Saturday, February 28, 2009


Today was a beautiful April day, and my neighbors were complaining about how bad the weather was -- oh my gosh, clouds in the sky. The fact that it is still February is not lost on me. I'm sort of amazed. I feel like I'm halfway through spring quarter already, and winter quarter isn't even over. It's pretty wonderful that a warm Saturday sitting outside and reading a new book (Last Watch; so happy it's out, so sad the series will be over) can make everything -- absolutely everything -- feel happy. Even a book about (possibly?) Armageddon.

I got to thinking, however, about my NaNoWriMo piece. It's fairly interesting, because I feel like I have too many characters that aren't important enough. In many instances this is a small deal and fixable (swapping out one new character for a reappearance of an old character, for example), but it's somewhat interesting to me because one of the main characters in this story is entirely new, which doesn't jive so much with it being a sequel and all. Of course, I like the character too much to do away with him entirely, but it got me to thinking, and my sense is that in order for the later story to flow the way I want it to, I need to edit the earlier story to make it more sequel-able. Since when writing the first one I was not thinking "You know what this needs? A sequel."

A good example that everyone knows about -- in book one of Harry Potter, Hagrid borrows Sirius Black's motorbike. It's a throwaway reference that no one pays attention to, and doesn't stand out particularly, but it introduces at least a name so that when Sirius becomes a main character in book 3, readers aren't up in arms saying "If Sirius was James' best friend, where was he the night that James died?" The character isn't really developed until book 3, but he exists in the world as of book 1. (Of course, Remus and Peter aren't mentioned, but the fact that one of them was makes the other two more believable, somehow; mentioning all three would have been overdoing it.)

My problem is that, since I first set out to only write one story, those references are conspicuously absent. I don't mention a character just for kicks, or on the off-chance that I would be writing a sequel. Most of the new characters in the piece I wrote in November I hadn't even thought of when I was writing the first story. So there are characters that logically should have been present in some of the events I describe in the first story, and aren't mentioned. Places and things that should have made an appearance, and didn't. Because I hadn't thought of them. Nothing contradictory, necessarily, but just strange -- the long lost brother or sister who is never mentioned until he conspicuously shows up. So I want to rewrite the first one, to add those elements -- nothing big, but enough to make it not seem strange that I'm bringing up these characters, places, and things in the second one. Also maybe change some names (that's a separate issue). But I know that I don't have the time to make the second one readable and the first one better at the same time. (I barely have enough time to get the second one readable on any sort of schedule). So I'm just sort of puzzling about what to do. The obvious solution, of course, being to go back and change the first one when I'm through with the second one. Which I might do. We'll see.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Andrew Bird!

Concert was last night. It was awesome. My brother's (and my) only disappointment was that he did not play "Not a Robot but a Ghost" from his latest album. But that's not much of a complaint, and those older songs that he did he did in new ways. ("Why" -- which I want to choreograph a silks act to as soon as I get good enough to do so, and a song titled "The Water Jet Cilice" but which I call "Serendipity" instead). He's very... affable on stage. And the crowd sort of just sways to the music, in part because it's not dance music so much. And by far the best part of his concerts, in my opinion, is that they don't sound like his albums. Which means that even if I can't see a thing because there are all of these tall people standing right in front of me, I still get a different experience than just listening to my mp3 player. (other than the tall people standing right in front of me, the smoky bar, and the volume)

He had the audience sing a part of "Tables and Chairs" -- instead of playing the melody on his violin and looping it, he just sort of held out his hands like a conductor and hoped that people would pick up. My brother and I did, of course (I always sing along with the violin at that part anyway), but I think much of the audience was sort of mystified. In part because he plays with rhythm so much in his concerts (less so in his albums) that even if you wanted to sing along with the vocals, it would be nigh impossible. And in part because instead of something like "You guys sing the chorus!" he instead said "You guys sing the melody to the instrumental interlude!" (actually, he didn't even say anything; he just stopped playing and singing and pretended to conduct us. I think it would have been cool in a really strange, eerie way if no one had sung at all -- just gone silent right then, and he's conducting, but there's no noise).

Also, some woman shouted out, about halfway through the concert, "We love you Andrew, welcome to San Fran... (cisco)". To which one guy standing near me responded: "You're not from around here, are you?" Because yeah; no one in the bay area calls San Francisco "San Fran". It's "San Francisco" or "SF" or "The City". Or, if there are some people, they're very rare. I can, of course, understand why she didn't want to shout San Francisco (it's rather long) or "The City" (it's rather vague). And maybe she just moved here, or something.

And we got free posters! Mine will be up on my wall as soon as I figure out where I want to put it. Possibly in the kitchen.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A plot, to go with my idea:

Thought this up last night. I'm pretty pleased; it's very goofy. Might post a rough draft up here, when/if I write it:

Imagine a world in which digital clocks really caught on; so that no one used analog clocks or watches anymore. In this world, because time appears to be quantized and discrete, peoples' perceptions of the world change fundamentally. Also, since velocity and thereby motion is based on limits and continuity, in a world with no continuous time motion becomes illusory -- you still think that you're moving, but really you're jumping from (stationary) place to (stationary) place in very small leaps. Basically, in this world, motion (and hence progress) is an illusion ala Xeno's paradox of the arrow.

This wouldn't be an issue, but it means that conceptually, this world is stalled out circa 1990. And so my hero will go back in time (using a tea kettle; you knew it was coming) and destroy (or ridicule) the digital watch in order to save continuity and progress.

Monday, February 16, 2009

An Idea

A very goofy idea, in fact. Perhaps two, in the form of a conversation, because that's how they came to me.

