Monday, February 14, 2011

Re-making the pig

Pigs eat feed containing phosphorous, which they can't digest. This phosphorus passes right through them and comes out in their poop. IF pig manure runs off and gets into rivers and waterways, it could cause algae growth.  Excessive Algae sucks oxygen from the water, which can destroy the habitat for fish.  So, to avoid having waterways polluted with pig-poop-runoff from hog farms or pig-manure-fertilized soil, you could:

-- contain the manure to keep it from getting into the waterways
-- reduce phosphorus output up to 50% by adding common supplements to the pig's diet

you could invest $1.4 million to create an "Enviropig" by inserting mouse DNA and ecoli bacterium into it to make its poop less phosphorusy. That way hog farmers wouldn't have to spend money on feed supplements AND corporations could patent and commercialize this new experimental pig for profit, not to mention the ultimate goal--getting this pig's products eventually into the supermarket and onto your dinner plate. (Ka-ching! Ka-ching!)

I say 'experimental pig' because no one knows if its products are really safe to eat or not. According to this video, since 1999, there have been nine generations of genetically modified pigs specifically produced to generate manure that will contain less phosperous. Rather than feed the pig nutritional supplements or do something to contain phosphorus-laden pig manure so it doesn't enter rivers and streams, the solution du jour to controlling the environmental footprint of pig farming is--to redesign the pig's digestive system.

They claim it's for the benefit of the environment. Hence the name "Enviropig."  That's the short-term goal--  to make its waste product less toxic to waterways. The long-term goal is to "produce a pig which can be consumed by humans and enter the food chain."

But pig reconfiguring takes time. Being able to eat this animal's bacon and pork chops is not going to happen right away. It'll take "another few years of regulatory assessment and possible approval" before that happens, they say. ("Possible" approval? Do I detect a wee sense of doubt here? that this new experimental Enviropig may not actually be approved for human consumption? Apparently back in 2007, application was made to the FDA to let GMO pigs enter the food chain. It hasn't happened "yet", the spokesman proclaims, ever the optimist.)

So far these pigs are simply being tasked with making a different kind of manure.  And, as they are experimental (requiring you to pass through high security to even get to see them) I was wondering what they do with the carcasses once the pigs die.  Please tell me they're not ground up, like downer cows, and reprocessed into pet food. Mutating the animal's genes, wouldn't the pig's carcass be considered biological laboratory waste?  They wouldn't recycle that into other animals' food chain--would they?  Wait, let me see if that ever happened.  [Pause while googling...]  Hmm, well what do you know.  Seems in fact that they did!  "Animal feed has been contaminated by Enviropig. In 2002, eleven piglets were sent to a rendering plant and became part of 675 tons of poultry feed, which ended up being fed to egg-laying chickens, turkeys, and broiler chickens. According to The Globe and Mail, the UofG's Vice President of Research effectively said, "Oops!"[1]
Oops indeed.  They take extraordinary measures to ensure humans don't infect the lab animals, but apparently don't mind if experimental lab animal remains get recycled into pet food.  Meanwhile, back in the non-biotech lab world, a growing number of people (including most of the European Union) don't want to grow GMO crops; people are kind of nervous about eating food that's been "modified" with genes from other organisms. The majority of North Americans, in contrast, don't seem particularly bothered by this.  Seems it's only those organic-oriented food purists, vegetarians, vegans and other assorted "health-food nuts" preventing universal acceptance of this profitable new technology.  What to do about those reluctant Europeans, though.

U.S. chief trade representative Miriam Sapiro went to Europe last week promising to "bang down the door of the European Commission to break Europe's longstanding impasse blocking the march of genetically-modified foods."  (The U.S. wants to "bang down" Europe's door.) "We have very strict safety standards," Ms. Sapiro said.  " ... that alone is good reason to make sure that our products are able to be sold in Europe."  (Monitoring and enforcing those standards, however, is another matter, not to mention some regulation allowed to be voluntary rather than obligatory. But that's another topic.)  "It's important," Sapiro insisted,  "to press the commission to go the right way."[2]   (The "right" way.  I wonder if it's ever occurred to this representative that GMO proliferation might not be, in half the world's opinion, what they consider to be the "right" way.) 

There are so many different ways to persuade someone to agree with you. Logic, reason, common sense, shared concerns. Maybe it's the tone people use, the attitude that refusal is not an option, that when persuasion and pressure fail, one can consider bullying, bribery, or blackmail--tactics common to power holders exercising their Power.  I'm not saying that's the case here.  It was just those words, "bang down the door" (not "dialogue to see if we can come to an agreement", but bang down the door, barge in, and pressure them to go "the right" (meaning your) way.  And if they're don't?  What next?  Draw up another retaliation list?

