Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Letter to "Time" Magazine

Letters to the Editor
Time Magazine
New York, NY

Dear sirs:

I read with great interest your article on bankrupt cities and counties ("The Broken States of America," June 28, 2010). Here in Dallas we are cutting library hours by half and closing public pools at the height of summer, putting police officers on furlough days and laying off maintenance workers--and Texas is actually doing better than most states. The summer's other big stories - the Tea Party movement, the oil spill in the Gulf, Federal government spending and the national debt - are inextricably linked. It's obvious that we Americans are demanding a lifestyle that we are unwilling to pay for. In plain economic terms, this is insanity. Which will it be? Top notch services, a first-class military and police force, energy independence and a sturdy infrastructure, or low taxes, low taxes and low taxes? Everything, including "cheap oil," has a price.

Very truly yours,

Jennifer P. Jonsson
Dallas, TX

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Series Of Brilliant Observations About The Big Oil Spill.

By Jen (by God.)

Item: People who found President Obama's speech annoying were clearly expecting him to tell them what they wanted to hear, instead of the truth. We can handle anything from our politicians except maybe honesty.

Item: BP's coughing-up of $20 billion strikes me as some kind of a cop-out. If I were BP, I'd have said to hell with it, hired me the meanest, baddest pack of lawyers I could have laid my hands on and fought every lawsuit tooth and nail to the bitter end. I mean, it's not like my reputation would suffer or anything, and I'm sure my insurance company has long since bailed on me.

Item: Unfortunately that assumes I have $20 billion with which to fuck around, and I do not.

Item: Everybody who's clamoring for the government to seize control of the cleanup and throw BP off the job: Er, wait a minute. Aren't you the same bunch waving signs that say, "Government Hands Off My Medicare"?

On second thought, scratch that last one.

Item: The rig Deepwater Horizon was built by a South Korean company, owned by a Marshall Islands company and leased to BP, a British company, and the silly thing sits in international waters. So I'm still trying to figure out how the United States has any jurisdiction over it whatsoever.

Item: When a wind turbine or a solar panel springs a leak, it doesn't foul coastlines on four states and kill thousands of birds. I'm just sayin'.

Item: Yes, President Obama said it better. But were you listening? Noooo....

Item: Drilling for oil, a combustible substance, at extreme pressure, one mile beneath the surface of the ocean and under a layer of highly explosive frozen methane crystals; what could possibly go wrong?

Item: If we'd started working on the whole clean energy thing back in 1977 when President Jimmy Carter (another politician who had an annoying habit of telling the truth all the time, except maybe about the swimming rabbit, and that might have been simple heatstroke) first proposed it, we might not be in this mess.

Item: Yes, I am old enough to remember President Carter. Get over it.

Item: Of course, we could always wait another thirty or forty years and see what happens. But remember, if our kids get pissed at us, they can always cut off our Social Security.

Item: And for those of you who say we can't afford it, how many more times can we afford to clean up a spill of this size? I'm just sayin'. Y'all have a good night, now.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Mini-Post: The Wasteline Test

Writer alert! Check out this web site. It's called The Wasteline Test, created by genius Helen Sword of New Zealand. If you write in English and you can cut and paste a sample, this is a nifty tool to figure out how many wasted words you may be using. The software scans your sample for be-words, adverbs, adjectives, abstract nouns, prepositional phrases and words like It, This, Am, There - that you generally don't need. (Oops. Adverb.) For the record, Mindbender came out "Fit & Trim," the second highest category. Woot! No Accounting for Taste clocked in at "Needs Toning", mainly because of my use of It, This, Am, There - I was Flabby in that category but Lean in everything else. Anyway, check it out.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Spooky New Orleans Experiences, Part Two

Playing in the background: "Dammerschein" by Deuter

For all intents and purposes there's about a seven-year gap in my adult life between about 1999 and 2004. I won't go into all of the whys and wherefores but let's just say I got very, very sick around then and quit doing everything that didn't involve immediate survival. Like, say, going to work every day. True nervous breakdowns, in case you did not know this, are the province of the very rich and the very poor. The rich can just check into a hospital until it passes (or more likely, be very sick in their own homes with lots of servants around to clean up the mess.) The very poor can wander around on the streets being completely insane and no one bats an eye. But us middle class schlubs just have to soldier on somehow.

So I kept going to work every day because I had to, but I quit karate, quit the bagpipe band that I loved, quit writing for the most part. It was not a happy time to be me. Things got better in 2001, then got worse all at once when 9/11 happened, my mother in law died, someone I had tremendous respect for killed himself and a guy who sang in my church choir suddenly died, all within about eight weeks. Another not very happy time to be me. Then, again, things got gradually better and this time I stayed marginally sane.

I bring this up because the last writer's conference I attended, prior to Pen to Press, was in 1999, in San Diego. I can't remember what it was called. And just to show you how very sick I was getting, a literary agent gave me his card there and told me to call him--not just send in some pages or something but actually call him, which does not happen--and I never did it. I can't even remember his name now. Whoever you are, I humbly apologize.

Back to New Orleans, though. What goes on at these writer's conferences, you ask. Well, at this one there was a lot of classroom instruction. What about, you ask. Well, about what you'd expect. Plot. Characterization. Pacing. Tension. All the things that make a novel a novel. How to construct a good scene. It was basically a master class in how to write commercial fiction for publication. And strange things happened to my head while all this was going on. In a way, I knew all this stuff, but in another way I didn't know any of this stuff. It all clicked into place like a firmly struck E-chord with a mild buzz of resonator.

