Without Labor, Nothing Prospers.

Lest you think I’m sitting around doing nothing tonight, I’ve posted another great blog you should all be reading.

Julie Rowse

I’m looking back at the 90+ drafts I have here on my blog. Here’s one I started last November. I originally titled it “Football From Where I Sit.” When I finished it tonight, I took a different direction. The new title is a quote from Sophocles.

Two years ago, one of the assistant football coaches brought a contraption down to my classroom and said, “I thought you and your journalism staff might be interested in this. You can use this website called High School Cube and broadcast games.”

The wheels in my mind took off. I researched the product and the website and thought we just might be able to make it work. A rabid sports fan myself, I’d been trying to build more sports coverage into the journalism program. That season, we just ran video for football. No audio. We taped up the mic as best we could and…

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Whisper Listing

For this week’s blog, I’ll direct you to this great story by M.C. Tuggle. Check it out.

M.C. Tuggle, Writer

Whisper Listing

“In transactions involving haunted real estate, the rule is not only caveat emptor but also caveat venditor.”

The looming presidential election is shaping up as a combination fiasco and tragedy of such staggering proportions, the only thing we can do is laugh. So in a desperate act of escapism, I wrote a satirical flash fiction piece entitled “Whisper Listing.” It’s featured in the latest issue of Bewildering Stories. Here’s hoping it provides a bit of comic relief to our ongoing political agony.

(In real estate, a “whisper listing” is a house for sale in a market restricted to a select group of potential buyers. Celebrities often use them to avoid publicity.)

* Be sure to check out Challenge 680 linked at the end of my story!

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My summer in Gravity Falls

BEWARE, MINOR SPOILERS LIE AHEAD–THOUGH I DID MY BEST TO AVOIDE IT BY BEING INTENTIONALLY VAGUE HERE AND THERE . . . .

 

From June 2012 to February 2016 the Disney Channel and its little brother Disney X.D. did something uncharacteristic. It regularly aired a little show that did not fit in with much of its standard fare at the time. It’s a cartoon called Gravity Falls and it centers on twins Dipper and Mabel Pines as they spend a summer with their . . . unique . . . Great Uncle Stan. Gravity Falls is not only rife with jokes for grown ups (check out some here and here) but also has subversive counterculture, conspiracy theory, and anti-establishment content that is, in a way, contrary to a lot of what the Disney Corporation expresses in other shows on its channels. One of the main characters (Grunkle Stan) is a straight up crook. Seriously, he runs a scam gift shop called the Mystery Shack and is all about taking money from tourist rubes. And there are several . . . even some locals:

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Tyler Cutebiker can’t decide. What shirt would you choose? The panther or the puma?

The teens on the show often misbehave and are rarely called on it. In “The Inconveniencing” they break into a haunted convenient store, cause some damage, and, from a legal and/or parenting perspective, they get away with it and basically learn nothing . . . you know, a typical activity for typical teens . . . . There is, of course, one backlash from their night in a haunted convenience store:

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However, the children are, in fact, not universally smarter than the adults. For those who’ve had the misfortune to have children at the right age to watch the plethora of idiotic fathers and overbearing mothers inhabiting everything from Girl Meets World to K.C. Undercoverthis should be refreshing. Oftentimes, Dipper and Mabel need help from their uncle and, to a lesser extent, his Zen-like assistant Soos. Both men are knowledgable, helpful, and, in many ways, far smarter than Dipper and Mabel. You know, like real life, because they’re grownups. There are openly gay police officers. Furthermore, one key villain, Gideon Gleeful, is an overweight kid who can get himself into comedic situations, but is, in truth, kind of terrifying due to his power and mentality. In other words, he’s not there specifically for comic relief (as overweight kids tend to be in Disney Channel productions). And finally, the nerdy kids on other Disney Channel shows usually have one purpose and one purpose only–to be the butt of jokes. Not so here. Dipper Pines (whose real name, by the way, is Mason–conspiracy anyone?) is the nerdiest and, along with his sister Mabel, he’s the main character.

