Friday, February 20, 2009

What's in a name?

Exotic names surprise me and I always ask, "What does your name mean?" I don't get the same question in return, as if my common non-exotic name doesn't have a meaning. Why is it that people from non-western civilizations know the meaning of their names and the rest of us usually don't?

My birth name is Jacklyn and it is Hebrew for supplanter. In other words, one who takes over, which is something I've done since birth. I don't go by that name and it is not on my driver's license or any of my legal papers. I go by Jackie, which is the feminine for John and John means "God is gracious". In my case, the gods have been very gracious with me. I've been through the wringer many times and I'm still here.

I've also been blessed with talent and intelligence (no heckling from the peanut gallery) and an easy disposition, as well as many good friends and a family that isn't too reprehensible most of the time. Once in a while they do surprise me, but that is a rare occurrence. Like most families, we are a strange mix of personalities, abilities and prejudices.

In checking the meanings of my brother and sisters' names, I found out that James's name is also Hebrew and means supplanter. He certainly supplanted his sisters in Mom's affections when he was born and he is still at the top of the heap. I guess it's only fair since I supplanted the rest of them as first born, even though I was brought in and not born into the family. Carol is next in birth order and her name is German and means "free man." I'll bet Carol wishes there was a free man in her life, or at least one with enough money to keep her in the style to which she has long been accustomed. James comes after Carol and then comes Tracy (otherwise known here as Beanie), and her name means "Thracius's place". It's Roman in origin and means "of Thracia," or Thrace, which was a region of Greece that is now divided between Turkey and Greece. Spartacus was Thracian and look what trouble he caused for Rome, not that he didn't have his reasons or good cause.

Carol was born in Germany, so it's probably fitting that she have a German name. I won't even begin to get into the middle names because they're all over the place and we don't go by our middle names unless Mom is upset with one of us and wants to give us no doubt as to her murderous intentions.

I find it interesting that my name is Hebrew because many people have asked me if I'm not Jewish, most of whom are Jewish, but I am neither Xian or Jew and am considered a heathen by my family, all of whom are Xians. It's all right. I'm used to being different. It's hard to supplant anyone and be noticed if you're just like everyone else. I'm definitely not like everyone else -- or anyone else for that matter.

In mythology and magic and the occult sciences, names have power, and everyone knows your protect your true name. Your true name changes as you change, evolve and grow and that is something Native Americans knew. They gave babies a name and when the babies grew to be adults they took another name, a name that defined who they were as adults, casting aside their baby names. It's hard to know the right name for someone until you get to know them and it's almost impossible to know a newborn babe whose drawn its first few breaths. Of course, a birth name that changes at the attainment of adult status would throw the IRS into a panic, especially if at some point people decided they needed a new name for every stage of their lives. However, I'm all for throwing the government, and especially the IRS, into a panic at every possible turn. They do, after all, work for us.

So, what's in a name? I guess that depends on whether or not you feel like a Tom, Dick or Harry instead of a Sabu, Wolfram or Bob.

That is all. Disperse.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Lawyers and libertarians

I like the movies that have been made of Agatha Christie's mysteries, especially Death on the Nile. There's one scene where the heiress is getting ready to sign some legal papers but wants to read them over first. Her lawyer, Uncle Andrew, doesn't want her to read them because he has slipped a document in among the mergers and other legal papers that absolves him of stealing her money. He's been embezzling from the heiress's riches since her father died and now that she has come of age and married, she will be in control of her fortune and is going to notice that good old Uncle Andrew has been stealing her blind. She still has enough money to buy a country, but not five countries as she could have before Uncle Andrew's fingers got stuck to her money.

The heiress's new husband says he never reads what he signs and urges his wife to just sign the papers so they can continue having their honeymoon fun, at which point, Colonel Race, Hercule Poirot's best friend and sleuthing colleague, butts into the conversation to tell the heiress she is right and she should read all legal documents before she signs them. Colonel Race knows old Uncle Andrew is up to no good. Old Uncle Andrew tells the heiress she can look at the papers later. There's no rush, old Uncle Andrew, the shrew lawyer knows, because his time will come . . . very soon.

Let the murders begin.

