Monday, June 27, 2016

Thoughts on the Brexit

The Brexit frightens me.

(In the unlikely event you have no idea what "Brexit" is, it's the decision made by the United Kingdom last week to leave the European Union.)

What frightens me about the Brexit is not what it does to the stock market, or global trade, the value of the dollar compared to the pound, or the world economy in general. I admit to having little understanding of how all of that works, or how that impacts me on a daily basis. The Brexit may well be good for the UK in the long run, though I suspect it will not. But I'm no economist.

What frightens me is that it was a victory for racism and xenophobia. Much of the arguing over Brexit centered on the question of immigration. The UK has been hit over the last few years with a lot of immigrants from Poland and eastern Europe. And now, of course, there are all those Muslim trying to get in and turn the UK into the northwest corner of the caliphate. Pro-Brexiters like Nigel Farage skillfully played on the fears of UK citizens, with pro-"Leave" ads that bear a striking resemblance to Nazi propaganda (the black and white images are actual images from a Nazi film):

My apologies for displaying this vile stuff.
Much of the rhetoric from Farage's UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) was about preserving jobs for real Brits, about protecting borders, about "taking back control of the country."

Sounds a lot like what I'm hearing from a certain fur-bearing mammal on this side of the pond.

I'm not naive. Racism has always been a thing. It will always be a thing. We humans have a need to create divisions where they don't exist, and to carve  them deeper where they do exist. I've come to believe (and maybe it's because of my privileged position as a white, sort of middle class man) that it's gotten better over the years, and maybe it has. But lately? It's getting worse.

Some of it's because of the economy. Bad times lead to finger pointing, and fingers are much easier to point at people who look and act different, who speak in funny languages, who come from other places. And some of it's because of the times, which are troubled. But demonizing those people with the funny customs and clothes and accents is not the way to go. Pointing the anger and fear at one or two groups and releasing that pent up anger is a dangerous game to play, and it can all too easily end in some very bad places.

I'm hoping this is a blip, a hiccup, a momentary lapse of reason. And I hope we defeat it here.

Second image from Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Poland

Monday, June 20, 2016

Solstice (and not much else)

Happy Solstice! At least in my particular corner of the world, the sun reaches its zenith, i.e., its greatest distance from the equator, today at 6:34 p.m. In terms of daylight, we'll have 15 hours, 19 minutes, 33 seconds of it today. Woohoo!

I am once again back on submission. My manuscript is in Carrie's hands, we've crafted a pitch letter (or whatever it is that agent's call it; it's an awful lot like a query letter to me), and Carrie's got her list of publishers together. I can now fantasize about contracts, advances, cover reveals, launch parties and all that.




Wow, that was fun. Now, it's time to really settle in on The Next One.

That's all for me for today; how's things with you all?

Monday, June 13, 2016

"Not MY Son"

There was a kid on my block that used to really piss us off.

He wasn't part of our regular group. He was a couple of years younger than the youngest of us (me), presumably enough of an age difference that he just didn't quite fit. We generally avoided him and his friend, a nasty little kid who lived around the corner. But every once in a while, our paths would cross, we would try to play together...and it would just go all wrong.

How wrong? Well, on one or two occasions, we actually felt the need to tattle.

Again, I have no memory of what he ever actually did that was so wrong, but I do remember this, quite clearly: When we told his mother, she said, and I quote: "Not my Kyle. My Kyle would never do that."

That pretty much sealed it. We didn't play with him after that.

I find myself thinking of Kyle's mother (his father we almost never crossed paths with at all, though I have a vague memory of him looking like some straight-man, secondary character from a 50s/60s comedy show, like The Dick Van Dyke Show or something like that) as Facebook and social media pours hate onto the parents of Brock Turner. In the event you've been hiking the Appalachian Trail for the last year or so, Turner was just recently convicted of three counts of felony sexual assault for an attack on a young woman at Stanford University in January, 2015, and though the prosecution rather generously asked for just six years in prison (Turner could have gone for 14), the judge gave him six months in county jail.

The judge was almost certainly influenced by an outpouring of support for Turner, including the letters from Turner's mother and father, both of which have been made public. Turner's parents have come under a lot of fire for their letters, but here's one question for those blindly lashing out: What were they supposed to do?

