Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Finalities of Our Times

   Is it a sorrowful thing to be completing our classes and moving on into the next semester?  Or is it a joyous occasion, one to be celebrated, to run out of class screaming and celebrating all the while?  Meh.  Could go either way, I suppose.  The most sensible answer, of course, would be somewhere in the middle of these two reactions.  I for one have learned from this class, and it has supplied me with quality experience writing the sorts of papers I will no doubt have to write throughout my time here at the U of M.  Did I enjoy every bit of the course?  Definitely not.  Will I complain about the course here?  Nope.  The important thing is that I went to class and did the best I could with the direction I was given, allowing me to hone my writing skills a bit.  I would say, not to be negative, that of the things we've done in this class, the blogs would be among the least favorable from my point of view.  While it is good experience, it just isn't my bag.  To each their own, and all that.  To everyone in the class, best of luck with your studies & if you need a hand with anything feel free to find me, I'll help if possible.  To Molly... it's been fun and best of luck with your grad work/career afterward.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Empire: A Zombie Novel

  As I walked through the bookstore, I saw a green paperback, with a seemingly human silhouette and the form of a scythe on the cover behind the words Empire: A Zombie Novel.  I was immediately intrigued.  Zombie books and Post-Apocalyptic settings have comprised some of my favorite reads.  I went in expecting zombies.  I came out delightfully surprised with a Zombie Apocalypse novel.  
  Who doesn't love a nice little zombie story, right?  In Empire: A Zombie Novel by David Dunwoody there is an aura, only found at certain places on Earth, which will reanimate dead tissue.  The government discovered this fact, and as I'm sure we would all expect, began experimenting, it is unclear however if they were seeking to make a weapon or an undead fighting force.  Whatever their intentions, of course, something went wrong.  The undead that were naturally created by these odd auras, despite them requiring to eat dead flesh to remain "alive," their bite would not create a new undead.  The undead created through government experiments were quite the opposite.  As with any good zombie novel, the undead got loose and ravaged the country for over a decade before this story actually place.  Now there are only small cells of the living operating independently.  Some are seeking to end the "war" the living have been in for so long against the dead and others are simply trying to survive.  In the midst of it all rides death atop his skeletal steed.  It is a story of survival, the human spirit, and self-discovery... not only for the living. 
  Drugs, violence, tragedy, love, plenty of action, an interesting twist on death itself, and plenty of things leaving you wondering what the hell is going on makes this quite an great read right up to the final page. Before reading, I could not have possibly pictured death in the way I now do.  Life as a whole also had a new light to it that may not have been shown to me otherwise.  I believe it is healthy to be accepting of death, of course not seeking it; but in certain scenarios, one just may be pleading for it.  In such a scenario would YOU be capable of obliging and ending the suffering?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Turkey Day '10

   Thanksgiving weekend this year I would rate amongst the lower 5% of such weekends in my lifetime.  It started with me canceling my annual backpacking trip.  This part was made alright in that it allowed me to spend Thanksgiving with my 91 year old Grandfather.  There was great food, great company, and it was the first Thanksgiving dinner I have eaten since moving back to Montana 2006 that didn't involve boiling water and pouring it onto a freeze-dried camp meal (Beef Stroganoff is the BEST!) 
   After the meal I sat on the couch, blissfully full.  While fighting off the effects of the impending food-coma, I decided I would try to hang out with my buddy Sam, as his son was with his mother that night.  Unfortunately, he had other plans.  Oh well.  I headed home instead and allowed the food-coma to overtake me.  All in all a pretty good Thanksgiving day in my hometown. 
   The following day, however, proved to be the beginning of the end for a couple of friendships.  I won't go into details, but sufficed to say, drama ran rampant from Friday through the end of the weekend.  All of this drama was, of course, due to my own idiocy earlier in the year, but nonetheless, it really brought a miserable end to an otherwise nice weekend.  Live and learn, eh?  ...and next year:  Go Camping!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Too Many Losses...

