Month: January 2013

The Announcement of a Martian Flower — A Glimpse Into the Politics of Science Fiction

Over the last couple days, articles have been funneling from the media about the discovery of a flower on the surface of Mars.  Fox News and the New York Daily News have articles describing the situation.  Basically, Curiosity rover has taken an image of an object that looks like petals of a flower.  See below.


According to reports, Curiosity has taken photos of bits of clear plastic that came from the debris of the Curiosity itself previously, but according to the Fox News article, NASA doesn’t believe this idea to be an accurate description of the above picture. Of course, no one is really sure what the object is, and a newspaper from India has said that NASA has not officially endorsed the idea that this object is a flower.  So, there’s clearly some confusion, but it’s a discovery that has sparked a lot of excitement.

When I heard about the Martian Flowers, really almost three hours ago, I was driving my dog, Hendrix, to the vet.  He needs more flea medicine.  I was listening to ESPN radio, and I was suddenly struck by how blue the sky was; it’s really a blue that I have only seen in Southern California — a blue so striking it’s startling.  Then I heard the announcer, I forget who it was, say, “Well, it looks like NASA is reporting they have found a flower on Mars.”

A flower, on Mars?  This could potentially be a world-changing announcement.  A sentence of similar universe expanding as when someone announced to Europe that Columbus had discovered a “New World.”  To me, this was incredible news, but I had to remind myself not to take this at face value.  Reports could be wrong.  The announcer went on to say that officials think this might point to a Martian city.  I hope he was joking, because I highly doubt that any NASA official would hypothesize something on those terms, especially without any empirical evidence.  It was ESPN radio, after all, and not BBC or NPR.

Later, at the vet, I told the two techs, a man and a woman, that the rover had just found a flower on Mars.  They looked at a me a little strange.  I haven’t shaved in a couple of days, and they probably thought I was a bit wacky.  I wanted to see how they would react to the news. They were a bit startled, but they just went back to work.

That’s when my mind started to kick into writer mode.  One thing that has always intrigued me is the idea people have about “aliens.”  People find it to be such a shock to imagine there is life in the universe.  Well, have you seen how big the universe is?  It’s ever-expanding.  Now, I’m not talking about green aliens here or the ones you see in a movie with Will Smith; I’m talking about life in its various forms: plants and microorganisms.  Maybe it’s hard for people to jump to “aliens,” but it seems absurd, to me, that life doesn’t exist in the world where Los Angeles can be so complex and surprising.  And that’s just one speck.

But the idea that the radio had just announced there was a flower on Mars, well, it was mind-blowing.  They had finally discovered something “alive” in the world outside of Earth.  How will this change our world?  I can’t help but jump the gun a bit — and just imagine.  Well, people are scared of the idea of life outside of Earth, and the writer-mind started working.  Talk about an inconspicuous way to introduce the idea of life on Mars to the planet: a flower. What is more harmless than a flower?  Nobody is going to go running in the streets, proclaiming the end of the world, over a flower.


The flower somehow sets off a complex debate over the nature of God and religion; the flower somehow starts a fear in the citizens of the United States that their lives are insignificant and meaningless, because there is a world beyond them, mysterious and unexplained; the flower somehow becomes rumored to be the next cataclysmic event that will really start the Mayan apocalypse.

Well, the flower could illuminate our fears, but it could also shed light on our politics and cultural values.  Let’s look at science fiction, for a moment, and it’s relation to the vision of the flower — of the future.

What I always liked about Ray Bradbury was his brilliant imagination.  There is still a stigma over science fiction (which I was, unfortunately, once a hater), but in a lot of a ways, Ray Bradbury, in his book the Martian Chronicles, was doing what Shakespeare was in “The Tempest.”  He was imagining how we would react to the discovery of a new world.  Bradbury wants us to imagine that when we discover life on Mars, we will do exactly to the “Martians” as what we as Americans did to the Indians.  We will colonize the land and push our values onto a people and commit acts of mass murder.   It’s a terrible thought — that we are doomed to enact the same misfortune onto every civilization we come in contact with. For some, the flower can instill images of conquest and condominiums.  We have already seen this ideas with vacations and hotels on the moon.

