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.

Just One of Those Things

I recently decided to put a passcode on my iPod Touch because, well, it's kinda cool. Not that I have any deep secrets to hide, but I liked the idea of behing able to lock it from idle passersby (I'm sure there are ways around it, so it wouldn't keep out the determined individual).

Something about the design of the passcode page, however, nagged at me. It seemed really familiar.

Just this weekend, the familiarity hit me. Here's the passcode page.

And here are the two likeliest possible inspirations:

And that leads me to this: Enjoy.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Yershi the Mild: 20,000 Words

As with past novels, I've got a love-hate relationship with Yershi the Mild. It's good in that I've got a sustainable story, but bad in that I tend to wander down one path without really having a destination in mind. I need to do more pre-planning, but part of me believes that really robs a novel of its spontaneity. Of course, spontaneity isn't all it's cracked up to be.

I do like the story and characters, though. That helps. And that has helped me hit a milestone: 20,000 words in.

So how is Yershi the Mild doing at NaNoWriMo? Slightly, ever so slightly above par. Of course the only par NaNoWriMo is interested in is the word count. I wish there were more about quality there, and that's a possibility given the writer's community, but I'm not one much for the community thing. I should be.

The Story of Dottie

Our oldest put this photo story together as he works on his Photography merit badge. Hoping that by posting it here I can avoid having to bring a thumb drive with us to the merit badge pow wow today.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Arthur Godfrey

I have a series of cassette tapes that have songs from the 1940s and 50s on them This is one of them:

Long live the novelty song.

But this is more than just a novelty song. This is an Arthur Godfrey novelty song. And it's hard to believe, but Mr. Godfrey had quite a number of novelty songs that were quite popular. I can't imagine songs like these being popular today.

And who can forget this one?

Dragon Dust

NOTE: For those of you not following my NaNoWriMo progress over at the Targhee Writers Blog, here's a bit more from "Yershi the Mild." I've shifted gears a bit from the last installment here. Enjoy.

“Tomas,” the Lady said. “Tomas.”

She looked at me, guiltily. “A name. I love names. Tomas. Tomas.”

The Lady looked uneasy when Rell rose from the mat and joined us at the table. “I remember,” Rell said. “You’re Shadow. Though your real name is James. I like James better. Shadows are all dark and all they do is follow you except when you go into dark scary places then they wait outside and won’t ever go in with you.”

“But they will walk with you in the moonlight,” I said to Rell, teasing. The Lady looked slightly more at ease.

“But then they’re always hiding in the trees and they jump out at you and scare you. I don’t like that,” Rell said.

I laughed. “Squirrels should not jump at shadows,” I said. “Squirrels should be asleep in their trees when the moon is out.”

“Rell isn’t my real name,” she said. “I have a name like James. Do you know how I got my name?”

The Lady’s face paled.

I thought instantly of Jans – his old superstition that one should never tell another his name unless they were close friends. “Witches,” he said, “can use your name to cast spells, to harm you from great distances. They will employ many tricks to get you to reveal your name. Have a nickname, Shadow, have a nickname. That is important. With a nickname, the witch is less likely to succeed.”

Agatha. The name too witchy, she’d said.

“How did you get your nickname?” I asked.

“My mother. She said when I was a baby I tried to climb the trees to play with the squirrels. Every morning, I went outside to watch them, and she said I cried when I couldn’t climb the trees. She called me squirrel, but I couldn’t say all that. I said rell. So she called me Rell. My real name,” she whispered, “is Marta.”

I smiled at Rell and tried to look less like a warlock than I have ever tried to assuage the ashen countenance of the Lady.

“Jans called me Shadow because at the mine, when I first got there, I followed him everywhere. He reminded me of my father. Everywhere Jans went, there I was, like a Shadow. And I followed him into the mines. Into the dark scary places where ordinary shadows won’t go,” I said.

Rell smiled. “You’re a brave shadow,” she said.

“And you,” I said, truly can climb like a squirrel. And play the harp like I have never heard. Where did you learn that? From the squirrels?”

“No,” Rell laughed. “I just know how to play. The Lady sings, and I play the notes. It’s easy.”

“She has a gift from God,” the Lady said. She appeared much more composed, relieved that the conversation had shifted from names to music.

