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6.26.2013

Oregon Faithful Vindicated in NCAA Ruling

After two years of inept NCAA investigations and accusations of extreme wrong-doing by any entity invested in the University of Oregon football team's demise (I'm looking at you, Oregon State and UW), the Ducks were hit with a paltry three years of probation and a loss of two scholarships over the next two years.

Yeah. 

Husky and Beaver fans were expecting a thunderclap of program-crippling sanctions and restrictions that would do to the Ducks what happened to the Huskies when they were blasted years ago. The puppies have only recently begun to show signs of life (I still love that UW went without a win in 2008).

As for the Beavers? They just naturally struggle--no sanctions could effectively do to that program what it already does to itself.

Here is what we know about this case:


  • The Ducks were fully cooperative with the NCAA (read report in link above).
  • The Ducks were within the boundaries of the rules at the time that they began working with Willie Lyles.
  • The Ducks have since created a special position within the athletic department whose sole responsibility is limiting interactions between athletes and street agents/runners.
  • The Ducks take compliance seriously. They have taken great administrative steps to ensure that this won't happen again, and I'm confident that they will continue to have great success in all of their athletic programs while doing it the right way.
  • Lache Seastrunk, the poor kid at the center of this whole mess, never even carried the ball in a game for the Ducks. 
That last point is important to me, because I still hear that the Ducks cheated to make it to these last four BCS games (they won their last two). That's simply not true, and now Lache is tearing it up back in Texas and the Ducks are gearing up for another run at the national championship. Everyone should now be able to move forward happily.

I love my Ducks. The first thing I did this morning was to fly the Oregon flag outside the house. Come what may, I'm a Duck, and I support the team through it all--the highs and the lows.

But I'm thankful for today's outcome, to be sure. What many Oregon dissenters thought would be a program death knell today amounted to nothing less than a slap on the wrists, and that's how it should have been. Here's to hoping the draconian NCAA gets their bylaws and guidelines in shape so schools like Tennessee, Cal, and Oregon won't experience this same set of shenanigans in the future... 

6.25.2013

Rest Easy, Richard Matheson

The great metaphysicist of his literary era passed away yesterday at the age of 87. Richard Matheson, whose story "Button, Button" I've taught often in recent years, wrote about life and love and spirituality and humanity with grace and grit. I loved his horror stories. I loved his science fiction tales. I really liked his surreal fiction (that short story about Hollywood and Los Angeles taking over America was great--read it in a log cabin on the banks of the Suwannee River...), and I thought his television contributions were tremendous. I watched Trilogy of Terror for about the thirtieth time recently and I still get a chuckle out of that damned doll.

Here's hoping he's having a beer with Mr. Bradbury right about now...

Here's a great retrospective of his life and work, and here is a fine interview. Kind of surprised by his thoughts on modern horror films, but he's right. They are gross. And a little gratuitous...

6.19.2013

Digital Serial Fiction


Back in April, the seed for a story began to germinate in the back of my mind. I wanted to take advantage of the hypertextual nature of the Internet as a storytelling medium, and I wanted to write another novella to (perhaps) anchor an upcoming collection of stories. 

QUICK TANGENT: I like novellas. I like reading them and I like writing them. I read a lot of negative, one-star reviews on Amazon and similar sites which bemoan the length of a given tale, but the novella lends itself nicely to some stories, and the Internet lends itself nicely to the novella. Outside of the occasional novella in Fantasy & Science Fiction, I just don't see them much anymore in print. Additionally, it seems that more people should, in theory, be enjoying the novella just based on some of the thoughts expressed in this excellent article by Nicholas Carr.

Here's a quote: 
Scott Karp, who writes a blog about online media, recently confessed that he has stopped reading books altogether. “I was a lit major in college, and used to be [a] voracious book reader,” he wrote. “What happened?” He speculates on the answer: “What if I do all my reading on the web not so much because the way I read has changed, i.e. I’m just seeking convenience, but because the way I THINK has changed?”
We are re-wiring some important mental processes, and I think shorter seems to be the general trend...
END OF TANGENT

So this story--a bit of a dystopian middle-grade cannibalism disaster story told from the perspective of a twelve-year-old survivor--spilled out of me pretty quick...at least initially. I came into it knowing I wanted to write a serial, and I was mindful of how I wanted to pace it out. I designed a site, opened a WattPad account, and dusted off my old Scribd. account. I thought I'd write ten chapters consisting roughly of 2,000 words, and I'd release a new chapter every Monday. 

You can read the story here, by the way.

How did it do? Well, I received almost no interest on WattPad. I might try another tale on that medium, or I might not. At this point in time, I think it's important to maybe identify and nourish the dozen (or so) digital spaces that best suit your needs, and then just let the rest go. I had a few readers there, though, so that is always gratifying.

Scribd. was much better. At last count, the story was looked at 487 times. I had, on a weekly basis, about 100 page views for the different chapters on Blogger. It still gets some good traffic, and a lot of people come over here, to this woefully neglected little blog, from the Remnants site. 

I've sold about fifty total copies since the story went up on Amazon in trade paperback and digital. Folks have e-mailed me kind words on it, and I always appreciate the encouragement. It makes getting back to the word processor much easier, to be sure...

