8 Rules from Vonnegut

Started on some fiction based on a creepy dream I had. This was sitting nearby, and has come in handy.

Eight rules for writing fiction:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things – reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them – in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Vonnegut, Kurt Vonnegut, Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons 1999), 9-10.

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The F-Word

I was thinking the other day. Fuck isn’t an unpleasant word. The soft eff-sound stays forward in the mouth, not like finger or finch. The crisp kah-sound at the end could obtain a harshness, but it so rarely does. It’s a brief, multi-faceted, one-syllable word that can range from playful to surprised, angry to erotic.

It gets a bad rap, I guess owing to its connection to sexuality. But maybe it’s a word that just needs further research, and a bit of love.

Divided Nations

Dear Abby:

I’m torn. I’ve been in an open relationship for quite a while now. We share partners between us. There’s a few. Occasionally one will quarrel with another, but on the whole it’s worked out really well. Until recently.

Within the past year one of the lovers has become increasingly erratic. He takes time to berate some of us, then tries to be nice. Though, we don’t actually believe he’s sorry for what he said. Actually, he doesn’t even apologize.

He lauds over us his superiority and says that his stuff is more important than ours. He has always given more to the communal property in the relationship, but now he’s saying that he’s been doing too much.

I just don’t know how long we can last with him. Some of our neighbors are actually threatening him. He just goads them, tells them to go ahead and try. I’m afraid any fight is something some or all of us will get dragged into.

We’re at our wits end! What should we do?

Sincerely,

-Formerly United Guys and Gals

Of course, this is a thinly veiled commentary on President Trump’s rhetoric regarding the United Nations.

The United Nations, or UN was founded by president Franklin Delano Roosevelt and 50 other member states in 1945. Its function was mainly to provide defense and secure against another world war.

Intergovernmental associations of OC the utmost importance to national security and prosperity, and downplaying the cooperative nature of the United Nations is a danger to all.

Award Shows

So the Emmys just passed. A few months ago the American Theatre Wing presented the Tony Awards. We’re moving into Oscar season, and films will inevitably start vying for position. And we’re left wondering – is it worth it?

There are questions of racism and sexism. Shonda Rhimes had this to say. Amber Tamblyn also made the news this week, bringing the industry as a whole to task.

Yet, viewers tune in to the congratulatory events, rooting for our favorites, almost American Idol-style. We want our picks to win.

I get a unique cross-section of opinions when the conversations start up around me. Though I haven’t done much in theatre or film the past couple of years, many of my colleagues and friends still work in the industry. Listening to them I hear of the problems going on set or backstage.

Sexual harassment among a prominent improv troupe. Pay discrepancies for actresses vs. actors. Unfair practices in casting when it comes to non-white performers.

And still, being entertainers, many people not in the industry would chalk it up to inflated egos not getting their way. They say it when it comes to sports, and authors, and performers.

“Get a real job,” they might say. And, in the face of their individual struggles, they are justified in that opinion.

As with most things, it’s not a simple cut-and-dry matter.

So go watch the movies. Get a Movie Pass for ten bucks a month. Make your pick for Best Film. The Academy Awards are right around the corner.

An unfinished symphony

I come back to my questions, the uncertainty of who I am, what I see around me, and my place in the world. The great symphony that is creation is confusing, and I’ve no idea what instrument I am, nor do I know the notes to play.

An actor’s nightmare is showing up onstage unfamiliar with the show and not knowing the lines.

Showing up to class naked is another common nightmare.

But isn’t that what happens to all of us? We show up here on Earth to learn, to love, to fail. And we’re naked and uncertain. As we age, we think that we’re the only one unprepared, but that’s not the case. Everyone else is just as uncertain.

The great showmen, the sales team, marketers, educators – they’d have you believe that they had it all figured out. But it’s a ruse. What do they have figured out?

Time and again, technology shifts industry. Discovery shifts learning. Goods and services are transitory, as are we all.

