desperately seeking sounds

After nearly two years of working on an audio drama, I’ve come to wonder if I should have spent more time thinking about the audio part and less on the drama.

a view of <20% of the details

It’s not that we haven’t sweated the details. I don’t think I’ve ever sweated the details so much in my life. It’s that the story engine might possibly be better if it were more closely tied to what we hear.

In this story, I stole (or copied) from The Conversation, a movie about sound. And so the hearing that matters is largely dialogue. Which is fine. We remember the things people tell us more than any discrete sound.

But I wonder if it wouldn’t have been a more interesting experience for the listener if the protagonist was actively seeking out sounds; if they were walking into different audio environments searching for specific sounds.

That would have been a more lean-forward experience. And I guess those are the ones that animate me the most.

postscript

I’ve been told: your audio drama has to play well when someone is doing the dishes. Why, though? Can people play video games while doing the dishes?

Are video games more or less popular today than 10, 20, 30 years ago?

The more we make video and audio work as “background”, the less engaging it becomes. The less engaging, the less popular.

more money in trolling

I made this video for Instagram just over two years ago. It should probably be hosted here as well.

Transcript: “what happens when there’s more money in trolling than in telling the truth? facts are carefully constructed, by skilled workers. facts cost money. any clown can make up fantasies, for free. distributors (gatekeepers) profit by lowering costs. distributors profit pushing fantasies over facts.”

Queens English

From my February 7, 2021 newsletter. Reprinted in full with a few grammatical corrections.

“You don’t sound Cuban.” “Where’s your accent?” “You speak great English!”

I should be flattered. And I am. I know imitation when I do it.

For almost 40 years, I have been listening for, and speaking into, the echoes. 

What will resonate? At what pitch? In which direction of the void should I address myself? 

In high school, I learned the ropes of speaking into the void by writing for, and then editing, a public affairs journal (thank you DK and KD.)

But, also, literally, in darkened halls filled with applause, I learned to speech and debate. 

In college, I learned that this void has many names: the reader, the audience, the public, the future, the unconscious, the past.

We speak into the void because the void speaks through us.

This void that is in me, is in you; we are part of the same culture, the same language, the same games.  Our writing is a form of speech, our speech a form of writing.

And ever since, I have spoken well enough into the void that powerful hands still provide me with food and shelter. 

Yet I remain forever in awe of how speaking into the void works. And when.

(Is it time yet? Are we ready to have that conversation?) 

So, I was heartened to see resonance for my ongoing critique of the media modes of production that led to the star of The Apprentice almost being made king of the USA .

As someone who has to think consciously about sounding out spaces, let me tell you:

I sense profound echoes today. The contours of reality have changed.

As many pundits have joked, the Democrats appear to have learned something in the last 10 years. Inshallah. Like bats, they are echolocating their way to our freedom.

Of course, that newly “shaped” reality also includes the world’s most powerful empire turning its weapons on itself.

Holy sharp corners of Plato’s Cave, Batman!

The stakes are high. I hope we make it!

See a scary movie, make a scary movie.

I maintain that the scariest movie I have seen in my adulthood is Rich Hill.

It foretells a credible apocalypse: whiteness, stripped of money / power, destroys America.  

For almost 9 years now, I have been learning to write fiction by iterating on the following story: minority identity struggles against power structure. Reality is altered.* 

One such story is coming out in a very short amount of time.

It’s called Loops.

I picked the main character in a moment of pique; on a quiet sunny morning in the Spring of 2019, I was driving through the bucolic streets of Pasadena (where Halloween was shot, for a reason) when I heard a sound that… triggered me.

A white voice on a podcast was telling me that I should be surprised that a Black kid, in juvie, was inspired by The Bonfire of the Vanities.

The gall. It rises in me still.

L.O.L.

Now, dear reader, I invite you to listen carefully to not just what I’m saying but rather how I’m saying it: if there’s one thing this Cuban-American kid knows, intimately, deeply, it’s the power of speaking with the right voice, the whitevoice. 

ESL is an everyday experience for me. 

“You don’t sound Cuban.” “Where’s your accent?” “You speak great English.”

Every time I speak, I choose to come correctly.

When I speak “perfect English”, I am making a political choice.

As when I use the language of my chosen people. The vulgar.

The words we use are how we sound out the void for invisible traps. 

What feelings do we allow, and which do we gatekeep?

Where on the line between C-suite and  the street are we standing? 

For whom do we speak the Queen’s English?

For whom do we speak the Queens English?

