Saturday, 21 December 2013

The Ghost of Christmas Presents

Hello, dear readers. It's getting closer and closer to Christmas, isn't it? Four more days from my perspective (perhaps a little more for those of you on the other side of the world). So, I want to give all of you guys a gift. See, I have a schedule for the Duke and a selection of chapters that I'll write, and my next one involves an alien planet (I'll say no more, there are spoilers to consider). However, as December approached I realized that Doctor Who often does something special for Christmas (a Christmas Special, if you will). So, for a little while I've been working very hard, with some inspiration from my Beloved, to create a Christmas Story for the Duke, since it to purports to take place within that Whoniverse.
It's my little gift for you! I hope I can get it written before or by Christmas, but either way it will definitely be up here before the season's out, so watch this space. However, in so doing, I've been considering this season . . .
See, last year I talked about how my family celebrates Christmas. It's basically a feast, I don't bother with Santa or Jesus - hell, my latest post was a story I wrote trying to come to terms with the Santa Claus myth - but a lot of people do seem to enjoy this Santa Claus myth and they tell this lie to their children, despite the fact that the kids will find out the truth later; it is a ridiculous lie after all, not something they can perpetrate for the child's whole life. So why do they do it? Well, I want to talk about this and, since 'tis the season, there's no time like the present! The Word of the Day is: 'PRESENT'

Present1 /prezənt/ adj. 1. Being, existing or happening at this time; now. 2. For the time being: Clothes for the present use. 3. Being in attendance (opposed to absent): To be present at a funeral. 4. Being in a given place. 5. Existing in a place, thing, combination, etc. ♦n. 6. The present time. 7. GrammarPresent Tense.

Present2 /prə'zent/ v.t. 1. To provide with a gift, etc., especially by formal act. 2. To bring, offer, or give, often in a formal way: To present a message. 3. to provide (an opportunity, possibility, etc.). 4. To hand or send in, as in a cheque. 5. To introduce (a person) to another. 6. To introduce to the public: To present a new play. 7. To come to show (oneself) before a person, etc. 8. To show; exhibit. 9. To bring before the mind. 10. To set forth in words. 11. To level or aim (a weapon). ♦n. 12. A gift.

I don't believe in Santa Clause, and I don't think I ever did. At least, if I did, I don't remember that time at all. I mean, the myth was too ridiculous; magic man, delivering presents worldwide on a single night, using flying reindeer?
Just look at, well, every Christmas movie that has attempted to prove Santa is real, they have to come up with all kinds of nonsense to explain how it all works, and none of them get it right because, of course, most of the presents under the tree come from our parents. It's stupid.
Most parents don't do it these days, they don't lie to their children; and let's not mince our words here, it's an outright lie. Yet, some parents still perpetrate this farce, but why? I don't get it at all. So, I've been looking into it.

The Nostalgia Critic of ThatGuyWithTheGlasses.com brought this up in an video editorial aptly named "Why Lie to Kids About Santa?". In the video he suggests that we lie to kids because the inevitability of revealing the lie means that kids learn to cope with life-changing realizations. The implication here being that we lie to children because we want them to come to terms with the fact that their beliefs will be challenged and occasionally proven false.
I don't think this is true. We're talking about why we do it. I mean, some kids may learn a life lesson from this, although I don't think they do; but assuming they did, I still don't think that's why people do it.

In the same video, he also suggested that the fun is "being the magician", and creating the fantasy for the kids. Despite the fact that we lie to the kids, when they learn the truth they're not as bothered by the lie because they then get the chance to keep the "magic" alive for the younger kids that don't know any better.

Now, this is true, but I don't think it explains it all. See, this isn't why we started with the Santa Claus myth. I think it all started because parents believed in the idea of giving, and after the Christianization of Yuletide, this was just a bible story to go along with the ritual, the story of Saint Nicholas. As time went by, the story has warped and changed, but the essence of a man giving presents has stayed.
Look at the different variations of Santa in different countries. He doesn't always ride a sleigh (I remember one version has "every vehicle imaginable" so he can get everywhere he needs to); he doesn't always wear red (some have blue, purple & even black) & he doesn't always live on the North Pole (many people say he's in Lapland, or lives locally). But they all have him giving gifts, because this is a season of giving and the original story - whether true or not - was about giving to the needy.
As I said in my Christmas post last year - I think Christmas is, and should be, about making people feel like someone cares about them.

So, I don't see the need for Santa Claus.

Although, there are some fun theories. One that I'm particularly fond of is one theory suggested by Terry Pratchett, in the Hogfather. - SPOILERS! This is from the final act of the film, if you haven't seen the film or read the book, do so! To avoid spoilers, skip to the next paragraph now, you've been warned - In this clip from the film, Death himself explains that we lie to children so that they get used to believing in lies and fantasy, because fantasy is what makes us human. After all, concepts like love, morality & justice don't technically exist at all, in the same way Santa doesn't exist, so it's a way of teaching kids about humanity and learning to come to terms with ethereal concepts of human invention.
Personally, I still don't agree with this theory. Because, as much as it has a lot of heart in it, there are many many other myths we use to teach this. Whenever children play games like tag, they learn about arbitrary rules and how by not following them the game doesn't work. And there are books. Every book a child reads helps them to understand that something doesn't have to be real in order for it to matter. So this alone does not justify lying about Santa, in my view.

I don't like lying about anything, so I do not approve anyone who lies to their children in this way. Even if it seems harmless at the present moment, I don't think it's justified, so it's just dishonesty for dishonesty's sake.
That's not to say I'm some Scrooge, I don't think you need to go telling every child "Santa doesn't exist!" that's nasty, and likely to get you slapped. But what I truly believe is that, you should tell kids about Santa and the story and keep the myth alive; but don't go implying that it's a real story or that Santa is a flesh and blood story. Most importantly, if your child ever asks you "is Santa Claus real?" you should be honest and say No.
If you like, you can tell them about St. Nicholas, who may or many not have given coins to needy orphans. If it were up to me, I'd also tell them:
"But because Santa isn't real, it's up to us to do his job. Everyone does their part to buy presents for the ones they love and they spend time together, that way everyone can have a Merry Christmas."

Of course I don't believe in Santa Claus, but I do believe in the Spirit of Christmas. Of giving to the needy and spreading joy and love. That's the part I hate most about this Santa Claus lie!
We pretend there's a magical, bearded stranger than sneaks into our house to give presents to our children? Isn't there so much more meaning in telling the truth? I bought this present for you, because I care about you; you're my family; you're my friend and I love you.
I want you to think about that the next time a child asks you if Santa Claus is real. Because the answer is - he doesn't need to be.

My next post will be the Duke Forever Christmas Special, my present to you - I hope I get it done before Christmas! - and then I'll be on blogging break. So I'll take this opportunity now to say:
I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and I wish a Merry Christmas to all of my readers, Merry Christmas to my Beloved and her family, to my family & everyone else . . .
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Monday, 16 December 2013

The Spirit of Christmas

Once upon a terribly cold and lonely town, it was the eve of Christmas and it was nearly dark as the snow lightly fell upon the snow-covered streets and roofs. In the cold and dim light, a poor little boy with no more than a blanket to keep him warm was lying on the roof of a shop which was closed for Christmas, so as to avoid the dangerous thugs of the streets. The poor boy was shivering and his each breath was quiet and quivering as he struggled to hide under his blanket which was too small to cover his bare feet; poor little child, he looked the picture of misery. The snowflakes fell on his face and short, brown hair, but he regarded them not.
With a wisp of wind, the boy snuggled tighter into the blanket, his frozen fingers red and numb from the cold. Upon the wind, an odd figure began to appear. Wearing a dark red cloak trimmed with dirty, white fur that hid his face in a hood and holding a large, farmer’s scythe in one hand, the figure faded into view like a man wandering out of a fog. The figure seemed slightly hunched and very old, yet its feet had no trouble wandering the roof tiles, in fact it seemed to stand up tall even as the red cloak draped over the slanted rooftop.
The boy was shivering with the cold and fear as the thing stood over him, and digging the butt of its scythe into the ground for support it leaned towards the poor, young boy. In a ghastly, scratchy voice like a lifelong pipe smoker, the creature said,
  “ . . . What is it you desire . . . ?”
The boy was so frightened, and could barely think to process the creature’s words. The cold was getting to the boy and he closed his eyes, huddling even deeper into his blanket even though it only pulled the blanket further off his feet. The creature leaned in closer,
“ . . . What would you like for Christmas . . . ?”
The boy wasn’t thinking anymore, he wasn’t thinking about how scared he was or how strange this thing was, he was too cold to know anything else, all his body knew was shivering and all his mind knew was the cold.
  “I-I . . . I d-d-don’t w-want t-t-t-to be c-c-cold any-m-m-more . . .” stammered the little boy, “I d-don’t want t-to h-h-hurt.”
  “ . . . This is what you desire?” asks the creature again. The poor boy was so cold, his only response was a painful whimper.
“ . . . As you wish . . .” says the creature, and with another wisp of wind, the creature disappears from sight.
  “N-no . . .” cried the little one, “O t-take me with you . . .” but the boy was growing too weak to speak, even too weak to shiver. The poor boy was dying, passing on to a place where there was neither cold nor hunger nor pain. As the boy stopped moving, his body began slowly sliding off the slanted roof. It was not too far to fall, but as the boy slipped off the roof, his body landed limply on a pile of snow on the street below.
As the boy lay there, a handsome couple came wandering the street.
  “O God!” cried the woman at the sight of the child, “Look, my dear, a child in the snow. Is he alright?”
The man ran to the child, and held the boy’s face in his hands.
  “He’s alright, but he’s half frozen to death. We must warm him quickly.”
The woman ran forth and took the little boy in her arms.
  “Don’t worry now,” she said, holding the boy and his blanket tightly against her “We will take care of you now. You won’t be cold much longer.”
So the boy and his new family went quickly home.

