The folks at Studio C (hat tip Greenway family) have managed to capture the essence of my courtship of my wife in a six-minute video. Okay, not really, but it’s close. Estonia is only a short boat-ride away from Finland, share a similar language, and the werewolf monkeys do get kinda bad at certain times of the year. Anyway, this video is a good reminder of how fortunate we were that Terhi speaks much better English than I do Finnish. Enjoy!
The White House is currently battling against several nasty scandals that have pretty much derailed their agenda. It should be no secret by now that I’m not a fan of this president’s ideas and politics. But I’m not enjoying this at all. I’m surprised I’m not, as I’ve suspected some of this stuff was not beyond them for some time. But in spite of it all, I take no joy in being proven not unduly pessimistic.
Stuff like this will poison the well for a long time to come. It will also embolden those who are looking for any excuse to justify their undisciplined behavior and ill-mannered attacks. No president or government should be immune from scrutiny and criticism, but neither should they be subjected to ad hominem attacks and vitriolic disrespect. Granted, that line was crossed, and crossed repeatedly a long time ago, but that doesn’t excuse it.
How many times have we heard candidates promise to “restore dignity, visibility, and accountability to the office”? How many times have they actually delivered? This is not a partisan issue–both sides are guilty.
And yet what are we supposed to do? In the current environment what could possibly entice the honest and upright to pursue public office when the attempt will subject their families and friends to the most vile treatment conceivable? I discussed this recently with a friend on social media, and we both agreed just throwing our hands up in the air is not the answer.
I know it’s a lot to ask, but next election cycle when both parties go into their default mode of trying to paint their opponent in the worst light possible, can we try being a little less quick to believe? No one is ever as bad as their opponents claim, nor as good as their supporters promise. They are, more often than not, simply human beings who are as vulnerable to the corruptive power of power as the next man. They will make mistakes. They will do stupid things. They will make decisions that are unpopular with a large portion of the public. But they will almost never be as terrible as their opponents want us to think.
When we listen to such hooey we reward that behavior and encourage more of the same. Let’s break the cycle, and next time someone tries to convince us the very devil himself has run for office, let’s step back and question–and insist on proof–rather than simply accepting it because it plays to our own suspicions and biases. Let’s think for ourselves, and think twice before speaking.
Then think even more before actually voting.
I first picked up the novella Legion when it was offered free as an audiobook a few months ago. Unfortunately I soon found that my mp3 player didn’t handle audiobooks, so I owned a book I couldn’t read. But now that I have an mp3 player that will, I decided it was time to dust off the file and give it a try. And I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting much. Thus far I’ve only enjoyed Sanderson’s work when he’s avoided contemporary fantasy.
I was pleasantly surprised. The concept is fresh and interesting, the plot reasonably engaging. The characters, though, make the story work. Stephen Leeds is a schizophrenic who is able to interact with his multiple personalities and utilize their specialized talents. His “aspects” are also able to interact with one another, with sometimes comedic effect. Yet Sanderson keeps the relationship between Leeds and his “aspects” vague: are they somehow real and smarter than he is, or is he a jack-of-all-trades genius who creates these multiple personalities to compartmentalize his abilities as a form of “multi-threading”? I don’t know, but it’s fun.
Where Sanderson’s Alcatraz series was over the top and quickly got old with its slapstick humor, Legion walks a different line. Humor is a strong component, but it never overpowers the story and feels out of place. While seldom laugh-out-loud funny, I was frequently smiling to myself.
It is a novella, so it does feel short–television episode short. My theory is that Legion was either written to be a TV series pilot concept that failed to get picked up, or is being dangled out there now in hopes it will get picked up. All the components are there: a quirky main character, an ensemble team (the story is told first-person, so we see the aspects as if they were real people), the ability to get involved in and go on adventures, running gags, an ongoing plot of indefinite length and potential for resolution…far too much to be a coincidence. This was written with TV in mind. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. And if he is able to sell the rights…good for him.
Even if he doesn’t, and he’s merely setting himself up a side-series where he can duck in, play around, and create a new “episode” novella to sell every so often, I’m game for more. It’s a fun novella, and a nice palate-cleanser after some of the “heavier” stuff I’ve been reading of late.
