Friday, July 31, 2009

I think I'm broken

I think my warranty has expired. Seriously.

I went to bed last night, and I was feeling fine.

This morning... have you ever woken up with a crick in your neck? For no good reason, you can't turn your head - oh, and it hurts if you try.

Well, that's how I woke up this morning... except it's not my neck, it's my right knee. It bends just fine, it just doesn't want to straighten all the way out. So I'm limping, just slightly, because it hurts rather a lot if I try to walk normally.

I am vastly irritated by this.

My best guess as to the cause is that one of the cats was sleeping on my legs last night. Maybe he kept it in a funny position, or held it still for too long...? Or, maybe I'm just getting old.

"Hey! You kids get off my lawn!" ...Nope, I can't do it. Not with a straight face, anyway. I guess I'm not that old...

Blaming the Victim

I mentioned a desire to avoid blaming the victim in my last post. There's an interesting commentary on that dynamic over at Slacktivist. (This will almost certainly be followed by an intriguing comment thread; there's a good community over there, and if you aren't reading the comments, you're missing some good stuff.)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Ceremony

The trio stood in the darkened room, their figures illuminated by the flickering light of a half-dozen carefully-arranged candles. One held a lock of hair; another a small bag with fingernail clippings. The central figure held a small cloth: the brown spot near the center was blood, taken from a small accident and carefully preserved for the ritual.

All three still wore the ornate dresses they had used that afternoon in the larger, more public ceremony. That, too, was part of the ritual. The woman in the center wore the most elaborate of the three outfits; the ritual was for her benefit. "Hera, Aphrodite, hear my plea," she said.

Standing to her left, her best friend from childhood leaned forward and dropped the hair into a small pot, which gleamed silver in the candlelight. "This is the one," she said.

The central figure continued: "Great goddesses, wise in the ways of love and loyalty, revenge and betrayal, I beg your help."

On her right, her second friend (whom she had met later, in school) leaned forward and dropped the fingernail clippings into the pot as well. "This is the man," she intoned.

"Let him love me with all his heart. Make him faithful, and loyal, and responsible." She leaned forward, and let the bloodied cloth fall into the bowl with the other two tokens. "This is my husband."

A door opened behind them, spilling unwanted light into the room. A male voice, puzzled, asked: "Honey? What are you doing?"

The central figure glanced back. The ritual was almost completed; power hung heavy in the air. The man shouldn't be here - he shouldn't know about this part of the wedding at all - but there was no helping that now. "Over here," she said gently.

He came into the room, and the door swung shut behind. Something soft, barely more than a breeze, stroked his hair. It made the back of his neck clench. "Should I...?" He trailed off as his eyes adjusted to the candlelight. His wife - she was his wife, as of this afternoon - and her two bridesmaids stood around a small, steel pot.

"It's okay," she told him. "Remember all those things you promised? Our vows?"

He nodded cautiously, still studying the scene in front of him. In truth, he barely remembered the ceremony at all. He'd been standing with his groomsmen in the waiting room, the music had started, he'd said some things, and then he was kissing the bride. His wedding day had come and gone in a blur.

"This is where we make sure you keep them." She turned back to the pot, raised her arms, and finished the ritual: "Make him the man I need, and bind him only to me."

He started to take a step back, but it was too late. Invisible hands held him still, pressed into and somehow through his flesh. It tingled, like an electric shock all over his body; all the way down to his bones. The feeling passed quickly, and when it was gone he looked up at her again. Her. His wife. The woman he loved. The woman he would never forsake.

"Are you all right?" she asked, suddenly concerned.

He smiled. "Yes, dear."

* * *

One of my wife's friends has an unfortunate habit* of sleeping with married men. This is partly because of an equally unfortunate tendency to believe them when they tell her that they're separated, or that the wife has said they could date other people, or similar such lemme-in-your-pants nonsense. I think it's also partly because of a natural human tendency to think of people we don't know as being less important - less human - than the people we know well.

