Situational Awareness: A Rant

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Uhh…hey guys.

I haven’t posted anything here in a while due to the minor annoying distraction of college classes.  Taking this long to post something new feels a little like I’ve invited someone to my home, and then gone to the movie theater with them still sitting in my living room.  Is it presumptuous to think that I’ve actually found people that would be willing to read what I write about?  Being that I want to be a novelist someday, I’d hope not.

Don’t worry, though.  Come the new year, I’ll have my priorities straight.  Blog first, then college.

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Situational Awareness

(A Rant)

I’ve given this quite a bit of thought and maybe…maybe I’m not being fair.

For those of you that don’t know, I spent four years in the Army and four years working as a civilian on a military base.  The Army, as the saying goes, breaks you down so they can build you back up…the way they want you.  You have to learn to do everything all over again.  There’s a proper way to tie your shoes.  There’s a certain way to wear your clothes.  There’s the correct way to talk and to walk and, in some situations, to breathe.  Some–no, most of these things are useless in the real world, but there was one thing that I learned in the military that has clung tenaciously to my subconscious and I hope it never lets go.  I’ll call this thing: “situational awareness.”

I remember many days of training on, say, the proper maintenance and operation of an M-16.  Training on any particular subject would be followed by weeks of reinforcement by our ever-watchful and constantly enraged drill sergeants.  Should any unfortunate private happen to forget a minor matter of protocol, a drill sergeant would set them on the straight-and-narrow again with a barrage of expletives and personal insults.  The same was true for any number of things the military had deemed necessary for us to learn.  Situational awareness never came up in training, but we all learned it quickly.

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, I’ll give you an example.  Say that you go to, I don’t know, Wal-mart and you’re there for, let’s say…toilet paper.  That’s the only thing you need: toilet paper.  You came all the way out here to Wal-mart for toilet paper and that’s it.  You just want to buy it and go home without delay (presumably to make use of your purchase).

You find yourself behind a group of people in a narrow aisle.  Without much warning, this group of people stops and does anything but get out of your way.  It could be that they’re trying to remember what it was they came here to buy and they’re having a discussion about it.  It could be that they’ve just run into another group of people they know and they’re catching up.  Whatever it is that they’re doing, it has nothing to do with you, and it certainly is not expediting the purchase of your toilet paper in any manner whatsoever.  The aisle (which is utterly inescapable aside from the way you’re going and the way you came) is now blocked thanks to the mouth-breathers in front of you.  You get an idea that these people might need toilet paper too, judging from the useless twaddle coming out of their mouths and what is probably between their ears.

Of course, this isn’t a doomed situation.  Usually a simple, “Excuse me,” gets you past without much static–once you say it enough times to stop their yammering.  But honestly, should it really come to that?  Shouldn’t you realize that this aisle was not built with you and only you in mind?  Shouldn’t you realize that, since you’re in public, maybe you should take a look around?  Shouldn’t you–and I know this is going to sound crazy–think that there are other people than just you in existance?

It seems incredibly unnecessary to go to the effort of making the following diagram.  However, considering that this post itself seems necessary, visual aids might be needed as well.  Consider Figure 1.

Figure 1

Consider that you (A) have just walked into a bar. In front of you is a gaggle of people vaguely resembling a small European country for some reason (B).  (The resemblance to a European country is coincidental.  These are the pitfalls of working with a fifth-rate artist who shrugs and thinks it’s good enough for some blog post (namely: me).)  Note the natural walkway (C) that B is blocking.  You could go around, there aren’t that many people in this bar, but that means shuffling sideways past chairs and excusing yourself to people sitting at tables.  Those at tables look at you and, though they’re smiling on the outside as the scoot forward for you, they’re annoyed on the inside.  These people are thinking, “Why don’t you just use the walkway between the tables instead of bothering me?  Can’t you see that I’m with friends here?  You’re interrupting my conversation…you douchebag.”

Yeah.  Now you’re the douchebag instead of the heard of douchebags blocking your path to the bar.

[Tangent: a group of douchebags should be referred to as a “Doucheberg.”  Tell your friends, pass it on.]

This doucheberg should collectively consider where they are, think that maybe they’re not standing in the best spot and move along somewhere–I don’t know–where they wouldn’t be inconveniencing every patron that walks through the door.

NORAD doors (not a standard door)

Here’s a very simple example.  Double doors.  Fully functioning double doors.  Here’s thirty or so people trying to go through these doors and no one, not a soul, coming out.  Why is it that most of these people would rather wait for a door to be opened for them, than to use other door (remember, double doors means “two doors”).  It’s not like these are the doors at NORAD.  These are not the doors at Fort Knox.  These are doors that children can open.  Hell, if there’s a button, they open for you!  But no.  No.  People (some people, anyway) would rather wait twice as long while inconveniencing a multitude of others, just so long as they don’t have to burn the handful of calories it would take to open the other one.

There’s two doors.  If no one is coming out the other, use both.  See?  Situational awareness.

