An Open Letter in the Wake of the UK General Election

Dear Brits:

You probably know that the Tories have taken another win in the general election. I know, because, like an idiot, I forgot to set my phone to silent last night. The BBC’s app doubles as an alarm clock, where the time is dictated not by the rising or setting of the sun, but the neverending onslaught of information.

You’re probably thinking a lot about what’s in store for you. Whether or not Cameron’s going to gut the NHS, school system, social services, and public support infrastructure – basically everything that makes the UK as good as it is. Or, perhaps, whether he’ll continue to bow to increasingly ill-informed public outcry against foreigners, the decadent Continentals, or, possibly, Muslims. Maybe the world in general. When people start getting angry, there’s no stopping them.

Yes, Western democracy is founded upon the idea that the will of the people is sacrosanct, but you have cause for concern, because… well, here:

triumphofthewill-thelongwalk1

But, never fear my friends, for I’ve put my thinktank, the Simon Institute for Macro-Organizational kNowledge, on the job of analyzing trends in Britain. We’ve come to the conclusion that you’re not headed toward a Fourth Reich led by a pudgy, pasty-faced, Oxford-educated member of the elite. Nope. What you’re heading toward is AMERICA!

What can you look forward to as the future America No. 2? Well, first of all, you’ll start seeing an increased and worrying influence of industrial and commercial entities in politics. Oh, you think that you have that now? That’s charming! So British and twee of you. No, just wait until you have your very own Koch brothers to bolster the ranks of the Conservatives while Labour continues to flounder. Liberal Democrats eventually apologize for losing their spine and the Greens… well, yes. The Greens.

You’ll also start noticing more borderline hatespeech creep into national discourse. No, not the charming Victorian kind that was just The Way Things Were and gave us legitimately amazing books like King Solomon’s Mines or, like, anything set outside Europe. But terrifyingly racist ideas held by people in power, like judges passing around racist caricatures of the President and his wife. But that’s fine, friends, because it’s freedom of speech – not endemic racism rearing its ugly head.

Further, you’ll notice more of your counties moving further to the right. We here at SIMON are not quite sure which counties they’ll be, but eventually, you’ll start to notice that you have dead-ringers for Mississippi, Alabama, and Idaho within your very borders! Yes, soon you’ll notice survivalist rhetoric popping up in casual conversation. People will talk about how they need handguns because “you can’t trust anyone.” And, if things get really bad, you’ll start seeing people talk about “cosmopolitan bankers.”

I know, it’s a bleak future you’re looking at, but you’ll also see an amazing film industry pop up, probably in London because, let’s be honest, that’s the only city you actually have. You’ll also notice more billionaires flouting their wealth! What this means is that, while you’re wallowing in poverty, at least you’ll have something shiny to look at.

If you’re really lucky, you’ll have baseball. You really do want baseball, by the way. Baseball is the glue holding the world together. That and Star Wars.

So, it may look like a bleak, desolate future, but hey: At least UKIP didn’t gain power! Then you’d be really screwed!

 

The Spite Gene

“Ari shit directly on me yesterday,” my brother said. “And I looked, and there in his eye was the slightest twinkle, and I thought, ‘Yeah, he’s a Simon.’”

There’s a part of my genome, I’m sure, that’s dedicated solely to spite. Depending on how much coffee I’ve had on any given day, I think about it either as The Spite Gene, or The Fuck You Gene. It’s a familial trait, as far as I’m concerned, but it seems like only my Dad inherited it from his Dad. All of my uncles and aunts on the Simon side seem to be very lovely people who aren’t driven solely by spite, but for whatever reason, my pops inherited it and passed it down to my brother and me.

I bring this up because this past Sunday, I watched Whiplash. It was fantastic – and not for the reasons you’ll hear from other people. Yeah, JK Simmons was great, and the music was brilliant, and the pacing was spot on, and the cast was inspired and – okay, it was fantastic for the reasons you’ll hear from other people, but also because the protagonist seems to be, like me and my brother and my father, driven by spite. Funnily enough, the protagonist is also Jewish. I don’t know if that was typecasting, or just a personal quirk written into the character, but it was a nice connection.

Anyway, the reason I bring that up is because the story centers around this kid going through an intense program presided over by a sadist. In many ways, it’s Full Metal Jacket at Juilliard, but in some ways, it’s worse. Think about it, you expect drill sergeants to be awful. That’s what they’re paid for. But music is supposed to be uplifting and human and everything good in the world – and music teachers are supposed to be encouraging the next generation of greats, not throwing chairs at their heads!

As to that second point, I don’t think anyone actually believes that. Musicians are pricks. Beethoven drove his nephew to attempted suicide. Rock is full of drug-addled assholes. The blues is so full of leery, dirty sex that it’s surprising you don’t get syphilis after listening to a Robert Johnson song. (Not to mention anything by Lucille Bogan. Good Lord.) Jazz, apparently, is chock full of abusive psychopaths – which, I guess, isn’t too surprising. Jazz figured heavily in On The Road, and Kerouac wasn’t a shining beacon of ethics. Does that make the music bad, though? Of course not. The music’s music. And just as GWAR doesn’t inspire people to go murdering others, jazz doesn’t inspire people to throw cymbals at neighbors or coworkers. However, it’s not surprising that you have the greats acting like they did: Music’s primal, and in order to be one of the greats, you almost have to tap into and embrace that primality of music.

So, the idea that Fletcher (JK Simmons) is a riotous asshole shouldn’t surprise people, but it sure as hell makes for an interesting hook to a movie.

