I’m on a mini vacation, so I haven’t been paying as much attention to the news as usual since posting last Friday’s round up of links. So one of the first things I looked at when waking up this morning was my blog site, where I saw a whole bunch of hits on one of my posts from June 2016: Why thoughts and prayers are worse than inadequate which filled me with dread. It did not take long to find comments and news articles about the shooting in Vegas: Las Vegas shooting: At least 58 dead, 515 hurt in Mandalay Bay shooting.
I could rant about the usual suspects saying now is not to time to discuss control, and the usual BS about thoughts and prayers.
I’ve already said so much on the topic of gun violence and our society’s refusal to do anything about it: They used to insist that drunk driving couldn’t be reduced, either and Oh, lord, the leaping! and #TwoMenKissing and why the Orlando Pulse shooting was a punch in my gut…
I’m angry. I’ll be calling my congresspeople (even though they’re all progressive Democrats). But I’m not going to write about this yet again. I’m feeling a lot like Alvin McEwen of the Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters news blog: “I can’t preach or talk about anything in my usual critical stance, folks. Nor do I feel like putting out news briefs. God, I feel so very bad over the entire thing. It’s a kind of sadness that takes away all of your purpose and makes you ask why. Nothing else. Just why. But I find that when things like this happen, it helps to let the feeling wash over you. Don’t try to keep them inside. And do something light.”
So, I’m going to go do something light before getting back to work
Anyway, I love the rain. I love autumn. I love the trees changing color. I really like being able to go out on the veranda.
I haven’t posted a goal update since the first of August, for a couple of reasons. One, I was still reassessing some of the goals, as the move was such a big disruption. Another reason was related to the move, and I’ve felt both frustrated and embarrassed about it. Several things went missing during the move.
Some of the missing things were trivial: a silly hat that often call my writing hat, a couple of books purchased just before we started the move, and a set of old stories and art discovered during the packing that I thought would make a fun submission to one of the APAzines I participate in. But other things weren’t: the galley proof of my novel with all my copy editor’s comments, a notebook with all of my notes for one of the roleplaying games I run, another notebook with notes of the other roleplaying game I run, a pile of editing comments on new scenes I had written for the novel in galley proof, and the file with my notes on places to submit short stories.
While we were still unpacking boxes, we just assumed they were in a box we hadn’t gotten to. The fact that I thought I had put most of those things in the same box and one of the boxes I marked as needing to be unpacked early made me a little extra crazy, because we had opened all the boxes with that sort of marking. After we got the last box unpacked, both my husband and I searched through closets and so forth, but no luck.
Then last weekend, literally a few minutes before midnight on my birthday, I pulled a plastic file box off a shelf to file a new insurance policy (that had been sitting on the coffee table since I opened the mail a week or so before). And when I opened this plastic box which I thought was full of legal documents and such, I found all the missing things: my silly fez, the edits, the gaming notebooks, the old art and stories, the books, the other files… it was all there. All the legal documents that I thought were in the plastic box were in a banker’s box on the next shelf over.
The embarrassing part is that during all of my searching for the missing things, I kept not opening the plastic file box because I was sure it was full of legal documents. And the fact that when I looked in the banker’s box and saw that it was full of file folders full of various documents never made me twig to the possibility that there weren’t legal documents in the plastic box is where the embarrassment comes in.
Anyway, ince two of my big goals for the year required me finding a couple of those missing things, it was hampering my progress. Now that the missing things have been found, I’ve been busy all week working on edits. There’s a lot still to go, but I’m in a much better position, now.
I’m still reassessing the goals, particularly as I work on a new, um, project that I hope will help me finish more of the writing related tasks faster. But I’m not ready to talk about that other than to a few others just yet.
So, I am still working on my goals for the year. I’ve mentioned before how much I love autumn. I’ve also mentioned that autumn often feels more like a new year to me than New Year’s Day. So maybe it’s a good thing I’m still reassessing. New season means new beginnings.
This isn’t going to be my typical Saturday post where I talk about news stories that either I missed for this week’s round up of links or new developments. I’ve already made a couple of pretty personal posts this week, between my birthday and remembering my late husband on his birthday just a few days later.
