Sunday, April 20, 2008

Brand, Spanking New--Well, Sort Of



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Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Critic


 
Half past dead of night,

     awakes early morning sun

to inspect my words.

 

 

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Divide and Conquer

I’ve made some progress regarding the number of projects I’m balancing, but it has been difficult. Ultimately, I had to sit down and list the things I’m doing before prioritizing them.

It’s not as if I hadn’t already done this: in fact, I live by lists and time lines and schedules; however, things were a bit different this time.

This time, I made my list, set my priorities, and then—oh god—then, I built my schedule for the next three weeks around working on only the top two priorities. (This means I’m currently pretending the other five super-important, really-beneficial, totally-interesting projects do not exist.)

Generally, I consider all of the top-priority things I have to do and spread my time evenly among them, but lately, this has created some significant mental chaos as I grind slowly through so many things I feel as if I’m running through mud.

So, I made up my mind: the top two things get my attention and damn the rest for now.

Talk about frustrating: I was in a constant struggle with my brain over the other things until I bought myself a tiny notebook into which I have given myself permission to jot down the things that are busily throwing themselves at me about all of the abandoned projects—abandoned is their word not mine—the result was a lot of distracting note taking at first, but for the last day or so, my brain has given me a break and allowed me to focus on the only two projects that currently exist in my world.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Free Rice

A few days ago, oasiss stopped by my blog and left some nice remarks, so I had to take a gander at what goes on over at Zatetic.

There’s some fun happenings over there: not only can you snag a recipe for ice cream, but also, you can ponder the intellect of some of our modern-day heroes.

I know what you’re thinking: what do ice cream and athletes have to do with rice? Well, nothing, but the Zatetic blogroll included a link to FREE RICE, and there was no way I wasn’t going to see where that led, so off I went.

I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll just say three things:

  1. Test your word knowledge.
  2. Make a difference.
  3. Do both for FREE.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Saturday, February 9, 2008

STOP. Thief!

How can February be nearly one-third over? Who grabbed the remote control on my life and hit the fast-forward button?

The last time I looked, December was meandering to a close, and the hint of New Year’s possibilities was just around the corner.

Then things went dark: for four days the first time and just over one the second. Snowed in and without power, things slowed to a crawl, and while inconvenient at times, the taste of the past made the experience worthwhile.

Then there was the first good illness of the year: hello emergency room and five-hour-wait-to-be-seen which was followed by the four-hour-wait-to-be-released which added up to my very first (and hopefully last) twenty-seven (27) hour awake-the-whole-time “day.”

I lost the rest of that week recovering from the sleep I’d missed and caretaking, but HOW DID I GET HERE: to the 9th of February?

Oh, and did I mention the Julia Fordham musical loop that keeps going though my head?

During my 20th century graduate work, I learned to multi-task like a madwoman. I think I turned the corner when I developed the ability to read three books simultaneously while keeping each compartmentalized in my brain. This has bled into my I’m-not-a-student-anymore but-I-still-go-to-school-and-have-homework life (often referred to as teaching). I suspect part of the time-warp I'm experiencing is due to the number of really cool projects I’m working on: I’ve got handfuls of stuff to do each non-teaching day, and most of it is satisfying work, so I wake up at 5:30 ready to dig in, and other than breaks for little things like exercise and food and bathing, there’s no stopping me. Suddenly, it’s 7 at night and the pets need my attention, and dinner is overdue, and and and. . .

I'm beginning to suspect projects are not like books or assignments: perhaps they are best handled independent of one another; however, the thought of setting a few of them aside for any length of time makes me want to scratch my eyes out.

At least if I did that I’d miss the calendar pages whizzing off the wall.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Constant Inconstancy

I wonder what would happen if a few auto manufacturers decided to switch the gas and brake pedals in the cars they produced. While I’m at it, let’s rotate the side of the road on which we drive based on the stock market. I also say we forget the red-yellow-green configuration of signal lights and let homeowners in the area pick the top-to-bottom order of the colors.

After all, it’s not as if there needs to be any real consistency on the roadways, right?

This is the logic used to create the internet—okay, not so much the internet as the means to travel it.

I’ve spent the last several days updating a Web site only to find out the updates read differently in Mozilla Firefox than they do in Internet Explorer.

I know what you’re thinking: anyone paying any attention to the way of the Web knows there are differences in the way combinations of browsers and operating systems alter the way Web pages appear.

I do know this, and overall, I can accept that depending upon a viewer’s browser, operating system, and screen size, what I see and what that person sees may differ, but this—this was a difference akin to night and day, and it cannot be fixed. (Well, I fixed it, but I had to compromise some design to do it.)

I’m no expert, but I know more than the average bear about HTML, XHTML, and PHP, and I’ve spent a lot of time working with my own site designs and templates and themes to feel pretty comfortable with things.

