Saturday, January 29, 2011

Brought to You by the Letter 'Q'

I like to think that I’m a writer.  I have completed the writing part of five novels, the editing of two of the five, and the actual publishing of one of them.  I’m re-editing  the one I published for Kindle.  In addition to that are two poetry collections, several short stories, and of course, these web logs, and I’m not entirely convinced that they really count as writing.
All told, I have put something in the neighborhood of a million words to paper.  That’s in ten years of being at least a little serious about my writing.  The bulk of that was in the period of time from June, 2006 through December, 2006, during which I wrote almost half of that total. 
To out this into perspective, The Stand, by Stephen King has just over 460,000 words.  That’s the unabridged version.  His editor and publisher took 150,000 words out of the original release of the novel.  For more perspective, my first actual novel took me a year to write and ended up being under 75,000 words; half of what they deleted from The Stand, and The Stand still had over 800 pages in the hardcover edition.
That first manuscript - I called it Forcas III, named for the Batleth tournament mentioned at the beginning of the Star Trek the Next Generation® episode, Parallels, reveals the untold story of the premier athletic event in the Klingon Empire, and its eventual winner, Lt. Commander Worf, Security Chief for the Federation Starship Enterprise, NCC-1701D, under the command of Captain Jean-Luc Picard.  To save time and typing, just assume that every reference to the aforementioned television program and any related items or characters are wholly owned registered, copyrighted, and/or trademarked by Paramount Pictures, Columbia Broadcasting Systems, and the weasels in suits who own them, Viacom.  Unless I can figure a way to publish it as fan fiction, it will never see the light of day because I’m not enough of a well known writer for Paramount to consider my manuscript.
That’s Ok – it proved to myself that I could do it.
Other manuscripts include a romance of a short lived marriage, a tongue-in-cheek semi-autobiographical picture of my youth, a horror story of a romance gone terribly wrong, and the one I actually published – The Adventures of the Magnificent Seven (soon to be available in Kindle™ format from Edin Road™ Press).  Legends of Greenbrook Park will hopefully follow within the next twelve months, and then I guess I just have to get off my proverbial writing butt and get back to work.
Pretend you’re in church for a moment:  “That was the introduction to today’s sermon…”
Writing is the easy part.  I’m not saying it isn’t work, but it’s the easy part.  The real work starts after you type “THE END” on the last page of the manuscript.  Now the real work begins – editing.  This comes in several forms.  There is the editor who looks at nothing but story continuity and flow.  There is the editor who looks at spelling, punctuation and grammar.  There is the ‘final read’ editor who gives it a once over before sending the writer the galley proof for his or her approval.  Other than the galley proof read through, none of them can be the author.  There are many reasons for this, but probably the best one is that this is your baby!  You’re too close to it to be objective about trimming its nails, changing its diapers, and getting it to go wee in a potty.
Sadly, too many writers – good writers included – don’t get this part.  They think “I wrote the bloody thing, I know what’s best for it.”  That simply isn’t true.  Others are convinced that quantity and quality are synonyms.  They think “Hey, if I can keep pounding out these stories every month or so, I must be an awesome writer!  Not only that, if I can write twelve novels in a year, and I kick at it, I must also be good at scripts, screenplays, and Hallmark Greeting Cards.”
The sad truth is that if you’re cranking out stuff like that, with you being the only voice from concept to (almost always self-) published work, they probably suck.
Quantity and Quality are NOT the same thing.  Well, may if you’re Stephen King, and frankly, some of his stuff could use another look.  I say that in my capacity of a reader and reviewer, not a writer.  I could be happy getting the paycheck for even Sir Stephen’s crappy novels.
Anyway.  Almost 800 words later, and the introduction was longer than the sermon (as it often is) I leave you with this thought.  Just because you can crank out 10,000 words without thinking every time you sit in front of your word processor, doesn’t mean they’re Of Mice and Men or A Tale of Two Cities.  Someone once told me something profoundly eloquent, and I’ve never forgotten it.  “Practice doesn’t make perfect.  Practice makes permanent.  If you practice bad habits, they will become permanent bad habits.” (Bud Quick)  This is true for writing, too.
This program was brought to you by the letter ‘Q’.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The First

Fifty two years ago today, my sister Sandy was born.  Come May of this year, She will be gone for four years.  I wrote this during the early morning hours before her funeral.

