now that was as much due to what I was being taken to be see as anything else, but as an angsty teenager I really didn’t give a shit about the old masters. Eventually I stumbled onto the likes of Bosch, Darger and Worhal and I got it. Just like the bands I was now obsessed with these artists were commenting on the society surrounding them, and not everything they had to say was roses and sunshine. Even if sometimes it was.

A decade later a friend who I’d been exchanging letters with for a while but never met – a penpal as we used to say – came to visit in Chicago. We spent the entire night of his arrival driving around the city in a borrowed pick up truck, blasting NWA and talking about the drive to have a hand in shaping the future. We talked about small actions that can have huge impacts. Writing a song. Telling someone about a band. Creating an image that makes people ask questions. Simple actions that can change the world. As sun rose we called it a night, having accomplished our goal of installing huge images of a sunken eyed figure looking out over the city commanding people to OBEY.

Or perhaps challenging them to resist such orders.

Like A Prayer

(Excerpted from something I sent to my mailing list, you should subscribe)

The other day I was hanging out in a local coffee shop with Rips (my 5yo son for anyone who doesn’t know) when Madonna’s “Like a prayer” came on the sound system, he started dancing in his seat and said he really liked the song. I’ve been trying to take note of what music he reacts to and encourage it when I can. Since I bought him a record player for his birthday, I pinged my friend who has a record shop near by and told him I needed to get that record. He only had “Like a virgin” in stock, but tracked down “Like a prayer” for me in a few days. I bought “Like a virgin” too just for the hell of it. When I got home and gave them a listen I remembered one of the formative moments of my childhood that I’d long since forgotten. I suppose everyone has a point growing up when they realize their parents/family aren’t flawless, and maybe they are actively misleading them. Unintentionally Madonna tipped me off to that.

Mid 80’s, early MTV days. Madonna was everywhere. My very Catholic family was not impressed and took every opportunity to tell me how horrid she was. Unsolicited. She was a blasphemer. She was mocking *our* faith by calling herself Madonna and wearing a crucifix. She was probably a Satanist. Definitely a slut. A hussy. She was certainly trying to corrupt innocent minds. Etc. etc. As a kid, hearing this from authority figures I assumed it must be true. But it had a contrary impact on me, rather than scare me away which was the intended motivation, it made me curious. Who was this lady who would make such a public attack on a group of people. Why would she do that? What was her story?

Once I started digging into it a different story came out, of course it’s much easier to find now, but I learned then that she wasn’t using the name “Madonna” as a slam against Catholics, but rather that was her actual name given to her by her very Catholic parents – it’s on her birth certificate. And her music, her art, was influenced by the imagery she’d grown up around. Like almost every other artist I’d learned about. An anti-climatic end to a story that had been so built up. I have to say, it was a little disappointing. (Luckily I soon found Slayer) But that got me thinking – if nothing my family had told me about Madonna was actually true, what else had they told me wasn’t based entirely in fact? And why would they tell me something like that?

Either they were purposefully trying to deceive me, or more likely someone had told this to them and they’d just accepted it as truth. Or maybe no one told them and that was just their gut reaction having been conditioned to react certain ways to certain things and assumed they had it all figured out – also a very real possibility. Maybe they were so insecure about their own beliefs that they had to proactively attack anything that they felt challenged them in the slightest bit. All options – but regardless, none of those options were reassuring. All of them lead to the inevitable truth that I could no longer accept anything they told me as the truth. I guess that stuck with me more than I realized. Thanks Madonna.

Subconsciously I’ve incorporated that lesson into my own parenting efforts, when my son asks me a question I make sure to answer honestly or if I don’t know, I tell him that I don’t know. Sometimes we look up the answers together. When I talk to him about my opinions I make it clear that people have different opinions and feelings about things, that this is what I think but he’s welcome to think about it and decide what he wants to think. I know I’m setting myself up for him eventually making decisions I don’t agree with, but he’s his own person and that’s his right. And him having his own opinions is far more appealing to me than him someday coming to the conclusion that I’ve been lying to him.

