Thursday, August 29, 2013

Something for Thursday

Ralph Vaughan Williams is one of those composers who seems to exist in his own world, related to but not quite part of everything that was going on around him at the time. I often find in him a dreamy, almost otherworldly quality; there are influences, but he doesn't really fit into any particular school of thought. His music both stands squarely in the 20th century and looks back five hundred years. His musical voice is fascinating. Here is his Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

What would you rather have named after you: a military maneuver ("The Picard Maneuver"), or a breakthrough medical procedure ("Tommy John surgery")?

(I'll assume nobody wants to have a disease named for them.)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Answers, the sixth!

A couple answers to questions from e-mail! (Anonymity requested.)

Do you know car makes and models? Do you feel strongly about what vehicle you have (or would like to have), or are you more indifferent?

I'm not terribly knowledgeable about cars, no. I do like the looks of Subaru Outbacks, and some of the various SUV-type vehicles out on the road these days, and that will likely be the direction I go if and when I'm in the market for a car again (the added size will be nice for transporting a string bass around). Other than that, I'd like a decent stereo to which I can connect my phone or other music players, and one day I would love to own a car with working A/C. And mileage will have to be at least 30 mpg. That's about it, though -- as for the rest (aesthetics, color, styling of the interior), I'll have to look around and see what catches my eye.

My current car is a 2003 Buick Century that I acquired from my unbelievably generous parents. I like it a lot, and my current plan is to drive it until it dies and/or falls apart. A car payment is a pretty large regular expense that I want to avoid having for as long as possible. (This is, of course, a changeable attitude based on when the royalty checks and movie offers for Princesses In SPACE!!! start pouring in. Heh!)

What pets would you ideally like to have? 42 cats? Cats and dogs? Exotic pets? Fish tank? Lizards? Hamster?

I'm fine with just cats, but I have a feeling that a dog is inevitable at some point or other. I'm not a dog person, but I don't rule it out. The Wife and The Daughter want a dog, though. It's gotta be a nice-sized dog, though. Not some annoying yippy thing that can fit in a purse. You know what dog I'd like, though? Verdell from As Good As It Gets. That was a cool dog.

I have a friend on Facebook (and Flickr and Instagram) who has a love-hate thing going on with her insane chihuahua. I want no part of that breed, as much as I love watching her dog's bizarre psychoses from afar!

Exotic pets? Nah, no interest, although a fish tank would be nifty. We had a hermit crab for a while and I wouldn't mind going that route again, as those are really low-maintenance. I don't know if I'd want any kind of rodent, and I have zero interest in reptiles of any sort. I like to look at 'em, but owning one and being responsible for it? Nah.

From a different questioner: You seem less enthusiastic about sports every year. With the Pirates on the verge of winning and your Bills at least with new coaches and a rookie QB, do you find yourself getting into it again?

Meh. Next question comes from...oh, OK, I'll revise and extend.

First, the Pirates: well, it's nice that they're winning. But it's not like I'm watching games; my following of their fortunes consists of checking scores and standings. I can't even name all the guys on their roster, and my sum total time spent each day checking baseball stuff is less than I spend reading the daily comics, and I read only four comic strips on a daily basis. (Five, on the three days a week that xkcd runs.)

As for the Bills...well, I've been thinking a lot about sports fandom in general over the last couple of years. It seems to me that any conversation on the degree to which we, as a culture, are wasting our time (here's an example of just such a conversation) that doesn't take sports into account as probably our single greatest societal time-waster, is likely missing a very big part of the point. In Buffalo, you cannot escape talk about the Bills and, perhaps even more, the NHL Sabres. I'd bet the a great percentage of the Buffalo area can name more members of either team's roster than, say, the members of the Erie County legislature.

But anyway, as for my own personal feelings on sports fandom, I look at the Bills and their recent fortunes and I generally shrug. Now that NFL teams are winding down training camps, and getting ready for the regular season which starts next weekend, I'm reminded of a conversation I had with a guy at work toward the end of last season (or maybe the season before):

HE: Watch the Bills the other day?

ME: Nah. They're terrible.

HE: Yeah, but I still gotta watch 'em, you know?

ME: Why? I mean, really – they stink. Watching them is no fun at all.

HE: No, it sure isn't!

ME: Yeah! So I figure, if it's no fun to watch them, why bother at all?

HE: So you don't watch them at all?

ME: Nope. Watched a movie instead. Call me when they start winning.

HE: you're a fair-weather fan.

And he said that last a little derisively. I had to admit that yes, I have become a fair-weather fan. I'm not interested in watching every game of a 6-10 season. I'm not interested in watching a team that's been bad for years add another bad year to its already double-digit list of losing years. So yeah, I'm a fair-weather fan. I'll like 'em when they win.

My question now is, what's wrong with that?

And the answer is: Nothing, as far as I can see.

The idea of a 'fair-weather fan' is obviously derived from a 'fair-weather friend'. That's a friend who is only a real friend when it's easy to be one. A fair-weather friend is with you when you have weddings or births or new jobs to celebrate, but they disappear when you have deaths in the family or you divorce or get fired or whatever. There's an old saying that "When times get bad, you find out who your real friends are." I suppose sports teams can say the same thing: "When times get bad – when we start losing a lot – we find out who out real fans are."

But here's the thing: fandom isn't friendship. Never has been, never will be. There is true virtue in friendship, and there is special virtue in the kind of friendship that endures trials and stalwartly marks the bad times as well as the good. That's just not the case with fandom, because with fandom, the personal emotional investment only goes in one direction. There is no virtue in being a fan, of anything, and by extension, there is no moral expectation in what one does in being a fan.

Another conversation I remember:

HE: I have tickets to the Sabres game tonight. Thank god it's the end of the season and I don't have to go to any more of their crappy games. I hate watching this team.

ME: Why go at all?

HE: [looks at me like I've just insisted that Earth is round and that Milton Berle was once President of the United States] They're my team. When you're a fan, you go support your team.


The logic here, as best I can follow, is that if and when one's bad team actually gets good and wins a championship, it's going to feel so much sweeter for fans if they grudgingly stuck it out through the crappy years. It's an odd kind of puritanical thought that pleasure must be purchased through voluntary pain. It's of the same kind of mindset that I used to see when I worked in the restaurant business and people I knew to be regulars would come in and say things like, "Every time I come in here it's a little worse." I'm thinking, "Why come back?"

Why do we continue to force things upon ourselves that we have a strong reason to believe will be really unpleasant, in the name of "being a good fan"? Who the hell wants to be on their deathbed and say, "Well, my team still sucks, but I watched them suck each and every week?"

