Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Laid Off . . . For A Day.



So next week we make the transition from CWI to Fluor Idaho out at work – moving from one contract to the next. And as I’m not a direct employee of either CWI nor Fluor Idaho, you’d think it wouldn’t affect me.

But it does, in that I’m being laid off. For a day.

That just means my Memorial Day weekend will extend through Tuesday, rather than ending on Monday. Old contract expires March 26, but the new one doesn’t kick in until June 1. I don’t understand why things work out that way, but the important thing is I still have a job.

Still undetermined, however, is how things are going to work under the new contract – because we’re not just moving from A to B. We’re moving all the way down to X as what have been two separate waste treatment projects – our work at RWMC and work “across the fence’ at AMWTP are now one big happy family.

I have not even an inkling of how that will affect me as a technical writer. I assume they have at least one like me over there. Will we ever interact? Trade jobs (that doesn’t seem likely) or never cross that fence into the other’s territory (also likely) or get some kind of cross training so we can help each other out (that would make sense, but this is government work, so who knows if what makes sense is going to happen).

(I’m going through all of this just like Guy Fleegman from Galazy Quest, “Just jazzed to be on the show.” I don’t even care if I’m there as plucky comic relief, just as long as there’s a steady paycheck in it all (now I’m channeling Winston Zeddemore).

American Fotoplayer



I just can't get enough of these.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Chapter Twenty-One: Whoso Is Simple, Let Him Turn In Hither



NOTE: Editing continues on Doleful Creatures. This is a possible new chapter, shaping a character whose presentation has shifted quite a bit in this edit. Manuscript formatting stuck in the copy/paste, so I'm leaving it in.
Chapter Twenty-One: Whoso Is Simple, Let Him Turn In Hither
Aloysius hated being the fool.And fool is what Landi would call him.
“But who’s more foolish? The one dead, or the one alive?” he growled. And his world remained dark and small.
“She has forsaken the foolish,” he said quietly. “She deserved the wise.”
As he walked he studied his feet. Quick march down the muddy path, claws raking the dirt. Brush aside the wet grass and fallen branches with his forehead and snout, rarely slowing, always going. Brambles stuck in the fur on his head, and sometimes an eye scratched by a bent nettle.
“Fool,” he whispered.
“A fool you are not,” Landi said.
Aloysius’ eyes stung as he heard her speak.
“You are wise, like your father. Like your father taught you to be. He was no fool. Stubborn, yes, the both of you. But not foolish. Never,” Landi said. “When the ice dam threatened to flood the setts closes to the stream, your father showed his wisdom. Those who didn’t listen and didn’t move are the fools. The poor, drowned fools. They will listen to you, the wise ones. Talk to them, please.”
“But it is Jarrod they love.”
“Nonsense,” Landi replied. “You’ve lived with these beavers longer than Jarrod. They know you. They trust you. And if they love Jarrod, perhaps it is because when they say good morning to him, he replies good morning back, rather than grunt a reply or not reply at all. It is in that you are foolish.”
“My father never taught me to suffer fools.”
“Yet he suffered them all the time, Aloysius.”
“They came to him for advice and he chased them away!”
“As was his way. But he went to find them after, even after your mother died, and they were always glad of it.”
“They always came back. Even if he bit them.”
“I know Jarrod is your friend,” Landi said. “He is dear to me. But the beavers will listen to you as well. They are being foolish, with this scheme of theirs. You know it. Building a dam that big will bring the humans here, and you know what humans can do. Tell them. Tell them and they’ll listen.”
“They will hate me,” he said. “They want this. I hear them talk every night of the deep water. The wide ponds.”
“They may well hate you. But only for a little while.”
“Or for a long time. They fill their heads with deep water, water where the mud settles and where they can swim clear with their eyes open. They will say I, an outsider – even a beloved outsider – robbed them of what could have been.”
“Or revere you for preventing what could happen.”
“Could. Could. Not will. There will always be that regret, in the backs of some minds. The wonder if they had built the dam that long, that tall, and let the ponds fill that wide and that deep; the wonder that man might not come at all and leave them in the deep peace they desire.”
“Will you let them have Jarrod as a hero?”
They both laughed. Timid Jarrod, afraid of the water. Rebekah would dive with the beavers and swim, if only briefly, with the badgers, as fearlessly as she flew with the hawks. But Jarrod jumped still at his own shadow and cried warning if so much as a sparrow flew unannounced over the heads of the kits.
But he flew. Even though he flew neither as high nor in as dangerous company as Rebekah, he flew. And he was male – something the beavers regarded as supernal in a leader. And he told them of man – what little he knew watching the sleepy denizens of Purdy Farm halfheartedly plow and sow and harvest – and allayed their fears that man would come if they pursued their dream of the dam and the pond it would hold.
Aloysius growled and shook his head.If he were here now.
How many times had he tried to kill that flying skunk?
And how many times, at the last moment, had he proved to be a fool and let the magpie live?
“Do we let things live,” his father asked, “Or is it He who lets us live?”
Sparrows shouted alarms and darted from the lower branches as Aloysius again shook his head.
Revenge, he recalled his father saying, is the path that leads from the smoke to the forest fire.
Yet had he talked, they might yet be alive. His Landi might yet be alive . . .
Aloysius felt the smoke in his eyes. It curled about him, whispered in his ears and showered his back with soot as if in a gentle summer rain. He felt each drop, each flake of ash, fall through his fur to wet or burn his skin.
Forsake the foolish, and live. Go in the way of understanding.
His walking slowed as he felt the smoke, the ash, tugging at his skin, pulling on his limbs.
He shook himself yet again but the smoke clung to his fur. As the bellows and screams and laments clung to his ears.
That he had spoken.
That he had spoken.
“Shame,” he said to himself. “Shame and blot!” He rubbed his paws, darted through the brush and stumbled into the creek, rubbing and rubbing his paws. “Shame and blot,” he echoed. “Shame and blot.”
In the reflection in the water, he saw Landi. “Come,” she said. “Eat of my bread, and drink – ”
“Shame and blot!” he bellowed and splashed out of the water back into the brush. “Shame and blot.”