As a side note, the audiobook I listened to was narrated by Oliver Wyman. He sounded familiar, and a quick check reveals I’ve heard him at least once before, narrating Thomas L. Friedman’s The World Is Flat. While a decidedly younger, non-standard voice, he did an excellent job with Legion, voicing such divers characters as a distinguished black man, a southern black professional woman, a semi-redneck ex-SEAL, an Israeli guard, a female Indian translator, and a handful of Filipinos. His ability to narrate characters so distinctly and so effortlessly gives the reading of Legion a radio-play quality that works well here.
On another note, fans of Sanderson’s writing podcast “Writing Excuses” will recognize the hat-tip to fellow podcaster Dan Wells in a cameo by “Armando” as one of Leeds’ “aspects”.
Americans can be giving people. Some horrific event, like the Boston Marathon bombing, happens and large amounts of money are generated to help the victims. But how do you decide how to divide the money? Who makes that call? In this case, at least, it’s Kenneth Feinberg, professional arbitrator. He’s the man so many turn to when it’s time to put a price tag on pain and suffering:
Feinberg must calculate how much each person is entitled to, factoring in horrific realities such as the number of limbs a victim lost.
He’s doing it for free, and has told victims he plans to distribute all the money by June 30.
Placing a dollar amount on a life or an injury may sound heartless, but Feinberg, who is rehearsed in hearing victims’ stories, brings sensitivity to his work, say those who have worked with him.
“He’s the umpire, the mediator, the resolver,” said John C. Coffee Jr., a law professor at Columbia University in New York who has known Feinberg for about 20 years. “He can listen, and he’s a people person.”
Talk about your difficult, thankless jobs. Someone’s got to do it, and I’m glad there are people like him who are able to. I wouldn’t be able to. It’s an interesting article about an interesting man in a very interesting position.
I’ve been hearing about The Wheel of Time for quite some time now (no pun intended). I’ve always been put off by both the size of the individual volumes and the number of books in the series. But as audiobooks they’re a bargain! Nearly a full month of drive-time entertainment! So when I signed up for Audible lately I decided to start the series.
It was good, but I’m not sure it lives up to the hype. I’m not sure what would have. For world-building it’s first rate. Having been in the wrapping-up phases of my own world-building for a new novel, I was blown away by the sheer mass of planning supporting the story. It’s almost to the point of not even being a good learning opportunity, just like I had a hard time learning more than just the basics of chess by playing my brother-in-law who was so far above my level I couldn’t even figure out what he’d done to me much of the time.
So it’s certainly easy to see how Jordan got fourteen novels out of his concept (granted, he’d only planned twelve). The trouble is, as deep and majestic as the setting and the plot may be, it moves very slowly. Oh, there’s excitement enough throughout the book, but most of it feels like filler to keep the main plot from advancing too quickly. It reminded me a lot of Huckleberry Finn in that regard. A lot of things happen, but very little of it seems to be directly related to the plot.
But I think my main problem so far is with the characters. None of them really grab me. I kinda care about Rand, but I have no idea how many more books there will be before he accepts his destiny and stops freaking out over everything. And yes, I suppose it’s natural for a group of strangers suddenly thrown together to be distrustful and not want to tell each other anything more than absolutely necessary, but it stretches credibility how completely incurious they are, as well. It’s as if the driving rule of group dynamics is “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” But even after this is shown repeatedly to be a mistake they still withhold information from one another–and it’s not like they don’t have plenty of time to talk and catch one another up during their travels.
And yet the characters still get mad at one another for wrong choices, even though they couldn’t have known to choose differently. How were the boys supposed to know they shouldn’t go outside the building they’d settled in for the night? They’d been told they were safe from their pursuers within the abandoned city–and no one told them there was anything to fear there. But they still get mad at the boys for wandering off to explore. A simple warning would have been sufficient to avoid the entire mess that results. But they had to make the mistake or the plot wouldn’t have developed in the right direction.
I hate it when writers give their characters a case of the stupids. I don’t care how close to the chest you want to play your cards, if something is dangerous you tell someone. And yet time and again through the book people continually go out of their way not to talk to one another, and it comes back to bite them again and again.
And no matter how many times the characters prove themselves to one another, they still don’t want to trust one another, or even soften their dislike of one another. This may be natural, but it also gets old.
There is a lot to like about Jordan’s setting, and he does do an excellent job of differentiating characters and points of view. I learned quite a bit about the writer’s craft in listening to this book. In spite of their penchant for information guarding, most of the characters are fairly well rounded–certainly better than any of my characterizations at present. And as I said, his back-story and setting are incredibly deep.
