Friday, November 1, 2013

And So It Begins

I've been forcing myself the past week to buckle down and plot out a novel. Even so, this was my feeling going into NaNoWriMo:

But I have finished the first 1,700-odd words and I can say the the excitement is starting to bubble up (finally). After some introspection, I think I know where this feeling comes from:

When I write, I am primarily motivated by curiosity. 

What strange events will my characters experience? Will everyone live? Who will change? What wonderful things will they say? I need to know, and the only way to find out is to write. Write quickly, write slowly, write with a smile, write in tears - only write, and the great mystery will begin to reveal itself.

And so I keep writing.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Abrams' Star Trek: One Overshadowing Glitch

J. J. Abrams' Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2012) are full of stunning vistas and thrilling chases, but something about it leaves me unfulfilled. (Perspective: I've seen the entire Original Series and accompanying films, and large chunks of Next Gen, DS9, and Voyager.)

I can forgive the differences from the Original Series. This Star Trek is, after all, a reboot. Different timeline, presence of an extra Spock, absence of Vulcan, obligatory alien sex scenes, awkward Spock/Uhura romance - bring it on, Hollywood, I'm ready.

But the new Enterprise has a glitch I am unwilling to overlook: Kirk. Chris Pine does a great job portraying the little butthead that the new Kirk is, but the presence of this character in the Star Trek universe, even a rebooted one, presents some basic storytelling problems.

Miss me yet?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Guide to Buying Classical Music

Buying pop music is easy. You know which piece of music you want? You buy it. There are not, thankfully, ten versions of Miley Cyrus's "Wrecking Ball." The older the music, however, the harder the decision gets. Settling on a piece of music is often the easiest part of buying a CD or MP3 Album.

Let's say I'm off to buy a recording of Tchaikovsky's underrated 2nd Piano Concerto. The first page of an Amazon search result lists over 15 different recordings. And that's just the first page. How should I pick which recording to buy?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Hey Nonny No!

Here's a thought for the day, a 16th century poem expressing contentment with an imperfect world:

Hey nonny no!
Men are fools that wish to die!
Is ‘t not fine to dance and sing
When the bells of death do ring?
Is ‘t not fine to swim in wine,
And turn upon the toe
And sing hey nonny no;
When the winds do blow,
And the seas do flow?
Hey nonny no!

~ Anonymous

Monday, August 12, 2013

Doctor Who's Hammer

Feeling the urge to mock Doctor Who , that great British Science Fiction Fantasy Sitcom. Despite its uncommon popularity, much about the show remains a mystery to its watching public.

The Doctor (as he is always called; the show is too modern to use surnames) is an alien who is exactly like humans in every way except he can reincarnate without having to come back as a bug. "Time Lords" are lords of time that suck at controlling it, since they all died out except for the Doctor, which leaves a lot of questions about the intelligence of the race.

Any species which thought these hair styles a good idea couldn't have been on the right side of natural selection

The main villains in Doctor Who are cyborg woodchucks who threaten to eat the TARDIS, the Doctor's flying phone booth time machine. "Phone booths" were strange little buildings where people cloistered themselves to use cellphones that where tied to the ground. They were in fact used for this purpose before ever being drafted into service as time machines for wandering humanoid aliens.

The Doctor's primary weapon of defense is a screwdriver modified to do everything with no explanations or limitations. Little known to most fans, however, is that the Doctor originally wielded devices such as a Radical Wrench, a Japanese Jigsaw, a Dampened Drainplug, and a Wholesome Hammer.

"Pass me the Japanese Jigsaw, Miss Anna Beth Tyler-Moore-Smith! The universe depends upon it." 
- Early Doctor Who Quote

Every Doctor Who plot arch ever: The doctor acts like a 12-year-old and destroys the lives of all his companions. For someone as old as he is, he gets shown up by a lot of girls in their early 20s. Girls whose lives he shatters in revenge.

