Sunday, September 30, 2007
So yesterday I did the writing seminar for Oregon Writers Colony. It was held at the Standard TV and Appliance store's meeting room, in Beaverton. Beautiful store, airy, well-lighted, spacious. full of fridges and stoves and televisions and all like that.
There were twenty of us in the room. I babbled and danced and did my dog and pony show from ten to five, with breaks for lunch and to go pee.
They were a good crowd, bright, ranging in age from the twenties to the seventies, pretty much evenly split between boys and girls.
I threw a whole buncha stuff at them, too much in too short a time. Kind of like trying to wash your hands using a fire hose. I lectured, we did Q&A, a few writing exercises, and it seemed to go over pretty well.
What you hope, as a teacher, is that one or two things of some value will sink in. Won't be the same couple things for everybody, but my goals are pretty simple: That the students will learn some tricks that will help them teach themselves how to write a little sharper or cleaner. And that they will leave with a heightened sense of enthusiasm and possibility.
It's always good if you have a natural talent, a gift for words. That can pave a lot of roads. But for many of us, talent is only the smallest part of the equation. In my case, I realized a long time ago that persistence will get you through times of no talent better than talent will get you through times of no persistence. (With a tip of the hat to Frank Freak.)
Um. Anyway, I had fine time, and now I can go back into my introvert's cave for a while ...
Friday, September 28, 2007
Brit-sitcoms. For my money, the two funniest television series ever aired were Fawlty Towers
and Absolutely Fabulous.
And it was because they were politically incorrect, ribald, raucous, and had lead characters who were bad people, with no redeeming social qualities whatsoever.
American TV tried to do a version of Towers and it died a quick and deservedly-horrible death -- they tried to give Basil Fawlty's boneheaded bigoted character a heart, and he didn't have one.
I think Roseanne Barr has the rights to do an American version of AbFab, but I can't imagine it would be a patch on the original.
Do yourself a favor: Rent these and watch them.
Cleese, and his ex-wife, Connie Booth, who quit acting and writing to become a psychotherapist, starred in and wrote Towers. There were only a dozen episodes.
Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders played Patsy and Edina, self-centered airheaded twits. The series came from a skit by French and Saunders, on an earlier series. Created and written by Saunders, AbFab is every bit as non-PC as Towers. It ran for several seasons.
You'll either love them or hate them, there doesn't seem to be any in-between ...
Thursday, September 27, 2007
In a boxing match, when the referee is giving pre-fight instructions to the boxers, there is a line he always says as part of it: "Remember to protect yourself at all times."
What this means is just what it says: The bell might ring, ending the round, the ref might wave the other guy off, but if you drop your guard, thinking it is safe, you might get pasted right on the kisser.
This is a lesson I haven't quite learned in silat class, alas. More than once, I've gotten tagged after the (metaphorical) bell has rung, ending the round. My own fault, of course, for trusting my sneaky fellow silat players ...
Here's how it generally goes: There is an exchange. Sometimes it's a pre-arranged attack and response. Sometimes, it can come in the freestyle circle. We dance in, do our thing, and once it is over, I relax, heading back to my corner to repeat the sequence.
Now and again, the other player adds a little more to the end. After we are finished ...
Seems like most of the time this is a sweep, and for some reason, almost always is a sapu luar (outside sweep).
Cutting them slack, I'll allow that they were just a little slow to finish, or not able to do the set and stop it in time. Being a little less forgiving, I sometimes think they did it on purpose, just to see if it will work. (If you want to know if the thing will take down somebody who isn't expecting it, this is a way to check. If you do it right, it will.)
We haven't been working the circle lately, so it hasn't happened as much, but sure enough, most recent class, I got a nice little brush burn on the right elbow. I was all done, standing straight up, turning away, and my opponent added a little post-clash sweep. I wasn't prepared, not expecting it, and when I stepped out, whap! Right into the sand ...
It used to irritate me no end. Hey, we're done here! No hitting after the bell! You want me to show you how it feels next time? Because I surely can, and would be happy to do so, if you really want to know ...
But: I realized that I was ignoring the ref's instruction. That's the point of useful martial arts -- they have to work whether you are all prepared and expecting problems or not. And you must protect yourself at all times.
