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How Eating Goldfish Made Me All-Powerful Again

I can now heartily recommend NOT using a rickety old ladder to steady your camera while attempting to photograph the night sky.

Nothing makes a man feel more insignificant than thinking about the grand scale of the Universe. Well, OK, maybe impotence. But the grand scale of the Universe is a close second.

Recently I was presented the opportunity to feel like a truly tiny, insignificant organism. One with the unfortunate side-effect of spewing out CO2.

I went into the country.

At night.

And stared up at the sky.

Compounding the night sky’s effect of making me feel ineffective was the fact that, in preparation for this trip, I couldn’t find my binoculars, or the eyepieces for my telescope, and, oh yeah, I forgot a tripod for my camera.

As I sat in a canvas lounge chair, being eaten alive by mosquitoes (which made me feel, as a source of sustenance for them, just a hair more significant), I drowned in the Milky Way.

In urban settings, the night sky is nothing. A few bright stars and the occasional planet manage to break through the light pollution, but most of the sky is an empty gray-blue.

Get away from the lights, though, and…Wow.

Therein lies the problem. One suddenly realizes just how truly unimportant he is in the scheme of things.

Low traffic blogs and near non-existent book sales don’t exactly help one locked in an existential battle with the very Universe itself.

To make matters worse, I noticed glitches in the Universe.

Not very comforting, that.

Stars flickered in and out, as if feeling as insubstantial as I did.

Lines appeared and disappeared across the sky, streaking rends that vanished almost as quickly as they appeared.

And sometimes a star would forget its stage directions, and instead of hanging in the sky, slowly spinning around the North Star, it would move slowly across the sky like a diva cast as an extra and unable to resist the urge to improvise and draw attention to herself.

I know some smart people, and when I called and woke them with the warning that the sky was falling, they were not thrilled.

Primarily because, it turns out, the sky wasn’t falling.

I was educated, in surprisingly coarse language, that stars don’t have crises of identity.

Turns out, atmospheric conditions cause stars to twinkle. And some stars, called ‘variable’ stars for some reason, actually do flicker.

And those lines shooting across the sky? Shooting stars.

Which, it turns out, aren’t stars at all, but I can’t explain that as I’m still trying to get my head around it.

And those laconic divas parading across the celestial stage? Satellites. Possibly even the International Space Station.

Bah!

Which brings me to Joseph Haydn.

No, not the cruel Communist dictator of Russia. That was Joseph Stalin.

Haydn was a composer who had his own Milky Way to tilt against.

What force of nature made this great composer feel sub-par?

People falling asleep during his concerts.

More specifically, rich people falling asleep during his concerts.

Even more specifically, well-fed rich people falling asleep during his concerts.

Now I know, ‘well-fed rich’ may seem redundant to some of you, but it isn’t if we’re talking about how rich the food the rich are eating is.

Turns out the London well-to-do of the 1790s liked very rich food indeed, and they invariably consumed too much of it, along with significant quantities of alcohol.

Put someone who is very full and slightly tipsy into a comfy chair in a dark room with soothing music playing, and what happens?

Joseph Haydn begins to feel like less of a man.

A lot less of a man.

Now at this point, most composers would have turned to drink, women, and betting on toddler fights to make themselves feel better.

But not my hero, Joseph Haydn.

He decided to stick it to the somnambulistic fat cats.

He wrote Symphony 94, titled, innocently enough, the Surprise Symphony.

As a way of kicking excrement in the face of the people who paid for the privilege of falling asleep to his music, Haydn’s technique wouldn’t be topped for almost two hundred years, when Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower put itching powder in Nikita Khrushchev’s shoes right before the Soviet Premier addressed the 902nd Plenary Meeting of the UN General Assembly.

So cute, it makes me feel uber-substantial when I eat one.

What else could make a man feel more powerful? Besides Viagra or Cialis, that is.

What Haydn did was add a very loud, very abrupt thrashing of a kettle drum into the second movement of the symphony, just as the hoity-toity crowd was drifting off. It startled them awake, and left them anxious they might suffer a similar indignity should they drift off again.

Hadyn well knew that the rich only brought one extra pair of britches to change into should their drunken gluttony lead to an accident.

And this is what saved me on that dark, mosquito-infested, glorious night. I remembered Haydn startling the crap out of his fans.

I haven’t struck upon my “Surprise” moment yet, but I will.

Until then I eat goldfish crackers to make me feel better. Because they have little smiles on their faces, and what could make a man feel more powerful than eating tiny smiling creatures?

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Posted by on 18 September 2012 in Life, Music, Writing

 

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How Many Bloody Rabbits Do I Need To Kill To Get You To Stop?

Curse my friends. Especially the ones who are sisters of each other.