And tomorrow would be my dad’s birthday, if he were still alive. Which doesn’t make me sad, by the way. It fills me with a bit of dread, because I suspect there will be communications from some of my relatives that I’d rather not get. I can’t use the phrase that one friend made me practice saying right after Dad died so that I wouldn’t make people who were just offering condolences but didn’t know our history wouldn’t feel bad: “We weren’t close. We’d hardly talked in forty years.” Depending on which family member is reaching out, that comment is likely to get an angry, “Well, whose fault is that?”And I’m dreading it because I got such comments (and confrontations) on Father’s Day and on his previous birthday. Maybe I need to memorize this Stefan Molyneux quote and say that back to any of them who trot out the admonishments that it isn’t healthy for me not to grieve or not to forgive or whatever. The former is the mostly darkly funny, because I did grieve the total lack of a loving, functional father decades before my actual dysfunctional dad died. I took myself to therapy because I realized that many of his abusive behaviors and attitudes were manifesting in my own relationships. I didn’t want to turn into him, so I got therapy and dealt with it, and yes, part of my healing process was letting myself grieve for the relationship that could have been. To grieve for kind of childhood I didn’t have.
I know most of them are doing it because they worry about me. unfortunately, some are doing it because they need validation for their own feelings, or validation of the rationalizations that let them look the other way while those of us living with him were subjected to the abuse. Anyway, being angry at them doesn’t solve anything. I will probably do what I did with most of the messages that came on Father’s Day: ignore them.
But, completely unrelated: I was pointed to some cartoons by an artist I had not previously been aware of, and while checking out his web site, I found this interesting thing he created last March: My Mother Was Murdered When I Was a Baby. I Just Found a Photo of Her Funeral for Sale Online. It reminded me that there are many other ways that one’s childhood can be dysfunctional. But also, it reminded me of a bit of advice I received from one of my lesbian aunties (not an actual aunt) back around the same time I was seeing the therapist. My childhood was bad, yes, but I survived it. Not everyone who suffers domestic violence does. So, while I’m grieving what I didn’t have, I should remember to be thankful that I lived to make a better adulthood for myself.
The movie Throw Mama From the Train begins with a writer who is having severe writer’s block. He keeps typing the opening line, “The night was…” and then he can’t decide. Was the night hot? Was it moist? Was it hot and moist? And since the movie was made before the era of cheap personal computers, we watch the character, portrayed by Billy Crystal, typing on a physical piece of paper, then tearing it out and throwing it away again and again and again and…
We learn that he’s been stuck unable to write for years since his ex-wife stole his previous novel, got it published under her name, then said novel became an international bestseller. Now the wife is living the high life in Hawaii. In his day job, he teaches creative writing at a community college, and one of his students misunderstands a conversation they have about writing as a proposal that the student kill the teacher’s ex-wife, and the teacher will kill the student’s abusive (and senile and otherwise seriously ill) mother. Various horrible misadventures ensue, culminating at a moment when the two are discussing opening lines again, the teacher talks about the whether the opening line should be “The night is hot” or “The night is moist” or “The night was humid” or “The night was foggy” at which point the ill mother says, “The night is sultry!” Which is, of course the word that combines both meaning the teacher had been trying to go for.
I could write multiple blog posts about the movie: about the problematic way it handles the declining mental and physical health of the mother; about the problematic way it portrays most of the women in the story; about the many myths of writing it perpetuates. But today’s topic is going to be opening lines. Or, more broadly, openings in stories, because it’s about more than just the first sentence.
Among the things the movie does get right is how frustrating and utterly debilitating writer’s block can feel.
As awful as it feels, you should never get as frozen on the opening line as Crystal’s character does in the movie. A completed draft of a story with a bad opening sentence is better than a blank screen with nothing because you can’t think of the perfect opening. And the truth is that most of the classic opening lines in literature—the ones that get quoted in all those articles about the best opening lines—weren’t in the first, second, or even third draft of that story. The writer figured them out later, once they’d wrestled with the entire story for a while.
There are several things to consider about the opening of your story that are more important than picking just the perfect word. Even the opening sentence isn’t necessarily important. If you’re working on a short story, then eventually, yes, you need to come up with a nice hook in the opening sentence. But if you’re writing a novella or a novel, you will wind up worrying more about the opening paragraphs. Readers expect a longer story of have more characters, subplots, and complexity, so they’re more likely to stick through several paragraphs before they need to be hooked.