Rell picked up the harp and stroked the strings. The Lady began to sing a familiar tune about a creek filled with spring water, flowing over rocks and tree roots, splashing the fish and carrying leaves filled with fairies to the ocean. Rell played and the music tumbled from the cave like falling water.

That is how Yershi found us.

Hollow of eyes, thinner, still a bit weak from the broken fever, Yershi the Mild awoke in our shelter at the river, restless, legs twitching. Still a bit wobbly at first, Yershi found a stick to help him walk. He hobbled to the river for a drink and a splash of water on his face. He found a bit to eat then sat in the shelter a while, feeling his strength slowly return.

Restless still, Yershi walked. Strong enough to leave his stick behind, he walked. He followed my footprints up and down the river bank but saw they were not fresh. The freshest ones led up into the ravine, and he followed. He stopped to rest frequently, panting, wishing he’d brought a bit of water to sip. But as he walked strength poured back into his limbs and he felt ready to walk to Venus.

In the ravine below, he heard Rell play, he heard the Lady sing. And as the final vibrations from the harp faded into the wind, he called “Who is it who sings so beautifully and plays so well, among the rocks in this wild place?”

Rell set the harp gently on the table and raced to the cave entrance.

“Wait, Rell, wait!” the Lady called. Rell, in her rush, did not heed.

“Oh dear,” the Lady said. “Would this be –“

“It is Yershi,” I said. “I know his voice well.”

“Yershi the Mild,” she said.

“Again, the names?”

“I know I have not fooled you,” the Lady said. “But perhaps, for Rell, you can remain in feigned innocence?”

“Innocence of what?”

“We shall soon see, Shadow.”

From the outside, we could hear Rell chattering, and Yershi responding. “Yes, yes, child,” he said. “Surely, I have not smelt lilac as strongly as this in an age.”

They clambered up the rocks. Yershi, though more hale now the fever was gone, was still weak, and Rell went down several times to encourage him in his climb. Finally they entered the cave through the carpet of morning-glory, Rell red-faced and wondering at the chance of two guests on the same day, Yershi puffing, pop-eyed, knees shaking at the sudden burst of work.

His breath caught when he saw the Lady. “Agatha,” he said. “Yet something else I have not seen as strongly as this in an age. You still retain your comeliness.”

Rell looked puzzled, but remained silent as the Lady spoke.

“It has been too long, Yershi the Mild. Too long since the last fare thee well,” she said. She pulled at a strand of her long auburn hair. “But then eight years is not that long, in the eyes of God. But an eternity in the eyes of a child.”

“God watches long,” Yershi said, as if giving a countersign. “But the eyes of a child young eight years past were not yet opened.”

“You talk funny. Just like Shadow,” Rell said to Yershi.

Yershi smiled, glanced at me, unsurprised to find me inside a green grotto with a lady he seemed to know and a young fairy harp player. “I do indeed,” he said. He got down on one knee, lifted up Rell’s chin. “You must be the young harpist,” he said, looking Rell in the eyes. “That is not a young girl’s voice, but that of a siren, that drew me here.”

“All those big words,” Rell said as she pirouetted on her toes. “I know what a siren is. A scary, ugly lady who sings beautifully but eats the people she traps with her song. Yuck. The Lady isn’t ugly. Or scary.”

“Agreed, she is neither,” Yershi said. “Agatha –“

“Perhaps we should go for a walk, Yershi the Mild,” the Lady said. “We can leave Shadow and Rell here. We have much to say to each other that will be boring to young ears.”

Rell rolled her eyes.

“She must be in love with you, Yershi,” she said. Yershi’s eyebrows rose. “She always says it’s boring talk when she wants to talk to a man she likes. I don’t think it’s boring. You can stay. I want to hear. Sometimes the men say funny things about the Lady’s thighs.”

The Lady put her hand to her mouth, stifling a laugh.

Yershi blushed. “A walk,” he said. “A walk. A short one. I am still ill. But perhaps a bit of water before we go.”

“Or a sip of wine,” the Lady said. “Follow me.” She led Yershi toward the other end of the cave, toward another dimpling of greenish light.

“So,” Rell said after they left. “What should we do?”

I looked at the table, my hands, the floor. All my life I had dealt with adults. Even when there were other children at the mine, I did not associate with them, especially the younger ones. I never knew childhood. I did not know what to do.

“I could show you a trick,” I said.

