Monday, February 27, 2006

Back from Vacation

I'm back. We had a great time in New Zealand. The Middle Earth of movie fame is a lovely place in real life, although a true Tolkien fan might be surprised to see the many sheep that coat the rolling greens in white fur. We saw so many sheep, in fact, that we began to joke that every domestic animal in New Zealand must be some form of a sheep. So, for example, we would say that we saw some shorses along the way, as well as a few shogs, shats, shows, shoats, and shigs. We even saw a couple shamas and shemus. Not many, though. We mostly just saw sheep.

I'm glad to be home, and I'm especially glad to be contemplating my work again. Three weeks is about as long as I ever like to be away from my routine. As it is, I expect to take another week just to get my head back into the story that I've been working on for the past several months (more on that soon).

Saturday, February 04, 2006


This is going to be my last post for a while, because I'm going on a long vacation.

Since I don't want to make anyone insanely jealous about where I'm going, I'm not going to tell you, other than maybe this little hint: I'll be hunting coneys. And that's all I'm going to say.

Maybe I'll find time to post an update while I'm away. Otherwise, I'll see you all in a while.

Keep writing, everyone! (I certainly plan to write...maybe...once in a while...Okay, probably not very much.)

"A Farewell to Arms" (Part II)

In terms of volition, there are at least three kinds of heroes in literature: Accidental, Bumbling, and Goal-directed. Lieutenant Henry is an example of an Accidental Hero. He pulls off feats only in the face of grave or sudden adversity. He rises to meet life’s challenges and so deserves credit for pulling off a difficult stunt now and then.

Consider two men flying a Cessna aircraft, a pilot and his non-pilot friend. When the pilot suddenly dies of a heart attack, what will the non-pilot do? If he goes berserk or makes bad decisions, he will likely crash the plane and die. If he shows ingenuity, he may extend his life or even survive against all odds; this is the Accidental Hero, and I suspect that many people, to the extent of their physical and mental capabilities, would rise up and become such a hero if their highest values were threatened. Henry is such a hero; he deals with adversity only when it comes his way, though not always successfully.

The Bumbling Hero, on the other hand, isn’t a hero at all. If he lands the plane, it’s because he mystically manages to push all the right buttons and pulls all the right knobs while singing “Tweetle-dee” and ejaculating about his “awfully bad luck,” and while not displaying a scintilla of good sense. How many billions of times can writers churn out these obnoxious rubber ducks? Ask Hollywood.

There's a third and better kind: The Goal-directed Hero. He is the one who bends circumstances to his will. In literature, he is the originator both of conflict with his enemies and of resolution by his own action. By “conflict with his enemies” I don’t mean that he initiates force against others. I mean that in the pursuit of his goals, he will necessarily encounter resistance (in the context of literature) and will overcome them (in the context of my literature), this in contrast to the Accidental Hero whose antagonists, by their primary actions, cause him to rise up and act in self defense. My protagonist—the Goal-directed Hero—will always take (positive) action first.

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Friday, February 03, 2006

"A Farewell to Arms" (Part I)

[I just finished reading this short novel by Hemingway, so here's my review of it.]

Hemingway is very good at creating a kind of naturalistic tale that I don't care for at all. Even so, I find myself being drawn back into his stories, more as a writer than as a reader. The artist in me gets curious. I realize after reading a story that I don't remember how the characters spoke or how they looked. For that matter, I don't remember ever feeling the need to know more about them, yet I clearly remember the events that happened in their lives.

So why do I keep reading a story in which I don't really know the characters—or is it that I know more about them than I realize? These are questions I would like to answer, because then maybe I could stop reading Hemingway and be satisfied.

I think it's partly the male in me that draws me back to Hemingway, since his stories have an unusually masculine—and also intellectual—style and mythos about them. They're like reading a much smarter Zane Grey. Lines are drawn sparsely—little more than thin, gray sketch marks—yet a single strike may carry all the drama of a gunshot. Where Zane Grey may have a gun battle raging in every other chapter, first when a furious bear attacks, then Indians, then more Indians, then a corrupt sheriff, and so on, Hemingway may save that single gunshot until it carries the weight of everything, like spiritual death, loss, tragedy, alienation, hopelessness, and destitution—always destitution.

The masculinity of the story may also explain why I don't really see the intimate details of Hemingway's characters. A lot of men—especially the most outwardly masculine ones—tend to deal with each other at arm's length, taking what they need and nothing more, and not dwelling too long on “inconsequentials”. (Personally, I think this is caused more by mind-body disintegration than by the nature of masculinity, but that's a topic for a different discussion.) In any case, all of Hemingway's characters are rendered in this fashion. You know about them only by the way they flick their cigarette or cast their reel.

[Spoilers Follow]

A Farewell to Arms doesn't really have a plot in the proper sense, meaning a purposeful progression of events. The story consists mainly of plodding reactions, not purposeful pro-action. The question is decidedly not: what is Lieutenant Henry’s goal and how will he achieve it despite the war? Rather, the question is: Will Henry emerge from the challenge of war intact, slightly altered, nearly destroyed, or not at all? In other words: What will the war do to Henry?

He is “caught up in” turmoil, but he does not create the turmoil; it creates him. Nature and cruel fates always act upon him, and always he must react. I just don't see how a good plot could ever come from such a victim-centered viewpoint.

In college Literature courses, this book is often presented as a propaganda story against war. But if this were true, one would expect the war to be shown as the cause of Henry's troubles, even if only the ultimate cause. In fact, it doesn't matter that Henry is caught up in a war. He could be entangled in just about any series of unfortunate events, say a revolution or a volcanic eruption, because the war itself is rarely mentioned. Even his decision to join the war was an afterthought, like a young man deciding between buying this car or buying that one.

I think there's a much deeper battle going on in this story, something more frightening than what you'd find in the more colloquial and homey naturalism of, say, a Sinclair Lewis or F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hemingway puts Henry in the worst of circumstances—any circumstance will do—and then makes him do nothing except wait, sometimes lie, and finally run away. Henry rarely acts except to save himself, never pro-actively to gain or keep his values. And this is why I don't think Hemingway cared nearly as much about the war as he did about his own tortured psychological state.

So, naturally, Henry had to lose his wife and child—that is, his highest values. It would be wrong to say that he also lost his self, because he never attained it nor even thought of pursuing it. Perhaps this is where Hemingway inadvertently confesses his own view of mankind's place in this universe—not as initiator, but as pawn—and worse, pawn of a mean and angry universe. No wonder Hemingway was an alcoholic.

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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Public Service Announcement: Flu Season

I've been playing Mom for the past week, because unfortunately my partner came down with a pretty healthy case of the flu. Did you know that mere sniffling, sneezing, and coughing are just child's play in comparison to a full-on flu? I didn't even know what he had at first, because neither of us really get sick except for maybe a two-day cold every once in a rare while. Anyway, the moral of this story is that I got my flu shot earlier this year but my partner didn't, and now the worst I seem to be feeling is a headache and a slightly runny nose, and I'm soooo glad to know that I'm not going to get as sick as he was.

So next year, everybody, go out and get your flu shot! Believe me, it's worth the inconvenience.