The Doctor isn't finished with his friends until he can leave them in convulsing grief or death

But the main problem with Doctor Who isn't the corny monsters, suspensions of logic, or hyperactive exposition. It's the gap between the show's quality and its fans' fanatical devotion. Firefly, anyone?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Novel Update: Lessons from My Magician

I'm still typing away on my 2012 NaNoWriMo novel, currently called The Magician. Since November, it has grown from 50,000 to 66,000 words, and I am only now beginning to draft the peak of the action.

Here are a few things I've learned this year from my magician and his world:

Stick with Simple Edits

Once a month of 1,000- to 3,000-word days has drawn to a close, a change of pace is almost mandatory. My way of doing this is reading through the manuscript and finding all the fun little fixes. This includes a few types of errors:

  • Spelling
  • Homonym
  • Grammar
  • Wording/Style
  • Continuity

Every time something catches my eye, I mark it on a printed manuscript. So many marks. Once I finish this process (some time in March this time around), I enter in all the corrections that take under a minute or two into my Scrivener project file. Any edit or gap in the prose I skip finds its way onto a sheet of lined paper.

Find the Big Edits and Put Them Aside

That piece of paper becomes the list of To-Dos for the book. It also represents a great temptation. I had made it halfway through the easier edits of the list when I realized I had fully yielded to that temptation, that is, to rework my writing before it's written.

These more structural changes are important, but they need to take a back seat to the completion of the story. Spend time understanding how they can change your plot's outcome, but don't spend all your time getting that first 50,000 words to be perfectly formed before finishing the story. Which brings me to the main lesson I've learned about writing:

Just keep writing

It always comes down to this. If you want to write a book, then write that sucker. Not only is this more productive than grappling with all the frustrating passages that just don't sound right, it's also incredibly rewarding. Maddeningly so. I never feel more alive than when I'm spinning out a scene where everything seems to be clicking and the action and characters are melding just as you wish. The intensity of this feeling makes me regret I don't spend every day writing cool stories.

This is why writers don't need drugs.

As I continue to plug away at the last chapters of my book, I've promised myself I will only go forward. No edits until the end. Until then, however, I'm turning off the internet and breaking out the coffee and tea.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Star World of Warcraft Wars

My knowledge of Star Wars and World of Warcraft collided when I accidentally said to myself, "These aren't the reagents you're looking for." And here are the other phrases that mistake inspired:

Aren't you a little short for a Death Knight?

That's no moonkin.

I suggest a new strategy, R2. Let the worgen win.

I find your lack of mana disturbing.

Use your cooldowns, Luke.

Help me [name of player]. You're my only hope

Aggro or do not aggro. There is no try.

No, I am your guild leader.

L: I'll not leave you here. I've got to res you.
A: The healer already has, Luke.

It's a frost trap!


Monday, April 29, 2013

Divine, Divine, Your Pillars Raise

An impossible to understand and therefore fabulous poem by R. C. Pritchett

Divine, divine, your pillars raise
For to stand ‘gainst the madd’ning craze
Of shoddy weaklings. O never
Give in. Divine dear, wroth ever
Unyielding, yet quite pleasant to
Those lowly slaves, the slaves knew:

Unmoved and great! Though they will try,
They cannot raise your pillars high,
The roof shingle that’s plain become —
Who could but a roofer handsome?

Divine, divine, your pillars raise
Lest fools your passion white may phase
Or underwhelm your pity’s power
Or clippers take to your great flower.

Never, never, you dear divine
Will we allow your name malign —
Turn noses at your pillars thin —
They’ll never, never, never win

Or begin to divine your plans,
Mighty universal dustpans,
Mysterious though they seem to be
They will remain a mystery.
Divine, divine, your pillars raise
As offer up we ceaseless praise.

Monday, April 15, 2013

I Before E

"Alright, we're going to learn a new rule. This is an easy one: I before E except after C and in the following 62 words. Let's say them together..."


Monday, April 8, 2013

On Poetry

Written March 14, 2010

During my time preparing to take the Literature in English GRE Subject Test in November 2009 (go here and here if you're hankering to study for this mammoth exam), I was forced to take time for poetry. True, I had read a few things here and there (some of Paradise Lost, for example) and I had had the good sense to write some poetry of my own (no comment on its general quality), but it was not until fall of last year was I forced to prove whether I believed poetry was as cool as I knew it was supposed to be.

