Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Slow. They Called You SLOW!




I admit to having my moments. I’m not the most observant or brightest guy in the world.
But part of improving is recognizing where one can improve, right? So, here is a list of a few of the things I’ve figured out recently.

Manneken Pis

I’m a fan of Asterix and Obelix, and just this week finally got the joke in this panel from Asterix Chez les Belges:



Up until now, I’d just assumed, “Ha ha, they’re making a joke about a kid having to go to the bathroom a lot after he sneaks beer and doesn’t really have anywhere to go, since they’d just remarked on how flat Belgium is.”

No. They’re making a joke specifically about Manneken Pis, that famous peeing-boy statue in Brussels:


Barfy
 
Not until I had to clean up one of our dogs’ barf twice in less than a span of 12 hours did I hit on a reason why one of the dogs in The Family Circus might be named Barfy. That’s certainly something they’ve not explored in the comic strip.



More revelations to come, I’m sure. Unless Lenny kicks me out.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Scale Model of the Solar System



This is pretty neat, except in my solar system: Nine Pumpkins. Always nine pumpkins.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

On Originality

Several years ago, a young German author by the name of Helene Hegemann made waves by first writing and publishing an explosive first novel, then being called out as a serial plagiarist and then condemning the creative world as devoid of original ideas and thus making plagiarism -- or remixing -- the only viable option.

She's not repentant about it (being obviously more upset she got called out and vilified than for the original sin itself).

I might agree with her on one point: Remixing. That is if I can separate her idea of remixing -- taking words directly from other writers -- and making remixing the concept of taking a tried-and-true trope and making it your own through originality of expression, which I believe exists in spades no matter how many times the Epic Journey or the Retelling of Creation has been written about.

Take, for example, this piece of music:



It is utterly original, captivating, and familiar to just about everyone on the planet who hears it.

Then there's this version of it:



Same tune. Same notes. But done with enough of a twist that it sounds new. It takes the music from something you might listen to on a quiet summer's night and makes it into something you might want to run away from if you hear it coming from a shack in the middle of a swamp somewhere.

It's a tried-and-true trope, remixed. Which makes it original in my book.

Here's another example:



This is, inarguable, Judy Garland's song. Until you hear this version:



It's still that familiar song, but Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's remix of it makes it utterly his.

This is creativity. This is taking that familiar storyline and putting your own twist and turn on it to make it utterly yours, even if that same kind of story has been told over and over and over again.

It's what I aim to do with Doleful Creatures -- and I think it's possible, given some nagging thoughts that have come into my head over the past month as I've been thinking on this book again. I'm going to make a familiar story utterly mine.

Without cheating.

Without plagiarizing.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Goinnnnnnnnn Uuuuuup!

When we moved into this house five years ago, we had to remove the upstairs banister to get some mattresses upstairs. Just today, getting around to replacing the banister. Not done yet, but here's the score:

Number of trips to the hardware store needed to get the project to this point: Five, including the one where I chickened out and said they were out of stuff because it hadn't come in on the truck.

Number of trips to the hardware store today: Two. Fortunately, all in one trip because the first store didn't have the wood buttons I needed.

Number of bolts broken inside the wall and concealed with a wood button: One.

Number of times the 12-year-old was summoned from the basement to help: Four.

Number of times the 12-year-old felt like he was summoned from the basement to help: One million.

Number of cuss words uttered during the four hours it took to get the project this far: Unknown; currently hanging in space over Lake Michigan.

Number of screws stripped, bent, or broken: Five.

Number of tools borrowed from the wife: Two.

Number of YouTube videos watched, featuring well-dressed individuals in sunlit conditions, safety glasses, safety aprons and a safety carnation at the lapel so they don't look too industrial, using $500 chop saws and other fancy equipment to complete the job: Six.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Chainsaws Out



Yes, I’m still revising Doleful Creatures. Right now, doing so with a chainsaw.

I’ve had a few beta readers tell me I need to get to the point, that I’m taking too long to get to the story, that I’m starting to sound like Rachel Maddow building up to Trump’s 2005 tax return.


So I’m cutting. And rearranging. But mostly cutting. If I read a chapter and can’t decide what the point to it is or how it helps the story along, it goes. I might mark some of it for preservation elsewhere, but mostly I’m just cutting. In fact, with the last few cuts, the one of the final remnants of the original story I started out with is gone. Oh, the main story is still there. Just cutting another subplot that was slowing the story down.

Hoping this helps a bit.

Also hoping I can remain consistent. Last time I undertook a serious revision, I got through the first 25 chapters, then had to set it aside for work-related crises, and never got back to it. I could have started up again at Chapter 26, but I had the feeling that would not help with consistency. And I’m glad I started over – because I’ve cut a lot. Or at least set some stuff aside for consideration elsewhere or later. Or never.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

I am Still Mid-Wrestle



And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.