It’s just might not be a story for me. Not every story will appeal to every person. I read novels for different reasons than other people. I will give the second book a try sooner or later, but I’m not in a big hurry. I’ve heard Jordan hits his stride in the second book (though I’ve also heard he starts to lose it again in the latter half of the series), so who knows. I’ll get to it eventually. But I’ve other books on my list first.
The last few weeks have knocked me off my stride, and I now find myself facing a backlog of stuff. I’ll try to keep up on my posting, but I’ve made a conscious decision that this and Facebook just aren’t going to be as important as other things for awhile until I get caught up.
Sorry for the inconvenience, as I know a great many web-spammers are hanging on my every post so they don’t have to keep spamming old posts and making themselves conspicuous. I’ve got news for you, guys. You repeat yourselves so many times I can spot your spam a mile away.
Anyway, I’ll be around now and then, and when I can actually think of something to post about, I will. Until then, be good!
Yes, I’m early. But, besides the fact that I don’t post on weekends, come Mothers Day I’ll be busy enough with my own personal celebrations. It’s either now, or late.
Mothers don’t get much credit. When you think about it, what accomplishment by the human race could possibly compare with mothers’ efforts to provide a human race in the first place? Edison, Einstein, Lincoln, Churchill…none of them could have done anything had they not survived to adulthood. None of them would have done anything had they not been born. Not one of them began life with a little book of prophecy to alert their mothers to what they held in their arms. They simply gave and sustained life in these little infants because that’s what mothers do, not because some soothsayer stood at their shoulders saying, “This child is destined for greatness! Greatness, I say! You must ensure this child lives!”
Good for women who get out there and make other contributions. I’m not saying they shouldn’t. But in spite of what it seems, success in business or success in academia, or science, or politics is largely unimportant by comparison with populating the world. Someone may save civilization as we know it, but there’d be no civilization to save without the continual replenishment of population.
Furthermore, mothers have more influence on how those children will turn out than anyone else. Civilizations rise and fall because of what mothers (and fathers) do or don’t teach their children. Would civilization fall if Bill Gates hadn’t built Microsoft? I doubt it. Would civilization fall if Meg Whitman ran eBay into the ground? Unlikely. But civilization will fall if mothers aren’t there teaching character, providing love, and shaping minds. And while teachers are great for teaching, they can never provide as much personal attention and unconditional love as a mother.
So in case you hadn’t already picked up on this, I’m a big fan of mothers. My mother is an amazing person; perhaps none of us have gone down in history, but her children are all making a positive difference in the world. My wife is an amazing person; it’s far from certain yet, but I’m pretty sure our kids will turn out just fine–and if so, it’s because of her. My sisters are doing a great job with their children. If the world goes off the deep end it won’t be from a lack of effort by the mothers around me.
To those out there who believe motherhood to be a waste of talent I blow a hearty raspberry. Pull your heads out of your nethers and actually pay attention to the world for a change.
To mothers everywhere I extend a heartfelt thank you. The world will never regret the efforts you made to produce and prepare your children to become decent human beings.
I did not eat
that were in
you may still
the chocolate cake
but now looks gone
(with apologies to William Carlos Williams)
My daughter is doing a poety assignment for school, so every poem that strikes her fancy has been thrust before my eyes lately. I’m not a poetry snob, mind you, but some of them appeal much more to a sixth grader than to me. That said, there is a lot to love about poetry if you’re a person who loves words. Modern education tries its best to beat that out of you (both loving poetry and loving words), but there are some poems that are just a lot of fun. Others are poignant, and some are wonderful for all the reasons the professors tell you and more. Some endow language with sensory impact in startling ways.
I’ve matured in my rebellion against the collegiate deconstructionists. I now admit that much of what is in poetry was done on purpose, if not for the reasons the professors say. Word choice matters, though ironically I learned that much more deeply writing and editing marketing copy than in English Lit. classes. Playing with rhyme and meter, imagery, alliteration, assonance–all of that can add so much when done well, but can be left out altogether when done well, also.
I love a good Robert Frost poem, as some of you may have noticed, even if he’s not in vogue so much anymore. I also love a good Shel Silverstein, or e.e. cummings, even–the Picasso of the Poetry world. Edgar Allen Poe has influenced me through the years, though more from Annabel Lee than from The Raven. Wordsworth, Keats, Browning–they’ve all impressed me in one way or another. I’ve certainly benefited from a classical education.
