Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Finding Common Ground

When friends get together, they often have the most idiotic discussions imaginable. In instances of male-bonding, the stupidity often reaches thermonuclear levels. Earlier today, perhaps working through the trauma it left on my mind, I recalled the amazing debate that occurred in the basement of a friend as we studied a war game's map (it spanned an entire ping pong table and a hex-grid superimposed on the map allowed us to plan our attacks using tiny cardboard squares called "chits".............I'm sorry, I'll get back to the story).

"What do you mean you don't believe in right and wrong?" asked Bob, his voice deepened with frustration.

Survivalist Brian, who also had the nickname "He-Who-Disturbs-the-Cosmic-Winds-While-Sailing-On-A-Sea-of-Minutia", shrugged. "I don't believe in right and wrong. It's all relative."

I should point out we all had nicknames in the basement. Brian's was based on his anal retentive nature as well as his tendency toward flatulence. Bob's nickname was "He-Who-Is-Cognizant-Of-All-Points-In-Space-and-Time-and-Yet-is-Master-of-None."

"What if I killed your family," said Bob.

"That would be your right."

"That's stupid."

"But then I would have the right to come back and kill you in return. You can't expect to do something and not have a consequence."

"And who gives us these rights?"

I could admit that this is the point where three people turned to me and screamed obscenities, but if I did you wouldn't have the true flavor of the basement. I was not usually allowed to move my own "chits". As they were very tiny and I am fairly clumsy, I usually ended up dropping them and scattering things about.

"No one gives us these rights," said Brian, returning to the discussion.

"Then how are they determined to be rights?"

"They just are."

"So they're an absolute?"

"There are no absolutes. Everything is relativistic."

He-Whose-Sexuality-Is-Often-Questioned-and-Yet-To-Be-Established-Beyond-a-Reasonable-Doubt spoke up. "If everything is relativistic, then there's no God."

"Oh there's God," Brian said. He was Irish Catholic.

"You can't have God in a relativistic worldview."

"You can if God Himself is relative."

Bob made a strangled sound and lunged across the table, upsetting the chits and scattering several mechanized divisions across Europe.

People turned and screamed obscenities at me out of force of habit.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Don't Look Now...

Reviewing some of my writing over the years, it's interesting to see how often I've utilized superstition either as foreshadowing or as a way of setting theme. It's also served me well as a plot device and a mcguffin.

Superstition---it's one of those words that everyone knows and yet struggles to define. Essentially it's an accepted notion not based on "reason, knowledge, or experience". Yet, that limited definition doesn't really do it, does it? It doesn't capture the spirit of the word of the concept. After all, we could apply that to people who form opinions based on bias without really knowing what they are talking about, especially in politics.

No, I think any use of the term needs to include references to the supernatural, to luck and prophecy. After all the word itself means to stand outside the ordinary.

As a writer, using the supernatural allows me a way into a reader's mind. Consider these superstitions about death and tell me if you don't have a slight sense of discomfort. I know some of them are absurd, but don't think about it, let it work at an emotional or affective level.

  • The smell of roses when none are present is a harbinger of death.
  • If rain is allowed to fall into an open grave, someone in that family will die within a year.
  • A bird crashing into a window, or one getting into a house is a sign of death.
  • A white moth inside a house is a sign of death.
  • A recently dead person appearing in your dreams to hold you is a sign of death.
  • If you hear three knocks and no one is there, death is close by.

Of course, it's silly, isn't it?

My superstitions? I never EVER make mention of a possible snow day at school. Even if the weatherman is talking about a foot of snow and a glance outside the window shows me flakes the size of hams, I insist on saying: "Well, I'll see you tomorrow." What's sad, is that my kids at school have taken this on as well. If someone starts to make mention, they'll panic, holding up warning hands and hushing him before he commits a grievous error.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Claiming Ownsership

We so love to classify things. To qualify them." There is something in human nature that feels by naming one has control or authority. By reducing something to its parts, we have authority. We take ownership. It's a side of human nature that is exploited even in our reading. Consider these genres and subgenres

Mystery- "The Who Dun it?" "The Locked Door Puzzle" "The Medical Mystery" "The Courtroom Drama" "The Suspense THriller" "The technical Thriller" "Police Procedural" "Professional Detective" "Amateur Detective" "Romantic Mystery" "Noir Hard Boiled Mystery" "Paranormal Mysteries" and of course "The Caper".

Fans of any of these subgenres will argue that each is distinct and has its own conventions and fan base. And I suppose there is truth to that. I suppose that when one is in the mood for a crime caper, or specifically a comical crime caper, that nothing will fit as well as Donald E. Westlake or maybe Janet Evanovitch. What about Gregory McDonald? Or if one wants a techno-thriller, getting an Agatha Christie novel just won't do.

Still, I worry about overclassifying things. How many times have I heard fans argue about "type" of genre until I thought my ears would bleed? Especially fans of science fiction and fantasy. That being said, the subgenres change. Don't believe me? Look at Barnes and Noble and ask for the "Horror" section. You won't find one. It used to be there. Now "Horror" has been slipped in with regular fiction.

Most recently the absurdity of extremes in marking literature and film was succintly rendered by a young woman who complained on a blog about the most recent version of "The Wolfman" (based on the screenplay by Curt Siodmak, penned in 1941). She was irate because the monster was hideous and not the sort of beautiful wolf that she associated with "Twilight". She was also offended because the monster was able to be killed with a single silver bullet. Who ever heard of such a thing??!! And for her, the entire film was nothing more than a rip-off of Stephanie Meyers.


Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Turtle Is Singing

I promised to boycott the Detroit Tigers for their personnel management these last couple years. Their deals for Gary Sheffield, Dontre Willis, and Nate Robinson have broken my heart. I was outraged at the trade of Granderson to the Yankees, a team that should be sent to baseball Hell. I know I said I would boycott them, but's Spring.


And I can't feel the earth warming without turning my thoughts to the national pasttime. With temperatures rising and snow melting I keep hearing Ernie Harwell's yearly spring training pronouncement:

"For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land."

And of course, each year James Earl Jones seduces me back with this endearing monologue:

Baseball is constant sound bite