Bursting the bubble

Bubble Rain.  Source:  Steve Jurvetson, Creative Commons license.
Bubble Rain. Source: Steve Jurvetson, Creative Commons license.

Reza Aslan has had an interesting week in the limelight.  A few days following an appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher, he became the newest viral video sensation when an “interview” he did/was subjected to on Fox News garnered an impressive level of coverage, for both the stupidity of the questions he was being asked and his unflappable calm in responding to them; akin, as some have observed, to a teacher instructing a babbling child.  As he mentions in the clip, Aslan is an impeccably credentialed academic who has made a career of studying and writing about religion, and so, to be interrogated repeatedly by a person whose education beyond fourth grade is dubious (at least based on this clip), “why does a Muslim want to write a book about Christ?” is probably the intellectual equivalent of being asked who he’s wearing on the red carpet tonight.  The embarrassing affair veers further of the rails when she begins badgering him about why he hasn’t revealed that he’s a Muslim before (he has, on multiple occasions), as she panders to that sizable portion of the Fox demographic that presumes Muslim = al-Qaeda.  The blatant anti-intellectualism would be galling if it weren’t so unsurprising, if one did not have to assume that the interviewer’s questions were prepared and approved enthusiastically (with frat boy giggles, in all odds) by a cynical producer seeking to perpetuate an insular, terribly biased view of the world for the benefit of Fox’s ratings.

Bill Maher is fond of pointing out that conservatives live in a bubble where they cannot accept anything that challenges how they choose to view the world.  It is quite possible the person conducting the interview with Aslan was so committed to this mindset that why a Muslim would write a book on Christ simply would not compute.  When you sacrifice the scary world of the unknown for the comforting confines of dogma, of course the curiosity of others becomes impossible to understand.  That’s why you get members of Congress (on science and technology committees, of all things) claiming defiantly that we don’t need to worry about global warming because God promised Noah he would never flood the world again.  But this notion that one should stay inside the lines, refrain from asking questions about things we don’t understand and (horrors!) actively explore topics that interest us despite their seeming to have no relation to our own lives, goes against the very notion of human progress.  If we don’t venture out of the cave we don’t discover fire.  If we presume that the earth is flat and there is nothing beyond the ocean sea, I’m writing this post in England right now (actually, I’m probably scrawling it in ink on parchment).  If we accept that the moon is made of green cheese we don’t have Apollo 11.  We have to ask questions about things that are foreign to us.  We have to examine viewpoints that contradict ours.  In the case of persons of faith, it’s what strengthens that faith – for unchallenged it is not faith at all.  For those of us who choose not to walk the religious path, it’s gathering those elusive nuggets of truth that help us sort out our own thoughts on What It’s All About.  And that sometimes means examining religion too, even if Fox News can’t understand why we would do it.  Curiosity is a trait borne of hunger, from a dissatisfaction with the distasteful notion of accepting things as they are.  Being unwilling to accept limits.  Curiosity is what makes us smash through those limits with an iron fist and reach for what’s hidden on the other side.  You never know, it might be something good.

We are fortunate to be living in this time, when the world has geared itself like a finely-tuned clock toward the indulgence of curiosity, when information is readily available to those who seek it out.  The human thirst for progress has led us here, centuries from the era when the Fox News illiterati whom we now laugh at with millions of snarky voices were once those who would have had us burned at the stake in a heartbeat for uttering a single syllable against their ridiculously narrow view of the cosmos.  Millions of opinions on just as many issues are published every single day and we are free to sort through the noise to find the songs we want to add to our ever-expanding repertoire.  Why would a Muslim want to write a book on Christ?  Because he can.  And we should want to read it for the same reason (in a happy ending for him, Aslan’s book Zealot has hit #1 on Amazon’s rankings this week).  That’s how we learn.  Which, one supposes, is the real danger to the folks like the purveyors of Fox News who rely on closed minds to replenish their bank accounts – fill a bubble with too much knowledge and it bursts.

Failing the Bechdel Test

HBO
HBO

The Bechdel Test, while not, admittedly, without its detractors, should be in the back of mind of any men who write female characters.  I first became aware of it about a year or so ago and it is quite amazing how many fictional works don’t live up to its very simple requirements.  The cartoonist Alison Bechdel who created it in 1985 describes it as follows:  the creative enterprise (film, play, novel, what-have-you) has to have at least two women in it who talk to each other about something other than a man.  Watching this week’s The Newsroom last night I found myself thinking of the Bechdel Test and how the episode (“The Genoa Tip”) failed it.  There were at least four scenes involving two women speaking to one another, but on each occasion the subject was a man or men in general – even dropped into conversations that ostensibly had nothing to do with dudes.  Sloan and Maggie, Maggie and Lisa, Maggie and Mac – men hovered invisibly between them as both sub- and super-text.  You couldn’t help but shrug, especially since the show keeps replaying the clip of Maggie teeing off on Sex and the City (in the form of an embarrassing YouTube video) for its depiction of women who have nothing better to do than talk about men.

It’s important to remember that the Bechdel Test is not an absolute for judging whether something is worthy of your time.  For example, The King’s Speech fails the Bechdel Test because the plot focuses on the bond between two men and the only conversation between two female characters in the movie is also about them.  Perfectly serviceable material nonetheless, and the theme of the story transcends gender.  But it’s disappointing when a television series in particular that features ostensibly strong, professional female characters can’t get them talking about anything other than guys they’re dating/want to date/love from afar/can’t stand the sight of.  Most women I know define themselves and the scope of their lives far beyond the parameters of their romantic relationships, or lack thereof as the case may be.  They are people of greater substance than the boy-crazy constructs our screens and e-readers tend to be littered with.  The problem is that success, as defined by (largely male-driven, let’s be honest) popular culture, means very different things for the sexes.  The man wins the big game, scores the important account, kicks the villain off the precipice to his doom.  The woman gets Prince Charming and the happily ever after.

The key to starting off any story is figuring out what the character wants.  What’s interesting is that for most male characters, “getting the girl” is almost always the secondary goal.  In any James Bond movie that consideration comes only after the cat-stroking baddie’s plan to blow up the world has been thwarted.  By contrast, “getting the guy” is usually the primary goal for a female protagonist, and her professional goals (if there are any) are depicted as less important in the face of the possibility of true love.  (In stories where getting the girl is the man’s primary goal, said “getting” often means “getting between the sheets with” and an apple pie’s honor gets besmirched in the process.)  It therefore follows, given this premise, that conversations between characters, whether the same gender or not, would be oriented exclusively towards the pursuit of the primary goal.  In the case of two women speaking to one another, this means the subject will be a man and/or men, and thus, bzzzzt!  Bechdel Test fail.

