Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Multiply, Dilute

Love is limitless. You can love two people or two hundred and you still have the same amount to give. Multiplying something like love doesn't dilute it. Other things, quantifiable things, don't have that characteristic.

We have a limited amount of time. Much of that is already accounted for, in one way or another: a job, parental responsibilities, household chores, socializing with friends, watching reality TV. The time we have left is our free time. That time can be filled with as many things as a person can think of or used to focus on a very few. Multiplying the amount of things we choose to focus our time on certainly does dilute all of them. Individual projects take longer to finish. Excuses allow things to get pushed aside one more time, perpetually.

If we multiply the things we do during the small amount of time we have left over, the quality of time spent on each will decrease and none will be done up to their potential or ever get finished. Our experiences become diluted and the tasks become aimed in the direction of meaninglessness.

From a practicality standpoint:
Choose one thing to focus on during the short bursts of available time. Focus on it.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Choices that Make Us Human

One of the things that makes us human is our freedom to choose. When faced with a situation, we have the ability to rise above our base instinctual reactions and make a conscious choice in response to that situation.

If we make the same choice in the same situation time and again, a habit forms. Most often we think of this in terms of bad habits rather than focusing on the good that can come from habits. Habits are seen as locking a person into a routine with no way out. And while that's pretty much what a habit is, that certainly doesn't have to be a bad thing.

If a positive habit is created, the same rigidity that people fight against when trying to break bad habits will still be there, but instead of hindering you, it can help set you free. Having that automatic reaction to complete a task leads to more unburdened free time. Positive habits can take certain activities and effortlessly vault them over the excuses and move straight to getting things done. You won't have to spend energy avoiding things. Positive habits can help you to focus on what's really important while not having a list of little "shoulds" on your mind to clog up the works.

I had this blog post started a number of weeks ago and came back to it multiple times and pecked at it a bit each time. Nothing jumped out at me enough to be able to finish it. I looked back over it again this past week and realized that it coincided surprisingly well with a major theme from the novel I had just finished reading: A Clockwork Orange. A question presented in the book is: Are we still human if we have been deprived of our ability to choose to do right or wrong?

I've only touched on the specifics of what the habits are that I'm attempting to form or change. I'll expand on that more another time.

I'll go the same route as last time and end with a link to a few of my thoughts on Anthony Burgess', A Clockwork Orange.

What's it going to be then, eh?

The question that makes the title of this post is used throughout Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange. Each time it's asked, the main character, Alex, is being presented with a choice. Sometimes seemingly mundane, but always leading to whether or not he's going to continue his life of violence and crime or...not.

The theme of choice and particularly choosing to do good or bad, is raised throughout the book. The question is actually asked outright in the book: If someone only can do good through compulsion, that is, without really having a choice in the matter, are they really good? Are they really human if their ability to choose is taken away? And at what price to society?

I really enjoyed the story. As a character, Alex was engaging and interesting even if not likable. There were no other truly main characters, just people who pop in and out of Alex's life. The book is said to be dystopian, which it is, but it certainly doesn't get into details about the society as a whole. That being said, I certainly still got a feeling that the times Alex was living in were bleak and dreary. Also, because the story focused on one character and had a few prominent themes, the writing felt precise and the book was certainly not too long.

The novel is known for its heavy use of made up slang. After the first few paragraphs I wondered how many people quit reading at that point and considered it gibberish. The language was a distraction at first but it did have the effect of making you feel like you were in a completely different place. It also forced you to concentrate down to the word level while reading. And it was an interesting exercise to realize how quickly person can adapt to different terminology. Within a few pages certain words were understood and their meanings incorporated into the sentences without too much extra thought.

One thing I noticed is that the language seemed to blunt the effect of the ultra-violent scenes. When my brain had to process a little bit longer to say, "Ok, that word means blood, and that one means face..." the picture then didn't pop up as clearly in my mind. Whether the fact that the violence didn't always come across as horrendous as it was, was a good thing or not, I'm not sure.

