Friday, August 29, 2008

ten-tative

Part Ten

I put down the cornflakes and look Penny in the eye.

"How can you argue in favor of today's foreign policy given your feelings about independence? Explain this to me, Pen. Try to be consistent. Would you do that for me?"

She sighs. "OK, remember that political rally we attended? Do you remember what the speaker said?"

"I remember how he vented. What a troll. The man was so full of hot air I can't believe he didn't take flight. I'm just saying, it was fitting he talked so much about the 'good year...'"

"Oh, come on. This isn't really about foreign policy," she says. "It's not even about your stupid cereal. There's something else going on, isn't there?"

I spoon cornflakes into my mouth. The milk is cold, low-fat, and delicious.

"Yeah. No. I don't know. I'm just...having these weird feelings lately. Strange thoughts in my head. I before E, except after, see? You know?"

"No, Hiro, I don't know. That doesn't make any sense. Actually nothing you've said lately has made any sense. Are you feeling okay? Maybe you should see a doctor."

"Yes, a witch-doctor. But which doctor? Can a witch doctor? Apportion a potion? Shun the Po?" I laugh at my wit without really understanding it, and Penny gives me a strange look. I decide she needs comforting.

"Relax, Penny," I say, consuming more flakes. Fakes? Flake fakes? Fake flakes? Not brand-name. "I'm just under a lot of stress right now. When you aspear to fame and fortune, there's going to be trial."

"Aspire," she says.

"What?"

"Aspire. You said 'aspear.'"

I think back. So I did. For some reason this strikes me as hilarious and I laugh, which only increases Penny's frown. There is a dragon inside me, clawing its way out.

"You've got me stumped, Hiro," Penny says. "You've been so introspective lately, always saying crazy things, making jokes only you find funny, living inside your head like it's another world. What's the deal? Are you cracking up or what?"

"In more ways than one," I affirm, laughing even more, although it doesn't really feel funny anymore. Am I going crazy? "What I'm feeling lately...it dwarfs anything I've felt before..."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, in terms of magnitude...like, everything I felt before was really just the shadow of feeling, and suddenly here's the real thing. It's so big and different I don't really have any way to understand it; there's no point of reference, you know?"

"I think you're having a giant attack of the crazies. Aren't you supposed to wait 'til midlife for your crisis? Have you seen some sort of sign? This way to madness?"

"You're no help. I guess when you're not on fire you can't grasp the heat. Eh, Pen?" There are no more cornflakes in the bowl. I gaze mournfully on the emptiness, then stand up and reach for the box to make things right.

There is a shift.

...

???

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

niner (than which nothing could be finer)

Nobody's perfect, however convincing an impression I may do. I missed Monday's update, for which I want to apologize, especially to all those people who left angry emails in my inbox - I fully appreciate just how abandoned everybody felt. It won't happen again.

Possibly.

Anyway, I have not been able to avoid doing a little planning ahead, and consequently I know this story will soon be coming to a close. The whole Hero thing, not the blog. Frankly speaking, free writing only works so well over an extended period, especially in a storytelling format - eventually you start being bothered by the stylistic inconsistency. When your tale begins as sort of a hybrid of fantasy and African mythology, at least in its presentation, and gradually morphs into a Terry Pratchett-type piece except when it's busy being, er, something else, it's probably time to think about bringing things to a close. Then I get to go back to wondering what should be the direction of my online writing. Joy. Still, I reckon there are several more parts to go, including today's, which I hope will be a return to the sort of form I was going for at first. Read my comic, by the way. Also, ninjas.

Part Nine

Shortly, very much so because a dwarf was involved, the dwarf and Hero emerged into a vast underground cavern. It was very vast indeed, so much so that tedious comparisons would be pointless and will therefore be forgone. In this vast cavern were many more of the ninja dwarfs or "dwinjas" as they called themselves. None were mining or forging, and not a single whistle or rally-ho was to be heard. They played blues guitar instead, at least when they weren't busy training to perfect their ninjitsu abilities or playing basketball with a hoop of regulation height. Truly their hops were mad, as were their skillz generally.

Hero's companion introduced him to the council of elders and explained that Hero was on a quest of great importance but was completely inept and needed some overhaul, "right quick." Hero wondered how it was that everyone seemed to know of this "quest" except for him - was it written on his face? - and was about to ask about it, or at least try to find a reflective surface, when he was tripped up again by his guide. He quickly learned that the anger that resulted was the purpose of the exercise, that he had to learn to master his anger before he could go around spouting sophistical nonsense about how mastering one's anger is key to discipline.

Of course the real purpose of the anger was to channel its energy into moves of great coolness. This information marked the beginning of Hero's training session, which lasted for however long it lasted - there was no way to mark the passage of time underground and gradually its importance faded. The dwinjas trained Hero in all the arts they possessed - swordsdwarfship and the use of other weapons, martial arts, agility, stealth, environmental awareness, poetry, and watercolor painting. They tried to teach him blues guitar but he said he preferred harmonica, which nearly got him thrown out.

At the end of it, Hero was a new man - more powerful, confident and competent, although still pretty dumb. Neither did he yet understand what his quest was, but the dwarves assured him that would become clear even to his limited faculties when the time was right. Equipped with a full complement of weaponry, he bid his new friends a fond farewell and carved his own way out.

When Hero finally emerged from the dwinja hideout, the sun was at its zenith, and he wrote a poem about the nature of shadow and painted the scene. Then Hero donned his new baseball cap and shades, and stepped into the next phase of his quest, which happened to be a chasm that definitely wasn't there before.

The fall of Hero was not a panicked one. He was an honorary dwinja. Instead he enjoyed for a couple of minutes the cool breeze that rushed past his face. The bottom of the chasm was impossible to see thanks to the sunglasses he was wearing but there was no way he was taking these babies off and so he didn't worry about it but instead reached for his pocketknife. The dwarves had upgraded the grappling hook attachment to be rocket-propelled, giving it a much greater range and some nifty flame effects as well, all of which mattered little because as he was pulling it out, Hero dislodged the mystery potion that had lain forgotten in his pocket ever since he left the witch. Like lightening Hero caught the bottle, but it was wrong way up (dwinjitsu is not perfect). The top came right off and the contents poured out into the void.