I’m trying to get at something.  And it’s about science fiction.  I feel like we’re entering a new era, or at least a moment, where many of the ideas from great science fiction, those that have seemed far-away and improbable, are starting to come to fruition.  And how does that affect the way we read these fictional texts?  How do they influence our politics and visions moving forward?  How are we to view this “flower” on Mars?  How should we react?

Well, I’m not trying to say there is a conspiracy — a way for the government to introduce the idea of extraterrestrial life in the cultural conscious slowly and innocently — I’m just saying that if there was ever a harmless way to make us feel comfortable with life outside of ourselves, then the flower is the way to go.  It’s harmless and beautiful.  I wonder if Bradbury would have ever imagined the first image of life we saw from Mars, potentially, could be a flower.

Five Things I Miss About Miami

I moved to Los Angeles County almost two years ago from Miami, and I have found, while L.A. does feel like Miami’s big brother, there is no city quite like the magic city.  That doesn’t mean one city is better than the other, but there are aspects of Miami culture that I haven’t been able to find anywhere else — and maybe they just don’t exist outside of the tip of America’s wang (Florida: for those people who can’t see the state is phallic).  So, I decided to create a list of the Top Five Things I miss about Miami.

5. The Docks in Coconut Grove — Dinner Key

bike Miami

When I lived in Coconut Grove, I would take my bike — almost every day — and drive around the docks.  I would pass Peacock Park, and I would listen to the homeless telling stories on the checker-board picnic tables.  I would, sometimes, stop and play basketball — until one day I almost got my ass kicked by a bunch of guys who didn’t like the way I played.  I would watch softball games filled with students from the University of Miami. But the best part was when I would driver my bike along the sidewalk that ran along the docks filled with yachts and shrimping boats.  The shrimpers were always the most interesting people.  They had crappy skiffs that seemed to perpetually have smoke coming out of their engines.  I would love to write a story about those guys one day. Then there was an area near the docks where I used to go sit; it was on the opposite side of Scotty’s Landing — a bar with one of the best views of the ocean and Key Biscayne in Miami — and watch the waves, see the image of downtown in the background, and write, well, poems in my head.

4. Lincoln Road — South Beach


At one point, actually the first year we lived there, Heron and I lived in South Beach.  We found a place that was a reasonable price for two graduate students, living on loans and stipends, and we moved into the back cottage of a house owned by a Cuban retiree.  Well, it turned out we were getting ripped off, and the landlord turned out to be a jerk, but that’s another story — and it’s a good one, too.  But we moved into this place so we could be near South Beach.  We figured, well, we’re living in Miami, why not be the closest to all the action possible?  I wasn’t really into clubbing or any of that, but we were so close to Lincoln Road, and we used to walk there a lot.  We would stop at David’s for cafe con leches, and we would just wander around the stores.  They had these great museums there, too.  I used to go to the Britto museum all the time.  It was amazing how polarizing Britto was as an art figure (this might be a cool post for later), but I’ll never forget bringing my good buddy into the museum, and he grabbed his crotch and told the store and Britto they can suck on his testes.  That was funny.  In reality, Lincoln Road is just a boulevard of shops in South Beach, but there are always interesting people — an artist who drives around with a rooster on his bike, a smaller Books and Books, a strange man in a dress dancing to a boom box, and if you’re lucky, you might see one of the funniest and most awkward mimes in the world.  One of my best memories, however, is heading down to Lincoln Road on Sundays with Heron, and I would buy her fresh flowers.

3. Calle Ocho — El Rey De Las Fritas


Calle Ocho — eighth street — is one of the most historic streets in the city.  It runs through Little Havana, and in the parks, you will find men playing dominos and smoking cigars.  One day, I sat in the park and watched the old Cubans playing dominos, and I had no idea what the hell was going on.  All up and down this street, you will find monuments, memorials, Cuban restaurants, music shops; but my favorite place on Calle Ocho — like all cool things in Miami it was introduced to me by my good friend, El Gonzo — was El Rey De Las Fritas. The king of the fritas.  Anthony Bourdain ate at this restaurant on his show, No Reservations.  It’s nothing extravagant — in fact, it’s greasy.  But oh-so delicious.  Now, you may ask what is a frita, and I will tell you the truth — pork mystery.  But it’s delicious.  They put these potato sticks on the top, and it is a wonderful “culinary” experience.  But maybe the best part is that you can wash the fritas down with an amazing shake.  They even have a shake made out of rice puffs — or something that tastes like that.  If you’re in Miami, and you’re looking for something off the beaten path, then you better go here.

