Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Oh Look - A Shiny Sorta-Political Writing Thing

"A Republic, if you can keep it." -- Benjamin Franklin

"Pardon the following grouch." -- Andy Decker

The founding fathers, warts and all, put together a pretty darn good system.  I know it's fashionable to trash our nation's founders and to review their work through all types of new prisms.  Yet to do so proves faulty and I would, if possible, trade our current batch of 'leaders' for what we had at that time.
Nor am I hopeful things are going to improve and the fault is ours.

'We the people' are the first three words of a little document known as the United States Constitution.  Have you seen them?  Not the people - but the words?  They stand out.  They're HUMONGOUS compared to the rest of the script.  Whoever wrote them either left his glasses at home that morning, or was making a point.
I know Gouverneur Morris (accredited with that portion of the document) and the rest of the crew were sticking a stick in the eyes of all the edict makers who would eventually get around to reading said document.   It would behoove us to reflect a moment on this device.  We the people are supposed to be in charge of the government and not the other way around.

That said:  democracy must be struggled for and I don't see it happening.  Hence the mess.
Note the 'Occupy' movement and the 'TEA Party'.  These two groups have/are receiving criticism… since day one.  This is what happens when the systems that be are confronted with those who will struggle for what they believe in.  And I say systems because, at this point, the individual personalities involved are far less important than we deem.  The 'leaders' of today are parts and can be swapped out for new ones.  The machines will carry on pretty much as usual.

All the more reason why struggling for democracy is not easy.  Yet it is necessary.
Nor am I throwing my hat in one direction or another.  Looking back and since I've been paying attention, for about twenty or so years now, I've been waiting for a third party.  I'm very certain I'm not settling for the corruption that passes for the current two-party system.  Nor am I convinced either of the new groups is 100% what I'm looking for.  It grows complex and the red-state / blue-state false dichotomy bottoms out quickly.

Consider messaging.  The Occupy Movement I have not heard much from in about two years.  Politically, that's eternity; they were little more than a slow-motion flash-mob now mostly forgotten.  I was never convinced about what they wanted.  It's difficult to agree or disagree with a group when one doesn't know what said group stands for.  That they camped out in downtown areas in big cities was most of what I could pick up about their concerns; that and something about how the wealthy don't deserve it.
The TEA Party (Taxed Enough Already) has a nice acronym in its name and continues to today.  As a tax-payer, I concur with the acronym.  Part of that success, in the face of withering pop-culture fire, is in their messaging and branding.  I do not see evidence that the TEA party is racist or bigoted.  I do see a group of people tired of paying what they consider to be more than their fair share and who would like to simply get back to enforcing the laws of the land.  Now there's an interesting concept.  Yet, the TEA Party flaw seems to be that they wish to go back in time.  Theirs is less a vision, more a reminiscence.

But note, again, the opposition to both movements.  Two groups struggling for democracy's sake have both been branded with derogatory terms.  Name-calling is the lowest form of argument.  At least debate the merits of what they're saying.  This would encourage more participation on everyone's part, but who has time to do that?
Instead, I see a purposely distracted nation.  Two examples should do the trick.

I am not today interested in horse racing.  I never have been.  Yet, only a short month ago, what was the name of the horse that might have won the Triple Crown?  Yeah, I forget too.  But I do know most people wanted that particular horse to win, no matter that very few of them had ever been to a horse track.  Why?  There's no logic to such desires.  There is, however, evidence of an electorate led by its nose to the latest pop-culture trough.
And, more recently, think about the efforts to convince the United States that soccer is interesting.  Ha ha ha ha (excuse me)!   It's 'World Cup' time and everyone should care.  Just ask the morning shows and tha whirld newz tanite!  But again, I didn't care about soccer last month and it is assured I will care for it not a whit next month.  It's just another fad backed by people hoping to make money, sandwiched between the latest vapid actress being 'interviewed' by a media-conglomerate-hired reporter working for a network that is owned by the company putting out the movie.  No strained interest there.

In the meantime, we'll keep watching and, mostly, not caring enough to do much about it.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Some Thoughts on Psalm 39

Psalm 39 is not long. Go read it. I'll wait.

It's the middle of June and summer is sneaking up on us,
not like the tornadoes that scream out of the sky to tear apart towns
or the wild raspberries ripening by the afternoon.

The psalmist asked that he know his end and the measure of his days
so he might be acquainted with his frailty.
That is quite a prayer.
His request mingled with the admission that David held his tongue
and should not have,
and how he paid a price for silence.
This seems very relevant.

and now, a poem...

