Monday, December 19, 2011

The Politicization of Scholarship at NYU

James Franco is an actor whose performances I used to really enjoy.  Maybe not quite so much anymore, though.  I read today that his New York University professor, Jose Angel Santana, lost his job after he dared to give the celebrity a D grade.  (Apparently, there was a puzzling expectation that students would actually attend the class.)  Now, Dr. Santana is suing NYU over his termination.

This issue dovetails remarkably well with my last blog offering.  While no one is being accused of plagiarism, the expectation of a higher grade because of "who one is" smells like it came from the same malodorous source.  This politicization of scholarship is a dangerous thing indeed, because it cheapens the educational commodity itself, diminishing the objective value of the degree for all the students.

Just as many professors and administrators apparently look the other way when it comes to cheating and plagiarizing students, now there's a high profile example of university administration being more than willing to look the other way in order to retain their celebrity student--and his smug satisfaction.  One doesn't need "spidey senses" to get an unpleasant tingling sensation at this state of affairs. 

NYU, you must be so proud.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Plagiarism...and Ravens

As you've read here in past postings like "What I Learned From Meeting Brian Jacques," one thing that really bothers me is when authors fail to strive for honest originality, stealing instead from the hard work and creative genius of others.  (Brian Jacques being an author who was so concerned about originality that he avoided reading similar books to his masterful Redwall series.)  It makes no difference to me whether, or not, the original author is living or dead.  Whether a student or author, using the unattributed writings of others, is both a form of theft as well as a blatant lie.  Perhaps in times like these when moral relativism seems the moral compass of so many, we shouldn't be so surprised.
Still, I consider it important to make a sufficient stink about plagiarism when it raises its ugly end.  The most recent case-in-point is Lenore Hart's The Raven's Bride.  While Saint Martin's Press is defending its author from the charges concerning her novel on the life of Edgar Allan Poe and his young wife, Virginia Clemm Poe, the mounting evidence against Lenore Hart seems quite convincing indeed.  
Writers such as Jeremy Duns  have already done a great job documenting the plagiarism, so it's not my intention to rebuild the case they have already presented so convincingly.  (Interesting exchange here via Google cached content.)  I was a little dismayed earlier today, however, when I tried to add a comment to Saint Martin's Press' Facebook page.  It appears that my comment has been blocked, effectively preventing some users from reading it.  To the end of addressing this case of censorship, here are the thoughts I shared online earlier today.

Any writer is familiar with the disappointment and annoyance of finding a particular phrase of theirs to have been used many times before. When we google our own favorite turns of phrase, the results remind us of the inherent difficulties of stringing a few words together which are entirely new and original to the language--"moral entropy," for instance. There is never a question of plagiarism in our minds, since we were entirely unaware of the other uses of the phrase in question, but what Mr. Duns is highlighting is entirely different and goes straight to the heart of the author's integrity--as well as the publisher's. There is a world of difference between coincidental similarities in short passages or phrases--due to inherent mathematical limits concerning the order of words, conceptual similarities, as well as other limitations of the English language--and wholesale plagiarism of another author's content. Mr. Dunn has clearly demonstrated that too many "coincidences" exist for any reasonable person to believe that plagiarism has not taken place here. As a mainline publisher, you have a responsibility to your readers to do the right thing. In an age when everyone from authors to students seem to think nothing of plagiarism, it's time we all put down our collective foot on this issue, declaring "Enough!"

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bring Tristan Home for Christmas!

In case you missed all the excitement, I hope you'll take a moment to check out my children's book, Tristan's Travels!  With the current special on priority shipping, it couldn't be a better time to bring this book home for Christmas.

What are they saying about Tristan's Travels?  Here is a short sampling of reviews and feedback...

"With a Disney-like quality of imagination, adventure, and insight, Karl Erickson weaves his allegory on friendship and faith in this delightful tale..."

