Wednesday, March 26, 2014

An Unexpected Review

Here’s me being reviewed in the second issue of The CommonOddities Speculative Fiction Sideshow (click the ‘Download pdf’ tab).

Having more experience with smoke being blown up certain places than with having my work independently reviewed, I tell myself honesty is best.  And I mean it, in a puckered and clenched sort of manner.  Any publicity is good publicity?  Do we really want people to be honest?  Big question that.  It’s a backhanded compliment to be told, “Well, at least he’s honest.”
I also have wide-ranging experiences of people saying they’re going to do something and then they don’t.  Students, contractors, HR interviewers at fortune 500 firms, and the guy in the mirror are all guilty of this.
This time I was pleasantly surprised on both aforementioned cynical-me topoi (used in a more general / material sense for you Aristotle nerds out there).

About a month ago I received an email from Jill Domschot informing me she would be reviewing Under a Cloven Moon:  The Santanta Run.  Having visited and commented a time or two on her blog, this offered an unexpected addition to my day.  The content of her blog always strikes me as honest, sharp, and erudite – setting certain expectations about just how honest and sharp of a review did I want.  And, one of the little voices in my head kept telling me to believe it when I could see it.
So, voila, about a month later, here’s the review.  Jill, if you’re out there, thank you so much.  Luck indeed.  And no, I didn’t send her a basket of cookies to do this (not that I’m above doing that).

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Holy Frenchisms!

I can finally relate with a certain cliché about the French (not the cheese-eating surrender monkey cliché).  Rather, consider how the French are supposed to be rude towards Americans because the two cultures just don't 'get' one another.  Like at the Tower of Babel, when the speech was confused, it wasn't just the speech.  It was the way of thinking and maybe the French have a reason or two to be rude.

With the extra poundage, the funny looking money, and a complete rejection of the notion that they should learn a few native words before visiting, Americans just don’t fit in downtown Paris.  Le Big Mac?  EuroDisney?  No wonder the French are protective of their language.  Some things just don’t translate.  Without pondering the depths of cultural imperialism, I can relate to French concerns in these matters.

For example, a few years ago one of the networks had a movie about “The Flood”.  I guess it was based on the Biblical account.  About the same time I remember there was another show about Cleopatra.  Guess what movie was more historically accurate?  Here's a clue:  in TV-land, Sodom doesn’t have Sodomites and Noah wasn’t the only one with an ark.

One would think the producers could have hired some native speakers to guide them through their producing.  But like the rude visitors they were, they didn’t bother.  They had the money, the script, the ugly shorts, the obtrusive camera, and didn't know enough of the native tongue to truly communicate.  My sense was they didn’t understand half of what they were trying to say.  And now Noah -- the movie!  Bum-bum-bum!  The trailer alone looks like Bible fan-fiction.  The original doesn't include red-hot swords on anvils and what looks like a Viking attack on the ark.  I wonder what they'll do with Genesis 6:5?

All kinds of politicians, entertainers, and newsmen say all kinds of things that native speakers can tell came straight from the “Conversational Christianity in 20 Easy Lessons” traveler’s handbook.  And that’s ok, I guess.  I suppose it’s nice to have visitors and people interested, so long as they don’t kid themselves about where they're from.  But many of them represent the worst kind of tourists - those with something to sell.  They don't want to stay to really learn what it's like to live here.

They say things that just don’t make sense to the native speakers.  And not only do they say it with a straight face, but they smile and expect their audience to agree.  Mr. McConaughey apparently not realizing God watches the movies as well as the Oscars, Revelations the mini-series, “regional” correspondents from the New York Times, and high-profile soon to be presidential candidates are all wide-eyed and in our faces, nodding and speaking far too loudly to be taken seriously.  I’m not convinced they’re here with anyone's best interests in mind, other than their own.

Through the prism of metrics, they've spotted a new land; a new marketing segment they want to visit.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Editing is important, last...

My brain works faster than my fingers.  Sometimes this is goodness.

