Writing

This post first appeared in Organic Coffee Haphazardly. You ought to stop by that site and meander on through the literate entries. 

 

writing

He answers the question each time he raises his pen to paper. The story came before the word. It is a rhythm, the storytelling. Each cluster of thoughts breeds opinions on where to go next. Choosing a path, he keeps the flow going. He follows his instinct not worrying about pretty. Just let it flow.

It is his addiction; stringing words together. He has been there many times feeding the craving that defies rules of prose and punctuation, yet appears from nowhere to take up residence on the page. Like a fine piece of art, this first draft is the sketch that defines the composition. It tells the rudimentary story. Countless edits later that story will be the painting he envisions. Not today. Today the story is a new idea. A colt trying to stand on spindly legs, falling but getting up again while gaining strength with each failure.

The coffee gets cold. A refill is not on the horizon for the words have control. No interruption. An element of backstory emerges as he maneuvers a character and wonders why she did that. The pen moves to the margin to jot a quick note and capture the fleeting thought, phrased in a shorthand he hopes he will remember in the weeks to come when he returns to this page. A memory causes a smile as he recalls wondering if this paper with such wide margins was going to be useful or a waste of space. He has created entire worlds in less than ten words in those margins. The depth of his characters lives there. It is a soup of partial memories and unformed plot lines that are the writer’s equivalent of biographical fiction.

Forward. The pen moves him where he needs to go. Ink flows from the nib to the paper providing a tactile feel for each letter with a sound that applauds progress. Pushed forward under his control the pen yields surprising turns. How often, when he feels he has a clear view of the story ahead, does the pen take him in a different direction? A line of site interrupted by an obstacle set there with cruel subconscious intention, reminding him that life is seldom a straight line. And the challenge of the obstacle lets him show his characters in a new light. They are as surprised as he, and that surprise finds its way into the syncopation of syllables, creating an energy of anticipation. ‘Yes,’ he thinks. That could happen, and the flow continues. Fresh and alive.

For a moment he wonders where the need to tell the story comes from. What ancient, prehistoric challenge had man faced that made storytelling a survival trait. It is nothing but constrained lies bundled together. Then he wonders if a simpleton, binary thinking computer, that is only as good as the fiction of the code that man has created for it, can be induced to create a new thought or even polish up an old one? Maybe some day they will rediscover the analog computer and find the secret to artificial intelligence. The secret of infusing a survival skill into a computer. All this in a mental flash that is more image than prose.

That is what he does. He is less a writer than a transcriber of the images that form in his mind. The stories don’t form in sentences and words. They form as high definition movies in his mind where he can rewind and fast forward instantaneously until he settles on the scene that will be transcribed. A change in dialog or location to suit his will. The will to tell a good story. It is magic and he doesn’t overthink it. He let’s the magic move him. Understanding it too deeply might ruin it for him, but that thought leads him to ponder more questions. The cycle continues and each turn of his mental crank reveals more of the story. His pen scratches more words on the page.

Writing is presentation of discovery.

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New York City – What Cruz Doesn’t Get

I’m not a New Yorker. I worked in New York City for over ten years and commuted from my wooded domain in Connecticut via train into Grand Central. I often go into The City to…well, pretty much do anything. It is unlike any other city in the world. Not better or worse, just unique. As I writer I am a natural and trained observer. I may not be a New Yorker, but The City offers the best opportunities in the world for a writer to see diversity and people interacting.

I think it is interesting in the U.S. if you say you went to The City in a conversation most people will understand you mean NYC. I am surrounded by cities, but New York is The City. And for good reason. The City is a microcosm of the United States, just revved up to New York speed.

My attachment to The City goes back a couple of generations. My grandparents on my mother’s side came into this country from Italy through The City. NYC is the gateway to our wonderful country. And it has attained that status for several reasons that Ted Cruz truly doesn’t understand. So I want to set him straight.

I spent the weekend in The City with my wonderful wife. We like to go free form, so we don’t really plan much. The night we arrived our middle eastern cab driver took us to an authentic Japanese Sushi restaurant (Yasuda). Authentic to the point that the management makes note that the staff is compensated well and, in Japanese tradition, tipping is not done. The table to the left of us had four Scandinavian men conversing and laughing. The table to the right was a couple from France having a good conversation.

We spent the next day looking at an art exhibit of Picasso’s sculpture, eating at a Greek restaurant, talking with a Jamaican cabby, having a drink in an Irish pub and finding a Starbucks. Yes, that is a joke. Duane Read and Starbucks are in competition for number of locations in The City.

The City is the great attractor. Every work day the population swells to 11 million. It absorbs the equivalent of a Los Angeles every day and then sends everyone home through the busiest train stations and roadways in the world. It hosts conventions, marathons, the US Navy, sports, music, art, The Beatles, the wealthy, the destitute, the brilliant, the foolish, and me on a regular basis.

The list can go on, but here’s the deal. What makes NYC so great is that it accepts anyone as long as that anyone does not have malicious intent. Don’t get me wrong. It is not Kumbaya and flowers. To be a successful New Yorker you have to have intention. And that means you have to believe in yourself and your ideas. New Yorkers are a contentious lot. Opinions are held strong and long. Just walking down the street this morning I heard a man berating his union (my assumption) for not supporting him on an issue. His use of invectives was colorful and passionate. And easy to misinterpret.

That is what Cruz doesn’t get.

New Yorkers hold their personal beliefs and values strongly, but accept that others have similar conviction. Cruz seems to think that New Yorkers are divided when what they have are strong opinions. It is quintessential America. People contest each other’s opinions, but are still united. The fact that Cruz doesn’t understand how fundamental that premise is to the success of America is alarming. I shouldn’t be alarmed since he comes from a state that regularly rises up to secede from the union.

