Wednesday, June 30, 2010

To Do List

Finalize guest list? Check.
Hire photographer? Check.
Pick out rings? Check.
Write? Check.1

1 Made out to the photographer. I offered to put him into my novel, perhaps as a suave photographer-samurai in search of his long-lost love and a fabled artifact, but he said no, he’d rather just have the money his contract stipulated. Eh, his loss. On the plus side, that means I still have one major character unclaimed. I’ll let the florist and the cake designer fight over that one.

Attack of the 4-Letter Words!

On his blog this morning, the esteemed Nathan Bransford raised the topic of writing tics: i.e. overuse of certain gestures, phrases, or lines of dialogue. It got me thinking about my own.

I’ve mentioned my flaws before on this blog, and even my biggest weakness, but up to this point I’ve still only discussed them in general terms. Today, we delve into tic specifics:
  • My characters are constantly looking, seeing, scanning, noticing, glancing, glimpsing, gazing, and peeking at all manner of things. I should be describing what they see, but instead I only describe that they’re seeing it.
  • They’re also always feeling…something. It could be pain or a strong connection or the gun slip from their grasp, but there’s so much “felt” in my manuscript I could probably wrap Christo and the Reichstag a dozen times over.
  • It appears I use the word “seem” a lot, and vice versa. I don’t need to make things seem or appear to be one way or another; they can just be.
Even though I know that I have these tics, I still find instances of them everywhere. I just can’t seem to break the habit. If only I noticed the mistakes as I typed them, that would probably help, but I feel that even that wouldn’t do much good; I’d just start overusing whole new words and phrases. Still, it could be worse.

It could be ticks.1

1 Bonus points if you caught my blatant use of find, seem, noticed, and feel in that second-to-last paragraph. Extra-special super happy bonus points if you can spot the other five little words I deem as my biggest offenders, blatantly peppered into this post. Each appears at least three times in this post. (Extra-special super happy bonus points can be redeemed later for fun and profit.)

Musical Interludes

Interlude the First
On June 17, Denise and I ventured out to support a couple friends in their debut performance with the band Unprepared, which, frankly, did not live up to its name.

I’d heard Scott and KC perform numerous times as 2/5 of the now-defunct Simple Proof, and was glad to learn that Unprepared’s sound was pretty much the same. They stuck mostly with originals — all of it quality stuff — but also broke out a couple stellar renditions of Seal’s “Crazy” and Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game.” (Unprepared's Facebook page)

They were followed to the stage by Hot Fuzz Fantastic, which also did not live up to its name.1 The Fuzz did, however, play a fun cover of “The Safety Dance” and weave Legend of Zelda music into another song in a superbly geektastic guitar solo.

To end the night, the two bands joined forces for one final song, and with their powers combined, they became... slightly fuzzier, but markedly less prepared.

Scott spent most of his time with half his face bathed in red light and the other half immersed in darkness, so I didn't get any flattering pictures of him (not that it stopped me from posting one). And KC is that rare specimen who can play real guitar but look like he's playing air guitar, so of course I managed a couple shots of that. See them all on Flickr.

Interlude the Second
On June 26, Denise and I ventured out to support a few dozen strangers, known collectively as the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. We’d scored free tickets to the opening concert of the Talcott Mountain Music Festival, so we relaxed on the lawn under the stars and listened to some excellent classical music.2

First on the program: Johann Sebastian Bach’s Overture No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068. Though I didn’t recognize this by name, clearly Bach wrote this to commemorate the victims of the Brain-Washed Vampire massacre of 1068. The music — some of which it turned out I'd played before — evoked the image of the dozens of vampires blindly following the pied piper out into the blazing sun. (Suckers.)

Next up was Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major, which just happens to be my sister’s favorite musical piece ever in the history of the entire world. She believes all other music is complete and utter crap, and therefore, whenever you see her you should hum this song endlessly. When you do, I expect she’ll run up to you to give you a great big hug. (Can’t remember how it goes? Go here for a quick reminder.)

The highlight of the evening came after intermission: Antonio Vivaldi’s Le Quattro Stagioni (The Four Seasons). I’d been looking forward to this, since it would be the first time I’d ever heard any of the seasons performed live without being a part of the production. What’s that? You didn’t know I used to play in an orchestra? Let me fill you in on the details.

I was once the greatest middle school violinist in all of northern Connecticut.3 In high school, however, apathy got the better of me and I was relegated to second fiddle. Nah, I’m just kidding; although I did play at the back of the second violin section in the general orchestra, I was the concertmaster for the school’s renouned chamber orchestra.4 It was here that I performed the solos for Spring and Winter. And quite brilliantly, I might add.5

On Friday night, HSO Concertmaster Leonid Sigal played each of the solos masterfully, with fantastic energy, deft fingering, and — as best I could tell — his bow. I mimicked his performance from my spot on the lawn.

And, for one night, I was the greatest air violinist in all of northern Connecticut.