If it isn't lawyers out to trick you into signing the papers before you have the time to read the small print, then some smart college student still wet behind the ears who knows how the world works gets a taste of her own medicine.

A young woman was about to finish her first year of college. Like so many others her age, she considered herself to be a very liberal Democrat, and was very much in favor of the redistribution of wealth.

She was deeply ashamed that her father was a rather staunch Republican, a feeling she openly expressed. Based on the lectures that she had participated in, and the occasional chat with a professor, she felt that her father had for years harbored an evil, selfish desire to keep what he thought should be his.

One day she was challenging her father on his opposition to higher taxes on the rich and the addition of more government welfare programs. The self-professed objectivity proclaimed by her professors had to be the truth and she indicated so to her father. He responded by asking how she was doing in school. Taken aback, she answered rather haughtily that she had a 4.0 GPA, and let him know that it was tough to maintain, insisting that she was taking a very difficult course load and was constantly studying, which left her no time to go out and party like other people she knew. She didn't even have time for a boyfriend, and didn't really have many college friends because she spent all her time studying.

Her father listened and then asked, "How is you friend Audrey doing?" She replied, "Audrey is barely getting by. All she takes are easy classes, she never studies, and she barely has a 2.0 GPA. She is so popular on campus, college for her is a blast. She's always invited to all the parties, and lots of times she doesn't even show up for classes because she's too hung over."

Her wise father asked his daughter, "Why don't you go to the Dean's office and ask him to deduct a 1.0 off your GPA and give it to your friend who only has a 2.0. That way you will both have a 3.0 GPA and certainly that would be a fair and equal distribution of GPA."

The daughter, visibly shocked by her father's suggestion, angrily fired back "That wouldn't be fair! I have worked really hard for my grades! I've invested a lot of time, and a lot of hard work! Audrey has done next to nothing toward her degree. She played while I worked my tail off!"

The father slowly smiled, winked and said gently, "Welcome to the Libertarian Party."

That is all. Disperse.

The power of the Internet

Last night I wrote a post about fan fiction and giving away writing for free because of a conversation I had with a friend. It was that conversation and talking about Chelle's talented writing that made me think about that long ago episode when I was naive and young and completely focused on a television show, in this case M*A*S*H. I had completely forgotten about the incident, although the letter is buried among a box full of correspondence I've kept over the years (decades), until yesterday.

The purpose of the post was to illustrate what happens when you play on someone else's playground, and also to share some advice about the writing world. There are opportunities out there and so many people waste their time on doing things for free because they don't know they have options.

There was no Internet in 1974 and people communicated by letters (paper covered with typewritten or handwritten words, placed in envelopes, addressed, stamped and sent). I lived in Tucson, Arizona at that time so it took very little time for my letter to get to California and back, but it still took time, not like the Internet where communication is almost instantaneous, as evidenced just a few moments ago when I received and email that someone left a comment on the post.

The comment came from a blog owner named Nick, ostensibly from Glendale, California and posting by means of an Apple computer, probably a MacBook, but it was signed Larry Gelbart and asked what year that was and what idea he had supposedly stolen. Obviously, Mr. Gelbart has Google Alerts, too, and, like me, keeps track of when his name or his projects are mentioned.

I was stunned, to say the least.

I responded with two lines: one with the basic idea of my long ago letter and the comment that the post wasn't about what I sent but how good writers of fan fiction can break into the very shows they love by writing a spec script (script on speculation). It's one way to play on someone else's playground, do it legitimately, and (if you're good enough) get a job as a full time paid writer.

Mr. Gelbart also asked me the year when it happened. It was in 1974, which I just remembered, 35 years ago. And he taught me some valuable lessons about writing. Protect your work. Learn the rules and guidelines and follow them to protect yourself and your work, especially when you want to play on someone else's playground. Anything you do well should be compensated. In other words, don't work for free. (I learned that one from Harlan Ellison.)

The Internet is a powerful tool. It connects people all over the world in a matter of cyberseconds. It grants access to words and ideas and opportunities few dreamed were possible when I was young and naive, but with that access comes responsibility for yourself, your words and the work you take the time to put out there. Don't sell yourself short simply because access to this cyberworld of connections at the speed of light over fiberoptics is quick and fairly easy. Make your hard work pay. You might not get through the door on the first try, but if you persevere and you work hard with the talents you've been given, there is nowhere you cannot go -- even into someone else's playground -- and create a world and a job of your own.

