Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Cheer-Up from My Kids' Refrigerator

You know, there are times I don't like to go to church myself, and, ironically, mostly it's when our 11-year-old isn't happy to be there either. So to cheer us both up, I draw silly little pictures. Here's the batch from Christmas Day.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

This May Not End Well

Okay. I know at least one person who is going to chuckle at this, but I'm enjoying my Kindle Fire.

I'm typing this blog entry on my Kindle now. Well, pecking. Text input is still tablet computing's Achilles heel, especially for a touch typist like me. My wife git got a Bluetiith Bluetooth keyboard for her iPad, and that seems to work well, though it's s not a full keyboard.

Another quibble: Apple's got the cut and paste and moving to text locations down better than Amazon. That's probably my fault; I'm just getting used to how Amazon does things.

So far, however, I think the Fire holds its own pretty well against the iPad. It's s certainly easier to hold. I can one-hand the Fire, can't do that with the iPad.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Die, Bookstores, Die, Part II

Slate’s Farhad Manjoo took a righteous drubbing over the past few weeks after he suggested online book-seller Amazon was eating independent bookstores’ lunch. He’s back now, thankfully unrepentant.

Here’s the best part of his new screed:
Many defenders of bookstores countered that by focusing on dollars and cents, I’d missed the whole point of these establishments. Bookstores, it turns out, don’t primarily exist to sell books—instead, they’re more like bars for readers. “Bookstores provide a space to meet friends, cruise for a date, and hide out when you have nothing to do on a Saturday night,” Will Doig wrote at Salon. I suspect that many bookstore lovers agree with Doig, which is exactly why many of these shops are going out of business. Bars can survive because alcohol is an extremely profitable good. Books aren’t—so if you think of your favorite bookstore as a comfortable spot to find well-read potential mates rather than as a place for commerce, you’re not helping its owner.
His solution? Brick-and-mortar stores need to embrace smartphone technology (he apparently forgets that while smartphones are ubiquitous, not everyone has one. I don’t; I’m not willing to shell out the cash for a monthly data plan, let alone the cell phone plan the damn things come shackled with). He suggests bookstores create their own apps to help their customers find books through recommendations or simply educate staff on Amazon’s endless pit of reviews to help customers find books they might like to read.

I guess I’m not as tech-heavy as Manjoo would have me be. The sole reason I like bookstores is that the shopping there is visceral; I can feel the books, handle them, read the blurbs and see what might be on the next shelf without having to sort through a bunch of shill reviews or reviews by folks intent on panning everything in the universe. And I have to confess that one of the reasons I like shopping in thrift stores for used books is that sometimes there’s a bonus inside the books I buy: odd bookmarks, autographs, etc. All I get at bookstores is bookstore propaganda.

So what would I look for in a book store app? Nothing. I doubt I’d use one. I’m just not that shackled to technology.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Entry Two: The Orderville Pants Rebellion (Excerpt)

The little boy ran out of the twilight, stomping clouds of dust from the road.

“Scoot ‘em, Pa!” he yelled as he ran. “Scoot ‘em, Pa!”

He ran at random down the road, weaving, bouncing from one side of the street to the other, here turning a block, there returning, darting down a side street, reappearing on the main, darting again, all the time calling “Scoot ‘em, Pa!”

The sunset, a smear of light behind the hills, brighter at the end of the long valley.

As the boy passed, calling, there were other footfalls. Quieter, heavier footfalls also stomping the dust from the road. Men. Men with bundles, leaving homes quietly, latching gates. Men with dark lanterns, some running, some walking swiftly, walking, running from the town, up to the canyon, up to the canyon called Skutumpah.

Two men rode into the town.

“You hear it, right, Thomas?” one asked the other.

At the other end of the tiny town, the voice still shrilled in the darkness: “Scoot ‘em, Pa!”

“Damn,” the other said. A badge on his lapel caught a bit of moonlight.

“They run like rats,” the first said. “Ever chased them?”

“Yeah,” the other said. “Doesn’t do much good. They know the land here better than we ever could. Chased one up the canyon a few weeks ago. Was on horseback and lost him in a stand of brush you couldn’t hide your mustache in.”

I leaned against the side of the Fort, in shadow provided by the roof and rain barrels. The two men sat on their horses not thirty feet from me. From where I stood I could see two, no, three, men of the order also hiding in shadows. Priddy Meeks hunched on the porch of the Big House. President Chamberlain watched the Big House – his house, home to his five wives – from the Relief Society Hall. Why he had not fled I could not know – but the call had been late in coming. And Alma Porter lay in the shadows near his forge, and from the smell of it, his leather apron was beginning to char.

“Ready here, Amos.”

That was HK – H. Kimball Leithead, my best friend in the priesthood and in devilry. We blessed the Sacrament on Sundays and the rest of the week, well, did things. That tonight’s thing should involve white robes we made from linen we stole from the laundry and a few pounds of gunpowder probably should tell you something about the things we did.

I pulled a robe from my vest, quickly put it on and clambered to the top of a barrel of flour HK and I had moved to the square a half hour before the marshals rode into town. The marshal with the mustache must have heard my feet scrape the barrel as I climbed it, because he turned to look at me about half a second before HK set off the first pile of gunpowder.

“Holy, holy God,” I shouted” -- it would have been better had my voice not cracked, but the marshals didn’t seem to notice – “we believe that thou art God, and we believe that thou art holy!”

More gunpowder and the marshals’ horses were jumping in panic. They tried to rein them, but the noise HK and I were making grew worse.

More gunpowder and there was HK and a few of the other boys he’d been able to round up, all clad in white robes, all parroting my speech.

“Holy God, we believe that thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by the wrath down to hell; for which holiness, O God, we thank thee!” I shouted. My acolytes intoned my words.

“Hell’s bells!” the marshal with the mustache shouted as his horse whinnied and pranced, backing slowly out of the square. “Thomas, we –“

Marshal Thomas’ horse had already bolted. The marshal with the mustache wheeled his horse around and they pounded out of the square.

“Amos,” HK said.

“Wait, HK, wait until we know they’re gone!”


“Shut up, HK!”

Someone pushed me violently from behind. I picked myself up only to be dragged across the square by HK and another boy in a white robe as the rest of them scattered.

An explosion behind us rattled windows.

I turned to look.

The barrel I had been standing on was shattered in pieces, most of them burning.

“Sorry, Amos,” HK said. “That last bit of gunpowder caught the barrel on fire. Flour inside it blew up.”

“Fire! Fire!”

President Chamberlain and Priddy Meeks appeared in the square with buckets. They doused some flames, calling “fire!” all the while, and soon others came with buckets, forming a line from the well to the square, dousing flames. A few of those with buckets, I noticed, had white robes stuffed into the backs of their trousers.

I still had my white robe on when President Chamberlain stomped up and ducked me with a bucket of water.

“Amos Cox,” he said, “That was a foolish thing to do. And nigh on blasphemous! The Rameumptom speech! Amos, if those marshals knew the rest of it, why, they’d think we’re more devils than they think already!”

I smiled despite his anger, despite the water dripping from my hair.

“They’ll tale more wild tales, down in Kanab! ‘Those wild Mormons in Orderville, they’re the worst of the bunch! Polygamists and devil-worshippers besides!’” President Chamberlain wailed.

“Don’t they say that already?” I asked.

President Chamberlain sucked in a great breath of air and his face grew even redder. Then he expelled his breath and a smile cracked the corners of his round face. “I suppose they do,” he said. Then laughed, slapping me on the back. “Yes, I suppose they do.”

Entry One: Hermit of Iapetus (Excerpt)

I have stopped going to the Alamo.

The Alamo: A slab of rock perhaps left over from an asteroid strike, perhaps popped out of the moon’s surface like an enormous green-grey zit. Blockish, with dark portholes and a roundish peak. Ice and dust sublime down its surface, creeping pillars dribble like candle-wax. It is a startling sight on the regio, standing out in the blight, where else on Iapetus there are craters and dust and mountains and crunchy crystals of ice.

But the song follows me. The song follows me. A song of old San Antone . . .

Deep within my heart lies a melody,
A song of old San Antone.
Where in dreams I live with a memory,
Beneath the stars, all alone.

Well it was there I found, beside the Alamo,
Enchantments strange as the blue up above.
For that moonlit pass, that only he would know,
Still hears my broken song of love.

Enchantments strange as the black up above. As Patsy sings, they come over the horizon. The squirrels in cowboy hats, riding saddled steers, their horns wider than the arc of Saturn’s rings, in the black up above. They pour over the horizon, whistling at their mounts, pulling on the reins, pirouetting and dancing beneath the Saturn-shine. When they see me, they tip their diminutive ten-gallon hats. And wink. And when the steers defecate, their dung leaves fresh craters on the blasted soil.

