Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Burning Time

My wife tells me she'd like to see me with more friends. I tell her that if I want more I'll write them. She hasn't told me specifically why she'd like to see me with this burden but I tell her that I don't want to take the time.

I'm too busy with other things to maintain them, at least in person. My two best friends live in different states and while we rarely see each other, we have frequent telephone and e-mail contacts. Sometimes I go hiking with other people, which is nice, but I also go alone, which is often nicer. Not because of the lack of company per se, but when I'm alone it feels more like I'm in the wilderness and I can push the pace much faster (improving my health is a primary reason for going).

At the end of the Appalachian Mountain Club's Winter Hiking Series, one of the other participants told me that if I ever wanted people to go along on a hike, to let him know. I reversed him instantly. I said that if he ever wanted company, to just let me know and I'd be there. I told everyone there I'd be up for an excursion any time, any place. Just don't count on me to do the inviting. I hike alone often so when I go, I just go. It's very simple that way.

All this has lead my wife to label me a wannabe hermit and I guess I can't argue. But it goes deeper than that. I don't have an aversion to people and I'm not uncomfortable in social situations. Quite the opposite, in fact. I'm often (though not always) very extroverted, especially in a group setting, and long periods of time without social interaction often (though not always) makes me seek out some form of human proximity. The real thing is, I just don't have the time.

Growing up in Minneapolis, my brother would stay home if he couldn't find some buddies to go out to the movies. I thought that was ridiculous and if I couldn't find anyone when I wanted to go, I simply went. For some reason that surprised people. Perhaps it still does.

My time now is mostly given to family matters being not only a stay at home dad but also school teacher to our five year old. It's also spent working on the house projects, moving things along to the point where things that have to be done are actually done so that life can smooth out a bit as we age along.

I'm writing about this because my main focus is on my own personal writing process ("career" would be a better word but I don't have one yet). I don't want to get involved with anything, or anyone (in the form of society) that will take away from writing. I'd love to learn to play the piano and the guitar but it's not going to happen any time soon. I'd love to take a drawing class and a painting class, to study history, to learn Romance languages and to dance with my wife in a competition. Um, not quite yet.

Tomorrow starts the laundry room project which has abruptly superceded the bookshelf project due to a failing clothes dryer. Once the shelves are up, my books will be liberated from their cubed cardboard cells and I will have access to the wisdom of millions of pages around me. Then we pore over the budget again to be sure we can swing an au pair so that the kids can terrorize someone in the morning hours while I write, and voila or presto, something worthwhile could, in theory, materialize from the milieu.

I constantly agonize over the formalities I've put between me and a writing schedule but the reality is that I can't think of a better way to do it. My health is still not restored; I don't have a full productive day like I used to. I'm good for a certain number of hours and then I'm shot. When my CFS was stronger I'd actually pass out every afternoon so the fact that I'm at least conscious till dinnertime is progress.

So here I am, writing blog entries semi-regularly, a smattering of e-mails, and so far one short story that nobody seems to care for overmuch but me. But I have hopes, me. And dreams. And all these plans are a waste only if I don't follow through and actually do the writing, but that's not me. I've met many, many, many people at conferences where it's clear that while they may believe they'd like to be writers, they don't show much of a passion for actually writing. That doesn't appear to be my problem. Just ask my friends. As soon as I write 'em up, that is.

Friday, January 05, 2007

I Got Carried Away Yesterday

...and forgot to relate the "idea" that spawned the reason for the entry. Not being a huge fan of "popular culture" (unrestrained tattooing, body piercings, rap (I can't call it "rap music"), action movies (boring with nonsensical explosions), anime (a Japanese word for "cheap crap"), and on and on), it's easy to find things and people to throw stones at. Not that it's always right but geez, at some point, we really do turn into our parents, don't we?

I think "That '70's Show" was fairly vapid and worthless. I don't see the talent or charisma of Ashton Kutcher or Topher Grace beyond whatever minimal marks they had to hit to land the gig in the first place. I don't care for Wilmer Valderama or his portrayal of his character on that show. I don't care for his "Yo Momma" show on MTV and I get a really negative vibe from his tabloid television notices. All of this leaves me mildly uncomfortable when my kids want to watch his "Handy Manny" show on the Disney Channel.

