Substitute Topics

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This may be my last post for a while…at least until I get a working computer at home. Before I can do that, though I need to find a part time job. Why part time? The rest of the time this summer is going to be taken up by my internship.

You’d think that I’d have a really awesome topic ready for this post, since it may be the last one I get to post for a while. Unfortunately, while several ideas came to me between waking up this morning and arriving at the school computer lab, none of them seem to have stuck around. I’m left with a brief roster check. If you’re looking for a substantive post, this may not be it. On the other hand, you never know when substance will come out of chaos.

School. This is finals week. I had the first half of one of my finals last week (and it took the class an average of 2 hours 15 minutes to finish it). The second half of that final is on Thursday. I also have three other finals and three practicals to survive. Grueling, yes. Difficult? Could be harder, not that I’m complaining. If I approach it just as I approach other challenges, it could even be kind of fun.

I just received an email from one of my instructors concerning the internship. I need to have CPR/First Aid certification cards. My cards were in the car that got totaled. I need to have them within two weeks. Quickest way to get the new cards is to just take the course again. Fortunately it’s not that much more expensive to just get recertified. Did I mention I got certified in February? Oh well.

Social. A week after school ends, a bunch of us are going to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show at one of the theaters here in town. Why? Because we need to have fun as a group outside of school. I’m really looking forward to it. They’ll get to see a side of me most of them never dreamed existed. I hope I don’t shock some of my class mates TOO badly. (Though a little shock will be a good thing.)

Other than that, I’m not looking forward to the last class day of social dance. There are a few people there I’d like to keep up with, but I doubt it’ll happen. Why? Because I have very little to connect with them over. We might see each other in dance halls or something, but I doubt for anything substantive beyond that.

I find it ironic that it took until last week (i.e. the penultimate class) in my conditioning class for one of the other participants to come out of her shell. We actually seem to have much in common, at least in terms of interests. I guess we’ll have to meet outside of class. (Oh, darn.) I anticipate friendship, possibly a very close friendship, but little else. Her plans include an advanced degree in international law and becoming a negotiator. Although I enjoy traveling, my own career requires me to stay put (unless I end up as personal trainer to an ambassador or something). I’d probably feel like I was holding her back. So. Friends it is.

Work. As I mentioned earlier, I need to find a part time job. Are there part-time jobs available? Yes. Unfortunately, most of them seem to be flipping burgers. Ideally I’d like to be in the fitness industry (No. GNC doesn’t count.), but my options are dwindling rapidly. I tried at a few places last week, but they’d just finished a hiring cycle. Oh well. The search goes on.

Dreams. Believe what you want about dreams: random firings of the brain, “someone” trying to tell you “something”, or your mind working things out, I’ve had a couple dreams recently that make it difficult not to draw connections. The first could easily have been a nightmare. It involved a series of tidal waves, or possibly an invading army. Most of the people around me were running around screaming. The difference between this dream and nightmare was instead of fear being the dominant emotion, I was excited. I spent most of the dream dragging a group of four or five people around, trying to convince them this could be fun. The other one involved some random woman at a theater snuggling up to me for no apparent reason. (Yes, guys, that’s as far as it went.)

I hope to be able to continue blogging regularly, but I’m not sure if I’ll have the access necessary to do it on a schedule. I may take to putting my blogs in a notebook, then transcribing them as I have the opportunity. Goodness knows I keep a notebook handy for my stories (short or otherwise). Maybe I’ll grab one of those multi-subject notebooks and reserve one section for blogs. In any case, if you don’t hear from me for a while, never fear, I haven’t forgotten and will get back at some point. Until then, be safe, be well, and enjoy life as much as you can.

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Topic Shotgun!

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The semester is coming to an end. I know this, not because of the date, but because of all the projects that are coming due. I find myself a little melancholy at the prospect of the semester ending. With the exception of one class, which I thought was badly planned and badly executed, I’ve truly enjoyed my classes. However, it is time to think about the summer. This summer, I have an internship. There are two possible sites. I had an interview at one of them this morning. It looks like a great place, but I know I need to keep an open mind. I also need a part time job. Hmmm. Too bad I’m not allowed to combine the two.

I have four tests coming up, plus 3 lab practicals. Fortunately, the class I don’t particularly like has no final. Is it strange that I’m looking forward to the tests and practicals? Most of the other students don’t seem to share the attitude, so I try to keep it to myself.

While waiting for my interview this morning, I started a quasi-stream of consciousness piece. Depending on the quality of the final piece, I may post it here, or I may even try to send it in…somewhere. Not sure what genre it will be. So far it looks promising, but I may just be hyped up for the interview. At this point, it is first person narrative, so I’ll post a “this post is fiction” notice if I post it here.

Speaking of writing, I’ve come to the realization that my writing, specifically my fiction writing, is fairly minimalist in terms of descriptions of the environments. Obviously, since I’ve recently realized it, it’s been an unconscious decision. Now I wonder if I need to do two passes in order to come up with a first draft: one to write the story, and a second to fill in the description. Or should I make a conscious decision to leave things minimal. I think of van Gough using only three lines to draw a cat (I think it was van Gough). It’s possible that having the reader fill in details from their own memories and experiences, it’ll make them more invested in the story. “Here I am. In a hospital bed. No idea of how I got here.” Another way of doing it is description by effect on the character. “She had the kind of beauty that made me think of Kali: mother and destroyer.” Any ideas?