A little boy was pushing his way through the market square and bumping into people through the crowds. As he bumped past a gentleman in a fine coat and hat, he slipped his hand into his pocket. Quickly pulling back through the crowd, he looked to see what the man had. The boy had a useless piece of paper with words he had never learned to read.
  “Bah,” said the boy, throwing the paper to the ground as he continued down the road. He chose a very large group of people by a shop stand and pushed deliberately through them. The first pocket he could find, he slipped his fingers in and grabbed what he could. As he exited the crowd, he held a little pouch of coins. It wasn’t much, but it was more than the boy could earn with a day of honest work, so he slipped it into his own pocket.
“That’ll do nicely . . .” he said to himself, wandering down the road. As he walked, he saw a pair of gentlemen who were coming his way. They wore very fine shoes indeed, the sort who’d probably carry the heavy coins. Not able to resist such a chance, the boy walked straight towards the two, pushing his way through the men, he grabbed what he could out of a pocket. He stopped and turned to look at the fine gold pocket watch, when he felt a sharp tug. Dangling from the watch was a chain that ran back into the man’s jacket. The man felt the tug and turned around to see the boy holding his watch.
  “Hey you!” cried out the man, “Pickpocket!” as both men turned to grab the child, he dropped the watch and ducked beyond their grasp. He turned and ran as fast as he could, hearing the men yell behind him, “Police! Police!”
The boy ran up the street as he heard people running behind him.
  “Oi! You boy, stop!” yelled an authoritative voice. The boy quickly dodges through the labyrinthine streets before pushing his way through a small opening in an enclosed little alley and suddenly stopping, pressing himself tightly against the wall. The boy waited for the rush of feet to pass before he relaxed.
Looking around the little alleyway the boy saw that there wasn’t much to it, but it wasn’t as cold as sleeping on the street so he sits down to look at the things he’d gotten.
As he looked through his pockets at the shiny jewels and things he’d gotten. Sitting quietly in the corner, he didn’t notice as a wisp of wind flew in through the enclosed space. A dark creature in a red cloak trimmed with dirty white fur wanders out of nothingness, holding on a large scythe.
The boy suddenly looks up to the creature and jumps up, bracing himself against the wall, the boy was frozen with fear as the creature walks closer and closer. The creature looks straight at the boy’s face. Its own face was hidden in darkness, behind large, ancient eyebrows, its eyes seemed like hollow sockets, and its mouth was hidden behind a long, trailing beard.
  “ . . . What is it you desire?” asks the creature, its cold breath washing over the boy’s face. the boy mumbled and stammered as he stared at the creature,
  “W-w-what?”
  “ . . . I offer you a Christmas wish . . . anything you desire . . .”
The boy stopped shivering as he saw the creature offered no harm,
  “Anything?” he asks tentatively. The creature slowly nods as it stands up straight. The little thief thinks for a moment on what he could possibly want, when his stomach suddenly grumbles loudly. Looking down and patting his belly, the boy giggles,
  “Alright then . . . I’m hungry.” He says “I want some food.”
  “ . . . Is this what you truly desire?” asks the creature,
  “Yeah.” Says the boy, “Feed me.”
  “ . . . As you wish . . .” it says. The creature, leaning heavily on the scythe, reaches down to the snow, its cloak seeming to bundle up, empty, as it bends down. It reaches a mitt-covered hand deep into the snow. It pulls its hand back holding a large bowl, which was full of snow.
The creature hands it to the boy who takes it with both hands, a little confused. Closing and opening the fingers of its mitt-covered hand, it suddenly held a spoon which he stirs the snow with. Quite suddenly, the snow melts and changes to a creamy, yellow colour. As the bowl started to steam and little pieces of vegetables bobbed to the surface of the liquid, the boy noticed that he was holding a large bowl of soup. Dropping the spoon into the soup ready for the boy, the creature turned and walked away into nothingness.
  “Thanks.” Said the boy with a smile. He crouches against the wall and rests the bowl on his lap as he begins to eat. It was amazing soup, and he could barely believe that it was his and his alone. The boy looked around at the alleyway and saw how dark and empty it was. He looks out of the little space he’d entered through, and saw across the street at a house. Lights were shining from every window, and there was a savoury smell of roast goose, for it was nearing New-year’s eve and there was a family inside enjoying their feast. The boy saw how happily the people were, laughing and eating their dinner, and also saw how lonely he was, eating his soup on his own. It was then he realized that he hadn’t desired something to eat, but rather someone to eat it with. And then, the poor little pickpocket with his large bowl of soup, began to cry.

A little girl was sitting in the corner of her room, cowering in fear. The door to her room was banging loudly as a fist pounded against it,
The slurry, drunken voice of her father yells out angrily and incomprehensible. The girl didn’t know what to do, she couldn’t run away and could only wait for him to break through the door. She didn’t want him to hit her again, she didn’t want him to hurt her or her mother again, but she was just a little girl and could do nothing about it.
The girl is so scared she doesn’t notice as the room suddenly flutters with a wisp of a breeze that rustles the light sheets of her bed. From the other corner of the room, a figure in a red cloak with a large scythe wanders in from shadow. Already cowering, afraid, the girl merely stares fixedly at the creature as it approaches her hunched, quivering form.
The creature doesn’t even notice as door is pounded against loudly, making the girl jump each time.
  “ . . . What is it you desire . . .?” asks the creature, its voice just able to be heard over the girl’s shouting father.
  “Don’t hurt me, please . . .” says the girl,
  “ . . . I do not wish to harm you . . . I wish to help you . . .” says the creature as it leans heavily on its menacing scythe, “ . . . what do you most desire . . .?
The girl looks at the creature for a moment, then blinks her eyes as she begins to cry,
  “I wish . . . I wish my father loved me . . .” she whimpers quietly, looking at the door as it shudders violently with each blow.
  “ . . . As you wish . . .” says the creature. The creature turns towards the door and drifts towards it. Standing before the door, the creature passes its scythe to its mitt-covered hand, and places its other hand on the door. The hand was skinny, with knobbly knuckles and was a dark, dead black as though it had succumbed to frost bite.
As the creature stands with its hand on the door, it suddenly fades into nothingness.
The girl stares at the door and notices that it is completely silent.
She continues to stare, waiting and hears a strange sound coming from behind the door. Her father was crying quietly to himself.
And then the sound faded. The girl, ever so slowly and quietly stands and heads towards the door.
She stands just a few paces from the door and listens. Her father wasn’t there anymore.
She didn’t know what to do, and stood there for a moment when so suddenly it made her jump, she heard the resounding BANG! Of a gunshot from downstairs.
The girl, not knowing what to do, stood silently, a tear rolling down her cheek as she tried to smile for once.

There was a homeless, bitter, old man, lying in the corner of an empty street, staring at the sky which was now dark. In a few short hours it would be Christmas, and the man was grumbling to himself about how terrible it was, keeping warm under a lot of mouldy blankets as he sat on top of a pile of newspapers, cardboard boxes and paper bags.
As he sat alone in the corner, a figure in a red cloak suddenly appears at the end of the street and begins wandering towards him, using a large scythe to pull its way through the snow.
  “Hey, mister, can you spare us a dollar or somethin’?” asks the poor, homeless man.
  “ . . . What is it you desire . . .?” asks the creature. The man eyes the thing suspiciously before asking,
  “What’cha mean?”
  “ . . . I offer you a Christmas wish . . .” says the creature.
The man sits up straight and looks at the thing,
  “Why? What are you?” the creature takes a few steps closer,
  “ . . . I am the Spirit of Christmas . . .
The man studies the thing deeply up and down, looking over its beard, red cloak, scythe, frost-bitten hand and mitted hand and deep sunken eyes.
  “You don’t look much jolly . . .” he mutters with a chuckle,
  “ . . . I bring gifts to those who need them . . .” says the creature, “ . . . this brings me joy . . .
the man looks at the creature,
  “ . . . so, you’re saying you’ll give me whatever I want?”
  “ . . . if it is what you desire . . . yes . . .” then the man chuckles a little to himself,
  “What if I want something bad?” he asks, “I thought Santa didn’t help naughty boys and girls . . .”
  “ . . . Naughty children often need help the most . . .” says the creature.
  “But will you grant my wish? No matter what it is?”
The Spirit of Christmas leans menacingly over the man,
  “ . . . What is it you desire . . .?
The man is a little unsettled, but he clears his throat and looks up at the creature.
  “I lost my job in the blacksmiths because I hurt my leg in the king’s bloody war . . . then I lost my house because I couldn’t pay the king’s taxes, and now I live on the streets . . .” the man looks straight at the empty eyes of the creature, “I want you to kill the King.”
The creature pauses a moment before continuing,
  “ . . . Is this what you desire . . .?
  “ . . . It was his blasted war, his bloody taxes. It’s all his fault that I’m on the streets, he deserves it. Yes, I want you to kill the King.” The creature nods its head,
  “ . . . As you wish . . .
And with that, the creature disappears into the night.

