Saturday, April 21, 2012

Something has come up.

In my “G” post, I mentioned how jesters have been able to say things – sometimes, painful truths – in a way that others just can’t. I’ve heard that this goes back to the medieval courts; that the jester was free to say whatever he wanted to about any nobility, including the king. I’ve also heard that he was considered pretty non-threatening, since he was usually gelded.

In my own time, I’ve seen how many comedians have said things that would be brushed-off if said by a person with actual power. For example, when Bill Hicks said “Every time I turn on my TV, I hear ‘drink beer, drink beer.’ Why? Because it makes us slow and stupid and docile, and that’s just how they like us.” If you heard this from a conspiracy author, it would be easy to dismiss, but it hits closer to home while you’re laughing.

And George Carlin comes to mind. He had a great piece about how we would take our veterans’ trauma more seriously if we still called it “Shell Shock” instead of “Battle Fatigue.”

Of course, my favorite is Jon Stewart. Four days a week, he and Steven Colbert use comedy to bring serious issues to an audience that would not be interested in watching regular news. I’m afraid that I’d be in that category as well; I tried watching regular news, but all the sensationalized violence was too much to take.

On that note, I’m afraid that I’ll have to bow-out of the A-Z challenge. There is an anthology that is taking submissions until the end of May, and I finally got inspiration for a contribution. The anthology is a collection of satirical essays on how to be a better Mad Scientist/Super Villain. For example, you could submit an essay on finding a dormant volcano for your lair, or the finding and training of lackeys. Check it out, if you’re interested, at A Method to the Madness: A Guide to the Super EvilIt will be taking up much of my time for the next few weeks, so I’ll see you all soon.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


I got the idea for this post in the mis-used words category from Star Trek. When they’re in battle, the tactical officer will occasionally say “Hull integrity at 86%”

We often use the word in a moral context, as though to act helpfully or pleasantly is to act with integrity. (Whether or not we all have a compassionate core is a question for the philosophers and mystics, and way beyond a single blog post.) The ST quote illustrates how “Integrity” has more to do with congruity and wholeness.

By that definition, if someone’s an asshole, and they flip you off on the highway, they are indeed acting with integrity.

I came across a quote that fits an “I” post nicely: “Every ism is a wasm. It’s already old news: an exoskeleton from which the living truth has moved on.” Abbie Hoffman (1936-1989) I found this on a book about Toaism (that cleverly didn’t use “Toaism” in the title), and I haven’t spent enough time with the idea to confirm or deny it, but it is certainly food for thought.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What's holy?

It has been debated in philosophy whether something is holy by nature, or if it’s holy because people deem it so.

I guess that we need to start by defining holiness. (‘Sacred’ would be a better word, but I’m on “H”) “Set aside for a higher purpose” works as a definition. An obvious example would be a specific church, such as the one a Catholic has ad all their sacraments in. My wife had her heart set on getting married at the same church where she had her baptism, confirmation and first communion, and it was extremely meaningful for her to have another sacrament there. (I agreed, because really, it’s her day. Am I right?)

But the same could be said of a regular Sunday family dinner. Don’t you dare make other plans, ‘cause mom’s expecting us. Or perhaps, an item that was given to you by someone dear; it wouldn’t mean anything to the average person, but to you, it’s very dear.

But there are places that seem sacred in and of themselves. Take Jerusalem; is there anything about that city that makes it unique compared to dozens of other cities in the region? And yet, three of the world’s major religions feel the need to make it their own.

What do you think? Can items or places be holy or sacred by their nature, or is it all in our perceptions?


An F For the Ladies.

I have been fortunate that for much of my life, I have been able to keep feminism at a comfortable arm’s length. I could abstain from the more heated conversations, since I don’t have a uterus. I recently heard an interview that made me re-consider. The March 21st episode of Reality Check Podcast featured an interview with the co-founders of Jennifer Armstrong and Heather Wood Rudulph.