In many ways, it is the one show the Disney Channel has ever aired that I don’t cringe a little when I watch. Okay. All cards on the table, Phineas and Ferb is pretty all right too (despite the clueless parents) and I’ve heard good things about Star vs. The Forces of Evil. Don’t worry about those though. Watch Gravity Falls first.

Anyway.

You can now stream all 40 episodes of Gravity Falls on Hulu Plus so you should probably stop reading this and go enjoy the best television show Disney has ever produced.

I know that’s a bold statement, you guys, I know. You’ve probably never heard of the show’s creator, Alex Hirsch. He’s no Hayao Miazaki. He’s no John Lasseter. He’s no Tim Burton. He’s no Walt Disney. But he is Alex Hirsch. And his storytelling ability, and his heart, which comes through in every episode, combined with his simple animation that is nevertheless full of visual jokes, puns, and hidden messages, could very well be the future of television animation.

But I don’t think that’s why I enjoy this show so much. I mean, obviously, good animation is a plus and funny jokes always make me happy. But Gravity Falls’s main appeal is its protagonists. They’re so real. They’re not characters, you guys, they’re people. Despite the fact that Gravity Falls is a silly cartoon with many outlandish supporting characters, situations, and locales, as the show progresses, the protagonists grow, develop, and change. Over the course of the summer, Dipper and Mabel’s adventures change them and those around them. The twins are 12 at the beginning of summer and 13 at the end. They go through trials and tribulations that have legitimate effects on them. In a sense, the series reminds me of such classic coming of age films as Stand by Me and The Goonies . . . with a dash of the classic Fright Night thrown in for fun. What I’m saying is, by the 40th episode, Dipper, Mabel, Stanley, Soos, and Wendy are different people because of what they go through. For Disney Channel shows, this is an amazing feat. I mean, as I mentioned above, I like Phineas and Ferb too but there isn’t any growth, development, or change there. Most importantly with Gravity Falls, all the mystery, all the adventure, all the growth begins when Dipper discovers a book. There’s another thing about this show I happen to love–books are important.

Because I haven’t had much in the way of cable for many, many years, I purchased the first season a couple of years ago on Amazon Prime and watched it several times, always angry when I got to that season’s cliffhanger ending:

But this summer, Hulu Plus released the entire series and I was ecstatic:

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I hate to point out the obvious but #Hulu has made #summerbreak day 36 the best day of my life. #gravityfalls

My daughter and I watched the whole thing. Since the show takes place over one summer, I thought watching it over our summer would be fun.

I was right.

That said, when the show ended my daughter cried. She asked me, rubbing her eyes at about 1:00am one July morning as we turned the television off from our last adventure in Gravity Falls, OR, “Why did I watch this whole show with you?” But she was smiling too. She didn’t want it to end because she didn’t want to stop hanging out with the real people she met every time we turned it on, but she knew she had to. Yes, we would miss Dipper, Mabel, Stanford, Stanley, Soos, Wendy, even Waddles the pig and all the other supporting characters, but summer, like all good things, always ends. Me? I had some dust or an eyelash in my eye, but that’s all.

*le sigh*

Hirsch and crew created 40 20 minute episodes of a crazy cartoon world that I know my daughter and I will never forget. Chances are, we won’t be able to because I think we will revisit it every summer for the rest of our lives . . . and maybe every winter . . . .

And I think you should too.

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#summerbreak

In case you didn’t know, I’m not only a writer. I’m also a teacher. Every summer for the last three years, I have used Instagram to photographically record my summer days. I have counted down (up?) my substantial break time. I have also done it at spring break, and holiday break.

I don’t tend to get a lot of comments on the spring or holiday break photos since, collectively, they equal out to be about 25 days. In the average calendar year, 25 days don’t mean a lot (depending on what takes place in said 25 days I suppose). But I often get comments asking me why I do this during the summer. I mean, I photographically recording upwards of 80 days worth of events with the hashtag, #summerbreak attached to each photo, isn’t always an easy task. For instance, here is this year’s day 27 photo with its caption:

#summerbreak day 27
Bet you thought I forgot about #summerbreak day 27, didn’t you? Wrong! I drove through the vast rolling hills of eastern Iowa this afternoon and wondered why all these giant fans couldn’t keep the place cool…. Confusing….