Yes, I've put in my time watching by football team stink for 13 years (a number which is likely to grow). I watched this team lose a game, at home, 6-3 whilst allowing the opposing quarterback to complete two passes. I've sat through well more than my fair share of crappy football games, and have finally come to this conclusion: if, four or five years from now, the Buffalo Bills actually win the Super Bowl, I will not feel the slightest bit of regret for having stopped watching them entirely for large segments of their Era of Suck. There will no Fan Cops on the streets that night, making sure that the revelers dancing beneath the streetlights are only those ones who have put in the correct amount of suffering through bad games. And when I die, there will be no Sports Fan Valhalla into whose golden halls I will be denied entry because I failed to watch each and every game when the Bills went 4-12 one year or because I didn't tune in to every single Sabres game down the stretch in a year where they missed the playoffs and finished thirteenth in the conference.

At this point in my life, I'm pretty much done with the figurative wearing of hair shirts.

One last one: Do you always use a real pie? Why not whipped cream in a can, or Cool-whip?

Because I'm all about authenticity, man. Go big or go home. A thing worth doing is a thing worth doing right. And it doesn't happen to me all that often, so when it does, it needs to be an event. Or something. The presence of a crust ensures most of the pie comes out of the pan, which means more stuff is on the face, which makes it look funnier, and it's all about looking ridiculous. I mean, really -- it sure ain't about dignity, and as Star Trek's Ferengi have taught us, "Dignity and an empty sack is worth the sack." Might as well go for pie-faced absurdity.

More to come!

Merton's Heart

The Buffalo News ran this fascinating article about Thomas Merton, who lived for a time in Olean, NY and worked at St. Bonaventure University, from where my father has recently retired. My first part-time job was in that school's library, and I have seen and handled some of the very books referenced in the article. St. Bonaventure really does take pride in its place in Merton's life, and there's a lot of lore about it.

According to an old story, Merton used to love to walk in the woods around campus, where a clearing in the forest – shaped like a heart – remains.

It is visible from a great distance. Those who know of it call it “Merton’s Heart.”

Official sources at St. Bonaventure concur that the story is likely not true – that it’s just a bit of colorful embroidery on the legacy of a famous man.

But there it is. The name remains. It’s even on the walking tour.

“If you come to campus,” said Coughlin, the brother, “you get introduced to Merton’s heart.”

I wanted to post a photo of Merton's Heart, the clearing mentioned here, but there are only a few online that I could find, which surprises me. This photo is pretty much the exact view from the SBU library's rear windows (which are gigantic -- I really love that building and miss working there sometimes). I often thought about walking up there, but I was never sure where to go or park or if it was even allowed.

Anyway, it's a really good article, and it quotes a few folks I worked for back in the day. Check it out!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Sentential Links


:: I wish I knew then what I know now – that nothing can be fixed without first looking at what’s broken.

:: I was reading some old 'Savage Sword of Conan' last night, and it suddenly struck me what has always seemed strange about Conan as a fantasy character (and Hyboria as a fantasy world, for that matter). Conan was riding in on some adventure or other, getting ready to fight some slithery monster, and I suddenly realized--he has no elven friends. No dwarven friends either, for that matter.

:: Pick your favorite liquor—the one that makes you loose and happy, not upchucking into a clothes dryer. Get comfortable. Light a candle. Have two drinks. Slide down in your chair. And then gently place your fingertips on the hot, slick… buttons of your keyboard. If you’ve never written a sex scene before, you’re probably going to be either terrified or embarrassed, and both of those emotions are a lot easier to swallow when mixed with vodka. (Yipes! I'm not sure I'll ever write about the actual Act of Teh Sex. There really are areas where I'm a prude, I think! Those Princesses won't be having any Space Sex any time soon, I can tell you that. I'll send to a Space Nunnery first! via, by the way.)

:: So why not make ALL your shirts out of the same material as the pants, Doc Savage??? Those pants never rip but the shirts last all of ten seconds. Is it ego, Doc Savage?

:: Personal Top 10 Kaiju lists are things that need documenting. (How did I miss the boat on this? By spending too much time writing, that's how. Stupid writing.)

:: It's from that last line that I'd like to suggest that while it's perhaps accurate to apply "professional writer" only to those who make a living as writers, the material realities of the writing life make such a determination numerically meaningless.

:: The NSA has always had a problem with the open internet. Now a convergence of interests with large corporations is offering them the tools to destroy it.

More next week!


Happy birthday....

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Answers, the fifth!

Might as well nail a few more Answers, huh? Fair warning: one of these is to a pretty odd question that I received via e-mail from someone who apparently wants to remain anonymous (and not the one who usually e-mails me good questions like that, either).

Andy asks (shortening a bit): Am I the only person that doesn’t trust anyone with a hyphenated name?

Probably not, but I'm not one of them. I've never much seen the big deal of this practice, but I did once know a guy who was really offended by the occasional practice, on some kind of odd Biblical justification that struck me as being a bit odd. Taking a man's last name when one marries is one of those practices that I think might make the best sense when seen in terms of avoiding confusion, as we expect surnames to denote family units. When you have a different one, it requires more verbiage to convey the existence of the family unit. "We're the Joneses!" becomes "Hi, I'm Ted Jones, and this is my wife, Alice Rambaldi."

But then I think, well, is it really that big a deal if one then can't think of that family as "the Joneses"? Or is it just something we expect because that's the way we've always done it? Ultimately, I guess I file this under "whatever the family wants to do is fine with me". And I say "the family" as opposed to "the woman" because I did know a couple once where, upon marriage, they both took on a completely new last name, different from what they'd each had before. I've never known anyone else who did that, but they took a creative tack, so who am I to judge? It's their family, their name. OK? OK!

Roger has a ton of questions, as always. Here's an interesting one:

I was reading Mark Evanier's column and he wrote recently: "The other e-mail was from someone who seems pretty happy Trayvon Martin is dead because, you know, he was a druggy gang member who probably deserved it. Martin may not have been guilty of something at that moment but he was foolish enough to go up against an armed man so he brought his death on himself. Or so this guy believes. I don’t think I’m going to consider him a friend any longer."
Did someone's politics/values/thoughtlessness ever end a friendship with you?

Yes, but not all that often. In fact, I can only think of one time, really, and it happened just this past winter, and it was the other person who jettisoned me, not vice versa. Go figure.

This person is an individual I knew in grade school. We weren't good friends then, but we weren't enemies either, although as kids can sometimes be, on occasion we strayed into adversarial territory. Nothing really major, if I recall correctly. But then, a couple years back, he friended me on Facebook, and I reciprocated.

