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Thoughts on the Nature of the Universe

Thoughts on the Nature of the Universe

 

     How do I make you believe? Where can I find the columns of data that warm the hearts of scientists, while retaining the turn of phrase to move the dreamers?
     You who worship at the shrine of science will reject my words because I deal in a subject relegated to the trivial—the voodoo realm of the spiritualists. You who favor spiritualists will discard my words because there is no room for karma and old souls in what I say.
     Still, I must try.
 
     I don’t believe in ghosts, or any of that class of events collectively referred to as “The Supernatural.” I don’t doubt there are strange and unexplained happenings but I cannot attribute them to the wandering spirits of the dead. Any explanation that says: “People may ‘hang around’ after death, for unexplained reasons, and for an undefined periods,” is too much to swallow.
     For example: for us to “see” a ghost they must both absorb and reflect light (we see colors because all but the color reflected is absorbed). But to absorb light there must be mass. And, if they both absorbed light and had mass they would cast a shadow. Plus, since what we call sight is a chemical process which requires a metabolism—which ghosts can’t have—they couldn’t “see.”
     Yes, I know that ghostly sight can be “explained away” by saying that ghosts must use another way of seeing that just happens to mimic life in both form and function is, well…not all that believable.
     And that’s just one of the infinite number of things stacked against ghosts.
     And then, there’s reincarnation. Lots of people love that one. And I suppose it’s comforting to believe that we go on living in some form after our current life is finished. But…think about it:
     There is this thing (call it a soul if you must), that looks out through my eyes and records everything I see and do. It contributes nothing from my “past lives” that I will be aware of,. So does it matter who I was before my “current” life? No, because I’m not like that person now, and I’m not aware of my “past lives.”
     This internal hitchhiker doesn’t even have my personality, which is the absolute core of my being. Given that, I cannot accept it as being, in some way, “me.” As far as I’m concerned, it could take a lifetime’s vacation and I’d not care. But according to those who believe, I have no choice in the matter, and there it sits, enjoying the view as I stumble through life.
     As if that isn’t enough, when I finally die, this soul thing hops from my head to the head of a newborn, accumulating knowledge for some “higher purpose.” In other words, it’s some kind of a cosmic brain-sucker—a parasite. That, I can most definitely do without. Worst of all is the claim that it gives me most of my good ideas. I have few enough of those as it is without taking all of the credit away from yours truly.
 
     Events classified as paranormal, though? That’s a different matter. Though there’s plenty of room for debate and doubt, for some, the effects are demonstrable and repeatable—something that with time and research may become the explained and commonplace. Of more importance, they don’t depend on “magic” and coincidence for their operation.
     Nearly forty years ago I took the time to satisfy myself that dowsing rods work. When the late John W. Campbell (editor of Analog magazine) was espousing their cause, I made a set for myself, and was amazed to find that they worked reliably for me. I can find water pipes, underground water, and even electrical conduits with them.
     I’ve even conducted successful experiments on the binary transmission of data via mental telepathy. (I never was able to determine whether I was a good transmitter or my wife a good receiver, as it worked only one way, and only between the two of us).
     All of the above is why I’m glad to report that I have found a reasonable cause for the belief in ghosts and reincarnation, not to mention the reasons behind the Loch Ness monster, Bigfoot, the missing mass in the universe, and, one of the most pressing mysteries of our time: what happens to the socks that turn up missing in the dryer?
 
     Right now I imagine you’re expecting a story, one that fits in with the claims I’ve been making. You won’t get one. This is a fact article, or at least a speculative one.
     The genesis of these words is a short story I’d been planning to write. It was to be based on something we’ve all experienced: We drop something, it hits the floor, and apparently vanishes. In spite of a careful search it can’t be found, yet is found days later, lying right were it should have been seen, immediately.
     For a good many years, I’ve been espousing what I have always called “Greenstein’s Theorem.” Simply put, it goes like this: The object cannot be found, because it’s not there. Due to reasons that are unknown at this time, when conditions are right, the object travels in time.
     It was a good basis for a story, but for one reason or another I kept putting it off, using the concept to entertain friends…until I had the functionality of the theorem proven to me, not once, but several times. I’m no longer joking.
     I know exactly what you’re thinking at this point, and I can’t blame you. Just bear with me, though, before you make any judgments.
 
     Over the next few years, I got laughs, many strange looks, and even a few believers out of the thing. I was in the funny position of almost, but not quite, believing it myself. It certainly seemed to fit the facts, but so did the greater probability that the things dropped weren’t found because they were overlooked, or had bounced into an obscure corner of the room. There were more than a few people, though, who told me stories that supported the theory. As time went by, it became harder and harder not to take it seriously, myself.
     Notably, one of the men with whom I worked, reported that after hearing of my theory, his family became convinced that he worked with a lunatic. Some weeks later, however, he took me aside to report that his Mother-in-law had dropped an antique earring on the floor of a bedroom. It was valuable so she, and the family, searched for it—in vain. They even went so far as to vacuum the floor and check the vacuum cleaner’s bag for the earring.
     As you can guess, the earring showed up the next day, in plain sight, right where it had been dropped. His family now believes.
     It went like that for a few years, until I witnessed the events recounted below.