That is all. Disperse.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The wages of buried talents

I was wrong, Spike's Leman. I do understand what it's like to play in someone else's world. It's just been so long ago, I forgot about when it happened to me. Over 30 years ago, no one called it fan fiction. It was watching too much TV.

I was about 21 years old and I never missed an episode of M*A*S*H. I even saw the movie before it became a TV show and I really enjoyed it. I knew the characters inside and out and could tell you what was going to happen on any episode. I'm sure someone would have called me obsessed, but not to my face.

In the midst of one season I got an idea for the show. I wrote it all down, found out where to send it (and to whom) and I sent a rundown of the whole story line in a letter to Larry Gelbart. A few weeks later I received an answer from Mr. Gelbart thanking me for my letter and my idea. He also said he didn't accept unsolicited queries. The following year when the new season started, lo and behold, the story line I had outlined and sent to Mr. Gelbart showed up in the new season. I was furious and hurt. He told me he couldn't use what I sent and there it was on the screen, everything I had written. I learned a hard lesson that day and it has nothing to do with stealing ideas or copyrights. It has to do with playing on someone else's equipment in their playground.

It no longer matters to me whether or not Larry Gelbart took my idea and used it for his show or if we both had the same idea at the same time. What matters is learning from my mistake and sharing that information.

There are many people who write fan fiction and play on someone else's equipment on their playground. Many of those people relate to the characters and enjoy taking them in different directions. A few of those people take the time to carefully research story lines and the information, but they don't think what they write is worth anything so they post it in journals and on private websites for free with the disclaimer that they are not infringing on copyrighted characters, worlds or material. They don't think they have what it takes to create characters and worlds, so they borrow what they love and invest their time and talent in playing on someone else's playground, never realizing they are missing an opportunity that could change their lives. How? By getting paid to play on that playground.

Most television shows are created by a team of writers, overseen by producers, some of whom also write. Good shows sometimes go downhill for lack of creative talent and new directions, and the material they need might be posted on some obscure fan fiction website.

Maybe you don't have what it takes to create characters and situations and believable worlds, but you do know the playground where you spend so much time and talent. Why not take a chance? Do a little more research, find out how to put together a sample speculative script (spec script), where to send it and to whose attention, write the script and send it in. You have nothing to lose but your time and a bit of paper and ink (or electrons). How do you think most of those writers got their start? By learning the guidelines and taking a chance.

You have to begin somewhere, so why not with your favorite show. Even if your script is turned down, provided you followed the rules and guidelines, some bright enterprising producer might see what you can't -- that you have talent and can write. Writers are a commodity we can never have too much of -- as evidenced every time a network pays for a reality television show. So many good shows die from stagnation and lack of good writers.

If I had known what to do and how to approach Larry Gelbart when I was 19, I might have ended up living and working in Hollywood or moved on to writing novels sooner than I did. I had no one to tell me how to do it properly or that there was a proper way. I was married with one child and another on the way. In some parallel universe, the smarter me has been a paid writer for decades, starting with a spec script to Larry Gelbart that earned me a writing credit on M*A*S*H.

Remember the parable about the two servants whose master gave them ten talents? One servant buried his talents and when his master returned his wages for his careful protection of the master's wealth were zero. The wages for the other servant who invested the ten talents and earned many times over that were the profits of his daring. Although the parable doesn't say, I always believed that the smart servant ended up a free man while the other servant remained a servant. Fortune favors the bold.

In other words, take a chance. What do you have to lose? You might end up with nothing or you might end up with a credit on the show where you've buried your talents writing for free. You'll never know if you don't take a deep breath, close your eyes and take the plunge.

That is all. Disperse.

One wrinkle in a perfect seam

First, I'd like to thank all of you who took time out of your busy mornings to call me and wish me happy birthday this morning. It's all right that you forgot there are things called time zones that mean what was mid morning for you was barely past dawn for me. It's the thought that counts.

