Saturday, June 29, 2013

Equality Means Equal

Clearly the arguments pertaining to the separation of church and state as it pertains to the United States Constitution are nuanced and complex, as most arguments involving legal documents tend to be. Legal experts all the way up to the Supreme Court can debate, and many have, from here to tomorrow and still be no further along than they were yesterday. So it should not come as a surprise that when it comes to the general populous this debate rages furiously (and in circles) time and time again.

One observation I have is that there seems to be an over-abundance of people who refuse to see the bigger picture and acknowledge that as it pertains to matters of federal law it is a multi-layered and remarkably complex web in which it is all to easy to get tangled. I am certainly guilty of this, or have been on occasion, but also firmly believe that regardless of how the interpretation of law unfolds that there should be one indisputable characteristic: that the law is applied equally to everyone.

http://humanrightscampaign.tumblr.com/

Another observation I have is that there are always people who will selectively interpret highly complex documents in order to further an agenda or attempt to force specific belief on others. There's a certain irony to this when the U.S. Constitution is involved, seeing as parts of that document and it's amendments were specifically written to allow everyone the freedom to believe whatever the hell they want even if you disagree and especially if you disagree.

A final observation, it's really just different instance of the observation I just made, would be that there are a rather large number of Americans who apply this notion of selective interpretation to the Bible in an effort to tell another large number of Americans how they can or cannot live their lives.

This completely boggles my mind.

My friend Gordon over at Skeptophilia posits that, based on a recent survey done in the U.S., as many as 34% of Americans would support a theocracy. Granted, the question asked wasn't, "Would you support a theocracy?" but still, the fact that so many people supported the idea of adopting Christianity as a state (34%) and/or federal (32%) religion is absolutely insane.

What's really interesting about this is there wasn't a mention of which denomination it would be or how it would be chosen. This actually makes me laugh, and it should, because it's just that ridiculous. I am quite certain that it would be a remarkably difficult task to pin it down to one but if anyone's taking bets put me down for a stack of Benjamins on Baptist. I am also quite certain that when it comes to specific interpretation of any version of the Bible that achieving consensus on everything in it would be damn near impossible.

So, to bring all of this together, what it all boils down to is that there are people who for one reason or another will fight tooth and nail defending the right for people to be able to believe what they choose and in the same breath use those very beliefs to attempt to dictate what other people - the ones who disagree with them - can and cannot believe themselves.

But this is a post about equality, so of course I'm going to point to the 2013 decision by the Supreme Court of the United States to uphold the rights of all legally married couples - regardless of the gender makeup of the marriage. That's right, if you are married, then the U.S. Federal Government will grant you all the benefits that this entails. It doesn't matter if you're gay, straight, gay pretending to be straight, or straight pretending to be gay (does that happen?); if you're married, that's good enough for the Feds.

Naturally, when the decision came down, a good number of people (see above observations) went completely batshit crazy. The more recent decision in the summer of 2015 even more people went batshit crazy (or maybe it was the same people and they were just louder, I'm not sure). Regardless, this made me angry. Really angry. I happen to be in the (barely) majority opinion that everyone should be treated equally. It's not a new concept. In fact, almost a couple thousand years ago some guy named Mark told a nice story about some guy named Jesus who said, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." [Mark 12-31] That's a pretty cool concept if you think about it, and you can find it in all kinds of religions all over the place. They even gave it an awesome name: The Golden Rule.

Bernard d'Agesci (1757-1828), La justice, musée de Niort.
The funny thing is, as far as marriage is concerned, the U.S. Government has declared that it's none of their business. Marriage is marriage as far as the laws are concerned. They'll mark down your Social Security Numbers and the marriage certificate number and make the appropriate changes to their files. It's actually quite a nice showing of equality, and if you'll permit me one grandiose expletive, it's about fucking time.

Remember:
Equality means equal.
There is no version of equality.
There is no sort of equal.
There is no equal, but...