The First
by David Roth
© 6th May, 2007 1:00 am
For Sandy

You entered our lives and our world in the usual way,
tiny, noisy ball of fluff,
born to crave attention;
to command it,
and to succeed.

From that first tiny rumble
to the fury you would become,
you were a disruption from the very moment
you took your first earthly breath.

And we loved you!
Oh, how we loved you!

From the very beginning
we sheltered you, we three.
Sheltered, pampered, spoiled and protected.
Now and then, we even took the paddle for you.
And how quickly you understood
the profoundly far reaching implications
of that singular act of foolishness
on our parts

Small, noisy, effusive and belligerent,
you understood it all,
for there you would stand,
teary eyed bushel of dimples and curls,
all you had to do is smile,
shed a tear,
quiver that little lower lip
and we would stumble over each other
to rush to your aid.

"No, Mom, send me to my room.
"No Dad, give me the spanking instead.
"But not her. Not Sandy. Not the Moose.
"It’s not her fault. She’s just a baby.
"I must have done something
that made her do it.
"Punish me instead."

Time after time
we willingly rushed to her aid,
this tangle of wildly flying curls
wrapped around a little girl’s passion,
riding in like gallant knights on a noble quest
to rescue the sweet, innocent damsel in distress.

For you were the first.

After three strapping boys
there was finally a little girl
to love, cuddle, dress up in frilly, lacy things...
and spoil.
And you were his first,
this new man in our lives.

So spoil you we did.
Gladly, willingly, and repeatedly.

And oh, how we loved you,
worrisome thing that you were.

Others would follow you
other sisters
other brothers
but you would always and ever be
the first.

And now you’ve done it again.
This time you’re the first
to leave the rest behind.
On the second day of May
in the forty eighth year of your life,
as suddenly as you had come
all those years and miles ago
you were gone.

Moose Caboose on the Loose
A Rose by Any Other Name...,
the Bard proclaimed,
and the songwriter said,
“All ribbons and curls,
ooo, what a girl.”

You were an enigma;
joy and tribulation
bundled together in a compact package.
We love you now
even as we loved you then,
and our hearts are heavy
for your passing.

Fair journey, Sam.
You are the first.
Forge well the path
until next we meet.

Where were you when...?

