Friday, December 31, 2004

Before you pop that cork...

It's going to feel strange tonight, committing revelry while the other side of the planet experiences so much heartbreak and despair. I think right now we have to earn the right to a Happy New Year, by doing something to make our hope for a better future something other than the naive wish of a Pollyanna.

I know money is tight after Christmas, but if you can even spare $10 for the American Red Cross or Unicef, you can help make sure that millions of humans in South Asia get a chance to see 2006. Without fresh water and proper medical care, these populations will succumb to diseases that will wreak ten times the destruction of the tsunami itself.

If you're an Amazon.com customer, you don't even have to get off your butt to find your credit card--you can donate to the American Red Cross through their site, where all your payment information is already stored. (I'm a big fan of not getting off my butt, as my chiropractor will attest.)

Let's prove once and for all that Humanity has more mercy than Nature.

Happy New Year.

Friday, December 10, 2004

This had better be good

The Hollywood Reporter reports (as it is wont to do) that Kevin Smith will write and direct a sequel to his low-budget success story Clerks, called The Passion of the Clerks. It will revisit those twenty-something losers Dante and Randal ten years later.

Clerks is one of my favorite movies, not because I think it's got the world's best writing, acting, directing, cinematography--does it have cinematography?--but because it makes me happy. I plop it in the DVD player whenever I'm feeling under the weather or just generally sub-par. There's something about it that connects to me at the level that's just me.

The Passion of the Clerks will be the second ten-year follow-up to a Gen-X talky classic. Earlier this year Richard Linklater released Before Sunset, a sequel to 1995's charming and romantic Before Sunrise. In it, former lovers Celine and Jesse meet up for another nine-hour series of chats, with Paris as the pretty background this time instead of Vienna.

Is it me, or is my generation a more contemplative one than most? Why are we always examining and reexamining our lives for some hidden meaning? Why can't we be like the Baby Boomers, who fought for and believed in righteous causes and oozed idealism (until they turned into Yuppies hanging Baby on Board signs on their Beemers)? Or those mega-practical Generation Y kids, raised basking in the peace and prosperity of the Clinton years, who couldn't trouble themselves with aspirations more meaningful than landing a business/computer job with five weeks' vacation and a free gym membership (remember the plush benefit packages of the 90's)?

Why are we alone the cynical, aimless, eternal teenagers? Can you even imagine a Gen X president? His or her State of the Union addresses would make Jimmy Carter's "malaise" speech sound like the Howdy Doody theme song.

"The State of our Union is, well, let's be honest--it needs work."

Anyway, I'm sure The Passion of the Clerks will shed some light on all these questions and more. Dante and Randal won't let us down.

*Lest there be any misunderstanding: I love my generation. I think we're the funniest, best-educated, most philosophically advanced generation since the Enlightenment--and that one only included rich white men, so it doesn't count.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

To th gr at alphab t soup in th sky

I've reached a writing milestone this weekend. Not a page number or a word count--not anything created, but rather something destroyed.

The painted "E" on my laptop is obliterated, leaving only a clean black square where the English language's most popular letter resided for fourteen months under my tapping fingers. What was once a QWERTY keyboard is now a QW RTY keyboard.

Other endangered letters: N, M, D, and eventually R. Why not A, S, or T, you wonder, remembering those favorites of Hangman players and Wheel of Fortune contestants? IWhen I hit the S, my ring finger is short enough that its pad hits the key rather than the nail.

Anyway, it reminded me of Misery by Stephen King. The protagonist, novelist Paul Sheldon, is trapped in the home of one of his psychotic fans, Annie Wilkes, who coerces him into resurrecting the heroine of a series beloved by readers and despised by Paul himself. Throughout the novel, various keys fall off the decrepit typewriter she bought him, which means that he has to fill in the missing letters by hand on the manuscript. We know he's hit rock bottom when the E key falls off (the fact that his left foot had been axed off was another clue).

Misery, along with being a great character study and a riveting drama, is an outstanding illustration of the redemptive power of writing. Paul has no hope of survival, his consciousness alternates between agony and oblivion, but he has his work. The power of his creativity and the response it evokes in his reader ultimately saves both his physical and emotional life.

So that's my writing book recommendation of the week (yeah, like there's going to be one a week). Stephen King is so underrated it makes me want to--well, that's a post for another day.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Everyone knows it's windy

Baah-ba-ba-baah-ba-BAH-ba-ba-ba-ba-BAH,
Baah-ba-ba-baah-ba-BAH-ba-ba-ba!

I was hoping if I wrote it down, it would leave my head.

We've had gusts up to 60mph today, based on my internal anemometer, which is in turn based on how much I hear the house shake. Wind advisories are in effect for the area until late this afternoon. I'm pretty sure I just saw Margaret Hamilton fly by my window on her bicycle.

But back to the song. It reminds me of something I've been meaning to do whenever I have a few spare weeks: a research paper on vocalizations in popular music. Some songs just wouldn't be nearly as much fun without the "Whoa"s and the "Hey"s. Where would Springsteen's "No Surrender" be without

Whoa-ohhh-ohhh
and
Lay-lay-lay-lay-lay-lay-lay-lay-la-lay-LAY-LAY

or Counting Crows' "A Long December":

Na-na-NAH-na, NAH-na-NAH-na-NAH-na-na-na-na,
Na-na-NAH-na, yeah.

or Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner":

Doo-do-DOO-doo
Doo-do-DOO-doo
Doo-do-DOO-doo-do-DOO-do

And of course the granddaddy of them all, "Land of a Thousand Dances":
NAH-na-na-na-NAH, na-na-na-NAH-na-na-na-na-na-na,
na-na-na-na-NAH

where the rest of the song is pretty much incidental.

How do songwriters decide where and when to put these things in? And how do they choose between a "Naaa" and a "Doo"? I'm not a songwriter or even a poet, but as a fellow artist I'm trying to understand the process.

What's your favorite use of non-words in a song? Can anyone give an example of where they should have been left out? Where can I go to learn more? (Besides my local library--after all, it's windy out there!)

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Jeri Smith-Ready is a Maryland author of books for teens and adults.

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