And one for the New Year…

There aren’t a lot of New Year’s songs out there, but this oldie is one of my favorites, though bittersweet.  If you Google-search it, it can be difficult to tell when it came out, but the original version by the G-Clefs was released in 1961 (though the song was released by others in the early 1950s).

I Understand (Just How You Feel) – The G-clefs   (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6pM_v3hbik)

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Why do you write?

To publish, hopefully professionally?  To publish online for free consumption?  For yourself?

Different purposes demand different things from us in our writing.  If you write to be published, and get paid for it, then what you write must be something others want to read.  It must be written well enough for them to bother paying to read it.  While a typo here and there will sometimes happen, readers aren’t going to tolerate a story full of them.  They will give up in the first chapter.  Bad grammar, poor sentence structure, ambiguity – these and more all play in to how successful your finished product will be.

In the fan fiction world, too often I see writers who say “sorry, can’t spell”, “I know there are mistakes but it’s a good story” and my favorite: “summary sucks but read the story, it is really good”.  If you can’t spell, then use spell check.  Look up words you are uncertain how to spell.  Don’t just shrug it off and expect others to do the same.  If you have trouble with the physical structure (punctuation, construction, content, etc.), find someone that is better than you to read it and offer helpful suggestions.  And ABSOLUTELY never expect anyone to read your story if you can’t write a coherent summary!  Why would they believe you can write worth beans if you can’t even write that much half-way decently?

Sadly, more and more we are seeing this sort of carelessness bleed over into self-publishing.  It has become so easy to publish your own work, and put it up for sale on Amazon or such, that many dive right in.  They don’t fix the errors, they don’t run it past others to see if they missed anything, they just stick it out there and expect people to hand them money to read it.  I can’t even remember the number of reviews I’ve read that have commented on this problem.  Usually the story will have been offered for free or at a deep discount to lure in readers, but the resulting backlash of bad reviews greatly undermines that.  If you want to sell it, you’d better make sure you make it worth someone spending the money.

These problems don’t simply go away because you are publishing for free, either.  Presumably you are posting it publicly because you want readers.  They might read something initially, but you’d better be offering something worthwhile if you want them to finish it and come back for more.  All of us have a limited amount of time and money, and we don’t want to squander it.  If you want either of those from me, I have to believe there is value coming in return.

Writing for yourself?  That’s not a bad thing.  In fact, some of my fan fiction stories were written simply to amuse myself.  I couldn’t find anything new to read (of interest to me), so I sat down and wrote my own story.  But why should that be an excuse for sloppiness?  I can still check spelling for accuracy.  I can still do my best regarding story/sentence/paragraph structure, even if I don’t have anyone else read it through and offer suggestions.  And I can still learn from past mistakes and try to improve in my later writings.

What was I trying to express through what I wrote?

Did I manage to do it?

Did I do it but not entirely to my satisfaction?

How could it have been better?

This goes back to a previous post of mine regarding improving in your writing.  After you’ve written something, set it aside and go back and read it a year or more later.  How does it strike you?  Does it vividly bring back that moment that you were trying to memorialize in writing, or does it fall flat and you aren’t even sure what you were trying to say?  If the memory is strong enough, rewrite it now and then set both aside and read them both in a year.  Did the second version improve it, or was it just as lame as the first?  Taking that step back away from what you wrote, and going about doing other things, can help you bring fresh perspective to your writing.

Whatever your reason for writing, make it the best that you can in the moment that you write it.  And then reread your work later, and make your next writings even better.

My Favorite Christmas Songs

There are lots of lists of ‘favorites’ floating around the internet, and I don’t want to be totally predictable, so most of these won’t be the ones you commonly see on such lists.  However, they are songs I like to hear year after year.  It isn’t fully Christmas unless I get them on my listening list.  In all cases I managed to track down a link that will let you hear them if they are not familiar to you.

