None of the Above

knock_vote

I’m done for now. This moment has been in the making for decades.

My political self-awareness began before my 10th birthday. I remember watching Jimmy Carter with my dad. I sensed how important the kindly, southern-drawled man was, but didn’t fully understand the implications of his position. It felt like he was the country’s principal speaking to a classroom of 218 million. Liberal, conservative, blue-dog, neocon—these words weren’t in my vocabulary, and I was a voracious reader! If someone had mentioned left-wing and right-wing, I would have thought the country needed both to fly. Doesn’t a bird?

My fascination with politics deepened over the years, at times bordering on lurid. Given the same empirical data, how could two people extrapolate diametrically opposed conclusions? And why could a candidate call his opponent every nasty thing under the sun but a lier? The politisphere tickled my inner psychologist.

Influenced by the usual milestones of youth, my worldview developed. While my moral beliefs weren’t totally liberal (I am a preacher’s kid after all), my thoughts about the role of government were generally left of center.

The first national election I remember voting in was Bush vs. Clinton. My horse won that year and again four years later. I’ve voted in every presidential election since, and many local and national ones as well. This year’s mid-terms find the country still entrenched in the eerily even divide of blue/red, white/black, gay/straight politics. Politicians I’ve helped into office, and many I haven’t, have presided over desert wars, economic calamities, ecological disasters, and continuing erosions of privacy.

I’ve finally had enough. This year I’m watching the roulette wheel spin from the cheap seats. Any acrimony I might have had in seeing my candidate lose will be channeled into prayer and positive thoughts for the poor shlub who’s conned his way into office.

Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. With apologies to the author of Ecclesiastes, here are a few reasons I won’t be in the slow-shuffling, snaking lines of weary citizens performing their alleged civic duty.

Insanity of insanities, all is insanity.

We’re told that to effect change, vote the people we want to lead into office. I’ve spent half of my life doing that, at least trying to. Of course, my vision of leadership and principles are pitted against competing visions. So it goes. Over the years I’ve come to realize cooperation is as important as competition, if not more so. But I feel we’ve entered the era of permanent and entrenched partisanship. It’s more important for politicians to prevail (thus validating their constituents’ votes) than to solve the problems that effect us all. Because candidates personally stoke the flames of division, compromise is not only a sign of weakness; it’s the hangman’s noose for the career of anyone willing to meet halfway on an issue. Think that’s going to change any time soon?

Insanity of insanities, all is insanity.

This country put a man on the moon using a slide rule. Five years later, the Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machine was patented. These devices have been deployed since the 1990’s, yet even with a paper trail, reports of “voting irregularities” surround their use. And now there’s an even greater push to expand internet voting. With luck, maybe the company that landed the federal health exchange website will get the design job.

Insanity of insanities, all is insanity.

Gerrymandering, the practice of redefining voting district boundaries to favor one party over others, continues to be a problem. Since the reigning party controls the mapping of voting districts, both Democrats and Republicans have benefitted from gerrymandering. The process creates incumbent “safe” districts, discourages minority party voting, and sparks the Electoral College effect, where a plurality of votes fails to garner a victory. Gerrymandering also contributed to nearly half of NC’s senators and representatives running unopposed this year.

Insanity of insanities, all is insanity.

Finally, but certainly not least, this is an opportunity to grow spiritually. That’s right, getting caught up in the dregs circling the electoral pool can stunt one’s spiritual growth. Political involvement is a heated and highly debated topic in the Christian faith. It bears considering that a denouncement of one candidate is an implicit endorsement of the other. We can’t vote for the parts of a politician’s agenda we agree with, while striking the offensive portions. I’m tired of indignantly voting for the lesser of two evils, and I won’t likely be convinced that continuing to do so somehow serves the Lord’s purpose. My energy is better spent considering where all my help truly comes from.

So it’s time for a pregnant pause. It’s time to bid farewell to a history of defensive voting, and embrace a future of offensive faith.

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Days of Making

In this post I’ll attempt to answer the question What do writers do when they’re not writing? Of course the question itself is simply a distraction from the grim reality that one is not writing. Hmmm…

Anyway, in my break I’ve returned to programming and using/learning about Linux. In fact, as much as I like Windows 8, outside of work I use Linux 90%+ of the time. Linux Mint 15 let’s me write, email, tweet, surf, code, listen to music, and view and modify photos/videos. When I am inspired to write, Scrivener’s Linux beta works just fine. Firefox and Thunderbird are the same versions as their Windows counterparts. TweetDeck has no standalone Linux software, but the website app runs better in Linux than it does in Windows. Meaning, it doesn’t crash when rabid Sharknado fans are posting 5000 tweets a minute!

