Hope, Humor and Harmony

Today, Seattle was bright and sunny, but I felt like crawling into bed with the covers over my head for a good long snivel. It was all I could do to make it through work.

This country is falling apart. The banking industry is collapsing. Bush is determined to scorch the earth as he retreats. My fellow Americans are being snookered by the two biggest, most dangerous cons since Bush/Cheney. FEMA’s fucking over the Gulf once again, and all the media really wants to talk about is fucking bullshit. Oh, and Russia’s flexing its muscles, Venezuela and Bolivia chucked out our ambassadors, and it’s clear that their newfound disrespect for America can be laid firmly at Bush’s feet. If McSame and Sarah “Bush-Cheney Hybrid” Palin get elected, it looks like a few countries might get disgusted enough to start a whole new Cold War – unless they plump for hot, instead. I doubt McLame would do much about it – after all, since the RNC was over, he decided that watching a Nascar race was more important than grandstanding in the Gulf. Funny how Republicons only remember to be compassionate conservatives when the cameras are watching.

And that’s just today.

So I almost couldn’t bring myself to blog. All I wanted to do was crawl into bed, curl up in a miserable little ball, and cry into the cat. That is a tricky proposition, because my cat exhibits sympathy for about 2.4 seconds before she attempts to rip my face off for getting her fur wet. If she was a human, she’d probably be a Republicon.

I planted arse in chair, wrapped myself in a blankie, and read on. Because it’s a chilly night, the cat plonked herself down on me and started purring. She only tried to remove limbs twice. And then I started to find precious hope, humor and harmony.

Glenn W. Smith chats at Firedoglake about being “In Molly’s Back Yard: Resisting Rove.” He’s right:

For years we embattled Texas liberals used to gather in my late friend Molly Ivins’ Austin back yard on the “Final Friday” of each month. For a few glorious hours – if the whisky held out, it would be many glorious hours – hopes ran high and hearts ran wild.

These last couple of weeks of Democratic anguish and anxiety make me think of those evenings at Molly’s, where morale stayed so high even the ducks weren’t down. I’m certain there were ducks.

[snip]

We were then and we are now the Undaunted. Because we have to be. Them that daunt, die. Somebody probably said that once at Molly’s. Probably more than once.

Texas liberals are, um, very familiar with Karl Rove. We have a couple-decade head start on the rest of you, though the last eight years might count double.

Here’s a reminder that a key Rove strategy is the demoralization of his opponents, and it’s a strategy learned well by John McCain’s top lieutenant, Steve Schmidt. This year, they’re at it again. We have to resist it.

Go read the whole post. He’s right, he’s absolutely right, and we have to fight this. We have to be the Undaunted. That was what carried Barack Obama to victory in the primaries, after all: that invincible feeling, that utter faith in the power of us. It’s still there. For fuck’s sake, McCain’s slipped so far that even Rove’s saying he’s gone too far. Yes, we can defeat this fuckwit and save this country. Not just by electing Obama, but by sweeping Democrats into power and giving the Cons the swift boot to the ass they so richly deserve.

So there was a little fire in my belly. But it wasn’t enough. I needed some lighter fluid:

First of all, all of the undecided voters I talked to like Palin. They like her a lot more than they like McCain. They are compelled by her energy and her looks and her demeanor. A couple were pro-life, and McCain’s selection of Palin had turned them from “leaning Obama” to “undecided.”

BUT, by far the MOST important issue for all of them is the economy. These people are disgusted by oil company profits, disgusted by high gas prices, disgusted that relatives of theirs are losing their jobs and unable to find new ones. They KNOW that the system is unfair, that corporations are bleeding this country dry while they are suffering.

When I spoke to them about Obama’s tax plan (the elimination of income tax for many seniors, the tax breaks for middle-class people and the increase for corporations and the rich) – EVERY UNDECIDED VOTER I TALKED TO WENT FROM UNDECIDED TO LEANING OBAMA.

Mmm, feeling warm. And this, this line from that phonebanking post is mesquite fucking charcoal on my growing fire:

These people don’t want to hear us rip anyone apart. They want to know that Obama has a plan.

Some people in this country actually want to discuss issues? They’re persuaded by people talking policy? Oh, fuck, yeah! We’re blazing, now!

Bring on the naptha:

I attended the “Change We Need” rally in Manchester, NH, on Saturday morning.
(See Part I of the photojournal here,
and Part II here.)

I saved some of the best photos for last. Just look at the crowd he draws–8000 diverse people, believing in the “Change We Need.”

