Posted tagged ‘Terry Pratchett’

Nanowrimo Update: Adrift

November 22, 2010


Another  busy work week begins and my Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) novel is seriously adrift.  Fulfilling the word count (50,000) by the end of November will likely be possible.   As any follower of this blog has probably guessed, I’m pretty good at quickly typing words.

Getting the story right, getting A story,is more difficult.

On my last update, I complained about the plot problem of arranging for  “California Girl” (who was not truly from California but has been staying in LA) to meet up with my other crew of characters traveling through Nevada.

Everything was happening too slowly.   The Nevada crew was not getting to LA fast enough to have their crisis there.

The bigger issue is that I haven’t been sure of the connection between the two sets of characters  even as I’ve danced between the two stories, writing them in one manuscript, in typical Gemini indecisiveness.  (Sorry, to you decisive Geminis.)

What to do?  I couldn’t just leave California Girl eating corn dogs on Venice Beach.

After a long walk below a clear sky, it became clear to me that California Girl was just going to have to be in Nevada; and since I couldn’t think of a reason for her to run off there, she’d have to be there all along; be, in other words, “Nevada Girl” right from the start.

(At least, I thought this had become clear.  The sky is a bit cloudy today.)

In the meantime, my Nevada crew has also stalled.   I am at the point of writing endless dialogue, thoughts, internal connections–something that would be Woolfian if I did it better–even as they race to an ambulance!

Maybe it’s a good thing I have to get back to other work today.

If these characters can’t make up their mind where they are or what they are doing, let them just stew for a while!  See if I care!  (Ah….good question.)

Business of News – the News Corp Business (and others)

August 18, 2010

"Conflict of Interest Wall"

I started today to write a post about conflicts of interest:  all that business about the News Corporation (as in Rupert Murdoch’s empire and parent company of Fox News) and its $1 million donation to the Republican Governors’ Association–

I started to write about News Corporation’s protest that the donation did not represent a shadow on the “fair and balanced” reporting of Fox News.  News claims any conflict of interest is nullified by the separation in its news division (the subsidiary company that didn’t make the donation) and its business division (the parent company that did make the donation).

This immense separation between the business side of the conglomerate and the news side is apparent even in the corporate name: “News” being one word and “Corporation” being another.

I included (in that not-published post) paraphrased jokes from Going Postal, the wonderful satire by the wonderful Terry Pratchett, in which Mr. Slant, zombie lawyer, explains the “Agatean Wall”, a barrier against abuse arising from conflicts of interest.

“‘How does it work exactly?” asked Vetinari.

“People agree not to do it, my Lord,” said Mr. Slant.

“I’m sorry.  I thought you said there was a wall,” said Lord Vetinari.

“That’s just a name for agreeing not to do it.”

In that post, I had all kinds of witty jokes.

And then, I got too depressed to finish that post.  Because the truth is that few of the people who go to Fox for their news will care about the big Republican donation.  (If they know of it.)

The fact is that news is a business in this country; news organizations have constituencies of consumers;  people tend to prefer reinforcement to challenge; in other words, they don’t mind biases in news, as long as the biases correspond to their own.   Which brings me to the item that kept me from finishing my other post – today’s headline in the New York Daily News (ironically not owned by the News Corporation) which claimed that Obama was supporting the 9/11 Mosque but not health care for 9/11 first responders, the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.  This, in spite of the fact that the Zadroga bill was defeated by Republicans in Congress, not by Obama or the Dems; in spite of the fact too, that Obama has not exactly supported the 9/11 Mosque (that’s been a source of complaint on other fronts) –  he’s supported freedom of religion on private property in accordance with local law.

So this evening Obama has released a statement explicitly saying that he looked forward to signing the Zadroga bill, when passed by Congress.  This, of course, is being touted by the Daily News as its personal victory.   No where does the victory article mention that Republicans have so far killed the bill, not Obama.   (I guess this level and kind of detail would not sell papers, even in NYC .)

