Sunday, August 26, 2012

My Toast at my Brother's Wedding

So, a few years ago I was the best man at my brother's wedding. I was told that my toast was one of the better ones of the kind. It just occurred to me it might be worth putting online.  Below is a rough approximation of my toast, though I'm writing back from memory and I intentionally removed their names for the sake of their privacy:

For those who don't know, I'm the Groom's brother, so I first met him over twenty years ago. Now, I was very young at the time, and I had a lot going on, but I seem to remember that my First Impression of him was that he was... a pretty okay guy. But you know how it is with First Impressions, so I decided to suspend judgement.
Jump ahead a few years to the first time I remember meeting the Bride. She and my brother were going to homecoming "just as friends." And, while I never told either of them this, my First Impression of her was that she was the sort of girl I wouldn't mind having for a sister-in-law. But... you know how it is with First Impressions, so I decided to suspend judgement.
Jump ahead a couple more years to their Junior Year in college. My brother came home and told us they were officially a couple. Now, I can't speak with absolute certainty, but as far as I know, everyone's First Impression was that these two just made sense. But, you know how it is with First Impressions, so we decided to suspend judgement.
Now, here we are on their Wedding Day.  My brother is still an okay guy. The Bride is still the sort of girl I wouldn't mind having for a sister-in-law, and the two of them together still just make sense.
To the Groom. To the Bride. To First Impressions.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Story Time

Once upon a time, there was a boy.  Well, that isn't quite sufficient.  This story involves a lot more than just him.
Once upon a time, there were two boys and two girls.  We'll call them First, Second, Third, and Fourth.  First was a beautiful girl, tall and willowy. She had big brown eyes that drew everyone in. She was easy to love.  Second was a boy (the one we first started talking about) who had a lot of ideas about who he wanted to be, but none about who he was.  Third was also a boy, and he had no idea about who he wanted to be, but he knew who he was, more-or-less.  Fourth was a girl, just as beautiful as First, except no one saw it. Fourth thought she was in love with Third. Third and Second both thought they loved First. First just wanted to be friends with all of them.
Eventually, each of them learned about each of the others and who they liked. First was very sad to learn that the people she thought were her friends just wanted to be her boyfriend. Fourth was very sad that Third liked First instead of her. Second was sad because it seemed like nobody liked him.
A bit later, Second realized how great Fourth was. He started to see how beautiful she was. But he felt it would be wrong to chase after her after he had chased First.  He didn't want Fourth to feel like a lesser choice. He did start to see how the two of them could have been the best friends in their little group.  But he missed his chance.  Instead, Fourth started spending time with other people. People who were mean to Second. People who were more popular.  And as time went by, she forgot about Second.
In the end, Second found happiness elsewhere. But it was too late for him to be friends with any of the people from this group. They built their lives without him, and so he did the same.  So even though Second is happy, he's also a little bit sad.

Monday, June 25, 2012

A Musical Experiment

So, yesterday at Church, the speaker brought up how you can know a lot about someone based on their playlist on their iTunes. In part, I disagree, as I do not listen to the vast majority of the music I own. However, it did inspire me to begin a project.  I am going to go through my library, unchecking any song that has any of the following three qualities:

  1. Contains Profanity in the lyrics, title, or band name
  2. Denies Biblical Truths such as the authority of God
  3. Glorifies Sinful Behavior or drug use
I am working mostly out of curiosity of how much of my library will be left checked at the end.  I've already unchecked a few songs that I know contain one or more of the above.  I'll have to listen to a lot of my songs to be sure about them, though.  As I continue, I may post an update or two.  When I'm done, I'll probably delete some (though not necessarily all) of the

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Baby, and a short history of a friendship

I am newly a father. I suppose logically, that would be where to go with this post. All the wonders and joys of new parenthood. Knowing I would take a bullet for my daughter. So on and so forth. And don't get me wrong: that's all there. But I know you've heard it all before. Yes, it changes my life, but I knew it would. Yes, I will gaze into her tiny eyes and get lost. Yes, I think she's the best thing in the world, and I have to hold myself back from hitting people who claim otherwise.  But I'm pretty sure that's less interesting to hear about. Here is a picture though, because I am full of Parental Joy:
Cute, right?
Anyway, I'm gushing. I know, my tone may read as dismissive, but I'm pretty terrible at communicating my emotions well on purpose.