I’ve found the heavy burden of not breaking yet another chain letter internet meme thrust upon me by the most inconsiderate Audrey Goshorn.

She did this despite my dire explanation about the consequences of breaking chain letters.

Families torn apart.

Civilizations collapsing.

Alien overlords landing.

Mayan prophecies, no matter how objectively stupid, coming true.

I don’t need that kind of responsibility right now. I’m several episodes behind on Awake and Castle, dammit.

But since it is the fate of the entire world resting on my shoulders…

1. What snack (if any) do your prefer when writing?

Something I can eat without using my hands. Or having to move my eyes too far from the screen. So, grapes hand-fed to me by adoring coed interns.

The missus feels threatened by this mode of snacking, for some reason, so it has been some time since I’ve been ‘allowed’ to eat while writing, Most distressing…

2. What is your next major writing goal?

I could say, get my second Marlowe book through the last round of edits, but that would be a lie. In all honesty? My next major writing goal is to start writing again.

Life hasn’t been handing me lemons, it’s been firing them at me, with extreme prejudice, through a modified super-sonic potato cannon.

While I admit that this is extremely inconvenient, I do have to give props to Life for the off-the-charts awesome looking super-sonic potato cannon. As soon as I’m done dodging this one, I’m gonna get me one of those.

But weapons envy aside, until someone comes up with a high-speed lemonade mixer/Kevlar™ catcher’s mitt, I’m keeping my head down and my butt in the fox hole.

3. How would you feel about your book being made into a movie?

Meh. So many of my books have been made into movies.

Oh, wait, you mean movies not just in my head? I’d be bouncing off the walls, screaming my head off, and then, when I found out they didn’t cast Stephen Fry as the voice of House, I’d get very, very sullen.

Yes, I know, Hugh Laurie plays Dr. House on the TV show. My House is a different House, and in my head, he’s voiced by Hugh Lau-, er, I mean, Stephen Fry. If that confuses you, join the club!

4. What is your dream writing space?

Bomb shelter with a secret entrance, grainy black-and-white video surveillance of the outside, and wall-to-wall bookcases stuffed with survival guides.

The only source of illumination, besides my hamster-powered OLPC computer? A naked bulb swinging from a cord, flickering as I laugh maniacally at my computer screen. Flickering because it’s a mercury-infested compact fluorescent, mind you, not some energy-sapping incandescent bulb.

This is a modern writing lair.

Did I mention my chair rests on a trap door over a pit of disinterested cats? A trap door with a fidgety locking mechanism? I know, it doesn’t sound very horrible, but I’m deathly allergic to cats, so it adds a sense of drama, not to mention urgency, to my writing.

I’ve found there is no better way to keep your book’s pacing on track than the threat of plummeting into a mound of hungry yet still disinterested cats.

5. Where do you go to scope out ideas for characters and dialogue?

I go to the dark places in my mind. Sometimes I bring a flashlight, but I can never get it through my ear canal. But flashlight technology is getting smaller, so it’s only a matter of time. Until then, these trips cause major headaches.

I also go through a lot of gauze.

A lot of gauze.

Actually, I get the most interesting ideas hanging out with friends, or reading people’s twitter feeds and blogs. But I can’t act on those ideas, or the people who inspired them might get the wrong idea about me.

I’m already on thin ice with most of them, and can’t risk any more trouble.

6. What are you doing to become a better writer?

I’m trying to get back into the habit of reading an excessive amount of books per year. I’ve recently managed to claw my way up to ‘a non-zero, but still unimpressive’ number.

It would help if my kids didn’t grab at my books and eReader. Or color in the books and on my eReader.

My Nook Touch is now a Nook Touch Color. But not in the good way.

7. Do you outline before you start a novel?

Yes. I used to be a pantser, but found that writing Book 2 in my Marlowe and the Spacewoman series, Balloons of the Apocalypse, went amazingly well with an outline to guide me. The damn thing practically wrote itself.

So yeah, I’m totally an Outline Man™ now.

8. What was the last book you read?

A Princess Of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Definitely the sort of book to appeal to a teenage boy, but I still enjoyed it.

Hmm, what does that say about me? I’m young at heart?

Speaking of which, John Carter was a fun movie. More people should go see it.

9. What is your biggest distraction when you write and how do you deal with it?

The internet. And my writing groups. Especially my online writing groups. We totally don’t stay focused on writing when we meet. So far, I have not dealt with this very well because…

…as mentioned above, I haven’t been writing lately due to that lemon-hucking bastard, Life.

If I had any will power, I’d quit Humanity cold turkey, build myself a shack in the woods, and mail bombs to academics write the next twelve Great American Novels.

Scratch that, why limit myself? The next twelve Great Human Novels.