At this point, you might be thinking that I’m being too sensitive.  You might be thinking that I should just take it easy, right?  You might be thinking that I should just stop, smell the roses and appreciate what I have while I have it and let those others alone.

Sure.  And when the Doucheberg rises to power, I should just let it ride, right?  And when the Doucheberg orders me to live in only one specific part of town, I should comply.  Judengasse, huh?  Sounds fun!  And when the train shows up and they tell me to get on, sure, I should hop on and just enjoy the scenic ride to the Douche-Führer’s death camp!  No…not this guy.  Not this guy.

Okay.  Maybe I’m being overly dramatic.  Maybe I’m not being fair.  This brings me to where I started from.

It’s hard to describe exactly the fear and terror that a drill sergeant can instill in an unsuspecting and more-or-less naive private.  To an eighteen-year-old kid in boot camp, a drill sergeant is a whirling dervish of doom and utter despair.  Drill sergeants are the epitome of dark evil and red malice.  A drill sergeant with a soldier at their whim is more maniacal than the most ill-tempered, sadistic tomcat with a mouse in its jaws–in only one way.  That tomcat will eventually put an end to that mouse.  A soldier is always ready to go.

So, naturally, when a drill sergeant tells a group of privates to, “make a hole,” they do so without thinking and get the hell out of that drill sergeant’s way.  When a drill sergeant tells a group of privates to form a line for something, those privates do so hugging a wall, without getting in anyone’s way–let alone one of those men wearing the brown hats.  Should that line cut in front of a door, a space is left so that anyone needing to go into that door can still get past.  Leaving a space for the door is done so without being told.

This man likes you. He would like to introduce you to his sister.

This sort of mentality was drilled into me (pardon the pun) throughout basic training.  You were never safe from the wrath of the drills, so it helped to have eyes in the back of your head.  I remember jerking my head around behind me a few times, thinking that one of the drills was creeping up and about to unleash some godawful horror on me.  When I looked, it was just another private.  A private like me.

There were times that I would be in the chow hall and standing in front of the soda machine, not sure if I wanted Coke or Sprite.  A tap would come down on my shoulder and I would jump and give an almost inaudible whimper.  When I looked behind me, I saw a private with a plastic cup in his hand and Mr. Pibb on his mind.  A private like me.

There were times that I would be standing in the middle of one of those natural walkways with my brain elsewhere, and I’d hear footsteps behind me.  I would make a hole before one of those evil bastards could tell me, hoping that I wouldn’t end up in the grass doing tortuous physical agony that they had just now invented when they saw me.  I would turn to see just another private walking down the sidewalk.  A private like me.

Eventually, I got to where I stopped expecting a drill sergeant and did what I did as a matter of course.  If someone at point A was going to point C, and I just happened to be meandering somewhere around point B, I’d move for them.  After all, most people, when I look at things broadly enough, aren’t so different from me.  You.  Me.  Them.  Everybody.

I’m not at all suggesting something akin to all of us standing under a rainbow, holding hands and singing “Kum-by-ya.”  All I’m suggesting is that these little things that are slowly chipping away at what’s left of my sanity are easy fixes.  These are things people could easily do, but refuse to on a regular basis.

And it’s not fair.  It’s not fair, not only to these recidivist douchebags but also to most decent people.  What’s not fair, the real injustice, is not that other people don’t do and think exactly what I do (though personally, I think it’s a bit of a shame).  It took the fear of…well, not God, but certainly a hearty handful of demigods disguised as drill sergeants dispensing their harsh judgment for this to be driven into my head.  It took months of being terrorized by scary men in funny hats for me to start really thinking of other people.  That’s the real shame.

“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.” – Albert Einstein

These are easy fixes.

Give a Hoot, Read a Book

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In the past six months or so, I’ve taken a far more active interest in the written word.  This is partly because of my ambitions to become a successful writer and partly because of the long-buried and all too common non-reader’s guilt. For whatever reason, your average person simply doesn’t read too often.  A 2007 AP report reported that 1 in 4 adults failed to read a single book in the previous year.  No one likes to feel unintelligent and no one likes to be excluded from something, this includes the literary world.  Lack of reading does both and did both to me.

You see, I was not a very good English student.  In fact, I came very close to not graduating High School due to a near failing English grade.  I just found it all so utterly and completely boring.  Besides, Keenland race track was nearby and how cool is it to skip school to go bet on a few horses?  But it wasn’t only that I found English class and reading books to be boring, it also seemed irrelevant and arbitrary to boot.  “I mean seriously!” says a version of me that is ten years younger than the current model.  “What the hell do I care about a participle or stuff that was written hundreds of years ago?!  I mean, stories are cool but if it’s really good, they’ll make it into a movie.  Besides, reading is boring.”

Yes, I know what you devoted bibliophiles are thinking: “Kill the non-believer!”

