Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hockey Conspiracy

On the one hand, I'm pleased to see so many of my Blackhawks players being voted up on the All Star fan vote. They are my team, and I consider them to be All Stars.

However, the fact that so many of them are being voted so highly, second only to the insane love being received by Zemgus Girgensons, that I smell something fishy.

I mean, think about it. No one wants to play in the All Star game. It's a meaningless exhibition game just as the regular season enters the home stretch. There are rules that prevent players from skipping the game because so many players have, in the past skipped that game.

So what better way to attempt to weaken the Blackhawks than to vote them into the All Star game, thus forcing them either to miss games surrounding the All Star weekend, or actually attend and play in the All Star game? Who would be so dastardly as to explicitly vote for their rival team for long term gain?

I'm looking at you, LA.

Um, and you, Saint Louis.

And I definitely wouldn't put it past Vancouver...

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Ten Percent

The other night, I surprised and impressed the heck out of my husband.

I didn't think what I was doing was all that impressive, because I've known people who could have done what I did faster, better, more easily and more thoroughly. But he didn't know I could do what I did, and he hasn't associated with other people with that skill.

I mean, I suppose it's a skill. I hadn't thought of it that way until Ambrose said he was blown away.

During my solo hike this year, I made up a song. Not a complex one, just a simple melody and some lyrics. For the proof copy of my book, I just put an image with the lyric, but I kept it full page so that I might substitute music if I could get music done.

And what impressed him so much was that I recorded my song, pulled out my flute and a keyboard harmonica, dug out my old blank score notebook and set my song to music.

I figured out that I'd sung in the key of E flat major. I wrote out the most basic melody, and apparently, that's a skill.

I disbelieved that it was a valid skill to the point that I had to ask Ambrose what he was blown away about when he just kept looking at me and shaking his head.

I still need to figure out how to annotate the rhythm of the song, but I've got the melody, and, in a way, I feel like I've discovered a new skill.

Even if all I did was rediscover the principle that you only have to know 10 percent more about a subject than someone else for that person to consider you an expert.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Distinguished Lecture Part 2: Sir Salman Rushdie

continued from The Distinguished Lecture Part 1: Preparation

My husband can be a bit obsessive about being on time. And to him, on time is not precisely on time. On time is no less than 5 minutes early. In this case, the doors for the even opened at 6:30 and we arrived no later than 6:25.

Since we arrived into a crowded lobby, I had no complaints. We made our way slowly to the back row of the main level, taking seats in the center where the back row transitioned from folding seats to chairs on a platform. And we proceeded to watch the theater fill. Not once, not twice, but three times an announcement was made asking people to please move towards the middle.

It seemed no one had expected such a large crowd. And this event was competing the the Transiberian Orchestra!

There were introductory remarks by the man in charge of the Distinguished Lecture series and then Sir Rushdie was introduced by the President of Boise State, Bob Kustra. And then, at last, on to the stage walked the man we were all waiting to see.

He received a standing ovation before saying a single word. And told us, quite politely, that we were supposed to stand at the end.

I had expected an interesting accent from a man raised in India, having lived in London and then New York. But he did not have a strong one to my ears. More what I would call an English affect than accent. He spoke clearly and articulately. And he began by asking why would we all have braved the chill weather to see a writer speak.

He spoke of the role of literature and particularly the role of the novel. The current news media seems more to propagate fear than understanding. Shit expands to fill the feeds until there's no room for anything else but disaster after disaster. A novel is a way to experience the lives of others, in other cultures, and find understanding.

We are creatures of story, story animals. And we have a fundamental right to story.

Politics and literature both offer stories, but only literature advertises its stories as fiction.

Even in the United States, there have been attempts to censor books like Harry Potter, because they encourage the practice of witchcraft and evil. This does not mean that censorship is correct, but rather that "crazy assholes are here, too."

Some of the themes in the lecture I recognized from Joseph Anton. Sir Rushdie used the example of Charlie Brown and the football to illustrate how character defines destiny. Charlie Brown can never kick the football, because to do so would be to violate his very character. But when chaos intrudes, it is no longer character that defines destiny. Being a good person doesn't stop the suicide bomber from choosing to detonate near you.

Novelists no longer have the luxury that Jane Austen did to write of a contained space, ignoring the wars that rage around it. The public and the private have been conflated, and a novel that ignored the world to that extent would not be able to have the same impact.

He spoke of the self as being multiple and fragmented. Human characters are broad and inconstant, but we are being asked, even forced at times, to choose single definitions to fit ourselves in. Convenient chyrons to choose sides. News channel affiliations so we only listen to people we agree with.

