Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Truth in the Age of Uncertainty

I'm reading White Noise by Don DeLillo for a class called The Contemporary American Novel. The book is essentially a parody of modern American life circa 1984. What's so interesting to me about the story is the mutability, the uncertainty of truth as depicted in the text.

There's an undercurrent of rampant consumerism that practically floods the story. This is an intentional device that serves as a sort of backdrop for everything that happens. The characters are flighty, self-absorbed and obsessed with minutia. It's John Updike mixed with Kurt Vonnegut.

But what sticks out the most is that the main characters are never certain what's going on in the world around them or what's really going on within themselves. This does seem to be almost an anthem of the modern age. How many times a day do you question things you see or hear?

Our truth does in large part seem to be flexible. It depends, we say. Depends on what? That's what's hard to define. There are always gray areas, complications, ameliorating factors. Relativism. Is this the Age of Uncertainty?

Monday, February 27, 2006

Nine Inch Nails Show in Cincinnati

Saturday night I went to see Nine Inch Nails at US Bank Arena in Cincinnati. It was a fun night despite muddy sound (possibly due to where we were sitting) and what I thought was a bit too short of a performance from Trent Reznor and company.

The opening act was a band called Moving Units, which I'd never heard of. I came away with a couple of observations of the band: they have an eighties retro sound that was kind of cool and they also need to work on the show part.

It might have just been a bad day for them, but the singer looked like he was really drunk (or something) and almost fell off the stage in the first 10 minutes or so of their set. After he picked up a guitar to play in the second or third song, he seemed to get his balance back. All in all, they weren't that bad, but could have been better.

Nine Inch Nails gave a great performance. They were both energetic and polished. I don't remember Trent talking at all; he just came out and did his thing and then left. It felt short. The guitar player was all over the place, though. He was jumping off of stuff and at the end, jammed his guitar through an amp and then threw it into the crowd. Pretty crazy, but cool.

The people around us were a trip, too. We had a lot of time to chat before the bands started and between shows. The guy in front of us had me cracking up; he would talk to us for a bit and then stop to make out with his girlfriend. A couple of times he turned his head away right after kissing her and belched loudly. This guy knows how to treat his ladies.

We had a great time, but I think I'd like to be down on the floor next time. I definitely prefer the shows where I've been closer to the bands.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Saturday Mornings and Being There

It's Saturday morning again and I'm surrounded by what must be a hundred children. The funny thing is that there are only five of them here! The oldest had a friend sleep over and they're both still sleeping upstairs.

I know better by now than to try to get anything useful done at times like these. Of course I have plenty of things to do, more than I could possibly get done anyway, but what I've learned is that it's better to not even try when there's little chance of accomplishing anything.

This isn't a lament about my lack of time; what I'm getting at here is that I've realized in the last year or two that I've spent so much of my life, so many moments, wishing to be somewhere else or wanting to be doing something else.

This is a a great way to be perpetually unhappy. I think you'll be much happier if you try to live each moment by being there, really being there, wherever you are, one hundred percent. Now I'm going back to being here. See ya.

Friday, February 24, 2006

As Long As They're Talking About You

A post I made over on Tobias Buckell's blog has elicited quite a bit of response. What I posted had to do with the need for a writer, especially a beginning writer, to write every day, or, at the least, frequently and regularly.

The problem appears to be that I came across to some people as being rather arrogant in suggesting that there is only one way to write successfully. I'm not going to contest this point as I think I actually do come across this way sometimes.

I don't want to beat a dead horse, either, so I will concede that there are many ways to write, each of them valid in some way. Admittedly, my choice of words in that post could also have been better.

Since it seems that the response wasn't entirely negative, or even if it was, is that a good thing anyway? Hasn't it been said that all press is good press, just as long as they're talking about you? Regardless, I'm hoping commenters and readers alike come to check out my blog to see what I'm really all about.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

More Mad Mac Speculation

Who knows what's true? Another Apple unveiling of new goodies has been announced for Tuesday the 28th. Speculation always runs wild before these events and pictures like this one appear all over the web (hat tip to Josh Smith, guest blogging today at Toby Buckell's like I was yesterday).

I'm hoping to see something like a new Intel-powered iBook with a dramatically lowered price. If Apple could sell a laptop at around $500 or so, I would bet that they could increase their market share quite a bit.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I Just Passed the US Citizenship Test!

You Passed the US Citizenship Test

Congratulations - you got 10 out of 10 correct!