Before you go for your torches and pitchforks, please know that I’ve changed.  Television and film just aren’t as magical to me as they once were and I now take most of my entertainment in word form.  Actually, I feel a little bit like a double agent or live a kind of double life.  I currently work on a military base and live around soldiers and vets.  While military folks are good people, there isn’t exactly a desperate outcry for book clubs and library funding.  My handful of local friends are all tank mechanics and the like, so literature isn’t exactly a popular interest.  Despite this, we get along fine; they suffer through my diatribes about books and I suffer through theirs about motorcycles.  What’s odd to me is that they tend to think of me as a “reader” (stick two fingers in the air and make them go up and down…yeah, I’m that guy) and they have this kind of wariness about me.  It’s like I have some disease or that I have some troubling past.

I usually have at least one book with me and I read when I get a spare moment.  I especially like taking a book with me to a restaurant.  While I’m waiting for the food to come and after I finish, I take my time and read till I have to move along.  More than a little often, I’ll catch these  odd glances from strangers.  They’ll look at me a little longer than maybe they had planned and when I look up, they look away.  A lot of times, people will see me reading and give me a look that seems to say, “Oh, he’s one of those types.”

I think that the common belief among non-readers is that people read in public (or at all) simply to show off, as ridiculous as this may seem.  I know this to be somewhat true because I used to think it once upon a time.  I think this stems from a fear of feeling less intelligent and simple non-interest in reading.  I wouldn’t call it ignorance, except when expressed as ignobly as Kanye West did in a Rolling Stone interview:

“Sometimes people write novels and they just be so wordy and so self-absorbed…I am not a fan of books. I would never want a book’s autograph. I am a proud non-reader of books.”

Never mind the fact that making fun of Kanye West is as easy as finding a Jonas Brothers fan in an all-girl school.  Never mind the fact that his mother was actually a College Professor of English with a PHD.  Never mind the fact that HE ACTUALLY WROTE A BOOK (one that is 52 pages long, and was co-authored with someone else…and, good lord, read those reviews).  The fact that someone actually thought this, then said it to a reporter for a nationally published magazine is astounding.  Then again, Kanye isn’t known for his quiet reserve.  The man is either the greatest satirist in human history or the biggest celebrity dumbass we have at our disposal.

One of my favorite comedians, Bill Hicks, told a story about reading a book.  The short, clean version is this:

“I was sitting in a Waffle House restaurant, reading a book and this waitress asked me ‘Whatcha readin’ for?’  Isn’t that the weirdest question you’ve ever heard?  Not ‘what am I reading?’ but ‘what am I reading for?’  What am I reading for?  I guess so I don’t have to work as a waitress at the Waffle House.”

That’s a bit harsher than I’d go with it, but the concept is the same.  So, if you’re reading this and you’re not exactly an avid reader, ask yourself this: do you really want to be on the same side as Kanye West…about anything?

I mean, when it comes down to it, don’t you–

kanye1kanye2kanye3

The Force is Strong With This One…

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694px-star_wars_logosvgThis past weekend, I had one of the most incredibly enthralling conversations that I’ve ever had.  Namely: Who was the better Jedi, Luke or Obi-won?  Scott Fuzion asked me this and said that our friendship depended on my answer.  After thinking about it for a second, I told him Obi-won was definitely the better Jedi.  Apparently, we’re not friends anymore.

But you know what, to Hell with Scott.

If he is going to be so blind to truth and facts then maybe I’m just better off.

But still..how can someone be so incredibly wrong about something and still manage to sleep at night (maybe it’s due to Scott’s steady diet of eating babies for every meal?)?  I didn’t have access to the internet at the time and the only thing I was busy downloading was Cranberry & Vodka’s into my mouf.  Now that I have the one and not the other, allow me to school you, Scott, in the ways of the Force…you bandwagon, Skywalker loving, pansy…

A-hem.

WHAT IS A JEDI?

The original question the odious Mr. Fuzion asked me was “Who was the better Jedi?”  For the purposes of this discussion, I think this term needs to be defined.  The following is taken from WOOKIEPEDIA, the Star Wars version of Wikipedia.

THE JEDI CODE
There is no emotion; there is peace.
There is no ignorance; there is knowledge.
There is no passion; there is serenity.
There is no chaos; there is harmony.
There is no death; there is the Force.

Also from Wookiepedia, the first few lines from the article on Jedi from the section entitled “Way of Life”:

“In following the Code, Jedi behavior was rigidly structured to uphold self-discipline, responsibility, and public service. The Jedi conquered emotions and materialism. They honored life, the law, the order itself and the master-student relationship. Jedi rendered aid to support and defend the weak; compassion was “encouraged.” Rules of engagement included such notions as understanding the dark and light in all things, learning to see accurately, opening their eyes to what was not evident and exercising caution, even in trivial matters. Above all, Jedi upheld their duty to the Republic and embraced the Force.”

Now that we all know the parameters for this discussion, I’ll continue.  Since age comes before Farrah Fawcett-like fanned blond mops, we’ll start with my man, Obi-wan.

OBI-WAN KENOBI

Obi-wan_headshot

One Baaad Mutha!