In layperson’s terms, it basically comes down to a difference in code interpretation among browsers, and which browser is more forgiving than the others.

It also comes down to a simple truth: when I type <div>, some browsers get edgy. Then, if I dare type < /br>, it gets worse. Finally, if I try to combine a little bit of <div> with a little bit of < /br>, everything blows up—in Explorer. Nothing happens in Firefox, and because I use Firefox, it was only by chance I realized a very simple Wordpress theme was unreadable in Explorer. (I generally check both browsers, but I tell you, this was a simple change that I never dreamed would cause any harm, so checking didn't cross my mind.)

Here’s what I don’t get: it seems to me there’s a simple analogy that ought to dictate how the World Wide Web “works.”

The Earth is like the Web.
The highway is like the internet.
A car is like a browser.
An address is like a URL.

If I want to get someplace on the Earth, I climb into my car, grab a map, and head out on the highway to the address of my choosing. The Web is no different—well, unless you count the fact that often the highways can’t be navigated, the car stalls, and once if you get to the address, the place looks nothing like what you remember.

Isn't it time all browsers interpreted code the same way?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Devil's Towers

The Devil’s TowersLong ago, it was known as The Mission in the Forest, and people were welcomed with open arms. This was before God’s War when the world was a different place, and the truth about God and Satan was still a mystery over which the war had begun.Now, decades later, it is known as The Devil's Towers, and few survivors of God’s War can recall when it was a place of peace and worship. To the masses, The Devil's Towers is a symbol of the lies once told by books such as The Holy Bible and people claiming to serve a just God.Most survivors of God’s War are afraid to go inside the building fearing the Devil, who is said to capture as his playthings the humans who enter his sanctuary. You see, some of what The Bible taught was true: there is a Devil, and there is a Hell, but the Devil never fell from Heaven. He left willingly after destroying everything it had once been, including God and all the hope that remained for living things.Today, the Devil sits in his towers ruling over a world under his control while planning new ways to trouble the remaining living things on Earth.Those who seek out and enter The Devil's Towers do so out of greed, for along with the revelations about God’s weaknesses there are the legends of the Devil's gold.

It is said that those who posses even the smallest quantity of the Devil's gold will become immortal and be immune from his manipulations. The exact location of The Devil's Towers is not known, and though many have set off to find the old mission, none have returned.

Some believe no one returns because those who go find their gold. They might be right, but if they are not (and most believe they are not) then the Devil's playground is growing.

When God’s War ended, eleven clues to the whereabouts of The Devil's Towers were scattered by the winds. The Devil did this to ensure that though the people uncovered the truth about their existence and the lie that was God, their greed would bring them to his playground.

What you hold in your hand is the last clue to the whereabouts of this monument, and as its owner, immortality and untold riches can be yours.

Sharon Ellis turned the note card over in her hand. She was taken by the picture and amused by the words. There was no return address information on the card, but she had a pretty good idea who’d sent it to her. It had Charlie written all over it: it was clever in a dorkish sort of way, and it was just another in a string of useless attempts on his part to get Sharon's attention.

She glanced once more at the note card before tossing it on the counter and heading out the door for what was sure to be a long day at work.

The fifteen minute commute to the office was an exercise in rote activity, and on this morning, as was the case on almost every morning, Sharon wasted no time in multitasking while she drove. This was perhaps the reason she ran the red light and drove her BMW into the path of a fully-loaded semi whose driver had no chance to stop.

Sharon awoke flat on her back looking up at a sky that was hazy with smoke. She felt dazed, but as the events of the morning began to work their way together like parts of a jumbled puzzle, she laughed—she was alive!

Sharon slowly sat up, and as she did, she was surprised to find that while a bit stiff, she seemed totally unharmed. She was even more surprised to find herself staring straight ahead at a building which appeared to be a replica of the image she'd seen on the postcard from Charlie. Sharon stood up, shook the dirt from her clothing, and began walking toward the clearing and the mission. She was certain what she was experiencing was a result of her accident or the after-effects of anesthesia; after all, she could not possibly be in the middle of a forest staring at an old-world mission having only moments before been driving to work. She walked on anyway.

For the second time that day, a giggle escaped Sharon's lips. She wondered to herself when she might find the Devil’s gold. Near the clearing’s edge, a cool breeze washed over her, and as it did, it carried her scent to the Devil.

Sharon Ellis reached the entrance to the mission and walked inside. The moment she crossed the threshold of the building, she realized something was very wrong. Instinctively, she turned to flee, but it was too late: she was surrounded by darkness and enveloped by the sensation of falling.

* * *

The driver of the tanker truck watched in confusion as a melon-shaped object spun up into the air, reached the top of its flight, and fell back toward the ground. As the object tumbled down toward the pavement, the trucker saw with grotesque clarity that it was the head of the woman who’d been driving the car that was now a twisted pile of metal lodged beneath the frame of his rig.

