So why the change back?
The choice to become vegetarian in the first place, six months ago, was purely a psychological/moral one: People don’t need to eat animals to live, so why kill intelligent creatures to consume them needlessly? However, as many of you have heard when I’ve discussed it with you, it was always a struggle for me. I still wanted to eat meat, I just curbed myself from doing so because I’d decided for myself that it was wrong. But the temptation remained. It’s hard to overcome a nearly 40-year habit, after all.
However, one of my aunts is taking a nutrition course and mentioned in passing several weeks ago that her instructor told the class that, in his opinion, vegans may reduce their lives by as much as one third due to not consuming a proper, broad enough range of foods. Granted, I was never vegan, and the opinion is an extreme one I’d never heard before and could be wildly inaccurate, but the point of it stuck with me: what if, in seeking a higher moral ground and denying myself â€“ my body â€“ a specific type of food, I was actually doing myself more harm than good?
It’s clear that humans evolved over time to accommodate whatever kind of food they wish to eat. We have the range of tooth types to prove such accommodation (biting, tearing, grinding…), and our jaws can move to deal with whatever type of food we’re eating at the time. But that’s just it: we aren’t designed to eat any one kind of food. Not just meat, not just fruit, not just vegetables… but a variety of each. And recalling something that had already occurred to me many years ago, it seemed to me now a bit foolish to be second-guessing millions of years of evolution. We have come to be this way for a biological reason. So yes, we can of course choose to eat (or not eat) whatever we wish, such as meat, but physiologically speaking, should we?
The issues of eating meat I had were two-fold: the philosophical/moral question, and the health question. For the former, my friend Alex, ever-practical and insightful, suggested reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which in part touches on the moral issues of vegetarianism vs. omnivorism. The book goes on at some length as the author questions the morality of eating meat, but most pointedly, states that 1) even outspoken animal rights activist Peter Singer doesn’t feel confident about standing against eating meat from â€œgood farmsâ€ (i.e. those where animals are allowed to live their lives freely and normally, without drugs or cages or crowding… without, that is, the matter-of-course suffering imposed by factory farming) because ultimately such a natural farm setting has created more animal â€œhappinessâ€ in the world than if the animals had never existed, and 2) that the same â€œhappy life and merciful deathâ€ line is how Jeremy Bentham, â€œthe philosophical father of animal rightsâ€, also justified eating meat. So the philosophical question, for me, was pretty much resolved: eating â€œhappy animalsâ€, even to animal rights figureheads, is morally defensible.
For the issue of my health, I spoke with my friend Jenny, a holistic nutritionist. Her conclusion was that there’s no particular â€œbestâ€ diet that can paint everyone, as it were, with the same brush. It can’t be said that vegetarianism is (or isn’t) a more healthy diet for everyone, because each individual’s body will react to diets differently. Some people can’t handle meat well, while others don’t play nicely with lactose, or nuts, or grains… it varies according to the individual (perhaps even within the blood type group that the book Eat Right For Your Type explains). And while I can’t say six months of vegetarianism didn’t agree with me in any broad sense, my system certainly didn’t seem to benefit from it in any notable way. I didn’t have more energy (in fact, felt at times more tired), I didn’t feel â€œlighterâ€ or healthier in any discernible way, my mind seemed to work no differently… and yet I was jumping through hoops not just daily, but multiple times daily, in order to maintain the vegetarian lifestyle in a house with a wife and baby who both eat meat. That, plus trying to stay on top of finding new, interesting recipes, plus the time to shop for the needed ingredients and then execute those recipes… all while being a stay-at-home dad for a one-year-old, and in accounting for a working wife who doesn’t have much time to make her own food.
Vegetarianism was, in short, demanding extra time from a lifestyle which simply doesn’t have the needed amount to spare, and was doing it without any clear health benefits. In fact, perhaps the opposite: eggs and cheese, two handy go-to protein sources I had initially counted on when I became vegetarian, may’ve had unhealthy effects on me. The Forks Over Knives Twitter feed recently posted a link to a study that found that men who eat more than 2.5 eggs per week increase their chances of prostate cancer by 80%. And cheese, as one of my uncles pointed out, is worse than meat for your body to process. All of which only added even more stress to a diet that was already proving stressful to try to maintain. And as Alex put it, yes, authorities and figureheads are constantly changing opinions on what food is good or bad for you seemingly from one week to the next, but the one thing they can all agree on across the board â€“ one thing that never changes trends â€“ is that that stress is bad for people. So all things considered, was I truly doing myself any favours by trying to maintain a vegetarian lifestyle?