I took a small bag off my belt – a bag of oddments and herbs and stones I always carried for when Yershi wished to test a potential ingredient for his elixir. From it I pulled a bit of brimstone and a few vials. Rell watched as I ground the brimstone in a small mortar and pestle, then piled a tiny pyramid of the yellow dust on an earthenware plate. To the brimstone I added a pinch of bitter salt and another pinch of powdery metal.

“Here be dragon dust,” I said with a flourish of my hands.

Rell watched, silently.

“Dragon dust is the fiery breath of the dragon distilled,” I said. “When the dragon wishes to spout his flame, he breathes out first a pinch of this dust and grinds it in his molars. Like so!” I took a flat rock in my hand and smashed it onto the plate. The dust burst into a quick, snapping flame that sent the odor of brimstone in the air to battle with the lilac.

Rell shrieked and clapped her hands. “Again! Again!”

“But no, milady,” I said dramatically. “Dragon dust is difficult to obtain and has many uses. I cannot use any more here.”

Rell’s eyes were wide and shining. Her nose wrinkled. “It smells like fart,” she said.

I laughed. “No one ever met a fair-smelling dragon.”

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Professional Development Goals, BYU-Idaho Style


After a lot of thought and consideration, I’ve identified two goals that I will focus on to help me better realize my obligations under the second, third, and fourth obligations of my Online Instructor Agreement:

1) Compile and update a dossier of student feedback suggestions, lessons learned, and helpful tips from our teaching group to deepen my understanding of course content and strengthen my lesson preparation skills.

2) Compile as list of and analyze my distance learning and collaboration strengths and weaknesses, taking in experience from my full-time job, time spent as an online student, and in my role at Uncharted to improve my online learning facilitation skills. This goal will dovetail with the first goal.

We’ve been reading in Mosiah in our family scripture study, and are currently reading about the people of Limhi. I’m going to take some inspiration from Gideon, captain of Limhi’s army, when he says to Limhi “If thou hast not found me to be an unprofitable servant, or if thou has hitherto listened to my words in any degree, and they have been of service to thee, even so I desire that thou wouldst listen to my words at this time, and I will be thy servant and deliver this people out of bondage.” (Moshiah 22:4)

I hear myself and my students in Gideon’s words. In the midcourse feedback, my students have offered some constructive suggestions on how I may improve. I need to listen to their words and remind myself that they have been “of service” to me. Compiling the dossier of student feedback and other suggestions will be a concrete way I can remember their words so I do not find them to be “unprofitable servants.” Additionally, I need to remind myself that I am my students’ servant and that I have the obligation to “deliver [them] out of bondage” as I do what I can to help them understand the assignments, deadlines, and other ins and outs of this online course environment.

Let me know what you think.

Nerdlings, What is Uncharted's Job?

Dan and Chip Heath, two young nerdlings writing a piece at Slate.com on the demise of Second Life, say things.

They say things like this:
But what “job” did Second Life perform? It was like a job candidate with a fascinating résumé—fluent in Finnish, with stints in spelunking and trapeze—but no actual labor skills. The same was true with the Segway. No one was interested in employing a $5,000 walk-accelerator. (Though, to be fair, Segway eventually got a part-time job saving tourists from exercise.)

What about the Apple Newton, the first widely hyped PDA back in the 1990s? It was clearly applying for the right job—to give us mobile access to our calendars and to-do lists and such. But it was a lousy employee, with notoriously poor handwriting recognition and a limited attention span (from low battery life). PalmPilot got the job a few years later.
So, as a former Second Life devotee (I took a semester-long masters degree course that was pretty much held in Second Life; my conclusion: There are more efficient ways in both time spent preparing and bandwidth hogged to hold meetings) and as vice president of Uncharted.com, I have to ask:

What is Uncharted’s job?

I’m afraid my conclusion is thus: Doesn’t matter. Right now, that job is being taken by the likes of Facebook, Flickr, and even my own humble blog, thank you very much.