Equality is an absolute, and on that there is no room for interpretation.

~ Andrew

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Anyone Can Write a Book

So this quote came across my Facebook wall a week or so ago:
"After I had written this book I told several friends. Their response was polite and mild. Later I was able to tell them the book was going to be published. Almost to a man they used the words ‘I am proud of you.’ They were proud of the result but not of the action." - Hugh Prather
Attached to that post was some additional commentary from the person who posted the quote. He was proud of all his friends for their actions, not the end results. In that moment, I felt very fortunate to know this person and I felt even more fortunate that he was just one of many people in my life who echoed that sentiment. 

You see I have written a short story that was published in an anthology. When I got the email saying that I had made it into the book my wife came up to me and said, "Congratulations, you're a published author!" On the surface would appear that this was praise attached to the result. That would be true as becoming published is a big deal, however, if we go back not a month earlier I participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

NaNo, as it is affectionately known, is a challenge to write a novel in 30 days (a novel being defined as at least 50,000 words). I tried in 2011 and failed miserably, barely squeaking out 21,000 words. In 2012 I also squeaked out a number - 50,000 in 29 days (I took the last day off to celebrate AND grew a moustache for Movember the whole time). As soon as I crossed the 50,000 word plateau I paused and took a moment to soak it all in. My wife wrapped her arms around my neck, kissed me on the cheek and said, "Congratulations, you're a novelist!" 

He support and the support of those around me as I muddle my way through this whole book writing thing is absolutely outstanding. To them, and certainly to me, the journey toward becoming a novelist is an accomplishment to be proud of.

Fast forward to one of the first comments on that Facebook post I started this article with. It read: 
"Anyone can write a book. The trick is writing something good enough to convince a publisher that enough people will find it interesting enough to buy."
Sitting on my couch reading that comment over and over I went right properly ballistic.

After settling down a bit I re-read it and I guess there's a certain amount of truth to the statement. In one month, technically, I wrote a book, but his over simplification of the task and his assertion that for your book to be "good" you need to "convince a publisher that enough people will find it interesting enough to buy", are well... *cough cough* bullshit *cough cough* 

First of all, I suspect that there's only so much convincing that you (or your agent) can do. At the end of the day content is king. It does need to be interesting, but the idea that if you can't convince a publisher it will sell that you have nothing to be proud of, or that your book isn't good,  is completely absurd. Quite frankly, those sound like the words of someone who is never going to write a book.

The first thought that went through my head was actually, Sure anyone can write a book. In the same way that anyone can become an astronaut. This was echoed by my writer friend Gareth Young when I mentioned this Facebook post to him and he replied:
"It's a little like saying you just have to study and train hard, be a genius level polymath and Olympic level athlete to be an astronaut. Sounds pretty straightforward when you put it like that. Although now anyone can be an astronaut too. All you need is plenty of money and the Russians will strap you into one of their rockets and shoot you into space."

If we take it a step further, these days anyone can get a book published too. Self publishing is a rapidly growing business and many writers are having a pretty good go with it. So, Mr. Facebook Guy, does this mean that if you self-publish you have nothing to be proud of? Is your book not "good enough"?

Now, because (surprisingly) not everyone has read everything I have ever written on this blog you may not know that back on February 9th I wrote this:
"Good ideas are even harder to come by. Those are like the crystal clear double rainbow you see after a short summer rain where you can imagine giant pots of gold at each end and a bevy of leprechauns dancing a jig around them. Oh, and let's not forget that all this has to be interesting enough for people to read. That's like trying to describe your rainbow scene in such a way that someone would rather read about it from you than see the photograph of it taken by someone else."
My excerpt was in the context of being a writer - as in, anyone can write but not everyone can write something readable. On the surface you'd think my comment and the Facebook Guy's were just variations of each other, but there's a solid distinction to be made. Gareth (this guy is good with words - I mean really good) also had this to say:
"Anyone can write a book but not everyone can be a writer. Writers are a whole different animal from people who just write books."
Indeed. Anyone can blather 50,000 words onto a page and say "I wrote a book". I did it, and I'm a giant lazy turd with a day job and a family and who knows more procrastination techniques than anyone I've ever met. But that's not all there is to writing a book - at least not if you want to be a writer. Blathering gibberish onto a page is making a book, not writing a book.