The royal bedchambers were covered with fancy tapestries and portraits, and all around there were priceless vases, huge rugs and in the middle an enormous bed with satin sheets. From the darkness of the corner of the room, the Spirit of Christmas appears from nothingness and wanders slowly toward the King. The creature was pure silence as it grasps the scythe in both hands, so quiet that you could hear the king’s quiet breath over the creature’s approach.
The creature stopped beside the large bed and loomed over the sleeping king. The creature raises its scythe, the blade glinting in the moonlight from the far window.
With a quick swipe, the creature brings the scythe down quickly. The creature bangs the butt of the scythe against the hard, stone floor with a BANG! Waking the king with a start.
The king looks up to see the creature leaning over him and stammers quietly as he struggles to understand what he sees,
  “ . . . Dear king . . .” says the creature, “ . . . I have come to offer you a Christmas wish . . .
as the king sits up and looks at the creature, the creature continues to speak,
. . . I offer gifts to those that need them the most . . . you are going to die, and this means that you deserve a gift . . . a final Christmas wish . . .
The king thinks over what the creature is saying,
  “I don’t understand,” says the king, “I am going to die?”
  “ . . . Someone has wished you dead . . .” says the Spirit of Christmas, “ . . . you will die.
The king gets out of his bed and as he wakens begins to pace his bedchambers, thinking,
  “If I am going to die . . . can you tell me who the man is that wishes me dead?” he asks,
  “ . . . If that is what you desire . . .
  “No!” says the king suddenly, “No . . . I would merely take it to my grave . . .”
The king thinks to himself some more, “ . . . Could I wish him dead?” he asks,
  “ . . . You may have whatever you desire . . .  if you wish the man dead . . . he will be dead . . .
  “No . . .” mutters the king, “No, that helps no one . . .”
the king goes to the open window of his bedchambers and stares out at the town, up and down the twisting streets and houses, all the children probably now sleeping, awaiting for Christmas that next morning.
“If I am going to die, then I can’t help me . . . I would wish for the people of my kingdom . . .” he says
“I wish that everyone has a merry Christmas.” He says
  “ . . . Is this what you desire . . .?” asks the Spirit of Christmas,
  “Every man woman and child deserves at least one day of happiness. Yes, I wish that everyone could have a happy and merry Christmas.”
  “ . . .Admirable,” says the creature as the king turns around, “that is the true spirit of Christmas . . .
And with a one swift motion of its scythe, the king fell down, dead.

In the dawn of morning, all awoke to the promise of a merry Christmas. It would soon be daylight, but atop the roof of the church stood a strange creature in a red cloak. The thing stood, with a stiffness like death, holding the scythe in his hand, which was black and frost-bitten.
as daylight creeped steadily closer, and the sun began to rise and shine upon a Christmas day, the creature looked at the many people houses, each with sleeping children waiting for the day,
No one imagined that what was watching over them was the true spirit of Christmas, a spirit of giving, of spreading joy and helping others. Before retiring into the night, it looks over the town and says to itself in its harsh voice,
  “ . . . Merry Christmas to all . . . and to all a good night . . .

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Year of Yesterdays

Today is a fantastic day. I am feeling awesome, proud and confident. Because today, my dear reader is the day . . .
The 12th of the December, 2013. On this day, exactly one year ago (12/12/12) I wrote my very first post for this blog! That's right, today is my blogoversary . . . although, I dislike that portmanteau, so I'm gonna stick to "blogging anniversary" alright?
But yes, today is my one year anniversary. I am so happy! Although I've already done my 100th blog post milestone, so today I'm not going to be talking about 'anniversaries' and what they mean or anything like that. No, today I'm going to take a look back at everything I've done and achieved, and linking to my past articles wherever possible. It's time for a look back at my blogging, to see where we've been and where we're going from here. The Word of the Day is: 'REVOLUTION'

Revolution /revə'lūshən/ n. 1. The complete overthrowing of an established government or political system. 2. A complete or marked change in something. 3. Mechanics a. A turning round or rotating on an axis, such as in a motor car engine. b. A single cycle in such a course. 4. Astronomy a. (of a heavenly body) the action or fact of going around in an orbit: The earth's revolution around the sun. b. A single course of such movement.

So, let's begin with the past. One of the reasons why the Word of the Day is REVOLUTION, is as a callback to an earlier post I did, titled: A Year is a Day Away where the word of the day was RESOLUTION. In that post, I had three New Years Resolutions:

- I am going to write more (stories)

- I am going to write better (blog posts)

- I will try to find a partner (girlfriend)

Something that I am shocked to learn is that I achieved all three of those things. I have definitely written more stories. Over the past year, I have written 9 original stories for this blog:
Stories like The Lonely King, The Peacemaker, Battle Report: The Trials of Unit I-109 & The Cursed Cat of Cecil Street don't get included in the count because they weren't original to the blog. I had written them previously, for school or family. Oh, and of course I started writing my Duke Forever blogserial! That doesn't count because it's not finished yet, but I have definitely written more stories this year than I have in previous years. If you haven't read any of these, I recommend that you check them out. I put a lot of effort into them (except maybe "A Day in the Death of . . .") so, they're definitely worth reading.

My second goal was to write better. I believe I've achieved that; practice does, indeed, make perfect. I'm still not as good as I want to be, but a lot of people have enjoyed my writing none the less. The reason I know I write better is because of the positive feedback I've recieved in comments on this blog, comments on Google+ & my increased traffic.
Where once I expected an average of 5 views per post, then 12? These days, I recieve an average of 50 pageviews per post!
So, thank all of you, you make blogging worthwhile.

Then, finally, the third one. I thought maybe I'd lose a little weight and start exercising more; I thought I'd start going to bars and making myself available to some of the single girls out there - that's all I expected from my "look for a girlfriend" resolution. I just wanted to be a better man.
So, I am over the moon ecstatic that I've not only found a girlfriend; a girl that I love deeply and passionately, who loves me back just as much. But that girl is the most beautiful girl I know, and the most caring sweet and intelligent. She's everything I dreamed of - and more since she's a writer just like me! - and, miraculously, I'm everything she's dreamed of. I am happier than I've ever been before.
Because of my Beloved, I really am a better man I wanted to be.
(I love you, sweetheart)


The second reason the Word of the Day is REVOLUTION is because that's exactly what this is - as in Defintion 2: a marked change.
You've probably noticed by now, since it's rather obvious, that I've changed my blog's template around . . .
I haven't done something like this since early March with my blog post, The More Things Change . . ., but in that very post I implied that I might change the blog in the future. Now don't worry, this version isn't too different, my blog archive is still on the left (although it's now a "stacked" menu with no thumbnails) and the words are still centred and formatted the way I like. But as similar as it is, I really had to change it because my last template was stifling my creativity.


The original reason why I changed my blog was because I wanted an embedded commenting system. The only template that provided that as standard was Dynamic, so I chose it. I enjoyed a lof of those features, however, the Dynamic Template was a fickle mistress.
For one thing, it was slow. It had a lot of code due to its variability - but when loading the blog, it was so slow that sometimes it would bug out and not load the header picture, the formatting or the comments section I worked so hard to include!
(I still have embedded comments now, using Google+ comments but for the time being it seems like you have to click a button to "expand" the comments. I'm working on fixing that.)
Secondly, it was unpredictable. Some of blogger's intrinsic functions disappeared, such as including certain Gadgets and if I wrote a post without the usual Illustration at the top, the thumbnail in the sidebar didn't look right, making it harder to create my blog the way I wanted.
Finally, and most importantly, with Dynamic Template I couldn't add extra pages without them linking on the front page! This is what has me excited and this is why I had to change the blog. In my Late Spring Cleaning post (the one with the sexy maid in the Illustration) I mentioned two things I wanted to do with this blog: A Webcomic & a GameBlog.
For both of these, I would have to create a seperate page (so that it wouldn't interfere with the blog itself), but I couldn't do that with the Dynamic Template.
For the GameBlog - or interactive blogfiction - I couldn't create the seperate hyperlinked pages for the story, because they would all show up within the header bar, allowing people to cheat and "find the right ending". Now, with this new, simpler template, I can finally fulfill my dream of providing free, interactive blogfiction.
The webcomic too would work better with its own pages, and I'm still working idly on the 'webcomic', but I'm working on other projects at the moment because I'm not sure if people are interested. What do you think?