No one is suggesting that we should stop writing love stories, or, more to the point, stories where love is all you – man or woman – need, or want.  Love is so indelibly part of the human experience that to expect otherwise is unrealistic.  It behooves us though, particularly male authors, to consider the Bechdel Test as we craft the interactions of our characters.  It’s a premise as simple as the old advice about avoiding clichés.  Instead of writing lazily that something is “as black as night” or comparing the blackness of said object to coal or ravens, force yourself away from those hoary old examples toward something new.  Likewise, if you’re writing a conversation between two women, say to yourself from the outset that the subject of men is verboten and see where the words take you instead, once you manhandle them (pun intended) onto a different path.  Yes, a large portion of “The Genoa Tip” was devoted to the aftermath of Maggie’s breakup with Don, the implosion of her friendship with her roommate over her now-very-public feelings for Jim and so on, but did a perfectly reasonable and professional discussion between Maggie and Mac over whether or not Maggie could go to Uganda on assignment have to be spoiled by Mac’s unnecessary comment about Will’s doucheyness?  I may be picking nits a little, but when the episode (and indeed, much of the series to date) had already ventured so deeply into Bechdel-fail territory it was just one tiptoe too far.

Ultimately, the lesson of the Bechdel Test, and why I consider it useful in approaching fiction (and even non-fiction opinion pieces such as this one) is this:  there is far more to a woman, and to women, than the men they fall in or out of love with, and our stories about them should reflect that.

The Biodegradable Heart

heart

I wrote this for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s open collaboration project, hitRECord, during a late-night burst of spontaneous creation.  If you missed it there, thought you might like to see it here.  The prompt was to write about how being dumped can make you feel like trash.  Most of the contributions on this theme were quite sad.  I tried to go another way.

People who work in waste management can tell you all sorts of fascinating stories about trash.  Like how you can dig into a landfill site that’s been closed for twenty years and find old hot dogs that still have teeth marks in them.  In the age of recycling and composting and “biodegradable” labels slapped on the toxic brews we use to clean our toilets, we’ve accepted the premise that eventually, everything breaks down.  Everything will be reduced, in time, to a safe and simple form.  It alleviates the guilt we feel at buying the bottle of water in a moment of extreme thirst and carrying it home in a plastic bag.  That’s okay, it all breaks down in time.

In time.

You can’t really fault us, either.  Few people feel giddy at the prospect of throwing something away.  Some part of us knows that yeah, that empty plastic bottle will be here long after I’m gone, compacted beneath truckloads of used diapers and orange rinds and stained furniture with rusted springs protruding from the armrest.  But once we’ve tossed the bottle into the bin, once the bin goes to the curb, once the diesel-belching monster has carted it off to parts unknown, do we ever think of it again?  Are we sitting in the office one Thursday morning with an idle moment or two when it comes back to us:  “Hey, whatever happened to that water bottle?  I wonder how it’s doing.”  Hardly.  And that’s normal.  Nothing cruel about it.

By the strictest definition of the concept, the human heart is biodegradable.  All living flesh breaks down in time, once the spark of life is gone.  But when a heart is thrown away, it doesn’t go to that far-off place lined with trees where the gulls converge in swarms.  It lingers in its container, emptied of purpose like the bottle drained of its single serving of water.  It beats on despite its wounds.  And you can’t really bring yourself to hate the person who tossed it.  They didn’t need it anymore.  That’s all.  It wasn’t an act of wanton cruelty, or a conspiracy of nastiness directed specifically at you, no more than is directed at a banana peel once the good part’s been eaten.  There was a relationship, and for a while, it was wonderful.  And then wonder became familiar, and familiar devolved into predictable, and predictable broke down further into boredom.  The spark dimmed to an ember and snuffed out.  Little to do then but shovel the cold ash into the bag.

The waste management guys talk about finding newspapers from forty years ago whose headlines are still clear and vibrant.  “Hey, apparently Nixon resigned, did you hear that?”  You won’t find hearts in landfills; they remain sealed in the manufacturer’s original packaging.  Though it might be sometimes treated as trash, the heart has a singular advantage:  it can heal.  Biodegradation, in this case, is a choice.  You don’t have to break down if you don’t want to.  You can love again.

In time.

UPDATE:  Here’s the link to where it originally appeared.

Exorcising the Haunted Past

Capt. Renault tries to get Rick to fess up.
Capt. Renault tries to get Rick to fess up.

“We may be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us” – Magnolia (a movie I detested, proving again that flowers sometimes grow from a pile of manure)

I saw a tweet flit through this morning about how someone was wishing that just once, a character wasn’t haunted by his or her past.  At first it’s a sentiment one might rush to agree with, given the seeming flood in popular culture of privileged yet angst-ridden characters wailing to the cold, unfeeling world that no one can possibly understand the soul-scraping depth of their pain.  The impetus to scream “get over it!” in those instances can be difficult to resist.  But it’s probably overly simplistic to blame the trope of the “haunted past,” given that the reason it still functions is that everyone you meet has a past, and in quite a few of those cases, it wasn’t all smiles und sunshine.  We are creatures of linear time; our past informs the decisions we make in the present as we plan for the future.  The concept of learning is based on the notion that we must garner wisdom by making mistakes, reflecting on those mistakes and correcting them to be able to go forward.  The propagation of the human race depends on this.  How many of us are married to the first person we ever dated?  Do we not apply the lessons from the fumbling moments of that first awkward relationship to our subsequent dalliances in the hopes of establishing a permanent connection with the right person?  Yet admittedly, as company, we become tiresome if we dwell forever on things we once did wrong – if we live in that past instead of simply letting ourselves be guided by it.