30 days of fiction

My friend Susannah just finihed up a 30 day project challenging herself to write fiction every day. I followed this as she was doing it and the results she experienced are similar to ones I’ve gotten myself in previous “make sure to write something everyday” experiments. I’ve written before about my struggle to write fiction, non-fiction and philosophy I can spew all day, but fiction is much harder for me. Even though I’ve actually published that was kind of a joke, though a fun one for sure. The thing is, writing fiction is something I really want to do more of and it kind of drives me a little crazy that I have such a hard time with it.


Recently, when talking to my friend Clayton I mentioned that no matter what crazy impossible story I tell about growing up in Florida it’s instantly belivable because it happened in Florida, and that got me thinking about Susannah’s project and I thought maybe these things might go together nicely. So I think for January, and using “This happened in Florida” as a springboard, I’m going to try it out – one short piece of fiction every day. I’m not going to restrict myself to the Florida thing but I think it’ll be good inspiration to get the ball rolling. I need to think a little about the other restrictions – Susannah’s were 100 words in 15 minutes. I plan to post these as I go on my secret blog and if something manifests itself that I’m especially happy with perhaps I’ll post that elsewhere as well.

Status 40

I was sitting on the grey metal flat files in the back room of my art gallery talking to my friend Wil, my feet half slipping off the drawer handles. He’d just gotten printed copies of his book Dancing Barefoot  -I’d helped him with a little bit of the layout and so he’d swung by to give me a copy. It looked great. I held a copy in my hands and smiled. I remembered a year or so earlier a conversation we’d had where he said more than anything he wanted to be a writer, that he was going to be a writer. And now here we were, with an actually real book that he’d written in our hands. It was pretty awesome.

Wil was telling me about an idea he was working on for his next book, what would become Just a Geek though I don’t remember if it had a name at that point, but the way he described the collection of stories reminded me of an idea I’d been chewing on for a while. See, I’d also fancied myself a writer. I’d been writing zines and columns in magazines and things like that for years, so even though I’d never written a real book I felt like I knew what I was doing to some extent. At that time I was approaching my 30th birthday, and my idea tied into that a bit. Growing up, I never thought I’d see 30 years old. Hell, I never thought I’d see 25. I wasn’t very optimistic about my future as a kid. But here I was at the end of my 20’s and looking back on what, at that point, had been a pretty interesting ride so far. And when looking at it, I thought I could identify a handful of moments where something happened – something that in a flash could have gone any number of ways – and because they went the direction they did my entire life was impacted. And if in that one quick moment things had gone a different way, everything in my life could have played out differently. I thought, if I could write about 5 of those stories and put them together info a collection, it might make an interesting book. I wanted to call it “Status: 30”

I told Wil about this idea and he said he liked it and I should do it. Why not right? What did I have to lose?

I felt pretty good about that, I respected Wil and was pretty sure if it was a crap idea he would have been honest about it and told me, and so I decided to do it. I made some rough outlines and told myself when inspiration hits I’ll plow through this and write it all in one sitting. I was pretty sure that would happen relatively soon, I mean it was a good idea and all. Definitely would be done before my 30th birthday a year later.

I turned 39 a few days ago, and recalled that conversation and realized it happened 10 years ago. And I never wrote that book. I never wrote those stories. I’m not even sure I remember which stories they were anymore, or what the thread was that I’d worked out that tied them all together. I think one of them was about a time I was in a car accident. Maybe another was about a falling out I’d had with a business partner in college. It doesn’t matter, the point is I never did it.

And I have no reason for that, other than that I just didn’t do it. Inspiration never hit. Not for that anyway. I’ve of course written other things since then, and just shy of that 10 year mark I published my first real book last year – assuming you don’t count the collections of blogposts that I’d batched and published in a single volume many years previously. I don’t anyway. But that’s beside the point, the point is – if I’d done it, it would have been done. But I didn’t, so it wasn’t.

Like anyone else I can come up with a million excuses not to do things, but I think as I’m about to cross that line into 40 I want to finish more things. I want to ship shit. Honestly, I have no reason not to.


