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Minneapolis is Not a Story (Sincere Post)

I am not qualified to tell the story of what is happening in Minneapolis right now. So what if I’ve lived here for over twenty years? So what if I’ve witnesses police brutality firsthand? So what if I’ve heard accounts from all over the city? So what if some of my fondest memories take place in buildings that are now rubble? So what if I have eyes on the ground? I am a storyteller AND I am not qualified to tell this story.

No one is. Sure we can share our experiences. Our anecdotes can give you a window into what is happening, but a story, a plot driven tale, functions differently.

Writers have a tendency to depict historical events in three acts. Act 1 – George Floyd is murdered by the police and everyone’s routine is broken. Act 2 –People want justice and demonstration spread from Minneapolis to throughout the nation. There are lootings, fires. Outside agents take advantage of the chaos. Peaceful demonstrators get caught up in violent skirmishes with the militarized police forces. Act 3- The murderous police officers are jailed. Sane and sober minded citizens volunteer to sweep the streets, they run food drives, and crowdfund their local businesses. They dismantle systems of oppression and rebuild something stronger. Something that includes everyone.

Isn’t that a lovely story? It’s easy to follow. It has clear good guys and bad guys. And best of all it has an ENDING.

Don’t be swayed by this narrative. It’s false. Why? Because it follows a narrative structure. Like a movie it starts late, has a narrow scope, and ends far too early.

Minneapolis is not Gotham City and Commissioner Gordon is not going to quote Charles Dickens over sweeping shots of panoramic skylines.

Things were not. Are not. And will not be that simple.

Comedian Hannah Gadsby once said comedy is the business of creating then puncturing tension. A joke ends as soon as the comedian can relieve tension and get a laugh, not when the actual events in the joke end. Stories function in much the same way. Act 1 creates the tension. Act 2 tips the scales from hope to dread. And Act 3 relieves the tension.

This is not a story. Even after the smoke clears the tension will remain. For some that tension will turn malignant. It will take roots in their soul and they will learn the wrong lessons. For some that tension will turn to introspection. They may resent it, at first, but the contemplation will lead to gradual changes from within.

Far too many people will lose the plot completely. The emotional baggage will become too much to bear and when another injustice happens they will turn away, because they have the luxury of choosing where they place their attention.

When people say, “I thought we were past this.” It’s because they thought the Eric Garner story was over and they stopped paying attention. The Michael Brown story isn’t over. The Sandra Bland story isn’t over. The Philando Castile story isn’t over.

And the George Floyd story doesn’t end with the prosecution of Derek Chauvin, or Thomas K. Lane, Tou Thao, and J. Alexander Kueng. It doesn’t end with convictions or with the ousting of MPD Federation President Bob Kroll. It doesn’t end with governmental aid, sweeping police reforms, and policies that reduce income equality. It doesn’t end with a blue wave across the country or with democrat in the White House.

Because it’s not a story. It. Doesn’t. End.

A lifetime of consuming stories has wired us to think in threes, but reality doesn’t work like that. Real change requires us to think outside of the narrative. It requires us to reject premature resolutions. It won’t be long before the news distills all this down to a thirty second montage of George Floyd’s murder, heated demonstrations, and community cleanup. Three neat little acts. A relief of tension. A happy ending. An easy out for anyone who wants to stop paying attention.

Don’t fall for it.

On Satire Now (Sincere Post)

Over the last few months I’ve used satire to mock the Trump administration’s response to the global pandemic. When George Floyd was murdered by local police officers here in my hometown of Minneapolis I put my blog on pause. I saw no humor in the heartbreak. Some memes in my feed felt like they were in poor taste and a lot of satire seemed insensitive.

The Onion took a few swings at the inhumanity of the Minneapolis PD. They posted a cropped photo of Derek Chauvin kneeling with the headline, “Minneapolis Police Now Requiring Officers To Undergo Ergonomics Training To Better Protect Knees.” I get the writer’s intention, but that joke didn’t work for me, not when I knew George Floyd was being asphyxiated just out of frame.