Now and again, this gets tricky; in order to allow somebody to do a certain technique a certain way, you have to, well, allow it. Where you might ordinarily block or counter or do nine other things, you don't, so that they can learn how to do it properly. 'Tis the nature of the beast: In allowing them the access to do this, you allow them access to do that.
Sometimes, they take the shot.
I mean, up to me, why would I let you get into a position to take me down with a beset dalam when I could mess that up by smacking you on the nose with a nice hard elbow, hey? Except that, we are here to learn, and it isn't a good idea to break your toys if you want to keep playing.
So it comes back to the old belief I've had for years. If I know you are trying to hit me and I don't dance or block it, it's my fault. I know how. And I ought to be sensitive enough by now to feel it coming ...
Ought to. Really ...
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
So, anybody hear from Bobbe lately? I haven't seen any recent postings from him on the blogs I usually check out. I'm kinda worried that maybe the Secret Service didn't think his little joke about the President was funny and maybe he's in a holding cell somewhere ...
Kid? You still with us?
Monday, September 24, 2007
So, from Thursday through Sunday, I was in Dallas, Texas, at FenCon. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with science fiction conventions, these are gatherings of folks who like the stuff. There are fans, writers, editors, artists, musicians, costumers. There are panels, presentations, masquerades, cabarets, and room parties. There is an art show, featuring fantasy and science fiction art; a dealers' room, where you can buy books, tapes, CDs, DVDs, swords, rayguns, comics, T-shirts, and jewelry, among other things.
Cons range from small to huge, a couple hundred people, to several thousand.
FenCon was at the Crowne Plaza, in North Dallas (Addison), Texas. It was big enough to draw a fair-sized crowd, not so big that it was unwieldy.
Guest of Honor: Connie Willis
Music Guest of Honor: Tom Smith
Fen Guest of Honor: Kathleen Sloan
Artist Guest of Honor: David Mattingly
Toastmaster: Steve Perry
Special Guest: Toni Weisskopf
Lone Star Shindig Guest: Jarrod Davis
My job, as toastmaster, entailed being on panels and introducing the guests, as well as MC-ing the masquerade and cabaret. Plus I had to sit in the bar now and then and drink beer. And I learned that one of the biggest differences between Dallas and Portland was, when you asked where the nearest Starbucks was, they said, "Well, go out front, take a left, about half a mile down the road."
In Portland, you just say, "Two blocks," and if somebody says, "Which direction?" you say, "Doesn't matter ..."
And when I hiked on up to the Starbucks, I didn't see anybody else on the sidewalk, save two other out-of-towners from the hotel, looking for drinkable coffee ...
Apparently nobody walks anywhere in North Dallas.
When I walked the dogs Thursday morning before I went to the airport, it was forty-six degrees and clear in Portland. When I got to Dallas, it was ninety-two degrees and smoggy ...
Hardly anybody at the hotel spoke with a yee-haw accent. I learned that's because hardly anybody who lives in Dallas is actually from Texas. As I was checking out, there was a guy next to me, cowboy boots, blue jeans, the belt buckle, who looked as if his nose had been broken a few times. Obviously Texan. He asked me about that guy he saw who looked exactly like Captain Jack Sparrow, right down to the drunken walk. I explained about science fiction cons, and the fact that the fellow in the costume was drunk, because that was real rum in that bottled he carried, but I was smiling to myself as I did, because
The broke-nose guy was from Sydney, Australia, had an Aussie accent thick as they come ...
They put on a good show, the kids in Texas. Good as any con I've ever attended.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
So, Star Wars: Death Star comes out on October 16th, 2007. My collaborator and I will be doing a signing at Powell's in Beaverton the following week. Probably have elements of the 501st Stormtrooper Legion standing guard.
So you don't miss out, you can pre-order it here.
Predator: Turnabout has also apparently been scheduled, for February 27th, '08. Read about it here.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Monday, September 17, 2007
Robert Jordan (Jim Rigney) 1948-2007
Jim Rigney (aka Robert Jordan) was my editor back when I wrote Conan novels. Very sharp, he caught nearly all of my in-jokes, it was hard to sneak anything past him. At one point, I tried to slip a section of T.S. Elliot's The Wasteland into a scene, something about rat's feet over broken glass in a dry cellar. It was lined through and the word 'NO!" was writ large in the margin next to it. He caught my werewolf references, and many bad puns, and almost none of them got through.