Frozen on the tumbling head was last look the woman’s face would ever wear: it was the look the truck driver would wake to in horror for the rest of his life.

The head struck the ground, rolled a few feet, and came to rest on what was left of its neck. As the trucker realized the head appeared to be looking up at the side of his trailer, he half-fell, half-staggered out of his cab while vomiting onto the roadway.

* * *
The first officer to arrive on the scene did his best to help the trucker cope with what had happened, but there was little he could do. Even he was a bit shaken by the head sitting upright staring at the truck’s trailer, and though leaving it that way was gruesome, he knew better than to disturb the accident scene—especially one involving a fatality.

Several hours later, as the investigation was wrapping up, the coroner’s assistant called the officer over to where he was working. As the assistant placed the woman’s head into a truncated body bag, he peeled a note card from the congealed blood at the base of what remained of the woman’s neck and handed it to the officer.

“Weird, huh?”

The coroner’s assistant nodded from the card to the trailer as he spoke to the officer.

The photograph on the card matched the image on the side of the semi-truck’s trailer: it was a large scale ad for a resort hotel called The Towers, and below the image was a caption that read,
Be as devilish as you want—your secret is safe at The Towers.

The officer placed the sticky card into an evidence bag and turned away for the coroner’s assistant while feeling the burn of bile rise in the back of his throat.

The Devil’s Towers Original Artwork [Peace Mission Pieces] by Woody Hansen.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Got_A_P?

The alphabet is a powerful thing:

Sniper Image Snipper Image
Text

When written, the only thing separating the image on the left from the image on the right is one “P.”I know this, but in something I recently posted, I left out that one little “P,” and what was supposed to be a little boy using “snippers” to cut a wire became a little boy with a pair of “snipers” in his hand.

(It’s now fixed, but that’s beside the oint.)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Common Things

A couple of weeks ago, while fighting the type of cold that allows one to do little more than watch television and sleep, I had the good fortune to run across a Planet of the Apes marathon. It was just the thing to keep me entertained between medication and naps.

The original movie still holds up well, and as far as great story lines go, I think it’s fantastic. I also love Charlton Heston as Taylor, but it’s not my favorite role of his. When I think of Charlton Heston, my first thought isn’t of Ben Hur, nor is it of Soylent Green. Both cross my mind, but for me, Charlton Heston is The Omega Man, and given my love of Vincent Price, that’s saying something.

No one ever seems to know what movie I’m talking about when I mention The Omega Man. I’ve even tried to ring bells by referencing The Last Man on Earth, but I always get the same blank stares. Now that I Am Legend is out there, I hope that will change, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

The last time I was at Starbuck’s, the trivia question was “Who wrote I Am Legend?” Shockingly, no one had come up with the correct answer before me, and the barista was impressed but not shocked I knew the answer. (I’ve had a bit of a run at Starbuck’s when it comes to trivia, and soon I shall need to stop letting them grab items from my brain while I sleep.)

I rifled off some of the other stuff Richard Matheson has written to see if I could ring bells with any of the baristas, but nothing really worked. Actually, all it did was secure my oddity in their eyes, but in a good way. I think.

Here’s the thing about Richard Matheson: he’s written a ton of material that is absolutely dear to me. I know. I know. Who among us can’t say that about our favorite authors, right? Well this is different because the works I’m talking about have come over the course of the last thirty years of my life, and until about a year ago, I had no idea one guy’s brain was responsible for all that stuff.

I’m a huge fan of The Twilight Zone, and when the attempt was made in the 80’s to bring back the magic of the original series, there was one episode that stuck with me: “Button, Button.” It is the kind of story I've always wanted to write.

The original series also featured a tale that is better known for William Shatner’s being in it than for Matheson’s writing: “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” In addition to that episode, Matheson wrote The Twilight Zone episodes “A World of His Own,” “Nick of Time” (another episode with Shatner), “The Invaders” (which stars a lineless Agnes Moorehead), and about ten others.

During the early eighties, I saw a movie that struck me in the same way as “Button, Button”: the story was so fantastic, I wanted to grow up and write like that. It’s called Somewhere in Time.

I also grew up watching Star Trek, and one of the best episodes—aside from "The Trouble with Tribbles"—was written by Matheson: “The Enemy Within.” Kirk is split in two during a transporter malfunction, and one of him is good while the other of him is evil. The story goes on to explore how each of us needs both good and bad to survive and to be who we are. (Reread that last part—to. . .be. . .who. . .we. . .are—in your best Kirk voice.)

There’s a ton of other stuff this guy has done that most people know of: The Incredible Shrinking Man, A Stir of Echoes, and What Dreams May Come are some of the biggies, yet I’m willing to bet that for as many people as there are who have heard of one or more of his bigger works, almost none of them know the man’s name.

I find this sad. I’m just happy to know he’s out there writing the kinds of things that make me rethink the world, take another look out of the corner of my eye, and dream of someday writing something like that.

