Get the creative juices flowing. It’s time to be writing again!

During Christmas break there’s no better way to get creative than to explore God’s creation.

It’s all here. In Great Falls park where the Potomac splits Maryland and Virginia and the rocks create for us endless castles on either side. By the river the rocks are worn and smooth from friction, but higher up its crags and crooked steps. A playground for both body and mind.

Somehow the simple act of scrambling about, fingers icy, becomes a lodestone for book ideas.

Intuitions about characters and settings assail me. I stand helpless before the Muses.

It makes me feel rather heroic!

Me on a rock

My friends probably didn’t know I was doing all this brainstorming in their company…

Hello Rocks

…And they’ll never know.
Heh heh heh

Madison Bridge: A Short, Short Story

Just a little story on the eve of Christmas.


A light snow fell as Charlie Reardon left the diner and made his way down Madison Street. Had anyone been watching, they would have noticed that his gait matched the look of someone walking through a light snow after leaving a diner alone. Had he been walking up Madison Street, he might have been standing a little straighter, and his hands might not have been crammed so deep in his pockets. But Charlie Reardon was traveling down Madison, and his thoughts slid ahead of him to wander about the bridge and peer out into the black, mid-December river.

He shrugged so that his collar scattered the fine powder that clung to his neck. Twice he slowed his steps and almost paused before the neon storefronts to avoid his destination. Let the chill and the bridge and the water wait for a few moments longer. They could wait. But he couldn’t. Not in good conscience. Not even after his solitary evening in the diner. It felt safer to avoid thoughts of the bridge until he came to it.

Madison Bridge was not long. Two streetlights bowed formally to each other in the center, and Charlie walked along the edge until he stood just outside the rim of light. He faced the river, watching the snow falling to meet the semi-frozen water.

“I’m betting you’d go numb in under five seconds. That’s if you didn’t just hit thick ice.”

Charlie didn’t turn toward the speaker. He closed his eyes and thought about the voice for a moment; it was just as he remembered it. Still with his eyes closed, he said, “The ice is thin. City hasn’t opened the skating ranks yet.” He expected a retort. Was mildly surprised.

“Do a lot of skating?”

It was a strange question. “Alice and I went together once. She had to hold me up most of the time,” said Charlie. He still hadn’t looked at the speaker, but he could picture him nodding and rubbing at his unshaven face, maybe the ghost of a smile picking at the edges of his thin lips.

“You and Alice married yet?”

Charlie looked over at his father. “Alice is five months pregnant. Our anniversary was two weeks ago.” The edge in his voice that he had imagined, had planned for, died when he looked at the old man.

Henry Reardon was indeed rubbing his rough chin. He was rubbing it furiously. “Guess I haven’t been around much.”

Charlie said nothing.

“I stopped smoking.” The old man shuffled his feet.

“You came all this way to tell me you stopped smoking?”

The beard-rubbing continued. “No. It’s about your mother.”

“She’s not my mother,” Charlie said, but he regretted his words.

Henry’s expression became urgent as if he had just clamped his hand on Charlie’s arm. “Stepmother. It’s about your stepmother, Charlie. She…she left me.” His voice cracked, and Charlie felt sweat tickle his armpits despite the chill.

Charlie’s father leaned on the rail, imitating his son’s position, and the two of them stared into the freezing river below Madison Bridge.

“You never met me at the diner,” Charlie said softly. “I think I understand.”

“Will you let me learn how to be a grandfather?” Henry whispered.

“Not for a few months yet.”

Another Hobbit Review

The-Hobbit-550x281I know, I know. How many of these have you read already? But I’d be remiss in my duties as a Tolkien and fantasy fan if I didn’t. So here it goes. I’ll keep it short, and I won’t get in to the 48 fps thing because I’m not techy and I don’t have anything intelligent to say on that front. Looked nice and didn’t give me a headache after all. That’s about it.

On to the actual story.

Many of the reviews I’ve seen have been favorable in that it was enjoyable, but no where near as good as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which was a lot more epic and stayed closer to the books than the Hobbit did. Granted. Turning the Hobbit into a trilogy of its own gives Jackson time to toy with the story a lot. He’s going to throw in whole scenes that Tolkien never wrote down. The entire prelude complete with LOTR nostalgia, flashbacks into Thorin Oakenshield’s life, Radagast and the Necromancer. It’s creative license and I’m not concerned about it because, frankly, I love Peter Jackson’s Middlearth. Yes, we’re all loyal to the books, but Jackson brings that world to the movies perhaps the best way it could be done.

