Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Archy, the Vers Libre Poet, Does Better in Rhyme

The irony of Don Marquis’ The Lives and Times of Archy and Mehitabel isn’t that a vers libre poet’s soul has transmigrated into the body of a cockroach – but that this vers libre poet’s structured, rhyming bits of verse are the best bits of poetry in the book.

Now, that may be my own biased ear’s longing for rhyme and structure coming through, but I’m tempted to think I’m more right than my prejudices might allow.

Consider the following:

Some natural history

the patagonian
penguin is a most
he lives on
and his tongue
is always furred
the porcupine
of chile
sleeps his life away
and that is how
the needles
get into the hay
the Argentinian
is a very
subtle gink
for when he s
being eaten
he pretends he is
a skink
when you see
a sea gull
on a bald man s dome
she likely thinks
she s nesting
on her rocky
island home
do not tease
the inmates
when strolling
through the zoo
for they have
their finer feelings
the same
as me and you
oh deride not
the camel
if grief should
make him die
his ghost will come
to haunt you
with tears
in either eye
and the spirit of
a camel
in the midnight gloom
can be so very
as it wanders
round the room

Here we have a bit of delightful nonsense verse that plays well with the tight structure it follows. It’s readable. It’s memorable. It’s fun. It’s not like Marquis’ “vers libre” throughout the book, mushed together and mostly forgettable, even as it tells the tales of archy the cockroach and mehitabel the alley cat.

It’s quite possible I’m reading these poems the wrong way, or that I expect poems to rhyme. I freely confess that I’ve written both structured and free verse poetry, and find the structured poetry oh so much more memorable. It’s too easy, I think, to ramble on in free verse, but with a rhyming structure to meet, the writer has to show more discipline, more creativity, and more storytelling to pull the poem off.

Next: Round Three-Point-Five

Round Three is over.

And Doleful Creatures still isn’t ready.

Oh, it’s more ready. The last month of reading and writing haven’t been wasted. But there’s still more to be done. Either more to be added or more to be taken out, I’m not sure.

But again it’s time to put it away for a bit. Let it simmer.

I added just over 10,000 words, just over 35 new pages to the book in Round Three. Most of the additions are good, and help the entire story be more coherent.

But there are still weaknesses.

The ending, as I feared a while back, is too abrupt. Or maybe the explanation of the ending comes too far from it. Or maybe I’m just full of hooey.

So the book will sit for a while. BUt not quite yet. In completing Round Three, I've come to the conclusion that the final five chapters or so need quite a bit of punching up. So I'm going to work on them. Call it Round 3.5. Then I’ll begin Round Four.

Round Four, however, is going to have to involve more eyes than mine. Again, the call for beta readers goes out.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Here's Why I'll Register as A Republican

If the Idaho Republican Party wants me to register as a Republican in order to vote for Republican candidates in the May primaries, so be it. I won’t let the extreme wing of any party take away my right to vote as I see fit.

Here’s what’s going to happen, right-wing Republicans, at least as far as my vote is concerned.
I will register as a Republican, to be sure. Here’s theprocess for those of you who are interested. You may declare a party affiliation as you sign the roll to vote if you are currently unaffiliated with any party, as the majority of Idaho voters are.

Go here to find out if you’re affiliated or not. (Click on “Am I Registered” and enter your full name and birthdate.)

There’s the method. Now, on to the madness:

The current right-wing candidate, Bryan King, seems determined to label Rep. Mike Simpson as a Republican in Name Only – a RINO. That’s well and good. He and the right wing of the Republican Party are entitled to their opinion.

What they’re not entitled to is preventing unaffiliated individuals such as I from voting for RINOs if we want to. I will register as a Republican at the primary, declaring out loud as I do so that I register “under protest.” I will vote for Rep. Mike Simpson, the so-called RINO. Your attempt to keep out the mudbloods will fail, as far as my vote is concerned.

I am an independent voter. I do not wholly identify with either of our two major political parties. I sag in the middle, you might say. I lean to the right on some issues, and lean to the left on other issues. That is how I am and no attempt at party purity from any party will sway me from my views.

And Democrats, while I think it’s admirable that you’re keeping your primary open and allowing anyone of any political stripe to vote for whomever their conscience dictates,  that openness doesn’t fix the problem unless both sides in the sandbox want to play. Registering as a Republican allows me the full slate of candidates to choose from, allowing me to keep my independence as a voter intact.
How is that, you may ask? Aren’t I selling part of my soul by registering under protest with a party with whose views I don’t swallow wholesale?