So many times in my life, I have heard the most damning sentiments uttered in the most vanilla phrasing. I’ve come to suspect “vanilla” serves primarily as camouflage. Decorous language: window dressing.

I’m here to tell you we don’t need no water.† 

Which brings me back to our forthcoming horror story, and that fine sunny morning in Pasadena, when I heard a perfectly “articulate” voice say something so crooked that I knew I had to set it “straight.”

Wheels went into motion. A price was set. The real work began.

Of course, as with all creative work, the real work was being done by others.

Millions, in fact.

By every one and every body that took a step forward for Black lives and Women’s lives. And yes, even some immigrant lives.  

And so, as last summer heated up, I cooled off.

I realized I didn’t have to run the same play again.

In that heated moment in 2019, I had written our flawed protagonist as a stand-in for the white voice.

By 2020, I came to understand that this voice is a meme. And it can be dislodged. Deconstructed.‡

The choice of the voice you hear in your head matters.

That’s why we ultimately cast Vivica Fox as our lead.

And, much to their credit, the team at Audible agreed to hire more writers to let us write for Vivica Fox’s voice. To “fine tune” the language. To be true. To be timely. To be free.

In Loops, as with Reversion, the protagonist is a Black woman trying to live her best life behind the gates of the empire.

But this time, there is no Daddy to be seen. Instead, Daddy is everywhere. Daddy is a speech virus. 

I’m being metaphoric! The story of Loops is quite different. But, for the sake of this conversation, let’s talk about a meme called Affluenza. 

Like a virus, affluenza hooks into whiteness and so whiteness becomes a vector. 

The virus itself, its blunt self-replicating logic, is to abuse living bodies as instruments for generating surplus wealth – wealth that then remains in the hands of the few, the well connected, the unaccountable.

This would be fun if it were a dark fantasy!  

But I’ve spent a little bit of time behind <cough> enemy </cough> lines to know it’s our incredible reality. §

The shocking reality we need horror to sound out for us – to “spell” out for us – is that we already live in a world where some bodies are worth less than others.

That’s even more obvious and quantifiable this quarantime.

We take it for granted that bodies that do less labor are worth more. That is amazing.

We assume that raising the next generation is not labor. 

Again, this is amazing – in the original sense of that word. 

In a less significant but related way: we regard some vulgarities as business friendly; others not.

For example,  it is permissible for a man like Trump to curse me over the air. Doing so will get him offers to create more TV shows. 

But for me to curse at Trump in mixed company… is still a walk over landmines.

<thinking emoji>

All of which is to say, there’s a decent amount of powerful language in Loops as well as some choice language about power.

I look forward to your hearing about it from other people. 🙂

If the echoes resound this time around.

take care, and thank you always for your time!

Jose

P.S.

Here’s the Twitter thread about reopening schools that triggered this newsletter. 

FOOTNOTES

*Some of the once-in-a-lifetime stories that Ana and I have been polishing, often with your help, include a 4-quad action adventures (Nobody Walks in LA), teen Brownsploitation (Happy Cinco de Mayo) and two are the fruits of a lifetime of returning to the same questions again and again (CachitaHummingbird).

What they all have in common is a total rejection of the status quo. We believe there is an audience of millions around the world with similar expectations. Millions who are eager to follow rebels in the struggle against empire.

† Speaking of why Queens is the best: look at what happened to Brooklyn! I mean. Come on. 🙂

Where is the roof still on fire? The Queens of AOC and the Bronx of Desus & Mero.

If The Warriors were shooting today, would they be taking a train to Brooklyn at the end of their epic journey? Of course not. They’d be on a bus going over the Bronx-Whitestone bridge. You know I’m right. 🙂

 § The benefit of the current regime goes to the graduates of schools with private dining halls and somehow even more private eating clubs. We stand atop a pyramid of Skull and Bones. 

I am not making an original observation about the spirits that possess us.

See “Get Out!” (It’s the 2001 of our generation, no? And somehow also Jaws?)

‡ What is deconstruction but when outsiders speak to one another, breaking English with one another?

If English is broken here, it’s because its bones are being reset here.

So that we may grow more limbs; a wider, stronger shelter from the burning sun.

names

for some reason, perhaps related to the news of the world, I’ve been thinking about mortality.

i was lucky – extremely lucky – to learn a few things about storytelling while “on the job.”

i titled them as follows:

  1. Isa (Maria Isabel Reyes)
  2. Ana Maria
  3. Sophie (Sofia)
  4. Lupe

some of these have other titles, but these are their given names.

there are a few more – Cachita, for example – but increasingly the titles that I work on are more generic.

perhaps, for that reason, I wanted it to be recorded somewhere that first, they had these proper names.

shifts

It hit me first thing this morning, upon waking into our quarantine & curfew, that a character is interesting when they shift from one point of view to another at the start of their journey.

