One Step Closer

I thought I’d take a crack at the Weekly Writing Challenge this week.  Here is my story:

On this particular day I was flying back from a trip to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas.  The nearest sizeable airport is Kansas City, which despite its clever name, is really located in Missouri.  Oh sure, there is in fact a Kansas City in Kansas, but when you sing about how you’re “going to Kansas City… Kansas City here I come,” you’re talking about the one in Missouri.

Earlier in the year, I’d done quite a bit of flying on business and had racked up a fair amount of frequent flyer miles and some other perks.  One of the perks was a handful of 500-mile certificates.  Having discovered that I could use the certificates to upgrade from Cattle-Car-Coach to Actual-Customer-Service-Business-Class, I decided to upgrade my flight from Kansas City to Denver, and then the connecting flight from Denver to Palm Springs.

I’m not really a huge fan of flying as transportation.  I don’t think anybody is.  One jackhole decides to try putting a bomb in his shoe and now the rest of humanity is doomed for all eternity to walk through security in our stocking feet.  Given the option, I’d much rather take the train.  But business is business and when you’ve got to travel quickly, you fly.  When I can make it a little more comfortable, and get a genuine smile from a Flight Attendant instead of the airline’s equivalent of shoving a tray of food under my cell door, I upgrade.

It was wintertime, and Denver was a mess.  My outgoing flight from Denver was delayed about an hour.  The plane was a Boeing 737 which is not huge and so it doesn’t have Business Class.  It does, however, have a First Class cabin so my upgrade got me all the way up to where royalty and movie stars get to ride.  Nice.  As one of the privileges of flying First Class, you get to use the “red carpet” to board the airplane, and don’t have to go up the regular cattle chute.  You also don’t have to wait for your zone to be called.  You can just get on whenever you want.

Most people prefer to board early.  It doesn’t matter all that much to me either way because we’re not going anywhere until we’re all on board, but getting on sooner allows you to stow your gear and sit in a nice comfy seat.  Plus, they usually serve a drink while you are waiting, which is not only nice but it sets you apart from the lowing slabs of meat who’re being herded into their stalls behind you.

Some people are in a dreadfully urgent hurry to get onto the plane first.  I don’t really understand this compulsion.  Maybe they like to sit and wait longer than anyone else.  These are the same people who will jump lanes in front of you in traffic so they can be the first to arrive at the next red light one block away.

So when the announcement came that we’d be boarding in a few minutes, several of the First Class passengers began to move up to the red carpet.  I stood and gathered my things too, but I didn’t feel a great sense of urgency.  We weren’t boarding just yet.  I moved into the group of people who were waiting in front of the red carpet.  We were in that sort of undefined mass of people that eventually coalesces into an organized queue.  I didn’t feel a need to get personal with anyone just yet, so I stood back a few paces and waited.  We could all see that the agent at the gate wasn’t quite ready.  She was dealing with a couple of people up at the front of the red carpet and hadn’t actually begun the process of checking boarding passes and letting people through.  There did seem to be a general air of expectancy among the passengers.  We’d all been waiting for an extra hour and we were anxious to get going.  Seeing that the line wasn’t yet moving, though, I felt no need to collapse anyone’s bubble of personal space and move right up to where I could smell his after shave (or lack thereof).

As I’m standing there waiting for the small logjam on the red carpet to break loose, a man taps me on the shoulder and says, “Are you going to move forward?”  I do a slow double take.  I look at him, look at the line which clearly isn’t moving yet, and look back at him.  I smile.  It was supposed to be a friendly and conspiratorial smile, but it was probably half sneer out of derision for his stupid question and half grimace because I was tired of waiting.

“Eventually,” I say.

“But not right now,” he blusters and proceeds to shove his way past me in order to stand one step closer to the spot from which no one was yet progressing.

Less than a minute later another fellow politely asks me, “Are you in line?”  That is a much better question so I simply say, “Yes.”  I say so loud enough so that Rudely Shoves Forward can hear me.  The polite fellow says, “Oh.  I couldn’t tell where the line was.”  He is making a gentlemanly reference to the fact that I hadn’t moved to within impregnation distance of the person in front of me and thus boldly established my place within the pack.  I nod towards Rudely Shoves Forward.