As Barack told us in his new stump speech, John McCain may have lobbyists, but he has us.

Damn skippy he has us! Go, us! That’s what I remember from this spring – that solidarity, that brilliant, beautiful sensation that we the people have the power and the passion to lift this country up. We can do this. Of course we can. We’ve done it for over two hundred years.

But to lift up a nation, we need to uplift ourselves. Which is why I spent so much time tonight playing with this. I think tomorrow I might make Chevy Generals, do some shots of Claw Washout, and get thoroughly, shit-faced Mole Valdez. Hell, yes!

Take that, Ladel Torque Palin! Texas and I fart in your general direction!

Now, now, the fire’s burning hot enough to grill up some nourishing, fresh hope. I’m serving it up hot and savory. We just need some music to round out the meal. Not just any music, my friends, but an opera-oratorio based on Charles Darwin. Science, my friends, has finally gone classical, thanks to the inspired efforts of Tristero:


After a year and a half of near-daily composing, I have finally finished The Origin, an opera-oratorio inspired by the life and works of Charles Darwin. It was a challenging, and very enjoyable, project and will premiere February 9, 2009 at the State University of New York, Oswego – that’s 3 days before Darwin’s 200th birthday!

[snip]

The texts used in the Origin are taken entirely from the writings of Charles Darwin – with a brief cameo by his wife, Emma. They were compiled and arranged by poet Catherine Barnett and myself. Most of the words come from The Origin of Species; the so-called “transmutation notebooks;” Darwin’s autobiography; The Voyage of the Beagle; and his letters (you can find a huge selection of Darwin’s writings at this incredible site). My purpose was to celebrate Darwin’s thought and life in music, concentrating specifically on the writing and ideas in The Origin of Species.

This is just awesome beyond words. Darwin finally has his day.

So shall we, my darlings. So shall we.

There’s hope. There’s humor. There’s harmony.

It’s enough to give this nation a fighting chance.

Bet You Never Thought of Mathematics as Emotional Before

Efrique, whose couch I may someday temporarily have to beg as it’s located far away from McCain, has a glorious post up exploring the emotions elicited by mathematics.

Before I got older and wiser, I used to see mathematicians as cold, passionless logic machines. I couldn’t conceive of an emotional connection to all of those rigid numbers. It took a lot of reading in science before I realized that math can do exactly what Efrique describes:


A really clever manipulation (I can’t help but think of them as “tricks”) or an inspired substitution that makes a difficult problem easy can produce a tingling sensation up the back of my neck and head. A particularly beautiful piece of mathematics can, on occasion, move me almost to tears.

Then there’s joy and delight. On occasion I have had the fortune to look at some neat, if modest, just-derived result and wonder if perhaps I am the first to have ever seen it (it is, obviously, rarely the case that I am – it is not unusual to find that my result has been tucked away in some mathematical corner for many decades … on one occasion I found I had been beaten by Gauss – but the thrill of discovery is there all the same).

Mathematics can be intensely emotional. I’ve read mathematicians talking about math with the same passion and thrill that I experience at discovering a tremendously well-written sentence. When I understood enough physics, I finally caught of echo of the excitement and awe E = mc 2 elicits. It truly is dramatic, and beautiful.

I think that’s what’s missing from so much science and math education: emotion. Grammar suffers from the same disease to a lesser degree. We get so caught up in teaching kids the foundations that we forget to keep them excited about the edifice that could eventually arise.

If you’re learning by rote and told there’s only one possible right answer, you’re not likely to understand that strong, rewarding emotion is possible. When I tutored English, I invariably discovered that all the joy’d been sucked out of it for the struggling students. They were so beaten down by rules they couldn’t feel a damned thing. That had killed their motivation to master those rules to the point where the rules vanished and the beauty began. I’d usually spend a few sessions pumping them up: English is easy, it’s exciting, it’s really really awesome!! Once they could feel, they could punctuate. And when they could do that, I’d show them how to transcend the rules, which really got ‘em going.

We need something like that with science and math. We need teachers who can make it seem simplicity itself, too exciting to stop even when it’s tough, and so dramatic that you’re determined to keep slogging right through to the breathtaking vistas at the top. We need drama. We need passion. We need blood, sweat, toil and tears. We need, in a word, to make it emotional.

Rationally emotional, o’ course. Let’s don’t get carried away. But you can be utterly rational and beside yourself with emotion at the same time. The two states aren’t mutually exclusive. Ask Efrique.

When people understand that, I don’t think they’ll see science and math as esoteric arts for emotionless experts anymore.