Moon in all your splendor, known only to my heart,
Call back my rose, rose of San Antone.

Cacti spring from the dung-craters and their needles grow longer than the steers’ horns, longer than the great horn in the black sky up above. They are thick, ghastly things, yet the steer rub against them.

They do not pop.

They inflate, and soon the sky is filled with steer satellites, each mounted by a ten-gallon-hatted squirrel, riding rodeo-style, as their mounts careen and buck and cavort and drop more bombs, more bombs, to the surface, where the cacti blossom into roses.

Broken song, empty words I know,
Still live in my heart all alone.
For that moonlit pass by the Alamo,
And rose, my rose of San Antone.

Now the steers are dancing and the squirrels are screaming in delight as the rodeo numbers on their backs flap in zero-gravity. Occasionally, one of the squirrels loses its grip and flies off into the black, drifting among the other steers and still-riding squirrels to float across the face of Saturn, to occult the stars shining above, to eclipse the sun to cast their furry shadows on the surface of the moon where the Alamo lies, slowly melting, slowly melting.

But it is not until the aardvarks appear over the horizon, somberly pushing their handcarts, that I concede I might possibly be mad.

In their carts, no provisions. But pump-organs, grandfather clocks, cook-stoves and other great hunks of carpentry and iron-mongery that my ancestors bore over the plains to bring joy and warmth and time to their pioneer homes in the wastes of Utah and the cold of Wyoming and the sagebrush of Idaho. The aardvarks – they sing, and lustily, their eyes proud, their armor clattering, their claws wrapped around the handcart pull bars.

They sing as the squirrels on their cows float above:

We’ll find the place which God for us prepared
Far away, in the west.
Where none shall come to hurt or make afraid
There the Saints will be blessed
We’ll make the air with music ring
Shout praises to our God and king
Above the rest, these words we’ll tell:
All is well, all is well.

They waddle like ducks, the lean forward like old men walking. Never fast in their march, but never ceasing. Over the horizon, they swarm like a flood, those behind never following in the tracks of the others. Foxes leap into the carts to play the pump-organs. Coyotes leap into the carts and strum the grandfather clocks like cellos. The song of the aardvarks and the foxes and the coyotes melt together with the song of the squirrels and the roses on the cacti sing along.

The roses on the cacti sing along.

They sing along.

They sing along.

Broken song, empty words I know,
We’ll find the place which God for us prepared
Still live in my heart all alone.
Far away, in the west.
For that moonlit pass by the Alamo,
Where none shall come to hurt or make afraid
And rose, my rose of San Antone.
There the Saints will be blessed.

I step back so I do not interrupt their revels. Amusement is spare on Iapetus; I have to let it come when it is willing. It is as the prophet Jacob wrote: Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy. And joy is watching a man watching the squirrels chase their untethered mounts through the starlit sky as the aardvarks toil and sing below, leaving handcart tracks in the virgin soil, howling, howling and barking with the foxes and coyotes as they sing and bay at the moon-like thing cradled in the arms of its rings above, above, above.

And rose, my rose of San Antone
There the Saints will be blessed.

Flirting with the ‘Mormon’ Label

Part of me is almost ashamed to admit this: I’m two-thirds of my way to having three pieces ready to submit to a Mormon-themed literary contest.

Why the shame?

Well, read any Mormon lit lately?

So it’s not the label. Maybe it’s not the label. I’m treading on eggs here. I guess some of it is the subject matter. Poetry is fun and all, but it’s a literary dead end. Close your eyes and spit and you’ll soil a Mormon poet, albeit probably not a very good one. I fit in that category, Mormon poems or not.

Novelists don’t tend to fare that much better. But that’s what I’m most interested in, so that’s where I’m going.

Two entries so far for Mormon Artist’s Mormon Lit Blitz. I believe my writing to be up to par with the writing that’s winning the contests. But it’s the genre, the subject matter, the approach – not the writing itself – that sinks or swims you in this business, Mormon lit or not. But this is a niche way, I suppose, to get on the radar, so I’m going to try it.

So, entries here and on my writing blog where you can read even more of my banalities, soon.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A New Project

So I'm researching a new novel.

I should be continuing the Hermit of Iapetus, but I got a feather in my ear about another book I got the germ for earlier this year: The Orderville Pants Rebellion.

This one focuses on a true story that took place in Orderville, Utah, in the early 1880s. Orderville, of course, is where members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints tried living the United Order, in which everyone held all their property in common and all received the same wage no matter what kind of work they did. Pioneer Communism, in other words. The pants rebellion comes about when a young man decides he can't wait for his pants to wear out before he gets a new, more fashionable pair and thus takes wool to the market to buy a new pair of pants.

I've been doing some reading of pioneer journals and other documents on the period and it's pretty fascinating. A lot of fodder for a good historical fiction novel, which I'll orient towards young adults, along the lines of Lloyd Alexander's books. I think this is a good niche for me.

Learnt some interesting tidbits:
  • Those who joined the order were re-baptized.
  • At the communal commissary, it was the men who baked the bread and bottled the fruit.
  • Only kindergarten-age kids went to school. The rest worked.
  • Side jobs were discouraged -- unless all the proceeds were given to the Order.
  • Pride did them in.
  • They moved about, leaving behind malcontents just like the Nephites did.
Pretty interesting stuff. Should make for a fun book.

Friday, December 16, 2011

I Just Remember Me Dad . . .

Count Your Blessings: One, Two, Now I'm Done . . .

Spent a good portion of the day feeling sorry for myself.

Found out today, for example, that I won't be considered for a job I applied for at BYU-Idaho, nor was I picked for a job at AMWTP. Kind of a double-whammy on a day when I'm already feeling a bit down and nervous because the company I work for is laying off technical writers in January.

How did Dad do it, I wondered. Then the thought came to me: Like he always did: Head down and hands busy.

I know he went through a bad patch when I was a kid, because suddenly he was gone a lot, laying brick in the likes of Nevada and California because there were few to lay in our own neck of the woods. He also played with driving a truck for a living, but quickly found out he didn't much like that. Yet we always had money in the house. I don't know how much, because as a kid you never get told these things. You hear whispered conversations and overhear things and sometimes pick up on the worry, but Mom and Dad just turn around and say, "We're just discussing things, and you figure, well, if they're talking about it, they're talking about it so we must be doing OK." They never tell you because they don't want you to worry, not that you're really smart or aware enough to worry anyway.

So I guess what happens happens. That's what God keeps telling me. Also keeps reminding me that my patriarchal blessing says I'll always be able to provide for my wife and family. That's of some comfort. But I guess I need to bolster my faith.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Die, Bookstores, Die

Yes, Occupy Amazon. Because no one is original any more.

Here’s a little follow-up to a little news item I placed on my Facebook page earlier this week, in which Slate’s Farhad Manjoo righteously slams the illogic of supporting independent bookstores over buying books from Internet behemoth and serial tax-dodger

First, my little list of caveats:

I buy lots of books. Way too many books. And what books I don’t buy get sent to me by friends and family, or are somehow baked inside loaves of bread and smuggled into my house. But here’s the deal: Buying a new book is a rarity for me.

I’ll tell you why: Expense. New books are flat out expensive.

I am an aspiring author. I want to write books that people want to read. I am also a realist who knows that the chances of me getting rich off the books I write is slim. So if I had the opportunity, say, to publish an ebook (I’m looking forward to learning over my wife’s shoulders this next year as she takes a masters class on ebooks from Utah State University in which the class itself will write and publish an ebook) I’d do it in a heartbeat, not worrying about making scads of money.

So where do I get most of my books?

Not from Nor from the local brick-and-mortar bookstores, independent or not.

I get them from thrift stores. I can go into Deseret Industries, say, and buy a bag of books for less than $10, and add them to the furiously-growing piles of unread reading matter I have at home.