I’m not usually someone who says it’s too soon to joke about a tragedy, but satire in the heat of the moment doesn’t get the luxury of being opaque. It needs to be clear, cleaver, and speak truth to power. No matter how well your intentions you will be taking an incredible risk and you will have to own it. No matter how explicit your joke structure is there will be people who won’t get it. To this day there are still people who think Jonathan Swift wanted to eat Irish babies when he wrote “A Modest Proposal.”

You need to be a Jordan Peele level social commentator and frankly I am not.

I have mixed feelings about the local lootings. I’m still learning I have a lot to learn. There’s so much I don’t know about black-white inequality, about effective activism, and police reform. I don’t want to be the asshole who etches his fluid opinions into stone. So I won’t.

Those are areas where I need to educate myself. I need to listen to the signal without clogging it with noise.

In all likelihood my satire will continue to go after easy targets like the President. Trump gassed protesters so he could use the bible as a prop for an American Gothic photo op. Of course I’m going to mock that. Trump is lifting the free speech protections of social media companies under the guise of free speech. Of course I’m going to mock that. Trump thinks the solution to police violence is military domination over demonstrators. The jokes write themselves.

If now’s not the time. Let me know. If I go too far. Tell me. I won’t give you a line item veto for every joke I tell, but I’ll listen. We’re all processing this injustice in our own way, but we are in this together, here in Minneapolis, and throughout the rest of the world. Keep fighting the good fight and know that I love you all.

Why I Keep Inserting Monsters into the News

I’ve been writing a lot about monsters lately:
About werewolves protesting the lockdown because it keeps their prey at home.
About ghosts intensifying their hauntings now that they have captive audiences.
About eldritch horrors lurking aboveground because of the lack of pollution.
About giant spiders ensnaring runners with tripwire webs.

These stories are my way of processing the pandemic without dealing with it head on. I did that once when I wrote a blog about having COVID-19 symptoms. In it I related a string of bad luck.

First I got sick. Then I got laid off. My boss used the lockdown as an opportunity to “right size” her business, despite the fact that our UPS Store had lines out the door. After two weeks of unemployment I was asked to come back. Another employee was showing COVID-19 symptoms and they needed the support. I was afraid I might still be contagious and I wasn’t eager to return to an unsafe environment. I was told “Now or never.” I went with never and lost my unemployment benefits.

That story was one of my most successful blog entries. It was off the cuff. But that kind of intimacy can’t be forced. You can’t reproduce it to increase your metrics. I considered journaling my depression throughout these turbulent times, but I didn’t want to overexpose myself. I ran the risk of sharing personal details that would made me unemployable or exhaust my readers’ empathy.

So I changed tactics. I wanted to write something topical, but I didn’t want to overwhelm people. I decided to come at the news from another angle. I’d address the pandemic, but I’d add monsters to it.

How Monsters are Helping My Sanity

I like stories with moral messages, but I tend to beat people over the head them. I get up on my soap box and give a ham-fisted speech that scares people off. I’ve been writing for twenty years and I still struggle with subtext. My best stories happen organically once I’ve abandon my commentary. They follow Stephen King’s adage: entertain first, enlighten second.

When I started writing news parodies I thought I was putting a creepy spin on what The Onion was doing. Then these pieces turned into thought experiments. The question, “How do I address the plight of essential workers during the pandemic?” became “What if people really did have to work through a zombie apocalypse?”

The question, “How do I take the OK Karen meme and apply it to witches?” became “What if magick was real and witches were subject to online harassment?”

The question, “Would people go out if there were giant spiders everywhere?” became “But what if there really were giant spiders everywhere?”

I became less interested in writing commentary and more interested in playing up the absurdity of these stories. These fantastic times pair well with fantasy creatures. Writing about these heightened realities makes this one bearable to me. My monsters have allowed me to reclaim my imagination from so much of what’s going on.

Closing Thoughts

This pandemic is soul crushing. This lockdown is depressing and the state of the economy is demoralizing. Many of my favorite coffeehouses, bars, and restaurants are closing for good.
I have a friend who’s a nurse in New York. I have another friend whose care facility has had several deaths. I’m healthy and relatively young, but I got much sicker than I expected.

