Thursday, February 27, 2014

17307--There May Be Questions After the Main Event

"What did the author mean by that?"

What a popular question that was way back in school.  It seemed almost a mandatory counterpart to whatever other questions editors packed into our English textbooks.  You'd ponder it in silence, trying to remain motionless while waiting for the teacher to pick someone.  Hopefully, someone who wasn't you.  Well, whoever ended up doing the talking, the answer was usually shot down as "Wrong!", followed by the teacher explaining what the accepted interpretation of whatever the poem or prose was.

That's right, crush all that youthful fervor and enthusiasm.  Close off any avenues of insightful analysis.  "Wait!  How do you know that's wrong?" you asked.  "What if the author actually meant something different than what you said?  Did he leave a note?"

"Well, of course not," the teacher explained, "but the answer's right here in my book, so that's what it means."

Maybe you enjoyed a similar scenario during your formal education years.  Maybe it would've been nice if more dead writers had left notes behind about the works they didn't know would be up for academic discourse long after their deaths.  That's why I find it annoying when people try to reinterpret the "intentions" of the crafters of the Constitution as though what was written was unclear.  Those people knew they were writing something of significance, so they left notes.  Leave it to a bunch of politicians to try to rewrite facts to serve their own ends.  Forgive me.  I digress.

One friend of mine went through a unit in an English class focusing on Robert Heinlein.  When the students were tested, the final question asked why Heinlein had written a specific novel.  One girl answered "For the money."  You've probably guessed that this was not the sort of answer the teacher was looking for.  The girl was not only given no credit for the answer, but was challenged by the teacher to explain why she thought that would be an acceptable answer.  To her credit, she was able to justify her response by telling the teacher that she gave that answer she did on the test because when she had asked her Uncle Bob about it, that was the answer he had given.  Teacher humbled.  Full points on the test.  Still, before butting heads with Heinlein's niece, that teacher stood as just one more perpetuator of the reality that people are misquoted and misunderstood easily enough even when they're alive.  This is just as true for things that are written (as I've noticed from some of my book reviews), no matter how clear they may have seemed to you when writing them.

I suppose this is why there are suicide notes and wills.  Certainly, if you can be misunderstood in life, your intentions can be reinterpreted once you're dead.  Stringing together a few informative sentences could save long hours of arguments.

Reaching back again to school days, I used to practice silence during writing critiques by reminding myself that stories published for the world to see would go out devoid of any individual opportunities for questions and answers.  Likewise, any feedback I received wouldn't be conversational either.  Now, of course, 21st century technology has changed that.  I can unleash explanations for any curiosities my stories may hold just as easily as people can ask for them.  We live in a time of open communication availability.

And beyond!

From what we're told, with the impending arrival of ubiquitous nanotechnology, advanced supercomputing, sophisticated cybernetics and The Singularity, future Elvis may not only not have to leave the building, but may become a part of it.  What your body becomes may be a matter of personal choice, but as long as your consciousness is perpetuated (albeit with technological aid), answers to your intentions can continue to come straight from you.  If that doesn't sound overly appealing, don't sweat it.  I doubt you'll be limited to sitting parked as a voice in a box running a simulation of thinking deep thoughts.  In fact, with all that you think therefore you are translated from organic into a sporty, synthetic neural network, you should be able to continue telling stories, seeing sights, and generally baffling the wits out of people for years to come.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

17302--The Wrath of Einstein

Suspension of disbelief may no longer be enough.

It's time to realize that our superheroes may have a lot more going on than even they are aware.  Did you know some nerds figured out that Jack Bauer, our black ops Batman from 24, has to drive at an average speed of six hundred miles per hour to get around the way he does in crisis situations?  I don't think I've ever seen him behind the wheel of a vehicle with the horsepower for that kind of performance.  As much as we may love it for the sweet ride that it is, even the batmobile couldn't pull that off.

Taking things to another level, Flash has accelerated his body to speeds high enough that his mass increased sufficiently for him to punch a superhuman target into orbit without suffering either injury or relativistic time displacement himself.  In like fashion, Superman and Green Lantern have been flying themselves to other star systems and back for years without returning home to find themselves in a distant post-apocalyptic future ruled by talking apes or cockroaches or even morlocks.

All this has to mean that one of the truly defining features of our superheroes is their ability, conscious or not, to manipulate time.  Or to manipulate the time-space continuum, if you will.  The most powerful of them, people operating at Superman and Flash's level can essentially be conceived of as moving sideways through time on a regular basis.

The ability to fine tune their individual relative position in the continuum, likely through some function of energy and will, determines how skilled a superhero will be at arriving in the always popular nick-of-time.  Catching that falling body, rescuing that girl on the train tracks, stopping that countdown at the last second, or stopping two speeding nuclear missiles flying off in opposite directions is apparently not dependent on how fast you can move from one place to another.  Clobberin' time.  Hammer time.  Bullet time.  Hero time.  Nick-of-Time.  Apparently, it's more important than tights and a cape.

