(reblog), flowers, humor, photography

Capturing the Unexpected

While the juxtapositions collected by Mitch Teemley are all clever and funny, the ballerina/tulip photo is special.  Because their stems keep growing and tend to flop over, tulips are tricky in flower arrangements.  It’s one of life’s (littler) lemons.  The ballerina/tulip photo makes lemonade.
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Mitch Teemley

Coincidence? I Think Not.

Life, as mentioned in the first Capturing the Unexpected post, is sometimes horrible, sometimes beautiful, and always just a little bit weird. Why is that? (Lean in close and I’ll tell you.) It’s because we’re weird! We find comedy in calamity, meaning in meaninglessness, truth in absurdity. Coincidence? Nope. We’re wired that way. Don’t you love it when someone captures proof?

(Click on any image to enlarge it, or to begin slide show)

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fiction, humor, serendipity

Time Warp in 2019

A little of the best from the past will come back in the near future, aided by the release of the second annual volume of “The Rabbit Hole” (an anthology of weird stories).
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For several years before and after 1960, I watched many episodes of the TV shows The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  The best of them were imaginative and well-crafted, not just weird or scary.  Some episodes had ironic twists or clever ways of conveying hints about how to cope with a nasty world.  Some endure on YouTube.

Memories of those old shows resurfaced when I read some of the shorter stories in The Rabbit Hole, Volume 2.  (Will wait until I have the ink-on-paper version of RH-2 before reading the whole thing.)  The ambiance and a few details in two stories were strong triggers: … Puppet Theater … for The Twilight Zone and Carpaccio for Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Various kinds of humor often appeared in those old shows, and RH-2 continues that tradition.  The humor in RH-2 can be cynical (as in A Towering Tale), dark (as in The Service Call), or light (as in The Apple Cosmos and Entanglements).  In old shows and new book, the humor is more than just giggles at pratfalls.

Click here to find out how to preorder RH-2 at a discount from Amazon.  (For other retailers, click on the image below.)  Don’t worry if U miss the discount.  Both the e-book and the printed book will still be quite affordable after the release on 2019-10-01, and there are plenty of other things to worry about.

Rabbit Hole Vol Two cover

Serendipity in 2019: I got this post’s image for The Twilight Zone from the web page announcing the show’s revival with streaming technology.  But I settled for a discontinued tee shirt design that approximates my vague memory of the logo for Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  Whatever works.

Buddhism, fiction, humor, language

Live in the present.  Write there too.

The ancient advice is still good.  Live mostly in the present, with enough dwelling on the past to serve specific purposes like learning from mistakes.  Also good is the much more recent advice to write fiction in the present tense, unless there is a specific reason to use the past tense.

Zen lore includes some stories with endings of the form

At that moment, __________ attained enlightenment.

Fill in the blank with the name of somebody who studied Zen for some time and finally saw the light when his teacher said or did something outrageously weird.

While my story Satori from a Consulting Gig does not presuppose any knowledge of Zen lore, it does have a surprise ending (partly inspired by those Zen stories) with my own way to fill in the blank.  Using the past tense in my story’s last sentence helps make the allusion to Zen lore clear to those who might care about it.

Did I choose to write my story in the past tense because I planned to end it that way?  Not consciously.  I just set out to write a short story.  I’ll write some fiction.  I’ll use the customary past tense.  Doesn’t everybody?

Not quite.  I got over 16 million hits when I googled

present tense vs past tense fiction

much later, in preparation for writing this post.  Before discussing some pros and cons that are out there (and some that may be new), there is a little more to be said about my story’s tense situation.

Rope fraying

© S. Silver | 123RF Stock Photo

My story was written for an anthology whose editors asked the contributors to supply blurbs.  I wrote a blurb in the same tense as the story, then noticed that other contributors wrote blurbs in the present tense for stories in the past tense.  Why?  I found the inconsistency troubling.

Another contributor (Sue Ranscht) kindly remarked that the present tense “creates a punchier tease” in blurbs than the past tense does.  Indeed.  Why not make the actual story (not just the blurb) be as vivid and engrossing as it can possibly be?  Unless there is a specific reason to use the past tense, why not write in the present tense?

§1: Perilous Present

Written in the present tense, my newer story Entanglements begins with

Squatting over the airport, a thunderstorm supercell demolishes …

Yes, the word demolishes might be misread as (a typo for) demolished.  Yes, the reader might be a little disoriented at first.  Worse, the reader might suspect that gimmicky writing is camoflage for weak content.  Such concerns loom large in a thoughtful page that recommends using the past tense by default and the present in some special cases.  We can agree on the bedrock principle that one size does not fit all, even as we disagree amicably on where to draw some lines and how strongly to weight some concerns.  That’s a respite from the train wreck of contemporary politics.