I found their site to be pretty large for a cursory glance, so I looked to their Facebook page for a concise summary: “Feminism is hard. Any sane woman believes in female empowerment, but putting those beliefs into practice can prove nebulous at best, disheartening at worst.” I guess it’s the nebulous nature of feminism that makes it hard to define, so it takes a pretty large site to cover an adequate cross-section of the movement.

Visiting the site, I felt a little like I was intruding on a private meeting, despite the co-founders saying in the interview that they welcome men to get involved. In fact, if men aren’t on board with women’s rights, it can only go so far before it just degenerates into the same hostility that feminism has inspired for generations.

Another interesting site is which is the National Organization for Women (the nation being the US). It featured more social and political content, while Sexy Feminist is more of a lifestyle site.

While feminism did not start in the Sixties, it was then that it arguably became mainstream. Therefore, my generation of men was raised with a bigger idea of women’s roles in society. We also had parents and grandparents with narrow but tidy definitions of a woman’s role.  Please forgive us men who come to the discussion table with some confusion.

It has become time for me to acquaint myself with what feminism is all about, Now that I’m raising a little girl, I have some skin in the game, and it’s important to me that she goes out into the world with what she needs to succeed, mentally and socially.

Since many of my blogging buddies are ladies, I’d like to hear your thoughts on what feminism is, and how it applies to your live. Bonus points if any of you have a daughter, and want to say how it affects your parenting!

Monday, April 9, 2012

What's in your freezer?

I’ll come back to “F”; it requires a little research, and I don’t want to wing it.

“G,” however, relates to something close to my heart. Have you ever been at the supermarket and seen “Gourmet” food in the freezer? I think that they misunderstand the term. If Gordon Ramsay is to be believed (and I think that it’s safe to consider him a food authority), your first priority is fresh ingredients. (A close second is a clean workspace.) Would not frozen food be instantly disqualified from the “gourmet” classification?

I’ve also seen a road-side bus selling “Gourmet French Fries.” Now, I’ve had some magnificent fries sold from a bus, but to call them “Gourmet” is playing fast-and-loose with the term.

At the end of the day, does it really matter if people are mis-using “Gourmet”? Not really. It’s irritating, but not a real problem. But what about “Rape”? This word is getting a similar water-down treatment, and this is a serious problem.

Like a lot of serious social issues, this was well-handled by a stand-up comedian. He referred to someone playing a video game who got shot in the back by another player, saying “Aw, dude, you raped me!” To illustrate, he said “If you asked a woman who had been through that awful experience about it, and she replied ‘Well, you know when you’re playing Halo, and you get shot in the back..?”

Thank the Maker for that performer!  Jesters have always said what many of us were thinking. It sucks to get desensitized to “Gourmet,” but society truly suffers when we get desensitized to assaults of any kind.  

Saturday, April 7, 2012

I've got a huge...

This post falls under the “Misused Words” category. I had grown up with the word “Ego” being used to describe the kind of opinion someone had of themselves, especially when it was over-inflated. Then I read Freud’s definition, and remembered that it bore no resemblance to narcissism whatsoever.

The definition I found was from my wife’s college psych class text book, “Introduction to Psychology” by Dennis Coon. The “Id” is described as all of our unconscious desires, mostly survival and procreation. The ego translates these desires into practical ideas. For example, it directs our hunger to the fridge, and away from the furniture and our neighbor’s pets.

The super-ego is what gives us the moral & socially acceptable framework. Such as, “We don’t eat dog in this part of the world,” and “Infidelity is wrong.” Freud being Freud, he credited much of this to our parents (many psych students I’ve met have a hard time with Freud, but they seem to forget that in the Victorian era, it was very helpful to have someone say “Hey, we think about sex a LOT. Let’s explore this.”)

I think that it’s important for writers to know a thing or two about psychology, since one of the main difference between my story and the thousands of others written in the same framework is the characters. We all have Id’s, but how those survival desires get translated is open to infinite possibilities, and how a character rationalizes or justifies (or just follows their conditioning) makes the character arc. Of course, if anyone sees this differently, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Just fine and...

