Sunday, June 26, 2011

Taking God out of the Pledge of Allegiance ... and the rest of the government?

I am not religiously opinionated enough to have much of a preference as to whether we are one nation (ha!) under God or just under the flag, but I am a fan of consistency (as well as an observer of irony and hypocrisy -- my own and others').

Ever since I first saw an American flag inside a Catholic church, I have laughed at the notion of a separation between church and state in this country.

I am not so much concerned about whether there is a separation or not (though I do think that it is a lovely idea).  Partiots can be religious, and religious folks can be patriotic.  My issue is with the saying of one thing and doing the opposite.

If there is no God in the pledge, then there should be no "God Bless America," and certainly no swearing in of witnesses, supreme court justices or presidents of the United States with their hands on a Bible.  While I don't know the oaths by heart, I am sure that God is mentioned in each and every one of them.  And given that the Bible is the religious book used for these ceremonies, it is a very specific Christian God (who, I might mention, is the same God as Yahweh and Allah, but that is a whole other suject) we are talking about here in a land where the law guarantees the right to worship who and how you choose -- a God who requires absolute loyalty.  It is not enough to believe in Him, worship Him, follow Him in your own life.  You must also insist on the impossibility of the existence and validity of any other deity.  Anyone who believes anything else is not only wrong but, unless converted, doomed to a torturous eternal afterlife (in which he or she probably don't even believe, which I have always found to be a bit of a stretch).

We can't have God in school (which also means that teaching creationism is out), but he is allowed in every court in the land?  All of those judges and lawyers (and probably quite a few of the witnesses, defendants and plaintiffs) in those courts have spent a major portion of their lives in school (and possibly in a church of some sort as well), where religion and God apparently don't belong, but then they go to work and have to invoke God every day.

Is whoever is insisting on this particular edit really thinking the situation all the way through?  Or is the expectation that one instance will not have any ripple effect?  Help me out here.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Being a bit reactionary

Someone sent me this link:

which led me here:

Initially my reaction went into a reply e-mail, but I think I will go ahead and post it here.

I tend to have issues with this sort of thing.  [Edit to add: By "this sort of thing," I mean discussions of feminism in pretty much any sense of the word.]  Or at least a different point of view.

It's not that I think that gender inequity isn't a problem in pretty much any arena, but I am not sure how much good it does to point out such things over and over and over.

I'm not saying this well.

I mean, it's important to recognize that there is an issue, but there is a risk of just ending up whining, "It's not fair!"

Sure, people are idiots and chauvinists and bigots.  And a lot of those idiots and chauvinists and bigots are probably men.  Do women (and a few enlightened men) really think that they are going to change men just by pointing out to them over and over again that they are wrong in the name of educating them?  It's the same core issue I have with the war between the species.  As long as women insist on trying to change men, they aren't really going to get anywhere.  They might get superficial change.  But if you make him give up beer and cigars and red meat, he is either going to end up resenting you or consuming those things on the sly and lying to you about it, or both.

(And really that philosophy applies to trying to change anyone who doesn't want to change or be changed, no matter the gender.  Ultimately, you can only educate people who are willing and open minded enough to learn, even if they don't agree.)

The same applies in various professional arenas.  Quit whining about how hard it is to be respected or get ahead or make your mark or be taken seriously because you are a woman.  Sure, being a woman puts you at a disadvantage in a lot of situations, but, as my mother used to say (much to my unending frustration and consternation) "You can look at this two ways ..."  You can whine and cry and bemoan your situation, or you can buck up, be positive and make the best of it and get the job done.  Take ownership.  Take action.  Make a positive difference.

Don't be a great female science fiction writer.  Be a great science fiction writer.  Hell, just be a great writer.  Bring to the table whatever it is that makes you truly unique, and do what you have to do to get where you want to go.  Isn't that what a man would do?  Prove that he is better than everyone else?  Or maybe prove that he has the right connections or enough money so that he doesn't have to be better than everyone else?

You have to be a bit sneaky, er, creative to compensate for misperceptions and preconceived notions.  If you think that your scifi isn't selling because you are woman, then write under a male pseudonym.  If you refuse to compromise in any way and insist that the world must accept you as is in all of your female glory, just remember that you are asking a lot of other people to change the way that they think -- which is likely to be seen as a compromise from their perspective -- without changing anything about the way you think.  You gotta give to get, honey.  Doesn't matter if you are right or not.  Everyone else is entitled to the same freedom of expression and opinion that you are demanding.