All of this was crystalized for me when my father-in-law died unexpectedly in late October. He was suddenly taken away from his friends and family; from my wife, and most poignantly for me, from our daughter, his one-year-old granddaughter. A man who had taken care of himself all his life â€“ a professional dance instructor and NHL prospect, whose fitness seemed unquestionable â€“ still died unexpectedly. And it was made clear to me that if I wanted to be around as long as possible for my daughter, which I very much do, I’ve got to start taking better care of myself than I have been for… well, let’s face it, for the bulk of my life. I need to cut down on junk food, get more exercise and more sleep, and perhaps most important of all, eat a healthy diet… or at least a healthier one. One that, to say the least, cuts back on my stress.
However, even back to eating meat, I realize that in taking on the only eating â€œhappy animalsâ€ approach, I’m still a far cry from being able to eat meat to the degree I’d become accustomed to up until six months ago. Most restaurants, of course, use factory farms for meat to keep their costs down. So unless I’m eating outside the house and can be assured that the meat being offered up came from â€œgood farmsâ€ or that the animals otherwise lead normal lives and died quickly (and really, how often can that happen?), the vegetarian diet will still be applied wherever practical and wherever my health isn’t compromised by doing so.
Precisely what I will or won’t eat in a given situation is still being considered â€“ if I’m handed a pork chop for dinner at someone’s house and don’t know where it came from, am I going to make everyone feel awkward by pressing the host on the issue (and then what, whip up my own non-meat meal on the spot or not eat at all)? Even if it came from a factory farm, the deed is done; I’m not supporting the system by buying meat from it, but is eating such meat that I didn’t buy still supporting that system? The animal’s suffering has come and gone; my eating the pork chop or not won’t change what’s already happened, but is not buying but still eating it knowing the animal’s suffering justifiable? In a world where people are literally starving to death on a daily basis, is it more globally conscious to eat the food I’m lucky enough to be offered, or turn it away (perhaps even risk it being wasted) despite its source? â€“ but all that is being worked on.
I hope to post an update on how all that goes, this time shooting for less than six months from now. In the mean time, as always, your comments and feedback, good, bad, or ugly, are welcomed.4 comments
There are doubtless going to be questions from friends and family about what prompted the choice. I shall duly answer the six questions we were taught in grade school to ask about events in order to cover the bases:
For about a week now, though still in transition. More on that in a minute.
Here. Everywhere. Also: me.
Well that’s the million dollar question, isn’t it?
As a quick bit of background, I bought the new Rise Against album, Endgame, and was flipping through the insert — the lyrics and notes — when I noticed a quick aside prompting the reader to read the book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. Intrigued by the title, I Googled it, and was immediately engaged by what I found. I bought the book shortly after, and have been reading it piecemeal since then as time allows.
As for the “Why?” itself… there’s no one, quick answer to that.
I’ve always known, as all meat eaters do, where the meat I’m eating comes from. Yet it’s very easy to forget that; meat becomes just another grocery item. But as I’ve been reading Eating Animals, I’ve been acutely reminded of meat’s source. And not just in the most basic of ways, but getting in-depth detail: how meat is produced on not just a large, but a massive — a global — scale. And it’s truly horrifying stuff. Not just on a moral level of what the animals are put through (the genetic modification to make them produce more viable meat regardless of (indeed, in direct contrast to) their own well being, the standard mutilation to prevent them from damaging each other due in no small part to the inhumane conditions they endure, the drugs they’re fed as a matter of course due to the illnesses generated by the living conditions they’ve been put in), but on a philosophical one (why is it ok to raise pigs and cattle for meat but not dogs? Why do the people profiting from these factory farming processes get to be the ones to set the laws as to how their practices are done and what does or doesn’t constitute humane treatment? How much of a creature’s suffering is too much for me to enjoy my burger or chicken strips? Why kill a sentient being for nothing but the brief enjoyment of its flavour?), and a scientific one (what are we doing to aquatic life, and the planet itself, when there are 145 other species routinely captured and killed as an offshoot of fishing for just tuna? Why use six to twenty-six calories of food to produce one calorie of meat? And most notably and concerningly: all flus are fundamentally avian-based in origin — by forcing so many chickens in such close quarters and feeding them ever-more powerful drugs to combat the new strains of illnesses that are invariably produced by the nature of the system we’ve put them in, mankind is setting itself up for a far worse flu pandemic than the one we’re already long overdue for).
Where one issue of opting out of meat eating may be settled with one solution (organic, family-style farming where the animals are treated well and allowed to live in as natural a manner as possible before killing them, for instance), it doesn’t answer another (why do I need to kill that sentient being for food at all when eating in this other way will sustain me just fine?)
And as been confirmed again and again by professionals, the fact is that a balanced vegetarian diet is at least as healthy as an omnivore diet. Other than liking the taste of meat, there’s no reason to eat it. And given everything involved in letting me have that taste — the ethical, philosophical and scientific issues — I’m ok with stepping out of that cycle.