I'd also like to thank all of you who called to sing "Happy Birthday" to me. Your efforts, if not your vocal skills, are much appreciated. And to everyone who emailed, posted and otherwise offered birthday greetings, thank you all. You've made this a very special and memorable day and I appreciate all of you. Even my mother remembered my birthday; usually she only remembers my brother's birthday. Must be something about having a penis that makes it easier.

On another more somber note, it seems that the Authors Guild has decided to sue Amazon over the Kindle 2's new function: text to voice. I read about the flack over this new feature and how it affected the copyrights of audio books, but I never though it would get to this point. The Authors Guild didn't kick up nearly as much of a fuss when Amazon decided to disable the buttons for all books not published by their own in-house POD publisher and that was something they should have fought. Instead, the AG left it to POD publishers to stand their ground. It's nice to know that when it doesn't count the AG is willing to go to the mat to sue over a function that is no different than computers with functions that change text to audio for vision and other handicapped people so they can hear the text they cannot read. By suing Amazon over the Kindle 2 they are, if they win the suit, setting a precedent that will affect millions of handicapped people and people who read books aloud to their children, families and other people. What's next, suing Starbucks because you're so clumsy you dropped your hot latte in your lap while you were driving?

What amazes me the most is that this is obviously more about money and less about copyright infringement. Did they think intelligent people wouldn't notice or that the dollar signs would affect people's ability to see clearly? Probably. After all, in a world of entitlements and earmarks, it is, after all, all about the money.

It is a beautiful world and today many of my friends and family (and quite a few strangers) reminded me of how beautiful a world it is, so it's a bit difficult to be brought back to the hard earth with such a bone crunching stop, but into every life a little fly is bound to end up in the ointment if you leave the lid off long enough -- or some mouse will decided that your stash of Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate is just what they need to round out their evening meal after stealing the bait out of the trap. No one said life would be easy -- or even make sense most of the time -- but it's a terminal disease that sometimes offers glimpses of breathtaking beauty and awe inspiring wonder that makes the journey mostly worthwhile if you ignore the idiots blocking the view.

That is all. Disperse.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Wild Hunt

Every once in a while I get stumped for something to write, so I sit down and let my fingers skip across the keys and see what comes out. It's going to be one of those nights tonight.

Maybe I have exhausted all the current subjects or maybe it's just the wild wind outside shaking the trees and sending garbage cans flying that has me on edge. It could also be the weight of work and things needing fixed and my car not cooperating when I want to go somewhere (a problem that will be fixed when my solar powered battery charger arrives). It could also be the approach of the solar return when the stars and planets are in the exact same alignment as the moment of my birth more than half a century ago that is throwing everything out of kilter. It's on nights like this when the Wild Hunt gallops past the door calling my name to join them as they whirl on the screaming winds past unsuspecting souls that something inside clamors for release and the urge to throw open the door and greet the night is too strong to resist.

It's at times like this I remember all the tales of the Wild Hunt and the dark serpentine forms of coursing hounds after prey and the Hunter moves from his quiet stance in the star crusted night to run down the night. I admit my imagination takes dark and shadowy forms on nights like this and I am anxious to throw open the doors of memory, let loose the guards and settle into sleep to follow my dreams wherever they lead. Tonight there will be no dreams of half naked men who clean rooms and whisk away the debris of the previous night's revelry or passions rising to be spent and spent again. Tonight there will be dreams of haunted feverish yearnings where desires are unveiled and fulfilled beneath the lash or riding crop or taunted, teased and stroked to the very edge of madness before the final shuddering release that is the prelude to excess and excitation brought again and again to the heights when muscles, nerves and flesh tremble in anticipation of orgasmic relief.

Spring is close and I feel the rising tide flowing warm and deep within.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The death of democracy and freedom

As a child, one of my favorite books was The Arabian Nights, 1001 tales purportedly told by Queen Scheherazade to the Sultan who had vowed to take a wife, sleep with her one night and then kill her. Scheherazade was the last queen because she saved her own life by captivating the Sultan with her stories. My ideas of Islam were born among those tales of Djinn and Mamelukes and flying carpets.

