Sunday, March 29, 2009

Russet Noon: Bad Eggs and Plagiarism

Have you heard of Russet Noon yet?  I'm torn, because I'm helping the author become famous, and yet I want the world to know that copyright thievery is alive and well.  Authors beware.
From the Absolute Write Water Cooler:

I know my opinion doesn't matter, but here goes.  I used to write fanfic.  I don't have time these days.  I speak from experience when I say  it is much easier to write something using someone else's world and characters.  The hard part is if you care enough to get the details right, which requires rereading the source material often.  This is necessary and important work, especially if you are working from a piece of fiction in the public domain (or you have permission) and you don't want to make a fool of yourself to the primary audience--people who love that original piece of fiction.  The new author has to know his/her stuff inside and out.

Having said that it's easier to write fanfic, that doesn't mean it's easy or worthless.  All writing is hard and sometimes that hard work pays off to produce really good fiction.  But because it's easier, it's very tempting for people like the author of Russet Noon to come into the picture and, rather than try to write an original piece and try to stand out in the slush pile, they ride on the coattails of existing success.  Again, a perfectly legitimate thing to do, though it's not usually as respected as original effort, but you must have the original author's permission.  

If you've read the Absolute Write thread or Googled around the web, you've probably become familiar with the various arguments for and against.

What, you say?  There are arguments for publishing this?

One argument that ticked me off is that some believe that because the original author has declared she won't write in the series anymore, others should continue onward in her place.  The readers are entitled to more!  The original author and publisher shouldn't deny the readers that pleasure.  Grrr ... poopyheaded entitlement poopyheads!

When I was a kid, if I finished with a series of books and I wasn't done emotionally, I would create my own stories.  I wouldn't write most of them down.  I remember I wrote one about Jana of the Jungle (so embarrassing ...) but the rest I concocted in my mind, often while running around wild with sticks and plywood (staffs, 'bows,' swords and shields) in the woods behind my mom's house.  I didn't share these stories, but if I did it wouldn't be a crime.  But if I decided I was going to write my own Lord of the Rings novel, publish it and make money off of it without going to the Tolkien estate for permission (and sending them their cut) it would be a crime.  Just as it's wrong for comics to steal material from other standup comedians, using company logos to imply that your affiliated with a group that you're not affiliated with, or using artwork or photography without compensating the artist or photographer.  

But I digress.  You know all this stuff.  It's really pretty simple.  Don't pass off someone else's hard work, whether in part or in entirety, as your own and then try to make money off of it.  The vast majority of fanfic writers don't have any illusions that what they create is something they can profit from or claim as their own in any but the loosest sense.  They write disclaimers and all share in good, honest fun.  Making money off of it without respect to copyright and trademark, is plain and blatant thievery.

Stephanie Meyer can defend herself just fine.  Everything will end up golden and grand for her, no matter how it breaks.  I think the author of Russet Noon is beyond deluded to believe that Ms. Meyer will read the book and be fine with everything and come to some sort of mutually equitable solution, but I could be wrong.  I hope that for the rest of us, Ms. Meyer won't condone this.  If she does (and believe me, it will be against the advice of her lawyers,) it'll make things that much more difficult for those writers who don't have deep pockets who then have books pop up based on their work, with no apology and no accompanying acknowledgement or compensation.  I hope Ms. Meyer makes an example of this person to warn away imitators.  Believe me, there will be those who try to pull the same stunt again and again, and if Russet Noon is legitimized in anyway, the ranks of thieves will swell to unprecedented proportions.

I also hope that the reverse doesn't happen--the yank-down of all fanfic online.  I don't read it, not interested, but it's fun and a good place for novice writers to test the waters.  Prolific pro writers sometimes play there too, taking a break from the tough job of developing their original material.  I don't want that to go away because of this bad egg.  Alas, sometimes when a bad egg is broken, it stinks it up for the whole barnyard.  (That last is a nod to Charlotte's Web.)