One thing I discovered, that I didn't remember from high school, was that this fellow is Republican. In all-caps. It was kind of strange, I thought – not his conservatism, but the degree to which he seemed, based on his use of Facebook, to define himself by his politics, because that's virtually all he ever posted: Republican stuff, links to articles in very conservative media outlets, Republican photo memes, and so on. For a while he used as his profile pic a cartoon that had a cow's arse in close-up, and instead of cow-patties, the orifice in question was emitting the famous Obama 'O' logo. That's the kind of thing we're talking about here, and he was a pretty prolific poster, too. Lots and lots and lots of dispatches from Republicanland, each and every day, including global warming denialism and all manner of histrionics over the looming likelihood of "government completely taking over healthcare", and so on and so forth. Basically, he made himself a one-stop shop on Facebook for Republican talking points.

Now, on Facebook, I'm pretty much the same as I am on this blog: rarely political, and only when something really out-of-the-ordinary jolts me into a political mood. I think about issues a lot, but I just don't define myself that way. If you have one minute to get to know me, and I'm choosing the things I hope you walk away from that minute knowing about me, I'm fine if you only get a vague sense of my personal politics. Not so this other fellow: You will know what he believes. I mostly tended to scroll right past all the stuff he posted (and I have similar friends on the liberal side whose stuff I also tend to scroll right past, because I just don't think Facebook is at all useful for delving into political issues), choosing to interact instead with his occasional post about a teevee show or music or football or whatever. And all was well.

Until last Decemeber, and the Sandy Hook shootings.

That was one of my moments, one of my times when I just couldn't stay silent. I posted a few times that day, indicating that the awful event in Connecticut was my breaking point and that I was pretty much permanently moving my position on guns from "Not my thing, but rock on if you want" to "The hell with these damned tools for killing and our fetishization of them". (I only make that point here to illustrate the tale, not to invite a debate in comments. Not interested. At all.) Well, my friend decided to post a response that wasn't rude in any way. But still, it seems to me that there are times when you have to see how raw a person is and, well, maybe err on the side of not saying anything at all. So I responded back, fairly harshly, noting that I was not in any mood to hear from the gun-nut crowd and that when I wanted to hear his side's talking points, I knew quite well where to go and find them for myself.

That did not please him, and after a bit of back-and-forth – which really, in retrospect, was not all that heated – he took his ball and went home. I was unfriended within the hour. I think what really set him off was my casual comment that I see lots and lots and lots of Republican stuff on my Facebook timeline each and every day (he was far from my only friend on that side of the aisle), and yet when I post a single thing advancing my political view on a day of extreme hardship, I was suddenly confronted by a massive case of the vapors. It was really odd. He wasn't the only one to express dismay at what I said that day, but when I pointed out that apparently I'm supposed to listen to "All Republican all the time" without ever raising my hand to say something liberal, well, that was the end of that.

Since then I've become a lot more freehanded in my use of hiding stuff on Facebook. I still have only unfriended a handful of persons, and none of those were for politics. I like to think I have a good ability to get along with people on differing sides of the fence, although I do suspect that I, like most folks, may well gravitate more toward people of similar mindset to my own. For whatever reason, my classmate decided that we were too fundamentally unlike to interact in any way. That's his call, and from my readings of political history, I'm honestly not sure that "the tone" right now is really any worse than it's always been before, although there are troubling signs that give me pause, and I'm especially bothered by the fact that our political institutions really aren't built well for the kind of strict political polarization that we have now. And yes, I do think that the Right in this country needs to come back to Earth at some point. But that's for another day.

All right, that was awfully serious. So here's the really strange question posed to me via e-mail:

How do you pee in overalls???

Erm...OK. I'm going to assume that we're talking about, well, dealing with overalls in the bathroom, and not a more literal reading of that question. I've actually heard and read women complain over the years about overalls in the bathroom, to the point of actually dropping the shoulder straps in the toilet. Yeah...ewwww.

Well, the question's there, so...well, here it is. Don't unfasten the shoulder straps.

Huh? How does that make sense? Well, unless your overalls are super-tight – and they really shouldn't be – this should work. You leave the straps fastened, but unbutton the sides, those buttons at the hips. Usually there are two or three of them, and once you undo all those, the overalls will be super loose. At that point, just lower the straps down the shoulders and shrug your way out of them, much as you would a jumpsuit or a pair of coveralls. Then just lower them like any pants. You can tuck the extra material from the straps into the legs or something, if you wish.

Yes, this does work. I've had to execute this maneuver myself when the facilities were, shall we say, not well-endowed for space. And in general, I find mucking about with a belt and all that other jazz on normal pants to be just as big a pain in the butt in cramped restroom quarters as bib overalls.

Annnnnnd, we're done here. More answers to come!

(And if you still want to ask, feel free! Just not about bodily functions and how they relate to overalls. I think I'm done writing about that. Forever.)

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: Happy birthday, Spitzer Space Telescope! The image leading the article there was a masthead image for this blog for a while last year.

:: Behold, the Geek Zodiac.


More next week!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Attack of the Revenge of Potential Cover Art!

Winding up the week with a bit of potential cover art! (For Princesses In SPACE!!!. None of these would work for GhostCop.)

For my friend Nicole

This weekend sees the departure of my church's youth director, a truly amazing and wonderful woman named Nicole, who has been there for ten years...spanning just about the entirety, thus far, of my family's association with that church. The Wife and The Daughter started going there in 2003 shortly after we moved here from our nine-month experiment with living in Syracuse; I attended sporadically until after Little Quinn was born, when...well, I felt a need then.

Anyhow, Nicole has played a part for all that time, and now, her own life is taking her to other shores, as life tends to do. Leavetaking is never easy, even it comes on the cusp of a change for which we have long wished. Dougie Maclean's song "Caledonia" speaks to this sentiment, and the various things that homesickness can bring to our hearts. You hear it in his words and in the wonderful melody, with its rises and falls; he knows that he is returning home, but even so, the farewells to those he knows wherever he is right now will be sad in themselves.

Here's Dougie Maclean.

To Nicole and her family, Sláinte mhaith!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Answers, the fourth!

The answering of the questions continues. As Samuel L. Jackson said in Jurassic Park, "Hold onto your butts!"

Local activist Christopher Byrd asks:

Barring a cataclysmic event, would you be interested in being a judge at next year's Buffalo's Best Pierogi Contest?

Wow, that sounds fun! I know next to nothing about pierogi, so I hope I don't have to talk like some pompous-arsed foodie -- "I find the flavor profile of this one particularly fine, the interplay between the duck spleen and the Jamaican garlic." Let me know how this works!

