Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Individuality

                                                      I seem to like what others don’t;
                                                      They don’t want what I do.
                                                      It seems that what they like I don’t;
                                                      I don’t want what they do.

                                                      I think myself a curious being,
                                                      An odd one, to be sure
                                                      And others think me very weird
                                                      To shun their interests' lure

                                                      See, I don’t like what others do,
                                                      And what they love, I don’t.
                                                      They don’t like the things I do,
                                                      And what I love they don’t.

                                                      An old eccentric is this man,
                                                      A strange, odd man is he
                                                      Or perhaps it's they who are,
                                                      They're eccentric to me!

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Noble Sacrifice

       Of all the great plot devices, one of the greatest of them all is the noble sacrifice. I'm sure we've all seen it before, when a person gives up his safety and wellbeing to protect those of another. A man pushes a child out of the path of a speeding bus and is hit himself. A Secret Service agent takes a bullet in defense of the President. An infantryman jumps on a grenade to shield his friends from the explosion. It's one of the most powerful demonstrations of love and self-denial that there is.

     I was surprised, then, when I happened upon a few "sacrifices" that didn't appeal to me. They didn't seem like they were true noble sacrifices. After mulling it over for a while, I finally came up with a group of reasons why I felt so, and a few guidelines as to what a noble sacrifice really is.

     1.) The surrender of health and wellbeing must be intentional. An accidental death which benefits the hero is obviously not a sacrifice.

      2.) All other options must be exhausted. There's no point in dying to save your friends when you can just push a button and do it.

     3.) Since the loss of life is involved, the sacrifice must do something, it must have a purpose. It is certainly not powerful if a hero, say, jumps off a cliff after someone he cares about. If nothing else, it provokes an immense sadness at the hero's premature demise and his stupidity in bringing it about.

     4.) The sacrifice must be effective in securing its purpose. It's pointless to give up one's life without the certainty that it will save your friends. It's almost like going to the altar or the volcano in the hope that you'll appease the gods and keep them from destroying your village. In some settings that might be effective, but there's no way to know.

     The noble sacrifice is a great plot device. It contains immense emotional and spiritual power when used and crafted properly. There's no greater love than that which lays down itself for its friends

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Strange Letter

     I have no explanation for how the following note came into my possession. I found the crumpled, yellow page on the street one afternoon while walking home. I’ve tried to find its owner or recipient, but the endeavor has proven useless. So I copy it here, only able to wonder about the story that lies behind it.


     Hello, Smith.
            I know you probably didn’t want to hear from me again. I don’t blame you. But I’m getting scared. Things are starting to happen. Something big is coming that the people in my dreams have been talking about. They want me to do something, but I don’t know what.

            Agent Nelson showed up yesterday and asked about everything. He was really curious about my paintings. You were lucky to get out when you did. The agents have been crawling all over the project lately, sticking their noses into everything. It’s maddening the way they look at me as if I’m a specimen in a jar.

            Another envelope with a string of numbers came in the mail today. You were always better with those than I was. If you have any spare time and can take a look at them, I’d be grateful.

                                                4762  903  29 6  74  547  1847
            Worst of all, my body is starting to fall apart. It’s bad enough being stuck in this chair, but my brain keeps thinking I still have legs. I almost tried to stand up the other day. The doctors think the  project's effect on me is getting worse. My heart is weakening, and it’s pulling the rest of my bodily functions down with it. My brain will probably be the last thing to go.

            Basically, my luck’s run out. The people in my head are breathing down my neck, and the government agents are sticking their noses everywhere. I don’t know where else to turn. I’m sorry about everything. That probably doesn’t help at all. But I need your help here. I’m afraid.
            Please come down to the hotel if you can. Thank you for reading.
                                               -- Thomson

Monday, August 19, 2013

Reader's Block

     I am a writer, and therefore I am a reader. I don't think the two can be separate. I would like to say that I read a lot. Sadly, that's not the case, or at least I don't feel I measure up to others whom I consider to be "serious readers". I recently found myself envying a friend who said that he was pestered by his teachers to go outside during recess while he preferred to stay inside and read books. In my mind, there are few greater things than this.

     If that's so, then, why don't I read more? If I find reading so great, great enough to defy most of the social pressures that outside forces put upon us, then why don't I do it more? I feel somewhat ashamed when I find that most of my time is consumed not by active reading, but more passive TV watching, or worse, nothing at all. I ask myself, "Why aren't I more like one of those people who seem like they devour books like salad?" I've come up with two explanations.

     The first is that I'm just too lazy. At present I am trying to work through some of the classics, to gain a better rounded literary knowledge. But that can be difficult, since there are a number of classics that are, quite frankly, not as engaging as some of the other things I might want to read. Then I frequently find myself arguing with myself whether or not I should start reading something else at the same time as whatever other book I'm engaged in, only to determine that I'll do that later, when I'm done with the present book.