Properly writing a book means a whole lot of research, hard work, patience, and dedication. When you're done and you've got your fifty, sixty, seventy, or a hundred thousand words down on the page; with all your characters developed, your plot points covered, your beginning, middle, and end all tucked away between the title page at the front and the final punctuation mark at the end you take a break, and then you edit it. You edit the living hell out of it. Then you edit it again, and possibly again. Then, you let someone else read it. Maybe it's some beta readers, maybe it's a professional editor, maybe it's your husband, your wife, your best friend, or your mom. You take this thing that you've just invested countless hours on, put your heart and soul into, devoted those precious few free waking moments to, and you hand it to someone - and you wait. You wait and you wait and you wait. You wait for them to tell you... that it's not good enough.

Then, you suppress your anger, you hide your tears and bite your lip, and you take the comments, one by one, and you learn from them. You make changes and you re-write and you re-work and you polish. You push through the pain and the heartache, and you keep writing. You just keep writing.

Just keep writing.


After you have spent more time editing and re-writing (and crying) than you did writing it in the first place, you finish. Done. You write your acknowledgements and you celebrate, for you have accomplished something great.

It is said that a first novel can take someone years to write. If you still think anyone can do it I dare you to try - just once - give it a try. I'll check back with you in 2015 and see how you're making out.

~ Andrew

Sunday, June 16, 2013

For Dad

Not surprisingly, a good number of the memories I have that involve my father also involve sports. Whether it was sitting on the porch listening to the Toronto Blue Jays on the radio; me with a lemonade, Dad with a can of Schlitz, or him taking me downtown on the subway to sit in General Admission at Exhibition Stadium and watch them play live. I can still hear the chants of "Er-nie! Er-nie!" echoing through the ball field and out onto the cool waters of Lake Ontario.

If I was really lucky we'd sit in Right Field - Reserved Bench!

I have a family of my own now and my wife's father enjoys heading down to the ballpark as well, so every so often for Father's Day she and I will buy tickets for our dads and we'll all go down to the ballpark and catch a Jays game (preferably against the Yankees). Where do you think Dad likes to sit? Yup, out in left field above the Jays bullpen - not too far from the old General Admission days at Exhibition Stadium.

By the age of 5 I had watched more games on Hockey Night in Canada than I could count. In 1979-1980 my dad, as the principal of a school, would bring home boxes of confiscated hockey cards (no shootsies allowed in the hallways!) and I would catalogue each and every one, diligently using the checklists to see which ones I was missing. Dad would sometimes get hockey tickets from a parent and take me down to see the game and if he was really itching to go to and didn't have seats he'd hop on the subway and get some off scalpers. The most memorable moment would have to be the 1987 playoffs against St. Louis. Toronto won the series in 6 games on the same ice that I scored a goal on a little more than 2 years earlier. Dad and I were in standing room "seats" and I thought the building was going to collapse! After the game Mom said she saw us on the news; Dad carrying me on his shoulders as fans paraded up the street. Even if I didn't know what it meant at the time that night was probably the first truly surreal experience of my life.

1984 Thornhill Rebels crammed into a broom closet in the bowels
of Maple Leaf Gardens. I was 10 years old. 

All grown up, able to afford my own tickets (and a knack for being able to actually get some), I would make a point of taking my old man to a game every year. The last Toronto Maple Leafs playoff game we saw was in 2001 at the new home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Air Canada Centre. Wouldn't you know it, the Leafs would win in overtime and we were fittingly situated in standing room (it was the game Sergei Berezin actually passed the puck!) Dad didn't put me on his shoulders but an usher did have to instruct him to get down off the railing and stop banging on the bottom of the press box.