Fr. Tim Mockaits

"It reminds me of the work of A.A. Milne in its delightfully simple humor, of Beatrix Potter in its simply delightful depiction of anthropomorphous beasts, of Kenneth Grahame in its debt to literary tradition..."

Joseph Pearce

"For anyone who has lived in Astoria, Oregon--for anyone who has watched animals read--for anyone who has or hasn't wanted an adventure, Karl Erickson's beautifully illustrated, lovingly written fable about the life and particularity of a seagull named Tristan is a worthwhile journey."

Sean Astin

"Inspired by Saint Francis of Assisi and the writings of C.S. Lewis Erickson's narrative is one of pure delight. It's imaginative, action-packed adventure of faith and friendship will enchant readers of all ages."

Gail Welborn

"Tristan’s Travels weaves a theme of grace into a tale of animals trying to surmount an impossible distance to help someone they love. It is a tale that has deeper themes and Catholic undertones without shoving them down the reader’s throat. This is the sort of book I imagine myself — and my children — rereading many times, enjoying some new pearl and all the old laughs again each time."

Sarah Reinhard


Video Trailer

Tristan's Travels at Rafka Press  (discounted priority shipping currently available)*

* The customer will need to change the shipping method from Standard Domestic to Priority.  

After they “Add to cart” and
“Check out” and select
“Don’t have a PayPal account” (or they can “Check out with PayPal”) and
“Review and Continue”

Then they’ll be able to change the shipping method to Priority. 

Breaking Book News... for a sneak peek at the artwork for our upcoming book Toupee Mice, please visit my new author page on Facebook!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Etiquette at Mass Revisited

I remember attending a Free Methodist church service as a child where the "mother cat" in front of us repeatedly licked her hands and patted down her young son's hair.  This went on for a long time--and it really got distracting after the first 30 seconds, or so.  (One has to wonder if the child is a hairstylist now...)  

Earlier in the year I shared some thoughts on Etiquette at Mass, and now I would like to address one additional area.  Like the "mother cat" description above, church is not really the appropriate place to attend to one's personal grooming for an extended period of time.  After all, we're not there to learn about your hair.  These thoughts came to mind at a recent service where the teenage-girls sitting in front of us seemed to discover their respective heads-of-hair for the first time.  The fiddling, styling, and snickering lasted throughout the entire service.   Enough with the hair...please!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Visiting the Grotto

If you haven't visited the Grotto in northeast Portland, Oregon it is well worth your time this Advent Season--or anytime, for that matter.  After Thanksgiving, a magical transformation takes place throughout the National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother.  While it's always a place of beauty, peace, and spiritual meaning, the 500,000 sparkling Christmas lights and more than a hundred choirs make this an event like none other.  For us, it doesn't feel like Christmas unless we've made this annual visit.  It reminds us of the simple joy and hope which are at the heart of the season.  I hope you can drop by.  

I put together a very short video of our Christmas visits over the past few years.  It gives you a little inkling of what it's like--minus the Ericksons and friends unless you have really good coffee.

A few of my other Grotto photos are shared below.  Hope you enjoy!

(Special thanks to the Franklin High School Concert Choir for the video's background music.)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Donna Cora Gibson Interview

1.  In the interview featured on your website, you described yourself initially as a lukewarm Catholic.  What happened in your life to bring you to a deeper spiritual level?

Unfortunately, like so many of God’s children, we don’t come running to him until we are in desperate need.  I was living life my way and by my rules and made a complete mess of things.  My fiancĂ© “postponed” the wedding indefinitely,  I had no job and was looking at having no place to live.  My music contacts were dried up or ruined and I had no other skills.  I prayed for death, but when I woke up the next morning I had still died inside and decided that since I was still here, though “dead”, that I would live God’s way.  Though I knew the basics of the Faith, I still had to learn so much, like “how to live for God,” how to be friends with Him, what does He want? Etc.  You can’t love someone you don’t know, so I started reading my Bible (again) from the beginning, but this time didn’t quit.  I studied, prayed a lot (the Chaplet of Divine Mercy was important for me at the turn around point), went to regular prayer meetings and never missed Mass.  I also got very heavy into all those end times prophecies and the many apparitions of Our Lady.  While I don’t follow any of them anymore, they had an important impact on me as I got to finally consider that God was intimately involved in my life.  He was very close, not just some big entity “out there” somewhere.  He became like a friend.  I didn’t want to hurt my true friend ever again.