I find no romance in physical book stores. They are, in fact, a hindrance, not a help, in adding to my collection of books. Manjoo illustrates a bit of why here:
Compared with online retailers, bookstores present a frustrating consumer experience. A physical store—whether it’s your favorite indie or the humongous Barnes & Noble at the mall—offers a relatively paltry selection, no customer reviews, no reliable way to find what you’re looking for, and a dubious recommendations engine. Amazon suggests books based on others you’ve read; your local store recommends what the employees like. If you don’t choose your movies based on what the guy at the box office recommends, why would you choose your books that way?
He adds:
What rankles me, though, is the hectoring attitude of bookstore cultists like [novelist Richard] Russo, especially when they argue that readers who spurn indies are abandoning some kind of “local” literary culture. There is little that’s “local” about most local bookstores. Unlike a farmers’ market, which connects you with the people who are seasonally and sustainably tending crops within driving distance of your house, an independent bookstore’s shelves don’t have much to do with your community. Sure, every local bookstore promotes local authors, but its bread and butter is the same stuff that Amazon sells—mass-manufactured goods whose intellectual property was produced by one of the major publishing houses in Manhattan. It doesn’t make a difference whether you buy Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs at City Lights, Powell’s, Politics & Prose, or Amazon—it’s the same book everywhere.
I don’t buy a book because it’s sold at a twee little shop around the corner, or at a discounted, mailed-to-me-free price from Amazon. I buy a book because it interests me. And I’ve grown so accustomed to sorting through the eclectic detritus of books discarded by local readers (who tend to read a lot of romance novels and Rush Limbaugh and Jan Karon and whatever the latest book was from the community-we’ll-read-a-boring-book month. Sorting through the shelves of the DI looking for a hidden treasure (I’ve got an autographed copy of Ivy Ruckman’s “Melba the Brain,” for which I paid $1; try getting it for that anywhere else) that visiting a bricks-and-mortar store or trolling Amazon just doesn’t attract me.

And the indie bookstore tirades against Amazon’s efforts to publish a mobile phone app to help them comparison shop? Please. Get a new hobby. Typical is this screed from Betsy Burton, indie book seller writing in the Salt Lake Tribune:
Urging our community members to spy on us? Paying them to do so? Isn’t it bad enough that in addition to supporting a bricks-and-mortar establishment and being active and actively contributing members of the community, we have trouble competing against Amazon because they don’t have to collect sales tax and we do? This gives them a grossly unfair 10 percent advantage off the top (a practice that we hope our legislators address). Add to this insult the injury of corporate spying and it seems our task is insurmountable.

But here’s where community comes into play. Have our customers come into our store and clicked pictures of our inventory? No. Have strangers? No. Happily, thankfully, we haven’t seen a single person engaged in corporate espionage in The King’s English.

Why? Because of community. Because everyone understands that we all live here together, all contribute together to this city we all love. They understand that engaging in shady corporate tactics to save a buck or two in the long run hurts the place they live.
Betsy, people have comparison-price shopped before Amazon put their app out. Other stores have price-matched before Amazon came up with the idea. If I can find a book for a less expensive price at The King’s English, you bet your boots I’ll buy it from you. But you know what? I never will. Because you can’t beat the DI’s prices. Or selection, for that matter.

And community? Barf bag. You’ve obviously never shopped the Rexburg, Idaho, Deseret Industries, where I can see the same people perusing the bookshelves on a weekly basis. And you want community? I found a copy of C.S. Lewis’ “That Hideous Strength” while chatting with a fellow book-browser about the thrill of the hunt as we picked through a gigantic crate of books at an army surplus warehouse in Idaho Falls, Idaho. The book cost me a paltry 50 cents – available by itself for $16 at your store, Betsy, or in the Space Trilogy collection (not on shelves, available for special order) for $15.75. Tell me, which one should I buy?

Glad I bought the one at the surplus warehouse. I got a great read, met an interesting fellow buying lots of used textbooks, and didn’t have to step foot in yer snooty little store.

So, Ivy Ruckman’s Melba the Brain at The Kings English? No.

John Christopher’s The Guardians? No.

Richard Rhodes’ The Making of the Atomic Bomb? Yes. For $21. Special order. I got mine for $2 at a Catholic thrift store in Jackson, Wyoming.

I don’t dislike bookstores. Or, for that matter. What I do enjoy is the thrill of the book hunt – and knowing if I carry a stack of books to the register, I’m out less than $10 for a good pile o’ readin’, not $50 or more because I indulged in the “community” of the shop around the corner while enjoying the community of used-book scroungers I can find just about anywhere.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Pinning Hopes to A Falling Star?

I was pretty jazzed, I’ll have to admit, a few months ago when I submitted a resume to Areva, the French company planning to build a $3 billion uranium enrichment plant near Idaho Falls.

But now I’m glad nothing came of it – the company announced today that while design of the plant will move forward, construction is suspended indefinitely.

Not good news, obviously.

There’s a lot of spin going on. Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is saying the situation isn’t that dire and that Areva is still retaining the 300-some engineering and design jobs already in place, fully intending to fund them through 2012. That’s good news.

Still, it remains to be seen what will happen with the plant as time goes on. Dan Yurman over at Idaho Samizdat does a much better job explaining it all than I ever could. Read his post.

Areva itself has a spin on the project that is rosier than even what the state is saying:
EREF is a solid project. We received our construction license from the NRC in October. We currently have approval for a conditional loan guarantee. The U.S. enrichment market is strong and is expected to grow. We have contracts in place for a significant amount of the output from this facility. In summary, we have a sound project, a proven technology, an NRC license, and off-take contracts with investment-rated customers. We are confident that capital solutions will be found in a timely manner.
What do we need to move forward? We need the $2 billion loan guarantee from DOE and solutions to reduce our near-term capital expenditures.
Also is important to note that the Areva plant is oriented towards the American market, and that events in Japan (and, presumably, Germany) aren’t having in impact on Eagle Rock plans. That’s comforting.

The job thing on a micro level isn’t frustrating to me. What’s frustrating is that eastern Idaho needs to build its technological and industrial base to provide more opportunities for the people who want to live here. I spent a frustrating year underemployed, and am facing a few rounds of layoffs next year starting in January. Having Areva here would be a good addition to the local economy, and act as a magnet for other tech- and nuclear-oriented jobs, for which we have tons of local expertise and experience.

I’m hopeful that as the economy brightens, things will look better. But at the same time given Germany’s pending exit from the nuclear power industry and France’s reconsidering of the industry, I don’t know what’s likely to happen. So perhaps pinning our economic hopes on nuclear isn’t the best thing to do after all. Still, Areva’s presence here would add cachet to the area’s small but growing alternative energy sector.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Another Anne Elk Idea

Inspiration struck this morning:

It actually started here, with a silly idea called cashmob, in which Twittered or beFacebooked people organize themselves through a set of convoluted rules to do something that's actually rather simple: Spend money at locally-owned businesses.

It is, of course, at its roots a sensible idea. But it's in the rules that things go crazy.

One rule: The business you patronize has to be within a block of a bar. No exceptions. Because, of course, the social aspect of cashmob is that once you've spent your $20 (or whatever you want; the rules are pretty lax there) you have to go out for celebratory drinks to congratulate each other for spending your money at a soulless, locally-owned establishment rather than a soulless corporate-owned behemoth, neverminding that what you buy at the local store costs probably twice as much as any other place you might want to visit. Because everything has to be social these days. Even your self-righteousness.

So in comes the idea for Here's the setup:

We all know how hard it is to find clean public restrooms. So with, one of our fellow Poopers indicates when he or she has discovered a quality establishment. One week prior to the PoopMob, we coordinate our efforts. Here are the rest of the rules:

1) At least an hour before the Poop Mob, consume vast quantities of your favorite beverage.
2) At least six to eight hours before the Poop Mob, eat lots of high-fiber foods.

Those rules, obviously, will help you be supercharged for the Poop Mob. More rules:

3) The restroom to be used for the Poop Mob must be a public restroom in a place that expects a lot of public use (in other words, not at one of these tetchy places where there's a militant sign up somewhere that says "Restrooms for use of customers only." Exceptions will be granted, of course, if the Poop Mob, in turn, patronizes the business after the Poop Mob is finished. One negative word from the proprietor, however, will negate any shopping at said establishment.
4) Establishments not in the public domain will NOT be warned beforehand.
5) No one-ply paper allowed.
6) If the restroom proposed for the Poop Mob is found to be disgusting by the first few Poopers to enter, the Pooper who suggested the location will be ejected from Poop Mob.
7) After the Poop Mob is finished, there shall be pie.
8) I mentioned the one-ply paper, right?

If you're interested in joining, drop me a line.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

'Great Mother Machree, I Think I'm Gonna Die!'

But of course it was old age, not shaving cream in his toothpaste, that did MASH actor Harry Morgan in. He died today at age 96.

I still maintain that no actor can yell quite like Harry Morgan, who as Col. Sherman “Don’t Forget the Swoop in the T” Potter did his fair share of yelling.

Or sing like him. And get away with it like him.

Manuscript Prepped

So, I had an e-mail exchange (briefly) with Editor Kathleen, referred to me by a BYU-Idaho colleague.

Not quite what I was hoping for – she doesn’t do her job for free, dammit – but a bit more than I expected. She’s actually done work with Orson Scott Card, which can be both good and bad news, depending on if you like OSC’s work. (I’ve never read any of his stuff. Well, brief little excerpts here and there, but nothing complete.)