Earlier this week a news report started spreading around with a bunch of my long time friends. A bank in Orlando had been robbed and the security camera photo looked a lot like someone we knew. Some people assumed right away it was our friend, others debated one aspect or another in hopes of convincing others (or maybe themselves) that this couldn’t be him. As that discussion went on people started telling stories of some stupid thing this guy had done at one point or another, or how they hadn’t seen him recently but when they had last he wasn’t doing so hot. And those stories were followed by stories of other friends, or friends of friends who had take a turn for the worse. Arrests, suicides, OD’s – yes those are plural . and that’s just in the last month. That might seem excessive, and it probably is, but you know all the jokes everyone makes about Florida? There’s more truth to them than anyone realizes.

I grew up in Florida. I wasn’t born there and my early childhood was spent bouncing around to a number of cities around the country, but my formative years – the ones I remember and the ones that I believe had a real lasting impact on me – those were in Florida. And let me tell you, shit is fucked up in Florida. Don’t get me wrong, it’s home in so many ways, and there will always be parts of it and people there that are truly special, and not just to me. I still have family there. I still have friends there. The rooftop of the rec center overlooking a baseball field where I first kissed a girl – really kissed a girl not just some peck on the cheek – it’s still there. The clubs where I saw the most important bands in my life, their names have changed but the buildings are still there. Apartments I lived in still stand. Streets I used to walk down everyday are still blanketed with moving shadows from the trees that line them. There’s magic there. But that doesn’t change the fact that shit is fucked up in Florida. And there’s a reason I don’t live there anymore. Hundreds of them to be honest.

I rarely visit, because inevitably when I do I cross paths in a very real way with my past. I see people I knew who are still doing the thing they did 20 years ago. I see people who had all the potential in the world, who obviously never did anything with it. I see places that sucked then, that have only gotten worse. You can feel it. And even among my friends, we joke about the people that moved away and the ones that stayed. Not that there’s anything wrong with staying, some of my favorite people in the world still live in Florida and I miss them but I can’t handle going there to see them. Some things are better left in the past, and I wish I could reach in and pull some of those people into the present.

Today we got the confirmation of what we’d hoped wasn’t true. The look alike in the photo was exactly who we thought it was. Arrested, in custody. And with that confirmation came some links, including online arrest records with mugshots of previous arrests, 10 of them in fact, dating back to ’95. DUI to possession of marijuana to possession of cocaine to robbery. I hadn’t seen or talked to him since around the time of the first arrest. I don’t remember it happening, maybe I never knew about it but he lived downstairs from me around that time and we often hung out and played records and talked music. We weren’t close friends as much as friendly neighbors who ran in similar circle of friends and had similar backgrounds. I distinctly remember him joking one time that while we had both grown up as part of the straight edge scene from Tampa, he’d started drinking and smoking pot and was now laid back and never in trouble where as I, still a die hard tea totaler was pretty tightly wound and had more than one run in with the police. And then, here we are all these years later.


I haven’t been able to really stop thinking about it all day, and it’s horrifying and depressing and disappointing and infuriating all wrapped up into one. But mostly, I’m just bummed because it’s a fucking waste.

And once again I’m face to face with the bullet that I somehow dodged.



‘Brunch Of The Dead’ Officially Released

BOTD_cover So I’ll start this off by noting that Brunch Of The Dead is currently FREE in the Amazon Kindle store and will be all week, after this week the price skyrockets to $2.99.

Now that that is out of the way…. Brunch Of The Dead is a few things. It’s a short story around 5,000 words about old people and brunch and zombies that has been 12 years in the making. That’s trumped up a bit, it was written initially 12 years ago when my friend Morgen and I used to skip work to hang out coffee shops drinking coffee and trying to make each other laugh with crazy stories. This was one of the few we wrote down, but a serious lack of confidence caused us to shelve for most of that time. About a month ago I dug it out of the archives, still thought it was funny and Morgen and I decided to put some time in reworking and polishing and then publish it. Which we did. Hence the “official” in the subject up there.

It’s also the first piece of fiction writing I’ve ever published, which is a bit nerve wracking. More so than I expected. I really enjoy fiction when I’m reading but I have a horrible time writing it. It’s one of the things I want to do more than anything in the world, but whenever I try I end up writing something that actually happened. I’ve written before about how that scares the crap out of me. I’ve also written before — countless times — about the value of just going for it. About how if you don’t try you are 100% assured to fail. About how anything creative you produce can find a handful of people who enjoy it. So I decided to take my own advice and jump in.