We’ll start off with ‘Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer’.  Yep, in spite of my recent essay on this song, I do like it and listen to it each year.  No, it’s not my top favorite, but since I did write about it recently, I thought I’d mention that upfront.  I thought it was quite clever.

Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer – Elmo & Patsy

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgIwLeASnkw)

The rest of these aren’t in a particular order either.  They’re all just favorites, for varying reasons – the lyrics, the music, the sentiment.  You might want to check them out if you haven’t heard them.  It’s possible you will like them too.

  • I Believe in Santa’s Cause – The Statler Brothers

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M13G8p5fUgw)

  • Merry Christmas, Darling – The Carpenters

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YR1ujXx2p-I)

  • I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day (the version with Calkins music, not Johnny Marks – very hard to find)

This version mostly seems to appear in religious music.  The 2nd one listed may be the easiest to hear.

(https://www.lds.org/music/library/hymns/i-heard-the-bells-on-christmas-day?lang=eng)

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOGz9WqNQoI)

(not as good; music/arrangement varies from original:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VO2ETYEvrc)

  • The Bells of Fraggle Rock – Fraggles

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtFYCeLgcwo)

Yeah, okay, a Winter Solistice song, not Christmas, but I still like it!  Hey, I put in a religious song, so this balances things by being non-religious.

Enjoy, and Happy Holidays!

***

Forgot one:

Pine Cones & Holly Berries/It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas – The Osmonds

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Omb94O8f_fw)

***

Yeah, okay another one.  What did you expect this time of year?  I’m listening to Christmas music!  I get a pass until Dec 31, then I’ll behave…maybe.

My Christmas Card to You – Partridge Family

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bm3ZOMDS8Gw)

Lost in Space

A movie is well done when you know how it turns out, but you’re still on the edge of your seat in the getting there.  I recently rewatched Apollo 13 and was reminded of that The odd thing, though, is that while I vividly remember watching the Apollo 11 moonwalk on TV, I don’t remember anything about Apollo 13 “in real time” at all.  Granted, at 16, it wasn’t a big part of my world, but still.

Another example of keeping the tension despite knowing it’s coming is a scene in The Sixth Sense.  Something happens that made me jump the first time I saw it.  And though I know it is coming, I still jump.  I’m not sure if that’s me reacting to Haley Joel Osment’s reaction, or something else.  But it still works.

Sometimes filmmakers do get it right.  They touch all the right notes and you are in that world and those circumstances on the screen.  One of the best for creating completely believable false realities was Jim Henson.  We believed a frog could ride a bicycle because we saw it and nothing suggested it wasn’t absolutely real.  People still believe that Miss Piggy bats her eyelashes, even though Frank Oz has pointed out that her eyelashes are fixed and can’t move.  And my absolute favorite – Muppets are more believable musicians than most human actors.  Watch most actors pretending to play a guitar – their hand on the neck strings never move, as it should.  Muppets may not have five fingers, but their few fingers do move, giving a far better impression of actual playing.  A friend made a puppet movie that involved a groundhog.  People picked apart things in the movie (a student film), but none realized they had never questioned for a second that a groundhog puppet could blow out a lit match.

Movie-making done right captures moments like these that stay in our memories long after many other movies are forgotten.

I’m a ‘Fixer’

There are Complainers and there are Fixers.  I’m a Fixer.

What does that mean?  Well, when someone (for instance, the company I work for) wants to do something, I’m the one who points out all the problems.  My reason isn’t to shoot down the idea, but rather to focus on the problems and get them resolved before we get too deep in the middle of it.  A lot of issues can be avoided that way and make implementing ideas go a lot more smoothly than they otherwise might.

It also means that when no one seems to know how something gets done, I try to find a way.  If a system won’t allow what needs to happen, I try to find a workaround so that people can keep working and moving forward.  I spend a lot of time at work documenting my findings and workarounds in “How To” files for my future reference and for the benefit of anyone else who might need it.  I just don’t see any reason for 12 people to call the help desk to find out how to resolve a single problem and then not share that information so others don’t have to do the same thing when they have that problem.  If I discover a nifty feature in a program that others might find useful, why should I keep it to myself instead of sharing?