So while I haven’t launched gung-ho into anything, I have kept the door of communication open – after all, she could be the bridge I need to get from aspiring author to published author. Also have to remember I’ve got someone at Stevens-Henager College in Utah who used to work in publishing and who might also be able to assist me in some minor ways. But it’s always good to have as many ins as you can get.

And oh yeah – I’ve got Query Shark where I can submit my query letters for the merciless yet beneficent ministrations of the literati there. Oh, so many tools at my disposal. It feels good.

So what’s next? I’ve got “Yershi the Mild” now in a standard manuscript form, and I need to read it again. And again. Just in prepping the manuscript yesterday, I made a few notes in spots where I need to add more story, more character development (especially character development, since I had no idea who my characters were at the beginning). Plus some plot holes to fill in with hot mud before the freeze comes. This is where writing a novel transitions into editing a novel, and I’m not as good at that. I may pick up where I left off with the “Hermit of Iapetus” as I edit Yershi, just to keep my interest up.

Speaking of the Hermit, I wonder where I left him? As I recall, it’s a novella now, not a short story. But how long? Ah. Just over 8,000 words. That’s not a bad start, as I’ve got lots of ideas and backstory I can use to flesh it out.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Writing as Melville

So, here’s proof of what we’ve expected all along: Good authors don’t let pesky things like symbolism get in the way of a good story.

As I understand it, then sixteen-year-old Bruce McAllister sent a survey to 150 well-known authors asking if they intentionally placed symbolism in their work. He figured, as Sarah Bunke Butler writes, that by conducting the survey, he could “settle a conflict with his English teacher by proving that symbols weren’t lying beneath the texts they read like buried treasure awaiting discovery.” Really. If he could catch authors saying there’s no overt symbolism in their work, he could singlehandedly bring the world of English commentary to its knees.

He got back some pretty interesting responses.

My favorite, from the immortal Ray Bradbury. In response to the question “Do you have anything to remark concerning the subject under study, or anything you believe pertinent to such a study?” he wrote:
Not much to say, except to warn you not to get too serious about all this, if you want to become a writer of fiction in the future. If you intend becoming a critic, that is a whale of another color. Still, your own opinion, finally, when you have read and re-read is what you must earch for. When I wrote the screenplay of MOBY DICK for John Huston, I asked him if he wanted me to read all the critical studies of Melville. Huston wisely cried “NO! I want YOUR creative re-creation of the Whale! To hell with the critics!!! Pretend you are Melville and write me the Whale into screenplay form!” . . . which is what I did.

Playing around with symbols, even as a critic, can be a kind of kiddish parlor game. A little of it goes a long way. There are other things of greater value in any novel or story. . . humanity, character analysis, truth on other levels, etc., etc. Good symbolism should be as natural as breathing. . . and just as unobtrusive.
Also, an interesting tidbit from Ayn Rand, in response to the question “Do you consciously, intentionally plan and place aymbolism in your writing? If both yes and no, according to instances, please give an example of each. If yes, please state your method for doing so”:
Yes – I have no method; there is no method in writing fiction; you don’t seem to understand.
I kinda like that approach.

So here’s another’s interpretation of Moby Dick, via a Tom and Jerry cartoon. No symbolism here. Just a good story told by someone who understands both Bradbury and Rand: Gene Deitch.


Monday, December 5, 2011

A Prediction

Here’s my technological prognostication for the tail-end of 2011: Sometime, say, within the next ten years, electricians will begin hard-wiring USB ports alongside standard electricity plugs in new and remodel construction, to keep up with our demand for electronic gadgetry that recharges through USB ports. This will also lead to better in-home hard-wired networking, which is of course already being accomplished through Ethernet ports and such.

With wi-fi, of course, the networking thing might not be as obvious or necessary. But I can see the USB-for-charging ports becoming commonplace. Though part of me still thinks there’s an application here for those fools who went out and bought “Internet-ready” refrigerators and other kitchen appliances.

Of course, who needs a hard-wired fridge when you’ve got that little man in there to turn off the light?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Suckage Potential: High

So, the potential for this week to suck at work is pretty high.

Why, you may ask? Well, we're starting and finishing an assessment this week to decide whether or not we're ready to open up a new waste retrieval facility, and the people coming to do the assessment are, shall we say, nit-picky.

That's their right and their due; that's why they get paid, and it all helps us do our jobs in a more professional manner.

Still doesn't mean it ain't gonna suck this week.

But ya see, Johnny, here's da ting: We'll get through it. We'll have some bumps and lumps but we'll fix everything and get it right and then move on to opening the facility before the end of the year. What we'll face will be minor hiccups on the road to success, rather than big roadblocks that will stop us completely from getting on with life.

And then they'll lay me off in January. Or June. As a thank-you, you know.

Yes, I'm cynical. It pays to be.

But here's my plan of attack: Whatever happens, we attack it as a team. There'll be none of this "that's your document, this is my document" kind of thing. It's all or nothing. That'll build better team spirit through this tougher time, and maybe that'll help us all pull together. Failing that, I'll just hide in the restrooms next door at AMWTP all week long and hope they never find me.

Nah. Won't do that. I'd reach my Maximum Allowable Hoop Stress in notime flat.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


NOTE: I got the following email from one of my students today. My response is below.

Hey Brother Davidson-

Sorry to bug you... again! If it's any consolation, it's not related to any English 101 assignment. 

So, I'm having a really hard time trying to figure out what I want to study here at school. I've gone back and forth between multiple majors and can see the pros and cons of each, but I can't seem to come to a conclusion. This semester has added to the confusion because now I'm interested in being an English Major! So I thought I'd come to you and get an insider's opinion before making any decisions. So let me explain what my game plan is and see if that changes your thoughts on being an English Teacher. 

I plan on being a stay at home mom, but I will have my degree on hand just in case something happens to my husband. I realize that if something did happen to him, my family wouldn't be millionaires but we'd make it work. 

So! Here's my questions: 

-If you had to go back and do it all over again, would you still choose to be an English teacher? 
-Do you think I have a "knack" for English? Or should I not even waste my time? (Please be honest; I've got tough skin!) 
-Is the job satisfying? (I enjoy writing a lot! Is it the same kind of satisfaction as writing a great piece of work or not so much?)   
-Would you recommend teaching on the high school or college level? 
-Have you found English skills helpful in your family life? 
-Is the job demanding of your time? (Does it take away from potential fun recreational activities with the fam?)

I hope this isn't too personal or offensive. I would just really appreciate an honest answer straight from the source! 

Thanks so much for your time Brother Davidson!

Let me start out this way:

When I look back on my “career,” I wonder how in the world I could change it if I went back and started all over again.

I do know this: I’ve always been writing. Even as a kid, I made up stories and wrote them down. So when a high school English teacher suggested I join the school newspaper staff, I figured, what the heck? I found there the opportunity to write and get grades for it and school credit and all. I decided I liked journalism. So when high school was over, I decided to take on journalism as a major in college. At the same time, I took a lot of English courses simply because they gave me the opportunity to write. I worked on the staff of The Scroll at Ricks College, then the Argonaut at the University of Idaho. I also continued writing “creatively,” short stories, poems and such, and found an outlet to get them published (I have no idea on quality; they published anything, frankly).

I graduated in 1997 and also got married in 1997. My wife was teaching high school English at Sugar-Salem High School in Sugar City, Idaho. (More from her later.) I was lucky enough to get a job at a local newspaper.

Fast-forward a few years. I’d switched newspapers, going from a local paper that published a few times a week to a daily. My wife had left teaching because, well, I’ll let her tell you in a bit. Still happy writing, having fun.

Fast-forward a few more years. In 2005, I decided the last thing in the world I wanted to be was a journalist. I left the paper and spent a year “underemployed,” working in construction, at Target, and at a call center. Two words best describe 2005-06: It sucked.

Then in May 2006, I got a job offer – as a technical writer. Still writing, yes, but certainly not writing in the same style as a journalist. Loved it. So in 2007, I found an online program that would let me earn a masters degree in English with an emphasis on technical writing, so I jumped into that, working full-time as well. Finished that program in 2009, just in time for my wife to decide she wanted to do the same thing. At about the same time, I joined with a group of college friends writing at, a travel and photography social networking site that we started on our own.

The company I work for is on a government contract with a finite end to it – meaning they go through rounds of layoffs. I’ve survived a few, face a few more next year. Because of the uncertainty, I’ve kept my eye open for other work. I’ve tried a few times to get on full-time at BYU-Idaho (not as a teacher, I don’t have a PhD, which is generally what they want in a teacher), but on staff in some capacity. No luck there, though I pestered them with resumes. I did get on as an online adjunct faculty member, teaching English 101. Obviously, they thought I was a good fit for the job, given my background. So to sum up: I became a part-time English teacher in kind of a backwards way, starting out with a career in journalism, moving over to technical writing and then falling into teaching as well because the opportunity arose.