One final note:  if you want a compelling reason why fanfic writers ought to lay low, investigate the case of Marion Zimmer Bradley and Darkover.  If the idea of two years of work being lost because someone played in your sandbox and claimed that you stole their fair share of the sand makes you shiver, you're not alone.  The reverse is not too fun either--putting a lot of work into a fanfic (are you sensing another good reason not to do this?) and then trying to sort out what your 'cut' of that ought to be, if anything.  Or how about pissing off the person whose work you admire so much that you're fanficing all over the place with it, or making that author quit writing in that world altogether?  I don't think I could show my face in public, honestly.  Panel at a convention?  I would not want to answer pointed questions about what right I thought I had to ask for half (or whatever percentage) of another author's royalties when that author wrote the whole thing.  Writers know what ideas are worth.  Seriously.  Stephen King gives away the ones that his monster under the bed produces if you're really struggling.

I'm not sure what the 'truth' of the situation is.  I just know that should I be so lucky as to have novels published, I'll have a hard time deciding whether or not I should turn a blind eye to fanfic (I won't be allowed to read them for various legal reasons) or spend time diligently informing various fanfic sites that unfortunately I can't allow any fanfic based on my work.  How sad is that?!  I don't want that.  I want everyone to have fun and enjoy the written word.  Unfortunately, others have decided to stink things up.  Poopyheads. 

No doubt that this is muddy water.  I say, if you want to write, go swimming in clear water.  Write original work.  And don't make a stink.  If nothing else scares you, consider that you might get wanked.  

Friday, March 27, 2009

I Can't Shake Him!

The whistling, buzzing sound zipped by me like a vengeful alien mutant giant wasp favored by the Old Ones.  

Yay, a hummingbird!  Rufous, to be exact.  First of the season.  (Some hummingbirds stick around all year but generally they do that in the valley--not here in the hills.)  I go inside and fix up the first batch of hummingbird food of the year, one part cane sugar, four parts water, absolutely and never anything else like honey (kills them) or fruit juice (spoils rapidly) or food coloring (totally unnecessary.)  This year I have organic cane sugar, which came out looking like flat, weak beer but the hummingbird didn't mind.  He buzzed me as I put it up, and then came in to feed.  

Only to be chased by another hummingbird.  

Good grief.  The feeder is up all of five minutes and we already have hummingbird wars?  Really?

These two have been dogfighting ever since I put the thing up.  Once toward evening yesterday they both settled to feed at the same time--I think they were low on energy to begin with and tired each other out.  Not today.  Today they are high on sugar and it's non-stop hummingbird action.  One has found a favored perch within a few feet of the feeder, on my white akebia vine, which is about ready to explode with blossoms.

If I'm going to attract any Anna's hummingbirds this year I'll have to hide a second feeder and possibly a third.  Between the late spring tube flowers that will provide natural fodder and multiple feeders, some of the more shy hummingbirds may be able to stake out a small claim if they don't give up with disgust before the plant leaf-out provides them with some cover.  But I suspect it'll be rufous hummers and not much else around here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Early daze of spring

It's spring in the Pac NW, which means it's going to rain until June.  No exaggeration there.  The weather folks said we'd have a sun break on Sunday, but it was a no show.  That's going to be typical for the next long stretch.  Chances of a little sun for a few hours, but no assurances that they'll actually occur.  

Now, I don't mind the rain, really.  It makes me sleepy, but that's about it.  It's pretty, and it makes the air smell nice, and I don't have to worry about watering my garden.  But.  I really want to garden.  I made a lot of progress in February and early March, and I got addicted to spending that time outside getting ahead of schedule.  I sweat, I breathe more deeply, I connect with the earth, I enjoy the birds and insects and get an occasional tiny jet of adrenaline when I freak out over spiders, and I can immerse myself in the beauty inherent in fellow living things.  I especially like plants having sex, aka, blooming.  I love that.  Pregnant plants are awesome too.  I eat their babies.  Mwa ha ha!