Turner's in that hazy age where he's no longer a child, but not quite an adult. The responsibilities his parents face have shifted (and this is a stage I find myself at with my girls). The job of teaching him right from wrong is mostly over; so, too, is the job of protecting him from the preventable harms in the world (I should note, however, that as parents, we're always role models for our kids, and I don't think I'll ever stop trying to protect my kids; it's instinctive). Turner's at the age where he has to start standing on his own feet, where he has to make his own decisions, which should be planted firmly in the foundation that's been built for him by his parents. Sadly, he made a terrible decision, and so the Turners are forced to play defender.

As defenders, they both wrote letters in support of their son. They should not be vilified for doing this. The content of their letters, however, is another thing. These are the very definition of "tone deaf." Neither Turner mentions the victim. The letters focus on what Brock. In the very first paragraph of Mrs. Turner's letter, she uses what I think is a very telling phrase: "since the verdict", as in "...since the verdict, he [Brock] has not smiled." And while Mr. Turner's letter comes closer to admitting someone else was hurt, he also uses one of the most unfortunate phrases possible when he says the damage to Brock's life is "a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action...." 'Action,' of course, is a word that's been used by guys for years as a euphemism for sex. He then proceeds to pass the buck, blaming alcohol and sexual promiscuity on campuses for his son's trouble. It's perilously close to victim-blaming.

I can't blame the Turners for defending their son. He's their son; they love him. Despite the verdict of the court, despite the evidence and the testimony, despite the gut-wrenching letter the victim read to Turner in court (and this should be required reading for all, especially boys), there's almost certainly some part of their brains that can't believe their son did this. "Not my Brock; my Brock would never do that." Unfortunately for all involved, he did.

It should go without saying that I am in no way defending the rapist, Brock Turner, for his actions. He deserves far more jail time than he received, and he has to live with the consequences of the choices he made. Nor am I defending the words used by Mr. and Mrs. Turner on behalf of their son. Be angry at Brock Turner for what he did; be angry at the judge for this tap on the wrist; be angry at the Turners for what they wrote, but don't be angry at them for writing. I suspect most of us would have done the same.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Monday Musing: No Real Theme

Starting is always the hardest part. Do I ease into the post with an introductory paragraph, or dive right in?

It's supposed to be fun. Over the last few weeks I've been reading Stacy McKitrick's agonizings over the Pittsburgh Penguins' playoff fortunes. She's up! She's down! She's up! She's down! (Today, she's down) And as I read it, I think, "Wait, isn't sports supposed to be fun?" 

This year for me was one of the most frustrating years I can recall, as my Bruins started out of the gate like a house Dumpster afire (and here's something that's got me thinking: why is "a house afire" good, while a "Dumpster fire" or "tire fire" is bad? Dumpster fires may stink, but at least it's getting rid of something we don't really want), then rocketed all the way to the top of the division and looked like a lock for the playoffs before sinking into a tarpit in March. I can't recall ever being more aggravated while watching this team, and on several occasions, I found myself thinking, "I can't watch this." Yet I always went back. Glutton for punishment.

For my part, I thought that the Pengins/Sharks game 3 was the best of the lot so far, the most even game from start to finish. We'll see what happens from here. Here's hoping for great hockey!

Here's to re-reading. Last night at dinner the subject of re-reading books came up, and my wife mentioned one (and now I can't remember what it was that touched this off, or which book it was) that was one of the few books she's ever re-read. She's not big on re-reading. For me, I re-read a lot, possibly more than I should. This weekend, I finished my third re-read of Robert Penn Warren's All The King's Men--and found that it just seems to get better each time.

I read it for the first time about eight years ago--it was a new edition, released in conjunction with a new film adaptation--and liked it. Probably three or four years I read it again and liked it more. Last week, having exhausted my supply of unread books for the moment, I grabbed it. Even better.

Still have no idea how it actually works!
It's tough to play video games (particularly the puzzle-type games) over and over again. Even if you let a lot of time pass between playings, all the things that made the game challenging the first time come back fairly fast. "Oh, I remember this, I have to do this to get in the door." Maybe it's the writer's mind at work here, but re-reading this book, I'd hit an event that would trigger a bit of memory: "Oh, right, this is going to happen to that character later on." Rather than spoil it, it was insight into how a master writer did things. It was a little like getting to look at the intricate inner workings of a Swiss watch. And it's beautifully written. Now let's see if I can learn anything from it.