Would I go back and still choose to become an English teacher, if I had the opportunity?

If circumstances had not changed, probably.

But if another job opportunity had opened and, say, I were working at the Space Dynamics Laboratory in Utah (where I’ve also applied) or if I were still in journalism and not disenchanted by the industry, I don’t know. Circumstances, not a concrete plan in which I said I’m at Point A and will arrive at Point B, led me to the jobs I’ve got today.

What I’m saying is this: Get an education, but remain flexible. You don’t know where you’re going to end up. At least I didn’t know where I was going to end up. Some people pull a plan and stick with it and accomplish what they want. That’s great. I guess for that I’m saying this: What “works” for one person may or may not work for the next person to come along. I only know my circumstances. I only know how I approach life. I only know how I might react in certain situations under certain conditions, and then only conditionally – maybe I’ll react in a completely different manner when the moment arrives.

Is the job satisfying? That depends. It is certainly satisfying in that my part-time job and my full-time job give me the opportunity to feed my family and give them a house to live in. There are many aspects that are soul-satisfying as well (this email being one of them) but I’ve got to confess that for writing that is soul-satisfying, I’ve had to find time outside either job to pursue the dream of writing and publishing a novel. I’ve started several, just finished the first draft on a second, but am still groping into the darkness trying to figure out where to go from where I am now. Goals now are to revise these two novels (an entirely different task than writing one) and, to keep the soul-satisfaction going, start on a third.

Is the job demanding on my time? Any job will be. I put in 40 hours a week at my full-time job and about ten hours or so a week into teaching – that’s spread over two sections of 101. I’m “lucky” in that at the end of each work day I have a two-hour commute to get home, so I use that time to do a lot of paper-reading and grading and such. I don’t take a lunch at work, so I’m able to slip in some BYU-I time there as well. I’m also a night owl, and am up late doing teaching-related things.

That said, no, it doesn’t take away family time. I’ve tended to online classes while we’re at the beach, and my wife tended to classes while we took a tour through Nauvoo this summer. We just find ways to fit things around what we normally do. There may be weeks where I put in more time with English 101 than in other weeks. There are weeks when the family comes first. We just roll with what happens.
What I’m saying is this: Satisfaction comes in different shades and flavors, and you’ll find it if you look for it. Additionally, if something is important, whether It’s family-related or work-related or satisfaction-related, you’ll find ways to make everything fit.

Now – do you have the “knack for English”? You write that you enjoy writing. Yes, you have the knack. There’s only one way I know to get better at writing – and that’s to keep doing it. Fantasy author Ray Bradbury once said something that I think is excellent advice for writers: Write all the time, because about 99 percent of what you write is going to be not so good. You have to get it out of the way so the good stuff can come.

It’s pretty difficult to look to employment for satisfaction – the soul-satisfying kind – in writing. I wrote a lot as a journalist, but it was rarely the kind of writing I really wanted to do. My current job now has me writing a lot less than I did as a journalist, and it’s rarely the kind of writing I really want to do. The writing I really want to do comes in the inbetween times, on the bus, at lunch, on the weekends, the weeknights. I’ve written two novels as blog entries. I’ve collected information that I want to use in other stories. I read a lot and fret a lot about my writing, and then I set down to write again and think maybe in a while I’ll get good at it.

As for teaching high school versus college, well, I can’t say. I’ve only taught at the college level, and only just – I haven’t been teaching at BYU-I for more than a year.

My wife, I mentioned, taught high school English. She loved the students, but had more than enough headaches with administration and parents that after three years we decided she’d be better off doing something else. We’ve talked about this, and have concluded that part of what happened was that she got into teaching young, didn’t have time to develop a thicker skin. Looking back, she thinks that if she were to back into teaching now, she’d be better prepared. So I’m going to give a weasely answer to your question – I don’t know. Depends on a lot of different things, and how you’ll react to students, administrators, parents, etc., is likely to be different than my wife or I.

Have I found English skills to be helpful in my family life? Yes. And in some strange and interesting ways. First, the mundane – it keeps food on the table, in full- and part-time jobs, in occasional freelancing. It keeps me sane. And as my kids get older, I’m able to pass on a love of reading to them. Our oldest is an avid comic-book reader and has started writing and illustrating his own comic strip. I like to think seeing Dad writing gets him to thinking about it. I know he tries to read my novel blog posts over my shoulder and wants to read my latest book when it’s done.

It also gives my wife and I some additional common interests – we’re both writers, both going through the technical writing program at Utah State, both curious about writing theory and social networks. We’ve come closer together as a couple as we read and talk about things and write or create together. Right now I’m writing this message. She’s scrapbooking. We’re together in the same room. Once and a while we ask each other what we’re working on.

I think I’ve run out of gas. I hope this helps. Feel free to ask any more questions, or just share your thoughts.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Another Experiment Coming to A Close

As my second semester teaching at BYU-Idaho comes to a close – we’ve got about two weeks left – I’ve got to say my lesson learned from this semester is that the more I participate in class as an instructor and fellow student, the more connected and empathetic I feel towards my students.

I really got involved that first semester, completing assignments alongside my students. Some of them appreciated that. Some of them did not – they felt I dominated the conversations too much. So this semester, I ramped down the enthusiasm – I think to mostly deleterious effect. Now the secret, I see, will be in finding a balance between twinkling with mirth and burning with Satanic rage.

Bringing in more empathy is key – that’s what we’ve been asked to do time and again by our online overlords (that we’ve also been advised to “dress the part” when holding office hours and such is something I’ll roll my eyes about). As a likely Asberger’s Syndrome sufferer, I have to do what I can to build empathy. Taking a back seat to the discussion isn’t helping me do that at all.

Being in class more – because I’ve got something to say – will also draw me more into the conversations and help me be more on top of questions the students pose. I’ve slacked off on the whole house-lifting thing, and some of my students have noticed. I’ll also want to ask future students to pose questions in the forums and then follow up with an email question for anything that’s really tickling their brain – as I’m more prone to checking email than I am to read every single class post.

So what’s my big experiment for next semester? HOFRS. Harking back to my missionary days, that means Helping Others Feel and Recognize the Spirit. Meaning I’ve got to do more to motivate students who start out in class and then gradually fade away. Got to find out why they’re doing that and what I can do to get them more enthusiastic about sticking it out.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

NaNoWriMo: It's Done

It's done. The easy part. Now on to the editing . . .

A Concern

Again, and against my better judgment, I’ve spent some time in the NaNoWriMo forums. I have a concern:

Many of my fellow NaNoWriMos are terrible spellers.

I don’t mean the occasional typo. We all do that, and that’s both understandable and forgivable, since most of what is put in the forums (and on blogs such as this) is fungible writing, here today, meant to be disregarded tomorrow.

I’m talking down-right terrible spelling.

Like what’s an “epilongue” – which is what one NaNoWriMo recommends to another for getting to that critical 50,000 word count. Scary. He or she admits the spelling is off – but is it really that hard to spend the few minutes finding the word in a dictionary?

Then there are the confused homonyms, the phonics-reliant spelling and other errors that just scream out to me “Whatever you do, don’t read their books.”

Then I take a deep breath, and realize that, hey, I’ve got my own writing hang-ups. I’ve got that terrible first-draftitis too. Maybe they’re lousy at spelling but better at storytelling – and spelling errors you can fix. Of course, bad storytelling you can fix too, through revision. And revision. And revision.

Still, first impressions . . .

Monday, November 28, 2011

Yershi the Mild, Another Update

So I've changed a bit in this ending sequence already. That's fine.

Four thousand words short of my goal. I'll get there.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Here at the End of all Things

NOTE: I've done something here I typically don't do. I've written a bit of my novel out of sequence. I don't like doing that, because then I feel like a moron trying to connect the ongoing thread with this -- especially since I feel like this is the ending of the story. I guess we'll see how it goes. Why did I do it this way? Well, this part of the story kept nagging to come out. And NaNoWriMo pressure is building.

 “Guilt,” Yershi said.

“Long ago, long before I met you, I had a dream. A series of dreams, but all the same dream. I stood in a graveyard. There was no church nearby. It was an old pagan graveyard, long abandoned, in a forest clearing filling with creep. I had a vial of elixir in my hands. I thought, with the sun shining brightly overhead, it would be good to use the elixir, to test it on the corpses lying buried under the stones with the curled carvings. So here and there, I sprinkled drops of the elixir on the ground, which soaked it up. Soon the curls and filigrees on the stones began to spark and glow with that purple-silver glow we know so well – yes, I may have forseen that much,” he said.

Then he frowned. “I did not forsee enough,” he added.