Time Time Time is on your side...

Whether you're Bond or a Powerpuff Girl, what really earns you your status is how much you can bend time to your will and make it your bitch.  So, the next time you're scrambling to make a deadline or get a dozen things done, don't think about bullets and bench presses; just take a deep breath and ask yourself "What would Superman do?" 

Remember all those times when hours flew by?  Remember those times when minutes seemed like they'd never end?

That was all you, hero.

Time enough at last.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

17298--Three-ring Circus, One-man Show

I think I've mentioned this before: you can plan all you like, but you never know what'll unfold while writing until you're writing.

You plan things and then they change.  Not everything.  If that were the case, what writer would ever be able to plan anything?  Things change, though.  I've never labeled myself as either an architect or a gardener; a planner or a seat-of-the-pantser.

I don't believe in writer's block.  I do believe that if you're a writer who starts writing, you're going to end up going somewhere just as surely as if you were driving a car.  The car doesn't care whether you've planned a trip or not.

The general's plans seldom survive the battlefield.

This came up for me again while figuring out a scene and then writing the scene.  It sounds simple that way, but what happened was more like acting to me.  Or maybe directing.  Maybe both.  I found myself playing out the scene in my head, according to my notes.  I was figuring out where the characters were and what action was taking place.  While getting into the characters heads and letting get into their heads so I could get detailed on their movements and dialogue, one of them changed the crowd scene.  In that moment, the protagonist started talking with bystanders in the crowd scene.  It's something that wasn't supposed to happen and resulted in an impact that created ripples upon ripples.

Don't sweat it.  I'm not talking about impending tsunamis rising off the coast.  It just means extra work for me and a bit more depth for the story.  These are not bad things.  This is just the sort of thing that you should probably expect when you turn your brain into a forum for multiple personalities.  Getting into your work, just as when readers lose themselves in stories, you allow your imagination to take an active role in its development and open yourself to the possibility of surprises.  That's when you've arrived at what people describe as the characters writing themselves.  It's really still you, but you're playing all the parts in the puppet show.  At least you've given them something specific to talk about.  It's not a disorder if you're in control of it.

For some people, it's group therapy.  For others, it's a playdate with some imaginary friends.  How the story is told and how much of it ends up on the pages is all for you to decide.  Your writing is whatever you decide it is to you.  If you can't, don't worry--there's always somebody out there who'll be happy to slap labels on you and whatever you do.  When you're creating it, though, however you get yourself from start to finish, make sure it serves you-- whether exercise, entertainment or something else-- as whatever you need it to be.

Monday, February 3, 2014

17283--Making Things Stranger

What doesn't kill you is supposed to make you stronger.

It's an idea that speaks to basic human development, surviving by adapting and growing.  With the advent of time travel technology, assuming the allowance of being able to move at least within the span of one's own lifetime and to coexist with different versions of oneself without doing irreparable damage to the continuum, the temptation to visit one's earlier self will no doubt manifest for some people.  This will naturally lead to chaos for the more thoughtless among us who fail to think actions through to their possible consequences.  These would be the same people who make the poorly conceived wishes that come back to bite them on the ass every time they run across a genie with some free time and magic burning a hole in the old diaphanous pants.

Though it may go unheeded, I'm going to offer a bit of advice to these people: just watch.  That's right, just keep your distance and watch.  Better still, don't go anywhere near your younger self or any of your ancestors.  Marty McFly managed to come out a lot better than Ashton Kutcher, but considering that he nearly wiped himself and his siblings out of existence and narrowly avoided a disturbing oedipal incident as one of the many hoop jumps required to fix things, just save yourself the trauma.  If you can't manage to keep your distance, consider writing a thoughtful note.  Again, don't try changing huge things.  Think it through.

If you're feeling Hemingwayish (it is too a word), you might pick out a slow day from your past and go kick your own ass.  Sounds a little odd right off, I know, but think of the result.  You'll toughen up your present/future self.  Go back and do it again, allowing for some recovery from the first beating (maybe a few months to a year), and older you will reap the benefit of becoming even tougher.  All the motivational posters say the only person you need to beat is the person you were yesterday.  This would be your chance to prove them right.

For the love of you, though, don't get carried away or you may break your own spirit.  And certainly don't do any permanent damage.  And as long as I'm saying these things, don't kill your younger self.  That's a dead-end time-loop paradox you really don't want to get into.

You know what?  Maybe you're just not ready for a time machine.  One of you is liable to mess things up enough that we start getting...corrupt politicians in government or something.

Wow, there's a thought.  Forget I mentioned it.

Go contact the FCC.  Tell them to reinstate net neutrality.