Look at him.  That’s one bad dude.  There’s a character so hardcore and totally badass that they had to get an actual knight to play him–that’s SIR Alec Guinness to you, pal.  In Espisodes I-III, who did they get to play him?  Ewan McGregor, who played an heroine addict in “Trainspotting” (badass) and played a US Army Ranger in “Blackhawk Down”(also badass).  Now, I know that this doesn’t count toward who’s a better Jedi, but you can’t have some schlub playing a truly amazing character and Hollywood knows how to cast appropriately (as well knowing how to let Michael Bay destroy everything I loved as a child through his bullshit, pointless and plotless  movies…but I digress).

Who was Obi-wan?  A loyal servant of the Republic.  A selfless diplomat seeking justice and doing what he can to protect civilization from the Dark Side.  A Jedi Master answering the call of the Jedi council in whatever way was asked of him; from quelling a rebellion, to serving as a distant watcher.

Oh…did I mention professional bad-ass?  Sorry, I thought I mentioned that.  In Episodes I-IV, he acts as a efficient, well oiled, highly refined ass-kicking machine!  From Darth Maul to General Grevis to wanted men with the death sentence on twelve different systems, Kenobi brings a case of Jedi flavored Whoop-ass wherever he goes.  Oh and he did managed to beat the snot out of Luke’s dad pretty well too, Mr. HAAA-PAAA…HAAA-PAAA.  It’s like, geez dude, do something about that wheezing already, it’s creepy.

But here’s the thing, being a Jedi is about doing whatever you have to do to ensure peace.  Sometimes that means whipping out a lightsaber and rearranging the furniture; but most times it means acting as a compassionate civil servant trying to calm hostilities.  Even when Kenobi faced off against Darth Vader in Ep. IV, he sacrifices himself to let the whiny son of and even whinier Emo-douche escape.  Throughout his entire fictional life, in the films and in the books and comics considered canonical, he goes astray only a few times but never fully to the Dark Side.  According to the Jedi Code and what it means to actually be a Jedi, Obi-wan was that in spades.  Period.

LUKE SKYWALKER

Aww...don't cry, emo-kid...

Aww...don't cry, emo-kid...

Alright, let’s start with the actor.  Mark Hamil.  Wait, Mark Hamil? 

“Mr. Hamil, since you starred in one of the highest grossing and highly successful movies of all time, how has that boosted your acting career?” “I…uhh…am a voice actor for cartoons now…”  “Really?”  “Yep.” (fictional quotes made up by me.)

Don’t get me wrong, I like Mark Hamil and he really does some amazing voices, but come on.  If all that’s required of the character of Luke Skywalker is a future voice actor, how well does that bode for the character himself.  I’m just sayin’…

Now to how he fares as a Jedi.  Let’s see…in every single movie he is seen disobeying his masters and instructors.  In every single movie he loses self-control and does things that nearly get himself killed .  And, in every single movie he gets his ass kicked.  In fact, if it weren’t for Han Solo, he would have eaten it more than a few times.  A Jedi?  More like a Jedon’t.

Let’s not forget that all this guy does is whinge.  Whinge, whinge, whinge, whinge.  *in a high whiny pitch*”But I was going into Tosche Station to pick up some power converters!”  Shut up, you stupid kid.  *in same whiny voice* “No! That’s not true! That’s impossible!”  God.  Shut up already.  Oh, and who can forget the whinging on the floor of the Emperor’s throne room? “Father! Pleeeeeease!”  No way, Palpatine.  Crank up the juice and put this whiny little emo-girl out of his misery.  I’m sorry, comparing Skywalker to a whiny little emo-girl is offensive to actual whiny little emo-girls.  My apologies, ladies.

Now here’s Scott’s big arguments for this pansy:

1.) He founded the New Jedi Order.

Well guess what?  If you’re the only member of a club, obviously you’re going to be the best one.

2.) He was the only Jedi to go all the way to the Dark Side and back.

So…not only was he a whiny little girl with a penchant for catching an ass-whopping and constantly not listening to his masters, but he also succumbed to the Dark Side.  That’s not impressive at all.  Yeah he came back, but he should have never gone over in the first place.

In closing, I’d just like to say…well…Star Wars is kind of lame Sci-Fi anyway.  Us big boys read Frank Herbert, Aurthur C. Clarke and Asimov.

But still…Obi-wan was waaaaaay better.

Don’t agree?  Then vote.

PS: Lots of love Scott.  😀


What The Hell Am I Doing Here?

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I usually always question what you, the reader are doing here.  I mean, I don’t want to say that you have poor taste or anything, it’s just, well…take a look at the title of this blog.  I’d figure that there’s enough pointlessness in popular culture today that everybody would get their fill.  But, according to my “Big-Brother-O-Meter” that shows me not only when my blog is visited but also the link that you came from (be it from one of my forum signatures or from my Facebook postings), I have at least one visitor every day.  Who are you, mystery reader?