The first question is where to begin. This may seem like an easy one, but let me tell you from my years reading the slush piles of several small publications, many people don’t have any clue where to begin the story. “But I started at the beginning!” is the usual response I would get when explaining to someone they had started at the wrong place. There is the classic of beginning in the wrong place: an alarm clock rings, the character wakes up and the author expects the reader to slog through many paragraphs (or pages) of description of the character brushing their teeth, eating breakfast and so on. But thats not the only way that writers start at a spot that seems like the beginning.
I encountered the best (or worst) example of how not to do this back when I was a university student. For reasons too complex to go into here, I was taking a Creative Writing class that was aimed at a much less advanced writer than I was, but that I needed to finish before I could get into other classes. And the professor had seen my work and knew it was too basic, so she had let me into the class on the condition that any time it was my turn to comment on someone else’s story I would tell the whole truth of what I thought. Yes, that’s right, she made me the designated bad guy. Anyway, one day a guy is reading a story, and it begins by describing the trophies and mementos of high school on his desk and shelves at home. At the bottom of the first page he finally mentions the game ball from a football game, his most prize possession, and then he starts describing the football game beginning from the opening kickoff. It was absolutely the most boring sh*t for nine more pages until finally he came to the line, “We had to move the ball 20 yards in 8 seconds.” Which should have been the opening.
The reasons why the first 10 pages of this story were awful was because first: none of the rest of the mementos from his school year had the slightest thing to do with the story. Second: to anyone who knows anything about football, knowing that our narrator has the game ball already tells us the ending—to wit, the narrator is going to make the play that wins the game. Third: even to a hard core football fan, a narration of a game whose ending we already know is just not interesting enough to sustain 10+ pages of following. The beginning of this kind of story is going to be where the drama hits. In that case, “We had to move the ball 20 yards in 8 seconds.”
Which isn’t to say that explaining any other parts of the game are worthless, you just need to hook the reader first. That line is something that even a non-football fan recognizes as a challenge. Then your second sentence can be explain that this was a game against your big cross-town rivals, and how every year for as long as you can remember this was the game that everyone attended, and then explain which position on the team the narrator plays, and then summarize some of the game up to that point, in order to set the scene and introduce characters. Up until that “We had to move the ball 20 yards in 8 seconds” moment, it was just one more sportsball game being played by people the readers doesn’t know or care about. And laid out in that order, the reader doesn’t know why he ought to care.
But if you first hook the reader with the drama, then you can fill in details. And the reader will understand that this is all stuff to help them understand the answer to the questions the opening lines raised: Who is this? Will they succeed? If they succeed, how will they?
So the first rule about opening lines is: the beginning isn’t necessarily the chronological beginning of your character’s day or involvement in the events, it is the moment where the protagonist is confronted by the problem. Some people like to put it this way: start the story the moment your character is hit in the head with a brick, not back at the moment someone started manufacturing the brick.
Which isn’t to say that every story has to begin with dramatic action… but we’ll get into that in part 2!
Please note that I said this stereotype is only somewhat less toxic than many others about queer men.
So a few years ago when I mentioned in blog post that it was my birthday and my age (it was 53 or 54, but I don’t feel like going on an obsessive search to try to find the specific post), some random person I didn’t know commented about how broken-hearted I must be, since everyone knows that fags are all obsessed with being young. I typed a reply to the effect that no, I actually considered myself quite lucky. But then I decided that rather than argue with a troll the better thing to do was to simple delete the troll’s comment and move on.
But I keep running into people making this specific observation, or variants of it. A gay activist who is a frequent guest on news programs passes the age of 50 and all the anti-gay hatemongers start referring to him as an “aging activist.” This is pretty rich coming from a completely white-haired anti-gay pastor who is pushing 70, let me tell you. If a 50-year-old is “aging,” what do we call a 68-year-old, hmmmmm?
So, I’m still a couple years from 60, yet, and I know that I frequently make references to my age, mostly because 1) I am older than the average people active on the internet, 2) I’m older than the average age of people active in the various fandoms I participate in, and 3) I frequently find myself being a little boggled at people who otherwise seem really well informed being completely unaware of (or deeply misinformed about) fairly major things that happened in the world when I was, say, in my 20s.