I guess all we can do is a pick a note and play it loud. If it doesn’t happen to sound good, play another.

Rebuilding

Following natural disasters, how does the government respond? Where does the money come from, and aren’t there ways that we can be better prepared?

Early estimates are that the total cost of Harvey and Irma are $150-$250B. In perspective, the cost of Katrina was $160B. How do we pay for that? What are other economic factors that need to be considered?

The United States annual budget is roughly $3.8 trillion. So, those two hurricanes comprise approximately 5% of the annual budget.

When I worked in municipal government, I dealt with the Office of Management and Budget from time to time. Check how much overall was left for the office until the end of the fiscal year. Request transfers from one category to another. Those kind of things.

I’m neither an expert on budgets nor on government expenditures.

That being said, it seems that the Nation has a problem. Debt is required to make up the deficit in the budget (already), and more debt will be needed to pay for the damage.

Following Hurricane Katrina, John W. Schoen had this to say when asked who’d foot the bill: “The simplest answer: our children and grandchildren will get stuck with the bill. They’re the ones who will ultimately have to pay off the debt Congress has authorized to keep spending on the war in Iraq and now the rebuilding of damage caused by back-to-back hurricanes. In the short-term, the cash is coming from the sale of Treasury bonds, which will have to be paid back decades from now.”

I’d say great, but I’ll probably be alive to see my taxes increase for that. Probably won’t have Social Security benefits either.

Regardless, the question of handling national disasters comes down to the matter of handling the National Budget. And given that the Country was created partially through the borrowing of money (to finance the Revolutionary War), we have always been a people of debt.

The American Dream was founded on debt.

Is it sustainable? Probably not. Are we going to suddenly have to become a Chinese State? Highly doubtful. Still, planning for the budget deficit in responsible ways has become even more important in recent years.

The Treasury Department was cerated to handle the Country’s finances (thank you Alexander Hamilton – I’m a theatre guy, please keep that in mind).

From a website showing US Government Spending, we get these charts:

usgs_chart4p01

“When charted in dollars the total accumulation of federal debt looks huge. Looking back over the last century, the debt back in 1900 doesn’t really register.”

usgs_chart4p02

“But by charting accumulated debt as a percent of gross domestic product (GDP), you get a look at government debt compared to the size of the economy at the time.” This looks like a more reasonable time comparison, though having debt at 100% of the GDP is certainly not a desirable method of running the Nation’s finances.

So where does that leave us? Raise taxes? Cut spending? That’s the crux of the Democrat-Republican debate!

But in the short term it unfortunately doesn’t matter which side is right, if either side can actually be right. The cost of repair when destruction hits needs to be paid.

 

Eye of the storm

In the eye of a hurricane there is quiet for just a moment, a yellow sky. 

Hurricane, from Hamilton the Musical

When it’s time to prepare for a possible hurricane strike, it’s inevitably nearly too late. Irma was not much of a factor on the East coast of Florida, and honestly, I never thought she would be, though I couldn’t tell you why. I had hoped she would turn out to sea, rather than swipe the Gulf Coast, but here on the Atlantic side of Central Florida it was mostly rain and light winds. And, as with all natural disasters, concern and rushing about.

Hurricanes give us the feeling that humanity is no closer to mastering nature than early man was, coming out of the caves. The raw destructive power of storm systems can undo decades of civil engineering and community building. Flooding, wind damage, downed power lines and exploding transformers. And nature will keep coming.

As I sit in relative darkness, writing by some candlelight on an iPad with attached keypad, I wonder at early civilizations. Save the sound of nearby gas-fueld generators, this powerless state is something that would be typical merely a century ago. Quiet. Alone with thoughts, the sounds of nature (sans fuel-combustion), and seemingly few concerns. 

The television is off. It must be, with no power. I listened to some public radio via the phone, but not much. And I sit here, thinking. Considering what tomorrow will bring, when the power is sure to be reinstated.