Now for the reason I'm writing this blog.  I have a friend. Let's call her "Orange" (the color, not the fruit). We met when she was rooming with a girl I was desperately trying to date for reasons I cannot fully explain. The first time I remember seeing her was when I had found this girl's (the Crush, I mean) Student ID and called her room to return it. This was one of many ill-fated attempts I made at getting an actual conversation going with the Crush so I could work up the nerve to ask her out. I'm pretty sure I eventually did. Needless to say, I did not end up marrying her, and she is not the mother of my little bundle of joy (the Cuteness you see above).

Anyway, when we first met, I thought Orange hated me. Apparently, she used to get that a lot, which is a shame, because she's a lovely human being. If I hadn't already been obsessed with the Crush at the time, I would probably have been taken with her. Anyway, I doubt I seemed my usual charming self either, since I had intended that ID card to be my ticket to relationship bliss and instead I got to talk to the roommate.

Fast forward two years: I'm a senior in college. It's become clear the Crush isn't interested in me, but we still hang out from time to time. Orange and I have begun chatting.  It amazes her how down to earth I am. It amazes me how I could have overlooked her brilliance under the shadow of the Crush. No, music does not swell, our eyes do not meet, and there is no grand romance brewing. But we find a mutual respect for one another that lasts to this day. Ultimately, we are very much alike we two. Both want to write. Both would enjoy a job in publishing, but neither of us seem on track to get one. Both think in similar ways. We have similar vices, similar interests: all the makings of a friendship.

Fast forward again, I've graduated and moved. Not just home, but to New York (the state, not the city). Having met my now-wife, I was pretty much rooted down here. Orange and I are now farther from each other in terms of geography, but closer in terms of friendship. We send one another scripts we've written. Bounce ideas off of each other. Not overly frequently, but it's a nice equilibrium we've established.

You know, I had intended this post to go a different direction, but the prologue feels a complete story unto itself. I think I'll leave it for now.

(For the record, "The Crush" is a term contingent on what time I'm talking about, from this moment on, "Orange" and "The Cuteness" will refer to my friend and daughter, respectively.)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Being Better

I'm working on improving myself. Who isn't these days? But lately, I've actually made progress. Two days ago, after mowing the lawn, I thought "Screw it, I'm already covered in sweat: I'm going to run around the block." So I started out at a comfortable jog and left.  For the first quarter of the run, I felt great. I thought to myself Why don't I do this more often? Then, I hit the incline at the end of the block. By the end of the second quarter of my "run," I was winded. However, I kept it up. I kept it up almost to the end of the third quarter of the run, where I gave up and slowed to a walk. At this point, I immediately felt like my stomach and lungs hated me and one wanted to oust the other from my chest. I walked downhill to my house and was fine.

Later that day, I helped my mother-in-law and her husband (Step-father-in-law?) to move Mama-in-Law's things into their house (she had lived with us until they got married back in February). Stepdadinlaw and I were both needed, as my wife is over 8 months pregnant. We moved a lot of furniture, including a piano. I felt dead.

Yesterday, I felt worse than dead. Death would have been an improvement. Every single part of my body hurt to one degree or another. Fortunately, it was a lazy day and the most strenuous activity I did was pick up a pizza.

This morning, our Three-Year-Old woke us up at 7:30. I felt fine. Not great, I'm still sore in my back and shoulders and my thighs don't love me, but I wasn't dying or wishing for death. As a result, I decided to run around the block again at 8:00 this morning. I did the same run, starting at the same pace, and this time, I made the whole block without slowing to a walk. I still wanted to heave in the bushes, but I hadn't given up partway, so I felt better. I showered, dressed, and was ready for Church by the time I normally wake up to get ready. I felt good (except, you know, for the soreness).

After Church, I came home, had lunch, and did some yoga. There's a routine on a free app I downloaded on my iPhone (though with only one routine, I'm considering replacing it). Then my wife was gone on some errands, so I decided to run the block again. This time, I was terribly out of breath, but felt otherwise normal. No need to hurl, didn't need to slow down. Nothing.

Where does this story go? I now feel only slightly more sore than I usually do, and I have easily done twice the physical labor I've done anytime since my sophomore year of college in the past three days. In three runs I've gone from pathetic to mildly embarrassing, and I feel more pride in my ability than I have in a long while.  I'm capable of a lot more than I was aware.