I was still very closeted in my early 20s when the AIDS crisis began. This mysterious illness was striking gay men down, and not only did the White House Press Secretary laugh and make a fag joke when a reporter asked about the first Center for Disease Control alert about the illness, but all of the rest of the reporters in the room joined in on the laughter. One night at a church service I was sitting with my head bowed when a pastor went on a long digression in his prayer thanking god for sending the scourge of AIDS to punish the wickedness of gay people and wipe them from the face of the Earth. 10 years later, as an out gay man, I found myself going to memorial services of men sometimes younger than I. One particularly bad winter, 16 different people we knew died in a single three-month period. It really did seem that every gay person was doomed. And it didn’t seem to matter that we all now knew to practice safe sex—because condoms can break, and so on.
As much of an optimist as I’ve always been, in the face of all the overwhelming chilling life experience, I seriously doubted that I would live to see my 50s.
So, I am not in the slightest bit sad or embarrassed to have reached the “ripe” age of 57. I’m not sad that my beard is mostly white, because I’ve earned every one of these grey hairs! I’m not ecstatic that some of the medical issues I’ve always had are getting worse as I get older. I’m not joyful when I read about the death of someone (famous or not) that I’ve known and admired for years. I know that that is going to happen more often, that’s just the natural consequence of the passing of time.
Getting older has its drawbacks, yes. But the alternative is worse, right? So I say, “Bring it on!”
Among my role models growing up was a very cantankerous paternal great-grandmother (who taught me how to listen in on the neighbors’ on the party line phone, among other fun things) and an even more ornery maternal great-grandfather (whose jobs when he was younger had included driving souped up cars, including sometimes outrunning the police, to deliver illegal alcohol during Prohibition). Both of them said and did things around us kids back then that embarrassed their own children (my grandparents and great-aunts and great-uncles), and I fully intend, if I’m lucky enough to live as long as them, to similarly embarrass some of my younger relatives and acquaintances.
On ocassions such as birthdays, one is often asked to share some words of wisdom. I’m going to give you two pieces of advice, one from each of the aforementioned great-grandparents:
“Life is too short to carry grudges or worry about what other people think of you.”
“Never let the revenuers piss on your parade.”
Most of the news media seems to be talking about the #TakeAKnee hashtag because Donald Trump went on a rant last night calling for NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem to be fired. And a certain number of the deplorables are chiming in and angrily calling for those football players to stop injecting politics into football.
And of course I have some opinions on that.
First, insisting that people stand for the national anthem? That is injecting politics into sports. The act of playing the national anthem and unfurling the flag at the beginning of games has been injecting politics into sports for decades. There are many Americans whose religion, for instance, forbid standing for the anthem or saluting the flag. And that’s their right, as humans and as Americans. And I say that as a former Boy Scout who gets angry at people flying their flags in the rain, attaching flags to they car ariels and letting them get ragged and dirty.
Second, you want to talk disrespecting the flag? Anyone who has ever defended the Confederate Flag is disrespecting the U.S. flag each time they do it. That’s right. So, Donald disrespected the flag when he defended the Confederate Flag-waving people. He disrespected the U.S. flag each time he defending the swastika-waving neoNazis. He disrespected the U.S. flag each time he criticized people calling for the removal of Confederate monuments.
Third, the brave men and women of our armed forces who risk their lives, and in far too many cases gave their lives, did so not to defend a piece of fabric or a song. They died defending the ideas that flag stands for. When I cry during the national anthem (and I do every time I hear it), I do so not because of that piece of fabric or the song itself, but because of the ideas that flag and that song are supposed to stand for. And among those ideas are that people have a right to protest. People have a right to petition their government. People have a right to demand justice. People should expect that their lives will be valued equally no matter the color of their skin. And the reality is that our society doesn’t do that latter. Men of color are at least nine times more likely to be shot and killed by police than anyone else. That is neither justice nor equality. It is unAmerican to claim otherwise. So, no, taking a knee during the anthem doesn’t disrespect members of the military, either.