° ° °

     Late one Saturday afternoon, the electronics lab was empty save for me, testing circuit boards that would be needed on Monday. Each unit was placed in a metal channel at the top of the test fixture, and held in place by two small screws. This time, I placed the module. Then, as I reached to secure it in place I dropped the screw. That resulted in the tiny “tink” of the screw striking the fixure, then nothing. I lifted the module, but the screw was gone. I remember mumbling, “At last, proof of Greenstein’s Theorem.”
     I laughed as I turned the fixture over and shook it, fully expecting the screw to fall onto the table. I shook it again. Nothing. The screw had apparently bounced out of the channel, on to the table, and then to the floor, where it had vanished—a tiny black screw on a black tile floor—lost among the scattering of wire clippings and debris of a busy electronics shop. I couldn’t help looking for it as I continued testing modules, though. I should have heard the second bounce of that screw, on either the floor or the tabletop.
     I didn’t replace the missing screw, though, as one was plenty for testing purposes. Mildly amused, I continued with the testing, and at five, with most of the modues finished, I went home, then returned to finish-up on Sunday.
     Once again, I was alone, as I searched for that missing screw before beginning work. I was being foolish, but still, I couldn’t help checking the fixture and the area around it. Of course, there was nothing. I even shook the fixture, inverting and tapping it on the tabletop to dislodge the screw if it was stuck inside. Again, nothing.
     But then, after testing several modules, I removed the latest one from the fixture and froze. You guessed it. That damn screw was lying in plain sight: a single black oxided 4-42, pan-headed screw.
     I was alone in the building, and that screw could not have been carried to the fixture with the module. In my right hand lay the second screw, the one that had been holding the module in place. There was no mistake. The lost screw had just reappeared.
     I must have stared at the thing for at least three minutes before I went to sit down. I had to. I was too shaky to stand.

° ° °

     That was the beginning. That event started me thinking on an interesting string of “what if’s.”

• What if time might be thought of as a loosely coiled spring, or helix, in which a coil occasionally “touches” another coil?
 
Could it be that under special conditions an object might “cross over?” As silly as it sounds, it explains why socks are lost in the dryer, only to show up later, after you’ve thrown away the survivor. A friend who uses a laundromat tells me that she occasionally finds clothing she doesn’t own, mixed in with her own laundry. But she always looks in the machines to be certain they’re empty before she uses them. And think about it: you might lose underwear or handkerchiefs too, but as they don’t come in matched pairs you probably wouldn’t notice.
 
• If the above is true, what if the same person happens to be at the crossing point in both times?
 
Is it possible that there is some leakage between the future and past mind of the person to whom this happens? This explains hunches, Deja-vu, and a lot of other things of that general class of events.
 
• If all of the above is true: Is it possible that there are people who can “receive” memories from an entirely different person, one who happens to occupy that crossing point in either the past or the future?

 
     At this point, the “what if’s” were arriving at a rate too fast to follow, but one in particular brought me to a halt: What if there were more paths than the one we follow? What if there are lots more?
     And with that thought, time stopped being a spring that’s lazily coiled on itself. Instead, it’s jammed into a box, along with an unknown volume of other springs. The really crazy part of it is that logically, it hangs together.
     Before I explain that, though, let me relate a story, told by a good and reliable friend:
     She’d returned from the hospital with a new baby a few days before. Hearing a noise from the baby’s room, she went in and was surprised to find a man standing by the crib. With a start, she recognized her father-in-law. He’d laid back the covers, and was smiling as he looked down at his new granddaughter. The only problem with that was that his being there was impossible. The man smiling at the baby was dead and buried. Yet she swears that she watched him straighten the covers then turn to her and smile. He put a finger to his lips in a shushing gesture, smiled again, and walked past her and into the hall. When she recovered her wits and followed him into the hall it was empty.
     I have another friend, one of the steadiest and most reliable men I know. He swears that he was part of a group of men who stood in a row-house in South Philadelphia, watching water gush from a plaster wall, as though from a waterfall, drop, then run across the floor and vanish into the next wall. The problem, other than the impossibility of a waterfall inside a house, was that the water, though it was real to the eye, couldn’t be felt, and the floor was dry.
 
