The Unwrapping of Smarch Gifts (sharing)

Source: The Unwrapping of Smarch Gifts

One of my favorite authors, Tad Williams, recently celebrated the big 6-0. We decided to get him some presents. And by we, I mean other people with these good ideas, and I helped by contributing a thank-you essay to the festschrift. (This is what happens when you know Deutschlanders, they Deutschify things.)


Writing progress

I first started writing when I was in elementary school. I can safely say I’ve been writing for over 20 years now, off and on. I’ve always enjoyed creative writing. I don’t mind writing essays, particularly if the topic interests me (see the entire rest of my blog…), but it’s always been especially hard if the topic is not interesting.

I remember when I was little, my dad worked for Alltel in the IT department, and we had two computers in the house for literally as long as I can remember. (I have vague memories of DOS, and Windows 3.1.) I believe it was after I got Windows 95 on my computer, that my dad also installed a word processor on it, Word Perfect. And I wrote a short story about a ghost in it.

Before that, I’d hand-written little stories, about a princess and a unicorn, about dinosaurs… I remember a school assignment, I think it was dealing with size and ranking words, like big, bigger, biggest, etc., where I took up wayyyyy more paper than I was supposed to writing about a cat that somehow got to be the size of the solar system. Yeah, I wish I could remember the detail on that one a little more.

I remember the very first dream I ever wrote down, or pieces of it anyway. I was probably pre-teen aged, so sometime in middle school. I was walking on the bike path near my dad’s house, and these giant playing cards, a la Alice in Wonderland, pulled me into the woods and told them I had to help them defeat the Yeerks, from the young adult book series Animorphs by K.A. Applegate. And I remember being in a department store, hiding from the Yeerks, and accidentally finding this wormhole, which was really how they were getting to Earth.

I’ve also always had vivid dreams. Some of them have just been dreams, but some of them have evolved into much bigger ideas for stories that desire telling. I had a dream in high school about a vortex that would come down out of a cloud, and suck people up into it, and then retreat into the cloud. And then it would do it again, but bigger, and get more people. And nobody could see that it was harmful except me. Another dream I had was much more dystopian. A group of evil scientists that specialized in genetic engineering were able to take over the world. Some of us were kept alive, possibly for future experimenting. I made friends with one of the elite guards, who had been genetically modified, and he helped me escape. (That one turned kind of weird, because I was sharing bits of it with friends at the time, and they were all, “oh oh put me in your story!”)

A few weeks ago, I had another vivid dream that I wrote down. It had a setting (that I have to flesh out a bit more), some interesting social dynamics (living in a commune-like place), conflict at a high level, and my favorite, magic. But most importantly, it had an ending. An ending that I absolutely love. So, I wrote my dream all out, and I can already tell there are parts that are going to get chopped, and of course tons of stuff needs to be added. But this idea would not leave my head after I originally wrote it down. I kept turning it over and over, thinking about how to approach [x] conflict, how to introduce [y] information, how the magic in the world works, etc.

So I sat down and started writing. I am currently at 4,926 words, and I only have the first two scenes done.

I’m not giving myself a length minimum or maximum. I don’t want to box myself in. I just want to see where this goes, and how long it takes to get there.

I brought the first scene to my writing group on Tuesday. I was pretty nervous about it. I haven’t brought a ton of stuff to read, mostly because I’m not convinced most of it is any good. But the second scene has the two protagonists discussing theoretical magic, and I get a bit science-nerdy. And there’s a bit of that in the first scene, so I really wanted to make sure that it wasn’t some totally boring blathering that people were going to gloss over.

Turns out, it wasn’t. I got some really positive responses to it as a whole! And lots of people saying they really wanted to see where this goes. So that’s very exciting 🙂

And without giving too much away, I’m going to leave you with the almost unanimously agreed upon favorite sentence, by, to my surprise, many people’s favorite character (I mean, I’m glad people like him already, he’s going to really throw a wrench in things later, so that’s going to be totally fun):

“This is exactly the kind of new-agey throw-you-in-the-deep-end kind of bullshit we argued against before letting him start teaching the Advanced track, and he thinks he can get away with it anyway?”

“Will I ever adjust to the fact that my mother is gone?”


This is something that has been on my mind lately. I’m currently seeing a therapist, and we talk a lot about my emotions and how I handle them (or don’t). And we frequently end up at things that happened when I was young, and a lot of the time we end up back at my mother’s death.

My mom has been gone for so. long. 20 years. I’m 29.

The author’s fear of “nobody cares, why can’t I just get over it” is totally unfounded, I think. I’ve never felt the compulsion to say that to anybody about any loss, and I’ve never heard anybody say it. (In relation to death, at least.) Granted, my world is relatively small, and I’m well aware that there are plenty of assholes out there, so I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. But like a lot of things, what our brain thinks and what we know to be true don’t always coincide.

