February 02, 2006
I'm on a listserv where someone sent out a link to a list of "best first lines" of novels. A few of us on the listserv noted that in some cases, lines were included because they were from great novels, not because they were great lines. (I might even take issue with the idea that some of those novels were great, but they certainly are all respected for one reason or another.)
As much as I thought several "best lines" were missing from the list, it was a great conversation starter. So, let's play! Before I go into a long list of best lines that should have been included from *my* favorite novels, let's start with just one author in particular. I've already played a similar game with Robert A. Heinlein. In fact, that had started with another essay I'd written about first lines in general (when a fellow writer posed the question of what a first line should accomplish).
Let's play "Best First Lines" with today's guest author, Stephen King. I've culled the list down to what I arbitrarily consider to be the "top twenty":
The morning I got it on was nice; a nice May morning.
From 'Salem's Lot:
Almost everyone thought the man and the boy were father and son.
From The Shining:
Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick.
From "Night Surf":
After the guy was dead and the smell of his burning flesh was on the air, we all went back down to the beach.
From "The Mangler":
Officer Hunton got to the laundry just as the ambulance was leaving -- slowly, with no sirens or flashing lights.
The guy's name was Snodgrass and I could see him getting ready to do something crazy.
From "The Ledge":
"Go on," Cressner said again. "Look in the bag."
From "The Lawnmower Man":
In previous years, Harold Parkette had always taken pride in his lawn.
Once upon a time, not so long ago, a monster came to the small town of Castle Rock, Maine.
From "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption":
There's a guy like me in every state and federal prison in America, I guess -- I'm the guy who can get it for you.
This is the story of a lover's triangle, I suppose you'd say -- Arnie Cunningham, Leigh Cabot, and, of course, Christine.
From "The Mist":
This is what happened.
The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years -- if it ever did end -- began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.
From The Dark Tower:
The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
From "Secret Window, Secret Garden":
"You stole my story," the man on the doorstep said.
From "The Library Police":
Everything, Sam Peebles decided later, was the fault of the goddamned acrobat.
From "Dolan's Cadillac":
I waited and watched for seven years.
From "The Doctor's Case":
I believe there was only one occasion upon which I actually solved a crime before my slightly fabulous friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.
From "Why We're in Vietnam":
When someone dies, you think about the past.
From "L.T.'s Theory of Pets":
My friend L.T. hardly ever talks about how his wife disappeared, or how she's probably dead, just another victim of the axe man, but he likes to tell the story of how she walked out on him.
I love these lines because they do what a first line should do: make you want to read the second line.
The first lines above are listed roughly in chronological order (by the publication of the mass market paperbacks they appear in, and not necessarily the first appearance of the stories/novels).
As I may or may not have mentioned here previously, I was hired into my current job by a fellow named Alan. You can imagine the fun that ensues when two fellows who work together share sound-alike names.
For various reasons, we have come to the conclusion that we should take a shot at hiring a new guy to help augment the team. The new guy's name? Allen.
The current plan, as I understand it, is that Allen will work under my supervision. And I work under Alan's supervision. We are a hierarchy of Al--ns.
If Allen works out, I'll be searching for more Al--ns who are talented with computers. I'll keep you posted. I've been told that first names are not a protected class when it comes to preferential treatment.
Al--ns of the world, unite!
February 11, 2006
Who would do such a thing?
What kind of a sick-o would contribute something like this?
What kind of person would write such things?
I'll never tell.
February 18, 2006
The conventional wisdom shared by most folks I know is that small children understand more than we give them credit for.
I'm not inclined to agree. Three and a half years of up-close-and-personal observation convinces me that satire, irony, regret, and other somewhat complex concepts are simply not ready for primetime in the small child's world.
But memory? That's a completely different kettle of fish. Kids have an amazing memory. This stands to reason, of course: how else can they seem to learn language overnight, other than by storing away what they hear until they can figure it out, then pull it out and use it for themselves?
Alex recently showed a profound demonstration of just how sharp his memory is. The parents were otherwise occupied, and Alexander was looking for something to do. He slinked off and found his step stool from the downstairs bathroom and carried it over to the kitchen. There, he pawwed around the higher cabinet shelves until he located the face paint we'd bought for his halloween costume (and hadn't used).