Oh, and did I mention that “Button, Button” is being filmed? The title is The Box, and I can’t wait to see it.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

I Am a Hero

Red WiresAlbert Beiman had dreamed of being a super hero all of his life. Like many young boys, he collected comic books containing tales of superpower-wielding men performing amazing acts of courage. He hid the comic from his father who was a practical man upon whom fictional feats of strength and courage were wasted.

Albie’s dad was a firm believer in hard work, and when Albie had expressed early interest in comic books and super heroes, his father had lifted the small boy up, set him on his workbench, and explained that real heroes were the men and women who got up each morning, worked hard at their jobs, and looked after their family members. Flying, ex-ray vision, and super-strength were merely whims of fancy and not worthy of one’s time.

When Albie’s father finished, he noticed his son was on the verge of tears. The man hadn’t intended to upset his son. He’d simply wanted to instill a work ethic in the boy, and he feared an over-active imagination would lead to a path of laziness. He, like any father, wanted the best for his boy. He wanted Albie to surpass him in whatever he undertook in his life.

“I’ll make you a deal, Albie.”

The young boy looked up while continuing to fight off tears.

“I’ll share a little secret with you if you promise not to tell anyone.”

The boy’s eyes narrowed as he considered what his father had said. His young brain was processing whether or not his dad was teasing him or was about to reveal something worthwhile. The boy settled on the thing being worthwhile and nodded his head vigorously.

Albie’s father looked carefully to his left and then to his right. He made a show of peering over his shoulder, putting a finger over his lips to instruct the child to remain silent, and then he leaned in close to Albie.

“The truth is, I have a secret power of my own, and if you want, I’ll pass it along to you.”

Albie’s eyes narrowed again, and he crossed his arms over his chest. He knew a gyp when he heard one.

“You’re lying, and lying isn’t right.” The indignance in the boy’s voice was punctuated by the firm nod he tacked on to the end of his sentence.

Albie’s father shrugged his shoulders, grabbed the boy under the arms, and hoisted him up slightly so that he might place him back on solid ground. “Well, then. Off you go, I suppose.”

The boy watched as his father turned away from him and began tinkering with something on his bench. It shocked Albie that this father wasn’t even going to try to convince him of his supposed power. It shocked the boy even more that his father had simply dismissed the entire thing so abruptly and returned to whatever it was he he’d been working on.

Albie didn’t want to bite—he was sure his father was only ignoring him to get the boy to pursue whatever it was he was going to say he could do—but the silent treatment his father had dished out was making it very hard for Albie to resist pursuing the issue.

The boy stood behind his father while mentally ordering himself to turn and leave, but his orders were those of a child, and even in his child’s mind, they held little weight.

“Okay, tell me, then,” Albie blurted out.

His father stopped what he was doing and made a show of turning around and looking down at him.

“You’re still here? I thought you’d gone off somewhere. Now, what was it you wanted?”

Albie took in a dramatic breath, rolled his eyes at his father, and replied, “tell me your secret power.”

It was the father’s turn to narrow his eyes.

“Can I trust you to keep my secret?”

The boy was getting frustrated, but he obediently nodded his head. As an afterthought, he made an “X” over his heart with the index finger of his right hand.

Albie’s father reached down for the boy and placed him back up on the workbench. He didn’t look around or remind the boy to be quiet this time, but he did lean in close to him before saying in a whispered voice,

“We Beiman’s keep the world on course. We’re not ordinary electricians.”

Albie’s disappointment covered his face.

“C’mon, Dad. Being an electrician’s not a superpower.”

The father raised an eyebrow, “Oh, no?” he asked his boy. “If I don’t have a superpower, how can I do this?”

As he spoke the word “this,” Albie’s father made a gesture with his right arm and hand in the direction of the garage door opener, and as if on cue, the door slowly ground to life and began to open.

“Wow! How’d you do that?” Albie exclaimed.

His father began to answer when Mrs. Beiman pulled into the driveway.

Albie was too disappointed to notice the surprise on his father’s face. The boy waved at his mother and grumbled out a request for his father to put him down. Mr. Beiman did as the boy asked and didn’t pursue the super-power issue with the boy who stalked off toward the station wagon in search of whatever treasures his mother had brought home from the grocery store.

* * *

“Why so glum, Albie?”

Albie’s response to his mother was a half-hearted shrug of his shoulders. He wasn’t in the mood to admit to his mom that his father had suckered him into a fleeting belief in a familial superpower. His mother was about to pursue her son’s mood when the phone rang.

“Hello? Yes, he is. Just a moment.”

Albie’s mother cupped one hand over the bottom of the telephone receiver, looked down at her son, and asked him to go out to the garage and tell his father the phone was for him. Before Albie could move, his father walked in and stepped toward the receiver his wife was holding.

“I’m on my way Mick. Be there in ten minutes.”