   Sighing, I packed up my clothes.  I knew once I got outside with the dogs I would be happy about this trip, but for now, the only thing that appealed to me was a warm, soft bed and a fluffy pillow.  Truth be told, I had been feeling the itch to get out for a while now, but the hardest thing for me to leave behind was my bed.
   The house was silent aside from the popping of bacon, spitting grease out of the pan as it fried.  Why bother making bread or harvesting eggs?  They'd only spoil over the next couple weeks.  The dogs were growing restless.  The yipping and howling had started within moments of my bedroom lighting up at 3:45.  How did they always know?  Mind adrift, I sipped on my coffee and imagined the beginning of today's trek.  The dogs and I were a bit out of shape, and may cover only 45 miles today... should make the pass in the few pre-sunrise hours remaining, leaving the treacherous descent to the few daylight hours to be encountered. 
   Feeling her warmth on my skin, I opened my eyes.  It was daylight now, confusion set in.  "Steve, what's on your mind?"  Oh, how I had missed her quiet voice!  Elation filled me, through every pore, every fiber of my being!  I could say nothing, only swim in her eyes.  She giggled, making my heart flutter.  Her arms wrapped around me, I gently pulled her close, feeling her breath on my neck.  Slowly our heads pulled back to gaze into each others eyes.  I moved my head forward, the thought of her supple lips on mine making me light-headed.
   "What's that smell?  Shit!  The bacon's burning!"  I leapt to the stove, used a towel to quell the flames, and turned the burner off.  Muttering to myself, I gnawed the charred flesh, washed the dish, and dressed to head out.  The frigid air smashed into my face causing my eyes to water, and nose to freeze instantly.  My heart felt much lighter to be outside.  The dogs were going full-blown apeshit by now, biting at their chains and each other at the sight of the harnesses I was carrying toward them.
   "Hike!"  My voice echoed across the valley bottom, followed by the excited barks and footsteps of thirteen dogs.  It was now around 5 am.  Three hours until sunrise, 20 miles remaining.  "Fat dogs or not, that's a doable pace."  As has been the case on so many trips, I could hear more footfalls than my dogs had feet.  I shone my headlamp into the woods on either side, seeing canine outlines through the trees keeping pace with my team, eyes flashing in the light.  I had made this trip a hundred times in my life.  Only on rare occasions had a pack not followed us.  Since I was a small child, riding as my father drove the team, I have thought of them as my very own secret-service.  There they were, ready to sacrifice themselves to save my life, protecting my dogs and I from the dangers of the forest.  This remembrance from my youth made me smile, cracking the ice in my beard.
   "Where did you go?" It was her again... with her azure eyes brilliantly shining in the morning sun.  I opened my mouth and tried to speak.  No words came.  The aroma of lilies filled the air.  A chill ran down my spine as her fingers caressed my back over my shirt; there was a stirring in my loins as I hadn't felt since it happened.  No, it couldn't have happened!  We are really together!  I can hear the hustle and bustle of the city outside!  I can see the sun!  No, it isn't real!  It can't be...
