Thursday, September 14, 2006

Montreal Shooter's Website?

It could be a coincidence, of course: 25-year-old Kimveer Gill of a suburb north of Montreal opens fire on college students in Montreal, killing several and wounding at least 12.

Police killed the shooter at the scene.

Spokespeople kept saying it wasn't a terrorist or racist killing, but I was skeptical, because it's never a terrorist or racist killing, even when the killer says it is, so I googled "Kimveer." Up pops "Fatality666" at, a 25-year-old male from Quebec, Canada, whose profile reads:
His name is Trench. You will come to know him as the Angel of Death . He is male. He is 25 years of age. He lives in Quebec. He finds that it is an O.K place to live. He is not a people person. He has met a handfull of people in his life who are decent. But he finds the vast majority to be worthless, no good, kniving, betraying, lieing, deceptive, motherfuckers.
So it looks like this one is not a terrorist or racist killing. Instead it's a hard-drinking, bored, angry, depressed, Marilyn Manson-fan, Goth-Satanist killing. So 20th century.

It's good to be wrong, but not much comfort for the dead or those who loved them. The dead, so far, are Anastasia DeSousa, 18, and a 20-year-old whose name hasn't been released. (I don't want to speak his name without theirs, because it raises him above them in importance.)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Truth about Snapping Turtles

Controversy erupted on a recent comments page, as Fr. Joseph reported that in North Carolina he was told that snapping turtles hold on until the next thunderstorm, whereas I was told in Louisiana that they would hold on until sundown.

This is a matter of no small importance, especially since they inhabit streams and lakes east of the Rockies from southern Canada to Ecuador, not to mention reptile collections of people who think of cold-blooded animals as pets.

A woman in Manhattan, wearing sandals, was ruthlessly attacked by an ungrateful snapping turtle that she tried to rescue from a garbage can in Hell's Kitchen.

A criminal in Balch Springs, Texas, tried to use a snapping turtle to commit an armed robbery. He was later charged with assault with a reptile (I kid you not).

The snapping turtle has even played a part in American political history, as this early cartoon compares Pres. Jefferson's embargo to an "Ograbme" turtle. (Is that funny? I guess you had to be there.)

So, given all this danger, of being mugged, attacked on a city street, traumatized in your friend's kitchen, or assaulted by a presidential administration, you're probably wondering, when do they let go -- sundown or thunderstorm? Thunderstorm or sundown? Or does the Heisenberg principle apply, under which they both hold on and let go -- until you shove something in their nostrils.

That's the answer, friends, and a much more satisfactory answer than either the sundown (which could be a long way off) or a thunderstorm (which in Oregon practically never happens).

So now you can say you learned something new today. Or if you already knew all this stuff, you can say I learned something new today.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Stop Editing

Life lessons can come from surprising places.

Over the weekend, I was looking on the web for magic formulas to help me progress faster in my court reporting course. Actually, I ran across this article in some practice material, and it offered one of those lovely categorizations: If you can fix these problems, you will be assured of success. (Tell me, Doctor, what is wrong with me that I keep going into pursuits where success is an ever-receding horizon?)

Anyway, the article helpfully informs us that there are four classifications of problems: clarity, hesitation, carrying and editing. If you're overly persnickety, as I am, you will note that they overlap and and feed each other, but when I read the description of "editing," I realized I was nailed:
4) Writers who edit while writing:

A. This is the strangest group of all (I rest my case). This group looks backward to check the accuracy of previous strokes. This is not conducive to learning. It must be stopped.
This is the same reason that I'm writing my novel by hand (700 words today, by the way), because when I sit at a keyboard, I can't leave the prior paragraphs alone. It's not right; it's not colorful; it's got typos; it's stupid; it's boring. Anne Lamott's slogan, "I'll fix it later," doesn't work, because it's too easy to read the type above and see the errors and problems and fear that they won't get fixed before going public (and looking at yesterday's post, I see that that is a definite danger--and I won't fix it later). Handwriting is enough harder to read, and I know I have to type it anyway, so I can say, "I'll fix it later," and trust myself to do it.

And it's possible to live like that, too, second-guessing every decision, every move, until someone's afraid to do anything because it might be wrong, stupid, boring, not clever, etc.

It's not that editing shouldn't happen, but if it begins too soon -- whether in court reporting, writing or life -- it ties up the person so that forward motion is impossible. Martin Luther was getting near this idea in his oft-quoted "Be a sinner and sin boldly, but more strongly have faith and rejoice in Christ."

And the day job I'm trying to work myself out of? Editing. No wonder it makes me crazy.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

When I'm Not Blogging

Despite good intentions and not-as-good efforts, blogging has fallen off over the past couple of months. I'm pleased to report that there's a good reason.

I've gotten to the text phase of my novel.

It's been longer in production than I care to admit. I started writing it in the 1980s. It was going to be "Left Behind" before there was a market for "Left Behind."

Then I read The Gulag Archipelago (the whole thing--I was riding the bus to and from work every day and had lots of time), and the idea that American Evangelical Christians would get a free pass on persecution seemed empty. But I still had these characters and their experience seemed to have the capacity to go deeper, and so it changed and changed and changed, and I "finished" it. That was in the mid-90s, I think.