The ones who scare me
are the ones who act like it matters.
I am not referring to everything,
but to many things.
Like the man who looks down on the other man
for not putting in his forty hours.
Or like the man who will not recognize the better man.
Or the person with new shoes who knows
it's critical to have new shoes thrown in the closet
before the next pair of new shoes comes along.
And there are those who ask who's to say
when something wrong is done.
These ones are getting close
unless they back away.
This kind of spite bumper-cars us through life
against ourselves, against one another,
against all types of tragic systems put here long before we were born.
You wake up, I want to tell them.
Maybe an instant more is all you have.
Or it could be decades of instances.
But either way there comes a day
when all the instances are gone.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Another Immortal Cancer Poem

Another Immortal Cancer Poem

I forget the exact day
but let's say it's been about a year
and me with an expiration date
of a fairly-well written situation-comedy.
I'd like to say it's been a precious year
and I did have three months of remission
until it hit the bones.
But there was some chemo in there
and some fatigue
and all the usual crap that goes with.
So precious isn't the word.
What then?
There is no word.
It's stupid to try to think of one.
So what am I doing this year?
Waiting for the medical marijuana?
Somehow they'll take all the fun out of that too.
I just know it.
I could put on my Eeyore
and complain about everything else…
too easy.
At this point griping is like deciding to cheat on your taxes
or asking doc for more pain pills
when the bottle isn't empty yet
or taking a little break with the treatments
when nobody is looking.
It feels good when it's happening
and then there's fright when it's done.
There are other options ahead.
Consider… this poem could go on a while
or I might wrap it up right quick.
Who knows?
That's the thing.

Who knows?

A Terrible Creature and Poorly Drawn

*** Ok - here's a little flash fiction and an opportunity given over at Chuck Wendig's. He's always good for a read and a few though-provoking things. Enjoy and, as always, honest feedback is always welcome. ***

The morning brought five or six shades of blue to the hills surrounding the old quarry. But the growing day burned that away and turned it mostly to the colors of white oatmeal and clay. The word that came to Randall, as he followed the gravel road around to where he could see things, was immense. A great white square in the earth where trees and soil had been ripped away by some previous generation's earth-movers met his eyes. And, in the center of that, sat a second square; one holding water of an old green stagnation. Large rocks, some the size of cars and others fittingly looking like coffins sat tumbled around the old water. On the ground were smaller slices of stone, sharp like knives or bumpy like small fists.

He dismounted the bicycle and walked it towards the edge of the pool. The quarry was of the legendary type; a place where teenagers were supposed to swim and party in the summers. But, they didn't. There were no old char-pits or cans or squiggled condoms reclining in the soil. Maybe, Randall thought, it had all been forgotten. Maybe something else kept the kids away. Whatever the reason, it was a good place for some of the things Randall liked to do.

Nearing the water, he laid the bike on its side the way he might ease a friend to the ground. Another three steps brought him to the slimy edge of the pool. He always admired the lines and how box-like and definite the digging had been. What were they looking for, he wondered, granite or shale? And why had they stopped working here? He guessed it didn't matter and reached into his pocket.

In the plastic baggie he'd kept the final piece of Elise; something about an eye for an eye. He wondered if there were fish in the water and how the keepsake might fare. There was something funny about the idea of a zip-lock and he smirked and pulled the lips of the bag apart. He reached in and didn't mind holding it. It had dried out some but was still moist and like an old scratched marble, the colors had dimmed.

"Just remember," he said, "you started this."

The water received its gift with a silly and noncommittal little plop and before Randall returned to his bike he admired the openness of where he stood. Atop the bluffs the alders moved in a wind too removed to feel and the sun stared down at him in an unexpected moment of heat. Beyond his sight some bird sang a three-note warble. There was a repetition to all this that Randall failed to notice. Only, he felt like he had something to work out. He just didn't know quite know what it was. He shrugged and guessed then it was finished.

But the thing he'd thrown in the water wouldn't settle. It moved in little starts and dashes through the dark algae and tiny bubbles where the snails and other forgotten creatures of the pool lived beyond sight. By the time Randall made the blacktop it had already begun seeking its own.

The tall grasses along the sides of the road slid by and soon he was back among the houses. The ride gave him time to think. The other parts of Elise were far away and there was no fear of being caught. His legs worked the bike and he wondered about what she'd been looking for. Some sort of thrill, he supposed, remembering how, if not possessive, then pensive she'd been. And, he had given her the show of a lifetime.

Randall always went for the pretty ones. But unlike the others, there was intuitiveness about Elise and only after he'd picked her up the first time did he appreciate how she seemed to know what was going on. Right away, she'd wanted in on the next one. That's how she said it. Like she knew what Randall did with them and what she didn't think he would do to her.