Actually, I think the panic in pushing Europe for more GMO crop exports might have more to do with the ballooning U.S. trade deficit--$40.6 billion as of the end of last year. So it seems to me a choice has to be made here--you either export goods countries are willing to buy, or if they're not--here's a thought--you might think about offering a product they will buy.  They would buy grain exports if they were GMO-free, but you're not willing to provide that option. Certain agro industries and biotech corporations would never agree to it. So your only option is to somehow make them accept what you're selling.  Your trade deficit problem now becomes their problem.  You are hoping they will solve it, by agreeing to buy what they don't really want.  Is this what they mean these days by "free trade"?  (Words, again.  They mean what you want them to mean.)

"The huge controversy over the introduction of genetically modified crops is well documented, but this (Enviropig) seems to take that debate a step further, and into even more troubled waters,"  says Andrew K. Kimbell at the Center for Food Safety. He believes it's hog farming that has to change, not the pig. "This is a completely novel cell invasion technology, which crosses the boundary of nature as no other generation has before." [source: video above; more on the Environpig, here and here].

There have been nine generations already of pigs engineered with mouse DNA and ecoli bacterium. You need to change your clothing and take a shower before they even let you enter the pig experimentation area. This is presumably so you won't infect the pig (or the pig infect you?).

Environmental footprints and global food shortage are things we need to be concerned about. Biotech offers genetically engineered crops and animals as a way to address this need. When nature won't cooperate (by producing faster, more multi-purpose crops and animals), nature must be 'harnessed' and changed. Let's put fish genes into tomatoes because fish can survive in freezing waters and we want tomatoes to be resistant to frost. Salmon take too long to mature? Let's cut that time in half, nature is far too slow on this. Pigs passing too much undigested phosperous in their poop? Let's make a new pig that will crap how we want it to crap. We can't say for sure yet but we assume it'll taste like any "normal" pig.  (Verifying that this is an "abnormal" pig.)

What strikes me is the unquestioning acceptance of bioengineering projects that experiment with our food as the (one and only) answer to the growing food crisis.  Monsanto sells seeds that are purposely created to suicide themselves.  That's so farmers who traditionally save seeds will have to return to Monsanto for more seeds every planting season, ensuring repeat business for Monsanto. Feeding starving nations, it seems to me, is secondary here to corporate profit.

Biotech wants to make your life easier--that's the selling point.   Hate being vaccinated by injection with a needle? (so painful). What if you can get your vaccine just by eating a banana or a potato?  Voila! Painless vaccinations!  You won't even know you're getting vaccinated.  A scientific team at Arizona State University has designed an edible vaccine by inserting the hepatitis B virus into a potato. However, "for the hepatitis B vaccine to work, it must survive digestion before acting on the immune system. But raw potatoes do not make an appetizing dish and they contain relatively inconsistent vaccine doses." So they're going to focus instead "on making genetically modified tomatoes and converting them into pills." Tomato pills, with vaccines in them.
Don't like those unsightly brown spots on your apples?  Food should be attractive, stay blemish-free.  They can fix that, too.[3]   Well, there have been some setbacks. Like the time they tried putting fish genes in tomatoes so tomatoes could tolerate frost. That didn't quite work out as they had hoped. They chucked the project, deciding not to patent or commercialize their new, improved, frost-resistant tomato.  It was tested but they're not telling you the results. ("Not available.")

Vaccines inserted into vegetables and fruit--would eliminate the need for refrigeration or needle injections.  Great idea, but where would you go to buy these new medical foods?   At a medical supermarket?  Or if at your local supermarket, would they be put in a section that said, "Vaccination Fruits"?  What if they somehow got mixed in with conventional produce and were eaten by people not needing to be vaccinated?  The results could be unpredictable.[4]

And what about adverse reactions, to the engineered animal or the consumer ingesting its products?   Side effects from the new, faster-growing GM fish include changes in swimming and feeding behavior, altered muscle structures, and decreased lifespan.  Some engineered fish are born with changes in their head or body shape.  ("But they taste the same as "regular" fish!")

Four years ago Monsanto fed genetically modified potatoes to sick medical patients in an experiment. The trials were too short, with too few people to show meaningful results.  Rats that ingested the same potatoes for six months had adverse effects, but they were said to be within 'permissible limits.' A spokesman for Monsanto concluded that genetically modified potatoes were as safe as conventional or organic ones, proclaiming that they had been consumed in North America "for years."[5] No independent studies have ever been done, however, on the long-term effect--only short, restricted studies by the industry producing the product.  In other words, they're saying, Get over it. GM food is here to stay.

