Literary Character

When we see persons of worth, we should think of equaling them; when we see persons of a contrary character, we should turn inwards and examine ourselves.
– Confucius
Cyrano de Bergerac
I don’t remember the year, but I remember my disgust with my mother that she was going to force me to watch Cyrano de Bergerac with her – an ancient (strike 1) foreign film (strike 2). In my teenage gut I figured it would be pretty lame. I was so wrong.

Almost right away, Miguel Ferrer started lobbing verbal darts and  then the rapiers came out. I was entranced, much to my mother’s amusement. I think she figured out that I would empathize with a man who had a physical deformity (my physical development was behind that of my peers) and chose to respond with eloquence. That or, she knew how much I had enjoyed the Musketeer movies with Michael York and figured I would place this within that genre, albeit with a certain degree more tragedy.

My dad has always been a fan of John Wayne and Roy Rogers characters, but those archetypes and characters never resonated with me. I grew up with 3 brothers and as the smallest guy in my class with a quick temper so my scrappiness could have been drawn to those characters, but spending a lot of time inside because of allergies opened up the world of myth, fairy tales, and literature to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I am uniquely my own person. But the way we connect with characters from books, movies, and TV harkens back to Confucius’ point – if we value their perspective, we seek to equal them. That’s the impetus behind the “WWJD?” and “WWBD?” (What Would Batman Do?) philosophies. When I’m faced with a decision, I often think about not just the morals instilled in me by my parents and the people that have helped mold me, but also the characters of literature who have inspired me would handle the situation.

There’s a part of me that’s Cyrano, Mercutio, James T. Hart, Lloyd Dobler, and untold numbers of comic book and Austen heroes. It’s not the me of all the time, but when I shake off the lethargy that inevitably manifests as we struggle with reality, it’s the me I aspire to be.

Who are your literary heroes and what aspirations do you draw from them?

End User License Override

Global EULAWhen you’re accepting End User License Agreements (EULAs), do you ever feel like you need to actually read the whole thing in case the licensing authority decides to claim rights to your body, soul, or intellectual property? [links to South Park episode – not suitable for children]

While I’m sure there’s merit to the posterior-covering inherent in these documents, they aren’t very usable to the audience who has to sign them. Who wants to spend 30 minutes reading through legal-speak just to be able to buy music online or play a game with their friends?

There has to be a better way so that I can click “Accept” without the nagging concern. As a student of the legal system as exemplified by The Simpsons, I think I have a cunning plan.

Global EULA:

  1. Conscientious use: I accept that most EULAs are full of legal gibberish that I don’t care about because I am a conscientious user and have no plans to hack the software/app/system and then sue the company I am licensing it from.
  2. Social Aspect: If there is a social component, I intend to be a conscientious user of the social aspects of the software/app/system and will not engage in behaviors that I wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to a person I respect (examples but not limited to: a parent, teacher/professor, member of the law enforcement community).
  3. “Satan Clause”: I do not respect that EULAs can infringe upon my right to my soul, body, intellectual property, or other equally obvious property which I have legal claim to.
  4. Order of Precedence: I respect that this agreement takes precedence over any other EULA even if that EULA claims right of precedence.

If you wish to take advantage of this agreement, please use the comment field below to accept. If you have an amendment to add, I would be happy to consider it.

Book Review: Six Pixels of Separation

Six Pixels of SeparationPrelude

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the public library system and the rest of the taxpayers out there who make it a reality. Some of you may not find that line item in your taxes especially worthwhile, but I come from a family that are strong believers in the library system (my mother used to serve on the local board). Even when I was too old for the standard summer book program, Mom would rope me in as entertainment – my best friend and I would perform a magic act for the little kids. (Yes, I’ve been a geek pretty much since birth.) If you haven’t been there recently, I’d encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity your tax dollars afford you.

Review

A couple weeks back I stopped in and picked up three audio-books. The first one I listened to extensively on the car ride on the way up to and back from Duluth/Superior. Six Pixels of Separation is the novelization (and 7 disc audio-book) of a set of blog entries written by Mitch Joel of Twist Image. It’s 2 years old, so relatively ancient in the social media sphere (he references MySpace as an important resource), but the information was very useful and fleshed out for me the aspects of social media that I hadn’t delved into deeply. I would definitely recommend it to people who are interested in social media – I think it will be worth your time even if some of the information is a bit dated.

One of the concepts he talks extensively about is how one person or one group that come up with a great idea can spark a change – make it viral. We see that today with the Occupy Wall Street coverage. But just a few years ago, there was a man in a shopping mall in Sydney, Australia who sparked a similar movement along a different vein. The video has over 70 million hits, but until I listened to SPoS, I was completely unaware of it.

You can change the world – find your great idea.

Elements of Universal Composition

Many people consider a liberal arts major in a business world to be a waste of perfectly good tuition dollars, but I don’t count myself among them. The liberal arts expose you to a vast number of influences and as you gain depth in all, you begin to see the patterns that resonate throughout each. Composition is more universal than some would accept. What makes a song or short story transcendent can be very similar.

One aspect of this universalism is that mathematical, computer, and human languages share certain commonalities in the same way that music and other art forms do. Doesn’t it therefore behoove us to embrace the commonalities and attempt to make the transition from one to another as seamless as possible if for nothing else, the ease with which the next generation can assimilate them? I believe a move towards convergence is a reasonable goal.

Not to be confused with the Cereal Coma that Mr. T might recommend

Oxford/Harvard/Serial comma

In science, math, and computer code, a set of 3 values are delimited by commas such as (x, y, z). Yet in AP Style, the comma between the second and third item in the series (or serial comma) would be omitted. The argument against states that the “and” provides the necessary delimiting factor and that the comma creates ambiguity as it is also consistent with appositive statements. This could be resolved by the use of parentheticals or dash delimited appositives rather than frustrating readers of this sentence: I enjoy Hot Tamales, Mike and Ikes, and Good and Plenty.