But I can't do all that.  I'm either stuck inside home, stuck inside a business elsewhere, or stuck in heavy clothes in the rain.  There are alternatives, but the ones I can think of are expensive (travel) or not enjoyable (dancing naked in the rain is, as far as I'm concerned, a sport for warm summer rain, not freezing cold March rain.  It was 35 degrees F yesterday.  Distinctly *not* Kami dancing naked in the rain weather.)

On the plus side, I have fewer distractions from writing.  The writing seems to be coming along nicely.  Now, if I can only get through my reading list!

Monday, March 23, 2009


Hypothesis of the day:  A homogenized system of governance over a non-homogenous population serves no one but the governors, and possibly not even them.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Chores are Marching One by One

I've been working a lot and getting a lot done in writing, around the house, finances and all that.  I've even been working out.  In the end, though, I think I've overstretched.  Today I've got a headache and sore throat, and I'm slouched.  I feel a little better now than I did a few hours ago.  Breaking my fast with a home-cooked meal (spaghetti) probably helped.  I'm hoping a good night's sleep tonight will help even more.

We've been watching Bernard Shaw plays.  They've been a lot of fun.  They're BBC productions with some really fine actors in them, and so far they've been stage productions rather than movie-like cinema, which is a nice breath of fresh air.  As much as I enjoy movies, I enjoy theater too and I miss it when I haven't seen it in a while.  Watching on a DVD isn't as good as being in an actual theater, though.

Speaking of movies and stuff, we haven't seen Watchmen yet.  We have three tickets we advance purchased a while ago--I think it's finally time to use them.

Time for me to get some rest and some reading done for Lucky Labs, a certain literary award, and the master's writing class.  Hopefully I'll be more coherent tomorrow.  I don't feel sick sick just yet.  Maybe I'll dodge this illness like I've been managing to dodge colds the rest of the winter and get by with just one afternoon and evening of feeling under the weather.

Meanwhile, outside it's hailing.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Flash Tuesdays

March 17 I wrote a 1100 750 word flash.  That's two Tuesdays in a row that I've written a flash.  I finished editing the most recent one tonight and sent it off.
I think writing a flash every Tuesday would be a good habit to get into.  It's an achievable goal, forces me to think lots and lots (sometimes for days in advance) and flexes all those plot and characterization skills that get lazy from writing novels.
What? you say, novelists are lazy plotters and characterizers (is that even a word)?
I can't speak for anyone else, but in a sense I am very lazy in those areas.  Setting too.  I just have to come up with one set and then play there for months, even years.  Coming up with entirely new characters, plots and settings all the time is hard work.  Keeping it tight, short story tight and (eek!) flash tight, is even harder.  That level of creativity is a hard won skill.  And I do mean skill.  Sure, there's talent, inspiration, blah blah blah but learning how to create develops creativity.  Create-ivity can stem from a practiced ability to make stuff up.

So in a sense, I'm not very creative when it comes to plot, setting and characterization.  I can be inventive with individual scenes and what not, but it's easy (for me) to do that within a nicely established framework.  It's harder in the raw, when the idea is brand new and I'm trying to cycle past all my favorite cliche's.

In art, there's a similar problem.  The real master artists (storytellers) sketch often (create short stories often) and create masterworks within that fury of raw energy.  I'm not there yet, though I'm practicing.  I sketch much more often than I used to.  Once I have a sketch (idea) down that I like, the rest of the art (story) follows along naturally.

There are ways around being good at sketching (outlining a fresh idea, whether it's on the page or mentally in the rough).  There are various techniques, like working from a photograph (using familiar tropes or archetypes) or working in the style of a particular master (using other stories/media for inspiration) and so on.  I've done those things, and learned a lot.  I don't have anything against them.  But my goal is to create stuff that has that hot fragrance that feels alive on the page, regardless of what medium I'm working in.  That means breaking away from the defined/comfortable and searching for the familiar within the strange and the strange within the familiar.  That stuff is tough to see.

