I Am a Genius: listen to my words

I Have the Conch

 

listen to my words

Archive for 2010

Pitches

Here are some rough “pitches” for the novels I have in mind to write — possibly for next month’s NaNoWriMo.

These are not intented to be true sales pitches for an agent or an editor. They’d be horrible at that. However, I have tried for that flavor, in order to prevent too many spoilers.

I do have more ideas than this. However, all ten of these ideas have rough plot outlines so I know where they go and how they get there.

Read them, and then vote in the poll (sidebar below the tag cloud) to let me know which one I should work on first!

The Heir of Ungrith
A princess is married to the cursed king of a neighboring land because her parents expect him to die soon and they hope to annex his lands. They didn’t expect her to fall in love and fight for him.
When Aldess married the Cursed King of Venklatag she expected the short time he had left to live to be unpleasant but endurable. She didn’t expect him to treat her with love and respect. She knew that her parents were scheming an manipulative, but she didn’t expect them to attack her husband. Now, amid assassination attempts and dark magic she is offered a chance to break the Faerie King’s curse, bring life back to Venklatag at the cost of her soul.
(this has been written once, but is in desperate need of a major rewrite)

S.N.E.A.K.S.
A contract firm that tests and advises about security (and performs the occasional assassination) is hired to recover a magical artifact and uncovers a plot to destroy the realm.
Vrath (a former gladiator), Frost (a sorcerer and a scoundrel), Dink (a mechanical man), and Linella (part cat, part girl, all sneaky) fail their rookie mission for S.N.E.A.K.S., but manage to prove their potential, and rise to become the most effective team in the company. As they do, they begin to put together clues involving a deadly cult, a terrible plague, usurpation of the throne, and the death of their employers.

Orkbusters, Inc
Hired for a simple smash and grab, Herb and his team of experts slip into information that pits them against a necromancer with delusions of destiny.
Herb doesn’t like helping people – it’s an activity that inherently complicates things and shoulders him with the heaviest burden – responsibility. Thus it’s more than a little irritating when a job – a successful job with few hitches, even – forces him to vie with an evil sorcerer for the role to fulfill a prophecy he doesn’t even believe in. But when the alternative is the end of the world as he knows it, what choice does he have?

Bloody Waters
Captain Isadora took Smee into her care, and onto her pirate ship, knowing more of his dark secret than he did. Now that the death cult has found him, dark secrets come out in the open or the whole crew dies.
The pirates who crew Isadora’s ship give their loyalty because she’s the best – they enjoy freedom and booty without fear. THat loyalty is tested when they accidentally revive a cult bent on using First Mate Smee to awaken a dark god. On the run from magic that controls the wind and sea, Isadora, Smee, and their closest friends try to hold the crew together, find answers, and discover a way to remove the cult’s interest in Smee.

The Fallen
An angel shut out of heaven, a dryad with wanderlust, a heretic samurai, and an excommunicated priest journey together to find the secret of the angel’s past, perhaps finding redemption for themselves along to the way.
Shia al’Matar once held a position of glory in the heavenly courts of … some god or other. His identity is among the many things she can’t remember when she wakes alone in a dark forest, and the companions she finds seem as eager to help her as they are helpless to do so. Sinister clues hinting at a diabolical pact start appearing, and the only path that lies before her grows increasingly dangerous. Yet the pain of her past and the peril ahead seem the only choices to avoid they damnation and death they seem to promise.

The Dark Blade
An ignorant and blundering farm boy is selected by an unknown deity to be his representative. But after being banished and then trained as a knight, his encounter with divinity seems imagination, until he returns home and the mission is unavoidable.
No one ever thought Peks was born to destiny, least of all Peks. The messenger from a god told him different, but Peks isn’t even sure he didn’t imagine that, especially when he is banished. Even when picked to squire for the Imperial Knights his incompetence seemed to give lie to that promise. But when he flees to escape murder charges and finds himself in his childhood home, he is compelled to answer mysteries he didn’t even know of. And the resolutions to those mysteries, wrapped up in the history of the village and his own family, force a confrontation with his anonymous god.

Star Destined
Denied his birthright, a warrior goes into self-imposed exile, finding a new life with a foreign emperor. When his former countrymen threaten war, he seems to be the only one who can negotiate peace — if he’s not killed first.
The son of the greatest warrior and defender of their people ever, it was expected that Hans would take up the legendary Axe of Stars and lead the people to even greater heights. Treachery from his uncle changes that path, however, and Hans left his home to seek a new life. He found that life and fulfillment fighting for the Emperor in the Imperial Knights. Peace does’t last however. Hans’s uncle forms a confederation and began raiding the empire — planning outright invasion. The emperor sends Hans to face the destiny he thought he escaped — challenge his uncle for the throne and change his peoples history forever.

The Grey Knight
Left for dead, he struggled for survival, eventually rising to great heights. His brother retuns, however, to finish the job that was decreed by his religious master — punish and kill the heretic.
He woke up one day with no recollection of why he was there or where he came from, only a firm conviction of chivalry. He pledges himself to the only man he sees who upholds those ideals, and is dubbed The Grey Knight. The Grey Knight does have a past however, and even without a memory of it, he could not escape it. When his brother and sister come with seductive words and violent promises, The Grey Knights doubts himself. Can he become the honorable man he thought he was? And can he do it without dying at the hands of his siblings?

Zombies!
The zombie apocalypse ravaged the world like a horrible disease. But in their struggles to survive, two individuals learn the frightening reality of what the plague really is, and may be the only two capable of saving the world.
Shanna and Joel make an odd couple, but the zombie apocalypse forces some strange bedfellows. Shanna’s survival skills and and Joel’s technical expertise help them survive and prosper, until the remnants of the U.S. Army come to call. Narrowly escaping imprisonment, torture, and death (all while avoiding infection), they inadvertantly learn the true source of the end of the world, finding a narrow chance to make sure it isn’t the end after all. If only they can survive the two greatest forces on earth bent on their elimination.