It was.

While I still struggle to read enough poetry (I already struggle to read my Bible enough!), what I have read has enriched my mind.

Poetry, like asparagus and consumer math, is one of those things that you are supposed to enjoy, but don't particularly care for. "Let the literature people read poetry. I'll a fantasy novel." While there is nothing wrong with a good fantasy novel (like this one I just read), digesting such a volume barely scratches the surface of what you can glean from reading.

What is the place of poetry in the life of a believer?

As a Means of Glorifying God. This is probably the most obvious to anyone who has been in a church long enough to notice the pattern of communion services. "Of course it should glorify God," you say. "Everything should." Does this mean that all poetry written by believers should be sacred? Does every poem about my struggles need to end in a moralizing expression linked directly to a Bible verse? While there's nothing wrong with such an expression, I don't believe it to be necessary for a poem to explicitly glorify the Maker of Language for it to glorify Him at all.

We know that God is a God of order (I Corinthians 14:40). Shall the creations of our hearts and minds not reflect that order?

A greater poet than I put it well when he wrote
I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; prose—words in their best order; poetry—the best words in their best order.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Table Talk (July 12, 1827)
One of the things that makes poetry as beautiful, as strange, as enjoyable, as disturbing, or as powerful as it is—is order.

As a Mode of Human Expression. Though you may consider the highest form of human expression to be creating new software code, I politely disagree. Poetry, to me at least, speaks more directly to and of the human condition than anything I know. As plumbing as a novel can be, there is something special about poetry that elevates it to one of the highest positions of art possible. Even poetic satires seem better than many of their prose counterparts.

I recall listening to my church's youth pastor deliver a message from a Psalm (I forget which one) where the Psalmist did not turn the initial expressions of exasperation and despair into a concluding positive message. One of the points that my friend drew out of the passage was this: God values sincere human expression. It makes sense: God loves us and understands what we are going through. Jesus Christ lived 33 years as an earthbound human being, so He would know!
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. — Hebrews 4:15 (ESV)
As a Means of Expanding your Brain. Let's face it, not all poetry is easy to understand. In point of fact, most of it will not jump off the page and decry its meaning to you and any innocent bystander.

Aside from warding off premature senility, reading poetry improves your ability to express your mind—to think! Just like knitting and playing first-person shooters, thinking is an activity which, if neglected, becomes difficult to successfully pick up on a whim. The more you do of it, the better you become.

Simply because a poem takes effort to digest does not mean that it is not worth that effort.

So next time you are assigned Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens as required reading, don't grumble. You may be able to find something interesting in a poem written by one of those Poet Individuals. Even a poem that is particularly bad may provide some instruction (i.e. what not to do).

While I do not consider myself fully initiated into the ways of poetry consumption, I do believe that poetry is worth the time. For Christians poetry is a means of glorifying God, expressing human feelings, and expanding our brains. I still have much thinking to do on this matter before I can consider my ideas on this matter fully formed, but until then, I not planning on dropping the poetic ball. Or pen.

A Few Poetry Resources:
The Art and Craft of Poetry
Poetry Writing Tips

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Altar by George Herbert

The Altar
by George Herbert

A broken Altar, Lord, thy servant rears,
Made of a heart, and cemented with tears:
Whose parts are as thy hand did frame;
No workman's tool hath touched the same.
A Heart alone
Is such a stone,
As nothing but
Thy pow'r doth cut.
Wherefore each part
Of my hard heart
Meets in this frame,
To praise thy name:
That if I chance to hold my peace,
These stones to praise thee may not cease.
O let thy blessed Sacrifice be mine,
And sanctify this Altar to be thine.

Monday, March 25, 2013

An Allegory from Beowulf

Written September 8th and 22nd, 2008

Though the epic poem Beowulf was written before the year 1000, long before Edmund Spenser and William Shakespeare, it embodies great beauty of style and displays fine craftsmanship by the unknown author. It is odd that one of the world’s greatest classics—certainly the greatest of its time—should have no known author. Nevertheless, identity and quality have no correlation. Beowulf cannot be disputed as one of the greatest contributions to English literature; it displays incredible relevance to all times and all peoples. The Geats and the Danes of the story as peoples are little remembered, but we can see ourselves in them. After examining the allegorical nature of this classic, I will examine a particular example and its application to us.