As I said… there’s no simple answer to the question of why I’m doing this. Perhaps the best way I can put it is that, all things considered, this is what I feel I need to do.
Carefully. As tempting as it has been (and still is) to just change these gears to feel better about myself, I know precious little about what a safe transition to vegetarianism involves, and as with other things, making sweeping changes without the proper knowhow can be dangerous. Until I have a solid grasp of what I’m doing to make this switch safely, my meat eating shouldn’t fade completely, but more appropriately be phased out (though I am trying to speed that up).
So there’s the bulk of the scoop. I’m wide open to any questions anyone has, but to cover what may be a few of them:
Won’t you miss the taste of meat?
Does this mean you’re not killing anything ever?
No. While I often try to help out living things (ask Jackie — and our neighbours — about how many spiders and the like I’ve transported outdoors rather than kill them), there are times when circumstance requires it. We had a lot of little ants that were invading the kitchen last year and already this year, for instance. Left unchecked, they’d take over the place. The larger, black ants have been coming in lately, too. They’ve gotta go, as well. But that’s of course completely different: practicality vs. killing something to eat it.
Are you going to harass me if I don’t join you in this change (into a left-wing commie pinko hippie animal-hugging dreamer)?
Not at all. As with my choice a few years back to not support Coke and its affiliated products (see killercoke.org) and in the last few months to not support chocolate manufacturers who use child labour (i.e. a lot of the big producers; do an internet search for Is There Slavery In Your Chocolate?, among others), this is about my choices for me. To each his own.
Are you joining PETA, or anything of the like?
No. PETA does raise valid points (can anyone really deny that there are animals that are mistreated, and that they should be treated better?), but their methods are extreme and sensationalistic. Anyone who’s known me for more than a day will know I’m neither of those.
Is Jackie joining you?
While she supports me (albeit with due, loving mocking), Jackie’s not on board the Vegetarian Train. Yet, at least. She’s still breastfeeding, so we agree it’s best to not to risk shocking or forcing such a change on her system when Laila needs her to maintain a status quo.
Is Laila joining you?
While now on ever-new (liquified) solids, she’s not on meat yet. Jackie and I are going to do what research we can on long-term benefits or drawbacks to raising a child as a vegetarian from scratch. At the very least, we’ll do whatever we need to do to get her hormone/drug-free meat to raise her on, and let her make her own moral choices about continuing to do so later in life. In short, we want whatever the evidence suggests is best for her.
Are you giving up anything else? Drinking? Junk food? Sex?
No, no, still trying to cut down but indulging, and dear god no.
If you were on a desert island and could only survive by killing a pig to eat it, would you?
Tough call. I probably would. Hell, those plane crash victims in the mountains years back ate dead passengers to survive. The drive to live another day makes people do things they never thought they would, or could, do. Luckily, I’m afforded a lot more opportunities in everyday life. Here, now, I wouldn’t kill a pig to survive, because I don’t need to. Nor do I need to ask someone else to do it for me.
So does this mean you’re going vegan at some point? After all, dairy products and eggs, and such, come from animals, which must be farmed to some degree, and are therefore suffering to some degree for your overeasy or bowl of icecream.
Fair point. If I thought I could make it to that big a leap in one go, I probably would. As it is, I like milk, I like cheese and eggs, and I really like icecream. This change to vegetarianism by no means wholly clears my conscience as far as farmed animal welfare goes, but it’s now one helluva lot better than it was. As my best friend Alex puts it, small changes can make a big difference. And as a guy who’s turning 40 this year and who’s eaten meat all his life, I’d say becoming vegetarian would certainly count as a least a small change.
Penny jammed the barrel of the gun into my mouth. It tasted coppery. Or maybe that was my own blood from the three newly missing teeth, courtesy of the gorilla sneering a smile at me from behind her.
I’d seen him before.
Where was that?
Then it hit me through the dazed fog: that musclehead with Papillon in the club that first night. The night I met Penny.
Built like a brick shithouse, that guy. I’m no slouch in a street fight, and he took four of my hardest, dirty hits like he didn’t feel them. That was before he hit me back, like a wrecking ball. One hit for each of mine. I’m not sure which ones took the teeth out or when I fell to my knees, but it doesn’t matter. I heard that click of a Colt’s hammer and knew it was over.
I didn’t know it was her, of course. Not until she stepped out of the shadows with the heater leveled. Not that she needed it. One dance with the silverback in the Italian suit, and I was all but finished. Seeing Penny step out from behind him â€“ realizing what was going on â€“ and I was already done. The gun was a formality.