Now, this is no guarantee I'll keep this up. I've learned through other projects that I'm pretty good at keeping up a project for about two weeks with decent motivation, but after that I kind of lose interest. If I feel the urge to stay fit by the time my daughter is born next month, I'll consider it a safe bet I'll keep it up long term.

I had intended to write about a number of other things in this post, but frankly, I feel it's long enough.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Hunger Games: A Comparative Review

I just got back from watching the film adaptation of The Hunger Games with my wife. Overall, I enjoyed the film. I felt it had a good balance of action and story. If I hadn't read the book, I probably would have loved it. As it is, I had a good time, but I have a few beefs.


The first issue I had with the film was the shaky camera work. This is the primary criticism I would still have had if I had not read the series ahead of time. We right now have technology that makes it possible to erase shakiness in film. Therefore, the only reason for a major Hollywood movie to NOT do this is stylistic. This was a poor choice on their part. The only other problem I had not to do with their choices in adaptation was that their is a scene where Katniss goes to sleep in a sleeping bag and wakes up without one.

Now starting at casting. Katniss was well done. Haymitch was fine: I didn't love his performance, but he did a fine job looking the part. I feel that Gale was too beefy in his appearance and Peeta was not beefy enough. President Snow was excellent. I liked Seneca Crane, but his portrayal struck me as someone new to being head gamemaker, even though dialog established that he had years of experience. Most of the rest of the casting was fitting, though unremarkable. I wish Rue had looked a little more like Prim (even just putting her in pigtails would have helped), but my wife caught the connection, so I'm probably being too picky.

The lowpoint of the adaptation for me was cutting out the part of Peeta's story where "even the birds stop to listen." That is arguably my favorite moment in the entire series. Cutting it felt like a jab to the heart.

On the other hand, the absolute highpoint of the film, adaptation-wise, was the bowl of nightlock berries left for Seneca Crane at the end. Absent from the book, this scene communicated volumes about President Snow without a single line of dialog. Top notch.

In regards to major plotlines, I have mixed feelings. For example, I felt that the fabrication of Katniss's feelings for Peeta was unclear, while in the novel the confused feelings of trying to stay alive, experiments with first love, and obligation for his childhood gift of bread were beautifully communicated. My wife, however, was able to see without my telling her that her feelings were, if partially genuine, primarily motivated by Haymitch's strategy, so again, I may be too picky.

The plotline of Rue's death and her district's response was an interesting change. In the novel, they sent her bread. In the film, they were immediately incensed to riot. Now, I understand how the bread is a less exciting response than a mob. Also, it does tie well into the rest of the series to show the beginnings of a revolt. But I liked the bread. It was sweet.

Now, arguably the worst handling of a plotline is the way they changed Haymitch's growth. The novel did a good job of showing him change from a full-on alcoholic, to a man willing to stay sober to help two young people he believed in. In the movie, however, he showed signs of liking Katniss too soon and too often. Realistically, he shouldn't have been shown to like her at all. Respect, yes. Believe in, sure. But it's very clear in the book that even when he approves of her individual actions, he does not actually like her.

There are many other changes I could harp on: the differing origins of the Mockingjay pin, the inferior explanation of the origin of Muttations, the absolute neglect of explaining what happened to District 13… but all in all, these don't matter. When I first left the theater, I said to my wife that I considered it a good movie, but a poor adaptation. As I've thought more, however even that is too harsh. I would say now that I disagree with almost every artistic decision they made in adapting the story, but I am still pleased with the overall result. And you know what? That's pretty darn good.

PS: If you're looking for other Hunger Games adaptations, I recommend The Katniss Chronicles. It is a free audiodrama made by some very skilled people, who I feel did a fantastic job portraying Suzanne Collins's work.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Opposite of Regret

Lately, I've had this phrase mulling about in my head: "When I look at you, I see the opposite of regret." This phrase isn't direct to anyone in particular.  A friend of mine recently got me thinking about writing poetry, and this phrase came into my head. I haven't had a chance to work it into anything yet. But I wonder what it means. Have you ever had that happen to you? You'll say or think something and have no idea what it means? So, instead of writing a poem around it, I've spent a good bit of time trying to break the phrase down.  I'll post what I've thought of so far, as well as work as I type, so that perhaps I will come to some conclusion before the end of this post.
First comes the phrase as a whole.  The question is, do I mean that the person I'm looking at feels the opposite of regret? Or do I feel the opposite of regret in regards to him/her/it? Or, is this individual "the opposite of regret" personified?  (I'd love it if it were that last one—it's very much my style). Somehow, I suspect it is the first.  That's the impression I got when it first came to me.  But it really could be any of these.  I suppose it will ultimately be determined if I ever do write that poem.
Second comes the really interesting part, because I'm utterly clueless about it.  As far as I can tell, these are the options for what "Opposite of Regret" could mean (in the second person, because I feel like it):