Reader Josh asks:

What's your opinion of the work of T. H. White?

I only know White by one book, The Once and Future King. I love that book dearly and am probably due for a re-read. It's one of the finest treatments of the Arthurian legend ever written, and it is full of wonderful, beautifully poetic prose, with what may be the most gorgeous closing paragraphs I've ever read in any book. Other than that book, though, I'm entirely unfamiliar with White. Any recommendations?

Roger, who always asks a ton of questions, has one very pressing one among all the rest (to which I'll get in posts to come):

Who is going to win the NL Central? And will the Pirates, who have the best record in baseball at this moment, FINALLY have a winning season, first since 1992?

Longtime readers know that when I was a much more of an active baseball fan than I am now (my baseball interest is basically on life-support), my team was the Pittsburgh Pirates. I inherited this fandom from my father, and during their last run of success -- 1990 to 1992 -- he and I had some pretty nice bonding experiences watching Pirates games at local taverns. Alas, after 1992 and a money-induced purging of the roster, the Pirates went into a period of rebuilding, which failed. So they started rebuilding again in 1996 or so, and that one failed. And so on and so on, to the point where the Pirates have literally not had a team finish the season with a winning record -- minimum, 82 wins -- since 1992. Twenty years. That's not only a baseball record, it might well be a record for all sports.

The last couple years, the Pirates have started out well each year, giving the impression that maybe that was the year, but each time, they faltered badly down the back half of the season to still end up losing more than they won. This year, however, they've been consistently good for just about the entire year (after a slow couple weeks to start out). So, as of right now, this writing, their record is 74-52. They are 22 games over .500, and more importantly, in order for them to finish this year with a losing record, they would have to lose 30 games before they manage to win 8. (Well, technically 7, since a record of 81-81 is neither winning nor losing.) That would be a collapse for the ages. The sports poets would sing of that for generations to come. So, I feel somewhat confident in saying Yes, the Pittsburgh Pirates will finish the year with a winning record.

Now, as for their division...that's tougher. The Pirates currently own a one-game lead in the NL Central, over the St. Louis Cardinals. That's mostly on the strength of their pitching, which has been excellent this year. But I always have a hard time picking against experienced teams like the Cardinals. They've been in the playoffs nine times since 2000, and they were World Series champions just two years ago. I'd love to pick the Pirates, but I tend to be of the mindset that you don't pick against the defending champ until someone beats 'em. So my pick has to be the Cardinals.

I have a Twitter bet with a Braves fan, by the way: if the Braves and Pirates meet in the postseason, the fan of the team that loses has to post ten positive tweets about the team that wins. I'll have to say ten nice things about the Braves, who were, once upon a time, my baseball equivalent of the New England Patriots. Wow. How do I get myself into this stuff?

All for now! The answers shall continue!

Something for Thursday

Sometimes one needs a little sheer perfection. In that spirit, here is Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic in Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in A Major. This work is, in my view, one of the supreme achievements in all of human art.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Answers, the third!

Just one today! But first a little backstory. Someone arrived upon my blog today by way of a search string that...well, here's what I tweeted about it:

That awkward moment when someone finds your blog using a search string that could only be used by someone searching for pr0n....

I refused to divulge the exact and icky search string (but I did admit that it had nothing to do with Star Wars, power tools, cats, overalls, or pies-in-faces). This led a friend of mine, Scotty, to get clever:

So, for my ask me anything question-if I ask what they searched for will you answer?

Well, this is Ask Me Anything!, so I must answer the question, just as Scotty asked it. So here's the answer to the question, exactly as he asked it:


OK, more answers to come! Feel free to ask stuff, too! (Except questions about that. I think we've killed that topic pretty nicely.)

And thanks, Scotty, for the loophole!

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

You're sitting down to watch your favorite movie. On your lap is a big bowl of _____, and at your side is a tall glass of _____. Fill in the blanks! (With a snack and beverage. This ain't Mad-Libs and you're not going to do the 10-year-old thing of putting 'poop' in all the blanks. I'm watching you, people!)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Answers, the second!

UPDATE: Grammer fixed to make a sentence say what I meant!

Continuing the answering cavalcade! (And you can still ask stuff!)

Earl has a couple:

Which Do you find more offensive to pledge; one nation under God" or "with liberty and justice for all"?

That's an interesting and challenging question. In truth, I don't find either concept particularly offensive at all, although I am always struck by the way the Pledge was co-opted by conservative evangelicals in this country some years ago. I'm still astonished at the way George HW Bush managed to somehow hang the freaking Pledge of Allegiance around Michael Dukakis's neck like a damned dead albatross. Wasn't that weird?

I like the idea that we are one nation, and I like the idea of liberty and justice for all. Now, we can differ on what "liberty" means; one of the big reasons I reject libertarianism is because I think the notion of "liberty" that they hold dear is deeply suspect. But that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish, innit? I also have trouble with "under God", mainly because the days of Americans being able to go through life assuming that everybody around them was Christian are pretty much over. Arguing over whether the Founding Fathers intended America as a Christian nation or not strikes me as generically unproductive, since I'm increasingly of the view that what the Founding Fathers wanted really shouldn't be terribly relevant to us today. Besides, there's the fact that the original version of the Pledge didn't even have "under God" in it; that was added later by Congresscritters who didn't want to appear too Red.

Ultimately, though, I find the idea of a pledge a bit daft in the first place. What's the point? Why do we bother making kids recite this thing each and every morning? My love of my country has nothing at all to do with the Pledge of Allegiance, and I generically find oaths of allegiance to be generally a waste of time.

Would you consider switching genres in your writing? Why or why not?

I fear that last night's post may have dampened this question a little, but I hope not. The answer is, obviously, yes. Or no. Ha!

It all depends on how we draw the lines of genre. Science fiction seems quite different from fantasy, although where the dividing line between the two lies has been an eternal source of debate for fans of either and both genres for decades. One of my beta readers for Princesses In SPACE!!! (not the actual title) indicated her belief that the book is actually a fantasy rather than SF, and I can see the argument; for me, it's SF but it's pretty solidly in the Star Wars end of the pool. So, did I write SF or fantasy?

Now, The Adventures of Lighthouse Boy (not the actual title), the book I started but set aside because I hadn't thought through the backstory enough, is most certainly fantasy. Or is it? The world and history are completely imaginary, but there is no magic in that world at all. None. Zero. So is it still fantasy? Hmmm!