And, just as importantly, what first impressions are we making? Given a faulty photo-uploading module and a consistently flaky story-upload module, that first impression can’t be good. And that’s bad, according to Farhad Manjoo, Slate.com’s in-house nerdling. Here, he speaks of the decline and fall of Google+, another, much bigger social network that is looking for a job but really hasn’t found one yet (it’s comforting to see the big boys stumbling at this just as we are, by the way).
Why am I so sure that Google+ can’t be saved? Because there’s no way to correct Google’s central failure. Back when companies were clamoring to create brand pages on the network—or users were looking to create profiles with pseudonyms, another phenomenon that Google shut down—the company ought to have acceded to its users’ wishes and accommodated them. If Google wasn’t ready for brand pages in the summer, it shouldn’t have launched Google+ until it was. And this advice goes more generally—by failing to offer people a reason to keep coming back to the site every day, Google+ made a bad first impression. And in the social-networking business, a bad first impression spells death.
And yet another Slate.com nerdling – Erik Sofge – reminds us all that while one thing may do a job – and do it well – when that thing is moved to another job, often it fails.

I’ve long whined that my iPod Touch is a less handy music-listening device than an ordinary iPod, because with the iPod, I don’t even have to take the thing out of my pocket or bag to make musical adjustments (OK, some I do, such as changing albums, but for the simple task of skipping a song or shutting the thing down altogether, I can do it by feel.) Not so the iPod Touch – it’s a series of three or four steps to shut that thing down, and it requires all my attention. Enter Sofge:
An outstanding interface separates the products you love from the ones you simply use. In the Nano’s case, the touchscreen works. There’s nothing broken about it. But it’s clumsy and ill-conceived, given the uses for which it's supposedly designed. To put a touchscreen on a Nano presumes that a touchscreen can be a universal interface, and that all devices aspire to do all things. But people don’t buy a Nano because they want a mini-iPhone or a micro-iPad. They want something they can shove in their pocket or clip to their shorts when they take a walk or go for a run, a device for playing music on the move. In those scenarios, a touchscreen doesn't help at all.
So back to Uncharted. Does all of this mean Uncharted is dead in the water? Not necessarily. We just have to figure out what job Uncharted should apply for, and in what way it can fit the users’ needs in a way that nothing else fits. Social networking, I’m afraid, is not open to entry-level groups like Uncharted. Unless we find a job that’s vacant somewhere, waiting to be filled.

One thing I thought of: Uncharted could become a haven for writers looking for a space to share their unpublished stuff privately in a community where people would give them good feedback. Probably services like that out there somewhere, but it’s worth a thought.

Another thought: Stellar writing and photography on travel. But you know what, there are others doing that just as well on Facebook and Flickr. Not a good thought at all.

Other ideas: I don’t know. This is why I’m not an entrepreneur.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Stroking Cats

NOTE: Well, I still suck at action. But I figured out how to turn action into kind of a Cyrano de Bergerac fight scene, so maybe this works.

Arthur screamed like a bull and shoved Gwendolyn from him. She spun, tripped, and would have fallen to the ground had Yershi not caught her. “Harlot!” Arthur yelled, blood dripping from his lip.
Yershi helped Gwendolyn to his seat by the hearth. “Harlot, he says,” wrapping her in his cloak. “And who is the one doing the kissing?”

“Whose business is it of yours?” Arthur bellowed.

“It became my business when you threw the young lady in my lap,” Yershi said.

“Fool!” Arthur shouted. His bloody torn lip flapped as he spoke.

“Fool I am? I’m not the one with the torn lip,” Yershi said.

Blood and saliva trickled from Arthur’s mouth. The crowd in the pub, never silent, had lessened its noise and formed a slowly widening circle of faces around Arthur and the slight, mysterious black-clad man who had been so gentle with the lady, sobbing and holding her head, still wrapped in the man’s black cloak.

Arthur balled up his fists. “You talk smart, but I’ll pound the smart out of you!”

Yershi looked at Arthur from toes to head. “You probably could,” he said finally. “If you could land a blow. I think I’ll not allow that.”

“A brave one this,” a woman in the crowd said.

“Soon a dead one,” Arthur bellowed. And he swung.

Yershi moved. Quick as a cat blown by a breeze, and Arthur punched the air and swung a quarter turn, startling those in the edge of the circle as the unstopped fist swished by.

“I’m not much at hand fighting,” Yershi said. “My hands are far too delicate.” He held up is smallish hands to show the crowd as Arthur held his lip. “I will throw a punch if I have to, but it hurts the knuckles so. I don’t like it.”

Arthur swung again, missed as Yershi leaped to the side. Arthur’s fist smacked into the mantelpiece, knocking brass plates to the floor. Arthur shrieked.