That may be, but it is increasingly evident that decisions are continuing to be made by a select, powerful few for all of the rest of us.  Corporate lobbyists and the bio- and mega-farm industry relentlessly pressure government officials and the result of their influence is that they are the ones who are dictating what we'll be eating.

Choice is limited or nonexistent because GM products are not being labeled. Nor are they likely to be, because it's bad for business.  Somehow the practice of mutating and re-designing food in ways that nature never intended has gotten a bad reputation. They don't even like you labeling something "GMO free" because, again, it suggests there's something not entirely healthy about things containing GMOs. Now why would people think that, do you suppose?  But just so you don't--think that--they've systematically taken away your choice to know what is or is not in the food you buy to eat. You're free to not eat GMO products, they just won't tell you which they are.

Genetically modified crops are so pervasive now, it's virtually impossible to avoid them.  True, they've been around for a long time.  You eat these foods every day.  You're still alive.  So we should all just stop talking about it and get over it. Right?


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Morning feed

We share the back yard.  I watch and chase,
they tease and fly away.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Lost in Translation

We don’t understand one another, though we share the
same language. We group our words and hurl them,
like sharpened stones, hoping to penetrate
doors that never open.

Listen, there is wailing behind the wall!
And while some of us are clamoring to get in,
others are screaming to get out.
Even if the gates open
and everyone converges,
each takes his wall with him.

Who hears those silent cries of anguish
behind the fence of fear?
We wage word wars with one another
over differences in perception,
unaware that we are being played.

It’s as if a clever master set the stage
so the actors never know
that even when they shed their roles,
their masks remain.

When the play is over, some applaud;
some thrust insults and say it was a sham.
Most simply walk away, confused.

What happened here? What was it all about?
Inside the wall, or out,
alone or together, voices mingle, clash,
forever caught in the net of time
we choke on unsaid words.

And even when a thing is known,
absorbed, and carried in one’s bones…
millions more still question
the truth of it.

Observers will be criticized for not acting,
actors condemned for continuing the charade,
the audience is never satisfied …

and the trickster just laughs.


*First publication.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Where the mind goes

In the middle of a keyboarding assignment, I put on music to make my fingers go faster. The parade of words marches past, I type-tap in rhythm. It's mesmerizing--eyes slide over lines of words such as "conscious and unconscious attitudes interacting with phase-specific sequential developmental unfoldings'  and 'necessary precursors to oedipal triangulation' ...  and I'm no longer here, I'm somewhere else, lost in time. I go back to scenes locked in memory, as if that 'there' is every bit as real now as this 'here'.

I stumbled on an article last week of which I can't recall the origin. It had to do with time travel experiments,  only they call it by another name.  Anyway, it was mentioned that a scientist  (whose name I forgot to note down) claimed it could be done through the mind alone, that is, you don't need a mechanical devise. But we do that all the time, don't we--go back in time--in our minds, though memory.

No, but this is different. According to this Dr. So-and-So, you can actually really "go" there, be consciously back there, present, as an observer, not just imagine it. Kind of like an out-of-body experience where you leave your body and go someplace else?  How is this different?  I tabled the thought, for looking into later.

So as my fingers are flying over the keyboard, surrounded by piano music filling the air spaces, I went back in my mind to certain remembered past scenes. I wasn't actually there there, but the rest of everything went on automatic pilot, so to speak, while I replayed the film-like sequence in my head from out of the memory box.  Eyes kept watching the text, fingers kept pounding the keys, one part of me typing while the other went exploring.   At the same time.

A scene slid out in which I was about 10 or 12 at the home of a schoolfriend (who later died of leukemia, before she entered high school).  Her mother was typing on this old black typewriter and I was absolutely fascinated, how she could type out letters so fast and not even look at the keys.  I wanted to ask her how her fingers remembered which letter they were supposed to strike, and secretly thought the woman was a genius. I would have given anything to learn her secret.  Fast forward to my typing class and how we were eventually taught to type in school. There were two typewriters with keys that had no letters.  We all dreaded being given those typewriters, especially in the beginning when rather than memorize keystrokes we sometimes kind of cheated.  We weren't supposed to look down at our fingers when typing.  Our teacher, Sister Mary Aloysious, who was like 80 years old (or so it seemed to us at the time; she was probably only in her 60s), got tired of her pupils looking down at the keyboard when they were supposed to be memorizing the finger positions.  So if she caught you cheating, she would pull out a big, grocery-store paper bag and put it over your head.