I’ve spent weeks trying to get through to the unemployment office. I’m still waiting on my stimulus check. I’ve been applying for every job I think might put a dent in my expenses, and yet I have too much free time. I’m single. I live alone. I haven’t seen any of my friends in months.

My monster stories are keeping me going. I know I ought to be better about sharing them, about building the old brand. I’ve been told to start a Patreon, but I don’t have that kind of following. Not yet.

I’m open to feedback. Please let me know if you’re digging what I’m doing.

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Continue reading Why I Keep Inserting Monsters into the News

How the President is Failing to Deal with the Vampire Epidemic

Europe has been in the grip of fear ever since a strange mist blanketed the globe last January. Romanian authorities found discotheques drenched in blood, freezers stockpiled with corpses, and victims impaled on flagpoles. Investigators found fang-like puncture wounds and bodies completely drained of blood. It didn’t take long for the World Health Organization to declare a vampire epidemic.

President Trump downplayed reports of cathedrals covered in crimson glyphs and blood spattered effigies, dubbing them “The latest in a long line of liberal hoaxes.”

A month later reports of bodies mounted on church spires came from all across America.

President Trump’s tone shifted. “Our first priority is to protect our nation’s menstruating women. These things like blood. I’ve had three wives and two daughters, and let me tell you, that’s a lot of blood.”

The president then told a frightened nation to stockpile onions. “Stuff them into your mail box. Lay a bloom on your doormat. Shove them in your gutters.”

Later a spokesperson for the Whitehouse clarified the president’s comments. “Vampires are allergic to garlic, a species of the onion genus, which is what the president was referring to when he said ‘onions.’”

A day later President Trump told the public to invest in silver spray paint. “Spray it on your railings. Your doorknobs. Your neck. I mean lock the doors and windows and just empty a couple of cans.”

That same Whitehouse spokesperson clarified. “Vampires are not allergic to the color silver, but rather the precious metal. It burns their skin on contact. While some paints contain metal flakes they are not concentrated enough to offer any substantive benefit.”

Earlier this April Catholic parishes reported running out of holy water. Experts within the administration urged clergy members to bless the nation’s aquifers. Meanwhile the President suggested Americans dunk copies of Mel Gibson’s 2004 film The Passion of the Christ in their bathtubs. “Fill up a couple of water balloons and go Rambo on these mother suckers.”

As more human totem poles and skin banners are discovered 65% of Americans say personal defense is their main concern. The nation’s timber producers struggle to meet the demand for wooden stakes. The CDC urges rural Americans to whittle branches for home defense. Urban Americans face wood shortages. With their staff furloughed Crate and Barrel reports their dining sets have been stripped by desperate people looking for materials to make stakes.

The president announced a plan to address the stake shortage. He went before the Whitehouse press briefing with golf tees jutting from his knuckles and went into a shadowboxing routine that lasted for a few seconds before he leaned on the podium to catch his breath. When he finished wheezing he lobbed packs of golf tees at the press core and shouted, “Here, use these.”

Climate activists, like Greta Thunberg, insist world leaders must address the mist blanketing the globe before doing anything else. “The only way to stop the vampires is to bring the sun back into the equation.”

The President denies the role of climate change on the overcast. Anonymous Whitehouse aids say he makes finger guns at the cloud cover whenever he passes a window and that he’s asked his generals, “Why can’t we just nuke it?”
“Because the fallout would make the earth uninhabitable.”
“What about solar panels? Why don’t we just blast it from the underneath?”
“Solar panels absorb sunlight. They don’t project it.”
“What about hurricanes? You know how the sun always shines through the eye of a hurricane? Why can’t we do something with that?”
“If we could control the weather we’d start with the mist.”
“Then what’s your suggestion poindexter?!”

South Korea contained the spread of vampirism by urging citizens to disinvite infected family members from their homes, mandatory blood testing, and Ultraviolet light checkpoints.

Last Friday President Trump suggested Americans go out carrying life-sized crucifixes. “I know the fake media will spin this to say that crosses are too heavy, but how badly do you want your groceries?”

