Sunday, November 11, 2018

All Quiet

The dead, the dead, the dead

Our dead

Ours all

Our young men once so handsome and so joyous, taken from us 

The son from the mother, the husband from the wife 

The dear friend from the dear friend

And everywhere among these countless graves we see 

and ages yet may see 

on monuments and gravestones

singly or in masses, to thousands or tens of thousands, 

the significant word: Unknown 

- Walt Whitman, 1865

I'm writing this at eight o' clock. Today, a century ago, millions of people across the world looked at their watches and thought "Just three hours and it'll finally be over."

Is there any man left alive on Earth who can remember that moment in 1918? The soldiers are all gone. What about the people who watched them leave, and welcomed them back? 

The British tailor who lost a son?
The Irish priest who dreamed of a free country?
The German school boy whose own country was so young?
The French writer who saw the City of Light in ruins?
The Russian peasant who seethed with discontent under the tsar?
The Indians, Australians, New Zealanders, and Canadians anxious to prove themselves?
The Ottoman imam who prayed for his crumbling empire?
The Italian?
The Austrian?
The Hungarian?
The Serbian? 
The American?

Is there a doctor left who treated the maimed? 
A child who wondered why his father couldn't sleep?

There's only one I can think of. Years ago I had the honor of meeting Alvin York's son. The most striking thing I learned from that visit to a small farm in rural Tennessee was that York mourned the men he killed. 

Others reveled in it.

Hemingway turned his scars into words.

Hitler turned his words into weapons to inflict new scars upon flesh and earth.

And now only the earth itself stands as a testament to the Apocalypse. 

Over ten million men died in the Great War.
And then the greatest pandemic since the Black Plague killed that many people all over again in mere months.

It all begs the question: have we learned? 

"Military alliances, balances of power, Leagues of Nations, all in turn failed...The utter  destructiveness of war now blocks out this alternative. We have had our last chance." 
-- Douglas McArthur, farewell to Congress, 1951

This blog has been inactive for a long time. I haven't had anything to say. Today is different. Since 1945 the scope and scale of war has been getting smaller. Fewer casualties. Precision strikes. Even the pain has been diminished somewhat. I'd say we've learned, but only some of the lessons.

We still hate those we do not understand.
We fight to possess what is not ours.
We claim rights that we are not capable of using responsibly.
Yet we call ourselves a free and enlightened people who are so much better than those idiots.

No wonder Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world." 

Being a historian offers a certain level of comfort. You know that events happen in a kind of cycle.

But only faith in and obedience to God offers a lasting, permanent hope.

"Cursed is the man who trusts in man, who draws strength from flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord." -- Jeremiah 17:5

I think history bears those words out to be true. Harlan Ellison once said, "I think we have the capacity to become god-like, but not if we believe we're just little pitiful creatures made of clay who're going to burn forever." 

Yet, we cannot sustain our own lives without eating food or drinking water. We cannot learn without someone to pass knowledge down to us. 

We cannot become more than we are without Someone to show us the way.

I'll never stop believing that. Mankind's very heart, mind, and soul are at stake.

In the midst of a great cultural regression, walking the narrow way might seem like swimming against the tide. It might seem backward, ridiculous; hateful and bigoted. And maybe reading this makes you bristle. If it makes you think, then that's enough for me. We can have that conversation another time.

But on this day, a day when so many others will let the hour of 11am pass without knowing how scared that hour was to so many, give thought to others.

And remember...

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
-- John Done, 1624

Happy Armistice Day.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Off Hiatus

Hey all! I know it's been a long time since you heard any crickets chirp around here. I found a layer of dust on the dashboard when I came to do this post. Before I go any farther, yes, Front Stroke will continue. I've been playing around with a new video software that will enable me to make better stuff.

Rejoice. The hiatus is now officially over! My family is settled in our new Arkansas home, and it's not just the move that's occupied my attention!

It took me eleven months and nine days; from August 6, 2017 to July 15, 2018, but the new novel is finally done! With very few exceptions, this book was typed on my Olympia SG1. It weighs in at 368 pages (1.5 line space) and 136,000 words. I've sent the platen off for a well-deserved recovery.

This book was by far the most difficult project I've yet undertaken, not just because of the scope and scale, but life was really hard through most of the process. Between changing jobs, packing up to move, going through the move itself, and getting familiar with this new place, it wasn't always easy (or possible) to make my daily goals. Towards the end I suffered the same fatigue every writer suffers if they do long-form. At times I loved what I had made, other times I hated it. But the work kept me going on days when I thought I was going to lose my mind, when I thought I was living a life defined only by miserable stress. I can only imagine how much worse that stress would have been if I was writing something I didn't really care about, if I was chasing a market because of someone else's definition of good literature.

I also learned something about the tools we use. Ultimately, it doesn't matter what you work with as long as you're willing to devote the time and effort to finish the job. There were times when my progress was slow and I thought I might never get the book done, and in such times I considered the following examples of others who had come before me:

Richard Adams: wrote Watership Down by hand, 137,000 words, in 18 months.

Herman Melville: wrote Moby Dick by hand, 200,000 words, in 18 months.

Norman Mailer: wrote The Naked and the Dead on a typewriter, 220,000 words, at a rate of twenty-five pages a week (couldn't find reliable information on time of draft completion).

Brian Jacques: wrote Redwall by hand, 100,000 words, in seven months.

J.R.R. Tolkien: wrote The Lord of the Rings on a typewriter, over 500,000 words, in 12 years (albeit, this was mostly do to his choice to balance his university career and the methods he employed when developing the story, having never intended to write a sequel to The Hobbit).

So yeah, while there were times I wished I could write as fast as Stephen King (who can crank them out in three months), in the end it takes as long as it takes. Some are fast, some are slow. Nobody cares about the information above because the finished works have changed countless lives. One of the most difficult lessons I've had to learn is that time shouldn't be too great of a concern. I'm not even ready to start editing the draft, but for now, the fact that I persevered and managed to get it done despite increasing pressure is consolation enough.

I certainly had more fun working on this book than any other in recent times. Maybe it'll be the one, maybe not. Meanwhile, I've decided to reward myself with a little treat, one that will hopefully prevent future supply problems.

Behold, the Donut!

$60 for 660 yards of ribbon from Baco Ribbon Supply. I don't think I'll have to buy any more for a long long time.

Power to perseverance, no matter what your end-goal!