Even in Tolkien’s books the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings are very different tales that serve very different purposes. And Jackson captured the mood perfectly. Watching the Hobbit (on a normal screen, not 3D or IMAX), I was pleased to see that it was a lighter movie than the trilogy. The whole world looked more colorful and more fantastic than it did in the good vs. evil Lord of the Rings epic. Middlearth seemed a younger, brighter place, even if that was an illusion–prelude to Sauron’s coming darkness.

The purpose of this story is adventure. The purpose of the trilogy was something closer to war. And Jackson gave us the mood in this new installment with added doses of humor, a more light-hearted “fellowship,” and a not quite so grumpy Gandalf.

It’s impossible to say much about the Hobbit without comparing it to the Lord of the Rings–and that will only become more true as the other two movies come out–so before going on let me say that I like each movie of the trilogy better than I did the Hobbit. I think they are better movies, but not by much, and there are some things about the Hobbit I found more enjoyable.

It’s probably just Martin Freeman, but Bilbo is one of my favorite characters throughout all four movies so far. I think a lot of folks would agree with me, and I’m not sure there’s much more to be said on the matter. But it wasn’t just Freeman’s job in the leading role that made the movie for me (like Garfield’s acting in the new Spiderman movie).the-hobbit-box-office

In fact, there’s a lot more to love. Gandalf, for instance, has a greater role and was a more interesting character than he was in the Fellowship of the Ring. Compare him from here to the White Wizard and he becomes almost a different person entirely. If given the choice for a hiking companion, I’d pick his grey color.

Furthermore, there were a few scenes in the Hobbit that ranked up there with some of the best Jackson has yet offered us. The two that stood out in my mind are the dinner scene at Bilbo’s house, which was exactly how I imagined it happening in the book (I had to focus to keep from grinning widely the whole time); and the Bilbo vs. Gollum riddle scene, another part closely fitting with the book.

Overall, I liked this movie a ton. Can’t wait to see it again, but it wasn’t as good as the Lord of the Rings, and that has to do in part because of its disjointed feel. Jackson jumped us around a lot, and in the end it’s a bit hard to piece it all together, but I’m hoping the two sequels will be more focused and just as fun.

Doublespeak for fun

Today in my linguistics course we talked about classic scientific writing. You know…passive voice nominalized noun strings if you’re doing it correctly. Actually, our professor admitted that in some circles noun strings are called “noun banging,” but we decided to go with the less offensive name.

Every profession has a list of great jargons in their repertoire. Apparently a group of educators who called themselves the Committee on Public Doublespeak back in the 70s thought they could wipe out what they thought was an unhealthy use of jargon by “mocking it to death” as my professor put it.

They made lists.

Take business for example. These guys created a list of jargons you might hear in any self-respecting business class and placed them in three rows like so:

1. integrated                   management                   options                              organizational                flexibility

3. systemized                 monitored                         capability

4. parallel                       reciprocal                          mobility

5. functional                  digital                                programming

6. responsive                 logistical                           concept

7. optional                     transitional                      time-phase

8. synchronized           incremental                      projection

9. compatible                policy                                 contingency

Take one word from each of the three columns, say them together and you sound like a smart person! Everyone thinks “this guy must know what the hell he’s talking about. I won’t question his authority.” Try it. It’s a blast!

I personally like total organizational flexibility because it describes my room at any point in time. I’m especially flexible with my organization during exam week.

Integrated reciprocal contingency is another favorite. No idea what it means, sounds great though, and that’s just the point. Drop that phrase around friends and see what you can get away with. You may have friends that will just smile and nod at you. Those are fun people. You can tell them anything.

What the Doublespeak Committee attempted to do was limit the jargon strings by proving how ridiculous it can be next to clear, precise language. (I’m guessing this was in anticipation of the year 1984). But it backfired on them. Is it that we don’t want to use clear language when we could be sounding smart and professional by tossing around key words? Or is it the case that sometimes these are the concise terms that are most helpful? This may be an intriguing pedagogical dilemma, but I’m not get into that.

I just think they’re fun and wanted to share.

Speaking of pedagogy, here’s another list for my teacher friends:

1. curricular                research                    project

2. behavioral              stimulation              validation

3. programmed          implementation      assessment

4. cognitive                 examination            objectives

5. instructional         participation            resources

6. integrated               syllabus                     concept

7. audio-visual          innovation                module

8. interdisciplinary  communication       subsystems

9. multi-media           learning                    evaluation

*Remember to use one word from each column for best effect.