Cheater, Cheater, Apple Eater

For those of you that don’t attend a traditional church, today is Trinity Sunday. This gives me the perfect opportunity to cheat and act like I’m posting something when I’m doing nothing of the kind. So to commemorate having to speak the Athanasian creed not once but twice in a single day, here is a link to an old page post:

Apples are Apples

As an additional commemoration, to the left is a fuzzy picture of the picture I drew for my mother, when she asked for a copy of the poem (you can always count on moms to make you feel good about your art projects, no matter how old you get). Someday I might try getting a cleaner shot, but this is what I have to offer for now.

Honestly, this post is really just an excuse to surprise my one watcher (who does, in fact, attend a traditional church, and probably also spoke the Athanasian creed this morning). Look, Boonder! I updated over the weekend like I said I wouldn’t! Ignore the fact that Sunday is technically the start of the new week.

(P.S. My regards to my IT guy, my other one watcher. Ten bucks says my traffic stats don’t say otherwise.)

(P.P.S. If I’m wrong, I’m not actually giving you $10. Just FYI.)

PR Triumph: Would Someone Please Tell Alcon My Eyes Aren’t That Big

I am falling dreadfully behind on my update goals. Since this is as strenuous as trying to post one thing once a week (I even count these Ramble Blogs, in which I post something to say nothing) this is not a good sign. I would say that I’m going to make up for it by posting again this weekend, but I don’t actually believe that I’ll follow through. I’ll be back to my normal update schedule next week. So tune in next week, same bat-channel, relatively but inconsistently same bat-time, folks.

In the meantime, has anyone noticed how grocers hide their rising prices by decreasing packaging size? This is a somewhat clever public relations trick, where a food company deals with their growing costs (because of taxes, tariffs, transportation fees, what have you) by increasing the price of their product without actually making it look like they’re increasing those prices. They’re charging more per ounce, but the customer doesn’t notice. Presumably.

It’s vaguely annoying, just because it comes off as a trick. I mean, I get it. A company has to continue making money and paying their employees, and the only way to do that is to charge higher prices. Honestly, I understand the marketing behind it too – it’s interesting on a psychological level – but I don’t like feeling manipulated.

Still, what really gets me is the new size of the contact lens cases. Call me cynical, but they’re definitely larger than they used to be. Since contact lens cases are sold – or given away – by the same companies that sell contact lens solution, I suspect that their customers are thus using more solution per contact, which is very sneakily lucrative when you get down to it. For the longest time I got around this particular PR maneuver by using the same contact lens case I’ve been using since the early 2000s. Unfortunately, a couple of weeks ago I finally had to face facts: my formerly green contact lens case was a dull grey color, and covered with some sort of hairy residue. I don’t know what this stuff is – a combination of eyelashes, cat hair, and lint, if I had to guess – but whatever it is a good scrubbing wouldn’t get rid of it. You win, over-sized lens case.

The thing is, if my contact lens were large enough to fit the bottom of my new contact case, my eyes would be about the size of a watch face, and I would look something like this:

Either Alcon, Opti-Free, Equate, Clear Care and the rest of them are on the same underhanded page, or their customer base has changed drastically since I was in high school.  Mind you, the last time I checked, anime characters didn’t wear contacts. They do occasionally wear glasses, but that is an entirely different breed of cartoon absurdity. I’ll save that gag for another time.

In other news, I will never get tired of this joke.

Call It Experimental

This ridiculous nonsense goes up without my editor’s approval, because I wanted to prove to my sister that sometimes I actually do write. I was supposed to be working on my novel (I’ll probably be hearing about that later), but in the meantime here’s some absurdity right in time for the weekend:

For You, Game Changer

I wrote it in competing tenses and goodness knows the real reason I didn’t run it by the editor is because she’d tell me it doesn’t make sense. *sniffs haughtily in the air* As if I don’t know when my own writing doesn’t make sense. Honestly, if I was really serious about this story I would leave it alone for six months and then rewrite it, but I am so tired of looking at it that it’s going up anyways. So ha! I don’t know who I’m ha-ing there, but…ha!

(I think I’m ha-ing me, actually, which is a waste of my own time. I should probably let myself know.)

So where did this nonsense come from anyways?

(Please note: SPOILERS, for both this story and “The Shining.” Go read those first.)