â€œI told you to stop digging,â€ Penny said, pushing the gun. Angry. I looked up at her as well as I could with one eye swelling shut; her beauty now severe. â€œBut you couldn’t help it, could you? ‘Johnny Delmar, the Great Detective.’ You couldn’t let it go.â€ It was then I saw the crack, the tiny fracture in her wall. A glimpse of humanity; of the woman she’d been. She caught it. Composed herself again. â€œWhy couldn’t you just let it go?â€
Because it’s who I am.
Because Papillon is killing you with drugs.
Because I love you.
I couldn’t say anything around the gun’s barrel, but must’ve said it with my eyes, because there was another crack in her wall. Bigger this time.
I pleaded through them.
This isn’t you, baby. I know it, and you know it.
End this. Take that heater and plug that mook standing behind you and let’s get out of here. Away from the city. Away from the country. Away from everything. To the end of the world. Just me and you. No one else and nothing else matters. Don’t do this. Don’t â€“
â€œWhy do you hesitate, my dear?â€
That voice. With that smooth French accent.
Papillon slid into the light behind her and stopped, eyes never leaving the back of her head. Not so much as a glance down at me.
â€œDo you love him?â€
I looked up at her.
She gritted her teeth, jaw muscles flexing. â€œI did.â€
I closed my eyes and exhaled, biting on the gun barrel, willing myself to stay still. I’d been waiting to hear those words from her these last three months. Waiting for some confirmation I wasn’t the only one feeling that way.
She never told me. Why didn’t she tell me?
But then, why didn’t I tell her?
Christ, how different it would’ve been if we’d just admitted it to each other.
â€œYou don’t any more?â€
A pause. Too long a pause. I looked up at her. Her eyes were welling with tears.
Papillion eased forward, stepping silently, until he was right beside her ear. â€œChange is never easy, cherie. You know what I offer you. But â€“ â€ he stepped away from her, stopping at the edge of the light. â€œ… if you feel you still want to be with Mr. Delmar instead, I understand. You would, of course, have to… join him.â€ Papillon stepped into the shadow as the gorilla cocked his own gun. Penny stiffened.
I flashed back to that first night at the club. I was there to catch a hot new piano player â€“ a colored kid name of William James Basie â€“ but was typically early. Only a few people around yet.
I was half way through my second Coke at the bar when Penny slid in beside me. At an empty bar. She was always blunt that way. She started talking, and I started listening. Kept listening, even when I caught Papillon and the musclehead coming down the stairs with the club owner, a guy I knew named Russ, who was looking nervous. My detective alarm was clanging at the back of my head.
â€œAre you even listening to me?â€ Penny asked.
I turned back to her. â€œI am,â€ I said honestly. â€œJust wondering who those two were, with the owner.â€ I glanced back to see the three of them heading out the front door.
â€œProbably best to not know,â€ she said.
I looked at her. â€œOh?â€
â€œI’ve been here a few nights a week for a while. I’ve… seen some things.â€ She half-shrugged.
â€œThings? What kind of things?â€ Russ was a good guy. Straight shooter. Wouldn’t even get into the speakeasy racket he’d told me about one night, even though it would’ve meant big money for the place, which I knew was having some money trouble. Maybe that was what the other two were here about.
She shrugged again. â€œI don’t know.â€
â€œYou don’t know?â€
She shook her head, sucking her juice and soda through the straw. â€œAnd I don’t want to know. You know what they say: ‘What you don’t know can’t hurt you.’â€
Even with the gun barrel stuck in my mouth, I smiled.
Penny frowned down at me. â€œWhat are you smiling at?â€
I smiled wider. She was upset now. â€œStop it.â€
And then it came: from deep within me, a tiny laugh.
â€œStop it, Johnny.â€ Getting angry again.
The laugh grew.
â€œYou stop it!â€
â€œGoddamit, stop laughing! Stop it or I’ll â€“… â€ Past angry now, into hate; this woman who I’d loved, and who’d loved me.
What you don’t know can’t hurt you.
And it erupted from me: the biggest belly laugh I’ve ever had… cut short.
Iron Man 2 opens by introducing a new villain: Whiplash, aka Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), the son of a just-dead Russian engineer whose work on the arc reactor that powers Iron Man (and indeed, Tony Stark himself) was allegedly stolen by Tony Stark’s father. Vanko sets to work building a powered suit of his own, and hunts down Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) to get his revenge. The attempt proves short-lived, and he’s sent to prison.
For his own part, Stark is fending off attempts by the government – spearheaded by weapon design technician competitor to Stark, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) – to obtain the Iron Man technology. Stark has also found out that he’s dying; the arc reactor that replaced his heart is leeching toxins into his body. He wants to keep it quiet from assistant/would-be love interest Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), so transfers control of the Stark empire to her under the pretense of her being able run it more effectively. Enter Natalie Rushman (Scarlett Johansson), the overseer of the legal transfer of the company to Potts’ control, and now assistant to Potts.