The potion fell faster than he, which Hero thought was rather strange, but not as strange as when it suddenly splashed all over the emptiness and became a floating puddle of shifting colors that morphed into a portal of black and white and gray, containing images so fantastic that Hero couldn't even begin to process them before he fell right in.

...

to be continued...

Friday, August 22, 2008

eight

Yes, it's part eight. For those who may need reminding, I remind you that this is essentially a free-writing experiment in fiction, so don't expect much planning or polish or clever tie-ins with earlier events or the like. Also, on an unrelated note, what's up with the word "commentate"? Seriously. What's wrong with "comment"? Just so, "commenter" is infinitely superior to the ridiculous "commentator." I just thought I'd mention this. Anyway, today's installment was heavily inspired by the desire to "keep things short." Bear that in mind.

Part Eight

It was days since the troll. It was days since a meal as well, and there weren't even any butterflies around to engage in fluttery. Hero was rather dispirited. This deserted land seemed to go on forever and every way he looked he saw nothing but the same fire-blasted eternity. Had he not been navigating with the assistance of his pocketknife's compass attachment, he might have been worried that he was traveling in circles. He was worried about this anyway. Worry was a feeling rather alien to Hero's typical blissful ignorance and he wasn't quite sure how to react to it. Fortunately his empty stomach was currently engaged in a dialogue with his brain concerning the properties of a vacuum and how it is abhorred by nature, and this provided a distraction. Unfortunately it was not a very comforting one.

A dwarf erupted from the ground. This was strange for several reasons. For one thing, although Hero's knowledge of the dwarven lifestyle was limited, he was fairly certain they made their home in caves and mountains - underground to be sure, but not this literally. Furthermore this dwarf wore a goatee and short hair, which was closely covered by a stretch cap, and there was not a single axe on his person. Instead there were a pair of nunchaku at his belt and a katana strapped to his back. In fact there would be little reason to call him a dwarf at all were it not for the diminutive yet proportional stature. Hero felt vaguely offended at this outrageous example of nonconformity. When the dwarf suddenly donned a pair of sunglasses it was too much and even Hero had to wonder if the lack of food and visual variation had finally gotten to him.

"You're not crazy," said the dwarf abruptly. "At least, no more than you were to tackle this forsaken land in the first place."

"Right..." said Hero uncertainly, wondering how open his face was. "So there really is such a thing as, er, some kind of ninja dwarf mole person. Actually there must be because no one has an imagination this ridiculous."

"Stuff it," said the dwarf. "We can refuse to answer your insulting questions later. Right now I suggest you get underground before the Haze catches up with you."

"What, down that?" said Hero, pointing to the hole, which was far too small.

"That's right. If you have trouble fitting I could lop off a few limbs," the dwarf said helpfully.

"Thanks but no" said Hero "I'm rather atta--"

"--Don't say it" snapped the dwarf. "I was joking anyway. Just hold on a sec..." He rummaged through his clothes and quickly came up with a small bottle filled with a bubbling fluid, which he unceremoniously dashed in Hero's face. Before Hero could protest, he was filled with the most extraordinary feeling and suddenly the ground was rushing up towards him at astonishing speed. "I'm shrinking!" he shouted.

This was not true. In fact the ground reacquainted itself with Hero's face because the dwarf had tripped him. When Hero shook off the impact he looked up to see the dwarf laughing uproariously. Bear with the dwarf. His actions were not motivated by the principle that violence is funny. That was just a bonus.

"Now there's a joke that never gets old," said the dwarf, wiping tears from his eyes. "Cheer up lad," he added, seeing Hero's anger. "It's rough, I know, but it needed doing. You'll see why."

"And the potion?" growled Hero. "Was that a joke too?"

"Smells awful, doesn't it?" said the dwarf cheerfully. "It's not a shrinking potion but it is a potion - it eliminates claustrophobia, which, believe me, you will soon be glad of. Now, to business." Without another word, the dwarf drew his katana, jumped into the air, flipped, and dove towards the ground. As he fell he began spinning until he was a tornado of blade and forceful personality that tore through the hard ground as though it were sand. Before long he had widened the hole sufficiently that Hero could fit himself in, and together they descended into the earth.

...

to be continued...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

the heaven of seven

Whatever my inclinations towards creative writing, I think I'm really an editor at heart. I draw this conclusion based on my irrepressible tendency to notice the grammatical and syntactical errors of others, and then annoy those others by correcting those errors or annoy myself by keeping quiet so as not to annoy those others. It's a tough life. "Forgive me as an old philologist," Nietzsche says at the opening of some paragraph or another in Beyond Good and Evil; my sentiments exactly (in the linguistics sense), except without the penetrating insights and unforgettable philosophy that follows when he says it. I love language and I love structure and I could write a whole essay about how actually English does retain cases and it is precisely because people don't understand this that they have so much trouble deciding when to use "I" instead of "me." I will not present that essay here, for which all should be grateful. But I will blab about the split infinitive for a bit.

I feel fairly confident in asserting that the split infinitive is a uniquely English screw-up. That is because English is unique in allowing for the infinitive to be split in the first place. The Romance languages all have unique verb endings to indicate the infinitive form - for instance "parler" for "to speak" as opposed to "parle" for "I speak." Attic Greek does the same thing. I haven't studied any German/Anglo-Saxon/whatever hybrid languages besides English, hence the uncertainty expressed above, but a quick search via the almighty Google tells me that German also uses one word to express what we English-speakers need two for.

This is getting more drawn-out than it should. The point is that English alone chops the idea of action without person into a pair of words, and once there is that first split it is all too easy to jam something else in between the "to" and the "[verb of choice]." This is a problem because somewhere along the way someone decided that to separate the parts of the infinitive any more than they already are greatly decreases the strength of the infinitive, and we're all about strength so this is an outcome we do not desire. That attitude actually makes sense, because the infinitive is a compact concept, and the more one spreads out what is by nature compact, the more diluted and weak-sauce it becomes, and we're all about strong-sauce, so this is also an outcome we do not desire, which may sound like it is the same outcome as before but is in fact totally different. To draw an analogy with magnets, when a straight magnet is cut in half perpendicular to its axis, the newly cut ends become magnetized and long to join once more, to be whole and complete again as once they were. But the more the two halves are pulled apart, the weaker the attraction becomes, until finally the beautiful whole is reduced to two broken pieces that just sit around all day watching bad stand-up and not accomplishing anything. Tragic.

