Monday, January 26, 2009

The Great Gatsby

I'm currently reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. I know this is the pop-culture equivalent of discovering that Darth Vader is Luke's father, but Fitzgerald is an astounding writer. Normally I don't hear the genius in the work of others. I'm told by my peers that such and such is brilliant, but I don't see it. I see big vocabulary, perceive theme like an unlocatable sound that bounces off walls, understand that I'm missing the metaphor, and always wish I were more perceptive. But this novel was written with me in mind.

I almost skipped it because I read a critique of Fitzgerald's antiquated use of dialogue attribution. And I see what he is doing and I don't care about that. He said quickly. So what? I'm learning that there are simply different tastes and no two pallettes the same, and some people have become too smart for their own good.

It's the way Fitzgerald uses light that floors me. Light brings the scene to life. How it shines on the edge of a newspaper (can't you just see that?), or illuminates a doorway.

Take this for example: For a moment the last sunshine fell with romantic affection upon her glowing face; her voice compelled me forward breathlessly as I listened--then the glow faded, each light deserting her with lingering regret like children leaving a pleasant street at dusk.

Does it get more perfect? It does if you read on.

The living backdrop is a character too.

"Oh sure," agreed Wilson hurriedly and went toward the little office, mingling immediately with the cement color of the walls.

Wilson is colorless and bland unless I miss my guess.

His characters have traits that I recognize. Take this description of Tom:

Two shining, arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face and gave him the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward. Not even the effeminate swank of his riding clothes could hide the enormous power of that body--he seemed to fill those glistening boots until he strained the top lacing and you could see a great pack of muscle shifting when his shoulder moved under his thin coat.

This got me thinking about my dad for some reason, which then became inspiration.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A short, short story

Leave it to Jason to kick me in the butt and get me writing again.  He's sponsoring another of his famous contests, which always gets my blood pumping.  I can't believe it, but this is actually his tenth, and each one attracts more visitors than the previous.

Please stop by and read my latest entry.  It's not my usual, if I have a usual.  It's not dark or twisted, just real.

** Update **

Well this is a nice surprise.  I received enough votes from the contest participants to get one of the readers choice awards--very cool.  Thanks Jason for hosting another great contest!  I really appreciate the votes.  It's an awesome feeling to have made that connection with so many people.

Friday, January 02, 2009

What I Want To Do

When I was a little boy, I dreamed of the day that I would grow up and be a scientist, a robotics scientist that could breathe life into my favorite Sesame Street characters, starting with Ernie.

What happened?

Life, I suppose, is the easiest answer—a dismissal for sure, but truthful. I never was a good student, but I was doing ok until I got to high school. The seeds were planted, and by then I had the ear-marks of a drop-out. It took me three years of college until I did just that.

What a poor wandering lost soul I was.

I know now that this was all on my parents. A child of multiple divorces, living with an alcoholic father and step-mother, both too self-absorbed to be bothered, except to throw tantrums when evidence of their failure arrived in the form of report cards. Sure, I had every bit to do with each decision I made, but I was a rudderless ship, and I bashed myself for not supplying one of my own. But now I'm a parent I know that I was still a child, more so than any of my peers. I never grew up until I got married if I were to be perfectly honest, and in many ways I still am.

This could never happen to my sons. I—we, my wife and I both—pay attention. We're involved. There is no way that they will be wandering the early like Cain in Kung Fu when they graduate from high school. They've got partners in this life. They'll never be alone as long as we live.

I remember my physics class in high school. The teacher, Eldon Dennis, was a bit flabbergasted that I would have even attended in the first place. I was just awful. I didn't care a lick for hard work, analysis, mathematics. I was the anti-student. Yet there I was in a class with the best and the brightest. And yet I stuck with it. I would have failed, but the assistant at the time sold me a copy of the final exam.

Ever since then, I've thought that physics was simply beyond me, even though I went on to college (my second college) and got through Calculus II without much difficulty. In fact, after Calc II, I was beginning to think I had missed my calling, since the solving on an equation gave me such satisfaction. And really, until I had taken Calc, I didn't realize just how real-life math is. By that time, on the brink of graduation, it was too late to get serious about it.

So here I am, a forty four year old man who thinks he's still in his teens, thinking that I should have traveled another path. It was clear what I wanted to do when I was a kid, pining to make fantasy come to life. But I have to wonder… even now, is it too late? The answer is a bit complicated, but I have to think that it's not. I'm roughly half way through with this life, so that leaves another half for a do-over.

I want to sit down at my computer and draw a design, then I want to build my machine with movable parts, complete with gears and levers. I want to build an engine—and not just the engine, but the tools that make the parts of the engine, and the tools that make the tools that make the parts of the engine—and perhaps a trebuchet in my back yard to hurl dead squirrels into the woods. This might be my father working his way out of me, but I realize now that this is what I've always wanted to do.

Today I build software. Whoopdie-doo. It's kind of sad, but the only reason I still do it is because it pays the bills. I'm not complaining. If it weren't for software, I don't know where I would be, but I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be sitting in a house that I call my own. The problem with following your heart is that you have to be in touch with yourself enough to know what your heart is.

My wife started a new tradition this New Years day. Each of us wrote down our resolutions on index cards and put them into a box which we will open next New Years day. My wife wants to write my grandmothers a letter every month, and my five-year-old Emmett wants to learn Kung Fu (Kung Fu Panda, if you haven't seen it, do yourself a favor and treat yourself to the best movie made in a long time—Jack Black is perfectly cast!), and Jackson (nine) is keeping his a secret for now (but I know it has something to do with learning basketball). Mine is two-fold: start into the process of night-school or online educating myself in mechanical engineering, and to write a short story of at least three thousand words and submit it for publication.

No more goofing around.