Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I need to take a class called Remedial Friendship Skills...

...because once again I'm reminded that I'm crap at making friends.

Don't misunderstand me -- I do have some friends. Once I manage to stumble into a friendship, it usually lasts for decades. In my life I've been remarkably fortunate to cross paths with a number of amazing people who a) actually do know how to make friends and b) made the effort to befriend me, for reasons that just now elude me. But just about every time I deliberately set out to make a friend... yeah, I'm almost certain to screw it up. I guess I never really mastered that skill set. Either I get nervous and clam up, or I get nervous and babble, and I have an unfortunate knack for doing exactly the wrong thing at the worst possible time.

Meh. MEH. *mutta*

OK, rant over.

August is going to be the month where I GET. STUFF. DONE. I've got way too many half-finished and abandoned projects, both written and crafted, hanging around this place, and I'm sick of it. Time to fish or cut bait; either I complete them or broom them from my life. So saith the Sooz!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Silverlock syndrome and "The Fault In Our Stars"

So, yesterday I read the copy of The Fault In Our Stars that's been floating around the house ever since V finished it.


How to describe my thoughts... oh, hey, I know. Silverlock syndrome.

Back in the mid-to-late-'80s, I picked up a paperback reprint of a book called Silverlock, written by one John Myers Myers (apparently a man so nice they named him twice). Silverlock, originally published in 1949, is the story of a wholly apathetic jerk named A. Clarence Shandon who is shipwrecked and washes up on the shores of the Commonwealth, a place where characters from literature live and breathe and conduct their various adventures. But it took me a while to get to that point, because the paperback copy of Silverlock I picked up had something on the order of 15 PAGES of rave reviews, including forewords by the likes of such science fiction greats as Poul Anderson, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, before I even hit Chapter 1. And everyone who had read Silverlock seemed to agree, repeatedly and with gusto, that I was in for a treat. Phrases like "Lucky you" and "You'll get drunk on Silverlock" primed me to absolutely love this book.

I've never finished Silverlock. I just couldn't make myself continue. After all the raves that had been heaped upon it, the actual book was just... so-so. I kept expecting to fall in love with it, with one of its characters or the setting of the Commonwealth, but as I pressed on A. Clarence Shandon and his friends from all corners of classic fantasy literature just kept failing to wow me, and eventually I left off in the middle of a chapter and never returned to the book. The genre into which Silverlock best fits had no proper name when the book was first published, but it's now called fanfiction, and I've seen better writing and better treatment of similar concepts in dozens of fan-created stories.

Had I come across Silverlock on my own, without any glowing introductions by famous authors or squeeing fanboy praise by various book reviewers, I might have been able to enjoy it on its own merits. But I couldn't. And having browsed an online excerpt from the book just before I wrote this (on the off chance that my literary tastes have changed dramatically since age 16), I stand by my original observation: the idea is far better as a concept than in its execution, and in any case it would be a rare book indeed that could actually support the reams of praise that have been heaped upon this one. Silverlock syndrome describes any book whose reputation exceeds it.

And that's about where I stand with The Fault In Our Stars. To be fair to John Green, it's more compelling writing than Silverlock, because I actually finished the book. The teen characters are sometimes overly pretentious, sometimes wildly precocious, with a quality I usually attribute to Joss Whedon's writing (in other words, the dialogue isn't realistic, but it's charming enough that you wish people really would talk that way). The subject matter is difficult -- being young, witty and terminally cancerous usually isn't a festival of fun -- and there are places where the plot strains credibility. I know, I'm expecting a lot from a YA novel. Then again, I expected so much largely because the book has been drastically overhyped. Critics and fans have swooned and babbled over it. The dust jacket of this copy is plastered with praises. Everywhere I go online I seem to get an eyeful of teen girls tweeting things like "just finished TFIOS OMG AUGUSTUSSSSS!!!!1!1!!!! WHAT IS LIFE I CAN'T EVEN", etc., so Mr. Green has definitely reached his target demographic.

It never once made me cry. To borrow a bit from the book itself: "It all felt Romantic, but not romantic." And it's not because I have a heart of stone. I get weepy over patriotic songs, for heaven's sake. I bawled like an infant near the end of The Book Thief. I had a relative who lost a leg to cancer. But this book, which has turned other readers into soggy wet messes, did not reach me where I live. I don't know. Maybe enough characters were spending so much of the latter half of this book crying already that I didn't feel much need to join them.

Have you read The Fault In Our Stars? Agree that it's been overhyped? Think I'm smoking crack? Let me know.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

To market, to market, to buy a fat... um... cheese?

Redmond Saturday Market day! I am off to wander around and look at crafts and buy Samish Bay cheese and whatnot.

It's a rare sunny day in the PNW.

In fact, it's almost infernally hot. Ugh.