Nonetheless it's somehow become easy to make this mistake, and in writing it is fortunately just as easy to correct it if one is paying attention. Usually adverbs are at fault - "to quietly sneak up" becomes "quietly to sneak up" or "to sneak up quietly" or "doesn't sneak up imply quietly?" I'm a proponent of correct syntax so of course I would think it sounds better the right way, but it really does sound better the right way. More professional and capable of benching a baby elephant. Much more difficult is to avoid split infinitives in speaking. I try to do this, and often succeed, but it's like trying to preserve the nominative-thingy that I forgot the name of and said I wasn't going to write about, and say "It is I" or (worse) "It's I" instead of "it's me" - certain habits of speech have become so deeply ingrained that to go against them just sounds silly, even if it's technically more correct. It's a losing battle and morality is low. But anyway, at least make sure the only split you enjoy while writing features a banana.

It's strange that we should ever have gotten to the point of having conciously to avoid (see what I did there?) split infinitives, though. My theory is that we are a people of action! and exclamation points! and because of the odd twist of linguistic fate that gave "to" an existence of its own as a verb of sorts, we have associated it with the essence of action, and we're so eager to get to the action that we do so before we've thought through the nature of the action. Actually one could elaborate this and say pure action has to bookend everything which is why the modifiers such as "quietly" and "quickly" and "greasily" (hmm) end up in the middle of the construction. Probably it is this same bias for action that explains that other very American habit of giving perfectly happy and innocent nouns new un-death as the verbal forces of darkness, and then going a step further and converting them into adverbs, which has resulted in such abominations as "impactful."

Anyway. I guess I ought to immediately and with no further ado but with generosity and the usual humor and wit in an impactful manner give you the latest episode of Ye Old Quest-a-Lot, huh? Featuring NEW(!) pre-episode plot synopsis (NEW)! (NEW!)

Part Seven

[Previously...on...er, what is this called, anyway?: Our dauntless (because he doesn't know what it means) Hero has arrived on the top of a cliff overlooking a desolate land, his only company a large sign with some incomprehensible words about dragons. In his hand, a suspiciously-labeled spear he acquired from the proximity of said sign. On his person but fortunately not actually on his person, a magic potion with unknown effects from a quick-stepping witch. In his heart, the memory of his friend Stumpy and also an old confrontation with a giant of which his only memento is the handle from a counterfeit sword. Also, on the principle that the quickest way down the cliff face is by falling, he has lost his grip on the wall and plummeted, saving himself from certain pancake-dom only by deploying the grappling-hook attachment of his miraculously-reappeared pocketknife and swinging into a cave in the cliff face, which he is in the process of discovering has another occupant (the cave, not the face).]

"Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" said Hero, who was still a little dazed.

"Very funny," said the troll. "Give me one reason why I shouldn't throw you out on yer noggin and best be quick about it. And make it a good reason; I can't stand the other kind."

"Er," said Hero, "I don't suppose I could appeal to your generosity?"

"I suppose not," agreed the troll, "since I haven't got any. Generosity is a concept that must necessarily arise out of either philosophy, theology, or simple political science, and as a troll living the solitary life in a cliff out in the badlands I have little use for those particular branches of educated thought. I prefer poetry. Would you like to hear some?"

"Um." said Hero. "Is this going to be one of those situations where I can go to my death or comment on your poetry?"

"No no" said the troll "you'll be going to yer death regardless; but if you listen you might put it off a bit. Here's the first line."

He read it, which was a few musings on the interconnected nature of the rock and lichen and the psychology of the solitary mind, and also the inherent destructive bent of the elements. Hero listened with the sort of horrified fascination usually reserved for a train wreck. Then again, Hero wasn't much for poetry (remember his rejection of the love potion). When the troll, who had gotten carried away and read an entire two stanzas, finally left off, Hero searched desperately for means to prevent him starting up again. This sort of mental activity was unusual for Hero, but trials bring out the best in people. Inspiration struck.

"Don't you think," he ventured carefully, " that the drive to compose poetry is the clearest indicator of a bent towards religion and society? Troll and his god, troll and his love, sort of thing. Also it seems to me that in your ability to see the parallelism of life currents in the building blocks of nature you are in fact engaging in natural philosophy. I'm fairly certain that you do have a hidden wellspring of generosity and you're just embarrassed to admit it."

"I don't think so," said the troll. "Good effort, appealing to the drives behind my habits and whatnot, but sometimes its as simple as a rock's got to have a way to pass the time. It's not like there're many villages to terrorize or sheep to snatch, y'know. Anyway I'm ready for my daily composition but your presence, to which I am unaccustomed, is seriously damaging my calm and so I think I'll throw you out now."

Hero let him. It was easier that way, considering the alternative. But as the troll was booting him into the blue, under which there was all too much brown all too close, some instinct kicked in and Hero grabbed the tablet on which was chiseled the troll's verses.

On the whole trolls do not react quickly. When you're made of stone you can't afford to. But passion has remarkable effects and with a roar of rage the troll flipped from the edge of the cave and began running down the cliff face, which was so incredible that it's just as well Hero was preoccupied with the rapid approach of the ground and couldn't devote his full attention to the feat, thus saving his particular brand of sanity.

Of course, trolls aren't exactly use to this sort of behavior either and so when the troll had caught up with the plummeting Hero, jumped out into the abyss and caught him up in order to administer some poetic justice, it occured to the former that there was a more pressing matter to be dealt with and of course his thought-process hadn't sped up along with his reflexes and so by the time he'd gotten done with this realization, there was the ground and the troll smashed right into it with Hero cradled safely in his massive hands.

Hero was starting to wonder when he was going to see some respite from heavy impacts in his wanderings, but he jumped out of the stunned troll's hands and with a cheerful "thanks!" he laid the tablet in his place and set off. By the time the troll had shaken off his daze and gotten to his feet and composed a few verses about how mighty and solid was the ground, and how the species trollus mountainus was clearly the superior class of being through solidarity, Hero was long gone.

...

to be continued...

P.S. I've got a great comic in mind for tomorrow. They only get funnier, I promise. Be sure to check in.

Monday, August 18, 2008

six in the city

The city of blogs, that is. I guess.

