March 02, 2003
The Mattress Fund

I love to sing solo, but I also love to harmonize. Singing with a group or with accompaniment offers a different kind of enjoyment from performing on your own. You have to be attentive to different things, more in tune with your fellows, which in some ways can limit where you can go but in other ways expands the reach of your performance.

Writing solo and writing collaboratively is much the same. I find writing alone to offer unlimited possibilities, but the discipline of writing with someone else helps me to hone skills that might otherwise go undeveloped. I've been fortunate to enjoy several strong writing partnerships in the past, so when a friend of mine who writes screenplays asked if I'd like to collaborate on a project, I said, "Yes."

Jamie and I mapped out a show "bible" and pilot episode for a proposed television series based upon some concepts he'd been wanting to explore. The work we did on the screenplay was a fantastic learning experience. Jamie and I squashed each others' weak points (mine is a tendency toward exposition, in case you couldn't guess) and played off each others' strengths. We were both happy with the results, as were a number of readers whose judgement we trust.

We had such a good time that now we're exploring the possibility of working together on a novel. We're also working on some humor projects together. While working on the television script, Jamie also pulled me into a project he was developing that pokes fun at the high-tech stock bubble and the current state of mutual funds.

We posted the finished product on a web site: The Mattress Fund. We're in the process of putting together a smaller version that will stream faster, but if you have a good connection and a few minutes to kill, please check it out and let me know what you think. Oh, and if you have any problems downloading, please let me know that, too.

Posted by at 10:39 PM in the following Department(s): Humor , Writing | Comments (2)
 March 06, 2003
More Technology Woes For Me

A couple of entries ago, I mentioned how I'd had a bad technology week, but that everything should be smooth driving ahead. Well, I guess we all could have predicted what happened afterward.

The car? It died *again*, in exactly the same manner. I took it to the shop yesterday morning for the *fourth time* to deal with this problem.

The "Mattress Fund" website? The Windows Media movie apparently won't play, as currently configured, on Windows XP (although it works fine on Mac). Ack! We're still tracking that bug down.

Another web site I've been working on took me an entire week to do what I'd planned on being able to do in one day.

The new computer is great... except the software I need on a daily basis isn't working so well on the new machine. I need OS X versions of the software, which means more upgrading. Etc., etc., etc.

Isn't technology supposed to make our lives easier? My old 1966 Rambler Classic never had the kind of problems that my 1996 Passat is having... and, hell, I could fix that old car *myself* without the aid of a computer diagnostic kit that keeps lying about what the problem is.

And computers! Why, I never had to upgrade from a number two pencil to a number three pencil because Paper 6.5 didn't support it. [sigh]

And if a horse kept breaking his leg the way my car keeps breaking down, you simply shot it and got the whole thing done with!

And if you wanted to share a visual joke with somebody, you just flat out showed them. You didn't have to worry if their eyeglasses were compatible with your sight gag. Feh.

You kids today, you just don't underst . . . oops. Gotta go -- my cell phone is ringing. More later.

Posted by at 11:30 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits | Comments (5)
 March 13, 2003
You Dirty Rat

Friends, Ropersons*, and Countrypersons*:

I have recently been declared a rat. A Webrat. The Webrats are a loose affiliation of speculative fiction writers who keep online journals. That, or they are an affiliation of loose speculative fiction writers. Or, they keep loose online journals. Or something.

To learn more about the order of the Webrats, click here. If you read it, you'll know at least as much as I do. About Webrats, that is. :-)

I think I was originally recommended to the rats by two of my Clarion West classmates about a year and a half ago. Wacky.

More soon,

--me

* I'm told that the politically correct replacement for "Romans" and "Countrymen" is "Roperchildren" and "Countryperchildren" because the word "person" has "son" in it, and must be replaced with "child", but I think that's going overboard, don't you? Wait a minute. Have I used this joke on my blog before? Hmmm.

Posted by at 11:01 PM in the following Department(s): Writing | Comments (0)
 March 14, 2003
Observations on Haunted Houses

In connection with one of my new writing projects, I have decided to dissect the structure of a couple of Stephen King novels. The project I'm working on is not horror, but my goal is to approach the structure of this new novel differently from the way I pursued the novel-formerly-known-as-The-Do-Over.

In the course of re-reading The Shining, I decided to rent the television mini-series version that King scripted a few years ago. While watching it, I was struck by how similar it was to Rose Red, that nasty mini-series (also scripted by King) in which I was a backgrounder.

Similarities:
* Well, they're haunted houses. Duh.
* The ghostly inhabitants desire the psychic powers of a young (alive) prodigy who is a guest there.
* The ghostly inhabitants pursue the young prodigy by attempting to get one of the other living occupants to go crazy and kill same.
* The living inhabitants all know that staying there is a bad idea, but are convinced by the crazy one that they should stay.
* When Glenn Miller is played, Very Bad Things happen.

