Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Recent Publications

My story "The Impossible Woodrow Chutzpa" finally came out in the Spring 2008 Connecticut Review. Ask and I'll send you a PDF.

And today, my one-act play "Temporary Paralysis" was published by the CULT OF THE DEAD COW -- the first eZine/t-file collection, est. 1984 -- as t-file #413!

I wrote this for Jim Scrim's class last year.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Tao Te Ching Gameboy Research

Compiled Gameboy ROM

A while ago I was inspired by J Schrier's Gameboy software and hardware research which explores the I Ching, the Stations of the Cross, the Rosary, and Mao Tse Tung's Little Red Book. So I modified an Apple IIe program that I always considered to be Taoist in nature and rewrote it for the gameboy.

It generates nonstatic images that at times can be quite visually appealing. You can pause it at any time, but it will spit out a verse from the classical Chinese text, the Tao Te Ching. The point is that you can never pause or even consciously consider any moment without losing its beauty through intellectual abstraction.

I never finished the project -- I was going to add color and package this in cartridge form, and enter the entire classical text, but since I have to pack up most of my computers in my move this weekend, I didn't want it to be forgotten. If anyone wants to pick up where I left off, the code is posted below.

Note that the menu screen and some of the screen captures display "HAL666" because that was the name of the Apple IIe program I originally wrote to be used on stage.

SOURCE CODE -- No License, but let me know if you do anything with it



At the start menu, the user may press any button when he is ready, and nonstatic images, or moments, will begin to generate. Sometimes they are visually appealing. Once in tao mode, the user has the following controls:

When one wishes to preserve a moment, he may press the START button to pause it exactly as it is. But he may not be happy with the results, because no moment can be paused without intellectual abstraction. The instance one realizes one is in a moment, he is pulled out of it by that very realization.

When one likes the way an moment is forming and wishes to wait for it to complete its current rotation, he may hold the SELECT button until the rotation is complete. The image will then be frozen, but again abstracted intellectually.

When one wishes to view the opposite of what he is currently viewing, paused or not, he may press the A button to do so. But he may find that the opposite of that moment is more similar to that moment than anything less polarized, like a tree, a smile, or a song.

When one wishes to empty the abnormalities on the canvas, he may press the B button.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Local Newspaper Prints Shitty Story

I read a story in the local paper entitled, "Suspect in Brookfield gas station robbery pleads not guilty," which would not get a passing grade in a basic newswriting course, and it disgusts me that any editor was incompetent enough to let this go to print.

The hook seems newsy enough, concisely written.

"BROOKFIELD -- The Patricia Drive man accused of robbing a Federal Road gas station at gunpoint last month pleaded not guilty in Danbury Superior Court Tuesday.

The man, Christopher Braun, 25, will return to court Sept. 10. He faces charges of first-degree robbery and fifth-degree larceny and was released on a written promise to appear in court after his arrest July 31."

Then it gets into the details of the robbery and how Braun became a witness. But it's not until the last few paragrahs that we learn Braun turned himself in and signed a statement admitting to the robbery!

"After Braun arrived at the police station, the affidavit said, Lamparelli advised Braun he was also a suspect in the robbery, at which point Braun agreed to waive his rights and cooperate, giving the detectives a sworn statement saying he had perpetrated the stick-up and used his mother's black Acura to get to and from the Sunoco station.

Braun told the detectives he had robbed the gas station with an unloaded pellet gun and made off with between $150 and $200. Later, he brought the detectives to his house, where he retrieved the pellet gun and a hooded sweatshirt he had worn during the robbery, according to the affidavit."

The complication that he already signed a statement admitting his being responsible for the robbery makes it an entirely different story from a man simply pleading not guilty, and that information should be introduced in the very beginning of the article.

It should read something like,
"The Patricia Drive man accused of robbing a Federal Road gas station at gunpoint last month pleaded not guilty in Danbury Superior Court Tuesday, despite signing a written statement admitting his responsibility for the robbery."