2. Coffee — Espresso –Cafecito — Cafe Con Leche — Cortido — Collata


I have tried for years to find a cup of coffee that can compare to the cups of Jose in Miami.  But nothing compares.  “Cuban coffee,” usually made with cafe bustelo, is made in various ways with espresso and sucre: cafe con leche, cortadito, collata, cafecito.  My favorite was a cafe con leche.  Basically, it’s an espresso with milk. But there is something about the way it is made in Miami that is completely unique.  I used to love to walk up to a coffee shop — usually just a window — listen to the espresso machines gurgling and eat an empanada or these amazing cookies filled with dulce de leche.  And I have tried to drink a cafe con leche in other places, but it’s never made right.  It’s frustrating.  But no one, at least in Los Angeles, seems to know how to create an authentic cafe con leche.  (If there is, then tell me where.)

1. Books and Books — Coral Gables

Books and BooksIn Los Angeles, there are countless book stores that are incredible. Book Soup and The Last Bookstore are my favorite.  But in Miami, there was no question; Books and Books in the heart of Coral Gables was the best book store in the Magic City and one of the best spots to eat and hear an incredible reading.  I can’t tell you how many great writers I’ve seen there, and when I was in the MFA Program at Florida International, Books and Books became a sort of meeting ground for the program outside of the university.  Our teachers read there; our alum read there; and even, sometimes, the students read there, too.  So many good memories. I used to order a cup of coffee, sit on the patio, and write stories.  Plus, they had this turkey, apple, brie sandwich with mango chutney butter that was just out of this world.  For the literary crew of Miami, Books and Books is a special place — a meeting ground, a repository and trade post of ideas, and, well, just a beautiful site of book displays.  Go to Books and Books.  I can’t wait to return.

My Favorite Songs From 2012

Everyone and their mother has a music list out there right now from 2012.  And, honestly, it’s kind of fun to look back on the last year and see it through the lens of music.  For me, 2012 was filled with ups and downs, new jobs and old jobs, freelancing and traffic, publishing and rejection, and I wanted to share with you the songs that provided a soundtrack — the songs that inspired me or just brought some joy — from last year.  Unlike my book list, I’m going to focus on songs that were popular during the year.  But it’s also an homage to the music being made today.  I hear so many people saying they would rather live in the 60s or 50s for great music, but we need to recognize that right now, this generation, is filled with unforgettable music.  So here they are.  My favorite songs from 2012.

10. Alabama Shakes — Heartbreaker

I was lucky enough to see Alabama Shakes at the Fox Theater in Pomona with my buddy, Ross.  The show was incredible, and the lead singer and guitar player, Brittany Howard, proved that she is one of the freshest voices in the game right now.  She’s the closest thing we’ve had to Janis Joplin.  I just love hearing that true old-time rock ‘n’ roll sound.  Alabama Shakes’ big hit from 2012 was “Hold On,” but “Heartbreaker” was my favorite.

9. Michael Kiwanuka — I’m Getting Ready 

For my money, Michael Kiwanuka is one of the best new musicians I heard this year.  His song is inspirational, and anyone out there trying to accomplish a dream — whether it’s studying for med school, kicking an addiction, trying to publish a book — can understand what it’s like to be “getting ready to believe.”  I can’t help but think of Van Morrison when I listen to this song. I’m sure this is the beginning of a long career for Kiwanuka.

8. Mayer Hawthorne — The Walk

Okay, okay, “The Walk” didn’t technically come out in 2012, but in my mind, it was a huge part of music for me this year.  Hawthorne has real soul, and it feels like a throwback to Motown with a hint of indie rock.  And everybody loves a good ex-girlfriend trashing.  This is a song that you can’t help but dance to, and I’m not going to lie, when I was driving my car this year, yeah, I was singing this song.  Don’t judge me…”Anyway  you slice it, you’re doing me wrong.”