I've written before about the role of denial in this sort of situation - the "It Just Happened" defense.

This time, though, the Beautiful Woman and I got to talking about the dynamic between this man and his wife, who also happens to be the mother of his young child. We don't know either of them, of course, but the fellow is pretty obviously a moral imbecile: a liar and a cheat. I sincerely hope that he still manages to be a good provider, but it's hard to see how he could be when he doesn't pay much attention to the effects of his actions on his wife and child. (Seriously; I'm told that he had written a letter to my wife's friend, and his wife found it and was - predictably - very angry. His immediate response, once they'd finished arguing? Call my wife's friend, the woman he'd been cheating on his wife with, for sympathy. Assuming I have the story straight, he's clearly a moral and emotional moron.) So how does anyone end up with someone like that?

I'm not going to try to answer that: for one thing, there's an enormous variety of answers, depending on individual cases; for another, that sort of discussion tends to stray towards blaming the victim, and I'd prefer to avoid that. However, in the course of our conversation, the Beautiful Woman and I touched on one of the Great Myths:

Marriages Changes Things. (Also known as Marriage Makes You A Better Person.)

It doesn't, really. It's just a ceremony. It may change someone's expectations - for themselves or their partner - but it doesn't make anyone a different person.

("Women marry men hoping they will change. Men marry women hoping they will not. So each is inevitably disappointed." Attrib. to Albert Einstein; I first encountered a version of it in a Robert Jordan book.)

In the course of talking about that, the Beautiful Woman got to wondering: What if marriage did change you? Or what if there were a secret ceremony afterwards?

So... There you go. What if it did?

Michael Mock

* Habit may be too strong a word for it, but it's happened more than once. To her credit, the friend in question does seem to be learning from her mistakes.

Monday, July 27, 2009

More Writing Resources

When I was younger, I had a very freeform writing process. I was, in the jargon of various writing classes, a pantser - someone who writes by the seat of their pants, as opposed to a plotter, who does a lot of planning before they start to write.

This was fairly easy when I could spend most of my time thinking about my fantasy worlds and the characters who lived there. I didn't lose track of details, forget where I was in the story, or write myself into a corner.

After college, I kind of ran aground. This was due to a combination of things: real life was demanding more of my attention; the writing project I'd chosen had goals but no actual plot; and I was somewhat depressed about the way my life was going (or not going). As a result - well, one result - I essentially stopped writing.

A few years later, after my life was more in order, I swore a mighty oath that I was going to write a book. It might be awful, it might be lame, it might provoke ridicule, but at least it would be something. It would be finished. To make it as easy as possible, I decided to write the sort of book that I'd like to read, and I decided that it was going to be a pulp novel - lots of flash and excitement, no real concern with the finer points of literary craft. Better still, I'd write one chapter at a time, treating each chapter as if it were short story; this would serve to break the project into manageable pieces. Much to my surprise, this actually worked. It produced the first draft of Warrior's Legacy, which I mentioned in an earlier post.

In writing Warrior's Legacy - and working on a half-dozen unfinished projects since then - I've discovered that my writing process is not what it used to be... or, more to the point, the freeform process that I used to use simply doesn't work anymore. I can't keep my mind in the fantasy world all the time; work, marriage, and fatherhood demand my complete attention. I don't have the kind of free time that I used to; my writing time is erratic, and often rushed. As a result, I lose track of details. I lose track of where I am in the story, so when I do sit down to write, I waste valuable time coming back up to speed.

I've had to become more organized in self-defense. I actually take notes about my characters, worlds, and other story elements; I've started trying to plot things out in advance; and I've begun taking some writing courses in an effort to gather some tips and tricks.