Dunno how 16 million hits in my Google search compares with how often the present tense has actually been used in good stuff.  As good uses accumulate, the prudential reasons for defaulting to the past tense will gradually weaken.  Of course, there will always be people who believe that the earth is flat, the moon landings were faked, and

Thou shalt write fiction in the past tense.

came down from Mount Sinai with Moses.

§2: Perilous Past

Readers (and writers!) may not be native speakers of English.  As with many other aspects of language, English is exuberantly irregular in how it forms the past tense.  People learn the past tense of a verb later (and less thoroughly?) than they learn the present tense.  Can U hear the rumble of an approaching storm?

When offline (or distrustful of Google Translate), Pierre consults his French/English dictionary.  How can he say prendre in English?  No problem.  Just say take.  But Pierre is writing in the customary past tense.  Neglecting to look up take in the other half of the dictionary, he says taked where he should say took.

Consider 3 common ways that verbs ending in -it can form their past tenses: hit/hit, pit/pitted, and sit/sat.  Quick now: knit/knit or knit/knitted?  Shit/shit or shit/shat?

There are a few verbs with 2 ways to form the past: an irregular usual way and a regular way for a special usage:

  • Starting a road trip, the team flew out to Chicago.
    Swinging at the first pitch, the batter flied out to left field.
  • The picture was hung in a prominent place.
    Nathan Hale was hanged as a spy on 1776-09-22.

This last nuance is subtle enough to trip up some native speakers.

§3: Perilous Past Perfect

Pierre is back.  The draft of his story has a short paragraph about some taking that happened at an earlier time.  Not fond of flashbacks, he has a good reason to put this paragraph as late as it is, not earlier in the narrative.

Sadder but wiser after being corrected by a ten-year old whose first language is English, Pierre refrains from writing had took for the past perfect for the verb take.  He looks up the actual past participle and writes had taken.

Pierre’s pluperfect paragraph is grammatical but clunky.  What to do?  Rewrite the main narrative in the present tense and the clunky paragraph in the past.  That will be a chore, but such a clear and distinct idea deserves the effort.  Descartes would approve.

§4: John and Jane Get Tense

John has been writing screenplays that often use flashbacks.  Now he wants to write a novel and still likes flashbacks.  He realizes that readers would be confused if nothing but a paragraph break separates what the characters do and experience “now” (from their viewpoint) from the start or end of a flashback.  There is a lot of sensible advice out there about things like narrative transitions to and from flashbacks, but John wants to stay closer to his cinematic roots.  He uses the present tense for the main content and the past tense for the flashbacks.  If he also switches to a noticeably different font for the flashbacks, that might be enough in most places (after narrative transitions for the first few flashbacks).

Jane has been writing historical fiction and using the past tense to make it look like history.  Now she wants to write fiction with a first-person narrator and package it as a rather one-sided conversation with an implicit listener.  She plans to keep the past tense for the main content and add some present-tense remarks, often in response to what the listener has presumably just said.  The present-tense remarks will be frequent and incongruous.  The narrator will tell a self-serving version of a sequence of events in the past tense while accidentally revealing the darker and/or funnier truth in the present tense.

I warned Jane that readers (especially impatient thick-headed guys like me) may just take the narrator to be ditzy and bail out early.  But Jane is game to try.  If she does make it work, I know a good place to submit her story.

§5: Recurring Rabbit

Rabbit-Hole_Worried-Rabbit
The Rabbit Hole is a series of anthologies of weird stories, with a troika of editors.  Volume 1 came out in 2018, Volume 2 is scheduled to come out on 2019-10-01, and the editors hope to continue annually.  Maybe Jane can contribute to Volume 3.

My story Satori from a Consulting Gig in Volume 1 is just 2 pages long, so even those who dislike it may still be glad they bought the book for $2.99 as an e-book or $12.50 as an ink-on-paper book.