Anyway, this bored soul (and on occasion, more than one) has made me self-conscious about my lack of postings.  It’s like I’m letting someone down, which I find weird because I usually think I suck.  Further more, it would be a different story if I had something–you know, like a book that I wrote–to talk about.  All I have is my one short story that’s been published, but not much else.  Oh sure, I have a book in the works, but nothing solid as of yet.  This brings me to my question: What the hell am I supposed to be doing here?

First of all, I suppose it’s fair to ask why I started a blog in the first place.  Well, in my heart of hearts (pfft, as if I have a heart), I’d like to be a professional writer.  That is to say, I’d like to be able to support myself solely on writing.  Why?  Because real work sucks and I’d rather daydream all day, write it down and get paid for it.  Why blog?  Maria Schneider told me to. I am not one to argue with Maria (mainly because I don’t know her that well and I doubt she’d listen to a schlub like me) so I am here a-bloggin’ but not sure what to write about.

I asked my good friend Google.com, “what should I write about in my blog”.  I had some exact hits but a result entitled “25 things you should NEVER write about in your blog” was more enticing.  Despite high hopes, it was a disappointing collection of obvious self-incriminations or semi-ironic revelations that were unhelpful and only slightly more entertaining than boredom.  I went somewhere else.

I found this one that seems fairly helpful, but not exactly what I was looking for.  This blogger gives 6 styles to a blog and here’s why these 6 aren’t right for me.

  1. AS A JOURNAL. I don’t think I’m interesting enough for people to really care what I do on a daily basis and I’m not narcissistic enough to believe it either.
  2. AS A CRITIC. Yeah, because we don’t have enough of those on the internet.
  3. A COMBINATION OF FORMS 1 & 2. See reasons 1 &2.
  4. AS A MINI-PUBLISHER FOR WRITERS. This I suppose is pretty close, but not quite.  It’s hard to become a professional writer if you give everything away.
  5. TO BUILD AN ONLINE COMMUNITY. This is the niche of pro bloggers.  I’ll pass.
  6. AS A CORPORATE MEDIUM OR FORM OF ADVERTISING. SPACEBALLS, THE T-SHIRT!  SPACEBALLS, THE COLORING BOOK!  SPACEBALLS, THE FLAME THROWER!  (the kids love that one)

“So, where to now?” I thought and wrote in my blog simultaneously.  I went back to my search results.  It appears that quite a few people had the same question that I did.  Some had helpful responses, but others…

Awfully strong words coming from an umlauted semi-circle if you ask me.  I will grant that Mr. Sëmï-Cïrclë has a point, but I’m trying to get someone to buy the cow without getting too much of the milk for free…which brings me back to the annoying fact that I don’t exactly have a cow as of yet.  By that I mean book.  And by that I don’t mean a book on cows.

I’ve read post after post on website after website and it seems to be doing my head in.  But is this my fault that I don’t know what to write about?  Is it possible that if I wrote something–ANYTHING–here on a daily or semi-daily basis that a focus would develop naturally?  Could it be that if I really wanted to become a professional writer that I should buckle down, get to it and start writing everyday like I’ve been told to by so many successful writers?  Maybe, just maybe is the problem in my inaction and lack of discipline?

…Or is it Maria Schneider’s fault for making me start a blog in the first place?  What am I saying, of course it’s her fault!

I sought out to find this purveyor of bloggery but she am-scrayed.  She had wisely avoided direct contact with me at all cost but had the hindsight to leave behind a few articles on blogging, knowing that I would not stop until I had my answers.  Her answers were…well, extremely helpful.

After reading over her posts, I think I have found a direction to take this pointless mess.  This will be a journal log of my writing endeavors in an effort to build a community create a following of people who like my writing by advertising promoting my published works when they come; as well as a mini-publisher digital release of some of my daily prattlings.  There,  I think that’s enough self-contradiction for one paragraph.

Later on in the week, will post some things I’m working on (premise for a book I’m working on, premise of a short story that’s in the works).  What’s that?  Don’t think I’ll have something here tomorrow?  You just come back and see, pal!  I’ll show you, boy-howdy!

Quotes are always a nice way to wrap things up, so here’s one from one of my favorite authors.

“It takes an awful long time to not write a book.”  —  Douglas Adams

I think it’s been long enough…

Gary Vs. The English Language

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“I don’t give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way.” – Mark Twain

redneck-signI am knot tha wurld’s best spelar.  I’ll admit it.  In fact, if it weren’t for that squiggly little red line that pops up and tells me that I’m an idiot with every mistype, I’d be completely hopeless.  Actually, I’m kind of proud of that fact; I see it as a mark of free thinking.

In third grade, I was in a double elimination spelling bee, meaning that you could get one wrong and still be in.  I made it past the first round, but in the second my word was “COUCH”, so I started, “C-O-W-“…oops.  Third word: “FAUCET”.  “F-A-W-“, and that was all she wrote.  As I was walking away I remembered thinking, “This is fuckin’ stupid…”  That’s not what I thought word for word (I was in the third grade after all), but essentially that was what I thought.