One day, my then best friend Mary Lou, who was sent to our classroom that morning to deliver a message to the nun who was teaching us, walked in the door and seeing the entire class with paper bags on our heads, burst out laughing so hard she was told to report to the principal.  I did not remember this particular episode, though I did remember the typewriters without letters.  And I thought it was only certain people who got their heads bagged--the trouble makers, like J.R. and K.D., who didn't pay attention.  No, my friend insisted.  It was the whole class.  She's gone now, too, to cancer of a different sort than the earlier schoolfriend, but our laughing about this together as adults is another cherished memory.

Two separate memories, two different scenes.  I try to go back there in my mind but I draw a complete blank.  For her the scene was as clear as day.  She'd remembered every detail.  I only recall bits and pieces and the event she remembered I apparently never recorded.  As for my 12-year-old child's wish, to learn the secret of typing without looking at your fingers, it was eventually fulfilled.  Be careful what you wish for, though, ha ha.  When you're fresh out of college and your degree says philosophy and you don't intend teaching, the first thing they asked you then was, "Can you type?" And if you wanted not to be considered only for a clerical job, you pretended not to know how.  Except if you really needed the money. No regrets for my study choices.  Bad for the career; notso for where it's taken me.

I don't know why but it's been happening more frequently this year, this going back, pulling out selected memories, as a way of being together again with people long since departed, observing earlier versions of myself; knowing what I know now, would I have acted differently, made the same choices?  That's the thing they always warn--about time travel--at least in fiction.  Even if you could really go back, you shouldn't--you risk changing the future.  I read a novel once about a guy who manages to actually go back in time and finds himself present when his grandfather first met his grandmother.  The guy ends up falling in love with a woman he meets there and decides not to come back to the present.  It is a simpler time, he prefers the life he becomes accustomed to 'there', but by his presence he changes one thing in the future, whereby the corporation that had sent him back in time, which he realized had a darker agenda with its time-travel experimentation, would be prevented from ever being formed. 

We keep thinking of time as linear, past--> present --> future.  What if it's circular, you get born, you die, you get born again.  What if its parallel, like in the TV series "Frindge" my mate and I sort of got hooked on--there's another parallel universe out there with another you who looks just like you but isn't you.  I wish I were capable of understanding higher mathematics, the investigations going on today in physics, etc.  The concept of Time is absolutely mind-boggling, and of endless fascination.  But for now I can still "go back" in time but it's not like I'm actually there there.  The people I see don't see me, I can't talk to them, it's like watching snatches of an old film, nothing more.

I am looking down at my fingers on the keyboard and realize they're not typing what they're supposed to be typing.  Where the mind goes ....   It's back, but resisting.  Such beautiful music.  Paganini.  And its back to "using Mahler's extensions of Freud's basic phase-specific sequential developmental model ...."  yawn, type-type-type, "definitive observations lead them to hypothesize that ..."   yawn,  type-type-type ...
type-type-type ... type-type-type-type....

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Something in the Air ...

Some poets/writers devise an alter-ego, which they use to explore new creative waters.  They also often engage in dialogue with them or comment on their output, as an exercise in self-reflection executed with humor or scathing criticism, depending on the mood of the writer and the written work produced.  I find this a fascinating practice  because not only can you let rip and deviate radically from what may be your standard style of writing, but you can also look at the writings with an objective eye, so to speak--after all, they were written by "that other guy" who, of course, writes nothing like you.  It provides a mechanism to self-criticize and snap back with logical rebuttals, as you would towards any other critic, and best of all, gives you a venue for not taking yourself too seriously, a way too lighten up, poke fun at yourself.  It's also a tad schizophrenic-- the way some of us use pseudonyms, another example of hiding behind a fake 'us' created specifically as the writer self.

I sometimes include a parenthetical "Note to Self" in some of my postings, almost as an afterthought, the way you'd scribble "Check the reference on page 249" in an unfinished manuscript.  Along those lines, while I'd originally intended to write today about the current uprising in Egypt,  something other sort of happened.  Other words rushed in, pushing their way to the forefront.  Normally, I ignore this sort of uninvited intrusion and stick to the task at hand, jotting them down somewhere in shorthand for "later", and continue on with what I was writing.  This time, however, they were unnervingly insistent.  They, in fact, completely took over-- and my fingers, as if awakened from sleep, started pounding out the  mental scribblings on the keyboard.   Must be something in the air.

 Anyway, the idea came to me,  that maybe I  ought to create an alter-ego to talk to me about why I seem stuck in certain creativity pattern grooves and can't seem to climb out. 


