The Dream Police Are Inside My Head

October 6, 2016

How do you go back in time and fix a mistake to change the course of your life? How do you channel all the things you are passionate about into one story of redemption or escape?

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These were the questions I faced when I sat down to write The Dream Police early last year. The follow up to The Mission of the Sacred Heart was published this week and the Kindle version is available today. Like Mission, it is rooted in the true events of my life. Like Mission, it is a “rock novel,” a work of musical fiction, inspired by a classic rock album from my youth. And like Mission, it is a complex piece of literature that can’t easy be described in a quick elevator speech. But I think it is an important work that emerged from the plasma in my veins and the neurons in my synapses. So let me try to share with you why you might be interested in this story.

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First and foremost, anyone who reads this will probably be able to understand why I had to leave my tenured position at Portland State University last year. There is a sexual paranoia that has invaded college campuses. Disguised as the important and real work that is earnestly meant to stop sexual harassment and aggression in an institution that often turns a blind eye, it is a form of fake feminism that undermines actual feminism. It sees all women as victims and all men as aggressors and ignores the agency of women and the complexity of the sexual dance between consulting adults.

As a male feminist, I’ve wanted to write about this sticky swamp for years. Then it happened to me. I was the subject of a witch hunt that stopped cold the important work I was doing at the university, including raising awareness of the importance of dismantling patriarchal power. The question was what to do with my anger at the real villains in this true-life tale. I didn’t want to go on a workplace shooting spree (Who would the local media ask to comment on it?), so I chose to write this story.

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Second, as a Portland sociologist, there are a host of sociological issues I confront on a regular basis. Portland has been named the most gentrified city in America. My neighborhood tienda is being turned into an artisan salt shop as I write this. My first academic  publication in 1991 dealt with issue (although I called it “yupification”). Gentrification is changing the face of urban America and I feel like I’m in a good position to write about it. It becomes a metaphor for how are lives change around us in ways we both love and hate.

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My research on white supremacist groups began moving into prisons about ten years ago. White prison gangs, like the Aryan Brotherhood and European Kindred, have become a growing problem outside prisons, including a recent murder just outside of Portland. A former racist skinhead incarcerated in an Oregon prison instigated my nightmare at PSU, so it was a perfect opportunity to bring a bit of light to the issue.

There are plenty of other issues floating around, including how your favorite rock song becomes your least favorite commercial, the backlash against unionization, the grieving process following the death of loved ones, and the dangers of spending too much time online scrolling through your social media. All this gets folded into The Dream Police.

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Then there is the unifying theme of lucid dreaming. If you could be conscious in your dreams, what would you do? My first thought is that I’d go see The Beatles play. Maybe I’d revisit the woods I played in as a child. How about a beer with Karl Marx and Halle Berry? It’s wide open. Some people lucid dream every night. Andrea and I practiced it while I was writing the book and had some cool experiences. Zak and Lenny, the central characters of The Dream Police, use lucid dreaming to visit some musical landmarks, but also revisit moments in their own lives to explore alternative paths. Zak’s pregnant wife was killed in a car crash, so he’s fixated on going back in time to change just one small thing.

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Finally, this book is about music and how music moves us forward in life. When I was teenager, I spent a lot of time in my room listening to albums. This included Cheap Trick’s 1979 Dream Police LP. The record was a whole world to me and I constructed this book around that themes in that album and dozens of Cheap Trick songs. The book also deals with the growing voice of women in rock and the shrinking opportunities for musicians to capitalize on their own music.

I think it’s important to tackle the minefield of gender politics. I was honored to do it in the classroom for over twenty years. Social research and punditry are also forums for it and fiction is another. I was thrilled to be listed as one of the representatives of the new genre of musical fiction in Wikipedia. It’s a great opportunity to be like my teenage heroes, The Clash, and use a good backbeat to get people to think about big issues.

In the end, I just want to tell a good story and maybe take readers to some unexpected places. Author Brian Paone, in his review, wrote, “Blazak pushes the reader through an endless web of a chess game that every time you think you have checkmate, a pawn appears out of nowhere, sending everything you thought was real into a tailspin.” In the last few years I’ve been through a lot. I’ve also thought a lot and grown a lot. It all goes into a story that reflects the complexity and dream-like state of my own journey. It feels good to have created a piece of literary fiction that my daughter could read some day. I hope you will read it now.

NOTE: Because, as a parent I feel I have to do something about the children of Aleppo, 10% of all book sales are going to UNICEF’s Syrian relief fund.

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A Year as a Penniless Writer

April 6, 2016

Last week my former colleagues were posting about the start of spring quarter and I have to admit that I got a sharp pang in my heart. It’s been officially a year since I left Portland State to focus on my writing and my family and not focus on endless battles with empowered psychopaths. There is nothing like the rush of the the first week of classes when everyone is sizing each other up. I would always front load my classes with bombast so students wouldn’t drop them for Badminton 101. They always seemed so restless after Spring Break.

A year ago we were furiously manning our Kickstarter campaign for my new book and I was here writing a blog about normative maleness and my daughter. We set a goal of $10,000 and raised over $11,000. The book is written and is with a copy-editor who will tell me I need to move some prepositions around and lay off the over-use of commas. I’m really proud of it. The Dream Police will make some waves when it is released. I like to tell people that it is about the sex lives of university administrators, but it’s about so much more. It is a twisted tale rooted in a twisted reality. Andrea had the idea of shooting some short promotional films for it, so I’m am currently looking for my cast. The book should be on people’s nightstands at the beginning of summer.