“Apparently it forms behind this gentleman here.”  He hears me, because I have passively-aggressively made sure he could, and shoots me a look.  I pay him back with a smirk.  I am not intimidated, but I am still nonchalant about crowding forward in order to wait one step closer.  Had I been in a darker and bolder mood, which I sometimes am, I would have fought for my place in line and refused to allow anyone to punk me.  I’m not in that sort of mood today.  I’m on my way home, this is my last leg, and I’m patiently waiting to enjoy my luxurious seat and friendly service.

The line begins to move.  Rudely Shoves Forward now feels the need to establish that he isn’t a total dick, so he steps back and gestures that I should precede him.  I protest with mocking politeness, but he insists.  He now wants to win this contest too.  I briefly consider accepting this challenge, and doing a version of the old Alphonse and Gaston routine:  “After you,”  “Oh no, after you,” “Oh no, please I insist, after you,” but there are other people waiting and I have no desire to hold up a few innocent bystanders just to prove that I can out-dick the dick.  I proceed to board the airplane.  As I walk down the ramp, I wonder what motivates somebody to be such a colossal ass.

I find my big plush armchair and stash my carry-on in the roomy compartment provided for upper crust travelers such as myself.  I adjust my position and relax with a smug sigh.  In the aisle seat across from me, Rudely Shoves Forward assumes his position.  The herd of weary mortals now begins the slow march past us, wearing their Death March faces and gazing longingly at we privileged few sitting upon our thrones.

A fellow with an amazingly large bag slung over his shoulder makes his way along the aisle.  The line comes to one of its frequent halts.  Behind him, a woman with whom he is obviously traveling says something that clearly requires a response.  He spins around quickly.  I watch an old fashioned slapstick comedy as the heavy bag whips around and smacks dead full into the face of Rudely Shoves Forward.  To this day I still see in my mind’s eye a slow motion shot of his distorted features, like a close-up of the knockout blow at a boxing match.

It was a very pleasant flight all the way home.

Just WRITE, damn it!

So, I’ve got the summer off between classes and I set myself the goal of finishing the first draft of The First Great Novel.

Yeah, right.

I figured two pages a day, five days a week is a decent goal.  I know that when I’m on a roll, I can crank out a half a dozen pages without even breaking a sweat.  The problem is to get rolling.

I’ve even got a day off, with nothing in particular that I have to do.  I went through the usual morning routine of avoidances.  I spent an hour or two running around the internet wasting time this morning.  Then I had toast and coffee with Mrs. Novelist (usually a pleasant way to spend time).  Then I watched an entire movie on TCM (a great old Navy flick).  I browsed around here in WordPress for awhile, reading a few blogs I follow and wandering through a few random posts in topics that sounded interesting at the time.  I’m also about to finish tipping all my neighbors in Restaurant Story.  That pretty much runs the gamut of allowable diversions.

I’ve also completed the checklist of preparations.  I had a couple cups of coffee and I’ve got a cold iced tea sitting here.  I’ve got the headphones on and my favorite Blues station is jamming.  So everything is ready. . . and instead I’m sitting here writing another blog post because I’m telling myself that my loyal blog followers expect to see something every couple of days. . . or else their loyalty will be short lived.  And that’s important right?  Because that’s the basis of my huge fan following that will be hanging on every word I can possibly write, just waiting to throw money at me for each succeeding Great Novel.  That villa in Spain isn’t just going to buy itself, after all.

Except that none of that is going to happen until I can finish writing The First Novel.  Hey, I did make some progress over the last couple days. . .  we got to see a polo match. . .  I got a character named after Chainsaw worked into the story as payback for him putting one into his named after me. . . I put a few more forgotten landmarks into the story. . . and now here are Protaginator and Protaginatrix (and her brother) about to sit down and have dinner at one of the most famous restaurants in Hollywood and. . .