“Next I switched to a churchyard at night, but under a friendly yellow moon smiling down on the lightning-bugs. Again, the vial. Again, I ran through the churchyard, gay as a schoolboy, sprinkling the elixir where I would. The busts of Christ opened their eyes and smiled on me, the stone angels flapped their wings. All seemed right. All seemed well.”

“Then I found myself in a dark alley of a city I knew well. In my hand, a bloodied knife. At my feet, a cooling corpse of a man I had just killed. One I was hired to kill. I remembered him well: A prosperous merchant of fruits and vegetables, named Arthur of Kent. A rival paid me five hundred groats to kill him, for he could not bear to see the other selling his turnips and carrots at prices below his own costs. I do not remember any special feelings in killing him. Sometimes, you see, I feel pity, or understand the envy, or relish the thought of dispatching a character even the mildest bit offensive. But for Arthur of Kent, there was nothing. Nothing at all. Nothing but a slit and spilt his blood quickly as he stared up at me, puzzled, trying to speak, but fading, fading. Fading.”

“To him, I fed a great draught of the elixir, in this my dream, in this my nightmare,” Yershi said. “He swallowed and sighed with his last breath. Some of the elixir bubbled out of the slit in his throat. But as it bubbled, it sealed and healed the wound. I sat there a long time, twenty, thirty, forty minutes, watching the still figure of Arthur of Kent as his breath and pulse came back. Soon, under that yellow moon, his eyes opened. He stared up at me uncomprehending. His voice caught, he coughed. His hand reached up to feel for the wound in his throat, the wound that was gone. He realized what had happened.”

“Was he happy?” I asked. “To return to life?”

“No,” Yershi said solemnly. “He burst into tears.”

“He wept bitter tears, tears I could not fathom,” he said. “’Why do you weep, man, you’ve come back fom that place many visit but from which they never return,’ I said to him. He looked at me though teary eyes and wept more.”

“I sat on the ground with him, sat in the pool of his own life blood, and comforted him. I cradled his heat in my arms as he wept. The moon continued its journey in the sky and soon passed behind the buildings looming over the alley, casting us both in shadow,” Yershi said. “When the light dimmed, the man spoke.”

“’You see the dimming of the moon,’ he asked me. ‘You feel the absence of the light.’”

“’I do,’ I said. ‘What does it mean?’”

“’You killed me, that I grant you, and for that I hate you,’ the man said. ‘Though that hate will fade in time. But then you brought me back to life. That, sir, is the cruelest trick of all.’”

“He wept a while longer and in shadow, in darkness, all I could do was cradle his head and watch the line of moonlight march up the walls of the house across the alley, up onto the roof and finally up the chimney until the moonlight climbed up the smoke pouring from it,” Yershi said.

“After a while, I found the courage to ask the question: ‘Why the cruelest trick?’”

“The man coughed and wheezed, waved his arms, tried to stand. I helped him to his feet. He was a bit wobbly. Once or twice, he slipped on the blood spilt in the alley. ‘I was with Martha,’ he said. ‘I was with my mother and father,’ he added. ‘I was with my brother Francis, my brother Albert, all passed on before me. We were in the greenest of meadows, dancing, shouting, hugging. A reunion. True, I had life left to live here, but with my wife gone, my family gone, and only the street urchins whom I fed on vegetables and bread to keep me company, I rather looked forward to a bit of rest. It was warm there. And pleasant. And you took it from me as easily and in the same cavalier manner with which you took my life. For killing me,’ he said, ‘I now find the strength to forgive you. But for bringing me into life again while tantalizing me with a vision of the life to come, I spit at you, sir.’ He stumbled off, supporting himself on the shadow-dappled buildings, coughing into the night.”

“My dream then shifted back to the pagan yard, to the church yard, where other souls, many long since unburdened of life, wept and wailed and screamed in torment as life flowed back into their limbs but the veil of forgetfulness refused to close to conceal to them once again the pleasures and restfulness of the life that follows the one we call so precious.”

“We do not know what we do not know,” Yershi said. “As the last Roman said: ‘Everything that is known is comprehended not according to its own nature but according to the ability to know of those who do the knowing.’ I know how to dispatch God’s creatures into death. To bring them back to life, that I also know. But it is beyond my knowing, perhaps beyond all knowing, to understand what it is like to be dead yet brought back to life, without that veil closing. Only the one knows that, and he knows all.”

Rell and the Lady wept silently as Yershi finished his story.

“The abbot seemed happy to be restored to life,” I said. “What you experienced is just a dream, perhaps.”

“Perhaps,” Yershi said quietly. “Perhaps. But perhaps just as easy as it is to take life, we should not make it as easy to restore life again. We do not always understand fate, nor the will of God.”

“It is time for you to leave,” the guard said.

Rell leaped from her seat and climbed up in Yershi’s lap, wrapping her arms around his neck. He looked surprised, then patted her on the back. “I’ll miss you, father,” she said as she wept.

He returned her embrace. “You I shall miss, my little squirrel.”

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Yershi the Mild: An Update

I'm behind.

As of today, right now, I'm 4,992 words behind.

But I'm still going, and that's what counts the most.

Hit 40,000 words today. That feels great. I'm trying to make every word count, but I know I've got a lot of work to do in that direction. I've got five days. Just under 10,000 words to do. I think I can do it.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Writing Process

Most days, when I sit down to write, I end up feeling like Jeremy the Crow here from "The Secret of NIMH." First, I'm all tied up by the Muse. Then, someone comes along to set me free. I babble. Then my liberators decide the world was better off with me all tied up.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Beating down Ophelia, or Standing up to my Own El Guapo

Growing up, I continue to discover, is hard work.

Consider this: I’m a teacher. I teach. I teach online classes at Brigham Young University-Idaho. And I am at best, right now, a mediocre teacher.

Why is that?

Well, in our teaching group forums, we’ve focused a lot on curriculum: The rubrics are too vague. There is weak emphasis on revision in our student writing. Some of the assignments make no personal connection to the student, and are thus regarded as useless at worst or busywork at best.

There is, perhaps, a more fundamental problem. And Clay Shirky (yes, I write a lot about him, but that’s fine as he has a lot to say about such things) is coming to the rescue once again. But he’s only opening the door. I’m the one who has to walk in and fiddle with the bits to see what wobbles on the outside.

I’ll have to set this up a bit: Back in 2008, the government of South Korea faced unprecedented protests over reinstating US beef imports after a mad cow scare. People were out in Seoul in droves, protesting against their government’s forgetfulness in consulting them on the issue, Shirky writes in his book “Cognitive Surplus.” The people were sending a message:
In Seoul ordinary citizens used a communication medium [Internet forums] that neither respects nor enforces silence among The People Formerly Known as the Audience, as my NYU colleague Jay Rosen likes to call us. We are used to the media’s telling us things: the people on TV tell us that the South Korean government has banned US beef because of fears of mad cow disease, or that it’s lifted the ban.
With the Internet, with cell phones, and with ubiquitous user-generated content no longer controlled by the gatekeepers, Shirky says, the game has changed. He continues:
The old view of online as a separate space, cyberspace, apart from the real world, was an accident of history. Back when the online population was tiny, most of the people you knew in your daily life weren’t part of that population. Now that computers are increasingly computerlike phones have been broadly adopted, the whole notion of cyberspace is fading. Our social media tools aren’t an alternative to real life, they are part of it.
What does this have to do with teaching and, more importantly, with me being a mediocre teacher?

I’m still at the top, delivering thunderbolts, expecting students to toe the line, without really doing much asking of them, well, what do you want to get out of this? Part of that rigidity comes through the curriculum, which we are endeavoring to fix. But the lion’s share of it comes down to me as a teacher, being willing to participate more, up front, and to listen more to what my students are saying and not saying.

So part of me wants to go back to that first semester, where I interacted with the students a lot more. I felt like I was doing something for them, something with them. I was participating, not just being a blurker.

But it’s more than that. I have to remember that this class is part of their real life, and make it more a part of my real life too. And I have to foster their desire to make what they’re learning more valuable to them.

But that is a two-way street.