As diverse as the population of The City is, there has never and will never be a desire to leave this great union of ours. New York, like Connecticut, was one of the original states. Our country’s history and the men who crafted the Constitution, so often misquoted by Cruz, all had strong ties to New York.

Yes, New Yorkers can be arrogant and self-centered. Learning to live in The City is like learning a craft and you take pride in accomplishing that craft. Don’t mistake that pride. New Yorker’s are giving people. I have seen it so many times in so many ways. It is far from perfect. There is corruption, condescension, prejudice and some really bad professional sports teams. Isn’t that what our country is all about? We are imperfectly fantastic. We celebrate diversity and in so doing, we encourage all the bad behaviors that go along with the good. But try to fuck with us and you get a unified response. Cruz, the Koch Brothers (sounds like a cough drop or a boy band), and ISIS can’t fathom how America continues to succeed with such diversity.

They should come to The City for a week and work here unfiltered and without the minions. Walk the streets. Observe. Listen. After a few days they will discover America and what makes this country so great. The ability to have strong opinions while accepting someone else’s right to a different and just as strong a point of view. To recognize that greatness comes when those opinions build tension that energizes creativity.

It is all right here on display in The City.

Run Free. Run Easy

Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Law and Religion*

*But, were afraid to ask

Catchy title.

Ever since what’s-her-name in Kentucky refused to do her job as an elected official there have been quite a few posts and articles on both sides of this story.

The funny thing is that there is only one right answer. This is one of those things that is so basic, so foundational to what our country is all about, I am appalled that people running for the Presidency of the United States don’t get it right. But, then again, part of the character of this country is that anyone can run for office.

Here’s the fundamental principle – We are a nation of laws, not religions. We are bound to uphold the laws and we are entitled to practice religion with freedom. Let me say it another way. Religion is a right of the individual. At the same time, the individual is also a citizen whose citizenship mandates that they live within the law. People have power because of their rights. Governments have power because we have agreed they can enact laws by which we will abide.

Constitution and gavel

For reference, it is the First Amendment to our constitution which guarantees the right to practice whatever religion you want.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Gorgeous. Just absolutely gorgeous. In just 45 words we are granted our individual freedoms. Except for that gun thing. That is in the Second Amendment.

There is a lot written about this amendment and what James Madison had in mind, but it seems pretty self explanatory. And the semicolons are cool.

I could go into how you can trace the First Amendment back to the hypocrisy of the PuritaThe Scarlet Letterns who were among the first to come the America to gain religious freedom. As soon as they established themselves, they proceeded to persecute anyone who didn’t agree with their religion. Indeed, they controlled the government.
They were what we term “bullies”. Indeed, when you look back in history just about any government run by a religion ended up being a bully. I could go into it, but I won’t.

I could go into how Roger Williams got so fed up with the Puritans that he founded Rhode Island and made it a state that tolerated real religious freedom. Roger Williams He was a staunch believer in the separation of church and state because when religion got embedded in politics, it diminished the religion. So, much of the ideal of the first amendment came from Williams. I could get into that, but I won’t.

I could go into the beauty of the Bill of Rights. Do you know what that is? Just in case you don’t (‘cause Sarah Palin doesn’t seem to know), I’ll explain. The Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments of the US Constitution. They were originally incorporated in the body of the Constitution, but pulled into the amendments because they were different. The Constitution was about the form of the government and how the three branches of the government were to be organized to balance each other out. The Bill of Rights is just that – the most foundational statement of the rights of the individual in relation to the government. How beautiful is that? I could go into how they evolved, but I won’t.

I could explain that James Madison and a few others drafted most of the Constitution and then he wrote the Bill of Rights. Many of his ideas had been formed when he was one of the authors of the Federalist Papers, which helped form the government that became entitled under the US Constitution.

James MadisonMadison was a Theist, like Jefferson. They believed in a God, but not necessarily in religion. Interesting? So for Madison, the separation of religion reason. In his mind, religion would corrupt government. So funny. In our 21st century there are great examples of corruption going both ways. What I get from this is it is men who corrupt, not government or religion. I could go further into this concept, but I won’t.

I could go into the first phrase that basically says the government can not proclaim a religion. That is the fundamental separation of church and state. What’s cool about it is that it is mandated in the Bill of Rights, which is all about protecting the rights of the individual. In its way, the Bill of Rights puts the individual’s rights ahead of the power of the government. And in order to assure that, it says the government can’t get into religion. This is the part of the First Amendment that the chick in Kentucky forgot to read. I could go into how this came from that whole Church of England thing with Kings and divorce and beheadings and great plots for movies, but I won’t.

I could take a step back and remind all of you that before the US Constitution was accepted we operated under the Articles of Confederation.  In short, the Articles were all about states rights and no or very limited federal government. It was a dismal failure. Which makes me wonder why anyone in their right mind thinks we ought to empower the states even more to manage common rights and services, like healthcare and education. Yeah, I don’t like big government, but I also would hate having to have a different currency for every state I traveled to. That was the reality back then. Different currencies. What a freakin’ mess. I could go into more of why it failed, but I won’t.

I could go into how wonderfully those first ten amendments are written. They are all short, to the point, hard to misinterpret (yes, even the gun thing) and foundational. Compare those ten to those that followed and you will truly respect the absolute genius of the Bill of Rights. As a writer they are the greatest example of the power of words and brevity that I can point anyone to. I could review them all, but I won’t.

What I will do is state without a doubt that I love our Constitution. I take it personally. Every day I exercise all kinds of freedoms that james Madison guaranteed me and that our Founding Fathers supported. Every day I am grateful that there are 10 churches in or near the small town of 15,000 where I live. They almost outnumber the pizza parlors, but not quite. Pizza is a religion here in New England. I don’t go to any of them, but I love that people are free to worship in any way they want. I am grateful that I can write that last sentence and not fear that some zealot is going to put a black bag over my head and…well, you know what I mean.