Jack and Diane
Opposites in every way, two teenagers are given amazing abilities — and all the dangers and problems that come with them. A secret plot and the expectations of responsibility threaten to take their freedom, if not their lives.
Jaq and Diane hate each other. So it’s all the more frustrating when they gain super powers but can only use them if they stay near each other. Their shouting and fights are matched only by the violence and manipulation that besets them from every side. From their self-appointed arch-nemesis to an evil super villainess, and even the much lauded Commander Paragon, everyone has an idea of what the mismatched teens should do, whether they like it or not. Tired, miserable, and hurt, they hatch a daring plan to earn their freedom and possibly do some good in the process.

Meeting Notes week of 20100913

Honestly this is less doodling and more ranting and insane screaming of ideas.

If you disagree with my littel mini-essay on punk. I don’t care.

rant and rave

Team Meeting week of 20100906

This week marked the worst, yet most hilarious, double entendre that my boss ever said. I have little else to say about that, because I certainly don’t want to talk about why I would play Tic-Tac-Toe against myself.

LIEBE MEINE MEETING NOTES

Team Meeting, week of 20100802

Some weeks my distraction from the banality that is my life in general and a work meeting in specific becomes thematic. Instead of doodling, this week I did movie quotes. I’m certain that a number of them are off, but since I don’t have any reference… well, you get what you pay for. And it’s free. So without further ado:

more ... not doodly goodness

Team Meeting, week of 20100726

This week was less doodly. It also appears more like there were actual issues concerning me. I took notes! The crossed out items are tasks I completed before I scanned this.

Someone had left something about the F9 key on a keyboard written on a whiteboard in the room. Instead of drawing, for the most part, I did some free association. Enjoy.

Clever girl...

Team Meeting, week of 20100719

Look, I don’t have fun at work. Team meetings are a particular waste of time. They are, minimum, an hour long, and usually only about 10 minutes has anything to do with me.

Thing is, that’s how it is for EVERYONE in the meeting.

So instead of just being bored, I doodle (yet remain bored). Here’s one:

behold their glory

for this one, I tried to be professional. I printed out the appointment agenda from Outlook and brought it to the meeting. At first my doodles were limited to decorating the page (see the scribble and some boxlike images. I actually took some notes on the things about me. This eventually grew to reacting to the page I was writing on and a couple of reactions to things said in the meeting. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long.

And well, eventually, anything that popped into my head started showing up. Like the hoagie with a face. More or less, I’m just gonna leave it like this, I think.

Post in the comments whether I should annotate these notes.

White-Washing

In The Android’s Dream There is a minor but important character, named Sam, who’s gender is never identified. There are several readers, myself included, who were under the impression that there is a single passage where the masculine pronoun is used to refer to Sam. Since Sam is in a relationship with a less minor character named Harry McClellan (who is clearly identified as male), Sam’s gender could mean something about Harry. Is Harry gay?

In the end it doesn’t matter. Dream‘s author, John Scalzi, realized this and after writing an entire scene without once identifying Sam’s gender, he stopped and thought, “‘Hmmm, that’s interesting, I wonder what sex Sam is,’ and then I thought ‘Hey, I wonder if I can pull off not saying what sex Sam is all the way through the book’.” (This is all according to Scalzi’s blog, I’m not making his reactions up).

I bring this up because of the last thing Scalzi writes in that blog entry: “And then, when you’ve settled the question of ‘What Sex is Sam Berlant?’ to your personal satisfaction, you can ask yourself another question about The Android’s Dream: What color is its hero, Harry Creek?”

Good question. He never describes it. Yet no one even talks about it until Scalzi points it out to you.

Because his skin color is irrelevant.

There’s not issues of racism within the human species. There’s no cultural information important to character or plot or setting. It’s a non-issue.

So we come to what’s brought this up. There’s a lot of complaints going around the Internet (and by “around the Internet” i mean “my friends on Twitter” — I’m too insular to look further than that) about the “white-washing” (ie, the portrayal of characters of varying ethnicities with white actors) of The Last Airbender.

I’ve never watched Avatar, cartoon or movie. So I don’t know how egregious a crime this is.

I will say this. I assume, most of the time, that a character in an anime is Japanese until I’m given reason otherwise. They aren’t big on accurate portrayal of racial characteristics. Ichigo Kurosaki from Bleach has orange hair. It’s not just a visual convention, they refer to the color in dialog in the anime. But he’s clearly Japanese. So when someone wants to make a character with big eyes and blue hair, and someone adapts it for the screen and chooses a white actor. Are they really doing much to change the work?

I argue no, with certain obvious exceptions. If the ethnicity of the character comes into play, as a character driving factor, or an element of the plot, or a flavor for the setting. You are making changes to the main work just by changing the skin color of the actor you use, whether you are doing it on purpose or not.

But such is not the case every time it happens. Shakespeare is performed constantly with different colored actors in various roles. Most of the time it doesn’t matter. If you get a white guy to play Othello, on the other hand, you’ve got a play that doesn’t make a lot of sense.

My favorite case in point is Ursula LeGuin. She complained noisily when Sci-Fi made a movie of Wizard of Earthsea using a white actor in the lead role. In the Earthsea books, it’s a stated fact that most of the characters have dark skin. LeGuin takes umbrage and claims they make thematic changes to the story by this decision.

But she’s wrong.

Yes, she describes her characters with dark skin. But that’s where it ends. It’s a standard fantasy setting, plus islands. It has no overtones of Polynesian culture or plot. It has no themes of any other race either. In fact, they build castles, which is not something islanders I’ve heard of have ever done. Sure, there were fortresses built in the Caribbean, but they were built by white Europeans.

So what, exactly, is the damage done if a producer chooses a white actor to play Ged?

None, really.