Rigney was a war-hero, won the Bronze Star in Vietnam, where he served two tours in the U.S. Army.
Before he began his Wheel of Time series, he wrote Conan novels, and that's how he got the job editing them.
His larger-than-life persona was sometimes hard to take -- in years past, he was most flamboyant, he sometimes wore a cape, and not just to science fiction conventions -- but he was way too young to leave. The cause of death was cardiac amyloidosis, a rare and progressive illness that is almost always fatal within a couple of years of diagnosis.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
I have mentioned Stephen Hunter on these pages a time or two, and his most endearing creations, Bob Lee Swaggart, and his daddy, Earl.
The latest book in the series, The 47th Samurai, is out, and if you are fan of hard-hitting spy action stuff and samurai movies, you should dial up Amazon.com right now and order it. Or truck on down to the local bookstore and pick up a copy so you won't have to wait.
Hunter is flat-out the best at this kind of thing, and what he does with Bob "The Nailer" this time, you don't want to miss.
The set-up, the flow, the pay-off, it is all terrific stuff.
(The line about the Tom Cruise movie is wonderful ...)
Get it. Trust me. Any of you who every waved a knife or sword will love it. Any of you who ever watched Seven Samurai and enjoyed it will love it. If you have done both, you will be in hog heaven ...
Saturday, September 15, 2007
When I was a kid, this was guy we wanted to look like: Mr. America, Mr. Universe, Mr. World, Steve Reeves. Shoulders a yard wide, good-looking, women crawling all over him. Fit, strong, and healthy, Hercules himself. (Awful movie, if you want, you can watch it as a streaming vid, it's in the public domain.)
I got a 110-lb set of weights when I was thirteen, and did endless reps with as much weight as I could handle. Didn't help -- I remained short and skeletal -- at that age, I was just over five feet tall and about a hundred pounds. Didn't occur to me I need to eat more if I wanted to get bigger, I thought all I needed was the iron ...
The sword-and-sandal movies, in Italian, were the best-known of Reeves's roles, though he did appear in the 1954 classic, Jail Bait, aka The Hidden Face, directed by none other than the incomparable Ed Wood. He was so hot at the time of the Italian movies, the highest-paid actor in Europe, that he turned down the roles of James Bond in Dr. No, and The Man With No Name in A Fistful of Dollars, for which Sean Connery and Clint Eastwood must be thankful.
He retired from movies in the sixties, was a rancher and an exponent of PowerWalking, wrote, and offered training courses. He developed lymphoma and managed, with diet and exercise, to hold off death until he was seventy-four. He died in 2000.
Edwin said: "Still, there's a difference between trying to warn potential students off of a bad teacher and what we were discussing.
Looking at the different martial arts in the US, not just silat, do you think this divisiveness is unsolvable then?"
Absolutely not ever going to be resolved.
Every art I've ever been around considers itself superior. They might be low-key about it, might not get into somebody's face and brag about it, but they believe it.
Within the art, each branch thinks likewise. It's not just that Japanese karate guys think what they do is better than what the Korean guys do, it's that their particular sensei is better than the sensei down the road.
In Okinawa-te, we lived for the guys from other systems who would drop by to spar with us. Our teacher wanted us to kick their asses to show whose style was better, and generally, we did. Because a TKD guy who had gotten his black belt in eighteen months did not have the experience of our green belts, who typically took three years to get there. Our black belts were all six or seven years in, and we sparred every class. By the time I was a green belt, I could hold my own against our black belts -- I had no choice, it was block or get pasted, and we hit pretty hard.
And yet, we learned the X-block as our first knife defense, and that will get you killed real quick if you try it against anybody who knows which end of the knife does the cutting.
In the big arts, ones with thousands of players, there can be some uniformity -- literally is, in most cases. This is how the kata is done, and everybody has to do it this way to rise in rank. They can make it stick, but even in something like Korean arts, there are so many variants -- old-style, sport-style, Tae Kwon Do, Moo Duk Kwan, Tang Soo Do, Hapkido, Kook Sool, etc. And each of them thinks his is the way to go.