Albie’s father hung up the receiver, looked at his wife who nodded as if she knew exactly what was going on, and then he spoke to his son.

“Want to come along and see what your ol’ dad can do?”

Albie couldn’t think of a single time his father had asked him to tag along on a job, and this fact put the boy’s mind on edge. On the one hand, he wanted desperately to refuse simply because his father had asked him, but on the other, the opportunity to tag along with his father was too cool to pass up.

“Okay, I guess.” Albie tried his best to sound bored when he answered.

“Peter, it’s not safe.”

Albie’s father looked at Albie’s mother, and the boy saw a moment of doubt cross his father’s face, but before Albie could issue a plea in his defense, his father replied.

“It’s time he learns, Vi.”

Albie’s mother gave her husband the slightest of nods and moved toward her son who she grabbed and pulled into her and from whom she collected both a kiss and a hug before releasing him.

“You two be careful,” she said as she blew an air kiss to each of them.

* * *

To Albie, the drive seemed to take forever, but in truth, it took the pair just under ten minutes to arrive at their destination—a destination that was hundreds of miles from their home. It would be weeks before Albie put all of the pieces together: the fact that his father had known there was a call for him; the way his dad answered the caller without so much as hearing the voice on the other end of the telephone line; how his father had simply climbed into the van and driven to a location without being told where to go. All Albie knew at the moment they arrived at their destination was wherever they were, it wasn’t anywhere near his house. In fact, they seemed to be in the middle of nowhere.

“C’mon, son.” Albie’s father had climbed out of the van and was motioning for the boy to follow him. As Albie got out, he noticed there was nothing in any direction as far as he could see, save for an old, beat up truck next to which stood a man.

“Where’s she at, Mick?”

Mick’s head ticked slightly, indicating the thing was behind him and to his right. Mick also managed to shoot a long, hard stare at Albie.

“What’s with the kid, Peter?” The man’s head ticked again, only this time his motion was directed at Albie.

“There’s nothing to worry about. This here’s my son, Albie.” As his father spoke, the boy saw him look in his direction, and there was something in the look his father gave him that made Albie understand he needed to be on his best behavior.

“Pleasure to meet you, sir.” Albie took a step towards Mick and extended a hand as he spoke. Mick didn’t return the gesture. Instead, he spat a used up wad of chewing tobacco into the dirt at the boy’s feet, climbed into the bed of his truck, started up the engine, and drove away.

Albie watched the truck’s disappearing dusty path, and looked back at his father who motioned for him to follow. A few hundred feet from where they had met up with Mick was what they were after.

“There she is.” Albie’s father pointed to a tangle of wires sticking up out of the ground.

“What is it?” Albie asked his father.

“That, son, is a reset device.”

“What’s a ‘reset device’?”

Albie’s father took a step toward the wires and produced a pair of cutters from one of his back pockets.

“A reset device is just what it sounds like: if it’s activated, everything gets reset. That means the world goes back to the way it was at the beginning.”

Albie looked at his father, and his earlier anger began to resurface. He didn’t like his dad teasing him.

Albie’s father saw the look on his son’s face, and while it disappointed him his son didn’t believe him, he recalled having had a similar reaction when his own father had passed along the gift.

“I’ll tell you what, Albie. How about I let you cut the wire, okay?”

Albie didn’t mean to do it, but a snicker escaped him. It wasn’t that he believed his father, but he hadn’t meant to be disrespectful, either.

His father’s face wrinkled in what was clearly angry disappointment, and Albie found himself divided: part of him was glad he’d hurt his father, but the other part of him felt a bit of shame. He steeled himself with a reminder that this had all started because his dad couldn’t accept his reading comic books and admiring superpowers. Albie assured himself his father deserved a certain amount of disrespect for pretending he could control energy, and for mocking a young boy’s imagination.

“Hey, are you listening to me?”

Albie looked down at his father who was bent over the tangle of wires. The boy hadn’t heard a thing his father said.

“I said I could prove our powers to you, boy. Pay attention!”

Albie was shocked at the tone and level of his father’s voice, and he focused on what his dad was doing.

“You’ve got to look at the wires closely. The green wire disables the device. The yellow one pauses things. The red wires activate it, and that means resetting the world, and that’s not a good thing.”

Albie looked at the bunch of wires, but they were all red. Even when he crinkled up his nose while squinting the sun away, all he saw was a gob of red.

“Are the green and yellow wires buried?”

The man looked up at his son, and then back down at the wires.

“You don’t see them?”

Albie shook his head, and for a moment, the look on his father’s face went completely blank. During that moment, a sense of dread spread over Albie, and he grew very afraid.

His father’s eyes met his own, and he opened his mouth as if to ask the boy another question, but instead of releasing words, his lips spread into a smile, and with his father’s smile, the boy’s sense of dread disappeared.

“Try now.”