Way back, when I wrote The West Wing, “Holy Night”, I wrote about how I kind of hated Josh a little bit because he pushed Toby into a situation with his dad that Toby never wanted. And I still think about Josh’s line: “That I would give anything to have a living father who was a felon, or a sister with a past… That’s it.” And at that point I really do feel sympathy for him. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a little kid and lose a sibling, or be an adult and lose a parent you are so close to. I still don’t like him pushing his feelings on Toby (oh Toby <3) but I understand the pain is there.

I just don’t get it.

Our pain and our grief is our own. It may be similar to another’s, but it is completely individual.

And with few exceptions, there is no wrong way to experience it.

There is no one right way to get over it. There may not even be a full recovery.

But that’s ok.

Because at the end of the day, it makes us who we are. It defines us. It is so completely a part of us, that we wouldn’t be the same person without it, for good or for ill.

Pain and suffering is a part of life. Learning how we deal with it, how we confront it or ignore it, how we live our lives before, during, and after it, that is what’s important.

I’m surrounded by Catholics

Well, not right this second. I’m on my couch now, and it’s just me & my hubby at home. But I realized I was today at work! It was weird.

So it’s, I dunno, half an hour, 20 minutes before the end of the day. And coworker B comes over to ask coworker D a question. They start talking about … Oh yeah, going to mass tonight since it’s Ash Wednesday. Coworker B just had a small human, so she’s thinking about baptizing and godparents and other weird things that I never experienced growing up. So B & D start talking about churches, and how to be a member, and who can be godparents… And then coworker M comes over and joins in! Coworker M had her own small human recently, and has apparently been going through similar struggles.

I learned that small humans ALMOST ALWAYS have both a godmother and a godfather. I still don’t know what they are supposed to do. You can have just one, but you can’t have two of the same.

To be a godparent, you have to be religious. Like, you have to be a member of a church. I dunno what that process entails. Or you can have someone write a letter for you? And there’s some variance on whether or not you were (a) baptized, and (b) (if applicable) married in a Catholic church. I don’t know if you can be a godparent and not be married, though?

There’s also something about priests not being able to refuse baptisms, even if you aren’t a member of the church.

I also don’t know if it’s “the church” or “the Church” or “a church” or what the proper grammar is here. Maybe for Catholics it’s the Church?


Moving here has really opened my eyes to a lot of things religious that I never knew before. Heck, even meeting my husband has been educational. While he isn’t religious (organized religion is a sham, more than atheism) he was raised Catholic, so he’s got all this holiday shit on lockdown. Me? I still don’t know why there are 12 days to Christmas, what the ashes are for, or where the Easter Bunny came from. (That last one may not actually have anything to do with religion, but the point is I don’t know.) I am certainly surrounded by a lot more openly religious people now than I ever have been at any previous point in my life.

Part of that was my family. I don’t actually know the first time I was in a church. My parents never attended. My grandparents didn’t attend a church either, that I know of. Religion wasn’t something I remember really being discussed at all among family. I don’t even know if either of my parents owned a bible, though I would have assumed if either of them did, it would have been my mom.

And then at some point I was smart enough to figure out that Santa meant more to me than god ever did, and if Santa wasn’t real, then god must not be either. Plus I started learning more history and thought the widespread corruption in the Church was absolute bullshit and they were all a bunch of hypocrits. So yeah, I have my own streak of “organized religion is a sham” but first and foremost I don’t believe in higher beings. Or rather, if they exist, they are of no consequence, so why be concerned with them.

Hey, maybe I’ll die and wake up at the pearly gates, or the flaming gates, or wherever, and be proven wrong. But I’m not going to try to live my life in such a way that I will get to this one idealized place that may or may not exist upon my death. I’d much rather live a good life because it’s the right thing to do. I’m not an asshole because I believe that would be a miserable existence, not because I’m afraid I’ll go to hell or get stuck in purgatory. And because I really don’t want to hurt people on purpose. Accidents happen, of course, and I’ll give people a second chance (usually) as I hope they would give me one. I have a much more Eastern-influenced belief set in this regard.

Whatever happens after we die is a complete unknown. So I’m not going to stress myself out by trying to keep score in the here and now when I don’t even know the rules. We’re moving chess pieces, but don’t even know if we’re playing chess, or what the pieces mean, or how they’re supposed to move.

Do good. Don’t hurt others. Help where you can. And be understanding and non-judgmental.

