Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Holiday/Vacation Days Might Reveal...

Håkan Nesser auf dem Blauen Sofa
Håkan Nesser auf dem Blauen Sofa (Photo credit: Das blaue Sofa) Flickr
If you want a quick writer's vacation/holiday, look around you for a safe, private, open field or a public or private lake that you have access to, or just anywhere outside away from the too-familiar places, and preferably where there are some of your favorite nature things. Lakes, ponds, ocean beaches (quiet strands or rocky places are essential), or a hilly place with a view, some shade, and safely not in use by anyone but you. 

Take along a few vital elements like plenty of water, a sandwich, and some fruit or a light snack. Take plenty of whatever you might need, as well as, possibly, a light umbrella to shield from the sun. Oh, and a blanket or, if you plan to go out in a boat or canoe on some calm river, take some cushions for comfort of bum and back.

I am half-way through an Inspector Van Veeteren detective story (Swedish author, Hakan Nesser, beautifully translated into English) that I've read before. A tough case with elusive sources of discovery plagues the chief inspector who is helping in another locale, one week from his own scheduled holiday. He's even thinking of retiring to co-manage a bookshop that needs help while also having more time for daily newspapers and people not necessarily involved in crime-solving. Maybe an interesting woman in his life.

He takes a day off during a lull in this case while other detectives and police on the team continue to track what little information they have to go on. Chief Inspector Van Veeteren is not in charge of the case, but has been called in by another locality. Right now, he is heavily depended upon by a local acting chief of police, a young man faced with his first report of a missing person, possibly a murder.

On the day off in the midst of all of this, Inspector Van Veeteren leaves the town where he's lodged in a small hotel. He walks some distance to a river where he rents a canoe. He puts into the canoe, before stepping in and almost upsetting it, his cushions, sun-umbrella, water and some food he brought along. Oh, and his briefcase. 

He is taking a short holiday in the middle of the case that has very few clues so far. Only an anonymous phone call. Van Veeteren is not at all  showing a lack of care by taking this break. He is actually working on the case in another way. Among other reflections, he thinks about a recent conversation with a new friend...about reason and intuition. 

This day, on the river where he eventually pulls in to a quiet space along the bank, he tries to let his mind rest and to see if intuition once again might reveal or at least hint something to him. 

Inspector Van Veeteren and his team do not take crime lightly. They do not "enjoy" their jobs. They do not say so, but any reader can infer that they are called to what they do. They become violently ill on their first hard cases. They lose sleep. They stay away from home for days and nights on end, if needed. They work through heat, cold, and in spite of strange witnesses or possible informants. 

Van Veeteren is thinking of writing his memoirs, but one suspects he will never get to them, that he will not yet retire, that he will keep on doing the hard job that needs his attention right now. It also bears mentioning that the inspector is not a "religious" man, but he seems to know the Bible, telling a teenager, who is overly protective of her religious sect's teachings and teachers, that surely she's heard of the Bible and to go to it and read Isaiah 55:8.  

Meanwhile, the mind, body, and subconscious assistance of the chief inspector require a holiday afternoon with river, canoe, water and snacks, sun umbrella...and briefcase. Hoping for reason and intuition to work together, to give a hint, a thought, something...a thread.   
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Monday, July 23, 2012

Blinding Pride Put on the Bench: NCAA Deals with Failures in Penn State and Football Leadership

English: National Collegiate Athletic Associat...
National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) logo.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  "Think about the victims...think about what they were going through..." --Desmond Howard, 7/23/12 --ESPN college football analyst, Heisman Trophy winner, University of Michigan and NFL player 

Moral failures caused extreme damage to children, and a long-standing cover-up of a coach's habitual sexual abuse in the athletic building ended in criminal charges for the perpetrator and disgrace for the Littany Lions football program at Pennsylvania State (Penn) University.  The disgrace was magnified by the "failure of those in power to protect children" (NCAA statement, 7/23/12).  Once exposed, the facts about horrible behaviors by one coach and extensive cover-up within the sports program and university leadership at large became a shocking national story. 