2.  Would you describe your experience as a second conversion, a conscious turning towards Christ?  (As a family of former Evangelical protestants who crossed the Tiber in 2005, this question is always of interest to me.)

Yes, because I remember when I was young thinking that being a Christian was the right thing to be.  I certainly always believed in God and just flowed in that “direction.”  Later, there was a conscious turning towards Christ because there was no flowing anymore.  There was a deliberate halting and a painful turning and changing and purging and active pursuit that definitely was “upstream.”

3.  You talk about a "death to self" in this renewed commitment to God.  What exactly do you mean by this?

Since I had messed up so royally doing things “my way,”   I just “quit being me” so to speak.  I completely died to my own will and was docile to whatever the Lord had planned for me.  I just knew I had to stay close to Him so I could know His direction.  I was content to be a secretary and never sing again if that’s what the Lord wanted.  I really didn’t care either way about it.

4.  How do you write your music?  Do ideas come to you throughout the day, or does it work best when you have time to quietly reflect?

Oh, you make songwriting sound so glamorous.  Like any other project in the world, it’s only 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.   If I’m going to write a song, I have to decide that “now I’m going to write a song.”  I have to block off the time first and foremost – a few undisturbed hours.  (Lately it’s been on a plane or a long car ride.)  I either have an overview of the project I am writing for, or I go looking for an idea.  If I’m setting an already written prayer or scripture to music, I start playing with melodies until I’m happy with it and can make the rest work.  I always do it in my head first, then I go to the piano to figure out what I’ve been “hearing.” If I get stumped, I leave it and do something else for a while, like a chore or shower, all the while playing with a melody.   Once I got something completely unrelated stuck in my head and decided to go with it for the song, taking it in a totally different direction, but hey, I finished it in an hour.   I usually finish them quickly, but sometimes they just get stuck forever.  I wrote the verse to “You Are Not Alone” six different times before I came up with the final one.  As soon as I “wrote” it, I knew that was it, but then I still had to hammer out the words again to make them fit the new melody.    I don’t even remember writing the chorus.  It just seemed to always be.  I had been singing it in the shower for 10 years already.  If I’m writing a song out of nothing, I write pages and pages of phrases, ideas, or related scriptures.  It’s called a “stream of consciousness.”  Then I look for the catchiest phrase and try making a hook out of it.  Sometime having to pick another and other times just reworking it over and over until it “sounds right.”

5.  Your music is loved by Catholics and Protestants alike.  Any thoughts on what gives your songs such crossover appeal?

God is so big.  There is so much to love about Him.  His love and truth permeate any barrier.  Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice.”  It’s not me at all.  God just resonates in the hearts of all believers.  I just contribute a melody that draws the listener into the words.  One listener told me once, “You sing it the way I feel it.”  How cool is that?

6.  Your songs set prayers to music.  I recently discovered the profound beauty of ancient Catholic hymns.  Have you ever considered setting some of the classic Latin hymns to music again--e.g. Hymn at Matins in Passion-tide?

No, I’m a “pop” singer.  While I can sing and write any style of music, just because I can, doesn’t mean I should.  It’s best to stick to one style and not confuse my audience as to what they can expect from the next album.  There are plenty of people doing classics and Latin and they do it very well.   Personally, I love that kind of music and when I go to Mass, that’s what I want to hear.   I even sing them to myself or as lullabies to my children.   I also don’t want to go the contemporary Christian route either for the same reasons.   There are far fewer people doing contemporary Catholic  music well.   I feel there is a need there and I’m filling the void.