  1. You not only do not regret anything you've done, but you embrace it.  Every decision you've made is looked upon fondly and with excitement.
  2. You feel the same way that people feel when they say they regret something, but you feel that way about the future.  It is a sort of infinite pessimism, knowing that the future is going to turn out in a way that disappoints you.
  3. You feel absolute optimism and joy about the future, combining 1 and 2.
  4. Something I haven't thought of at all.
Personally, I like option 1 the most. It's an incredibly positive thought.  However, if I were writing to someone about them feeling good, it seems odd to even bring up regret.  The inversion certainly makes a difference, but not enough. Besides which, I feel too melancholic about the phrase for it to be this.  Or, for that matter, option 3, which I didn't care for anyway.  It seems to me that if something is the opposite of something, it only gets inverted on one axis.  If on the temporal axis, the emotional axis should stay put, and if the emotion is inverted, it should stay in the same time.
That leaves 2 or 4.  2 Doesn't feel quite right.  I like it a lot. It's very evocative.  But it seems off. Also, it seems complicated in a way that I'll need to spend more of the poem explaining it.  So perhaps it is 4. Would it be dishonest of me to write a poem with only a vague sense of what this thing is? When the whole poem will clearly be about this phrase, to one degree or another, can I really leave it in a way that tells the audience nothing? Is the confusion part of its meaning?

It seems I'm no closer to a conclusion than I was at the beginning, save a few eliminated possibilities.  In consolation, I offer you this picture of me in a bow tie.

Happy Cheap Chocolate Day, everyone!

Friday, January 27, 2012


So, at one point, I changed the name of this blog to "The Gadfly." It seemed appropriate, in part because I was a philosopher, and it was a semi-fun reference to Socrates. The bigger part of it, however, is that I was trying to invent myself as a sort of reformer, decrying the wrongs I saw around me.  I just looked at the world and thought "maybe I can't do better, but I can at least point out where there's room for improvement."  I still do, sometimes, but that's not really who I am these days.

For these reasons, I've renamed my blog "The Raven's Writing Desk." In all honesty, I doubt I'm the first person to use this title.  It is, of course, a reference to Lewis Carroll's impossible riddle. It is also based in the fact that I'm hoping to do more writing about writing (which, of course, will necessitate me actually writing from time to time).  Lastly, it is to more publicly acknowledge myself as "the Raven."

What do I mean by this? Well, have you ever played that game where you and your friends try to pick an animal that suits you? Of course, everyone needs their own animal: you can't all share.  For a long time, I thought of 'my animal' as the fox.  Problem being, so did a lot of other people with whom I associated.  And of course, the majority of them fit the bill better than I did, for one reason or another.   A couple years ago, however, someone pointed me toward another animal that I felt fit me even better.

Ravens, like Foxes, are tricksters in mythology. Not necessarily malicious, just wily and clever: attributes I prize.  Their color scheme fits me better (though I don't wear nearly as much black as I did in High School) and the bird thing seems right somehow too.  Shortly after the assignment of Raven, I actually designed a crest for myself, using heraldic symbols.  My coat of arms. A Raven, flying upwards in front of a blue sunburst, all on a field of white.  Based on my research, Black can indicate constancy, Blue represents truth and loyalty, while white represents peace and sincerity. All of these are virtues for which I strive. The sun can represent a whole host of things, and the Raven, my personal symbol, represents Divine Providence.  One could take this in a very arrogant sense. It could be me trying to claim that I am destined for greatness. I'll be honest: there are few things that would make me happier.  But it's not what it means here.  I depend on it.  I need God's providence. Without Him and His plan, I'm lost.  The Raven reminds me of that.

So, that's my reasoning.  Oh, that, and Ravens just look cool to me.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Magic, In Tiers

I have long thought about magic. What it is, what it isn't, how it may or must not work.  Some months ago, perhaps even a year in my past, I came up with this system of ranking magic.  I haven't come up with a final name for it yet, but for now, it's "The Tiers of Magic."  The principle is that there are three basic levels of magic, and all possible magical systems fit into one of these three. I both believe that every account of magic in the real world fits into one of these systems, and would probably overtly use these categories overtly if I ever get around to writing my own fantasy story.