Hammer, meanwhile, has faked Vanko’s death in order to spring him from prison and has put Vanko to work on Hammer’s own line of Iron Man-like suits, which Venko turns into robots.
As he faces his own mortality secretly, Stark’s behaviour becomes more erratic and dangerous, finally pushing his friend Lt. Col. James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) to take control of one of the Iron Man suits in order to keep Stark in check. As his downward spiral continues, Stark gets a wake-up call from the past in a recorded message from his father informing Stark that he alone has the key to finding something very important; something that will change the world. And something, as it turns out, that will also save his own life.
Woven into this, we find that Rushman isn’t just a rep from legal who can handle herself in a fight, but is in fact an undercover SHIELD agent working for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson).
It’s only when Hammer’s robots are put into action at Hammer’s very public product launch that Vanko’s real plan is revealed.
Robert Downey Jr. does a good job in the revised role as Tony Stark, but the subplot of his tailspin of behaviour from knowing of his imminent death didn’t feel like it fit the character as well as it may have. Stark’s life has always been about complete control, so his acting out at losing control over his own life ending too soon makes some sense, but not to the degree he depicts. The result, which borders on too long, comes across as somewhat contrived.
Gwyneth Paltrow was more likable in the first movie, here having far fewer endearing moments, coming across instead as cold and uncaring. Granted, Stark’s unaccountable behaviour pushes her there to a point – to paraphrase her, she’s an assistant trying to run the company that Stark should be running – but it would’ve been nice to see her try to care for him more and distance herself less.
Scarlett Johansson was good, but felt like she was too downplayed. When she finally flies into glorious action during the movie’s climax (the fight choreography for her is quite well done), it’s all too brief a release from the prim and proper – though seductive – guise she’s held.
Don Cheadle’s Rhodes felt less friendly and more official than it perhaps should’ve (and may have, if Terrence Howard had been brought back to revise his performance as the character).
Sam Rockwell was good as Justin Hammer, but the character felt a bit two-dimensional.
Mickey Rourke was the real surprise here, putting on a performance which was not only noteworthy, but at its best, stole the show.
Overall, most performances weren’t what they could’ve/should’ve been, but the core idea of the story, the action, the other subplot of Tony re-discovering a new element as passed down to him by his father – that which will change the world and which literally gives him new life, and notched up presence/relevance of the Avengers all still make for an entertaining movie. It isn’t as good as the first on a number of levels, but is still worth seeing on a big screen by old and (like me) new Iron Man fans alike.
And yes, Virginia, there is a teaser after the credits. Worth sticking around for, though its snippit of a hint may be lost on those not at least passingly familiar with other Avengers.8 comments
The wizard rushed along the hallway. Anyone in his way was forced aside by his considerable girth, often followed by admonishment, while sheer momentum kept him huffing forward. Razzle was never a man to be trifled with, everyone knew, much less when he was in a hurry.
The guards at the commander’s door crossed their halberds as he approached.
â€œWhat is the meaning of this?â€ Razzle asked the older guard, a slow-looking man named Feldman.
â€œCommander’s orders,â€ Feldman mumbled. â€œEveryone’s to be kept out.â€
â€œAnd a fine job you’re doing,â€ Razzle assured him. â€œWell done in keeping everyone out. I, however, am clearly not everyone, am I? I am just someone.â€ He could see this got the tiny hamster in the tiny wheel in Feldman’s tiny brain going furiously. After a long moment, Feldman glanced at his partner and gave a quick, tight-lipped nod. The halberds uncrossed.
â€œDo keep up the excellent work,â€ Razzle patted Feldman’s shoulder on the way past as he turned the considerable doorknob and pushed through the heavy, metal-strapped wood door.
Commander Blackthorne looked up at the sound of the creaking door opening. He was seated at an oversized table with a large, detailed map of the continent spread before him, dozens of coloured pieces placed upon it. Ten-hour candles had burned out and been replaced again and again. Blackthorne looked even worse than he smelled. His planning for making war was taking its toll on him.
â€œMy liege,â€ Razzle bowed as deeply as his girth would allow.
â€œGood evening, Razzle,â€ Blackthorne said wearily.
â€œOh?â€ Blackthorne turned to the small window in the corner, now gaining detail in the dawn’s thin light.
â€œSire, if I may?â€
â€œHmm?â€ Blackthorne turned back to him. â€œOh, yes,â€ he gestured to continue.
â€œI believe that I have discovered a way for you to take over at least a portion of the world with nary an arrow fired nor man lost.â€
The commander perked up, but then became typically suspicious. â€œAre you well? Have you hit your head?â€
â€œNot at all, sire,â€ Razzle took tentative steps forward. â€œIt is the portal you had asked me to work upon.â€
â€œA… time portal,â€ Razzle reminded him. â€œTo seek out the result of pending battles.â€
â€œAh, yes,â€ Blackthorne finally remembered. â€œAnd? You have seen the result of the war?â€ He looked back at his map.