Then you get into street versus dojo, reality versus tourneys, weapons, barehanded ... the ways of splitting the apple are endless. I've had MMA guys tell me they could kick my ass. Twenty-five years old, trains three hours a day, takes steroids and pumps serious iron. And I say, sure, you can, using your rules. Can I bring my knives?
I've had guys say, Yeah, bring 'em. I'll still kick your ass.
How are you going to deal with that kind of brain-lock?
The village arts don't group well. In Java, they tried to come up with a national version of silat. It looks a lot like tournament karate with takedowns and the old guys out in the boonies laugh at it and shake their heads.
As long as there are gurus willing to print up colorful certificates of rank to please rich American players who come by, the instant Pendekars who wave those papers and make claims are going to have trouble convincing real silat players they have any skill, so that gap stays.
A silat player I know, who has been to a Tjimande village several times to train, points out that he did see Wm. Sanders's photograph up on the bulletin board in one of the teacher's houses. He (Sanders) had been there and trained. This player also points out that there was no electricity in that village, so the Pendekar didn't get his certificate printed up there. Editorial Note: The logic would seem to be that they had some of these printed up to have on hand, or they sent somebody into town to get some. Largely in English, if you read it. Why would that be?
To be fair, Sanders does have some skill, has been studying and training for years, so that's not in question. We have had some long email discussions that were, by and large, at least civil, and finally agreed to disagree, mostly since he claims my art doesn't really exist. But that early question of his credentials has dogged him all along, and will continue to do so in some circles. It might be true, but it sounds fishy, given what was known about what he knew then. Old mistakes, especially when you hold them up for public viewing, can come back to haunt you.
Oil and water, they aren't ever going to mix and stay mixed. Me, I'm not interested in tilting at that particular windmill -- it's a no-win situation.
Like Chas Clements says, you get a bunch of martial artists together and a fight breaks out?
What a surprise ...
What a surprise ...
Friday, September 14, 2007
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Apparently, we have achieved a quorum on the workshop for the 29th.
Which is good; otherwise, I was gonna have to step up and ask everybody to come to my house to do it, which means I'd have had to clean the place and all, so I'm thankful for small favors.
We are supposed to start around ten a.m. at the Standard TV & Appliance store on Hall Blvd.
They apparently have some kind of meeting rooms -- it's a large-ish place.
Those of you who signed up, I'll see you then.
In an email, Edwin asked me a question I thought might be of interest to the silat players who drop by.
He had heard me use the term "Maha Guru" when referring to our silat teacher, Stevan Plinck. His understanding of the term, based, I assumed, on his travels to Indonesia, was that such an honorific was reserved for founders or lineage holders of a system.
I don't speak the language, but Bahasa Indonesian was a trade tongue developed from several languages, including Malay and old Javanese, and the meanings of words aren't always clear. Case in point is "Sera," which is spelled like that, or ended with an "h," or a "k," all pronounced pretty much the same, far as I can tell, and it can mean: sneaky, wise, hasty, a fee, surrender, hoarse, to confuse, or a bright shade of red. You have to get it from context in any conversation.
Whether there ever was a gimpy, one-armed man named Bapak Sera who came up with the basic art named after him is debatable. No proof anybody has ever put forth. Mas Djut, supposedly the guy who codified the system, never seems to be referred to by anything but that "Mas," no "Guru," "Maha Guru," or "Pendekar" honorific ever seems to prefix his name.
"Pendekar" is another loaded term that seems to mean many things to many people. For us, it means the lineage holder of our art, and at any given time, there is only one. So the idea of going to Bogor for a couple weeks and coming back with one's Pendekar certificate doesn't resonate with how I use the word.
What "guru" means to most Americans has nothing to do with what it means to silat students.
I'm not trying to capture the idiosyncratic meaning as the term "Maha Guru" might be used in Java, but the literal meaning as it would be used in the U.S. "Guru," means "teacher." "Maha" means "great." Thus, for me, "Maha Guru" means "great teacher," no more. It's just an honorific to indicate what I believe: Stevan doesn't use the term about himself.