I want my books to be the ones our alien overlords read to understand us after wiping us out. I want to be the author our alien overlords point to when they tell the cloned-from-frozen-samples new humans, “This, this is why we brought your species back. Live up to these books and we will make you gods!”

Sadly, we’ll be extinct again six years later. No one can live up to my characters. Even the flawed characters.

And the aliens’ language is very complex, and the humans won’t understand the instructions.

Self-fulfilling prophecy, really.

10. What is your favorite sentence you have ever written?

When French gourmet chefs go insane, they’re exiled to Belgium.

But that’s a short sentence, so how about one more?

Even Marlowe felt himself moved by the graceful, haunting sounds arising from Finch’s throat, rich notes that were neither words nor instruments, but something a thousand times more effective than either.

11. What should the title of my YA paranormal romance be?

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.  I’ve Only Got Poltergeist For You

No, I will not apologize for that title. You asked, so suck it up.

Time to spread the pain around. You guys wanna lob flaming lemons at me, in the form of chain letter internet memes, well, then, right back at ya!

These questions are directed at poor Marj (because I’m always hitting innocent bystanders while targeting the guilty) and Kit and Audrey and, what the heck, Anne Marie and Tamela too. Now I’ll see who reads my blog amongst you, and who doesn’t!

Muhahahaha!

1) What is your favorite color, and why?

2) How many hearts have you broken in the course of your cold, heartless life?

3) What is your favorite vacation spot, and why isn’t it the Poconos?

4) Do you buy lottery tickets? Explain the reasoning behind this choice.

5) What is the next book you want to read, and why, if it isn’t mine, isn’t it mine????

6) Favorite grade in school? (Year, not letter grade – no bragging, smarty pants!)

7) What is the best dream you remember having?

8) When in Rome, how do you act? If you’ve never been to Rome, how would you act? Penalty for going with the obvious answer.

Extreme penalty.

9) What are: your first pet’s name, your mother’s maiden name, and the last four digits of your social security number? If it helps you remember, you may provide the entire social security number.

10) What is your earliest memory of music?

11) Why?

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An Unconventional Valentine? (I Call It That So The Missus Doesn’t Get Mad If She Doesn’t Like It)

The Happy CoupleI was listening to an old CD the other day.

The fact that I’m calling a CD old is a clue as to my age, but we won’t dwell on that.

Though my age does come into play here, despite my horror at going gray up top and soft and pudgy in the middle.

So perhaps we’ll dwell on it just a little.

I hadn’t listened to this album, or, for that matter, this band, in years. I couldn’t help but be struck by how different my response to the music was, listening to it after what felt like a lifetime.

It might as well have been a lifetime.

Most of the songs were about unrequited love, seeking love, wanting to be loved, finding love in unexpected places, accidentally running love over with your car (I’m not sure what about that particular album appealed to me).

And a couple were about getting laid. Those didn’t appeal to me as much, but apparently I’m a bit of a Romantic. Or was in those days.

Anyway, the other day I was struck, more precisely, by my lack of a response to these songs.

In college, I was constantly searching for the love of my life, with occasional pauses when I thought I’d found it.

Now, if you know anything about life, you know that seeking the love of your life while still a youthful college student means you are apt to experience a lot of disappointment, highlighted with brief periods of (misguided) elation.

Or maybe that was just me.

But the end result of this constantly seeking, never truly finding, was that songs like the one on this album got me. Understood me. Spoke to me. Spoke to me with the sweet, sultry whisper of a lover on the phone, seemingly next to me, but not really there.

I connected with the songs, felt a kinship to the singers, believed the sorrow-laced lyrics to be heartbreakingly beautiful genius. I would listen to them, not over and over, because I’m a guy, but pretty damned frequently. And in the story of those quests, I found solace and hope.

Flash forward to the other day. I popped the CD in the player, nostalgia prompting a significant amount of anticipation and eye-misting. In the pause between loading the disc and the first song, I was back in college, sitting in the dark, fighting back the tears as I rocked myself back and forth…

Ahem.

Anyway, I felt young again.

Then the music started.

It was OK.

Not great. Not moving. Not sucking its essence from my empty, lonely soul.

It was just OK, with a bit here and there that still struck me as catchy or hummable. And a fair amount that was, I’m sad to say, complete schlock.

My first thought was I must have suffered some horrible trauma between college and the other day, a trauma that caused both amnesia and an inability to feel anything.

Then I realized that was stupid.

My response to the music had changed for an obvious reason: I’d grown up.

I’m married. I’ve found the love of my life. I’m where I wanted to be way back when, huddled in the fetal position under the blankets in my darkened bedroom, headphones on and blaring, hoping my roommate couldn’t hear my despair-filled sobs…

I’m sorry. Give me a moment to collect myself.

Thank you.