Here’s a word that I’ve grown rather fond of lately: Dandy. Usually it means ‘Fine,’ as in “How ya doin’?” “Just dandy.” But I like the classic definition “One who pays excessive attention to his appearance.” (I’m not sure, but I think that the dictionary defines “douchebag” as “someone who starts a speech or essay with a dictionary’s definition of the subject matter.” But eff-it, I’m going to enjoy the labours of hard-working linguists.)

There is also an effeminate implication to the word; the Dandy’s of old could be quite the priss’s, and would seem a little “light in the loafers” to traditional masculine sensibilities.While I’m sure that many a dandy were closeted homosexuals, many more were known for their trysts with the ladies. Little Richard was a great example of this; while the men were talking after the show about how “queer” he was, Richard was in the back with their girlfriends, having a blast.

I think that the Dandy torch has been passed to the metrosexual. I think Raj on Big Bang Theory said it best: “It means that I like girls, and their hand lotions.”

I grew fond of the word when I had to describe Voldemort. Honestly; in his meeting at the beginning of Deathly Hallows I, doesn’t he seem like a Victorian dandy? “Severus…I was afraid you’d lost your way.” “Spoken…like a true politician.” “Belatrix…tell me you love my shoes.” Doesn’t he remind you of HedonismBot in Futurama?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

I believe that you've all met my Chickerdoodles...

For “C,” it only seems right that I tell a Chickerdoodles story…

One Saturday night, about six weeks ago, we passed another milestone, and we’re a little worried.

When Chickerdoodles was in her room for her nap, I went to the basement to play on the computer. When the baby monitor finally went quiet, I figured that she had gone to sleep. Then I heard her distinctive chatter on the main floor. With my stomach in my shoes, I ran to the stairs, to see her little foot descending to the first stair. That’s right, she had figured out how to operate the door knob.

We had hoped that this was an isolated incident, but when it came time to put her down for the night, we got a repeat performance. Far be it from her to let a new skill go to waste. I had to make an 8PM trip to Walmart to get a safety cover. While I was out, she kept poking her head out, then popping back into her room when she saw mom watching outside the door. Mom eventually got a paperback and stationed herself in the hall, and the performance carried on for the duration of my trip.

About fifteen minutes after we had gone to bed, I heard doors. As it happened, I hadn’t installed it properly, and she was standing at the wrong end of the hall with a look that said “Busted!” I figured out how to get the door-knob-spinning-device on properly, and her frustrated cry told me that I had it right.

About half an hour later`, we checked on her to find that she had fallen asleep with her back to the wall beside the door. That’s right, she tried ‘till she dropped!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Balance Manifest

I had a pretty weak post all written, but then I got a better idea. Chalk one up for the “inspiration/perspiration” relationship, eh?

Asides from being Van Halen’s last album with Sammy Hagar (opening with the heavy-atmospheric-epic “Seventh Seal”; a truly magnificent track), balance seems to be an unconscious goal more than a deliberate one. I first noticed this with musical tastes.

I tend to the heavier music, but I’m not very aggressive. I’ve only been inclined to speak my mind in uncomfortable situations in the last couple years, and have been more inclined to have people like me. I’m finally old enough to not give a rip what people think, and if someone’s making my job more difficult, we’ll have words. But at a young age, I glommed onto heavy music, partially to borrow their strength, but largely to balance out my gentle nature. This became really evident a few years ago when I was renting a room from an elementary school teacher. She would listen to the most bland, inoffensive AM music that could be found. If watered-down milk made a sound, it would be this. But she had such a busy head! Not only was she trying to juggle several thoughts at once, she had a gift for making things unnecessarily complex.

Another place that this quest for balance has shown itself is with my new family. Having a child in the house means we have a lot of children’s TV on in the house, not to mention all the other child-appropriate activity. My wife and I tend to make more and more ‘adult’ jokes. Granted, some of the children’s programming makes it really easy. I have to wonder if the directors and producers are giving each other knowing winks. It isn’t just dirty jokes either; we are thoroughly amused at Dora the Explorer and the perilous situations that her Map sends her into. It seems that her Map is trying to off her. “Past the volcano, through the crack addicts’ knife fight…” This is how we keep one another sane through children’s programming.   