By the time he leaned his bike against the garage, his shirt was soaked. The sun had stared down at him with no clouds. It wasn't supposed to be this hot today. But he shrugged at it, punched the code into the door, and let himself into the house where the air was on. He sat in front of the television and pinched a button on the remote. He watched nothing in particular for a while and then thought he could use a shower.

In the tub he found a conglomeration of red mess and hair had backed up the drain. Randall knew he'd cleaned it before he'd left; his hobby necessitated a certain level of care. Impossible, he thought. He swore at this and dug around under the sink for the snake. When he had it he reached into the drain hole with the little wire on the end and worked it around for a while but whatever plugged the pipe wouldn't give. This didn't make sense. It was only blood. The solid pieces were elsewhere.

He walked to the basement door with a pipe-wrench. The raw-wood steps thudded under his feet. Just like her, he thought. Elise had done nothing but get in the way. She said she'd wanted to help but when he did it in front of her, to that girl whose name he'd never even learned, she'd only stared.

"Stupid," he said, "and never again."

He reached for the string and clicked on the light. The old bulb swung and the shadows of the white plastic drain jerked above him. He sighed, adjusted the wrench, reached up, and gave a hard pull on the nut. There was a relief when it gave and he knew he hadn't broken anything.

With his hand he reached up and unscrewed it the rest of the way, and had only a moment to consider whether or not he'd gone insane.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Zero Charisma - Movie Review

In the strange and wonderful world we live in it's possible to buy gently used and some new movies more cheaply than it is to rent them. One has to take the time and dig through the racks and bins, but they are there and some of them rise above the typical explosions, special effects, and boob shots that tend to pass for entertainment.

Case in point: I found a gem of a movie called Zero Charisma. It is a collaborative effort by Tribeca Film and Nerdist Industries. When I say gem I don't mean a gem like you buy at a jewelry store for your wife's birthday. It's more like a gem you find at a yard sale. It's overlooked and many won't value it. But it's still a gem. The movie cost two dollars at the local video rental place. According to the box, Zero Charisma was put out in 2013. There's some sharp cussing in the movie so if you don't like that don't watch it.

Zero Charisma is about a guy named Scott, as played by Sam Eidson. Something we tend to forget is that characters in movies have names aside from the actors playing them, but that's beside the point. Scott has issues. He lives with his grandmother. She has health problems and they get on one another's nerves. His mom abandoned Scott when he was very young. He works at a bakery. He's angry, and he's a Game Master for a fantasy role-playing game of his own design. This is what made me interested in the movie. Anybody who has ever played a fantasy role-playing game will find relatable moments (both funny and unfunny).

Scott starts out in what I'll call 'normal land'. Things are ok. To most viewers, things aren't where we'd like them to be. But that's not important. To Scott, life is about where it should be. However, slowly, Scott loses control of his game (don't miss the metaphor). It starts when he loses a player and he begins efforts to recruit a new one. The new guy, stumbled upon almost accidently, is obviously way cooler and funnier than anyone else in the group. This unhinges Scott's need for control in the one area of his life where he feels like he has it (the game he's created). And don't we all have a need for control in at least one area of our lives? Critical question that. The new guy (Miles) ascends in likeability and this challenges Scott's rule and position as game-master with his group of friends. While this is going on, Scott's mom returns to challenge his place at his grandmother's house. From the start, it's mostly downhill for Scott. No spoilers. Watch the movie.

That said, don't miss what's happening from a story-telling standpoint; one thing after another pushes Scott further and further from his comfortable normal. For this particular movie, many, though not all, of the problems are Scott's fault. This is important too. Because, while the viewer may not like Scott, over time (the way the plot points are revealed) the viewer can also understand why Scott is the way he is and this helps the viewer care.

Two huge ideas for writers:

HUGE IDEA FOR WRITERS #1: Premise isn't story, nor is it plot. This is about an angry game-master who likes to have a control of his game because it's about the only place in his life where he has any control. This is about what happens when that control begins to erode.

HUGE IDEA FOR WRITERS #2: Take the main character and knock him (or her) down, down, and then down some more. Beat the crap out of that main character. This provides the primary tension of the story. Will Scott get back to normal? Will he find a new normal? Will he learn anything? And in the meantime, if told well, readers & viewers can obtain a handle on why the main character is the way he is. A little bit of empathy goes a long way and love covers a multitude of sins. What I mean is that when an audience understands a miserable and not very likeable character, they are willing to care and cut the guy some slack and, heck, may even begin rooting for the guy.

This is what is known as a character-driven story which, for me, is much more entertaining and gratifying than an explosion & boob-driven story.