Monthly Archives: July 2011
I mentioned this before on Facebook, but my short story The Farthest Coast has been picked up by the e-zine Daily Science Fiction. It’s short, dealing predominantly with the theme of defining a good life. If any of you have read my post A turn of a phrase, discussing how writers input meaning into innocuous phrases, this story is an example of me doing the same thing. Based on my own estimations of production schedules at DSF, I think the story should come out in October. DSF e-mails a SF story to its many readers every Monday through Friday, and then posts the story on their website. You should definitely subscribe–many of the stories have been very good, and though the e-zine is young, it’s solid pay rates ensure it is putting out top notch stories. I’m adding it to the blogroll, and I’ll let you know the exact date the story will be published.
So, after writing the last post, I went to find my copy of the The Left Hand of Darkness. Unfortunately, I found it in my brother’s hands. He’s been reading it for two days, and he has the better claim to the book than my week stale one. (Curse you Dance with Dragons, and your 800,000 words.) So, I have to pick a new one of these books to read while I wait for him to finish LHoD. In case you missed yesterday’s post, I am going to read all the books that won both the Hugo and Nebula award for best novel. But how to go about choosing my next novel? I don’t have any on hand, and my library is spamming me with reminders about my fines. (Yes, Erie County Library, I know I haven’t returned Forever War. I can’t find it. I will though, as long as I don’t have to answer 5 e-mails a day about it.) With the library out of the picture, my only options are to buy and borrow. And, given my obsession with my shiny new kindle, I think I’m going to buy. But which one? The deciding factor, I’ve decided, is this: Whichever one is cheapest on Kindle. If there is a tie, I’ll buy the older one. That’s the rule. (Yes, I know this is stupid, and that I may be committing myself to an $11 purchase of a book it took literally $1 to produce, if that. And that I can get some of the older books used in paperback for a third of the price. But whatever. Kindle!)
For those out there who don’t know, there are two major awards for fantasy and science fiction literature. (If the phrase “fantasy and science fiction literature” annoys you, feel free to replace it with the popular “weird ass dragon and robot crap.”) The two awards are called the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award, or more aptly, the Hugo and the Nebula (Take it easy, Locus Award. You’re like the D-League of Fiction Awards. Better than you are given credit for, but not the big stage). The Hugo has been around since 1953 and is voted on by attendees of the World Science Fiction Convention (“Worldcon”) and the Nebula has been around since 1965 and is voted on by the members of the Science Fiction Writers Association. As with any award, politics and favorites and deals surely go into who votes for what novel and who gets nominated, but every few years come books that are so good both awards voted them top novel. The list of these books is as follows:
In honor of Sean Bean’s new casting as the father of snow white, thought I’d post this amazing video of Sean Bean dying. Over and over again. (Warning: These are spoilers, I guess.) Most of them are movies I’ve never heard of nor seen, but it’s interesting none the less. By my count, here are the various causes:
-Crushed by falling rubble/dirt/mud
-Shot: 7 times. They are: Shot through a book, by Christian Bale, in a church. Shot during battle. Assassinated from what appears to be long range. Shot on a couch by an emotional man. Shotgunned in an automobile. Shot in a moving car, possibly accidentally. Shotgunned on a road. Read the rest of this entry
My cat died this week. It was tragic, really. He had a seizure, his body straining into a strange carnal whelp in his dying moments as my entire family stood above him in the foyer and watched, helpless. He was the gentlest animal I’ve ever dealt with personally, and I think everyone in my family had a tender spot in their heart for him.
My brother and I buried him in our backyard not long after, and as we did, I found tears coming to my eyes. Despite being a grown man with a cultural definition of masculinity and him only being a simple cat, I did not stop them.
The digging of the hole is often a cathartic experience for the sorrowful mourner, and I found myself taking my frustration with his death out on the tough, root-laden dirt, using vicious stabs with my shovel to tear it apart. When the hole was deep enough, we laid him within and dragged the dirt and grass and branches over the shallow grave, pounding them down with the shovel.
We stood together in the moonlight awkwardly over the grave, thinking about what to do or say, knowing that to turn and walk away in silence would not be sufficient. We paused, quietly, shifting our weight, looking down at the light brown dirt.
Then I said: “I’ll miss you buddy.”
And, after a moment, I continued: “So it goes.” It seemed fitting. Then we sauntered away into the darkness.
I’m sure most or you have read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. (If you haven’t, go read it now. Seriously. Billy Pilgrim may be a somewhat forgettable character, but the world he lives in certainly isn’t.) In the book, the aliens of tralfamadore have a phrase to summarize death: “So it goes.” The phrase acknowledges, to them, that death is but one of many moments in a life, no different than any other moment, no better or worse than any other time in a person’s life.