     Those memories led to a thought: Suppose that under some special circumstances, we can see into that adjacent coil of time? That would be the most sensible explanation of ghosts I’ve heard. It means that the ghostly woman seen walking down the castle steps is a living woman walking down those castle steps at-some-other-time, or on some other path. I’ve always rejected the tortured soul explanation for ghosts as silly. Think about it. If violent death or great suffering was the cause of haunting, the ancient battlefields of our war-torn planet would be swimming with ghosts. Our oldest cities would have so many haunts they would get in the way, an expected annoyance, not a reason for fear.
     Those stories though, suggested a new possibility. Perhaps there are alternate worlds of a sort, in which there are differences from our own? This multiple branching world idea has always been a popular concept in science fiction. The cause is usually attributed to a decision that could have gone either way. I suspect, though, that the cause—if it is possible—is far more subtle than that. Decisions are made on data, even if you might think it was a flip of the coin kind of a thing. Given the same data, the same conditions, and the same person deciding, the decision will always be the same. Take a small thing though—down at the quantum level where probability is very real—a lightening-bolt that triggers a few nano-seconds late or early, for example. That may be in the range of probability. But that small delay might change the target of the bolt, and eventually have a significant effect on the world at large. A gross example might be the case of the child who wakes in fear of the storm as the bolt strikes closer to the house, due to the nano-second delay in triggering. The child is frightened, and is visited by Mom for a few seconds. But that small delay in her returning to bed results in a different sperm cell meeting with an egg that night, so a different child is conceived—a forking of time tracks to accommodate the dual event.
     The lightening delay is, as I said, a gross case, and subject to a great deal of argument as to it’s being possible. I cite it only as an example of the kind of thing that might cause a branching. I suspect that the actual causes are smaller, and may require years or even centuries until the differences manifest.
     Adding in the element of multiple time-tracks caused a lot of odd data to fit together. The thought occurs that in another time-track, my friend’s father-in-law didn’t die, and that on his track he was happily visiting his new grand-daughter that night. But because conditions were right, he was such a close fit for the situation on our world that he almost transferred into it, and thus was seen, not as a transparent ghost, but as a living breathing man.
     In our history, we record a man walking around the carriage horses and inexplicably vanishing. Perhaps in another track, he appears from nowhere. There are recorded cases of people found wandering, who speak no known language. People who, after learning the local language, cannot explain how they got to that place. Perhaps in another world, the crew of the Marie Celeste doesn’t vanish on the high seas, they move to a new plane of reality. It’s worthy of note that the most likely candidates for being seen as ghosts would be people who are removed from one branch but not another, as in the case of my friend’s father-in-law. Ghosts, then, might be the result of death by accident or murder, etc. In other words, the traditional cause of ghosts. Some time ago, I read that an aircraft carrier of the United States Navy was haunted by the ghost of an ex-seaman. The fact that the one seen as the “ghost, will eventually age and die in all branches of reality, explains why a ghost eventually stops appearing, and why our older cities aren’t teeming with them.
     As an even more interesting idea, suppose an alternate time-line formed before our species developed—or where it never developed. Visual contact between those tracks would show apparitions that look like deformed humans, or unknown creatures. Try a few simple explanations:

• Poltergeists – A partial crossover from human or other worlds.
• Ghosts – People in either our own, or other time-lines, simply going about their business. Perhaps they occasionally see us, and wonder at the strange events they view. It would explain why some ghosts ignore the people who view them, and others try to communicate.
• Spiritualists – Disregarding the legions of fakes and the self-deluded, there may be people who can more easily read, or see across the boundaries of the reality streams. It would explain how they could locate missing people. With no proof, I suspect that this condition occurs when a given person is closely paralleled in many streams.
• Monsters – The Loch Ness Monster, the Abominable Snowman, and Bigfoot may be as common as squirrels on-some-other-track. As an object seen many times, but never touched, they easily fall into the category of ghosts.
• Past life regression – The more simple explanation would be that the people in question are making contact across a track with either an actual person from our past (same track, different “coil”), or, more likely, someone from a concurrent track, though with a different history. This also explains “Out of body experiences.” Note that in many cases, although the “regressed” person is able to give detailed information on the day-to-day life in the village where they supposedly lived, and the village itself may exist, the person in question is not recorded as having lived there. This could well be because the supposed “past life” is actually a living, breathing, current resident of a version of the village, not the ghost of a past existence.
• Speaking in tongues – Simply, contact with someone whose language you don’t speak. It would also explain why the occasional rare individual suddenly understands a language they’ve never learned, or heard spoken.
• Possession – A “lock-on,” between people of two different tracks. In the event that one of the people in the “lock-on” surrendered control, the other would be able to directly converse with the people of the second track, and would report to his or her own people, on break-off of the lock, that they were transported to a strange world.

 
     There are still things that don’t fit—things like people who can bend keys, and make pots bounce around, but I think that’s because I’m missing data. So here, you’ll have to excuse me if I extrapolate a bit. Still, it hangs together nicely:
 
     If there truly are different ribbons, there’s little doubt that the atmospheric energy potentials, at least in a localized area, would be unequal. These unequal potentials could result in apparently unexplainable effects, which might explain such manifestations as poltergeists and other events. And if you’ll allow me this, several things suggest themselves:

• Assume a large electrical energy potential difference, caused by atmospheric conditions, and a person who finds himself at the same place in two or more ribbons. Should a leakage of electrical energy take place between the ribbons, there might be an inter-track lightening bolt that would result in the unexplainable, and spontaneous, combustion of anyone at the crossover point. Note that there are many, well documented cases of spontaneous human combustion. This might also be the reason for unexplained fires. A slow transfer could be one of the causes of St. Elmo’s fire, or the fabled “bolt out of the blue.”
• It may be, for physical reasons, or perhaps because a person appears on a multiplicity of closely aligned tracks, that they become a focus for the energies involved in the creation and maintenance of the tracks. These are the people to whom strange things happen. Keys bend, pots fly, and things go bump in the night when they’re around.