7.  How does God speak to you though your music?

That depends entirely on the song.  If it’s scripture based, singing it allows for more time to internalize it, like a meditation.  The words are alive and God is present and speaking through it right in the moment, drawing you closer.  It’s easier to fly by it when you’re just reading it.  Perhaps that’s why St. Augustine said, “He who sings prays twice.”

Another aspect to the question could be “my doing music in general,” which mirrors by own spiritual life.   It’s never good enough.  My soul is not perfect either.  I have to keep trying to improve both and sometimes have to just let go and let God accept what I am and have to give, trusting that when offered in love and submission, it/I will be acceptable and can even be useful in my/it’s imperfect state in His omnipotent hand.  God writes straight with crooked lines.  He does it all.  I’m just the pencil.

8.  What does redemptive suffering mean to you?

Offering every aspect of my life, especially the difficult times, in union with the sufferings of Christ offered to the Father in atonement for the sins of all mankind.  St. Paul says, to “take joy in your sufferings, for in them we make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His body, the Church.”  It’s the greatest gift God can give us.  We resemble His Son in this and the Father sits up and takes notice.  It’s very hard, but very cool to be another Christ.  Lord, grant us the grace…

9.  What's the biggest problem with Catholic music today?

My pastor once asked that I read the book “Why Catholics Can’t Sing.”  I wasn’t interested because I was very turned off by the title, but he insisted.  The book was right on the reason.   Music in Catholic churches today have strayed so far from the traditional hymns which have the same “verse” melody sung over and over, making it very easy for the average person in the pew to learn and participate in.   The current melodies are abrupt, dissonant, meandering and require a music degree to be able to sing, sight read, or play the piano.  For the most part, they leave no invitation to enter in to try to master the melody.  It’s a workout and a relief when it’s over.   To make matters worse, most churches will not pay people with the necessary skills to make this difficult music, or ANY music for that matter in many cases, listenable.   If no one with the ability steps forward to donate their time, then the whole congregation is made to suffer.  If professionals are hired, they are usually the only ones who can sing/play the music, turning what is supposed to be congregational singing into a solo performance.  Our family drives 40 minutes in each direction to attend Mass where the music is played by professionals who don’t perform but lead.  There are no solos, just a schola, chant, and traditional hymns that all know and love to sing loudly. 

10.  It seems that in letting your dream for music go in favor of devoting your time to your new family, God gave the dream back to you in a way you couldn't have imagined before.  Would you say this is this true?

Absolutely.  I had quit music and had no desire to ever sing again.  My father-in-law insisted that I do something and my husband encouraged me as well.  I didn’t even go looking for inspiration.  I feel I was commissioned to do what I do now.  Even pushed – by friends, priests and even Our Lady, but that’s another story.

11.  As a fellow Pacific Northwesterner, what unique challenges do you see as prevalent for believers in the soggy Northwest?

Well, I’m from the East Coast.  For the most part, everyone either goes to Church there or they did when they were little.  There are so many old and beautiful churches and shrines and places of pilgrimage.  It seems like God chases you there.  In the NW, there is far less tradition.  More rebellion, liberalism, unbelief, even more witchcraft.  I once heard a girl proclaim herself to a group as a pagan.  There is much more open opposition to Christianity here.  You have to be quick on your feet with an answer for the Faith, because you’ll be challenged straight out.  Conversely, there is an attitude of indifference.  Live and let be, so what, nothing matters anyway.  You’re a Christian, that’s nice, I’m a pagan, nice to meet you.  Then again, my experience here is very limited.  I live under a rock most of the time, staying mostly at home, homeschooling my four kids.