Now, as any good hockey fan knows, when you're not out on the ice you should be out on the course. When it came to golf Mom had more patience (and a hole in one!) but played a lot less than Dad. Not that Dad played a whole lot, but both his parents were avid golfers and he definitely liked to get out on the course and hack it around. Dad would let me borrow his clubs and I'd go out to the Unionville Par 3 course with a friend and just make a total mess of things. I'm pretty sure the only reason every club came back in one piece was the uncertainty of what would happen if even one of them came back broken.

Since Dad retired he's played a lot more golf, and since I've grown up I have as well. Now, once or twice a year we go out on the course and shoot a round, usually 9 holes so it doesn't take as long. I couldn't tell you how many times we've played, but I can definitely tell you how many times I've beaten him: once. That's right, I've only beaten him one time. I've never been able to hit his curve ball, and apparently when he's around I can't hit a fairway either. I bought him a round at the course by my house for Father's Day this year and I have this sneaky suspicion that he'll eek out the victory just like he's done all all those times before.

Pretend score card from the one time I beat Dad (as if I shot a 44)

If it's possible to be influenced into enjoying a certain type of book I was definitely influenced by my father. He's read all the classics of course, and as an English major from Waterloo Lutheran University and public educator for 34 years he has read his fair share of novels. The man loves to read, and one of his go-to genres is the one I head to first when I'm looking to buy a new book: suspense / thriller. I have borrowed many a book off of his shelf written by Dan Brown, Steve Berry, or Robert Ludlum and have certainly purchased many of their works or taken them out from the library as well.

Is it any surprise then that my novel, just a few thousand words shy of a completed first draft, happens to be a conspiracy suspense thriller? I'm 39 years old and still trying to get in my dad's good books.

One thing I am looking forward to is writing on the inside cover of his copy and handing it to him sometime this year; heart in my throat, terrified he'll think it sucks. I have another feeling though, that he will think it's a perfectly readable book, and even if he doesn't, one thing I know is he'll put me up on his shoulders one more time and place my novel proudly on his bookshelf right beside Ludlum, Brown, and Berry - and every time I visit it will be surreal.

  


~ Andrew

Sunday, June 9, 2013

One Hundred

For my 100th published post here on Potato Chip Math I thought I would delve into the history of my little corner of the blogosphere and speak to why I think it has seen so much success over the past six months.

I had blogged before, way back in the blogging heyday of 2005, but after a few years away I was getting the urge to start putting words out in the universe again. I was finally starting that screenplay I had been meaning to write for the last half decade and life was slipping into a nice little routine. Then, on March 24, 2010 I made a trip to the grocery store to pick up some snacks and uncovered a bit of math involving potato chips that got me thinking, I could blog about this. So I did.

Thanks to Tatiana Hedley
for the perfect pic

Then, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. What started as a random collection of posts, rants, and quirky facts about me started to evolve. In November 2011 I had a revelation after seeing Kevin Smith perform in Kitchener and a few months after that Kevin re-tweeted a link to something I had done. Within  half an hour my blog had more hits on a single day than my total for the previous year. Interesting.

Kev mentions me on Twitter and all hell breaks loose
on my blog (for about half an hour)

I managed to sustain a decent level of interest over the next while by putting a few things out there related to social media, specifically Twitter. Then, in July of 2011 I suffered a concussion. In an effort to work my way through this I started a little thing called 1000 Word Picture and thanks to a few writer friends and a link someone posted to Reddit I was reaching record highs.

Posting a couple times a month on a variety of topics my readership stayed fairly steady and predictable over the next 18 months. I was getting some spikes in traffic when I would comment on other people's blogs or if I posted something that struck a chord with a lot of people. Then, something happened that would change my outlook and the focus of this blog forever (or at least for the foreseeable future): I won NaNoWriMo.