Good friggin' grief, pardon my language. Have you ever had a task that you thought would be short but you had an ominous feeling that it might be slightly less short than that, and it ended up taking the entire day? Well, neither have I. Nah, I kid, that was in fact my day today. Still, it was worth it, I think. Check out the neat-o results here. No, really, please check 'em out. When I promised that I would deliver this project on Monday I really had some time in mind when there would still be a significant portion of Monday left. Now it might as well be Tuesday, but it is still Monday, barely. I better at least finish this post before that changes.

Actually I did get my laundry done today as well. But it rained on me while I was, dare I say it, parading back and forth between the house and the machines. It has definitely been that kind of a day. Still, I did most of my grumbling on the other page, so I won't weigh this post down with more than what you've just read.

I don't have a lot to say or much story to tell this time around what with one thing and another, but I did do some thinking about communication today, which I'd like at least to get down in written form.

I'd already come to the conclusion that one of the strongest indicators of having a deep, meaningful and above all trusting relationship with someone is when you and that person are comfortable with silence. Everyone knows what it feels like when you're with someone, whether driving or sitting in a restaurant or what have you, and you feel that incredible pressure to say something, anything, just to break the silence, because the silence is tense and painful. I don't propose to delve into the psychology of why it feels that way, thank goodness. But just so I would expect that everyone is also familiar with being in the same situation with a loved one, be it family member or spouse or just close friend (I guess it doesn't have to be a loved one, but then again maybe it does), and there's no difficulty, no tension, no awkwardness. It's an amazing, wonderful feeling, the feeling of not having to put on any sort of show or prove anything (whoops, I guess I couldn't avoid it altogether).

What was new for me was the recent realization that the same thing applies during a conversation. Maybe it's just a spin-off of the same issue, but I think we're just as compelled, when listening, to demonstrate our existence, so to speak (heh). I'm referring to the noises we make when someone else is talking to us - the "mm-hmm"s, "huh"s and "oh, yeah?"s for which countless years of evolution are responsible. Maybe this is less clear cut than the other matter, but I'm pretty sure I feel a lot more comfortable just listening to someone with whom I'm completely comfortable than I do with the vast majority of people. This isn't to say that I never grunt when on the phone with my brother or never keep my yap shut while chatting with a new acquaintance, but I'm pretty sure I couldn't stay silent during the entirety of some casual friend telling me all about her day or some other such buddy sharing his problems.

Why is this? Probably it has to with validation, although for whose benefit isn't so clear. It might be that our affirmations are just that, a reminder that we are present, for our own benefit (you're not just talking to a wall, pal, I'm here). (On a practical level when you're in the midst of a telephone conversation you want to make sure the listener is there physically as well as mentally.) More likely is that we wish to demonstrate to the other person that we are in fact listening to them instead of thinking about how the latest book by Neil Gaimon just can't touch Neverwhere (perhaps it can, I don't know), which if so is ironic because it's just by such devices that people who like to wander mentally attempt to deceive the other person...and are often found out. Ignoring that last negative spin, I think it is likely a combination of both - a way for us to keep ourselves in the conversation in some capacity, which satisfies our ego, while at the same time comforting the speaker in case he or she is afraid we might not actually be listening; this last can be both selfish and selfless, depending on whether we've got an agenda with the speaker. Or maybe it's as simple as we just can't handle even one-sided silence with a stranger. I do know this - it is very nice to be silent once in a while, whether listening to another's speech or the silence itself. Close relationships are pretty sweet, as in great, as in...er, some positive word that isn't slang or morphed by slang. You get the idea.

Alright, about thirty minutes for cranking out the further Heroic adventures of...oh, wait. Well, I won't use it all (yeah, right). Short but I hope good, (me caveman, I hope good!) I present:

Part Six

When Hero awoke he was oddly cheerful, despite the daunting prospect of descending that cliff face. In the morning light he examined the spear and was intrigued to discover lettering along the side. It said:

"Dragoon."

It was obvious to him that this was another cheap knock-off, seeing as how they had misspelled "dragon," but then the sword had proven to be useful enough, so he figured he wouldn't throw the spear away, at least until there was another Giant about. There was no doubt the counterfeiters had done an excellent job, though - the spear looked finely crafted indeed, its pole thick, the head mighty and even etched with designs of dragons and men in armor jumping about like jackrabbits. Strange, that. Still, it was time to get moving, and so Hero got moving, and approached the cliff edge.

Fortunately he was not afraid of heights, and peered into the depths with only a stoical sigh. the depths being very deep indeed. But his compulsion to tackle this broken land persisted, and so Hero grabbed the edge and flipped out into the abyss, swinging back and breaking his impact against the wall with his feet. All in all it was a pretty cool stunt, which was good because it was a hot day.

The climbing, or descending, or whatever, was easier than Hero had expected - though there were no handy vines or branches of any kind to provide grip and a welcome break from the visual monotony, there were jutting rocks and cracks a plenty, and he made good time, at least until the rock he was holding gave way and he plunged into free fall.

Well. These things happen, when your name is Hero. Hero kept his cool, which wasn't hard with the wind rushing past his face, and considered his options (remember, it was a very deep set of depths). He was sufficiently far from the wall to prevent any recovery unless there were suddenly an especially strong air current or a bird slammed into him or, more likely, a tree branch suddenly sprouted and grew many feet from the wall, right away.

As he dropped Hero moved to straighten his pants, proper grooming being important in all circumstances, and as he did his hand brushed his pocket. He was surprised to find it occupied, with a rocket...no, that would be silly. Actually, lo and behold it was his pocketknife, which he had believed lost in the forest! Had it really been buried in his pocket the whole time? Hero considered this for a few minutes, and then decided maybe he'd better save himself before giving reign to more thoughts of this nature. So he deployed the grappling hook attachment, and within short order had lodged the hook in a large crevasse, and swung himself into a handily-positioned cave in the cliff face. Of course, momentum is not one to give up so easily and so he kept going and smacked into the wall in the back of the cave, anyway. Well, these things happen too, when you're this particular Hero.

When he had recovered from the usual daze, Hero looked up, and made the surprising discovery that the cave was occupied! Furthermore, there was someone else in it besides him!

...

to be continued...

Ha! Fifteen minutes to go. I want to apologize, by the way, if things are less articulate (or more articulate) than they ought to be, both here and on the other page - I guess the length of the day and the lateness of the hour has gotten to me in more ways than one. I'll be better next time, probably. By the way, I encourage you to take a look at this.