â€œOh, much better than that, sire,â€ Razzle said, licking his lips. â€œLate last night I finally managed to get the spell to work, and cast my gaze into the future. I came here immediately to tell you that the road to victory lies not in war, but in…â€ he paused to dramatize the moment. â€œApples.â€
â€œApples?â€ The commander echoed.
â€œApples,â€ Razzle confirmed. â€œGranted, the visions were neither clear nor whole, but one thing I can tell you with absolute certainty is that in the future, millions of people the world over will own apples.â€
â€œMillions do now, Razzle.â€
â€œAh, but something happens in the future. What, I cannot be sure, but it must be a fundamental change â€“ a paradigm shift in their very nature â€“ because apples are used, from what I can gather, as a form of entertainment, storage of information, creation, and communication.â€
â€œI fear this… future-gazing… has left you senseless,â€ Blackthorne’s gaze returned to the map.
â€œSire, I beseech you, heed my words. In this future, apples have become something entirely different than those we know. People are dedicated to them, to a stunning degree, despite the fact that they become extremely expensive. So much so, that as much as they may be desired, most people cannot afford them at all. It is only the relatively wealthy who can purchase them. And, oh, purchase them they do, sire. Again and again.â€ He could see he’d regained Blackthorne’s interest. â€œThey have them in their homes, they purchase them for their children… they carry them around openly, speaking of them as an indication of loyalty, and as financial stature. To corner the world market in apples will mean to have power the likes of which the world has never seen.â€
Now fully understanding Razzle’s proposal, the commander rose to his feet. â€œAre you suggesting I give up everything in light of this vision? Thousands of men are in the field as we speak,â€ he stabbed a finger at the map, â€œready to lay siege at my notice. You would have me call them back and instead take up… agriculture?â€
â€œI know what I saw, sire, and can only advise based upon that. Years of toil and strife and countless dead could be avoided completely, while giving you power and sway over a significant portion of the world. The choice, of course, is yours,â€ he bowed and stepped backward, finally turning and exiting.
The commander glared at his map.
How could any of what Razzle said be true?
And yet, he had seen the wizard’s work before. He knew the wonders that Razzle was capable of. The future had been seen; a future which could now be controlled by him with this new information.
The armies were recalled and put to use, the war machines disassembled and remade into more practical tools. Blackthorne oversaw everything. From his window high in the castle, he could look out and gloat over row after row of apple seeds as far as the eye could see; no mean feat.
He sat on his throne, fingers steepled in front of his face, with a glint in his eye and a dark smirk of certain victory. All he had to do now was wait for his world domination to come to fruition.
Dan woke up when the alarm clock went off. He hit it quickly and looked over his shoulder. Brianne hadn’t moved. He looked at her in the early morning light, stroking her hair fondly with a loving smile on his face. He slipped out of the bedroom as quietly as he could.
He showered before eating, as he always preferred. Breakfast was a bowl of cereal â€“ not his favourite brand. Plain Shreddies. Brianne’s choice. Smothering the coffee grinder with a dish towel to dull the sound, he brewed himself a single cup of coffee and enjoyed it as he flipped through the morning paper pulled from the front porch.
Dan skimmed over the local news, then international news â€“ more violence everywhere (what was the world coming to?) â€“ before poring over the sports section and finally ending, as always, with the comics. He liked to start off his day with some light humour.
He checked his watch. Time to get to work. He tidied up, pulled on his sports coat, grabbed his heavy briefcase â€“ a new project started today â€“ and locked the front door behind himself.
Forty-three minutes later, the door was broken in with a ram, SWAT making a quick, efficient sweep of the entire premises.
â€œAll clear,â€ the captain said as Special Agent Jamieson stepped over the threshhold. â€œProctor reported something you should see in the bedroom.â€
Jamieson made a sweep of his own, scanning around the living room and dining room from where he stood. â€œThanks,â€ he said.
Brianne Tremblay, Jamieson knew even as he stood at the bedroom door and saw her in the bed. Forensics was already at work on her body, but he knew what they’d find: the same thing they’d found each time. Like the cereal bowl. Like the coffee and newspaper and hair in the shower drain.
Now fourteen victims and counting.
They were getting close to catching Daniel Hayes. But not close enough.
I was reading a book this morning – Never The Bride by Paul Magrs – and at a moment in one of the short stories, just when I was getting into it, I read a paragraph that made me mentally step back and analyze what had been done in the writing in order to achieve a certain effect. And it occurred to me that on the one hand, having that happen is a compliment to the writer, but on the other hand is frustrating for me.