Fruits, veggies, nuts, crafts, kettle corn...

...but more to our purposes: cheese! These are the fine folks of the Samish Bay Cheese company, diligently hawking all sorts of yummy handmade cheeses. I'm here for some queso fresco, please.

Frankly, it was too hot to linger today, so I picked up some cheese and fruit and veggies and a half-flat of raspberries, and promptly beat feet.

But from an earlier (and colder) Saturday market, some flowers for sale.

The flower sellers usually set up shop right at the entrance to the Market, so they're the first things you see when you enter and the last things you see when you leave. It's right purty. And it usually smells good as a bonus.

Now home hanging out next to the marvel of modern technology known as the air conditioner. The raspberries, plus some fresh whipped cream, are going into a homemade raspberry fool. Mm-hmm!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Misunderstood vs. mistreated

Note: If you haven't yet seen the Disney film Maleficent, there are spoilers ahead. Also, this blog post contains reference to sex and violence and is thus super inappropriate for kids. This is your final warning!

Imagine that a boy and a girl meet each other as children. Although very different -- the boy, from a poor family, has a burning desire for greater social status; the girl is sheltered, sometimes difficult to understand, but has an undeniable, almost magical charisma -- they come to be close friends. As they grow from childhood to teenhood and then to young adulthood, friendship grows to fondness and finally, tenderly, blossoms into something more. But at the end of their teen years, life pulls them in opposite directions, into very different social circles, and several years pass before he comes to see her again. The young woman is delighted to be with her sweetheart, grown tall and handsome, after so long apart, and they talk and laugh and exult in each other's company just as they once did.

Then, as the evening wears on, he gives her something to drink -- and as the sedative he slipped into the drink takes effect and she trustingly falls asleep against his shoulder, he takes advantage of her, forcibly stealing both her virginity and her right to consent. Before she wakes, he flees the scene, having thus completed the terms of the pledge he took to enter a prestigious fraternity at his college. Only upon waking does the young woman realize what her erstwhile friend and love has done to her, and she screams and weeps in pain and loss.

Do you have a difficult time believing that a boy -- even one with such a strong desire for social prestige as the boy in this story -- would do something so incomprehensibly cruel to a girl who was his first love, who had never done or even wished him any harm? Because if so, you're going to have trouble getting on board with a major plot point in Maleficent. The scene wherein Stefan and Maleficent, friends since childhood and sweethearts since their teen years, are reunited as adults -- wherein he drugs her and, instead of killing her outright, slices off her beautiful wings as a trophy in order to prove his worth and become king -- plays as a very strong metaphor for rape.

Granted, most women are raped by someone they already know. Quite often it's when one or both people have had too much to drink, or other drugs are involved, and the decision-making parts of their brains have gone AWOL. Sometimes it takes place in a moment of anger. But most rapes are opportunistic, rather than premeditated. That may be what makes this particular scene so horrific. Stefan enters the moors knowing full well what he intends to do. That he goes in originally intending to kill his childhood sweetheart doesn't exactly score any points in his favor. (I won't belabor the point, but I've heard more than one rape victim say that for the first few months after the attack she wished she were simply dead, rather than having to suffer through the aftermath.) But choosing to take her wings from her -- the symbol of her beauty, her freedom, her innocence and her gentle spirit -- isn't just heartless. It's stupid. He's taken someone who could have been a friend and ally, a link between the two kingdoms, someone who loved and trusted him, and irreparably broken her trust; he's taken her wings, but not her abilities, and now he has a powerful, vengeful nemesis bent on hurting him back any way she can. (No wonder he goes a little crazy. How could anyone living under such circumstances become anything but paranoid?)

The thing I like about Maleficent is that, in the end, it is a story of redemption. It shows that people who have been cruelly mistreated and abused can rise above the anger, hatred and fear -- and that being on the receiving end of abuse doesn't mean one is fated to abuse others in turn. For that alone, it's worth seeing.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Opportunity cost

(This is kind of embarrassing to admit, but... well, you learn from your mistakes, right?)

When Captain Midnight and I were first married, I wasn't a bad cook, but I'd not yet graduated to the level of Black Belt Scratch Cooking. I needed some sort of recipe in mind before I could plan out what we were going to have for dinner. Usually I'd take stock of the fridge and pantry and start planning out recipes I knew I could make, based on what I'd found. But I had this daft little absent-minded habit that tended to throw a monkey wrench in my plans. Let's see if I can illustrate it using a can of tomatoes.

So I have this lovely can of diced tomatoes from Trader Joe's. I could use it to make a sauce for homemade lasagne, so that goes on the list of potential meals. It's also a component of beans and rice, so that goes on the list. Homemade chili; that goes on the list. Roasted tomato soup; on the list it goes. And so on until I've come up with twenty meals or so, all based around that one can of tomatoes.