Amazon’s Kindle Cloud Reader gives me online and offline access to my Kindle library. Xara Xtreme is close to the original Windows program that introduced me to vector graphics. And as much as I despise GIMP’s interface, I’ve managed to use it for rudimentary photo editing jobs. Aside from coding, that accounts for most of what I do when I’m not forced to sit in front of a computer all day.

Speaking of coding, I’ve started learning Python at Code Academy, a free online resource focused on putting the power of programming into everyone’s hands. I purchased a Raspberry Pi to flex my Python skills, and possibly turn into a cool home automation or network server project.The Pi obviously led me to Arduino, where I’m learning enough C to make LEDs blink, motors spin, and eventually more.

So that’s some of what writers do besides writing. At least this writer.
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Do-Rags and Red Flags

Lincoln with American and Confederate flags

Accidental racist much?

Country musician Brad Paisley and rap star LL Cool J collaborated on a country/rap mashup about race and stereotypes. Paisley begins the beguine by explaining to a hypothetical Starbucks barista that the rebel flag on his t-shirt simply means he’s a Lynard Skynard fan. Later in the song he passes the baton to Cool J, who valiantly tries to paint the disgusting practice of sagging in a sympathetic light.

When two heavyweight musicians try to encapsulate the problem of racism in a 6-minute country song, things are bound to go awry. Popdust writer Nate Jones brilliantly unpacks the real issues with the song’s clever but vacuous lyrics. That the song fails to take into account the scope of present-day problems, I find incredible.

In an Entertainment Weekly interview, Paisley highlights a lyric in the song:

‘We’re still picking up the pieces, walking on eggshells, fighting over yesterday,’ and the other is, ‘Paying for the mistakes that a lot of folks made long before we came.’

He goes on to say:

“I just think art has a responsibility to lead the way, and I don’t know the answers, but I feel like asking the question is the first step, and we’re asking the question in a big way. How do I show my Southern pride? What is offensive to you?”

Let’s see… expecting art to lead the way in solving generations of race problems is offensive. The best art provokes. It challenges our perceptions and disputes our adopted realities. But above all, art is honest. Art’s honesty and raw emotion trounce the casual excuse of we can’t rewrite history. History has already been rewritten. That’s the problem. Now, it needs to be retold, not necessarily  through art, but with the honesty of an artist.

Accidental Racist is simply another rehashing of “we need to have a serious discussion about race”. The truth is we do talk about race, just not to people of other races. I’m sure Paisley and Cool J both have a lot to contribute to that discussion, but with its refusal to acknowledge the greater symbolism of rebel flags and sagging pants outside the rebel and hoodrat communities, this song only hints at what that conversation might include.

Part defense, part New York swagger, the song leaves us with the obvious conclusion that we should not judge a book by its cover. But without context developed through real dialog, all we have is the cover, interpreted through the unblinking lens of history.

The song’s video seems to have disappeared. Hear it for now at this website.

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Give ’em the Bird

christmas_turkey
Frying has been my preferred method of holiday turkey prep for years now. Like grilling, it’s a very primal activity. Primal meaning “favored by men” for its elegant simplicity and element of danger. Add the fact that you’re plating in under an hour and you have a winning combination.

Per my usual process, this year’s 13.5 lb, fresh specimen was brined overnight. She was also given a day to rest comfortably (as well as dry thoroughly) in the refreigerator. After allowing the bird to approach room temp while the oil heated, a generous amount of dry rub was applied inside and out before lowering into four gallons of hot peanut oil. Forty-eight minutes later and the deed was done. Enjoy the pic and short video of my jet fryer.

Merry Christmas and Happy Boxing Day to all of you. May your pots be full!

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Mystery Solved

We quit.

We quit.

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No, Editing is Not Optional

editing

Photo License: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

New writers sometimes approach editing in the same way they would ask a loved one to help choose a color for the living room. They prepare for the inevitable assault against their own carefully thought out choices, and ready a defense to shoot down the requested suggestions. If you’re considering offering your stories to the public, you’ve undoubtedly read many times over that editing is a must.

Well, it is.

After I received three short stories from editing, I’m amazed at the simple things I missed. From spelling and usage errors that I would surely spot after publishing, to phrasing that was a tad awkward, but clearer after being edited.

It’s more than a little scary to think of the kinds of things a structural edit will reveal in longer forms of writing. I’ll face that challenge next. The point is, whatever ambivalence you feel toward editing, get over it! The writer’s ego is like tomato skin, but it’s better to suffer a few bruises than be tossed into the bin with the rest of the rotten tomatoes.