Vindication! (sort of) Remember back when Frozen was still a thing, and I posted this? The Hans Heel Turn never sat right with me. Apparently, someone else feels the same way, and has gotten to the bottom of the whole thing. Here's an amusing--and eye-opening--read: "You Really Have No Idea Who The Villain of Frozen Is" (and be sure to read the photo captions in that article, too). Yeah, it's from Cracked, but still--it all makes sense now!

That's about all I've got for today; how about you?

 Image credit: Mechanism, by Alex Brown, used under Creative Commons license.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Musical Monday: Concert!

Having a dog comes with many benefits. The downside? They get old.

Our pup is twelve this year, and as she gets older, she gets more neurotic and definitely more entitled. This morning she woke me up at ten past five so I could take her out. But what I think she most wanted was water. We came back in from the walk and she drank one and a half bowls.

I can't blame her. It was mid- to upper-80s the last two days. We keep her in our bedroom at night and can't let her roam free because a) she'd get her butt kicked by the cat; and b) she'd eat all the cat's food, and c) she'd eat out of the bathroom garbage. So she stays in our bedroom at night. I'd consider putting a water bowl in our bedroom so she can drink at will, but she's such a sloppy drinker I fear waking up in the morning would be like getting out of bed on the Titanic.

So I'm up and it's now 5:45 and it's not a work day and it would be nice to sleep in, but on the bright side, maybe I can get some writing done. I have an article for the local paper I need to finish (so much for not working on a holiday, hah ha), and maybe, just maybe, I can start on a new fiction project (yes, that's right, my current project is once again off in Carrie's hands; wish me luck!).

This weekend, the wife and I trucked ourselves out to the local brewery (err, wait, we now have at least three breweries in county, along with half-a-dozen wineries and a distillery, so we're fast becoming the cirrhosis capital of New York) for a concert headlined by Lake Street Dive, with Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings as the opener. What a night!

We had high 80s all day, clear skies and a broiling sun. The forecast called for possible thunderstorms, but we saw nothing but a little puff cloud here and there. After the sun went down, things cooled, but nicely (we were there for a show seven or eight years back where it was drizzly and cold, thus miserable). It was only at the end of the night that a sweatshirt was needed. Anyway, we arrived around six, set up our chairs, got some beers, and ran into a friend of ours. I stood in a long line for a couple of burritos from a food truck, and pretty much when I got back to my chair, the show started, right at seven.

The venue is all lawn, general admission. There's an arc between the soundboard and stage that is a no-chair zone; beyond that, you can set up chairs anywhere you like. We aimed for just off center (so as not to be blocked by the tent covering the soundboard) a couple hundred feet back. It actually felt closer than the picture indicates.
Sharon Jones is the tiny red dot in the center of the stage
That glaring sun you see is the only drawback. When we arrived, the sun was almost directly over the stage, so we were looking right into it through Sharon Jones' set. Oh, the other drawback is the guy sitting in front of us had turned his chair around because of the sun, so he was five feet away and kind of staring at me while I tried to eat a burrito. It was kind of weird.

Jones and the Dap-Kings were mighty impressive. I know a couple of their songs from the radio ("100 Days, 100 Nights" and "Stranger to My Happiness") and really enjoyed the set. They've got a great, early 60s soul vibe, and as I said that night, it's not a style of music I seek out, but I really like it when I hear it. Jones at 60 years old (!) has more energy than a lot of younger people. They played for an hour and a half, by which time the sun had gone down. A quick set change, and Lake Street Dive took the stage right at nine.

I've featured Lake Street Dive here on at least two occasions. What was funny is the friend we ran into had about the same experience with discovering this band as me: heard an album review on NPR, found a video of them singing on a Boston street, and went from there. In his case, he'd seen them four or five times before. This was my first.

Small band, big sound

They put on a fantastic show. What surprised me from what I knew of them was that they rocked harder than expected based on their studio releases, but it wasn't in the way some bands do it, where they just kick up the tempo a few notches and add a bunch of "Now you sing along" type of stuff. They played loud, they played with energy, they played with passion, and they kept it flowing. And they did it without pyrotechnics, video screens, or a light show that needed its own nuclear plant to power it. Simple, but effective, where the band was the show. And they encored with this:

which was actually more impressive live than in the video.

