Monday, March 30, 2009

An Interstitial Post

Current Reading: A Critter's Manuscript (still).

Inspirational Quote: "I have nothing to say And I am saying it And that is poetry." -- John Cage

I've been kicking around possible topics for a post for about two weeks now.

Unfortunately, I still don't have one and for the life of me I don't have a good excuse.

I've considered posting something funny, but the few ramblings I've put down have interested me to the point that I find myself thinking they'd be worth serious work. They deserve to become short stories:

"When yet another barbarian shows up to pillage the Temple of the Dark God, the temple caretaker has to balance defence with the needs of a God who's spent a little too long alone in the dark."

"When his orphan nephew refuses to leave the farm in search of adventure, Uncle Jed turns to the local watering hole for solace. Unfortunately, he discovers that his problems are far from unique."

I haven't done news commentary or a science-related post in ages, either. Unfortunately, the news is sufficiently dire that I have difficulty finding an entertaining angle and recent science news just hasn't excited me that much.

As for the more serious stuff, there's only so much a man can produce before going mad, throwing up, or writing a romance. I have no desire, at this point, to do any of those.

Still... I'm alive, and the blog is alive and here are almost 250 words to prove it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Guides to Conventions and Cliches

A couple of valuable and entertaining references for writers:

The Turkey City Lexicon - A handy guide to common writing mistakes. It's a wonderful resource which provides a common language for discussing storytelling glitches. When I critique work, I run into a lot of Fuzz, a number of As You Know, Bobs and far too many idiot plots (which I refer to as plot-induced stupidity).

TV Tropes - Don't let the name fool you, because this wiki of storytelling conventions applies to every medium. When you're crafting character development, are you Flanderizing minor characters? Does your protagonist perform a Heel Face Turn? This isn't about things to avoid, it's about things that exist, a beastiary of story features and it's a fascinating read.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Giant Japanese Killer Robots

Current Reading: A critters manuscript.

Inspirational Quote: "The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophes." -- Albert Einstein

Robotech. Gundam. BattleTech. I loved these things as a boy, but when I grew up I began to see that they lacked a certain realism.

"GJKR-114 Online."

"Watch it, you're falling over."

"Whoops! Neural helmet takes a bit of getting used to."

"I wish it were just that."

"Now I'm tipping over backward. What gives?"

"Gee. I don't know. Maybe there's a flaw in the whole idea of a humanoid robot with so many weapons in its torso and arms that it's seriously top-heavy?"

"Oh, geez. I think that was someone's house."

"Yep. 13 Rosedale Lane. Not a lucky number. I see you've put your foot right through their roof. Garage is gone too."

"I was trying to stay upright!"

"I'm sure the rest of the neighborhood appreciates your thoughtfulness."

"I thought this thing had gyros to keep it vertical?"

"Gyros designed by men who spent too much of their youth watching cartoons and built by companies who get work by underbidding everyone else. If you were expecting perfect functionality, I'm afraid you're in for some disappointment. I see you're finding your seat a little uncomfortable."

"Actually, yeah. How can you tell?"

"Neural interfaces are wonderful things. I've never seen a forty-foot tall robot pick at its butt before."


"Could be worse. We lost our last test pilot due to a lapse in manners."

"You mean he was dismissed for insubordination?"

"No, I mean he decided to pick his nose. Pushed the index finger cannon muzzle right through the cockpit."

"My God!"

"Yep. Learned a lot from him before he left us, though. Did you know that sexual fantasies create the same neural patterns as the command to fire all missiles? He got, er... distracted during a test run and took out most of the base."

"I see the craters from up here. What about the north end of Pratt Park?"

"Combination of the napalm launcher and a badly-timed sneeze."

"The brass thinks these things'll inspire fear in the enemy. It'll work. I'm already terrified."

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Pursuit of Happiness.

Current Reading: A manuscript from Critters.

Inspirational Quote: "Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude." -- Denis Waitley

"The basic thing is that everyone wants happiness, no one wants suffering. And happiness mainly comes from our own attitude, rather than from external factors. If your own mental attitude is correct, even if you remain in a hostile atmosphere, you feel happy." -- The Dalai Lama

I find myself contemplating happiness a great deal lately, and I've decided to share what I know and the circumstances that led to that knowledge.