In the creation of enduring characters, this is a tricky tightrope to walk.  Expecting an audience to sympathize with a perfect person who has made no mistakes and regrets nothing is a tall order, and few writers (at least those that are not perpetual amateurs) would dare try.  The problem is that most force the pendulum too far in the opposite direction.  Allegorically (though somewhat to the point of cliché) the past can indeed be considered a heavy load borne on the character’s back.  However, that burden should be in an appropriate weight class – if a perfectly healthy adult is going to moan about dragging a five-pound barbell around then they’re going to lose our interest and attention pretty darn fast.  More appealing are those who carry their pasts privately instead of on their sleeves.  They have a history but they don’t dwell on it; they don’t broadcast it to any and all within range and grab at every precious fragment of pity.  If one is to look for a singular example of this, eyes should wander no further than Batman.  Bruce Wayne is changed profoundly by the death of his parents and his inability to exact vengeance for their murder.  It’s what drives him to don the cape and cowl and roam the night skies beating the crap out of criminals for the rest of his days, on an ultimately futile quest to make the pain go away.  Note that what’s important about this is that he does something.  He doesn’t let his grief cripple him into inaction, into endless sessions of whining to Alfred about how the world is so hard and he just can’t catch a break.  Instead, he becomes the goddamn Batman.  Would Batman be believable, or even interesting, if he was just some silver-spoon-fed playboy billionaire with loving, very much alive parents, who decided to fight crime for something to do on Tuesday evenings?  Hardly.  The haunted past is an integral part of his character.  What it is not, though, is the entirety of his existence going forward.  This, I think, is where some may err, both in creating characters and living their actual lives.

I’ve argued before that characters haunted by a past that is never explained are the most compelling of all.  William Goldman makes this point in his book Which Lie Did I Tell? and points to a famous exchange from Casablanca whereby you learn the entirety of Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart)’s backstory, or at least all you’re going to get out of him:

CAPTAIN RENAULT

What in heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca?

RICK

My health.  I came to Casablanca for the waters.

CAPTAIN RENAULT

The waters?  What waters?  We’re in the desert.

RICK

I was misinformed.

This works so much better than had Rick launched into a meandering history lesson about his impoverished childhood working in a Brooklyn sweatshop making mattress springs for a nickel a day, followed by his hard-luck teenage years picking fights over candy bars, the tragic loss of his first love in an unfortunate streetcar accident and his subsequent quest to find himself at the bottom of whisky bottles in speakeasies across Chicago.  Dear gods, I’m bored just writing this imagined synopsis of his life; how tedious a man would Rick Blaine be, and how swiftly forgotten by movie audiences, if he decided to spill something similar to Captain Renault?  By being evasive about his past, Rick keeps us interested.  His inscrutability makes his choices that much more difficult to guess, that much more compelling to watch.  Until the very end we don’t know that he isn’t going to take the letters of transit for himself and Ilsa and leave Victor Laslo behind as a prize for the Nazis.  It hasn’t been telegraphed for us by dwelling to the point of exhaustion on What Makes Rick Miserable.

The lesson for today, then, is to keep a lid on the angst.  The haunted past should not be a cement block in which the character is forever anchored, flailing his or her arms to get people to pay attention (and perhaps bring a sledge hammer to shatter it).  It should inform their choices but not overwhelm them in a cesspool of woe-is-me.  As Goldman says, play it as it lays.  It’s noteworthy that in almost all good time travel fiction, the character who has a chance to change an old mistake comes to realize that mistake is a crucial part of their life and that things are ultimately better the way they always were.  Indeed, we are never truly through with the past, it’s who we are.  However, we, and the characters we write, can choose how we wear it.  We can wallow, and keep pointing out our scars to passersby in the vain hope the lines will somehow fade away, but they won’t.  Instead, as we go forward, those scars can be our roadmap.  And with a good map at our side there’s no reason to keep it in first gear.

First Thing We Do, Let’s Change the Theme Song: The Newsroom Season 2

newsroom2
HBO

Aaron Sorkin took his fair share of flack over Season 1 of The Newsroom.  Some of it was merited, some of it was the inevitable result of riding high on an impossible sense of public anticipation.  If you had The West Wing and a fresh Oscar for writing The Social Network on your CV, you’d be hard-pressed to come anywhere near meeting, let alone exceeding, those expectations.  It also does not help that Sorkin is on record in several places as a hater of the Internet in a world where that’s the equivalent of proudly declaring your undying allegiance to the carrier pigeon in the face of the emergence of the telephone.  It’s too bad, too, that he gave up on Twitter after a mere two messages – an ignominious third was a hacked spam fragment about some working-from-home scam.  Be that as it may, it was probably just as well, as more than a few of us scribes have bemoaned how much Twitter eats into our productivity.  And he’s got an entire season of television to bang out, not to mention a movie about Steve Jobs.

As an Aaron Sorkin aficionado (Sorkinado?  If that term doesn’t already exist I’m trademarking it) it’s often difficult to separate the work from the man, for his is not a style that disappears easily beneath the veil of the proscenium.  In terms of recent efforts, Moneyball was probably him at his lowest key, but in fairness he wasn’t the final writer on that movie.  Compare him to other prominent TV showrunners – would you be able to distinguish, say, Mad Men‘s Matthew Weiner’s writer’s voice in another work?  With Sorkin the tropes stand out.  In a way, watching a Sorkin program is a bit like television geocaching.  Or, more crudely, the stuff of drinking games.  “Musical theatre reference!  Do a shot!”  And so, as Sunday night’s “First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Lawyers” unspooled, we saw an old favorite return – the flashforward/flashback and catch-up, set in a familiar Sorkin environment, a lawyer’s hearing room.  For those of you really paying attention, one of the lawyers’ names is “Gage,” and at least three prior Sorkin projects (The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and The Social Network) feature – wait for it – lawyers named Gage.  Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) finds himself in a hearing with a $1500-an-hour attorney played by the wonderful Marcia Gay Harden, over a colossal cock-up apparently committed by his NewsNight broadcast – the airing of a false story accusing the U.S. government of using nerve gas against Pakistani civilians – which will, it seems, form the main thrust of this season’s story arc.  We then race back to the aftermath of Will’s Season 1-ending remark accusing the Tea Party of being the American Taliban, which has resulted in Atlantis Cable Media being shut out of Republican-led House hearings on the SOPA Internet copyright bill, much to the disgust of ACM president Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda).  Changes are in store around the newsroom as well as the lovesick Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr.), despondent over his failure to win over Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill) asks to be reassigned to the Romney campaign bus (we’re still in mid-2011, show time), resulting in the arrival of a new producer who sets the wheels in motion for the revelation of something called Operation Genoa, which can “end presidencies” according to the TV panelist who first drops the hint.  We also see the ever-hungry Neal Sampat (Dev Patel) trying to get executive producer MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) interested in the rumblings of something called Occupy Wall Street.  And there’s the usual lightning-speed banter, reversals, repetition, what you’ve come to expect when you sign on for a Sorkinfest, with the occasional F & S bomb since it’s HBO.