Thus opens (almost) the book of Enos, found in the Book of Mormon. And thus begins one of the more touching personal essays ever written in scripture, where we see an ordinary man struggle for the salvation of his own soul and the souls of his bretheren.

"Behold,” Enos tells us, “I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.”

Who is Enos’ father? It is Jacob, son of Lehi.

And what did Jacob teach concerning eternal life and the joy of the saints?

He taught, in Jacob Chapter 4, verse six: “[W]e search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy, and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea.

“Nevertheless,” he continues in verse seven, “the Lord God showeth us our weaknesses that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men, that we have power to do these things.”

Revelation, witnesses, hope and faith; but all this only through humility and the grace of God and His love for us, Jacob taught.

What wonderful things for a son to learn.

But we know the journey we take on the road of faith may be guided by others, but the drive we have to undertake the journey and to observe and appreciate the beauty along the way is ours alone to find. I’m so glad Enos found it, else we would not have these beautiful words of his to read:

[M]y soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.

And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.

And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.

I remember sitting on my bunk in a red brick building near the heart of Toulouse, France, studying my scriptures when I felt the power of that phrase – I knew that God could not lie – shoot through me like a lightning bolt. And I remember, too, asking the same question Enos asked: “Lord, how is it done?”

The Lord responded to me with another bolt as I read his response to Enos: “Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou has never before heard nor seen.”

I admit to shallowness. Then, as now, I was and am much more interested in the state of my own soul than those I might be called to teach, whether they were the citizens of the city of Toulouse, or those who surround me now. I realize, on my journey, I am not as far along as Enos, who poured out his soul in sincerity for God to preserve his bretheren, the Lamanites, and to preserve the records which he kept in the hope they would help bring the Lamanites back into the covenant. I did in my own way go “about among the people . . . prophesying of things to come, and testifying of the things which I had heard and seen,” as Enos did.

God did not lie, I could say, and say now, with faith and sincerity. I have learned that, just as Enos learned it long ago. Perhaps that would be a start for someone else’s journey along that beautiful road.

But like Enos, I knew the journey would not always be pleasant. Enos saw the stiffneckedness of his own people, the Nephites, and how their behavior inspired the Lamanites not to believe in Christ. Even among his own people, he saw “nothing, save it was exceeding harshness, preaching and prophesying of wars, and contentions, and destructions, and continually reminding them of death, and the duration of eternity, and the judgments and the power of God” that kept the Nephites from “going down speedily to destruction.”

I see that too, in the world we have today. I see that stiffneckedness in myself. When I seek to take the easy way. Or I fail to talk nightly with the God who placed me here, who blesses me daily with the joys and challenges life brings.

But I remind myself, God does not lie.

I must be more like Enos, who declared the word of God all his days, “and have rejoiced in it above that of the world.”

There, too, I could rejoice.

I am still mid-wrestle.

I re-read the words of Enos, and hope anew.

After Twenty Years



After Twenty Years

With apologies to O. Henry.

The writer moved along the street, looking tired and bemused. This was the way he always looked. He was not thinking of how he looked. There were few people on the street to see him. It was only about ten at night, but it was cold. There was no wind and the stars were out.

He stopped at doors as he walked along, wondering what lay behind them. He dared not rattle a knob because people were touchy if you meddled with their doors at this time of night. He was a suspicious-looking writer, as most writers are.

People in this part of the city went home early, mostly to avoid the stink in the air. Someone in the neighborhood was a neat freak, burning springtime weeds. The smoke hung in the air, drifting like an invisible fog. Now and then you might see the light behind drawn curtains or lowered shades, but most of the windows were dark, with people abed or cozy at their computer screens.

Then the writer suddenly slowed his walk. Near the door of a squat, square house with a dusty white porch railing, a woman stood. As the writer walked toward her, she spoke quickly.

“It’s all right,” she said. “I’m waiting for a friend. Twenty years ago we agreed to meet here tonight – though how we knew it would be here I don’t remember. It sounds strange to you, doesn’t it?”

“I’m a writer,” he said. “Sounds pretty normal to me.”

“I’ll explain if you want to be sure that everything’s all right,” she said. “About twenty years ago, there was a wedding. The people who lived here weren’t involved. I’m sure that sound strange, too.”

“Again, I’m a writer,” he said. “Last night I dreamed I was in a sitcom with Bea Arthur. We were newspaper journalists covering a nerd convention. Nothing sounds strange to me.”

The woman near the door had an oval face with bright eyes. She had a large smoothie in her hand.