But did he remember what it was and what it was for? Oh, yes he did. He took the face paint into the bathroom and proceeded to paint his face. And his hands. And his arms. Well, and the sink and the walls, too, but I don't think that was as intentional. He applied the paint so thick on himself, it looked like he was wearing rubber gloves up to his elbows.
After one parent noticed -- Hey! I've been having a nice long phone conversation without any interruptions! Hey! Wait a minute! -- Alexander was pretty much standing around waiting to be caught. There wasn't much mess to clean up aside from the child, himself, but the trick was to take advantage of the photo op without laughing and making Alex think it was all okay.
I'm guessing he understood.
Another recent event for the little guy was paying a visit to Mr Rogers' Neighboorhood. There is apparently a touring exhibit from the long-running television show, and it began a four-month long stint at the local children's museum. Among other things, they had a main room modeled after Mr Rogers' living room, complete with sweaters that the kids could try on. (They also had one of the original sweaters that had actually been worn by the late Fred Rogers, behind glass.) Alex tried on each of the sweaters in turn. In this photo, the maroon sweater looks more like a Hogwarts uniform on Alex than a sweater.
Alexander watches the show on a fairly regular basis. Aside from a few DVDs in our collection, the only television that he's allowed is Sesame Street, Mr Rogers, and something called Between the Lions. He already loves the children's museum, so this new exhibit was tres cool. Opening day events included a visit from Mr. McFeeley (sp?), a longtime resident of Mr Rogers' Neighborhood.
Now, I recall that the show was popular back when I was a kid, so that autmatically means the show has had a very, very long run. But they were showing an episode recently that came from the early seventies, and the letter carrier (postman? mailman? whatever they called him then) dude was on the show and talking about his *grandchild*. So, the dude was already getting on in years even then. And this guy is still making personal appearances thirty-plus years later. Pretty cool.
Mr. McFeeley still seems spry, and still has a boyish grin. Alexander enjoyed meeting him, although it's quite likely that the older generation got more of a kick out of seeing the Speedy Delivery guy than our child of the 'aughts.
[Nolan was there, too, but he's not so big on television just yet.]
Our oldest son continues to amaze with his ever-expanding articulateness, his increasing autonomy, and developing personality. He has a mind for mechanics, as he demonstrates by taking apart his toy airplane with his toy tools (literally -- the plastic bi-plane was designed with big plastic bolts so that it could be taken apart and re-assembled) and, occasionally, even putting parts of it back together. He likes to pull out his toy tools and mimic me when I work on projects around the house. His play, in general, continues to get more complex.
And as always (so far), he continues to look out for little brother.
February 26, 2006
Nolan Theodore Rousselle, as photographed February 14th, 2006.
Alexander Benjamin Rousselle, as photographed February 17th, 2003.
Brothers. Definitely Brothers.
At ten and a half months, Nolan is getting ready to walk. What he does these days is pull himself or lean himself into a standing position against any neighboring wall or furniture or toy that will support his weight, and then try his best to side-step walk his way as far as he can go and still have support. He might occasionally take one or two steps to get to the next object that he can hold onto, but more often if he gets to a gap, he'll gently lower down into a crawling position, scoot over to the next object, and stand back up. Tonight (when this photo to the right was taken), Nolan lapped the living room several times while Paulette and I wound down for the evening watching the box de l'idiot.
I recently acquired a brand new camera, which has much cooler features and boots up much faster than our previous dealy. So far, I have yet to figure out if I can make this thing work any better in low light settings than I could manage with the previous camera, but I'm still getting some decent shots. Alas, alack, Nolan doesn't seem to be smiling in as many of the good shots as he does in the slightly blurry ones.
The fact is, Nolan is rather a smiley guy. When he's not recovering from a cold -- as he has been these past few days -- he smiles every bit as much as Alexander ever did (and still does). His favorite activity these days, it seems to me, is to convince his daddy to hold him upside down and shake him for loose change. Boy, does that bring out the giggles. He's also just starting to be ticklish, which is providing no end of fun for his big brother to exploit.