My ongoing issue with The Newsroom is that I’m finding it difficult to latch onto any of the characters.  I can’t even remember their full names at any given moment.  Perhaps it’s not fair to compare it to The West Wing, but as an ensemble, that cast was considerably stronger than this group, who still haven’t learned how to sound like they came up with the words spilling from their mouths.  Ironically, far less attention was paid to the personal lives of the Bartlet White House staff, but we still managed to get a better sense of who they were and what they stood for.  The archetypes emerged fairly quickly:  Sam Seaborn was the idealist, Josh Lyman was the scrapper reveling in the fight, Toby Ziegler was the conscience, and so on.  By contrast, The Newsroom‘s second tier doesn’t seem to stand for or want anything, and their personal lives are deadly dull.  I’m still not sure why Thomas Sadoski’s Don Keefer is even there, as Don officially abandoned NewsNight in the series premiere and Sorkin seems to be struggling to find excuses to have him hang around – and since he’s now broken up with Maggie in this episode, his raison d’etre is even less.  Rather, the characters are little more than rotating mouthpieces to deliver Sorkin’s judgments.  I was particularly let down to see young Neal (Scott Pilgrim reference!  Drink!  Okay, that’s just me…) belittle the Occupy Wall Street organizers with the same line conservative media ultimately used to discredit them, a surprising and condescending sentiment from the left-leaning writer of the “American Taliban” line and a little out of character for the wide-eyed Neal, especially when he called it America’s own Arab Spring earlier in the hour.

Similarly, the center of the show, Will McAvoy, remains a cipher.  What he wants and why we should care about him remain gray.  Despite his willingness to make bold statements from time to time, i.e. the sorority girl rant and his opinions on the Tea Party, he is forever sliding back into inertia and uncertainty, sitting on his balcony listening to Van Morrison and smoking joints in the middle of the night – unreachable, impenetrable, aloof.  Fundamentally, one must ask, what is the worst thing that can happen to Will, or any of the people he works with:  NewsNight gets cancelled and they all go home?  Screwing up on The West Wing usually meant a cost in human life.  On The Newsroom mistakes mean the unspeakable tragedy of lost rating points, the same flaw that doomed Studio 60.  When the stakes are so low, it’s difficult to find reasons to care overmuch for these people.  The only person we then find ourselves caring about is Aaron Sorkin, and what he is saying about the state of news and the delivery of information in the world, which, at its worst, is all The Newsroom is anyway.  Would not a simple documentary suffice, then?

Off-screen, Sorkin made much of the revamping of the show which now includes a much larger staff of writers and consultants to assist him.  One change I’m disappointed with though is the remix of the great Thomas Newman’s beautiful theme music.  When you’re lucky to get music at all in most programs nowadays, a lush and lovely theme is a rare treat, and they’ve gummed this one up by remixing it to make it faster-paced and sound more like breaking news.  Aaron Sorkin of all people should know that slapping on a fresh coat of paint ain’t gonna fix rotting timber, and that if one is relying on an update of the theme to draw in new viewers (a la Star Trek: Enterprise Season 3) then one is going to be sorely disappointed, not to mention the target of the wrath of folks who thought the old one was just fine.  Imagine a similar choice on the part of the makers of Game of Thrones?  Red Wedding anybody?  Besides, one should not mess with Thomas Newman.  Period.  (To quote the panelist from this episode.)

I’ll stick with the show, of course, as television is always better with even a mediocre Sorkin offering than without it.  But these characters need to find something to go after with real stakes attached, and soon, otherwise they, and the show with them, will continue to flail under accusations of being nothing more than a weekly lecture on how news is Doing It Wrong.  We don’t want to be lectured, we want to be captivated for however long you’ve asked for our attention.  Please, Aaron, this stupid basement-dwelling blogger* begs you.  Learn how to captivate us again.  And for the love of Gilbert and Sullivan, don’t f*** with the theme song anymore.

*For the record, I have a basement, but I do not live in it.  I am unfortunately, however, a blogger.  Stupid, not stupid – that decision is entirely up to you.

“How I Got A Literary Agent by Being A Passive-Aggressive, Bridge-Burning Ass”

Author’s note:  This is a (satirical) response to a gauntlet thrown down by literary agent Jessica Faust in response to a tweet I sent her.  So I guess really it’s a convoluted response to myself.  Anyhoo.  Any resemblance between this person and myself is purely coincidental – well, there is in fact NO resemblance between this person and myself – and not at all reflective of my own opinions of literary agents, who are really quite delightful people, except for the scammers who soak up thousands of dollars in “reading fees” before changing their names and moving out of state.  Those ones suck and should suffer significant chronic foot pain.

My name is Hedley Norris, and I’ve always wanted to be a writer.  Well, I guess I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I realized there was serious money in it.  I mean, look at that 50 Shades of Gray lady!  All those millions for changing the names in some Twilight fan fiction she wrote?  It seems to me that if she can do it, anyone can.  I mean, I’m not really much of a reader; the last thing I pored over in detail was an Ain’t it Cool News article about the crappy special features on the director’s cut DVD of Chopper Chicks in Zombietown.  But that doesn’t matter.  I’m in this for the money.  I figure I just need to write one successful book and I can retire to that island where the topless waitresses serve you drinks in coconut shells with little parasols sticking out of them.  Sounds simple, right?  Hells yeah!

First thing I needed was an idea.  Vampires are hot right now, so I figured I could just glom onto that trend and bash something out in a couple of days.  But it needs to be different, to stand out, so I thought, what if there were backwards vampires who actually go around injecting blood into people instead of sucking it out?  Then you could do this whole allegory thing about sexually-transmitted diseases and stuff.  Cool!  (note to self:  my friend Phil keeps telling me about a Simpsons episode I need to check out.  Maybe next Thursday.)  So for about two years I worked away on my story.  I had a pretty solid writing regimen:  open the document, stare at it for five minutes, surf YouTube cat videos for an hour, harass celebrities on Twitter for the second hour, then finally do about ten minutes of writing before bed.  And one snowy December evening, as soon as I typed the final word of the first draft I started looking for publishers.  I was shocked to find that NONE of those fascist, soulless corporate jackholes would even look at my manuscript.  I don’t know what entitles them to think they have any business deciding what gets onto bookshelves.  I mean, if they’d just take one look at my novel they’d know right away it’s a guaranteed mega-smash!