From what I know, a lot of what Stevan has developed has upgraded considerably the art he learned from Paul. He doesn't say so, but looking at Paul's other students, Stevan is in a class by himself. Adding "Plinck" to the name -- Pukulan Pentjak Silat Sera Plinck makes perfect sense to me. What we do is related to what Paul and Victor's students do, but it's a distant cousin; enough so to be almost a different system. Using that criterion, then "Maha Guru" would be accurate as the designation for the creator/lineage holder ...
And, truth be known, there was a time when Victor de Thouars' students were bandying that term about in connection with his name, and since I believe Stevan is a better player and teacher than Vic, I wanted to make that point.
Something always gets lost in translation, and the intricate nature of Javanese/Bahasa Indonesian terminology is beyond most Americans, me included.
Of course, honorifics for martial arts teachers is a subject that has always drawn some debate. Some folks think they aren't necessary at all -- guy has a name, use that. But our culture has its share -- Mister, Missus, Madam, Doctor, Professor, Your Honor, to name the first half-dozen that popped into my head, and nobody seems unduly disturbed by these.
Many of the words in silat classes aren't usually translated -- djuru, beset, sapu, ahnkat, luar, dalam, and so forth, so using a couple more isn't a problem for me.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
So, to hype the Death Star novel coming out next month, I thought it might be interesting to put up one of those flack-it vids on YouTube. Slide show, with stuff from the Star Wars universe, me reading a chapter, like that.
My collaborator Reaves thought it was a good idea, and we ran it past our editor. After some discussion with the Powers-that-Be, they decided it was okay for us to do it.
My collaborator, being a big Hollywood guy, knows actors and production folks who, he said, would love to do it just for the exposure. Great by me, I said, go for it.
Time passed. Reaves moved from one aparment to another, work got in the way, the usual, and he didn't get to it.
So, I thought, what-the-hell. I put together a rough slide show, recorded myself reading a dramatic scene from the novel, albeit not as well as a professional actor would by any means, and turned it into a QuickTime movie file. Told my editor, who, naturally, wanted to see it first. No problem, I'll email you a copy.
Ah. But even compressed, the file choked her mailbox, and her server won't let it through.
I thought about putting it up on YouTube under an innocuous name for her to see, then taking it down before anybody else had a chance to look at it, in case they decided it wasn't up to par, but given how YouTube has millions of viewers surfing, there is a chance somebody might get it and bandy it about, so, no.
I didn't ask about FTP sites, but I'm guessing she doesn't do FTP, since she works from home and isn't a computer geek.
So I burned a copy to CD and mailed it to her.
So much for living here in the future ...
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Okay, a show of hands -- how many people were the least bit surprised that the essence of General Petraeus's and Ambassador Crocker's testimonies to Congress regarding the fiasco in Iraq boiled down to 1) It's working, and 2) Stay the course?
You thought they were going to disagree in any significant way with George W. Bush?
Really? And how are things on your planet, in that galaxy far, far away?
Maybe because the public doesn't read and has no sense of history, the Bush administration thinks this will fly. After all, it has flown so many times before ...
Here's how you sell a dubious solution to a problem: You hire somebody for whom the public has a lot of respect and admiration. Like, say, Colin Powell. Then you trot him out, have him run with your sack of tar and smoke, and hope he has enough good will to make it across the finish line.
Hey, it worked for WMDs. I can still see Powell pointing at that picture of somebody's trailer-tractor at the UN -- see? Look, right there, why, any fool can see, it's an H-bomb, and a missile next to it that can put it smack into in your barbecue grill, out back.
Be afraid! Be very afraid ...
Got us into a big, fat, ugly war, didn't it? One we started. Kicked in the door, shot everything that moved, and, learned, as they say, that Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam ...
Of course, it cost Powell whatever good will he had amongst a whole shitload of people, me included. He was a good soldier, he did what he was supposed to do for the team, and they won the day. It just cost him his honor.
I hope when he goes to bed each night, he believes it was worth it, but I doubt that he does. I hope it's the last thing that runs through his mind on his death bed, that wonder. Could I have stopped it? And if not, should I have been a part of it?
