Thursday, February 28, 2013

Making Mead

Summary of a first draft of a rejected script.

Picture dull plain suburbia. Our hero is a middle-aged history teacher Rob with an apathetic facebook games-addicted wife and a slacker son. We learn that they will soon adopt a dog from the pound for his son. One day he is hanging out with his brother-in-law, a security guard, when he witnesses a robbery of a liquor store. While one of the perpetrators is caught, the other gets away with a case of mead. Rob recognizes the other robber as his ex-student Terry, but does not identify him to the police, as he is intrigued by the concept of liquor store robbers stealing mead.

The following day we see Rob having what seems like a heart attack. When an ambulance arrives, the paramedics inform Rob that his heart attack was really a bad heartburn and that he is otherwise in fine health. Shaken by the experience, and with a knowledge that he only has between thirty and forty years to live, during which time he has to somehow provide for his wife, his son and their future dog, he resolves that he needs to somehow supplement his teacher salary.

Tracking down Terry, Rob offers him a deal. Before he became a history teacher, Rob was a brilliant historian who wrote his PhD in the history of brewing in medieval Scandinavia. He explains to Terry that the mead sold in stores is subpar and cannot compare to the properly brewed traditional mead. Using Rob's superior knowledge, and Terry's ability to procure ingredients [errrrr, figure out how and why later. Not important at this point], the two set up a home brewery in Terry's garage, because Rob's garage is too full and his wife doesn't approve of his brewing experiments. Together the two go into the underground home brewery business.

Notes scribbled in the margin in author's hand:
So like, that's the pilot, right? L8r the two will provide mead to dangerous neo-Viking pagan bikers, make dangerous deals with the local white trash bootlegger gang, and take out the rival moonshiners using Rob's history knowledge. Think of something historical. Thirty Year War or some crap like that. Rob's marriage goes downhill as he tries to keep his mead brewing from his wife, but she doesn't care cuz Farmville. Have the brother-in-law try to like track down the illegal brewers or something.

Notes scribbled in a different, more forceful hand:
Script is crap but has potential. Like the teacher angle, but history?! Chemistry is edgier. Go with chemistry.

P.S. Moral of the story: chemistry teachers are more interesting than history teachers!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Pfffffffffft Mondays

To paraphrase W. G. Sebold: "Teachers and students regard each other across a gulf of mutual incomprehension." The teachers kind of remember what it was like to be a student, but can't believe they ever had this much energy or DRAMA!!! themselves. The students get a first dreadful inkling of what life is like after school. If you think about it, for most (maybe even all?) students, the teacher is greatest adult presence in their life outside of parents or guardians. Parents are parents, you don't pick them usually, and you're pretty used to their lives. So the outside adult world is in significant part influenced by the perception of the teacher, before a student gets a job of his/her own. However, I am constantly surprised by just how many misconceptions students have about a teacher's life, or what a teaching job is actually like. So here is my helpful guide to a teacher's life put into a perspective a student can understand - a student's perspective. Without further ado:

A teacher:
- Does homework every day. For every subject. Usually before, during, and after school.
- Does other people's homework too most of the time (that's marking for you the unitiated!)
- Has cliques of his/her own. Yeah, we too have personal and sometimes irrational likes and dislikes and we too gossip in the cafeteria and the library!
- Looks forward to every long weekend, holiday and vacation.
- Manages to get by on the tests with a combination of luck, last-minute "OH SHIT I ONLY HAVE 15 MINUTES UNTIL CLASS" panic, and half-remembered snippets from a textbook.
- Does a presentation every day. Usually for every subject. Yes, sometimes we too stammer, not maintain proper posture, have to look at our notes and avoid eye contact.
- Usually hates gym. Unless s/he is a jock. Most of us still has that secret mounting horror when we enter gym. It's like ingrained in us or something.
- Has people that get mad and him/her when his/her homework and assignments are not done. Except in our case grades = job.
- Gets an urge to check his/her facebook, cellphone, text messages and email every 15 seconds. More often if there's DRAMA!!! or Farmville involved (substitute your own brand of poison for Farmville, be it sports, celebrity gossip, recipes, IKEA or DRAMA!!!).
- Has mixed feelings about the other student body (except in this metaphor the student body is literally the student body). Yeah, guess what, we too can't stand the loudmouth in the back of the class, the know-it-all in the front, and we too can be creeped out by that one kid who does that thing with his nose and the pencils and a reindeer...
- Gets detention as well. Typically if we give detention to others. Or if we didn't do our homework on time and now we have to cram it. Or if we have clubs or gym. Yeah, leaving school late sucks.
- Has mornings when s/he wakes up and thinks up of different ways to fake a stomach flu, or high temperature or whatnot.
- Has obnoxious demanding parents to deal with. Only in our case the obnoxious demanding parents are your parents! >^_^<

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Brandon Sanderson Q&A video and highlights

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending Brandon Sanderson's book signing and Q&A event organized by Bakka Phoenix Books (a fantastic store with wonderfully helpful staff) and Toronto Public Libraries. Sanderson is probably my favourite fantasy author at the moment (as well as Scott Lynch, Patrick Rothfuss and yes - G.R.R. Martin), the author of very inventive Mistborn series, the new Stormlight series, and particularly famous right now for his continuation and conclusion of The Wheel of Time series. I also got a chance to ask him a few questions myself. So anyway, a few highlights from the Q&A:

- There will be two more trilogies in the Mistborn series. One will be set in the modern-day equivalent of the Mistborn world, the other will be set in the sci-fie equivalent of the same universe. There may also be another bridging novel between the two, just like "The Alloy of Law" is bridging the first and second Mistborn trilogies.