And then there's GhostCop (not the actual title), which is, as I indicated, a supernatural thriller. Or, it's horror. Thing is, many folks put horror in with SF and fantasy! I've read quite a few horror books that are definitely horror but which are also quite proper SF. (The Stand is one good example.) So, what genre is that? I don't know.

Historical fiction is a genre that interests me, but I don't know if I'll ever have the patience to do the necessary research. There are topics that could work, though...the romance of Robert and Clara Schumann, for example, or the life of Hector Berlioz, which is a wildly cinematic life, indeed.

Last night on Facebook, a friend of mine named Mark said this:

After I saw your rewrites of movie dialogues, I thought that you might try writing a script or a play sometime.

Screenplays or plays? That's interesting. My first creative writings that I took seriously were scripts, written in grade school. They were also fan fiction. I haven't written in script format in years, though; I made the switch to prose in the late 1990s when I finally decided it was time to leave fanfic behind for good, and I've never looked back.

Well, almost.

I wrote a script a few years ago, which I often consider deleting entirely. I wrote it in an attempt to exorcise some personal demons, and...well, I'm not going to elaborate much on that. I think I could be a decent screenwriter, but my sense of things is that screenwriters have even less general chance of seeing their work produced correctly than novelists. I respect screenwriters and playwrights immensely and I like to read and study their work for storytelling insights, but I doubt I'll ever count myself among them.

OK, that's it for tonight! More answers to come!

Writing! Writing! Writing!

Finished one manuscript? Then start the next one! #AmWriting

Behold the first word of the new Work-In-Progress, whose official Not Actual Title is...GhostCop!

Yes, I'm shifting genres and trying a supernatural thriller. No science fiction, no spaceships, no Princesses...just a normal Earth city, and the goings-on that happen there. I'm not sure what my word-count goal is for this book, but right now, I'm thinking it'll be shorter than either of the two Princesses books. Maybe 120,000 words, but as I said, I'm not sure. I may not even set a goal on this one.

And no, it's not about a cop who's a ghost. Nor is it about a ghost who's a cop. What is it about, then?


(In other writing news, nothing new on the query front at all...but I'm sending a new wave of 'em out this weekend. And also, I had the very odd experience of dreaming about writing the other night. I almost never remember my dreams, so for all I know I dream about writing all the time, but this one was quite vivid. I dreamed that I said "Screw it!" and dove right back into editing Princesses II. What was weird is that I remember, in my dream, reading scenes that aren't in the book. Not that they should be, because they didn't make sense, but still...dreaming about it was very surreal. I take that as confirmation that my general strategy of allowing the book to fade in my consciousness for a few months is a good one.)

Monday, August 19, 2013

Answers, the first!

All right, people, let's get this ball rolling! And remember, you can still ask stuff!

A longtime reader who prefers anonymity gets us off:

Would you like to be a writer full time, or is a mix of writing and some other job ideal for you?

I desperately want to write full-time. Writing is the thing I'm best at, and if I have one major regret in life -- under the general notion that I don't really do 'regrets', as I think that most of my screw-ups have taught me something I needed to know -- it's that I spent an awful lot of time not really attacking writing all that seriously. Or when I was, I was doing it wrong. I spent too much time focusing on wrong projects, or sitting with Princesses In SPACE!!! (not the actual title) in my head on the notion that "I wasn't ready" yet for that one. Princesses is an idea that came to me in two parts, the first coming in 1999 and the second coming in 2001. I wasted ten years dragging that story around in my head. Now, maybe if I'd written it back then it wouldn't have turned out like it did...but heck, I don't know that.

I've also wondered if I spent too much time fiddling around with short fiction, which tended to dominate my writing life back in the early 2000s. My short stories tended to be long, and I remember one time I posted something to a writing-based newsgroup on USENET, along the lines of, "I can't seem to write genuine short stories! Every one I write ends up being well over 10000 words!" To which one woman, a published writer, responded, "Sounds to me like you're a novelist at heart. Write books." Did I listen to that advice? Well...not so much.

I believe that we should figure out what we're best at, and then focus like a laser on being that. I'm late to the party on this philosophy, and now I'm paying the price in terms of not being published yet. I'll get there, though.

I don't know if I'll ever get to a point where I can write full-time. But that's the goal I'm going to move toward until the day I can't write anymore. The incentives are too great. I want to do what I'm best at; I want to tell the stories that are in my head; and I want a job where I can wear overalls every single day (and let's be honest, farming and construction are unlikely at this point in my life, as much respect as I have for both).

Do you read non-fiction (e.g., history, science and nature, biographies)? If so, what do you read? Do you wish you read more?

I always wish I read more! Always always always. In fact, I'm planning to start setting limits on my Internet time and start turning off the Wifi when I need to be working -- and I'm planning to include reading time as working. It's the only sensible thing to do. No, I'm not planning to drop offline entirely, because I like the social networking stuff too much, and I also tend to think that by the time I get a book out there in one form or another, I'll have a built-in audience to start with!

As for the non-fiction I read: I always try to have some kind of nonfiction going. I like all of it, but I especially like writing that is narrative based: nonfictional storytelling that gets the factual stuff in by way of other tales taking place in and around the history. Good travel writing is wonderful for this. Reading nonfiction is essential because it gives me ideas for stories, and it gives me details from the real world that I can incorporate into my stories. Quite a lot of stuff I've read has gone into the two Princesses books already.

You know what I really don't do enough of, either? Blogging about what I read. I need to do more of that, too.

Bonnie asks:

Did you ever finish your "Battlestar Galactica" rewatch? I was wondering what you thought of the series as a whole, especially the ending.

I'm sorry to report, I have't finished it. I took a break from the show, and then way lead on to way, as it does. I absolutely intend to return to it, though! I was about halfway through Season Two, I believe; they had just recovered the Arrow of Apollo and used it to find the way to Earth. I didn't stop for any reason other than I wanted a break -- I'd been watching two or three episodes a week, and I generally don't do intensive rewatches where I do marathons. I did not intend the break to get this long, though.

More answers to come! And feel free to ask more, if you like!

Sentential Links


:: “My Saturday morning writer’s advice for writers: try not to get hung up on writers’ advice for writers.” (I couldn't agree more.)

:: That is why I always tell authors and writers to physically draw their action scenes. (But then, this is also pretty useful, in terms of a specific technique. I don't totally do this, but I tend to slow down a lot when I'm writing action, because I have to keep track of it all in my mind. I think I'll start doing this!)

:: Brains are interesting. Fascinating, in fact. Sometimes I think I should have been either a neuroscientist or a psychiatrist but, with the former I might have to dissect actual brains and with the latter I would have to deal with annoying, messed up people all the time, which is not one of my talents. (You see why I never decided what I want to be when I grow up?) (Dissecting? I'm there!)