"You've heard of time dilation?"
"It sounds familiar."
"It's the idea -- if you move fast enough, time moves differently. So you can go faster, and depending on how fast you go, you either move forward or backward in time."
"Is that the idea?"
"No -- everyone is working on that, just like everyone is working on wormholes. Everyone and their prehistoric ape cousin. But there are plenty of other ideas. For example; what if you stop moving?"
"Time dilation; it works with acceleration, basically. But what if you slow down? Or stop?"
"You mean, like just sit around all day?"
"No! Even if I don't move a muscle, I'm still moving; the planet is spinning on its axis and traveling around the sun, and that in turn is torquing through the galaxy. And every molecule, every atom, every subatomic particle in my body is flitting around even faster than the earth is moving through the universe. I can't stop; can't break the inertia, can't go lower than ground state, but what if I could? If I could stop moving..."
"The world would move without you?"
"Time would move without me."
"So, you'd be taken to the future."
"Perhaps. Even if I was, I'd be floating out, who knows where relative to the Earth's place in the expanding Universe. And I might not travel at all; I might just spontaneously decompose into dust."
"Is that what you're studying? How to do it safely?"
"Heh. Not quite. I'm studying tea kettles."
"Tea kettles?"
"Well, and pasta pots. Containers for heating and boiling water, basically."
"Um. What does that have to do with time travel?"
"Haven't you heard the phrase, 'A watched pot never boils'?"

Sunday, February 08, 2009


So, one of my Stanford friends is turning twenty-three soon, and to celebrate (I think this will become a birthday tradition) we had a ladies' brunch and watched a Chick Flick. Since this was the first time, we started with the paradigm: Pride and Prejudice. While three out of four of us knew the story incredibly well, the remaining woman had not seen, nor read, nor heard told, the story. (She thought that it was "A love story between a white woman and a black man in the deep south." I kid you not. Personally, I thought that Pride and Prejudice was required reading for every twelve year old girl, but I must be wrong).

Now, while this created problems when the three of us had to bite our tongues to stop the words "The perfidious Wickham!" from coming out of our mouths the first time he was on screen (and come on, you have to admit that perfidious is a very, very fun word to say), what was most remarkable about watching this movie with this woman was that she didn't like Mr. Darcy. It is usually a safe bet that any woman watching Pride and Prejudice will, by the end of the story, like Mr. Darcy. But my friend's response to the comment of "Man, Mr. Darcy is awesome," was not affirmation, and not even denial, but staunch disbelief. She argued that he could not have existed in Victorian England, and she much preferred works like "The Awakening" (which, as far as I can tell, follows roughly the same plot as Anna Karenina).

I don't really want to spend much time here picking apart that argument -- but it seemed to me that she was operating under several inaccuracies which she stalwartly did not accept: mostly, she assumed that Georgian England (i.e. the time of Pride and Prejudice) was the same as Victorian England. In fact, "The Awakening" was written in 1899, and "Pride and Prejudice" in 1813, and as such comparing the two eras as being synchronous is, in fact, roughly equivalent to drawing the same parallel between the aforementioned late Victorian era (circa 1900) and the mid 1980s.

The Georgian era was marked by social upheaval, unrest, and as tends to go hand-in-hand, relative social freedom. The other authors one associates with Austen (Bronte, Eliot) are also Victorians and, once again, not her actual contemporaries. On the other hand, the most famous novelist of the time was Walter Scott, who certainly had strong female characters. The most famous writer? Lord Byron (hah). And a few other well known personages who were actually Austen's contemporaries were, wait for it: Casanova, and the Marquis de Sade. I mean, I have trouble thinking that the era which gave us Casanova, Don Juan, and sadism was also known for its repressive social norms. The late Georgian period showed a lessening in restrictions in everything from class (trade and industry were becoming respectable) to undergarments, and those restrictions subsequently tightened right back up in the Victorian era. And although I told her several times that Pride and Prejudice was not Victorian but earlier, and that social mores were actually much less strict in Georgian/Regency society than they were in Victorian culture, she resolutely refused to believe me, and went on and on about how Elizabeth obviously should have killed herself because Darcy wouldn't actually fall in love with a liberated woman, being a product of Victorian society.

Why does that bother me? I mean, yes, it is one of my favorite books, but why should it matter to me what she thinks of it? Or if her opinions are legitimate or founded on false assumptions? Would I have found it easier to deal with if she had compared to an actual contemporary of Austen's, instead of someone writing some eighty years after her death? (And what would she have compared it to, Ivanhoe, which is itself historical fiction? Don Juan? Justine? That would have been a good one -- Darcy is not realistic because he is neither as depraved as de Sade, nor as womanizing as Don Juan.) But why should I care if my friend prefers Queen Victoria to Casanova? (Even if I find that rather odd?)

Except that wasn't entirely what she was saying -- instead, she was implying that Jane Austen failed at what Jane Austen was perhaps best at (creating realistic, three-dimensional, and compelling characters). She was saying Darcy wasn't realistic. Which rankles with me, because I think the strength of Austen's writing is in her characters. Not just the main characters, but even the very characters she satirizes: Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine, Lydia, and Mr and Mrs. Bennet. To say that even Mr. Darcy was unrealistic and impossible, and especially basing that statement on the social mores of the time (which I am fairly certain Jane Austen understood better than my biochemist friend), strikes me as the kind of ridiculous stubborn vanity as would make her, well, more akin to Lady Catherine than any other character in the movie we watched. And that is the sort of baseless condescension which I really dislike.