Nolan is starting to sign to us now. We haven't been as diligent about using signs with Nolan as we had been with Alexander at this age, yet he's picking up on our feeble attempts, nonetheless. He's signing for "all done" (arms straight up), "hello" (waving -- he uses both hands, which is durn cute), and he may possibly be getting the idea for how to sign for "more" and/or "eat". He claps, too, which is more of a programmed behavior for his age than a genuine sign, but we love to clap back and it just brings out more smiles. He likes to mimic us shaking our heads for "No", but hasn't quite gotten the hang of nodding for "Yes."
A couple of days ago, when I posted an entry about how Alexander is doing, it occurred to me to worry about short-changing Nolan. He is the second child, and I don't want to give anyone the impression that he's any less important to me or Paulette than Alex is. I also knew while I was preparing Alex's entry that I'd be posting about the little guy with an entry all his own, soon enough. But it remains a concern. Are we giving him enough quality time and attention? Are we letting Alex hog the show? And, for that matter, are we being unfair to Alex when we have to drop what we're doing with the older child to make sure the younger child is okay? I think about it, and I do what I can to address it, but that doesn't mean that I'm managing to get the balance exactly right.
Nolan chews stuff. He puts stuff in his mouth all the time. Not vegetables... he knows better than to try gnawing on a soft veggie we put before him. But newspapers? Clothing? I'm well aware that this is normal behavior, but it means we have to child proof some things differently from the way we had to for Alex at the same age. The only non-food that Alex ever made a habit of putting in his mouth was any foam toys -- nerf balls, bathtub letters, that sort of thing.
So consider the following picture, with which I shall close today's entry. This is from tonight, and we see Alex and Nolan playing in their playroom. Alex has a jingle bell toy, which he was playing with but is now putting into his mouth, while Alexander considers a bite mark in one of his nerf footballs. I love the juxtaposition. And yet... who put that bite mark there? There is no guarantee that it was Nolan. Alex has chewed on foam toys that we know of as recently as a couple of months ago.
As the two get older, I fear that knowing just who did what damage is going to become increasingly difficult.
Science fiction legend and frequent Clarion West Writers Workshop instructor Octavia Butler passed away this weekend. The Seattle Times obituary talks a little bit about her contribution to the field.
Octavia was one of my instructors at Clarion West, and a most remarkable woman. I've encountered her a few times since that workshop, and she has always been kind -- which is not to say that the career advice she has offered me was ever, in any way, sugar-coated. ("Sounds to me like you need to send a letter to [a certain well-known editor] right away!" etc., etc.) She was a good mentor, and a good person to have in your corner. As an author, a trailblazer, and a mentor, she will most definitely be missed.
February 28, 2006
There is power, I believe, in recognizing reality, even if one does not have the power to change it. There's a saying that "you can't change the wind, but you can adjust your sails."
This is the rationalization I shall adopt in making the observation below, knowing full well that there is no perfect world in which certain unbalances can ever be redressed.
Today's observation is this: that those who need help will be punished, and those who don't, won't. And as Roxie Hart noted, "That's showbiz, kid."
I've been babbling a bit of late on the subject of free speech versus censorship versus discretion. One of the many reasons this suite of topics is ever-present on my mind these days is because I've found myself so often refraining from talking here (on this website) about what is uppermost on my mind. Discretion always demands that one consider carefully before making a potentially adverse observation about a former employer (and one would never, ever comment on a current employer in any but the most glowing of terms), or expressing too many concerns about the demands on one's time, or openly disagreeing with the prevailing decisions within the political party of which one is an active member, or about the interesting choices that various friends are making in their business or love lives.
A friend of mine, when faced with a similar dilemma of not feeling able to speak freely on a public blog, chose to go the "subscription" route. He sends out his weekly missives via a private listserv, over which he controls membership. This has given him the freedom to say what he wants to, knowing he is among like-minded (or even respectfully disagreeing, but nonetheless supportive) friends.
I have long admired the candor with which he addresses topics in his journal that we might feel free to talk about on a one-on-one basis, but would tend not to broadcast to the world. Like when he admitted that depression was setting in even though everything seemed to be going well. Like the trials and joys of relocating for the sake of a job.