Of all the arbitrary rules for something, spelling is the one that really gets me.  I mean, languages are fairly arbitrary to begin with.  You’ve got two cavemen and one thinks that “OOGA!” should mean rock while another thinks “ARGA!” should mean rock.  Who’s right?  Neither and both.  A language is just a collection of sounds that represent ideas, so the correct way to spell those sounds is one of the most pointless things I can think of.  Now, I know that some of you might be educators and this type of thing is what you do, so let me explain.

Let’s talk about the ABC’s.  See that?  Third letter in and we’re already in trouble.  “C”.  I hate “C”.  “C” doesn’t know if it wants to be an “S” or a “K”.  “C”, it seems, has personality issues.  Why do we even have “C”?  I’d rather learn about the ABD’s to be honest.  “I” kind of pisses me off too for the same reasons as “C”.  There is nothing that “I” does that “E” couldn’t do; that is, except for starting off “Island” which is an irritating word.  And what the hell is that “S” doing in there anyway?  At least it’s not a “C”.  “K” is kind of a pushy letter; it manages to jump in front of “N”’s all the time.  Jeez “K”, why don’t you just leave “N” alone?   I think that “G” and “J” need to come to an understanding; it seems that they’ve been having a turf war for years and they need to do us all a favor and just squash it.  “Q” has definite self-confidence issues because everywhere it goes, it always brings its buddy “U”.  “W” is fine but we need a new name for it.  It’s a double “V” if it’s anything; and no, I don’t care about it being a double-“U” in cursive.  Cursive is far too pretentious as it is.  And “X”, well–I guess we could get rid of it and just use an “-EKS-”, but “X” is by far the coolest letter in the alphabet.  Meh, we’ll keep that one.

Now, if all of that isn’t dumb enough, putting letters together is where things really start getting retarded.  We’ll start with “-TION”, as in “QUESTION” and “INSTITUTION”.

Hold on.  “T” (a “Tah” sound), “I” (a fake “E” sound),  “O” (an “Oh” sound) and “N” (a “Nah” sound).  Ok, “-TEEON”? “-TEEUN”?

Nope, “-SHUN”.

“-SHUN”?  If it’s “-SHUN” shouldn’t you spell it “SHUN”?

Nope, “-TION”.

Pfft, ok, moving on.  “-IGHT” as in “FLASHLIGHT” or “NIGHT”.  Shouldn’t it be pronounced “–IG-HIT”?

Nope, “-ITE”.

Then shouldn’t you spell it “-ITE”?

Nope, only on the internet and in text messages.

Ugh!  Fine!  “FOREIGN”…”FOR-EE-GIN”?

No, “FOR-EN”.

“RESTAURANT”…”REST-AH-UR-ANT”? 

NO, “REST-RONT”.

CAMAUFLAGE”…”CAM…AU…FLAGE?”

NOOO!  “CAM-O-FLOGE!”

We have MEET and MEAT which aren’t the same thing, but pretty funny when you mix them up.  We have READ (present tense) and READ (past tense) which are two different things spelled the same way and only through the context can you tell which one it is.  We have WOMEN.  I don’t like the word WOMEN; you have to read through the entire word to know how to pronounce it.  And, from a social perspective, it’s implying that a woman doesn’t exist without a man, which is a bit oppressive (biologically speaking, it is true but that’s not the point).  We have PALE and PAIL.  We have BONE and DONE.  We have PIN and PEN.  We have THERE, THEIR, and THEY’RE.  We have TIER, TEAR (as in to cry), TEAR (as in to rip) and TARE.  And the thing that gets me, the keeps me biting my fingernails and wakes me out of a dead sleep: to spell a word like it sounds is to spell it–how?  Phonetically.  How–in what nutty plane of existence does a “P” with an “H” equal a “FAH” sound?  And what’s wrong with using “F”?  Has it been black-listed or something?  Well that’s Phucked.

awsomeHaving said all that, there are still people in America who honestly believe that if you don’t understand English very well, you shouldn’t be allowed to have a job, or even residency.  Of course what they actually say is, “If ya caint speak Anglish, then ya should’a never come over her!”  These people are of the opinion that you should spend all of your off-time learning English just so that you can understand that some dipshit redneck doesn’t want tomatoes on his hamburger.

Here’s my proposal.  Take the ungraded spelling tests of every third-grader in the nation, find the most misspelled words and use that as the standard American English from now on.  Kids spell words as they make sense to them and they are more-or-less untainted by all of these needlessly pointless spellings.  Maybe then Billy Bob will find something else to complain about other than foreigners and I won’t be ceaselessly haunted by smug red squiggles every time I spell a word in a logical fashion.  Sigh…it could all be so wonderful…

Wrong; Glass: Sir,…

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Olive Garden and that’s as fancy as I get.  And even then only on rare occasions.