Friday, August 15, 2008

part inconsistency in numbering formats (or five)

Hadja going, huh? But this journey has far to go before reaching its end, in a way that's consistent with the 'try not to plan ahead' philosophy (success can be difficult). Here's a little beef to make up for the leanness, however poignant, of Wednesday's update. I'd just like to say that the time I didn't spend writing then I did spend working on the top-secret project to be revealed Monday. And indeed, I wish it were so, since that would've been a lot more fun than the distinctly un-fun things I actually did with that time. Enough waxing - let's get cracking.

Part 5

In the beginning of this part, there was the void. And the void was with Hero, and the void was Hero, or at least Hero was the void, insofar as nothing can ever be described as being.

There was also the stump, and the stump looked upon the void and said "$#^!@" (which may have been some exotic form of scat), because the stump did know how things worked here, and it could well anticipate the consequences of its impetuous action. Eventually it sighed and shrugged, which latter action it is truly a shame there was no one around to witness and tell us how it happened, and then the stump worked some ancient magic of a very arcane sort, and pretty soon Hero popped back into cheerfully oblivious existence.

Hero felt he had rather spiritually and physically strayed from the proper path in his time with Stumpy, and after looking around for his good friend (who had, in the manner of the ecological crisis, made itself scarce), he set off through the snow, but his feet were no longer cold for some reason and the words 'ideal gas' and 'but this isn't a closed system!' kept running through his head. He didn't let it trouble him.

Eventually Hero reached the limit of the snow and entered into a dense patch of woodland. The trees were, as 'dense' would suggest, thick, and the branches were nettlesome in more ways than one, and once again he wished he hadn't broken his sword, although if he hadn't who knows what would have happened with Giant. Briefly his mind turned to Stumpy's words on that stubject, but they remained a puzzle, and Hero was not the type to muse. He recalled his pocketknife, but couldn't seem to find it anywhere on his person, and concluded he must've left it with Stumpy. So he ducked the branches and made his way through the growth as best he could.

After a time he came to a clearing where a witch was dancing around if not downright cavorting. Hero knew this was a witch not from the bubbling cauldron in front of her, or the fungi she was chucking into it at a rapid-fire pace, or the oddly-shaped hut nearby with colored smoke pouring from the chimney, or even from the pointed hat sitting nearby. It was the "Hallo, I'm a Witch" tag she wore that gave it away.

"Hallo," said Hero. "So you're--"

"'--a Witch, then'...yes, dear," said the witch. "Hallo. You must be the dimwit Master Stumpworthington was complaining about."

"Master Stumpworthington?" said Hero. "Oh, do you mean Stumpy?"

"That's right," chuckled the witch, "although he likes my suggestion better. Nobody knows what he's really called; I'm not even sure he has a name. But I'm babbling, as is not even slightly usual with me. That part of your quest is over, and it is in order to move on that you've come to me."

"Do I have a quest?" said Hero. "Neat! Actually I was hoping you could brew up a magic potion of some kind for me."

"I can do that," said the witch. "Do you have anything particular in mind? I've got all the standards: invisibility, invincibility, flight, shrink, grow, courage, cowardice, tepidity, timidity, poison, antidotal, false death, real death, what is death, what is life, life prolonging, life abbreviating, language abbreviating, eloquence, consequence, confluence, transformation, transmigration, transfiguration, transportation, trans-Siberian, stay the same, stay the course, change too much, shortchanged, overlordal megalomania, peonic fortitude, hate, mild anger, general irritation, let's be friends, let's be enemies, and of course" (she gave a wistful smile) "love."

"Er..." said Hero, who was still trying to figure out why you'd need a potion to stay the same. "I don't think I need any of those things. Why would you need a potion to stay the same? Don't you do that anyway?"

"Oh dearie me, no, dear," said the witch. "Why you're changing all the time. You'd be surpised how hard it is just to stay similar to yourself. Are you sure you don't want a love potion?"

"Yes," said Hero.

"Youth today," sighed the witch. "Very well. So you want a potion but you can't even tell me which one, and you don't want any of the usual or even the unusual. A special challenge! I like that. Let's whip us up a mystery potion, then. I hope you're better at dancing than you are at thinking."

"Dancing?" said Hero. "What's that got to do with anything? Don't you just throw mushrooms into the pot, chant nonsense words, and stir counter-clockwise until something turns blue?"

"Goodness, no" said the witch. "What do you take me for, some hackneyed cliche job of a seen-one-you've-seen-'em-all kind of Witch? All that stuff's just for PR. The real magic's in the dance. And before you ask, or in your case gape, only a fool would be dancing about naked at midnight during a full-moon - why you'd catch your death of werewolves long before the cold gotcha. We do the cha-cha round these parts."

"Right," said Hero a bit uncertainly. "I'm not sure I know the steps, though."

"Yeh, no worries," grinned the witch. "It's the spirit that counts. Plus I'll step on your toes until you get it right. Shall we dance?"

So they danced the cha-cha through the night, and it was wild and wyrd and wonderful, and also painful for Hero's toes. But for once, sensing a strange importance, he took discomfort in stride. And at the end when the first light of the sun hit the cauldron's contents, they were, in fact, blue. The witch gave Hero a full bottle.

"But what's it do?" he said.

"What about 'mystery potion' is confusing you?" she asked cheerfully. "You won't know what that stuff does until you try it. Best be careful - if you're in the wrong circumstances it might well seal your doom, not avert it."

Hero bade the witch a grateful farewell, and went on his way carrying his precious cargo. Although he still had no goal and could not imagine of what quest the witch could've been speaking (he wished he'd asked), he was filled nonetheless with a strange new determination, and covered many miles before the onset of evening necessitated a stop.

Just as the sun was setting, Hero came to the edge of a cliff, beyond which was a land desolate and barren and also laid waste and devoid of inhabitants, that looked as though it had been scorched. There was no green, and a haze hung in the sky. Hero felt strongly compelled to divert his course, but whenever he tried to walk away an invisible force brought his feet back to the cliff edge, and soon he realized there was nothing for it: the wasteland had to be attempted. As he sought along the edge for a suitable site to spend the night, he came across a very large sign posted in the ground, with a spear leaning against it. Hero took up the spear and examined it - it was very finely-crafted, and he determined to take it with him. Only then did he look up at the writing on the sign.