A Little White Church

We are a nation of laws. Those laws guarantee that we have the right to practice whatever religion we want, within the guardrails of civil justice. So, that chick in Kentucky is just wrong. Period. And her lamentations are an affront to my Bill of Rights and the freedoms the generations before me (including my dad who fought in WW2) lived and died for.  And that isn’t just my opinion. It is a fact. She is wrong. Period.

Take time today recognize how many times you exercise the freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights or even just the First Amendment. I think you’ll be surprised how much you actually take for granted. Especially on Facebook. Geez.

And, if I may, our greatest freedom is the freedom of movement. So go run and run free!

Same Sex Marriage and Information Technology

An odd combination for a blog topic, but not really.

In the world of IT the pendulum of control has found a logical resting place. For the majority of enterprises those services within the enterprise that are considered common are under the  management of a central IT department. Services like email, data center servers and storage, shared network, remote access, security, and local connectivity are examples of services that fall into that category.

Before the pervasive use of IT, each line of business was best served by doing their own thing and focusing on their own bottom line. As technology became pervasive and the enterprise recognized that information was foundational, the recognized the need to share and interconnect systems. Barriers were quickly seen in technical, process and financial areas and acceptance of common standards developed to resolve those differences and make information readily available so the lines of business could focus on generating revenue.

handshake

You see, most enterprise leadership recognizes that IT is too complex and having each line of business do their own thing is not only inefficient, it leads to high risk from a security and financial perspective. Consistent delivery of connectivity, server, storage and desktop services provide benefit to the enterprise. Even for applications that are specific to a business process, there are still basic guidelines that are followed – not using static IP addresses in code, as an example. It is all for the common good.

The millennium transition (remember Y2K?) and a need for constant security readiness have taught most enterprises that they need to accept and enforce the right level of common infrastructure and standards. Times have changed and business has adapted.

global IT

Now, think about our national infrastructure. What would it be like if Eisenhower and Congress had thought to let each state make it’s own highway decisions? We’d have varying gauges a roads and different numbers for the same streets. Yes, there is a lot of local influence and investment in the national highway system but the foundational structure and rules of operation are mandated by the central authority.

US interstate

The examples of “common good” mandates can go on for quite a while. In almost all cases there is a transition point where local authorities or lines of business are given control, but they have to play within the standards that promote the common good.

When it comes to the rights of individuals, the common good in the United States is synopsized by the first 10 amendments of our Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights.

It was primarily penned by James Madison and is one of the most eloquent and simple statements of human liberty ever made into law. My favorite of those amendments is the first one, which guarantees freedom of the press, speech and religion all in one simple sentence.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

That is the entire amendment. It means that people have the freedom to practice religion in their own way without government interference. The counter is also true. The government can not force a religion onto its people (no law respecting an establishment…). This is a fundamental difference between what is civil action as expressed in law and what is moral action as expressed in individual religious belief.

Constitution and gavel

Kind of a simple construct. You may legislate civil actions but you may not legislate morality. Morality, expressed through religion, the press, and speech is an open forum, within the tolerances of civil action. Civil action is all about guardrails. Killing someone in a premeditated manner is murder and, as a society, we have decided that it is wrong. There are religions that concur with that fundamental, but it is not because of those religions that we hold it true that murder is wrong. As a society we have made that compact. Clearly, we do not agree on the consequences for murder, but we do agree that murder is wrong.

Marriage is both civil and social. We have wrapped legal fabric around an action that is a social construct so that there are basic rules that we follow in terms of licenses and dissolution. Even then, there are nuances in every state when it comes to how marriage is created or dissolved.

If the only reason for stating that gay marriage is not allowable is because of a religious cannon, then that is not defensible from a constitutional framework. The first amendment does not allow the government to make a law “respecting an establishment of religion.”

We the People

If your religion mandates that gay people can not marry, then do not allow that, but do not force your beliefs on the rest of the country. When it comes to the law of the land, you are totally allowed to follow your beliefs, but a) you must accept that other beliefs are just as valid under the law and b) you can’t ask the government to make your religious cannon into law.

I’ve tried to write a better ending to this post than the paragraph above, and anything I say beyond that seems trite or argumentative.

I often end my blogs with the wish that you run free. That, to me, is the purest expression of freedom. The freedom to move under the power of my own body and enjoy the world around me. Today I exhort you all to celebrate freedom. It can be difficult to hear what other people say, but at the end of the day, we should all be grateful that we have the freedom to say what we think.

Be Free

Playful Light

I was playing with light this morning. More correctly, it was playing with me.

Objects lying on my table picked up a glancing blow of light filtered through a window screen. It made me stop and take notice. To see the page I was writing on as something different than a receptacle for my words dripped there by fountain pen. It gave me a view of an alternate reality. One in which the object becomes the subject.

Photo Jun 22, 6 25 19 AM

The light snuck up on me while doing my daily journal entry. It was more how it played on the page and bent around the curve of the notebook, like light under the force of gravity. Through the lens of an iPhone I caught a fleeting moment.

Honestly, light is to a photographer what “squirrel” is to a hunting dog. Am immediate and irresistible distraction. Add to the mix that I have ADD level distractedness and you have a recipe for periodic dalliance.

I went back to my journal entry and finished it. Closing the Clairfontaine notebook that has become my addiction, I was caught again. Light was chasing me. Taunting me.

Photo Jun 22, 6 56 28 AM

This time I placed my favorite Aurora fountain pen on the notebook and snapped a shot. And looked around. An old calculator used last night was finding new life under the fractured light.