Also, because I've noticed that some people are getting lost looking for Duke Forever chapters in the blog, I've created a Duke Forever Chapter Archive.
You can find the link to it near the top-left corner of the blog, the link leads to to a page with a list of all of the current chapters for Duke Forever, so you can find where you're up to, and even click on the link to read them.
Also, as a little teaser, I plan to include the title of the upcoming Duke Forever stories that I'm working on, so that can serve as a kind of "Coming Soon" teaser for the next story or two that I have yet to write.


The third and final reason why the word of the day is REVOLUTION is because, it is the blog's anniversary. Meaning there has been a full revolution of the Earth around the Sun, a year of fun that's gone by for this blog.
So, because I'll probably be taking my Christmas holiday sometime before New Year's Eve, I figured I'd take the time now to list my new New Year's Resolutions for the coming year of 2014!
Hey, they worked out well last year? Maybe, if I resolve to do some more amazing things, I'll achieve them as well. So, here are the ways I hope to improve my life over the coming year:

- I want a good occupation (that I enjoy doing)
I've had a few jobs before, menial little tasks. But for one of them, I spent all day cleaning footpaths with a water blaster. At the end of the day I had sore feet, sometimes to the point of bleeding toes & the deafening sound of the blaster (even with ear-plugs in) made it hard to think. So I want a job that I can enjoy doing.
Another job I had at a fast-food joint was pretty fun. I enjoyed it despite the low pay, but I was let go after only 4 months because I didn't realize my employment was only meant to be short term. So when I say an occupation I mean something that occupies my time, a job I can keep for a good, long while at the very least a whole year. With a license, that will be a lot easier, so (fingers crossed!) I'll get this one done sooner rather than later.

- I will try to make Duke Forever more popular (on tvtropes.org)
I would wish that I would write more Duke Forever, but I'm having so much fun that that's kind of a given already. But I do wish it was a little more popular and had a wider audience. Don't get me wrong! I am truly thankful for all the readers I have already and all of the kind words people have said about my blogserial. However, as I see it, the way that I'll know when I've truly made it in online writing is when people start referencing its tropes on the official tv tropes database. It might even be good enough to get its own page! . . . but I'm getting ahead of myself.
Now, it's a bit cheeky to go telling people to do it, and I am not shameless enough to do it myself, so don't take this as a command. I don't want people to do this because I told them to. However, this is something that I really wish could happen, so if you find the opportunity to link to my blogserial, I'd be truly grateful.

- I am going to have my first kiss (with my girlfriend)
Now, since we love each other so much, and we've been together for so many months, it may seem weird that we haven't kissed one another yet. Well, the fact is, my Beloved doesn't live in Australia . . .
It's a little frustrating, but it's all worth it, as far as I'm concerned. We do things our way, nice and slow, but I really really want to kiss my girlfriend. So, I'm going to do what I can to make that happen. I'd write a little more and give more details about it, but this is my private life I'm talking about. The only reason I'm writing this at all is because I achieved all of last year's resolutions, and I want to give this dream of mine the best chance at success. So, that's definitely a goal for the coming year. It's going to happen, I don't doubt that, it's only a question of time. So, here's hoping I'll taste her lips in the next couple of months . . .

So, those are my resolutions for the next astronomical revolution. Oh, also, one little resolution thing I'm working on is not talking about my girlfriend so much. I think about her a lot, and yeah I'm excited, but I'm starting to sound like the guy from the xkcd comic who won't shut up about his girlfriend.
So, I'm working on that, but no promises!

I hope you love the new blogging template, and I'll be back soon with another post. Until then, I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, screaming: Viva la Revolución!

Monday, 9 December 2013

Turning of the Phrase

There are infinite possibilities within language's potential. We can listen to the colourless green, we can dance in the waves of light or taste the face of love [here's looking at you, dearly Beloved]. Even the impossible, with language, can be. So it's a little disheartening when we come back - time and time again - to a few key phrases. The Word of the Day is: 'PHRASE'

Phrase /frayz/ n. 1. Grammar a. A group of two or more words arranged in a grammatical construction. b. Such a group without a finite verb and acting as a unit within a clause. 2. A way of speaking. 3. An expression, sometimes having special interest or importance. 4. A short remark. 5. Music A group of notes forming a recognizable pattern. ♦v.t. 6. To express or word in a particular way.

Now, I don't have a problem with these oft-repeated phrases, in general. Some people avoid clichés like the plague, but not me. If a phrase has been around the block a few times, it becomes ingrained in the public consciousness to the point that it can become yet another foundation of language, to be built upon. Some find this frustrating, but I feel that gives us the opportunity to then deconstruct and/or re-imagine these phrases again, to make soemthing new. We can all understand what is meant when these phrases are said or read, so it gives us the room the play with language.

But, in my own life, there are a bunch of phrases that I've heard one time or another that I just cannot stand. They frustrate me to no end.
However, before I start, I need to apologize to all of you that are hoping for me to 'shoot down' popular phrases of the day that you find offensive; especially memes. Because While 'You Only Live Once', 'Laugh Out Loud', 'Epic Fail', 'That's what She said' & 'You Mad' are all phrases I don't like, their erasure is something that we already agree upon as a culture. You don't need me to point that out, it would be a waste of time.
Not to mention, when said infrequently or ironically, these phrase can regain some degree of jovialty. Especially when used with irony, lol.
In their stead, the phrases I am talking about are a selection of sayings that are not only intellectually vapid, as those above, but actually drive us backward, as a species, for the unintelligence and disinterest these phrases seem to invite into the Great Conversation.
These aren't phrases that disturb or annoy me and these aren't just pet peeves. No, these are phrases that need to GO THE FUCK AWAY.

Now, a lot of these aren't exactly popular. You may not have even heard some them, but I can assure you that these are real phrases. I've heard them on several occasions and you've definitely heard most of them. I've been compiling this list since the beginning of this blog (almost a year ago) and they're not all well known, but despite their less-than-celebrity status they officially need to go over the cliff, to never be seen again, because they represent the worst kind of communication.
It's the kind of phrases that don't have intelligence behind them. So, without further ado, allow me to introduce you to some phrases that - in a just world - you will never hear again. These are . . .

The A.W.N.'s Top 10 Phrases that Need to GO AWAY

#10  "That's so retarded."
Now, I myself once used this term a lot because - by the very definition - people with mental retardation are not as intelligent as the average person. I didn't see the harm in it because "they are stupid", but I've come through time to realize that this has to stop.
For one thing, it's incredibly arrogant to judge someone by something with which they were born. Someone born without a leg isn't less of a person [unless we're talking volumetrically] so they should be treated equitably. Using this word to casually refer to idiocy is insulting to these people - real people, remember - who deserve as much respect as anyone else. To do otherwise assumes superiority and a hierarchy of man, according to birthright. How arrogant do you have to be to start judging people by what they're born with?
But more importantly, it underestimates retarded people. People often say something is "retarded" when it is offensively stupid, they think that anything which is unintelligent is retarded. However, mental retardation isn't about incapacity, it's about reduced or slowed mental capacity (hence use of the word retard, which means "slow down"). People with mental disabilities can be a little silly at times, true, but they deserve a lot more credit than people give them. If you, like me, have used this term so mindlessly, do the world a favour and start saying "ridiculous" instead of "retarded", because that's what you really mean, and it doesn't insult anyone.

#09  "What do you expect? I'm only human."
I have seen great things that humans can do; experienced the wonders that we can build and the things we can achieve and witnessed the greatness of the human spirit. These achievements are stunning . . . so when people say this phrase: "what do you expect? I'm only human", like it's some great burden, a weight on their shoulders they have to bear - they're just being ridiculous. Being just human is one of the best things you could possibly be, yet people insult their own species in this way . . .
Not to mention, this statement is terribly condescending; do you think we would forget? How patronising must you be to feel the need to remind anyone of anything so ubiquitous?
Whatever, these are minor quibbles. However, the real reason why this phrase has to go? Because, more often than not, people say this instead of saying sorry. You call someone out for doing something wrong, or not finishing a task and their response is "I'm only human". Yes, you are, you're only a human with responsibilities and things expected of you. There's no one to blame but yourself if you do something wrong.
Even if you're not to blame - if you're in a situation where too much is being asked of you - this passive-aggressive stance is a great way to start a fight. It's blatantly obvious what was expected of you - if you don't understand, then say so.
The next time you want to say this, keep in mind that this is the answer:
As a human, you're expected to admit your own faults so that you may overcome them.