In big red letters there were printed these three words:

"Here Be Dragons."

Hero settled down and did his best, but in the darkness of three hours later he was forced to conclude that he could not even be one dragon, much less several. So he put the odd instructions out of his mind, and lay down on his makeshift bed, and fell asleep.

...

to be continued...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

hmm...

Part Four

There could not. The fire consumed Hero, and he died.

...

???

Monday, August 11, 2008

├ępisode trois

Part 3

"Hallo," said Hero. "So you're a talking stump, then."

"Brilliant," said the stump. "Knows your foolishness no bounds? And take a more respectful tone, knave!"

"Why should I bother?" said Hero, who was already bored and had his attention on a fluttering butterfly nearby. "You're just a pile of wood."

"Insolent maggot!" screamed the stump. "I dispense large quantities of your doom!"

"Sure," said Hero. "What could you possibly do? You can't move. You can't act. You shouldn't even be able to talk, because you haven't got a mouth. Your problems are deeply-rooted, if you don't mind my saying so."

The stump sighed. "Look," it said, "don't you know the source of presidential hopefuls' political clout? The only way they can amass power is to go somewhere and stump."

"Riiiight, " said Hero, who was well qualified for a political discussion. "You mean stomp."

"Silence, worm-like meatbag!" raged the stump. "I care not for your pathetic understanding! But if I did, I would point out that if I had meant stomp, I would have spoken appropriately!" There was a brief silence. The stump took several deep breaths, through mechanisms and for reasons unknown, and then went on in a tone slightly less testy: "They used to stomp, I cannot deny even you that. But then the giant fell, a deed for which only your idiocy could be responsible, and now there is only I, and they must stump instead." It went on in an undertone, "...which, if you are any example, should consume considerably less energy."

"Er, what?" said Hero, who was watching the butterfly again and wondering if there were other sources of wood around that might not shout at him. "What should Giant have to do with anything? And it's not my fault if he didn't read the 'contents' label on the sword before telling me to chuck it. Proper awareness of environmental allergens should always be of paramount importance."

"I'll show you paramount importance," muttered the stump. "And if you're too stupid even to figure out the basics of how things work here, you deserve what will happen..."

"Hey, I've just had a great idea," said Hero ("Perish the thought, if there were any," contributed the stump). "Since we're friends now I need a name for you, and I've decided to call you Stumpy ("NO!" thundered Stumpy), and anyway I need to move on now and find a fire source that doesn't talk back, but I'll be seeing you, Stumpy."

"WORTHLESS MONKEY-LIKE BEING!" offered the stump conversationally, "LET THE FIRE OF THE EARTH REMOVE YOUR PESTILENCE!" and sure enough, somehow fire burst forth all around Hero, who was surprised to find himself in such a dire and unexpected predicament, from which there could not possibly be an escape.

Or could there?

...

to be continued...

Friday, August 8, 2008

part two

Google Maps can only get you so far.

I was quite excited to cap off a long day and a long week by visiting some local geography I hadn't been to yet, where I would get some much-needed shopping done and treat myself to a well-earned restaurant dinner. I drove just far enough to be out of my comfort zone before I found that the road I was supposed to turn onto was closed off.

Some people under these circumstances would drive around a seek an alternate route, even if they had no idea how the grid worked, or if there even was a grid. Some people would be equipped with maps, a 'Net-capable cell phone, a GPS system, or even just a close friend who could provide passenger-side driving and moral support. Some people would be adventurous.

I was one of those people, for about two minutes. Then, confronted with hunger, looming evening with its impending darkness, no cell or maps or any such goodies, and the prospect of the inevitable rage and even fear of getting lost that accompanies all this, I decided it would be foolish to continue my exploration, and headed home, saving this particular adventure for another day.

I guess the real lesson is that Google Maps can only take you so far, if you take them for granted and assume that the large notice on each page saying "This is for planning purposes only and may not accurately reflect road conditions or closures" does not apply to you, or at least restricts itself to the realm of "could happen...but won't." Still, it's not as bad as the experience that happened to me when I first moved here, and was trying to find a purveyor of munchies...in the dark...from spoken directions that I hadn't written down. Live and learn.

Part Two of the crazy adventures of Hero is coming up, but I do want to say something about Rescue here. I'm indebted to my college a cappella group, whose name is not Rescue, for many things, but a shining example is that it provided my introduction to this wonderful other, professional, bunch of characters who do go by that name. Rescue performs contemporary Christian a cappella music, and what is so impressive about them is in two parts. The first is that their music lacks the sickening sappiness of much Christian music - when I say contemporary, I mean it, as their music is stylish and cool as can be, with plenty of fast, almost edgy pep to balance out the slower ballads. The second part is the perfection of their singing. I am not overstating this. Their harmony is impeccable, their blend as tight as can be. They have employed superb vocal percussionists, and a bass who has set records for singing in the lowest registers. Not to mention the huge talent of the songwriters, who know just how to make full use of their capabilities. The result is the most beautiful and listenable a cappella I have ever heard (with all due respect to the also-fantastic Rockapella), which literally causes me chills when it isn't making me dance. Even those who have no interest in religion or at least this religion should enjoy the unstoppable quality. If you like a cappella music, if you like Christian music, if you even just like music, you'll find something to enjoy here. Their debut is not quite as compelling as their later releases Two Thousand Years Ago and The Difference, and their latest CD Before the Throne takes things in a slightly different direction, but one no less strong. Check them out on Amazon or iTunes, or just go to their website, where you can buy their CDs or (bonus!) just listen to their music.

That said...

Part 2

For the first few moments Hero gave himself to the joy of flight, and soared high into the sky, mindful of nothing else. But gradually, perhaps because of the additional stimulus provided by the flapping wings protruding from his head, it occurred to Hero that it might be wiser to keep closer to the ground, just in case. So he flew down until he was skimming just a few feet above the ground. High on the wine in his belly and the wind on his face, he was not sufficiently thoughtful to consider the laws of physics further, and so when the charm did run out and the wings vanished Hero did not plummet to his doom, but he did fall onto his face and skid through the mud for twenty or thirty feet until his inertia was depleted by a solidly-entrenched tree stump.