Blogging Will Recommence!

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Now that school has started, I have consistent access to a computer and the internet. Blogging will recommence.

This semester looks a bit tough: lots of labs, research, etc. In an attempt to consolidate time and effort, I will probably use my “Maunderings” blog as a study session. Looking ahead at possible topic categories in physiology, exercise program design, exercise prescription, and fitness in general, plus my usual potpourri of topics.

Despite the challenging course I’ve plotted, I’m looking forward to the semester. My high school self would be shocked to hear me say this, but I really enjoy school. I love learning. I love making connections. It’s a wonderful world of mental Legos. I can build random constructs that look beautiful but fall apart at a tap. I can build strong frameworks on which I can base entire libraries of ideas. I can build modules that themselves become building blocks for other structures. It’s an infinite Louvre of possibilities, of art, of design, of growth, of hope.

Stalking Language

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Writing requires a certain precision in grammar, syntax, and vocabulary. It’s not always easy to get these elements to line up in a meaningful way. Sometimes it can be downright difficult. So difficult, in fact, that I have yet to see a college degree plan that doesn’t require proof of competency…usually by attaining a grade of “C” or better in a composition class of some sort.

I enjoy language. I enjoy using language to inform, describe, and entertain. More specifically, I enjoy writing. I spend a decent amount of time putting ideas into a readable format. I also spend a lot of time revising so that what I wrote matches what I want to say on more than one level. This means paying attention to more than just the definition of a word. It also means examining the connotation so that denotation matches the emotional intent. (As an example, compare the following: smell, odor, stench, fragrance.)

In addition to determining the appropriate vocabulary, I also pay attention to the grammar and syntax. I’m sometimes criticized for using what some of my readers call “bizarre sentence construction” or “confusing” sentences. They then suggest a simpler way of saying what they believe the message is. For example:

My version: I would have been walking for three hours at four o’clock yesterday afternoon.

Their version: I was walking at four o’clock yesterday afternoon.

Yes, their version is easier to understand; however, in looking at the implications of how the information is presented, my version conveys (or at least is intended to convey) a person reconstructing his memory to report it to a questioner. The other is more like someone with a time-stamped video.

So what? Just because I spend extra time to make sure a particular message includes not only the appropriate denotation, but also the appropriate emotional content, does that mean I expect everyone else to do the same? Of course not. Many times, it’s not even necessary. Unfortunately, sometimes it is. I recently ran into just such an issue in one of my textbooks. It rests on a single word: “between”. The issue: defining cyberbullying, cyberstalking, and flame war.

The text has the following definitions:

Cyberbullying: children or teenagers bullying other children or teenagers via the Internet

Cyberstalking: repeated threats or harassing behavior between adults carried out via email or another Internet communications method

Setting aside the issue that differentiation based on age is, at best, arbitrary, there are so many problems with the cyberstalking definition, it’s hard to know just where to begin*. However, just looking at the second definition (not the word it’s defining), it seems to define “flame war” better than “cyberstalking”. One of my reasons for saying this is the word “between”. Doing less than two minutes of research, you can see that most definitions of cyberbullying/cyberstalking go one way. If you look up “between” on Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, the first definition in the full definition listing is: “by the common action of: jointly engaging”. In other words, there is reciprocal effort. That just doesn’t fit with the apparent intention of the definition.

The really annoying thing is that when I asked about this in order to clarify my understanding of what will be tested in class, the instructor merely repeated the definition and justified it as “the textbook was written by computer experts.” *headdesk*

*For comparison, here is the National Institute of Justice’s (the research section of the US Department of Justice) definition of cyberstalking: the use of technology to stalk victims; it involves the pursuit, harassment, or contact of others in an unsolicited fashion initially via the Internet and e-mail. It is part of the web page describing stalking. (http://www.nij.gov/topics/crime/stalking/)

Searching for Topics

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Excepting the previous two posts, I haven’t blogged for more than a year. I’m out of practice at seeing topics in everyday life. I reread my post on finding topics and I wonder, who is this guy? I remember thinking those thought. I remember writing that post. I remember posting it. Yet in some way, that person is so different from where I am now that I don’t remember being that person at all. This isn’t a complaint. Nor is it a celebration. It goes back to the title of by blog: Maunderings of a Baffled Man. I’m very baffled right now…at least concerning getting back into blogging.

I enjoy writing. I enjoy sharing my ideas with people…at least those who are willing to listen. I even think about lots of things. And yet, I’m finding it difficult coming up with blog topics. I have confidence that this will pass as long as I keep working at it. For now blogs are likely to be short and fairly simple until I get back into the swing of things. I hope to start off with one blog a week…beginning next week. I’m counting these first three posts as a single post since they could probably have been combined into a single post.