   The whining of a wheel-dog broke my reverie.  How long had I drifted off?  Examining my surroundings, I noticed the wolves had ended their protection-run, likely because they caught the scent of a moose nearby.  'Good for them,' I thought to myself.  'At least someone gets what they want.'  I could see the top of the pass in the pre-dawn light.  The sun was very far south this time of year.  'Is south still south?' I thought to myself.  To what extent had things changed since then?  The scientists had predicted what they called a 'polar shift.'  Who knows what that meant, or if it had happened though.  Trying to stifle the thought process, I worked the brake and ran with the dogs in silence until my lungs were on fire.  Thinking can be too painful.  Physical pain I had grown accustomed to... pain inside the soul was quite the opposite.  Everything seemed to hurt more with each passing day.  Was it the isolation?  Was it the memory of her?  That old familiar pain set in as I pondered this.  "Damn you, pull it together!"  I shouted to myself and the rest of the woods.  I sometimes use anger to distract myself from the pain.
   "Brake!  Brake kids... that's it!  Brake and hook!"  The dogs, breathing heavily, came to a stop and I set the hook deep into the snow, trying to set it into the frozen earth below.  I chipped some slop off the brick I had brought, giving a bit to each dog to gnaw on.  They loved the stuff.  Of course I only liked it when it was frozen solid, as it consisted mainly of the stomach, liver, brain, and intestines of whatever game I captured for my own sustenance.  As the dogs ate feverishly I stood atop the ridge and awaited the sunrise.  Of course, sunrise was not as beautiful or dramatic as it used to be...
   "Why do you keep leaving?"  Breathless, no words were spoken once again.  This time it was later in the day, and raining outside.  I was holding her hand.  Her skin was so warm and soft...  'Oh no!  I recognize this place!'  With a pit in my stomach I tried to break the thought, to get back to witnessing the dull sun behind permanent cloud-cover rising over the mountains to what used to be the south.  No such luck.  A dime bounced and rolled across the floor, hitting my left foot and spinning to a stop.  I remember it clear as day.  Knowing I shouldn't, I bent down to pick it up, as I had done so many years ago.  I heard her scream as the shock-wave blew me backward into the wall.
   "Lisa!!!"  My voice boomed across the canyon.  I was sweating.  Heart pounding, I sat down and cried.  There was no shame, no attempts to hide it.  After all, who was around to see it?  My dogs had seen me weep so many times, yet they would always remain faithful and supportive of me.
   We proceeded down the east side of the mountain pass and into the town at the bottom.  I got the dogs bedded down for the night and took up residence in the only building in town remaining with intact windows.  After building a fire and a quick lunch the sun was nearly set.  After another round of slop to the dogs, I dug out a hole in the snow, melted what I dug, and poured it slowly into a bowl.  At least the dogs would have a few moments to drink liquid water before they had to go back to eating snow.
   A yelping dog snapped me out of sleep.  I flew out of the building, snagging my Remington 700 on my way out, forgetting my parka.  My headlamp illuminated the form of a wolverine atop one of my dogs, blood everywhere.  Tell me this isn't happening!  Bringing the rifle to my shoulder, I fired once.  Before I heard the sound, the .308 had torn through the predator and buried itself into the snowy ground.  I ran to my dog; it was Kyla.  She was one of my smaller dogs, but definitely one of the dogs in my team with the most heart.  She was hurt.  Bad.  Her gut had been torn open; I could smell the slop she had recently ingested.  Her eyes, normally a cool, icy blue color had faded to white as she gazed up at me, too weak even to whine.  I lay down in the snow beside her, my left arm cradling her sweet head.  Her breathing grew raspy.  Choking on my tears, I told her goodbye.  Wishing I could afford to use another very rare bullet to end her suffering, I knew I had no choice.  She licked my face one last time as my arm tightened around her neck.