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Windows 8 For Now

Microsoft Windows 8 was officially released yesterday. For a limited time, the company is offering a $39.99 upgrade for users of Windows 95, XP, Vista, and Win 7. I’ve used the beta and preview versions for months and installed the final release early this morning. I thought a short review might help some of you decide if Redmond’s latest OS is a good choice. I’ll try to keep it brief* and concentrate on the biggest changes, especially those of special interest to writers.

WILL MY EXISTING SOFTWARE WORK?

The first thing to know is that most software that runs under Windows 7 should work fine in Windows 8. The glaring exception for writers is Microsoft Office 2003. Scrivener is my initial writing software for stories now, but I know many editors and other writers rely on Word’s track changes feature for proofreading/versioning.

With the exception of bug fixes and paid support options, Continue reading “Windows 8 For Now” »

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National Day on Writing, Just One?

“What do you write?”

Anyone who consistently clacks away at a keyboard in a public place will be asked some variation of this. I was asked earlier today and I offered my usual response: YA fiction. It’s not my only genre, but I’ve begun to focus my efforts there. A year or so ago I would have said “I blog.” With the National Day on Writing upon us, I’ve given the question more consideration. Not so much about the genre I write, but more about what I do write. The totally candid answer is everything.

I write reminder notes like my Mom taught me to (and try to remember where I put them!). I write lyrics of songs I’ll never be brave enough to sing. I write business emails and try to make them as concise and unambiguous as possible. I tweet (yeah!). And yes, fiction is always on my mind and at the tips of my fingers.

I’m ecstatic to see this emphasis on writing as a life skill, on par with knowing math and grammar. If you’re a student who has strayed here by chance, know that writing, like playing an instrument, is an endeavor with infinite rewards. One’s friendship with words is as real as any 3D friendship, and will open the door to a lifetime of adventure.

Here’s something I wrote while killing time at my local author incubator, AKA Starbucks: Before She Goes.

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Letter From The Frontlines

handwritten letter

Dear friends and family,

I know it’s been a while since you’ve heard from me. You should know you’re never far from my mind.

The war has been grueling. Even now, I am under attack by a strong contingent of -ly adverbs and may need to bug out before I finish this letter. Although operating under strict radio silence, I’ve had high spirits since winning a major campaign against initial gerunds. No one told me there’d be days like these.

Days when you watch the idyllic, snow-covered scenery emerge after shaking the globe, only to realize you’re stuck on the outside looking in, and breaking in would destroy that perfect world.

Regardless, the creative war rages on. Whether won or lost, every battle should leave you wiser and better equipped to engage the enemy.

Hint: Writers are their own worst enemy.

Here are two recent revelations that have helped keep my writing supply chain intact. Neither are my own invention, but they are useful enough to share.

1) Like 3-D people, the best fiction characters are complex.

They need time to develop. Soon after introductions, place them into a tough situation and observe their reactions. Your story’s setting is one of the few environments you can explore completely, and introduce dire circumstances without repercussions.

For instance, my current story’s MC may die. Or live. Who knows? I don’t, so I’ve saved two versions and work on whichever I’m compelled to at the time. It beats staring at a blinking cursor until inspiration hits!

2) Write non-linearly.

As a videographer/editor, I’m used to working out of chronological order. That’s why we slate takes. The story that writes itself from beginning to end, in order, is a romantic notion. Perhaps it isn’t for everyone, but that level of zen has escaped me lately.

That’s why it’s important to know your tools. I’ve started using Scrivener, which treats your story like a collection of building blocks. Want to work on the ending first? Go ahead. Maybe the information in one chapter needs to be revealed sooner. No problem, grab it and move it.

Microsoft Word also allows this if you use heading styles and view your work in outline form.

That’s all from the trenches for now. Keep writing, keep reading!

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Food for Thought

dry_rub

Picture 1 of 5

carefully selected spices

And now for something completely different. It’s been a while since I posted (too much work, too little writing), but I’m still standing. Thanks to great weather and being surrounded by a family of foodies, I’ve been pursuing another passion of mine: good food. It ain’t Shakespeare, but while I rebuild the writing engine enjoy the culinary delights. Click the photos to enlarge and read a short description.

Today’s subject is spatchcock chicken, which is a fancy way of saying back and breastbone removed. The fresh peas were later married to grilled baby new potatoes and seasoned simply with shallots, garlic, and a little pancetta.

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