I’m not going to go so far as to say it’s “good” but I will say that I know exactly what happens in it and I still enjoy reading it, and it still makes me laugh. And what I will go so far as to say is that it’s done. I actually made it, and actually shipped it. Which is a huge step for me. And somewhat amusing that it took 12 years for 2 guys to publish a short story that could basically be told verbally in 10 minutes.

But it’s out and that feels awesome. I highly recommend to anyone who is wavering on finishing/publishing something -just go for it.

Knowing the destination before setting out on the voyage

Earlier today I mentioned that there’s never been something I’m so equally attracted to and horrified of in my entire life – as writing. I’ve done it and not done it all my life and I’ve written about doing it and not doing it probably more than I’ve actually done it. I have this problem that I’ve become much more aware of recently, which might actually be making it worse now that I know about it, where I’m petrified of beginning writing if I don’t know where I’m going to end up. Depending on your perspective this has never/always been a problem for me to some extent – or rather, it’s been a problem in other areas that I didn’t realize were problematic, but hasn’t really been a problem with writing.

In my most prolific writing days I had no idea where I was headed until I got there and that was my salvation. Writing was incredibly therapeutic and with just a spark I could dig into my head and spill my guts all over a page and not only feel good about what I’d written, but feel better mentally as well. Like I’d worked through something. Solved something that I didn’t understand before and that drove me to keep doing it. At some point I got the idea that I needed that spark to give me the push, and then at some other point I realized those sparks don’t really happen on command. And then I started worrying about them and how to find them and what to do without them. The spark was like a quick strobe flash in a dark room that gave me an idea of what route to take to get through it, and without that I just keep standing there not knowing which direction to move in.

I told a story last year (and many times before actually) that as a kid I never took first steps, or said first words. I sat around staring at people for ever – much longer than I should have – and then just started walking, and just started talking in full sentences. It’s a story passed on to me from my parents and I don’t even know how much truth is in it. But I guess I convinced myself it was true, and then used it as an excuse by blaming some weird way my head works. I have to know I can do it before I start. Or I have to know the destination before I can embark on the journey. Which I think is bullshit, so that’s conflicting to say the least.

The thing is I love writing. When I’m in the groove it’s easily one of my favorite things in the world. If I could do that all day I would in a heartbeat. When I’m not in that groove it’s torture and I beat myself up about it all day long, which I’m certain only makes it that much worse.

I’ve talked to a number of my “writer” friends, or just my friends who write even if they don’t consider themselves writers. I ask them if they know where they are going when they begin. If they have a roadmap. If they just dive in blind. And their answers, of course – I knew before I ever asked them, are varied. Some people have outlines, some people have ideas, some people barely have a spark. So there’s no one solution, no one answer. And again, I already know that so I don’t know why I keep asking. But I do. I feel like I’m 1 year old just watching everyone walk around too afraid to try to take a step. Does that mean that at some people in the future I’ll just *get it* and suddenly be able to write without issue? I doubt it, but that’s a good excuse to not try today.

And it’s not even a fear of failure. I don’t mind if I suck. I don’t mind if what I write is stupid. I mean I don’t want to write sucky stupid stuff, but if that’s the result then I’m already OK with that because it’s a result, which is better than what I have right now. I’m afraid of getting lost. Afraid of staring at the blank page and not having any idea what to write next. Afraid of trying to tell a story and not having a story to tell. If I don’t actually write it then I can keep telling myself that I have a story that I just haven’t written yet. If I force myself to start writing it and hit a wall, then I have to admit that I don’t have a story. Which is where that desire to know the end before I begin comes from. And again, I know it’s stupid.

I’m not even looking for advice here, just trying to kick my own ass and sort through the crap in my own head so I can better grasp what it is that is actually standing in my way. Like with this post, I knew the first sentence because I’d already written it on twitter, everything else just appeared as I typed the line before it. So that’s something.