“That is why I do not throw punches,” he said as Arthur examined his cracked, bleeding knuckles. “Too much hurt, and the hurt even comes from striking soft things. Ever stroked a cat for hours?” he asked the crowd. “You may not think it, but I am a man who enjoys striking cats. But after a while, the fingers throb at the repeated motion and the feeling leaves them. I have rubbed myself raw on cats, and I advise against it.”

Slivers of laughter wove through the crowd.

Arthur put his head down, held his hands out wide and charged at Yershi the Mild.

Yershi dropped to a crouch and carried Arthur over his back, crashing him onto a table just as the crowd parted. Plates and mugs clattered, wooden spoons bounced off the ceiling as Arthur fell and sucked air into his lungs where it had been forced out.

“I am sorry about this, Arthur. Your lip must hurt something awful,” Yershi said. “If you’ve a mind to stop fighting, I might be able to do something about it. I am quite familiar with the knife.”

A knife appeared in Yershi’s hand. Short, sharp, black of blade and handle.

Some in the crowd whispered. With the blade in his hand, Yershi suddenly looked menacing. There were always stories. And rumors. The name of Yershi the Mild was known, though perhaps his face was not.

Arthur sat up on the table, still breathing hard, rubbing the back of his head. His bit lip flapped as he breathed. In his eyes, fear and pain.

The blade in Yershi’s hand disappeared as quickly as it came. From another pocket, he pulled a small black packet, walked to Arthur’s table, unrolled the packet. In it, surgeon’s instruments, needles and thread. “I can repair that lip,” Yershi said. “Given your breath, I’m not sure any more alcohol will be necessary for anaesthetic, but you may take some more if you wish.”

Arthur looked at the instruments, the wickedly curved needle hung with thread in Yershi’s hand. His eyes rolled, and Arthur flopped back onto the table.

With the barman helping and with others fetching towels and hot water, Yershi deftly sewed the lip, using small, neat stitches. “He will have a scar, and I’m not sure his mustache will grow back in that spot, but he will be in much less pain. And he will be able to eat without dribbling.”

Gwendolyn, as Yershi worked, removed Yershi’s cloak from off her shoulders, folded it, then watched as Yershi laid his stitches. When the work was done, Yershi rolled up his packet, nodded at Gwendolyn, and returned to his table.

“I thank you, kind sir, for your service,” Gwendolyn said as Yershi sipped from a beer provided gratis by the barman.

We've Got Enough Paneling -- Let's Go to Mars!

A truly noble experiment, this group of astronauts isolating themselves in a Mars mission simulator outside of Moscow for over a year and a half. Wrapping one's head around the idea of living in a small, closed space with the same people for days on end is an excellent way to figure out whether astronauts -- or anyone, for that matter, because I'd still like to go to Mars as a non-astronaut -- can stand being with each other for that period of time in such a small space.

But wood paneling? Really? If Mars spaceships can't look any better than our 1970s family room downstairs, I don't want to go.

I know: It's a quibble. What matters is that they did the experiment, not what the experimental space looks like. Maybe that's all they had -- trying to save money on materials in building the setup so they could spend more money on experiments and the like.

But still: Wood paneling? Where's the steel plate with the huge rivets in it? Where's the aluminum and glass and other elements that make space-ships look, well, space-shippy, not like somebody's outdated basement?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Action Sucks

Once again, I'm at the point of a novel I'm required to write action, not exposition. And action is one of my weaknesses. I'm good at exposition. I can explain just about anything. But characters aren't static. They don't just sit there, contemplating with their coffee. They DO things. And now these damnable characters of mine in Yershi the Mild are going to have to do something, and I'm stuck.

So here's the cure:

Read lots of action. I've got to read lots of action and figure out how the authors do it. Of course, that may not work with my characters; I have to figure out how they'd do it, and to do that, I have to figure out how I'd do it. So yikes. But at least I recognize the problem. As Lucy Van Pelt would say, that means I am not yet too far gone.

Hatches Firmly Battened

Oh, today.

I guess I should count it as a lucky day. Lucky in that the weather held until I had finished everything I set out to do. And just in time -- finished up the final get-ready-for-winter chores just as the first snowstorm blew into town.