12.  What can you tell us about your latest project?

I just finished a CD of the Stations of the Cross.   I wrote a song for each of the 14 stations.  It’s called “The Way of the Cross.”  It’s very powerful.  It makes you cry, fills you with joy and just draws you so much closer to Jesus, causing you to feel most definitely the depth of His love for you personally.  I offer a free download of the first song/station on my website  At concerts, there will be videos showing behind me to enhance all the stations.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Upcoming Interview (Donna Cori Gibson)

Just a reminder that on Thursday, December 1st, I will share my interview of the popular singer Donna Cori Gibson.  Hope you can stop by!  As I'm trying to make some serious headway on my novel, this will be my last interview until February 2012, or so.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Your Black Friday Report from Western Oregon

 I've never really shopped on Black Friday before.  Between needing to get a particular item for my daughter at Best Buy as well as feeling an obligation to go simply out of the misguided Occupy Black Friday movement, we found ourselves shopping all night long--not arriving home until after 4am.  Yawn!

While I don't think I'll venture out to anything like this again for a long time, we were fortunate to get a couple amazing deals for Christmas.  In fact, I think this is the first time ever when we're nearly done with our most important Christmas shopping before even reaching December.  That's a nice thing, I suppose.

The people-watching was sometimes a little disturbing, but people were by and large polite to each other.  I would like to point out a couple things, though, to the corporate leadership of Best Buy.  Admittedly, this popular electronics retailer likely had more people waiting at the single entrance than Kohls had waiting between their multiple entrances.  Still, Kohls proceeded to handle the crowds of shoppers with courtesy and efficiency while Best Buy herded us like cattle, weaving in and out of the aisles like sleepy zombies--hungering for electronics more than fresh brains.

I repeatedly noticed Best Buy employees wandering aimlessly around the store, looking tired and frazzled. We arrived an hour, or so, after the initial opening at Best Buy, because we opted to visit Kohls first.  Even arriving around 1am and starting the line around 1:30, we were waiting in the line for at least two-hours.  Instead of opening temporary registers at strategic points around the store, all the cashiers were frantically working up front of the store; this didn't work so well, and it was easy to sense the growing frustration and anger in the shoppers--not to mention the interesting smells.  

Before coming to work for the State of Oregon about fifteen years ago, I worked in the retail loss prevention field.  I realize there are loss prevention and theft challenges with having employees cashiering at other points in the store, but I suggest that this concern can be mitigated by employing plainclothes and uniformed security personnel inside and outside the store--along with the "eyes in the sky" and clear lines for customers to follow to registers and out of the store.

While I considered it important to do my little patriotic part for the economy this year, I don't plan to venture into this retail maelstrom again, if I can avoid it--especially at stores that treat their customers more like a herd of cattle than valued individuals who are tired and just want to purchase their haul and go home to bed.

As an aside, Apple gets the form over substance award this year for their promotion of "The day you've waited 364 days for."  We would have seriously considered buying one or two Apple products this year, except their hyped Black Friday discounts averaged only around 10% off on their popular products.  Come on, Apple, is that the best you can do?  That's about as exciting a deal as a dollar off door stops at the local hardware store.  My iPhone and I went elsewhere this time 'round.

Best Buy in Salem around 11:30pm.

Waiting for Kohls to open around midnight.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Profit Break

With Christmas rapidly approaching, here are some items from yours truly for your shopping pleasure.  Hope you can check them out!  :)

Calendar featuring my photography from NE Oregon (Drop me a note about coupons, if interested.)

Calendar version 2 (Contact me about coupons.)

Recreational vs. Professional Blogging

The last time I gave a talk to elementary school students, I emphasized the importance of practice for the writer.  Write as much as you can and read good books, too.  I think there's value to the writer in keeping the writing going, but sometimes it's hard to categorize one's writing.  In other words, what does the professional writer do who enjoys writing unprofessionally at times?

For example, as the readers of Tristan's Travels already know, I have a tendency towards silliness.  The problem was that I didn't really want to associate the silly writing too closely with the more serious writing found on this blog.  Not sure why I never thought of it before...but I have created a second blog entitled The Restless Auditor; it's very silly.  So far, the content is taken from revised posts from sometime ago.  New content will eventually follow.