See? I told you the stars were fake. So was the moon.

1 Damn lukewarm fuzz.
2 The stars were fake.
3 Please, hold your applause until the end.
4 We were also reknowned, but most people found it more interesting that the first word used to describe the group was so horrible we had to replace it.
5 That is to say: I played brilliantly on the fast movements. Back then, I thought slow movements were stupid. My feelings on this matter have not changed.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Chucking Puppies

If you haven’t seen this story already, basically on Monday a student in Germany attacked some Hell’s Angels with a puppy, then took off on a stolen bulldozer.

I know, pretty standard stuff, right?

Here’s where it gets interesting. A few co-workers and I began to consider whether that could be a viable tactic for dealing with management: If we hurled a puppy at a group of them, would that solve our managerial problems?1

We determined that no, that wouldn’t solve anything, since we’d have wasted a perfectly good puppy. The suggestion was then made to fling giant hissing cockroaches instead, but those, too, were deemed too good for the managers. Eventually we hit upon a solution: We would chuck two groups of managers at each other, preferably using catapults on neighboring skyscrapers for maximum damage.

There, problem solved.

I doubt we’ll actually go through with it, though. I mean, if we can’t flee the scene on a stolen bulldozer, what’s the point?

1 Not that we have a problem with all managers — my current one is quite good, in fact — but when managers huddle together in a group, it’s scientifically proven that they congeal into one vile, soul-sucking mass, and therefore, it’s perfectly acceptable to throw things at them.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Novel: By the Numbers

That’s right, it’s time for my quasisemibiannual novel update! And today, a special treat: Instead of crafting an entire blog entry for you fine folks, I’ll spend half the time hurling digits at you. Which is rather fitting, since a character loses his in the story’s opening line.

Anyway, two days ago I came to a decision: After months and months of not working on my novel, I would — pause inserted for dramatic effect — work on my novel. No more excuses about writing workshops or planning a wedding or how I only had two more planets to destroy in the whole Trans-Zarkonian Nebula.1 It was time to write.

Sure, right now my Magnum Opus is more Magnum (gun-toting private investigator) than Opus (silly-looking penguin), but I hope to remedy that and provide more of a balance during the rewrite. And oh! such rewriting there will be. Scanning through the unfinished manuscript these past couple of days, I’ve found miles of dreadful exposition, scene after scene where little of interest happens, and adverbs out the wazoo.2 I foresee a lot of editing in my future.

But enough about the future. Let’s talk about the past. And let’s use numbers...

Note: Values marked with a single asterisk (*) are estimates, because, let’s face it, I’m one lazy S.O.B.3

Current page count: 257
Current word count: 106,797
Total words that should likely be stricken from the record: 25,834*
Pages of my own proposed edits, additions, and subtractions: 37
Proposed edits, additions, and subtractions: 359
Proposed edits, additions, and subtractions that contradict each other: 61*

Length of novel-writing hiatus, in days: 180
Blog posts written during hiatus: 40
Short stories written during hiatus: 5
Excuses made during hiatus: 473*

Titles considered: 35*
Titles still in the running: 7-11
Chapters planned for finished manuscript: 40
Chapters currently completed: 33.3
Longest chapter, in pages: 15
Shortest chapter, in pages: 3
Sets of parentheses used (a surprisingly low total for me): 41
Uses of the word “fuck” (a surprisngly high total for me): 45

Major characters: 0
Colonel characters: 2
Invisible characters: 7
Invisible characters, including monkeys: 9
Chapters that involve invisible monkeys: 6
Chapters that should involve invisible monkeys, according to Jen: 42**
Individual points of view (all in the third-person): 12
Most chapters from one character’s POV: 7
Character deaths: 3
References to vampi—

Wait, really? Only three deaths so far? No no no, that just won’t do.

Okay, now that I have some proper motivation, I think I’ll sharpen up my cursor and see if I can’t kill off a few more of my characters. Wish me luck!

1 Um, yeeeaaah... In a video game. Let’s go with that.
2 Better than in the wazoo, I suppose. You know, for the sake of the wazoo. Because who knows where those adverbs have been.
3 As evidenced by how I didn't spell out S.O.B. Not even here, in this footnote.
** Yes, that is two more chapters than I have planned. But I'm pretty sure Jen would want me to add a couple new chapters devoted entirely to the monkeys.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Dog Days of Summer

I have been offered cocaine in a complete stranger’s New York City apartment. I have lost $350 in a single poker hand in Vegas. I’ve gorged myself on gelato in three different Milan shops in a span of ninety minutes, and suffered my worst sunburn ever at a topless beach in Cyprus (and you’d better believe I was topless).1 So, what do all these travel experiences have in common? They all happened Pre-D.

Before I met Denise, I could pick up and leave town whenever the mood (or my bookie’s enforcer) struck me. Back then, I always assumed that once I found myself a girl we’d likely travel even more often, and to more exciting locales. It’s been three years now, and here’s where we’ve gone in the interim: Boston. DC. Buffalo. Vermont. Nice places all of them,2 but hardly what I had in mind.