First Guest Blog Post Is Up

I've posted my first guest blog article at Toby Buckell's blog. If you're stopping by here today, make sure to go check it out and also read some of the other great posts available there. I will hopefully be posting some more there throughout the day.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Guest Blogging for Tobias Buckell

I'll be guest blogging at Tobias Buckell's blog on Wednesday of this week. Make sure to go and check it out. I'll try to get some fresh posts up here as well. Don't worry; I have a lot more to say!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Days in June

Tobias Buckell's post about his grandfather's recent death reminded me of my own experience. I'm thankful that I don't have the same conflicted memories.

My grandpa died a few years ago on a warm June day. I'm sorry, but I can't recall the exact date anymore. I do remember that it was a beautiful day. Grass and leaves were every shade of green and flowers were in full bloom already.

He had been in and out of the hospital in Cincinnati (in the 'city,' as he and the rest of the family out there in Indiana called it) for several years with emphysema and other problems. It was Thursday the night we went to see him at the hospital.

My mother (his oldest daughter) had called me and said that it didn't look good and that we should go and see him as soon as possible. I hated getting these calls. We, my sisters and brother and I, had gotten them with a sort of regularity over the last decade and things generally were never as bad as they sounded.

I went to the hospital that Thursday evening, taking along my wife of two years and my oldest son who had been born on Leap Day that year. I didn't know what to expect. When you get a call like that, you don't know. It could be very bad, or reassuringly normal in most ways.

This time was oddly normal. Grandpa seemed tired, pale, but he was himself. He had spent his whole life working hard, never complaining about the hand he'd been dealt in life. He was happy. He had built all that he had with his own hands.

He greeted us by name and was excited to see the son of his oldest grandson. I have a picture of him sitting there in a wheelchair, his hair white and his body thin and frail, holding my son who looked huge in his lap (he was huge). On Grandpa's face is a look of pure joy. It's that look that I remember.

A week later, I got another call from my mother. It was Thursday morning and I was at work. She told me that I should come out to Grandma and Grandpa's house right away. I stopped home to pick up my family and we went out there as quickly as we could.

When we got there, most of my mother's family was there. They talked nervously and tried to smile and laugh in that sad way that conveys clearly that they don't feel like smiling or laughing. There was a nun there who would lead them in a prayer every once in a while, a quick Our Father or Hail Mary that left me feeling rather empty.

They explained to me that Grandpa had been released from the hospital the night before and they'd brought him home. They'd had a late supper and he had sat at his table and eaten with Grandma and my aunt and uncle, but had been so tired he could barely finish and had to be helped to bed. He never woke up.

I remember sitting alone with Grandpa, watching him breathing so hard, every bit of air that he took in cost him the effort of his whole body. His eyes were closed. I sat there and didn't know what to say. I stroked his arm and held his hand and thought about our conversation in the hospital one week before.

He'd told me that the doctors said there was more that could be done, but that the decision had to be his. At his age there was only so much time left.

"What do you think, Ray?" He asked me. I remember telling him that it was about the quality of his life and he nodded. He knew the answer. He told me that his mother had lived to 88 and his father to 86. He was 87.

"That's a good age," he'd said. I nodded.

Before we left, I hugged him and he put his arm around me and kissed me on the cheek, scraping my cheek with his rough whiskers that I remembered so well from my earliest childhood.

"I love you, Grandpa," I said.

"I love you, too, Ray."

That next Thursday, he died while I sat beside his bed. My uncle had come in and my aunts, too, and we sat or stood around the bed as Grandpa stopped breathing. He died in his own bed in the house that he and his brothers had built with their own hands.

I walked outside a little later as we waited for the men from the funeral home to come pick Grandpa up. I sat outside with my uncle, my godfather, who had been up all night at his father's bedside. We said a few words about the weather and he closed his eyes and leaned his head back.

I stood on the front porch and looked at the farm around me, at the step right there where I'd sat so many times with Grandpa as he smoked his pipe and taught me things about life. I'd followed him around as a child and helped with anything I could and Grandpa always waited patiently for me and explained every little thing in his quiet voice.

What I remember the most from that day is how all the colors of the world seemed less bright, like they'd faded after too many washings. Inside, I felt emptied of something. I was sad, but I couldn't help but be proud of my Grandpa. He'd lived his life the way he wanted to. He'd raised his family the way he wanted to and worked hard to provide for them. In the sadness there was a sense of things being right.