Early on in the course, the students read Thomas G. Plummer’s “Diagnosing and Treating the Ophelia Syndrome,” in which he urges students to develop the ability to think for themselves, rather than waiting for those thunderbolts from the teachers on high. He also offers this bit of advice for teachers:

In that same spirit, Wayne Booth in his book, The Vocation of a Teacher, asserts that regardless of whether a teacher lectures or runs discussions, the “teacher has failed if students leave the classroom assuming that the task of thinking through to the next step lies entirely with the teacher.” To this point, Booth adds three more principles that will help teachers and students avoid the Polonius role. Addressing instructors he writes,
1. You gotta get them talking to each other, not just to you or to the air.
2. You gotta get them talking about the subject, not just having a bull session in which nobody really listens to anybody else. This means insisting on at least the following rule in every discussion: Whether I call on you or you speak up spontaneously, please address the previous speaker, or give a reason for changing the subject. 3. You gotta find ways to prevent yourself from relapsing into a badly prepared lecturette, disguised as a discussion. Informal lectures are usually worse than prepared ones.
This is what I need to do more in class to encourage my students to realize that this class isn’t s separate space, but their reality, and that they are a part of it. How can I do that?
  1. Beef up my weekly presence. I don’t have to dominate the conversation as I was accused this summer, but I can do some digging and sharing each week, preferably through a discussion post in a spot where they can’t ignore it, sharing some insight into the reading that week, or some outside source, to get them thinking and talking.
  2. Get to know the curriculum better. That is self-explanatory.
  3. Help to improve the curriculum. I’d like to see more real-life examples brought in, more multimedia (maybe one of Shirky’s TED talks).
  4. Promise myself that next semester I won’t give up and quit the job, but strive to do better. 
I also need to do this: At the beginning of the semester, ask my students: What do you want out of this class? Then at midterm, ask them how am I doing? Are you getting what you want? What can I do to improve and to help you along on that goal?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Teetering on the Brink

I’m close to giving up on NaNoWriMo.

Not that I’m giving up on “Yershi the Mild.” I still like the story, and think I can carry it to an acceptable conclusion. Just not on the NaNoWriMo timeline.

My writing tends to come in spurts, with a strong bout of writing stretching over days or weeks ending in a time when I do little or no writing on a piece. I call this percolation, because the story and the characters are always at the back of my mind, sending me little messages which I duly note in my notes and then, when the muse strikes again, I’m back at it, working away.

I’ve hit that familiar ebb with “Yershi the Mild” at just under 32,000 words in.

I have the familiar excuses: I’ve been doing a lot of remodeling at the house – we replaced four windows and I ended up having to do some wall repair, drywall, plastering and painting as well to make up for the mess discovered once the windows were removed – and that’s eaten up way too much time at home. And though I confess I do sneak some writing time in at work, we’ve been busy enough with official work stuff that the unofficial stuff has had to slide. And I’m also teaching two courses, which take up a lot of time as well. So what time I get for writing comes intbetween things, and I haven’t had much inbetween time lately.

To my credit, I did do t a3,600-word writing sprint over the weekend which helped bring my NaNoWriMo numbers back up, but I’m facing another such sprint today. Time will tell on that one.

And oh yeah. I’ve got another blog I want to start as well, been promising that for a month now and set a Dec. 1 deadline for myself. So whee I’ve been busy.

Wanna Buy A House?

This is Michelle’s observation from the weekend:

“If you ever want to become the center of attention, or if you ever feel you’re being neglected [in the ward] just put a for sale sign in front of your house. I couldn’t get home after choir practice.”

We do indeed have a for sale sign in front of the house.

Insanity has led us to this. And led us to other things which I will discuss in a minute.

Why sell the house?

We’re squeezed. When we bought it, 1,800 square feet seemed palatial after our 1,020-square-foot home in Rexburg. Now it feels small. We’ve got two boys stacked like cordwood in the smallest bedroom in the house, and they’re both ready for something new to happen. We’ve got three computer desks shoved in the study, plus a closet overflowing with Scout-related stuff.

Honestly, I look at what we have and don’t feel like we’re conspicuous consumers. We don’t have the toys that many have. We do indulge in books and movies, that is true, but I’ve put a self-ban on new books until I figure out what to do with the ones I’ve got. (Neither one of us are willing to go digital, and since 99 percent of the books we buy are used, going digital just isn’t an option until a vast used e-book market springs up somewhere.)

So we’re looking for something somewhat bigger. With a garage. We haven’t had a garage on either house, and we’d like one. Our top pick got sold over the weekend, which is a shame, but there are others in the area that still catch my eye. They’re not palaces. Mostly they’re fixer-uppers with possibilities. I can handle that.

Speaking of handling that, the other insanity this house-selling has led us to includes remodeling. Over the past two weeks, I’ve installed four new windows in the house, with associated painting, drywall, repairs and other such mess to go along with it. Most of the work is done now, thank heaven, because I’ve blown two perfectly good weekends on it. I’ve got more painting and other touch-up to do throughout the house this weekend, though. Not looking forward to that. But that’s one of the hazards of selling and remodeling to sell – you have to do the work. Paint on one new wall makes the rest of the paint in the house look dingy.

We’ll have to see what happens.

Selling the house now gives us an out that could lead in a few different directions as well. First, a new home locally. Also, if I end up getting laid off in January, then having the home on the market and repaired will put us that much further ahead if I have to look elsewhere for employment. Either way, not looking forward to having to deal with that if that eventuality comes to pass. Hoping I can stay employed right where I am, though I am throwing out applications all over the place. Well, mostly Utah, which seems to be the hot market right now. Sigh.

So if you know anyone looking to buy a house in the Rexburg, Idaho area, you know where to find one.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mount Hebron Dead, From That

Yershi smiled over the pile of roots, berries, bark and herbs on the table. “With this, and with what we’ve brought, we have enough to try yet again,” he said. Out of his bag came the cooking-lantern, the mortar and pestle, other oddments of tools he would need.

He set me to drying and grinding. The Lady juiced berries, extracted seeds. Rell watched at the door, ostensibly for intruders, but she watched so much over her shoulder and cried “What are you doing now?” often enough a herd of cattle could have clambered into the ravine and become trapped and bellowing and she would not have noticed it.

At the end, solemnly Yershi took his crucible and lantern and the final ingredients into an alcove hidden by a woven mat. “This is the part where I have failed in the past,” he said. “Betimes the fumes are nearly overpowering. I do this concealed so if something goes amiss, we might not all succumb.” His words spoke fear and caution, but his eyes, his round, moon-like eyes, shone bright. He darted behind the mat.

We heard the clink of glassware, the gentle swish of a stirring rod and then with a clap of light that stopped our ears without sound and seared the eyes without pain, a deep silvery-purple glow sprang from behind the mat and filled the cave. It must have been a sight, the hill punctuated with pinpricks and day-shots of light in the starry gloom.

Yershi emerged, holding the crucible in his hands. The glow was brilliant yet gentle, illuminating his face without obscuring his features. He moved the crucible around slowly in the air, the shadow of his nose darting across his face like the needle on a sundial. “I think,” he said, “it is ready. Now, to test it.” He placed the crucible on the table. From his pocket he pulled, gently, a small brown sparrow, still, lifeless. He placed it reverently next to the crucible. He gently prised the bird’s beak open and, with a bit of the elixir on the end of a stick, coaxed a drop down the dead bird’s throat.

When it touched flesh, the elixir seemed to jump off the stick, leaving no residue behind. A tiny spark, a silvery-purple glow, started, then grew, in the bird’s eyes. The body twitched. A claw clenched and unclenched. Rell gave a startled yelp when the bird flapped one wing, snapping it quickly to its side. Yershi beamed down at the bird on the table like an oak watching an acorn sprout its first leaf. The bird chirped.

Then it leaped.

It leaped into the air, singing. It flapped its wings and took to flight, whirring in circles around the cave ceiling, swooping and dancing through the purple light that seemed to trap the white of the lanterns and candles and the orange of the fire to keep it from leaving so only the silvery-purple could part. Flying faster and faster, chirping more loudly, the bird burst into song and seemed, for a time, that it would explode. Then with a final pump of its wings, it shot out of a hole in the ceiling into the night.

“Yershi,” the Lady said, tears in her eyes. “It seems to have—“

“That is but the first test,” he said. “Now, the next test. He thrust a larger stick into the elixir, stirring it up. The stuff climbed up the stick as he swirled it like honey. He put the stick into the Lady’s hands. “It worked with a bird,” he said. “Now we shall see if it works on human flesh.” He turned to me, a knife suddenly in his hands. With the purple-silver light behind him, I could see but shadow on his face. “Shadow,” he said, “pray.” He thrust the knife into his stomach, yanked it upwards then collapsed, flinging the bloody blade away.
The Lady screamed. Rell screamed, too, and ran from the cave. I moved towards Yershi.

“Stop,” he said. “Do not help me. You saw what I did with the stick, with the bird. When I am dead, you must do the same” he coughed and spat up blood, with more of it dribbling down his chin. “You must do the same for me.”

He slumped to the floor, breathing heavily, a froth of blood at his lips.
“So this,” he said, “is what it is like to be murdered by Yershi the Mild,” he said. The Lady knelt down, cradled his head in her arms. He reached up to pat a hand. “It is more painful than I led myself to believe. Perhaps I am losing my touch. Others have passed – have passed more quickly than this.” He looked at me. “You know what to do, Shadow,” he said. “You must do it. I would prefer if you wait a day, but I understand if you do not.” He breathed more shallowly, his face pale in the purple light. “I understand if you do not. Oh.”