Churches report that the crosses they’ve depended on to protect their congregations have been stolen. Cemeteries report record grave desecrations and strip malls are reporting the theft of lowercase Ts from signs.

Rather than address the surge in vandalism the President congratulated himself on Twitter for beating the Pope in TV ratings. “Does the pope shit in the woods? Well he’s shit in the ratings! Sad.”

As for a long term solution Whitehouse aids report President Trump is still spit balling strategies with his generals.

“Can’t we get some werewolf commandos to take these mouth-bleeders out?”
“Then who would take out the werewolves?”
Trump snapped his fingers. “An airborne squadron of witches.”
“And what about the witches?”
“How about some vampire bats?”
“And…we’re right back where we started.”

Last night a high ranking general’s remains were found near the Whitehouse. Witnesses said his intestines were threaded through the gate like tinsel and that his organs were hung like mistletoe.

At 3AM the President Tweeted, “It’s over! Liberate your homes! Throw those doors open and invite the world back in! #CleanYourNecksFirst.”

The President and most of his staff have not been heard from since. Although there were reports of a colony of bats seen defecating on the Lincoln memorial not long after the President’s Tweet.

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Continue reading How the President is Failing to Deal with the Vampire Epidemic

So, I Probably Had The Virus

The shivering started in the middle of the night. I zipped up a pullover, piled on the sheets, and tapped the thermostat. The chill grew more intense. My teeth chattered, my collar quivered, and my forearms broke out in goosebumps. When I stood it felt like I had a full body hangover. From my temples across my brow I was dizzy and top heavy.

I took a hot shower until my bathroom became a sauna, plugged the tub and fell asleep in the bath. This was my morning routine for two weeks.

If you take too much Tylenol in a day your ears will ring. I don’t know why, but that’s a thing.

I worked at a UPS Store. Before the COVID-19 cases were widely reported a customer told me he wasn’t worried. “It’s all about your outlook. You choose what you let in. You put negative energy out into the world then negative energy gonna come find you.”

Days later a mailbox holder challenged me for wearing a mask. She was usually a good natured, charming woman who cracked jokes as she unwrapped tubs of vitamins. On that day she was stepping over the 6 foot line on the floor to say, “Everybody’s freaking out about the Corona virus, but they should be freaking out about what they’ve being putting in the water. Do you have any idea how happy the pharmaceutical companies are right now?”

Another customer told me that the 5G Verizon installed during the NCAA final four games will make us more vulnerable, because of the microwaves it emits.

“Don’t you mean radio waves?”

After the governor shut down all the coffee shops, restaurants, and bars, the UPS Stores stayed open. We are an essential business. Our customers might need to ship medical masks, hand sanitizer, or toilet paper. They might need to overnight ventilators to New York City. I say might, because most of the people in the lines out our door were returning underwear, dresses, and socks.

The store makes about 80 cents for every Amazon drop off it takes in. It doesn’t matter if it’s an iPhone case or a 150 pound safe (like the one that I threw my back out lifting). They are worth the same to us. I started calculating the risk/reward factor once the stay-at-home order began. Everytime an item slid across the counter I thought, “This was worth risking your life and mine?”

A few weeks into the quarantine, Hennepin county became the epicenter for the outbreak in Minnesota, a customer knocked on the delivery door in back. She started to say she would like her mail walked out to her car so that she could keep a safe distance from the other customers. She started to say that, but cut herself off. “You look sick. Are you sick? Because you look sick.”

In truth, I’d been feeling weird. I wasn’t sure if it was stress from the sudden rush of customers or if it was a psychosomatic response to news of the virus. I checked my temperature every morning, and as long as I was at the same average of 98 degrees I felt I was fit to go to work.

Then my temperature went past 100 and I felt something in my bones. It’s still flu season. My boss theorized that this could be garden variety influenza, maybe adult onset allergies. But we’d been told if anyone had COVID-19-like symptoms we’d be paid to stay at home, so I took the company up on the offer.

Then I was told corporate needed some kind of proof before authorizing sick pay. I’m in my thirties. My job does not provide health insurance. My symptoms are not so severe as to warrant a trip to the ER, and there’s a finite amount of COVID-19 tests to go around. I downloaded Apple’s COVID-19 app, took the survey, and it told me to self-quarantine. I took a screenshot of the results and sent it to my boss. That’s the quality of healthcare I can afford.