1) I can fly.

I'd love to be able to fly. Ask me what superpower I'd want, and I'll tell you "flying" without even a pause for thought. Sometimes I dream that I can just drift off the ground and up into the sky. While I'm dreaming like that, I have no worries. I'm just glad to be there, to feel the breeze, to drift. I hate waking up after those dreams because I hate being stuck to the ground again.

In the late nineties, I worked a contract job for I.B.M. Canada. It was a good gig. It ran two years and near the end of it, I was faced with an uncertain future. Penelope and I were sleeping on a mattress on the floor of a basement apartment, barely making ends meet, but it was a comfortable existence and seeing it coming to an end made me tense and irritable. Then one night, I dreamed I stood on top of a mountain cliff, near the edge. I was going over, pushed by something. I'm an acrophobe, and this is the kind of nightmare I get. Suddenly, though, I found myself thinking, "What am I so worried about? I can fly!" And I did. Suddenly the cliff and the fall were no longer terrifying. They were irrelevant. I woke up that morning with complete confidence that I was equal to whatever challenges the future held.

I don't need to be afraid. I can fly.

2) If I don't see anything beautiful around me, I'm not looking in the right direction.

Every morning I drive a half-hour to where I work. I listen to the radio. I think about the day ahead. Sometimes those things are cheering. Sometimes they aren't. One morning, after Aeneas had said something to cause Penelope to read the riot act, the news was full of death and the music full of sad songs. I was beginning to think driving into a ditch at top speed and hoping for instant fatality was the only sensible thing to do. Then I rounded a corner and found myself faced with a row of depressingly identical '70's sub-division houses. The sight just killed my soul, and I had to look away.

On the other side of the road was a ditch filled with reeds. It was early winter, one of those cold, clear mornings when your breath fogs up and a snap frost has given every puddle a thin crust of ice. Frost had gathered in beads on the leaves and stems of the reeds. In the bright sunlight, the ditch shone and sparkled like a field of diamonds. In that moment, it was enough to take my breath away.

Beauty is everywhere. I just have to let myself see it.

3) Every day is a good day.

A few weeks ago, a teenager in my town committed suicide. He was seventeen. I don't know the circumstances, and I can't imagine what had happened in his life that had suddenly made him absolutely unable to face his future. Earlier this year, two people close to me died: one after a long illness, the other suddenly. All those lives were too short, and one of them ended before it really had a chance to begin. In the face of that, the realization that all our days could end in a heartbeat, how can I not find some pleasure in every moment?

Things are not good now with my job. Morale is gone, and the only laughter I hear is the ironic or bitter. At home, my boys are becoming teenagers with all the worries and frustrations that have always accompanied these things. Life is rocky, difficult. And yet, this morning, Cassandra woke up and thumped downstairs to where I sat at the computer. I was trying to work on the Magnus Somnium, but I'd been struggling for days and the scene on the monitor right then was clumsy and discouraging. Cassandra was carrying her stuffed rabbit and a blanket. She said, "Can I watch you write?"

No living being can write with a four-year-old on their lap. If I wanted to get anything done, I should have sent her away. Instead, I took my fingers off the keyboard and let her climb up on me. She smelled of watermelon shampoo and milk from her sippy cup. She asked a lot of questions. Few of them made sense, and that didn't matter. I was listening to the curiosity and wonder in her voice and feeling how warm she was against me and marveling that anyone could bring themselves to leave a life before seeing the miracle of their own child. I'm not saying that, after this morning, I'm ready to go. I'm saying that I'll never look back and wish I'd sent her away.

Today I'm alive. It's a good day.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Rainbow Connection

Current Reading: Nothing, still.

Inspirational Quote: "I hear his name bandied about a lot, but I don't know him. I don't know who Henson is. He seems to have his hand in a lot of things around here, but I don't particularly know what that means." -- Kermit the Frog, on Jim Henson.

It is an established yet often overlooked fact that the Muppets have provided more entertainment than any collection of felt socks and ping-pong ball eyes could rationally be expected to deliver. As mentioned before, there is no upper limit to the Muppet content of this blog, and with that in mind here is my favorite Muppet at what is, for me, his finest.