Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Breaking the Magic Wand

I decline
To walk the line
They tell me that I'm lazy
Worldly wise
I realize
That everybody's crazy
A woman's voice reminds me
To serve and not to speak
But I myself am just another freak

When I was 8 or so, a magazine I read had a DIY computer program in it. It was a strange, text-based version of “The Incredible Machine.” You had to type in different items to use in order to solve a problem or perform an action in order.

The neat thing about the game was that you could manipulate code to add extra items not in the core set.

I created the item: “magic wand.”

Which, of course, you’d wave, and the task would be solved instantly.

I’ve been trying to break the wand ever since.

With a cough
I shake it off
And work around my yellow stripe
Should I hide
And eat my pride
Or wait until it's good and ripe
My life is boiling over
It's happened once before
I wish someone would open up the door

It was a small event, but reveals much about my character. I’ve always gotten frustrated too easily, given up too soon on things, wanted the easy way. I’ve always known this is bad for me, that it holds me back from being truly great in my endeavors.

I hate to fail. So, often, I don’t try.

Or, I can have a great idea, then think ‘but what about this? Or this” and in moments, I’ve come to a roadblock in my plan that seems insurmountable. And then I give up.

I think I know what I want to do. Just look at what I talk about or write about on a regular basis. But I don’t know how to do it. I need to make the choices, and sacrifices, for the future, and I don’t seem to be willing or able to.

Too many distractions. Twitter, dinner, dog hair, dancing.

There's fire in the hole
And nothing left to burn
I'd like to run out now
There's nowhere left to turn

Lyrics from “Fire in the Hole,” by Steely Dan

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Apologetics: An Open letter to the students of Itawamba Agricultural High

I know prom’s a big deal. I get that. And I’m sure that not all of you felt comfortable with the decision to Punk your lesbian classmate by sending her to a “fake” prom while you all attended the “real” one.

And I don’t fault you for not standing up to the wave of hatred, bigotry and mean-spiritedness that was coming from your classmates and your administration. I know how vicious things can be. I was on the fulcrum of outcast in high school myself, and stayed silent more than I should have just so bullies would have a target other than me.

It’s hard to do the right thing, especially when people you like, or respect, are telling you that it’s the wrong thing. And you want them to like you too. So you don’t dare disagree.

I’m mad at your parents and teachers, more than anyone. They’re the ones who are supposed to be setting a good example about loving the sinner, not the sin, do unto others, and whatnot.

The one time I ever actually teased someone--at an overnight camp that was school-sponsored--my teachers set me straight. All of us, the half dozen girls who were sharing a cabin, had participated, and we all got a stern talking to. I can’t speak for the other girls, but I took the lesson to heart. I was ashamed for not being strong enough to go against the flow, and it was a lesson I carry with me to this very day.

So, since none of your adults are doing that job, please allow me to chastise you in their place. I’ll try not to be too mean about it. This is for your own good, after all.

If you consider yourselves Christian, which many of you do, please remember how Jesus treated sinners. The poor, the needy, tax collectors and prostitutes. He went to their parties, drank their wine, ate their food. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is a phrase that comes to mind here.

Of course there were no Dykes at these parties, at least the New Testament doesn’t say one way or another. But that still doesn’t make it OK.

Also, just so you know, you weren’t being very original with the fake prom thing.
Back in 1965—I know, like the stone age, before your parents were even born—this same prank got pulled on a girl in Alabama. Thing is, she wasn’t gay. She was black.

Anyway, it’s no skin off my nose. I’ve long ago forgiven the kids who teased me, threw gum in my hair, said I was related to Saddam Hussein because my skin seemed a little too dark. They were just kids; They knew not what they did.

Although the Catholic in me really hopes that the guilt churns you up, just a little bit.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What I've learned from NaNoWriMo (so far)

It can’t be this easy, I keep thinking as I type word after word after word. I watch my daily word counts fly by. Even on days I don’t write—and they are rare—I’m still catching up and making my word count on a regular basis.

I think back to my first National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), 7—or was it 8—years ago. Feverish, marathon typing sessions. A bundle of nerves and sore wrists.

What changed? Maturity? Medication (I’ve always been ADD, but have only been on medication for the past 5 years)? Mahalo? The writing at the people-powered search engine was a trial by fire—multiple daily deadlines, and pressure to produce at a prodigious rate. Nine months of daily word counts that were, come to think of it, pretty close to the 1,667 words a day average that NaNo demands.