Practicing those skills means lots of sketching.  And writing flash.  I think I'm getting something right(er), because I'm getting more interest and enthusiasm in my stuff!  Flash Tuesdays are working for me.  Now I just need Sketch Mondays or something like.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Money Eeeee

I got my paperwork together (the spiders are sad) and drove to my tax preparer's office in the other metro area that's close to my place.  I'm glad I can hug my tax preparer.  It helps to offset the inhumanity of it all.

We were so optimistic, too.  She had a four hour block and I mistook her to mean that she scheduled me for all of it.  We laughed about that, and then I told her I'd take the first hour.  

It ended up taking the whole four hours.  Good thing she didn't make any new appointments behind me.  Mr. and Mrs. Seven O'Clock were ten minutes early, and I'd just stood up to get my hug.

We went over oooooodles of forms.  Last week I picked up a bunch at the library for research, and if I got to it, an estimate.  I didn't get to it, which is just as well.  It would have been a totally worthless estimate.  I needed forms that they didn't have at the library.  I needed forms that my tax preparer, who's been working in the biz for twenty years, has never used.  

She had the patience of a saint.  I had the endurance of a writer accustomed to sitting in front of a computer screen and mucking back and forth over multiple pages until the whole looks just right.  We didn't seal the deal, though.  Although she had happy tags all over the diagnostics, she decided it would be best if the form got a thorough review before she shipped it off.  My form fees at work.  Thank you!!  (If you need tax preparation due to special circumstances, unusual forms, multiple forms of income with weird rules that don't apply to normal businesses or that come from overseas, and so forth, and you happen to live in the Portland/Metro area in the Pac NW, pipe up in comments and I'll give you contact info.)  

If I'd tried to do this myself, it would have taken days, and on top of that, it would have been wrong.  Dead wrong.  Wrong as in I'd have some interesting mail later on letting me know that no, I can't file the stuff that way.  As we worked through various permutations, I variously owed the government lots of money, ended up with a windfall, owed on state and not federal, and had magically disappearing itemizations that popped up again and then re-disappeared.

I learned lots of fascinating (actually, dreary and depressing) facts about tax law.  And I got to surf the internets for a little bit.  Meanwhile, outside a thunderstorm shook the city and hard winds yanked at the door.  Hail bounced on pavement and rapped on cars and windows.

The country code for Bermuda is BD.  We had to know this to complete the form.  Seriously.  Thank you, Google.  Remember the bad ol' days when you'd have to call a tax office or the post office (of course back then you'd get an actual human being) and ask them nicely, so, what does BD stand for?  BTW, my first guess was Barbados.  Wrong!  That's BB.  She guessed British something.  

All complaints are processed through BD, British Damnation.  Include a fireproof SASE.

Meanwhile, I bet my readers are all done with their taxes.  I'd envy you, but I'm too tired, and besides, my cat keeps licking my hand and purring madly so it's hard to feel any sort of negative emotions.  The kitteh has licked most of them off.  

Home stretch now.  And then, finally, we'll be done with the Money Eeeeeee!  Two weeks after that (on average) we'll have an automatic deposit, which we'll stash in case the sky falls.  

Monday, March 16, 2009

Paperwork paperwork everywhere and not a page to read

I had an avalanche of work recently.  Sorry about the long and unannounced hiatus.

One of the more important things that's landed in my lap is the whole tax thing.  We have our taxes done.  For one thing, it's more than enough work just to gather the materials for our tax preparer.  For another thing, our taxes are pretty complicated.  For a third thing, having audit assistance gives me huge peace-of-mind.  And lastly, our income sources are very untidy.

We may have to defer part of our taxes this time around.  How do we do that?  I haven't a clue.  That would take research.  Why would we defer taxes?  Well, because if someone earns their income out of the USA under certain contracts for a certain amount of time, then they don't have pay taxes on a certain amount of income.   Well what if that certain amount of time out of the country within a year doesn't tidily fall within a given tax year?  If you're only in the USA 352 days out of 365, for example, but those 352 out of 365 days fall between April 2012 and May 2013, what's a tax preparer to do?  The gov'mint can't just take the tax payer's word for it that the rest of the time will in fact show up as being outside the USA the following year.  So, they do this thing.  And I'm not familiar with this thing they do.