Quotes and punctuation

The rule in American English is that when there is punctuation at the end of a quote, you are expected to place the punctuation within the quote regardless of whether it is part of the quote.

Example: I really enjoyed “Gigli!”

In addition to leading readers to believe I have no taste [to be honest, I think I tried watching the movie, but failed to stay awake], this farcical sentence would also potentially lead others to misquote the film name to include the exclamation point. The reason for including it inside the quote is to maintain a consistency of where the punctuation occurs, but it creates confusion that you don’t see with computer code.

Punctuation and musical rests

With some concepts, there is divergence between more technical forms and artistic. English straddles both functions in ways that some others don’t and under these circumstances it’s harder for me to see the obvious path of convergence.

Eats, Shoots, and LeavesIf you’ve read “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” you may be familiar with Lynne Truss’ dislike for the concept of punctuation as musical rests. Lynne’s perspective is that punctuation should focus on setting expectations (the way a semi-colon tells you that the thought isn’t quite complete) rather than cadence. Having written a lot of code and utilizing multi-line functions, I can see the point of that perspective.

On the other hand, I believe that literature should be more like music in this regard. There’s great scene in “Eddie and the Cruisers” where Eddie thinks that the song needs more diversity of timing and he turns to Frank to back him up. Frank discusses the concept of a caesura as a pregnant pause to build tension and emotional context. I’m a firm believer in having that same functionality in English punctuation (granted, you can go overboard with this ala William Shatner caricatures) although I concede that in technical writing it may not be as relevant.

Further Discussion:

I understand that these perspectives may be controversial, so I’m happy to listen to other points of view and form a discussion. Feel free to comment below and I will try to be prompt in response.

Review: Tomcat in Love

[NOTE: This was originally written in June, but not edited until now.]

Tomcat in LoveWith the Anthony Weiner coverage as of late, I felt this gnawing desire to re-visit my favorite Tim O’Brien novel, Tomcat in Love. Tim ranks with John Irving and Neil Gaiman (he is seated in the late Douglas Adams’ former spot) in my top 5 favorite contemporary writers. Numbers 4 and 5 tend to be more fluid with Malcolm Gladwell, Nick Hornby, Tom Stoppard, and Isabel Allende jostling for position.

Elevator Pitch:
Professor Henry Higgins as played by Bill Clinton stars in a fusion of High Fidelity and Of Human Bondage.

Review:
Tomcat in Love follows the complex life and psychology of Thomas Chippering, Professor of Linguistics and incorrigible flirt. At the heart of this character is the duality of wanting to be in love with one woman and wanting women everywhere to want him. While most men can empathize, the measures that he takes are questioned by the women who truly love him.

As with most O’Brien novels, you can expect certain themes in this one like personal transformation as a result of Vietnam. He also explores the sacred nature of love, perhaps an allusion to the Sufi concept of earthly love as a parallel to comprehend the divine. With each novel he tends to seize on something beyond these and explore that thoroughly – for example, with In the Lake of the Woods he focused on ties between stage magic and politics. With this one he dove into linguistics, a real treat for me.

I thoroughly enjoyed how he focused on words as holding individualized semantics based on the person similar to a picture, song, or a scent forever being tied to a piece of history for people. For example, to Thomas the word “turtle” would be forever colored as a broken promise. I was also attracted to the theme of an intellectual rationalist exploring the visceral nature of his passion and its ability to create utter chaos in his world.

If you can’t get into a book of this length, check out The Things They Carried – a collection of stories O’Brien penned with the Vietnam War as a common theme. It’s more digestible in a single sitting and a good introduction to his writing style.

Caveats:
There are adult themes at play so this is not something I would recommend for children. It’s also narrated by a protagonist who tends to speak at a level commensurate with Frasier and Niles Crane:

“Much as I adore a good shower, I have never comprehended the point of sharing lavation fluids. Where is the romance in imitating goldfish? …My cozy bachelor world, I realized, had swiftly come undone.”

Introductory Statement

Throughout the years I’ve started and stopped journals and blogs, never getting very far. I took a class in college called “Autobiography” wherein I was expected to write over 20 pages of autobiographical information, but I’ve never been able to replicate that perseverance without a deadline. If you’re wondering as to the cause of my block, I have ADD and an over-developed personal critic. My early coping mechanism at the collegiate level for this was to stay up until the caffeine subdued my ADD and my internal critic fell asleep, allowing me to spew my thoughts coherently into the computer. In later years I would tap into my competitive side to develop coping mechanisms and the resolve to muscle past the blocks, although arguably the threat of deadline remained a form of propulsion.

GrandmotherThe reason I keep coming back to this is I feel a responsibility to journal as a third generation language major on my mother’s side (Grandmother and aunt: English, mother: French). My grandmother kept a diary throughout the years that upon her death passed down to my mom, who has kept a diary or calendar for as long as I can remember. My mother in turn has insisted that I wait at least 10 years after her death before I can consider publishing a novel based on their lives using the collective diaries as a resource.

In May, while visiting my parents, I was forced to remove the remaining vestiges of my collegiate career from their basement. I’ve been leafing through some of my old writings since then, somewhat shocked by how heinous my writing was. If I’m able to stick with this, I will probably bring them out for your collective chuckles, albeit with serious amounts of preface to establish context.

I’ve pre-written a few posts in recent weeks so that I have something to kick this off with and develop momentum. I value any feedback you have to offer. Bear in mind that in my English career, my passions were Literature > spelling > grammar so I tend to use non-standard grammar of the Chicago vein, but I am getting ahead of myself as I’ve already written an entry for that.