 
     Try it for yourself. Find some other explanation that fits the facts as well, and doesn’t resort to “faith” to explain what’s happening.
     Perhaps I’m simply fantasizing. Perhaps there are other explanations. Perhaps I’ve tried to tie together things that can’t be connected. I grant you that. Of one thing though, I am absolutely certain: that screw was not there until just before I found it.
     Truthfully, though, even after the incident with the reappearing screw, I didn’t really believe. I wanted to, but I wouldn’t, or couldn’t, let myself. And truthfully, my tongue was firmly in my cheek when I talked about the things I’ve reported here. I even wrote most of what you just read with a great deal of reservation as to my conclusions. Then, as I was editing, I had the truth of it demonstrated so clearly that I can no longer deny it:

° ° °

     I had a problem with my Suburu’s heater control cable. To repair it I had to remove the radio, the glove box, and a good deal of the dashboard. I placed them in the back seat as I worked, with the exception of the heater control knobs, which I placed in the center console’s tray.
     I used one of the knobs to test the repair, then reached out to drop it into the tray as I thought over what to do next. Unfortunately, I missed and the knob fell between the console and the passenger seat. There was an unusually loud “clink” as it landed, which seemed odd, but I left the search for later and went back to work.
     When everything had been reassembled I began my search for the knob. It wasn’t there. Eventually, both front seats, the center console, and even the parts removed for the repair were out of the car. No knob. I looked under the car and around it. No knob.
     But it had to be there. Both logic and reason insisted on that. So, I had my wife search, and did so myself, again-and-again, until there was no possible doubt. A two-inch diameter plastic knob had truly vanished. And though I would love to find some other explanation, here is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the knob is gone. I virtually disassembled the seats after removing them, and there is no place in the car that could hide that knob. Nor was the knob under or around the car. It was gone, and I have no choice but to believe. None.
     I bought a replacement knob, but each time I got into that car I had the horrible certainty that the original knob would roll out from under the seat and lay there, laughing at me. It didn’t, but it seems likely that another Jay Greenstein, on a different time-track, found it and believes the knob was dropped there in the factory.

° ° °

     I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t believe in witches and the occult. I do, however, firmly believe that there are explainable natural forces at work, whose detection and function is, in part, masked by human fantasies and desires. Most “ghosts” are the result of human fear, fantasy, and daydreaming. There are, however, too many well-documented events and sightings to dismiss.
     Who knows, perhaps I’ve just found the true explanation for flying saucers. Perhaps they don’t come from “Out there.” Perhaps they’re “neighbors,” passing through the area on the way to visit another neighbor.
     A last thought: According to the latest theories, most of the mass in the universe seems to be missing. They’ve accounted for it by calling it “Dark matter,” and scientists are in a race to find it. If by some chance the things I’ve postulated here are true, I’ve just found that missing mass.
     You are welcome to join in on the exploration of the field. It’s brand new, and wide open. Just remember, it’s called: “Greenstein’s Theorem.”
     

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A PayPal Warning

A PayPal Warning

Several years ago I joined, WritingForums.com a writing site. I was impressed, and enjoyed it enough that I was moved to donate $25. I didn’t make it recurring, but fully expected to donate each year.

A year later, the site asked if I wanted to do it again, and I said yes. Unfortunately, I wasn’t watching my bank account closely enough that month, because they made two deductions of $25, a day apart. I’m guessing that even though I hadn’t selected the recurring option, the site owner checked it for me. And when I said yes to the second year, he established a second $25 yearly donation. But I didn’t learn that until May 5th and 7th of this year, when both “donations” repeated. Making things even worse, because I wasn’t expecting a $50 charge, that account had insufficient funds to cover the unexpected withdrawal, which meant a $37 overdraft fee.

Making matters worse, I was no longer a member of that forum. Because of a dispute with an overzealous moderator, my account had been closed, weeks before.

I initially assumed that the charge was a mistake, and wrote the site’s owner. When I received no response I opened a dispute with PayPal. But a week later, with no request for data, or any communication from PayPal the dispute was canceled. And, though I have tried to contact them more than a few times, my communications have been ignored.

So here’s the problem, and why it relates to you: PayPal is not a bank, and not based in the US. So they can do pretty much what they care to with your money. If you’re a seller they can freeze your account and lock up your money. And there’s nothing you can do about it. As a buyer, if someone makes a charge you dispute they can ignore it, as they did mine.