Revisiting The Past – Butting Up Against “Because”

August 11, 2010

Butting Up Against "Because"

Today, I had to go back to a neighborhood in which I lived for years, some years ago.  (Important years.)   I tend to really dislike this kind of journey.  In my ManicDDaily way, I often wax glowingly nostalgic about old haunts (from a distance), but succumb to a terrible grimness when I actually have to go back to them.  Such visits makes me revisit every road taken and not taken; also those roads that were somehow (seemingly unfairly) boarded up.    In the ensuing self-castigation and resentment, all past actions  (even those that turned out very well) take on the smudged hue of mistake.

Today, there was a news story that put these kinds of unuseful regrets and resentments into perspective:  this was about a guy, James Fisher, described in an article in the New York Times by Dan Berry. Fisher was held on death row in Oklahoma for approximately 28 years during which the question of his guilt (for first-degree murder) was never truly adjudicated.   After two trials were eventually overturned for for ineffective assistance of counsel, Mr. Fisher, though maintaining his innocence,  instructed a third attorney to seek a plea bargain;  on pleading guilty, he was released on the condition that he leave the State of Oklahoma immediately and never return.

Dan Berry’s article describes Mr. Fisher departure from Oklahoma, traveling, at one point ,with Stanley Washington, an aide from the Equal Justice Initiative, who himself served 16 years for non-violent drug offenses.  Fisher, in the hot winds of Texas, “vented for a while about his banishment from Oklahoma. He asked Mr. Washington why they would do that, but seemed satisfied by Mr. Washington’s answer of: Who cares?”

Maybe not a just answer, but a useful one for moving on.

Why is what’s done done?  Why is what’s past past?  In The Thief of Time, the wonderful writer Terry Pratchett has another great answer to these types of questions:  “as you accumulate years, you will learn that most answers boil down to ‘Because’.”

Buck Off!

July 30, 2010


Terry Pratchett, my favorite writer of all time (other than, perhaps, William Shakespeare), has a wonderful scene in Guards Guards! in which Lady Sybil Ramkin surveys the rank and file of the Ankh-Morpork City Night Watch–that is, Corporal Carrot, Sergeant Colon, Nobby Nobbs, and an orangutang (the Unseen University’s Librarian) who is serving as an ad-hoc guard.

‘A fine body of men….errr anthropoids,’ Lady Ramkin puffs as she sails down the line.

The guards, their chests sticking out, felt considerably “bucked up,”  by Lady Ramkin’s inspection, Pratchett notes, ‘which was several letters away in the alphabet from how they usually felt.’  (This is quoted from memory but you get the gist.)

Bucking up, cheering up, “chin up”, are old British watchwords;  activities as seemingly traditional as stiff upper lips and tea at 4.

With all due respect to Lady Ramkin, just give me the tea.

Bucking up makes me feel trivialized; patronized, sometimes furious.    (Does it even make traditional Brits feel better?  Or does it just make them adopt other “up” activities as in “put” and “shut.”)

Sympathy implies someone sharing your feelings, not trying to lever them away.  (I have a  image of the bucker heaving dirt from a hole in the ground into an upper level window box, which, ironically, holds only plastic flowers.)

The sharing of gloomy feelings may confirm gloominess, but that comfirmation, that added firmness, gives me, at least, a foundation to step up from.  (And a step works better than a push, here.) 


Bucked-up Exchange:

Low Person:  “I’m so low.”

Bucker-Upper:  “Awww.. Just get going and you’ll feel better.”

Low Person:  “No, I won’t.”

Bucker-upper:  “You will, I promise you.”

Low Person:  “I WON’T.  [There follows a compendium of the many ways in which the bucker-upper is contributing to the “won’tness.”]

Non-Bucked-Up Exchange:

Low Person:  “I’m so low.”

Ideal Answer:  “Boy, you sound really low.”

Low Person:  “Yes…  But I’ve got to going.”