I’ve been writing stories on and off all my life, and have explored various different formats over the years. I’ve learned from books on honing writing skills and have attended seminars relevant to my work; studying, in short, how to be a better writer. A big part of that studying, of course, is reading.
When you read, you learn how to construct sentences, paragraphs, and stories. You learn structures, nuances, and styles. You learn what works and what doesn’t (and more importantly, why it does or doesn’t). And even if you don’t deconstruct what you read – consciously tear it apart to see how and why it works – reading gradually influences how, and the quality with which, you write.
However, as the saying goes, you can’t unlearn something. Once you’ve read up on, say, techniques to help make a scary scene more scary, it’s all too easy to find yourself reading scary scenes and mentally ticking off techniques that have been used rather than being swept away in the story itself.
It doesn’t happen to me all the time, of course. There are writers – Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, George RR Martin, Terry Pratchett, Elmore Leonard, and James Ellroy, to name a few off the top of my head – whose work is so well written and engrossing that it’s only when I put their books down between readings that I pull back from the tales they weave to consider how they managed to do what they do (invariably with envy).
Which brings me to the conundrum: is it possible for writers to at least mute their writer-ness long enough to enjoy anything at all that they read to avoid this intermitent, disruptive studying of the material, or is it only personally preferred writers and (types of) stories that we can look forward to enjoying purely as its intended entertainment?
So I’d be interested to hear: if you’re a writer, do you have this same problem with some of what you read? Which authors don’t you have this problem with? Whose work do you find yourself blissfully engrossed within, be it for particular stories or again and again? Might we be able to learn from them? Is just being a good writer enough to potentially be this distractingly engaging to other writers, or can we learn specific lessons from the masters about how to be this engaging?
What are your thoughts?No comments
With a childâ€™s life in the balance, a parent will do exceptional things. Ilsa was slipping further away with each passing moment and needed the apothecary medicine strapped under my cloak. My only option was to cut through the Dark Forest. Tales of the region said that most avoided the Forest at all costs, and that those who didnâ€™t were never heard from again. But the Black Path would cut my travel time by half at least.
With no choice to make, I went in.
Spidery trees clawed the sky from the fog-laiden ground, and all was deathly quiet. I pushed myself hard for long stretches at a time, stopping only when absolutely necessary. I was perhaps half way through to the far side when a beautiful woman in tattered clothing approached me, stepping â€“ almost forming â€“ out of the dim fog. She seemed familiar, possessing some aspects of my late wife, yet at the same time strange.
She cupped her hands, imploring. â€œGood sir, may I please have some food?â€
But what little food I had brought from the distant village was lost as I fell into a stream I was crossing much earlier. I had nothing for myself, let alone to offer to others. I told her I could not help her.
With that, her demeanor changed drastically: her beautiful face became twisted and hateful, once-beautiful eyes suddenly blazing with anger. She closed her fist, opened it again, and blew a fine powder at my face. My eyes stung and my breathing was reduced to choking gasps.
Everything went black.
I awoke as if immediately to find myself bare and leather-strapped to a wooden table. Candles, books, glass jars of oddities, and small, rusty farm tools were everywhere in the room, whose smell turned my stomach.
â€œYou donâ€™t like your new home?â€ An old womanâ€™s voice croaked at my expression. I turned to see a mockery of the woman I had seen on the path, now decades older; bent and twisted. She wasn’t looking at me, but was instead focused on her work as she pushed a ladle around a cauldron hung over her large fireplace.
â€œWhere am I? Who are you?”
“You should never have entered my domain,” she said, sparing me only a brief glance.
Tales of the Dark Hag flitted through my mind. No longer myth. No longer stories for children to scare each other with. Alive and before me and holding me prisoner.
Then, remembering what the tales said she did with her prisoners.
“Free me, fiend, or you’ll pay dearly when I’ll escape,” I informed her.
â€œEscape?” She asked. “And how, pray, will you do that?â€ She glancing at my legs before turning back to her cauldron. I looked down the length of my body to see my legs had been cut off above the knee, now ending in stumps with bloodied poultices wrapped against them.
Yet rather than of myself, I thought of Ilsa. Without her medicine, she would now certainly dieâ€¦ utterly alone. Tears welled up, and though I don’t recall doing so, I must have uttered her name.
â€œOh, not to worry,â€ the old crone said. â€œSheâ€™s doing very well. Arenâ€™t you, dear?â€
All in a moment, cold, rasped metal encircled my small finger just before pressure was put upon it, and with a crisp snap, a blinding pain shot through me. Vision swimming as unconsciousness vied to take over, I looked down to see Ilsa wrapping a poultice to the wound she had inflicted, where my finger had been. The blood flow stemmed immediately.