The fact is, one is generally not well advised to talk openly about being depressed. [Sidenote here: I began writing this missive shortly after having come out of a rather profound stretch of unhappiness, but was not at the time, nor am I now, feeling blue. I find it safer not to bring up such topics if I'm feeling down, at least in public, just as I don't comment on being out of town until I've returned.] This could lead co-workers or bosses or friends to be wary of trusting you. Likewise, one should not be too glib about how one's employer, generally speaking, *has* to put up with your eccentric choices because, hey, you *are* the best person for the job by a far sight. It may be true [although, I'm not sure it ever has been so in my own case], and all parties might agree that it's true, but you still don't necessarily want to be glib about it in public.
But it's the depression thing that has resonated the most. I've known a great many people who have suffered from various kinds of depression and/or mood swings, but they have always had to be careful about how and with whom they broach the subject. The irony of it being that, in many cases, they'd feel better if they could just *talk* about it.
...to someone other than a $150 per hour pair of ears. (Or however much therapists charge these days.)
This brings me to the topic of today's missive: how those who need help and ask for it must be punished, and those who need help but struggle silently with their burdens get to punish themselves. Blessed are the needy, for they shall be punished.
I love irony. If that hasn't become obvious to anyone reading these pages for more than a few entries, let me state it here now: I love irony. And so, I embrace the notion that the very systems we have set up to help us (medical insurance, for example, or financial credit and loans) are actually designed to punish us when we need the help they are designed to provide.
When do you get the big credit card offers? When you don't need to borrow money, of course. If you need to borrow money, you are de facto a bad risk. When I apply for mortgage re-fies (re-fi's? re-fis? REE-fies?), and if my income is high enough, they don't need to see proof that my income is high enough.
But if my income is below a certain level, the lender wants to see my most recent pay stubs and bank statements. So, the more I need the money, the more I have to prove I need it. If I don't need to borrow it, the more they want to lend it to me.
Go ahead, go see a doctor and ask to be tested for Fragile X or some other genetic disease. See if you can ever get appropriate health insurance (or life insurance) after that.
True story: I have a friend who's mother is suffering from some mental and physical deterioration that is known to be passed down genetically. The disease usually manifests itself sometime in late middle-age, if I understand correctly, and things from that point only get worse, never improve. No, I don't recall the name of this ailment, but it sounds most unfortunate. And my friend dares not get tested to see if he/she has it. Sure, this would enable him/her to make preparations now, if need be, for what the future may hold in store. But if he/she gets tested, and it turns out that he/she has the disease lying in wait, then it becomes a "preexisting condition" and switching to a better health insurance plan will never be an option again. Nor would be increasing his/her health insurance coverage. Ergo, the health insurance programs would punish him/her for trying to determine the current (and possibly future) state of his/her health.
I've been told by non-married-yet-non-celibate friends of mine that the prudent course of action for them is to occasionally get tested for particular STDs, especially AIDS, but that they don't dare do this through their health coverage because doing so automatically results in premiums going up and/or coverage being cancelled altogether. The system encourages risky behavior when that is exactly the opposite of what it should encourage.
And as for mental health... ignore the fact that, as with AIDs tests, you don't want to raise that red flag on your health insurance. *Especially* employer-provided health insurance. But, here's another true story: someone I know was feeling down and went to see a licensed therapist about it. The psychologist (or psychiatrist or social worker or whatever they were) told the person right up front something along the lines of "if you tell me that you feel self-destructive or that you might be destructive to others, I'm required to inform the state." How's that for encouraging an open dialog?
It's like: "If you need help with feelings so bad and so desperate that you might even consider hurting yourself, don't come to a professional about it, because then it will go on your Permanent Record... and we might have to lock you up." Who goes to see a professional for just a mild case of the blues? (Outside of New York City, I mean.)
These are but a few examples, but there are many, many systems that are set up to punish the people who need them the most. I know that these are not the intended consequences of these systems. I understand that these are the unfortunate side-effects of regrettably necessary policies.
We do this on a personal level, as well. It's not just big systems and big institutions that short circuit themselves with this kind of irony. But that's a topic for another day.
In the meantime, let the healthy have health insurance, the mentally stable have therapists, and the wealthy have big loans. Let the Eskimos have refrigerators and the Southern Californians have fires. As for those who need: the beatings will continue until morale improves.
Copyright (c)1998 - 2010 by Allan Rousselle. All rights reserved, all wrongs reversed, all reservations righted, all right, already.
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