So our already complicated taxes with two separate businesses plus two 'normal' incomes through regular hourly wage jobs has stepped up to a whole new level of weird.  I don't have to mess with it if I don't want to, so I won't.

And I get to write the prep fee off on next year's taxes, just like the prep fee from last year will come off this year's taxes.  It's sort of like that marble machine with the chutes and ramps and the arm that swings round and the little cable car and so forth.  (BTW, these are called gravitrams, and we have a beautiful one in Portland, OR at OMSI.)

Gardening sidenote:  We have daffodils!  Finally!  Just the miniature ones so far (they're about the size of crocuses) but the big ones are well on their way.  I'm hoping the first big ones will open sometime this week.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Reading like there's no tomorrow

I'm turning into a reading machine.  I take the reading I do for a certain award pretty seriously, and put effort into that, but now that I also have reading to do for a writing course, and I have a bunch of research reading to do, I'm under a lot of reading pressure.  

This is a good thing.

When I'm under pressure I accomplish a ton more than I otherwise would.  Yes, I lose sleep and I don't blog as much and I don't write as much, but all that effort poured into the goals helps.  The writing time I have is more precious, therefore I tend to focus more.  I tend to multi-task more.  Laundry?  On a busy day it goes in first thing in the morning.  Breakfast?  I can eat that at the dining table and read.  Bath?  I can read in the bathtub.  Need to go out on an errand?  I can go work out on the same trip and get some exercise in so that my metabolism peps up and I can work faster.

I can't be like this all the time, but for now it's working.  Eventually I'll return to my steady plod and relax a bit, at least until the next time-pressure event arrives.  Those show up on a regular basis.  Life is anything but dull.  As far as getting anything specific done (like artwork for a book cover, ahem) I will get it done ... in my so-called copious spare time.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Learning Curves

I think I've got my feet under me.  Or maybe I just have my feet pointed properly downstream while I'm being swept along.  That would explain the sense of greater security without actually being out of danger yet.

Not that there's danger.  Or maybe I've underestimated my mousey foes.

I've been GMing a game (it's been years, so it's kinda weird but kewl and fun) for my kids and their friends.  OMG, the fun we're having.   All the newbie mistakes are there, but they're sharp kids and picking up on things fast.  

Observing them (it's for science!) I've realized how much of their behavior is a response to a combination of curiosity, boredom, and an assurance that someone will catch them if they fall.  I knew that was there, but I didn't realize how deeply that ran.  In this case their safety is assured because it's only a mental/chance game, but the effect is the same as living in a safe environment.  They'd be far less likely to look for trouble to alleviate their boredom if they had consequences, especially immediate consequences.  They fear boredom so much, though, that they have an almost unquenchable thirst to create trouble for themselves.

Even with pretend characters, though, they've invested a certain amount of care and so now that they're in trouble due to their carelessness it's fun to watch them throttle back the self-inflicted-chaos factor.  They're learning to trust that the world will provide plenty of dire diversion without them looking for trouble themselves.  It's much too entertaining for me (I feel a little guilty for all the laughs I've had) watching them switch from insulting everyone they come in contact with to earnestly looking for solid jobs.  I can't wait until they figure out the teamwork thing.  That'll be seriously kewl.

This comes back to my son's real life.  I'm looking forward to him taking chances, not because I want him to 'straighten out' or whatever, but because I know that taking chances that are his own choice and that matter to him will be the best way for him to achieve his dreams.  A great deal of the safety nets and resulting boredom/impatience will go away--and he'll miss them.  I'll miss them too, I have to admit, but not enough to want to delay the inevitable and glorious onset of his independence.  I look forward to meeting the man he'll become.

In the meantime we have these pretend places and pretend people to run through their lives, and they're learning a lot.  I'm learning a lot too.  I'm seeing the perception of life through a different lens, and it's a fascinating, if confusing place.  It's strange and wondrous to realize more deeply than I've ever realized before that they don't  know.  They just don't.  They haven't learned.  