They were hardier in this time and place and took such blows as no two men could take here today, and so Hero was merely dazed. When he came to what few senses he had, he got to his feet and took in his surroundings. He had crossed a substantial distance during his very brief tenure as a bird and would have been well-pleased with his progress had he had any particular destination in mind. As it was, he was amazed by the difference in terrain - the flowering fields of green had been replaced by the white of snow, the smooth flatness changed to rocky jaggedness. It was only a few miles from that wine-flooded river, but the weather was like that. Just so, the temperature was mild, despite the snow on the ground. But he wasn't wearing any socks, or shoes for that matter, and so Hero began to shiver and wondered if he could use the stump for material to build a fire. Belatedly he remembered his shattered blade, the handle of which would do him little good for lumberjackery, but fortunately he had his pocketknife, and thanks to pocketknives being way better there, he pulled out the axe attachment and made for the stump.

"Oy!" said the stump. "I perceive that you're dumb, but if you employ that edge you will quickly become dumber, as I will remove certain apparatus of which you make use to give voice to your pitiful thoughts!"

...

to be continued...

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Let's get it started...in there.

Alright, since I can't seem to write a review or anything else without waxing really really long, I'm going to try something different. Actually that's not the primary reason, but it'll do. Today's installment is actually the first installment, a little initial exercise in semi-free writing. It's semi-free because anyone who actually reads it agrees, by reading it, to pay me five dollars. It's too late - you're already caught. I have lawyers and spy cameras. This is not my first foray into fiction but it is my first into carefully-non-calculated fiction where I write with no ultimate goal in mind, or, with any luck, simultaneous editing. Should be interesting, I hope funny, and like any good addiction, I can stop. whenever. I want. Here we go. No title 'cause I never think of those things until I'm done. I'll just do it like this:

Part One

Hero had a magic sword. He knew it was magic because it said so, in letters on the side of the blade: "magyc." He wasn't big on spelling so the "y" didn't worry him too much.

Hero took his magic sword to do battle with the local giant, because everyone knows where there's a magic sword there must be something to use it on, and it might as well be a giant. Giant laughed at him, saying "That's no magic sword, just a cheap imitation - you can tell by the misspelling. Standard counterfeit mistake." Giant was very literate and worldly and knew about these things.

"Well, crud" said Hero, and threw the magyc sword to the ground where its blade shattered in a shower of colorful sparks.

"Oh dear," said Giant, who was allergic to cheap imitation sparks of the colored variety. With a mighty sneeze he fell down, dead as something more obviously dead than a doornail.

"Neat" said Hero, and he picked up the handle and walked on. He didn't know what use it could possibly be, but you never throw away anything in these stories.

Pretty soon he came to a flowing river, but when he went in close for a drink he discovered the banks flowed not with water but with wine.

"Biblical!" shouted Hero, using a popular expression to indicate being pleased, and he drank from the flowing not-waters. As he drank, a pair of wings sprouted from his head, which would have been mightily startling to someone from our world but was only mildly startling to Hero. Things happened. He didn't use his brain too often so it took him a while to get the wings working, but eventually their buzz filled the air, reminiscent of hummingbirds if there had been any hummingbirds in this bizarre place, and Hero flew over the river and on into the sky.

...

That's part one, as close to actual free writing as I've done in a very long time (I'm still restricting myself to complete sentences and some semblance of punctuation). Let's see how long I can keep this up. Maybe something neat will come out of it, like wings from a skull (actually that's just creepy, but kind of viking-esque). Look for part two on Friday.

Monday, August 4, 2008

a-musing

First impressions, ever dangerous, are even more unreliable in the case of Dinosaur Comics, mostly for reasons I'll discuss in a minute. But it is especially so because the most unique thing about this webcomic, at least superficially, is one you don't discover until you've read at least two strips. Maybe three, so you're sure it's not a coincidence or an error.

THE ARTWORK DOESN'T CHANGE!

That's right - the six panels you see when you read your first DC are the same ones you'll see when you read the other umpteen-billion strips, at least in terms of illustration. There's the occasional, and I do mean infrequent, exception, such as when the strip features guest artists, who certainly have a different style but mostly embellish the regular look, or when the comic gets even more self-referential or bizarre than usual (I had some great examples, but can't find them). But any dedicated reader is going to be staring quite a lot at T-Rex stomping on that log cabin.

Now, given that comics are composed of two parts, and one of them is the artwork, you would expect that any strip offering NO visual variation would be static and quickly become tedious, if not outright dull. And, technically, Dinosaur Comics is static. Insofar as there is no literal movement, it is a static strip. Its tedium any reader will, of course, have to judge for himself, but I think it's safe to assert that any element of the boring in the comic has nothing to do with any visual flaw.

Of course there are other comics, both web and the on-paper variety, that get away with substandard illustration thanks to the wit of the writing (fill in your strip of choice). But Dinosaur Comics takes it a step further, divorcing the visual from the writing almost entirely. It's as if ... as if the pictures are just there as a way to trick us into reading a bit of comic writing that we wouldn't touch if it were just a block of text. And yet, there is a connection between the drawings and the speech, and I don't refer merely to the self-references, of which there are many. In a way the writing does so much that the role of the artwork vanishes into the void, then comes back from the other side, giving the speech a life that it wouldn't have otherwise, yet avoiding tiredness thanks to the strength that the writing offers. It's hard to explain. I trust anyone who spends much time reading the comic will get it, eventually.

And a time investment is required. This strip often feels like the comic version of a blog - the writing that I've just spent so many lines vaunting has no regular theme (except, presumably, what the author currently finds interesting), and consequently it touches on everything. There's social commentary, philosophy, medical discussions, linguistics, personal relations, and so much more, and that's just the intelligent stuff. There are puns galore, and yes, the occasional sillier or cruder comic as well. Click for a good sampling.

It's always well-written and almost always funny and often insightful. Not to mention edifying. But because the nature can vary so widely, it's necessary to read several before you start getting a feel for the overall style and whether you like the strip. I didn't know how to react at first, but now it's one of my favorite comics. The archive is well worth reading in its entirety, but it's also very long. Fortunately there is a handy-dandy randomized link right at the top underneath the Dinosaur Comics logo, so it's easy to flip through a bunch from all over the calendar. There is the occasional light story arc, and a few characters that require some back-story explanation to be fully understood, but it's not a story-driven (or even particularly character-driven) strip, and overall this is a very approachable webcomic, whenever and wherever you start reading. God and, more rarely, the Devil, make occasional appearances, at least in comments from off-panel. This strip has it all!