I knew that in the end he'd died the way he wanted to. He had made up his mind, maybe that night a week before when we'd spoken at the hospital, alone after everyone else had left the room. In that quiet moment, I knew him better than ever before and finally knew him as a man. And that's how I'll remember him, as a man who worked hard and honestly, the way he saw fit, and died the same way.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Some Writing Tips from a Writer

John Scalzi, author of Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades among other novels and non-fiction works, has a few tips on writing. These ideas are geared toward non-writers who want the straight dope on writing without having to read a book or take a class, but they are pretty good ideas for anybody.

(Did you think I was referring to myself in the title? LOL. Maybe someday...)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Here's a sample of the story that I'm currently revising. I'm about halfway through my second draft and I think I'll end up going through it one more time. Feel free to let me know what you think (if anybody's out there reading this; I think I hear crickets chirping. Nope, not even crickets. Sigh.)

Brad sat staring at his ragged high-tops dangling over the worn pavement. The dark shadows they cast flicked back and forth under the hot sun until he realized he was kicking his feet like a little kid. He stopped abruptly and let them drop back against the crumbly orange-red brick. He looked up at Jessie. She leaned against the low wall beside him, long, tan legs stretched out. Her painted thumbnails darted like tiny purple-headed cobras, striking the buttons in quick succession.

The bright heat of the day glared down on the dusty street. Cars slid by with low growls and swishing of air, hot streaks of light sliding along their glossy sides. The smell of sun-cooked pavement and car exhaust washed over the two on the sidewalk.

Brad squinted against the white sunlight and guessed that it might be almost three o’clock. He looked up sideways at Jessie, one eye squeezed shut and the other barely open. He opened his mouth to speak and then shut it, shaking his head as she started to talk to her phone.

“Yo girl, what’s up?”

Jessie’s face lit up and her intent expression changed into a wide-eyed smile. She kept talking into the tiny pink phone as she settled her shapely backside onto the cracked and dirty concrete ledge on top of the wall. Her quick fingers pushed her long hair behind an ear and then worked a small earpiece on as she leaned back.

“Oh, you know it.”

Brad sighed loudly and put his head down again, kicking the wall hard with both feet. He shifted his butt from one side to the other, pulling the cloth of his shorts away from his sweaty skin. They had spent the whole day in front of the tan brick townhouse where Jessie and her mother lived. He looked back at the building behind them. Her mother had left a couple of hours ago and still they sat out here in the heat while she talked on her phone.

She laughed loudly, throwing back her shiny dark hair and showing her smooth face to the blue sky. Brad looked up at her again. He couldn’t help staring at the delicate curve of her chin as she shook her head at the high wispy clouds, brows beetled in a severe, but stunning, look. His heart beat faster for a moment and he bit his lip.

“Oh yeah,” she answered sagely.

Brad didn’t even try to imagine what words of wisdom she so solemnly agreed with. In a moment she confirmed it or something like it, whatever it mattered.

“She is a total B.”

Monday, February 13, 2006

Priorities and revision

There's something to be said for front-loading the things in your life that you want to be priorities. One way of accomplishing this goal is to schedule those things for the time of day when you have the most energy and focus. For me, that's usually the early morning (as long as I have coffee).

Today, I began trying once again to get back on schedule with both exercising and writing. I got off to a pretty good start with some time spent on the exercise bike while reading a book for class tonight. Then I got a cup of coffee and started back to revising a story that I wrote last summer.

I know, I'm pretty bad with the revisions, but I did complete the first draft. That's been my goal with writing for a while. First, I wanted to write with consistent frequency. That meant every day, if possible, and it usually is possible for me to spend at least half an hour writing each week day.

Next, I wanted to finish what I started. I had to get over the common feeling that it had to be good or even better, great, right out of the chute. For a lot of writers, that's hard to overcome. We all want what we write to be perfect and each of us also tends to be our own harshest critic.

But the fact of the matter is that you don't have to get it perfect the first time. That's what revision is for. For those of you reading this who do some writing, this probably isn't a new idea at all, but if you don't write, it may come as a surprise.

There aren't too many Mozarts out there who can create something perfectly the first time. Most people have to get it out of their head first, onto paper or canvas, into the clay or marble and then refine as they work until it's something approaching the shape of those initial ideas.

Steve Leigh has an interesting blog entry on his own approach to revision. It's a bit different from my own in that I like to get a complete first draft as quickly as I can before I do much revising, but every writer has his or her own approach and Steve's obviously works for him.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Jumping into the fray: Mac vs. PC

After reading another discussion of the perennial Mac vs. PC argument, I was reminded of why I switched over to a Mac for my own personal computer.