Photo Jun 22, 6 56 05 AM

Then the light reasserted itself and I recaptured my notebook thinking that the objects aren’t really what we see. What we see is the reflection of light in a way that our brains interpret the waves bouncing against the back of our eye sockets. What my image captures is the illusion I live in every day.

Photo Jun 22, 6 53 58 AM

Then I looked outside and remembered how many times I have sat on the deck and tried to understand what light shows me every day. Sometimes it is a rainy moment, reflecting the grey sky while giving up the textures below the water. The lines on the notebook page made me think of an image I found during the previous day’s rain.

Photo Jun 21, 5 57 01 AM

I usually don’t crop photos, although I have no set rules. In this case I liked the plants hovering at the top of the image. They seemed to fit with the gleaming sky against the patterned wood. A set of textures and touching textures.  Lost in the gleam of sky I remembered another image from a few days earlier.

Sitting on the deck I looked up and watched clouds painting pictures against the blue sky. Over the past few days of summer the clouds have been poetic.

Photo Jun 12, 5 49 13 AMPhoto Jul 20, 6 01 19 AM

IMG_3602 IMG_3606 Resevoir cloud

The ideas of refraction and reflection tickle neurons in my brain when I look at these photos. I am one of those who love how the simple laws of physics explain the beauty we see around us. How life and living is such a gift. It begs to be understood. We shouldn’t shelter ourselves from looking for the explanation. From being like the light. Looking at things from different angles and seeing the same thing anew.

That is why life is so beautiful. We all see it through our own optics.

I offer you this challenge. At least once today, capture an instant of light the makes you think. That opens your awareness. Post it in the comments on this blog for all to see and enjoy. I look forward to your images and thoughts.

Run free. 

Four Things I Wish I had Known Before I Started Writing

You Don’t Need a Compass

When I was in fifth grade I sat at my sister’s Smith Corona typewriter and started punching out a story. It started with an accident during a Gemini spacecraft training exercise. There had been a news story about how they were training and it caught my imagination. I recognized the kernel of a story. And then I stopped. Because I didn’t know what was going to happen next.

I left the page in the typewriter and went off to do whatever a fifth grader does. My older brother happened by the short piece and read it. At dinner he said, “When are you going to finish that story. I want to know what happens.”

I shrugged. That is as far as the story went. Compost in some landfill in Pennsylvania.

compass

I give you permission to start writing without knowing where you are going.  Actually, I encourage it. Let the characters tell you where they want to go and what they think. If you let them drive the story, you’ll get a much better end result than if you start to think about how it will end. That doesn’t mean you can’t outline and plan. It means you need to listen to what is going on. Don’t force and ending or a plot shift.

In my first published book I had included some technology that I thought was cool.  It was like a Siri who did real time editing.  The book is in first person, so I thought it’d be fun to have him getting frustrated trying to get technology to work. Since it was a techno-thriller, wouldn’t the contrast be perfect?

Wrong. My first real beta reader said that whole little process sucked and diverted from the story. That was a great lesson. I had found something I wanted to include but it was not something my characters wanted or needed.  When I got rid of it, it was like moving from 720p to 1080p. The story became high def.

Jump in. Start putting words on paper and introduce yourself to the characters in your head. I virtually hang around with a lot of writers and the successful ones always talk about their characters demanding them to do certain things or surprising them with plot twists they hadn’t considered. It’s true. As a writer you need to open yourself up to the characters in your head and let them run.

Pen and Ink, Keys and Ribbons

Which brings me to input. I was lucky that my first attempt at writing was on a keyboard of a manual typewriter. I wasn’t a great typist and that keyboard forced me to think of each word, misspelled often, as the key hit the paper. That is what I know in retrospect.

Decades later I decided to give writing a novel a try. Since I liked sci-fi and was a technologist by occupation, I envisioned a space opera (I didn’t know that term at the time). On my computer with MSWord I set off crafting a story that I still love. Trouble lurked in the software. Word allows you to find many reasons not to actually write. You can delete, rearrange, format, reformat, change font, change font, change font, insert section breaks, insert page breaks, create a table of contents. You get it. I was trying to craft a final, physical version of my book in the WYSIWYG capabilities of a word processor and losing the story.

My daughter, who, as editor, had led her high school newspaper to a national award, made a comment to me one day that “using a manual typewriter is a great way to overcome writer’s block.” I didn’t have writer’s block. I had writer’s interference. But I thought I’d give it a try.

Fast forward to my post e-Bay purchases and I transitioned to a manual typewriter. I haven’t looked back.  I also use pen and paper and always have a small notebook with me. But the best rhythm I strike is when I am at the keyboard of my trusty Olympia SM9 – the ultimate in manual typing.

My Oly SM9

My Oly SM9

The beauty of hand crafting your first draft is that you can’t get diverted from the writing. Sure, you can cross out and backspace, but that it a laborious process and it is much easier to move forward. Plus, on a manual keyboard you can only type so fast. Which forces you to think of each word, and gives you just the right amount of latency to have time to think about the next sentence clicking in your mind.

pen and clairfontaine

It is your first draft. It is the draft just for you. It is strewn with crap and vile writing, but don’t worry about it. Under the covers of your lousy prose is the story that wants to come out. That story will become crystal clear and beautiful once that raw diamond is polished by the jeweler.

50 Shades of Editing

Great writing can be crippled by poor editing. Here’s a 3-star review I got for my book. It is one of the best reviews I have ever received.

This is a SIX star story. The quality of the writing easily rates FIVE stars. However, the edition I read had apparently not been copy-edited nor proof-read. This diminished the pleasure in the reading. Imagine “puisant” in place of “pissant” and “passed” for “past.” As one doesn’t love the child dressed and polished for a party any less for turning up scratched, smuged and muddy, I still look forward to more works from this master storyteller – wordsmith.