But really, the thing that hit me about Whiplash was the protagonist’s drive to succeed. The guy could have given up, but he didn’t. And where did that drive come from? Not from some external source – certainly not from his father, who wasn’t exactly all about supporting his son as a musician – but from inside. And what was that source of drive? The Fuck You gene. Neymann isn’t some schlub who has to be picked up by his girlfriend (he didn’t have one long, because he dumped her because he was an asshole) or friends (as near as we can tell, he didn’t have any), but because some voice deep inside him heard Fletcher’s criticisms and said, “You know what? Fuck you.” And from thence, Neymann decided that he would be one of the greats even if it physically destroyed him.

And something about that connected with me. Well, scratch that, I know just what it was: My personal “Fuck you” moment came in grad school, as I was being told that my writing just didn’t work and if I kept it up, I wouldn’t pass the program. This wasn’t Justice Trio-level stuff I was writing, either: This is stuff that has been well-received by people other than my parents! So, I thought the key phrase, and kept churning it out. I wrote like a madman from October to June, far surpassing the required word count (“You want a novella for a Master’s? Fuck you, you’re getting a novel.”) and churning out something that outside readers said was good enough for an Merit degree at Kent. Yeah, it’s not Oxford, but that’s leagues better than getting failed out of a program for going against what I know is my style, and what I know is what I write well. And I hold on to that moment not out of personal spite (partially personal spite), but out of professional spite – because the purpose of an MA or an MFA in writing isn’t to churn out Jonathan Franzen clones, but to make good writers better in their own genre.

That idea, that the best way for me to get inspired is to go against the grain of what I believe is right, is why I don’t have any freakin patience for feel-good woo spread around by sites like Upworthy, or Buzzfeed, or any number of bizarre offshoots that slap a semi-inspirational quote on a semi-inspirational photo and call it insightful. The world does not run on good vibes. The world is fueled by humans, the majority of which are too wrapped up in their day-to-day existence and egos to acknowledge anyone’s idea of the greater picture – most of all, their own. To slather sugar on a piece of shit idea and call it smart is insulting to anyone who got to where they are without an entire cheerleading section on the sidelines. (Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to have that, but to be fueled entirely by that is self-delusion and self-denial of the grandest scale.)

In order to be successful in whatever you practice, you have to be willing to smell the sewage as well as the flowers. The Buddha may be a fresh breeze, but the Buddha is also a shit-stick. So, what do you do? Do you focus entirely on negative feedback? Well, no. That way lays self-destruction and annihilation of whatever social structure you might otherwise build around yourselves. But you have to embrace the anger not as a friend, because that’ll then turn it into not anger, but as an enemy you have to surpass. The world is a stage, says the bard, but every play needs a villain for the protagonist to overcome.

So, in my day-to-day, when I’m looking at something in front of me, I know I’m most successful if it’s something I want to do and think I can do, and someone tells me that I shouldn’t. I need that something to look in the eyes and go “Fuck you” at.

And when my brother told me that story of his baby son seemingly purposefully shitting directly on him, I knew: That kid’s gonna be someone.

An Open Letter to Glenn Beck

Dear Glenn,

You don’t know me. I’m Aaron Simon. I’m probably one of your least favorite people on the planet. I’ve voted for Obama both times, voted Green, Progressive, and Democrat in elections, and think that the free market is in need of serious regulation before it destroys society. Not only that, but I’m largely and strongly opposed to the more fundamentalist brands of evangelical Christianity, and Mormonism trips me out.

If we met in a bar, we would shake hands and say, “It’s nice to meet you,” but neither of us would really mean it.

I say all of this not to introduce myself, but to offer myself in to your employment. See, you’ve got something I don’t have: Money. Currently, I live in a drafty one-bedroom apartment in Portland, Oregon – a city you would loathe, even though I think you’d really like the Eastern part of the state – and while I really like it, for the past week, the temperature inside the apartment hasn’t gone above forty degrees. I’ve forgotten what warmth is, and I’m just waiting for the wampas to come get me. (Wampas, in case you don’t know, are a Star Wars critter that eviscerates pack animals and likes to hang people upside down from icicle boots. I don’t think you’d know this, because Star Wars implies there are galaxies outside our own, possibly not created by God.)

I’d like to come work for you for the money. Let’s not beat around the bush about it. You have money, and I need money in order to turn on the heat. But what can I do? Well, I’m a writer. A wordsmith. I know my way around screenplays and novels. I’ve seen what you can do. I’ve read your book, Broke, and have read the brief intro for Immortal and the accompanying film. Glenn: You can do better. Immortal? Really? Wasn’t that the prequel for 300? How’s this for a title: Santa Invictus. It’s dark. Gritty. Gets you thinking. Really puts the Santa character into a position where you know that he’s going to be a hunter-gatherer-warrior dedicated to… well, I don’t know. Your premise kind of loses its legs after the man Agios promises to protect is crucified, and, frankly, I don’t know how you’re going to fit this into a 90-page shooting script. Don’t worry, though. We can go over that after you’ve hired me on.

What else is there to say? I don’t ask much in terms of compensation. Money is obviously very important to you, so I won’t ask to take too much away. Just enough to be comfortably middle class and fly out to wherever it is you live and work for our writers’ room meetings. Because I’m sure as hell not moving out of Portland. Don’t worry. I have the Internet. You can get a hold of me very easily, even if I don’t really get cell phone reception in my apartment. That’s what Skype is for!

So, Glenn, what do you say? With your rampant desire for more money and airtime, and my skills as a writer and all-around story-thinker-upper, I think we can come up with some stuff that’s, you know, legitimately well-written. Something that’s got a chance of taking your shaky message away from the evangelical Christians who absolutely love it and into the mainstream, thus, maybe – just maybe – putting you in the position of actually being the immortal god-king-slayer that you think yourself to be.

Whaddya say, Glenn? You’ve got my email address. I’m waiting to hear back.

All the best,

Aaron Simon