Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Thunderdome of Ideas


How do you make sense of the ideas that occur to you?

I’m talking here about stories, lyrics, visions, hell, even blarg ideas. They come from somewhere, and whether that source is some external stimulus like a news story or a fantastic article or a brilliant film or a gripping novel, they all end up getting filtered through the mire of neurons and synapses inside your skull. Which means that from the time an idea first strikes, it gets tossed into the Thunderdome that’s raging inside your head at any given moment.

Maybe I should step away from the second person (pardon me, second person) and stick to the first (oh, hi, me). It’s a Thunderdome in my head. Many ideas enter. Few survive to be acted upon.

Seriously. It’s a wonder I can get anything done. I’m as scatterbrained as they come, so when a new idea strikes for me, it’s thrown into the arena with the other millions of things I’m thinking about, which include, but are not limited to:

  • My kids and whether I’ve remembered to feed them / change their diapers / change their clothes / clean up their messes / set a good example for them / actually know where they are at the moment / OH GOD WHERE ARE THE KIDS
  • The dollars and cents flowing through all the metaphorical holes in my metaphorical pockets (because money isn’t real anymore you know, it’s all just ones and zeros on some bank program and okay this is not a conspiracy theory blog) and all the stress associated with that.
  • The fact that it’s winter, and in the four winters we’ve weathered in this house, we’ve had pipes freeze and burst in the walls twice despite our best efforts, so does winter number five mean that nightmare is coming around again…
  • The kids have been quiet for a while, WHAT IS MY TODDLER DOING
  • The scent of burning that’s coming from somewhere and I can’t isolate it… is it the neighbors burning leaves? A car burning oil? The wires in the walls spontaneously combusting and preparing to burn the house down?
  • The theme song from Thomas the Tank Engine just keeps bouncing around in there for no good reason; it certainly isn’t helping me to focus. (Sidenote: “shunt” is a fun word that sounds dirty but isn’t–meaning to shove aside or divert–try using it at parties!)
  • How the balls did my kid dump an entire two pounds of dog food into the water bowl without me hearing it?

And that’s just the past, say, thirty seconds.

So any idea I’m trying to have, whether related to my current novel or any other prospective novel I may ever conceivably get around to writing if I ever finish this one, has to step into the steel cage death match with these other thoughts if it wants to win my focus long enough to be pondered, let alone written down and saved for later. And these other thoughts take no prisoners. They have nailbats and rusty crowbars and spiked shoes. That Thomas theme song carries around a friggin’ garrote in its pocket and will dispatch an interloping idea without batting an eye.

Somehow… somehow… some ideas make it through the riot of distractions and make it into the novel. I’m working on weaving in a particularly good one that occurred to me a few weeks ago while I was writing a blarg post about how I was stuck for ideas about how to improve my draft. Did it arise out of need? Was it the strongest of a series of weak, malformed conceptions of various other plot points I could have used instead, and the strongest survived? Or did it blunder through, catching the toddlers during a nap and catching that Thomas theme song looking the other way long enough to escape into daylight?

I have no idea where the ideas come from or how they get processed. I feel like if I did I’d be a tremendously better writer, and I could therefore avoid unnecessary and cumbersome adverbs in my prose, like “tremendously,” to choose a particularly egregious offender completely at random. Also egregious offenders: “particularly,” “completely,” and “egregious” (not an adverb but still offensive).

See, the idea to sidetrack into all that nonsense about adverbs came from somewhere, I decided it was a good detour to make and I made it. Somebody (even if that somebody is me) sent that message, and somebody (probably me) received it and acted on it.

Where does that impulse come from?

Is that my authorial text-transcending through-line? Is it an undercurrent of subconscious thematic tendency? Or did whoever’s pulling the strings in my writerly Thunderdome take pity on the adverb idea and give it a set of poison-tipped spiked brass knuckles to help it in the fight?

I fear this is one of those unknowable things that philosophers might struggle with through the ages, though they’d perhaps do it more eloquently than with Thunderdomes and brass knuckles. And they’d certainly steer clear of Thomas the Tank Engine and any associated theme songs.

This post is part of SoCS. This week’s prompt was the diabolical homonym quartet of “sense / scents / cents / sent”, a series of words which basically describes why anybody learning English as a second language might end up banging his head against a wall. Because I’m a fool for pain, I used them all.

Shunt.


This One’s a Bleeder


To continue my metaphor of narrative surgery, I’ve been working on the edit a good bit the past couple nights, with a few thousand words added in and a lot of trimming and tweaking in the neighboring scenes. But I hit my first really rough patch, and the patient nearly bled out while I watched.

See, there was this one really good scene leading into another really good scene, and the problem with the two was (is) that there’s a character present in the one who I forgot about when I wrote the other. Upon reflection and review, it makes perfect sense for said character not to be present in scene 2, though I rather like her contributions to scene 1. So, one way or another, the appendix must be removed and I have to explain how I removed it. Her. Gah, metaphors.