I found the discussion in the comments of another blog. The owner of the blog had just posted about deciding to buy a Mac instead of a PC for his next computer. As you can imagine, all hell broke loose.

The camps were as divided as the Jets and the Sharks, Crips and Bloods, Democrats and Republicans. It was a bloody fight, but reasonably friendly, unlike in the examples above.

Over and over again, the same arguments and then counter arguments were made: Macs are cooler, PC's are virus-ridden, Macs are for posers, PC's are for geeks, etc, etc, etc. Everyone's heard this over and over again.

Of course, it made me think of my own reasons for switching. I'm a guy with lots of experience in the PC world, including an associates degree in computer engineering. I've been in the IT business for going on 10 years now and most of this time has been spent in using PC's running some version of Windows.

First, let me say that the Windows operating system is certainly not junk. In fact, XP is a very good operating system and worlds better than any of the previous versions. It more or less does the job and does it fairly well. Like every other OS out there, it does some things very well and others not so well. On to my reasons.

One of the points that is always brought up in any such discussion is that there is so much malware out there targeting Windows computers. This is a fact. Since I spend a great deal of time on computers every day, I've likewise spent a great deal of time dealing with problems caused by viruses and spyware. This is pretty common across the PC world.

When confronted with the fact of the malware problem, there are always numerous protests bringing up Apple's rather miniscule market share and studies showing the myriad vulnerabilities present in OS X and the underlying BSD system. I'm willing to concede that these may also be facts. Here's where the argument ends for me.

So, there are vulnerabilities in OS X. Some consider it to be just as unsecure as Windows (I tend to disagree, but let's give them that for the sake of argument). Who gives a shit? Really, who gives a shit?

The fact of the matter is that there are very few instances of viruses or spyware affecting Mac systems. Can you think of one offhand? I know I can't. What I do know is that I have spent many hours fighting to rid my Windows systems of infestations of malware, but not one second dealing with it on my iBook. That's enough for me.

Yes, there is a coolness factor to Macs that is appealing. The bottom line, though, is that I can get to work on my Mac just about as well as I can on a Windows machine, but without having to worry about dealing with malware or being bogged down by anti-virus or -spyware software that is constantly prompting me about something wanting to change the registry or something trying to run a process or virus definitions being out of date. On and on.

I don't care so much about the reasons for the way things are. They simply are the way they are. Computers are all about making life easier and getting things done. In the end, though, a carpenter can't get much done if he has to stop and fix his hammer after driving every 10 nails or, worse yet, pay a fee for someone to fix it for him.

More sick kids and busy, busy

I've been too busy taking care of sick kids and doing school work to post lately. I had to take two of my little ones to the doctor on Monday due to hacking coughs and rapid breathing. It turns out that both of them have pneumonia. It wasn't entirely unexpected as we've seen it before in our twins last year. It is scary, though. It's a good thing we have caught it early when it's easy to treat. Both are them are doing much better now after a couple of days of antibiotics.

On the school front, I had to spend a lot of time over the last couple of days knocking out an essay for class. It was a typical literary analysis type deal. If you are or were an English major at one time, you'll be very familiar with the concept. I had to include some common themes from The Book of Daniel by E. L. Doctorow and Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. Both books were interesting, although I probably wouldn't have picked them up on my own. I don't think I would read them again, either.

I wonder if I should start posting book reviews? Unfortunately, all of the books I'm reading right now aren't new and so any comment on them wouldn't be very timely. It's an interesting thought, though, and might generate a little more interest in this blog.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The dreaded anonymous post!

I'm honored that someone has taken the trouble to post anonymously to my new blog. They cared enough to take the time to click the comment link and then decipher the word picture so that I could get their insightful opinion.

I'm enlightened. Now I know there is at least one person out there in the world who apparently does not give a shit what I think. What an amazing notion.

I'm picturing either a clove-smoking Dieter from Sprockets wannabe or some balding 40ish guy who lives in his mom's basement and looks at porn all night after getting home from his Quickie Mart job. Thanks, man! I'm truly humbled.

(Hey, but it's my first comment. Woo hoo!)

Update: The anonymous culprit has been identified. Unfortunately, I didn't get the inside joke... It was funny, though, right? Right?

Sunday, February 05, 2006

First Impressions of Firefox

After about a year of never being completely happy with Safari, I decided to give Mozilla Firefox a shot. I'm a relatively new Mac user, having purchased an iBook about a year ago. That wasn't my first Mac, but pretty close.