The Olive Garden is alright, good food pleasant ambiance, all-in-all a pretty nice restaurant.

wrong_glass_smallAnd look at that, there seems to be a few choices of utensils here.  Hmm, what to do, what to do.  I’m not really one to be too concerned with high-class table manners when it comes to utensil etiquette, but at the same time I don’t want to embarrass myself over something obvious.  Well, I’d say that the small fork is to be used for my salad and the big one is for the main course.  Yes, that makes sense.  And I bet that the wider of the two spoons is probably for soup, right?  Ok, I can see that.  The short knife is for buttering and the longer knife is probably for more intensive work.  Good.  Now, once you explain to me what the three different glasses are for, I think I’ll be good to go.

I don’t feel too self-conscious about the fact that couldn’t tell you which side the spoon is supposed to be on or at which point in a multiple course meal the soup is supposed to come out (if soup is even included in such super-duper fancy dining experiences).  I hear that white wine goes well with chicken and red wine goes well with beef, but this is about as far as my culinary knowledge goes about such things.  I don’t care about these things because ultimately I know that they don’t matter.  What matters is not the convoluted and complicated rules for putting food into your body that high-class snobs say you should follow.  What ultimately matters is how good the food is.

This is the same stance I take on grammar and punctuation.

Grammar and punctuation have been the bane of my friggin’ existence for as long as I can remember.  Rules about run-on sentences and commas and dashes vs. hyphens and gerunds and prepositions and ad infinitum.  Then there I am, 12 years old, saying, “Yeah, but do I really need all that crap to write a story about a talking chicken?”  “OH, YES!” says my English teacher, towering over me with ruler in hand.  At this point in my education, I stopped wanting to write down the things I came up with and just left them in my head.  To stick with the dining metaphor, if I couldn’t eat it all with my hands, I’d just go hungry.

For years I didn’t care about writing because it just made me feel stupid.  With all of these rules to follow, it was like the story didn’t matter; what truly mattered was adherence to the rules and following the proper protocols.   What do the rules have to do with a story that I made up in my head? I thought.  So I decided that books and stories weren’t about the story at all, but making sure you kept your prose in line with what most considered to be linguistic law.  It was something like an English Text Book sprouting limbs, waving a gun in my face and saying, “Alright, just do what I say and nobody gets hurt!”

Fuck English Class.

It was this firmly held belief that nearly caused me to fail English my senior year of High School.

fail-owned-grammar-failOne day I was daydreaming (this just happens to be my default setting) and I had an idea about an interesting story.  “Wouldn’t it be cool if…”  As the days went by, it just stuck in my head and wouldn’t let go, like a booger that refuses to be flicked off your finger.  I had no choice but to write the damn thing down, so it would be out of my head and on paper.  I wrote it and forgot about it.  I ended up picking it up a few weeks later and realized that it wasn’t half bad.  The half that actually was bad was full of unclear wording and awkward sentences.  Grudgingly, I admitted that I needed to brush up on my Proper English.

Never one to be a slave to any system, I promised myself that I wouldn’t become a Nazi about it and I picked up what I thought was important.  The rest I left behind.  In fact, I became so interested in writing that I actually took a college level “Intro to Writing” class with the University of Maryland.  If you know me, then you know how much personal interest it would take me to do this.  Education is completely different than knowledge and I was after the later.

The class was a joke.  The entire semester could have been summarized in one day by saying, “PUT COMMAS EVERYWHERE!”  What the professor thought was exceptional writing came off to me as just pretentious, uninspired crap.  I did my homework every single day and managed to show up every single day as well.  Further more, I actually paid to do this.  The only day I didn’t show up to class was the one day everyone is supposed to go: the day of the final.  I didn’t need to take the final exam.  No one learns anything from a Final Exam that they haven’t already learned.  A Final Exam is simply proof that you learned something.  Coming from a college town, I know plenty of dolts with “proof” of learning in the form of a diploma.  Pass.

The main lesson I walked away with was that there is no class that can teach you to be creative.  Good writing doesn’t come from a slavish attachment to rules, it comes from an understanding of effective story telling.  Sometimes to tell a better story, you have to deliberately break these rules.

Outside of trying to write something that’s at least a few steps above crap, I spend most of my time these days lurking about in the forums of a writer’s website called Editor Unleashed.  Someone asked a question about grammar and punctuation within dialog.  Someone else replied with the following:

When you’re a great writer or you think you’re a great writer, you no longer have to follow dialog punctuation. I’m reading Jose Saramago’s Blindness and he doesn’t use quotes. He also uses run-on sentences. He is a great writer and Nobel Prize winner, so he gets to do that.

Hold on, I thought, I have to win a Nobel Prize to use the grammar and punctuation I want?  Oh fuck that!

When I serve someone up a story or an entry on this blog, I’m not overly concerned if the fork is on the right side, or the placement of any of the utensils for that matter.  If I pour the wine into the water goblet and not the wine glass, consider the fact that maybe I meant to and run with it.  If it comes time for dessert and I plop it down in the soup bowl, ask yourself why I would do that.  Obviously if the food tastes funny, I’d like to know.  Also, if I give you a bread knife to eat your soup with, I’d like to know that as well.  If it was unintentional, I will apologize but don’t assume I don’t know what a spoon is.

In the end, I don’t really care about any of these things.  All I want to know is one thing, did you enjoy your meal?