Nothing.  Like when you’re getting ready to go somewhere and you open the car door and you notice the light doesn’t come on.  You pretend to ignore it, even though that nagging little voice that won’t fucking shut up says, “Dead battery, dead battery, neener neener neener.”  You get in and stow your gear and slip the key in and. . . nothing.

::sigh::

Alright, damn it.  My brain is like my old 1957 VW bus.  I’ll just turn the key on, give it a mighty shove, leap into the seat, slam it into 2nd gear and pop the clutch.  Oh yeah, there it goes. . . ::cough, sputter, bang, BANG, purrrrrrrrrrrrrr::

Make it short? Make it good? Make it last?

It’s starting to grind again.  I’m at that point where, when I manage to distract myself from all my distractions and actually sit down to write, I can barely manage to push out a paragraph before I falter.

I mentioned before how I’d ground out a chapter that way, one or two paragraphs at a time, and thought it was disjointed and weak only to have my sister tell me it was the best I’d written so far.  So, I’m pretty sure if I can just kick myself in the ass hard enough, the basic quality of my work will hold up.

So I’m trying to put one foot in front of the other and keep it moving.  Journey of a thousand miles, blah blah blah.  The problem I ran into yesterday is that I had the main characters tour a stable, meet with some polo players, and watch an entire polo match – in three paragraphs.  After taking a couple hours to get that far, I looked at it and went, “Really?  All that in three paragraphs?”

So I got to thinking – a good form of distraction – and I reasoned that perhaps this was merely a transitional scene, and not one of those parts of the story that really move things forward.  Therefore I shouldn’t waste a lot of the readers time on things that don’t matter… right?

Maybe.

Truth is, I don’t know where the hell the story is going right now.  Oh, I know where it’s going to end up, I’m just not sure of the path it is going to take to get there.  So should I take a few pages to describe all of the stuff?  Should I describe each horse, the colors of the wrappings on their legs, the differences among polo saddles, English saddles, and Western saddles?  Will the readers enjoy an exciting description of the polo match?  I can probably fluff all that up pretty easily – as a kolij granulate (twice!) I’m no stranger to filling x pages for a paper – but is it important to the story?  That’s the real question.

The answer is, I have no freakin’ clue.  “The answer,” he said, pointing a finger at the knucklehead staring at him out of the mirror, “is to just write it.”

First things first.  Write it all down, and get a complete first draft.  Write fast, write slow, write with music, write in a darkened room… whatever it takes.  Get it out of your head and onto the screen.  Then, you can edit, revise, and rewrite.  That is what I tell myself, while I sit here banging out a stupid blog post instead of writing.

::sigh::  Okay… back to work then.

Happy Birthday, Chesty

When my time comes to take my post guarding the streets of Heaven, I hope one of the first things I get to do is go on a moto run with Chesty.

Secret Blog #2

Happy Birthday, Chesty

My wife is an artist, as some of you know, although she doesn’t really jump into the Artist category with both feet. She’ll demur and pretend her gift isn’t art, but we all know better.

Just last week she was moved to create something (not at all an artistic impulse!;-)) and this amidst a pretty big workload for both home and various artistic endeavors.

She made a rendering of the classic photograph of LtGen Lewis B Puller sr, known to us Marines as Chesty. The picture will take you to it.

Today is Chesty’s birthday, and a nice day to reflect on just what the man accomplished in his life, and why we Marines seem pathologically devoted to him. I encourage you to read his autobiography and any of the many books that have been written about him or the many operations in which he played a…

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Oh no! It’s happening to me!

Last night I sat down and the words began to flow.  A torrent of prose erupted from my fingertips and splashed onto the screen with fantastic nuance, deep soulful longing, achingly beautiful imagery.  What’s more, it was The Big Scene, which I’d had in my head for months, but hadn’t gotten to yet.  Last night, it was time.  And I wrote until my fingers bled – okay four or five good pages – but it was good.  It was fan-freakin’-tastic good.

Mrs. Novelist was sitting on the couch when I finished the scene.  I decided to show her just how incredibly fantastic her husband truly is, so I read her a few pages and finished with The Big Scene.