If you think wearing a short skirt and a low cut blouse to a meeting with a publisher or agent with get you the deal, then go for it.  Okay, there was probably a better way to put that last suggestion, but the point is to play to your strengths.  Find your angle.  Find your way to work the system to your advantage.  Learn the game and the rules from the inside out, and then figure out how to break them without getting caught.  Level the playing field.  It's what the men do.  Not that women should become men because that would be boring and defeat the point of struggling to shine in the first place.  But I do think that they should learn from them.  Take a page from their book, revise it and make it better.  That's what writers do.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sink or Swim -- a ramble

Writing Assignment
Arabella Hicks - The Fiction Class

This is an exercise in learning how to write a climactic scene.

A boat sinks during a storm, and only ten of its passengers make it onto a lifeboat.  One by one the survivors are knocked off until, after a month at sea, only two survivors are left.  There is not enough food for both of them, and one of them is going to have to get rid of the other.  One of them is a teenage girl who is very strong for her age, but she is blind.  The other is a musician from a successful boys' band.  He is twenty-six years old and smaller than the girl.  Who will survive?  Write the final scene.

(The Fiction Class by Sara Breen page 73)


Initial reaction: Seriously?  A life boat with enough food for a month?  Not to mention water.  A blind girl and a boy band singer?  Who freakin' cares?  After a month starving at sea and offing eight other people, they are both insane.  They struggle and both fall overboard to drown.  I see no other way out unless they figure out how to work together.  If they have not been found yet, they aren't going to be in this modern age.  The shipwreck would be known.  The area would be searched.  I'm all for imagination, but this is just insane.  No thank you.  I just can't get past the month in a lifeboat idea.

... Or maybe I can.  But they still both die.  they don't fight for one to win over the other.  They fight because one wants to give up, and the other wants to survive.  One tries to stop the other from capsizing the boat, and they both go over.  Or they make a murder suicide pact, and the suicide can't go through with it.  Or the murderer commits suicide instead, leaving the other to starve.  Except that a murderer needs a weapon.  Unless we're back to just a battle of sheer strength, and one drowns.

Shipwrecks are hard to come by these days.  What kind of boat were they on to begin with?  Something big enough to have a lifeboat, rather than just life preservers.  And big enough to have enough food for ten people for a month, if one person dies every few days.  I'm back to thinking that a boat that big can't go down without someone knowing about it because there would be radio contact of some sort.  Until the storm or the ice berg or whatever hit, and all of the electronics drowned.

Did all of the electronics really drown?  If there was time to gather food and this is a modern story (based on the successful boy band singer -- not that there weren't successful boy bands before the age of gps and cell phones and whatnot because back in the day, when they were all young, the Beatles and the Stones and the E Street Band were all bands made up of boys), are you telling me that no one figured out a way to bring a cell phone of some sort?  Of course, it may not work, and the battery will eventually die.  But wouldn't it be worth trying to get some sort of signal and some sort of bearing on land and then work together to try to move the boat and that direction, gauging according to the path of the sun once the battery/signal gives out?

And over the course of the month, if they are truly out on open water, everyone hasn't died of exposure?  Or in another storm?  And throwing a body, or eight, overboard hasn't attracted some sort of carnivorous sea creature?

I mean, how does this work?

"Okay, we're on a boat.  There are ten of us.  We've got a bunch of food, but clearly not enough for the long term, so we're going to have to start pushing people over.  Or you can always fall in on your own.  Who wants to go first?"

And it would seem to me that whoever pushes the first person over would be the obvious second victim.  Then the seeds of suspicion are sown.  Who is the next pusher?  The next pushee?  Madness won't be too far behind suspicion.

Why are the two kids left?  How did they outlast the grownups?

Okay.  Let's see.  Where were we?  Oh yes.  Billy and Jane are the last ones in the lifeboat.  They sit on opposite ends staring at each other.  Well, Jane is blind, so her stare is kind of directionless, but Billy stares at her intently, watching every move as intently as she listens for him to make even the smallest sound of movement.

Each one knows that there is no way out.  They have been on this lifeboat for a month with no sign of rescue. The food and water are almost gone, along with hope.  But hope survives on belief rather than food and water, so it is more tenacious.  As long as they keep hoping, there is a chance, right?  You read about miraculous, impossible stories all the time.  People survive car crashes, being lost in the woods or on a mountain, animal attacks and storms.  It happens.  If it can happen to those people, why can't it happen to me?

Billy and Jane have the same thought at the same time.  "I can survive this.  I'm going to be the one who makes it."