The rest of the story is whether or not they return or continue down that new path, into that newly discovered world.

playhouse

Nearly two years ago, for the birthday of our oldest, I made a playhouse.

I designed it using Sketchup, which allowed me to adjust the sizing and layout, while helping me keep track of the materials I’d need.

Thank you to Matisse for guiding me towards notched beams. This one extra step made the finished product many times stronger.

And it’s fun to do.

During the physical build, I took screengrabs of the Sketchup views, brought them into Photoshop, and labeled them to make instructional guides:

Following instructions made the work easy to do and even relaxing.

Thank you to several good people who posted their notching how-to’s on the Internet. It was especially fun to have to make a tool. (Like programming!)

I don’t remember how I came to building the roof with plastic sheeting but it was super easy to do and it has held up nicely.

Off-the-shelf pipe technology is amazing; so many possibilities.

I used a good electric drill to bore holes and then used bolts and nuts with washers to fasten the pieces.

I used outdoor lumber and the structure has held up very well despite being in some rainfall and lots of sun.

If anything, the structure may even have improved as the wood settled into place. Only one beam has started to split a bit.

In conclusion, Libya is a land of contrasts and building a fort is alot like doing anything worthwhile: if you design, plan, and then execute, you will be blessed with a lasting reward.

Here is the final Sketchup model.

Xpanding the diaspora

I’ve been thinking about “what we talk about when we talk about Latinx” for some years.

My main question has been: Why not Latines? why not use the vowel “e” that we already use for non-gender-specific terms like alcaldes (mayors) and doctores (doctors), etc. Why the consonant “X”?

It was a few weeks ago that I started thinking about pre-Hispanic and post-Hispanic cultures in the Americas.

It was that “post-Hispanic” naming that helped me accept the purpose of the X.

The fact that “LatinX” cannot be said easily in Spanish is a feature, not a bug.

The use of the English “ex” is meant to disrupt the flow of speech; like a branch on a tree, rather than a dam on a river.

It’s a little bit “Malcolm X” and a lot to do with the right to self-name. Specifically, I think post-Hispanic (English-native versus “Spanish dominant”) generations want to be able to indicate their specific role in, and contribution to, the diaspora.

In the end, I’ll call anyone what they want to be called. Full stop.

Likewise, I will continue to use Latines when describing everyone – Latino, Latina, Latinx.

Perhaps, our children, raised in the US, will choose the LatinX for themselves. It has a great sound to it. Not unlike the call sign of a great Tijuana American alternative music radio station: 91x.

Junk

I grew up when America was first discussing “junk food”: ready-to-eat foods that were filling, and tasty, but neither nutritious nor healthy.

I feel like we’ve glided past the discussion of “junk news”: media which leaves the audience feeling informed, and feeling good, but actually makes audiences less informed than those who consumed no media, at all.

There are studies. It’s not subjective.

We should discuss it more. The body politic can also become weak and vulnerable as a result of a diet of “junk news”.

A Long View on YouTube

Edit Jan 1, 2021: Like the proverbial elephant, YouTube is so big that I was standing in one corner (the arts) and mistaking it for the whole thing. The right metaphor is library.

A long view on YouTube is that it’s a platform for artists – outsider mostly, many of whom make art about their own lives – and educators.

The “how” YouTube did it (dynamic ad insertion, the introduction of smartphones with video cameras, on-demand* serving, Google’s search dominance) is less interesting than “what” they did.

Because of YouTube, there is more much more art today than there was in 2005, and art is also much more diverse.

For sure, aestheticization is historically linked to fascism. And YouTube has put profits over people, with dire consequences for liberal democracy and human rights around the world.

Also, it’s business model has been so relentlessly simple as to distort the communication between artist and audience. (“Don’t forget to like, comment and subscribe!”)

But, on the whole, it ushered in an age of mass creativity without historical parallel.† It’s engendered a cultural shift that we are just beginning to understand, as the first generations to grow up with its aesthetic possibilities turn their attention to stickier questions: mortality, morality, tragedy, comedy, etc.

Whether or not these fruits bloom on YouTube, or elsewhere, won’t matter much. The shift in visual language, and in narrative storytelling, will continue to ripple out for some time to come.