When I read The Infidel by Georgia Elizabeth Taylor, I got a different view of Islam, the view of beautiful blinding white cities in exotic Spain where women were educated and even taught in colleges, owned property and had the run of the city. They were intelligent and beautiful and free and had converted from Christianity under the spell of the beauty of Islam's fair laws and generous heart. By contrast, medieval Christianity was barbaric, a religion that espoused filth as the way to heaven, where bathing was a sin and reading, writing and learning punishable by pain, torture and even death, especially for women. Islam was an enlightened religion that protected the rights of slaves and women among luxury and beauty unknown anywhere in the world. Astronomy, mathematics and medicine were nurtured in the greenhouse under Islam's warm glow.

And the decadent Spanish Muslims were persecuted by the Christians who plundered their cities, raped their women and slaughtered thousands as they took Islamic gold and luxuries. Spanish Muslims were also persecuted by their militant African and Middle Eastern brothers who looked upon the wealth and beauty of their cities and their just and flourishing society as apostasy, sin of the highest order, and they were either converted or killed. It is the same world in which we live today.

There are peaceful Muslims who deal openly and generously with those who do not share their beliefs, but more and more the world is being overrun by Muslims intent upon the absolute conversion or death of all infidels -- the rest of the world. Jews are first on the list and then Christians, but you can be assured that no one will escape unscathed. No one is safe. That is the Islam of today, a world in which radical Muslims are taking over countries from within, spreading their religion of hate and destruction assured of a place in Paradise by their sacrifice -- and no sacrifice is too great, not even the lives of women, children or themselves. To die in the service of spreading their message of hate is the highest honor.

Geert Wilders, a peaceful man and a film maker from The Netherlands, made a movie and wished to show it in Parliament in Britain, one of the oldest homes of a living democracy in the world. Wilders was declared persona non grata, an unwelcome person, by the leader of the Labour Party and met at Heathrow airport by security. He was manhandled and taken to a holding area where he awaited the next plane back to The Netherlands. He was invited by Parliament to return and show his film, Fitna, about Islam. It takes about 15 minutes, but the images and the information are worth the time.

Fitna is about the Quran and about the radical Muslim agenda. The World Trade Center, the Atocha station bombing, the bombing of a triple decker bus in London and all the other atrocities committed in recent years by Muslim extremists are part of an agenda of hate aimed at spreading Islam's message of hate throughout the world. No one is safe, not even peaceful Muslims.

It is at times like this, after viewing radical Islam's plan for the rest of the world, that I understand why, in the wake of Pearl Harbor, thousands of peaceful and law-abiding Japanese were rounded up and sent to relocation camps. We could not as easily round up and imprison Nazis in our midst because they were indistinguishable from people and families they knew all their lives. In retrospect, the all pervasive fear that created those camps is understandable. America had been touched by the Nazis and their allies the Japanese, came to our country and attacked Pearl Harbor. Was the rest of mainland America next?

Muslims have spread to nearly every country in the world, their slender minarets climbing into the heavens, their shadows spreading across the land and darkening all that falls beneath its influence. Muslims have been welcomed into the government and a Muslim took his oath of office on the Quran before becoming a Member of Congress. As radical Islam spreads its message of terror, death and destruction everywhere it goes, how can people not be afraid that the smiling face across from them at work, in the store, at the bank or even reading the evening news does not hide the heart of a terrorist?

In a land of democracy and freedom, we believe in the inherent decency and honor of all races and religions -- as difficult as that sometimes proves to be. We allow the hateful rhetoric of neo-Nazis, black Muslims, black Christian preachers and would-be terrorists because the very essence of the freedom is the freedom to embrace different ideologies and religions and openly speak about it. Messages of hate stand alongside peaceful protest and opinion in the pages of books and newspapers and on the Internet and each message, regardless of its intent, is protected by law, laws enacted in the democratic process that ensures every adult one vote. And yet, can we ignore the danger in our midst? Will peaceful and educated Muslims stand against their radical and murderous brethren to protect freedom and democracy, stand with Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and every other religion or nonbeliever when the time comes to make a choice?

Freedom and democracy are dangerous in a radical Muslim society because they guarantee the right to think and believe and act against the dictates of hate. Radical Islam is bent on the destruction of freedom and democracy and their weapons are hatred, terror, intolerance, torture and death. Who will stand for democracy and freedom in the face of torture and certain death? Could you?