This is just here to have an "A". Carry on to the next one...

Hmmm…Apathy or Ass-Hat.

It’s the first day of the much-celebrated A-Z Challenge, and I am not prepared. I didn’t do any writing in March (apathy, or just busy). My grand-plan was to explore words that are commonly misused (ass-hat, in the self-indulgent opinionated sense). So, I kept a notebook with me, and jotted examples, but only got about half of the letters I needed.

So, here I go into April, half-cocked, and hoping not to make too much of an ass-hat of myself. Here’s hoping that I do better with the rest of it ;)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Baby Busy Blues.

I haven’t posted since the last IWSG Wednesday, and here’s why. Firstly, I lost heart after encountering some static in the Bloggesphere, and withdrew a little out of frustration. Then, when I had a post ready, but the “Save” function on my netbook was giving me trouble, it was the last straw, and I put it away for the month. Seriously, I haven’t written a damn thing.

Then, I had trouble at work with a co-worker, and I had to get a manager involved. I truly hated being ‘That Guy,’ and put it off as long as I could, but I tried addressing it between us four times, and it wasn’t getting resolved.

At home, we’ve been going through different fertility treatments. Firstly, the IUI, which is essentially dropping my albino tadpoles off at the front door. Now, we’re into the IVF, which takes the “boy-meets-girl” part into a lab environment, then when we have a solid start of the two becoming one, it’s taken home and put to bed in my wife. This is our big 2012 project.

Then this morning, I saw Hart’s link on Facebook to her IWSG post. She seems to be noticing the lack of participation overall, so I’m wondering if my lack of ambition is a part of a wider concern. Mid-winter blues, perhaps? Post-holiday fatigue? Any thoughts?
PS. Had I known that I had gained so many new followers, I would have been back sooner. Sorry for the delay, folks.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

I'm I Missing Something Important?

I had another post half-written about a concern that is nowhere near where I am at this stage of my career (green-assed rookie!), but then I thought of something that eats at me in the present.

One of the best times for me to write is after my girls have gone to bed. I have my little ritual of brewing up a coffee and putting on an instrumental-music podcast, and just going where the muses take me for an hour or so. My problem is that I feel a little guilty about my wife going to bed alone.

Don’t get me wrong; she is 100% supportive of my writing, and I’m sure that she’s quite alright with going to bed alone a few times a week. We communicate well, and we have a solid marriage, but I’m concerned that I may be missing some critical bonding time. Date nights and other events are great for relationship-building, but nothing beats the day-to-day interactions.

I believe that many of you have been married longer than I have (4 ½ years), so I’m wondering just how critical that pre-sleep time is.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Rational or Rationalizing?

If you have been reading my posts for any length of time, you’ll remember that I really enjoy podcasts. Mostly, they are interviews that you can download to an IPod or other MP3 playing device, and they come out as regular episodes. Mostly, I listen to writing podcasts, but one exception is Philosophy Bites. Most episodes are less than twenty minutes, but they really pack a punch, if you have the patience for academic discussion. It can certainly lack pizazz.

The September 25th 2011 episode featured Dan Sperber, and really hit me between the eyes. Beginning with Aristotle, it was believed that it was ability to reason that set us apart from other animals, and since then, philosophy students have celebrated the primacy of reason. However, studies have shown that we make most of our decisions intuitively and/or emotionally, then we use our reasoning faculties to justify our initial responses.

There are cases where this works. For example, if I said that my child was born in September ’11, you intuitively know that she is two years old. You didn’t consciously do the math, but your prior education and practice made it happen below the surface of your awareness, so it saves a lot of time and mental energy. Same with the weather; a quick look at the sky and the temperature of the air will give you a pretty good idea of what kind of day you’re in for.

