Friday, September 16, 2011

Life Sentence

I was at the gym on Monday. I was going big and not going home, pumping iron, tossing weights, maxing out, gettin’ ripped, and building mass… well I was at least drinking my electrolytes and watching other folks do all that when the DJ came on the radio and called me out. He spoke to my soul.

A retro-DJ with no relation whatsoever
to the DJ in my story.
“Yesterday,” he said in his radio voice, “was 911 and I had a few hours for reflection as a good friend of mine died last week and I attended his funeral. I stood in the sun and considered all of the wonderful things said about the man. How he was gracious and giving, and how he’d be missed. I asked myself then,”—the DJ went on—“as I ask myself now… why do we wait? Why don’t we tell people how we feel about them today, rather than wait until they are gone? For you folks listening, go tell someone how much you appreciate them today. Tell them how you value their friendship. Tell them you love them. It is important that we say these things when we feel them, so don’t hesitate. Go do it now… or not, if you don’t want to.”
Or not, if I don’t want to?! …What the hell? No, no, no Mr. DJ man, no! You just dropped your conviction on the way to your point. You had me. I was poised and ready to go hug a big sweaty workout buddy when your conviction just up and lost its balls.

Imagine the hangover if JK Rowling’s grand plan of “love conquers all” cruised into the wrong bar and got all staggery-drunk on magic? Or if Dorothy and the Tin Man and the Lion and the Scarecrow learned that to find their respective home, heart, courage, and brains, they just need apply for a VISA gold card (because everyone knows that The Emerald City doesn’t take American Express)?

C’mon folks, all of you DJs and writers and anyone else with a story… get yourself convicted
How is your conviction going?

Munk’s opening line…
Upon careful examination of the ape’s dead caterpillar, Mynce knew the real culprit was a small, left-handed child, three to four inches in height, and proficient with mint-waxed dental floss.
Munk's "Opening Line" is yours to keep, use it. Munk

Today’s music is dedicated to TJ Riles and Jayne, both of whom I expect are future (or current) fans of the Avett Brothers, I am not choosing the most accessible cut from the bro’s Emotionalism CD, but I love this song because of its breadth, its banjo (yes Jayne, the banjo takes stage-center), and its obvious pop leanings (think Pet Sounds gone Americana). God only knows… Paranoia In B Flat Major. 


Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Devil in the Details

Last week I discussed my love for “place”. This week I will discuss my love for details, which in turn, adds to place and often teaches me new things. Trivial things sometimes, but interesting to me. I love learning. I love reason. In a nerdy way facts connect me to the universe. Jon Krakauer knows climbing, Herman Wouk is a military geek, and Laura Hillenbrand loves horses… and it shows. I can see, feel, and smell their worlds and characters.

"I’d gained nearly seven hundred feet of altitude since stepping off the hanging glacier, all of it on crampon front points and the picks of my axes. The ribbon of frozen meltwater had ended three hundred feet up and was followed by a crumbly armor of frost feathers."  Jon Krakauer, describing his ascent of The Devil’s Thumb in Alaska from, Into the Wild. (Meltwater and frost feathers? Are those his own word combinations? Bully, bully, Mr. Krakauer) 

"Charles Howard had the feeling of a giant onrushing machine: You had to either climb on or leap out of the way. He would sweep into a room, working a cigarette in his fingers, and people would trail him like pilot fish. They couldn’t help themselves. Fifty-eight years old in 1935, Howard was a tall, glowing man in a big suit and a very big Buick."  Laura Hillenbrand, Seabiscuit. (Note that among all of these descriptors, somehow Ms. Hillenbrand is able to "tell" us that "They couldn’t help themselves" and yet it comes off looking like a "show". Get it?)

"The focus of Willie’s mind widened beyond the plank now and took in the quarterdeck of the Caine. It was a place of noise, dirt, bad smells, and thuglike strangers. Half a dozen sailors were clanking at the rusty deck with metal scrapers. Other sailors were walking past, cursing under crates of cabbages on their backs. One man in a welding mask was burning a bulkhead with a crackling sour-smelling blue flame. All around were patches of new gray paint, patches of old gray paint, patches of green prime coat, and patches of rust. A tangle of snaky hoses, red black, green, yellow, brown, lay all over the deck. The deck was covered with orange peel, fragments of magazines and old rags. Most of the sailors were half naked and wore fantastic beards and haircuts. Oaths, blasphemies, and on recurring four-letter word filled the air like fog." …  Herman Wouk, The Caine Mutiny. (If you haven't smelled The Caine Mutiny, it's time for you to do so. Don't be put off by the length of description here, the book is a character piece and in this scene Willie is entering his new world, much to his chagrin.)

Munk's opening line:
The boat was powered by the souls of frogs.
Discuss, Munk

Please fall into this week's music... Fishing Blues by Taj Mahal, it's like one last breath of summer.

And thanks go out to TJ Riles... for being cool. Go GB. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011


After receiving a few more positive commentaries on Syntropy I was struck again as to why I love books and movies. It’s the same reason I love life. To quote the good doctor, “Oh the places you’ll go!

I love new worlds, brave or otherwise. Books or movies without a sense of place often leave me cold. I recently read The Terminal Man by Michael Crichton and was left chilled to the unmemorable bone.
The books and characters I love all have a sense of place: Scout has Maycomb, Billy has the Ozarks, Muad’—“my name is a killing word”—Dib has Arrakis, Augustus has his little grove of pecan trees down by the creek where he and Clara used to spend time together, Harry has Hogwarts, and Booker has the Muddy Joe river bottoms. For me to find a book truly engaging, I have to fall into the pages and want to stay. When I was in the Ozark’s with Billy Colman I didn’t simply fall in love with two dogs, I fell in love with barefoot summers and patched overalls.  
Further, I believe that building a clear sense of place serves more purpose than simply creating a world for the reader to enter. I believe it promotes story telling. In the interest of time I will share just one example. Assuming you have read and own the Harry Potter series, grab your copy of The Order of the Phoenix and turn to page 609. Near the bottom of the page Harry is pulled into Dumbledore’s office by the utterly detestable Madam Professor Dolores Jane Umbridge and an ad hoc trial breaks out, complete with a jury of talking portraits. I often think of this scene because I remember being amazed by the density and deftness of the ensuing action. For the next thirteen spellbinding pages Ms. Rowling treats us to a view into a pseudo-courtroom populated by no less than ten unique voices and at least sixteen total character references, not to mention the numerous spells, jinxes, charms, and Phoenixes flying about. And then there is Harry himself, who all the while is sharing with us his thoughts and suspicions while simultaneously having a non-verbal conversation with Dumbledore on the side. My point… the swiftness and lucidity of this scene would not have been possible had JKR not first built a world where this density of narrative was possible.

To sum: I appreciate it when an author takes the time to build an interesting world for two reasons: one, because I like going to new places; and two, because in the right hands a well built world can act like the rails of a roller coaster.
What keeps you on the edge of your seat?

Munk’s opening line:
The Palace of Fraelok was cracked in all the right places.
Munk’s opening line is yours to keep, use it.

This week's on-theme music: Ohio Players, Love Roller Coaster... say what?