It actually comes from a very strange encounter I had with a Stephen King novel. I’m not a huge horror fan, but I’ve read a lot of Stephen King because the man understands that fear really grows out of anticipation (it’s not the jump-scare – it’s in waiting for the jump-scare) and because he has a handle on the psychological aspects of horror. However, I own only one of his novels: “The Shining.” I’d get into what makes “The Shining” stand out in the field, but it’s been done before. (It’s totally the topiary animals; don’t let anyone tell you differently. I still remember sitting in a gas station as Dad gassed up the car, reading while I waited and feeling the hackles raise on my neck, because a bunch of bushes might be sneaking up on me.) The salient point is that on my second read-through, the black man didn’t die.

I was absolutely certain that he had. He’s one of my favorite characters, so it was a shock – after anticipating his unfortunate demise and wishing that it wouldn’t happen – when he didn’t. It scared me to death.

Later I figured out what happened. I’d read the book years before, then out of curiosity read a summary of the 1980 film in which Halloran (the black character) dies. It annoyed and disappointed me so much that it apparently got stuck in my head as canon. Normally I hang onto information better than that, but for awhile I did think I had the power to change plot points with my mind, which was pretty thrilling.

So that’s where this came from. If you’ve read “The Shining” you’ll recognize Darryl’s last name as an homage to Halloran, though you won’t recognize anything else that even suggests this is similar to a Stephen King novel. I wanted to write something fun, which is why this reads suspiciously like a romance by the end.

Eyebrows in Heaven

There are a lot of things that I know to be true, even though I can’t prove them. One of them is that there is both a heaven and a hell. Another is that I have the certain hope of going to heaven after I die. However, setting that happy thought aside, I have to admit: the actual idea of heaven terrifies me. It’s a joyous thought in the hypothetical sense, but as soon as I start to think about the details I find that the mind-bending unknown quality of it frightens me. What is it going to be like to exist outside of time? Will I retain my memories? Will my family still be special to me? If I don’t remember my previous life, how can I appreciate the grace which God pours out on me? But if I do, how do I not live in mourning over those lost to a weeping and gnashing of teeth?

There are good answers to all of those, undoubtedly, but I’m not going to know them until I’m there. Instead, whenever the heebie-jeebies really start to creep up, I go to my old friend CS Lewis. In his seventh installment of the Chronicles of Narnia, “The Last Battle,” (my least favorite Narnia book as a child and one of my favorites as an adult), he paints a beautifully joyful and comforting illustration of heaven that boils down to this visual of running towards home. Only instead of growing tired you run faster and still faster until you’re fairly flying. And still you go faster.

It’s one of my father’s favorite depictions of heaven, so a couple of Christmas’s ago I wrote this poem for him:

Further Up and Further In

As an aside to my dad (if he ever gets around to checking out my website – yes, that’s right Dad, you can feel the stink-eye from here): the last verse is a little different than the one you have on your desk. I was never completely pleased with the original, so I used The Story Folder as an opportunity to retcon my own poetry. (Except that it wasn’t technically retconning, since the intent is still the same. I know, semantics; I can’t help myself. I get it from both you and Mom.)

However, Narnian allegory aside, some misgivings remain. For example, I look mostly like my mother but I inherited the Schultz eyebrows from my father. What this means is that, if I don’t do maintenance on them, after a few months of unfettered growth I could actually rock a unibrow. Yes, that’s right folks. Visualize that for a second. So here’s the deeply theological question: is the unibrow a natural feature that delighted God to give me when he knit me together in my mother’s womb, or is it a result of sin? (And let’s be honest here: it’s got to be a result of sin). But if it isn’t (is instead a cosmic joke that God has played on a streak of Schultzes across time and space), then my name is written in the Book of Life next to an ID photo that looks like the Scandinavian version of Frida Kahlo. As soon as I shuffle off this mortal coil I’m going to be running around heaven with one fuzzy eyebrow gracing my face. I’m going to have a unibrow for all eternity.

I’m going to look like this:

This. This is the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night.

We Can’t Come up with Cohesive Titles or Story Summaries

I’ve always felt that the sign of a bad writer is the inability to come up with a sentence describing their own writing. If you’re into fanfiction at all (which I’m totally not *coughcoughcoughcoughexceptthatIwasandsometimesstillamcoughcough*), one of the many signs that tell you not to click on a story is this, written in place of a summary: “I SUCK AT SUMMARIES THIS IS MY FIRST STORY PLS READ ITS GR8T!!!”

