The Guilty Party

Monday, September 22, 2008

You Gotta Go Find the Good Stuff





At the age of 53, the death of an accomplished person in his or her 30's or even 40's gets my attention in a way it never could have earlier in my life. A few months ago, courtesy of YouTube, I was made aware of Professor Randy Pausch and his "Last Lecture". Not long ago I purchased the book that expands on the material from the lecture. I highly recommend both experiences, they will put you in touch with a man who had an open hearted, full-throttle approach to life who obviously had an enormously positive impact on many, many people. Professor Pausch died of pancreatic cancer July 25th of this year. He was 47 years old.

And just over a week ago we lost another intensely intelligent man, but this time not to a disease of the body, but one of the soul. I believe that David Foster Wallace fought his battle with as much courage as Professor Pausch.

For some reason we receive "Entertainment Weekly" magazine. Don't know why, we didn't subscribe to it, they haven't sent us a bill and if they did we probably wouldn't pay it. Or maybe we would. Amidst all the Why Should Anyone With an Iota of Intelligence Care coverage and What's In/What's Out sort of nonsense, nearly every issue has had at least one or two articles or columns worthy to be called Journalism. The latest issue that came unbidden in the mail, featuring the lovely but ridiculously posed Anne Hathaway on the cover, has a thoughtful, appreciative, insightful remembrance of writer David Foster Wallace, who just over a week ago took his own life. He was 46 years old.

My exposure to his writing had been limited to a couple of unsuccessful attempts to read his novel Infinite Jest. I asked for it for a Christmas present several years ago and my in-laws obliged. But I couldn't get past the first couple hundred pages of what EW magazine describes as "this 1079 page doorstop" that "might fairly be called this generation's Moby Dick or Gravity's Rainbow", two other masterpieces of literature that had confounded my tries at, if not enjoyment at least intellectual appreciation. The result? In the ensuing years whenever I saw the name David Foster Wallace attached to any book or essay I gave the work a pass.

That turns out to have been a poor choice on my part. Prompted by the article in EW, which stated that while his fiction "inspired equal part exhilaration and exasperation" his non-fiction "was hilariously accessible" I Googled Wallace's commencement speech to the 2005 graduates of Kenyon College. It was easy to find.

Wall Street Journal transcription.

Here is just a bit of it:

I have come gradually to understand that the liberal-arts cliché about "teaching you how to think" is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: "Learning how to think" really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.

Mr. Wallace did not paint a pretty, or perhaps I should say deceptively rosy, picture of the life those graduates had to look forward to, but he gave them a valuable tool to help them through. He shone a light on the value, the necessity, of choosing. His novel may have been beyond me but in this one brief speech/essay I can see that though he was a man burdened with the clear-eyed perception that practically forced him to mourn the human condition, yet he also saw, and more importantly was willing and able to articulate, a way to a better world, one person at a time.

It is an undeniable tragedy that he was unable to draw enough strength and hope from the truths he himself had so aptly expressed. I thank him for his work, which I will delve into with fresh enthusiasm and increased awareness. And thanks to "Entertainment Weekly" magazine for alerting me to the benefits to be reaped from such an effort.

The one thing that is troubling to me is the fact that neither of these extraordinary and inspiring men would have intruded themselves into my attention in such a positive way if they hadn't died. I wish I could place the blame on somebody else, the media is always good for that sort of thing, but I really don't think that will wash. Just as Wallace exhorted the Kenyon College Class of '05 to "choose what to think" it may be just as important to "choose what to spend time with". Empty intellectual and spiritual calories can be found so easily, as a matter of fact they don't have to be found at all, they are simply there, that it is so much easier to fill up on them than to seek out the real food of life.

We are what we read/listen to/watch/and even talk about.

It's a choice.

Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Different Folk Need Not Apply





For the second time in two years Arizona voters have a proposition on the ballot asking them to approve a constitutional amendment that puts a government definition on the word "marriage".