So let me break it down. Am I claiming that “white washing” is a non issue? No. Far from it. The term itself bothers me on many levels for the implications it has. White Washing is especially bad when it is used to eliminate cultural information to make it more marketable. If you’re saying that about a producer, you should be careful. Accusing someone of intentional racism is a serious charge.

But is every time they change a skin color a case of rewriting a work and participating in the suppression of minorities? I don’t think so.

Day 2: You Are Not an Accident

Because I am, apparently, a cynical person, I have to always first mention the specific things that distracted me. Don’t worry, I’ll leave aside things I’ve mentioned before.

It seems that Warren is advocating a bit of predestination here. Did God plan every choice I’ll make? And if so, do I really have any choices? And if not, then why does it matter if I’m obedient? This sort of question bothers me because it gets at the core of justice, mercy, and identity. If I don’t have freedom to choose, then how can God be just if I “choose” not to follow him and he punishes me for it? There’s a fine line Warren approaches here, and his lack of subtlety worries me that he teaches the wrong part.

Not that I’m advocating any lack of omniscience in God. He certainly knows what choices we will make, because he does know us better than we know ourselves. He did plan our identities. He planned our spirits and planned the bodies we would inhabit. He knew what our capabilities would be and planned to put us in situations that would best teach us and let us use those abilities to further his work.

Again delving into my own religion and not general Christian beliefs, I believe in a pre-earth life. God created our spirits and we lived with Him for a time before we were sent to live in our physical bodies. In that time, He chose some of us as prophets, as leaders, and so on. How detailed was this foreordination? I’m not sure. It was not something forced upon us, but a calling, and it is something we could then and still now can reject by our choices. If we choose not to follow Christ, then we lose the privilege of the blessings he set before us.

When I was 18 I received a patriarchal blessing. (Don’t worry, I’ll bring this all back again). A patriarch in the LDS church is a priesthood holder set apart to give blessings of instruction and insight. These blessings are much like those given by Adam to his seed, or by Isaac to Jacob, or by Jacob (Israel) to his sons. Anyway, in mind I was told that God knew me in the pre-earth life, and that He “observed my humility and diligence.”

It’s ok, you can laugh now. Knowing me you know that I am neither humble nor particularly diligent.

I had a discussion once with a mission companion. He was struggling with obeying the rules strictly. He said “that’s just not me.” And that’s when it all came clear to me. Maybe I wasn’t living life in a particularly humble or diligent manner. But God knows me better than I know myself. Inside, my spirit, my core, I had a humble nature. I just have lived on Earth in a way to bury it.

God knows what we’re capable of, and He has set us so that our strengths, and even our weaknesses, can be used for His work.

So the point of the chapter is that we’re not an accident. God knew, planned on, in fact, the adverse circumstances we would be in. Out sorrows and disadvantages are not punishments. They are the things God knew would be able to pull our best selves out.

So:

Point to Ponder: I am not an Accident.
My compulsive tendencies, my ADHD, these are not curses. These are the things God gave to test and try me. And given those traits, which God planned in me, I am suited for the purposes he has for me. I’m not unwanted, no matter how the world around me makes me feel. In fact, I am needed.

Verse to Remember: Isaiah 44:2 (KJV version): “Thus saith the Lord that made thee, and formed thee from the womb.”
God planned me before I was even born. Before I was even conceived in fact.

Question to Consider: I know that God uniquely created me. What arezas of my personality, background, and phsyical appearance am I struggling to accept?
Well, as I mentioned before, I have personality disorders: Depression, ADHD, compulsive tendencies. These are not just things that I’ve developed, they are a part of my genetic makeup. Do thy cause unhappiness? Sometimes. But part of the plan God has is learning to cope with these things, or even use them. I have become largely at peace with a lot of them, at least in terms of how I think of myself. I still struggle with adjusting my life to live with them appropriately.

Resisting Temptation

I had a discussion recently about the temptations of Christ. Not the movie. But the temptations we actually have recorded in scripture.

Christ is the example. He’s shown us the way in all things. It’s a nice principle to think of, but it’s also one we need to study for it to be of any worth. It is one thing to say He leads us; it’s another entirely to understand enough to use it.

Christ spent forty days in the desert fasting (Matthew 4:1-2). At the close of this spiritual preparation, Satan appeared and tempted him three times. The first temptation used his mortal frailties against him – he told Jesus to prove he was the Son of God by turning the rocks to bread (v. 3). Christ responded by quoting scripture (v. 4). Then Satan told Jesus to prove he was the Son of God by jumping from the pinnacle of the temple (v. 6). Again Jesus quoted scripture (v. 7). Finally, Satan told Jesus he would give all the kingdoms and riches of the world if he, Jesus, would worship him (v. 9). Jesus told him to go away, and backed it up with scripture (v. 10).

The first, rather obvious, example that comes to us here is to read the scriptures. In all three instances He quotes scripture as part of his rebuttal. That alone is a way to counteract the temptations of the devil. When we read scripture we can feel the presence of the Holy Ghost. The Holy Spirit’s presence can go a long way to removing the feelings of temptation and replacing them with better feelings.

But He doesn’t just quote random scriptures. He quoted scriptures that were relevant to the situation and the deeper situation. When tempted to turn stones to bread, he quoted what is now Deuteronomy 8:3 “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” This is, at the very least, a witty response, to quote a scripture about bread when tempted to abuse his godly power to create bread. It shows a deep familiarity with the scriptures. But even more so, the passage in Deuteronomy is talking about when God created manna for the Israelites ─ when bread was miraculously created for them in the desert. Christ knew, this of course. He was showing that he understood why this would be an abuse of his power. He was aware of the context and the similarities, and He knew when it was appropriate and when it wouldn’t be to use his power. Clearly, He was able of surviving without having bread right at the moment. Yet after forty days without food, can we really argue that He didn’t have a need? At the very least, a compelling want.