The angle of the story should be focused more, instead of simply recapping the robbery, to address the nuance of why the man plead guilty despite this statement. Did he recant the statement, or did he maintain his position, but not find the charges to be accurate? Ah, and herein lies the issue -- nuance. To answer those questions would require more reporting than reading an affidavit, and heaven forbid a reporter for a local rag actually give a shit.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Essay Brainstorm: Writers as Engineers of Language

Form: Essay Brainstorm Session
Word Count: 360

Language gives us a way of understanding ourselves. Native speakers of different languages vary in their understanding of themselves by sheer virtue of what they can express verbally. Every language and dialect has evolved differently from culture to culture, and even individual to individual. Every individual has his or her own "personal dialect" which consists of considerably fewer words and phrases and ideas than the language he or she claims to speak.

A personal dialect is similar to a vocabulary, but also includes all of the cognitive implications of a vocabulary. If one uses the word "love" for dispassionate sexual intercourse, passionate sexual intercourse, infatuation, and what is typically understood as "romantic love," then his vocabulary consists of the word "love," and his personal dialect consists of the linguistic and cognitive limitations posed by this vocabulary.

The language of a group of people is the convergence of their personal dialects -- the mutually understood words, phrases, and ideas. Language evolves from the introduction and acceptance of personal dialects into the mainstream language. And with language, so does evolve our understanding of, and potential to understand, ourselves. We tend to think our language can be used to express anything we want, but writers are constantly in battle with words that don't exist. They see this as a shortcoming in themselves, but in reality, it is a shortcoming in language, until some writer comes along and offers a new way to do it. In this way, language is not unlike technology, and writers not unlike engineers, engineering the technology of expression.

Remember that evolution only means survival of the fittest and not necessarily survival of the best (although some might argue that fitness is the only quantitative evaluation of "best", I would argue that there is none). Sometimes words are combined in a beautiful, elegant manner which gives us enormous insight into the world, life, and ourselves, new unconventional phrases obliterate tired, meaningless cliches, and we experience the world with greater vibrancy than ever before. However, sometimes language evolves in a less than beautiful or expressive way in favor of any number of cultural priorities which supersede expression and beauty: brevity, humor, edginess.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Excerpted Sentence: She never felt pain

Form: Prose (Short Story Excerpt)
Word Count: 14
She never felt pain, but rather, an acute awareness that she was being hurt.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Fiction Excerpt: No one needs a receipt for a doughnut

Form: Prose (Short Story Excerpt)
Word Count: 107
Concerns: Unusually long sentences. May be convoluted.
On his dresser, Kirk found most of the contents of his overstuffed wallet had been transferred into the new wallet, and the old wallet, and the remainder of its contents, like his wife, had vanished. Evidence that all three had once been there came in the form of a note which read, “Kirk, no one needs a receipt for a doughnut,” the last word underlined three times. He tucked the note into his new wallet, which he placed in his back pocket; put the checkbook, pad and pen in his breast pocket; and strapped the Casio, which, like his alarm clock, read 5:38 a.m., around his wrist.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Speculating on the Spring CT Review Holdup

The Spring 2008 CT Review was contracted to have been printed by April 3, 2008. Where is it!?

I have been getting antsy waiting for the Spring 2008 Connecticut Review, and I like digging stuff up, so I decided to find out why the biannual magazine hasn't come out yet.

It turns out the printing of the CT Review, since it is by a state university system, was put out for public bidding through the CT State Department of Administrative Services.

Here is the initial request for bids (PDF) posted in July of 2007 for printing of the Fall 2007 (PDF) and Spring 2008 issues. For each issue a timeline is given for the projects. The Spring 2008's timeline is as follows:

Disk ready for printer February 15, 2008
Form proof copy due March 1, 2008
Final Bound copy due April 3, 2008

Here is the notification of award of the contract (PDF) to Sir Speedy Printing in Bloomfield, CT. (Here is the contract description of that file).