No. It makes more sense than remaining unaffiliated and casting what surely will become nothing more than a protest vote. And I’ve cast plenty of protest votes. I’ve voted for Ralph Nader for president, for heaven’s sake.

But that’s my right, as an independent voter. I can throw my vote away ANY WAY I WANT TO. And if registering as a Republican gives me access to an additional trash can, well, so much the better.
Yes, this tactic labels me, in spirit, as a hated RINO (and worse, given what I’ve just said about Obamacare). And maybe it labels me as a spineless sellout in the eyes of some Democrats and fellow independents. Funny thing is, I’m not in this whole voting thing in the first place to chum up to any party or any bloc of voters. I’m in it for me. I want to vote my conscience, the way our nation set things up.

If the Republican Party wants a slew of RINOs now on the books as Republicans, that’s their business, not mine. RINOS will vote no matter how much the right wing of the Republican Party thinks they can maintain that blood purity.

If the Democrats want more independents to vote for their candidates, they need to do more than set up a weak appeal to voters who want to remain unaffiliated.

Democrats have represented us in Idaho’s second congressional district before (including by their current candidate Richard Stallings who beat Dane Watkins in a run for the House of Representatives in 1988, which is a pretty good reason in my book to vote for Mr. Stallings). I have yet, however, in this election cycle to hear from the Democrats why I should vote for their candidate. But there’s still time to convince me. I’m an independent voter, after all.

Watch for that Asterisk

"Students Reading E-Books Are Losing Out, Study Suggests."
That’s the headline in the New York Times, at least. And, like many headlines, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Yes, a small and admittedly limited study at West Chester University in Pennsylvania found that children remembered less from reading ebooks than they remembered reading traditionally printed books. But there appears to be a lot more meaning embedded in the study than the headline and lede suppose.

What appears to be most revealing in this study (and I have to say appears since the NYT coverage is skint and the research and presentation themselves are behind a paywall) is that it’s the type of ebook that is damaging comprehension, not necessarily ebooks themselves, so watch it if you see this paper or this NYT link presented with the trumpeted headline without that ever-important asterisk.
Here’s what the NYT says:

They advise parents and teachers to look for e-books that enhance and extend interactions with the text, rather than those that offer only distractions; that promote interactions that are relatively brief rather than time-consuming; that provide supports for making text-based inferences or understanding difficult vocabulary; and that locate interactions on the same page as the text display, rather than on a separate screen.

They found that e-books which incorporated in-book games and other “rich” media elements were distracting students from reading, not that ebooks themselves were damaging to reading comprehension. The authors of the study cite another in which “children spent 43 percent of their e-book engagement time playing games embedded in the e-books rather than reading the text.

Other studies haven’t found a significant comprehension gap between ebooks and traditional books. In “Tablet vs. Paper: The Effect on Learners’ Reading Performance,” a study performed in Turkey in 2011, researchers discovered “there was no significant difference between the groups in reading speed or the level of reading comprehension.”

Sunday, April 6, 2014

He Ain't Heavy

It's a long, long road with many a winding turn.
That leads us to who knows where, who knows where.
But I'm strong, strong enough to carry him.
He ain't heavy; he's my brother.

I've loved this song from The Hollies since I heard it as a child (and no, I'm not old enough to remember when it came out in 1969. I'm almost that old, but not quite). Over the years, its message has meant various things to me. Lately, it's come to reflect the journey I'm taking as a writer.

The road of a writer is indeed long, with many turns in the road, and you never quite know where you're going to end up. Oh, with an essay here, a letter there, a story, a poem, you may eventually find your way through the twists and turns to an ending that is satisfactory, but by and large, once one piece of writing is done, another one beckons. And you never know where it's going to take you.

But take those journeys. Each time you come to an end you see a new beginning. Take off again. Write. Continue to write.

Don't stop developing those talents. More importantly, keep what you write. Even if everything around it is bad in your eyes. Keep it. You never know when you're going to need it again. Back in college, I started writing a novel that I can see now was going to go nowhere. But I kept it. I kept it for a long time. And this week, as I revised my novel, a snatch from that other novel came to mind. I dug out the file and found that little bit of writing I remembered from so long ago fit perfectly in the bit of the new writing I'm doing now.