Throughout these temptations, the challenge is very explicitly to the faith Jesus had in his calling. Was He truly the Son of God, Savior of the world? If so, prove it! Satan is casting doubt, much in the way a child would on the playground. When they are at the pinnacle of the temple, he says “If you’re the Son of God, then God won’t let you get hurt. Jump off and angels will catch you.” He even quotes scripture to back it up ─ a passage from the ninety-first Psalm, which is a prophecy about Christ.

Christ is equally sly in his response, however. He quotes a passage from Deuteronomy again: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord they God (6:16). The passage refers to when the people made a golden idol to worship while Moses was receiving the ten commandments. They “tempted” the Lord in that they were testing the boundaries. How far could they go before there was some sort of punishment. In Deuteronomy the Lord tells them not to do that sort of thing. Don’t test where the line is, just stay well within it. Would angels have caught Him? Well, sure. But Christ didn’t need to prove his divinity, least of all to Satan. Not even to Himself. He knew who He was and didn’t need a miracle to prove it. Some say that faith precedes the miracle, but in some cases, faith might preclude the need for a miracle.

Last is the temptation that I, personally, understand least. Satan offers Christ, literally, the world. Now, I have no doubt that Satan was capable of delivering. At least in the immediate sense. If he couldn’t, that would have been the most incredible bluff ─ which hardly disqualifies the possibility. Satan is, after all, the father of lies. But it was a question of patience. Christ framed the world. It was all his anyway. All the rulers in the world reigned at his sufferance. I think that this temptation was more than just a test of patience. It centered on the Atonement itself.

In his mortal life, Christ descended below them all, and as a result, He was crowned with glory, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. But in order to return to His Father and receive His reward, He had to fulfill His mission. He had to suffer more than any mortal man could bear. Satan was hoping that by offering Jesus the kingdoms and riches of the world, he could make Jesus think he would bypass that suffering and receive the reward.

Christ is better than that. And this time, he doesn’t just quote scripture. And when he does it’s more abrupt ─ no clever explanations, simply “Thou shalt worship the Lord they God, and him only shalt thou serve.” Straight up, one of the ten commandments. A simple “That would be wrong.” But He preludes the scripture with “Get thee hence.” No more indulging the temptation. “Go away!”

I confess that I think a little of Smeagol when I think of this. “Go away, and never come back.” But it’s a useful comparison. Too often do we indulge the temptations that beset us, and then bemoan the fact that we succumbed. And then we often even have the gall to wonder why we succumb to temptation. We succumb because we let it stay on our mind!

Well could we learn from the example of the Savior and say to our temptation “Get thee hence!”

Day 1: It All Starts with God

Being LDS, this chapter grates a little. Not a lot, but the feeling is probably why I didn’t get further than the first chapter the last time I tried this.

Not that I disagree with any doctrinal point I can indicate here, at least, none which comes to mine. It’s the tone it strikes. (Also, I have a strong preference for the King James Version of the Bible — it’s what I’m comfortable with and I think it sounds better than any of the modern versions, which sound silly to me.)

No, I think the biggest thing that gets to me is this string of six words: “It’s far greater than your family.” And on the surface, that’s true. Ultimately, the Plan of God is much greater than my family. But what that sentence connotes is pretty disagreeable.

God’s purpose for me is inextricably intertwined with my family. Whatever ultimate plan He has for me, what He wants me to do, will have to do with my family. Yeah, it’s not just my family. But starting off with saying that it’s far greater than my family seems to turn my attention too far away from my family.

Also, our desires and interests are involved with the purpose God has for us. Our talents and abilities and passions can be used for God’s work, and there’s hardly a reason why he wouldn’t use that. Certainly we are required to align our will with the Lord’s, not the other way around. And if our values don’t match His, we have the wrong values. But when our hobbies, interests, and skills do not contradict His commandments, why wouldn’t an omnipotent Creator seek to use those abilities rather than have us ignore them? They’re part of the spiritual gifts He has given to us, after all.

However, a lot of that can seem like picking at nits. The main thrust of the chapter is to find our purpose from God. Just because I take issue with the feeling of his tone doesn’t mean that Warren is wrong in his meaning.

He’s right of course that unless the help is grounded in God’s plan, self-actualization isn’t going to get you to your purpose. He’s right that focusing on our own plan and will isn’t going to get us to fulfillment. If they are saying “I think” or “I believe” it’s not really coming from God’s word. And, in the end, his point to ponder is a good one. “It’s not about me.” It really isn’t.

Maybe I’m just a cynic, but the reasoning in the chapter is weak. The examples, while sometimes illustrative, aren’t very meaningful. And that’s irritating, because this chapter could have been so powerful. “There is an alternative to speculation about the meaning and purpose of life. It’s revelation.” That’s very strong. The word of God is powerful and sharper than any sword. Using it would be a lot more helpful than the simplistic examples I see here. Instead of telling us a story about being lost on a mountain to introduce a cliché phrase — skip the cliché and just tell us. Also: go light on the exclamation points. Putting one in doesn’t add power to your writing. It makes us think you wanted to add power, and if we don’t feel that power from the words themselves, we’ll be disappointed.

This is my problem. I read everything from a good writing analysis. And Warren is, honestly, not the best writer. And it’s hard for me (personally) to ignore when the flaws with his writing are so intimately connected with his message.

So now that this is out of the way, what about actual response to the message of this chapter?

The message is that it is futile to begin your search for meaning in any place but with God. You can achieve success, but not fulfill your purpose by looking elsewhere.

And I agree. I’m not sure that I’ve been the best practitioner of this concept however. I am very self absorbed. I look at my fulfillment primarily in my writing. This might not be the worst thing, but it doesn’t start with God, and it’s short lived. If I’m looking for long lasting change in how I feel about myself, I probably need to look more specifically at how God wants me to use this talent. What can I do to learn more about it.