A Play in One Act
by awyn

WIZARD:  Why have you come to me, Writer, can't find your words?

WRITER:  No, Wizard.  Of words, I have plenty.  I just don't know how to say them.

WIZARD:  We have been through this before.  Do what you always do.  Take a little mind trip somewhere.  Bask in the sun through a remembered past journey, swim in that lake that isn't there anymore, dance one of those heart-pounding kolos that brought you back to life way back when, jog your innovation reservoir and work in your preverbial garden a bit.  It'll come.

WRITER:  Thanks, Wizard.  Did all that.  Yesterday.  It didn't help.  [Sighs].  By the way, I think you meant proverbial, not preverbial.  Although "preverbal" and "garden" don't seem like they go together.  Verb garden I can see.  Even verbal garden.  But preverbal, that presupposes ...

WIZARD: [Impatient, abruptly interrupts]  Stick to the point.  What's the problem exactly?  I need specifics.

WRITER:  [Gets out list.  Starts checking off penciled items.]  Everything I write sounds the same.  [Check.] When I jump habit, it bombs.  [Check.] My voice tells me it is not my voice anymore. [Check]

WIZARD:  Whose voice is it then?

WRITER:  I don't know.  It sounds like me but when I hear it, I wince.  It seems--how can I put it--like a singer with a limited repertoire, belting out the same tired tunes day in and day out.  Predictable.  Even as my hand is writing, my ear has already picked up and moved on.

 WIZARD:  There's your problem right there, Writer.  Listen to what you just said.

WRITER:  What did I just say?

WIZARD:  You said your ear got up and walked away.  Ears don't "walk."

WRITER:  I never said walk.  I said picked up and moved on.  I never said "walked."

WIZARD:  And that's another thing.  You have this peculiar tendency to make inanimate objects perform as if they were human.

WRITER: [Goes and stands in front of Wizard's mirror].  Excuse me, but my ear IS human.  And it is *not* inanimate.  [Wiggles ear to prove it].

WIZARD: A mere technicality.  You know what I mean. Now tell me more about your fire going out.

WRITER:  Who said my fire went out?  [Pause].  Damn.  How'd you know that?  I guess that's why they call you Wizard, Wizard.  Okay, you want details?  Here you go:

I let my fire go out and feel guilty. I 'm not writing the things I really want to write.  I procrastinate.  Make excuses.  Start again.  Stop.  Start again.  Stop.  Mostly I stop.  I'm exaggerating.  But I stoke the fires and it gets out of control, words careening off everywhichwhere. It burns me up, I tell you. 

WIZARD: Your fire burns you up?

WRITER:  No! That was just a figure of speech.  I mean it irritates me.

WIZARD:  That your fire is not under more control?

WRITER:  Yes.  No.  You're confusing me.

WIZARD:  It's your metaphor, Writer.

WRITER:  I thought it was yours!  [Writer scrolls back up to see whose metaphor it was].

WIZARD:  Look, Writer.  I'd like to help you, I really would.  But you're asking the wrong person.  You don't need words.  You have cupboards and closets exploding with them.  Basement bins full, even.  You don't need fire either.  Yours is always burning.  It will never go out.   Trust me.

WRITER:  But ... but ..

WIZARD:  Listen, everybody's fire simmers down and lays quiet for a time.  I mean how would we ever get anything else done?  You just need to regulate yourself more.

WRITER:  Regulate myself?  You mean ...

WIZARD:  No, NO, Writer.  It's not what you think.

WRITER:  How do you know what I'm thinking?

WIZARD:  [Looks at watch.]  Can we just stick to the problem here?

WRITER:  Sorry.  It's a curse.

WIZARD:  What is?

WRITER:  Words. 

WIZARD: Words are a curse?  Why do you collect them, then?  Why do you spend time with them, read them, write them, store them?  Fall in love with them?  Preserve them?

WRITER:  No, I mean how I am with words is a curse.

WIZARD:  I don't understand.  What do you mean how you are with them?  That sounds kinky.

WRITER:  I mean, the way I spend time with them, write them, store them ...

WIZARD:  That's what I just said.  You are just repeating what I just said, Writer. 

WRITER: See?  I've passed the curse on to you.

WIZARD:  [Struggles to contain his frustration]  Look, I've got a conference to go to.  Can we just wrap this up and get on with it?

WRITER:  I forget where we were.

WIZARD:  You were telling me you were cursed.

WRITER:  No, what I said was words are a curse, not that *I* was cursed.  Haven't you been listening?