The National Collegiate Athletic Association, NCAA, of which the Penn program is a member, today revealed its decisions on penalties in effect for the next four years and, in the case of the football win record, for the period from 1998 to 2012. The NCAA wants the culture of football at Penn to change, and imposed penalties on Penn State due to serious, crippling offenses and failures at the top leadership in the football program, the athletics program, and the university--when its leadership did not tell criminal authorities of reports that a man near the top, on the university campus, was horribly, shamefully, and cruelly using children, assaulting them, and in the athletic building. Protection of children was put away so as to protect one man and one athletic program, and from that point crime and character failures continued, grew, and spread.  

NCAA president, Mark Emmert, decided to focus on institutional responsibility rather than individual failures within one large, powerful segment of the university. Many would say that sports, overall, has become a too-powerful presence on college and university campuses. 

Many of us have looked to sports for enjoyment, as players or as spectators. Outstanding sports biographies continue to inspire, presented in news articles, books, and movies. One feature of the names that last has been the outstanding courage and character of sports coaches and the development of strong character and skills of players. 

This news of the NCAA sanctions and penalties upon a famous and "revered" university sports program carries much farther than one campus, one sport, and one college sports association. This news carries a warning to each one of us. Great responsibilities and tight accountability rest on teachers, and that includes coaches, writers, and all of us who touch the lives of others in any training or teaching capacity.   

Many in sports--and I will add, religious and other--communities forget or choose to ignore the truth that offenses by people in authority cannot be isolated if ignored. Wrongs covered over or denied grow like an invasive disease within the system, touching the weak and the innocent as well as the powerful and the guilty. The deeper the wrongs, the greater the likelihood of damage that spreads like a fog of poison to kill, paralyze, or in other ways harm the life of an entire institution.   

It is sad, definitely, that young athletes at Penn State, innocent of any involvement in the scandal and the resulting legal case, do now suffer. The entire student body and teaching staff are affected by this fog released by silence, the failure of people who should have known better than not to speak up for the weak.  

This is a case of biblical proportions. The wrongs of each person matter beyond themselves, their privacy and individual choices. There is no such thing as "as long as it does not hurt, or touch, anybody else." What does not affect others? What actions do not affect others? And, in this case, children were cruelly treated and caused to fear one man, and anyone close to him. He had immense power over them, their families, and beyond, and what they went through, what they continue to suffer, is a horrible part, now, of a once-great university.    

Good can spread, too, and that is the word of hope. The new football coach at Penn State, Bill O'Brien, has issued a positive statement about dealing with the NCAA-imposed penalties and sanctions. His statement, to his credit, included no complaining. This suggests that he has a correct perspective about where the worst damage has been done...to children who look to important people for protection, not for use and abuse.  

Bill O'Brien offered a mature statement about going forth to do the job he was hired to do within the new situation. He would have every right and much understanding if he decided to leave Penn State, given what he has inherited. If he does stay, many will be pulling for him to do an outstanding and exemplary job...to gain the respect of players and to be a good moral and skills influence upon them. He can, if he chooses, influence the future of players and, ultimately, an entire university and its massive alumni population and fan base...for good. And shame on those who do not support his football program, win or lose.

Writers face the same temptations that brought down Penn State football program to the new level at which it must learn to function. Writers are encouraged within themselves or by others outside themselves to weaken a message while strengthening "appeal," to express points of view in fiction and elsewhere that are popular, "acceptable," and currently part of the easier routes of life.

This means that we must carefully consider why we favor one view or another.

In this case, protecting children is the top priority, far above sports or institutional wins. One hopes that Penn State students, also paying the reverberating price of others' moral and leadership failure, will be helped to realize that innocent children's lives...and their families' lives...have been devastatingly harmed in the most disgusting of power-plays of an adult on a child. The price that must be paid by a university and its fans is nothing compared to the life-long, heavy, and debilitating price already paid by innocent children placed in the care of an adult who, later, was protected by other powerful people. 

It is right that pride be benched in the sports and life of Penn State, as well as other institutions. It is right that idols be removed.     