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In this year I’ve written over fifty pieces for this blog, some which have been published elsewhere, including in CounterPunch and The Gay & Lesbian Review. I’ve had a short story about Elvis published in an amazing collection and I’m working on a new piece about ant-like aliens that are using a guy’s butthole as a portal to take over the earth. (Hey, it’s my poetic license and I’m gonna use it. It’s a morality tale, okay?) The Mission of the Sacred Heart is still working its way through the Hollywood process and I’ve taken on the role as co-writer of the screenplay to help move it through “development hell.” I just keep writing and writing, waiting for something to land that will allow me to re-start Cozy’s college fund.

I certainly miss my regular paycheck and the benefits that came with it almost as much as I miss teaching and having a job that had such a direct impact on the community. The life of a writer is solitary and can be very lonely. Much of the time is spent inside my head. “What the hell should I do with this character? Maybe tie him to a weather balloon and set him free.” Sometimes I ask Cozy, but she just asks for a cracker or wants me to hand over my laptop because she knows Elmo lives somewhere inside it.

It’s a shock to the system to not have a captive audience three days a week, one that actually writes down what I say. Interviews on TV are not exactly the same. I can only hope that when an interview with me is on the 11 o’clock news, if people aren’t taking notes they are at least having sex. Make use of the time I have given you. But I’ve got a class at the University of Oregon coming up later this month, so I will encourage them to take notes (and not have sex) for my sake.

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I guess this is just a little diary to mark the moment. I can’t help but think of Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge (2001) as the penniless writer. In the great bohemian tradition the tale has a tragic ending, but the writer survives to turn the tragedy into a great story for future generations to gleam some insight from about love, life, and how to live it. That’s sort of what I’m doing. There’s plenty of joy in this house, with a long dreamed of wife who is as talented as she is beautiful and our perfectly perky baby, but there is also the long anguish of the unknown. Will all this writing pay off? Will the advance money last? Will Dad have to give his last Ritz Cracker to his crying child? Will the man be able to stop the alien ants from coming out of his butthole? Stay tuned and let’s find out together.

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“That dude has intense eyes!” Normative maleness and my baby

April 6, 2015

One of the main goals of my Intro Sociology class at Portland State was to get students to develop an understanding of what feminism is really about. I would start with a riddle;

“OK, imagine a father hasn’t seen his son in 5 years. They are reunited and spend the day together. They go to a ballgame and out for burgers. On the way home there is a horrible crash and the father is killed. Barely alive and in need of surgery, the boy is rushed to the hospital. In the ER, the doctor rushes up and, with a shocked look, says, ‘I can’t operate on this child. He’s my son!’

So who is the doctor?”

In a room of 100 students there is almost always dead quiet. When I first heard this my mind went to SoapOperaLand. Maybe they were switched at birth and the doctor thinks this is his child.

The answer is much more simple. The doctor is the boy’s mother. But in a patriarchal culture we are taught to assume the male. It’s called normative maleness. “Female” is the default position. Actors (and actresses), poets (and poetesses).  Even with animals we assume the dog is a “he” even if we haven’t checked underneath to be sure.

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It happens everyday. Cozy has plenty of pink but most of her clothes are not. She wears lots of clothes that were mine 50 years ago. We were at the videostore yesterday and a young clerk looked at her and Cozy gave him the “Whatchu lookin’ at, Willis?” stare. The kid said, “Man, that dude has intense eyes!” Yeah, it’s a girl, young brother. I did it just this morning. I got a note that a child of Cheap Trick singer Robin Zander, Holland Zander, might be interested in talking about my Dream Police novel. I immediately replied, “Please email him!” Turns out Holland is a she (and Robin is a he, a very awesome he). In the 2000s, whenever I would see a news headline that read something like, “Clinton headed to China,” I would think, “Oh, Bill’s taking a trip!” It was always Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. Always.

So I lecture on normative maleness and how it serves to make females fade from view. It’s even in our politics. There are political issues and then “women’s issues,” like health care and education. All the women in the class, whether they call themselves feminists or not, get it. A lot of the guys have sort of a “so what” look on their faces, but I get 10 weeks in a quarter to work my magic. There’s a similar  situation of normative whiteness, how we assume a person is white unless we are told otherwise. What’s the picture in your head when you hear the term, “All-American kid”? It’s probably not a girl named Fatima.

Having a baby is a good place to see this play out on a daily basis. Since gender is socially constructed, babies start out genderless. We horseshoe them into pink or blue realities from Day 1. (Now we can start before they are even born!). But, in reality, babies don’t look much like boys or girls. They look like babies.

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We were out at the coast yesterday, a nice Easter road trip to Lincoln City. Cozy was in awe of the Pacific. I love seeing her see things for the first time. I snapped a picture of her. As soon as I looked at it I realized that my baby looks like comedian Patton Oswalt! When I posted it on Facebook, a friend commented that all babies look like Patton Oswalt. Whew. Love the guy but my projection on my daughter, as it turns out, is more gendered than I thought. If she’s going into comedy, I see her as more of a Cecily Strong an Amy Schumer. (Although, Patton Oswalt seems like a perfectly happy person, so I’ll take him.)

I’m a bit off point here. It’s just very telling how many people think Cozy is a boy when she is wearing her green sweater or sucking on her blue binky. In this “genderless” moment she is completely free. I love her gender transgressions and I hope it sows the seeds of not feeling trapped in the “girl box.” She’s Cozy Fucking Blazak! She can construct her own definition of gender.

This Dar Williams song makes me think about the time she has to be genderless.