Saturday, August 11, 2007

White feather

We rarely know or understand ourselves until we face what we fear the most and realize it wasn't as bad as we though it would be.

The Four Feathers is a remake (again) of the earlier 1939 and 1977 versions that were remakes of the same movie in 1915, 1921, and 1922 with the same characters and the same premise. A young man, Harry, resigns his commission on the eve of being sent to the Sudan to fight the Mahdi, a piece of history that was made into a movie with Charlton Heston and Laurence Olivier: Khartoum. The British do love their military history even when history remembers them as complete colonial failures, but they never flinch, keep a stiff upper lip, and Hollywood continues to recycle their history over and over and over.

That being said, The Four Feathers is a very good remake and less maudlin and stiff upper lip than the previous versions and it still says the same thing: what you fear may not be the worst in store for you. In this case, Harry travels to Egypt and bribes an unsavory character to take him to the Sudan to give the four white feathers his friends gave him as a token of their belief in Harry's cowardice. Harry ends up nearly dead in the desert when About Fatma, this time played by the wonderful DJimon Hounsou, picks him up and takes him to a British encampment, brings him back to life and spends the rest of the movie helping Harry to save his friends and return their white feathers. The fourth white feather came from his fiancee, Ethne, who also believed Harry to be a coward. It's a story about friendships and love and courage and determination in the face of terrific odds. Harry realizes he doesn't want to live life with the knowledge that everyone thinks him a coward. In a very noble way, the movie is a long, involved and grand dramatic interpretation of playing chicken.

We all have our moments of fear and sometimes back away from what we face in an effort to save ourselves, often putting our foot into something far worse. What we really fear is the unknown. Those of us who ran from our fears into the dark and shadowy realms of drugs or prejudice or any number of ways look back and see mistakes and feel ashamed. It is needless. We cannot change the past and when all is said and done we shouldn't change the past. I've said it many times before and I'll doubtless say it again. Change one moment, one heartbeat, one single hair, and you change who you have become. Like tempering metal in a forge and added coal and heat and force, a smith takes a lesser metal and creates a new and stronger metal able to withstand the shuddering shock of blade against blade or blade cleaving bone in battle or even in a dark alley. It is that same metal put to another use that took chariots and carts into the age of automobiles and airplanes and the same support that puts marble, glass, and concrete onto the strong skeletal framework of skyscrapers and buildings that soar into the clouds again and again when they have been struck down. Change the mix of coal to metal and heat and force or the amount of gravel and water and sand in concrete and the structure falls. We are the sum total of our experiences, the simple metal that has been forged into stronger stuff. Sometimes we learn from our mistakes and sometimes we repeat them over and over (like remaking a bad movie) but even our mistakes help forge our character and our presence in this time and place. Nothing bad that happens is without its good, and so with life.

That is all. Disperse.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Do you see what I see?

How much do we see without actually registering what we see? I just noticed that the spider plant Nel gave me two years ago this week has four babies (that part I knew) that are pointing in four cardinal directions: north, south, east, and west. I just now noticed that. The plant has spawned a couple babies over the past two years but this is the first time it has spawned four babies at the same time. Nel gave me two spider plants and the one in the bathroom has spawned only one baby in all that time, but it doesn't get nearly as much light as the one in the living room. I'll have to move it to the sunroom/office so it can get more light but I wonder if it too will spawn babies in cardinal directions.

It's hard not to see the clutter because it's all around me and in every room. I choose between work and cleaning every day and work usually wins. I shovel things out occasionally just to keep from being buried alive, but the clutter remains: books, boxes, papers, magazines I've not read, DVDs I've just burned and into which I've inserted art work.

I just received an email from Colleen Sell of Cup of Comfort books and she asked me to make a change in my contract that I saw and didn't register. She left the name of the last story she accepted in the new contract for the book for cat lovers and asked me to change it. I hadn't printed out the contract yet because I had to buy an ink cartridge so I made the change, printed out the contract and an envelope (after much fussing about with ink and aligning pages and realigning pages and reinserting the ink cartridge to get it just so) and suddenly remembered I had seen something about watermarking pages. Instead of scrawling COPY across the page in my dubious handwriting, I decided to check out watermarking, found what I needed, and printed out my own copy (and new copies of the other three contracts) with COPY watermarked across them. Now that's professional looking. I'll have to get them into folders and slide them into the cubbyhole in the desk until I get my new filing cabinet and desk (one that isn't falling apart and jerry rigged just to keep it upright) so I will be even more professional.

Since more of my work is contracted and bought I thought it would be a good idea to at least begin to look at all this in a more professional manner, especially since the IRS will insist I file and pay self employment taxes this year. I have far exceeded $600 from several publications and companies, so I'll have to bite the bullet, which also means I will have to buy more equipment to offset some of the income and limit how much I will have to pay in self employment taxes and to keep everything more organized than it is now. I have most of my expenses organized and keep a good handle on those, although I am a little behind, but it won't take more than a weekend to get everything in order so all I have to do is transfer the figures from my computer to Turbo Tax when I do the taxes online. It seems odd to be thinking about filing taxes in August, but as things become more complex and my income increases exponentially I'll have to think about filing quarterly taxes just to keep ahead. I didn't see that coming, although I knew at some point my writing would get to the point where I would be able to quit my day job and focus wholly on writing and that means focusing on the business of writing: taxes, expenses, equipment, organization, paperwork.

The up side of all this is that the laser printers I eyed this weekend online will have to move up in my wish list queue and become a reality before the end of the year to offset income and that's a good thing. I'm beginning to see a time when I will have fewer losses and more gains and that means paying more taxes because there are only so much equipment and supplies I can fit into my humble abode. However, there will be business lunches, advertising, marketing, travel expenses, postage, and so much more to offset at least a little of the income and reduce my tax debt so that I move from the peon class to the robber baron class, at least literarily speaking. Not such a bad thing and I'm sure most robber barons who were once peons feel the same way.

It's a little like underwear in a way. My mother and grandmother always told me to make sure I wore clean underwear so that if I was ever in an accident I wouldn't be embarrassed. Beanie and I talked about that the other day when I mentioned I might have enough money to splurge and buy new underwear. She reminded me about clean underwear and accidents and I said there was no way I was going to buy brand new undies, especially of the variety I prefer (any new undies really), just for an accident. I joked that I supposed I could carry the new clean pair in the glove box and when the medics cut off my pants ask them to slip the new ones on to satisfy my mother and grandmother's sensibilities. Then I thought about it.

In a serious accident you're more likely to soil your underwear or, worse yet, have them cut off of you and I'm not willing to sacrifice a brand new clean pair of undies just for the sake of appearances. Better to let them cut off the holey undies with the little rips and worn elastic that should have gone to the trash a while ago but feel so comfy and familiar I can't part with them. I can attest to the undies being clean before I was in the accident and anything that happens because of the accident I'm sure the medics and doctors and nurses have handled before and won't be surprised.

Beanie didn't see that coming and, like my preference for being torched at death, she came over to my way of thinking. It was right in front of us both but I caught it before she did, just like I noticed the four babies on my spider plant growing in cardinal directions and watermarks and self employment taxes and laser printers and new desks and maybe even curtains or shades for my office. It's all connected. I see that now.

That is all. Disperse.