So, what haven't I learned?  I bet it's a lot.  I may look at forty-somethings when I'm in my sixties or eighties and think, bemused, wow, they really don't know, do they?  They just don't.  But, if they're willing to see and learn, they will.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Farm Drama Trauma

It's been a while since I've had an OMG moment.  It's been building, I think.  Fortunately for us, the mice planned things poorly.

See, when you time a critical sabotage operation, you have to carefully observe the habits of the humans (check,) make sure all mousey watches are synchronized (check,) and put your plan into operation so that the sabotage will be noticed only after considerable damage will have occurred.

This is where the mice ran into a snag.  Although they had the time correct (10pm, humans going to bed or already in bed, mwa ha ha!) what they didn't count on was that the water (!!!!)(&@#H%!!!!) would divert onto the boy's bedding, thereby alerting the humans with an unexpected puddle on the blanket which then dripped onto the floor.  (No futon was harmed in the process of this operation.)

"Hey mom," the boy human said, "there's water dripping into my room from your room."
Seek and mitigate protocols went into immediate effect.  There's no water source in the adult female human's room, therefore, she correctly deduced it must be coming from the kitchen.  Her keen ears perceived a hissing noise.  Not behind the fridge, not behind the kitchen linen drawer, not behind the oven, not behind all the canned food (grr!) and not behind the pots and pa--wait a minute, the hissing was definitely louder even though the cabinet appeared to be bone dry.  

The mice had been working on an entry hole from the downstairs wall to the upstairs kitchen pot and pan cabinet and nicked the (not currently in operation, see refrigerator woes)(note the additional humor in the fact that the tv stopped working since that post and we now have a new tv) water line for the ice cube maker.  After some wrestling and cursing and barking of orders and an emergency caving expedition where the humans sent the young girl human into the back corner of the cabinet to extricate some needed slack from behind a retaining nail, the adult human female was able to (finally!) pinch off the hose and duct tape (yay duct tape!) it that way in two places.  A towel was applied, but proved to be useless--the fine spray had dripped between the walls and (happily) ran a bit sideways into the human boy's room, which caused the alert.  If it had remained between the walls or in the cabinet, it would have been some time before the problem was discovered.

The mice sighed.  "What'll we do now, Brain?"  (reference, Pinky and the Brain)

Luckily we didn't have to call a plumber for an emergency call.  He can come out whenever, and not charge us after hours rates.  I don't think there's any serious damage to the floor (from underneath seepage) or wall, but only time will tell.

Ugh ugh ugh ...

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

My Hum Hum Day (Ho is ruined for me)

I got some critiquing, email responding and a bunch of laundry done.  I really wanted to go outside for a long walk, but the weather was iffy (lots of unpredictable downpours interspersed with some pretty sunshine and soft sprinkles that didn't last long) so I opted for indoorsy stuff.  I'm impatient for daffodils.

Two of our mousetraps disappeared.  I'm still trying to figure that out.  Rats?  Raccoons?  Really Big Mice (TM)?  I think I'm going to have to get new mousetraps and wire them to something sturdy.  They're not that expensive, but you know, it's the principle of the situation.  I may have to get a rat trap just in case there is something big.  There's something that sounds bigger than a mouse above my office right now.  Noises on a drum-like surface can be deceiving, so I'm not going to leap off of any cliffs of conclusion, but still.  Between the disappearing traps and the loud bangs and scuttles, I'm leaning toward the idea that we may in fact have at least one rat living among us.

I'll have to close the garage, which I don't like to do because it may trap bats inside.  I just worry that a cat may get a paw caught in a rat trap.  Maybe there's a covered trap that will keep everyone safe except the intended targets.  All our cats are indoors enough that it's highly unlikely one of them would get hurt, but we do have feral cats around.  I haven't seen False or Patches around, but that doesn't mean they're not still with us, hiding out in the barn or whatever.