:: Note that his bed is asbestos. In another panel, we see his bedspread, carpet and wallpaper are asbestos, and his furniture has been chemically treated to be fireproof. So, clearly, Johnny Storm has some pretty bad cancer.

:: We as writers are especially susceptible to anxiety because what we function through, how we move through life, is made up of our feelings and parading our vulnerabilities before the world. In a world that increasingly advises us to Harden Up and Be Tough, and where vulnerability is seen as weakness to be preyed upon and exploited, being a writer is like throwing oneself to the lions. ("You need a thick skin!" we're always told. I don't have one. Sorry, never have. What I do have is pigheaded determination. Oh yes, that I've got. Tons of, actually.)

:: I freely admit to being charmed by the little drama in today’s Family Circus. (Heavens, this is awesome!)

More next week! And I start posting answers to Ask Me Anything! questions later today, but go ahead and still ask if you want!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome

Oddities and Awesome abound!

:: Ahhh, training videos -- the bane of existence of everybody who has ever worked, well, anywhere. Personally, I can't stand training videos and I invariably find them a giant waste of time.

But this one, from Wendy's in the 80s, is fascinating. It's just your normal boring training video, dull-as-ditchwater, until you get to about the 3:40 mark.

:: James Garfield is the only President to prove a mathematical theorem. Now, there are two things Garfield can be known for! (The other is that he died of a gunshot wound just six months into being President.)

:: If you're on Facebook, go like a page called "Grandiloquent Word of the Day". Because then you'll get a daily dose of words-gone-by, words just waiting to be dusted off and used again, the vocabulary analogs of poor Woody in the toybox. And the words come with nifty illustrations!

More next week!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Last call! Ask Me Anything!!!

Well, not really the last call, since I'll still accept questions, but I'll start posting answers tomorrow, so if you have any questions, get 'em in! Comment on this post (anonymous comments are accepted!), or e-mail, or on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter know the drill. Got a question? Ask it!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

We'll be attending our local county fair this weekend, but I'm shocked -- shocked! -- to learn that there are people in this world who don't like county fairs! This seems really odd to me. So: County fairs, yay or nay?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Sentential Links

Just a few, so as to feel like I actually got something accomplished....

:: Is it so much to ask that your summer series actually be over by Labor Day? (Sadly...yes, it is. Since new seasons don't start until late September, that means that wrapping summer stuff up by Labor Day would mean networks have to fill three weeks with not much at all, when they'd much rather have their summer stuff amping up, hopefully increasing viewership and keeping eyes glued to ads for the new shows soon the debut or return. It's maddening, but that's the way it is.)

:: Also, he implies but doesn't out and out say that I'm nuts if I think Harry Potter is a better fantasy series than A Song of Fire and Ice. (The 'he' is Lance Mannion's son, who is frankly nuts if he doesn't think that Harry Potter is superior to A Song of Ice and Fire, which I've made clear many times -- including Lance's own comments -- that GRRM's series is really an enormous mess whose success is due to the impressive nature of its scale (the vastness of the story and the details involved really are extremely impressive) and what I'm increasingly taking as our culture's current fascination with stories of Awful People At Work And Play.)

:: Rodriquez is the sole custodian of his talent, and he is being reviled for the choices he has made about how to use that talent. I don't imagine he could be held in lower regard, by just about anyone, but really what is he guilty of? It seems to me that he has been trying to take the maximum advantage of his already substantial abilities, and isn't that what we expect from athletes? Hell, isn't that what we expect from everyone? (This will be a placeholder until I address performance-enhancing drugs as part of Ask Me Anything. There's a lot in Bill's post that I agree with, though.)

:: Confusing process and result here is not a good thing. It confuses writers who are hungry to know what “being professional” means. The things Ms. Morton describes can lead to being a pro writer, but it’s not the only path, or a guaranteed one, not by a long shot. (This is not a criticism of John Scalzi by any means, but I am noticing that the more I beat my head against the wall of publishing, the less inclined I am to read the advice of those who have made it already. That could just be my innate pigheadedness, but there's a line that Captain Picard has in the very first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that I've always liked: "If we're going to be damned, let's be damned for what we really are.")

:: It’s now 13 years since my dad died, and he’s still in my dreams. (That's where he really has to be, innit?)

More next week! And if you haven't already, Ask Me Anything!. Seriously, folks, do you wanna see me beg?

Monday, August 12, 2013


Sunset at home, originally uploaded by Jaquandor.

'Nuff said. Busy day, and busy week shaping up....

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Stick a fork in it!

DONE!!! The 1st draft of "Princesses In Space II: Spacenado" (not the actual title) is finished! #AmWriting

At long last, after five months and eight days of wrestling with this story, the first draft of Princesses In Space II: Spacenado (not the actual title) is finished. And what a struggle this one was, at times. Wow, this was a tough book to do. I'm looking forward to editing, but I really need a bit of distance from this universe for a while, so the plan is to set it aside for my customary period of about three months. Unfortunately, that would put me into editing in November, which is NaNoWriMo, so instead I will not start editing until December 1.

I figure it should take me no more than two months, max, to go through the book, mark up the manuscript, and make the changes I decree necessary on the first time through, so my next goal is to have the manuscript into the hands of beta readers no later than Super Bowl Sunday, which is...the first Sunday in February. (I'm not looking it up right now.) What happens next? Well, obviously...another book! I think I'm going to take a whack at a notion I've had for a supernatural thriller for quite some time, and then, after that, give another shot at Lighthouse Boy (not the actual title), the fantasy epic I started but stalled on because I hadn't given sufficient thought to the backstory. The thriller's not-actual-title? I haven't decided yet, but I will.

Why start something so soon? Well, here's Stephen King, describing the output regimen of Anthony Trollope:

At the other end of the spectrum, there are writers like Anthony Trollope. He wrote humongous novels (Can You Forgive Her? is a fair enough example; for modern audiences it might be retitled, Can You Possibly Finish It?), and he pumped them out with amazing regularity. His day job was as a clerk in the British Postal Department (the red public mailboxes all over Britain were Anthony Trollope's invention); he wrote for two and a half hours each morning before leaving for work. The schedule was ironclad. If he was in mid-sentence when the two and a half hours expired, he left that sentence unfinished until the next morning. And if he happened to finish one of his six-hundred-page heavyweights with fifteen minutes of the session remaining, he wrote The End, set the manuscript aside, and began work on the next book.