"I have been blind since birth.  Look at everything I have had to overcome.  I have had to deal with a major handicap every single day.  That makes me strong and resourceful."

"I was just a poor kid from a town no one had ever heard of.  I left home at sixteen and headed to Hollywood.  I worked all sorts of horrible, demeaning jobs and sang and danced every chance I got because that is what I was meant to do.  I started with nothing, and now I am part of one of the most popular bands ever!  That makes me strong and resourceful."

Then they have another thought at the same time: "But am I strong enough and resourceful enough to kill another person?  And what if I succeed and get the last of the food?  Then what?"

Jane: "I'll be all alone in a boat on open water in the middle of nowhere.  If I win, I'll live a little longer, but how much longer?"

Billy: "If I can beat her in a fight, then I will be really alone.  Will someone really find me?  What's the use of being the last man standing if I still end up as fish food?"


Nope.  It's not sparking anything for me.  If there is no reason to think that either one will survive, what is the point of having one outlast the other?

Any ideas out there?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Lunch in Paris

Writing Assignment
Arabella Hicks - The Fiction Class

Think of a person from history who intrigues you.  Napoleon?  Cleopatra?  Martin Luther King?

Write a two- to three-page description of that person eating a meal.  What would s/he eat?  How would s/he eat?  What would s/he be thinking about as s/he ate?  Would someone be sharing the meal with him or her?  What would they talk about?

Remember: Bring Your Character to Life!

(The Fiction Class by Susan Breen, page 41)


I wonder if I could have two famous people eating together.  Would they have to be from the same era?  Yes.  My little fantasy lunch could work.  (Note: I know very little about the two characters in this little scene but am somewhat in the process of researching them both, especially the lady, given my ongoing fascination with things Parisian.  The only information I confirmed was the possibility/accuracy of the date as it related to each character's life and career.)

The year is 1925.

Paris in the spring.

Ernest Hemingway is working on The Sun Also Rises.  Most of the time he is hanging out on the Left Bank, but today he is taking a break and finds himself strolling through a more upscale part of town.  His untucked shirt, open collar, rolled up sleeves and wrinkled trousers earn him a few sidelong glances, but the young writer is lost in thought and pays them no heed.  He soaks up the warmth of the spring sunshine, letting it burn off his hangover.

As he passes a cafe, his attention is arrested by a striking woman sitting at a table, smoking a cigarette and sipping a cafe au lait.  As he watches, a waiter brings her a plate of fruit, cheese and bread.  She nods her thanks, a faint smile pulling at the corners of her mouth.  Large sunglasses and an elegant hat hide the rest of her expression -- the rest of her face, in fact.

She sets down her coffee cup, puts out her cigarette, and as she turns her attention to the food in front of her, she says, "Would you care to join me, or do you prefer to just stand there and gape?"

Her English is accented but fluent, and her voice hints at velvety smolder underneath her elegant attire.

"Even a Frenchman would not be so rude ... or so sloppily dressed.  You must be American."

Not easily discomfitted, our hero is startled into at least standing up a little straighter, but he smiles rakishly and accepts the invitation, accepting a seat across from his enchantress, glad to have permission as well as the opportunity to study her a little more closely.  Beneath the hat and glasses is a delicately made up face, a single strand of pearls and a distinctive, square-cut but tailored jacket which is becoming the lady's trademark.

While the rude, sloppily dressed American is trying to determine the lady's age, the waiter appeared at his elbow.


"I don't suppose you have whiskey in this place."

"Non, monsieur."  The waiter's disdain is evident.

"Fine.  A bottle of wine and whatever the lady is having."

"Bien sur."  The waiter bows slightly and disappeared.

The author turns back to his companion to see that smile again -- subtle, beautiful, mysterious.

"Only an American would be drinking so early in the day, right?"

"Only something so vile as whiskey, yes.  But wine with lunch is perfectly French."

"Bien sur," he grins.

At that, she actually laughs -- a light, musical sound which only deepens his enchantment.

"Gabrielle Chanel," she introduces herself, extending a hand which he stares at for an instant before he decides to try to take it and graze the knuckles with a kiss as he had seen Frenchmen do when they were trying to seduce some innocent young thing traveling abroad.  The clumsy gesture earns him another smile.

"Ernest Hemingway."


"Gabrielle ... that's a lovely name."

"Friends -- and some admirers -- call me Coco."

He thinks about that for a minute.  "I prefer Gabrielle, if you don't mind.  Or should it be Madame Chanel to this ill-mannered, sloppily dressed American?"