#08  "I like to relax, and turn off my brain."
I get this one all the time. As a writer, I have a tendency to enjoy a variety of stories, but I seek out stories that are more challenging. I like movies and books that make me think about the human condition; try to teach the audience something or question the nature of storytelling itself. For this reason, I don't like what people call 'popcorn movies', those films with explosions or excessive action; dumb romance; oafish/random comedy; bad plot or no deeper meaning or moral. I call out these movies for being simple-minded.
However, when I say that I don't like popcorn movies, inevitably someone will say "What's wrong with a dumb movie? Sometimes I just like to turn off my brain." This pisses me off for two reasons. Firstly, your brain is always on. Even when you sleep, your brain regulates your breathing and often you dream. There's only one way to 'switch off' your brain and that's to be dead.
But more than that, it's just wrong. If you wanted to relax your mind, you'd go have a nap, meditate or lie down. Watching a movie requires your full attention, so when you watch a movie and enjoy it, despite it having no meaning, and say to me "I just want to turn off my brain"; instead, be honest and say: "I don't pay much attention when I watch movies."
If you did, you would see what I see. Some people enjoy movies that I don't for personal reasons, but if they pay attention, they debate it, they don't claim to be switching off their brain. So admit it, the reason you like dumb movies is because you aren't fully engaged. I'm not saying you're necessarily stupid, you just don't have the mind for storytelling. That's okay, what's not okay is acting like other people are weird for wanting Art to mean something.

#07  "Do you have to be so serious all the time?"
I get this one a lot as well. Some people think I'm a bit of a stick in the mud, because I choose to take people at their word. If someone says something wrong or sarcastically and I don't understand, their response is always "do you have to take everything literally?" or, as above "why so serious?"
This doesn't make any sense to me. The world is literal. I'm literally existing in a reality where matter cannot be created or destroyed, it's constant. Also, as a Word Nerd, I know that words mean things. And while some words can have many meanings, they are still well-defined meanings which, while the interpretation of words may change, their inherent meanings are static. If I question your meaning when you say something; don't laugh at your joke or don't understand your sarcasm; it's because you've misused language in a way that does not communicate your intention. You're not communicating with me, because I don't understand. That's not my fault, it's yours for using language in a way that can be misunderstood.
But most importantly, I'm not serious all the time. People think that, because I don't find their "so random" joke funny, or ignore their sarcasm that it means I'm always serious. I'm not, I laugh at a lot of stuff; but I laugh at the real world, because this world is ridiculous. When you think like I do, and see things literally, you find a lot more things funny. Haven't you ever heard the phrase "it's funny because it's true."
So next time you want to ask me "Why are you so serious all the time?"; remember, my answer is: "I think it's funnier that way."

#06  "Well, you know what I meant . . ."
Any stickler for language gets this one a lot. Someone else says something wrong: "I could care less"; "supposeably true"; "my head literally exploded", or they just muddle up their words, accidentally, so you correct them. Then rather than correct themselves, their response is "You know what I meant."
No, no no no no - FUCK you! That's not how this works. Admittedly, there are some arseholes out there that love acting superior because they know whether to say "you and I" or "you and me"; but I am not like that. The reason I correct people is so that they may better their ability to speak (or write, as the case may be) without being misunderstood.
This response, it's akin to if I were walking with a friend and they tripped, so I then grabbed them by the arm and helped them stay on their feet; then rather than thank me they smack my hand away.
But worse than that, sometimes I don't know what people mean. Like, as a vague example, if someone says something like "put the hammer outside" and I say "you mean, in the shed?" they go all "You know what I mean!"
No, I didn't! I'm not psychic and it's not my job, or anyone's, to auto-correct your verbal typos! Every time you say something wrong, I have to correct it in my head, meaning I have to put in more effort to understand you. I find it easier if both parties speak in a way that everyone can understand. Instead of saying "you know what I meant", you could say "Yes, that's right". Or hell, just nod - if you can't say something nice, say nothing at all.

#05  "There's no such thing as a wrong opinion."
In my opinion, this statement is wrong. This is actually a misunderstanding of language, to a confusing degree. It's simple semantics. It's basically a misunderstanding of fiction. See, the statement "Anise Trevino rides in a time machine" is not true, there's no such thing as a time machine, therefore it must be a lie. However, if I say "Anise Trevino rides in a time machine, in this story that I wrote." then the statement can be (and is) true.
See, the statement itself is wrong, but to say "it can be true in fiction" is true. It's the same thing with an opinion. The statement "being homosexual is unnatural" is wrong, it's been proven countless times that it occurs in nature; it is empirically, objectively wrong. If someone then says "I think that being homosexual is unnatural" then they are wrong. Sure, it is true that "this person has the opinion that being homosexual is wrong" because we're not talking about the statement, we're talking about the existence of an opinion, but that doesn't make the statement itself right.
The reason this gets foggy is because most people have opinions about things that are subjective: "bacon is delicious"; "chocolate is better than vanilla"; "nachos is awesome". These often can't be proven wrong, because they're about subjective things, they rely on the nature of the speaker; while true for one person, it may be false for another, so unless the speaker is lying these have to be true. If you say "I prefer dogs to cats" then that's fair enough.
However, if you say "dogs are better pets than cats" then it's something that could (concievably) be measured, so it not longer falls under the purview of "subjective".
Either way, I am sick and tired of people using this "it's not wrong, it's my opinion!" thing as a way of defending themselves from education. Because even if you are right, you're still an idiot for not validating your own opinion's veracity.

#04  "I could care less."
Oh my god, this one. This fucking phrase. There are already hundreds and hundreds of people already who have spoken out against this stupid statement. And now I have to join the ranks!
Yes, you could. Being able to have less care than you already have, requires an amount of care greater than zero. And since care is a positive integer, 0 is the lowest amount of care one can give.
No, you're not being clever by "caring so little, that I don't care how much I care." because that's not what we're talking about. That's you pretending that you're accident was made on purpose when in actual fact you're just offensively stupid. Language is about communication, you little shit. If you don't care about speaking properly, then let me punch you in the mouth until your teeth fall out. Then I don't have to listen to you speaking at all.
Use your fucking brain. I am not going to do all your thinking for you. This is the same stupid shit that makes people think that 'down-side up' is the opposite of 'up-side down'. If you stopped for half a fucking second, and USED your head, you'd realize that you are not only inaccurate, but saying the complete opposite of what you intended to say. That's not 'being careless', that's being a moron. This phrase makes me want to beat people to death with a dictionary.

#03  "I love you so much, I'd die for you!"
I think it's pretty obvious at this point that I have a girlfriend. I've been mentioning her, this girl I call "Beloved", in so many of my blog posts that it's blatantly obvious, but I can't help it . . . I blog about what's on my mind and, well, she's on my mind. I do a lot of things for her, just as she does so much for me; but do you know something I definitely won't do for her? Commit suicide.
There's two very good reasons for this: a) I don't want to die b) she doesn't want me to die. So I don't understand why this phrase even exists. Yet, I've seen it all over, not only in romance stories, but also in real life!
It's obvious to me that people haven't thought this through. For starters, who would want this? I mean, I get the romance of it; dulce et decorum est pro mea puella mori and all that, but in reality any partner worth their salt wants you to be alive, so why offer it?
Secondly, this can take the form of emotional abuse, especially with teenagers saying it like: "If I can't be with you, I'd die!" which is just a form of controlling your partner through guilt, and a sign you should find a new partner.
Thirdly, you're essentially saying "I love you so much that I would gladly leave you and let you spend the rest of your life with gut-wrenching survivor's guilt!". Thanks, but no thanks.
Fourthly . . . it's too easy. Being dead is easy, you don't have to do anything; but being alive? Now that's hard. It's easy to die for someone, but to live for them? Sharing your life with someone else to make them happy? That has meaning. Not only do I want "I'd die for you" to go away, I want it to be replaced with "I'd live for you"; that's what I tell my Beloved, and I think it means so much more.

#02  "I don't know why, I just don't like it."
This may seem like a relatively harmless phrase, but I freaking hate it. I hate it for a simple reason, it's ignorant. I know a lot about what I do and don't like, hell this list is all about stuff that I don't like and I explain every single item on this list in detail. That way, if you disagree with one of my choices you can see why I made it. If you still think I'm wrong, you can look at my "working out" and show me where I went wrong. I like that, and it can make me a smarter person. I've learned a lot by being wrong and having someone point out the flaws in my logic, because I'm a skeptic. I question all of my decisions and I'm willing to change my mind.
So you bet damn well that it grinds my gears if I find someone who disagrees with me and once I ask 'why?' their response, rather than logic and intelligence, is "I dunno, I just don't like it."
This is frustrating, as I like a good debate for one, but even when people agree with me, it's annoying. I mean, if you don't know why you feel the way you do, then how do you even know that's your real opinion? How do you know it's true if it hasn't been tested?! If there's no evidence?
More than that, knowing the reasons behind your opinions can help you to know more about yourself and open up new possibilities. For instance, I hate mushrooms. But the reason I hate mushrooms is because of the texture. Because I know this, I gladly enjoy mushrooms on pizza (baked means they crisp up) and mushroom sauces (so long as its pureed). If I didn't know why I hated mushroom, I might have missed out!
This doesn't mean that you have to analyze everything but if you give me your opinion and I ask you "why?" and you don't know, the correct response is to say "I'm not sure yet, but I'll figure it out" and then proceeding to work it out, as soon as you can, then letting me know.