In this case, a man has stolen $75 from me by means of fraudulent billing, and cost me an additional $37. And PayPal? They literally doesn’t care, so they are obviously comfortable with being complicit in the commission of a crime.

And of course, for you writers, The WritingForums site is a good one, But be very careful about donating money, because, like it or not, they will take it as permission to tap your card over and over again.

Spread the word, because anyone using PayPal should be aware of how they do business, and of how little protection we have.

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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The Ballad of Roland Skye

Roland Skye, unhappy boy. No friends to meet, he owns no toy.
Orphan poor, with face so plain, his life so dark, he knows such pain.

So small and meek, he’s pushed aside. From bigger boys he has to hide.
From jeers and taunts, from trick and fake; his life, his goods, are theirs to take
And take they do, just to annoy. Poor Roland Skye, unhappy boy.

At age sixteen he runs away. To seek success; to find his way.
His hopes are bright, he’ll do his best. He packs his bag and faces west.
He tramps the road in search of love. For tenderness, that soft white dove.
But all’s the same, he’s failure’s toy. Poor Roland Skye, unhappy boy.

At seventeen he turns to crime. He learns to steal. He does some time.
As years go by, he fails at all, till now his back is to the wall.
Too many years all filled with strife. It’s time at last to end the life.

He takes his tears to Harrow hall, and from its top he’ll take his fall.
His feet on stairs seem filled with lead. His hopes and dreams, now finally dead.
His final words on midnight’s bell. “For one good day, I’d deal with Hell.”

Then on his arm—like touch of air—soft fingers fall, so pale, so fair.
He turns to look, and in surprise, is trapped and held by wondrous eyes.
By lips and nails, and hair of flame, as voice of honey speaks his name.

“Your words were heard, oh Roland Skye. And we took pity, he and I.
Your fortunes sad no more will be. For if you wish, I come to thee.
I’ll give you life, though it be late. Forget your past, my name is Fate.

“For seven years I’ll give you aid. Your soul is all we ask in trade.
No man could ask for more than me, but more I’ll give than what you see.

“I’ll guide your life, you’ll have your dream. Success will follow every scheme.
When seven years have passed away, then I will go, but you will stay.
Long life you’ll have, till final roll. Then come to us, we own your soul.”

Stock still and froze was Roland Skye. A teardrop poised on either eye.
For with the tolling of his bell, no one would care, except for Hell.
He takes her arm, this Lady Fate. In pay for years of bitter hate.
For seven years, or just a day: His life, his soul, he’d gladly pay.

And to her word, her deed was true. Her love, his fortune, grew and grew.
The rich he saw, they bowed to him. He soon was given every whim.
The power brokers near and far, paid heed his name, they fed his star.

But all who see him have to note, the scar on face, fresh blood on throat.
It seems that he is unaware of cut and scar, or has no care.

But none could see, not even he, the shell of man he came to be.
For none could know of horrid deed; for none had seen his lady feed.
She blocks the pain of fang and claw, so blood and scar was all they saw.

*

For seven years her word was gold. Her love was his to have and hold.
But seven years did finally go, till now’s the ending of her show.
She sits with him, to say good-by. While he, in vain, tries not to cry.

But words she speaks now give him cheer, as soft she murmurs by his ear:
“Perhaps I might just stay a while. (He never sees the secret smile)
“For surely this is love I feel. (And you my lamb, my favorite meal)

A favor small, that you can do, will bind me always close to you.
Use all the wealth at your command, to draw to us a tiny band.
With skills and art at beck and call, to sunder chain and pierce the wall.

“My master seeks a tiny boon. To walk the Earth, to see the Moon.
For just a glimpse, he’s never seen, of plant and tree and grass of green.
For just a look, for one short hour: you marry me, and keep my power.”

For Roland Skye, there was no wait. He’d kill and more for Lady Fate.
He rushes on to do the deed. To doubts and fear, he pays no heed.
He thunders on, a blinded goat. While drops of blood trail down his throat.

He wastes a fortune, searching wide. For those he seeks will oftime hide.
But find and gather close at last, a band of men, with power vast.
They join his task, o’r records pore. While Fate gives aid, and oftimes…more.

They chant the words, they cast the spells. All locked within their private hells.
She guides their task. She fans their greed. She holds them close, to feed and feed.
They labor hard, their dying long. While she grows great, her power strong.

And on their throat, and breast and brow, the mark of beast is growing now.

*

And now they join to speak the name. To say the words, to fan the flame.
The deed is done on midnight’s bell, as cracks the lock on gates of hell.

Come forth oh fiend, oh succubus. Come tear and kill, come run with us.
Now come you zombie from your grave. The Earth is ours, there’s none to save!
Come fly, and fill the midnight sky. Come help us find the ones to die.

But Roland Skye cries out at last: “Begone, go home, your hour’s past.”
The Lady Fate just laughs at this. “Come close my love for one last kiss.

Oh mortal one, did you believe, we’d take a crumb, and then we’d leave?
Oh foolish man, how could you think, we’d satisfy with just a blink.
The earth is ours, oh slaughter’s lamb. Now see me as I really am!”