So I spent my editing time tonight writing a brief intermediary scene wherein the protagonist clumsily gets rid of her. And man… I just think it’s crap. I mean, it does what it needs to do (patching the continuity hole of having her magically disappear from one scene to the next) but it feels so obvious and heavy-handed in the narrative sense of I just needed to get rid of this character that I fear it will break continuity anyway.

Thus, the new scene, created to bridge a gap between two existing scenes and resolve another item precariously perched on the Editing Pile of Stuff now becomes its very own item on the Pile.

I’m tempering my all-consuming self-abuse and the growing screams of the Howler Monkey of Doubt with the knowledge that it’s okay if it’s not perfect at this stage; it can always be polished and refined in later edits. The important thing for now is to make sure that all the musculature is in place and functioning properly; the skin grafts and, you know, general make-it-look-a-little-less-Frankenstein’s-monster-ish-ness can come later.

But man, that’s one raggedy-looking patch job. Almost like I had a grizzled, musclebound soldier on my table with a horrifically injured arm, and I replaced it with a prosthetic molded from a five-year-old girl. Sure, they’re the same parts, but they damn sure don’t match.

Ugh. Have I mentioned that editing sucks so very much worse than drafting?


Thanks.


After my monumental gripe with the Holiday season (cringe) yesterday, it seems only fitting to embrace the spirit of the holiday today, so for a little change of pace here on the blarg, here are some things I’m thankful for.

  • I am thankful for my two beautiful children, who, despite their daily assaults on my sanity, are pretty much the most amazing future humans I have ever known.
  • I am thankful for my gorgeous wife, who both calls me on my sharknado and manages to inspire me to be the best version of myself. And who is also one hell of a cook.
  • I am thankful that my wife’s family and mine live within a short hour’s drive from one another, and we are therefore spared the uncomfortable situation of having to choose to spend time with one or the other on days like this. I am also thankful for the two over-the-top dinners we get as a result of this double-dip.
  • I am thankful that despite my recent injuries, I remained in good enough general health to return to running in time to complete a race with my wife and sister this morning, having about as much fun as I’ve had in a while doing something that wasn’t all about my kids.
  • I am thankful for my job. Whether it was something I ever saw myself doing notwithstanding, the stability it has brought to our house has made a lot of things possible over the last couple of years, not least of which are the births of my children and my wife’s continuing education. We are not rich, but we are comfortable, and it’s hard to overstate the depth of appreciation I have for that comfort.
  • I am thankful that, for whatever reason, I decided to embrace my fears and my wants and begin capital “W” Writing this year. It’s been a terrifying and enlightening journey, one that I hope I’ve only seen the first steps of.
  • I am thankful that, despite my position as an English teacher and a self-proclaimed capital “W” Writer, I can boldly and with my tongue firmly implanted in my cheek end sentences with prepositions, massacre the rules of general good grammar, and play havoc with punctuation, and still (I think and hope!) generally communicate in an intelligible manner.
  • I am thankful that there is great love in both my family and my wife’s, and within our own newly created family.
  • I am thankful that my son did not use any swear words in front of the family on Thanksgiving (that I am aware of). If he did, he learned them from TV, not from me.
  • Finally, and before this list gets out of control (because it could), I am thankful for my readers and followers here on the blarg. Yes, this little chronicle is largely a narcissistic endeavor, but I’d be lying–horribly–if I said I didn’t get a thrill from knowing that other people read (and in some cases enjoy) my drivel. If you’ve ever read my work and laughed sympathetically, or clicked that little “like” button, or left a comment, you’ve brightened my day. I want to thank you for sharing a little of your time with me.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Holiday Creep


I don’t often start my posts with a title, but today I did, and I immediately realized that it’s a misleading title. This is not a post about that guy who’s a creep around the holidays. You know him. He starts wearing the mistletoe hat around, oh, say mid-November and talks a little bit too loudly about the gifts he got for all the women at the holiday party.

As a sidebar, for the love of sandwiches, why do we still have to call this time of year “The Holidays?” Yes, I understand: multiple religions, multiple celebrations, the PC-fun-police basically have to wear diapers to keep from sharknadoing themselves to avoid stepping on anybody’s toes during this sacred time. Yeah, “sacred.” First of all, Christmas is king, anything else is an also-ran (and I’m not saying that as an ardent christian or anything, but look around. Christmas won. Game over). Second, and I’m seriously asking this because I have a hard time believing it–has anybody actually had their sensibilities damaged or their feelings hurt because a stranger in a store wished him a “merry Christmas?” I deplore calling this time of year “the Holidays”, because it feels like hiding under an awning to avoid getting rained on when a tiny wisp of cloud appears in the sky. It’s reactionary in the extreme. For my money, just go around wishing people a Merry Christmas or a Happy Hannukah or a Fantastic Festivus and let them sort it out.