So much of our times can be defined by the simple question “Where were you when [insert event here]?”
I’ll give you some of the ones I remember.  Feel free to add your own in the comments section at the bottom of the BLOG page.
The Cuban Missile Crisis: I was in third or fourth grade at Stillman Elementary school in Plainfield New Jersey.  We practiced ‘nuclear fallout’ drills by hiding under our desks with our hands over our eyes to keep us from going blind because we were staring at the fallout.  I guess it was presumed that with New York City being only about thirty miles away, it would be the primary target and all we’d get in Plainfield, assuming Russian and Cuban aiming technology was precise, and the commies didn’t know about my thorough, complete, mint condition Superman magazine collection, all we’d get was fallout – if the wind was right.
I spent many nights awake, shivering in my bed, wondering if I’d be able to get to my classroom and make it to my desk in time if the attack came after 3:00 pm when school let out.
Cassius Clay Defeats Sonny Liston:  same third or fourth grade classroom.  They wheeled in a 16 mm movie projector and showed the newsreel summation of the fight.  I will never forget the look on the young Cassius Clay’s face when he won.
The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy:  New house, new address, new school, new grade, same city.  A crying principal announced over the school PA system that there was a special announcement we needed to hear, followed by the emotional voice of Walter Cronkite telling us that “from Dallas, Texas, a flash, apparently official, President Kennedy died at 1:00 pm Central Standard Time, 2:00 Eastern Standard time, some thirty-eight minutes ago.”  I was in fifth grade.  We were stunned into silence.  They didn’t have grief counselors back then, so they just sent us home.  My mother was sitting in the kitchen crying.
Apollo 11 Moon Landing:  Watched it from my home television, almost literally glued to the TV.  I wanted to be an astronaut back in the day, and seeing this almost real time was a dream come true for me.
Challenger Disaster: I was driving to my second job – computer teacher – and heard it on the radio.  I had to pull off the road into a Burger King parking lot and listen again because I was so shaken by the news that I couldn’t stop the trembling in my hands to drive.
Columbia Disaster:  I watched this live on TV, staring at the screen in unbelief.
9/11: My radio alarm was set to the local National Public Radio station and Morning Edition.  Ditto my car radio.  NPR doesn’t interrupt their pre-recorded programming for anything.  It wasn’t until I arrived at my store – a film processing lab inside a Kinko’s on 28th Street in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the Kinko's manager called me over to watch an unfolding story on the TV that I had a clue.  I arrived just in time to see the second aircraft slam into the second tower, and the subsequent collapse of the building in real time as it was happening.  I was front row in a sea of about 40 customers and employees of the two businesses mesmerized by the unfolding scenes.  With the exception of sobs and tears, you could have heard a pin drop in a bushel of cotton.
Tucson, 2011: An idiot with an automatic weapon at a public gathering.  Twelve shot, six dead, including a nine year old girl.  A United States Congresswoman severely injured.
Today:  No major disasters in the headlines, no assassinations, shuttle explosions or amazing feats of heretofore unexpected athletic prowess.  Today, in St. Petersburg, just south of us, the city is mourning the death of two policemen who died in the line of duty.  Men murdered in the prime of their lives while ‘protecting and defending’ their city, and the citizens of their city.  Today is the city-wide memorial. It is being broadcast live locally for those who cannot attend.  A shout out to local CBS (News 10) news anchor Reginald Roundtree for the sensitive, respectful coverage he has personally given both this tragedy, and the men being honored and remembered.  Heroes.  Not talentless stage freaks who cannot sing, film actors with egos the size of Sarah Palin’s Alaska, sideshow circus clowns who grab ‘face’ time whenever there is some sort of national disaster with coattails they can ride, or professional athletes caught up in the misspent belief that what they do really matters to anyone but their agents.  No, these men are the real heroes.  They risk their lives every single day.  They leave behind wives and children who begin each day with the unspoken question ‘will daddy come home tonight?”  This time they didn’t come home.  This time they made the ultimate sacrifice.  Today, their city remembers them.
A late night in Bethlehem of Judea over 2,000 years ago: When the angels rejoiced with mankind over the birth of a Savior.  Where was I?  The Psalmist wrote  “You formed me in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:14)  And 33 years later, when you bled and died on Calvary’s cross, it was for me.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Things I Still Don't Get

I never claimed to be the smartest guy around, regardless of what my I.Q. scores indicate to the contrary.  To be perfectly honest, I’m absolutely certain that my own score is proof that those test scores, when combined with my observation of the world around me, prove conclusively that they’re bogus.  There’s just too much that I don’t get that, according to the test results, should be crystal clear to me.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying I’m stupid.  Far from it.  I have multiple degrees and a fair assortment of alphabet soup for my letter head, but choose to not use.  Either.  The letterhead or the soup.  It’s just that there are a fairly good number of things, which, despite my persistence, I still don’t get!  For example:

  • I went to high school in northwest Dade County (Miami) Florida in the late 60’s and early 70’s.  Miami experienced probably as much racial tension in those days as any place else in the United Stated.  My high school was fairly evenly integrated.  I honestly don’t remember any racial problems, yet every time there was even a hint of trouble anywhere in the county, film crews showed up at my high school.  I don’t get that.  It’s like they were hoping a race riot would break out so they could score a story.  I’m proud to say they always went home empty handed.
  • Our government has the ability to tell you when and where the cow you’re tenderizing for hamburgers was born, what it was fed every day of its life, and which side roads it took to get to your butcher before you selected it from his cooler, but can’t track the movement of millions of illegal immigrants.  What’s that all about?
  • My family heritage is that of immigrants.  They came here legally.  They adapted to their new nation, culture, language, and way of life.  No one renamed streets in their original language or printed instructions in German for them.  It worked well as a program.  They came to America and became Americans.  Why have we changed that?  It works.  What’s the deal?  I don’t get it.
  • What I do get is that when I moved to the Netherlands, I had to take written proof that I was enrolled in a language class to get a work permit, and if I wanted to get a permanent visa, I would have had to pass a spoken and written language, history and culture test to get it.  They didn’t change their culture and language to American English to keep me from being offended by their native Dutchness, and what English they did employ was UK English.  It’s a policy that makes perfect sense.  Every place except in America.
  • Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker were made public examples because of their adulterous lifestyle.  They were forced, in the court of public opinion, to step aside.  Martin Luther King did the same thing, and we have a national holiday for him, and name roads after him.  I don’t get it.
  • If a white man and a black man who are equally qualified apply for the same job, why is it discrimination if the white man is hired, but not if the black man is hired?  Isn’t reverse discrimination still discrimination?
  • In the last 5 or 6 months, four policemen have been brutally murdered in the Tampa area where I live.  At least two individuals have gone on shooting sprees resulting in the deaths of men, women and children.  Have we slid so far into depravity that the only way left for us to reconcile problems – real or imagined – is to head out with a loaded automatic weapon and shoot up everything and everyone in sight?
  • When did we become a generation of entitlement instead of one that achieved goals by working towards their accomplishment?
  • If two kids are functional illiterates, why do we pass one for no other reason than he can swish nothing but net from half court, or throw a football accurately 60 yards at a full run?  When did athletic ability become more important to our society than moral character?
  • When did promoting gambling become the responsibility of he local news outlet?
  • Advertisers are telling your children that you are stupid, and they’re telling you it’s OK to lie to your children if you cover up the evidence of the lie by using their product.  When did that become acceptable?
  • We are a nation that has been conned into believing we ‘need’ corn alcohol (ethanol) to power our automobiles.. We dilute fossil fuel with this product, and that supposedly makes it more environmentally safe.  In order to produce 1 gallon of ethanol from corn, you consume 1 ½ gallons of fossil fuel.  Combined with the ethanol, our net consumption is 2 ½ gallons of fuel (1 gallon of alcohol and the 1 ½ gallon of fossil fuel used to create it.)  My car is now using 2 ½ gallons instead of 1 gallon to go travel same distance.  That’s not the worst of it.  We are investing so much of our home grown corn in the production of this unnecessary fuel additive that we are importing food corn from communist China, the people who brought you toys with lead paint and drywall with arsenic!  China will never have to invade the US – we’re letting them slowly poison us leaving behind an empty land with a fully functioning infrastructure.  Our government is doing this to and for us.  And we’re sitting back on our collective supersized backsides letting them do it!  Now how stupid is that?  I just don’t get it!
I’m just getting warmed up.  The more I write, the more I think of, but I think I’ll just stop here before I have a brain fart and my head explodes.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Gavels and Oranges

Someone once said, “For those who understand, no explanation is necessary; for those who don't understand, no explanation is possible”.  I would love to properly credit this quotation, but can’t find an attribution.  Instead, I’ll just proceed with the assumption that this is a fairly accurate observation of the human condition, and I’ll use it as a steppingstone for what follows.

You’ve heard it by now.  “Pittsburgh’s going to the Super Bowl!”  The Green Bay Packers are the other team participating.  Neither Bret Favre nor Bart Starr will be the starting quarterback for the cheese heads.  It doesn’t much matter.  This isn’t about football.  It’s about perception.  And understanding.  Tiny incidental little stuff like that.