He stands transfixed, his eyes a stare. For gone is face and flame soft hair.
A female thing now holds him near. A thing of horror, fangs and fear.

“Come close my love, you’re mine for good. And now we’ll love as demons should.
My failing dear, all else above: I always hurt the one I love.”
The pain she held from him so long, now fills his world, now sings its song.

“You’ll scream my toy, but never die. It’s my wants now you’ll satisfy.
So come and kiss me, I’m in need. Hold tight and scream as now I feed.”

Poor Roland Skye, unhappy boy. Not ever more a search for joy.
For Roland Skye, how sad to tell. Because of him, the Earth is hell.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
1 Comment

Posted by on February 7, 2017 in Poetry

 

On Maintaining an Uncongested Throne

For fun. A defensive strategyThree shots to the pot for the modern toilet.

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2016 in Poetry

 

Inside Out – The Grumpy Writing Coach

Inside Out – The Grumpy Writing Coach

     As writers, we face a problem: We’re not the reader. This may sound obvious, but it has important ramifications. Our reader is, in many ways, unknowable, because we have no idea of who will end up picking up our work. We do know some things, though:
     Their background probably won’t match ours. Their tastes will be different. Their age group and education will be different to an unknown degree. And, there’s a 50-50 chance that their gender will be different, too. In fact, it’s unlikely that we and a given reader have all that much in common.
     Given that, how can we write anything that will be acceptable to all readers? The answer is, we can’t. It is literally impossible to write anything that will be viewed in the same way by all readers.
     So, do we accept the fact that the majority of people who read our work won’t “get it?” Or is there a way to eliminate those differences? Obviously, there is, or I wouldn’t be writing this article. The trick isn’t to make our work universally accepted no matter the reader’s background. It’s to make all readers the same.
     What we need to do is to make our reader become our protagonist. If we can make them see the situation exactly as the protagonist does; if we give each reader the same set of resources the protagonist will use; if all readers have the same desires, needs, and imperatives as our protagonist, then they will decide on what must be done next in exactly the same way as our hero will—and do that before the protagonist makes that decision—if they read and absorb that before they read the protagonist’s response to the situation—they will become our protagonist and react as that character does.
     Do that and you avoid the impossibility of making the writing universal. Instead you’ll make your readers universal. And with that as our goal, let’s see how we can accomplish that.

We’ve always relied on presenting the facts accurately, concisely, and dispassionately because that’s how we were taught to write. And it works well for book reports. But when writing fiction, instead of eliminating differences in viewpoint it encourages them. Everyone has their own interpretation of your presentation, based on what the words mean to them. Tell the reader, for example, that the protagonist is at peace, and each reader will take a slightly different meaning from the statement. To some, being at peace means there is no stress in their life. For others, that there is no war, or argument. In Islam, peace is based on submission and surrender to Allah. And there are hundreds of other shades of meaning to that one word. So expecting a reader to know our viewpoint is impossible unless we focus on that reader, and are able to interact with them, so as to refine our words to fit their background and preconceptions. But, make the reader know why the character feels they are at peace by making that reader view the protagonist’s world as the protagonists does, and the reader’s interpretation of the word no-longer-matters. They will feel as the character feels, emotionally, because for the moment, they will have superimposed the protagonist’s view on their own.
     Can we do this using the writing techniques we all learn in school? Hell no. Our teachers spent zero time discussing the nuance of point of view. They taught us how to write dispassionately, with accuracy of observation the most important item. Why? Because most people will do their writing in a business setting, where accuracy is critical. We were, remember, learning skills to make us useful to employers. Those book reports we wrote were practice for writing business reports. Those essays, practice for writing papers and letters. No one explained how to use tags, how to structure a scene, or even basics such as the three questions a reader needs answered quickly when entering any scene so as to have context to make sense of it it.
     Converting the reader into our protagonist requires skills that are unlike those used for telling a story in person, or creating a story on the stage or screen. Our medium is different, and has different strengths and weaknesses. Instead of stressing fact and accuracy we stress emotional connection. Instead of presenting things from the narrator’s viewpoint we presented from the protagonist’s. Same story, but a very different approach to presenting it. And that means a very different tool set must be used in the presentation.
     Our goal, remember, isn’t to make the reader know about the terror our protagonist may be feeling. Our goal is to terrorize the reader. We don’t want the reader to learn about the plot. We want them to live it. If you can make a reader put down your work for a moment, to decompress, because the emotional situation is so intense they can’t handle it, you have a winner.
     In the end, we have a name for this: it’s called point of view. And POV is the single most powerful tool in your repertoire. It is the thing that makes all readers the same.
     John W. Campbell, a noted editor once wrote an article in which he presented a hypothetical situation involving an observer and a climber. It went something like this:

Observer: “Don’t climb that tree. If you knew what I know, that’s not just a tree, it’s being used as a power pole, so there’s dangerous high-voltage up there.”
Protagonist: “If you knew what I know…that I’m a trained lineman, doing my job with the proper equipment, you wouldn’t worry.”
Observer: “But if you knew what I know, that your safety gloves are from a shipment that contained defective product, you wouldn’t go.”
Protagonist: “Ah…but if you knew what I know, that we heard about the defect and have inspected them to remove the bad gloves—and that the gloves I use will be pressure tested just before I put them on, you needn’t worry.”
Observer: “But if you knew what I know…”

     Point of view is critical. In the example above, were the observer made to know the situation as the protagonist does, confusion would be eliminated and the conversation would never occur.
     Obviously, the protagonist could be wrong. He or she could be missing or misinterpreting data, as could the protagonist in our stories. But that’s okay, because both our protagonist and our reader will have the same misunderstanding and make the same mistakes, which drives our plot. And our reader will be just as surprised, shocked, or perhaps pleased to learn of the misunderstanding.

     So how do we do that? How do we gain those necessary skills? How can we turn our narrative around and make our reader view our story from the inside out, as against from the outside in? How do we change our own perspective of how to present a story?
     The answer to that is quite simple. We do that by learning all we can about point of view and the other important skills a writer needs. We add to our existing knowledge, just the way we did, grade-by-grade, as we built our current set of writing skills. And the more we know, the greater the number of viable choices we have when handling a given situation. The more we know, the better we know what a reader will respond to. And, the more we know the better we get at making our reader feel like our protagonist.
     Simple? Absolutely. Easy? Of course not. If it was easy we’d all be rich and famous. Any profession takes time and practice to perfect. So the question isn’t if it’s easy or hard. The question is, is it worth the effort? And that boils down to: should we continue to write using techniques inappropriate to the task, or should we add professional skills to our toolbox? I don’t think you need my help to answer that question.
     But still, that’s a lot of work, especially given that we won’t know if we have the potential to make effective use of those skills, and to be successful, until we own and apply them. And that’s a big if, especially since most of us are not going to have people lining up to buy our work. So in reality: do we want to be a writer badly enough to to invest lots of time, and perhaps a few dollars to become a writer as a publisher views that term?
     That’s a difficult question to answer, other than to say that if someone can talk you out of writing you aren’t meant to be one. Writers write. It’s what we do. It’s our curse and our blessing.
Something to keep in mind when making that decision: writing isn’t a destination. It’s a journey, one that lasts a lifetime. And if every day we write with a little more skill than we did on the previous day, and we live long enough…
     So…now that I’ve discouraged you with the news that you probably won’t get rich from your writing this year, let me make a suggestion as to how to begin your transformation from outside-in to inside-out writing.
     A very good article on creating a strong point of view can be found here. It’s based on the work of Dwight Swain, who is notable for having defined many of the techniques that professional writers use, in a clear and concise way. I’d advise you to read the article, think about it, and when it begins to make sense, check the fiction that made you feel as though you were experiencing it, to see how the author made the technique work for that story. And if it seems like something that would help your writing, pick up a copy of Swain’s book, Techniques of the Selling Writer. It both expands on that technique and will show you many others, equally meaningful. Read it slowly, stopping at every point where a new concept is introduced, to think about and practice that point, so as to make it your own rather than to simply learn that it exists.
     And when you finish the book put it aside for six months. Use what you’ve learned, gaining skill and competence. Then, read it again. This time, knowing where he’s going, and better understanding the concepts being introduced, you’ll learn as much the second time as you did the first.
     Will it make you a published author? Naa. That’s your job. What it will do is give you the tools with which to become one, if-it’s-in-you to do that. And that’s the best we can hope for. Maybe it will turn out to be something interesting, but still, success will still elude you. Could be. Happens to most of us. But still, new writers appear all the time. Why shouldn’t it be you? And as they say, you never know till you try.

Hang in there, and keep on writing.
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Author’s note:
These articles are not presented with a, “Do this and you’ll be a published author,” attitude. Anyone who tells you they can provide success via a few words on a blog page is scamming you. Instead, they’re one writer’s view of the ideas put forth by the writing teachers I admire and respect. I’ve done the series as part of what’s sometimes called a Benjamin Franklin debt. If some of what I say seems to make sense, I urge you to seek the teachers themselves, people like Dwight Swain, Debra Dixon, and a host of others, and read their advice directly.