Ideal Answer:  “It’s hard.”

Low Person:  “Yes.”  {As Low Person begins moving.)

Of course, the tea helps too.

Few Choices Re McChrystal – Not McClellan

June 23, 2010

General George McClellan

For all the talk about Lincoln keeping General George McClellan in his post as head of the Union Army despite his abuses and insubordination (at least until Lincoln finally replaced him with Grant), I don’t think Obama had any choice but to get rid of McChrystal.

It’s probably true that virtually all military top brass disdain their civilian superiors.  It’s probably also true that virtually all military low brass, or below brass, disdain their military superiors.   As the immortal Terry Pratchett writes of Sergeant Colon in Discworld: “-[t]he sane core of Colon was wondering if the purpose of officers wasn’t to stand between the sergeants and all this sh—this slush[i.e. paperwork], so that they could get on with sergeanting.”

When the shoe steps, floorboards squeak.  But McChrystal was a general who’d expressed his disdain just too many times, too publicly, too acidly.

Frankly , it seems to me that anyone who prides himself—or at least lets people know—that he only sleeps four hours and eats only one meal every day he seems custom-made for “disdain”.  McChrystal, however,  having problems connecting with his soldiers as well as his superiors, is not in a position to afford such disdain.

Even if McChrystal were more successful, his actions seem calculated to make it impossible for O’s team to continue to work with him with any kind of trust and confidence.  His presence would reflect a serious and continuing lapse in Obama’s authority.  (I feel somehow certain that people like Karzai, while pleading for McChrystal, would also not respect Obama for keeping him.)

The timing was especially unfortunate.  How could Obama let McChrystal stay, when, in the face of accusations of ineffectiveness, he has just proclaimed his ability to kick a–.  (He can’t get rid of  the leaking well, but he can damn well get rid of the leaking general.)

The whole situation  is just too bad for all concerned.

News/Olds – New York City Cab Drivers – Texas School Board

March 13, 2010

Extra!  Extra!  In The New York Times yesterday:  (i) not all New York City cab drivers are honest, and (ii) Texas will be Texas.

In the first “amazing” news item:  New York City cab drivers have cheated millions of riders in the last two years.  This has been accomplished by illegally charging an alternative (doubled) meter rate applicable to Westchester and Nassau County within New York City limits.

Some drivers have excused these overcharges on the grounds that the buttons activating the meter rates are small and that it is easy for pre-occupied fingers to accidentally activate the wrong rate.   (The excuse, which doesn’t take into account the higher bucks received,  smells like those sometimes sent to car insurance companies:  “a pedestrian hit me and went under my car.”   “The guy was all over the road. I had to swerve a number of times before I hit him.”)

If New York cab drivers being New York cab drivers is disheartening, Texas being Texas is even more so.  As reported by James McKinley Jr.: “the Texas Board of Education on Friday approved a social studies curriculum that will put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks, stressing the superiority of American capitalism, questioning the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a purely secular government and presenting Republican political philosophies in a more positive light.”

Example:  the new rules will replace the term “capitalism” as a description of, you know, capitalism, with the term “free enterprise system,” (to avoid the negative connotations of phrases like “capitalist pig”.)

Example:  Thomas Jefferson (not liked because he coined the term “separation between church and state”) will be cut from a list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions in the 17th and 18th centuries.  (I guess the Declaration of Independence doesn’t count.)  (Is it worth noting that there are no historians on the Texas School Board?)

The proposed changes in Texas make me almost as upset with the left as the right;  I can’t help but feel that,  in the last decades, the left has also actively pushed for a politicization of history texts, and now is being hoist by their own petard.   (I’m sorry to those readers who disagree with me.)

Yes, the old 50’s and 60’s texts were incredibly jingoistic and one-sided; many of the changes of the last decades created a much  more historically accurate, as well as broader, picture of the past.   (Some terrific history texts resulted, such as Joy Hakim’s wonderful The Story of US.)