The story I read before composing this story was A&P, by John Updike.  Outside of the method for details, I don't believe I took much from his style when writing this piece.  Even with the details, I tried to only use his tactics in a very general sense.  I prefer to use my own words and methods, as long as things turn out well.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Blind May See Better Than The Rest of Us

In "Cathedral," by Raymond Carver, the narrative character strikes me in the beginning strikes me as a bigot.  He is drawn to have the attitude that unless it is about him, it is not worth the thought.  Early on in the story I was rather repulsed by his character, trying to figure out why his wife was with him to begin with.  Upon meeting Robert, however, you start to see the character open up and become curious about blindness and begin asking questions out of curiosity. 

The narrator's wife, a kind-hearted woman, was in the employ of Robert while she lived in Seattle.  This is necessary information for the story.  How else would we know how she had come to be friends with this man?  Knowing this detail, we would do well to know about her relationship with her current husband, correct?  To accomplish this, we must know of how honesty and openness play a role in their marriage.  What better way to show this than to inform the reader that the husband knows everything of his wife's past, including information about her failed marriage to her high school sweetheart? 

And now I realize I have answered more than one of the questions set out in the assignment.  Ah well.  Se le vive!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Writing Advice From a Novice...

What makes a great writer?  Some witty prose and fancy words?  Excellent sentence structure?  Perhaps conviction and clarity in the work?  It is my opinion that there is no "magic" recipe for a great paper. 

What are some important things to do/rules to follow to make your paper better, from the point of view of a novice writer, typing this blog for an assignment in WRIT 101?   I'm so glad you asked! 

1.  Write, write, write.  I for one write quite often.  Mainly it is an avenue for me to release frustrations, concerns, and fears after physical activities have failed as methods to release these types of stress from my life.  I have never been incredibly effective at vocal communication methods.  I think this is the reason I have always enjoyed writing.  When I was young, I would write short stories with plots running parallel to my own life.  I wouldn't share them or even really tell anyone about them; it was merely a stress-reduction technique I adapted to my own life.  Write, then destroy the writing.  When I was in grade school, my teachers were constantly praising my stories; this continued through high school.  I am confident that the quality of those writings was due mainly to the fact that I had already written countless pages on menial subjects, trying to turn silly subjects into something I would find interesting when I read what I had written prior to destroying the work.  The old adage "Practice makes perfect" seems to ring true; though I doubt I will ever have the necessary amount of practice to write a "perfect" paper.

2.  Grammar.  There is nothing that can destroy your message faster than improper grammar.  Grammar can make the paper shine, or it can turn it into something that your audience cannot tolerate to read.  Sentence fragments, run-on sentences, over-utilization of punctuation (e.g. commas, semicolons, colons) is something that EVERYONE is guilty of at one point or another.  I, for one, tend to insert excessive commas every time I write a first draft.  They may even survive into the second or third draft.  I know I do it, so when I am editing I tend to become overly-critical of commas and remove MORE than need to be removed. 

3.  An 'outside' eye.  Someone should always read your paper before you are finished.  Even if you consider it to be perfect, always get someone else to read it and give you comments on the paper.  While we may be happy with our writing, something we need to remember is that we are not writing it for ourselves.  If we love it and our audience hates it; we may as well have never written it.  I always have a few of my local family members give me notes on major papers before I call it a "finished draft." 

4.  Build your paper.  Every word, every sentence, and every paragraph contributes a brick, a wall, a room to the construction project that is your paper.  Think about it as such:  If you were building a house, you would have to have some sort of floor plan put together so you have something to guide you through construction, right?  So why would you randomly try to group things together for a paper, paying no mind to the placement or flow of the paper?  Try constructing an outline before writing your first draft; make the order of information logical and as easy to follow as you can.  The better your layout is, the easier and more pleasant your paper will be to read. 

5.  Don't be critical, Be the largest critic.  This phrase may not make a lot of sense right off the bat.  My intention here is to say early in the writing process you should consider every word, every phrase, every sentence to be suitable.  Don't pay attention to the details; get your idea and message on the paper.  When this is roughed-in, re-read and edit, change, add, or subtract points to clarify your message.  Once you have the message 'honed' to what you want to say and how you want to say it, have someone else read your paper.  Take their notes and combine them with your own thoughts on the paper.  Scrutinize your work as though you were reading someone else's paper.  Read it as though you carry a grudge against the author.  Mark it up.  Destroy anything you think could be better, write notes on how the author could improve it, then get going on revision.  Incorporate your own notes, as well as those of the outside source as you see fit.  To me, revision is THE major step in the writing process.  No one will ever get every aspect of a paper 100% perfectly honed.  But that shouldn't stop you from trying to be the one who does.

From one novice to his classmates, these are things that I believe to be very important to the writing process.  Take them or leave them, I am sure your papers will turn out well.  Best of luck in your endeavors in WRIT 101, and I look forward to hearing about your success.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Which Might it Be?

1. After high school I dedicated nearly 10 years of my life to the military before moving back home, working a few years, and starting school.

2.  Up until a few years ago I ran a sled team; I didn't race, I simply ran them in the mountains through the winter.  I still care for 10 dogs though they are no longer a working team

3.  I was a very athletic young man, playing football mainly; I played on the losing-est team in the state of Montana