I don't know, maybe the guy's standup and has more talent than I've been able to see. But a few months ago I thought that, given Hollywood's penchant for making movies out of old TV shows, Valderama's dream job would be a big screen version of "CHiPs." Lo and behold, I saw an article yesterday saying that Erik Estrada was angling for a role in that exact movie.

I swore I'd never watch another one of these abominations again, no matter what the base TV show was, who was in the movie, or essentially, for any reason whatsoever. Valderama and Estrada, who I liked on "The Surreal Life" but not so much when I saw him read at a Christmas service at Epcot Center), certainly won't change my mind.

Anyway, this was probably such a no-brainer that little or no credit should be given for predicting it. It wasn't an original idea like the Franklin story or anything else I've come up with over the years, but still. Perhaps the thing most worth mentioning is exactly this predictability by Hollywood. With a little research I'd bet someone could probably already, sight unseen and with no knowledge of screenplay, soundtrack, or co-stars, predict it's box office and DVD sales. And the fact that nobody really cares.

So why bother making the damned thing? Why, indeed. If the work doesn't have a soul, what is it worth? Is "mindless" entertainment a good thing? How about shooting for works that can be enjoyed on many levels, simply as a viewer but also something that rewards the perception of originality, creativity, or dare I say it, excellence. Aim higher, for god's sake. Let's put off elevating video games to an art form for the time being, can we? The natural aging process is turning my brain to mush quickly enough.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Great Minds

A friend of mine who is familiar with my current work in progress novel recently asked me if an upcoming movie that appears to partially overlap with my story makes me mad. I told him honestly that no, but it does give me things to think about. Mainly because it appears to happen routinely.

I'm a big fan of the Sir John Franklin mystery. He sailed out of England in the mid-nineteenth century with three ships, sent out by John Barrow to finally nail down the location of the fabled Northwest Passage. Outside of two frozen corpses and a fragmentary note recovered years later, neither he nor his men were ever heard from again.

His disappearance spawned numerous "rescue" attempts, even attracting a newspaperman from Ohio who, with no previous relevant experience, left his wife to organize and lead two separate missions. His focus was on the "esquimaux" and the evidence that they could provide, which turns out to be quite significant although somewhat confusing. The inuit proved to have quite accurate memories regarding historical facts even though they may have been handed down orally across generations. The problem was that they had no accurate conception of time and routinely jumbled together accounts that should have been separated by centuries in some cases.

The Ohio man, Charles Francis Hall, later died on the way home from his second voyage. He argued with his expedition doctor and is widely believed to have been gradually poisoned by him but not before learning interesting facts about Franklin's crew. Interesting stuff.

Eventually an explorer name McClintock found a cairn with a document from an officer indicating an alarming number of crewmen deaths, including the date of Franklin's demise (although without noting a cause), with a further note added later indicating the survivor's intentions. The two ships had been trapped in ice and subsequently sunk with the crew dragging boats and supplies (including monogrammed silver (?)) and heading for Fish's Back River in Canada, upstream from a trading outpost. There was also evidence of cannibalism.

Dickens wrote about Franklin, including collaborating on a play with Wilkie Collins, but didn't believe gentlemen would resort to eating each other. The last anyone knows, a handful of men, five or six out of a hundred and twenty (if memory serves), made it to the river but then disappeared utterly. The saga was over, possibly never to be solved.

Ironically, the location where the ships went down, as indicated by the found note, is actually part of the Northwest Passage. As it turns out it is usually so hazardous and filled with ice that the discovery is useless. People have made the passage but as an adventure, not as evidence of a viable commercial route.

Dozens of books have been written about Franklin, his doomed expeditions, and Charles Francis Hall. Some of the books are by his would be rescuers, some detail the Inuit testimony related to Hall, and one focuses on the two corpses found buried from a time when the expedition first reached the Artic. It supposes the men, as well as the entire expediton, suffered from lead poisoning due to shoddily canned food.

Back to the point, once upon a time I thought it would be a fascinating thing to write a novel about the doomed expedition, taking into account a detailed timeline of all the available information. Next Tuesday Dan Simmons' new book, The Terror, will be released. It's named for one of Franklin's ships. Apparently he introduces some kind of evil creature to the story, likely a departure from whatever actually happened, but all the advance reviews I've seen praise it lavishly.

I'm tempted to quote Homer Simpson every time this happens to me because really, that's all you can do. If there's something to be derived from this, it's that an idea means nothing if you don't execute it. Let the other guy come out on the other end for once. Or more than once.