Obviously, I don't have time to sit in a physical classroom. Instead, I've been taking courses online. One of my big discoveries was Writer U - relatively inexpensive, with courses that run for a month or so apiece and cover a variety of topics. Some of the classes have been more useful than others, but they've all been pretty good. Some of the most useful material (for me, anyway) came from classes taught by Laurie Schnebly Campbell. A good many of the tools that I'm using in my lastest attempt to rewrite Warrior's Legacy came from her lessons.

So, if you're looking for help with your writing, check 'em out!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Weird Dreams

Weird dreams last night... probably the result of being woken at three in the morning by an unhappy child.

I'd arrived somewhere new - not a specific location, just somewhere new. There was girl, about my age (late High School, I'd guess, but I'm filling that in retroactively), that I'd started spending time with; new acquaintance, good company. At one point she got a call on her cell phone, and went racing off to meet her friends; there was something desperately urgent that they had to do. I followed her down a dark(ish) alley, and found the three of them huddled in a corner.

They did... something, involving touching the shoulder, the top of the forearm, and the hand. One of them was apologizing to another for not doing it quite right the first time. I don't remember much about the friends, except that there were two of them and they were both girls; my impression is that all three (including the one I was hanging out with) were sort of goth-y misfits.

I remember waiting at a bus later (which is what makes me think this was High School or something similar), and being intensely relieved when she joined me again. I asked her what she'd been doing with her friends. She responded by digging into my hand - with her fingernail, I think - under the big muscle at the base of my thumb. Then she squeezed, and little (fingernail-sized) black wriggling things spurted out. Then she asked if I felt better.

I'm not sure if the black things were parasites, or some sort of organic RFID tag, or a control mechanism... but I remember thinking (as I was waking up) that the whole setup could make a pretty interesting story. So if you see something like this show up in my writing, you'll know where it came from.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ideas In Abundance

I'm trying to get started on the second draft of Warrior's Legacy. Warrior's Legacy was the first book-length writing project that I'd finished in, I don't know, quite a number of years. It was written over the course of about two years, during what I thought was a very busy time in my life. Of course, I now have a three-year-old boy, so that seems pretty funny in retrospect.

The first draft was not awful - at least, I don't think so - but it was written as a serial. That is to say, I'd write a chapter, proof it and get feedback, clean it up, and write the next chapter. As a result, it has some problems with pacing - the story sort of wanders, and some of the setup pieces take too long, and some of the dramatic moments don't get as much time as they should. Also, and perhaps more important, I just tried to do too much with it. It's hard to keep the plot moving if you keep stopping to introduce some neat new element to the story. (This would have been fine if I'd been writing an open-ended comic book, where I could just keep coming back to things that interest me. For a novel, not so much.)

...But that's fine. That's basically what first drafts are for. Subsequent drafts are where you clean up those problems, tune up the pacing, and make sure everything fits the way it's supposed to. There's only one problem: I can't seem to finish the second draft.

Hell, I can't even seem to start the second draft. I have, at last count, at least seven versions of the first chapter rewrite. One of them made it all the way to chapter three. When it actually became frustrating, I moved on to other projects.

Now, as you've probably guessed, I'm trying again. This time, instead of just leaping in, I'm trying to figure out exactly what I want to do with the book. Ideally, I'll actually create an outline to work from; but at this point I'd settle for a list of the six main scenes that I need to include.

To do that, I've started using Freemind. This is a rather nifty little piece of software that basically allows you to draw associations on the screen - they call it "mind-mapping" software. You can drop things into it, too: other files, images, links... You can also tag the various items on the map, for example to mark items of particular importance.

Anyway, I've been composing a map of all the cool stuff that went into the original story - just the major elements, because I'd like to be finished before the world ends in 2014. This has actually been very helpful in terms of looking at just how much I was trying to cram in to one book... and yes, it's waaaaaay too much.