Of course, to human readers, (or just to me, at least) this symbolized that death is just another part of living, just another requirement of pulling in breath on this planet, and that it should be seen as much. It should be embraced and treated just as every other moment of a living being’s life, with emotion, with feeling, with tragedy. When I set down “Slaughterhouse Five” after finishing it in high school, the plot twists and turns soon drifted away from me, but that phrase–“so it goes”–clung to me like a sticky sweat.
It popped into my mind at random, seemingly irrelevant points in my day throughout high school and into college. I blurted it out drunkenly at parties for no apparent reason, ruining my chances with women. I scribbled it on pieces of paper before realizing I had done so. In short, it became part of my lexicon, part of my subconscious, part of me. It represented an ideal, an understanding about death, that has framed how I view the world.
(Aside:When Vonnegut died, and I hope Kurt’s up in Heaven now, I was in college, and I ended up at a party a little drunk for my own good. Long story short, I wound up wandering about campus in the middle of the night with a piece of chalk, scribbling some of Kurt’s best phrases, including “so it goes”, on sidewalks and the sides of buildings. I completely forgot about doing it until I saw the phrase “A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved” written on the sidewalk like three days later. I momentarily got excited that someone else idolized Vonnegut on my campus and honored his death, but, alas, the memory of squatting to write it in a drunken stupor came flooding back to me.)
At moments like the one in my backyard a few days ago, that phrase helps me cope emotionally. The next day, I pondered how that had happened: how a supposedly meaningless, near gibberish phrase could turn into something I rely on in emotional moments.
And the answer came through the way I experienced them. Vonnegut took a phrase, as he loved to do, that had a bare, simple meaning and turned into something that seemed profound. (See: Welcome to the Monkey House, Cat’s Cradle.) But the words he used were not nearly as important as the concept he presented. The concept, I think, had always lingered somewhere in my mind as a vague cloud that I had trouble conceptualizing, let alone understanding it. Kurt was able to draw thick, black lines around that cloud and color it in– he let me truly see it.
And that’s the point of this post, I guess. He used words to capture that complicated concept of death because he was a writer. That sounds obvious, I know, but stay with me. Songwriters could capture the same concept in a series of notes, and those notes would linger with me. (Puff the Magic Dragon’s chords gives me a strong longing for a time of innocence, for example.) A director and an actor could implant an image in mind that would forever capture a feeling. Of course, all of these mediums use words, but these use other forms of art to make an emotional impression. Writers, in the end, only have their words. To capture that powerful concept, they can never show it nor describe it fully–the amount of time it takes to describe the concept, in my opinion, undermines the power of it. Rather, the simplest way is to instill it symbolically into a seemingly innocuous group of words. Although they do it only for their story, we are humans, and we do not forget so easily. That innocuous phrase is never the same. It becomes something powerful… something more. (Curse you, Linda Ellerbee, and your signoff. Billy Joel, on the other hand, captured the mood of the phrase nicely, in my opinion.)
As much as Vonnegut did that, another author has done that quite powerfully in his work. George R.R. Martin, in his “A Song of Ice and Fire”, gives a special meaning to innocuous words. Rather than influence the audience, however, he does it for the characters. *MINOR SPOILERS ALERT* For Jon Snow: “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” For Tyrion, “Where do Whores go?” For Dany, “If I look back, I fall” or something stupid like that (I dunno– I hate the Dany chapters. Quite boring.) All of these phrases are seemingly meaningless. If you haven’t read the series, for example, they come across as anytime phrases with no depth. But Martin instills into those words the emotional experience surrounding them. For spoiler reasons, I won’t discuss the actual events, but those words come about at arguably the most important moment of those characters’ lives. This is just another example of George’s skill as a writer. Rather than have Jon or Tyrion constantly reminisce about the events, he instills the emotional memory of those events into a few words, and uses those words throughout the books as a portal to transport the character back to that memory. If it were a visual art, he could flashback to one image–they do it all the time. Or, he could use sound. (For you “The Wire” aficianados, how much emotional resonance does this tune have?) But writers have only one option, and they must use it well. They must turn a phrase into so much more.
I think this realization will help my writing, or I hope at least. Words are and will always be simply symbols, but in the hands of a good writer, they became more than just symbols. They became identifiers, definers, sparks of emotion. From Vonnegut to Martin, they can be used as tools to understand ourselves and the world around us.
I guess I wrote this all just to come to terms with the death of my cat, or, at least, to understand why I handled it the way I did. After evaluating, I can only thank Kurt, for he helped me to understand death a little more, to ease the pain, if only in the slightest. I wonder how many readers he has touched on that level. In my writing, I hope that I can get to a handful of people at that depth.
But, for now, I can think more fondly of my cat. To you, Asher, I can only say: So it goes. In the future, when that phrase drifts across my mind, it will make me think of you and smile.
Hey everybody…. this is my first blog post as I set up the blog. Unfortunately, it is taking a lot longer than I naively expected. I’m hoping to get the first post up over the weekend, but we’ll see. Don’t hold your breath. (not that anyone’s out there anyways– I only put this up because the blank white page looked, well, blank.)