An instance of this came up for me a few years ago. I had read a Confucian proverb; “The ideal person is not a tool.” Since the word ‘tool’ is used so differently today, I had to share this simply for the amusement factor of it. It did spark discussion though, and someone argued that someone can use themselves as a tool. No, I think that’s a skill. A tool, by definition, is something outside of the self. They were adamant, however, that they had it right. Well, I suppose that if you re-define what words mean, then they could be right, but I wanted to stick with the classical use of the language.

My first response to the rational/emotional argument was “Oh yeah, I see lots of people doing that.” The I turned my gaze inward, and said “Ow.” I have been pretty guilty of this on many occasions. A rather innocent one is Star Wars. I overlook a lot of silliness and bad dialogue because so much of it is great on its own merit, but more relevantly, it’s really sentimental to my childhood.

I have at times dismissed a favored opinion because the evidence was contrary, or just lacking, but on many occasions, I have been swept away. Does this ring true for you? Can you think of instances where rationality turned into rationalization? 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Where's the back go?

Do any of you get books about writing fiction? I got some great ones from my wife, including Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler, and Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell. Several of them recommended that an aspiring author read a favorite book while taking copious notes.

I am currently doing this with Flight of the Nighthawks by Raymond  Feist. I haven’t read it before, so I can’t call it a ‘favorite,’ but with so many books on my to-be-read pile (can I get an ‘Amen’?), re-reading something wasn’t the right plan for me. As it happens, I’m really enjoying the book, so I’m glad I chose it. It’s a high-fantasy that’s told from the point of view of a magical not-so-secret society, but focusses more on the political intrigues.

Reading while taking notes has proven to be pretty tedious, but well worth it. I’m jotting notes on setting, character, plot, and back-story. What I’m learning the most, though, is how to seed the back-story throughout the story so that the world is expanded and enriched without the dreaded Info Dump. There was one instance of explaining-to-the-ignorant-character in an extended conversation, but most of the history is doled out one or two paragraphs at a time as it relates to the characters or setting of the scene. This seems to be a great way to put in the back-story and world-building; it certainly works for Feist.

What are your tricks for back-story? Do you have any favorite books on writing?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Yeah, I can be as opiniated as anyone else.

Yesterday, my wife and I were talking about what we thought of people judging the parenting skills of others. Her position was that with two years’ experience, with one child, no less, who are we to judge.

There are few areas where people will get more defensive than with their parenting skills. If I was to challenge someone’s religion, four out of five people would tolerate it patiently and reasonably, whether they engaged in an argument/discussion or not. But if I challenged their parenting, most people would dig in their heels pretty firmly. It could even come to blows, though I haven’t tested this theory. If anyone wants to try it and get back to me, I’d be glad to hear about your results. (I feel like I should put in a legal disclaimer here, like “The writer and affiliates of Somewhat Epic to not endorse the provocation of violence over parenting opinions.” If you get your ass handed to you over such an argument, it’s your own damn fault).

Look at it this way; have you ever been critical of something your parents did? Do you wish that there was a friend or relative close by to ask if an action or technique was in the child’s best interests? I wouldn’t endorse some kind of Parenting Police, but if we raised our kids with a sense of accountability to our community, would it change some of our practices? More importantly, would we re-think our reactions?

Of course, this could easily go too far the other way, such as hitting or indulging a crying child because a parent feels embarrassed at the supermarket. I’m glad that the public-hitting has decreased, but like every revolution, it may have swung too far the other way.

It reminds me of a conversation that I had with a friend, where his sociology teacher was speaking of being judgmental of other cultures. I truly enjoy the differences of other cultures, but the example he used was female circumcision. Really? With everything that we may find questionable, he chose the mutilation of young girls in a patriarchal society? Couldn’t he have picked something dietary, like dog-eating? Or how about how Asian cuisine lacks cheese? Ludicrous! Sure to be a lively discussion, but with valid points on both sides. 

Do you think that we have an obligation to address parenting faults? How about putting our own techniques and styles under scrutiny? I’m pretty confident in my parenting, but I bet that I’d be pretty uncomfortable with a critique. I hope that I’d handle it reasonably and maturely, though. At this time, I am unwilling to offer criticisms to other parents, mostly because of my limited experience.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Look up; Look Wa-a-ay Up.