In terms of the writing process, I wrote the first four chapters in full and worked with some of my friends at the college on revisions. For the rest of the story, I purposely chose to write on a weekly deadline. It was positive pressure--that knowledge that, come hell or high water, something had to get done if the story was going to move forward (whether it did or not is always up to you, dear reader...). I think the immediacy of the medium and the ability to connect a story to artifacts outside it's diegetic boundaries can make the digital serial a practically limitless artistic artifact.

Some of my favorite writers have penned great articles and essays on their love for the serials of their youth. There is just something delicious about the anticipation of waiting for the next installment in a series. I just polished off thirty hours of Game of Thrones, folks, and believe me--that little-kid, I-can't-wait-another-minute-to-open-these-presents fever was on me in full when I was watching that show. My initial appraisal fell far short. It's the best television I've seen in years. 

So, all in all I enjoyed writing Remnants: A Record of Our Survival very much, and I hope it provides an entertaining escape for those that stumble upon it. I'll definitely revisit the genre in the future when the right project presents itself.

6.05.2013

Taking Time to Learn the Basics

Wow, what a year it's been...

Two years ago, I was accepted into a doctoral program at the University of Central Florida. Eighteen credits and roughly 14,112 miles later, I am just now approaching a conclusion to my coursework. I will have fifteen more credit hours to complete in the fall and spring of next year, in addition to the six I am taking this summer.

I was one of just a very few that was awarded a competitive sabbatical by my employer, Florida State College at Jacksonville, which will expire in August. I'm truly thankful for the College's support in helping me return to the classroom. None of this would have been possible without the College's help. FSCJ also reimburses tuition, so the College has definitely placed a premium on investing in its employees.

It's been a great year for us, all in all, but we've also had some rough patches along the way. Numerous health issues for Jeanne and me (I just got the bill for the eight stitches I received in my foot--$5500, and that's not even including the doctor's fees...thank goodness for decent insurance!) sapped our patience and our savings. We're not destitute by any stretch, but I'm sure looking forward to a prolonged period without tests and doctor's fees and ER visits, that's for sure.

I was told I would likely have work for the summer if I wanted it, and I certainly did want to work, given the diminished earning potential that comes with a sabbatical, but enrollments are down throughout Florida and UCF had nothing to offer the teaching assistants (actually, a lot of full-time faculty are having a hard time making their loads, from what I hear...). Because of the nature of the sabbatical, I couldn't work anywhere but UCF, so that means I'm home for the summer.

Which leads me to my next blessing. I have such a sweet daughter, and what a pleasure it has been to be with her every day this summer! We took her out of school, of course, since Dad was staying home. And since the first day of summer, we've had a tremendous time in learning from each other.

Here is a picture of her that I snapped earlier:


The object she is holding represents part of our attempt to learn to read and write. We're keeping a botanical journal this summer, and Lyla is writing down the names of the plants before drawing them and collecting a specimen for pressing and presenting in her pages. It's a codex text, but she may digitize a few pages when it's all said and done. We've been to the Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens just about every single day of the summer. 

When I took her out of school, I told we had two goals to accomplish over the next three months: we needed to learn how to swim and how to read. So far, so good on both fronts. We're reading our first chapter book together (The Boxcar Children) and practicing our letters every day. Lyla can swim about fifteen meters without any problems. She's learning a modified crawl stroke, and she's starting to tread water. When she gets her breathing down, we'll challenge the test to get a green necklace, which comes with the all-important deep-end privileges (we're talking water slides here, folks). 

We're also learning a lot about Florida's fish and reptile populations. Every time we visit the Arboretum, we bring bread to feed the birds, turtles, and fish. We almost always see a snake or three, and there have been cormorants and ducks and all kinds of neat birds. 

Here's a banded water snake we saw earlier:
Our routine is a lot of fun, and it's been productive for us both. We get up together (Lyla still climbs into our bed every morning) and have breakfast and clean the house up, then head to the YMCA for some exercise (she does Kid's Cardio, which is basically an hour of dodgeball--how great is that?), then off to the pool, then over to the arboretum, then lunch and a nap. I work on my summer schoolwork (Bakhtin, Nietzsche, Foucault, Pereleman, Weaver) or write some fiction while she snoozes, then we hang out with Mom.

But you know what the best part of it has been? The best part is holding my daughter's hand and answering her questions about the world. Just in the last few days, she's asked me:
  • Dad, do trees like being trees?
  • Do clams have faces?
  • Do cats eat monkeys?
  • Did I hatch?
She's really observant, and she loves figuring out how things work and why things are the way they are. 

I also like just sitting together in the humid air, listening to the birds while she quietly works on an entry in her journal. She counts the number of leaves on a plant sometimes, just to keep things accurate.

It's so neat to see the person that she is becoming--the person that she'll be someday--in those little glimpses into the developing human. 

Jeanne's working until next Tuesday. Usually she would stay on in the summer and make some extra money as well, but the budget is lean this year in Duval County, as it will be in our home until September. Still, who cares? We'll have time together, and that's invaluable. I was a little worried when I discovered that neither of us would be working, but now I'm ecstatic that we won't be.

When else will we have that same amount of carefree time together, with our young daughter? She's learning from us, and we're learning from her, and we couldn't ask for a better situation...