Albie’s father handed the boy the wire cutters he’d been holding, and as soon as the boy had them in his fist, the green and yellow wires appeared in the tangle of red ones.

“Cool! How’d you do that?”

Albie still didn’t believe his father had superpowers, but whatever he’d done with the wires and the cutters was a great trick, and Albie had already begun to count the ways he could use the trick to his advantage with the guys back home.

“There’s no trick, kiddo. It’s just what we Bieman’s do. We make sure the world doesn’t get reset.”

Albie’s father could tell his son was impressed, but he also saw clearly the boy’s excitement was not because he was taking his father seriously.

“I’ll show you. Take the snippers and clip the yellow wire.”

Albie did as his father told him, but nothing happened. At least that’s what Albie believed until he looked back at his father and noticed the five o’clock shadow on his father’s face and the receding sunlight.

Before the boy could pepper his father with more questions, the man looked at his watch and then back at his son.

“Cut the green one, Albie. The time’s almost up.”

“Time?”

“Once the unit’s located and dug up, it’s got to be deactivated within ten hours, or it goes off, and. . .”

“And the world gets reset, right, Dad?”

Albie’s father grinned at the boy who looked back at the tangle of wires, reached out, and clipped the green one.

Nothing discernible happened, but Albie understood this meant things had gone well. He smiled up at his father, handed over the wire cutters, and proudly followed his dad back to the van.

Red Wires

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Tools

I mentioned in my first post of this year that I had discovered two productivity tools near the end of 2007 that I tried, liked, and used to formulate much of my 2008 writing schedule.

Each is a book, but both are designed to be more than reading matter: they are tools to assist in adjusting one’s attitude and time management with the end goal of producing more work that is higher quality.

The Way of the Cheetah, by Lynn Viehl, is a recipe for productivity with a real kick: read what Viehl accomplishes in a day, and you will sit down at a keyboard and get to work. (Well, you will if you really want to be a Writer.)

The Way of the Cheetah covers every inch of ground a writer traverses: the physical, mental, and emotional stuff; the office and equipment stuff; and the outside world stuff, and it’s all good advice. (Some of it can be put to work immediately, but some of it will have to wait, and that’s part of what I love about this book: it challenges one’s perseverance and patience, and I love a challenge.)

There is much to The Way of the Cheetah that is applicable to life in general—and I mean this in a practical not a touchy-feely way. There is no magic packet of dissolve-it-in-water motivation tucked inside nor is there a ready-mix determination-drink included, but if you bring these things to the table, The Way of the Cheetah can help you to make yourself more focused and more productive.

The Way of the Cheetah is also a joy to read: the information is honest—even when honesty is painful—and there’s just enough humor and sarcasm to keep you on your toes.

How to Find Your Writing Discipline, by Holly Lisle, is one of the best time management plans I’ve run across. This book is aimed at writers, but it would do anyone in need of a productivity-makeover good, and it wouldn’t take much effort to apply the tips Lisle provides to other areas of one’s life.

Ironically, I have used many of the general concepts in this text in my composition courses which led me to two conclusions: a person really can only be taught what he or she is willing to learn, and I’m giving my students good advice—even though it too often goes ignored!

I have always been a lister and a planner, so the basic premise of How to Find Your Writing Discipline was both familiar and comforting for me. For some, the idea is going to be a bit more of a challenge, but to those who feel that way I say give it a try—you might be surprised. (If you’ve never examined where your day goes, Lisle’s book will be a real eye-opener.)

If I were to pull out one element of How to Find Your Writing Discipline that is helping me the most, I’d have to choose the productivity board. Having my plans right in front of me and watching things move (literally) along is a real plus.

* * *

What sets these books apart from the many other writing books I have read over the years is the honesty and practicality of each. Neither claims to be The Answer. Both admit every writer is different and must take what she can from any source and toss aside the rest. Each writer readily admits that working as a Writer is a Sisyphean task not to be embraced by the faint-of-heart.

Best of all, both Lynn Viehl and Holly Lisle are full-time, in-the-trenches writers who give a whole bunch to the rest of us—for free, so spending my hard-earned money on their work gives me the warm fuzzies.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night--Really

I know what you're thinking: it is often both dark and stormy at night, and you are quite correct. In fact, this is especially true in the winter, but last night I got an extra dose of dark: by the time the sun set, I'd been without power for several hours, and in my neighborhood, dark is dark.

We have no streetlights, and when there's a blanket of clouds over everything and the power goes out, it's the kind of blackness in which you really cannot see your hand in front of your face.

I write this on my backup PDA using a portable keyboard. I am conserving all of my laptop power as well as the power on my primary PDA (which is also my cell phone) for fear this loss of power will last a few days.

It's now almost nine o'clock, so the outage is nearing hour eighteen.

Other than it being cold in the house--it's dropped to 52 degrees--the outage has been an adventure.