#01  "I was raped in that game, last night."
Before this gets misleading, I have to say I am not talking about victims of sexual abuse, here; and, in a way, that's kind of the point . . .
Did you feel sick in the pit of your stomach when you read that sentence? I did. Because rape is a horrible thing, not only for the physical violence it often requires, but also for the sense of violation and psychological collapse that occurs when something so personal is taken from your control. And also, on a much grander level, that within this culture we call 'civilized' there exist rapists that have so little respect and morality that they could do such a horrible thing. That is why I am getting more than a little annoyed that people are much too often using this terrible term as shorthand for "casual defeat".
When you perform poorly in an online game, or during communal recreation, it is NOT okay for you to make light of this word in such a horrible way. You are equating rape to a recreational activity. Something that not only doesn't matter, but in the context of the game this phrase implies that the rapist is the 'winner'. What the FUCK is wrong with you people?
What does that say about gender politics? What does that say about culture? Hell, what does it say about human empathy - or the lack thereof - when someone can treat something like rape with so little moral fortitude.
I'm not the Humour Police here, I get that people sometimes use these words for effect and it can be funny due to the audacity; but you're not Jimmy Carr and this isn't about a joke, it's about the desensitization towards a word of which we should not be desensitized!
So when you use the word 'rape' in this way, you are implying that rape is inconsequential, inevitable & desirable. You are disrespecting every single victim and normalizing a horrendous crime.
The worst part is, people are already so used to this term, they don't even seem to get it! Do you people even understand how disgusting this is?
This is not okay, and if I hear another person using this phrase, I feel like I'm going to strangle them. This just boils my blood, and if you don't see why that is a problem . . . I want you to take a corkscrew to the kneecaps you sick, heartless bastard!


Anyway, that's my list of phrases that need to go away. If you have any phrases you don't like, feel free to leave me a comment.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd and until next time, if you hear anyone utter any of these phrases, do us all a favour and reply with the phrase: "please, stop saying that"

Friday, 6 December 2013

How to Kill a Troll

I was recently watching a Let's Play video wherein, during one of the duller moments of the game in question, the two commentators started talking about trivial things, until they came across the topic of language. In this discussion, both of the fellows expressed a dislike for the term "trolling". Trolling is the practice of saying or doing something in anonymity that you don't actual believe in for the purposes of upsetting, confusing, annoying or pranking someone else, usually on the internet.
For these Let's Players, they felt the term was equivalent to "lol" when said in person, as both words are less intuitive than their original counterparts - in the case of saying "lol", actually laughing out loud and in the case of "trolling" they preferred the term "fucking with people" (i.e. messing with people). They felt these "new terms" were lesser in comparison to their original counterparts, but what they both failed to realize is that "trolling" is not a new term. The Word of the Day is: 'TROLLING'

Trolling /trōling/ v. 1. The act of singing or uttering in a full, rolling voice. 2. Singing a song whereby one part of the song is sung after another, in the manner of a round. 3. The act of fishing with a moving line, working the line up or down with a rod, as in fishing for pike, or trailing the line behind a slow-moving boat. 4. The act of moving (the line or bait) in doing this. 5. Causing to turn round and round; rolling.

Although its etymology is contested, I wholeheartedly believe the term for comes from the fishing terminology. After all, trolling while one fishes is about fishing with bait, or a lure, in such a way as to imitate a fish, pretending that the dead bait is alive so that the fish will try to eat it.
It's using something fake and pretending that it's real in order to catch something by preying on its natural instincts - that sounds like internet trolling to me.

But the reason why I am talking about trolling is because, quite recently, YouTube.com, the popular video hosting site, changed its commenting system. Rather than commenting via your YouTube profile, users now have to have a Google+ profile to comment.
Because of this, there was a backlash from over 500,000 users, including the co-founder of Youtube.com, all of whom preferred the old system. This sounds like a really big problem, so I felt the need to now weigh in on the subject, as I am a proud user of Google+ and Youtube, and I have this to say about the controversy:

It's not controversial.

If you are one of the people that prefer the old system, you're the minority. 500,000 people seems like a lot, but there are over 1 billion unique Youtube users: that's 1,000,000,000. Do the maths kids, that's less than 0.00005% of Youtube users. Even if only 1 in 100 people that disliked the new Youtube system actually bothered to complain about it (a very generous overestimation), then that's still less than one percent - Your opinion is negligible.

However, this minority is a loud minority and some of this minority (the minority within the minority) does have a few interesting points, which are worth addressing. For the sake of doing as little research as possible, I believe that most of these points were covered by Boogie2988 in his video "Actual Thoughts: Youtube Comment Changes, Google+, and more", so check that out if you want to hear his views on this in his own words (the first 30 seconds are a character that he plays - don't worry, his real voice is very pleasant). I'll be responding to the points he made in his video, as I feel like they are fair points to make, although I respectfully disagree he's really awesome. so here we go, let's do this swiftly.

Some people are complaining because Google+ is not a popular social networking site and so they don't want to use it. To this I say . . . don't. What these people aren't understanding is that having an account via the site does not mean that you have to use the site itself. For one thing, after logging on via this new system, nothing changes. You can continue to comment, watch your videos, check out your favourite channels, "Like", "Favourite" and "Share" to your heart's content. I already had a Google+ account, so I don't know if you even have to sign on, but for me nothing has really changed.
So why would it for other users? You're not being forced to use the site, just to log on via its systems - where's the problem here?

Well, to this, some complain that logging on might make it harder to use Youtube, it might turn people away from YouTube because they don't like the system. This is ridiculous, because I know that people aren't going to stop using YouTube. They'll bitch and moan like people did when Facebook changed it's template, but they'll come back to it anyway because it's YouTube for goodness' sake.
However, the main conceit here is saying that Google, as a company, changed the system without getting any feedback from YouTube users, and people feel like they're being forced to do something they didn't want to. They feel like this is a "dick move" on Google's part, doing this without consulting its users. To that I say, yeah, this was kind of a dick move. However, it's insignificant. As I mentioned before, this changes very little about the site in general - but more importantly this was done to stop the bullying, harassment and abuse that was the YouTube comment section.
You think it was a dick move? Fine, but YouTube was being pressured to fix its system, so it did. I agree with Mickeleh on this one, I think they did the best with that they had. You don't like it? Tough cookies, it's not your website. You're a user, but that's all, you don't get to make the decisions in time of crisis.

And let's be clear here, this was a crisis. Trolling was rampant, arguments were escalating out of control. The number of times I've seen people bully others, call them names or stigmatize them; the number of times I've seen people prejudiced, inconsiderate, racist, sexist, prejudiced, homophobic or vile; the number of times I've seen people threaten others or tell people to kill themselves & the number of times I've seen people get treated like filth - it's disgusting. Trolls are disgusting.
With this new system, users are given more control. If someone is being annoying or trolling anyone, you can Mute them & If someone is being abusive or hateful, you can report them and have their comment removed. Also, with the new form of replies, that stack as opposed to branching out, replies become a conversation that anyone can join; and even if you leave the page and watch another video, you can still recieve notifications when someone responds to you, so you can keep the conversation going - this system encourages social behaviour.

If you have a problem with the new system, I don't want to hear about it. The old system was a despicable cesspool of hate, abuse & trolls. There were some kind users, quite a few actually, that would offer attaboys to the video-makers and some people that would be friendly to others in the comments; but it was that loud, horrid minority that kept dragging it all down. I was once addicted to YouTube and I loved it, but I stopped using it a year or so ago. So, despite the fun and joy I got from WheezyWaiters, Nerdfighters & Mickelehs of the site, I got sick of the crap. I then only ever watched videos from YouTube if they'd been embedded in other sites.
But now, this new system is a beacon of hope which brought me back to YouTube. I'm now excited for what communities could exist now, because we're slowly but surely worming out the trolls and making YouTube a fun place to watch videos and talk to people.

So if you think the last system was better, fuck you. You're either ignorant, a troll or some hipster that hates Google+ because it's not Facebook or Twitter.

Okay, I admit I'm being a bit rude here. I'm defensive of Google+ because I'm a proud user of the site, I love all of its features, I share all of my blogs on there (you probably found this post via a link on the site) and it's where I met my girlfriend. There's a lot to like about the site and I don't appreciate people badmouthing it, just because it's different.