While every extended narrative in Volume 1 uses the customary past tense, Volume 2 will have at least two stories told in the present tense.  No, the editors’ fondness for weird stories does not extend to a fondness for weird writing.  As originally submitted for Volume 2, my story Entanglements did have some weird writing at the end that seemed unavoidable to me.  One of the editors (Curtis Bausse) suggested a strategy for avoiding the unwanted weirdness, and the strategy worked.  There was no fuss at all about my use of the present tense.  That is as it should be.

haiku, humor, philosophy, politics

Vampire Bunny at a Haiku Party

Follow tradition or push the envelope?  Normal or weird?  (Normalcy spiked with weirdness?)  Haiku or senryu?  This crowd does not fret about simplistic dichotomies.  Let’s get some saké and join the party.
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Haiku poems often want (and sometimes need) to interact with images or prose, as in haiga or haibun.  Here is a gathering of ten haiku that could stand alone if they had to.  (Some would rather not.)  They have been invited to come here and interact with just each other, while enjoying some good saké (or whatever).

momokawa_crop_vampire-bunny_840x684

Overlay © Incognito – Russian Federation | 123RF Stock Photo

A haiku inspired by an image may or may not speak to readers who have not seen the image.  It’s hard for the writer to make this call objectively.  That’s OK.  As Stephen Jay Gould often told readers of his articles in Natural History, perfect objectivity is a myth anyway.  (The path from my raw data to “facts” that matter to me depends on my cultural baggage and personal experience.)  Rather than pretend that my judgement calls are objective, I try to compensate for my biases.  In particular, some of my haiku were not invited to the party because they might be too dependent on their inspirations to stand alone.  That’s OK too.  Unlike me, they are not compulsively self-reliant.

Like some of the other guests, October was originally posted in a haiga or haibun context.  That’s why the title it wears as a name tag is also a link.  (When a pale yellow background indicates that several such guests arrived together from the same place, only one of them has a link.)  Click on a link to see the guest(s) interact with an image or some prose that adds to the experience of the haiku.

Seen in Spring
|Kelly green moss on
|rocks near the clear quiet stream
|with water striders
 
|October
|Bright sun and cool air;
|azure skies and pumpkin pies.
|Leaves fall in glory.
 


Who Miscounted?
|This so-called “haiku”
|ignores five-seven-five, so
|it’s not a haiku.

 
|Deciduous
|Lifeless?  No, leafless.
|Trees hold their breath all winter,
|exhale leaves in spring.
 


This is Not Apollo 13
|Is failure an option?
|No, it is a given.
|But we will still try.
 
|No Pots of Gold
|Seek ends of rainbows.
|You will not find them? Okay.
|The quest is enough.
 


Fiscal Responsibility
|Debts rise; incomes fall.
|Hard times demand bold action:
|tax cuts for the rich!
 
|Seize the Breeze
|Helicopter seeds
|fall from maples and travel
|far enough, this once.
 


What’s for Lunch?
|Mosquitoes in flight
|are seen as meat on the hoof
|by a dragonfly.
 
|Vampire Bunny
|With coprophagy
|as the alternative,
|you might suck blood too.
 

haiku, humor, love, serendipity

What Lovers Watch

The prose and poetry below respond to a CDHK challenge about love in summer.  At 50 words in total (not counting boilerplate), they could have responded to an earlier challenge in the same series but were not ready in time.  Can’t rush love (or barbecue).
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red-rocket

© Betty Shelton | 123RF Stock Photo

Lovers joined the crowd on the beach last night, watching fireworks shot from a barge.  Now they watch the sunset.

lovers+at+sunset

© Dan Hahn

Sunset on the Next Day
|The clouds burn yellow,
|smolder red, and fade to gray.
|The love keeps burning.
|Rockets lit the sky last night;
|more fireworks in bed tonight.

Carpe Diem #1696 Beach Love

Carpe Diem #2019 Summer Love … extreme haibun

 

history, politics

Independence Day, 2019

It’s a pardonable oversimplification: celebrating “the” day the Continental Congress held some truths to be self-evident.  Yes, they were all privileged white males.  Yes, some lived off the toil of slaves.  But their concept of public service was not based on pandering to bigotry and whoring for campaign contributions.
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Knowingly or not, the signers of the Declaration of Independence started something big, still far from finished, and now critically endangered.  They started the long hard slog to build a nation with liberty and justice for all.

336541 - flag and fireworks,

© Scott David Patterson | 123RF Stock Photo

Happy July 4th!

flowers, haiku, photography

Lavender Elegy

My lavender rhododendron contributes a visual elegy to the Memorial Day observances in 2019.  Memorial Day is a time for sadness, along with the pride and gratitude that the same plant helped visualize in 2018.
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lavender-memorial_840x483

flag-rhodo-1_840x1062

Memorial Colors
|Lavender salutes
|red, white, and blue of our flag.
|Pride and gratitude.