You Will Not Attack, Cato!


In honor of Burt Kwouk, British/Chinese character actor who passed away today at the age of 85, I present a ranking of the best Cato/Clouseau battles from the Pink Panther movies:


PROS: The scariest. First attack by Cato, so you don’t really know what’s going on until the denouement. This could be a real assassin trying to take out our favorite French detective.

CONS: Low on the physical comedy. And we don’t really get to enjoy it until he picks up the phone and we figure out what’s going on.

RANK: Sixth


PROS: We’re introduced to Clouseau’s Killing Blow after the initial fight is over. And we get a peek into future attacks and the reason behind their expected growth in intensity.

CONS: Way too short, as it’s over in less than 45 seconds.  Again, little physical comedy.

RANK: Seventh


PROS: Anticipation. We’re now primed for his attack, but it doesn’t come immediately. We feel the tension build as Clouseau wanders the apartment, hands in defensive positions. First surprise attack from unexpected location. Clouseau makes excellent fight noises. First in-fight slow-mo and in-camera fear shot by Clouseau.

CONS: Over far too soon. Cheap shot with the “Your fly is undone” joke.

RANK: Third


PROS: “This is not the time/This is the time” joke.

CONS: SHORTEST FIGHT YET.

RANK: Fourth


PROS: Cato in drag. Return of the “Time and a place” joke and slow-motion disaster.

CONS: Francois taking an unnecessary hit.

RANK: Fifth


PROS: Best Cato reveal as his face appears in the bed canopy. Best weapons placement, randomly through the apartment. Best use of fast motion and slow motion combined. Best kill shot on random apartment stuff with death of TV. Best Clouseau weaponry ineptitude as he tosses his kendo stick. Best involvement of a non-participating (Dreyfus) eating it in the apartment below. Best bellow in fear from Clouseau. Best camera work following Cato on the hunt. Best use of the “we’re back to back and then turn around and see each other” gag. Best post-fight kill line: “Relax, I’ll get it.”

CONS: Hard to say. This one’s pretty damn good.

RANK: First.


PROS: Best “falling through the hole cut in the floor gag” with Clouseau trying to mix his breathing in with the sound of the saw. Wonderful CLouseau noises as he chases Cato up the stairs. And I love how he falls through the hole in the floor a second time, and how he pulls Cato through the hole after the phone call is done.

CONS: Far too short.

RANK: Second.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Brown-Bag Olympics



Charles Lane, writing for the Washington Post, suggests in a column today that the modern Olympics should simply be stopped.

He rages – rightly, I believe -- against corruption and nationalism that have “discredited” the modern Olympic movement.

Here’s the part of his argument I want to explore further:

The truth is that incentives influence behavior. And participants in the Olympics, at all levels, face overwhelming incentives, financial and political, to cheat – or try to cheat – whether by using performance-enhancing drugs, rigging the venue selection or raking off government funds, which most nations borrow and spend like water in pursuit of ephemeral economic stimulus.

I don’t have solutions to doping. But I think there’s one viable solution that could get the corruption and fund abscondage out of the way: Take the money out of the Olympics.

And you take the money out of the Olympics by hosting them in cities that do not have world-class facilities and will not pay or borrow to build them. Hold them, for example, in towns like the one I grew up in: Idaho Falls, Idaho, USA.