I confess. I self-edited my book and published it on my own. I did have a very expert proofreader go through it twice, but some things slipped through anyway.

editing generic

Working with a good editor is like getting involved in a BDSM relationship. There’s even a contract involved, but it isn’t like the one in 50 Shades.  It is painful, but necessary. A good editor will understand your voice and force you to make it clear. They don’t rewrite your work. They find where you need to rewrite it and help you fix it. My editor (and I do take that with a lot of personal ownership) is dSavannah George. What struck me when she and I first talked about working together was her approach. It resonated with me and has proven exactly the kind of editing I need.

So, Sav is editing my content and when she is done I am going to enlist a copy editor to proofread everything. I don’t want to have a “puisant” insert itself when I really want a “pissant.” (For that I’ll blame autocorrect.)

There is a side to self-publishing that is reflected in my multiple 5 and 4 star reviews. All of those seasoned readers looked passed the editing mistakes and loved the story. I call it the cell phone effect of indie publishing.

In the days before cell phones, our calls were exceptional. You picked up the phone connected to a land line and you got dial tone. If there was any scratchiness, you called the phone company and they fixed it. Solid quality. Cell phones taught us to accept less than exceptional quality because we got great convenience.

Traditional publishing subjected books to many edits before they hit the brick and mortar store. To find a typo was like finding a four-leaf clover (1 in 162,000). Now, I think we have grown to accept formatting and spelling issues along the way. If they stay below a certain level of obnoxiousness, then we ignore them and read on. After all, we have a queue lined up in our e-readers.

Write Where You Live

In my thirties I had this great idea I got from one of the women I dated. Her mother read a lot of romance novels and bought hundreds of them a year. That seemed like easy money to me, so I started to pen a romance novel.

Go back to the top of this post and you’ll know why it didn’t go anywhere. But there was more. I had no clue what I was writing about even though my friend gave my a typical synopsis of a successful story. I had never read a romance novel and I made no effort to understand that genre. It wasn’t in my blood.

When I took to writing in earnest, I chose areas that I felt comfortable in – sci-fi and techno fiction. That doesn’t mean I won’t extend myself into other genres or create my own – I am working on a sci-fi erotica right now. But wherever I go will be because it is something I want to write about. Something that makes me explore areas of interest and characters that are compelling.  Hell, my sci-fi might turn into a romance if that is where the characters want to take it, but I’ll put my own twist on it.

Don’t write about something because you think it is what will make you money or what will be popular or what someone else suggests you do. Write because you are compelled to tell a story.

For that matter, don’t classify you story to a genre until you are forced to in the publication and promotional phase. Just let it rip, then rip it up and make it better. What I am really asking you to do is not judge yourself before you even put pen to paper. Don’t think of your story as being in a class of stories. Think of it as a story that needs telling and you are the best person in the world to tell it.

Because you are. One word at a time,

As always, I would love to hear from you and get your comments.

Remember. Run free. Run easy.

Three Problems With Being Funny

The original version of this post appeared in Organic Coffee, Haphazardly, a forum for creative use of words and interesting minds.  Many thanks to Allie Burke and the staff at OCH for extending the platform and hospitality to me. Please, drop on over, read some  interesting work and let them know I sent you. I get bonus miles on Merriam-Webster for each referral.

Three Problems With Being Funny

In fifth grade a classmate ratted on me to our teacher, Mrs. Bashore. It was near the end of the year and we were called out of the room for some special thing I can’t remember. Probably a health lecture. When we came back to the room Mrs. Bashore asked if all was well. That’s when I got turned in.

“Jerry talked out loud,” the squealer squealed.

There was a silence. Mrs. Bashore looked at me and said, “Well, he’ll be someone else’s problem next year.”

1) Being funny is disruptive

Problem?

I was in fifth grade just being my expressive self. As a 10-year-old boy, I didn’t quite have the self-control to not say whatever popped into my mind. In today’s world I’d be diagnosed with ADHD and given happy pills. Or, actually, mild speed. We didn’t even know about sugar or gluten and it was well ahead of GMO.

Listen, I am only trying to make a point, not garner sympathy. Well, not much. I had problems. We all do. I was the shortest kid in class and an introvert who talked out loud. I didn’t want attention (which is what some must have thought). I wanted to say the funny thing in my head.

if-thought-bubbles-appeared-above-my-head-id-be-screwed-92b5b

I am well trained in quippery. That is the art of quipping and a word I made it up. Quipping is the act of taking any comment, turning and twisting its context until humor is rendered from its linguistic bones. That twisting, when spoken out loud, interjects itself into the stream of thought of those listening. It provides an alternate take on something just cognized, acting, therefore, as a disruptive influence.

Not every comment can easily be augmented with a quip, but there are enough opportunities everyday that I guess you could be considered disruptive if you took advantage of enough of them. Which I did. I think. It might be that my affliction with quipping is a kind of Tourette syndrome for humor.

I came by quippery honestly. My family did it all the time, especially at dinner. The ability to make a funny comment was laughed at, encouraging even more funny comments. What wasn’t understood was that I lacked that cluster of grey matter and nerve endings that gave some form of control.

I still interrupt people a lot. Which annoys the shit out of my wife. It’s not on purpose. The thought jumps in and I say it.

2) Funny Doesn’t Mean Clown

I was never the class clown. Clowns need attention, like a Kardashian. I have been an introvert as long as I can remember. My outbursts were not calls for attention. For me it was about the alternate way you could say something to shift the context and create a humorous meaning. I am not well polished at telling jokes, but I can slip a quip with ease and grace.

I guess the force of my creativity found the path of least resistance – my mouth. My satisfaction was found in expressing the alternate view of things more than it was in getting laughs.