Fourth, Hurricane Maria just devastated Puerto Rico, which is an American territory inhabited by 3,411,307 U.S. citizens. The hurricane wiped entire towns off the map, knocked out electricity to the entire island, has disrupted the public drinking water system. That we know of 13 people died during the storm, but with so much of the infrastructure wiped out, the death toll is probably higher. But even worse, many more could die because of things ranging from a dam that is failing and continued flooding, not to mention what the destroyed roads and lack of power means about deliver of food, medicine, and other essentials or getting sick and injured people to medical attention. ‘If anyone can hear us … help.’ Puerto Rico’s mayors describe widespread devastation from Hurricane Maria What with more than 3.4million Americans in imminent danger, what has the so-called president said about the devastation or how the federal government will respond? Not one single word. He can go on rants about sports figures and reports who say things he disagrees with, but can’t be bothered to comment on millions of his fellow citizens in danger.
And why, exactly, has he been silent on Puerto Rico? Could it be because in the minds of most the people there are just a bunch of brown folks and therefore not “real Americans?”
One of the other things people were talking about this week was a commentator on ESPN calling Donald a White Supremacist. And a lot of people who think they are being open-minded are arguing that that isn’t an appropriate label. But Donald himself said so. Remember in the aftermath of the Charlottesville protests? When Donald was defending his ludicrous “both sides” claim, he got into an argument with a reporter who pointed out that all of the violence recorded was from the neo-Nazis. Donald said, “but what about when the Black Lives Matter folks came at us… I mean, when they came at them…” Loose lips sink ships, as my Grandpa used to say. Donald said himself that he was one of the neo-Nazis… (and that isn’t the only time).
And while we’re at it:
He appointed Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, a Republican Senator who, ten years ago, was considered by even his fellow Republicans too racist to be a judge.
He pardoned a sheriff who was convicted of disobeying court orders in order to racial profile and otherwise deliver justice by policy in racially-motivated ways.
On the same day that the African-American commentator called out the president for giving encouragement to white supremacists, the newly chosen Miss America called out the president for the same thing. But Miss America is white, so guess which critic the president went nuclear on in with twitter storms, and having his press secretary call for a firing, et cetera?
When addressing the United Nations, Donald literally said he intends to wipe out North Korea. A country that is home to 25million people, the vast majority of whom do not support the actions of their dictator, but rather are victims of the dictator’s regime. Killing 25million people (who happen to be asian) to destroy an entire country? That’s genocide.
He defends racists. As a businessman, he tried to keep black families out his properties. He has said multiple times that he “doesn’t want black people” counting his money, when explaining about some of his hiring practices. He attacks people of color for peacefully demonstrating or stating opinions. He appoints racists. He appoints white supremacists. He enacts (or tries to enact) racist policies. When talking about neo-Nazis and White Supremacists he sometimes refers to them collectively as “us”.
And I could go on and on.
Donald Trump is a racist. That is a fact. He encourages white supremacists. He has been endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups. Not only did he not disavow those endorsements, he accepted them and praised them. If Donald Trump isn’t a white supremacist, then why call them “fine people”?
There are a few things to note about this particular transition of the seasons at least where I live. First, we officially can enter summer 2017 into the weather record books for a couple of different things. It was officially the driest summer (going by solar summer: June 21-Sept 21). Seattle summers are usually relatively dry, particularly compared to our Novembers, but this year was exceptional. Only 0.52″ of rain total, and it is worth noting that 0.50″ of that rain came in the last six days! Which certainly contributed to many days that the city was blanketed in smoke from various wild fires in British Columbia, Eastern Washington, and Central Oregon.
Summer 2017 also tied for the hottest summer ever recorded (1967). Though it is worth noting that 2014 and 2013 are tied at second hottest only one-tenth of a degree cooler (and 2015 was two-tenths of a degree cooler, so we definitely have a trend going).
But that nightmare is over, at least until next year. The jet stream has shifted. We got light rain last weekend, the daytime highs have been in the high 50s to mid 60s all week. We may break 70 again late in the week, but that’s a considerable improvement over the temps just two weeks ago.
So, autumn is here! Time to start thinking about Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations. Time to break out the pumpkin spice (I actually started experimenting with pumpkin spick cocktail recipes the day we got the first rain last week).
Welcome to fall!