“Twenty years ago tonight,” said the woman, “we were married. Do you know we went out only a few times before he asked me to marry him? I told him he was crazy.  I told him no. But my mother –“ she rolled her eyes at this “—my mother said, ‘Oh, he knows what he’s doing.’ ‘No, he’s an impetuous young man,’ I said to her. She wouldn’t budge. Then we were married. The pants for his tuxedo were too big. They almost fell down during the ceremony.”

“We agreed that night we would meet here again in twenty years. We thought that in twenty years we would know what kind of marriage we had, and what future waited for us.”

“It sounds interesting,” said the writer. “A long time between meetings, it seems. Have you heard from your friend since then?”

“All too much it feels, some days,” she said. “Lately, it’s been Dad Jokes. They get worse every day. Today’s joke? ‘You’ve heard of Murphy’s Law,’ he said, with that stupid grin on his face. ‘Yes,’ we said. ‘Have you heard of Cole’s law?’ And the stupid grin gets wider. ‘Oh, that took me a second,’ our oldest said. Isn’t that terrible?”

The woman sipped at her smoothie.

“Three minutes before ten,” she said. “It was ten that night when we said we’d meet here at the door to this house.”

“You’ve been successful?” the writer asked.

“I believe we have,” she said. “I hope he says the same. He was a slow mover. Homebody. I’ve had to fight for my success. He said he was the kind of man who didn’t change much. But he changed.  In life, you learn how to fight for what you get.”

The writer took a step or two.

“I’ll go on my way,” he said. “I hope your friend comes all right. If he isn’t here at ten, are you going to leave?”

“I am not!” said the other. “I’ll wait half an hour, at least. If he is alive on Earth, he’ll be here by that time. Good night.”

“Good night,” said the writer, and walked away, wondering at the doors as he went.
The smoke now hung more thickly in the air and a scud of clouds obscured some stars. Mr. Goof, the neighborhood cat, sauntered past. Down the street, a porch light went out. And at the door of the house stood the woman who had come a thousand miles to meet a friend. Such a meeting could not be certain. But she waited.

About twenty minutes she waited, and then a tall man in a long coat came hurrying across the street. He went directly to the waiting woman.

“Is that you, Michelle?” he asked.

“Is that you, Brian?” cried the woman at the door.

The man took the woman’s hands in his. “It’s Michele! It surely is! I was certain I would find you here if you were still alive. Twenty years is a long time. And it’s funny we agreed to meet at this house, where we live now. Who knew back then we’d own this place? But up the street, there’s a restaurant,” he said. “We could go there. A twentieth wedding anniversary calls for china – I can at least buy you Chinese food.”

“That sounds wonderful,” Michelle said. “I’m hungry.”

“Oh really?” Brian asked with that dumb grin on his face. “Hi, Hungry. I’m Brian.”

She hit him with her empty smoothie cup.


Happy 20th Anniversary, dear. I promise to cool it with the Dad jokes.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Projection



This is proof you can speak truth to power and still be the one who looks like an ass.

Before I proceed, I will add the standard disclaimers:

  1. I did not vote for Donald Trump
  2. Sean Spicer has spent much time cultivating his own ass-like appearance.
  3. This isn’t helping.

What I object to is the projection going on here, not only on the part of the video-taker but also on the part of the Washington Post.

First projection: “Such a great country that allows you to be here.”

Threatening and racist? Not hardly. Reflective of a person’s rights to free speech? Absolutely. It was more fun to assume Mr. Spicer’s comments were racist, go-home rhetoric. Even in the face of his rebuttal of that characterization Monday. “It’s a free country and the beauty of it is that [people] can act how they want.”

Second projection: “It is amazing how rude much of the media is to my very hard working representatives. Be nice, you will do much better!”

Directly related to this particular incident? Maybe. But Mr. Trump makes pronouncements like this all the time. It’s general enough of a statement, how can anyone pin this to a specific incident? Was this incident the only one showing rudeness to a Trump representative, even this weekend? Probably not.

I sympathize with this woman’s desire to  . . . well, maybe I don’t. She has her right to speak out, that I grant. But you can’t expect civil discourse with someone, expect your truth to penetrate their power, when the first thing you want to score points on is to ask a guy how it feels to work for a fascist. I mean, that’s the kind of question that just makes you want to open up and have a power-listens-to-truth dialogue, isn’t it?

Oh, not really?

Well, you’re right. She was out to score a political point and is getting high fives from her cohorts, especially as the Trump bottom-feeders threaten her online. (They’re part of the “This isn’t helping.”)

I, of course, plan on seeing a lot more of this kind of shinola, rather than anything constructive, for many more months to come.