Saturday, March 14, 2009

To Sir with Love -- Writer's Poke #211

Call me polite, but when I address a male who is my elder, I like to use the word “sir.”

Mr. John Hershberger would have none of my politeness. When I was a senior in high school, he was my Economics instructor. This was an “honors” level class, and I only mention that as a way of suggesting that the students in the class sometimes used their brains, and sometimes read a textbook, and sometimes did their homework assignments. In other words, we weren’t the typical mindless zombies that you might find in a basic Consumer Math class.

But at some point prior to my matriculation into this class, Mr. Hershberger decided that I was a sarcastic hooligan, and that my number one goal in life was to undermine his authority. He probably came to this dramatic conclusion after he substituted once for Mr. Parker, the chess coach. He saw how rowdy the chess team could get, and he knew I was the ringleader of that amazingly unpredictable and chaotic group.

So it should have come as no surprise when Mr. Hershberger asked me to follow him out into the hallway during one of our first Economics classes. “Mr. Fuller,” he said, “Please don’t call me ‘sir’ again. If you do, I’ll have to remove you from class.”

I couldn’t believe what this man was suggesting. What did he want me to call him? “Dude”? “Ace”? “Johnny?” Like a toddler that’s just discovered an electrical outlet, I had to test this man.

I continued to call him “sir” during class – in a very non-sarcastic way I should add – until it became quite clear that he’d follow through on his threat and throw me into study hall. Then I stopped addressing him as “sir,” and more sadly perhaps, I stopped thinking of him as being worthy of my respect.

Have you ever offended someone by being overly polite?

“The purpose of polite behavior is never virtuous. Deceit, surrender, and concealment: these are not virtues. The goal of the mannerly is comfort, per se.” – June Jordan

Friday, March 13, 2009

Dead Again -- Writer's Poke #210

Perhaps the best thing about Type O Negative’s Dead Again is the album’s title. Actually, sometimes I’m a bit slow, and it took me more than a couple of years to realize that the title is probably a play on the phrase “Born Again.”

To be born again means something different to an evangelical Christian than it does, say, to a Hindu. But captured in the idea is the concept of a second chance. Both are, in fact, different ways of being “reincarnated,” if I can use the term rather loosely.

The concept of being dead again, however, is somewhat more obscure. Sure, people that are reincarnated must theoretically die over and over again, or do they? I don’t know much about the actual belief, but as I imagine it, when a person dies, their reincarnated essence automatically and simultaneously “zaps” into another body at the same moment. Therefore, the death is little more than illusionary. It’s a matter of simple physics, right?

This is all getting rather deep. TON’s pun, simplified, most likely refers only to the idea of being spiritually dead.

Is it possible to be spiritually dead?

“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead; I lift my eyes, and all is born again.” – Sylvia Plath

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Girl That Cried Poopy -- Writer's Poke #209

By the age of seventeen months, Octavia knows the word “poopy.”

“Did you go poopy?” I can ask her. And if she has, she’ll say, “No?”

It’s important here to translate. “No” to Octavia, and I’m sure to most babies, has a variety of meanings, and the meaning depends solely on the inflection or emphasis used. “No!” means no; but “No?” has one of at least three distinct meanings – yes, maybe, or no. But in Octavia's case, “No?” generally takes the first definition – that is, it mostly means yes.

So, when she says“No?” to "Did you go poopy?" she usually heads down the hallway to the bathroom that contains the changing table.

This system worked great for about one week. Then Tavi realized that she could lead her unsuspecting parents to the bathroom just by saying “No?” She could be completely dry, completely poop-free, and technically, she wasn’t lying when she said “No?” But you just knew that she relished her new-found ability to make us follow her.

And as someone that doesn’t necessarily like working the baby poop detail, I can’t say that I minded false alarms. I just thought Tavi would wait a little bit longer before she decided to manipulate me.

How has a child, a spouse, or a friend “trained” you? Was there a point when you minded being trained?

“A baby is an inestimable blessing and bother.” – Mark Twain

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Shelf Life -- Writer's Poke #208

Creative folks work so hard, but it’s depressing. Most creative works have limited commercial value. In other words, the book you spend a year (or more) of your life writing might have the shelf life of a loaf of bread.

A novel, for example, might retail for $24.95, but a few months later, that same book will probably find its way to the bargain bin for six bucks. How can something initially priced at $25 lose 75% of its value in less than a year?

It’s not just books. The same thing happens to movies. Opening night, you’ll pay good money to see the latest blockbuster. When it’s released on DVD, you’ll still pay a price to own the privilege of owning the film; but a year down the road, you’ll be able to watch the movie for free on TV, or to rent it at the local gas station for a buck.

Maybe it’s wrong to attach a commercial value to “art,” but let’s face it: movies, books, and other creative pursuits are turned into products. And the next product is always hitting the market place the following Tuesday.

Pick an important idea, concept, or philosophy, and explain its value in terms of its shelf life.

“The shelf life of the modern hardback writer is somewhere between the milk and the yogurt.” – John Mortimer

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Death of Language -- Writer's Poke #207

The English language contains far more words than necessary. All told, there are between 500,000 and 1 million words in the English language.

How many words does the average college-educated speaker of English know? Perhaps 20,000, or 2-4%.

Now brace yourself: How many words does the average college-educated person use on a regular weekly basis? Maybe 2,000.

Around 7,000 languages are still spoken around the world today, although roughly half are expected to go extinct by century's end.

The Tower of Babel crumbles. But the full potential of English certainly has yet to be realized.

Is the universalization of English a bad thing? Should languages be protected like other "endangered species"?

"Language shapes the way we think, and determines what we can think about." -- Benjamin Lee Whorf

Monday, March 9, 2009

Baby Talk -- Writer's Poke #206

She can't speak many words, but she is capable of making many meaningful expressions.

Every time she sees a kitty cat, she makes sure that everyone has the pleasure of seeing it. Every time she sees a ball, or anything that is round and remotely looks like a ball, she points it out.

The girl sometimes has the ability to surprise, like the first time she called out for apple sauce by name, or when she recognized Elmo even though we never watch Sesame Street at home.

Having a little vocabulary doesn't stop her from getting what she wants; it doesn't stop her from excitedly approximating sounds to express what she needs or sees. Baby talk, in other words, is about more than clearly-pronounced words. It's about facial expressions, foot-stomping, pointing, and the simple joys of toddler-hood.

What can you learn from a baby, toddler, or young child?

"My friend has a baby. I'm recording all the noises he makes so later I can ask him what he meant." -- Steven Wright

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Demos -- Writer's Poke #205

While this isn’t necessarily a major trend in the music world, it is an interesting trend in the music world that matters most to me: mine.

Over the past year or so, some of musicians I enjoy have started releasing demo material from the archives. First it was Winger, which released Demo Anthology. Instead of simply releasing a greatest hits collection, Kip and the boys gave us something special: a two-disc collection of some of our favorite songs – in a way that we hadn’t heard them previously. Different lyrics for some songs, different arrangements... awesome.

Next came Stryper with The Roxx Regime Demos. These are demos of the songs we would come to know on The Yellow and Black Attack.

Finally, Lisa Loeb re-released The Purple Tape, which first came out in 1992 -- originally not on a major label, and in cassette tape form only.

What is so cool about demos? They’re raw; producers haven’t over-polished the music; and what we get to hear is the artist’s intensity, passion, and potential.

If you cut a demo to represent your life, what would you include?

"We get sweaty , 14-year-old boy's demo CDs, ... and no panties." -- Chris Shiflett