So I tried to market it. I got some "good" rejections (if you don't write, you probably don't know that there are levels of rejections, sort of like Dante's hell, but I'll spare you the misery; if you do write, you know the wailing and gnashing of teeth). But in the process of leaving no stone unturned, no agent unqueried, I collected 250 rejections (another embarrassing admission). But I wouldn't trade that binder of rejections for what I learned from the process: At some point they stopped being demoralizing; at 125, they started being funny. Did you know that some literary agents subscribe to a rejection service, the way some preachers subscribe to a sermon service? I made that up, but it sounds like it. You know you've gone around the bend when you're holding up your own query letter to the light to find out if the "Not for us" scrawled in the upper-right-hand corner is actual writing or a stamp.

The comedy lost its luster, and I desk-drawered the novel around 1999. In 2002, I pulled it out, queried it again (I don't recall why) and got at least one publisher writing back and telling me that if I had pitched it to them a year ago, they might have taken it. I thought about revising, but I didn't know how.

Disaster struck around 2003. An unbacked-up hard disk crash destroyed drafts 7-9 of the novel. After an appropriate time of wailing and gnashing of teeth (see above, multiply by 9), I decided to start again from scratch. I've read Robert McKee; I've taken excellent workshops from Larry Brooks, Candy Davis and recently Marc Acito. I've worked on plot structure, story arc, writing the novel from the bones outward. Each time I thought I had drawn near to actually writing text, I've learned something new that I wanted to incorporate into the entire draft. Sometime in August, I finished with the structure. I knew I was finished, even though I hadn't finalized the last chapter, because I felt that if I did one more thing, I'd be done, too done to finish it.

So I printed up the outline, put it into a three-ring notebook and haven't looked at it since. If I get lost in the swamp, I've got the map, but now I'm following the road where it leads. It's gritty and surprising, and I may have departed from the map already, but it's rolling along, and I keep reminding myself that I can fix it later.

And I'm writing it by hand, in those wonderful Mead composition books with the stitched binding and the wide-ruled sheets. The goal is to put down the pen and not lift it. To keep reminding myself that I can fix it later. To wander where my characters take me. Page by page it goes, about 100-150 words per page, 200 pages per book, five notebooks ready for the draft.

I hoped to get it done by next summer. I don't know if I'll be able to do it. If I get in 500 words per day, I should be able to do my 90,000-word first draft in about six months.

So if I'm not here, that's one of the places I am. I'm off to get my 500 words in for tonight.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

A Shameless Paschal Promotion

What it lacks in theological nuance it makes up in . . . pink.

H/T: Marie.

Friday, September 08, 2006

My Name, Too!

I went to the schoolyard to interview a teacher for a story. When I was done, I called to a few of the little girls playing nearby to have their picture taken with the teacher. I got three of them, about third grade, and they stood smiling in a cluster around Mr. G. They called to their friend to join them in the picture. She thought about it, but decided against it.

After I had snapped the photo, I stopped the girls in place to write down their names, and first in line suddenly was the girl who didn't want to be in the photo.

Some people are visual, and some are literary.

Dying for Christ vs. Showing What's Real

Christians are getting down to the discussion of the two reporters who decided to "convert" to Islam at the point of a gun.

Grace asks pertinently:
I’m not saying that the martyr’s crown is for everyone. If it was, there would be nothing exceptional about martyrs. But here we are, nearly 100 years later, and the radical Muslims are still fighting a religious war. Have they not noticed how much the Western world has changed? Do they know how many prisoners they would have to go through to find one that wouldn’t deny Christ to save his or her life?

Will they find any?
And GetReligion points out the double standard:
Try to picture an army of Ann Coulters — in black leather skirts, perhaps — forcing a pair of defenseless Muslims to convert, with swords at their throats and video cameras aimed at their faces. That would not happen, of course. At worse, Coulter would force them to listen to her do dramatic readings from her upcoming greatest hits collection. But you get the point. At Georgetown University, if would almost certainly be a thought crime to ask two Muslims to get a cup of coffee and discuss the Trinity.
And Rod Dreher agrees with David Warren that the freed reporters ought at least to have the decency to be ashamed of their cravenness.

And I don't dispute any of their points. But one of the commenters on Dreher's blog gets at the essential confusion about what it means to "die for Christ":
I would choose life. I would choose to carry my faith in my heart and lie through my teeth to survive the experience, because no matter what you say about faith, it dies when the body and mind dies, and there is little to depend on beyond that very faith for what comes after death.
But it's really not about "dying for Christ," so much as it's about not letting a little thing like death make someone lie about who he is or what's real. Or, more accurately, it's that death clarifies and reveals the essential reality at the base of who we are.

It's no benefit to Christ that people die, whether for Him or for Western civilization. The Christian martyr is not the master of his own death -- which is exactly the point.

The "witness" of the martyr is not that death is nothing, but that it's the final spotlight on who we are and what we care about. It's the Misfit saying, "She could have been a good woman if she had someone to kill her every minute" (quoted from memory, so not guaranteed for accuracy). It's St. Polycarp replying to the same offer the reporters had: "I have served Christ for six and eighty years, and never has he done me evil. How, then, can I blaspheme my King and Savior?"

Obviously, reporters Centanni and Wiig have not served Christ for 86 years (even together, they probably haven't lived that long), and when the bright light shone on their values, they revealed what they believed. They seem satisfied with what they found.

Like Dreher, Warren, Mattingly and Grace, I would be horrified and humiliated to discover that my reality was so small. I would come back, not bragging about it, but repenting of its paucity and working to enlarge it. In fact, as I type this post, I worry that my reality doesn't measure up to that of an 86-year-old (or older) man's (though my assumption that reality shrinks as we age is perhaps evidence of my own immaturity).

We all get that light shined on us sooner or later, though for most the decision isn't televised. I think I'm glad. It raises the concept of Survivor to a whole new level.