Sadly, I don’t seem to be rubbing off on very many others.  They continue to work in isolation, and not share knowledge or expertise unless they are practically forced into it.  Just think how much more smoothly the world would run if we had more Fixers and fewer Complainers.

“I’m invisible, and I’m good at it!”

“I’m invisible, and I’m good at it!”       (Mia Thermopolis, movie “The Princess Diaries”)

I think one of the most annoying things in my life is when people comment on how much I know, how much they value me and what I have to say, and then they ask me something.  I give my answer, they either tell me they are sure I’m wrong, or simply ignore what I’ve said; and, worst of all, later are told the same thing by someone else and they suddenly recognize it as true, without ever noticing I gave them that very answer quite some time before.

If they don’t think I know the answer, why are they bothering to ask me in the first place?

Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer – culpable negligence?

Each Christmas season, this song comes around, and there is much impugning of Santa Claus’ honor, but can he be considered to blame for this tragedy?

culpable negligence – (law) recklessly acting without reasonable caution and putting another person at risk of injury or death (or failing to do something with the same consequences)   [http://www.thefreedictionary.com/culpable+negligence]

Let’s look at the facts:

  1. Grandma had been drinking and the family knew this.
  2. She was on medication that she forgot to bring – the family knew this also
  3. Their sole effort at keeping her safe and healthy consisted of “begging her not to go”, but allowing it when she insisted.  Not unlike knowingly letting a person drive drunk.
  1. She was not found until Christmas morning although there is nothing to suggest she wasn’t somewhere directly between their house and her own.  There is no evidence that a search was made until the following morning – they seem to have just assumed that all was well.
  1. They’re proud of Grandpa and how well he is taking it – watching football on tv, drinking beer and playing cards; this also seems to reflect how well they are taking it that Grandpa’s actions do not disturb them in the slightest.
  1. They wonder whether to open her gifts or send them back – could this be due to their wanting the gifts themselves, or the refund for any purchase they made for Grandma?

When considering all of this, we have to wonder whether the entire family did not in fact plot Grandma’s demise and concoct this cock-and-bull story to cover it up.  Did anyone see this accident occur?  Just because there are hoof-prints doesn’t mean it was Santa’s reindeer.  Did they live near a wooded area where wild deer might be to blame?  Or could the hoof-prints have been ‘planted’?  What exactly are these ‘incriminating Claus marks’?  Do we have DNA proof indicating the source, or could they also have been staged?

For that matter, if they were so concerned about Grandma’s health and welfare, why did no one offer to go get the medication for her, or at least to go with her?  Did none of them have a car in which to drive her so she wasn’t stumbling around in the cold and snow?

I have to wonder if Santa Claus is unjustly being made the fall guy here.  The family perhaps thinks this is the perfect crime since how likely is it that Santa Claus could ever be apprehended?  The very nature of his work requires him to work in secrecy, so they know it would be difficult for him to provide witness testimony in his defense.

No, personally, I wonder if we bring in a bona fide criminal forensic investigator, might we discover that the facts tell a much different story?

[Written by Randy Brooks • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, BMG Rights Management US, LLC; recorded by Elmo & Patsy]

Whence Came Christmas?

I realized a few years ago that my mental image of “the perfect Christmas” has largely been built from TV, movies and books, rather than reality.  I did not grow up with snowy Christmas mornings, snug in a house with fire in the fireplace.  We didn’t go out sledding with new sleds, and certainly there were no horse-drawn sleighs to be had.

I built my “memories” from snippets of Christmas cards and holiday specials and movies through the years, molding my own idealized perfection.  I suspect that I am not alone in that.

Which is not to say that I don’t still enjoy all those false images during the holiday season.  It’s just good to remember that there can be other equally warm memories of a personal reality, and it is good to not lose complete sight of the truth.