Here is the entire text of Propostion 102:

Be it resolved by the Senate of the State of Arizona, the House of Representatives concurring:

1. Article XXX, Constitution of Arizona, is proposed to be added as follows if approved by the voters and on proclamation of the Governor:

ARTICLE XXX. MARRIAGE

1. Marriage

SECTION 1. ONLY A UNION OF ONE MAN AND ONE WOMAN SHALL BE VALID OR RECOGNIZED AS A MARRIAGE IN THIS STATE.

2. The Secretary of State shall submit this proposition to the voters at the next general election as provided by article XXI, Constitution of Arizona.


The bit in all caps (not mine) is the meat of the matter. One man and one woman. Seems pretty simple. And really don't just about all of us picture the described duet when the word "marriage" is used in print or conversation? There's a fellow and there's a gal and they share the same home and they fret over income versus outgo. They engage in reasonable, well considered discussions about who is responsible for what chores. They support each other in striving toward their dreams, both jointly held and individual. They might just participate in legally sanctioned whoopee. Oh, and quite often they introduce children into the household and some sort of education in how to live ones life is passed on.

Right. That's all quite clear.

Except that collection of mutual activities can be successfully, or not so successfully, carried off by combinations outside of the One Man, One Woman variety. It's true, I've seen it.

So what are the arguments presented by the backers of Prop 102 to support their contention that marriage needs a governmental definition? I have been to the official ballot website 2008 Ballot Propositions and read as many of the pro-Prop 102 exhortations as I could handle and it very much seems to boil down to this bit by a Mr. Richardson.

"I believe that every child is entitled to a father and a mother. We have each been granted that privilege by nature - we should not by law destroy that privilege given to each one of us. The Marriage Amendment Referendum is just what we need to protect the rights of children. Marriage is supported by law primarily to promote the protection of children. Otherwise it has little reason for being a secular issue at all."

I must be missing something here. What in the world does an amendment stating marriage is the exclusive stomping grounds of the One Man One Woman congregation have to do with making the world a better place for our children? Have the Prop 102 supporters ever witnessed the damage done to a child by a traditional marriage gone sour or especially one that never should have been in the first place? Have they seen the consequences to a child living with a stupid woman married to a lazy man? There are other combinations equally if not more toxic, I will leave it to your personal experience to add to the list.

How is it that putting something in the Arizona Constitution that shouts loudly and offensively to People Who Are Different that they Need Not Apply, something that seeks to define an entire state by the prejudices of a vocal and irrationally scared minority, makes the world a better place for children?

Sorry, but one of the easiest and sleaziest refuges of a Cause Without a Reasonable Argument is "Save the Children". I ain't buying it. My bet it was used by the lovely folks who believed (and still believe) deep down inside that people of deeper pigmentation need to be kept under control. Prop 102 is just another way of saying to a fairly sizable portion of humanity that the people who insist on seeing them as something less, something repugnant, have won. That sends a lousy message to the children of Arizona.

Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hey! Look at Me!




I have been participating in a couple of writers' sites whose stated goal is to help "undiscovered talent get noticed". Seeing as how the path to publication is one littered with obstacles and bewildering mazes this seems like a laudable objective. But there seems to be a couple of problems that bedevil these efforts. And those problems are Message Boards and Rankings.

We will take Rankings first. Ideally the ranking systems function to bring the best work to the fore, making it possible to sift through the mass of material and at least relatively easily find the Stuff Worth Taking a Closer Look At.

A lot of folks point to this component of these writers' sites and equate it with American Idol and like television talent contests. Problem is, this analogy isn't at all accurate. For on American Idol it is the viewers who determine the fate of the contestants. On the writers' sites it is the other participating writers, in other words their rivals, or in the case of one site, both their rivals and the friends, relatives and/or paid accomplices of the competition. While it is certainly true that Singer A's hometown buddies are likely to crowd on to the phone lines to vote for their favorite son or daughter, the possibility of that constituency substantially affecting the overall results is small. A writers' site just doesn't attract that many disinterested folk, making it a whole lot easier to manipulate the rankings.