Except that somebody had taken my deep, touching, wonderfully poignant, thrilling, tear-jerking words and replaced them with utter crap.  I tried to stop reading, but it was too late.  The words kept coming out of my mouth right up until the end.

I looked up, prepared for her to tell me that our dog could probably poop more artistically than I could write, yet hoping she’d be gasping for breath as the tears rolled down her cheeks in rapturous joy at hearing something so beautiful.

“That was nice,” she said and continued playing her game on her phone.

Achieved!

I have done it!  I have finished editing my friend’s novel.  It’s a good story; a really good story.  He just needs tons of help on smoothing out all the rough spots.  He gots a whole lotta rough spots.

The important part is that I have finished!  It was a much more involved task than I had thought it would be, but I can say it was well worth the effort.  By going through his book so methodically, I have taught myself a great deal about writing that will now be re-applied towards my own First Novel.

And now I’ve also exhausted one of the my main excuses for not writing the rest of my first draft, so… onwards ever onwards.

Hizzen and Hern

I am sick to death of butchering the English language in the name of gender-neutrality.

No, I’m not a misogynist (as long as you keep makin’ them sammiches! – sorry, I couldn’t resist).  No really, not a misogynist at all.  I absolutely understand and completely agree that English could and should evolve to reflect the fact that approximately half of humanity is female.  I have no problem with that.

Here’s what I do have a problem with.  I was reading one of the blogs I follow and the author concluded with this sentence:  “A writer that can create this kind of epic and heartfelt rivalry between their characters has all the conflict they need to drive their story.”

The subject of the sentence is “a writer.”  He could have chosen “the writer,” but he opted for an indefinite article.  A singular indefinite article.  Not all writers, or some writers, or even two writers.  Just one single indefinite writer.  Later in the sentence he mentions two things that belong to this indefinite singular writer: characters and story.  To indicate that these items belong to the singular indefinite writer, he uses a third person possessive pronoun.

Now this singular indefinite writer, being human, must be either male or female.  Doesn’t matter.  We have a singular third person possessive pronoun in English for males and a different one for females.  However, because we’re afraid we might offend half of the population, we refuse to use either singular pronoun, and instead choose the plural third person possessive pronoun, because there is only one of those and it isn’t gender specific (because, being plural, it must include both genders).  So, “a writer has their characters and their story.”

Which is just fucking WRONG.  Singular subject and plural pronoun.  Wrong.  Always wrong.  Forever wrong.

Now if we look at this not as avoiding insult, but rather as an attempt to respect and credit all humans, then it does make a bit of sense.  Still wrong, though.  Nice gesture maybe, but bad English.  And it just irritates the living hell out of me.

The “fix,” if you will, is to change English.  Since we actually have three third person possessive pronouns in English, and the third one is gender neutral, we could say “A writer has its characters.”  But this is more wronger, because “it” is never used to refer to people.  So that option is out.

We can agree that “their” is okay because it is gender neutral if not numerically correct, and this is generally the hand wave of acceptance that the PC/GN crowd uses to justify this grammatical departure.  And I can’t stand it.  Makes me want to kick holes in things.

Or, we can use both the masculine and feminine pronouns together, “A writer has his or her characters and his or her story.”  But that gets pretty annoying pretty fast.

Or, we can create an additional pronoun which, while singular, is gender neutral.  Such as… I don’t know… hox.  A writers has hox story.  We can make up words if we want.  We’re not stuck with the old ones.

Or, and this is the option I will choose, if the author is male, and the subject of the pronoun could be male or female, use male.  If the author is female, use a female pronoun.  So I could write,  “A writer has his characters,” and you (if you’re female) could write, “A writer has her story.”

Now, y’all (there’s another fun pronoun) can do what y’all want, but I happen to be a male.  I’m not going to apologize for that, nor am I going to attempt to minimize or diminish the other gender.  But from now on, when I need a singular third person pronoun to refer to a single person of unknown gender, I’m going to choose the male version.  After all, a writer should be able to choose their pronouns, right?