Besides being another form of writing practice for me, the silly blog serves as a kind of recreational release valve.  It's a way of responding to annoyances with humor, and it seems to work for me anyway.  I hope you can check out The Restless Auditor--and let me know what you think (maybe).

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Why I Left Facebook

Well, I haven't completely removed myself from Facebook, but I, at least temporarily, deactivated my primary account late this afternoon.  It's not that I have anything against social media...  On second thought, maybe I do have a little something against social media.  In many ways, I think it encourages some of the poorest dimensions of our already bankrupt modern culture: shallowness, pettiness, and meaningless busyness--the antitheses of reflection and substantive work.  So much of Facebook to me really boils down to pettiness and silly acts of pointless reciprocation.  I'm friends with some authors who seem unaffected by it, always upbeat and positive.  With my particular personality, though, it seems less than a positive focus, encouraging an unhealthy dynamic and distracting from the important things, the eternal things.

I found, for instance, that I was talking about writing more than I was actually writing--a sure sign of trouble for an author.  Yes, marketing is a necessary evil when it comes to writing, but I think the correct balance between timing and saturation is critical.  Not that I was over marketing or promoting myself (well, maybe sometimes...a little), but the content has to come first.   If the content becomes secondary to the marketing, you might as well be selling air.  While it can certainly bring people together, Facebook also has a way of focusing us far too much upon ourselves.

That's why I thought it'd be good just to step back from a lot of that stuff and concentrate on what I'm good at: writing fiction.  When I've finished the final page of revisions of the novel, I'll consider giving it another crack.  Until then, please pardon my absence on Facebook for a while.  Now, be sure to "like" this post....

Update: Yes..., it is true.  I did grudgingly return to Facebook in January 2012.  I still dislike it for all the reasons I mentioned above (and more), but, for the time being, it seemed an important way to connect with my readers.  There may, however, come a point when I can't stand it anymore.  So, don't be too surprised should I vanish someday soon from social media--Facebook, at least.     

Jill Kransy's recent piece brought this issue to my attention again.  Hope you can check out her article on this fascinating topic!

(Two of my other reflections on social media (and its dysfunctional relatives) may be found at Connection Illusion and Internet Ramblings.)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Father Tim Mockaitis' Audio Interview

Fr. Tim at blessing of Kimberly's gilded frames.
This morning's in-person interview of our priest, Father Tim Mockaitis, may prove to be one of my favorites.  It was really more of a far-ranging conversation than a typical interview, exploring everything from his book, The Seal, concerning the 1996 surreptitious recording by the Lane County Prosecutor of a prisoner's sacramental confession to the larger issues regarding this sacrament as well as the morality of the death penalty--and even touching upon the thorny issue of Pro-Choice Catholic politicians.

It had my intention to transcribe the entire interview for the purpose of this post, but I came to the conclusion that this would actually make it less engaging an experience.  I suggest that you listen to the entire interview, but I also will include some time markers--in case you want to quickly listen to particular sections and return later for the rest.

Since it wasn't my initial intention to use the audio, it's been necessary for me to do quite a bit of editing via Apple's Garage Band software.  I've removed a few of our topic digressions--as well as some of my throat clearing, and even some of my "is it recording?" episodes.  All things taken into account, though, the sound is pretty good for a simple iPhone recording.  Way to go Apple!

Again, thank you to Father Tim for taking an hour out of his busy morning to answer these questions in such a thoughtful and personal way.  I hope you enjoy this month's interview as much as I enjoyed making it!

1.  What warning should all Christians, and Catholics in particular, take from the egregious taping of this Sacrament of Confession on April 22, 1996 by the Lane County Prosecutor's Office?