Writing: A Matter of Place

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Common images of writers include someone hunched over a piece of parchment with a quill pen and scribbling madly in the light of a candle, a person typing feverishly at an old fashioned typewriter, a man scratching out verse in a notebook, a woman sitting at a computer filling the screen with words. Yes, some of the images are true. But more often than not, a writer’s most often observable action is sitting and staring into space. A writer staring into space is usually in the throes of feverishly trying to tie two plot points together, or coming up with two plot points to tie together.

Leaving aside the issues of outlining versus not outlining, quite often the easiest part is the actual putting down of words onto paper, real or virtual. Sure there may be a brief struggle to find the exact word you want to convey an idea, but on the whole, by the time words start appearing in a concrete fashion, the hardest part is done: formulating a coherent message or story or idea that will (hopefully) interest other people enough to purchase said message, story, or idea.

One of the greatest challenges in writing seems to be finding a time and place where people do not assume you are doing nothing when you are gazing into the middle distance. I know many writers with families have to remind those in the house that they are working and not necessarily available. Personally I find it easiest to write when not in the house…unless there’s something very distracting going on at the location I’m writing. (Lesson learned from last night: do not try to write while supporting friends in a volleyball tournament.) Libraries are good, as are bookstores. Amusingly enough, I find fast food restaurants fairly easy to write in.

My advice for those who say they want to do some writing, whether journaling for personal enjoyment or writing something for publication: don’t write at home. You’ll get more done if you write away from people who will not only distract you, but actively disturb you.

A Writer’s Sanity Is Often In Doubt

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As a writer, I sometimes have to go places that scare the crap out of me…and given my high level of empathy, I live the situation, become the people, think and “do” things that make me wonder if I’m entirely sane. I often take inspiration from things I observe, or in some cases, from my own life. And when neither provides inspiration, I have to make my own. In Agent of the Dragon, for instance, I delved into my psychology background and examined the various therapeutic modalities. I took aspects of a few, blended them, then took them far beyond the therapy milieu and twisted them. Combining the result with recognized brainwashing processes, and applying “magic” to speed the process, I created a method for creating sleeper agents that makes the Manchurian Candidate seem like a knitting circle (Oh, wait…). It took a while for me to be able to look in a mirror without flinching after that.

Yesterday was another day where I had to delve into places that scare me. First, I had to get into the mind of a person who commits suicide. It’s not an unheard cry for help. It’s not a final attempt at regaining control of his life. He’s been put under too much emotional pain and forced to remain there as the pressure builds beyond his control. He doesn’t want to commit suicide, and yet he finds himself researching the least painful ways to kill yourself. He sees it coming and doesn’t really want to, but is unable to stop himself. Again, I have to delve into my psych background to get the dissociation necessary for this. In the process of coming to understand the character, I started to lose hold of the barrier between me and the character. As the character fought against the dark impulse to suicide…and failed…I too felt myself sliding down a greased hallway towards an open door that would slam shut irrevocably after I passed through. (Those who’ve read my blog from the first post will recognize THAT particular image.)

The second time I scared myself a bit was both less and more disturbing. In another scene, the character is speaking with one of the people primarily responsible for his emotional pain, someone the character considered a good friend. He is pushed too far, and instead of blowing up or attacking or even breaking into tears, his mind temporarily splits into a second personality. The first personality watches in horror as the second personality says, coldly (imagine Picard after being assimilated into the Borg crossed with Javert from Les Miserables):

“The Sean you knew is dead. And you have killed him. I warned him against you, but he was too tender hearted. He saw pain and wanted to heal it. Now I must protect his memory. Congratulations.”

This is something I seriously doubt I would actually say, and yet, I could almost feel the dual personality as I wrote it. I certainly have the pain in real life to fuel it, and I felt the mixture of pain, despair, and the irresistible urge to lash out at the person in question. Worse yet, I could actually see me using this against one or two specific people in real life. Not that my psyche would actually split, but that I would pretend it had. It is a statement designed specifically to cause as much pain, guilt, and suffering to the other person as possible. The words themselves are hurtful. The implication of causing such trauma that the mind’s best defense is to split greatly magnifies the impact. The unemotional delivery emphasizes the shift in personality, lending credence to the death of a personality. The lack of histrionics contrasts with the expected fireworks, and as any writer or actor can tell you, contrasts between what is expected and what is delivers a much more solid emotional punch than pushing over the top.

(At this point, I’d like to give a shout out to a very good friend of mine who helped me recalibrate myself, mentally and emotionally speaking. You know who you are.)

Everything I write in my stories is fiction. I just want to be sure that is understood. The inspirations for certain parts of the stories, however, are often heavily based in real life. I try to change the details so that any one situation is unrecognizable by anyone not directly involved, and those who were/are directly involved see only a situation that reminds them of an event or situation in their life. Based on the commonality of human experiences, I hope that many people will see themselves and their experiences in what I write. And I sincerely hope that my occasional trips into the realms of mental and emotional instability provide entertainment.

(Huh. I think I’m beginning to truly understand why Poe, among others, was an alcoholic and addict.)

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