I took that photo with a Canon T3i, loaded it onto my computer, did some minor edits, emailed it to myself, and posted it on Instagram. Usually, that’s how I do it. Sometimes I just use my phone, which is a bit easier. But it is something I have to do every day. Colleagues, friends, and family often inquire about these photos. “Why do you do that?” they ask. “It makes me feel bad,” family members and friends say (because they don’t get that many days off a year). “I don’t like concrete examples of how many days we have left of summer break,” many colleagues say (because they don’t like to be reminded of the fact that summer break, like all good things, eventually comes to an end).

 

And I’m all like, “Whatever.”

But seriously.

All my scathing wit aside, I do it because I enjoy seeing the exact number of days I am on break during the school year. It isn’t because that is the most important aspect of my job. Rather, it is one of the many aspects I use to help me come to terms with what can, at times, be a thankless career. Sometimes, despite the fact that I get many weeks off every year, I feel overworked. Sometimes, despite the fact that I have earned more degrees than most people, I feel disrespected simply because of the field I was called to . . . .

Sometimes, when these negative feelings pop up when I’m working at a job I, otherwise, love, I think of my breaks. I think of all the time I get to spend with my family, I think of all the late nights spent binge watching Parks and Rec or Stranger Things with my kids. I think of all the writing and reading I get done every summer break. I think of warm afternoons spent hanging out on my porch with my friends. I think of being home when my wife comes home from work. I think of motorcycle rides on odd Monday mornings. You guys . . . I even think of all the time I get to plan lessons . . . . In short, I think of all of the fun I have during the summer (and to a lesser degree the holiday and spring breaks).

And I smile.

Teachers don’t have many perks, the breaks are a few of them. If you’d like to see more of mine than day 27, check out my Instagram.

On the process

So this summer I finished writing a novel tentatively titled “First Born” that I’ve been working on for a while. Actually, I finished it again . . . . I originally finished it in January or February. I can’t remember. Sometimes when I’m really into something I’m working on time gets squishy and blobish, kind of like a murky lake and I find myself paddling through it on a rickety boat full of holes. It takes my complete concentration to survive. I can’t be bothered with things like time, dates . . . or eating . . . .

Anyway.

When I first finished, I let it rest for a few months. Upon the end of the school year, I returned to it. It took me most of the summer, but I went through the whole thing, editing, adding, subtracting, researching (because it takes place in Nebraska in 1924 because I’m an idiot), and basically swimming through the wide, cold lake of the revision process. It is the lake right next to the one I’m in when I write. Yes, when I’m writing it, the thing feels like a monstrosity that I must stay floating above. When editing, I’m in the thick of it, swimming like an alligator at the water’s surface.

Now, however, I’m sitting on the bank. I’m dripping wet and shivering from the journey through the frigid water. But I’m satisfied . . . for the time being. I have called upon three colleagues and friends to dive into the novel and critique it for me. In case you’re wondering, these people are doing it with a little guidance. I told them lots of things about the book, most importantly though, I told them this: “The last five chapters are awful, seriously, seriously awful.” And they are. They’re more like pale imitations of what will one day be amazing chapters. But I had to stop for the time being. I had to.

Anyway.

Once they’re done, I shall return to the water. I shall dive deep. I shall swim through the fallen trees on the lake bottom and make friends with the trash eating fish who live there. I will learn their ways. I will develop a taste for the waste and I shall gobble it all up, removing it from the story entirely. I shall lose myself in the murky depths.

When I come up for air, “First Born” will be completely edited for the first time around . . . and I will be willing to share it with the rest of the world.

And that, dear reader, is the writing process.