2.  When did you decide that you needed to write The Seal?  (4 minutes and 10 seconds) 

3.  To the best of your knowledge, does this tape still exist as evidence in the Lane County Sheriff's Office?  If so, how does this make you feel?  (8 minutes and 20 seconds)
4.  Has this experience helped form your personal belief concerning the morality of the death penalty? (13 minutes)
5.  If the opportunity to read a taped confession were to come about within a publication such as a newspaper, do you believe that a Catholic's reading of the immorally-taped confession constitutes a serious sin?  (38 minutes and 20 seconds)

6.  For the most heinous murderers, do you see a sense in which it acts as a mechanism of self defense for society at large?  In other words, these people will never escape or be released in error to murder again.  (15 minutes and 20 seconds)  
7.  I don't know the statistics, but it seems that the Sacrament of Confession is being ignored by more and more Catholics.  Have these numbers indeed fallen over the last few decades?  If so, why do you think more people don't highly value Reconciliation?  (18 minutes and 30 seconds)
8.  When did you decide you wanted to be a priest?  In a related vein, did you have a particular moment as a younger man where you experienced a second conversion, a conscious turning towards Christ?  (As a family of former Evangelical protestants who crossed the Tiber in 2005, this question is always of interest to me.)  (23 minutes and 55 seconds)
9.  Who would you say are some of your favorite authors and why?  (29 minutes and 55 seconds)

10.  In a few words, what are some of the top challenges you think are currently facing the Catholic Church?  (32 minutes and 15 seconds)

(Click Here to listen to interview.)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What I Learned From Meeting Brian Jacques

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to briefly meet Brian Jacques (June 1939 - February 2011), acclaimed author of the Redwall series.  I recall he was particularly fond of an illustration of my wife's which was on our business cards at the time.  While talking with him for a few minutes was great, what I really took away from the evening was his talk on writing for children.  One item that stuck with me concerned his response when he was asked about whether, or not, he read books similar to his own: the competition.  He replied that he avoided doing so.  It was his worry, he explained, that doing this might unconsciously influence his own characters and the originality of their adventures.  That was the degree to which he cared about safeguarding his own originality.

Granted, it may be much easier for an extraordinarily popular writer to avoid mixing with the competition than for the rest of us more average writers, but I think there’s a message here for all of us.  Of course, not everyone agrees with this view.  One literary agent I met in Seattle took the position that it’s a mistake if the writer fails to immerse himself in his own genre, and it is true that writers should to be able to intelligently compare their work to the competition.  Still, as I said, I think there’s more truth than error in Mr. Jacques’ position.

I irritate my family to no end at times, because of the ways I try to implement this wise advice.  If there’s a movie that comes too close to my writing for children, for instance, I’ll avoid going—unless seriously outvoted.  It seems to me that there’s a general apathy to originality in the creative marketplace of today.  Sometimes, we mistake originality with simply “being different,” but it’s more than that.  
One example, a personal pet peeve, that comes to mind is the tendency for more and more authors to try to re-write classic works with their own modern spin.  While I have seen this work artistically a few times (and commercially more times), it too often makes the reader only too aware of how much better the classic actually is.  This holds even more true when the author betrays ignorance concerning the original work. 
If we look at these re-writes, in particular, we’re likely to hear several explanations or excuses from their producers—it introduces younger readers to the classics, satisfies public appetite for this style of writing, or, hey!, there’s only so many plots from which to choose!  Broadly speaking, I think the first position is the most tenable, but none is convincing to me.  In my mind, it’s still a symptom of the larger disease of creative apathy.  If you’re a writer, do your job!  Create your own memorable characters, settings, and plots from scratch.  An example of a re-write work along these lines might be Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  Of course, this is just my personal opinion, and there are clear exceptions--for example, the great movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? as inspired by Homer’s Odyssey.  

To digress into a bit of a philosophical vein here, if creativity and originality are likened to a pool from which successive generations of artists, writers, and composers draw their inspirations, I’d have to say that the water has become somewhat shallow of late.  Mysterious places and phenomenon of our planet are regularly unmasked by science.  Each stone that is turned over in pursuit of science is one less stone under which the fairy may fly—to put it in romantic terms.  (I can imagine my late uncle Phil Rand cringing at this expression of sentimentality.)  It's not that I'm lamenting "progress" exactly, but I'm suggesting there's a downside, too.  The more we come to know, the less mystery or unknown there is in the air, and it's that sense of mystery and adventure which has inspired some of the West's greatest books.