Copyright (c) 2012 Author Support at Blogger

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Saturday, July 7, 2012

"Waiting for the World to Change"

1000 Pennies for Your Thoughts - NARA - 534149
Photo credit: Wikipedia
Writing ideas fly into my thoughts, perch like sparkly, nervous little birds, and wait there. Sometimes. Other times, that does not happen. A little theme darts into mind and flashes out again, not staying long enough to develop. It flies away with barely a trace. I savored a trace recently, the words "...waiting for the world to change into a better, a more hospitable place..." (Zoe Wicomb). When I had more time, I expected, the ideas those words generated would emerge. 

When I returned to them, however, they had flown, leaving only the same trace of  someone else's words.    

When this happens, it is not as though holy writ has disappeared. Yet, missing being part of the development does leave a little trace of its own, of reminder of how fleeting thought can be. 

If we can, we expand on meaningful thoughts when they arrive in their strongest light. If we must get going, cannot stay longer due to something else drawing our attention or remembrance, then, as someone I admire says, "it is what it is."

Sparks of inspiration come. What they represent in a larger scheme is a more difficult matter to discern. When ideas fly away, we wonder:

"Did i miss something really useful or important?" 

For us writers, waiting for "a great idea" is not part of habit or practicality. Instead of the flown thoughts, we resort often to small nudges of other thoughts that lead to different places than we intended.

I've read that fiction plots and characters often do this, as if on their own. 
It takes time and work. This heartens me. Work, rather than wait.
And, when not writing, read.

Does this strike a note with you?


Source of the opening quote: South African author Zoe Wicomb, Playing in the Light: A Novel (Kindle Location page 46). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.  
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Monday, July 2, 2012

Jane Eyre showed me how I really feel about...

Decorative element of preface in Jane Eyre : a...
Decorative element of preface in Jane Eyre : an autobiography (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I love classic stories, yet have learned that I am not as attuned as I once was to the unabridged version of one. I have changed more than I liked to think or imagine. After all, I am among those who fight the day's drift toward predictable answers, fast fixes, and quick-to-please formulas.

I thought I enjoyed long descriptive writing when exceptionally well done. And I know I enjoy natural things. I can almost lose myself sitting in a garden gazing at sky, flowers, or trees, especially tall pines.
                     However, I have recently learned that I can get too much of even the best writing; this realization came as I was re-reading Jane Eyre while on several days' break recently.  

The wake-up happened at the point where Jane learned of Mr. Rochester's love for her, and soon after came another long description of gardens, sky, breezes, and an insect, and I realized I had had enough of garden descriptions, sky, and wind, if not many moths. I then considered myself to be so shallow, after all; but I had to confess to myself and put the book down for a long rest before I might run into more of nature's details.

A film version of Jane Eyre that I'd not seen before had, just before I began the re-reading, come to my attention on vacation as I languished with a Kindle reader sans Jane Eyre. I realized that the movie version had been shortened more than others. I sort of fussed about this abbreviation, thereby showing the romantic (including shades of the purist) tendencies that sometimes emerge within me. I wanted "the whole thing," and that's what led to downloading a free copy for the free Kindle reader on my gift iPad (all of that to reinforce my practical side). 

I thought I wanted the whole thing until I got the book, read excitedly up to about the middle, and then began to yawn, not for lack of sleep, but from impatience. "Get on with it!" I wanted to shout to that amazing author.

"There are some things we believe we want until we get them," and the expression remains classically true. When the full, unabridged version of a book, object, or person emerges, we may realize that this was not the story, thing, or real life character we anticipated.

Jane Eyre shows the author's impressive insights gained during a seemingly, perhaps deceivingly (to our thinking) sparse existence; Charlotte Bronte was one of three children of a struggling, devout parson. Whereas Emily, her sister, showed the power of open emotional passions and attachments (Wuthering Heights), Charlotte showed the equal power of hidden emotional fires, the creative and the destructive (remember the third floor occupant) in Jane Eyre.  

Both Bronte women found expression for intense longing, sometimes unassuaged, sometimes self-controlled. Readers have not changed in willing responses to such themes well and powerfully developed. That's why Jane Eyre, in spite of passages we might begin to skim over, remains a gripping story of immense depth across multiple layers.

In that final assessment, I think we have not changed so much. 
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