WIZARD:  [Looks out the window; wishes he were somewhere else].  Forget the curse.  Forget words.  Let's talk about voice.  You said you lost your voice.

WRITER:  No, I said my voice didn't sound like me anymore, is what I said.

WIZARD:  Who does it sound like then?  [Pauses and scratches head.]  Didn't I already ask you that?

WRITER:   It still sounds like me, but that's the old me.  I want it to sound like the new me.

WIZARD:  And what does the new you sound like?

WRITER:  I don't know yet.  I haven't seen an example of his style yet.

WIZARD:  Well if you don't know what your new me's style is, how in heaven's name do you expect anybody else to know it's you?

WRITER:  That's why I came to you, Wizard.  To help me find me, so I can write like me.  The real me.

WIZARD:  All right, lemme see that thing you're writing.  I'll tell you if it's the same old you or not.

WRITER: [Pulls out notebook full of scribblings and hands it over to Wizard].  Here.

WIZARD:  What's this then?

WRITER:  It's a poem I wrote last night.

WIZARD:  Kinda long, dontcha think?  [Shuffles through 16 single-spaced pages].

WRITER:  [Red-faced, looks down.]  It's only a draft.

WIZARD:  Ever hear of haiku?

WRITER:  It won't work as a haiku.

WIZARD:  Show me something else.

WRITER: [Hands Wizard a single sheet of paper with an outline].  Here.

WIZARD: What's this?

WRITER: That's my novel.

WIZARD: Your what?!

WRITER:  My novel-to-be.  That's my novel-to-be.

WIZARD:  Your novel-to-be.  One you haven't written yet.

WRITER:  Correct.  It's still all in my head.  I have all the characters, the scenes, the beginning and the end (still working on the middle), the dialogues, what I want to say, which of the characters will say and do what, detailed descriptions of the scenarios, all the ....

WIZARD:  Stop!!!  [Hands sheet of paper back to Writer].  Won't do any good sitting in your head, Writer.  Have you ever considered, uh, just sitting down and--here's a thought--WRITING  IT OUT?

WRITER:  You're shouting.  I've upset you.

WIZARD:  [Lowers voice.]  Don't change the subject.  Answer the question.

WRITER:  What was the question?

WIZARD:  Why don't you just write it down?

WRITER:  I have no time.

WIZARD:  Yes you do.

WRITER:  Yes I do, but ...

WIZARD:  But what?

WRITER:  I don't know.  I don't know why I don't write it down.  Sometimes I write it down but when I read it back, it doesn't sound like me. 

WIZARD:  Who does it sound like?  Wait ... haven't we just discussed this a minute ago?

WRITER: [Scrolls back up to check.]  Yes, you're right.  We've already touched on that.  Sorry.

WIZARD:  Stop apologizing and just answer the question.  Who does it sound like?  Your writing--you said it doesn't sound like you.  Who does it sound like? 

WRITER:  It still sounds like the old me.  It sounds like me trying to find me.   

WIZARD:  Well, seems to me you got your answer right there, Writer.  You gotta sit your butt down, put those drafts  in front of you and go over them line by line.  Yank out what sounds funny.  Edit to make it sound better.  Practice practice practice, like they told you in piano school.

WRITER: It wasn't called piano school.  [Laughs.]  Wait ... how'd you know I took piano lessons?

WIZARD:  I didn't.  I was just using that as an example.

WRITER:  But you said "told", past tense.  If you were generalizing, you'd have said "tell" -- like they "tell" you in piano school.  But you didn't.  You said "told."  Like they "told" you in piano school indicates you're referring specifically to me.

WIZARD:  [Rolls his eyes upward].  Do you always do that?

WRITER:  Do what?

WIZARD:  Get so nitpicky about words?

WRITER:  No.  I'm just saying ...

WIZARD:  Well, stop just saying.  It's annoying.  I didn't come here for a grammar lesson.  I came to help you get more serious about your writing again.

WRITER:  I've been serious.

WIZARD:  No, you haven't.  You just play at it.  You don't do the hard work to make it better.  You give up too easily.  You get too hung up on words.  Your characters feel constrained.  You won't let them be who they are.   I notice they've stopped cooperating.

WRITER:  Wow, you really are a Wizard, Wizard.  How could you possibly know that?  One of them told you, didn't they?  Which one?  I bet it was Abu in that old short story.  No, wait, I know who it was.  It was Allie in the second novel-to-be.  She keeps nagging me to finish.  "Finish my damn story, will you? It's been years!"

WIZARD: You have TWO novels-to-be?!  So why haven't you finished?