- Sanderson will have two YA books coming out this year. I actually look forward to picking them up, for myself as well as my students. I really think he can pull of YA well.

- The only things that Sanderson introduced into The Wheel of Time that weren't there before were more interesting tricks that Dreamwalkers could do, and more uses for gateways and Travelling. Personally I think he actually did a better job playing around with the magic system than Jordan did himself.

- Sanderson confessed that there are currently no plans for him to do either prequels or sequels to the Wheel of Time, but if he could, he'd do a prequel novella or a short story or two about Tam, Rand Al'Thor's father. I had a chance to ask him to elaborate on any further Wheel of Time projects, he mentioned that he'd love to see a video game adaptation, perhaps about Tam or based around an Aiel character. Given that I think SEGA has the rights to the Wheel of Time video game franchise right now, it might not be impossible. I just hope it'll turn out better than the Song of Ice an Fire video game adaptations.

- While there was already a list created by Jordan regarding which characters were to die in WoT's last book "A Memory of Light", both Sanderson and Harriet (Jordan's wife and editor of WoT) also bumped off a few more characters in order to successfully resolve the ending.

- Yes, the epilogue of the Wheel of Time in its entirety was written (dictated) by Jordan, and apparently the ambiguous ending was intended that way by Jordan himself. Personally I don't see the ending as being ambiguous at all, but apparently a lot of fans didn't get it or something.

- Sanderson put more Aviendha into the last three books than originally planned, because she is his favourite character. When asked about what were his favourite parts in "his" three Wheel of Time books he stated that Aviendha's and Perrin's chapters were his favourite.

- Very few questions were asked about Stormlight Archives series (which I thought was a shame), but Sanderson is planning on really spinning it out into a huge sprawling epic high fantasy series, and that the timeline will be quite long. So we can probably expect many of the characters from the first book to not make it.

Anyway, those were the big highlights for me. Enjoy the video, I hope it didn't turn out too bad.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Two Minutes of Hate

Sometimes catharsis can come from the most unexpected places. For me it was the realization that I use the word 'hate' too much and that it is an indication that I hate too much. Someone I know posted something on facebook and I made a tongue-in-cheek comment about how it combined all three things I hate (for those curious the three things were Disney World, Starbucks and Harry Potter). Another friend of the original poster replied to my comment and... Well, it spiraled out of control. Or at least it almost did. Maybe this person was a huge Harry Potter fan and she was tired of having to defend her tastes in the public domain all the time. Maybe this person was having a bad day. Or she did not understand Internet-style humour (do people really not know about Godwin's Law anymore?). After one comment, my reaction was that of laughing incredulity, but it got under my skin. And then the comment dug deeper and deeper. How dare she make assumptions about me? In minutes I was shaking with rage, thumbs aflutter composing a post so heinous and bilious that I nearly dropped the phone. Something I pride myself on is that I try to show my male students that they have to treat women with respect, as human beings, and here my post all but started with 'cunt' and went downhill from there. What was wrong here? What was wrong with this picture?

I deleted the post. Never replied to the comment. But that rage, that hate, refused to go away, it just sank deeper, lay still. Do I just post another snarky reply? Try to tone it down? In the end I did not reply at all and just let it lie. Hours later I made a separate wall post to the effect of "stupid people on the Internet". Why? To feel vindicated I guess. To feel I got the last word in. Which of course I didn't, because this person would not have seen my post. It did get me thinking though. Maybe what set the other person off wasn't a bad day, or a love for Harry Potter books. Maybe it was the word 'hate'. And maybe, what provoked such rage in me was that it exposed my reliance on hatred.

Human beings tend to see things in black and white. We can't help it I think. Like or dislike (perhaps facebook is far wiser than many people give it credit for not including a dislike button), yes or no. When given a communication outlet for our opinions that is as physically disassociated as the Internet, we have a tendency to push things to extremes. Like becomes love, dislike becomes hatred. Sardonic irony gets smeared over everything, and that I believe is also its own brand of hatred - the kind where you hate something or someone but you don't want to appear too worked up over it, so... irony it is. It works in reverse too, when I said 'hate' what I thought I was doing was being ironic: "No, I don't really "hate" it, I just dislike it, but it's somehow funnier if I say hate." Well, no, no it's not. If I said 'hate' then that's what the other person hears, and it's also what I want them to hear (whether I realize it or not). So really I'm trying to be ironic and earnest at the same time. The tone is irony, but the message is really "Look! I can take a strong stand on this issue! I have principles!" Dislike is wishy-washy, it's a wet towel of emotions, and we don't want to appear wishy-washy, now do we?

Hold on though, it's deeper than this. Did I say 'hate' to the person whose comments provoked the rage? No, I said 'hate' to the original post. Did I have to comment at all? Why post at all if my comment was a snarky kneejerk ironic reaction? What did I gain by it? Did I somehow enlighten the original poster as to the error of his ways? Did I make the world a better place? No, I just shitposted for the hell of it, to make a stand (but you know, in a physically safe, but emotionally charged way) to show that I could take a stand. And when someone else calls me out (rightly or wrongly) it put me on the defensive, it challenged my plan. Goddammit, I had this whole nice picture in my mind all laid out! It's a funny comment, it'll get a couple of likes, maybe a snarky response by the original poster, let bygones be bygones and let the good times roll on. Now how dare this stranger ruin my plan, challenge my power - nay, my right! - to ironically shitpost? Hence hate, hence rage. See, this is what I ultimately realized. Hatred is a natural emotion, but it's not a right, and it's not an expression of power that I think many people mistake it for. Hate is a response to power, hatred is not an emotion of a strong person, but an emotion of a weak person, or one who is unsure about the security of his power. So when someone challenges our hatred, it provokes rage. I think I could do better in the future.