The cherry on top of this yummy iced-cream is the pop-up comment available on each and every comic - just move the mouse over and leave it for a moment to see the closing note. [As a technical aside, I discovered the hard way that Firefox 2 (and probably 1) cuts off the pop-up's content after a set-amount of text. For a while I just assumed that the pop-ups were all intended to end in ellipsis. Fortunately Firefox 3 fixes the issue. Now back to our regularly scheduled discourse.]

The comic's not for everyone, at least on a regular basis. It's certainly not for the kiddies, although for once that's more because they wouldn't find it accessible than it is on account of the occasional vulgarities or discussion of "adult" topics. But the topical spectrum the comic addresses is so broad that I doubt there's a single adult who couldn't find at least one strip to her taste.

If there were ever a webcomic for the young intelligentsia, this would be it, at least until such a time as I should find a better example. I doubt I will.

Friday, August 1, 2008

rant (but not rage)

I have no idea what dredged this subject from the murk of my subconscious. It's several months past the part of the year when my rage burns, and six months past when it burns hottest. And it burns hot indeed. But I needed a topic, and pointing out the flaws of others is never out of season! So tell me this, society en masse: why can't you learn to pronounce the second month of the year correctly? For the love of lovable entities, WHY? Here are some definitions:

February: the second month of the calendar year. A lovely time when Spring is in full season and the flowers are in full bloom. Birds sing and emotions surge; valentines are exchanged, Charlie Brown is summarily neglected yet again, and all hearts are full of love except for that of one anti-anti-semantic pundit who's too busy with his righteous fury.

Febuary: no thing. A absence of existence so complete that what does exist is sucked into the vacuum, never to escape. Slowly, ever so gradually, the anti-reality spreads, consuming all that is good, as well as all that is evil and all that is beyond good and evil and everything else just for good measure. The universe is doomed.

More seriously: I admit I get frustrated when people don't intuit things that to me are a snap. I could write much more on subjects like this, with questionable justice. After all, it's not fair to get angry at people for things they can't, or perhaps shouldn't have to, help. I know I can be criticized in no small variety of areas. So most of the time I do my best to be tolerant. But what offends me here has nothing to do with complex mathematical processes, or the workings of physics, or even the linguistics that are my preferred roaming grounds. Asking people to pronounce this simple word correctly is not asking a lot. It's not even as if there's anything naturally deceptive about the spelling of February. There are two r's in the word! What exactly do people think happens to the r after the b? It's as though there was some mass decision to pronounce February with a French accent, and then the first now-gutteral r refused to stop at the back of the throat and just kept sliding on down. Now it's a resident of the sewage system and no one wants to dig around in that mess to get it back. Well, put some gloves on and get a backbone! Strap-on, if necessary!

Anyway that's a misleading analogy because it isn't hard to put the r back in. There really is not such a difference in ease of pronuncation between "broo" and "byoo" to justify blatantly ignoring the rules of language. If people have trouble remembering when to use "whom" instead of "who" (if they even use it at all), or say "me" when it should be "I," that's fine. Can't fight every battle. But mispronouncing February is unacceptable ignorance, and if it's not ignorance then it's laziness, which is worse. And its permeation through society is shocking - I hear "Fe-BYOO-ary" on NPR, and not infrequently either. NPR! That's supposed to be a higher standard of excellence. There's just no excuse. And to people who argue that it's not that important, I have this to ask of them: not how important? Not important enough to get angry about? If no one ever gets upset, at least enough to comment, how do mistakes get fixed? Not important enough to make the required effort to fix it? But the effort is pathetically, laughably minor. So what's the argument? That upholding the most basic, downright foundational rules of our own language is so unimportant that we can't even be bothered to swat a linguistic fly? I can't accept that, can't believe that anyone who has any respect at all for English would accept that, and I'm pretty sure people who actually argue otherwise simply prove my point, that they're just outrageously lazy. The great American tradition? I don't think so.

But hey, if I can't beat this trend, why not embrace it? In this spirit of blind acceptance I propose new versions of other months. Check out the hotness of:

Januay (Jan-way) - hey, a whole syllable dropped out! Much easier to pronounce, plus it sounds kinda Spanish.

Mach (Mah-ch) - doesn't work quite as well because Boston already says it this way. Hey, why not jump the train off the tracks and just make it "Mach," pronounced like the measurement of speed. That's much cooler than any sissy walking-themed name.

Apil - we're a culture heavily-dependent on medication, so this seems entirely appropriate. Do I sense a four-week advertising promotion? I do.

May - er, May. That'll do, monthy. That'll do.

June...ah, forget it. Jump to...

Septembe (Septemb-uh) - see the March note above. Hmm. How about...Septembawesome! Actually that's much better. Small children will be much more excited for the new school year if it starts around Septembawesome! If that's too long we could try Septawesome as an acceptable substitute. Can I win a Nobel Prize for this?

Octobot - an obvious choice. This way you've got Transformers and Mega Man and the whole sci-fi-crossed-with-marine-life world all contained in one glorious bundle. Naturally all science conventions and the latest A.I. development announcements would occur during these four weeks. Paranoia concerning a robot takeover is way up.

Novemburden - let's face it: the oncoming of the winter is a trying time. Kids may dig it but we wiser grown-ups know the bleakness, cold and darkness that impends. Of course, that stuff's not actually here yet, which is why at Thanksgiving you can temporarily lay down your Novemburden.

Decembring-on-the-goodies - on second thought, maybe this should have been the burden month. Christmas shopping is no light duty, nor is preparing the glorious feast on Christmas Day (as always, thanks, Mom). Still, gifts are neat, and so are vacation and family time.

Today my recommendation is that you pronounce February correctly. If you already do this, I'd take off my hat to you if I were wearing one, and I thank you, knowing full well you don't do this for my thanks. Regardless, thank you all who help preserve our beautiful, bizarre language. I was going to write about Dinosaur Comics but I got so caught up in my sarcasm-that-became-enthusiasm-for-tangential-jokes that I think I'd better stop. I'll do DC next post.