So now we have Petraeus, another good soldier with a lot of respect, and the Dr. G.B. Feelgood Medicine Show is back in town, peddling the next round of snake oil.
What is the matter with you, America? Has somebody been putting stupid pills in your food?
Wake fucking up!
Mencken was right: Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died; more than three thousand American military folk likewise; ten times that many have been seriously wounded; cost taxpayers a trillion dollars -- a trillion! --- so fucking far, and what have we gotten for our money?
In a longer time than it took the U.S. and its allies to beat the Japanese and the Nazis in a full-scale world war, Iraq is still a quagmire.
Guess what -- it's never going to get any better in Iraq. Fourteen hundred years, and the Sunnis and Shiites are still killing each other over the Fourth Caliph. You think anything an American occupying army can do in five, ten, or a hundred years is going to make a difference in that? If you honestly think so, better make a pass by Jiffy Lube -- you are a couple quarts low.
Call your congressman and senator. Tell them you've had enough. If they are men, suggest that they grow some balls, get on their hind legs, and do the right thing. Make some noise. So when you look back from your death bed, you can at least say you did that much.
Thursday, September 06, 2007
I've been told that we are finalizing the details for my workshop -- assuming anybody signs up -- for the end of the month.
It'll theoretically be on Saturday, the 29th of September, at the Standard TV & Appliance meeting room, across from Cedar Hills Mall. Running from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., break for lunch, pee breaks in the afternoon, like that.
If you are interested, contact: Martha, (email@example.com) and probably you ought do it pretty soon. She will have details and directions and all like that.
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
So, I ran my most recent book idea past my wife, a couple writer friends, and my agent, and the consensus was "Cool. Go for it."
I have to get the draft done on the fantasy first, but that shouldn't take but a couple months, and then I can get to Sam "Don't call me Sugar" Kane, martial artist and spiritual warrior.
This one will give me plenty of space to play with silat and a whole bunch of old hippie stuff I used to know. Of course, I don't remember the sixties, having lived through them, but I still have the books somewhere around here .
Might even be the start of a new series ...
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Okay, so Bobbe brought over a few of his favorite brews, and dutiful fellow that I am, I agreed to steel myself and give them a try.
They have names like Brak and Graak and Chimney Grande, and like that, and they are somewhat larger in volume than your typical American brew. A bit stronger, though not enough to notice.
While the taste is somewhat harsh and just a bit stale to start out with, after you drink three or four -- if you do it quickly enough -- they aren't really that bad. The dark brews are somewhat more ... palatable than the lighter ones.
Passable, if you are thirsty and there isn't any, well, you know, Coors around ...
Monday, September 03, 2007
The two knives I got for my birthday:
From Bobbe: The Sumatran blade is just under ten inches long. You can see the pattern-welding layers, not pamor, but more like traditional watered-steel. Most comfortable in-hand. It looks like a traditional sewar ("sewah") and in my awe at getting it, I missed what Bobbe called it. He'll fill me in on that.
Horn handle, carved like a bud within petals. Sheath is carved, and fitted together so well it is hard to find the seam.
From Dal: The Henry folder. It has carbon-fiber scales and Henry's own Damascus pattern in the steel. A perfect dress knife, comes with a leather case that clips onto a belt or pocket, and a leather thong by which you can slip it out of the case. Also a DVD that details the knifemaking process, which is a combination of CNC and handwork -- each blade is hand-sharpened and assembled, ground and polished by craftsmen, and each is numbered. Very classy-looking, blade only three inches long.
Both blades have a thin coat of sandalwood oil on them, which slightly obscures some detail.
Are these cool, or what?
Saturday, September 01, 2007
I had a fine birthday.
I'd be remiss if I didn't thank all the folks who conspired to make it fun. Gifts, from pictures to poetry, to music, to stories, to black-bottom pie (that's pronounced "p-ah.")
In no particular order, thanks to:
Todd, Tiel, Steve, Mushtaq, Dan, Mike, Todd, Terry, Dal, Rachel, Dianne, Edwin, Irene, Aisha, Cotten, Michael, Ken, Stevan, Toby, and Bobbe the Kid -- who drove all the way down from Seattle just to bring me some of his favorite Schludwiller beer and a neat Sumatran knife.