I hope I can go for a walk tomorrow.  I've got that penned-in feeling.  Standing on the deck for a few minutes is great, but not the same as roaming around the garden or walking up the road.  I'm long overdue for a classic constitutional.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Submit or Bust

I made another round of submissions today.  I had one come back, so I sent it out, and I wrote a new flash and sent it out as well.  Yep, you read right!  Wrong or right, I believe that flash either works or it doesn't.  If I were more of a poet, I'd compare it with fair confidence to poetry, but I'm not.  I'll simply hazard that flash fiction can handle only so much fiddling before it's in utter ruins.

Ooo, hey, I can compare it to art!  When working on a big piece, I can muck around for quite a while and still have things work out okay.  But if it's a miniature, working in that space can quickly turn to overworking, and the next thing I know I've worn a hole in the paper or made a muddy smudge where the art used to be.  Better to just start over from scratch.  Seriously.

I bounced the story off of a reader before I emailed it to the market (thank you agrathea for your time and patience when I pestered you during the Fireside write-in today) so I didn't send it out completely naked, its eyes still closed and its little ears folded over.  It's bright-eyed and fluffy-tailed and should be able to eat solid food.  

I got the initial idea at the Concert for Cline on Sunday, and kept fiddling with it until I had an epiphany today, just in time to pin it down for Fireside.  Have I whined lately about how hard it is for me to write short?  Probably, so I'll let you fill in the blah blah blah yourself.  The story came in at about 800 550 words, not my shortest ever, but pretty darned short for me.  My army of maggots helped take out dead tissue.  There's my good little maggots.  They may not be pleasant creatures, but they're handy to have around.

I've got to get on with agent queries next.  Those are getting easier for me, but it's a tough market out there, tougher than usual, so the added experience is offset.  Poop.  Sometimes I feel like I'm at the end of an era.  It's a very unsettling suppose.  All I can do is submit, or bust.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Saving Souls

I had an amazing time yesterday at the Concert for Cline.  Incredible performances by (I'm writing these in no particular order):
 Lisa Otey (daughter of Cline and an amazing musician)
 Diane Van Deurzen (Lisa's wonderful partner and an incredible vocalist)
David Otey (who has no website, ahem!)(son of Cline, an excellent trombone player and vocalist) 
Gay Otey (former wife of Cline, an exquisite pianist)
John Baker (who still teaches choir at Rex Putnam, performed The Lord's Prayer!!) 
Lavonna Zeller (if you're in Portland, OR go see her at Tony Starlight's this Thursday!) 
and here my swiss cheese memory starts to fail me ... Pat? who played Rachmaninoff (she said she'd see if she could 'get through it' --wow, if I could get through it like that, I'd be one proud camper) and three wonderful women from Marylhurst's music therapy program, one of who played a fun jig on violin accompanied by guitar.  If anyone who was there is reading this, please comment on anyone I've missed or details like names and such.  

And then there was me, little ol' me who read my words about Cline W. Otey Jr.  Although at times I felt like I had no business on that stage, everyone was so kind and said beautiful things about my writing.  Reading amid that much talent collected in one place, I felt lucky just to be there.  Yep, that's me, Guy, just excited to be on the show.  (Reference, Galaxy Quest, one of the best movies of all time for this long-time fan of things SF/F.)

But enough about me, I want to write about these people and this program.  Actually, I take that back.  There isn't room to describe the performers adequately.  I may try in future posts.  Today I want to discuss the music therapy program.

What is music therapy, anyway?  It really is therapy.  Music helps people heal faster, or if they can't heal, it helps them cope.  Kids with disabilities can express themselves, and they learn more and more quickly.  People with pain can escape into music for a while.  People with emotional problems can dig deep or let go through music.  People who can't connect in any other way, can sometimes connect through music.  I heard part of a story about a person who was deaf and sick enough to be cut off from most human contact, but could feel the vibrations of music and responded to it.  Sometimes that's the key to saving a life.  And if a life can't be saved, then think about how music can battle against despair, not just for the sick but for everyone who wants to do so much for the desperately ill, for the family and friends whose reserves run lower and lower as illnesses stretch on and on. 