Love, death, and time

After hitting the blog only half as much as I normally do in July, and touching on political and social issues of the day, I’ve decided I’m jumping back into something I’m good at, something that makes me happy (not angry, sad, and/or confused).

I’m giving you guys a writing lesson.

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We all know what a story’s plot it, right? If not, check out this and this. They’ll help. It’s simple, really. A protagonist has a desire and there are all sorts of things preventing them from achieving said desire.

BOOM. Plot.

But premise is a little bit different and that’s what I’m writing about today. The premise is what lies beneath the plot, what directs it. The premise tells readers what the story is really about. In The Art of Dramatic Writing , (which I highly recommend) Lajos Egri explains that a premise can almost always be summed up in a simple statement such as:

  • An unquenchable desire for more leads to a desire for less (The Great Gatsby)
  • An unhappy marriage leads to mental, physical, and emotional pain (Gone Girl)
  • War leads to madness (Catch-22)
  • Arrogance leads to sadness (Great Expectations)
  • Etc, etc, etc, etc . . . .

While Egri’s explanation about premise is a great one, one that I subscribe to, and one that I firmly believe, he leaves out something deeper. All of these premises may be true. But there is more. All premises fall under three distinct themes:

  1. Love
  2. Death
  3. Time

Mankind desires love, mankind fears death, and mankind struggles with time. In many stories one of these themes is prevalent, but in most they work together to offer readers one of any number of premises like the ones I mentioned earlier. So something a writer might want to do is search for these three themes in their work. Is there a desire for love, a fear of death, and/or a struggle with time somewhere in the words? If not, then chances are the writer has no theme, which means the writer has no premise . . . .

Which means the writer has no story.

Which means the writer is no true writer at all.

Recognize

I happened upon this video the other day:

The guy in it, Akala, makes some good points. I am particularly taken with the phrase “normalized insanity.”

Also saw this guy:

When I watched it, I was like, “Whoa, Tim Wise is pretty smart too.” He quotes W.E.B Dubois, by referencing ‘the psychological wage of whiteness,’ that rich whites gave to poor whites years ago so they could better control them. Having spent the first 10 years of my life in various trailer parks on the bank of the Mississippi River (as a poor white), I can tell you the truth of this ‘wage of whiteness.’ I’ve seen it in action.

Neither of these men speak in hyperbole or romantic prose. They speak in facts. Put what they say together and it’s hard to deny.

Our society is racist and afraid of difference. It is. There’s no two ways around it. I could cite example after example that starts with European immigrants and explorers’ treatment of indigenous people and goes right on up through to today and the way many people view transgendered individuals. True, it’s not as bad as it has been. However, we’ve reached a point when many of us are waking up to the systemic issues that have plagued society since before any of us were here. Look, Ma, social media isn’t all bad! Racism, of course, is one of those issues. Many of us are seeing that those with power have not only let racism grow in strange, eerie, monstrous ways, but have, to some degree–intentional or otherwise–enforced its growth.

Does all of this mean those of us who point it out are anti-police? Or that I, or anyone who recognizes this racism, place black lives on a higher level than any other lives? No. There are several analogies out there explaining why #blacklivesmatter does not mean all other lives are worthless (I’ll link you to a few if you still need the explanation). I will also offer you this meme:

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It is basically a simplification of points made in Wise‘s speech. In order for things to change we must, as an entire people, work together and recognize that things need changing. We must see through the curtain of controlled racism that has divided and conquered us for ages, and we must, ourselves, change.

When the people change, society does.

It’s kind of how it works . . . .

These are hard truths for some. I know. But when I can regularly walk down the street in the middle of the night, in an area of town some consider ‘bad’ (they’re wrong but whatever), and have little to no fear of police harassment, while a black man my age can’t, there’s a problem. When a man running for president can get cheers from thousands of people when he blames his country’s problems on Mexicans or Muslims, there is a problem. When prisons, schools, and medicine, are corporatized, there is a problem.

When the few control the many (as has been the way since the beginning of our great oligarchy), there is a problem.

The problem is there. The best way to solve it is to first recognize it exists.