Art outlasts tyranny. Pushing boundaries is the job of the writer.

That was the end of the lecture, but a question and answer period followed a second standing ovation.

One questioner asked about getting students to read literature, which brought about an answer I liked. "I kind of resist the idea of the usefulness of books." It tickles me to think of literature as useless, but he did not mean that in the sense of having no use, but rather, I think, that literature should not be a tool. Or not be created as a tool. An author should not set out to create a teaching moment, a path to show the reader the way. Rather, "when you love a book, it changes you." That might prove useful to you, but the way you use it would rarely, if ever, match an author's intent.

The ordinary life of a book is to receive varied responses. Love, hate, indifference. All are part of what stories naturally elicit. "[S]tories are not true." Self-evident words, perhaps, but worth reiterating from an author whose untrue stories caused his life to be turned upside down. Fiction functions through its fictionality, not its verisimilitude.

I was disappointed that the only people who got to ask questions were male, because time ran out and the women hadn't gotten in line soon enough. Sir Rushdie was whisked away and I was not the only person in the theater who would have been willing to listen to him speak for hours more.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Distinguished Lecture Part 1: Preparation

On November 20th, Boise State University put on one of their Distinguished Lecture series events. A free event, open to the public, at which interested members of the community could come and hear a speaker. On this particular night, the speaker was Sir Salman Rushdie.

I had been looking forward to this event since I first read about it in September. It seemed to me that I should have read something by him, but I hadn't. So, I took a break from my current project of reading the entirety of The Wheel of Time to read both The Satanic Verses and Joseph Anton. Lacking sufficient homework from my class this semester, I assigned myself those books.

I had heard of The Satanic Verses. I was only seven when the book was published, but I had heard about it from friends in high school more interested in politics than I, and I've more recently read a science fiction novel that explicitly references it (Zendegi by Greg Egan). And yet, in hearing about it, I had never caught on to how fantastical it was.

There is this idea that I have of serious literature, the kind that would win a nomination for the Booker prize. I felt that it had to be serious and realistic. Brimful of poetic imagery and perfectly placed metaphor. Perhaps I have been reading the wrong literature.

The Satanic Verses was a fascinating read. I found myself incredulous at what Rushdie was "getting away with" in regards to using the fantastic as a part of his story. Whether the fantastic was supposed to be a part of a man's madness or not, it still began with what had to be a miracle of two men surviving an airplane explosion at altitude.

I didn't see what made it an insult to any religion, but that could very well be simply because I was reading it as fiction. Since, you know, it is fiction.

I read Joseph Anton next, and found myself fascinated again, but for a different reason. This was a memoir. It is meant to be truthful; true to the memory of one man. I was aghast at the negative reactions of the British press. I wondered how I would have done in similar circumstances. Here was a man who stood by his words when those words brought him the threat of death. Not a hero, or a superman, but a writer.

In both books, I found sections that I found particularly moving or well-worded. Some paragraphs I read to my husband, usually those that included vivid description, which is something he wants to see more of in my writing. Others I savored to myself, especially the parts in The Satanic Verses that were about Alleluia Cone and Mount Everest. I'm still trying to come to terms with what I think is an important lesson from Joseph Anton, that seeking to be loved is not the right path.

I brought my husband to the lecture with me. And I brought anticipation and excitement. I didn't know what to expect from a Boise crowd. Would the Morrison Center be echoingly empty or filled with a smattering of students seeking extra credit and a few others who might come to see such a writer speak?

To be continued...

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Last Unicorn Tour: A Review

I like books. I've liked books as long as I can remember. And yet, despite spending the first eighteen years of my life next door to Chicago, I never went to an author event until last week.

Now that I live in Boise, I often bemoan the fact that the authors and musical acts that I really dig don't come here. For example, I was quite incensed to notice that Passion Pit was going to go to Salt Lake City, then skip a day and then play Spokane. That means that they drove right through Boise without bothering to stop.


(Just kidding, you're not jerks, Passion Pit - come to Boise!)

And when I did see notices of author events in the area, they weren't authors that I knew of or they weren't authors I was passionate about, even if they were big names. Okay, I did want to see Cheryl Strayed, but the tickets for that event were a) out of my budget and b) sold out in seconds.

But, as I wrote a few weeks ago, a magical concurrence of events occurred that allowed me to go to The Last Unicorn Tour and meet Peter S. Beagle on November 4th.

