Should I move the Words & Things posts to the main blog, or leave them there? I think if I leave them there, I can use the main blog for more focused, thematic articles, and let the W&T page be the random key-punching.
For the uninitiated, there is an older meme known as Rule 34 of the internet: If it exists, there is porn of it. No exceptions. (Reader beware: do not test Rule 34. Whatever you think might be too far-fetched, it’s out there, and if you think it’s not, do you want to find out the hard way that it’s not?)
There is a newer meme similar to Rule 34: There is a subreddit for everything.
Writing prompt: You always thought the idea that there’s a subreddit for everything was a joke. Then you found r/tailcare where humans discuss tips for tail hygiene and maintenance. At first, you think this is maybe a furry thing, but the more you read, you start to suspect these are humans with actual tails. When you pm someone about it, they send their condolences and ask if you’ve seen r/tailectomies, a subreddit for people whose tails have been surgically removed. If this is a subculture or con, it’s too big to have been hidden this well. Something happens that finally clicks: you’ve found a subreddit from an alternate universe.
People fill each other’s lives, for good or ill. Our present and immediate people fill volume like mountains or area like plains. We are not the furniture of each other’s lives, but the geography. That’s why love and loss can both shake our world.
Parents often record their child’s first words; entire books compile famous last words or last words of famous people. In John Green’s book, Looking for Alaska, the main character fixates on famous last words; most people can recognize the opening line “Call me Ishmael” whether they’ve read Moby Dick, and those who have read it will know that this is not the true opening line: “The pale Usher—threadbare in coat, heart, body, and brain; I see him now.” As this post is about first lines, perhaps this is as much a point in favor of my thought, since only around 3000 copies of the book sold while Melville lived; perhaps if the novel actually opened with “Call me Ishmael,” his book might have had more commercial success in his lifetime. But I grossly digress.
I am currently rereading The Fellowship of the Rings and I’ve just reached the point where the Fellowship is about to head out from Rivendell. Up to this point, the Dwarf, Gimli, has not spoken in the book. If your only point of contact with this epic tale is in Peter Jackson’s movies, this may seem confused; in that movie, Gimli impulsively speaks up at the Council of Elrond: in response to Elrond saying the ring must be destroyed, Gimli says, “Well, what are we waiting for?” while jumping up and bringing an axe down on the ring. It should come as no surprise that much in the movie changed from the book, but none so much as the characters of the Fellowship members.
Gimli’s first words in the movie reveal who he will be in Jackson’s rendition: a hot-headed warrior whose first instinct is to strike. But Gimli’s first words in the book reveal a sturdier companion. In response to Elrond warning the party that no one should vow to follow the ring-bearer all the way since none can see how dark the road will be, the following exchange is made:
“Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens,” said Gimli.
“Maybe,” said Elrond, “but let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall.”
“Yet sworn word may strengthen quaking heart,” said Gimli.
“Or break it,” said Elrond
Let’s put this in perspective, because without context, we might think Elrond a coward and Gimli a stalwart and brave friend. Elrond is ancient. The only person at the council older than Elrond is Gandalf, and that’s cheating because Gandalf is a maia, the Middle-Earth equivalent of an angel. But even that is a soft comparison, because Elrond was born ages before the name Gandalf was ever spoken. Elrond saw the fall of Gil-Galad, he saw Ilsildur cut the ring from Sauron’s hand, but well before that, he knew Sauron before Sauron revealed himself as a servant of Melkor.
Elrond is ancient and wise; he remembers darkness and evil that would make an orc’s stomach churn. So when he warns the Fellowship not to vow themselves to the end of the task, he’s trying to highlight their complete lack of context for how bad things are going to be. From an Elven perspective, Gimli is being a hot-head.
A character’s first words in a story should be important, more important than your own first words. A toddler saying “Mama” or “Dada” or “damn the bourgeois capitalists” is only interesting to the child’s parents; the audience of a story won’t care what the character’s first spoken words were (except for that last one; I’d read a story that started with, “To his parents’ chagrin, his first words were neither ‘Mama’ or ‘Dada’ but ‘damn the bourgeois capitalists,’ and frankly, they should have been more concerned.”)
If a character’s first words in a story are “Oh, excuse me,” then I expect that character to be a pushover or at least the target of shenanigans for the rest of the story. Arthur Dent’s first words could have been “Oh, excuse me,” and the story would have worked fine. As it was his first spoken words are, in context:
Arthur lay in the mud and squelched at him.
“I’m game,” he said, “we’ll see who rusts firsts.”
The argument could be made that Arthur’s first word in the novel is passively thinking, “Yellow,” several times as he goes through his morning routine, but as well as that proves the idea, I’m focusing on spoken words here.
So when you are reading or hearing a story, listen for the first and last words a character speaks. The last words are more difficult to track and may only be found on the second time through the story, when you can experience it more critically.
They brought refugees;
We brought soldiers.
They sought help;
We tear gassed kids.
I just made the unthinkable mistake of reading an article from FOX News’s website, but I can blame my own curiosity over story behind the inflammatory headline: Dozens failed to report [name redacted]’s ‘troubling behavior’ until after Parkland. Right off the bat, this headline stinks of — I don’t know — bullshit? I spent a bit of time trying to come up with a better description (e.g. loaded wording, unnecessary bias), but everything I came up with fell short in some way. Let’s break this down: Read more
I’m slowly making my way through John Green’s books. Thus far, I’ve read (in this order) Paper Towns, Turtles All the Way Down, and I’m currently reading Looking for Alaska. This is not anything like publication order, but as these books aren’t connected, I’m not missing anything on an internal level, but I’m starting to wonder if I’m missing something on a meta-level of John’s corpus (I’m going to break with the convention of using an author’s last name because John’s brother, Hank, is also now a published author, and because my first encounter with the Green brothers was through their work on YouTube, specifically Vlogbrothers, where they begin each video with “Good morning, [the other one’s first name], it’s [day of the week they post their vlogbrother videos]). It need not be pointed out that I frequently use long parentheticals on platforms which do not lend themselves to footnotes (WordPress developers, looking at you).
There’s a lot of depth worth discussion in John’s work, from characters who stay with you to well-written and engaging prose, but what drove me to the blog today is the depth to which John’s stories always drive my mind. I read a couple dozen pages of Looking for Alaska at lunch today and, on my way back to my desk, realized that while I was listening to Bach in my earbuds, Queen was playing in my head, I was thinking about something deep and personal, and already working on solving some of the problems with a current project at work. I basically had four different streams of consciousness, which my inner-monologue chastised as “doing that thing where you go crazy and split your brain into multiple parts.” I responded to that self(?)-chastisement with, “Fortunately, it’s my brain and I can arrange it how I want,” but I immediately questioned that assumption and that’s deeper into the rabbit hole than I want to write about here and now.
I missed an entire week of writing and most of a week of work due to illness and a wedding. We’ll be back with w&t in the upcoming week.
I was born into a post-privacy generation. This is not to say that my generation has rolled over and accepted this; quite the contrary, many of my peers are outraged by the common invasion, some of them choosing to avoid social media altogether (others of them, seemingly ignorant of the irony, posting on social media about the invasion of privacy). I’ve never been one of those. Read more
Missed a day of writing. Posted one just now that I forgot to share after I wrote it.