I tried to use the software that came on it as much as possible in order to save money and also to make things less complex. I wanted to spend more time actually using the computer to do some writing rather than playing around with new software all the time. Besides having to install Microsoft Office (sorry, I'm used to using Word), I've used almost exclusively what came with the computer. That includes Safari.

To be honest, Safari isn't a bad browser. It's been fairly reliable once I worked out some of the kinks with the wireless network. The problem is that it is pretty basic. It doesn't seem to have a whole lot of features.

I don't require a ton of bells and whistles in the software that I use most often, though. In fact, I prefer a more utilitarian approach, like Gmail, for instance. The lack of features in Safari isn't that bad. It just makes it boring. Also, there are pages out there that just won't work well with Safari. So after all this time of using Safari, I went ahead and downloaded Firefox.

My first impression of the browser is that it has a much more polished feel to it than Safari. It's obvious that a great deal of work has gone into creating it. It does feel a bit snappier than Safari, as claimed by the creators. I don't know if this is just a feeling or if it actually is measurably quicker. Regardless, it has a pleasingly responsive interface and is nice looking without having any nasty surprises. By nasty surprises, I mean anything that you would expect to be there, but discover to be missing.

For the most part, it's very simple and intuitive. It did take me a little while to figure out the RSS feeds, though. It turns out that all you have to do is click on the little Livefeed icon in the right hand corner of the location or address bar at the top of the window. Once you do that, the bookmark window comes up and you can place the bookmark on a link bar that appears below the location bar. When you click on the new bookmark, a list drops down showing recent posts. Pretty cool, huh?

I'm sure there are plenty of other features, like being able to use plug-ins and extensions, that make Firefox worth checking out, but the Livefeeds, tabbed browsing and active development of the software (unlike Safari, which almost seems like an afterthought) have sold me. I plan on using Firefox as my default browser for now, at least until something better comes along!

Friday, February 03, 2006

Wasting time again and dealing with sick kids

Here I am again wasting time when I should be working. I was thinking that I should clarify the name of this blog since it probably makes no sense. I named it after a story I recently completed. Actually, I have to revise the story yet, but it's one that I really like for various reasons.

I'm still having a lot of trouble finding time to write. This week has been bad due to having a bunch of sick kids in the house. I haven't had anything like a full night's rest all week. I'm going to get back to it soon, though. I promise. No, I'm not crossing my fingers behind my back!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

A bit more about me

I probably haven't posted enough info about myself yet. Be gentle, I'm new to this!

I'm 35, married and I have six kids. Yes, for real. I live in the suburbs of Northern Kentucky and I work at a local community college in the IT department doing programming and systems analysis. I also teach classes from time to time to bring in some extra cash and also to do something a little different.

I'm currently taking classes at night to finish up my BA in English. When I tell people that, they usually look at me like I'm crazy and ask why. If they have to ask, it's usually not worth the trouble to explain it because they either don't know enough about me or they just don't get it. I'll have to go into more detail on that whole issue in another post. I should be done with my degree this summer anyway.

I've always had an interest in stories and writing, but it's only been in the past couple of years that I've gotten (relatively) serious about it. I took a few classes at NKU (that's Northern Kentucky University) in creative writing and loved them. If you're interested, one of my instructors was Stephen Leigh, writer of more than 20 science fiction and fantasy books and many short stories. I'll try to post a link to his site here if I can figure it out.

Since last summer, I've tried to get up early (like 5 or 5:30) every week day morning to work out and then spend half an hour to an hour writing. I started off well, but lately I've been slacking. I have around 30 some stories in various stages of development. I think 3 or 4 of them are finished and maybe 4 more need to be revised before they can be sent out. I have 2 novels that are started. One of them has about 3 and a half chapters done and the other almost 2.

Last year I made 4 submissions and recieved 4 rejections. I hope to top that this year, but so far I haven't done a damn thing. I have started in on the revisions and done a little planning on markets to submit to.

I guess I should say what it is that I write, huh?

Most of what I've written is main stream stuff. I have a few science fiction stories that I'm working on and maybe one fantasy, but mostly what seems to come out of me is mainstream. This came as a surprise to me when I started writing more. I thought I'd be a science fiction writer since that's what I grew up reading mostly. When I started writing more, though, a lot of it came from my own life experiences. It seems to be almost a cathartic process of getting things out of my system. I know what readers may be thinking at this point: this guy's stuff probably sucks! Maybe so, but hopefully some editor out there will give me a shot and people will get a chance to decide for themselves.

I think that's enough for now.

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