I was mentioning all this to a friend and he pointed out that most writers sign with literary agents before approaching publishers.  I didn’t really like the idea – somebody getting 10% of all the money that rightfully belongs to me for what, making photocopies of my book to send out?  But if the big companies weren’t going to look at me without one, I guess I didn’t really have a choice.  I did some research and found that you’re supposed to write these “query letters” when you’re looking for an agent; again, I don’t see why, the book should just stand on its own.  Anyway, here’s the one I wrote for mine:

To Whom It May Concern:

This is my query letter for my 223,000-word YA fantasy fiction novel, THE DARKENING DARKNESS™.

What if there were backwards vampirs who instead of sucking blood actually had to inject it into people instead?  The government is really concerned about this so they put together a team of cracck secret agents to take them down.  The team is led by LT. MANNY ABRAMSON, a hard-boiled former detective with nerves of steel and attitude to match.  His partner is the beautiful and sexy ELIZA GOODBODY, who he used to date in high school before he was sent to the military by his parents.  After three tours in Iraq and Affgaanistan he’s back to finish the job, only fighting monsters instead of enemy soldiers.  Eliza still loves him but cant bring herself to tell him.  There’s also three other men on the team and their equipped with the most high-tech weaponry money can buy to face this new threat.

They’re enemy is VERUSHKA KOROZOV, the beautiful and sexy head of the backwards vampires whose master plan is to inject all the world’s leaders with her blood, turning them all into zombies under her permanent control.  She is assisted by her second-in-command, the beautiful and sexy ANGELA, who used to be Elizas best friend before she was turned into a backwards vampire.  Now Manny has his hands full as he fights to stop the spreading plague and save the world.

In the meantime, down in Lubbock, Texas, the government sceintists who first developed the backwards vampire gene are struggling to find a cure.  Through hexachromate mapping and genetic alkylating techniques, they manage to resequence the backwards vampire RNA but by accident turn it into something much worse.  All of a sudden there are REGULAR vampires to deal with and when they suck the blood of the zombies created by the backwards vampires that turns them into uber-backward-regular-zompires.  And the battle has just begun.

THE DARKENING DARKNESS™ is the first of a proposed 11-part series and has the potential for blockbuster movie adaptation.  My writing has been called a cross between J.K. Rowling and Stephen King with touches of Dan Brown and James Patterson.  I have been published in The New Yorker, The Wall Stret Journal and The New England Journal of Medicine and I come recommended by agent Lisa Jordan of Literary Treasures Agency who you know.  I feel this book will appeal to fans of vampires, zombies, romantic comedies and Tom Clancy technothrillers.  The entire manuscript and the outlines for the remaining 10 installments are attached to this email.  I really hope you have the time to consider this book for your representation as I really admire your profile and think we would work well together.  I also think this book would be of interest to Oprah Winfrey for her book club (she still does that, right?)  Please respond within 24 hours so I know you’re interested.

Hopefully,

Hedley Norris

You gotta cast a wide net, so I sent it out cc’d to every agent I could find.  I may have even sent it to a few real estate agents by mistake (which explains that one reply saying they didn’t want the book, but had an upscale brownstone outside of Teaneck, N.J. I might be interested in purchasing).  But after two days, nothing had come back.  Not a single reply.  I started getting nervous.  What if they had stolen my book and were going to publish it under somebody else’s name?  I decided to send a follow-up just to be sure.

To Whom It May Concern (if it concerns you at all):

I sent you a query last week for my book THE DARKENING DARKENSS™ and requested a reply within 24 hours.  Now you may get off on letting us aspirng authors dangle in the wind on puppet strings as we wait to hear back from you, but there’s such a thing as common courtesy and profesionalism, ever heard of it?  Please respond to this email immediately or I will take necessary next steps.

Angrily,

Hedley Norris

A week went by, and then two, and two more.  I was really steamed now.  I just KNEW that those conniving charlatans had stolen my book.  I could just see them sitting around smoking cigars on piles of money and laughing at stupid, naïve little Hedley Norris.  And then this arrived in my inbox one fateful morning:

Dear Mr. Norris:

Thank you for submitting your manuscript, The Darkening Darkness.  Unfortunately it is not a good fit for our agency at this time.

Good luck in your future writing endeavors.

Sincerely,

Rhianne Phillips

Thornhill McCabe Literary Agency, Inc.

I hit the roof.  All this time, all that effort, all that blood and pain and sweat poured into my life’s work and all I could get in return was one stinking form rejection letter???  Well, you can darn well bet I wasn’t going to take that lying down.

Dear Miss (I’m assuming not Mrs. because God knows who would want to marry you) Phillips:

You people have got some real nerve.  I suppose you think it’s funny that you can get someone’s hopes up and then crush their soul into so many fragments of peanut shells.  Here I send you a GUARANTEED best-seller and you toss it aside like the wrapper from yesterday’s hamburger (which I presume you ate with extra large fries and a super-sized drink since the fact that you don’t have a picture of yourself on your website must mean your too hideous for the world.)  You are a horrible, horrible person and I hope you never sleep soundly ever again knowing the many innocent people whose dreams you’ve ruined forever.

Go @#$@ yourself,

Hedley Norris

Not only that, I posted my response on my blog and spent the next couple of days bad-mouthing this Rhianne Phillips on Twitter.  Every tweet, it didn’t matter; even comments on basketball found a way to include a slam against this harridan who dared call herself a literary agent:  “Wow, the Knicks sucked last night.  Rhianne Phillips must have been coaching.”  I even started a Twitter account called @RhiannePhillipsIsEvil and used a Facebook photo of her that I found and photoshopped devil horns onto as its avatar.  It got 22 followers within the first week and only 14 of them were spambots.  Sure, perhaps some might consider this a bit of an overreaction, but damn, they hadn’t put two years of their lives into crafting this masterpiece only to have it dismissed in a mere 32 words that some frickin’ INTERN probably cobbled together.  Man, was I bitter.

And one afternoon, this email shows up:

Dear Mr. Norris:

Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful response.  Upon further consideration, I admit that I may have been hasty in my initial judgment of your manuscript.  I had failed to note that it was a guaranteed bestseller, as you so adroitly pointed out, and admit that it was perhaps indeed my insecurity about my appearance that led me to the unfortunate conclusion I drew about your work’s suitability for representation by our agency.

