Sunday, March 11, 2018

On Jane Austen and the Art of the Duel

So how do you get a man who is prone to mostly watching movies of conquest and conflict, and which often involve victors yielding guns or swords or cannons, into watching Jane Austen's Emma?

Well, it helps if the man comes home late while you're already in the midst of watching another classic, Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd, which happens to involve one man yielding a sword, another yielding a gun, and a third yielding a shepherd's hook -- or pitchfork -- depending on the farm chore of the day, and which also happens to involve the death of at least one of them as they all pursue the heart of one woman.

After "the man" respectfully sits through what is left of Hardy's twisty-turny classic, in which some men win and some men lose in various sorts of fashion, it's possible to convince this "significant other" that although Emma does appear to be another match-making, who-will-end-up-with-whom, nail-biter, it will indeed end with a duel at the end. Someone will get hurt. Love is like that, right?

And I suppose I should mention that it especially helps to get the man into believing this potential plot-sequence, if Obi-Wan Kenobi is playing one of the potential suitors in the Emma drama. You know who I'm talking about -- Ewan McGreggor -- who starred as the saber-yielding jedi in Stars Wars 1, 2, and 3 (a.k.a The Phantom Menace, etc)?

And so, when the man-who-shall-go-unnamed commented that Obi-Wan was playing a dude named Mr. Churchill, I went along with it. And when this comment was followed by the question, "Doesn't this movie end in a duel? after one of them starts swinging a sword - or maybe it was a walking stick, I couldn't help but assure the man that yes, yes, it did. Someone will meet their maker. Love is dangerous that way.

It probably also helped that a couple weeks ago he found me watching another well-known and interesting Jane Austen classic, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. With all the blood and gore,  I suppose he found it tolerable. Personally, I thought the breaks taken by the actors for cups of tea to brood over who-liked-whom between scenes of zombies losing their heads and eyeballs and other body parts were quite charming. And given Jane's early interest in writing satire, I think she might have liked it.

If you love Jane Austen, you can't blame me for taking advantage of a man with a one-track mind when it comes to finding movie entertainment centered around warring parties. I simply stepped in line and wore the hat of a sleeper agent, or a mole, or whatever it is that they call misleading behavior these days. I have no idea. Although I can say I knew well what I was doing, and I was enjoying the process. Plus, I guess if one person in particular got really upset about it, I could easily mention the fact that Winston Churchill, a well-known war person, said Jane Austen's books helped him win his own war. A REAL one. (World War II, that is.) No joke. You can read about it here.

All in all it was an entertaining evening, filled with entertaining scenes. Do you remember the fish bowls teetering on precarious towers in the garden? They should have given PETA nightmares.

But the best part was the growing look of confusion on one man's face as the end of Emma neared, and the happy couple on the screen ended up happy, married, and nothing else was going to happen to them. "It's over? That's it? No duel??"

Yep. A glorious happy end to another Austen classic, and all the while, winning the hearts of men, one trick, one step at a time.

Sunday, February 18, 2018


What are your experiences with looking at situations from different perspectives? Is it something you value?

As I've gotten older, seeking alternative viewpoints of different conflicts or problems is a character trait I increasingly strive to make a habit because I believe it guides me to making better decisions. And in writing, it also allows me to come back to a manuscript with fresh eyes that makes my time rewriting and editing more meaningful and worthwhile. Let me to share an analogy.

A couple weeks ago we had a super moon and I viewed it as I drove back into Logan one night. Coming down from from Sardine Canyon, the moon was spectacular in its fullness as it hung above the mountains on the opposite side of the valley. It was definitely one of the brightest things I'd seen in a long time. I assumed that as I got closer, it would only become more beautiful, and I was excited to see how it would change as I approached.

However, as I dropped in elevation across the valley and neared my home I lost sight of the moon altogether as it dipped behind the mountains above Millville. I was so disappointed. I wondered how long I would need to wait before the moon rose back up above the ridge. I thought that would be long after I went to bed. I was tired, and was quickly losing stamina to stay awake. So I decided  I would simply be happy with my memory of the moon's image. That memory was good enough.