As I learned about the impact music can make in medicine, I realized these people were doing more than saving lives by assisting healing through music.  They're quite literally saving souls.  

There's no adequate scale to measure the impact on a three year old child with leukemia who can strum a guitar and create something beautiful, something that ripples through the world.  That child's response to making something real and precious when every other part of that child's world is disassembling can have no price.  It does have a cost, though, and so awareness is needed to help promote and develop music therapy programs.  Compared to drugs and specialized equipment and doctors with extensive and expensive ongoing educations and hospital overhead, music therapy is, as they say, cheap insurance.  People not only don't realize its importance, but don't know it's available to ask for.

Currently in my area music therapy services are provided by a non-profit organization.  For those of us involved in non or not-for-profits, we know this is a blessing and a curse.  You get great enthusiasm, but by their natures these kind of programs are subject to whim and climate and often can't afford to provide as much service (or advertising) as they would want to.  Which means music therapy is relatively unknown, and can be hard to get even if you do know about it.  Programs like the ones at Marylhurst are then caught between a rock and a hard place.  Do you promote the services of your graduates and find jobs for your graduating students who then compete against a very worthy non-profit, or do you wait for a position to open within the non-profit, which may or may not pay--in which case, does that mean there will be few or no full-time paid music therapists in the area?  At the moment, one student has addressed this situation by choosing to move out of our area on graduation to develop a program in another state that doesn't have a non-profit.  I would much rather she stay here, in case I need her, or my son, or my daughter ... my DH probably would pass on the music therapy, but you never know.  I don't think the non-profit can afford to keep her full time, though.  I think they do as much as they can with the monies they have.

So music therapy is stuck.  Spread the word about music therapy.  If you think you may have a need for music therapy, investigate it, ask for it--demand for these services will help get music therapy unstuck, whether it's in a non-profit or integrated situation.

Remember the hospice situation?  I find a lot of parallels between hospice services and music therapy.  It seems like music therapy is where hospice used to be.

David Otey had a good friend visiting from Brazil, a doctor with (fortunately for me) beautiful English language skills.  She said that doctors and nurses play music for their patients in Brazil.  We don't have many of those kinds of doctors and nurses here.  We need music therapists.  Our ancestors know better than we do in some ways.  They understood the power of music better than many of us understand it today.  Because it's so commonplace, and because in the United States it seems like it's all about record sales and times played on the radio, music has been marginalized as mere entertainment.  It's so much more than that.  Give a child a drum sometime.  See what happens.

Every year we hold a party called the August Babies Birthday Bash for all our friends and family born in August and everyone who knows them (or knows someone who knows them.  It's a big, fun party.)  The favorite part of many an August Baby is the bardic circle and passing around the Lobster of Shame.  When you get the lobster, you tell a joke, sing a song, tell a story, or you have to dance with the Lobster of Shame.  (It plays music while you do it, too.  It's really  ... words fail me.)  Sometimes people bring musical instruments and then the belly dancing happens, or we bring down a boom box to dance to drum-heavy songs.  The connection is magical.  I seldom sing in public, but I sing at most ABBBs.  

When my father lay dying, one of the things I got for him was a music video, but not just any music video.  It had the most amazing music, and images from all over the world of waterfalls and incredible canyons and mountains and skies that are so beautiful they make you cry.  He watched that video hundreds of times.  It took him everywhere he might want to go, but couldn't, because his body was failing.  As an artist and a musician, I'm sure he would have played and painted those things for himself, but brain cancer stole that from him.  The efforts of many musicians and photographers gave a little of that beauty back to him.

Music can be many things.  It can be pure entertainment, but it can also be so much more.  Musicians don't always understand the power they have, or some do and disdain or ignore it.  But many musicians do understand, do respect, and absolutely love not just their own music but a diversity of music from all over the world.  It's a primal energy that hasn't fit very well with science until relatively recently in our history.  I believe we're overdue in recognizing the true, primal, potent value of music once again.  Support music therapy.  There's many ways to support it, but perhaps the most important one is to ask for it.