WRITER:  Er ... three.  And the answer is:  I don't know.

 WIZARD:   Three unfinished novels-to-be. 


WIZARD:  Why don't you know?

WRITER:  Why don't I know what?

WIZARD:  Why don't you know why you don't know why you don't finish them?

WRITER:  I don't know.

WIZARD:  You already said that.

WRITER:  I know.  It's a curse.

WIZARD:  I think you know.

WRITER:  Well if I do, I'm not aware of it.

WIZARD:  Yes you are.

WRITER:  Please, can we stop talking in riddles, Wizard?

WIZARD:  Look, I'm going to be late for my conference.  I'll leave you with this parting thought.

WRITER:  Which is?

WIZARD:  The answer is within you.

[The Wizard grabs his crystal ball, robe and staff and starts striding out, waving goodbye].  

WRITER:  Wait!  Wait!

WIZARD:  Goodbye, Writer.  Good Luck.

WRITER:  [Crestfallen].  Great.  They all say the same thing--gurus, Buddhists, teachers, fortune tellers, my mother ...  The answer's WITH-INNNNNNNNNNNNN you.  What the hell does that MEAN?

[Enter disembodied fictional character from the first of the novel-to-be's]: 

ABU:  You should listen to Wizard..

WRITER:  Abu, is that you, you scoundrel?

ABU:  Why'd you kill me off in The Autobiographer?

WRITER:  We've been through this before, Abu.  It was necessary for the plot.

[Another character floats in from the opened window:]

ALLIE:  At least you finished Abu's story.  What about mine?  I'm still stuck in that God-awful trailer down in Florida and you've not yet figured out how I end up ending up.  You need to change the ending.  And what's up with the stilted-sounding dialogues?  Just 'cause you like narratives better than dialogue doesn't mean I have to have to keep my mouth shut.  Let me speak!

WRITER:  [Clasping sides of head with hands, shutting eyes].  All right!  All right! Enough!

[TAP TAP TAP.  A knock at the door.  Writer looks up]  Wizard?  You're back.

WIZARD:  Forgot my umbrella.  Don't get up.

WRITER:  I wasn't sitting.

WIZARD:  Yes, yes, so I see. Who are those other people?  They friends of yours? [Turns to go.]  Wait,  I just thought of something.  Something that might help you.

WRITER:  And what is that, Wizard?  I'm all ears.  Please.  Tell me! 

WIZARD:  It's this.  Just -- be yourself.

WRITER:  That's it?  That's your pearls-of-wisdom advice?  Be myself?

WIZARD:  Yes. 

WRITER:  I'm already myself!!!  What do you MEAN?????

WIZARD:  The answer is within you, Writer.  You'll figure it out.  You should write all this down.

WRITER:  Write what all down?

WIZARD:  This--this conversation we had today.

WRITER:  Why would I do that?

WIZARD:  Because it's practice.  You need practice. 

WRITER:  But it's not really writing.  It's just gibberish.

WIZARD:  Of course it is.  But when you write it down, it's called writing.  Duh.  [hits side of head to indicate Duhness].

WRITER:  Okay, say I do.  Say I write it down, type it out.  Whatever.  What good's that gonna do?  Who's gonna  read it.

WIZARD:  Why do you say that, Writer?

WRITER:  It's too damn long, for one.  And (B), it's not a serious endeavor.

WIZARD:  You're pulling my leg, right?  You did that on purpose.

WRITER:  Did what?

WIZARD:  Some nitpicker you are.  You wrote "for one."  Which is supposed to be followed by "and two".  Not B.  The sequence goes like this:  You either have A, B, C, D, etc. OR 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. .  You can't have 1, B or A, 2.  It doesn't compute.  Plus it's wrong.

WRITER: Now who's the nitpicker, ha ha.  [Lightbulb goes off in Writer's head].  I do believe you've caught the curse, Wizard!

WIZARD:  Have not.  Now stop it.  You're pissing me off.  Besides, I have to go.  Told you.  I got a conference to get to.

WRITER:  No you don't, Wizard.  That's what characters say when they want out of the script.

WIZARD:  Is this a script?

WRITER:  T'is.  It's a play.  In one act.  I've made it a play in one act.  I'm calling it "Magic Time."

WIZARD:  Give it to me to read sometime.  I'll let you know what I think of it.

WRITER:  Nah.  It's only a rough draft.  Besides, it's still got problems.

WIZARD:  I can imagine it would.   [Wizard grabs play out of Writer's hand and flips through it.] I see you don't have an INTERMISSON inserted in here yet.  Readers are going to be gasping for air.  Definitely too long for a blog post.  I would seriously reconsider if I were you.