     Another possibility is fear. Perhaps I have too great standards and expect too much of books. I've always been a very picky eater, and I wonder if that's not the case in reading too. When the books I read don't meet my expectations, I get very disappointed and even gloomy. I hate it when I find a book bad, when it doesn't measure up to my standard of quality. Therefore, I'm leery about trying anything because I'm afraid that it will turn out badly, and then I'll be upset, dejected, and frustrated. A good recent example is Orwell's 1984, which I read for a literature class. I had often given thought to reading it and was somewhat eager when I learned we would be reading it for the class. But then it turned out to be one of the most discouraging books I've ever set eyes in. True, I liked the writing--Orwell is a very good writer-- but I absolutely hated the story. It could be that this is why I don't read so much, because the fear of disappointment keeps me from venturing out.

     I can see only one solution to this problem, whether it's laziness or fear, or something else, or a combination of these, I need to stand in spite of all of them. If I do truly feel that reading is a good activity, one to be pursued, then I need to work at it, no matter what tries to keep me from doing it. I'm going to work at fighting fear and laziness, and keep a record of some things I read in this log. The writer is now on a quest to read.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

It's Good

     The definition of good seems to be changing. Perhaps I should rephrase and specify. It seems to me that what people consider good in entertainment has changed or has been changing for a long time. I don't mean that people think that bad things are good, that wrong things are right, not in this case. Rather, I'm focusing on the way that people use the word good to define the things they experience in entertainment. For example, I remember one time when I was sitting in a van with a group of people my age, and they were sharing their music with each other. I kept hearing the repeated phrase, "That's a good song; that's a good song; that's a good song,". I felt that if I could hear what they were hearing, I would be inclined to disagree. It bothered me because it seemed that there shouldn't be disagreement on what is good and what isn't. Good things are good, and bad things are bad. That's when I really began to wonder what good in this sense means.

     One of the many definitions of the word "good" is, "of high quality, or excellent." How do we determine what is excellent or of high quality? The only thing we can do is to measure it according to some standard, and with most things it's a universal standard. What's good for the goose is usually good for the gander. Measurements are a fitting example of this. The scientific community has agreed on a standard for their measurements, the metric system, so that they know that everywhere, regardless of location or individual, the measurements are going to be the same. However, this doesn't seem to be the case for things like entertainment. There's no set universal standard for what is a good book, movie, or song. You may have experienced a scenario like this example: You and a friend or coworker are driving in your car with the radio on. Then comes a little warning note, and the song you despise with a burning passion begins. You gag and change the channel. But meanwhile, your friend in the seat next to you has already begun belting out the chorus. Then you get into a heated argument over whether or not that's a good song. He says yes; you emphatically say no. Obviously, there is no universal standard for what is good in entertainment. How can this be? How then do we determine what is good?

     Well, it's pretty simple. It's actually quite obvious, but I've avoided using words that will give it away. There are standards that people use in determining what's good. But those standards are personal, not universal. We call them tastes. People have tastes based on what they like and don't like, what they think is right and wrong, and what they've done in the past. They use these to determine what they consider to be good. So when people say, "That's a good song; that's a good movie, for heavens' sake, that's not a good book," what they really mean to say is, "I hold that to be a good song; I believe that's a good movie; good gracious, I don't think that's a good book at all." If the word gets overused enough, it even just means, "I like that...fill in the blank."

     So the answer to my question is this: Looking at it from a certain point of view, those people in the van were right when they said, "That was a good song," and from another point of view they were wrong. The points of view were theirs and mine, respectively. It all depends on what the person experiencing the media holds to be good. So the definition of good has not been changed, but rather, it has remained the same but people have used it to define more forcefully their likes and dislikes. Good still means good, but people's standards for what they hold to be good are still very different.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Dear Readers,
            I recently found this book discarded and abandoned under my bed. It’s been lost for many months now. I’m sorry to say that a number of its pages have been torn out and the rest are blank.

            I return to the log a much different person, a more sobered author, to be sure. The na├»ve aspirations of youth have begun to give way to a more realistic, disciplined view of the trade. I’ve realized that to do well, I need to write, and I need to do it a lot. I return to this book with that very purpose in mind.

            While I began this log before with the thought that I would only use it for stories and the occasional poem, it now becomes clear to me that that was an immensely poor idea, and I would do much better to include my thoughts and opinions, reports on things I’ve read or seen, and possibly to insert an essay or two. I hope that these will not overcome my output of stories, but I do think that in favor of quality, the number of stories I do write here will be fewer, but better.

            It’s a great privilege and responsibility to hold the power of words. This book will be my tool for improving my skill using such power. I also hope it will provide enjoyment and provoke thought for you, for that is the greatest measure of my ability.
                        Thank You Very Much

                                    Regards,
                                                --R. D.