Oceans of Inspiration

Every writer has something that opens every floodgate and releases images and words in torrents. A song, a drink, an exercise, a person.

For me, it’s movies.

Certain movies become anthems. They scour me down to essentials: I become an instrument, nothing more than the story that’s unfolding inside me, spilling from my fingers faster than I can type. They strip everything else away. Food, sleep, other people all lose their importance. The movie drives the story, and the story becomes the entirety of my world.

I’m almost afraid to tell you which movies have done this. Just remember that no matter how the critics panned it, no matter how many folks thought it was the most ridiculous bit of Hollywood schlock ever to hit the big screen, it somehow tickled the Muse. And when the Muse gets tickled, all choice I have gets definistrated.

(That’s thrown right out the bloody window, for you non-sesquipadaleans in the audience.)

One of those movies was MI:2. Seriously. Yes, even with Tom fucking Cruise. Remember, it was right before he went completely batshit insane. I lost count of how many times I saw it in the theater. It came out right as I was halfway through Trinity, the only novel I’ve ever actually finished, and something about it just screamed Adrian Sykes, the anti-hero star. For weeks, I had a specific routine: I’d see MI:2 every couple of days, and I wrote. That movie, coupled with the Highlander episodes starring Methos, drove the story to completion. Highlander, I can at least explain: Adrian comes from the same part of England as Peter Wingfield, the actor who plays Methos, so there was the accent to consider. There was also the fact that I first heard Adrian speaking to me because of Highlander. But I still to this day don’t know exactly what it was about MI:2 that released the flood. Adrian’s nothing like Ethan Hunt, and the book is really nothing like a Mission: Impossible story. But there we were, and what else could I do but what the Muse demanded?

(And yes, in case you’re wondering by now: inspiration is an awful lot like insanity. Thanks for asking.)

Lord of the Rings should be a no-brainer. And yes, I saw it more than MI:2. But not as many times as the group of high school kids in their elf costumes. That trilogy is something I try to watch at least once a year, because it gets me into epic storytelling mode. It knocked the breath from my body when I first saw it. It was precisely what I wanted to accomplish: the myth, the meaning, the sweep and scope, the rich detail…. So I don’t have elves, Hobbits, wizards, or any of that sort o’ thing. What I’ve got is worlds as beautiful, stories that dive as deep into the huge questions of good, evil and fellowship. Those movies taught me something important: slow down. The story can move along just fine even if you’re travelling down a few scenic routes rather than flying along the freeway. And fantasy worlds need to be so complete.

Batman Begins is my theme movie for the book I’m preparing to write now. I think you’ll understand when you meet the main character, which you should soon, because I plan to have it complete by the end of next year. Christian Bale’s Batman is absolutely him. Although no, he doesn’t dress up in costumes and fight supervillains. It’s the darkness they share.

Dark Knight is going to take me in a whole new direction.

You see, movies spark ideas. And what this movie has shown me is exactly how much work I’ve got cut out for me, making my Big Bad truly terrifying. It’s gotten me to thinking about adversaries you can’t fathom, desperation on unimaginable scales, evil you just can’t overcome. I’ve been struggling with that for years. I’ve read books on evil, and all of it falls so short of what I know that evil would be. Satan? A buffoon, a rank amateur, compared to my main evil guy. Think of every terror you’ve ever had, every bad guy who left you shitting yourself in terror, and magnify that by a trillion. Somehow, that’s how Sha’daal has to come across – and yet, seductively elegant, understated, nothing at all what you’d expect. The dichotomy between world-destroying acts and a soft-spoken being drives me absolutely nuts. But I think Dark Knight will allow me to achieve the proper mood with him and the destruction he leaves in his wake.

(And no, he’ll be absolutely nothing like the Joker. I’m not that obvious. Look, people who read Trinity didn’t even realize the inspiration had been provided by MI:2. And I’m getting rid of the stupid Highlander in-jokes that crept in when I do the re-write.)

What Dark Knight does for me is helps me to feel what my characters are going through as their entire world comes toppling down around them. And I needed to feel that. I caught a glimmer of it in the Battlestar Galactica miniseries, when the Cylons destroy the colonies: but this is so much darker. It makes the destruction of the colonies look like a bad day at Disneyland.

If I can make Dark Knight look like a really bad day at Disneyland, I’ll have accomplished what I set out to do. And then it’s off to intensive therapy for me: a few months of Pirates of the Caribbean, coupled with massive amounts of rum, should bring me back from the utter darkness again.

Until the next time we have to slide beneath the waves…