And then I post a new story on this website (“We are Amazing“) and I summarize it on my story page with, “The things a dog knows are exactly what they are.”

In short: I SUCK AT SUMMARIES THIS ISN’T MY FIRST STORY BUT PLS READ ANYWAYS!!! IT’S GREAT!!!

This is, first and foremost, an actual short story, clocking in at 810 words. I’m terrible at short stories because I have so much bull to throw, as I’ve stated before. This story was actually the result of an assignment near the end of my University days. My professor told us we had to write contrary to our usual style, which means this story is written in first person, using more simple sentences than I’ve ever tried to write in my life. My sentences usually look more like this:

Mrs. Bauermann’s obituary would later say that she had been a pillar of the community, an officer in her neighborhood association and the kind of person who volunteered countless hours at the nearby school, but when the students at the nearby school in question first heard about the old bat’s sudden demise, it was from an article on page two of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, under the headline “Local Woman Dies on Roof.” She’d been found about the time the sun started to crest over the gables, hour’s cold with her back to the attic window and her heels in the rain gutter.

73 words, kids, since “Post-Dispatch” counts as one. Also, I realize there are actually two sentences posted here (the second sentence is only, count ’em only, 30 words), but since the second sentence is the cream of the description I put it in anyways.

An additional note about point of view: I hate first-person. Loathe it. Loathe the fact that everyone and their mother writes in first person now. Somehow two of my favorite novels (“Ella Enchanted” and “To Kill a Mockingbird”) are written in first-person, but this is because of the dastardly nature of first-person. First-person masquerades as the easiest point of view to write. I understand why: it forces writers to stay true to a voice. There is absolutely no opportunity to write scene-killing over-drama like “his eyes narrowed at her from across the room as he cackled to himself.” The main character either has to have seen the eyes narrow herself or she has to have someone tell her about it – either way it’s more-thrilling, not to mention natural, writing.

Unfortunately, easy though it may seem, first-person is actually the hardest point of view to master. Why? Because nobody, and I mean nobody, thinks things like “I walked across the room to pick up the coffee pot.” You just do it. Instead you have to have your character think around actions, things like “the coffee looked gross but I decided to drink some anyways.” The only way describing your step-by-step actions sounds natural is if you’re telling the story to an audience, in which case the rules change again and it sounds normal to do so. On a similar note, you cannot naturally say things like “I answered him with anger in my voice” – you’re going to have to imply the anger. “I snapped at him” or “‘Shut your trap,’ I answered.” Unless, of course, your main character is exceptionally self-aware or is purposefully putting anger in their voice to make a point. Then go for it. It all comes down to characterization – first-person is not an excuse for sloppy writing. And yet it so often is.

I’ll get off my soap-box now. I’m not particularly pleased with “We Are Amazing” for all the reasons I just listed above. One of these days I’ll write and post a story that hits all my own right buttons.

Adventurers Anonymous

Here’s a silly one for a gloriously blue-sky Friday afternoon: The Adventures of Bawkie and Da-Ding.

Normally I try not to post family inside jokes, but the rhyming scheme was too bouncy not to share (even if the content doesn’t make much sense). Here’s the breakdown:

Bawkie = the name my 3-year-old nephew calls my father (for no apparent reason; I think it’s the fact that he subconsciously recognizes his grandpa as the kind of guy who doesn’t believe in darling nicknames).

Da-Ding = the 3-year-old nephew in question. Somewhere in the ballpark of a year ago he was in an extremely silly mood, and when, in the course of assigning all of his relatives with the name of some other relative, his dad asked him who he was, he answered, “Da-Ding!” No one else in the family remembers this little moment in family history, but it stuck with me and ended up immortalized (such as it is) in a poem.

Happy Friday! Go get some sunshine, if it’s in your area. I can’t believe it’s still only April.

The Other One-Finger Salute

As you may have noticed, I did not manage to complete my Easter project on time. I have not, in fact, finished it at all, and since I missed the deadline I have another year to get it done. This is only half a joke. As much as I would like to think that I’m about to finish it in a blaze of hard work, I know myself better than that. I have other projects I should be putting off.

I did, however, have a very nice Easter on the Hi-Line, a place that runs along the north border of Montana, in which everyone on the highway will wave at you as you pass. This is not officially the wavingest town in the west (that would be Broadus – no, seriously), but there is an etiquette to driving up into the underskirts of Canada. When you drive into Hill County, you’ll notice that the drivers in the oncoming lane wave at you as you pass. My parents have lived in the area long enough that I feel obligated to wave back.