However, attempts to right old sins, and to emphasize the accomplishments of groups and genders who had historically been overlooked (as well as oppressed), also sometimes went overboard.  My children went to a grade school, for example, where every child knew of Rosa Parks, but extremely few had knowledge of FDR (except, perhaps, for his disability) ,  World War II (other than perhaps Japanese internment camps), or even, though it was a secular school, Thomas Jefferson (except perhaps for his relationship with Sally Hemmings.)    (An attempt to be inclusive, in other words, sometimes seemed exclusive, and to almost perversely avoid a broader historical context.)

Of course, an even bigger problem (to amplify on a quote by the great education president and Texan, George W. Bush):  “Is our children learning” anything at all?

In The Truth, a Discworld satirical fantasy by Terry Pratchett, the tyrannical Lord Vetinari warns a budding newspaper publisher that what people crave is not “news” but “olds”.   “They like to be told what they already know,” Vetinari explains—not man bites dog, but dog bites man.

I’m not sure I completely agree with Vetinari here;  while both these stories are certainly “olds”, they only offer a kind of painful satisfaction, the kind available from from scratching a bite, picking a sore.

For more on this subject, and one of my best paintings ever (of George Washington), check out my post on George Washington, Sarah Palin and Christian With a Capital C.

Thankful for No Snakes

November 24, 2009

Doesn't Mind Snakes (From 1 Mississippi, BackStroke Books, Karin Gustafson)

You  know those moments in which your life has exceeded all maximum legal occupancy rates and weights and is crashing straight down some shaft?

Or maybe it’s a question of balance.  In your case, it’s so off, that you’ve long passed the tipping point and are now crashing at the perfect tilt to cause maximum cranial damage.

Or perhaps there’s no direct crash.  Perhaps your life is overflowing to the point that the only way to save the levees is to swallow as much sea water as possible.

As if there weren’t already enough pressure, you suddenly remember an important appointment.  Because it had so completely slipped your mind, this moment of recollection  is fraught with anxiety.  You are certain, at first, that you have already missed the appointment.  In the next moment, you realize, with bare relief, that the important appointment is tomorrow.  But this hardly makes you feel better, because there’s no way that you’ll be ready even by the next day.  The anxiety that had gripped your heart shifts to your stomach.

What is worse is that you are going through this whole litany in the middle of a subway car rather than in one of those classic late-to-school, naked-in-class, day-of-the-test dreams (from which you could conceivably awake.)  

What do you do?    What are your options?

1.  Call in sick and stay home in bed obsessively reading Twilight.

2.  There are many much better books in the world;  call in sick and obsessively read one of those.

3.  Don’t just call in sick, actually get sick.  (This may even get you two or three days off the hook.)

4.  Consider computer games.

5.  Or baking.  If you do bake, make sure to save some treats for your boss.

6.  Stop waiting till 8 or 9 pm for your one glass of wine per day.

7.  Who said you had to stop at one?

8.  Finally, remember the wisdom of Nanny Ogg,  a Discworld persona  created by the incomparable Terry Pratchett.  In Carpe Jugulum, Nanny, a witch, and her colleague, Magrat Garlick, with newborn baby in tow, engage in a hazardous escape from (you guessed it) a vampire takeover which has defeated Granny Weatherwax.  As their rickety coach gets stuck in a flooding rainstorm, the baby’s diaper begins to smell, and Magrat complains of their plight, Nanny offers the comforting thought that their situation could be worse.

“How could it be worse?” Magrat asks incredulously.

“Well,”  Nanny says, “there could be snakes in here with us.”

Be thankful that New York City subway cars, by and large, do not house snakes.

(Sorry, by the way, for paraphrasing Pratchett from memory.   If you don’t know his many many wonderful books, check them out!)

And if you are stressed, long for the soothing of watercolors, don’t mind snakes, and would really really like to learn to count (with elephants), check out 1 Mississippi by Karin Gustafson on Amazon, or at the ManicDDaily homepage.