But the biggest pitfall I have found in these Literary Talent Scrambles is the Message Board. Nearly all of the folks on these sites are like me in that they have day jobs and/or full time school or both. Many have families and/or spouses who deserve time and attention. In other words the time available for writing is limited in the extreme. And yet put them in front of a computer and it isn't their one-third finished first draft they plow into, it's the damned message board. And a whole lot of the messages when boiled down to their essentials are nothing more than Look At Me and My Work of Genius. So we look, and find a rough draft of a poorly thought out story laden with cliches, lousy grammar, atrocious spelling and violations of most if not all of Mark Twain's Rules Governing the Literary Arts.


The saddest thing is when the really talented folks get caught up in that spiraling descent into Time Poorly Spent. Often as not they feel they have to in order not to be drowned out by the Paris Hilton wannabees of the literary world. It takes an act of real courage to, if not withdraw, at least consciously curtail the amount of time spent keeping ones avatar front and center and dedicate that recaptured time to doing some by God writing.

Because honestly, what is the good of yelling "Hey! Look at Me!" when you have yet to produce anything worth looking at.

Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise.


In case you are wondering, Odie came by his graduation cap legitimately. He saved his allowance money and purchased a degree in Theoretical Religious Studies from the University of Everyone's a Winner, Really!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Discover Your Next Favorite Author




Despite the little Beta tag that seems to linger on the logo, the announcement has gone out today that Authonomy, the place Harper Collins Publishers UK has set up as a place for writers to showcase their work, is now open to everyone.

So I would like to extend an invitation to all of my blog friends to check it out. There are some fine writers to be found there and the way Authonomy is set up you can vote for your favorites by placing them on your "Bookshelf". The books with the most votes each month will be checked out by the Harper Collins editorial board. For those of you familiar with the workings of the publishing world, you know this can be a great opportunity for a writer who otherwise might find it almost impossible to get any sort of attention from a major publishing house. Word has it that other publishing houses are also trolling about the site, looking for new talent that might fit their needs.

I have been participating in the beta version of Authonomy for the past several months and I can tell you that there are more than a few terrific reads to be found there. Everything from YA novels to full bore thrillers to innovative fantasy to romance. Of course, I have a few things clogging up the place, including Boomerang, The Baer Boys, A PM for Pittiana and even The Cookenflagens and the Chest of Destiny.

So if you'd like to see what it's all about, come check out
AUTHONOMY


If you would feel safer doing so, just Google Authonomy and that will do the trick too.

Best to all,
Alan


Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Authonomy

It is still unclear exactly when Authonomy will be out of beta stage and thus open only to invitees, but I am quite happy to announce that Boomerang has squeaked in at Number Five on the first Editors' Desk chart, thus earning the chance to be examined, commented on and, if Heaven is feeling like departing from Business as Usual for a day, possibly even considered for publication by Harper Collins Publishers UK variety.

If nothing else, it was gratifying to have so many readers put Boomerang on their bookshelves these past months. By doing so they were essentially saying "This is a book I would buy" and that is a wonderful thing to hear. And lest you think that the list of Boomerang fans was padded with friends and family, may I say that my internet writing friends of fairly long standing comprised but a small percentage of Boomerang backers, with the vast majority being folks whose first exposure to both myself and the book came strictly through Authonomy. Getting new readers is always a deep pleasure.

Tomorrow I will pass on some of the comments Boomerang received, but for now must get myself to the day job.

Best to all.
Alan


Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise.

A Bit About Me

My photo
I am a writer with a longtime interest in photography. I'm a dad, husband, photographer, and not very good guitarist. My first novel, Boomerang, is available in both paperback and ebook form at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.com. As a matter of fact, my second novel, The Baer Boys, can be found at exactly the same places.