All throughout Beowulf, our minds wonder, “Did he mean for this to mean—” or “Could he be referring to—” Some have compared Beowulf to David. Beowulf, like the biblical figure, began humbly; as the text explains, “had been poorly regarded / for a long time” (Lines 2183-2184).

Following Beowulf’s adventures in Sweden, the hero reigns prosperously for 50 years in his native Geatland (Denmark) before battling a dragon angered by the theft of a single cup. Beowulf’s immense pride forbids him from fighting with assistance, therefore the 10(?) thanes which accompanied him do little during the beginning of the struggle. Nevertheless, as the struggle began to run against Beowulf, Wiglaf, a young noble, reminded the others of their duty. They do not move. Wiglaf’s following call to the Geat shirkers is a call to every Christian. The following are relevant excerpts from lines 2631-2660:
“I remember that time when mead was flowing,
how we pledged loyalty to our lord in the hall,
promised our ring-giver we would be worth our price,
make good the gift of war-gear
[...] “He picked us out
from the army deliberately, honoured us and judged us
fit for this action, made me these lavish gifts—
[...] “And now, although
he wanted this challenge to be one he’d face
by himself alone—the shepherd of our land,
a man unequalled in the quest for glory
and a name for daring—now the day has come
when this lord we serve needs sound men
to give him their support. Let us go to him,
help our leader through the hot flame
and dread of the fire. As God is my witness,
I would rather my body were robed in the same
burning blaze as my gold-giver’s body
than go back home bearing arms.
That is unthinkable, unless we have first
slain the foe and defended the life
of the prince of the Weather-Geats. I well know
the things he has done for us deserve better.”
Though the poet may not have intended this passage to be interpreted allegorically, the passage nevertheless remains a potent illustration applicable to the Christian walk. Are there not many chosen by Christ who forsake Him when dangers loom? Continually in the Scriptures, Christians are exhorted to be faithful. One example may be found in I Corinthians 4:1-2: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” (ESV)

Perhaps more applicable are Christ’s words Revelation 2:10: “ ‘Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.’ ”

May we second Wiglaf’s bold proclamation: “As God is my witness, / I would rather my body were robed in the same / burning blaze as my gold-giver’s body / than go back home bearing arms.” Echos of martyrdom and persecution—Christians may not cease in faithfulness.

Humorist Josh Billings (1818-1885) gives a prime analogy of our situation: “Consider the postage stamp: its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing until it gets there.” Indeed, we are to pledge our fealty to God, act upon it, and stick it out until we get there.

Perhaps the best way to sum all up is through the provision of a rarely sung fifth verse of “Who is on the Lord’s Side?”:
Chosen to be soldiers, in an alien land,
Chosen, called, and faithful, for our Captain’s band,
In the service royal, let us not grow cold;
Let us be right loyal, noble, true and bold.
Master, Thou wilt keep us, by Thy grace divine,
Always on the Lord’s side—Savior, always Thine!


Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney

"Who Is On The Lord's Side?", The Cyber Hymnal

Persecution quotes, Christian Quoting

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Two Old Poems

Concerning my annoyance with The Avatar Complex or, as en karin puts it, the perpetuation of ignorance:

Better Off Benighted

Ah noble savage! When he found his way
(According to the historian’s lay)
To heights divine as sacred night and day,
Our miracles are nothing in the light
Of the noble savage’s ancient night
Remove the scales from your old modern sight!
You’d be better off benighted,
To dark ringing heights alighted.

Written March 2, 2011 - Inspried by Poetic Asides’ Wednesday Prompt 125

A bit of found poetry that I caught while making breakfast:

I’m Sorry

We have to work for everything,
Work, work, even if you’re gifted,
It’s all the same:
“I’m sorry, this box
Is not an instant winner.”

Written March 25, 2011