What Makes Young People (And Some of Us Others) Re-read

October 27, 2009

For those of you who actually follow this blog, and don’t just click on a link that happens to mention Robsten or the Twilight Saga, I’m sorry!  There’s not been much poetry over the last couple of days, but a lot of clicks.

Yes, I like the clicks.  (And, strangely, “Robsten” seems to generate a whole bunch more than, let’s say, “sestina.”)

But I want to explain to you (who may not understand why in the world I write about this stuff) that I truly am interested in a couple of facets of Twilight mania (besides each of Rob’s cheekbones.)

First:  despite all the poetry I’ve posted on this blog, I am mainly a fiction writer, primarily for children and young adults.  As a result, I am fascinated by the question of what makes people read a book again and again.  And I have to say (without mentioning anything about my own experience) that the Twilight mania proves Twilight et al. to be a set of those much re-read books.

It’s a given that books that generate this type of obsessive re-reading are not always particularly “good” books, i.e. well-written.  In fact, many “good” books, that is, really profound, original, heart-wrenching, or poetic books, are not the most dog-eared at the end of the day (or lifetime.)  It’s almost as if such books are too sharp, too bitter, too stinging, to be savored again and again (in the same way that grapefruit is not typically considered a comfort food.)

This is not to say that much re-read books are poorly written!  (Charlotte’s Web and  Harry Potter are much re-read great books.) Only that good writing alone does not make a book a good re-read.  (Nor does a good plot, good jokes, good suspense, even though one or more of these is likely to be present.)

So what does make a book a good re-read?

To me, the distinguishing factor is that the book creates characters with whom readers like to spend time, sometimes, too, a world in which readers like to spend time.

Reading a book is a commitment.  It means hours in which you are not conversing, i-ming, watching TV; hours, in other words, in which you are alone.  Sometimes, in fact, a book is a way to be alone, a path to privacy in a place with hard-to-place boundaries, such as a subway, or, if you are a child, a family dinner.

Because of the inherent solitude of reading, it is important that the main character is good company—fun, cool (but not too cool as to be unempathetic), willing to share confidences.  Being admirable is helpful too, as long as there are also sympathetic and/or humorous failings and idiosyncrasies.  (Sam Vines, Captain Carrot, Granny Weatherwax in Terry Pratchett, even Hercule Poirot in Agatha Christie.)

The world of a much re-read book can, of course, have its dark side.  But it is hard to repeatedly spend time in a world that is overwhelmingly creepy or frightening. (The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, and even Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier, are obvious examples of wonderful books in which the worlds created, or re-created, are just too horrific to motivate re-reads.  On the children’s shelf, similarly, the later tomes of the wonderful, His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman, that is, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, also, with the exception of certain scenes, get both too threatening and rarified for a child’s immediately repeated visits.)

Ideally, the created world, even if dark, has a fun, semi-magical side.  (Hogwarts, obviously; the barn in Charlotte‘s Web, Florida, as seen by Carl Hiassen, Discworld, as envisioned by Terry Pratchett.)

Re-reading is a particular practice of the young and the young (or perhaps, immature) at heart who can repeatedly find sustenance in something that’s already well-digested.  (Sort of like baby penguins.)   This may be because the young (and not young, but immature) are themselves subject to (i) so much fluctuation, and (ii) so much beyond their control, that they find special comfort in the predictability of a “known” fiction.   The combination of the familiar with the fantastical may be especially appealing.

Romance makes a great re-read as well.   First love is a story that has been told again and again and again; is it any wonder that some people don’t mind re-reading the exact same version of it?

Which brings me back to Twilight.

Tomorrow or in the near future (if I get time),  I’ll write about the second facet that I find interesting—that is, what makes people re-see a movie, as opposed to re-read a book.

In the meantime, check out 1 Mississippi by Karin Gustafson on Amazon.