That one single, solitary can of tomatoes.

You can probably see where I'm going with this. I was operating from a culinary blind spot. The one can of tomatoes couldn't stretch to make all 20 meals on the list -- it couldn't even stretch to make two meals on the list. If I really wanted to make all those recipes, I'd have to go out and buy a lot more tomatoes -- because once I chose to make a single meal from the list, the one and only can of tomatoes in my pantry would be used up. (And that's taking only one ingredient into consideration.)

The economic term for this concept is opportunity cost. Here's my non-economist way of summing it up: when you decide to spend a specific sum of money to buy a particular good or service, whether you realize it or not, you simultaneously give up the next best thing you could have chosen to do with that money instead. So if you have five dollars, you can choose to buy four dollar-store items (assuming tax), or five bucks' worth of gumballs, or a few cans of premium dog food, or some sodas, or a bus ticket around town, or you can be crazy and eat it (watch out for paper cuts!) -- but when you choose to buy or do one of these things, you give up the option to do something else with that money. If you're into quantum mechanics, you could think of the decision-making process as creating a kind of wave function collapse. (And if you aren't into quantum mechanics, feel free to ignore what I just wrote; I'm not qualified to give a more coherent explanation.)

This idea might sound simple, but it's also profound -- and it applies to much more in life than you'd think. Although opportunity cost is most often used with regard to money, it also affects anything else that's commonly consumed when it's put to use, such as my can of tomatoes. What I've come to realize more fully as of late is that opportunity cost can be applied to the passage of time. (Yeah, I know, sometimes I'm a little slow on the uptake. Just bear with me.)

I'm really good at procrastinating, for a number of reasons. Most days I prefer goofing off to working. Procrastinating instead of writing means I don't have to run the risk of getting my stories rejected again. Procrastinating instead of doing dishes means I get to ignore the dishes for a while. And so on and so forth. But every time I choose to procrastinate, to fiddle-fart around, daydream, play another round of Wordament or mindlessly tweak social media sites, rather than writing stories or running necessary errands or getting other things done that need to be addressed, I'm incurring an opportunity cost -- one far higher than the cost associated with the can of tomatoes or a $5 bill or any other example that comes to mind. When I procrastinate, I'm burning through one of the most precious things mortals possess -- moments of life -- with little or nothing to show for it. And unlike the other examples I've mentioned, I can't just go out and earn a few more hours of life if I feel like I'm running short. I'm not immortal (as far as I know, anyway), which means I've got limited time to burn. And I don't know how limited that time is, since I can't check my life balance the way I can check my bank balance. For all I know, I could live another 30 years -- or I could get run over by a bus tonight.

So there's something to think about.

Also, it's time to get writing. And to continue ignoring the dishes. (Yay!)

Friday, July 04, 2014

Happy Fourth!

As I posted earlier to FB, happy Independence Day, fellow Americans!

And happy Fourth of July, almost everyone else!

Also, happy Fifth of July, Australians!

I hereby bestow upon you all PERMISSION TO GOOF OFF.

Monday, June 30, 2014

DANGER: Pointless whinging and moaning, next 50 miles

Writing again. I'm discovering I have very little faith in my ability to write fiction. With nonfiction (especially if it's a bit goofy), I feel like I'm on fairly solid ground. But coming up with stories where one builds all the rules of the place from the ground up ("forging worlds" is how a friend put it recently) -- well, it can be terrifying. The one thing I don't want to do is waste people's time with a trite, poorly-written idea, and unfortunately much of the time I see my own concepts for stories as obvious and boring.

Yeah, it's not going very well tonight. Can you tell?

I dunno, maybe some of it has to do with attempting to be creative on a deadline. But I've been sitting on the next segment of Unseen for about a year now, and nobody's holding a sword over my head on that one. It's just fear of screwing things up that keeps me from moving on with it. I know it's a stupid reason to stop. It's also my most frequent writing problem.

Also not entirely thrilled with the experience of submitting fiction to publishers, since I've been riding an unbroken wave of rejections lately. There comes a point when you start asking yourself whether you're up to collecting yet another form letter explaining that "your story wasn't right for our publication" (parse that as "it sucked").

Well, maybe it's time to take that writers' workshop I was considering at the beginning of the year. It couldn't possibly make my writing any worse.

Taking the Surface out to write on the front porch of my mom's house. This house is set on the hillside of Y Mountain, and from the porch you can see most of the valley spread out below you, glowing with lights. The sliver of moon has already set behind the Oquirrh Mountains, and tonight the crickets are out in force. Finally cool and pleasant now, long after sunset and moonset.

I'll write something worth reading eventually. It's got to come. If I just keep typing it'll have to show up, right?