But whether you like the system or not, it can't be denied that YouTube is changing. It's nicer now, I feel like I have more control and some of the YouTube Partners are using the features of Google+ to expand their YouTubing potential. Also the trolls are dying out, as are the people they are imitating - the genuinely prejudiced anti-socialites. (and, just as the definition says, trolling is both the act of trolling, and the act of moving like you're trolling. so these trolls too are being disinfected via sunlight)
Trolls are horrible people. They exist because they feel insecure and powerless in their own lives, so they transfer a bit of that powerlessness, anger & frustration onto you so that they feel a bit better about their own lives. They would be pitiable if they weren't so vile, so I have no mercy for these rat bastards.

YouTube is purging itself for the better, they merged a social networking site and a video hosting site to create a social video networking host (which some have taken to calling YoogleTube+). No matter how much the little buggers whine, it isn't changing back; because to do so would only feed the trolls. Because this is how you kill a troll. Not by arguing with them, not by fighting them, but instead by creating an environment where they can't prosper. By being social and friendly and ignoring or reporting the negative commenters, trolls have no audience for their stupidity.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and until next time feel free to leave a comment . . .

Monday, 2 December 2013

It's Sensitive to Context

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd and I need to stop reading bad fanfiction.

Oh, sorry, I suppose you must be wondering why. After all, that doesn't make all that much sense on its own, does it? It's the answer to a question that hasn't been asked, really; so unless you're some kind of psychic, that doesn't make much sense. To put it in the layman's vernacular, you don't understand what I'm talking about. This is something that really bugs me about writing, is that a lot of people don't understand the importance of letting their audience know what they're talking about. So, what am I talking about?
The Word of the Day is: 'CONTEXT'

Context /kontekst/ n. 1. The parts of a sentence, paragraph or writing which come before or after a given passage or word: to quote in context. 2. The circumstances or facts that surround a particular situation, event, etc.

I'm talking about context, because so often - especially with amateur writers - I am thrown into a story with none of it, and it's starting to annoy me. Of course, not everything is important in the beginning of a story. Before the plot kicks off, I don't need to know what planet we're on; the system of government; the laws of magic; the name of the protagonist's cat or what he does for a living - unless that's what the story is about - I'll pick a lot of that up as the story progresses. But I do need to know a bit about what's happening, especially around the main character. I need to have some context.

Have you ever had someone tell you a "funny" story about something that happened to them, and then when you don't laugh they say: "Well, I guess you just had to be there . . ."?
The fact is, these stories probably would have made you laugh if the teller had given you the right context. So often, the reason it's not amusing is because you don't know the teller's friends as well as they do; you aren't in the same mindset as the teller or you don't understand the relevance of the event. You don't have enough context.
In general, this kind of thing can't be helped. The atmosphere of these kinds of events are often a part of the problem and it's nostalgia that makes it funny - these kinds of stories are better left unsaid. But in fiction, if I'm reading your story, then I am there. I'm experiencing it as happens within the story, so there is no excuse to leave me wanting for context, atmosphere or relevance to the people involved.
Writers can give me everything I need to be fully enveloped by a story, which is why I am so frustrated by stories that don't draw me in with the right amount of atmosphere and context.

The idea for this post came to me when I was having a discussion with my girlfriend about in medias res. That's a Latin term that means "in the midst of things", and in the context of story it's when you start a story in the middle of the action. There's a couple of ways to do this:
How We Got Here - This is when the story starts near the Third Act of the timeline, then goes to the beginning (often with a flash-back and character narration) to explain how the scene came to happen. [e.g. Captain America or Daredevil]
X Hours Earlier . . . - This is when a story takes an action beat from the Second (or First) act of a story and plays it at the start to keep people interested before returning to the actual beginning (often with a "3 Days Earlier" subtitle, just to annoy me). When the movie catches up to that scene, it then sort of 'skips over' it before playing the rest of the movie properly. [e.g. Iron Man or Thor]
Cut to the Chase - This is when a story starts with an action scene with little to no preamble, then letting the audience "pick it up as you go along". In this instance, there's no tricks with time or flashbacks, the action is the beginning of the movie, but the difference is that visual storytelling is used to explain the movie and keep the audience interested, rather than exposition or editting tricks. [e.g. Constantine or every James Bond movie, ever.]

Anyway, in our discussion, I was basically saying that I hated in medias res, because it doesn't give the audience time to identify with the character and it so often feels like Executive Meddling. Rather than start off the story organically, we're thrown in the middle of an action scene because it seems like the director is thinking:
"The Audience are all Morons! They can't sit through a scene of two people talking for the first fifteen minutes, they'll get bored; so let's give them some guns and explosions at the beginning to tide them over while plot happens."
I know it's a cynical view, but that's how I feel when I watch movies or read books that begin in medias res. Sometimes it just feels like the editor accidentally click-and-dragged a scene from the middle of the movie into the beginning (e.g. Skyline) for fear the audience would get up and leave the cinema if they didn't see any action in the first few seconds of film.
However, my Beloved helped me to understand that this was not the fault of the trope in medias res, but the fault of implementing it poorly; without context. We need to understand the characters before we care about them.

  Allow me to explain . . .

If my mother broke her thumb, I would be sad for her and care a lot. Not only because I love my mother, but also because I know how much she doesn't like breaking her thumb (to put it mildly). To boil it down to its simplest element, one might even say that I have context for my mother, so I care about what happens to her.
However, if the manager of my local pizza delivery joint got hit by a bus, I wouldn't really care. Sure, I might worry about not getting pizza any time soon, but it wouldn't matter to me because I don't have any emotional investment in him (or her, equal opportunity and all that) as I know nothing about my local pizza delivery joint manager. I have no context to draw from, no emotional investment.

By the same principle, if the first sentence of your story starts with an original character getting hit by a bus, I might be a bit shocked - literature is quite an intimate medium after all - but I won't care very much. At least, not as much as I could. As a writer, you will become very well acquainted with your main characters, so to you it may mean a lot to have a character die in the first sentence - but for your reader it isn't. For them, your main character is as unimportant to them as the local pizza delivery join manager is to me.
If I don't know who the character is; if I don't know what relevance it has to me or if I don't care about what's happening, then I won't be able to enjoy your story very much. The key to good character drama is giving your reader context for your characters and giving them something to care about.
Of course it all is based on what you want from your story. If you want your reader to feel a little lost in the opening scene - and not care much about the characters - then this is a good way to do it. Just so long as you're aware of what you're doing and have a purpose for doing so, which isn't alienating the audience from your protagonist.
See, I'm not saying that you have to start every story with a paragraph of exposition or character description just to clue us in, that's not necessary; but if you want me to care about your characters then you have to give me enough information to go on, even if you're trying to drop me in the midst of the action.

Beginning a story with little to no context is most prevalent in bad fanfiction. Because it's written by fans for fans, so these so-called writers assume that the audience already knows who Nancy DrewJack O'Neill or Sakura is, and therefore don't feel the need to elaborate.
That practice is just despicable. I have attempted to read fanfiction on several occasions, and more often than not I find myself stopping because the writer hasn't put in the effort to draw me in, so I just don't care. Even for fanfiction based on stories where I know the context, like Doctor Who or How To Train Your Dragon, I still feel like authors are ignoring me. It feels like I'm at a party I haven't been invited to. Yes, I know about the other partygoers, but I still don't have enough context.
You can't just assume that all of your readers have read the original work, and even if they had, it's just lazy storytelling to rely on the reader to have read or watched the original. If your story has prerequisite texts just for me to understand who the protagonist is - and your story isn't a sequel - then you are a bad writer, it's that simple.
Even if this stuff seems obvious to you, you still need to stop for a moment and explain who these people are and give descriptions of what they look like. After all, if your readers are true fans, they should know who your character is by description alone, without you stating their name by rote.

As for starting with action scenes or in medias res, you don't have to stop in the middle of the action just to give enough context. Action scenes are often complicated things but they're happening for simple reasons, just give your reader some of the basics context like motivation and consequence.
If your first scene is a car chase and your hero is chasing after the bad-guy in a car, I don't need to know your hero's birthday or dress size, I want to know: Who is the bad-guy, from the hero's perspective? Why is the hero chasing them? What are they gonna do if we catch them?
If your first scene is a duel between two wizards - I'd be asking: Who is the hero's opponent, from their perspective? Why do they feel compelled to fight? What happens if someone loses?
If your first scene is a surgery in a hospital and the hero is being operated on, I'd be wondering: How does the character feel about being operated on? What lead to this, are they hurt or is it something worse? What will the surgery do?
Letting us know at least one of these will bring us into the story more; and often you can answer all three of these questions with a single sentence or piece of dialogue, because this isn't a huge piece of information. All of these are answering the same, single question:
Why should I care?