It’s not because Denise doesn’t like to travel. She does. Nor does it have anything to do with the weak U.S. dollar or the high price of gas in recent years. Nope, the reason we’ve rarely traveled, and the reason we’ve yet to trek more than 400 miles from home together, comes down to one little thing:

She owns a dog.

Never mind that Sonya is probably the best dog I’ve ever known (which in itself is something, considering the dozen seeing-eye dogs my parents have raised). She’s sweet, gentle, and remarkably patient unless a squirrel is involved. But because Sonya was rescued from the streets of Harlem, Denise is understandably reluctant to subject her to another bout of the kennel. Having her stay with friends or family — or vice versa — can be tough to schedule, and hiring a trustworthy dog sitter or dog looker-inner-onner can get expensive. Thus, most of the time, we pick a spot we can drive to and we bring Sonya with us.

With enough time to plan there is always a way, so I know that eventually we’ll travel to faraway lands like Paris or Prague or Perth. But what I miss most about my Pre-D days are the short trips to nearaway lands where bringing a dog is difficult: a spur-of-the-moment weekend jaunt to Chicago; a last-minute, discount flight to London; accepting a co-worker’s offer to use their time share in Florida for a few days. I haven’t yet made these specific trips, but I’d love to be able to.

Maybe some day it’ll happen. Maybe we’ll find someone who’s always willing to watch Sonya at a moment’s notice. But until then, you won’t hear me complaining. Instead, I’ll just look at this face...

...and dream of where the future can take us.

1 To clarify, I was topless at both the beach and the gelaterias.
2 Yes, even Buffalo.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My Fall from Grace

I’ve always been a pretty coordinated guy.1 Of course, even the most coordinated among us — elite athletes or competitive dancers, for example — will falter if you watch them for long enough. Especially if they spot you peering in through their windows.

Despite my alleged coordination, I’m probably more likely to stumble than, say, any of you reading this sentence. The difference is in how I handle myself when such an event occurs. This is because I am what made-up agility experts call a “graceful klutz.”

What does it mean to be a graceful klutz? I’m glad you asked, hypothetical person! In mixed metaphorical terms, it means that if buildings start crumbling around me, I right the ship. Ignoring that last sentence completely, it really comes down to three major factors:
  1. I have quick hands. If an object slips from my grasp, or I accidentally knock it off a table or counter, more often than not I catch it before it hits the floor. (Notable exception: The Great Chili Explosion of 2006)
  2. I have quick feet. When I trip, I quickly regain my balance, sometimes doing a pirouette or series of backflips in the process. (The Great Plummet doesn’t count; it had nothing to do with clumsiness and everything to do with poor judgment and duplicitous moss.)
  3. I defy physics. On three separate occasions in my mid-20s, I was a little too over-zealous with the front brake on my mountain bike. In each instance my bike flipped end over end and I was thrown over the handlebars, yet I landed squarely on my feet every time, like a gymnast or an unbuttered cat.
So, why am I telling you all this? Because this past weekend, all my grace went out the window.2 Stepping over doggie gates, I repeatedly sent them crashing to the floor. Reaching for and/or stacking poker chips, I repeatedly sent them crashing to the floor. A few times my arm flailed against a glass of water and/or liquor, which would have gone crashing to the floor if other people hadn’t caught it in time. But the coup de grĂ¢ce came Friday night, after eating some take-out Indian food.

Cleaning up after the meal, I confidently stacked the four half-full take-out containers in one hand, and held a couple plates and all the used silverware in the other. As I carefully stepped over our sleeping white-and-tan mutt Sonya, the top container started to slide off, and... well, you can probably imagine what happened next.

But thankfully, you don’t have to, since I’m about to tell you the whole thing.

I moved my other hand — the one holding the dishes and silverware — to try to catch the sliding container, at which point the silverware decided that sliding looked like fun and wanted in on the action. The two containers that hit the floor may not have popped open, but it hardly mattered, since they were followed in their descent by the serving spoons. Sonya’s face and front paws got spattered with bright orange sauce from the Tikka Masala, some of the redder Baingan Bharta, and bits of spinach from the Saag Paneer. I did my best to wipe her clean, but those colors — especially the Tikka Masala’s orange — are quite potent, and apparently dogs don’t like it when you stand over them and rub heartily at their face.

I don’t know if my weekend of gracelessness was simply a fluke, or if my title is indeed going to be shortened to “klutz” from now on. All I know is that for a couple days, our dog smelled less like a dog and more like an Indian buffet. Poor Sonya Masala.

Two days later, while eating leftovers, I somehow ended up with Saag on my shoulder.

1 We’re talking motor controls here, not fashion sense. I have no qualms about wearing white after Labor Day. Or socks with sandals. Or chains and a mask.
2 We’re talking about a figurative window here, though the way things were going, I wouldn’t have been surprised either way.