Point to Ponder: “It’s not about me.”
Clearly, my attitude in the past has been, consciously or unconsciously, that it is about me. After all, it is me. I don’t expect anyone else to think it’s about me, but for me, it has been me. I’m going to make a conscious choice to try and look outside of me for purpose. Maybe it will make working easier, since I do that primarily for my wife and kids. But then, that’s still not thinking about starting in God, completely. It’s just a step closer than where I am. I’m hoping that the next 39 chapters will help me look to find other ways to make it less about me.

Verse to Remember: Colossians 1:16 – “all things were created by him, and for him.”
Note, I’m rendering these in the KJV, for my own reasons
Well, for Him, but didn’t He create the earth as a place for us to learn and grow? It’s to fulfill His plan for us, to save all His children. I guess I should see it as He didn’t create the earth just for me, but for all of us. And he has created so much more than just this earth. He cares for me, but as a specimen of His children, I’m a very small part of it all. He wants me to be there, but He wants my function to be about more than just me.

Question to Consider: “In spite of all the advertising around me, how can I remind myself that life is really about living for God, not myself?”
It’s a good question, and I don’t have an immediate answer. Prayer, however, is always an obvious answer. Praying as an act in itself should be a reminder of God’s presence in my life, and if I’m praying about His will, that should be a constant reminder that it’s not about me.

Day 0: response to a friend

I started this partially to work with a friend, who needs some purpose and direction. I reckoned, I do too. I don’t feel at liberty to quote the letter, and I’m editing what I wrote for this blog.

One of my favorite hymns (my father’s as well) is “Lead, Kindly Light”:

Lead, kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom;
Lead thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home;
Lead thou me on!
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene—one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor pray’d that thou
Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path; but now,
Lead thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years.

So long thy pow’r hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone.
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

Sometimes, you can’t see the next step. You just have to trust and put your foot forward. We don’t know all God’s plans for us, even when we understand our purpose. I prayed to ask if I should marry Kirsti, and I received an answer that I have never ever been more sure of in my life. And then, a couple weeks later we broke up. I never doubted that answer, but one night, I was pretty despondent about it. I just told God in my prayer that I didn’t understand what what going on or how to reconcile my answer with what was going on, but that I was going to trust him. Well, it worked out in the end. But even if Kirsti and I hadn’t reconciled, I was finally at peace with it in that moment. Even when I didn’t understand what was going on, and it didn’t seem to make sense, I had chosen to trust God. I think that was my moment of Abrahamic trial. It was hardly my first born son, let alone one I’d been promised for decades, but it was pretty important to me, and I don’t think I have the faith of Abraham anyway.

I’m sure your familiar with the scripture where Paul says “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (I prefer the KJV, though I suppose if you prefer NIV there’s “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” There’s a Book of Mormon prophet, Alma, who says “faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” Very similar sentiments. Using those as the basis for understanding, I want to look at what you said. “I really do believe and have faith.” You accept that God lives, you don’t doubt it. You accept, as well, that Jesus is your Savior (I’m inferring that, but it’s true, correct?).

That’s pretty much where I stand, myself. I have never wavered in my acceptance in the reality of God, nor in the Atonement of Jesus Christ. A lot like Joseph Smith said, “I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it.”

Have I always trusted him? Not really. Rather than trust a relationship with God, I have in the past sought out one of the more insidiously deceitful forms of false intimacy. While doing that, I wasn’t hearing anything from God. I’m sure He tried to speak with me, through others and through the Holy Spirit, but I was beyond hearing it.

When I finally made the choice to let Him lead me back to him, things changed dramatically in a short amount of time. I’m amazed at how I was able to become so resistant to the whispers of the Holy Ghost. Amazed at how awesome listening to God’s guidance can be. I’ve still got a long way to go, but those first few steps were very impressive.

There’s a book that’s popular among LDS people called Believing Christ. I’ve never read it, myself, but I bring it up because it draws a distinction. See, there’s also an LDS hymn called “I Believe in Christ.” Very stirring. But there’s a difference in those two titles. They both seem to be declarations of faith, but there’s a big meaning shift from believing in Christ, to believing Him, believing what He said and what He’ll do for you. Another Book of Mormon scripture comes to mind. When Christ was crucified, there were terrible storms, earthquakes, and destruction in the New World, which were followed by 3 days of darkness. During the darkness, the survivors heard the voice of God speaking to them: “And again, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, who have fallen; yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, ye that dwell at Jerusalem, as ye that have fallen; yea, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not.” He wants to protect us, to hold us close. But He waits for us to choose to do so.

There’s a lesson in the Old Testament about this. When the Israelites wandered the desert, there came a plague of poisonous snakes. The venom was deadly and many were dying. The Lord told Moses to raise a staff with a brass serpent on top of it. Any Israelite who looked to the serpent lived. Those who did not died. (That’s in Numbers 21). And because it was so easy to do, or for whatever stubbornness, many didn’t look. But those who looked, not knowing how that would work, they lived.

I think there’s more to faith than just believing. There’s an element of trust in it as well.

If I may be permitted to draw on the Book of Mormon again, The prophet Alma (the same one I mentioned above) made a comparison between faith and a seed (yes, the Savior did too, but this was a more detailed explanation than what we have in the New Testament). He says you plant the seed. You take care of it. Then it grows. and then it stops being faith. It grows, so you know it’s a true principle. It’s not faith anymore because you know. Takes a long time to get to that point. How do you develop faith into knowledge when you don’t have the faith to start with? Alma asks us to “exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you.” That’s all it takes. A “mustard seed” of faith indeed. You don’t have to have faith to part the Red Sea. You just have to have enough to take a step.

But the Lord does require us to take that step, spiritually. We don’t have to change everything. We just have to open a little to see if something will come inside. The rest comes latter.

I guess, to shorten it up, what I’m saying is that you don’t have to be a spiritual equivalent of Superman to let God in and begin a relationship. And you can’t have a deep relationship without starting one first. So just open up and be ready to shake God’s hand. God actually arriving in your life is what He will do, you don’t have to get him a ride. Just crack the door.