Character description is good, but if you're writing an action scene then don't feel bogged down by it.  Only mention stuff that is rlevant to the character in the moment and, most importantly, mention the stuff that differentiates between the characters in the scene. Action scenes can be messy, so make sure that I can tell who is hitting who; who is shooting the fireballs & who's in the lead during the car chase.
More often than not a name alone doesn't cut it, we need more than that, just mention something that stands out so that we can keep track of the characters throughout the scene.
After all, if a car goes speeding past you, what do you see? Usually, colour, shape and size. You can't tell the make and weight; size of the tires or read the numbers on the license plate until the car is parked (or slowed down).
So while your story is racing ahead, don't worry about the finer details, just tell us enough to keep it moving. After all, I don't need to know everything, I just need a little bit of context.

These are just a few examples of how to provide context and each has their pros and cons but, to quote something my Dad often says:
  "There are a lot of right ways and there are a lot of wrong ways. Just make sure you pick one of the right ways."

Until next time, I'm the Absurd Word Nerd and I really need to stop reading bad fanfiction.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Four Worlds of Earth

When I lived in a share-house, I used to walk everywhere and occasionally I would walk up Enoggera Road, the main drag around Red Hill. There was this sign along that road, actually on the corner of Enoggera Road & Ashgrove Avenue, beside the slip-lane, which always caught my eye.
At one time the sign had obviously said: "FORM 1 LANE", telling the cars to merge, but one of the kids from the local school had scribbled the letters 'P' and 'T' around the last word so that the sign instead read: "Form 1 PLANET".
That always stuck in my mind, because it makes absolutely no sense. It sounds pretty, but it's just hippy nonsense. This is already one planet, it's not like we live on Mars or Jupiter - Earth is a single celestial body. Not only that, but the letters were the wrong size. If you're going to the effort to graffiti a sign, do it properly, man . . .

But also, I could sort of see what this lazy poet was trying to say. It's about unity and coming together, throwing out prejudice and becoming one world. It's enough hippy-dippy saccharine nonsense to make me puke, but it raises an interesting point, which leads into the word of the day.
Something that a lot of people seem to forget, or don't seem to act upon, is the fact that Earth is not just one world . . . it's four. The Word of the Day is 'WORLD'.

World /werld/ n. 1. The earth or globe, considered as a planet. 2. (often cap.) A particular division of the earth: The Western World. 3. The earth or a part of it, with its inhabitants, affairs, etc., during a particular period: The ancient world. 4. Humankind; the human race; humanity: The world must eliminate war and poverty. 5. The public generally: The whole world knows it.

Lately, there has been some upset between Australia and Indonesia. Basically, Australian Intelligence Services were found spying on Indonesia, in particular by tapping the phones of some prominent politicians (and their wives). Indonesia responded by stopping Australia from sending a boatload of asylum seekers back home. It's a bit of a mess.
Also, quite recently, I saw an episode of Q&A - a live program where guest celebrities, mostly Australian politicians or journalists, sit on a panel and are asked pertinent questions by the public - which visited India and discussed both local topics and topics about the relationship between India and Australia.
In both of these instances, there was a lot of back and forth about how the country that wasn't Australia was (to put it mildly) not very good. All these topics about sexism, corruption, eve-teasing/rape, people-smuggling, classism, economic downfall & poverty, were brought to the forefront.

Now some of this is fair enough, especially on Q&A, the show is about bringing up these topics. My issue is, in these discussions and news stories, it seems to me as though Australia is judging these countries on Australia's terms, which is not a very open-minded view.
You see, some people believe, for instance, that Australia need not apologize to Indonesia for phone-tapping because 'Indonesia commits worse atrocities daily'. I've even heard some people say that Indians shouldn't bring up how racist Australians are towards migrants, because we're not as sexist as India.
To be clear, I think that Australia shouldn't apologize to Indonesia, because talking about Intelligence Operations within earshot of the media is considered gauche. But that's beside the point. The point is, it's very rude to judge these countries on our terms, because when we're not exactly sitting on an even playing field.
Because the fact of the matter remains that Australia is a first world country, while India & Indonesia are not. Each country develops at their own pace. Australia is a very young country, but we have the heritage of England and a partnership with America, connecting us as a member of the Western World as well as the First World. Meanwhile, Indonesia and India are Third World Countries. I would argue that India is a Second World country, but that's a matter for debate . . . oh no wait, this is my blog, so what I say goes!
India is totally Second World!

But I should explain myself a bit here . . .

See, "Third World" & "First World" as terms were introduced during the Cold War, and they relate to which side people were on. First World was America and its allies; Second World was Russia and its allies & Third World was Everyone Else.
But the Cold War is over now (at least, that's what they want you to think), so these terms have been vying for a modern context. A lot of people still view it as: Capitalism = First World; Communism = Second World & Everything Else = Third World, but that's fallen out of favour. Because as time went on, people noticed that Third World countries tended to have little to no industry, poverty & a crappy economy. At first it was a stereotype, but eventually people started to use the term "Third World country" as a synonym to describe "poor & underdeveloped country". This has gained prevalence in the modern world to the degree that the terms no longer concern themselves with politics or the Cold War, so much as cultural and economic growth as well as industry.

This is why India is considered Third World, it was once socialist, but it has been liberalising its economy for the better part of two decades now and it was a part of the "everyone else".
But I prefer the terms First, Second & Third World to refer to socio-cultural growth and economic stability (as opposed to socio-political affiliation) for three reasons:
1) Because the Cold War is over (at least, that's what they keep telling me)
2) We already have terms for these ideas. NATO/Communist Bloc/ Non-Alignment Movement for the separate three; or just pick one of the myriad of terms for Economic Systems. to describe separate countries.
3) It allows for the concept of a Fourth World.

If you accept, rather than political affiliation, that the system is:
First World - Strong Industry, Vibrant Culture & Stable Economy
Second World - Fair Industry, Stilted Culture & Poor Economy
Third World - Little Industry, Backward Culture & Failing Economy
then this leaves room for the concept of:
Fourth World - No Industry, Hunter/Gatherer Culture & No Economy

This accepts the concept of natives and aborigines; stateless, poor, tribal cultures that are not a part of the World Economy or Global Stage. Isn't it preferable to use terminology in such a way so as to be inclusive?
I think so, hence why I use it that way . . .

But I'm starting to ramble, so getting back on topic - accepting this system of classification for countries (which, of course I do, I just suggested it) Indonesia is Third World and India is Second World.
So, I believe, It is wrong to judge these people by First World standards. I'm not saying we have to look down on them - I certainly don't. Because this isn't caused due to idiocy or accident. It's a natural step in development, and these countries are still growing, it takes a lot of time for such legacy to die down. Australia's had a leg-up from the help of those already dominating the Western World, we skipped over that, but Mother England went through its darker period as well. So to judge these people by saying "you commit atrocities", etcetera is the same as demeaning someone for their inability to run, despite having a broken leg. It takes time for countries to develop and India is moving very fast, when you consider how much has happened in recent years. During that Q&A panel in India, when someone was talking about rape in India and Sexism - one of the panelists said essentially:
"This is all true, we are sexist; but we are way better than we once were."
It's true, India is developing and (as Moviebob so oft says):
  "Sunlight is a great disinfectant."
By allowing people to see the negative side of their culture, India is working on those negative aspects. While I have yet to see it from Indonesia (mostly due to my own disinterest) I'm sure Indonesia is growing too.

However, neither of them are there yet. India is better now than it once was, but it's not there yet and I think it's wrong to use that as "ammunition" on the global social or global political stage, and it certainly does not excuse our own failings.
As for Indonesia, this phone-tapping thing is the perfect example of First vs Third World. Indonesia is one of Australia's allies, but we are keeping a close eye on them because we can't tell what they're going to do. The government does not feel safe - not just for its own sake but also for Indonesia's. After the Bali Bombings, it's understandable that Australia would be worried about safety in this diverse, little archipelago.

[Does that excuse our Intelligence Agencies spying on our ally?
No . . . the fact that it's an Intelligence Agency excuses spying on our ally. This is a different issue altogether, which I might cover in a later blog post, but in simplest terms - what else do you think we keep this stuff a secret?]

In this Global Stage, where not only countries but people are interacting across their borders, it means that we need to learn to speak on fair and equitable terms. But a huge part of that is coming to understand and accept our differences. We don't have to say that India's sexist legacy or Indonesia's religious violence are good things, but we do have to recognize that, in time, these issues will be dealt with; we should offer support not vilification.
Australia may be first world, but that doesn't mean we're better people; I believe it's the best country in the world, but as a people we just have different problems that require our attention.
Perhaps if we give them the chance to grow, we wouldn't need these different words for us all; perhaps we could finally Form 1 Planet.

In conclusion, I apologize if this is a bit wishy-washy. It's Summer and the Heat is getting to me, and I'm becoming exhausted from writing, after Halloween & Duke Forever. But if nothing else, keep this in mind:
Every country is growing, from the first world through to the fourth. Just because we have a better economy or less poverty doesn't mean we're "done" growing, as a country. It just means we've got different work to do.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and until next time, I'm going to form my own country - Quintaria - based in the Fifth World; With Counter-Productive Industry; Anti-Culture & a Negative Economy . . .