Yet, once more I was wrong. And as I pulled into my neighborhood, the moon was back, although perhaps not as full as it had appeared from the other side of the valley. Nevertheless, it was still spectacular. 

This experience reminded me of the idea of "perspective" in the act of writing. 

As writers we work on stories that excite us, stories that compel us forward as the characters develop and sort out their conflicts. When we finish, we love to share our accomplishment with our closest confidants, only to find out that our masterpiece is not as beautiful as we had thought. Closer examination from others with different outlooks and experiences brings certain trouble spots or rough patches to light. These suggestions often come with insight on how to fix them. 

And so we take another look at our manuscript, apply our changes, and make our improvements with the hope that what we end up with on the other side is just as beautiful. And often, it is. Not only that, the story in more tangible and more accessible for our readers than ever. In the same way our Super Moon was viewed and enjoyed by so many and in so many different perspectives.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

About These Things Called Distance and Time

Distance is an interesting concept.

It is intricately coupled with time.

No matter which way you may want to reason, the two are inseparable. Whether you are traveling from point A to point B, or reflecting on your past from where you have come, or pondering where you might be 5 minutes, 2 months, or 15 years from now, it is hard to think of one without the other. Even the act of reading this page involves your eyes moving across the screen, covering distance, and using time to do so.

Another thing that becomes attached to distance is emotional connections -- that is, the relationships we have with people.  No matter what distances we move through in life, we can not do so without maintaining, or creating, or reflecting on the connections we have to people that are important to us. And along with those memories, the emotions we felt in the presence of those relationships frequently rise to the surface.

I find it interesting how memories can bring me back years to a moment that brings joy, gladness, even laughter, no matter how many miles I have traveled in my daily activities since those experiences. It truly seems a both a gift and a profound enigma of the human spirit. How is it possible that the mind can fold back the entirety of distance and time like an accordion and allow us to relive a moment as though it were just within reach?

Certainly I am not alone in valuing the significance and importance of the connections we make in our lives with others. Last summer I read A Voyage for Madmen by Peter Nichols. This book chronicled the journey of nine men who were the first to set out on solo races around the globe, a journey where each sailor could not dock nor set foot on land unless they were to forfeit their race. Not all of them made it. At least one died after losing his sanity, likely in part due to loss of human interaction. Yet one thing I found most interesting was comparing how each man prepared for their journey. It seemed that the degree of each man's success hinged on whether they packed mementos, books, music, radios -- things that would not help them physically survive such a long and dangerous journey through the far reaches of the southern hemisphere, but things that would help them feel connected to people when vast distances would separate them from those they loved most. It has since occurred to me that perhaps the mind has the capability to shelter us in some sort of fantasy whenever it's needed -- the wayward wanderings of the mind can take us to wherever we need to be at any moment in time.

I can't imagine having to spend a year alone on a small boat with nothing but an endless ocean stretching to all horizons. While I enjoy sailing, I don't venture out without company -- the best part of the experience is having significant others along for the ride. So trying to understand the mentality of the solo globe-racers was most difficult for me.

It all comes back to distance. It's something that is so tangible in some respects, such as that with the pavement beneath our feet, and yet so intangible that its true nature can barely be perceived for what it is. Distance, as it is perceived from one individual to the next, really must become a personal concept -- truly imagined and intertwined within the inner workings of the mind, where it becomes layered with its own set of emotions and its own set of rules regarding the interpretation of time.  Folding and unfolding and refolding again, while inexplicably strengthening the bonds we have to those we love while letting others go. I suppose our interpretation of the scale of the world around us depends on what we allow ourselves to believe.... where it is that we want to be and where it is that we feel we must go.

No matter whether you are a physicist tackling the location of the outer boundaries of space, or a writer simply musing as words fill space on a page, I believe that at any given moment in time we likely find ourselves connecting to others who are both within and beyond our reach. The curiosity of it all is how that unfolds in our daily activities. Are we trapped by distance? Are we trapped by time? Our are they constantly rolling out in front of us, along with a list of infinite possibilities wating to be reached.