More silence.

“Oh,” he said, his eyes wide. “I see. I see. I see it all.”

His breath ceased.

Silence. The only sound, the light coruscating from the crucible the Lady set on the table, and from the elixir clinging to the end of the stick in my hand.
“He is dead,” the Lady said.

I thrust the stick into his lolling mouth. As with the bird, the elixir leaped from the stick, sloshed into his mouth and disappeared down the dark bloody hole that was his throat.



“It was fast with the bird,” I said. “But he is much larger. And died, perhaps, a more violent death.”

Costly Solar

Solar power is on my mind a lot these days.

We’ve looked into a simple solar kit for our camper, and think we could get into one for less than $500. It wouldn’t be the same as plugging into an electrical outlet, but it certainly would help us keep the battery charged on a long-term vacation, if ever such a thing were undertaken.

Solar for the house is something else. To be able to generate that kind of power, we’d have to install a roof-full of solar panels. And they simply cost just too much at that scale. I’ve seen prices ranging from $20,000 to $35,000 per home – and that’s just for one house. Can’t imagine being a utility and trying to install a massive solar project and recoup the costs. On an individual basis, even with the potential savings in electricity, it’s a no-brainer: It would take longer than your typical 30-year mortgage period to recoup the solar investment.

Once in a while, I get excited when I read something like this, one of a trickle of stories I see on companies like SunRun, which installs solar panels for you without an up-front payment, but then trickles the money out of you and subsequent homeowners over time. I suppose it’s good that the up-front costs disappear, but when I read things like this . . .

In Buller's case, his new solar panels (which SunRun paid for entirely) cut his $200-a-month electricity bill by $140, or 70%. Buller gets to keep $50 of the savings and pays the balance to SunRun, which uses it to cover the cost of buying the solar system and hiring a contractor to install and maintain it.
. . . I get less excited about the concept. How hard, I wonder, is it to “maintain” a solar panel system? I guess I’d have to find that out.

And as for leasing the equipment – that’s just trading paying money to the electric company to the leaseor. That’s not saving me money. I guess it’s a feel-good thing, however. And you avoid the up-front costs. But the up-front costs demonstrate how horribly expensive it is to “go green” on the individual scale.

So perhaps the idea is to start small – as with the kit we’re looking at for the camper. If that works out well enough, then we get a similar kit and hook it up to the house. If that works well, another kit. Bit off the energy savings a bit at a time, rather than trying to do everything at once. That’s slow-term energy independence, but at a much more manageable, incremental cost.

NaNoWriMo Forums: Terrible Advice for Writers

The best writing advice I’ve ever heard comes from science fictionist Ray Bradbury, who basically said that you’ve got to write a lot of crap for the good stuff to finally make it out.

If I’m ever a famous writer, I’ll pass this advice along, but add what I call the Nefario Principle: It’s got to be good crap.

Here’s what the Nefario Principle means: You’ve got to be trying hard to write the good stuff even when you’re writing the crap, or else all you’ll ever be able to produce is crap.

Point in favor of the Nefario Principle: Much of the advice given in the NaNoWriMo forums, most particularly those focusing on the magical 50,000-word count necessary to “win” the contest. I learned a lot more about writing a novel churning out 120,000-plus words which I took seriously in “Considering How to Run” than I ever would learn using the language-inflation tricks proposed even tongue-in-cheek by those in the NaNoWriMo forums. Here’s a sampling:
I know you have them, what are your down and dirty tricks (without cheating) to reach 50k. Last year I wrote out the full names for EVERYTHING.

A persons name. Instead of Dr. Pascal, It would be Doctor Pascal Jonathan Himes
+3 words

I had a company named Shilo but the full name was Shilo Helping Hands Psychiatric Care and Rehabilitation Facility. Ridiculous to write each time, but I did.
+7 words
It got annoying but my main character worked in the hospital so the name was mentioned oftened and he ran into a TON of people so it was + two or three words all the time.
No, no, and no. I know the ethic here is “edit later,” but I’m kind of in the Richard Rhodes/”How to Write” camp when it comes to thinking why should I purposely load my writing with crap I know I’ll have to edit out later to meet some artificial word count total when I should instead concentrate on making my writing better, economizing on time in the process?

Do I have such tricks? Yes. I’ll do a little Virginia Woolf repletion once and a while – but it’s for effect – I hope – rather than word-count padding. Or word – count padding, I should say, increasing the word count in that phrase from two to four in the process.

Then there’s this, which is even worse:
Over complicate everything: "And he did then, with much gusto, verily grip his fingers around the weisswurst, a german sausage made from the meat of veal, otherwise known as baby cows or calves."

(This isn't mine, but a firend of mine's) Complain: "I hate so and so. She ticks me off so much. She's always telling me that I have to edit instead of rewriting everthing. I don't want to edit. I want to rewrite it. And who is she to tell me to edit? She's not an editor."

Flower language: make a character that sort of rambles on and on "Her hair was every color imaginable--blue, purple, red, green, black, brown et cetera (always two words--it's proper and boosts your word count), et cetera, ad infinitum, ad nauseum, amen."
This leaps right over John Steinbeck’s desire for occasional hooptedoodle right into the poodle factory where you’ll find yourself concentrating too much on mundane details and forgetting that your reader wants your characters to tell the story – and even tell them what they look like through action rather than description. A good writer gets out of the way of his or her characters. This kind of writing just puts the writer in the way, like my kids in front of the TV when I’m trying to watch.

I know the joke here is that the word count is an illusion, but they can’t track stats on NaNoWriMo if they’re saying “At the end of the month, have written a good book.” No. That’s too subjective. It’s easier to build little bar charts focusing on word count rather than on quality – though they can tout that “Water for Elephants” was a NaNoWriMo originee, so quality is there! Meh, I say. I’m only doing NaNoWriMo this year for fun anyway. The word count is secondary. I’m a lot more worried about getting my characters to the final destination than I am about how many words I can use to get them there.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Yershi the Mild, Falling Into Place

Those of you familiar with my writing style know I do little to no outlining. I just start where I left off and then, at the end of the day, decide if I like where the story has ended up. I may get an inkling here and there along the way of what needs to happen next, or where my characters may end up.

Writing today, that happened with Yershi the Mild. In a loose sense, of course. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but there are many exits from this book as it stands now. I may turn in another direction, face the darkness again, only to see a different point of light somewhere else along the way. I’m not worried. I’m having fun.

NaNoWriMo Update: I’m just under 26,00 words in, or nearly a thousand words above par. And I like the novel still. I like it a lot better than the other stuff I’ve written, and I hope this isn’t just the “I’m in love with what I’m writing” phenomenon, and that the writing is actually good. That’s my wish. Now, lemme see if I can find some rich stuff with a picture of Martin Sheen on it . . .

Monday, November 14, 2011


So, it may be that after nearly six years at the RWMC, the fat lady is singing.

CWI, our main company here, announced today that up to 600 employees will likely be laid off next year, starting with at least 200 in January and June of next year.

That’s par for the course. But this time around, technical writers are on the list of targeted work discipline codes.

Don’t know what my chances are of staying on. I’m feeling numb about it right now. In this economy, I do not want to be looking for another job. Scares the hell out of me, to tell you the truth.

I know losing a job does not the end of the world make. But it sure feels like it. That stint of underemployment between 2005 and 2006 really wore me out. Yes, I had work. Yes, we were able to pay the bills. But hells bells, it was not the most pleasant part of my life and I do not, repeat, DO NOT, want to repeat it.

So what to do?

Pray, first of all, that though technical writers are on the list for January that I get to keep my job. I have fulfilled some valuable roles here at RWMC since Danny left (temporarily) to IWTU, but I don’t know if that kind of thing will be evaluated when the bean counters do their counting. I am a subcontractor after all, subject to the whim of the main employer.

Second, continue looking for alternatives. Found a job today to apply for with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Maybe other recent events are preparing us for a move in physical location as well as from job to job.

Keep pushing my foot in the door at BYU-Idaho, third. Teaching there has been a blessing, and it could be a godsend if the right opportunity opens up. Chances there are bleak, however, as many people apply for the vacant positions there.

Fourth: Retire to that poker shed in the swamp.

Fifth, breathe through my nose and relax a little. We still have plenty of work scope to accomplish at RWMC. Two more waste tents, plus the shutdown afterward. I probably shouldn’t get too paranoid right now.

That won’t stop me, however, from going through at least one through three a few more times between now and January 2012.

Stay tuned.