There were many, many other similarities. But there were some key differences, too. For example, the third act in the Shining miniseries was actually well made and surprisingly scary. The horror arose from the brutality committed by a person, not the building or its ghostly inhabitants. It was scary because the director finally stopped showing parlor tricks (oooh, the chandelier moved, spooooky) and started showing real terror (Wendy finds that Jack is no longer locked in the pantry). The Shining also worked because, in the end, you can see that Jack is struggling to try to redeem himself. Rose Red had no such personal stakes. It's brutality was based in nothing real. It was all parlor tricks, from beginning to end.

For what it's worth, I still prefer the Stanley Kubrick version of The Shining to King's own interpretation of his novel, but let's leave that for another day. Suffice it to say that as bad as the first two acts were, the third installment of the mini-series was profoundly good.

After having viewed this remake of King's story, I chatted with Paulette about Rose Red and The Shining. She pointed out that one was a hotel, and the other a house. "But," I noted, "Rose Red was a very big house."

"Of course," she said. "Nobody's going to be scared by a haunted cottage."

This led us to talk about the diminishing returns on haunted log cabins. And haunted outhouses. ("Well, that one might keep you on the edge of your seat, I suppose.")

Hmmm. Maybe there's a short story in that. Couldn't sustain a novel, of course, because there's only one act in an outhouse. Well, two. But I digress.

In summary: horror may be most effective when the personal stakes are high. Horror can also result from really, really bad puns.

Posted by at 12:52 AM in the following Department(s): Books/Movies/Music , Writing | Comments (3)
Messy Calvin?

Paulette recently took this photo of Alexander while I was trying to feed him. Clearly, his early influences include Messy Marvin and Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes).

Alexander Wearing Squash and Peas.

It's kinda weird to note how his hair color changes from day to day. Here, it seems to me he's showing rather auburnish or reddish highlights. Some days, he's definitely got brown hair. Others, he's a blond. Go figure.

Posted by at 02:32 PM in the following Department(s): The Boys | Comments (3)
 March 16, 2003
Whose Right to Free Speech?

Should the United States go to war with Iraq? Some say we should; others say we shouldn't.

Back when I was in the sixth grade, one of my teachers, Mr. Z, sat us all down and told us there was only one thing in the world that we ever *had* to do. "Nuh-uh," was the general response. He said he didn't think we even knew what that one thing was.

"I have to take out the garbage on Thursday nights."

"No you don't."

"I have to do my homework when I get home from school."

"No you don't."

And so on when the conversation, each child holding up his or her hand to volunteer the one thing he or she had to do. Mostly, we started with chores. Then there was the occasional, "I have to breathe," or, "I have to wear a coat in the winter."

But Mr. Z kept responding that we didn't have to do those things.

So what was the one thing we *had* to do? He let us in on it: we had to pay the consequences for everything we did or didn't do.

We didn't have to wear a coat in the middle of winter. But we had to pay the consequences for that choice. We didn't have to do our homework. But we had to pay the consequences for that choice. And so on and so on. You get the picture.

This was a very liberating and a very troubling idea for a sixth-grader to behold. It gave us -- those of us who chose to think about it, anyway -- an immense sense of... responsibility. We could make any decision we wanted. It was okay. But we had to pay the consequences. Responsibility, as I've learned in the years since then, is a very powerful thing. It can be used to shape your life in any number of ways. When you accept responsibility for your life, you own it all. Success and failure alike.

Taking this principle, it is a truism that we all have the right to say whatever we want. But we also have to pay the consequences. In Soviet Russia, you could criticize the government in public. Of course, the consequences were pretty severe... severe enough to probably prevent you from being physically able to do so a second time.

Should the United States go to war with Iraq? Some say we should. Others say we shouldn't.

Happily, I was born a citizen of a country where the law says that the government shall not interfere with my right to speak one way or the other on that, or any other, issue. My friends and I have discussed this issue in public and in private. We are sometimes agreed, and sometimes we disagree. Sometimes, we raise our voices. Or, in e-mail, we might TYPE IN ALL CAPS. If I wanted to, I could even broadcast my views on the possibility of a US war in Iraq right here on this web page, where literally *dozens* of people could read it.

The only thing I would have to do is pay the consequences.

As I said, my government is proscribed by law from interfering with me for expressing my views, even if said opinions should run counter to the current administration's views. But that doesn't mean there wouldn't be consequences.

Take Martin Sheen, for instance, who has a higher profile than I do (if only a little). He has stated publicly that he disagrees with our current administration's stance on war. His language has been more colorful than that, but you get the idea. He's been rather adamant in expressing his opinions.