Jesus said “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1 NKJV), and that is the heart of the matter – a misunderstanding of the difference between being a judge, and a fruit inspector.  You hear this verse quoted often, and usually because the individual quoting it is doing so without understanding, and without understanding, well meant intentions come across seeming more like ignorance.  I know that’s a harsh way to put it, but when you pick an idea out of context without understanding the full spectrum of its meaning, well, fill in the blank.  Just saying.

The word “judge” appears 191 times in the Bible, and in all of its tenses and variations, appears 658 times.  The Greek word is “krinĊ” and has a variety of meanings, including, “call in question, condemn, determine, esteem, go to law”.  The Hebrew word is a little harder to pin down as there are 24 different variations to it.
The significant things about the most common use of the word are that, the use is more often than not carrying negative connotation, and, that in the end, God is the only one whose judgment matters.  In fact, the Scriptures are clear that sooner or later every soul who ever stood on this earth will stand before a Holy God in judgment; some for reward, some for sentencing.
But there is another side to this coin; one we often wish to ignore.  Jesus is once again speaking in John 7:24, when He advises his disciples, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment”.  Here, the same Jesus who said “Judge not” in Mathew, is saying “Judge, but with very specific criteria” in the Gospel of John.  Same Greek Word, but a very different contextual understanding.  Here the distinction is to judge with righteous observation.
The best test of understanding is to test, or prove, Scripture with other Scripture.  This second concept of judgment, also called discernment, is literally scattered throughout the Bible.  When the first century church in Jerusalem was faced with a problem regarding the care of and for Greek widows in the church, the Disciples advised the congregation to “seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom…” (Acts 6:3)  Verse 5 tells who were selected.  Only seven were selected.  That implies that some were not selected.  The criteria was given for selection; men who had a good reputation in the community of believers, men full of the Holy Spirit, and wise men.  These men were ‘judged’ to be acceptable by the measure of the quality of their character.
In other places in Scripture, the Bible instructs us that we have an obligation to point out observable sin in the lives of fellow believers, with the intent of helping them to be restored in their walk with the Lord.  It is an obligation on our part to help each other in our walk of faith.  The book of James is resplendent with this observation. Paul’s instructions to Timothy regarding the selection of elders and other leaders for the church mirror the instructions in Acts, and in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus echoes this idea by stating in a parable that the observable evidence of our walk of faith is the presence of fruit in our lives (Matthew 7:20).  Paul clarifies this thought by explaining ‘fruit’ as “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23 NKJV)
These are observable character traits.  In the verses preceding these, Paul points out the antithesis of this ‘fruitful’ walk by defining more observable character traits: “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like…” (Galatians 5:19-21 NKJV).
Or to put it another way, you can stand in an endzone at a football game and point to heaven after a score until your hand falls off, but if the observed qualities of fruitful living are not there the rest of the time, and in fact, what is observed the rest of the time is contrary to those few moments under he cameras, you probably ain’t bearing much fruit.  In terms of where I live now, oranges don’t magically appear in time for the New Years Day parade.  They grow over time, and if I’m planting pineapples, I’m not going to get orange juice.
The purpose of this all is to help us as Disciples of Christ, help each other in our walk with the Lord.
Two distinctly different concepts:  Judgment, and Discernment.  One is reserved by and for God.  The other – the fruit inspection one – is our responsibility.
But, as I said at the onset,  you either get this, or you don’t.  If you do, you didn’t need this explanation.  If you don’t, odds are this didn’t help, and were right back where we were 800 words ago: “For those who understand, no explanation is necessary; for those who don't understand, no explanation is possible”. 
It remains true that God alone knows the heart, but I don’t have to be God to understand that when my rim is sitting on the ground, my tire is out of air, and that my observation of the absence of air in my tire requires its refilling.
Go forth, and bear much fruit.