Being a comedian is hard. I don’t tell jokes well, although I do have some practiced funny ones that I can pull out as needed. Comedians write and practice jokes all the time. They are like musicians working on timing and changing words and phrasing to make the joke hit home. For them it is a performance. They get on stage, all eyes on them and they give their humor in a way that makes it feel like a conversation even though they have done it a thousand times before.

george carlin

I am funny because I am quick to see an opening into a different reality. I jump in and take advantage of the moment and watch the recognition of “funny” blossom in other people’s eyes. A quip is short lived. It can be repeated in a different context, but once it happens it is gone like breath on a mirror.

You can’t quip without sexual innuendo. Maybe you can, but if you avoid sexual innuendo, you are missing an entire category of quips. I loved the people I worked with in my first real job out of college. We were part of a sales organization and my kind of sexually laden quip was well accepted. One of the women I worked with had a waiver from sexual harassment thumbtacked above her desk. It was all good natured fun. It is way to serious today, so the workplace is off limits.

That leads me to the final challenge in being funny.

3) Being on the Watch

There is a constant vigilance that comes with being a compulsive quipper. After years of practice, it becomes second nature. It’s all about context.

Two things make quips funny. First, a quip works in a moment with a short decay, as mentioned. If you miss the cycle of conversation when the quippable comment is made, than you’ve lost the opportunity. You can’t rewind and throw it out. That isn’t funny. The best you can do is log that funny comment for some future use and have it at the ready. You have to identify the trigger that would make it usable and wait for it to happen.

Second, quips are all about context. Context has multiple meanings and shadings. It is why quipping takes practice. And the willingness to deal with failure.

context clues

I was in a fraternity in college. We would invite a sorority over for a nice dinner once in a while. During one such dinner I made a couple of my typical comments and was put up for auction at the end of the dinner. Auction meant that I would have to do the winning brother’s house chores for a week. At the start of the auction the house president noted my dual offense by saying, “Gentry’s up twice.”

My immediate response was, “That’s what she said.”

Once the laughter subsided, I was absolved of any obligation to do chores. Several of the sorority sisters sought me out to say hello later. When your mind works like mine it is always a crap shoot. It could have easily turned the opposite way, but I read the endorphin rating of the room correctly and felt free to take the chance.

Had we had parents at that dinner, I would not have made any comments to be put on auction. By college the cerebral cortex or whatever part of my brain is engaged in making quips had matured enough to give me some sense of control. I would have understood the context and kept my funny thoughts to myself.

On the other hand, when we did have our first parent dinner of the year I did manage one comment. I was sitting with my dad at the corner table. After dinner we were asked to introduce ourselves and I was the first. I said my name and where I was from while seated. The president instructed me, “Please, stand up.”

“I am,” was my response. Laughter and light heartedness resulted and I felt good. I stood and waved. My dad laughed because I caught that sense of humor from him.

And that leads me to the governing principle of good quipping. The result of my family inspired and coached quipping was learning intelligent humor. Well, the comments are stupid, but intelligent because they do not belittle other people in order to be funny. They are funnier because they require some thought.

I am glad I grew up in a conversational household. With social media you can’t always tell a quip from abuse. Not without an emoticon.

I have a friend who is a paranoid schizophrenic and sometimes hears voices. After a recent post siting the book being read, my first thought was to post a comment asking what the other people in their head were reading. I didn’t.

My friend is confident enough that I would have gotten a chuckle and a friendly “fuck off.” I was worried about the people I didn’t know who might not have understood my compulsive humor or that I was, indeed, joking. The main exception to the principle of not belittling other people is being able to gently poke at people you know. Never with malice. Always with respect.

Here’s what I do know. The mental athletics that my life as a quipper have put me through have made me very creative in a disciplined way. That creativity bleeds through to all aspects of my life. As the CEO of a consulting firm I used to work for commented, “You sit quietly and listen and observe, then you come up with a flash of brilliant insight..”

You see, I can be quiet. It just took me a few decades.

DilbertContext

The Resolution Solution

As I left my first physical therapy session after the magic six-week post op period I was very happy. The physical therapist said I was causing them problems because my recovery was weeks ahead of schedule. They were having to revise their plan for me to be much shorter. I was not working according to their schedule and I was glad to cause them consternation. Being fit and healthy has paid off in unexpected ways.

As I left the building, a smile beaming to everyone and a spring in my step, my main thought was that I wanted to get to the point in 2015 where I could put my sock on my right foot without mechanical aid. I got a kit for hip replacement that includes this could device. It is a half tube with cords on it. You slip your sock over it, then put your foot in and pull your sock up. Works great and it is the only device I still use.

hip replacement kit

Then I wondered if that constituted a New Year’s Resolution.

Excuse me if I get the whole NYR thing wrong. My family never really got into them. I am grateful for that because I don’t think I am built to handle resolutions of such intensity. If you are like me; my sympathies if you are; then making resolutions is a futile effort, unless the resolution involves training for a distance run. For some reason I can train using an extended plan and pretty much stick to the intent of the plan. Go figure.

Marathon_Walk1

I attribute my resolution paralysis to my short attention span. Maybe it is better termed Easily Diverted Syndrome or EDS. Wait! That won’t work. Anything acronym with “ED” in it can be mistaken for something related to erectile dysfunction. That has nothing to do with being easily diverted. At least it hasn’t impacted me.

Back on topic; how about calling it the Quickly Diverted Syndrome or QDS. Nobody can muck up an acronym with a “Q” in it.

It isn’t that I don’t make plans. It is that I need something more concrete to focus on. Here’s an example: “I will lose weight in 2015.” Losing weight is, what? An end state? A mantra? It sure isn’t a strategy or a tactic or a plan to get to an end state (isn’t that kind of a tactical thing?).