It could be considered ironic that I’m using a Blog to write about the dangers of relying on technology, but it’s all about reaching people, eh?

A couple of weeks ago, my wife was picking up Chickerdoodles from daycare, when another mother nearly backed into the both of them in her SUV. I’m not sure what the visibility issues would be with a vehicle that size, but being December, there was the added problem of slick surfaces, and I can bloody-well guess how that would affect SUV.

Would you like to know what her excuse for not stopping until she heard my wife yelling at her? “…it usually beeps at me if there’s someone there.” So, it has some sort of object detector? And it’s reliable enough that you don’t bother to LOOK? In a bloody Daycare parking lot, no less?

There are obviously many aspects of technology that I enjoy, the obvious one being Blogging and other internet contacts like Facebook. I also love Podcasts, and music downloading availability. There is literally something for everyone in the Tech shops. But really, let’s not lose our contact with the real world, shall we? When I start having difficulty speaking with people face-to-face, the warning bells go off, and I make an extra effort. As a natural introvert, this happens often, and usually after my conversations get painfully awkward.Likewise, when some danger gets too close for comfort, the warning bells go off, and I take the time to pay more attention to me surroundings.

Granted, this incident  hits pretty close to home, but let this be a warning to everyone; Don’t let technology detract from your perception of the word around you, especially when safety is at stake! Does anyone want to guess how often I see people walking through the parking lot while looking at their phones? At least daily.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Oh crap, I forgot what day it was!

I rarely check logs in the evening, and I just popped on to feed my new Majong addiction, and noticed the it's the first Wednesday of the month!

As far as Resolutions go, I'm a little ahead of the game on quitting smoking. The patch has helped a lot, and again, it was time to piss or get off the pot. The patch has really helped with the cravings, but the habit still tries to assert itself now and then. But the way I figure, the more people I tell, the more embarrising it would be to fail.

I quit once before, but then gave myself permission to occasionally cheat. That led to cheating on vacation, then I was hooked again. This time, I'm giving myself permission to cheat on my 70th birthday. By then, all I have to lose is the diaper years.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Welcome to my New Home.

As I mentioned in my old space, I am starting anew. The main reason is that my Blog name was so long! Whenever I had to write, the pen would run out of ink. Really, it was kinda silly, even though I loved the abbreviation of FAOCT. Completely by accident, I assure you. As for the name, I heard a Podcaster use the term “…somewhat epic…” when discussing a book, and it stuck with me. I mean, ‘Epic’ is a style of fantasy literature, but the word has a grand implication, that the referred-to thing has, or doesn’t have. I thought that the term “Somewhat Epic” had a really cool cognitive dissonance, and that it would make a great Blog name.

But there is also something to be said for re-birth. It’s what the New Year is all about. That, and getting thoroughly wasted. So, with the New Year, I’m starting a new Blog; one with an easier title. Looking to the future, I hope to promote this in interviews, and I need a title that’s easy to remember.

New Years brings me to goals. It doesn’t need to be said that that most New Years Resolutions are good ideas until about January 10th. I’ve been guilty of this as well, but it’s time to piss, or get off the pot. I choose piss! Over the next week, I will take the time to decide what my priorities are, and act accordingly.

The immediately topic is Blogging and writing. As far as Blogging goes, a regular schedule is a good idea. Many Bloggers pick specific days of the week to post, and that seems like a good idea. As for writing, I’m not sure what’s better; weekly word counts, or so-many days a week to sit and go until you can’t go anymore.  It’s said that there is no substitute for putting in the time, and no magic formula. I’m not sure that that’s true; my favorite Podcast (I Should Be Writing) quoted someone as saying that “you don’t schedule time to masturbate.” What I got out of that was, if you’re a writer, it’s a compulsion. If I don’t get this out of my system, I’m going to be cranky, and un-focussed on my daily activities, so I’d better get this out of the way so I can function normally with my normal obligations. Pretty crude, but it speaks to the base impulses, and if it doesn’t ring true, then writing isn’t my calling.