But for all that I don’t read poetry much, and my daughter’s school project has convinced me that is an oversight on my part. Dan Wells, one of my new favorite authors, insists an author can benefit greatly from a study of poetry. It certainly shows in his work. There’s not a stitch of poetry in it, and yet his imagery is often poetic. It’s hard to argue that the choice of words, the efficiency in saying as much as possible with as few words as possible, even meter and rhythm have no place in prose, especially storytelling.
I am therefore going to make an effort to include more poetry in my reading list. It’s about time, too. I bought a hardbound book of Rudyard Kipling poetry last year, and I’ve still yet to read more than a smattering from it. I’m placing that on my reading list as a good place to start.
There are a lot of things in life that one has to experience for yourself. Other people can try to describe for you what it feels like or how to do it, but ultimately until you try it, perhaps fail a little, and then get it right, you can’t really know what it is. Singing is one of those things. I took voice lessons for at least eight years. My teacher would use imagery to try to communicate. He would demonstrate. He could tell me when I was finally getting it right. But he couldn’t allow me to look inside at his larynx, his lungs, his diaphragm to see how they worked when he was doing it.
The best we could do was for me to think of the imagery he provided and try it myself. If he told me I had it right I could then mentally bookmark what my body was doing and try to duplicate that more in the future. This is why it can be very difficult to become a famous singer–it’s not a precise science.
It occurred to me the other day that self esteem is similar. If you have poor self esteem you may at least recognize that is the case. But how, exactly, do you go about changing that? What does good self esteem feel like? What do those thought processes look like? How do you know when you have good self esteem, and when you’re overshooting the mark and becoming egotistical?
Wouldn’t it be great if we could spend some time in the head of another person so we could examine their thought processes and compare them to our own? Wouldn’t it be great to be able to benchmark your own mind, so that you could identify negative thoughts the moment they appear in your head–even before they get a chance to come out, perhaps? You’d be able to see when you were being unduly hard on yourself. You’d be able to recognize that seemingly innocent thoughts are undermining your calm and resolve.
Of course I’m only assuming that people with high self esteem think differently. Perhaps they don’t. Perhaps I might find the thought processes of such people are not significantly different than my own already. Would I find that discouraging? What if the difference were small enough that no quick fix was evident?
Not that anyone would ever want someone to be able to hear their thoughts. I know I wouldn’t want anyone hearing mine, no matter how useful it might be. Not even the low-level instinctive feelings, let alone the higher-level internal conversations. As useful as it might be, I’m not sure I would even be willing, assuming the technology was available, to have my thoughts recorded even with absolute guarantee of anonymity.
So I guess on some things I’m on my own. Perhaps what I need is to take a page from my college voice lessons and find a self-esteem coach. But I see at least two obstacles there. The first would be finding someone I would trust to do it right. That sort of person would likely be something of a psychologist or professional counselor. I’ve been to one before. Years ago someone close to me was involved in a fairly public scandal, and counseling was made available for those of us impacted. I was fortunate that there was someone who shared my religious beliefs. Even then I found it difficult opening up to this person, and had a hard time believing her when she tried to reassure me I was normal, what I was feeling was normal, and everything was okay.
That would be the second issue–my issues are deeply entrenched. I’m not sure even when they took root. Such things do not resolve easily. I would probably fight it every step of the way. And on some level I like my issues. They give me permission to not do some things I find unpleasant. It’s a feedback loop: I don’t like talking to strangers, so it’s easier to just not talk to strangers–which makes me dislike talking to strangers all the more.
See what I mean? Someone who likes meeting new people finds such thinking completely alien. And I would find their thinking incomprehensible. But no one is going to the extrovert telling them they need to learn to be more reserved. By society’s standards I’m the one with the problem. And since my personality gets in the way of what I want sometimes, I’m inclined to agree, at least in some cases. But how do I get here? I don’t know what the destination looks like, and I’m resistant to challenging my deep-set beliefs about myself.
I caught myself in the act recently. A friend paid me a high compliment, and I immediately noticed my mental heels digging in and the walls going up: No, I’m not a good person! That was only one time! If only he knew how horrible I really am! No! Wait! Don’t tell him how horrible you really are! Just acknowledge the compliment and move on–quickly! Nothing to see here! My response was somewhat awkward, but probably not for the reasons he might have thought. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if this friend knows me well enough to have some idea the internal conflicts I deal with.