Now, coincidentally, this actor happens to play the President in a popular television series. The network that carries that show has expressed some concerns about the publicity surrounding Sheen's comments. Visa has stopped airing commercials featuring Sheen. And now some Hollywood folks are expressing concerns that this could escalate into a rebirth of McCarthy-era blacklisting.

Visa denies that they pulled the commercials for political reasons. Let us suppose, however, that their decision may have been at least partially influenced by the controversy surrounding Sheen's remarks. If so, does this mean that they are resorting to McCarthy-era blacklisting? I argue that the answer is, "No."

If the *government* were to step in and say, "Sheen should not be allowed to work in this industry because of his stated opinions," then that would be McCarthyism. That would be a violation of the first amendment. If an individual advertiser says, "Hmm, do we want to continue to have a controversial critic of the government representing our product," that's different. Visa, in such a case, is defending its own freedom of speech.

Speech involves more than just the text of the words. Speech includes how they are said. When an organization picks a spokesperson -- be it a rock star, an actor, a sports celebrity, or a cartoon camel -- that spokesperson becomes a part of the message. It's all fine and well to say that Martin Sheen should be allowed to speak his mind. With that, I whole heartedly agree.

But it is also appropriate for Visa to exercise its own freedom of speech. When they present their message, it is appropriate for them to evaluate whether the message is diluted because it is presented in a controversial form or through a controversial medium -- or, in this case, by a controversial spokesperson. When Visa delivers their message ("our credit cards make your life easier"), they want you to think about their message rather than think about war, the government, actors who insert themselves into the political arena, or whether you admire or hate the spokesperson for his outspoken political views.

The Dixie Chicks, during a recent concert in England, reportedly announced to the crowd that they were ashamed of the current administration in the United States. The Dixie Chicks are from Texas and, according to the report, they said they were ashamed that the President came from their home state.

In Texas, some people who hold a differing view called up radio stations and asked them to stop playing the Dixie Chicks. Some radio stations have made the decision to remove the Chicks from their playlists. Are the Dixie Chicks losing their right to speak? No. They continue to enjoy the right to express their opinions. But it is also within the purview of the radio stations to choose what message *they* want to convey. If they don't want to be identified with the Chicks' opinions (or, for that matter, if they wish to give the message that they actively disagree with the Chicks), then it is entirely reasonable for them to decide to remove the Chicks from their playlist. It is even reasonable, as was the case with one station, for them to announce that they'd rather destroy Chicks CDs than play them and encourage others to do likewise. Should that station be allowed to say such things? Should the Chicks be allowed to say what they said? *MY* opinion, of course, is that yes, they should. In both cases. The right to free speech unhindered by government intervention applies to those on both sides of any given issue. Even if they be boneheads.

Martin Sheen, the Dixie Chicks, Visa, and Dallas radio stations have the right to speak their message. You and I have the right to agree or disagree with any of them, and to express our views publicly or privately, as we see fit. But there's one thing the Constitution of the United States simply can not address: while the state is not allowed to abridge your speech, it also is powerless to save you from the consequences of your speech.

When Sheen's chosen speech is at odds with Visa's chosen speech, the two will part ways. Both parties will suffer or enjoy consequences for their decisions, both leading up to and following these events. Perhaps Sheen's decisions will lead to world peace. Perhaps it will lead him to new acting roles that he will get simply on the basis of his principled action. Perhaps it will lead to loss of work because potential employers wish to avoid controversy. Perhaps Visa will gain or lose customers on the basis of their decision to drop the Sheen ad. Perhaps the consequences for either party will be trivial.

An advertiser's aversion to controversy is not the same as McCarthyism. And while Sheen's rights should not be abridged, nor should his responsibility.

Should the United States go to war with Iraq? Some say we should, and others say we shouldn't. Some say nothing at all. But regardless of what we say or don't say, the only thing for certain is that we will all have to face the consequences of our action or inaction.

What say *you* on the topic of freedom of speech? Feel free to enter your comments... or pay the consequences for your silence!

Posted by at 10:00 PM in the following Department(s): Essays , Tidbits III | Comments (8)
 March 20, 2003
Learning to Crawl

Alexander gettin' ready to crawl.With all that's going on in the world today, my goal with this entry is not to get *too* heavy. Just a fun little pause to celebrate the ever continuing saga of "Alexander Grows Up." Alexander Benjamin has begun crawling, as of a couple days ago. And today, he turned eight months old.

He's not super fast at crawling (yet), but he can go a fair distance now without having to stop and think about what he's doing. This time last week, he'd go about one and a half paces forward, then get back into a sitting up position before moving ahead again. Made for slow progress.

We haven't child-proofed the house yet. Is that a bad thing?

Actually, Paulette has at least started to gather the chemicals from underneath the sinks and put them up on high shelves. And I make sure to unplug the phone wires before letting him play with them. So we're making *some* progress.

