The Thoughts We Cannot Bridle

Writing about writing.

I Published a Book

Well, the blog has been quiet, lo these many months. This is due, in part, to various events in real life that have required my attention, like moving, working, trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and so forth. You know, the usual. These circumstances have been good for drafts, but bad for revisions. Hence, no posts on the blog. On the other hand, I did finish a book. (That last sentence is for those of you who somehow arrived here without reading the title of the post.)

Starlight and Shipping Wax is my first published collection. And while it is very short–only 40 pages or so–it is a labor of love. The folks at Three Uncles Publishing have worked long and hard to put together a beautiful paperback, available through their website. You can also buy the electronic version for your Kindle or Nook, or for any other ePub reader through my page at Smashwords.

Feel free to avail yourself of one of these options. Or all of them.

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Can’t We All Just Get Along? No We Can’t.

Language is a slippery thing. Like an eel. Or a greased butternut squash. Why did someone grease it? It was a perfectly good squash before, and now it’s all gross and viscous. And yet, even as gravity and a thick layer of Crisco work tirelessly to free the squash from our grasp, we persist in stumbling around the room like drunkards, endlessly juggling the glistening gourd in our sweaty fingers. All because we need butternuts in order to communicate.

The metaphor seems to have gotten away from me. Let me start over.

Language is a slippery thing. On the one hand, we have to talk about language as if it follows rules, with consistent patterns of pronunciation, grammar, spelling, and the like. This general consistency is the reason languages can be taught. On the other hand, language keeps changing right in front of us, trying to wriggle out of our hands. Like a greased….

Whoops. Almost lost it again there.

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Copyright Tuesday: The Public Domain

Or, Tolkien’s Ghost Hates Your Fanfic.

The public domain is one of the great provisions of our system of law. As commonly understood, once a work is very old, and the creator has had a fair chance to profit from sales or licensing agreements, that work eventually falls into the public domain. At that point, it becomes a part of our collective cultural heritage, and is available for anyone to modify, reproduce, or make into something new. This is called “having perspective,” and is based on the understanding that you can’t ride the cash cow of your one big hit into the afterlife.

But the public domain—that rich and free collection of art, photography, poetry, prose, music—is shrinking.

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Is That Meat for Sale?

Everyone has a secret list of words they hate for no apparent reason. The following are all terms that make me or someone I know uncomfortable:

  • Meat sale
  • Poignant
  • Thighmaster
  • Melba toast
  • Nutmeats
  • Squick
  • Masticate
  • Prolapse

Why is it that certain, otherwise innocuous words have the power to make us cringe? In some cases, it’s the explicit meaning—just Google “prolapse” and you’ll see what I mean. Perhaps more often, our word-aversions have to do with connotation, as with unctuous and the ever-unpopular moist.

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Copyright Tuesday: Introduction

Or, the Hidden Costs of That Skynyrd Track

I am fascinated by American copyright law. Don’t ask me why, but over the past several years, I have done an inordinate amount of reading, talking, and thinking about the ins and outs of the copyright system. I frequently find myself discussing the ways copyright law comes into play in everyday life. These conversations have enough in common that I have decided to recap the salient points in a series of posts, covering some of the bigger misconceptions and idiosyncrasies. I’m calling this series “Copyright Tuesday.”[1]

Let’s begin with one fundamental principle: the copyright system is totally counterintuitive.

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Recipe for Writer’s Block

First, choose a subject mythical and vast—
The stuff of Tolkien, Aeschylus, or Horace.
Then, gather up a big, unwieldy cast,
Complete with hero, villain, extras, chorus.
Then, choose a rhyme scheme (best save this ’til last)
So complex, each line begs for your thesaurus.
(There is no rhyme for “hobbit”; not in English.
And, as it happens, nothing rhymes with “English.”)

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The Shared Attributes of Sonnets and Pirate Hats

There are few things as subjective or as mercurial as public taste. Consider the following:

  • Tricorn hats
  • Pogs
  • Tepid beer
  • Square dances
  • Marbles
  • Names like “Hester”
  • Saxophones in rock songs

All were once popular. Some, wildly so. These days, I am sure most of us would rather do anything, anything at all, than play a rousing game of marbles with a man in a tricorn hat. It’s just not something people of our age and context enjoy. Plus, the whole idea is pretty creepy.

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Of Poets and Poor Planning

George Gordon, Lord Byron wrote one of the saddest poems I have ever read. “Fare Thee Well” isn’t his greatest poem, by any stretch. But in a body of work marked by high emotion and melancholy, it remains one of the most moving, and most genuine. Kind of a monument to one (admittedly volatile and reckless) man’s sorrow. Stanza fourteen reads as follows:

“But ’tis done—all words are idle—
Words from me are vainer still;
But the thoughts we cannot bridle
Force their way without the will.”

As anyone who has had more than a casual conversation with me can attest, I have a similar problem with runaway thought processes. As writing often brings calm and order to the stampede, perhaps this blog can serve as a sort of online corral (to take the metaphor as far as it can reasonably go).

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