Now, I'm not gonna start writing the next thing immediately, as in, right now, but I may well start later today. Why not? What else am I gonna be doing with my time? There are stories to be told, man! Zap! Pow!!

Why yes, writing is exciting! #AmWriting

Sunday Burst of Weird and Awesome

Oddities and Awesome abound....

:: If you go to the cemetery in Texas where Lee Harvey Oswald is buried, beneath a stone simply marked "Oswald", you'll see a similar stone right next to it, engraved "Nick Beef". Just who is Nick Beef?

:: I saw this on Twitter yesterday. Some kid lost a part of a Lego toy, and wrote to Lego to ask for a replacement. Witness how Lego does customer service:

This originated on the @Fascinatingpics feed.

:: I'm on board with overalls, obviously, but this takes them just a bit too far for me.

More next week!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Empty Chairs at Empty Tables (or writing desks)

My desk is a mess.

Goodness, my desk is an absolute mess. Ye Gods! #AmWriting

In other news from the week gone sure rained a lot the last couple days.

Seconds after I got in my car, this started! #storm #rain

The Drenching of the World #rain #thunderstorm

OK, back to work....

Friday, August 09, 2013

Ask Me Anything: A reminder!

Ask Me Anything!

Don't forget, folks -- it's Ask Me Anything! time! Just leave your questions, on anything you want me to babble about, whether serious or silly, in comments on this post. Or question me via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Flickr. But not MySpace. (Do I even still have a MySpace account? I have no idea...hmmmm....)

Ask Me Anything!

Film Quote Friday: Apollo 13

I know, I haven't done one of these in a ridiculously long time! But here's something, a favorite moment from a movie that I think is starting to border on being criminally underrated: Apollo 13.

The story is well known by this point, I hope; the moment I'm quoting here isn't one of the more famous moments, but it's an excerpt, in the movie, of an interview astronaut Jim Lovell had given before the Apollo 13 mission ever blasted off. It's the type of wonderful scene that may seem at first glance like a bit of filler, but it establishes so much about the character of Jim Lovell that it's really indispensible. And as it comes later on in the film, after the mission has already been deeply imperiled, this scene partially serves to assure us that this mission is still in good hands, and that this guy will pay attention and find his way home. Here's the speech that Lovell (Tom Hanks) gives:

Uh well, I'll tell ya, I remember this one time - I'm in a Banshee at night in combat conditions, so there's no running lights on the carrier. It was the Shrangri-La, and we were in the Sea of Japan and my radar had jammed, and my homing signal was gone, because somebody in Japan was actually using the same frequency. And so it was - it was leading me away from where I was supposed to be. And I'm lookin' down at a big, black ocean, so I flip on my map light, and then suddenly: zap. Everything shorts out right there in my cockpit. All my instruments are gone. My lights are gone. And I can't even tell now what my altitude is. I know I'm running out of fuel, so I'm thinking about ditching in the ocean. And I, I look down there, and then in the darkness there's this uh, there's this green trail. It's like a long carpet that's just laid out right beneath me. And it was the algae, right? It was that phosphorescent stuff that gets churned up in the wake of a big ship. And it was - it was - it was leading me home. You know? If my cockpit lights hadn't shorted out, there's no way I'd ever been able to see that. So you never know...what...what events are to transpire to get you home.

Here's how Hanks delivers it. I love his little conversational ah's and um's; most of all -- and this is such a tiny detail to notice, but it's just great -- as he's telling the story, he reveals what the 'green carpet' in the ocean was, and when says it, at the end of the sentence he says, "Right?" As if to lead us to the same conclusion he has reached.

I've said this before, but I'll go ahead and repeat it: I really think that all the time corporate America spends in goofy meetings and seminars and "team-building events" to try and teach "teamwork" through fake activities could be better spent by simply putting all the workers in a room and screening this movie. I cannot think of a finer example of teamwork in a movie.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Something for Thursday on Earth did I completely forget about last week's installment? It just totally flew out of my mind, alas.

I've been listening a bit this week to John Williams's amazing score to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the other classic score he wrote for a sci-fi film released in 1977. (If you don't know by now what the other one was, I can't help you.) Williams's CE3K music is quite different, as it is mostly by turns either atonal, or haunting, or militaristic during the "Government agency" scenes. Only gradually does a lyricism emerge from the score, becoming stronger and stronger, beginning really with the introduction of the famous five-note "Communication with the aliens" theme. Gradually Williams stitches all of this together into an amazing tapestry of emotion that is one of his more overwhelming efforts.

This is a well-produced suite of tracks from the film, edited together very convincingly into a pretty nifty listening experience.

A few annotations:

0:01: The score opens with the swirling music that plays as the teevee reports of the disaster at Devil's Tower appear, leading Roy Neary and Jillian Guiler to separately realize that their visions of some strange mountain are of a very real place.

1:30: Roy and Jillian drive cross-country into the Wyoming back woods to try and get closer to Devil's Tower.

2:12: Roy and Jillian see Devil's Tower, in person, for the first time. "I can't believe it's real!"

What follows is some suspenseful music as they continue driving into the back woods. At about 4:15, they drive past four 'dead' cows. Now they're taken by the military and processed, with Neary being questioned by Lacombe and Loughlin.

6:40: The 'conversation' between the electronic music synthesizer and the mother ship.

10:52: The terribly sad scene where Roy thinks he's going insane. "This means something...this is important." (The subtext with Roy's family is awfully troubling, really. His wife is completely justified in thinking that he's utterly lost it, but of course, he hasn't. Now, it's never established at the end of the film how long he's going to be off with the aliens, so I don't completely buy into the notion that he's ditching his family forever. But what does poor Ronnie Neary think when she reads the next day's newspaper?)

13:25: The 'returnees' begin emerging from the Mother Ship, abductees who have been missing, in some cases, for decades (the pilots of Flight 19). Among them is little Barry Guiler, who is reunited with Jillian at the 15:14 mark.

15:35: Back to the beginning of the film. The mysterious crescendo ending in a smash as we open in the deserts of Mexico.

16:00: And back to the film's finale, as the ETs come down from the Mother Ship and begin interacting with the people gathered at the Devil's Tower landing site. Roy Neary is taken away to be prepared to join the astronauts who are being allowed to go. Note "When You Wish Upon a Star" at 17:03.

17:41: The ETs choose Roy Neary. More "When You Wish Upon a Star". Neary looks back; Lacombe urges him to go. He meets Jillian's eye, and then goes up on board.

19:00: The main ET greets Lacombe; they exchange the hand signals at 20:20. Here Williams starts letting the "Alien Communication" theme take over; where it was strange and haunting before, now it's plaintive and beautiful.