First things first though; we need a definition. Going to Merriam-Webster, I found a few definitions. I prefer to use 2a of the noun form, which is as follows: "an extraordinary power or influence seemingly from a supernatural source." This works nicely for my purposes. Not too vague, not too narrow. Now, on to my categories.

Also called "Deep Magic" or sometimes "True Magic"
This is the magic that supersedes the natural laws to which we have become accustomed.  Most fantasy magic fits into this category. I also believe that miracles and dark magic in the real world fit into this: miracles because that's what the laws are for, dark magic because no power can break those rules.  Many of my Christian Brethren take offense at the idea of calling miracles "magic," but I have always felt that Miracles are, strictly speaking, the ultimate example of true magic. The reason I call this "Deep Magic" is because of a passage in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, where the White Witch calls on the magic that made the world to demand blood, and Aslan *spoilers* calls on the deeper magic from before the world was made to redeem it.
The idea behind deep magic is that you appeal to higher laws. For example, the law of man says that you can't crush another man's head. The law of gravity says, "yes you can, you just need a big enough rock and a roof from which to drop it." This does not mean there won't be consequences in the lower laws (you'll still go to prison for head-smashery). It just means that the lower laws don't control the higher laws.  Here is an abridged hierarchy of laws: Laws of Man are inferior to Inherent Moral Laws are inferior to* Physical Laws are inferior to Logical Laws are inferior to (or perhaps the same as) the Nature of God. Nothing can truly defy God's nature: you can only rebel against it, just as jumping in the air doesn't break the law of gravity.
For atheists, skeptics, and the like, this category is entirely fictional. But I am not at all an atheist, hardly a skeptic (in the philosophical sense), and very little like either of them.

*Note, this is a hierarchy of influence, not of quality.  I consider moral law to be superior in quality to the Physical and Logical Laws.

Also called "Science," "Illusion," or "Prestidigitation," along with a host of other names
This is the magic that abides by the natural laws, and seeks to go no further. It exploits little-known quirks of perception and reality to dupe and amaze.  For those who think "science is just magic, sufficiently explained," I concede to you the Second Magic.  It is my least favorite system, when used on its own.  It saddens me.  It feels like a cheat when someone shows you something wonderful, and then you find out there's very little wonder in it at all. And in fiction, save perhaps Science-Fiction, it has no place. We are forced to live in a world where no one accepts real magic: why would you create a world that is the same in this way? Still, this is the magic most people see. It's the awe of a meal cooked in under a minute in a small box without the use of fire, and the spectacle of pulling a quarter out of a child's ear. Some might call these things two different categories, but I do not. If science is a type of magic, it is nothing more than a trick, and I will say no more on the subject at this time.

Also called "Chaos Magic," "Dark Magic," or "Zeroth Magic"
This is the magic that seeks to break all the rules. As I've already said, I group real dark magic into the category of First Magic, but many fantasy writers, in describing evil magic, talk about an unbound force that obeys nothing and is beholden to no rules.  This is ludicrous. If such a thing existed, the universe would not, as it could simply move through creation and undo it. What's more, it would be uncontrollable, so I honestly can't fathom why anyone would even want to use it, as they could never direct it.  Still, it seems very compatible with the aims of an evil wizard, does it not?  This is a category that is often used, but I do not think should exist, even in a fantasy world, because I prefer worlds that are internally consistent, and I do not see how any world where the Third Magic is real could be so.
As for why I call it both "Third Magic" and "Zeroth Magic," is that there are two ways to order the magics. The one I prefer is in order of power.  First Magic is most powerful because it need not obey the standard laws of physics. Second Magic can do amazing things, but not that. Third Magic, I do not acknowledge as possible, and therefore it can accomplish nothing. It would, however, be possible to group the magical types according to how many rules they follow, in which case this last magic follows none, and therefore is prior even to First Magic. The term "zeroth," I found in the wikipedia article about Asimov's Three Laws, and the less-well-known Zeroth Law.

I heartily invite comments on how to improve my system for fantasy writing purposes, or serious discussions of the real-world ideas I expressed. I will not honor inflammatory or insulting remarks in regards to my beliefs regarding miracles, magic, or God, however.