If losing weight is my goal, then I need a plan to get there. Is my strategy going to be diet, exercise, Dr. Oz’s next great cure, magical elixirs, or a combination of some or all of them? Once I decide what the strategy is, I need to put together a plan. It is more that just “I’ll eat less and workout more.” For me to make a significant accomplishment that takes more than a couple of minutes I need a sectionalized plan.

“Sectionalized.” I just made that word up. We can do that in the computer age.

Going back to the running thing. I am successful there because there are plans that break down what you need to do day be day over a period of weeks and months to get to a specific running goal. You just print them out and do what they say day be day and you win the New York Marathon. Sounds pretty simple, right?

It ain’t for me.

I often skip steps and modify others because, well, because that’s how I pretty much do everything. It is never the same twice. Maybe I’m not a good example to follow if you are trying to rally accomplish resolutions. There is one consistent thing I do in my self-created, dynamic universe and that is allocate time dedicated to doing whatever it is I need to do next to get to my goal.

You don’t have to become an automaton or a slave to your calendar, but you do need to honor the slices of time you’ve set aside. I am always putting in free time where I can digress and play like a 3-year-old, but I also spend some time understanding most of what I need to do to get to the end game and then sectionalizing those tasks onto some kind of calendar based program.

It is the proverbial “eating an elephant” process. A truly successful person is surrounded by elephant skeletons. I am certain Tony Robbins has acres of property litter with the carcasses of elephant projects he has devoured. Even in this phase, I can falter. It is easy for me to get lost in finding a tool to help me track all this shit to the point where I spend more time playing with the tool and not doing the shit.

Tony Robbins

The first step is to admit you have Quickly Diverted Syndrome. Once you do that, you can apply controls of governance to yourself, most of which involve allocating specific time to your actions (“I won’t spend more than 30 minutes trying to make Evernote work for this”). It isn’t foolproof, but it is far better than the more random approach I used to use.

It has even edged into my real world existence where I allocate time on my calendar to do the tasks I’ve committed to. If I don’t, then I face a day full of meetings and the only time I can do the real work is after hours. I don’t want that because, you know, Twitter.

So my first ever NY Resolution is:

 I resolve to sectionalize my resolutions so that I can actually achieve my goals. 

Now that I have put that stake in the ground, I need to think of some resolutions that are a little more demanding that getting to put my sock without the cool tool.

Enjoy the day! As always, I would enjoy any and all comments.

Run Free. Run Easy. Just Run.

A Conspiracy of Women

Something sinister is afoot.

I feel compelled to warn my fellow men. And I mean men, since women are already conspiring. Let me deconstruct that thought.

As men we are quite comfortable with seeing and understanding conspiracy, usually, in video games, politics and between cubicles in our offices. We do not have the genetic code to recognize conspiratorial activities among women. Mostly because we are interested in having sex with them, so our depth of thought regarding their actions mostly stops at whether or not we are going to get laid.

The conspiratorial hand was tipped by a friend of mine, @allieburkebooks. She is the queen of selfies and quite a wordcrafter.

allie

proxy

Anyway, a post of hers almost slipped by my unnoticed. If it hadn’t been for the narcotic effect of the oxycodone I was on because of my hip surgery I might not have become aware of these machinations. In her post Allie commented how thankful she was for all the strong and supportive women she had connected with. In my state, I was able to see what this really meant. There was a conspiracy of women. Somehow they had deformed social media to make alliances and tender support across the ether to share stories of success and offer consolation and advice to each other.

Once I unmasked this dastardly endeavor I began to see it everywhere. Following the trail left by Allie led me to a nexus of activity. I saw this woman frequently on social media and it surprised me that I could have missed all the signs. So clever of her to hide in plain sight. Among her many virtual personas the one I first encountered was @RachelintheOC.

rachelintheoc

 

Sure, she looks innocent enough and professes to be a social media expert, but her real intention is to use her multiple personas to align women of all makes and models in such a way that they feel good about themselves and gain a sense of power through self worth. So devious. So blatant.  I was so upset when I realized her true intentions. I mean, at one time she gave me sage advice on how to improve my online presence. Of course, I ignored it because, well, I’m a man and following advice wasn’t going to get me laid. It is kinda like asking me to read a map.

Through the clarity instilled by the opiates in my blood I saw that she was helping women to help themselves. Even covering her tracks by throwing occasional assistance to men. She started discussions and threads to help women understand their emotional states and face their inner fears and uncertainties. And encouraging women to be honest about those emotional things that we men spend 28% or our caloric energy on keeping bottled up. I saw her influence on the young and impressionable mind of Allie Burke. She is helping create a generation who know what they want and are content to help each other find ways to be happy in their own skin.

I was so devastated that I decided to ignore it and do something I liked instead. That was running. Since I was having hip issues, I couldn’t actually run, so I went to my running magazine, Runner’s World, to find solace. To my surprise I saw an announcement that they were creating a new ezine, called Zelle, about running. Except is was running for women with a focus on how the activity helps build personal strength. The subterfuge continues. This time the instigator is @EJComeau.  Don’t let the cute dimples fool you. She is dedicated to promoting the conspiracy and showing any who care to listen how running can improve the quality of life in many ways.

ejcomeau

These women only marginally care about times, pace and distance. Many are accomplished, world class runners, but most are just normal – whatever that is.

In anguish I slipped into Twitter again and tried to find a twitter crush to waste time and develop hormonal alignment with. Instead, I found other women who were doing more than just running to find their inner strength. Sure, there were some like @SheRunsforLove who uses running to develop strength beyond the purely physical.

sherunsforlove

Then the is @muscleboundmama and a host of other women who pump iron. I mean serious iron. They don’t glisten, they fucking sweat when they workout. Furthermore, she coaches on fitness. Do you know what that means? She is helping other people become self-confident. Men and Women.  muscleboundmama

Here’s the deal. When you ask them for help or input, they just give it to you. I mean, I tested it by throwing our some questions and I got honest, heartfelt responses. Not the wiseass, half assed, intellectualized, palp that I was expecting.