50,000 words in 30 days
(it's a lot harder than it sounds)

This was such an amazing experience, not just for my writing, but also in terms of my interactions and relationships with other writers, that I decided I would use this blog for something a little more productive. I would maintain a consistent schedule of posts (something which I had difficulty with in the past) and focus my topics on my experiences and observations as an up-and-coming writer.

Then another funny thing happened on the way to the forum. My blog traffic almost doubled. Pardon? What could I have done to deserve this? Short of over analyzing this I think I can sum it up with one word:

Consistency.

We are barely into June and I've already posted more than all of last year. Hell, if I extend that into November of last year we have the fact that in the last six months I have posted 27 times. In the six months prior to that I only posted 11 times and during the same period a year ago only 10 times. That means that in the last six months I've posted more than the previous twelve months combined.

Bar Graph!

Probably the most startling statistic is that my monthly readership has increased dramatically. Now, I have been more active in reading other blogs and commenting - which goes a long way towards driving traffic to this site, but the fact remains that once I started delivering a more consistent message on a consistent schedule I started to engage with more readers. Monthly readership of Potato Chip Math has increased 40% over the last six months and more than 50% over the same time period a year ago!

Line Graph!

So there you have it. A look back at the last 99 posts and how a little blog that started about some stupid potato chips became a little bit more. If I am in any position to offer advice I will leave you with the following. Greater blog success can be achieved many ways. Content is key, but so is consistency.

  • Consistent messaging
  • Consistent theme
  • Consistent timing
  • Consistent phrasing

And if you talk to my editor for the Orange Karen short story I wrote, the most important...

  • Consistent verb tenses!

As always, thank you for being here and having read this ;)

~ Andrew

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Boats Against The Current

Back on April 28 I published a post on the hype surrounding the recent theatrical release of The Great Gatsby. I surmised that the prevailing thought of the general public would be that the movie, even with all of its Leonardo DiCaprio-ness, would not be as good as the book. Now, to be fair, in that case I had not actually read the book so I was pulling from general opinions on the subject and personal history with other works of fiction. I did end with the statement that I would probably read the book and I would definitely see the movie, with any amount of luck in that order.

Well, I haven't read the book yet, but last night my wife and I got a sitter and went out to see the movie. Here's how things were set up heading into my first Gatsby experience:

  • I had a vague idea of the plot 
  • I knew previous versions of the movie were not remarkably well reviewed
  • I made a point of avoiding reviews, but did overhear a stranger say the movie was "not very good"
  • I am not a big Leonardo DiCaprio fan
  • For some reason, the movie was also being shown in 3D
  • For some reason Carey Mulligan reminds me of Michelle Williams
Carey Mulligan
Michelle Williams

So there you have it. I am about as clueless as you can be on the subject, with only a slight bias clouding my judgement (there's the Leo thing, but I paid my 10 bucks so I was willing to give him a shot, and there's the whole post I did about people thinking the book would be better. Other than those things I'm completely neutral).

When it finished, this older lady sitting next to me asked me what I thought and I had to be honest with her. I said, "Sadly, I have not read the book so I can't make the comparison, but I liked the movie." On my way out, my wife and I were discussing it and I summarized my thoughts more succinctly:

A good story is a good story.

And that's exactly what The Great Gatsby is. It's a good story. If the latest film stayed even remotely true to the novel I can see what all the hullabaloo was about. That F. Scott Fitzgerald guy was on to something, I'm sure of it. I can also see why some people would put the story into the category of "Classics". It had murder, intrigue, fantasy, love, sex, conflict, alcohol, and lavish parties - all set in a suburb of New York City. Hell, if all of those things aren't the ingredients for a good story, then I don't know what would be.

So it happened that a funny thing occurred after I went to see a movie... For all the right reasons I left the theatre desperately wanting to go read a book.

~ Andrew