Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Wine Gadgets

When I began my adventures with wine, I didn't even own a corkscrew. It hadn't occurred to me that I needed anything but an ordinary can opener to open a bottle of wine. I studied the problem of how to get the bottle opened for a several days and then shopped for a corkscrew. For a couple of weeks, I had a two bottles of wine that I couldn't open, but I persevered; I bought a corkscrew.

It didn't seem right to drink this wine out of plastic glasses or any kind of tumbler, so I bought 4 wine glasses. Drinking wine out of fine crystal may be the ultimate experience, but I wasn't sure I was going to persist in this new hobby so mine are plain glass. Besides, crystal may be dangerous – the lead content, you know.

But then I remembered that the wines were supposed to be stored lying on their side. One day, in a large well-known discount department store, I noticed a wire wine rack. The price was right; it held ten bottles of wine – more than enough for my needs. (I hope.) As I was checking out, the cashier asked me if I needed a wine rack. I was astounded. No clerk in any kind of store had ever asked me if I needed whatever I was minded to buy.

Now I had a corkscrew, four wine glasses and a wine rack.

New Years Eve was approaching. I thought it would be nice to celebrate it with a little champagne. Guess what? To serve champagne, I needed champagne glasses.

Now I had a corkscrew, four wine glasses, four champagne glasses and a wine rack.

On one of my recent visits to a local winery, I noticed a gadget to reseal the wine bottle – guaranteed to prolong the life of the wine in the bottle by vacuum pumping the air out of the bottle. I discovered that I needed that and a supplemental package of the seals – so I could have more than one bottle of wine opened.

And oh, yes, I was afraid that four of each glass wasn't enough so now I have eight.

I have a corkscrew, eight wine glasses, eight champagne flutes, a wine rack, a device for excavating the air from the opened wine battle and three seals.

Day before yesterday, a friend and I stopped at a local restaurant for a quiet glass of wine. (Shame on them for serving cheap California wines when they could serve better Texas wines for about the same price.) I noticed that they had this rack for hanging glasses by their stems upside down over the bar. I've seen that in homes, too. Great idea, the glasses are stored out of the way and the inside and rim are kept dust free. I need one.

A little while ago I spotted a device to measure the temperature of the wine in the bottle. I am a … well, let's just say I like to do things precisely. So now that is on my wish list.

What else might I need? Maybe I'll need 12 of each glass. Or different kind of glass. Brandy snifters? What are they used for? Do I need them?

Where will it all end?


I found this in some notes last summer. I'm not sure where I got it -- probably in a class on writing or on directing. Even though the context is drama, everything more or less applies to novels or short stories.

The term, epic novel, is thrown around without regard for the actual meaning of the term, but there are some "epic novels." For example, I think Candide fits the criteria even though it is also satirical. James Michener wrote novels that qualify as epics. On the other hand, I've heard The Lord of the Rings described as "epic" which it assuredly is not. I know that people use the word when they mean a long or generational novel, but length is not one of the criteria. The notes below don't mention length.

I probably won't convince too many people that length isn't the sole criteria for epic any more that I will convince very many that "comedy" doesn't mean humorous. Sigh.

For those who are aspiring writers, most novels being published are obviously Dramatic rather than Epic.

Lajos Egri warns about jumping conflicts, but I am not sure that he means the same as below in 16. This would be a fruitful subject for discussion. Any literary critics out there interested in starting the ball rolling?

There is a short story by Ursula LeGuin, "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," that qualifies as epic. If you have read it, tell me if you agree.

Dramatic Theater .....................Epic Theater
1) Plot...............................Narrative
2) Implicates the spectator in the....Turns the spectator
....stage situation......................into an observer,

3) Wears down his capacity for........Arouses his capacity for

4) Provides the audience with.........Forces audience to

....sensations...........................take* decisions
5) Experience.........................Picture of the world
6) The spectator is involved in.......He is made to face

7) Suggestion.........................Argument
8) Instinctive feelings are...........Brought to the point

....preserved............................of recognition
9) The spectator is in the thick .....The spectator stands
....of, shares the experience............outside studies(the

.........................................experience ?)
10) The human being is taken for......The human being is the

....granted..............................object of the
11) He is unalterable.................He is alterable and

.........................................able to alter
12) Eyes on the finish................Eyes on the course
13) One scene makes another...........Each scene for itself
14) Growth............................Montage
15) Linear development................In curves
16) Evolutionary determinism..........Jumps
17) Man as a fixed point..............Man as a process
18) Thought determines being..........Social being

.........................................determines thought
19) Feelings..........................Reason

*my notes say "take." "Make" seems better, but I don't remember for sure. (That is why I take notes.) :-)

This is offered as an aid to critiquing. I think that critique groups may tend to base their observations on the expecctation that all stories are dramatic. They are not Therefore, this criteria should be considered.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Why Did You Throw That Book Across the Room?

At Fencon last month, I attended a panel intriguingly entitled "Why Did You Throw That Book Across the Room?" One writer described in detail a Young Adult novel she classified as "adolescent wish fulfillment" in which the teenaged characters engaged in a variety of risky behaviors with no consequences. She was unmistakably passionate about the evils of this book and I didn't blame her.

But the rest of the panel talked about books they didn't finish because they are boring. Since I finished literature courses in College, I have given up the idea that because I started a book, I have to finish it. In fact, I'm not sure that I finished them then. Between Cliff Notes and Classic Comics, who needed to finish a boring book? Did you?