Here's what got done today:
  • Replaced the windows in Lexie's bedroom.
  • Removed and replaced a bit of drywall in Lexie's room, after cleaning up the mold behind it.
  • Cleaned up my massive window-replacement mess.
  • Cleaned the chimney.
A little story about that before I continue. I wanted to clean the chimney last weekend, because the stove has been really stubborn and smoky and not really cooperative in letting the smoke go where it wants to. In fact, when Isaac got home from school on Thursday he had to run across the street to the Rhotons because both our smoke alarm and carbon monoxide alarm were going off because the chimney wouldn't draw properly. But I couldn't clean it last week because I couldn't find my brush. So this weekend I looked again. STill couldn't find it. So I improvised a brush: I taped a gallon milk jug to the pole, after I cut an X in the bottom of the jug and turned the corners inside out. It worked like a charm. And since it worked, you know right away that ten minutes after I got off the roof, I found the damn brush on the woodpile. Oh well.

Back to the list:
  • Stuffed the playhouse full of stuff from the shed.
  • Moved the swing into the shed and basically got everything into the shed that needed to go in the shed.
  • Stowed the camper, including putting the tarps on it.
I didn't want to do the tarps, but the thought of Michelle coming at me with her lucky machete because the chore wasn't done got me motivated enough to finish. The boys helped. They didn't really want to at first, but once they figured out that rope was involved, they got a bit more excited about it.

Still not done with my window project -- got to do the caulking and the trim wood on the inside, but at least that's something I can do while it's all nice and snowy outside. I've got some outside caulking to do, but that'll have to wait until I've got warmer weather. I did fill all the gaps with Great Stuff, so that'll help keep the moisture out.

The mold, I have to say, was gross. When I poked the moldy bit of drywall with my finger, it crumbled. So I pulled a big slab of it out and wiped things down. It smelt like 17-Mile Cave, mixed with bleach. The good news is after the bleach smell wore off, the musty smell didn't come back, so I think I got rid of the stuff. Time will tell tomorrow.

Tomorrow: Got to put the plaster on the bit of drywall, put up the trim wood, then paint. I may not paint until next weekend, as I had Michelle get too little of the trim wood to finish the job. Don't know what I was thinking, and you can't find a No. 1 1x4 in Rexburg for love or money, so it's something we'll have to pick up in IF. Maybe I should try Stock Building Supply tomorrow . . .

Thursday, November 3, 2011

This is What Midterms Look Like

Just in case you were wondering what goes through me pointy little head the week I'm trying to get midterm grades and midterm conferences done with my students, behold:

I blacked out their grades to protect myself from revealing too much information in this public forum. And this, dear folks, is only the front of my first worksheet. Here's the back:

Messy, yes. This represents two sections of BYU-Idaho's Foundations English course.

A while back I commented that for students to learn to write better, they need to write more in class. I'm crazy enough to think that I'd still like to stick with that theory. There's enough busy work in this curriculum (stuff that we're trying to sort through as a teacher's group right now) that we could do more writing and revision (which is just as important as writing in the first place) if we got rid of some of the theoretical stuff. It could be an interesting challenge to build an online course from the ground up. Maybe some day.

A New (to Me) Comic: New Adventures of Queen Victoria

How might the staid Queen Victoria react to, say, George Lucas’ latest batch of edits to the classic Star Wars films?

Thanks to Pab Sungenis and his funny comic New Adventures of Queen Victoria, we know. Like this (and, frankly, not at all well):

I have to wonder – how does Mr. Sungenis get away with this? Well, part of it’s easy – the illustrations (and, I can assume to some point) the personas involved are in the public domain. Kinda sorta on the personas, definitely on the illustrations. The rest is just a few deft strokes with what I assume is a computer stylus, combined with a lot of wit on the part of Mr. Sungenis, and there you go, that’s how he gets away with it.

The humor is contemporary, but always focused through Victoria’s Victorian lens. I’d like to think royalty is as human as he makes them out to be, but part of me also wants to be able to flap my arms and fly to the moon as well.

Sungenis is liberal and not afraid to share that in his comic, so true conservatives beware. For those of us who sag in the middle, it’s pretty good entertainment.

Here are a few more recent ones that tickled my funny bone:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Creative Poison

Here’s the Catch-22 of the day: What to do with your own mediocre writing efforts when you read something of such great stature and storytelling that your own stuff pales in comparison?

That’s happening to me right now as I read Walter Wangerin, Jr.’s The Book of Sorrow, sequel to his equally lyric and spellbinding The Book of the Dun Cow.