The last chapter was originally omitted from the American publications of the novel. The publishers had their reasons and my feelings are that it should have been published as a whole from the beginning. If someone doesn't like the work of an artist, they can make a derivative work or an abridged version, but it should not be recreated with parts missing and still titled with the original name. That being said, I was a little dismayed when I finished the book and realized that I didn't particularly care for the last chapter. I really wanted to be able to love the real ending so that I could internally sneer at those publishers.

Alex goes through a change in the last chapter and it seemed too contrived. All throughout the story, Alex pushes the blame for his problems out to others. Time and again when he was responsible (sometimes solely so) he finds a way to rationalize his situation to be other people's fault. He blames his friends, his parents, the government, the police. Granted, there was some blame to be spread around, but Alex pushed it all off.

It was hard to buy into the idea that a person can go from raping and murdering his way through his teenage years to suddenly discover around age twenty that he just wasn't into it anymore.

So rather than a sudden change from ultra-violent to non-violent, I would have liked Alex to suddenly realize the negative affect he had on people's lives. Once he came to that realization, then he would have made a choice to stop being violent. Instead, he just grew out of it without learning anything or really making a choice; he just didn't feel like causing violence anymore.

But I'll still take the real ending with my complaints over the trimmed story for the sake of hoping to sell more copies.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Reading for Writing

I used to read voraciously. Over the past several years my reading has dwindled to a handful of websites, blurbs from the newspaper, and rarely a novel. I can point to having kids as a reason this has happened and there would certainly be some truth to that, but that's not the whole story.

I've read comments from any number of people (people in a position to know) that say that one of the biggest components of being a writer is reading. (Some have even suggested that a writer ought to spend half his time reading and half writing.) You read to see another writer's style, how they handle certain situations. You read your favorite genre and your least favorite. You read to research, research, research, to keep up on current events, and to expand your general knowledge.

I always feel that I need a good chunk of time before sitting down and writing, and those chunks of time can be few and far between. Reading, on the other hand, fits into those smaller windows; it's much easier to pick up and put down something you're consuming than it is something you're creating. And since reading is essential for writing, by squeezing in some word consumption at various intervals throughout the day, I'm helping move the grand goal forward.

Awhile ago I renewed my subscription to National Geographic. I read it cover to cover every month. The variety of topics discussed always develop into an idea or two for a story, which I then make sure to throw into an electronic document so that more thought can be put into it at some yet-to-be-determined date. So I've at least had that going for me.

A few weeks ago I picked up a novel that I had some interest in reading ever since my wife told me I might like it after she had read it for her book club. I think part of me was afraid to read fiction because I might realize the stuff I write is complete garbage compared to a real author's work (and therein is the "whole story" as mentioned from the first paragraph). Well I did start it and I purposely picked it up during free minutes here and there and during my lunch break at work. This felt good because I was working on polishing two habits at once: better use of those random free moments and reading for writing.

I also thought it might be worthwhile to share my feelings about the book I read, Life of Pi. Here is my review of the novel.

A Story that will Make You Believe in God

This review of Life of Pi will contain some spoilers. Not huge plot details, but enough generalities to give away some important parts. You've been warned.

Overall, I really liked the book, but since I can always find something to complain about, I will.

The book started with a note from the author. Right away I was confused. I knew Life of Pi was fiction, but the author's note was written like it was a true story. This wouldn't be a problem if it was stated to be written by someone else other than Yann Martel, the author, but since I was led to believe the note was written by Mr. Martel, I was confused.

From early on, it's apparent that Pi survives his ordeals. It's stated that the story has a "happy ending" and since the premise is that Pi himself has related his story to the author, he obviously doesn't get killed during the telling of his tale. There were plenty of times of great suspense during the novel where wild animals are pitted in close proximity to Pi and the young man has to use the very few resources around him in order to survive. I found myself feeling tense and nervous during these chapters (and loving it), but not as much as I could have since I knew all would be well in the end.

A few times throughout the novel I caught myself thinking that Martel was presenting a lot of interesting information, but it almost felt like he was just informing the reader of said information rather than moving the story forward. It reminded me of Herman Melville's long chapters about everything cetacean in Moby Dick. I will admit that Martel's informative musings were more interesting to me than Melville's, but that could simply be because of the difference 150 years has on what an audience finds more interesting: the body types of whales or all things to do with surviving months at sea. When I later read that Martel extensively researched a number of different topics for Life of Pi, I wondered if he just couldn't resist regurgitating every interesting thing he had learned rather than tying it all tightly into the narrative.