I believe The Darkening Darkness may indeed have potential and would be happy to discuss it with you further.  If you have not already secured representation elsewhere, please advise me of your interest by meeting me on your porch in five minutes.

Best regards,

Rhianne Phillips

Thornhill McCabe Literary Agency, Inc.

My reaction was akin to the opening credits of CSI: Miami:  Yeeeeeeeaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!!  It worked!  My merciless bullying had forced the imperious forces of literary agentdom to knuckle under!  I was on my way to fame and fortune at last!  I bounded to the front hall, my smile cramping my cheeks, and flung the door open to behold the glorious sight of the uniformed officer with the warrant for my arrest on charges of harassment and making threats.  I’m currently doing two to three years in minimum security with no Internet access.  I had to bribe a screw to get him to send this out wrapped in a towel.

Well, on the plus side, now I have the time to work on the next 10 volumes of my series, beginning with The Darkening Darkness 2:  Dark Getting Darker.  And guess what?  I got a letter the other day from a literary agent who’s interested in shopping my autobiography once I’m released.  All I need to do is send her a $1000 advance representation fee and I’m good to go!  See, what they say is true – all you have to do is believe in yourself, persevere and threaten when necessary, and your dreams will someday come true.  Now I gotta go as it’s my turn in the laundry and Spike tells me I owe him a pack of smokes for protection duty today.  Catch you later, haters!

Hope you enjoyed that!  Now it’s your turn.  Can you find all the mistakes our intrepid Mr. Norris makes in his misguided quest for a literary career?  (Apart from forgetting to take his meds, of course.)  Let me know in the comments!

Bond 24: And they’re off!

bond24

So, this piece of news hit the Interwebs yesterday:  Bond 24, officially announced, to be directed again by Sam Mendes and released on this side of the pond on November 6, 2015.  While Mendes had withdrawn from consideration some months ago, citing his theatre commitments, and fanboy excitement had been stirred to exploding by the revelation that producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli had met with Christopher Nolan, in the end it seems that after Skyfall blew apart box office records across the planet, no one was willing to let Mendes go – even if that meant delaying production to wait for him to finish up his work on the London stage.  So yeah, it blows that we have to twiddle our thumbs two and a half more years, but I’m happy to wait for a production that equals or even betters the last one rather than have a rushed, half-assed job by some other hack-for-hire.  Sam Mendes will become the first director to make back-to-back 007 movies since John Glen in the 80’s.  And of course Daniel Craig will be back, along with Ralph Fiennes as M, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny and Ben Whishaw as Q.  John Logan is handling writing duties.

That is all we know at this moment and all we are likely to know for quite some time.  However, that won’t stop the entertainment press, per their S.O.P., to print thousands of words of misinformation and other misleading nonsense in the hopes of drumming up clicks and ad revenue tied to the golden touch of 007.  Whenever a new Bond movie goes into production the same rumors spring up like the annual dandelions in your otherwise impeccably manicured front lawn.  They get the same circulation and eventually someone from Eon (Bond’s production company) is forced to issue a denial.  In the interest of expediency, I thought I would save the press some time and write the story for them here, based on the fifteen hundred other versions of it we’ve seen ever since the first Bond-related article sprang up in cyberspace many moons ago.  They can then plug in the name of the requisite D-list starlet whose overzealous publicist is trying to boost her profile by linking her falsely to a Bond role.  Anyone who follows Bond gossip will find it all too terribly familiar.  Please to enjoy:

(GENERIC ACTRESS) Set to Star in Next Bond Film

HOLLYWOOD – (Generic Actress) is being wooed to match wits with the cinema’s most dashing secret agent, James Bond, in his next adventure, (Misguided Entertainment Publication) has learned.

(Generic Actress), who has appeared in (Swiftly Canceled CW Teen Fantasy Series) and (SyFy Channel Original Movie Featuring Sharks and Tornadoes), is the number one choice of Bond producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, who are said to be “desperate” to ink the rising star for the upcoming production, tentatively titled Bond 24.  “(Generic Actress) is perfect for the role of 007’s leading lady because she’s beautiful and alluring, with that slightly dangerous edge that marks the greatest of the Bond girls,” says a source inside Eon Productions, who asked not to be revealed for this story.  “We’re excited that (Generic Actress) will be a part of this film and are certain she’ll make a memorable addition to the James Bond legacy.”

Next up for (Generic Actress) is a formal screen test with Bond star Daniel Craig to take place at Bond’s home base, Pinewood Studios in London, and a meeting with director Sam Mendes.  Also rumored to be joining the cast is (usually Kevin Spacey) as the villain, and (Completely Unknown Bollywood Actor) as a henchman.  (Forgotten X Factor Winner) will be performing the theme song.  Bond 24 is set to be released in cinemas in November of 2015.

Use it wisely, my friends.  Royalties are not required, but would be nice.  Just leave me your bank account number and password in the comments.

Fill in the blanks

Electrostatic discharge or weapon of the gods?  Lightning #3, Benjamin Stäudinger, Creative Commons license.
Electrostatic discharge or weapon of the gods? Lightning #3, Benjamin Stäudinger, Creative Commons license.

A few weeks ago I was chatting with another writer on Twitter; it was one of those fairly inconsequential, “let’s one-up each other with wisecracks” exchanges until something relatively innocuous happened that has stuck with me since.  He mentioned his dog, and I countered with a response that assumed the canine in question was a he, only to find it was in fact a she.  And I wondered why my brain had made that automatic leap.  Surely I was aware that dogs are manufactured in both male and female varieties, so why did I default to the presumption that this particular dog was a boy?  It reminded me, not in a good way, of the old riddle that starts with a father and son being involved in a car crash.  The father is killed instantly and the boy is critically injured.  He’s taken to the hospital where the doctor on call looks at him and remarks, “I can’t operate on him – he’s my son” and you are supposed to be left scratching your head at the impossibility of the situation – that is, if you’re living in 1952.  In 2013 you know right away that the doctor is the boy’s mother, or that the boy is the child of a same-sex couple.  So, while I wasn’t going to wrack myself with guilt about misjudging the gender of somebody’s dog, it did leave me with larger questions to ponder about how we perceive the world, and the assumptions we use to make the world make sense, if only for a moment.