I’d also take the position that unique experiences of individuals from which creative work is born or nurtured has been lessened to some degree by shared media, shared experiences.  Instead of experiencing our own adventures, we are content to watch and listen to those of strangers.  All of these things—from the felling of the forests to the flickering television in our living rooms—seem to have drained the pool of creativity bit by bit.  Of course, there’s always hope, because God is the greatest source of real inspiration.  In conclusion, I'd like to end with the words of my father-in-law, John Collier.  

Five hundred years ago if you wanted to hear the greatest words being spoken, see the greatest sculpture being carved, see the greatest painting and hear the best music, you went to church. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Eric Holder Needs to Go!

Back in the early 1990s, I was seriously considering a job in federal law enforcement.  To this end, I spent most of a shift riding-along with a US Border Patrol Agent out of the Blaine Sector field office.  To say that it was interesting work would be a big understatement.  

These officers are impressive in their knowledge of law enforcement practices as well as very complex immigration law and, of course, they must be fluent in Spanish.  Their daily work is both dangerous and challenging--both mentally and physically.  Although my career ultimately took me in a different direction of service, I have great respect for those who wear the badge of Border Patrol or Customs Agent.  It can be an incredibly difficult and risky job, and they deserve all the support we can give them.
This is precisely why it's so important for the Obama Administration's Attorney General Eric Holder to waste no further time in submitting his resignation.  As I tweeted on October 10th,"Fast and Furious suggests that Eric Holder was either (a) a disconnected manager or (b) untruthful in his recent testimony--or both."  The fact that Fast and Furious was such an inane endeavor is bad enough, but that Mr. Holder appears to be lying about what he did and did not know about the ill-conceived gunrunning seals it--he needs to hit the road.

According to news reports, guns from this program are linked to the death US Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and also at least one attack on two Arizona police officers.  The guns have also found their way  south to Mexico where they were recently discovered in the residence of an arrested drug cartel kingpin.  This being the case, they have undoubtedly been used to kill men, women, and perhaps children in the cauldron of violence which Mexico has become.  One must ask, therefore, what responsibility does the US bear for the use of these weapons within Mexico?  While there may not be legal responsibility or liability, the moral culpability is unquestionable.

On May 3rd, Eric Holder testified before the House Judiciary Committee that he  "...probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks."  As widely reported, Holder now appears to have been much more in the communication loop than he has previously disclosed.  As suggested earlier, the (unlikely) prospect of him being blissfully unaware altogether would betray such an unfathomable lack of organizational leadership, that it wouldn't really put him in a better position; it's a lose or lose scenario.  The evidence at this point, however, clearly suggests that Mr. Holder was deeply ensnared in this illegal and profoundly foolish gunrunning operation.  

I'd also argue that this kind of ill-conceived and strange thinking is also evident in some of Mr. Holder's other official actions.  Who, for instance, can forget his bewildering approach to the Black Panther Voter Intimidation case from 2008?  This is an individual who appears to be using his public office to further his disturbing personal agenda.

In honor and respect of the US law enforcement officers and their families who have suffered tragedy because of these weapons as well as the innocents killed or maimed in Mexican drug violence, and the whistle-blowers such as Agent John Dodson, it's high time that Attorney General Eric Holder resign his post effective immediately.  

..."Dodson just about came apart all over them (his supervisors). In a 'screaming match' that was heard throughout the Phoenix office by many employees, Dodson yelled at Voth and Assistant Special Agent in Charge George Gillett, 'Why not just go direct and empty out the (ATF) arms room?" (to the cartels), or words to that effect.' 

(Fox News, September 26, 2011)