A few criticisms aside, I really enjoyed the book. It was a great story that moved deftly from moments of action and suspense to moving imagery of life, death, religion, and survival.

The book takes an interesting twist near the end that really shakes things up and almost makes a person want to start reading the book over from the beginning right away to see how it comes across with this new knowledge. This was the first time I really thought about the claim made by a fictional person in the author's note that Pi's tale is, "A story that will make you believe in God." I had initially scoffed at such a claim as just being something to say to try to pull the reader in. After reading the last part of the novel, I realized it didn't mean it was going to actually change a person's belief in God, but rather it was making a statement about the very nature of a faithful belief.

The first part of the book is heavy with Pi's love of three major religions. He angers some people in his life because he doesn't choose one religion, but finds things he loves about all of them and so embraces them all. And just like Pi chose certain parts that made sense to him, moved him, helped him to explain life, so too must the reader choose which of the two stories we're to believe. Do you believe the good story or the ugly story? But there's more to it - the good story has parts that are too fanciful to be realistic. So, to believe the good story, you also must be able to explain those fantastic aspects by attributing them to an intervention of a higher power.

And I think that was the author's point on religion: We want to believe the "good story", so we find a way to believe, even if that means relying on something not based on hard evidenced facts, but on faith.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


I stay up too late. I've decided that this is the cornerstone of my bad habits, the one that, if picked away at enough so that it crumbles, it will make all subsequent knocking down of other bad habits easier while simultaneously making the building of positive habits that much easier. Lack of sleep can have a whole pile of negative side effects. Cranky moods. Lethargy. Messed up metabolism. Foggy thinking. Really, pretty much anything a person wants to accomplish is more difficult if that person is sleep deprived.

I had realized that this was a problem for me years ago but any attempt to adjust my sleep schedule would never last very long. Each week and each night I had intentions of going to bed earlier, but it seldom happened. When it did happen, it wasn't because I had finally conquered my inner anti-sleep demon, it was because it was the end of the week and I was exhausted.

Now I'm trying it again and have been doing really well for the past week. Why will it work now when it hasn't in the past? Not sure. Maybe it's because I'm looking at it as a means to an end. I'm not doing it to simply get more sleep, I'm doing it to make it possible to fulfill other goals later.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

...And Breathe.

Am I really posting on this blog again after nearly two years of silence? You bet your ass I am.

But Torey, you might say, if you haven't had anything to say in this long about your stuttering, what could you possibly add now?

Good question, and thanks for asking it, friend! The answer is, I still might not write about stuttering all that much, but that doesn't mean that this little slice of the internet can't be refocused on something else while retaining its original long-term plans. More about those continued long-term plans later.

Whenever I think about myself - who I really am, who I want to be, experiences I've gone through that have changed me in little or large ways - I've realized that my speech doesn't factor in to the picture my mind paints. When my mind wanders, which is frequently, and it's jumping from my daily stresses to my dreams, it's never about stuttering. Furthermore, if I chose one thing to change about myself, I can say with certainty it would not have anything to do with speech production.

So all that being said, is it any wonder why my blog posts here slowly spread themselves out until pretty soon I was approaching a two-year hiatus? How can a person expect to write on a regular basis about something that isn't that important to them?

I started this blog on a day that doesn't happen very often and with a quote that fit the narrowed focus of the blog, but that quote is still equally as relevant to the new widened focus. See the quote here.

The original idea was to have a slow and steady change to my speech from where I was at point A, to where I wanted to be at point B. I'm keeping the idea the same, but expanding it from "speech" to "my life." But I've actually pulled back even a bit more than that to focus on the processes of getting to where ever it is I might want to end up in my life (I say "where ever" like it's unknown, but it's really not).

The processes that I will focus on will be habits, fears, and motivation. If I make the changes and realizations in the right direction, I'm expecting this to help in all aspects of my life, speech included. That being said, the grand goal of all of this is to get to the point where I regularly do some writing, of the fictional type. I'm aiming to shield my eyes from those bright lights, squint a little, and be happy with what I see beyond.