This all means nothing. I don't know if the magazine has or has not been printed, but I do know it has not been made available to the public more than two months after it was scheduled to be printed. It is entirely possible that the CT Review did not get the magazine to the printer on time and it was printed or is being printed later than scheduled. The contract with Sir Speedy ends on June 30, 2008.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Essay: How I Strive to Write Pt. 1: Thoughts on Word Choice (incomplete)

Word Count: 653
Form: Essay
State: Disorganized Thoughts

NOTE: "How I Strive to Write," is intended to be a collection of my own personal artistic preferences as I realize them in the process of reading and writing. By no means do I claim that they are rules for "writing well." I don't even claim to understand what writing well means. That probably depends on your own motivation and philosophy. At this stage, they are just some random, disorganized thoughts.

Vibrancy of Word Choice
Vibrancy of word choice should be the aspiration of all writers. Don't use an adjective when you can use a more vibrant noun that gets the job done. There is no need to use an adjective when it is implied (e.g. "green grass," "brown dirt," or "cute kitten").

Great exercises in paring down your linguistic bulk include writing Haiku (properly), and newspaper writing.

Linguistic Cliche
Similarly, one should also avoid linguistic cliche* because it causes the reader not to think about the meaning of the words. Linguistic cliches are phrases that are overused to the point of meaninglessness. Phrases that no longer challenge us. (Good writing challenges us to create meaning from words, think about and associate them with our own knowledge and experience. When words have no meaning they are just sounds.) A linguistic liche can be a phrase like "I love you to death."

One should never fall into these traps. They are fine for first drafts, because they are easily accessible, but should be pruned out in the editing process. Removal of cliche challenges a writer to think about what it is he is trying to say, and often breeds the most profound or memorable lines in a piece, inventing new phrases (perhaps to become future cliches).
EXAMPLE: In one story I wrote, I said that someone's voice "'droned' over the intercom." In the revisions I came up with the word "flatlined," as in that thing a heart monitor does when a person dies. At first I wasn't sure if I was even allowed to do that. Did it even make sense? I asked a friend to read the story and he didn't stumble over that line; he knew what it meant. Rather than a word like "droned," which doesn't challenge you to think about its meaning, "flatlined," makes the reader visualize the monotone voice's lifelessness in a new way.
This is by no means advocacy of "cleverness," which should be avoided like an ex. Word choice that showcase an author's linguistic mastery or terrific wit remove a reader from the story, and exposes the author as the narcissistic asshole all writers are. Every sentence should be artfully crafted to immerse the reader in the presence of the story at hand.

A Critique of Nearly Every (Modern) Narrative Ever Written
One cliche I noticed recently is the common convention "said Scarborough," after a quote. We never think about that because we are so used to reading it, but no one talks like that. Not that writing should be entirely conversational, but arranging the words in that order seems to me like a remnant of a much older form of the English language. Analogously, since I am at a loss to articulate exactly why this convention seems cliche to me, observe how it sounds with the pronoun "he":
"'No more monkeys jumping on the bed,' said he."
For the time being I prefer to use other alternatives that seem more authentic, like "No more monkeys jumping on the bed', he said." Besides its greater consistency with modern language, it is arguable more effective writing, because "he said" is more immediate and active than "said he."

*Another type of cliche, not intended to be the topic of this post, that can slip into one's writing is intellectual cliche, which refers to the ideas of a story -- such as themes, character archetypes, plots, and action -- rather than it's word choice.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Essay: The Ethics of Workshopping (incomplete)

Word Count: 612
Form: Essay
State: Incomplete, First Draft, Tangential Scrap

The Nature of Workshop Comments

Comments in a prose writing workshop should be aimed at facilitating the completion of the work of a peer. It is important to remember that members of workshops are peers. The relationship of a commenter to an author is not that of a commercial editor determining what is and is not right for publication, but that of a reader to an author, helping the author make those decisions for himself.