7. The Avett Brothers — Live and Die

The Avett Brothers, like Alabama Shakes, seem to be turning into that “it” southern band on the verge of exploding.  I first started listening to them this year when I heard their album, “I and Love and You.”  Actually, I first heard The Avett Brothers on XM Radio’s The Spectrum.  They play such great music.  I love this line from this song: “Can’t you tell that I’m alive.  Let me prove it to you.”  I love songs with vitality — songs that reawaken your spirit, and this North Carolina band surely knows how to play to the heart-strings.

6. Gary Clark Jr. — Bright Lights

If you haven’t heard this song directly  from the source, then you have probably heard it unknowingly in commercials.  And yes, you got me again; this song wasn’t technically released in 2012, but it sure feels to be a part of last year.  It seems to be right in the same vein — just feel that heavy guitar and hook — with bands like The Black Keys — a reunion of rock ‘n’ roll with soul!  Gary Clark Jr. seems to be another one of these rockers that we’ll be hearing a lot from in 2013.  I’m loving that guitar sound.  He’s right: we’re going to know his name.

5. Mumford and Sons — I Will Wait

Mumford and Sons followed up their amazing 2009 album, “Sigh no More,” with “Babel” this year, and they sure as hell didn’t disappoint.  “I Will Wait,” the single from the new album, is infused with that same rolling-thunder energy that made Mumford and Sons famous in the first place.  Honestly, I don’t think there is much to say about this band.  They’re becoming legendary, and their songs will speak for themselves for years to come.

4. Dawes — Time Spent in Los Angeles

Now that I live in L.A. County, learned to navigate these super highways and the neon-blue siren emergencies, “Time Spent in Los Angeles” takes on a whole new meaning.  I just love the idea of this song.  When you live in L.A. county, mostly as a transplant, you come here searching for something huge, and whatever you’re looking for doesn’t just jump right out at you when you get here.  So, it’s a beautiful and amazing place, but you also develop that “special kind of sadness.”  And if you’re a traveler, someone who loves to discover new places, then you’ll understand this line: “I thought people would love for the places I’ve been” or “my friends don’t seem to know me without my suitcase in my hand.”   I think this is brilliant song writing.

3. The Lumineers — Ho Hey

The Lumineers’ “Hey Ho” is not only one of my favorite songs in 2012, but it’s also on one of my favorite albums in 2012.  Their self-titled album has earned them a Grammy nomination for “Best New Artist,” and they seem to fit in well with other artists on this list — like the Avett Brothers — who are reawakening American folk.  The Spectrum voted “Ho Hey” as the number one song of 2012, and it’s a really close one for me.  Heron and I love this song so much, we almost made it our wedding song — but then we listened to the words a bit closer.  Decided it was a no.

2. Edward Sharpe — Man on Fire

Over the last two years, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros has become one of my favorite bands, and their track, “Home,” was another song heron and I were thinking about for our wedding song.  I loved their first album, “Up From Below,” and I wondered if they could top it with their 2012 release, “Here.”  The answer is yes!  They seem to be growing musically, spiritually, and lyrically, and mark my words, Alex Ebert, lead singer, is becoming a cultural icon of epic proportions.  I love “Man on Fire” for many reason — the harmonies, the fullness of the band, the transitions — but what really struck me was the idea of being a man on fire, being someone who didn’t need security, didn’t need answers, and thrived in this existence.  I wish I could be like that.

1. The Head and the Heart — Lost in My mind

“Put your dreams away for now, I won’t see you for some time.  I get lost in my mind,” begins The Head and the Heart’s most famous song.  “Oh my brother, don’t you worry about me.”  There is something about this song, these lyrics, that just hits home so profoundly I can see my brother all the way in New York City, playing music in the subways.  It’s just one of those songs that feels it was written for me.  Obviously, that isn’t true, but it’s intimate; it’s real; and it’s beautiful.  This was my favorite song of 2012, because I know how easy it is to get lost in the mind, to get lost in the self, to find yourself wandering the tunnels of the unconscious, hoping someone will say “there are stars up above.  We can start moving forward.”