WRITER:  Reconsider what?

WIZARD:  Not posting it.  I mean, really, what point are you trying to make here?  And what's the title mean?

WRITER:  I thought you had a conference to go to.

WIZARD:  Then why'd you bring me back?  I was already out the door.

WRITER:  You said you forgot your umbrella.

WIZARD:  No, you said I forgot my umbrella.  That's what you wrote.  You wrote me saying I forgot my umbrella. Scroll back up.  I'm not lying.  It's all there, in black and white.

WRITER:  Whatever.

WIZARD:  It's okay, by the way.

WRITER:  What's okay?

WIZARD:  To have many different voices. You don't have to stick to one style, one habit, one train always riding on the same familiar track.  But keep them in different writerly compartments.  It gets confusing when they overlap.

WRITER:  What do you mean?  What's a writerly compartment?

WIZARD:  Well, take this little play for example.  It started out as a serious conversation with yourself in which one part of you plays the Wizard and the other part of you plays the writer.  You're trying to find out how you can be a better writer.  Correct me if I'm wrong.

WRITER:  Yeah, so?

WIZARD:  This is your problem, as I see it.  You start out writing one thing--a serious essay, say, but then--how shall I put this--it's like the window opens and the wind blows in and you turn your head to look and when you go back to work, some new thought blows in and takes over.  A character  pops up out of nowhere and whispers a story in your ear.  So you indulge him.  Next thing you know you're writing out his story.  And then he goes and does something out of character, which you wouldn't think of attributing to him.  But you're curious, so you go with it.   All of a sudden, things turn--comical.  You get totally into it, you're laughing off your chair at what's coming out of your characters' mouths then that little voice intervenes--you know the one--and says, What the crap is this?  You've jumped trains again.  You've gotten trapped in the words.

WRITER:  I told you.    They're a curse.

WIZARD:  Oh stop.  Curse, shmirsh.  No such thing.  Ears that get up and walk.  Words that hurl curses.

WRITER:  I never said hurl.  I never said words hurl curses.  And please don't make me scroll back up there again to see what I wrote.

WIZARD:  I rest my case.  Now you have some inkling of how it must be for the poor reader to read what you write.  It just goes on and on and on.  And on.    They've already left, all two of them, right after  "I forget where we were." 

WRITER:  Oh yeah.  When I looked out the window.   I will take your advice about not looking out the window while I'm writing.

WIZARD:  I never said not to look out the window, Writer.  Now listen carefully.  I want you to look at what you've just written.  How many times (go ahead, count them!) did you type the words "I never said".  That's what we in the business call, "favorite words".  You can read about it in the chapter on "Repetitive Renderings."  It's also covered, in more detail, in "Insufferable Patterns". 

WRITER:  How do I stop doing that?

WIZARD:  Well, you might think about just STOPPING for a minute.  Period.  I mean, does this Play have an ending?  Or are you just going to keep typing until the cows come home?

WRITER:  So should I delete it?  I mean, it being just a practice thingy anyway. 

WIZARD:  Ka-ching!  Another favorite word.  What in green blazes is a "thingy"?  There's no such word. 

WRITER: I think it actually is a word nowadays.  I could check.  We were talking about deletions.  Should I just erase it?  I mean, it's no big deal, I could probably reconstruct it.

WIZARD:  Why would you want to do that?  I gave you the answer.  That's all you need to know.  All the rest is fluff cake.  [Wizard pauses,  holds chin in hand.]  I have to admit, on second thought, I don't much like being erased, though.  I have my moments, don't you think?  Even if I am a fictional character.  But go ahead, if you must.  I'm sure I'll come back when you least suspect.

WRITER:  I could give you the leading role in another story.

WIZARD:  Please.  Stop patronizing me. And stop italicizing everything.   I have not enjoyed being your fictional psychoanalyst, I have to say.  If I come back at all, it will have to be in a better crafted, more carefully written role.  Otherwise I am going to refuse. 

WRITER:  Okay, okay, I'll leave you in.  I won't delete you.  I will probably hugely regret this, but I won't erase our conversation conversation just yet.  You made some good points.  If I send it all down the memory hole I won't be able to remember what I had you say to me.  But you were absolutely right, Wizard.  I must get serious.  And I definitely need more practice. 

WIZARD: If you ever rewrite, can we please leave out the coming-back-for-the-umbrella bit?  Makes me sound forgetful.  Wizards would never do that, be forgetful.  Not any I know, anyhow.

WRITER:  Thanks.  I'll remember.

                    PRACTICE .....