That’s a remarkable occurrence that is easily forgotten given how much attention is devoted to the business of the platform, as well as its baleful effects on liberal democracies.

Footnotes

*Whether the “upload” is a five-hour loop or a 5-second shot, what matters is that there is no preset form, no prescribed length. While some discursive games benefit from tight rules (TikTok, Vine) the game of performing on YouTube has worked because of its open-endedness. Yes, there are many copies of copies. But there are enough sui generis concepts to make it a vital cultural force.

† Maybe not since the printing press and mass literacy?

latines

Latines is a gender neutral term that is pronounced as it’s written, in both English and Spanish. 

The “e” can also be used to make other nouns gender neutral. For example: amigues for friends or abogades for lawyers.

Gender-inclusive terms like doctores and gobernadores are already used widely throughout Latin America and other Spanish-speaking communities.

ed. note:  see also Latinx is xpanding the diaspora.

that migrant life

When you’re a migrant, be it a refugee or an immigrant, you’re forever an outsider.

You’re no longer fully of the culture you left and you’ll never be a true native in the one you’ve joined.

On the one hand, this can be a source of anxiety and insecurity. The desire to belong is encoded in our very bodies: it’s in the shape of our vocal folds and the size of our neocortex.

On the other hand, it can be a lowkey permanent ecstasy – ek stasis: to be or stand outside oneself.

To be uprooted, is to be ungrounded and thus free from the assumptions that often prevent us from understanding why we are the way we are.

Thus, challenges engender advantages.

because

therefore

I have never shared most of the childhood references of my cohorts.

I study the way that culture bonds us with greater interest than an anthropologist.
I was not raised with the same historical memory as the nation to which I pledge allegiance. I do not assume – as most do, incorrectly – that society shares my political beliefs.
I have never known a before without alienation; there is nowhere I can “return” to. I believe progress is possible but not inevitable; I don’t believe there is a golden era in our past.
I had to find the equivalent of words to communicate and often mangled aphorisms. I encountered language as opaque, rather than transparent; as a social construct rather than a neutral medium. I developed a habit for etymology.
I did not view the characters on TV and in movies as familiar. Relatable characters are predictable, boring. I expect characters to expand and challenge my sense of the world, rather than mirror and confirm it.
I am so accustomed to imposter syndrome that I understand it is as natural, necessary. When I conceive of subjects, protagonists, I instinctively imbue them with skepticism.

Monolingualism is an aberration

Julie Tetel Andresen in The Allusionist:

Monolingualism is an aberration – most people have been multilingual…

The human body and brain is quite well adapted to multilingualism. So the ideology of monolingualism is a fairly new phenomenon, only the last couple of hundred years. It’s such a distortion…

Think of the language situation before the mid-18th century. There were empires, multilingual conglomerations, whose borders waxed and waned with marriage and war; nobody cared about linguistic diversity, the great threat to unity was religious diversity. When the state decided to mobilise language as a resource for creating the nation, you got the ideology of the monolingual nation state, where we want linguistic borders to coincide with national borders. But of course they never did.

First families

I slept fitfully and repeatedly dreamed of the migrant family, as enshrined by Christianity.

La familia sagrada.

The holy family versus Herod, the king. The family as a bulwark against the state.

But even the liberal state, which replaces the primacy of clans with intentional communities, is the sum of countless families.

The interplay between, and within, families is a perennial topic of our political coverage, be it “hard news” or entertainment.

And yet… a great deal of formal political discourse still relegates family affairs to the fringes, or “special interests”; primarily, to those concerned with the patriarchy – its proponents and detractors.*

If feminists are on the fringes, it’s because they are leading the way.

Justice starts at home. Equality starts at home. The pursuit of life, liberty and happiness starts at home.

I know these truths have long been known but they remain in a kind of “closet”.

*postscript

Eric Levitz:

Thus, the bedrock logic of the alliance between social conservatives and reactionary capitalists was this: One valued “small government” because it (supposedly) enabled the patriarchal family (and/or racial hierarchy), while the other valued the family because it enabled “small government.”

*p.p.s. Feb 19, 2019 

Jonathan Cohn:

In 1971, Congress passed a major child care bill that looks a lot like Warren’s today. Nixon, responding to conservative advisers, vetoed it and said it was anti-family.

postscript mar 25, 2019

Katelyn Burns:

Several Trump administration officials, congresspeople, and anti-choice activists recently attended a “Make Families Great Again” conference hosted by the Hungarian embassy to discuss policies to entice women to “have more babies.”