The current plan is to flag the critical elements, think about how they fit together, and decide on the important scenes and (at least) a vague direction for the plot. A list of story arcs might not be a bad idea, either. Mainly, though, I just want to have a list which says, You will include this much and no more.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Irony is lost on spammers

I just received a message on one of my e-mail accounts. It was SPAM, of course. It said (corrected for spelling and oddly placed letters):

"How to Make Out With a Girl - In 44 Simple Steps."

Forty-four? Forty-four? Forty-four simple steps? What do they give you, a wall chart? (I'm now picturing some poor, hapless dweeb who ordered two - one instructional poster to go on the ceiling over the bed, and another to go on the headboard.) Or maybe the poor girl has to wait while he advances to the next Powerpoint slide?

(The e-mail also included a web address, which I won't repeat here since I'm certain that what it actually has to offer is a wide and intriguing selection of viruses, worms, and trojans. Or maybe, if you're lucky, all they'll do is take your order and then use the information to clean out your bank account.)

But really... Suppose I were insecure about my {ahem} romantic performance. Should I find it comforting to know that the simple method requires me to remember forty-four distinct steps? Gods above, what does the complicated method entail?

PG-13 answers in the comments, please. Extra points for originality.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

More about me

I donated blood at work yesterday. This means that I have, once again, learned my blood type. (As it happens, I learn it every time I give blood, and forget it about two weeks afterwards. I thought this time I'd try writing it down.) It also means that I have something of a social conscience, if it's convenient enough.

In Japan, blood types are associated with personality. This has about the same level of scientific background as Astrology, and serves much the same purpose.*

According to Carter Bloodcare, I am type A+. In theory, this makes me something of a perfectionist, very responsible, and perhaps artistic; also sensitive, and sometime withdrawn. Oddly enough, some of that is actually true.

Just to round out this offering of meaningless data, I am also an Aquarius, and I was born in the Year of the Ox.

As an Aquarius, I'm apparently supposed to be detached, open-minded, extroverted, experimental, and tolerant. I should be able to offer fresh perspectives, and I should enjoy speculation. Also, I seek out change and like to experiment. As with my blood type, some of this is true.

As an Ox, I'm supposed to be hard-working and persistent; I have high standards and can be very demanding. Apparently I'm also supposed to be reserved and observant, patient and loyal. Again, some of this is actually true. (Apparently there's also some variation involving the time of year in which you were born, but I haven't found much detail on that.)

I don't think I entirely understand the appeal of these systems. It seems to me that if you have to learn about yourself from gross generalizations based on date of birth or blood type, something is desperately wrong already. Learn about yourself by watching your actions and reactions, by questioning your motivations, and by analyzing your mistakes. It's a much better method, really.

* That is to say, I don't understand it at all.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Finding a Martial Arts Studio

I am, as many of you already know, a sometime martial artist.

There are a lot of reasons why people get into martial arts: self-defense, competition, exercise, confidence-building, etc. My interest is mainly in ancient weapons; trying to study martial arts is basically an outgrowth of that. That's not to say that the unarmed elements don't interest me - they do - but it does mean that what I'm looking for in a style/school/teacher is a bit unusual.

Complicating the issue is the simple, undeniable fact that I'm not a very good student. For me, martial arts are a hobby - one among several. I don't have a great screaming lot of free time just sitting around, begging to be used; so any classes I take get squeezed into my schedule along with everything else... and they usually get assigned about the same priority as writing. Since writing falls behind all the things I consider necessities - things like keeping my job, covering for my wife, being a good parent to my son - there isn't a lot of time left.

That would be fine, if it meant that I could set aside, say, two hours a week for classes. Unfortunately, my free time also tends to be erratic. Things come up, pieces of the schedule move around, people get sick, and sometimes we even have genuine emergencies. This is a serious problem for my writing, but it's even worse for my martial arts. Missing a single class doesn't seem like a terribly big deal, until you realize that it's your entire week's worth of study - and that the next time you return to class, you've effectively been gone for two weeks and everyone else has moved on to the next bit of the curriculum.

