Friday, August 20, 2010

Talking

In the last week I've been giving a good deal of thought regarding how people present themselves to one another. Without disclosing my own politics, I've communicated with several people from the other side, listening, debating, and in the end making a point of asking: "Would you vote for me?" And I was surprised each time by a "yes."

When I asked why, the people all responded that while they disagreed with many of my ideas, they thought I listened to what they had to say and would lead in a fair manner, making decisions based on ideas based on merit and not on my ideology.

I mention this because it reinforces the idea that we need dialog. We need to sit down with one another and not blast away at differences, but rather begin by finding commonalities and use that as a foundation for consensus. We must abandon our talking points, challenge our sources, and make a convincing argument from the left or the right by offering step-by-step solutions.

Don't get me wrong, I've been a political activist. I've shouted out my views, attacked my critics, and displayed my anger in t-shirts and on bumper stickers. And yet, I will bet you not one person from the other side ever looked at me, smacked his forehead and said, "You know, he's right. Gosh." Instead, all I've done is further alienate the people I should have been talking to.

People say, "We can't change society." We can, but it begins with one-on-one discussion and the change ripples slowly through the fabric of society.

This week in Royal Oak the Dream Cruise will see numerous folk from left and right trying to politicize the event. I'm not sure what gun control, abortion, gay rights, or climate change have to do with automobiles (okay, maybe climate change), but it's not the right venue and no one will be converted. People will stand toe-to-toe and the divide will deepen.

Me? I'll keep talking to people. One at a time. I'll try and control myself and not be stupid ( that's an enormous challenge for someone who enjoys drama and confrontation). Where conversation is pointless, where ideology refuses to yield to discussion, I will not engage, but give that person his or her time to find their own way.

It's not right or left, it's about people. We communicate (and that means listen as well as speak), or we surrender to the most base part of our natures.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Hollywood and Arkham

People who want Lovecraftian cinema usually have to settle for low budget, poorly conceived, poorly executed slush. While many out there will protest, screeching that The Re-animator was a cult classic, let's be honest, the pickings have been slim. Sure, we've eaten our popcorn, taken refuge in horror with Lovecraftian flavor, but seldom do we see an honest attempt from a major studio to deliver Lovecraft.

That may change. Apparently Guillermo del Toro will be delivering a large budget version of "At The Mountains of Madness." I'll remain skeptical until principle shooting is wrapped up and rumors have started leaking. Perhaps I'm still sour over stories about the Bond franchise (don't get me started), but past experience has dimmed my expectations over Hollywood and Arkham.

Until ATMOM's release (let me be the first to turn the title into an anagram), here is something which might amuse me. I'm actually looking forward to seeing this.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Pesky Sentence

A writer recently suggested "the anatomy of a sentence" as a discussion topic for a writers' group. Yes, I responded in a pithy snarky manner, but I actually paused and gave this topic some thought. HEY!!!! STOP!!! Don't run away, it won't hurt. Let's talk about the sentence. I'll be brief.

A student recently read my work and said, "You use fragments and run-on sentences, why can't I?"
My response: "I'll fail you."

So how am I able to use single words as entire sentences and justify fragments? How can I abandon the subject+verb predicate structure. Mayhem! Craziness! People running naked in the streets!

If you follow a linguistic approach to grammar, you might say a sentence is merely an utterance, regardless of how it is constructed. An utterance is a natural unit of communication conveyed in a manner common between sender and receiver.

Still awake? Work with me here, people.

The sentence as a language unit, when it is part of an utterance, or is expressed as an independent utterance, has grammatical boundaries as well as grammatical completeness and unity.

The sentence "Hmmmm" for instance, is primarily an utterance and has none of the accepted grammatical elements we associate with a sentence, such as subject and verb predicate. It is merely an onomatopoeia. However, used alone as an utterance, it may be allowed a grammatical completeness and therefore has the grammatical boundary of the period. 
I'm not suggesting we abandon traditional grammar. However, writers need to pace their content, delivering words with a 'feel' or rhythm. Varying sentence structure, and how a sentence is delivered is critical in keeping the reader involved.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Country Exile

Writers note detail. We gather it in, and then selective expel it to create mood, or plot, or character. Observation is an important talent, and one which needs to be cultivated. I've worked at this skill, developing a stream-of-consciousness description of what I see.

It has driven many a student crazy.

Usually in an English class, I'll pounce on an unsuspecting teen, beginning a rapid commentary as they enter the room, describing out loud what I see and hear.

"John entered the room, shaking his head as he moved to his seat. He slumped into his desk, slightly red-faced, refusing to look up or acknowledge his teacher. 'Stop,' he said. 'Stop,' he said again, but more firmly."

Making the move from city to a rural area helped make me more aware of the importance of observational details, perhaps because the contrast is so stark that it demands definition.

For instance, in Detroit, I found comfort in the "whump-whump-whump" of an overhead police helicopter, or the lonely thump of bass from a passing vehicle with its radio turned up to deafen. Sirens? Let me roll over and return to snoring.

In the rural area there is usually deadly stillness. The world holds its breath. Oh, occasionally if you listen, you might hear something far off. Late at night, you can make out a low thrumming noise, which is a freighter moving slowly down the St. Clair River. Or if it's misty, you'll hear the fog horn as it passes. But except for the 4th of July, when every mother's son for miles around sets off firecrackers (it's their idea of 3D entertainment), the night brings a quiet that intimidates even the animals into muting their late night calls. Sure, there's an infrequent window of quiet in the city, when one can hear a car passing from a block over, or the hum of electrical wires, or the changing of a stoplight, but the stillness is punctuated by little sounds.

In the country, the stillness is punctuated by more stillness.

Perhaps the gift of being a writer and working on observational skills and detailing the world around you is that you see things with an appreciative eye. The world doesn't pass in a blur, it slows down and demands to be noticed.