At 58,000 people, Idaho Falls would not be the smallest town to host the Olympics. But consider this: There are no gigantic sports arenas in town. Melaleuca Field, home to the bush league Idaho Falls Chukars baseball team, has only 3,750 seats. There are soccer fields and running tracks in town – but simple ones, owned by the city or the two local school districts.

And those and other similar facilities are where Olympic events could be held.

Laugh, clown, laugh. But continue listening.

Does every host city need to build enormous stadiums and sports centers and Olympic villages to host a successful Olympics?> That’s what the fund-absconders, bribe-takers, and perk-seekers want people to believe. But when you get right down to it, runners and sprinters could get used to running on a high school track. Soccer players could play in the OldButte Soccer Complex.

And there are already plenty of hotels in town.

No one in their right mind would come to an Olympics stages so spartanly, would they? Not if they’re looking to line their pockets or hobnob with the hoi-polloi or scrape funds away from the masses. But maybe people who like sports – remember sports, the events that actually take place at the Olympics – would come to watch them. Hell, we’ll even spring for some bleachers for the soccer fields so you don’t have to bring your own chairs. And if you want a lunch, brown-bag it.

If there’s no perks, if there’s no millions of dollars floating around for new complexes, there’s no money to steal. If there’s no money, the money-grubbers go away, unless they want to start knocking over lemonade stands on the way out to watch soccer.

I know I am not a logistics genius. But if you make the vast amounts of money go away when you host the Olympics, the ideals of sport remain, right? People can still win Olympic gold medals if they’re not doing it in a $750 million stadium, right? Or am I missing something?

Call me a simple fool. I’m used to that. But I’m a fool who believes the Olympics – or any event – could still be done, and done well, by cutting 99.9% of the money out of it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Read. It. Again.

Here is why you read books over and over and over again, especially if you’re a writer: You notice the hooptedoodle and how it adds, or detracts, from the story.

First, a reminder of what hooptedoodle is. From Steinbeck:
”I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. . . . figure out what the guy’s thinking from what he says. I like some description but not too much of that. . . . Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. . . . Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That’s nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don’t have to read it. I don’t want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story.”
This gem comes from the prologue to “Sweet Thursday.”
I’m re-reading Arthur C. Clarke’s “Rendezvous with Rama” (don’t get me started on the Gentry Lee collaborations in later Rama books) and the hooptedoodle really stands out in this one. Not that he’s got much there, but it is there, and when I mention it, those who have read Rama through the eyes of a writer will know immeidately what I’m talking about: The simps. Superchimps. Mentioned in one chapter, then only fleetingly in the book. Not essential to the story or plot at all. Even the simps’ caretaker disappears from the book. So the simps are hooptedoodle. And the book would be just fine without them. Yes, they are a bit of good science fiction (explaining the monkeys are there for cooking, housecleaning, etc., able to do the work of 2.75 men per simp), but it’s science fiction hooptedoodle nonetheless.
I have no idea how many times I’ve read this book (I enjoy it immensely for its speculative story). This is the first time I’ve noticed the hoopetedoodle, though. I don’t know why it stood out this time. Perhaps because I’m editing a book of my own and noticing it’s riddled with hooptedoodle.
Recognize hooptedoodle in others’ writing so you can find it and kill it, when necessary, in your own.

Sadder But Wiser: Revision Follow-Up

I realized over the weekend that I left my “Rebuking the Wise Man” post a little flat at the end, neglecting to explain further why I brought Meredith Wilson’s “Sadder but Wiser Girl” into the mix.

I said:
Revision makes us wiser. And yes, sometimes sadder. 

But Meredith Wilson has an anthem for revision: 

I flinch, I shy, when the lass with the delicate air goes by
I smile, I grin, when the gal with a touch of sin walks in
I hope, I pray, for Hester to win just one more A
The sadder but wiser girl for me!
What do I mean when I say revision sometimes makes us sadder?
It’s more than cutting scenes or killing characters – although that can be essential. It’s realizing that, sometimes, the story we set out to write is not the one we were writing when we finished the first draft. Or the third draft. Or the tenth. Revision is much more proof of evolution than anything I’ve seen in the natural world. The story you thought you had is not the one you end up with – unless you’re far more disciplined a writer than I am, which is not outside the realm of possibility.
But just as Hester has that, ahem, experience Harold Hill so likes, a writer keen on revision has studies his or her story to the point he knows where the flaws lie, and has a general sense of how to correct them, and goes on to do so, whether the task is pleasant or not. The sadder but wiser revisionist plods on, though some of what he or she has experienced isn’t all that pleasant and results in “winning just one more A” from time to time.