The music holds no meaning for me anymore because I’ve found happiness. Not in the soft-focused, love-madly-or-die, ‘the light that burns twice as bright burns but half as long’ extreme romance portrayed in that music, but in the love of waking up next to the same woman, day after day, month after month, year after year, and not just not caring about the morning breath or the unkempt hair, but feeling fulfilled in that moment halfway between sleep and her ice-cold foot brushing against my leg and jarring me awake.

The simple repetition of love, on the surface the same every day, and yet still different every time because we are growing old together, changing together, changing because we’re with each other.

If we were comparing these two types of love to movies, the idealized stuff of music would be The Fast and the Furious, while the gentle, warm love we (that would be my wife and I, dear reader, not you and I) share would be My Dinner With Andre. No car chases in the latter, but surprisingly engaging if you give it a chance.

Also, I must confess to feeling a bit relieved and more than a little amazed that my wife doesn’t seem to mind my morning breath, unkempt hair, or ice-cold feet.

Proof that miracles do happen.

So sure, when you’re young and inexperienced, the love in those songs sounds pretty good. There’s no farting under the sheets, no up-all-night-listening-to-her-hacking-cough, no paper-thin bathroom doors allowing you to hear everything found in those songs. But you know what?

The reality is even better.

Although I am thinking about getting a thicker door for the bathroom.

 
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Posted by on 13 February 2012 in Life, Music

 

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Beethoven’s influence on contemporary literature

It is a well known fact that Ludwig Van Beethoven was deaf by the time he died, most likely due to the high lead content in his ear trumpets (ah, it was a vicious circle, that).  What is less well known is that Beethoven was completely illiterate except when it came to writing music.

Beethoven hated literate people.  There are numerous documented reports of him walking through a Vienna park, walking stick in hand, and when he came upon some Bohemian-type (the beatniks of his era) stumbling along the path, nose in a book, he would thrust his walking stick between the fellow’s legs and trip him.  One police report shows Beethoven arrested for actually clubbing one of these Bohemian readers with his walking stick after the man had the gall to complain about being tripped.  If doctors had stitches in those days, it is estimated that Beethoven’s victim would have received at least twenty.

These facts make the strong influence Beethoven has had on contemporary literature all the more surprising.

Jane Austen, widely rumored to be one of Beethoven’s lovers, wrote in a letter to her sister Cassandra on 9 March 1814 that the character of Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice owed more than a few of his attributes to the strong but distant manner of “that dear friend of mine, LVB.”  Most scholars agree that LVB referred to Ludwig Van Beethoven.

Who can read Arthur Conan Doyle’s haughty portrayal of Sherlock Holmes and not think of the great composer?  Acerbic, craving intellectual challenge, and completely indifferent to the needs of the criminal class. Am I talking about Beethoven or Holmes?  Who can tell!

While Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer is widely (but erroneously) believed to be autobiographical, the theory has been put forward that in actuality, Miller’s approach to creating his protagonist was to imagine Beethoven had lived in 1930s Paris, and was an author instead of a composer.  Certainly the protagonist’s legendary sexual prowess is in line with what we know of Beethoven’s romantic dalliances.

Samuel Beckett commented privately to several close friends that in the first draft of Waiting for Godot, Godot actually arrives at the very end, and is, in reality, Ludwig Van Beethoven.  Beckett claims that his inability to articulate the reason for making Godot Beethoven is the reason he eventually bowed to pressure from his publisher to change the ending.

J.D. Salinger confided to a close friend that Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of Catcher in the Rye, was his imagining of what Beethoven would have done had he been a teenager forced to attend prep schools in the 1940s and 50s.  Such was his fear that people would realize this connection, that after the book’s publication, Salinger avoided the public eye on the off chance someone might confront him about it.

It is even rumored that J.K. Rowling’s character of Snape in the Harry Potter series is an idealized version of the great composer (which makes sense given that Voldemort is clearly based on that vilest of composers, and a man Beethoven would have hated had they lived at the same time, Gustav Mahler).  This Snape / Beethoven connection is less clear cut, however, and is included in this list only for completeness’ sake.

When all is said and done, it is quite amazing that a man so renowned for his hatred of letters and written words should have such a profound impact on Western literature.  His royal status in the music world is unquestioned and uncontested (and rightly so), but few are cognizant of the lasting influence his life and the way he led it has had on the books that make up the very fabric of our society.  One cannot help but wonder what future literary masterpieces will be created in the shadow of this great, great man.  It makes you want to go out and buy all of his CDs again, and spend a month floating in an isolation tank, alternately listening to his music and listening to audio book versions of the aforementioned titles (except for Waiting for Godot – it’s an absolutely awful play that even the presence of Beethoven could not have saved).

What books have you seen the influence of the Great Master in?

 
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Posted by on 19 April 2011 in Music, Other Blogs

 

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