It’s been forever since I’ve written something longer than a few lines by hand.  Despite four years of penmanship in Catholic grade school, my handwriting is generously described as abstract.  Someday I may scan each letter and make a font; give the NSA a run for its (our?) money.  Learning to type in high school and later gaining speed as a typesetter for the hometown newspaper has been a boon in a number of ways; gains in productivity and the readability of my work are but two of these blessings.  Even so, my brain still works faster than my fingers.
Who hasn’t been typing along with a full sail of beautiful brain-prose when they noticed the auto-correct green line of stupidity streaming behind them like the goo from a drunken snail’s meanderings?  Or better yet, consider the red line under a word misspelled so grossly that even the computer couldn’t fix it.  For many years I felt compelled to stop, drop, and edit.  This takes time, depending on the error.  And then… what happens then?

Remember, my brain-finger combo is the proverbial tortoise and the hare when it comes to writing.
After the grammar or spelling or punctuation madness has been improved to the computer’s satisfaction, and upon returning to the end of prosaic line, oft times the ideas are no longer there.  The blossoming flower has wilted under the ungenerous dry heat of ever-demanding syntax.  The brilliant phrase to come has vanished, as though it were nothing more than a mirage in the first place.  And, by golly, right now would be a great time for some YouTube or email checking.  And the next thing I know is that it’s time to let the dogs out and start thinking about supper; i.e. writing done for the day.

This type of self-inflicted paralysis is symptomatic of a flaw in the writer’s process.  Remember the writing process?  Think about macaroni and cheese.  Placing the cheese in the boiling water ruins the recipe.  First things need to be first.  Recipes are processes and processes help produce consistent results.  I’m a big fan of the writing process.  I have one and so should you.
Part of the writing process is to consider creation, revision, and editing as three separate entities.  Write, rest, revise (loop rest-revision ad infinitum if you wish), and then and only then go back for the edits.  The ugly parts will remain.  It’s not like they’re going to fix themselves.  Let the red and green lines of the word processing program adorn your prose, for a while.  The world needs more color.  In the meantime, the ideas need to blossom.

What I tell my students when it comes to the concentration-breaking issue of stopping mid-sentence to go back and fix that comma splice is that English Teacher Stuff (spelling, subject-verb agreement, punctuation, so on and gag me with a wood spoon) is important.  But it’s important last.
Remember, before editing can occur, there has to be something to edit.
Keep typing.  Type until the white edges of your distal phalanxes scratch the letters from the keyboard and the spaces between are gummy with red finger juice.  Finish that paragraph or that page or that chapter or, heck, even the entire first draft of that thousand-page novel.  Typos endure.  There will be time to go back and pick them off at your leisure.  Stalk them at the end of the writing process like the highly qualified word-sniper you are.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Give it a Go (sucky titles be darned)

Holy Guacamole!  Here it is, the final day of the month and me with only three February entries to this here blog.  Hey bloggy, watch me pull a post out of my hat!

This week I’ve been doing some experimental cooking.  Monday was a Tai-noodle thing with peanuts and chicken and about a half-dozen spices I’ve not worked with – totally new recipe under the gun of people leaving at a certain time and there I am in the kitchen trying to make things work on time and under budget (priced coconut milk lately?).  Tuesday was curry chicken with potatoes.  Again, something I’ve never cooked before.  Thursday I tried a new pasta-salad with Chimichurri instead of the usual Italian dressing stuff.  Familial reviews for all three were positive.  But that’s not today’s point.
As I was slaving away in the kitchen during this thrice-fold event, the thought kept occurring about how much time & effort & preparation & different ingredients all this took.  Time slowed.  I was clumsy & stumbly & uncertain & huffy at times (likin’ me some ampersands this morning).  Had to refer to the recipes between steps and it just didn’t flow the way I like to have my cooking flow.