Human beings have an aversion to ambiguity.  You see this often in the movies we flock to – stories that resolve their plots in a neat and tidy manner with a clear delineation of the good guys and the bad guys.  Nuance here is not a virtue.  Whereas the artier films, while revered by critics and intellectuals, leave larger audiences cold and dissatisfied, to the point of wanting their money back, as if for the investment of that piece of their lives, they feel entitled to a satisfying conclusion.  Ambiguity in these cases is the front door to the house absently left wide open after you’ve left for the day, an insect bite when you don’t have any lotion to put on it and you’re miles from the pharmacy, the missing puzzle piece you swear was in the box when you opened it.  We have an innate need, as Amanda Palmer reminds us, to connect the dots, and when we can’t, it bothers us.  So we provide our own answers, even if they are wildly incorrect.  At least they are answers, the blanks filled in to a satisfactory point for the time being.  Sometimes, those answers prove more creative than the truth, and it’s possible that the aversion to ambiguity is in fact one of the greatest wellsprings to storytelling.  A mystery demands examination and explanation.  Life is like a series of questions on an exam that you must complete regardless of whether or not you’ve studied.  Show your work for full credit.

Despite the willingness of a great majority of us to believe without question in supernatural beings directing both our collective and individual fates, that too is an example of needing an explanation for life’s mysteries, without, ironically, taking things on faith.  Yet even an atheist must, at times, marvel at the sense of imagination revealed in some of these extrapolations, like the richness of the mythology of ancient Greece spinning essentially from an attempt to figure out what lightning was and why it had a tendency to appear along with thunder.  If the Greeks had been okay with lightning just being there and had never bothered to question it, would we have had Zeus, Athena, Aphrodite and the great legends that gave us the Iliad, the Odyssey and so on?  Would said pantheon had arisen had they been able to look up lightning on Wikipedia (or the ancient Athenian stone tablet version of same) and seen that it was “a massive electrostatic discharge between electrically charged regions within clouds, or between a cloud and the Earth’s surface”?  Not sure about you, but Percy Jackson and the Electrostatic Discharge Thief isn’t quite as compelling a title.  There is magic lying hidden in the unknown, the unscientific, the story.

Assumptions in ambiguous situations can of course be wrong, and terribly so.  When we leap to conclusions about a group based on the traits of a few, we’re falling into the trap of the closed-minded, the ostrich with its head buried in the sand.  (Enough bloody human history has been written because of this tendency.)  The ideal approach to any unknown is to enter without preconceptions or expectations and let the details fill themselves in on their own.  But the instinct to grasp at conclusion, while occasionally troublesome, is part of what drives our curiosity about the world, our desperate need to understand why things are a certain way and not another way.  It is what makes us turn pages faster or even peek at the end to find out whether or not the butler did it.  And if the last page has been torn out, we’ll invent our own ending where it was the beautiful scheming mistress of the victim’s cousin’s former roommate.  As long as the mystery remains unresolved, someone will want to posit a solution.  And when the truth is unsatisfying, alternate interpretations will be suggested.  For nature abhors a vacuum.

So, back to the original premise:  why did I assume that the dog was male?  Because it fit the joke I was making, the story I was trying to tell in that place at that time.  It was my interpretation, my truth, in the moment, for the moment.  I recognize, in a most deliciously contradictory manner, that in examining the human relationship with ambiguity, I haven’t fully answered the question.  Instead, to paraphrase a line in The American President, I’ve kinda just left this thing hanging out there, for you to draw your own conclusions.  A propos, however; given the subject matter, it couldn’t really end any other way.  So, your turn.  Fill in the blank: _______________________

Yes, I would like Fry with that

fry
Credit: SamFry Limited, Creative Commons License. http://www.stephenfry.com

I come to you today with a confession, though not one unfamiliar to anyone who’s peeked at my Twitter biography.  I am an Anglophile.   Although perhaps it’s more precise to say I have Anglophile leanings, or, curiosities, as it were.  I haven’t taken the full plunge yet into declaring an allegiance to a U.K. football franchise, or learned what the hell is going on in a cricket match.  Downton Abbey remains unviewed to this day and I’ve never been able to glom onto Doctor Who (those cheaply made space monsters with the creepy accents scared the piss out of me when I was little.)  I do, however, have an enormous infatuation with certain cornerstones of British popular culture – James Bond, the Beatles, Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Dickens, Eddie Izzard, the original Whose Line is it Anyway, David Attenborough nature documentaries, The King’s Speech.  My taste in music is almost exclusively British bands and performers.  My conversations are peppered with British idioms, and when required, British profanity (nobody swears better in English than the ones who invented the language, you bollocks-arsed wankers).  My sense of humor has always leaned British in its dryness and self-deprecation.  And in this spirit of confession I am forced to admit a massive man-crush on that pillar of all that is magnificent about being British, Stephen Fry.  In fact, one of my little goals for my Twitter experience is to somehow convince Stephen Fry to find reason to follow me – without going the usual route of “hey plz follow meeee back!!!!”  (He follows about 50,000 people while over 5 million follow him – so I figure I’ve got a 1 in 100 chance, hardly impossible odds.)  I would be lying if I didn’t admit that this post is part of that strategy, but what the hell, Stephen Fry rocks, so even if he never sees this, it’s still worth writing.

The name might not be immediately familiar, but the face and voice are – the tall, imposing if sad-eyed figure with the bent nose, the deep, plummy voice you’ve heard narrating the Harry Potter audiobooks.  Stephen Fry has led a remarkably rich if not always charmed life, which you can read about in copious detail on his Wikipedia page.  From humble beginnings (naturally) he has become something of a world-renowned adventurer, not of the climb-the-mountain-while-battling-wild-zebras type, but of the mind, pursuing ventures literary, theatrical, televised, cinematic and everything in between, fueled by a love of language and a curiosity about everything.  As he says on his website, he finds it uncomfortable recounting his achievements, but he has nothing left to prove with a CV so varied.  One of the most interesting facets of Fry, particularly in his film roles, is that his screen time is usually limited, giving you a mere taste – as a result, he is this inscrutable larger-than-life character who never lingers long enough for you to figure him out and thus lose your interest.  You’re always left curious for more.  Indeed, there never seems to be enough Stephen Fry, and he seems to like it that way.  (Twitter in particular is tailored perfectly for people like that – I’m sure I come across as far more interesting in periodic bursts of 140 characters than I do in real life.)

The first time I saw Stephen Fry was in catching up on reruns of Whose Line.  In one episode he took part in a sketch where Josie Lawrence read every other line of a play while Fry was a flustered customer trying to purchase an airline ticket from her.  You can watch it for yourselves here.