The most effective comments are statements of reaction to a piece
-- not suggestions of meaning or how to achieve a different reaction, but what one's first, second, and third impressions of a piece were.

A comment like, "I hated Joe, he was a jerk to Sally," can be remarkably useful to an author.

Categories of Workshop Comments
Comments can be categorized as matters of fact, linguistics, or artistic preference.

1. Matters of fact involve the story's presentation of factual elements, such as where Sally was when she shot Joe, where she learned to shoot, and what kind of gun she used. Factual elements are concrete images, rather than intellectual abstractions, such the "metaphoric value" of Sally's shooting Joe.

2. Matters of linguistics involve the effectiveness and clarity of language in conveying the factual elements of the story.

3. Matters of artistic preference include everything else. They are the commenter's personal preference about the story's subject matter, tone, style, and unwritten intellectual meanings and implications such as metaphors.

The Ethics of Presenting Comments
Comments must be categorically identifiable when presented by the commenter to the author if the workshop is to be a productive experience.

It is common and quite unethical to present matters of artistic preference as matters of fact or linguistics. Matters of artistic preference cannot and should not be explained in objective terms such as the first two categories may be. It is a terrible flaw of human nature to look for a reason for everything, to rationalize and justify everything. We should be satisfied to say, "I like this," "I don't like this," without manufacturing some neat "because."

A common manifestation of this rationalization is in comments regarding the completeness of plot. Some commenters will insist a plot did not feel complete to them, because they simply "wanted to know more." But instead of saying that, they will phrase it as if it is a factual lapse, when it was actually it was a matter of artistic preference in determining the selection of important elements of the story. It is important to ask oneself if this lack of factual elaboration is a critical flaw or not, and it is the commenter's utmost ethical duty to present it as such.

Misrepresenting a comment on a matter of artistic preference as a matter of fact or linguistics is commonly done because we have a desire for what we say to carry weight, and our traditional tendency to more heavily value that which can be "justified" gives us enormous incentive to machinate false justifications

*At great risk of getting off on a tangent, to rid oneself of the necessity for artificial justifications will provide one with much spiritual enlightenment and satisfaction. Allowing oneself to be content with What Is is a marvelous concept. If one would like an illustration of the uselessness of justification, I personally recommend watching the financial cable news networks where at almost any hour one can witness two authorities in the world of finance give compelling, rational justifications for completely opposite predictions about the future behavior of some stock.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Flash Fiction: Tangent/Ode on a Girl (what else?)

Word Count: 359
Form: Flash fiction
Written in 5 minutes at 3 a.m.
Personal State: Tired as hell and smell like fire. Cat running around apartment nutso-crazy.

There was a young girl, 20, no 21, and she was a barista, or so she said. But really she worked in a coffee place in a rich little town on the leftern half of Connecticut. She burned herself all the time, and she said it was because of her job. She must have been really dedicated. She wasn't. She just burned herself. She was really good at hiding it too. She had creams and ointments. She wanted to be a doctor, a dermatologist. She never slept though, so she did miserably in school. Except in English, because she was real good with words. She never wrote anything down on paper because she was afraid people would read it. Well, she had journals and notepads and her sisters read them and stuff and she hated that but they did it anyway and she said it was because they loved her. And she loved them too much to put an end to it. Or maybe she didn't really hate it all that much. Maybe she just needed to be pried open or greased up (not in that kind of way) or WD-40'd or something like that, I don't know. But one time this boy came over and read her todo list and she had a fit, because she felt so vulnerable. She was really strong and she ripped it away from him. She liked to write in pencil when she had to do schoolwork but she wrote so light that no one could read it and she would get in trouble in grade school. The boy who came over and read her notepad said it was because she was afraid to make her mark on the world or something, but she said it was because she was just in too much of a hurry to press down. Anyway, she started using black pen way before she met him, and he grew up using blue pen. She said blue was yucky and for drafts and he said black was too permanent and that everything he wrote was an unfinished draft. So she wrote in black and he wrote in blue and they never worked it out really.