This is less work than you might think. “Waving” doesn’t, in any way shape or form, resemble waving as you may know it. Not even the royal hand gesture will do. To wave in Hill County, just lift a couple of fingers off the steering wheel of your car. The really enthusiastic lift all four (the thumb, naturally, remains tucked under the steering wheel). I, myself, am a two-finger waver. Now that I think about it, I probably look like I’m flashing everyone the peace sign. So be it. World peace, everybody.

Dad goes with the one-finger salute. And no, not that one. I mean he lifts his pointer finger off the steering wheel and, if someone else is in the car, says something like “how’s it goin'” in a curmudgeonly way that’s designed to make whoever’s sitting next to him snort. When my dad retires he’s going to be that old man in a trucker hat who drives his truck ten miles under the limit with a surly expression on his face and a one-fingered salute for everyone who passes him.

Seriously Entertaining

So I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago, realized I didn’t like it, and now that I haven’t updated in awhile I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel for things to post. Here it is, after all:

~*~

I live in a nation that takes its entertainment extremely seriously. While I’m tempted to make a political and/or cultural point about this, I spend much of my free-time hoping to write escapist novels for a living, so it’s very much in my best interests not to go around calling the kettle black.

Mind you, while I’m easily pleased (Speed Racer is one of my go-to movies when I’m in a rotten mood, if that tells you anything), I also over-analyze and rewrite screenplays, music videos, books, and sundry in my head for fun. I claim professional interest as a writer, but goodness knows that’s actually just a part of my generation. Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K to you fans) was a TV series created in the 90s to make fun of movies (not to mention Rifftrax, its internet follow-up), and now there’s the YouTube series “Honest Trailers” and “Everything Wrong with [Movie Title].” I’m fairly certain these guys make a decent living picking apart other peoples’ creative endeavors, which they do well and pretty hilariously.  Forget suspension of disbelief, there’s nothing like having an internet show point out that the villain in a movie shouldn’t have been able to get from the bottom floor to the attic in ten seconds, as they are wont to do.

Yet sometimes these series annoy me. Like everything else, I had to sit down and pick apart why they sometimes get my bristles up. And here we go: the plot hole bombing is hilarious. But I don’t like it when they make fun of things that are an intrinsic part of the medium.

Movies are bound by a very simple reality: they’re visual. Unlike a book, anything you want the audience to know has to be seen or said out loud. I love writing because you can follow a character’s thoughts, explain the political makeup of a city in a paragraph or two, and take any number of pages to describe background and context. In a movie sometimes someone has to hold the idiot ball. “Why is the company closing?” “Good heavens, man, you’ve worked here for twenty years, why am I explaining this to you?” or “Why do we have to see the judge?” “You’re a lawyer, I’m pretty sure you should already know.” Then there’s scene-mashing, when you have two characters drive together to a destination but they don’t talk about what they’re doing until the scene starts and they’re getting out of the car.

Of course, all movies aren’t equal (some, in fact, are more equal than others), but the fact is there are certain realities you have to work with depending on your medium. I may have to write a paragraph about someone’s looks while a movie just hires a makeup artist, but I can describe someone’s gut twisting where a director has to zoom in on just the right facial tic or have one character describe it to another.

~*~

And that’s all she wrote. It was supposed to be a discussion on writing in different mediums, and it sort of spun around in a ramble of nothing. So there you go. I’ll post something of substance around Easter.

A Long Short Story about a Bratty Teenager and her Legit Problems

No, seriously, she really does have legit problems. I’m being glib, but this story really is meant for an older audience, for reasons that will become clear as you go along. Story can be found here:

Ten Seconds to Now

This particular idea has been in my head for years. I can, in fact, trace it back nearly ten years, when I went to Disneyland with my sister and my mother. We ended up in one of their discovery centers, perusing through a bunch of technology. There was one room full of mirrors that were not, in fact, mirrors at all, but computer monitors with a camera in the frame. I remember this one with a particularly terrible lag and I laughed to myself about why you would ever own a computer screen as a mirror when an actual mirror works so much better. But then the thought struck me: what if, instead of lagging ten seconds behind, the computer screen/mirror was lagging ten seconds ahead?

And that is where this story came from.