"Gabrielle suits me just fine, Monsieur Hemingway."

He smiles at the sound of his name translated into her accent -- Em-een-gway.  "Ernest, please.  Speaking of suits, that's a sharp one you're wearing."

"Merci.  It is one of my favorite designs."

"Your design?  You're a fashion designer?"

"Oui, monsieur.  Indeed I am, although I wouldn't expect someone like you to take notice of such things."

He is almost offended until he sees her smiling again.

"Just because a man looks as if he can barely dress himself doesn't mean that he can't appreciate a beautiful woman, and I'd wager that is the entire point of your designs."

"One of the points, but certainly not the only one."

The waiter returns with the food and wine, as well as another cafe au lait.  Hemingway downs half a glass of wine in one gulp and ignores the food.

"Not the only one?"

"Non.  Of course not.  A woman should dress first and foremost for herself.  If she does that and knows what she likes and what flatters her body and her style -- perhaps even her mood -- then the appreciation of others will follow naturally.  If she doesn't appreciate herself, there is no reason that anyone else should either.  If she does, natural though it may be, the appreciation of others isn't even necessary."

As he listens, Hemingway takes a large bite of cheese and bread, washing it down with the rest of the wine in his glass.

"But," Chanel smiles again, a little mischievously this time, "a little appreciation ... stopping a man in his tracks, for example, never hurts."

Had she not been wearing the sunglasses she might have looked demure, even fluttered her eyelashes, but behind those dark lenses it was impossible to tell.  Hemingway laughs.

"No, I suppose it doesn't, though I would think that a ragamuffin American like me would be easy prety.  Are you telling me that this works on my more cultured, sophisticated French counterparts?"

"Bien sur!  But be careful in assuming that all Frenchmen are sophisticated."

"Fair enough."

she selects a cigarette from a monogrammed silver case, and he lights it for her.  They sit in companionable silence, and he drinks another glass of wine -- a little more slowly this time, clearly enjoying the taste and soaking up his surroundings.

Cigarette finished, his companion rises.

"It has been a pleasure, Monsieur Hemingway, but I must get to an appointment.  I do hope we meet again."

He stands as she does.  "The pleasure was mine, Madame Chanel."

He watches her walk away, as she no doubt intends him to do, and returns to his lunch to find that the waiter has so kindly left him the check to pay.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Raising a glass to new beginnings

I keep complaining (mostly internally) about not getting enough writing done, and about not writing consistently.  This past weekend, I typed over 7500 words.  The problem, if it is really a problem, is that everything was written for an audience of one.  Audience of two might be more accurate sinceI keep rereading what I wrote.  Over the course of today, I wrote another thousand words which will likely never be read by anyone but me.  (In this case, that's a good thing.)
7500 is a lot of words for a not quite forty-eight hour period.  Respectable at any rate.
Somewhere in either a NaNoWriMo or Script Frenzy conversation, I read about wasting one's word count on writing other than the project at hand -- chatting, e-mailing, posting to various social networking sites, sending text messages -- and I realized that when I really get going, either due to concentration or because I get really emotionally fired up about something, word count isn't the problem.  The problem is where I channel it and how I use it.
Some things can't really be helped.  Those probably fifty e-mails I send every day at work, for example.
Other things shouldn't be helped.  Writing in my journal is cathartic for me.  It helps me figure things out and work through problems and deal with various emotional crises and conundrums (conundra?).  I have set up a private blog or two in the past where the posts can only be viewed by select, invited individuals.  I think that kind of writing is good, too.  It tends to be the most creative writing I do that someone else sees.  That particular audience has disappeared, however.
The time has come to broaden my writing horizons, and my audience.  I'm not much of a social butterfly.  I'm a nerdy little hermit who tends to worry about being noticed by strangers, but even in my tiny little corner of the world, I know that there are a few people listening, so maybe it is time that I speak up and let my voice carry just a little farther, and maybe a few other people will hear me and think that what I have to say is interesting.
Or not.  But I definitely won't know if I don't try.
There are certainly plenty of opportunities and possibilities out there.  I have heard rumors of Camp NaNoWriMo.  And I have a Script Frenzy screenplay I have never finished.  As well as the first nanowrimo novel.  I could finally figure out how to write rpg characters, maybe even become a dungeon master if I decide that I like it.
A good bit of what I write might still stay hidden for a while, but in the meantime, I am going to take another shot at blogging.
After all, as Julie Powell says in Julie and Julia, "I could write a blog.  I have thoughts."