Not finishing a book is not the same as throwing it across the room.

Someone in the audience asked whether the panelist were more likely throw a book across the room because of poorly drawn characters or a lack of plot. The panelist seemed to come down on the side that it is hard to distinguish between them. The problem with that is -- so what? I don't see how some books get published, but they do. I don't finish them. But that isn't a good reason to hurl them across the room.

So going back to the subject that the one person had touched on, I asked if a theme or premise bothered them enough to throw the book across the room. Now I got some real depth. The panelists felt passionately about books with themes like "women enjoy rape" or "sexual abuse of children is okay because it is an expression of love and the like."

Clearly, the panelists were troubled by the freedom of speech issue. While they deplored the themes, they also didn't want them censored. Panelists reported that some readers couldn't distinguish between the characters belief and the theme or premise of the book. Perhaps they were afraid that if some themes were censored, the censorship would extend to unpleasant characters.

It seems to me that it is up to the writers to educate their readers about the difference. They should reply something like this:
"Dear Reader,
"It is a compliment to me that the character 'X.' became so real to you. I'm glad you felt
so passionately about him/her. However, please don't confuse my beliefs with those of a
character. The theme of the story was 'ta da ta da ta da.' You can see how a character
espousing that point of view helped to develop that theme.

"I appreciate your comments and will use them to refine my technique.
"Sincerely, et cetera."

Such a letter would help to educate and hopefully save a reader. I'm sure that a good PR person could improve upon my technique.

Another question allowed the panelists to move away from showing their true feelings. They seemed relieved to put their social faces back on. Writers prefer to reveal themselves only in print.

p.s. I wouldn't burn a book, no matter how I felt about it. To some extent I was acting a character to provoke a response.

Monday, October 1, 2007

THE WOODS WOULD BE SILENT ... Current mood: Singing my song!

This morning, I heard a mocking bird singing in my backyard. I have a variety of birds besides mockers: cardinals, robins, blue jays, hummingbirds, goldfinch, and the ubiquitous sparrows. Most of them don't sing like mocking birds, but there is a lot of cheeping and chittering. I don't run the others off because they don't sing as pretty as the mocking birds.

The sparrows in particular amuse me. I know they moved in and pushed out a lot of native species, bluebirds for instance, but -- done is done. Last summer, I had a serious infestation of webworms. I was energetically cutting out the infested branches when a sparrow landed on a branch about 6 feet away with a worm dangling from its mouth. I stared at it. It stared at me. Then I quit cutting out the branches and just opened the webs, to give it and its cohorts a better shot at the worms.

I just went out and looked. The trees I cut the branches out of are doing fine – and so are the ones I just opened up the webs. The way I look at it: if the birds will do most of the work for me, why not?

This past week, I read a couple of comments on blogcritics dissing fantasy and community theater. I thought then about the comment I read somewhere that the woods would be silent if only the best singers among birds sang.

If only intellectual fare like literary fiction were published, if only PBS were allowed on TV, if only serious drama were presented on Broadway, what would the rest of us do? I sometimes read literary fiction, but I find most of it is boring. I sometimes like some serious theater, but I find most of it trying too hard to be too earnest for me to enjoy. I like TV that presents serious intellectual content, but I watch CSI and Law and Order, too. Of the three fields, I think I'll take the intellectual content on TV, but for those who do like literary fiction or serious drama, well, just because I find it boring doesn't mean I think any the less of you for enjoying it.

People who do diss genres of fiction that they don't care for or levels of theater or whatever remind me a lot of the kind of rednecks in the old south who looked down on blacks – only they didn't call them blacks, they used the "n" word. Some of those rednecks who were only repeating what they had been taught got over it pretty fast when someone pointed out the serious flaws in their logic – not to mention their theology, -- but some rednecks persisted in their prejudice. It was pointed out that they had serious feelings of inferiority. There was no one they could feel superior to so they picked on a group. "We ain't much, but we're better than them thar "N—s." You know what I mean.

I found that pretty sad, just like I find the above kind of intellectual snobbery sad.

Some one said to me, "I think less of you for making it a point to watch American Idol."

I replied, "I think less of you for making a statement like that."

But actually, I don't because I think she was just mouthing the kind of comment that intellectual snobs make, and like the rednecks who were just repeating what they had been taught, when the error in her logic was pointed out to her, she desisted.

The thing is that playwrights make money from community theater, money they can use to keep on writing and keep theater alive. Most of us can't go to New York to see Broadway shows; we can't even get to road companies of Broadway shows. Community theater is our only chance.

The airways would be silent if only Mozart were played.

There is a lot of TV that I think is pretty dumb, but it keeps people off the streets – both the viewers and the people who work in the industry. I have a habit of looking down on sit-coms because they are so-o-o predictable, but little kids like predictable stories, it helps them learn to read. Maybe it helps grown-ups learn something, too. Some of the actors and production personnel go on to do more interesting work, too.

I don't pretend to be an intellectual, "egghead" they used to be called. I don't need to prove anything. I enjoy the woods when all the birds sing. If only the ones that qualified for the Metropolitan Opera sang, it would be pretty quiet out there.

Another anonymous quotation: A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer; it sings because it has a song.

The writers of fantasy have a song; the good people of community theaters have a song; sit-com actors, writers and producers have a song; country and western singers have a song; romance novelists have a song; I have a song; even the people who look down on other singers have a song –even if it sounds more like the cawing of crows; --we all have a song,

It would be a very quiet world out there if only the elite were singing.