Speculation on stories

I and a few others have been doing some heavy speculation lately regarding the new Osten Ard book, The Heart of What Was Lost. This is super fun. I have really been enjoying myself, as things I am usually interested in, I don’t have a ton of people who are also interested and/or care to speculate as much. So I’m very excited that OTHER people are excited, and we can all be excited together and bounce ideas off of each other and whatnot.

Although I have to admit, I was a bit concerned earlier today about something one of the other speculators said. One person said that there would be some answers in the next book. And then another person said that this was not cool, all this time was spent thinking and coming up with ideas, all for what?

And that really worried me. I thought we might have lost a person in discussions. Luckily, that appears to not be the case! *phew*

My response was simply that I think it’s fun to speculate, even knowing that what I’m guessing may be totally off base AND knowing that what I’m trying to figure out will be answered.

I mean, sure, there are books that I read that I don’t think about at all after I’m done. Of course I read fluff books, I can’t read serious stuff all the time. The brain needs a break! But all of a sudden, I realized that maybe this is part of the problem that I was talking about in Intelligence, problem solving, and Star Trek. In this instance, it’s more critical thinking than problem solving. Because yes, there is a problem, but unless you get an answer straight from the author about what is cannon, there’s not going to be much in the way of actual solving going on. It all wraps back around to people wanting to just have an answer handed to them.

In real life, sometimes that’s easier and faster. If somebody knows, and it’s going to take you more time to figure it out than to just ask, it’s justified. It’s also sometimes more satisfying to figure it out yourself, though. Maybe not everybody has this reaction. Maybe this is something we should focus on.

Struggles and character-building

I’ve been neglecting this place, in part because I didn’t want this place to be completely politically focused and that’s all that has seemed to be on my mind lately. But maybe I shouldn’t worry so much about diverse content. Instead, I think I should just be writing what’s on my mind. The important part is the writing. The topic, while important, is perhaps second.

I had a thought the other day that I posted over on my facebook page, and I’d like to share it here so I can expand upon it a bit.

“I’m not sure if it’s just been lately, or if I’ve just become more sensitive to it, but I’ve been noticing a lot of the attitude, ‘If I suffered through [x], you must suffer through it as well.’ Whatever happened to making the world a better place? What if it’s a relatively meaningless struggle? Why keep going with it?

Examples: The card catalog in the library. Why on earth would you ever tell someone they are not allowed to use a digital catalog? The slide rule. You want to take away calculators and Mathematica and force people to calculate everything in logs?

I think it’s silly to be afraid of progress. There will always be struggles and character-building. It’s just going to look a bit different in the next generation than it did in yours.”

Now, I use a couple academic examples to illustrate my point, but what really provoked this point was some of the reactions I’ve seen to social and economic issues lately.

Specifically, there is a push in New York by Governor Cuomo for a free tuition program for those attending eligible schools and families in a specific income bracket. Logistics of this aside, I have seen a lot of push back on this idea from older generation. The core point I see is that, “Well, we *worked* while attending college, why should students now get handed this?” (Interjection: I’m assuming these people are not taking into account inflation and any aid they may have received, whether federal, state, or from their own families.) Yes, you worked. I worked. I still have debt. And my debt is no where near as crippling as it could be.

But these people are using their own experiences as justification for character-building, and that if they toughed it out, well this generation just isn’t trying hard enough.

If we are at a point where, as a society, it is mandatory to get a college degree (up for debate in itself), shouldn’t there be a bit of help there? Schooling up to 12th grade is “free,” and yeah you pay for public school with your taxes, so I get that it isn’t really free. But if that is commonly accepted, why not extend that a bit?

Another contentious topic is health insurance. People don’t want universal health care like Canada has, because they don’t want to pay for other people. Yes, I’ve literally seen this argument. Nevermind that your insurance premiums are ALREADY paying to help cover the costs of health care for others. I really don’t understand this argument. If we are in a position as a society to recognize that everybody should be taken care of, and nobody should suffer because they are sick, why are some against making a small sacrifice?

People also like to pull out the, “I don’t want to pay for some slutty girl’s poor choices” including birth control and abortions. Y’all realize that, again, your current insurance premiums already help pay for my birth control? That aside, why do you feel like you get to pick and choose who you help?

I’ve also seen quibbling over the Women’s March in late January. Older women speaking up and saying that they, “don’t feel oppressed.” Congratulations. Now take a look at some other women’s lives and see how they ARE oppressed. Yes, we all have it better than we did 50, 75 years ago, but it could STILL BE BETTER.

People are suffering. They are struggling to make ends meet. They are fighting to be seen as equals. If you can help, even a little bit, why wouldn’t you? Why are people so selfish?