 

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A Mirror for the Mind – The Grumpy Writing Coach

A Mirror for the Mind – The Grumpy Writing Coach

Part of a series of articles for the new writer
 
 
 

     One of the unique abilities humans have evolved is to mentally put ourselves in someone else’s place. We have the ability to watch someone doing a physical act and literally feel ourselves duplicating the action. It’s not a matter of saying, “I do this, and then that,” we physically fire off the proper neurons, but at a level that doesn’t produce overt movement. We are, in effect, debugging the procedure before we try it ourselves.
     It’s a handy ability, and allows us to learn quickly. And it’s so complete an ability that if the one we’re mirroring in our mind hurts themself we’ll feel that pain. Unpleasant though it might be, pain teaches us to be careful, and that mirrored pain teaches us what to avoid, just as would having made that mistake ourselves.
     So what does that have to do with writing? Everything. That ability to mirror action and emotion is what gives us the way to literally pull our reader into our stories as a participant. Done right, we can terrify our reader with a horror story, and make them afraid to turn out the lights—in spite of the fact they know it’s only a story. It’s why we weep when something terrible happens to our fictional friend, and feel triumph at the climax of the story.
     All the tools—the techniques we use—have one and only one goal, to evoke that empathetic ability that places our reader on the scene.
     Our hero is locked in combat, his sword weaving a protective shell around him. We could list each thrust and parry and leave it at that. But that won’t evoke the empathetic sense because it’s impersonal. Instead, as the fight goes on, we have our hero think, He’s better than I am.
     The character has that realization, but the reader mutters, “Oh shit now what?”
     Sure, our reader knows the protagonist isn’t going to die. If that happened the story would be over. So the question is, how can we avoid death? And with that realization, those thrusts and parries take on new meaning, because while we know things are going bad for the protagonist we need time. We need to stay alive till something presents itself as a solution. Now we focus on the events, while at the same time thinking over the possibilities—exactly-like-the-protagonist, which means we are the protagonist, and living that fight.
     Let’s assume that the reader thinks they know what stratagem can save our protagonist—will at least allow escape if victory is not possible. Now, in addition to fighting the battle we’re shouting to our avatar, trying to remind them of that solution. And when our hero is nicked on the hand we curse, and feel the pain. Done really well, we can cause the reader to have to stop and recover because it gets too real.
     And if in our brilliance we not only cause the reader to be shouting encouragement and advice, we provide a better solution, one the reader feels they should have thought of, we have a reader who saying, “I really like this book.” And what more can we ask for?
     Facts? Who cares? Facts only inform. But mirroring the action in our mind as we read—living the adventure. That entertains.

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Author’s note:
     These articles are not presented with a, “Do this and you’ll be a published author,” attitude. Anyone who tells you they can provide success via a few words on a blog page is scamming you. Instead, they’re one writer’s view of the ideas put forth by the writing teachers I admire and respect. I’ve done the series as part of what’s sometimes called a Benjamin Franklin debt. If some of what I say seems to make sense, I urge you to seek the teachers themselves, people like Dwight Swain, Debra Dixon, and a host of others, and read their advice directly.
 

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All God’s Children

All God’s Children
 
 
 
     Recently, I had a thought that may have world-shaking implications, and change the way we look at genetics, and genetic manipulation, forever.
     For no reason in particular, I began to think about Christian dogma, and the concept that God gave his only son to the world, a child conceived within a human womb, with a bit of human and some divine aspects in his DNA that would allow the child to grow up with an innate sense of right and wrong, plus abilities we would attribute only to a divine being, like being able to revive the dead, to change water to wine, and to walk on water.
     The Bible clearly identifies God as male, and says that the child was his son, not just someone he created, like Adam and Eve, so the implication is quite clear, that God, the one in who’s image mankind was created, had some pretty special DNA to contribute, even were that contribution not made in the usual way.
     Interestingly, the abilities of the human/divine hybrid didn’t manifest immediately, but required the attainment of full maturity for the more magical aspects to be observed—though from childhood he was said to be pious and admirable.
     My first thought was that God sacrificing his only child wasn’t the great thing it had been made out to be, because, after all, being God he could cause another, or a million children of equal capabilities to be born. The “only child” thing, therefore was personal choice, and obviously must serve some purpose other than sacrifice. What did hit me as unique was that it was all accomplished through genetics.
     God took one of Mary’s eggs, and either cloned it, while at the same time, changing the genetic coding so as to produce that magical child, or fertilized that egg with chromosomes of divine origin. Either way, in doing so he changed the history of the world. But of more importance: he left mankind a critical clue that is only now apparent, because now, we have not only the technology to clone, we can change DNA. And that means that with care, diligence, and research, it is entirely possible to recreate that miracle. It is within our grasp to have every single woman on the face of the planet give birth to offspring who can truly be called a child of God, and who will innately know right from wrong.
     Think about the result of that fact, alone. No more wars. No more strife. “Turn the other cheek” will be the rule, without it even having to be taught. And the ability to feed the multitude with only a bit of food will conquer hunger. And that doesn’t touch the effect of being able to raise the dead, and survive a shipwreck by simply walking to shore—or calming the storm with an act of will.
     Assuming that the mutation breeds true, the cloning and genetic manipulation will need be only a one time thing, bringing peace and plenty to the planet in one single generation.
     Any woman would be overjoyed to bear such a child. Right? And what man would not be honored to be raising God’s child?
     Once this amazing opportunity is pointed out to the faithful, I am utterly confident that Christianity, as a whole, will support the necessary research, and help usher in the era of endless perfection.
     Is that cool, or what? Though I do kind of suspect that there might be some who won’t be pleased to read this.
 
 

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