Keep what you write. RE-read what you write, and always write better. Keep on writing. And remember, your writing ain't heavy, it's your brother.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Code Re-Use

Many moons ago, I started writing an ill-fated story about a small family of moles who lived in a trailer park. One of the young moles falls in love with a human living in one of the trailers, and hilarious hijinx ensued. At least they would have ensued had I continued with the story and had it been any good.

There was only one part I liked, and that was a little chant the mole brothers and sisters of the besotted teased her with.

Tonight, I found a way to work it into Doleful Creatures.

It's not quite code reuse, but it's close.

Here it is:

Above, Chylus and Magda were getting amorous, much to the delight of the moles, most of whom were watching them now rather than listen to Jarrod.

A young female mole named Pinecone started a traditional molish love-chant: “Mole-heart, mole-heart, love with the sun," she shouted at the crows, grinning a mocking grin and bouncing on her heels.

"Mole-lass, mole-lass, make a wreath for one!" her brother Ditchbottom added in a rather silly voice.

"Leaf-dance, earth-dance, wed the lucky pair," chortled Pinecone, grabbing Ditchbottom's hand in her left hand and pulling him into a circle-dance below the now embarrassed crows.

"Love of one, love of two, tunnels through the air!" Ditchbottom finished the chant.

The moles watching the circle laughed. The crows sheepishly righted themselves on the branch above and settled a bit further apart than they liked. They flapped their wings in embarrassment.

And here's the code re-use reference:

Reveling in Another's Bad Karma? That's Bad Karma On You.

This video, of course, is making the social media rounds. In it we see an incident of road range in which the rager is delivered “instant karma” for his actions when he speeds past the object of his rage, swerves, then wrecks his truck.

Never mind that the woman recording the video is driving slow in the passing lane, recording a video while driving and reveling in the fact that the “rager” got his while she got off scot-free. Karma for him was bad, karma for her was good.

Except, as I read it, there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what karma is, let alone what decent behavior should look like in the face of an aggressor whether you want a religious message mixed up in the behavior or not.

“The law of karma,” says the Spiritual Encyclopedia, “teaches us that all of our thoughts, words, and actions begin a chain of cause and effect, and that we will personally experience the effects of everything we cause. We may not experience the effect (the returning karma) right away, and it may not even be in this lifetime, but you can count on it just the same. Karma is a cosmic law, which means that it applies to everyone, everywhere, all the time.”

Read that again. Especially the part that ways “we will personally experience the effects of everything we cause.”

Video recording lady, you’re creating bad karma too.

What should have been done in that situation?

Well, backing off would have been good for both individuals involved. When I saw this video, I didn’t think of karma, I thought of this verse from Proverbs: “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.”

Rather than recording the video and acting aggressively herself as the man tried to pass, this woman could have simply moved over and let the idiot through. Yes, I suppose that means he “wins” the argument. But who knows how close the woman was to causing an accident herself – instantly reaping bad karma of her own. She claims she kept her eyes on the road while driving, but I have my doubts about that claim’s veracity. Even if she were keeping her eyes on the road, the more positive karmic solution would have been to move over and let the idiot through, rather than encouraging his rage and adding fuel to an already bad situation.

Both drivers were acting aggressively; it was only a matter of chance, not karma, that both were not involved in an accident. Neither individual’s behavior is worth applauding.

Claiming karma as vindication for her actions leads her down a path towards continued bad behavior. Recording the situation and aggravating it worked the last time for me, she’ll think. So when she’s in another situation where the choice is to act aggressively or back off, she’ll choose the former. And the consequences might be different that next time.

Because there is negative and positive karma, if you want to continue using karma as justification for behavior.

“The shortest explanation of karma that I know is ‘you get what you give,’” writes Views on Buddhism. “In other words; whatever you do intentionally to others, a similar things will happen to yourself in the future. Causing suffering to others will cause suffering to ourselves, causing happiness to others will result in happiness for oneself.”

Garbled grammar aside, it’s clear that karma is a concept that applies to oneself and one’s own behavior, tempting as it may be to cast aspersions at the karma of others. This should be a call for self-reflection and a reminder of the biblical and Confucian “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” not a revel in the punishments others receive for perceived bad behavior.

This message is explained well in the Gospel of St. Luke, wherein Jesus teaches “But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also” (Luke 6:27-29).

Yeah, that’s a tougher thing to chew on that gleefully watching an enemy get his or her comeuppance in a situation both of you contributed to, but no one said being good (or building up good karma) was going to be easy.