21:05: All the aliens go back on board. The music begins to swirl as the Mother Ship prepares to depart. We arrive on a gorgeous chord of resolution that holds as little Barry Guiler says, ever so perfectly, "Bye."

22:17: Oh, wow. End titles over what might be the most perfectly gorgeous finale of John Williams's career. When he lets that Alien Communication theme peal forth, complete with bells, it is one of the greatest moments in the history of movie music.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Well that's reassuring....

I'm really glad to see something like this happen to a Major League Baseball player, because that's pretty much the nightmare scenario that went through my head in grade school gym class every single time someone hit the frakking ball to my lonely outpost in right field.

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

I read this article with some interest:

What the tropical nation of Costa Rica lacks in size, it more than makes up for in a wealth of biodiversity. Despite occupying just 0.03% of the planet’s surface, the region's lush forests are home to an incredible 500 thousand unique organisms -- representing over 4% of all the known species on Earth. For the hundreds of animals held captive in the country's zoos, however, that hotbed of life had been replaced by the cold bars of a cage.

But now, in a remarkable push to restore natural order for all its animal inhabitants, the Costa Rican government has announced plans to close its zoos, freeing creatures from their long captivity.

“We are getting rid of the cages and reinforcing the idea of interacting with biodiversity in botanical parks in a natural way,” said Environment Minister RenĂ© Castro. “We don't want animals in captivity or enclosed in any way unless it is to rescue or save them.”

I like zoos, but I find my feelings are more and more mixed, the older I get. Plenty of zoos work hard to approximate their animals' native living conditions as best they can, which is certainly a vast improvement over the "big cage with walls painted to look like Africa" kind of thing I remember from when I was a kid. But now I'm wondering if even that is too much by way of captivity. (Places like Seaworld and Marineland? Fuhgeddaboudit.)

And what about aquariums? I doubt I'll ever lose my fascination with those, and I'm already really excited about a new, glittering aquarium that is set to open in Toronto later this year.

So...zoos? Aquariums? What are your thoughts on them?

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

"Come, my friends, 'Tis not too late to seek a newer world."

Today on Twitter, the indispensible Sheila O'Malley reminded me that today is the birthday of Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Actually, it's a misnomer to call it a "reminder", as I never knew Tennyson's birthday in the first place. But I should have, I think. I've adored Tennyson's poetry for years, going all the way back, most likely to my senior year of high school, which is the year I finally gave in to a suspicion that I'd been harboring going back to junior year: that my English teachers weren't full of it, and that there really was something to all this literature they kept having us read.

I don't recall what Tennyson poems we read that year in Mrs. Hultberg's class, save one: "The Lady of Shalott", which is one of those poems that caused in me the "mortal wound" that Robert Frost would later speak of*. I come back to it from time to time; in fact, I came back to it just this evening, while I sat outside in the grass while The Daughter had her string bass lesson. It seemed a good time to read a bit of Tennyson, and not just because Sheila put him on my mind. There's always something about Tennyson that to me suggests sunsets on perfect days. Not sadness, although he can be sad; not an elegy, although he can be elegiac. But with Tennyson, one is always aware that time is passing, that things are changing, that old things are moving into memory and new things are coming to the fore.

When I read "The Lady of Shalott" in high school, I was still a year or two away from the explosion of my great passion for the Arthurian legends. This passion has admittedly cooled in recent years, but I do still get the sense that it's a slumbering passion, waiting to be awakened one day. Perhaps it was Tennyson's poem that planted that seed, that sad verse about the cursed lady in her tower, forbidden to look upon the world except through a mirror, until one day she sees Sir Lancelot riding by and hazards a glance, bringing about her own end.

I find that every time I read Tennyson, I end up reading him aloud, or at the very least, mouthing the words. Few authors have this effect on me, if any, but there's just something about Tennyson's rhythmic alliterations, and his way of using his lines to suggest the sounds of the very things he's writing about:

The splendour falls on castle walls
And snowy summits old in story:
The long light shakes across the lakes,
And the wild cataract leaps in glory.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.

Anyone who reads that without sounding it out is entirely, utterly, supremely, missing the point. And Tennyson always needs to be sounded out. In this he is like Shakespeare. His words are sound, and they don't live in the page. They live on the tongue, spoken.

In my collegiate Arthurian craze, I returned to Tennyson and read his Idylls of the King, a cycle of poems he wrote which rather loosely tell the story of King Arthur and the rise and fall of Camelot. I've never re-read the entire thing, but I dip into it with frequency. One thing that has always stood out for me is a tiny thing, a minuscule detail, that comes at the end of his version of the tale of Sir Gareth and Lynette. Gareth is a young knight, born of low station, who goes off questing, and he meets a woman named Lynette, who derides him constantly. But through his valor he eventually wears her down and proves himself. In the original Malory, Gareth marries a woman named Lyonors. Tennyson, however, decides to make a change to the ending:

And he that told the tale in older times
Says that Sir Gareth wedded Lyonors,
But he that told it later says Lynette.

Tennyson felt the ending lacking in the original, so he changes it, presumably to suit his view on what the happy ending there should be. But he does it in so interesting a way! He breaks "the fourth wall", so the speak, and directly implies that he's not relating history or merely transcribing some old tale; he is recasting the stories in a way that suits his own instincts and also seems to be slyly winking at the reader, almost inviting us to decide the matter for ourselves.

Here is Loreena McKennitt's setting of "The Lady of Shalott".

* Frost's quote:

It is absurd to think that the only way to tell if a poem is lasting is to wait and see if it lasts. The right reader of a good poem can tell the moment it strikes him that he has taken an immortal wound — that he will never get over it.


In praise of Bugles

I have long maintained that I don't believe in "guilty pleasures": things that I like and yet I know they're bad. But there are things that come really close to "guilty pleasure" status for me, and Bugles are one of them. They're...well, they're not "good". For corn-flavored snacks, tortilla chips are so much better. More versatile. More authentic. And even Fritos are better.

But there's something nifty about Bugles that defies description. Obviously it ain't flavor, because they really don't have much. They counteract the lack of flavor by amping up the salt. And they're not uniquely crunchy, either. What I think they do, though, is have a specific way of crunching that's all their own. That shape makes them crunch very easily, almost softly, at the wide end, the "bell", as it were. But the inner end, the closed end? Ahhhh, there's a totally different crunch there. Harder. More percussive as your teeth break through it and crush it.

So there it is: Bugles combine different textures into a single snack just by being shaped the way they are. And that's why, once or twice a year, I'll consume an entire bag. By myself. And not feel the slightest bit of guilt in doing so.