Can we say ‘learning curve’?
Case in point – I bet the average home-cook in downtown Bangladesh can make chicken potato curry in his sleep in about a third of the time it took me.  But, let said Bangladeshi have a go at Mom Decker’s spaghetti – that’s homemade sauce bucko so get that sick rag-goo bottled poison out of yer head!  I’m thinking I’ve got the upper hand on that one.  Not bragging.  It’s down to an art that takes less than an hour.
If at first you don’t succeed – quit.  Something like that?  Been there, done that, wish I hadn’t (quit, that is).  I like music – can’t read a note, but I like music.  Tried learning how to read music once or twicet, but that’s like hard to learn for my right-brained self.  Never followed up on the efforts.  So here I am, bereft and vacant and without what I’ll call a technical understanding of something I greatly enjoy and appreciate.
I also posit that we are too used to seeing the final, finished, and polished result done at the hands of highly paid professionals.  Consider the McDonald’s customer-facing menu, replete with deceptive photos of what the food ‘looks like’, organized by this or that or the other thing.  Oft overlooked, it is the product of hundreds of man-hours of people in putty-colored meeting rooms, design offices, and printing shops.  We don’t see the ugliness that goes in to designing even the mendacity of advertising, let alone the well-done and more beautiful displays.
Yeah, there’s a fear of failure.  There’s a fear that what I’m attempting is going to suck and suck bad.  Anyone who has ever written anything for public consumption knows this feeling well.  And guess what, it has sucked, it does suck, and it shall suck again.  Can I get a big true-that!?  But you don’t get good at something by doing it one time.  And guess what, sucking bad didn’t end my world.  It never ended yours – unless you’re talking about a poisoned blow-dart down your throat like that aborigine in that one Bugs Bunny episode.  Different kind of sucking altogether.
So – learn the lessons and wear the scars proudly into the future.  It simply means you tried and in a world of people who attempt less than what they are comfortable with, that means a lot.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Strength and Honour

I imagine the noble grandfathers
sitting above, imbibing and in low tones
intimating about all that we have never seen
nor been.

It's about the stretch and pull of sinew,
long days' labour and receipt of burdens
we have never carried and now cheaply
we arrived.

In expensive lives we nonchalantly hold
at bay the assaults once withstood and won
and were given the hard valedictory praises
by default.

In thanks, they would have us forsake
our luck and stop to lift a greater cause
so they may know we are of and are one
of them.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Synchronized Thinking

Synchronized swimming is when two or three, or seven hundred people jump in the water and do the same things:  make flower designs with their legs, stand on their heads at the bottom of the pool, imitate mermaid ballerinas, and generally splash around.  It’s like a flash-mob in the water -- kind of cool to watch, especially with the right camera work.  Though, the nose-clips and spitting tends to distract from the artistry.  Alas that it’s not a Winter Olympic Sport.

I, being a land-based mammal, never could do any of that.  I can swim, but don’t expect me to save anyone when the ship goes down.  I’m heading for the closest piece of flotsam and there shall I cling until rescued.  Boats are good – never had a problem with boats.  But when immersed in water, and my feet can’t touch the muddy bottom?  What’s left of my bowels tries to crawl its way to dry land, dragging the rest of me along for the panic-induced ride.
But that’s ok because there’s another sport, quite similar, and I do it with the best of them.

An example:  something happens in the world and that something is deemed newsworthy by the powers in charge of selecting newsworthy events for us to consider.  The closing segment of tha whilrd newz tanite goes something like this:  “And finally, a mother in the township of East-Ganglia expressed outrage today when not allowed to transport her trans-finless guppies to the local pet babysitting service.”  [image of outraged woman holding plastic sack of finless guppies].
Other examples include controversies about movies, music, and other priced venues of entertainment, usually a few weeks before said entertainment is slated to premier.  A bit like Jimmy Fallon appearing in dozens of commerials before Jay Leno's chair had the chance to cool.
The above segment lasts, perhaps, a half-minute.  Count to thirty.  That’s how much information the viewers at home have.  Hardly a blip on the radar, something to possibly notice in between bites of dinner.  It has nothing to do with the viewer at home.  But the next day, the story goes ‘viral’.  This is a suspect term.  Going viral is often not as virus-like as one might think.  But anyway, the viewer at home hears the story again the next morning over his crispy cereal.  This account includes no new information.

Yet, it must suddenly be important.  An outraged individual or small group of individuals must be tended to.  So, we turn on our radios to hear what the radio talk-people say about it.  We watch our news and read our blogs and choose, based on the ear we like to have tickled.  By end of day – we relax because an opinion on the so very important matter (typically one of two – either ‘fer it’ or ‘agin it’) has been accepted.
The thinking has been given to the public, not formed by the public.  There’s a difference.  But everyone goes around thinking they know what they think about the outrage-du-jour and the proposed legislation to solve it.