His command of language is obvious; clearly a brilliant mind at work, confronting and embracing the absurdity of the premise and diving in with the bone-dry, semi-flustered and entirely elegant phrasing that marks the best of the British sense of humor.  Later, as I discovered and devoured his genius sketch comedy collaboration with Hugh Laurie, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, I could see the man at the height of his creative endeavors.  One of the biggest reasons why English humor often doesn’t translate is that much of it is built on the class system, one social stratum poking fun at the foibles of another.  Fry has the education of an upper class “to the manor born” man but he resents that caste’s appropriation of high culture, and slays mercilessly, on their own terms, those who attempt to use their Etonian upbringing to peer down snootfully past upturned noses.  Check out this brilliant sketch where Fry displays his unbridled love of the English language while mocking the personae of highbrow elocution-happy would-be intellectuals.

So much of popular comedy, particularly on this side of the pond, is based in being crude, breaking taboos for the sake of “oh no he didn’t” shock value, mocking those who can’t punch back, spewing endless profanity at high volume.  What I’ve always appreciated most about Stephen Fry is that he proves by example that you can be smart about being funny.  That in English, we have an enormous, infinitely quirky tool at our disposal that can be bent, twisted, turned inside out, dropped on its head, sent through the post, dusted off, sprinkled with garlic and spread about liberally to uncover some wonderful and unique ways of expressing ourselves in a manner that will always evoke a smile.  Fry loves puns; he loves surprising us with linguistic connections we’ve failed to realize.  Behold, my favorite Fry and Lauriein which this trick was never more hilariously illustrated.

When I’m working on my novel and I write the phrase “He was crestfallen; in fact, his crest had completely fallen off,” that’s me doing my best Stephen Fry impression.  For me, English words have come more alive since discovering the collected works of Mr. Fry – I’m looking for those connections now and holding them up proudly while jumping about like something of a crazed jackrabbit when I find them.  Stephen Fry has also shown us, in his very public struggles with his manic depression, that a flawed man can still achieve great things – in fact, his greatness is emphasized by his ability to manage his weaknesses.  Not defeat them, necessarily, but acknowledge them as an inexorable part of the whole.  In The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, Fry talked about wanting to keep his mania phases, even if it meant having to suffer the extreme craters of the other side – a bold choice, to be certain, even if some might justifiably disagree.  Contradictions and all, Stephen Fry remains someone to admire, a man who has been described as one of Britain’s national treasures – one can imagine the bemused smirk on his face at hearing that.  But as an Anglophile, or Anglophile-curious, I can think of few Brits who deserve it more.  So thank you, Stephen Fry, for being you, for the influence you’ve had on this one Canadian whom you might humbly consider lending a Twitter follow to at some point, some day.  Soupy twist!

Happy blogiversary to me!

Somewhere, someone is looking at this right now.  Wave to them.
Somewhere, someone is looking at this right now. Wave to them.

I got a little note from WordPress yesterday that I’ve been blogging with them for two years.  Two whole years!  It doesn’t seem that long since I was idly musing to the better half that I was thinking of starting a blog, and yet here we are, two entire trips round the sun later.  Strictly speaking this is not my first blog – there were two antecedents that have long since vanished from the face of the net, and good riddance to them.  (The second one actually didn’t have any posts on it, if I recall correctly.)  So, two years then; seven hundred and thirty days of wondering what to write about, failing to write anything, figuring it out and writing it, being afraid to hit the publish button once written, worrying that nobody will click on it, getting mad that no one clicks on it, squirming a bit when a copious amount of people are clicking on it and sharing it far and wide.

Have I any insights to share about the experience?  Well, a few, take ‘em or leave ‘em.  First and foremost it’s made me a better writer (though your opinion may vary).  As others have pointed out, writing is a muscle like any other and the more exercise it gets the stronger it becomes.  I’ve been able to sharpen my voice and deliver my arguments in a more cogent, more impactful manner.  I’ve learned also that an audience is a ravenous beast, and that you cannot drop off the radar after one well-received post and expect people to keep coming back in search of your brilliance.  To that end, regular updates on a predictable schedule are a must.  This past week has been quite productive and I’m not certain I’ll be able to keep up that pace, but I’m damned well going to try.  The only reason not to post is laziness.  There are always things to write about, and inspiration can come from the most unlikely corners.  I’m finding a lot of it lately in my interactions on Twitter – conversations there can swing into unexpected and wildly amusing detours, providing more than enough fodder for posting more formally later on.  Because this is ultimately a form of conversation, I’ve realized that it isn’t enough to post and forget and wait for acclaim to roll in.  You need to get out there and talk to other people proactively, follow their blogs, comment when you feel you can contribute (as opposed to just saying “Great post.  Check out my blog!”) and be a member of a community.

Above all else, the most important thing I’ve learned is to BE POSITIVE.  Even when you’re writing about something that enrages you to the deepest core of your being, you must find it within you to locate the silver lining (and it is there, believe me).  There may be a market out there for endless cynicism, for paragraphs of disgust flung at worthy targets like so many buckets of monkey feces, but Jesus, do you really want to be that guy?  The nihilist who sees nothing good in or about life and spreads his gloom one kilobyte at a time, determined to twist smiles into frowns wherever he finds them?  Yes, a lot of our world is unfair, unjust, even horrifying, and it does us no good to stand in ignorance of that.  But the people who have managed to effect positive change have done so from a place of hope and faith in the potential good.  An unshakeable trust in the nobility that can arise from the human soul.  They have reached out their hands and helped lift others into greatness.

I’m not so naïve to think that I’m changing hearts and minds on a vast scale here.  But sometimes I look at that stats map above and it gives me tremendous pause.  Each part that is colored represents a different country where someone (and in the cases of the darker colors, quite a few someones) has lent me a few moments of their time to look over what I’ve written.  Yeah, maybe some of them are accidental hits while looking for something else.  But perhaps one or two of them stayed for a while and poked around a little and came away thinking they’d found something of value.  The most wonderful thing about blogging is the ability we now have to touch a truly global audience – to reach out with our hands and lift someone else up, someone we may never meet or even be aware of.  How is that not motivation to keep going, to keep pounding out the words, to fight through the self-doubt, the creeping ennui and cynicism and fear?

The right words can change the world.  So let’s write a few more of them.  Here’s to the next two years.