Like I said, I don’t know how I got this way. In a way, it doesn’t matter, except perhaps for what keys it might reveal as to how to fix it. I suspect it wasn’t any one incident or situation. I suspect a lot of it is just because of my natural introversion and tendency to live inside my own head. I wasn’t an only child, but with four to seven years between me and my closest siblings, I may as well have been for long periods of each day. I learned to be my own best friend, and filled in the rest from my own imagination. I don’t recall having any particular difficulty making friends when I went to school, though I don’t recall how I did it, either.
But somewhere along the way I learned I wasn’t “normal”, reinforced by the fact that some people picked on me for reasons I couldn’t ascertain. I knew I shouldn’t pay attention to them, and I did my best to ignore them. They never seemed to lose interest like they were supposed to, though. What had I ever done to them? And somewhere along the way I learned to care a little too much about what people thought.
I don’t care so much about my own struggles. What bothers me the most is situations where I let others shame me from doing what I knew was right. For example, in high school I rode the bus home much of the time. On our bus was a girl with developmental issues. She was pleasant enough, but she had a habit of attaching herself to any boy who showed her any attention, immediately declaring him her boyfriend. I was one of the few who didn’t avoid her, and so I became her “boyfriend”, and she would go on and on about how nice I was, for everyone to hear.
The trouble was that several of my female friends thought this was immensely hilarious and seldom skipped an opportunity to tease me about it. These were kids who should have known better, mind you. But while I never entirely let them dissuade me from treating this girl decently, I was also never able to not feel awkward about it, on terribly conflicted inside–and guilty for feeling so conflicted. Doing the right thing shouldn’t have felt so uncomfortable.
I remained friends with this girl for quite a few years after that, but while it got easier without my tormentors still around, I was never able to get past the awkwardness. I hear stories of young people who are able to overlook such difficulties and love people unconditionally, and I feel ashamed that I never could achieve that myself. It’s not much consolation to look back and realize that those “friends” who teased me bear their own share of the responsibility. They did what they did. But my actions were mine, and I knew better, too.
There are no do-overs in life. That and many other incidents where I handled life poorly will always be with me. They would be easier to look back on if I could confidently say I’ve changed and overcome those deficiencies of character. I doubt I’m any more able to stand up to someone like that today and tell them off than I was back then.
I know I need to change. I know there are parts of who I am that are not who I should be. They do me no credit, and they should be at least removed if not replaced with something positive. But how, exactly? Like water down a hillside, my thoughts have been eroding their own pathways for decades. How do you divert the stream?
I don’t know, but it’s time I found out, before I get any older. So I can at least stop repeating so many of the same mistakes.
My fence has been threatening to fall down, so now that the weather has decided to cooperate I’ve started to take it down, with the idea of putting up a new one. This last Saturday was supposed to be a day for significant progress on that project.
Unfortunately I was wrong. The people who put up the previous fence did use concrete to set some of the posts. Their piles didn’t go very deep, though, so they weren’t that hard to get out. Except the last one. I have a hard time believing it was done by the same people. It was done…well, right. Unfortunately, it was also done when the nearby tree was much, much smaller. With all the roots through that area, I had a hard time digging around it deep enough to get it out. With just a shovel, a two-foot metal pry-bar, and some scrap 2x4s for leverage I not only didn’t make much progress, I broke two 2x4s.
Once again, I finally gave up and went to see my neighbor, hoping he had a sledgehammer. Even better, he had a sledgehammer and a 5-foot steel 20# pry-bar. The thing felt like it weighed as much as I do. Between the two tools I was able to break up most of the concrete and remove it. There’s still a bit that I just won’t be getting out unless I dig the hole wider, and I’m not going to do that. It’ll just have to serve as filler for the next post hole.
It took me six hours of work to get to the point that there is nothing left of the old fence, and at least two hours of it was spent on that doggone chunk of concrete. I’d hoped to have at least some of the new posts up by now. I guess that’ll have to wait until next weekend. Not that we have a lot of time then, but we’ll see how it goes. The next thing to look forward to is digging eight holes with a clam-shell digger. Yeah, I know. I get to have all the fun!
Actually, the quasi-fun part comes later. Once the posts are up I’ll probably enjoy running the cross-beams and putting up the fence boards. It’s not so demanding, and fairly repetitive. I could listen to a lot of audio-book during a project like that.