I have plenty of candles, a gas stove, and a gas water heater, so I can have hot food and beverages, and later today, I can even take a hot shower. (Watch the hair, though, no blow dryer!)

I spent several hours last night reading and writing by candle light, and unless this outage continues through the weekend and a significant snowstorm, I'll count this as an enjoyable respite from modern life.

During those thrilling days of yesteryear, when I was an undergraduate, I began to marvel at the means by which people who lived in the periods before me had "managed." Because I was an English major, much of my wonder came from the hours I spent reading novels and writing papers about them: the time it took to do those things often took me into the wee hours of the morning, and things like electricity and technology got me though.

I often thought about the writers whose works I held in my hands: writers who didn't have the luxury of electric typewriters and heaters and light switches.

It made me really appreciate the effort it took to put words on pages: working by hand and by candlelight without the luxury of the things I took for granted.

I have students who have never used a typewriter, so they have no concept of just how "easy" they have it with computers and the internet at their fingertips.

I was fortunate enough to move from hand-written essays to typed essays to word-processed essays, so not only did I learn how to draft and rewrite and edit, but also I appreciate the technology I have today in a manner most younger people probably do not.

I am extraordinarily thankful for the Internet, and the technology that makes my writing life easier, but I wouldn't trade having grown up in a time during which the following things were the "technological" standards:

  • It took physical effort to change a television's channels.
  • There were days of the week and times of the day gas and groceries and money from one's bank account could not be acquired.
  • Learning something required talking to another human being or going to a library.
  • Libraries cataloged their holdings on little cards arranged alphabetically and stored in drawers.
  • It took ingenuity to communicate: in our family, that meant "give us two rings when you get home." (The long distance charge was circumvented, but the message was received loudly and clearly.)
  • Typing was a rhythmic adventure that included tapping, dinging, and sliding sounds.

Of course, for the time being, I am enjoying the old-world feel of my day, and I am looking lovingly at several of my bookshelves really appreciating what writers before me managed to accomplish.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

It's All in the Details

It's All in the DetailsNever make a sucker bet with a woman on the verge of an abyss. And when I say sucker bet, I don’t mean you think she’s such a sucker that betting her will line your sorry-ass pockets with whatever your personal poison happens to be. I mean don’t find yourself looking back on the moment you made the mistake of thinking her a sucker.

If you find yourself there, you’ll be the sucker, and you’ll realize you’ve landed yourself in a very dark, very lonely place.

I know. The reason I know should be obvious, but I’ll spell it out for you—in case you’re one of those guys who thinks his woman is one of those suckers.

(If that’s you, you need the picture on the box to put together the puzzle, so here goes.)

The reason I know is my old man pitched me the grand-slam-home-run of sucker bets last Saturday night, and right about now, he’s doing that look-back thing. He’s realizing the error of his ways. He’s found his quiet place, but it is much darker and lonelier than he ever imagined. He is going to have a few more hours to consider who the sucker is before it’s all over.

***

Mr. do-it-yourself-and-save decided we needed an underground safe a few weeks back. He made this genius decision after watching an infomercial while allowing the alcohol from most of a six pack to travel from his lips to his brain cells. (We have no need for a safe—underground or otherwise—but that didn’t matter.)

He did not consult me about his decision. When I asked Mr. DIYAS—which conveniently sounds like dumb ass when you run the letters together—whether or not he thought it was appropriate to tear up our back porch to build a safe we didn’t need, to spend money we didn’t have, and to get everything grimy with dirt and concrete dust, he belched “Betcha Bitch” like he was a high school kid burping the alphabet.

With the echo from his burp still fresh in the air, he demanded dinner. I cooked because I was hungry. Luckily for him, two TV dinners are about as easy to cook as one, so I fed the bastard. He’d barely finished complaining about the food he’d devoured when he bolted up from his easy chair, grabbed the keys to his work shed, and headed out back to play DIYAS.

That was the routine for the rest of the week: Mr. DIYAS would drink, complain, eat, and build a bit more of his concrete-lined-guaranteed-to keep-everyone-out-no-one-will-know-it’s-there safe. By the end of the day, he’d pass out from effort and beer.

Last Saturday night, I got tired of all the digging and pounding and cursing, so I asked him when he thought he might be done with the safe so he could rebuild the porch.

“Well, now. I’ll tell ya what. I’ll bet I get done with this here project before you can make-up that face of yours so it ain’t so hard for me to look at.”

There it was: a high, slow, lob of a sucker’s bet tossed right at me by that good-for-nothing-boozing-bastard. My daddy may have run out on us, but he taught all the kids—even us girls—how to hit a baseball before he took off. It was the bottom of the ninth, the score was tied, the bases were loaded, and I was winding up for the cut of a lifetime.

“You’ve got one week to finish. If you don’t finish this up in the next week, I’m calling my brother out here to fix things.”