Here's the best analogy I can come up with, and it's not very good. A million years ago I went to music school. (No, really, I did.) Part of the curriculum was music theory. In case you don't know what music theory is, it's the inner workings of music; what makes it sound the way it does, the mathematical constructions that go into chording and melody, and how composers of the past used different constructions different ways to get different sounds. Ferexample: When a piece of music is about to end, you know it. You can feel the unresolved tension in the air, in a manner of speaking, and when it settles into the final chord, there's a sense of release, a kind of "Aaah." Especially if the piece has been 45 minutes long, which some of them are.

In music theory, this is called a IV-V-I progression, which is to say, the usual sounds that you will hear at the end of your usual piece of music are the IV, V and I chords, in that order. There are about a million different ways to do IV, V and I chords--the flute can have the low voice, say, and the trumpet the high voice, or they could be broken up into an arpeggio, or sustained, or--whatever--but the chords themselves don't change. They're still made up of the same notes. You hear them, you know them, and you expect that this is The End.

Take "Cats in the Cradle," for example. "The boy was just like me, yeah, the boy was just like me." This is your classic IV-V-I progression, times two, with a little twist; the song's in mixolydian mode instead of ionian mode. I don't really wanna go into the difference between modes, though, so let's just take my word for it and say that the phrase has kind of a dark feel to it, a somberness that you wouldn't expect at the end of a tune. The somberness fits the words perfectly; it's kind of haunting and, on occasion, makes me cry, especially if it catches me unawares.

Well, in music theory class, the professor spelled it all out for us, using "Cats in the Cradle" as his example. This is a IV-V-I progression, this is mixolydian mode, this is why the phrase sounds the way it does and evokes the feeling that it does. He probably did it a lot more artfully than I did just now, but on some level it completely clicked with me. I got it. Suddenly it wasn't just a somber phrase that made me cry. Suddenly it made perfect scientific sense. The phrase was constructed in a certain way for a certain reason and it wasn't magical anymore. And while it was totally cool that I got it, in a way it was sad. Because the magic was gone. Or was it?

Anyway, that's what these Pen to Press classroom instruction sessions were like (Ha! You didn't think I was going to get back to the point, did you? Fooled you!) I kept having moments where I got it. Oh, I'd think, and then I'd think, I knew that, and then I'd think, But I didn't really know that, it was just kind of magical and now it's scientific.

So is the magic gone? Yes and no. Writing is work. Writing is not magical. But sometimes it is.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Spooky New Orleans Experiences, Part One

Playing in the background: The soft hum of the refrigerator

Let's face it, there were a lot of spooky experiences in New Orleans. New Orleans is kind of a spooky place. These are just the highlights. Lowlights? Whatever. Considering that I was a stranger far from home, wandering around by myself, attending a for-Godsake writer's conference when I have trouble just saying the word writer out loud in a context that applies to me, having to talk about writing practically 24/7 for four days, and we're lucky I didn't have a major meltdown and maybe more than one. The meds must be working. But, anyway, the first New Orleans spooky experience. This one was pretty darn.

For starters, F. Paul Wilson was one of my instructors. If you don't know who he is, shame on you. Go check out The Tomb or any of the other Repairman Jack novels, for starters. Then move on to the serious horror (The Keep is still my fave; Nazis and vampires, what could possibly go wrong?) and maybe investigate some of the sci-fi thereafter. F. Paul was a Big Deal when I was a kid. I rank him right up there with Big Steve, and having him as a writing instructor was kind of like an amateur painter getting a master class with Pablo Picasso. I mean, never mind all the cool things you might learn; can you manage to get through the class without hyperventilating, spilling paint, or accidentally sticking the paintbrush up your nose? Okay, I exaggerate a tiny bit. But not a lot.

Then I started meeting some of the other students, most of which were cool beyond cool. One of them, JulieAnne, was from Utah. This in itself is not significant except that I used to live in Utah. In fact I lived there for about ten forgettable years, or rather I try to forget them but I still wake up screaming about them once in a while. It's not that I had an unhappy childhood exactly - married parents, Norman Rockwell home, a nice sheen of Fine for all the world to see and admire - but Salt Lake City in the 1970s was absolute hell for a cute li'l queer bipolar chick who never once thought of lying about her religion in order to work and play better with others.

(Interjection here: It's not like that anymore. The Mormon influence is still undeniable but I had a girlfriend in Salt Lake for a while in the 1990s and it's really changed--however much certain factions might not like it.)

So I mentioned to JulieAnne that I had lived in Utah and she asked me where I went to high school. I moved before high school but I'd gone to Bonneville Junior High. So had she. What year, she asked. I told her. We were there at the same time, she said. She told me her name then. I said I remembered her being a cheerleader. She asked me what I'd thought of it. I said I hadn't had a very easy time of it, culminating in the time two girls in the locker room poured hair spray down my back and set me on fire. Her head about snapped around. And she said, "You were the chick who got set on fire?!"

Well, knock me over with a feather. No one ever believes me when I tell them that story. My own parents didn't believe me, even if it was the reason they decided to send me to a Catholic high school the following year. Which never happened because we moved. Which is a shame. I've always thought I'd have made a great Catholic. And nuns. I just adore nuns.

(Yes, I realize that I didn't tell that story very well. And that some of you have just dropped your computers and said something along the lines of, "Set on fire?" And the answer is, "Yeah. Set on fire." And again, I realize I'm not telling this story very well. So sue me.)

Back to F. Paul for a second. This guy wasn't just my teacher, he had dinner with me (well, me and several others), hung around after class and took questions, and just in general was classy in a way few people who have Made It ever are to those of us who Want To Get There. So I mentioned to him that it turned out JulieAnne and I had gone to the same junior high school. He thought that was a very spooky coincidence. I said, "Yeah, like something out of an F. Paul Wilson novel." He said, "Hmm, it must mean something."

Well, I dunno what it means. But it certainly was spooky.