And that, my friends, is synchronized thinking.  We’ve been splashing around the water for some time now.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Who The Hell Knows

I see where the philosophy club at the college is going to host a discussion about profanity - along the lines of attempting to discover when a word crosses into the realm of the profane.  A titillating subject, no?  I've thought about that in the past and, as a writer, I've considered how much, if any, potty-mouth my characters should possess.  People do swear, both adults and children -- so where do writers self-prohibit and where do they let loose? If you find an answer to that question, let me know.

In an ironic twist of linguistics, swearing is sometimes referred to as adult language.  Not quite sure when the last time some people walked around a middle-school was, but perhaps they should revisit just to make sure they understand the concept of adult language.

I recently watched The Boondocks Saints.  Yes, it's an older movie - testimony to the fact I don't get out much. Both the plot and the premise of this film were interesting.  The characters weren't as realized as they could have been, but with all the bloodshed who had time to notice?  However, the greatest flaw   was the pervasive use of the f-bomb.  Half way through the movie I was tired of hearing it, yet like the houseguest that never leaves, it stayed until the very end.  I mean, I get it.  The good guys were from a rough neighborhood and worked in a meat processing plant and the bad guys were bad guys.  But still.  At some point I suspect the writer just ran out of dialog and substituted that one word so his characters would have something to say until the movie had finished.

Compare this to another cinematic giant, Kill Bill, Vol. 1.  There's the same type of language in KBv1, but it's far less obtuse; it doesn't crop up in every scene and this helps the dialog sound, somehow, more mature (at least as mature as a kung-fu sword-fighting movie can be) than TBS.  Like I said, ironic.

It's also fascinating when people who know I'm a pastor slip and say something they feel is profane.  This is often followed by an apology.  Now let me get this straight.  First, a human being who claims to believe in a God who knows everything they do, every thought they have, and the motives behind it all, figures they should apologize to me (of all people) because they used a swear word.  Look, if you can say it in front of God, just who do you think I am?  The pastor is not the language police - at least, he shouldn't be and if he feels that he is, that's his problem and not yours.  God gives us free will; who am I to try to take it?

Then there's that bit in scripture about taking the Lord's Name in vain.  That's one of the top ten (somewhere in Exodus 20 if memory serves).  It's one of the Thou Shalt Nots.  A lot of believers take that to mean, 'no cussin'; not a terrible boundary to have in one's life, though we may not quite appreciate the intended meaning.

Consider King David who wrote many of the psalms - beautiful poetry if ever there was, of which I hear only a fair echo because my Hebrew is a bit rusty.  King David was eloquent and he understood the power of words.  Yet, there are a couple of passages where he opens the great dictionary of his brain and, for example, throws out a pisseth (homework:  get yourself a KJV concordance and look it up).  Point being, David knew his audience and when he spoke with soldiers he wasn't above talking as, sometimes, soldiers do.

Then there's the Apostle Paul who said, and here I paraphrase, that he considered everything he'd given up to answer his call as dung.  This is an example of the translators being polite for the studio audience.  Paul's original word-choice is a bit more abrasive and much less softened for the genteel ear (Philippians 3:8).

There are other examples, but please note, two of the big names were not averse to throwing around what could be called profanity.  And since it's in the Bible, hmmm… maybe a list of Bible-profanity is in order.  Then again, the world could probably survive without such.

Following along then, vanity (adjective or noun, take your pick) is something either meaningless or selfish, a literal reflection and gazing upon of our own surface, nothing more, nothing less.  Narcissus, lest we forget, fell in love with his own reflection and wasted his life -- poignant lesson on vanity if ever there was.  So that, taking the Lord's name in vain would mean using His name for personal gain (ala televangelists / politicians / and some abusive spouses), as a meaningless word (one of those verbal fillers that turns into the spoken Tourette-syndrome-habit), or only in the most selfish, albeit possibly sincere, of contexts (God what can you do for me because them other people don't matter so much).

But very little of this answers the question of when does a word enter into the vernacular as a profanity.  Legally, it has to do when a word crosses the boundary into the offensive or hateful (your state statutes may vary).  And, if that's the case, a better discussion for the philosophy club might be to consider what words aren't offensive, and why.  Such legal definitions are, like many legal definitions, ambiguous at best and enforced only upon the discretion of the special interest group currently bellyaching the loudest.

My own opinion when a word becomes a 'bad' word?  Please refer to the title of this post and good luck finding a job with that philosophy degree.