We've also started to watch what we say around the little guy. Paulette and I are keeping a running total of verboten words that the other says in daily conversation. This started when I suggested that Paulette uses colorful language more often than I do. She disagreed, and so the running tally began. She's winning so far. I think the score is something like 427 to 1. We started two days ago.

Alexander happy to crawl.Another recent change as Alexander hits the two-thirds-of-a-year-old mark: his strong grip has become a vice grip. And his fingernails have become claws. My left arm is covered in short, deep scratches. When I change his diaper on the changing table, I always set him down so his head is to my left and his bottom to my right. As I undress him, etc., he likes to reach down and grab my left arm. Youch!

Alexander is generally a happy baby. He recently recovered from a cold, which wasn't necessarily his most favoritest experience, but he still spends more of the day smiling than complaining. That's just fine with me.

And while I want to keep the news in today's entry all about Alexander, there is something on my mind that keeps me from ending on a completely happy note. (Although, how could one look at that face and *not* be happy?)

We just received word a few days ago that little Alexander will soon have an even littler cousin. My brother-in-law phoned us with the news that he and his wife are expecting their first child to arrive later this year. The news is bittersweet, however. Lee phoned us from Ft.

Posted by at 11:46 PM in the following Department(s): The Boys | Comments (1)
 March 31, 2003
Guest Essay: Love it or...

I have too many things to say just now. I can't sort 'em all out and make them coherent. So, instead, I'll offer you a guest essay.

Several years ago, this site would feature about one guest essay per month, but I haven't posted any in quite a while. Shortly before the war broke out in Iraq, I heard the following item read at RASP, a monthly coffee-shop open mic, and I particularly liked it. Fred Jessett is a regular there, and I have always enjoyed his fiction and his essays. I asked Fred if he would be kind enough to let me post this latest essay of his, and he consented. Here it is:

"LOVE IT OR..."

by The Rev. Fred Jessett

It was only a bumper sticker, and it was many years ago, but it still haunts me. I was living and working on the Rosebud Sioux (Lakota) Reservation in South Dakota in the early 1970s, the days of battling sticker slogans. "Make Love, Not War" vied with "America: Love It Or Leave It."

One day I saw a particular a bumper sticker that hit me hard. It felt as if every Native American from the past 500 years, living and dead, was speaking the words on that car: "America: Love It, Or Give It Back." Or maybe it hit me because it also felt like the voice of God.

My first reaction was to realize more deeply than ever that we are not the owners of this land, we are its stewards.

And a question arose in my mind. Do our actions show that we love this land as well as its original inhabitants did, and do?

Then another question came up, what does it mean to truly love this country? Is it a lump in the throat when the national anthem is played, or saluting when the flag passes in a parade? Yes, but also much more.

Here's what I think it means.

It means that we strive to live up to the vision of the Declaration of Independence. That vision said "...all men are created equal...endowed by their Creator with...inalienable rights: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness..."

It is a vision of a people who each take responsibility for the common good of the community, and of a community that safeguards the rights of each person.

It is a vision far greater than the signers of the document could themselves fulfill. Some of them owned slaves, few thought men without property should vote, or hold office. None of them thought women should. Their vision enabled them to see further than they themselves could go.

The process of fulfilling that vision is a long one. It took "four score and seven years" for slavery to be abolished. It took much longer than that for women to gain the vote. Today we continue working to fulfill that vision.

To love our country is knowing that the flag and the national anthem are not the possession of any political party nor of those holding one particular point of view. These symbols belong to all of us. They should never be used to divide us.
They call us not only to defend our rights and responsibilities but also to exercise them, and to respect the rights of others to do the same.

It means knowing that political dissent is not disloyal or unpatriotic. That's what this country is all about: the right of citizens to differ with the government and speak their minds freely. It is the most basic right we defend.

It means no matter how much we may disagree with the policies of our government, we will not take that out on the men and women who serve us in the military. When there is war, we will pray for them, welcome them home, heal the wounded, and mourn those who have given their lives.

It means we pray for all those who have been entrusted with the power of governing whether we agree with them or not.

It means we do not prosecute or persecute any other Americans because of their religion, race or national origin. We will resist all threats of violence or discrimination toward people for these, or any other reasons.

In a time of national crisis, we must remember what we are striving for, not just what we are fighting against. If our love for this nation, and all her people, is true, then we will never cease working for the fulfillment of the vision on which we were founded.

With all my heart, I pray that we will do that, for those words still haunt me, "Love It, Or Give It Back."

(c) copyright 2003, Fred Jessett. Used by permission.

Posted by at 10:33 PM in the following Department(s): Essays | Comments (0)

Copyright (c)1998 - 2010 by Allan Rousselle. All rights reserved, all wrongs reversed, all reservations righted, all right, already.
Click here to send me mail.

The author. January, 2010.
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