I’m sure that all of those things have helped. But there are a few other strategies I’ve identified that have helped make this year’s NaNo so smooth.

1. Be Prepared.

I went with a novel idea that I’d come up with many years ago. In fact, it’s basically a reboot of my original NaNo concept from my first time through. A few of the main characters, personality traits, and plots remained the same, but I never went back to my original notes, only thoughts I had had about the story between then and now.

Also, remembering my plot struggles from before, I made sure to take several days in October—mostly during bus rides and in the shower—to think about plot and characters, where they might go, and what they might do. This made it a lot easier for me to write during November. And I continued to use little blocks of time, that were not long enough to get much writing done, to think about plot and what might happen next. As a result, I wasn’t running out of plot nearly as much as last time.

2. Have Fun!
I made sure to use a novel idea that was interesting and engaging for me, and made sure that, whether my writing was good or bad, I was having fun while writing. If that meant that a character did something silly, or I had a random aside describing the character’s dinner, or I inserted a graphic sex scene (pun intended), then I’d do it. Sure, a lot of this won’t survive any edits or rewrites, but a lot will. In fact, me having fun caused a major character to spontaneously appear out of nowhere—a character that helped solve a major plot problem in my novel.

Fun also meant that I could not be anxious about things. I couldn’t worry about my stock clich├ęs, spelling errors, or inconsistencies in the plot if I were focused on having fun. I can always fix problems if and when I edit it.

3.Find time to write, every day.
I made it a goal to write on a daily basis, and to change my lifestyle to make it easy to find opportunities to write. That included having a pen-and-paper in my purse at all times, writing on my lunch hour, and begging my husband to let me lug around his huge laptop on a recent vacation so I could write on the train and before bed. As a result, I found out which writing times worked best for me, and I only missed three, maybe four days of writing (so far).

4. When in doubt, summarize.
If there was a place in the novel where I got stuck, I simply summarized the basics of what I wanted to happen, then moved on. Like if I needed details on something I didn’t have, or I wasn’t sure how the heroes would get out of a tough scrape (though I knew they would). I know the basic points of what I want to happen, but the details are sketchy. For those scenes, I am doing either some basic narration, or I am just putting in a placeholder paragraph of summary. I may go back to clean those paragraphs up before the end of November, or, I may leave them until I revise.

5.Use shame and social networking.
I don’t use the NaNo forums much, but I do use the “Buddies” system there. I see how my nano friends are doing. Those who are ahead of me, or are close to my word count, it spurs my competitive edge. Those who are behind me, it makes me want to give them pep talks and help spur them on to greater things. And, to be honest, I get a bit of schadenfreude knowing that I’m doing better than them.

I also use sites like Facebook and Twitter (mostly Twitter) to keep friends who aren’t writers updated on my NaNo status. My tweeps will often reply back with short notes of encouragement, and just putting it out there makes me feel more productive.

Even with all these strategies, I’m not out of the woods yet. I’ve got 20,000 more words to go As an old English major (and an Old English major), I know that hubris is a dangerous thing. So I guess that strategy #6 and #7 are “stay humble,” and “keep writing.”

And now, if you’ll excuse me…

Calvin and Hypatia boarded the train bound for Chicago. He was wearing his new hair and face…

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pessimism, positive thinking, and horse poop

I was reminded recently how much I hate the following anecdote. It goes, more or less like this:

A little boy is given a pile of poop as a gift. Instead of being sad, he is gleeful and starts playing in the scat. When asked why, he says "With this much poop there's got to be a pony somewhere!"

Cute story. But back in the day, when I was much, much (much) younger, this story always gave me a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I have always thought it a horrible motivator, because this logic makes no sense.

First off, what kind of pile of poop is so incredibly big that it can hide an entire horse? Either a ginormous pile, or a very small pony, and both are unlikely scenarios.

Second of all, just because there's poop doesn't mean a pony is nearby. It means a pony was nearby. But the pony could have just as well rode off. The little boy may be happy now, but soon enough, he'll be sorely disappointed. And that makes my inner child cry.

Now, the thing is, there are certainly ways to spin this story so that the little boy comes out on top of the heap, so to speak.