I firmly believe that as adults, we should be working to make the world a better place for the next generation. And part of that is giving them opportunities that weren’t available. I don’t begrudge people for being born later than I was. I don’t see a need to be stuck in the past, and “do things the way they’ve always been done.”

Let’s move forward. Part of life is striving to be a better person, solving problems, and answering our own personal questions about the nature of life, the universe, and everything. Let’s not stagnate just because your bubble seems ok right now, and you are adverse to change…

Braveheart, the film

I first saw the movie Braveheart somewhere between 12 and 14 years ago, when I was in high school. I remember really liking it at the time. I also took up yelling “FREEEEEDOOOOOOM” at semi-appropriate times.

I’ve been trying to re-watch and re-read some old favorites over the past few years, and after going on a pipe and drum music kick a while back, decided that Braveheart should be next in line for a re-watch.

So. Not. Worth it.

I asked my husband if he wanted to watch it with me, and he declined, stating that it was “boring.” At the time, I couldn’t imagine what he meant. I mean, there was fighting and struggle and betrayal, how could that be boring?

And yet I had no problems pausing it part way through to get a snack, or to get a drink.

When I got to the end, I realized that he was right. It WAS boring.

Why was it boring?

I really did not care about or for the characters.

They had no depth, no personality, and I couldn’t actually tell you any of their names only a few days after watching it.

So, 2 out of 5 stars. Would not watch again.

Intelligence, problem solving, and Star Trek

I know I wrote something somewhere about this, but for the life of me I have no idea when or where. Some time in the past year, and somewhere on the internet is as narrow as I can figure it. Totally helpful.

Some time ago, a few months I believe, I was speaking with a coworker about movies and TV, and coworker mentioned that he always liked Star Wars better than Star Trek, because Star Trek didn’t have enough action in it. Which is a totally fair assessment, and I completely agree with it. In particular, I’m thinking of Star Trek: The Next Generation, as that is what I grew up on. That is *my* Star Trek. (Picard is a way better captain than Kirk.) Part of the reason I like Star Trek so much, and this is something my father imparted on me early on, was that they were problem-solvers. There wasn’t some big rebellion going on and they weren’t fighting for their lives. They were explorers and diplomats and scientists and thinkers. Picard had roots in the classics, philosophy, archaeology, and had vast scientific knowledge on top of all of that. They didn’t whip out their phasers at the first sign of the unknown. They studied it. They learned from it. And if they were in a tight spot, they used violence as a last resort.

The problem I find is that a lot of people don’t find that entertaining. They don’t want to think, they just want to zone out. That’s why (I think) sit-coms and reality shows and pure dramas are far more popular. If you’re faced with a choice between how a relationship is progressing and whether or not an android has the same rights as a human, well, I think most people end up choosing the former to be entertained for an hour by. It’s the more relatable situation versus the philosophical ideas.

Don’t get me wrong, I like to zone out sometimes, too. I enjoy shows like Grimm and Vikings, or some of the superhero shows like Arrow and The Flash. But I also like Law & Order, Person of Interest, The West Wing, Newsroom, Stargate SG-1, Star Trek… All… slightly technical shows. They aren’t about the people so much as they are about content. (Yes, I realize NONE of these shows are current, except SVU. A pattern, I wonder?) The former shows I listed all have one thing in common: They all have clearly defined Good and Evil. The other ones? Not so much.

And that’s part of the enjoyment I get out of them, because it so much better mirrors real life. We don’t have clearly defined Good and Evil. It’s a constant struggle, and what you think is Good now, may not always have been Good, and may not be Good in the future. It’s important to take a step back and look at the other side.

I don’t think people are capable of doing that very well, as evidenced by some of the discussions I’ve seen and been a part of over the past year, mostly revolving around the presidential election.

I find myself wondering if our entertainment menu is a part of that. What we see on TV and in movies is supposed to mimic real life. But what happens when it doesn’t?

I remember hearing that it was a big deal when the first blacks started appearing on TV shows. And I see that big deal now with homosexual relationships. (Actual experience: A person said to me that he didn’t mind if people were gay, but it seemed like every show had to have a gay couple, and that was ridiculous! No, not really, I think to myself, but I don’t really want to have that argument with that person.) Our society is not all white, so to have a show that consists of nothing but white actors is not representative. Same thing for sexuality.

This isn’t a situation that will ever fix itself on its own. Producers are going to make shows that bring in cash, and simple shows are what sells. They aren’t going to make shows that get low ratings, because the networks won’t buy them. Writers can have all the ideas in the world, but if other people don’t find them interesting, what does it matter?

My only suggestion is this: That the writers keep on writing, and trying to get their ideas out there. Because there will be some good ones, some that will get picked up by some fluke, and we can continue to inspire at least some of the new generations to think critically.