Study of the martial arts - like any other complex skill - requires repetition. To get that repetition, you need some combination of regular class attendance and practice outside of class. I have never (well, rarely) been able to manage to practice outside of class. That pretty much leaves class attendance, and I can manage that about once a week, on average. Most schools suggest that you need to attend at least twice a week (and regularly) if you want to make steady progress. Obviously, if you attend more, you'll learn faster. And if you attend less, you learn more slowly, but... well...

At twice a week*, you advance steadily if not quickly. You'd think that someone attending once a week would take twice as long to advance, but it's worse than that. Once you drop below twice a week, you tend to lose track of things between classes. You're not getting the benefits of repetition; you're essentially re-learning skills each time you come to class. So instead of twice as long, it takes three or four times as long.

And so but anyway, I'm looking for a new school. The reasons for this are twofold: first, the style I was studying doesn't include weapons; and second, that school is moving to a larger place, which happens to be rather further from my house.

This has led me, once again, to start looking for schools in my area. I'm looking for something that teaches, or at least includes, weapons; something reasonably nearby; something that offers enough classes at enough reasonable times that I have a decent chance of actually making it to class; and something that doesn't interfere too badly with my prior training. Should be easy, right?

Let me tell you, it'd be a lot easier if these places just answered their &*^$%# e-mail. Of the various places I've tried to contact, the fastest response I received took a week and a half. I just got one back today that I swear took three weeks; I'd forgotten exactly what I asked them, and they didn't include the text of my inquiry in their response.

It's almost enough to drive me back to the SCA. Not quite, but almost.

Anyway, among the traditional schools in the area, I've narrowed it down to about half a dozen. They're mostly Chinese styles - Northern Praying Mantis, Wing Chun**, Long Fist - and one Japanese style, Aikido, thrown in for good measure. I need to do a little more searching: there are a few styles that actually start with weapons - Escrima, Kali, and others - but they're rarer and for some reason they don't tend to show up on general searches for Martial Arts. There are also some organizations devoted to the recreation of the traditional Western martial arts, such as the AEMMA and the ARMA; the last time I checked, they didn't have branches in my area, but it's been a few years and that could have changed.

All this would be a lot easier if I could just win the lottery and retire now...

* This is a bit arbitrary, and there are probably people who need more or less exposure than this; but it's a good rule of thumb in my experience.

** Wing Chun gets something of a bad rap among the MMA/UFC crowd, but for my needs it's not bad at all; it's actually the only style for which I have two schools on my list of places to visit. My only gripe with it is its limited selection of weapons.

Friday, July 10, 2009


I'm still trying to figure out just exactly what I want to do with this blog. I could post about something that would generate responses and feedback: abortion, politics, religion, and the like. The problem is that those topics tend to slide into flamewars for exactly the same reason that they attract responses. People like to argue about them. Frankly, I'm not sure I have the energy to properly moderate even a respectful conversation on that sort of topic; plus, I don't have time to watch the blog all day. Even if I did, that sounds too much like work.

I suppose I could put up some thoughts about writing - riffing off the Writing Combat class, for example. I had a little series of blurbs on different kinds of weapons that I wrote to encourage some diversity over at a roleplaying site, but I only got about three of them done. Still, they'd be an easy way to fill some space.

I don't really want to put up stories or pieces of stories. There are several reasons for this: the way I write often involves going back and correcting things in midstream, which makes this a not-entirely-satisfactory medium; most publishers still prefer things that have never been made available on the web; and if I'm going to publish something, I prefer to have it fairly polished before people look at it.

I could, on the other hand, put up personal stories and little bits of trivia. That has a certain (narcissistic) appeal, and might even produce some interesting material. I'll have to think about that a little bit more. Future rants will probably go here, instead of in the Book of Rants; I suppose I could transplant some older rants here, where people could comment on them.

Other than that... I'm open to suggestions. Anybody have anything they particular want to hear me pontificate about?