Mr. DIYAS snorted, grabbed another can of beer, and turned back to his mess.

My brother is a passive man, and he doesn’t think much of his brother-in-law. My brother is also a kind man, so he’s never expressed to me his disappointment in who I married, but I can sometimes feel it—even when he does his best to hide it. I think, like me, my brother sometimes wonders where I might be now if things were different. That isn’t judgment: it’s love.

Today marked a week from the point at which I’d given Mr. DIYAS the ultimatum. Initially, he’d made progress, but after a flurry during the first two days, he was back to getting nowhere quickly: we had porch to the left and porch to the right, but below the back door was nothing but a three-foot drop to the twice-as-big-as-it-needed-to-be-concrete-lined- everything-proof safe.

When Mr. DIYAS finished dinner, he slammed another beer and stumbled his way to the back of the house. The thought of my brother showing up to save the day grated on him, and I knew it.

“I got ‘till midnight, and I’ll finish. You’ll see. But your face, well, we both know nothing’s gonna fix. . .”

His voice trailed off in a repercussion of noise that sounded as if he was back to pounding boards. Then, there was an oddly deafening silence even though he was at least three beers and two hours shy of his usual pass-out time.

I finished the dishes and got a hot bath ready. For a moment, it crossed my mind to lock him out for the evening, but I knew that would only lead to his yelling and screaming and waking me up when his buzz wore off. (We were five miles from the closest neighbor, so I’d be the only one he’d disturb, and that was enough for me.)

I went out to the back to wake him before his stupor got too thick, but when I got there, all I saw were his legs poking out from the hole in the porch.

In my defense, before I stuffed him all the way down, I did try to pull him up and out of the hole. I just couldn’t do it—I wasn’t strong enough. It didn’t take too much straining to begin to hear his nasty voice complaining about my face, and when that happened, my pulling turned to pushing, and before too long, his whole body was stuffed into that concrete safe: it turns out it was just the right size after all.

I organized the things he’d bought for his project, and after I spread them out on the table, I read the plans, took a few measurements, and I sealed that safe up for good. Nothing gets in—nothing gets out. I replaced the rest of the boards for the porch, and as soon as Mr. DIYAS runs out of air, I know the muffled screams will stop, and I’ll be able to settle into a nice, hot bath.

It's All in the Details

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Resolutions

I’ve noticed a number of people have begun shying away from resolutions citing their failure to follow through with them, and while I see the point of avoiding unnecessary frustration, I don’t see the point of failing to embrace possibility—and that’s the way I view resolutions.What’s wrong with dreaming big at the beginning of a new year? I love having the opportunity to start fresh each January 1st with nothing but a blank sheet of paper and my imagination to guide me.

I suppose it might have something to do with having taught for so long: each semester is a fresh start, and each preparatory period before each new semester is a time to reflect and plan all the ways this semester is going to be the one during which teaching and learning collide head-on.

It might also have to do with my being a writer: if I weren’t a dreamer, I wouldn’t (and couldn’t) be a writer.

I suppose it also is a statement that reflects my age: I am still young enough to believe there is an infinite a lengthy amount of time at my disposal, and because I am in a good mood, I’m not going to dwell on reality where this point is concerned. (I’m thinking of you, Mike.)

I’m happy to have discovered several (new-to-me) writers in 2007, and there’s more to say about that later; however, for now, I’ll just say that I “discovered” two wonderful productivity tools that I test drove at the end of last year, and much of my 2008 is going to be based on those tools.

Let the embracing of possibilities begin:
WRITING GOALS 2008/2009

ON LEARNING THE CRAFT
  1. Take the Gotham Writers’ Workshop Level I Fiction Writing Class
    • Mid to Late 2008
  2. Take the Gotham Writers’ Workshop Level I [Genre] Writing Class
    • Early to Mid 2009
  3. Bird by Bird
  4. Writing Down the Bones
ON PRODUCTIVITY

1. Review and Revise Plan Monthly

WORK TO COMPLETE
  1. The 2YN – Year 1 (Unearthed)
  2. Test Case
    • Submit by 04/15/08
  3. “The Cure”
    • Submit by 06/15/08
  4. “The Well”
    • Submit by 09/15/08
  5. Unearthed
    • Submit by 12/31/08
  6. Scribbled Stories, Volume I
    • Writing Completed by 10/01/08
    • Printing Completed by 11/01/08
  7. Contest #1
  8. Contest #2
  9. Contest #3
  10. Contest #4
  11. Contest #5
  12. Contest #6
GENERALLY SPEAKING

1. Write at least 5 days each week.
2. Never miss a post at SHdN.
3. Post at least two Scribbled Stories each month.
4. Podcast at least two Scribbled Stories each month.
5. Enter SIX contests in 2008.
6. Complete the 2008 NaNoWriMo.
7. Get Scribbled Stories up at iTunes.
8. Get Scribbled Stories up at Podiobooks.