I’ve read the first chapter, which contains passages like this:
The season is autumn, cool and clean. Beyond the willow, the land rises up into hills all covered in an evergreen thicket. The sun slants down behind the two Hens white, in a golden field. Blue, green, golden, and here a feathered white: it’s a lovely day altogether. And they have arrived below the willow.
So much detail and description packed into such a tight space. And such sentence structure variation: The complex joining of clauses. The fragments. The alliteration, subtle, yet present.

How can I hope to equal such majesty?

I am reading creative poison.

But I will continue to imbibe. I will self-administer the poison then put in on the shelf, next to the other vials of poison from which I have drunk deeply. There is no sipping of poison in this library. It is all taken in, to the last draught. Only to have the bottles fill again as they sit on the shelf, waiting for me to drink again.

Bottles like Felix Salten’s Bambi. Robert C. O’Brien’s Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. Lowis Lowrey’s The Giver. And so many others.

My own poison is wan, weak, consumable by the gallon though you’d hardly think of anyone bothering to take a sip. Theirs come in small bottles, potent bottles, wicked bottles. I have many on my shelves. I find them at thrift stores. Dear ones mail new poisons to me. I continue to take them in.

The only antidote is crap writing. So much like my own.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Make the Pie Higher vs Poli Sci 101

I sympathize with those occupying Wall Street. But as with any movement, any push for social change, any organization at all, once and a while they’ve got to listen to themselves and get a reality check: Is what we are doing really working?

Take, for example, Robert Tracinski’s piece at Real Clear Markets on the #OWS movement. Though I don’t agree with everything he says in this piece – the bit on tents being unoccupied during the night at #Occupy London have been proved false, for example – he does bring up a fairly good point in considering whether, in their utopian dream, the #OWSers are actually emulating Ayn Rand more than anyone else:
[Y]ou have to sympathize with the cooks who have been besieged by moochers. Behind the hypocrisy, there are real lessons to be learned: lessons about the relationship between productive people and freeloaders. About the need for police to protect decent people from criminals. About how con-men and power-lusters always take over utopian schemes for their own benefit. About the taxing power and unaccountability of central authorities.

The spaghetti Bolognese incident sums it up. The workers who provide the goods everyone else lives off of are going on strike to protest against their exploitation by freeloaders. Has anyone noticed that this is the basic plot premise of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged? Yet that is the story line they are unintentionally acting out. Call it Occupy Wall Street Shrugged.
It’s a shame to see all this polarize around a Get Bootstrappy/Make the Pie Higher mentality versus the Hey Now People, Smile on Your Brother/Each According to His Need mentality – because both mentalities have good aspects about them. The sooner any political movement looks at itself to see what is working and what is not working, the better.

Same goes for the Tea Party. They may have gone the Poli Sci 101 route and gotten some of their people into positions of power. They may be a guiding force in GOP politics at the moment. But they, too, should listen to what they’re saying and really consider: Is this working? Poll after poll shows the more extreme views of the Tea Party are driving the all-important center away from the GOP.

But at least they got people vested in their interests into positions of power. That’s gonna beat street theater and drum circles any day.

RIP, Sound Guy

Seems the main reason I had to continue listening to Garrison Kellior’s “Prairie Home Companion” has passed on.

Tom Keith, long-time “sound guy” for the radio show, died Sunday at age 64. Bob Collins of Minnesota Public Radio has posted a fitting tribute here.

I’ve long been a fan of old-time radio – a fandom started by my mother, who found cassette tapes of the old “Fibber McGee and Molly” and “Amos ‘n’ Andy” radio shows to listen to, harking back to her own childhood. And even before that, using a home tape recorder, we three younger Davidson siblings recorded our own shows, complete with shrieks, slamming doors, footprints and, as I recall, one taped “murder” in which I playfully wailed on my younger brother who snatched the recorder away while it was in use.

Radio sound fascinated me. Forgetting the script, the actors emoting – for me, what brought the world of radio to life was the sound, from the creepy footsteps in some of Vincent Price’s or Peter Lorre’s pieces to the clamorous clatter that was Fibber’s famous closet.

Tom Keith understood that world. So to listen to his horse whinnies, exotic animals, gunshots and footsteps during Kellior’s rather moribund radio program helped keep the show alive and interesting for me. Don’t know what I’m going to listen to now.