And further sidebar, I know this is the time of year when the religious wingnuts and Fox News especially will start kvelling about the “war on Christmas”. If you’re in that crowd, and you believe a) that there’s a war on Christmas in any way, shape, or form OR b) that if there were a war on Christmas, that Christmas would be in any way diminished by some city hall getting rid of their nativity scene, you’re delusional. Christmas is the Juggernaut and from late October through all of December it goes plowing through the walls of every building in town. Because Christmas isn’t really Christmas anymore, not really. It’s a religious holiday originally, but now it’s a ritual in the only religion that matters in this country: capitalism. ‘Tis the season to run up some credit card debt and stimulate the economy. Just sayin’. I for one can’t wait for all the news reports on how well or how poorly the businesses have done this Black Friday.

Which brings me, circuitously, to the point. I heard a news story earlier this week about a guy who has been camped out at his local Best Buy for a week already in anticipation of the Black Friday deals, but you don’t have to look far to find other examples. It’s epidemic. Somehow, “camping out” in front of a store for hours or even days before it opens has become–not just acceptable (and that’s enough of a Bizarro World scenario to begin with)–but expected if you want to get the best deals, the most ridiculous savings. The guy in question has made a sign where he proudly proclaims his actions, and even invites passersby to take pictures. Presumably, he’s having “fun.”

Apparently this is some new definition of the word “fun” I was previously unaware of.

 

Far be it from me to decry what another person does for “fun.” But I really have to wonder about the state of your life if you engage in this particular pursuit of happiness. I mean, a simple cost/benefit analysis will tell you that no bargain you could snag by camping out is worth cashing in a vacation day for. Say you make $20 an hour and you want to buy a TV that’s $200 instead of $500. And you camp out for a day. Well, that’s a day of work lost to the tune of almost $200. Plus you have to supply your tent and feed yourself. This guy apparently has pizza delivered, so I’m going to be generous and say that your “camping” consumables are going to run you around $30. So, yeah, okay, you’ve really saved a net of almost $100, but then you also had to sleep outside in the cold. And if you camp out for multiple days, the math only gets worse. So don’t kid yourself about the insane “savings” you get.

Also, as anybody who has gone shopping on Black Friday without camping out knows, stores have limited quantities of their best deals, which means that if you’re not in the first wave of screaming charging mouthbreathers through the front door, you aren’t getting that Playstation 7 for only $300. You’ll arrive in the electronics section to find the empty shelving ripped from the drywall and return to pay full price a week later.

So what’s my point? My point is this. This is not the behavior of a healthy society. Camping out for deals, trampling store employees making minimum wage, breaking into fistfights over awful toys for your children… these are not the actions of well-adjusted individuals, yet they happen every year, and we are not surprised anymore. Think about that. Last year, my wife told me that there was a shooting at some store on Black Friday morning, and I almost yawned while asking, “just one?” And it gets worse every year. The arms race is neverending. Macy’s opens their doors at 7pm on Thanksgiving night, so Sears one-ups them and opens at 6:30. I’ve been seeing ads all week for pre-Thanksgiving “doorbuster” sales, all of which are appended with the admonition to “watch for our Black Friday ads!” So I’m supposed to go shop now, and then go back and shop again on the Superbowl of Shopping.

No.

On Black Friday, I will be safely and cozily snuggled in my bed, dreaming of penguins and safe in the knowledge that I am not part of the evil machine that twists the minds of otherwise rational people during “The Holidays”. In the meantime, I will ignore every ad for Black Friday sales, I will sneer every time I hear the word “doorbuster”, and I will laugh derisively at every picture, news story, or anecdote of some idiot camping outside of any retailer to be the first in line for the savings. Yes, I will pay a little more for my Christmas presents. But I will feel rich in the knowledge that I am not a part of this epidemic.

Because make no mistake. If you go out and shop on Black Friday, or–leftovers help you, Thanksgiving Day– then you are a part of the problem. Even if you just go to “see what the deals are”, you are encouraging these retail vampires to continue their lunatic behavior, to keep pushing the shopping season back earlier in the year. You are endorsing the behavior of the idiots who are out there in tents right now sipping horrible coffee and laughing and pretending they’re having fun. They’re not. And if you think you’re having fun camping outside a store to save money on a TV, you need to take a good hard look inward.

Take a stand. Fight the power. Enjoy your tryptophan coma and sleep in on Black Friday.

Everybody knows the best deals are on Cyber Monday, anyway, and you don’t even have to put on pants to get those.