1. If the boy is a gardener, he's got a wonderful fertilizer for his fruits and vegetables.
2. If he's not a gardener, but he has entrepreneurial spirit, he can package and sell the horse poop to others who are.
3. If he's just fallen off of a horse, the horse poop, though uncomfortable, could cushion his fall.

And so on.

I just wish that motivational peoples would be a little more realistic when they tell this type of story. With a little bit of creative thinking, the story can be turned into something realistic and motivating. Because otherwise, if you're someone who is into critical thinking, or has a pessimistic/realistic worldview, this story's not gonna sway them.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Brief thoughts on Michael Jackson

I can't not dance to Thriller.

Everytime I hear it, I wait with embarrassed anticipation through the 30 second, atmospheric laden opening, for those first synthesizer chords, hoping I can stop myself from popping my hip to the side and throwing my arms up in the air (maybe grabbing my crotch), but knowing I won't.

My first "real" album was Thriller on vinyl, had an ill-concieved perm in elementary school that made me look like him, won a local adio contest for impersonating him by singing "Beat It."

I never idolized him, never went to one of his concerts, and I didn't quite know how to reconcile his later image with his Thriller heyday. I felt guilty sometimes enjoying his music because of his alleged crimes, felt guilty about passing judgement on an uber-superstar who no one, least of all me, could really ever know as a human being.

As such, I can't really mourn him. We see "famous" people every day, they are saturated into our culture, but they aren't real to us, though they may seem so. They're like someone from a history book, or are like a piece of furniture in a room. Something part of the landscape but not really interacting with it.

I don't mean to minimize the pain his family is going through right now. Death is always tragic, and especially when it comes unexpectly and to one so young.

But the best I can do for him is to dance. Which is what I've been doing all along.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Buffy Movie Fail

Reports surfaced today that the owners of the Buffy franchise are seriously considering a reboot/reimagining of the valley-girl slayer in big-budget movie form.

Nope, not Joss Whedon. Fran Rubel Kuzui, who bought the rights to make the first Buffy movie in 1992.

At last accounts, none of the cast from the movie or the TV series, nor Joss himself, would be involved with the project.

Now, I'll admit up front that I'm a huge Joss Whedon fan, and so I had a pretty negative emotional reaction when I first heard the news. However, I'm putting that aside for this post. After all, there have been some great franchize reboots recently that many people scoffed at but that came off well. I'm thinking Lord of the Rings here, and, of course, Star Trek.

However, allow me to take off my "Joss Whedon is my Master Now" T-shirt and analyze the numerous other reasons why this is a bad move.

1. Too early for a reboot. The Buffy series has only been off the air for seven years. Admittedly, things are getting rebooted earlier and earlier--Hulk had 5 years between its first and second movies, but Hulk had a few things going for it. One, the second movie was only partially a reboot. Sure, different characters, timeline, continuity, but the second movie did not retell the origin story. Also, the Hulk has a huge fanbase apart from any film adaptation.

2. Alienating the audience. The majority of Buffy's success is inextricably linked with Joss Whedon. I know I said that I wasn't going to be a fangirl, but hear me out. He wrote the first movie (even though he wasn't involved with it much beyond that) and he pretty much created the universe of the television series. The things that people love about Buffy--the mix of humor and drama, the snappy one-liners, the character development, that's all Joss. Everything I've heard from the reboot is that they're going darker and bigger in scope. I believe that a large number of Buffy fans are, not necesarily Joss Whedon fans, but fans of the campy side. A Buffy apart from this is not going to appeal to the same fans that the other Buffy prodcuts have.

3. Tabula rasa. The success or failure of this new Buffy movie hinges on the quality of the people picked to create it. Yes, the premise of Buffy leaves a ton of room to do lots of different things. Each generation, a girl is born who has superpowers and fights vampires. Beyond that, it's a blank canvas. A huge canvas. My worry is that the canvas will be too big for all but the most talented individuals to wield successfully.

If you ask me? The Kuzuis should forget the whole "Buffy" thing and get behind Joss to produce his Goners movie. It's a similar premise--girl gets strong and fights the monsters--and it has the potential to be a lot darker than the Buffyverse, such as it is.

And there's not all the baggage of a movie, a 7-season series, a comic book, and a legion of pissed off fans.