Why it’s possible that some of what I like may be utter crap

So today I got pointed over to Philip Athans’s blog and his brand new willingness to try a romance novel because he recently had the (mis)fortune to accidentally listen to an Andy Gibb song.

On the surface, one would assume that Mr. Athans either suffered a head injury or else the hearing of the succulent voice of Andy Gibb either traumatized his mind or turned him gay. Or possibly both.

But I appreciate Philip’s position (did you see that unprofessional way I switched to his first name? It’s as if I decided, most suddenly, that I wanted to use it instead of something more formal… because that is The Way. I. Roll.)

Now, I should clarify. I don’t know any Andy Gibb songs and I have no desire to learn them. I also still hate Abba and the Bee Gees (“it’s those blasted Bee Gees!”). My wife doesn’t share my opinion. Neither does her family. I have to hide in solitary when we go to family gatherings for fear of being forced into a “Dancing Queen” sing along.

But let me back up. Since Philip used music to introduce it, I’ll use music too.

In seventh grade.. ish… I listened to Top 40 music. I really hadn’t been introduced to anything. Kiss 98 was what played at the swimming pool in the summers when I lived in Nebraska, so I knew Sting singing “Free, Free, set them free” and Tears for Fears singing “Everybody wants to rule the world.” So when we moved I naturally found the top 40 stations. By 9th grade my favorite albums (on tape) were Starship’s Knee Deep in the Hoopla, Heart (the one with “These Dreams”, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts Up Your Alley, and Cutting Crew’s Broadcast. Though close follow ups were Huey Lewis and the News Sports and the soundtrack for Ghostbusters. Thing is I knew I liked guitar, but, I had no idea what real guitar sounded like. I had an inkling of good bands, but with the possible exception of Joan Jett, none of those are close to the artists’ finest moments (well, maybe Huey is an exception too, but that’s a completely different story). And really, there were better bands out there. Especially with Starship. I mean, technically it was almost the same band that had played at Woodstock. WOODSTOCK. Grace Slick had once told us to “go ask Alice,” a song that resonates through all kinds of different layers socially and musically, and in the one I liked, the lyrics went

Knee deep in the hoopla
Sinking in your face

I mean… what?

(Not that I hate that song, but let’s move on before we talk about why I wasn’t wrong here).

I happened to be a loser. Not quite a nerd, then I would have had science club or AV club friends or something. but more of a Dork. I had… one (ONE. 1. Uno. Einz. 01.) friend in seventh grade. Aaron had been heavily influenced by his almost pothead brothers. He liked metal. Led Zeppelin was the best any music could ever aspire too. Randy Rhodes was brilliant.

I never got fully into his music, though now I’d dig on it a lot more. But he opened my world. By the time I was in tenth grade, I was listening to classic rock and everything else SUCKED.

I have a debt to Aaron for opening the door to music. I never would have found the best of hte best of the best, 99% of the music I adore now, if it hadn’t been for him. Of course, he also stunted me. The classic rock or die thing was his fault too. So I really missed out on some awesome music while it was on the air waves. But still.

Gradually, I learned a bit of other stuff. I made fun of people who like Morrissey, and even though I went through a metal phase (I bought the soundtrack to Shocker… which was a disservice, featuring as it did a lame cover of an Alice Cooper song), I was peer pressured into destroying my tape of Run DMC’s Raisin’ Hell (though I have managed to recover that on LP, a treasured possession now), I disavowed several other things I loved, and I alienated people that could have helped.

In 1990, however, the world fell in love again. We were marching hand in hand (though we didn’t know why), and a brand new record came out. They Might Be Giants brand new album Flood. This album is a work of pure genius. I heard that The Band’s (The Band, not the band They Might Be Giants) Music from Big Pink changed lives. Well, Flood changed mine.

Suddenly, music didn’t have to be 20 years old to be any good. (In truth, I had adapted that rule. I couldn’t like Clapton’s Journeyman otherwise. But it was something like, 20 years old, or by someone who was recording 20 years ago — still lame. It took me years before I finally bought my own copy of Kill Uncle, an album I still adore.

Over the years, my taste has only expanded. I still don’t like country or most gangsta rap (but it most assuredly is all about the Benjamins). But Johnny Cash and the Fat Boys are in my regular rotation. There probably isn’t a genre of western music that isn’t on my iPod. There are some eastern music too, but I have less exposure to that, so I don’t have as much. I can consider a song on its own terms now, instead of assuming that I know what it’s about just because of what radio station it’s on.

A lot of people think they’re open minded because they listen to both country and Top 40. That’s not what I’m talking about. Let me emphasize to you. I will listen to Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill” followed by P.O.D. doing “Lights Out,” which will then transition to Dynamite Hack’s hilarious early-20th century-esque cover of “Boyz in the Hood.” Followed by MC 900 Foot Jesus doing “The City Sleeps,” Bela Fleck doing “How Can you Face Me Now,” a performance of Holst’s planets, and finish the short burst out with The Ramones. (Oh yes, Joey, I do remember rock’n'roll radio). And yes, I put kids songs in the playlist too.

Thing is… I’m still a snob about it. There is music I hear and then simply Will. Not. Touch. of my own accord ever. And people who like those songs are often as not morons in my head. But I have, at least stopped telling people that. To their faces. Very often.

A similar thing happened to me with movies.

I was into movies, but I was very careful about my reasons for watching a movie. Story was highest on my list. Solid story, then well-acted performances. If I couldn’t justify it, it was kind of a shameful viewing.

Then I realized… it’s OK to watch a movie because it was eye candy. Great special effects, beautiful cinematography, or even just great explosions. Then there came other reasons – Jackie Chan flipping around was suddenly appealing.

These days I enjoy what I call “bad cinema.” A Godzilla movie holds a lot of appeal for me. Not any movie will work, though. A movie has to be trying, at least. Or at least have one great idea. A lot of dumb comedies try to hard to be in your face and absurd. Juvenile. But I like 80s teen movies — John Hughes never talked down to me; he always seemed to know what he was talking about. His characters, even if they could only be properly described as losers, never seemed like a waste of space.