To be perfectly honest, I have attended one other author signing, if you want to count being dragged to the mall by my mom so she can get a signed cookbook from the Frugal Gourmet. I don't really count it, and what I remember most about that event was a long line emerging from the bookstore and wrapping around the upper level of the mall.

This was different. For one, the signing took place in a movie theater lobby, which was fairly dimly lit and subject to flows of people exiting their films and staring at the partially costumed hoard of people lined up in front of the tables of merchandise. I met some people in line, and attached myself to them in a way, since my husband didn't want to stand in line and I didn't want to be completely alone.

But when I got to the head of the line, where Peter sat and the skull glowered, I was alone, if only for a moment. I was tongue-tied and on the verge of tears. I wanted to speak eloquently, in a way that he would remember. But all I managed was to reference what he had said on the Writing Excuses podcast. "I must call myself a writer," I managed to stammer. And he told me to keep up the work. A quick photo-op and I was off to the theater to watch the screening.

A Q&A session preceded the film, and I later kicked myself for not asking the obvious question, "How is a raven like a writing desk?" But the questions were good, and Peter spoke in fascinating stories. It was a shame that the session had to end, because I doubt I was the only one ready to listen to Peter talk all night.

I cried during the film. At the sad parts, the happy parts and my favorite parts. I resolutely did not let myself get in the way of feeling and expressing those emotions. I revisited a film of my childhood and experienced it in a way that I never had been able to, on the big screen in a full theater.

I left feeling satisfied and glad that I had taken part.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

First Draft Down, Long Way to Go

One thing that I can thank the slow pace of my class for is the time to work on my next solo trip book, Hike with Me: Queens River Loop. Last year, I wasn’t able to finish an initial draft until mid-December, due to the heavy workload for my literature class. There just wasn’t time to write as frequently when I had to read, re-read and write papers.

There is also the possibility that I’m getting a little bit better at writing this kind of account. I have been engaging in some practice by writing up my other trips this summer on my hiking blog, as well as the experience of last year’s book.

Plus I have a firm deadline from my husband, aka my motivation, aka my first reader, for a Christmas release. Pre-Christmas, rather, so we have Christmas gifts.

Although, to be honest, he gave me a deadline last year, and I didn’t quite meet it.

But this year, I’m on a good track. He has finished his initial read-through, and so my next step is to re-read and edit. After that, the big formatting push will come, which is the most time-consuming part of the non-writing process, because of the way that I’m doing the pictures. I have to make picture plates in GIMP, and then insert the plates into the text at the appropriate places.

Oh, and I have to choose the pictures. . . Maybe I’m actually running late. . .

I’ve got to get back to work.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Six Stages of Alien Abduction

1. Denial
As your eyes slowly adjust to the bright lights and you find you can't move, of course you're going to deny it. You insist that it must be a dream, but you know that once you realize a dream is a dream, you tend to wake up. There is no waking up. So you move onto the next lie, "I must have been in an accident. I'm in a hospital and I have amnesia." Sorry, no dice. Hospitals on earth do not have pulsing purple walls or tentacled nursing staff. It doesn't take long to get past denial when the three mouthed doctor leans over you with an oddly cute head tilt and a quadruple wink.

2. Anger
Why you? Of all the people in all the world, why did these stupid damn aliens have to pick you? If you could punch them right in their noses, er, hoses (nozzles?), you'd do it, right now, arm, hey arm, why aren't you moving? Anger turns out to be much more difficult to hold onto when you can't even thrash in protest.

3. Bargaining
Although you can't speak, you decide to see if the aliens are psychic. Or if you're psychic. You stare at them until your eyes hurt, thinking as loudly as you can: Let me go and I'll give you candy. You'd like candy, I promise. How about beer? Nothing like a cold one on a hot day. Shiny penny?
Incomprehensible trills fill your ears, but you can't tell if they're responding, laughing or completely psychically deaf.

4. Depression
You'd cry if you could. But you can't even tighten your sphincter, which, of course, you know they'll get around to eventually. You wish you could see your mother again, and tell her you love her even though she's crazy, which is totally the reason you fight all the time. What's the point of trying to thrash or telepathically beg? There's no point in anything anymore...

5. Acceptance
What will be, will be. You are paralyzed and helpless, and having absolutely nothing you can do certainly helps speed the process to acceptance. You endure, even as the expected probe strikes home, and tears actually do manage to leak out of your eyes.

6. X-Files
You wake up in bed, and while a part of you wants to pretend it was all a dream, a certain tender spot insists otherwise. You have no choice. There could be others out there, having been abducted, soon to be abducted, maybe even being abducted right now. You have to let everyone know that the truth is out there...