It is diabolical!

My head reeled. The conspiracy was all around me and there was nothing I could do. It was revealed. All out in the open and I was powerless to stop it. I had but one option left.

I grabbed a beer and turned on Netflix to watch a marathon of Arrow because the IT chic, Felicity, is pretty hot.

Felicity

 

POST SCRIPT:

Just in case someone doesn’t get my sense of humor, all of the women mentioned in this post (sans Felicity) are real and are friends of mine. They are amazing, strong and smart in their own individual ways and I am graced to know them.

It’s Black and White

I’ve decided to rekindle my photographic eye by taking black & white images through a 24mm wide angle prime lens. That was basically the rig I learned that basics of exposure and lighting doing. I had a trusty Nikon FE2 35mm film camera with a 24mm wide angle on it. I used other lenses, but that was the rig that I used most. I still have it and it feels like comfort in my hands. I don’t use it because film is basically gone. I miss film and I don’t miss it. In my darkroom film was messy and smelly and chemically. There was so much waste product just to get to the print you wanted. All of that waste cost money. Throw away paper, film and chemicals. Modern digital sensors with massive memory cards and great software for photo processing allow for fantastic image creation and are more environmentally friendly.

I now have a Nikon D700, a pro level digital camera, and recently picked up a nice 24mm autofocus lens at a reasonable price. There is something about that degree of wide angle which makes you think about what you are shooting. And the fact that it is a prime lens, meaning it only has one focal length, you have to physically move to get the frame right.  That means you have to think about composition and look with a wide angle frame of reference.

Photo Dec 19, 3 06 02 PM

As I started to take shots I realized that advanced technology was getting in my way. You see, taking a good B&W image with film required understanding where the darks and lights were in relation to each other and adjusting the exposure accordingly. There is a system developed by Ansel Adams called ‘The Zone System’ and it provides a way of metering parts of the image and then, based on the tonal range of the image, adjusting the exposure and development.  The reason this was so important is because the actual luminance has a range that is much greater than what film can record. The Zone System allowed you to expose and image and develop it in a way that compressed the range and gave you an accurate representation of what you visualized.  It is one of the reasons Ansel’s images are so deep and rich.

To do the exposure correctly you need a good light meter. Yes, the metering systems on modern cameras are phenomenal. But they are geared for color images. IN the above image, the device sitting next to my D700 is a Sekonic light meter. I use it for flash and normal light exposures when I want great accuracy. It is a one degree spot meter, so I can take a reading off of a very small part of the image.

In the Zone

Let me show you what I mean.  Here is a shot of my Kindle Paperwhite sitting on the kitchen counter. The leather cover of the Kindle is black and has a nice texture to it. I wanted that aspect to show against the marble grain of the countertop. The notebook is a deep blue cover. Using the metering system of the D700, which is very advanced, I got this image. (Sorry it is out of focus, but that doesn’t alter the metering.)

kindle averaged

It’s a decent shot. I mean as far as the exposure goes. I wasn’t composing anything artistic. I was trying to prove a point.

Now, using the zone system, I measured the Kindle’s cover and placed that luminance at a lower range along the grey scale. It should look black, not dark grey. All light meters measure in a way that the exposure they provide will average out to an 18% grey scale. Which is about where the blue spiral notebook is in the above shot.

Because your mind is good at adjusting, you “know” from this shot that the Kindle is black, even though it shows up as a dark grey.

By adjusting the exposure to place the cover as black, not dark grey, I got this image:

kindle zoned

It is a subtle difference, but now you really see that the cover is black and that it has a deep texture. You also pick up a little more texture in the marble and coffee cup. It is a much more realistic interpretation of what I pre-visualized. Now you know why Ansel Adams art was so appealing.

What’s the Point?

I am a technologist. I have been most of my adult life. My income stems from my ability to see where technology is going and to make progress in bringing it to fruition. I have such great appreciation for the disruptive effect of technology and how that disruption breeds new opportunities, if you are willing to take some risk.

The trouble is, that layers of technology can obscure some basic understanding. Recording light on film or through digital sensors works a certain way. Our technology doesn’t change that. In this instant it seems like technology tries to take our intellect out of the picture. It stems from making it convenient, but what is the cost? Over the past few days I’ve had to stretch my sense of perception again, waking up old synapses that understood how to shift and move apertures and shutter speeds. The end result is I feel part of the pictures I am taking. I feel more like I can express what I am trying to visualize, not just snap a shot. I compose. I think about the light. I place reflectivity where I want it to be. I fail a lot, but when I succeed, the image is what I envisioned.

My point is that a broad application of technology is not always good. There are times, like with my computer assisted hip replacement, when technology has massive benefits. There are other times when technology insulates us from understanding and feeling more. Technical running shoes seem a good example of that. They eliminate the feel of the ground under our feet and shunt the muscle development in our feet leading to numerous biomechanical issues that we then throw even more technology at. There is a similar issue in writing. Advanced publishing software and digital book services allow anyone who can type into a computer to publish an e-book. That is a great thing, except many writers forego the process of having their work edited for content and format. Getting that critical feedback and incorporating the feedback into their work is what makes a good author a great author. Not all feedback is correct, but all feedback makes you think about what you have done and what you have said. Don’t forget the basics, regardless of how easy it is to create the content.

Would I eliminate the advanced light meter on my D700? Absolutely not. But I spend time understanding why it works and where its limits are. Afterall, I can switch to manual mode anytime and override the programmed exposure. I often do, but I can do it because I understand light. I understand the basis for why photography works.

Don’t just accept technology. Ask why. Dig underneath the covers. Understanding is freedom. Few things are ever just black and white.

Run free. Run smooth.