So that brings us back to music. I will listen to Lady Gaga and Cyndi Lauper. I can put them on a playlist with Bob Dylan and Joe Satriani. Because I listen to each of those for a different reason. Not every song hits me, but if it does, I’ll listen to it more than once.

It’s the same with books, really. Comics, for example. Sturgeon’s law applies. Most of it is horrible, but even a lot of that is still fun to read. And what’s wrong with reading for fun? I have a guilty pleasure I like to indulge — reading Shoujo Manga (Japanese made comics targeted toward a female audience). I love Azamanga Daioh and Gina Biggs is a wonderful writer.

So, yeah, I’m not ready to seriously investigate the romance genre at this time (which, going back to the begining, was Philip’s reason for mentioning Andy Gibb). I reckon, however, it has something it could teach me about writing. There’s a reason romance is so successful. And it’s not because it’s horrible. Horrible it may be, but there’s something there that appeals to people.

Moon Rat the Editorial Ass

I don’t make these names up.

And not that I’m in a position to take advantage if I happened to win, but I reckoned I’d spread the word. I have writer friends (who don’t read this) who could use it:

half a million and counting!
Ed Ass got its 500,000th hit today. This makes me feel old and venerable.

Naturally, I wanted to celebrate. I mean, with you guys, since you made it happen. But how?! No one has yet invented a giant internet pie.

Jamie Harrington, clever thing, had the idea that I have a giveaway contest, the prize being a first 20 pages crit. So that’s what it is! I’ll give away one crit of a book’s first 20 pages (size 12 font, double spaced, .5 margins for you sneaky sneakies out there).

You’ll be automatically entered to win if you do any or all of the following things:

1) repost this on your blog

OR

2) retweet my Twitter announcement

OR

3) link to this post on Facebook (make sure you include @Moonrat in the post so I’m notified of it)

I’ll close the contest at 11 pm EST tomorrow (March 31). The Rally Monkey will randomly select one winner without my input (as if I could make him listen to me, anyway).

Yay! I’m really excited now.

Fun, Fun, Fun

“This is what you call fun?”

The question should have made me wince, I suppose, but since she was looking the other way, I just grinned as I shoved her through an unmarked door. Bullets snapped as they impacted the wall, just missing us. I briefly wondered what material the wall was made of to produce that particular noise.

The truth was that not only was this not what I had planned for my first date with Cynthia, it was the last thing I had expected to actually happen — which meant, to my surprise, and probably hers as well, that the black-clad assassins were here for her. This made her much more interesting.

And yes. I did think it was fun.

The way I see it, anyone who devotes his life to a career he doesn’t enjoy is a fool and has thrown away his life. That includes those few of us left in the… hands on security and espionage industry.

The hallway we turned down led away from the main concourse. It was narrow with several doors at intervals on the sides. I had mixed feelings about the lack of people. There was no one in our way as we darted down it, but if we didn’t get out before our pursuers got in, we’d be easy targets. If we did, though, we’d be a step closer to throwing them off, and a lot closer to the trains that would take us to safety.

Cynthia’s breath was coming heavy already. She didn’t look unfit — I wasn’t too picky about body type, but my friend, Sven, who set up this blind date, knew that I insisted on a healthy life style. Cynthia clearly wasn’t a sprinter, let alone a long distance runner. “Don’t think about it,” I told her. “It’ll just discourage you.”

She sneered, clearly not impressed with my advice.

I glanced over my shoulder. One of the assassins was rounding the corner. I grunted an expletive and dragged Cynthia the last few feet to the end of the hall then yanked her to the left just as the bullets started spraying.

“What the heck is going on?” she hissed.

“Shut up,” I said simply. I don’t like rudeness as a rule, but it wasn’t the time. All thoughts needed to be on escape. Plus, other than the immediate escape I didn’t know what was going on. “Come on,” I said more gruffly than I intended as I took her hand and led her into the crowd on this concourse.

I’d been on protection detail many times, and I’d grabbed a lot of people a lot of ways. But taking Cynthia’s hand stood out to me. It felt good, like it was made to be in my hand. It irritated me, because twitterpation would just distract me from the current crisis.

Fortunately, Cynthia didn’t resist as I wove through the crowd. Our pursuers followed us into the mass of people and were considerably less polite than I was, shoving individuals aside. No one had noticed the gunshots — the killers had relatively quiet weapons and the crowd was loud. But there were a lot of shouts and protests at this.

“There’s a shuttle to the other side of the complex,” I said. “It’s not an escape, but it’ll buy us a moment to rest.”

She nodded without saying anything. Her face was turning red. We needed that rest.

At least she was trusting me. That made doing my job that much easier. The thought prompted me to shake my head. This had started as a date, and now it was a job. That was not a promising sign that this would be a relationship. Also, I wasn’t being paid.

Cynthia continued her relative silence, as we pushed through the edge of the crowd and crossed the relative open space to the line for the shuttle.

To the credit of their parents, some people have been trained in their manners that even when their person is in eminent danger they are unfailing in their courtesy. It was gratifying to me that Sven had set me up on a date with someone possessed of such fine etiquette. However, it was also disconcerting to me that Cynthia moved toward the end of the queue for the shuttle. I hissed softly through my teeth and jerked her toward the front. I intended to make some people angry.

The shuttle was just opening its door to bring in passengers as I shoved the line leaders aside ungently and push Cynthia in. I followed immediately on her heals and smashed my hand on the door’s controls, shutting them. My date fell into a chair as I slapped a magnetic hacknode on the manual override panel. I hadn’t been expecting assailants, but certain small devices, like the hacknode, were so convenient and useful that I always have one with me.

Symbols flashed across the security pad for a second, and then the controls popped out of their panel. I slammed the start button.