What a night. How was your weekend?

Both photos by me; video by Lake Street Dive

Monday, May 23, 2016

We Have "Leaf" Toff!

Oh, that's a bad title, isn't it? Yes, it is. And I'll use it again on my personal Facebook page. I'm not too proud.

Last week, while mowing the lawn, I checked in on the fabled chestnut tree and saw that it appeared to be doing nothing. Well, not entirely nothing. The buds looked round and slightly swollen, but that was about it. Yesterday, while walking the dog, I peaked in and...well, it looked about like this (picture taken this morning):

There's life!

Sorry for the quality of the photo, I'm not real good at this, especially when it's six in the morning, the grass is wet, and I haven't yet had a cup of coffee.

I continue to worry about my little future tree. When it first began to grow it lost all the buds but the bottom-most one, and when I looked at it last week, I was sure the top bud was gone. This, in fact, looks like it's the second bud, and of the four or five below it, it only looks like one is going to pop. I'm not sure what's going on or why. And while I was worried about why it was taking so long to leaf out this year, I'm reminded of three things: most of the trees in our area are only just getting started; in it's two previous years on my lawn, this tree has been a slow starter; and, finally, it's still living in a corrugated plastic tube (we have squirrels, red and gray, we have woodchucks, we have deer; that thing's staying in it's tube until it's big enough to survive those threats).

At the same time, I'm hoping this is the year. My botanist board member reminded me the other day that in the nursery trade, they have a phrase for transplant situations: "Sleep, creep, then leap." If that's the case, then this is the leap year.

In other news, I *think* I'll be done with revisions to my current work of art this week. I am currently about fifty pages out from the end and just last night worked out what I think is my last major hurdle, which will likely add a couple of paragraphs to the manuscript. Which is okay, because right now I've chopped almost 20 pages off the manuscript length and gotten under 100,000 words. I'm feeling pretty good about it.

That's all for me for today; what are you feeling pretty good about today?

Monday, May 16, 2016

Wandering in the Fog

The beauty of being a wingman is that you can start with an empty page and the briefest glimmer of an idea--it doesn't have to be an overarching idea for a novel, either; it can be a character or a single scene with almost no context at all--and start writing. At the end of the session you have something, something that suggests the next scene or chapter, something that may even suggest how it's all going to turn out in the end (though that may take a few sessions). As you string sessions and scenes together, the story starts to take shape. Like an object seen in the fog, it goes from being a vague, slightly-darker-than-the-background thing to something solid, definite, definable.

The story's somewhere out there. I think.

The problem with doing it this way, of course, is you can get yourself lost in some plot dead end, where things don't make sense and it's not clear how to get out of it. That's when you find yourself scrapping large chunks of manuscript that you poured your heart's blood into, when you find yourself thinking, "Why did I delete that scene in Trafalgar Square???" (Which is most likely followed by "Did I save  that scene in Trafalgar Square???" and a bit of praying as you search your hard drive)

Despite all the hubbub of the weekend, I made significant progress on my manuscript, and find myself at the 70% mark. But now I find myself at one of those trouble spots. During my last read-through, I came to a section where I realized I had cut a significant scene. I don't remember actually cutting the scene, but I remember why I did it, which is kind of funny. That scene went back in, and I'm glad.

Unfortunately, every scene that goes in or out at this stage has a ripple effect. I am now almost at the point where I had inserted a chapter's worth of material on my last revision, right before I sent the manuscript to Carrie. This I remember writing, and I remember why I wrote it, but on my post-Carrie read-through, it felt heavy-handed and...not exactly wrong, but not exactly right, either.

And this is the part where I think I should compromise with myself and do some form of outlining. I'm not talking about abandoning my wingman ways, no. But once I actually start getting my story down into a fairly solid form, maybe I should outline it--really outline it--and keep that outline handy and updated (I usually do some form of outline, but I don't keep up with it, so it's kind of useless). This way, maybe I would have a better sense of what one change in Chapter 15 might have in Chapter 18, instead of having to discover it all over again.

Should be a fun week! Do you ever got lost in your work? How do you get out of it?

"Tree And Fog" by George Hodan, from