This is all I’ll say about the American healthcare system: this is a country where a science teacher cooking meth to pay for his cancer treatment is a plausible plot line on TV. Breaking Bad would make no sense if it took place in Canada.

Not long after that my boss called to say she was laying me off. I wasn’t sure if this meant I was being furloughed, if I had a job waiting for me when I got better or not. She said this is the best way to make sure I got paid without crippling the business.

I was told it was important to file for unemployment on Wednesday, because the office was flooded with requests and the last digit of my social security number is assigned to that day.

Before my symptoms started to show. I spent a lot of time walking around. I live next to a chain of lakes with hiking trails. Those trails are packed so densely with people that there’s no way anyone can keep 6 feet away from one another and it seems like no one cares.

The customers at our store didn’t care. We had tape on the floor meant to keep people from getting too close to the counter. They always crossed it. We had to instruct them to step back. Some people thought it was funny to pretend they were sick and cough on the door handle on the way out.

A string of retail jobs has sullied my belief that people are essentially good. This pandemic has obliterated it. If you’ve read this far then there’s one point I want you to take away from this: be kind to the people who are risking their lives to serve you. If you ask how someone is doing you better mean it. Most clerks are past pleasantries. They just might tell you.

Might I suggest you stop asking, “How’s it going?” and start saying, “Thank you for being here.” instead.

I know it’s hard, but please be decent to each other.

Specters of Summer: Creepy Real Life Encounters

Flash Non-Fiction from a Frightened Pedestrian

I live in a part of Minneapolis where I can walk most everywhere I go. While other city dwellers live in food deserts, far from healthy produce, I live in a food oasis with four grocers just blocks from my apartment. Minneapolis has a greenway where cyclists and pedestrians can travel without having to worry about oncoming traffic. Everyday I walk that way to work. I have my choice of four lakes to hike around to find my calm. I walk to the coffee shop where I write. I walk to my Twin Peaks viewing party. I walk to karaoke.

I grind the heels of my boots down flat. I go through one set of insoles a month, and my jeans always have a shortened lifespan, but I can get away with eating donuts and maintain the same frame I’ve had since I was eighteen.

I like walking, despite all the gravel I track into the apartment or the fact that I have to carry an umbrella at all times.

The only real drawback to traversing the city on foot is that it leaves me much more vulnerable than if I were in a vehicle.

There are always wolves looking to prey on anyone they perceive to be lagging behind the heard. Sometimes it’s the red cup wielding frat brothers picking fights on street corners while onlookers yell “World Star.” Sometimes it’s the sidewalk trolls, panhandling for a toll, following me for blocks until I give them a hard, “No.”

Sometimes it’s the people spotting me over their shoulder, ducking into entryways, thinking I can’t see their breath spiraling out in the cold. These are the people who leap out of the shadows, follow me between buildings, and chase me into gas stations. These are the predators I don’t always see coming.

I’ve been jumped before, laid out, full on woke up in a hospital with no clue what happened, missing a phone and a lot of time. The experience puts me on edge at night. It’s made me hyper aware of my surroundings. When I see a shady character standing in my path I check the bushes for silhouettes. Attackers are like Velociraptors if you see one in front of you odds are there are two swooping up from your sides. Continue reading Specters of Summer: Creepy Real Life Encounters

A Different Kind of Bathroom Bill

DISCLAIMER: Discrimination is ridiculous. Especially when the ability to discriminate hides behind the veil of victimization, like the religious liberty bills that have been proposed throughout the US this year. These bills would give devout shop owners the right to deny service to members of the LGBT community.

The following isn’t simply a parody of this ironic situation, it’s a callback to a prejudice against another segment of the population. They too were discriminated against for religious reasons. They too have a trait that can be found in 1 in 10 members of the population, and they too cannot change the way they are despite efforts to convert them.

The following is written from the perspective of someone with a strong prejudice against them. Continue reading A Different Kind of Bathroom Bill