The shuttle was a vehicle designed to automatically fit a couple dozen people and carry them the twenty-five kilometers to the other end of the Nyark Mercantile Complex — the largest shopping mall on humanity’s home world. It slid smoothly into movement. We had about five minutes to breathe. I allowed myself to smile as the people I had shoved grappled our pursuers, clearly unwilling to allow anyone else to cut the line. The assassins would not be getting on the next shuttle without indiscriminate show of force. I hoped, even with the bluntness of their assault, the assassins would try to keep collateral damage to a minimum.

Cynthia was regaining her breath. “What is going on?” she asked again. I didn’t believe it was possible to lace a question with more impatience than she did.

I couldn’t afford to calm her though. I turned on the heads-up implant in my eye with a thought and took hold of her wrist. I was gentle enough that I wouldn’t hurt her, but firm enough that if she resisted I wouldn’t lose my grip. I looked her in the eye and asked, “Are you really an assistant at the Drieter firm?”

She tried only for half a second to pull away, and not with much force. “What are you talking about? Why would I lie about that?”

“Just answer.” I kept my voice low. I didn’t want to make her upset. In fact, I was hoping to calm her. But I needed the answers more than anything else.

She glared, but answered. “Yes, I am. I told you…”

I nodded and interrupted. “Do you have any enemies? Anyone who would have a reason to hurt you?”

“What? No! I’m just an assistant. Why would I have enemies?”

I didn’t have an answer to that. More importantly, the bio-readings in my HUD confirmed that she didn’t have an answer for it either. She was worked up but wasn’t holding back.

I released her hand and sat back in the chair facing her, my arms spread across the backs of the seats next to me. She ran her fingers over the spot I had been holding. It was time to review my earlier thesis. I had friends. With a little work I could get a good outlook for my immediate future. To be sure, I had enemies as well. But I didn’t actually interact with many of the people I dealt with professionally, targets or colleagues. My identity was a closely guarded secret – completely divorced from my work. I had safeguards and triggers in place to let me know the instant anyone so much as looked at a file containing information about me. There hadn’t even been a sniff. Nothing’s one-hundred percent, of course, but I had confidence that this was about her, not me. It just remained for me to figure out why.

“Look,” I said calmly. ” I considered that these guys might be after you. If you knew what I really did with my life, that would be the reasonable assumption. But…” I held up my hand to quiet her interruption. “Those men aren’t good enough to go after me, and anyone competent enough to even figure out who I am would know that. And there’s the snippets of chatter I’ve managed to hear from our attackers. Their target appears to be a woman. And I promise I haven’t lied about that.”

I was in luck. That remark elicited the slightest of smiles from her lips.

“But why would they come after me?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know, but I am going to find out. More to the point, I feel responsible for you. These guys have pissed me off by going after you while you were in my care.” It sounded corny, like an old, twentieth century vid, and I was a little bit surprised to hear myself talk like this. Funny thing was, I rally did feel that way. A half dozen guys with guns after one woman was hardly fair – but this type of thing was never about anything fair. But they had also ruined my date.

“So you don’t think chivalry is passé?” She said, the tiny smile returning to her full lips.

It was infectious, and I smiled broadly. “I suppose not. I hope that’s not a bad impression for modern times.” After a brief pause I continued. “I know this has been strange and probably frightening, but I need you to trust me so I can get you out of here alive. It’s not done yet. They’re far behind us, but they might have reinforcements at our destination.”

She caught my gaze and held it, looking into me with her sharp green eyes. “I trust you,” she said.

What an amazing woman.

###

The shuttle followed the track it was attached to until it reached the friend of the complex. I had a few moments to look over my date. Her wide eyes were set under thin, dark eyebrows. The left brow was pierced with four gem like studs. The crystal structures held her ID and credit info, attuned to her DNA. Her raven black hair dangled close to her brow in front, and in back was held in a series of silver colored rings that made her single pony tail hand down from a point several inches away from her head. It was a chic style. By contrast she didn’t wear the form fitting coveralls that were all the rage. Instead she wore an old-fashioned skirt to her knees with a short-sleeved blouse. It was a less explicit demonstration of her figure, and it made her seem less common — it suited her. The material her skirt and blouse were made of was quasi-reflective and of a silky texture. The color seemed to shift with her movements and the light — for the skirt dark colors: blue, green, black, red; the top played in lighter colors but always complemented the bottom.

The shuttle bumped to a stop, shaking me out of the observation. I wondered for a moment why they couldn’t invent a way to smooth out those stops, but evenas I did I waved Cynthia to join me near the door. “Stay with me,” I told her. “Remember, you’re not safe until I say so. Until then, assume that somewhere there’s a guy trying to line up a shot at your head.” It was blunt, but break was over; speed was again imperative. I saw her head nod quickly as my attention turned toward the outside. I felt a small weight leave me, she really was putting her trust i me.

There wasn’t anyone down below the shuttle who looked like the attackers. Either we really did have some breathing room (too good to be true), they had disguised themselves (unlikely given the short time), or they were hiding, which miggt even mean a sniper.

I pulled my hacknode off the controls and the door slid open. Cynthia took my hand as I stepped out. It was strange, but exiting the shuttle felt like enteringa completely different environment. My senses, even th cybernetic ones, were reaching out, finding suspicion in everyone and everything around us.

We pushed through the light crowd toward a nearby hallway.

And the bad guys revealed themselves. From both sides a group of two or three appeared.

They were dressed in black still, and making too much noise. “These guys really suck at this.” I said. It had stopped being fun and was just annoying now. These guys were nothing but thugs, not remotely professional. Beneath me, really. If it weren’t for Cynthia, I would have just stopped and beaten them to death. Well, maybe not to death, at last not all of them. Somebody would need to learn how deep the trouble they volunteered for was.

But Cynthia was with me, so instead I just led her away, breaking into a run she could keep up with. The main hallways were too wide – they provided no cover. So I found myself again turning to side passages.