(By the way, I stripped my first few sentences down to their bare minimum punctuation. Go ahead grammar Nazis, point it out…I dare you!)

mad storytelling mic skillz

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I am a big fan of cool t-shirts; I have quite a collection actually.  Just to list a few, I have a Castle Greyskull t-shit, a shirt that says “Cliffhangers Are” (think about that one) and, possibly my favorite, one that says “Words on a shirt”.  But there’s one that I wear that always gets attention and definitely some strange looks.  It’s black and on the front, in red Gothic letters, are two words: “Rap Sucks”.  This one always gets a few comments.

I wear it, as strange as it may sound, to start conversations by way of pissing people off.  I’ve been suspected of being a racist on a few occasions; apparently openly disliking a genre of music makes you some kind of hate monger.  Although, in defense of this idea, I’ve had a few guys come up to me; usually wearing a tight flannel shirt, tight blue jeans, cowboy boots and a very large shiny belt buckle; and compliment me on it.  I’ve had to cut these guys off before they get a chance to invite me to the next Klan meeting.

Most of the time, the people that don’t like the shirt are black guys.  “What’s that shirt supposed to mean,” they ask, probably thinking that I’m in cahoots with that fella in the Lynard Skynard hat with a big hunk of dip in his lip.  “Ok,” I explain, “first of  all this is a general statement and like all general statements it’s never always true.”  I go on to explain that there is some rap that I do like,  Jay-Z, Beastie Boys, Biggie Smalls and Aesop Rock to name a few.  “But I have more fingers on my hands than rappers that I like.  Seriously,” I go on, “I know how complicated it is to make a rap beat.  For thirty bucks you can get a computer program that lets you make nearly beat you’d want.  After that, you just need a mic and a lot of lyrics about how you kill people, sell drugs and get lots of bitches.  Here’s nearly every rap song ever made, you ready?” I ask them, not really ready for such a full on discussion.  “I’m a badass and where I come from is probably the worst place in the world, thereby making me even more of a badass.  I have no morals whatsoever and I will kill you, your family and anybody you’ve ever known if you so much as look at me funny.  I sell drugs, run drugs and do lots of other drug related activity.  I am the epitome of an alpha male and women everywhere want to have sex with me.  You are nothing as compared to me and you are not worthy to tread the ground I walk on.  Now if you don’t mind, I’ll be taking whatever is in your pockets.  Not that I really need the money, but I’m a man to be feared and this is something you have to understand.   I’m a crazy, psycho killer and I know you know my name because I said it at least 20 times in this rap song.”

“Thing is,” I say, not letting them get a word in edgewise, “if more rappers would actually bring something new to the table, it would be a different story, but most don’t.  I mean most rappers are still talking about the same shit that N.W.A. was saying back in ’88.”

Sometimes they smile at this with a kind of surrendering shrug, other times they just don’t know what to say.  “Ok, I’ll give you that, but not all rap songs are like that,” they retort.

“Oh I know,” I say agreeing, “but the vast majority of them are.  Like I said there are a few rappers out there I like and rap is an art form with a lot of potential.  But if 85% of all of rap sucks, isn’t it fair to say that they entire genre sucks?”

These talks have actually had an impact on me as well.  A conversation I had with my friend Wes once changed my outlook on the entire genre slightly.  After having the pretty standard debate about my shirt he said, “Well that’s rap, that’s not hip-hop.”  Not really seeing a difference myself, he elaborated.  “See, rap is all about ‘me me me me’.  Hip hop is all about ‘us us us us’.”  I like that distinction.

There are plenty of talentless musicians out there, but I’ll take shitty rock over shitty rap any day of the week for one reason only: it takes just a little more effort to learn how to play power chords on a guitar than to rap.  In fact, many rappers don’t even make their own beats, they get producers to do that.  This is why I have much respect for The Roots Band.  If you don’t know, it’s a (what I assume Wes would call) hip-hop group but they actually play musical instruments.  Actual guitars, actual drums, actual tangible obvious talent.

I say all of that to say this: rap doesn’t have to suck.  In fact there is underestimated, underappreciated and certainly underutilized quality about rap.  A rap song can tell you a story.  Not just a story, but a powerful, thought provoking story.  Think about it, no other genre of music is more suited for storytelling.  If you were to take an audio book of poetry and put a beat to it, you would almost have a rap song.

There is a rap song by a rapper named NAS that tells the fairly typical rap song scenario.  Someone gets beat up or killed and his friends all get together and decide to get revenge.  They prepare their guns, alibis and other necessary preparations and hunt the perp down.  They finally find him and shoot him.  Not a very impressive story put like this, but in the song, the rapper tells this story backwards.  The bullet leaves the man’s body and goes back into the gun.  The hammer of the pistol comes back to a cocked position and so on.  That takes definite talent (I’m not sure if it was NAS that did this song or even the songs title, if you know it, please let me know).

And so, here are a few songs illustrating what I mean.

If you know of any other songs that have this kind of story telling quality, please post them here.  Thanks.