#SleepInBlackFriday


Toddler Life, Chapter 171: Covered in Poop


My children know when their daddy is holding them. They say that the mother releases chemicals that calm her child when she holds them, and these chemicals strengthen the bonding instinct, encourage the child to relax, and so forth–all the things needed to foster a good relationship. I’m convinced that the father emits pheromones of his own, and these pheromones encourage the child to evacuate all of his or her fluids as soon as possible.

I know, I know. I’m the parent of a toddler and an infant, of course I’m going to encounter my share of poop and barf and pee.

But this is more than that. If they were capable of rational, malicious thought, I’d swear it was deliberate. A conspiracy, even. But they’re not. Which means it’s chemical.

  • Exhibit A: My son is three weeks old, and spending another (thankfully) uneventful day in the NICU. At about one in the afternoon, I’m burping him after a feeding and he has a rather violent projectile vomiting incident which bounces off my shoulder, splashes down my back, and splats satisfyingly on the floor. That’s not a big deal; he had digestive issues and spit-ups were all too common. Then an hour later, I’m rocking him in the chair and I feel a warm patch on my stomach. He’s peed through the diaper and soiled my shirt for the second time that day. Okay, that’s a heck of a coincidence–pee and barf on the same shirt in the space of an hour–but it doesn’t mean anything. Until I’m changing his diaper about another hour on, and a fountain of poo erupts from his tiny little butt and sprays out to a distance of four or five feet on the hospital floor, in a horrible messy line up my pants and across my shoes. I take to calling this the trifecta, a day which will live in toddler poop infamy.
  • Exhibit B: My son is about a year and a half old, and he has the stomach flu. If you’ve had a toddler with the stomach flu, you know the pain. If not, I’ll spare you. Anyway, he’s got a happy strain of it, which gives him no ill effects aside from explosive diarrhea, so he’s merrily gallivanting around the house, then he turns to me and says, “stomach!” So I scoop him up and run for the tub, because I know what’s coming, and to my credit, I got him there, but he and I were both doused in poop as he went into the tub. Sigh.
  • Exhibit C: It’s two days after Exhibit B, and we are having a lovely day on a weekend. Mom’s in the kitchen, cooking or doing whatever moms do in the kitchen on a weekend. He’s in my lap and we’re watching an episode of something awful. Barney, maybe, or Yo Gabba Gabba. With no warning at all, his stomach erupts and blankets me and the sofa in a thin film of white, curdled, toddler spew. To his credit, this scares the hell out of him, and he starts crying, which makes it even worse. That couch has never been the same.
  • Exhibit D: We fast-forward to two days ago. I’ve been at work for an extra-long day (soccer practice is starting up after school, so I’m pulling 11-hour days) and I arrive home to find my wife exhausted and frazzled, so I gladly take my five-month-old daughter off her hands so that she can go do whatever moms do in their bathrooms on a weeknight. I’m cradling the baby and cooing and giggling at her and she rips loose with a projectile vomit that ricochets off my shoulder, douses her and me, and covers the bottom half of my face with a fine mist of baby barf. This child never spits up. She chose to have her inaugural barf-your-brains-out movement all over daddy. This moment makes me glad we replaced the carpet in that room with laminate last year.
  • Exhibit E: FINALLY, DADDY CATCHES A BREAK. It’s yesterday. Friday night, and everything’s allllllll right. Baby girl gets grumpy every night in the five o’clock hour, and the best remedy is putting her in the Baby Bjorn carrier, better known in our house as the Daddy Caddy (since I used it the most with sprout #1, though mommy sure gets her fair share with it as well). I think that’s important to point out, because my smell is ALL UP IN that thing. Anyway, mommy’s got her in the Daddy Caddy, and all of a sudden asks me if I smell poop. Well, I don’t, but I do see the poop stain creeping down baby’s leg and the bottom of mommy’s shirt. I’m trying not to laugh but inside I’m turning somersaults because finally, FINALLY, mommy got pooped on instead of me. She even got it on her hands while she was trying to clean up. Life is good.
  • Exhibit F: But payback is a beesting. It’s today. I’ve got baby girl in the Daddy Caddy, and it might as well be a shot-for-shot remake of Exhibit E, except it’s me this time. Poop all over the baby, poop all over the Caddy, poop all over daddy. It’s on my hands as I clean her. I might even have touched my face in there by accident–I couldn’t even tell you. It’s all a haze of wet wipes and orange goop.

This list is by no means exhaustive. I can’t even recount all the times I’ve been sneezed on or drooled on, unsuspectingly touched pee or poop, ended up wearing barf or spit-up. Of course there was the great tub-turd incident back in July. My point is, this is all too much bodily fluids to write off as the by-product of toddler interaction. Either the sprouts are actively targeting me, or, as I posit, something about me causes them to swell to bursting.

The only natural course is to buy a hazmat suit for all future interactions with the kids. For their protection, not mine. And the house’s. And, yeah, okay, also mine.


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