I wanted to say her name, call out to my only child. But in my shock, I could do nothing but watch. She took my finger to the old woman. â€œYes, Mother,â€ she responded. The Hag dropped my finger into her brew, stirring it in as Ilsa watched.
First heart, then body, and now mind broken, I finally let unconsciousness take meâ€¦ hoping to never wake again.
She sat in the empty subway car, chastising herself for riding it so late at night. No one should, in this city going to Hell in a hand basket, but particularly at her age? What had she been thinking?
Still, the ladies of her Bridge Club had insisted there was no other way than to hold the games at Meredith’s house this week â€“ their usual community centre meeting spot closed for renovations as it was â€“ so Edna had little choice but to travel across the city to attend.
Oh, she could have taken a taxi, of course, but at the prices they charged? She could get a month’s worth of food for her tabby, Mr. Pickles, for what a taxi would cost to drive her a half hour away.
No matter, she thought, looking at her reflection in the window beside her and adjusting her flowered hat. She was here now. No use crying over spilled milk. Or at least, Mr. Pickles certainly wouldn’t be upset if such a thing were to happen.
The subway pulled into the next station, which Edna was quietly relieved to find seemingly empty. Only one more station to go. But as the subway eased to a stop, her smiling, shrunken apple face dropped when she saw a group of young men gathered a short ways down on the platform, talking and laughing about something. Hoodlums, the lot of them, with their long or bed-tossed hair and unshaven faces, dressed in their undershirts and worn dungarees. Two of the five wore baseball caps, one normally but the other, particularly brazen one wearing his cap backwards. Backwards! It was like the lot of them were raised in a barn. And, as was just her luck, the whole braying pack of them herded onto the far end of her subway car. Pursing her lips, Edna shifted uncomfortably.
The doors closed and the subway lurched forward, pulling out of the station, and still the hooligans kept up their shenanigans. As the subway plunged into the tunnel, one of the group facing Edna gestured to her with his head. The others became quiet, all turning to look at her. They looked at each other again. The one turned directly away from her said something, and the others nodded and laughed darkly; a sound without humour. Edna had a bad feeling about this.
Her suspicion was confirmed when the same one spun on his heel and started making his way toward her. The rest of his filthy pack followed him, those not busily making themselves look nonchalant instead sporting insipid grins on their faces.
Edna distracted herself, looking around at anything except them, until they stopped a few paces from her and stood there. Head turned to the side, Edna finally peered at them, darting her eyes to them and away again. She sighed deeply and finally looked them straight on.
â€œWhat?â€ She snapped.
â€œYour purse,â€ the lead hood smiled.
â€œWhat about it?â€ Edna asked, unfamiliar with mugging protocol.
He looked at his companions, some chuckling at his bemused expression. He turned back to Edna, serious. â€œWhat about it is I want it.â€
â€œWell, you can’t have it,â€ she said.
His face betrayed a moment of surprise before it was replaced by anger and he started a slow, purposeful strut toward her. â€œI don’t think you get it,â€ he said, now almost on top of her.
â€œNo, deary,â€ Edna said, her most innocent grandmother face on. â€œYou don’t get it.â€ She snapped to her feet, throwing an empty hand toward him, and he became a two-dimensional form of pure light before disappearing.
His dumbfounded friends stood wide-eyed and slack-jawed where they stood. â€œSo,â€ Edna said to them, cocking her head slightly and smiling. After a single, pounding heartbeat, they broke and ran back down the length of the subway, clambering over each other to get away. She tut-tutted them. So predictable.
She threw another open palm at one, and he shrank into nothingness, even as she gestured to the next and he was sucked into a door-shaped portal that opened and closed in the blink of an eye. She pulled up her sagging knee-high stockings and set out with purpose after the remaining two.
A gesture of her hand, and the second last of them disappeared into a miniature, all-consuming tornado which began at his feet and swept up his body and over his head.
The remaining hoodlum slammed into the door between subway cars, frantically pulling at the handle, which found itself suddenly locked. He turned around to find some other way out and stopped in his tracks when he saw Edna standing an arm’s reach away. Hyperventilating, he backed against the door, looking around for some salvation; a desperate, caged animal.
His breathing became more shallow as she approached, this smiling old lady no taller than his chest.
â€œWh-… what are you?â€ He strained.
â€œIrked,â€ she said with a quick nod. She levelled a finger at him. â€œAnd…â€ she touched his stomach, with a high-pitched, â€œBoop!â€ He turned into confetti and made a small pop as he weakly blew apart and drifted to the subway floor.
Edna brushed bits of confetti off herself as the subway pulled into her station. The doors opened. She adjusted her flowered hat and stepped out onto the platform, turning toward the escalator. Toward the bus, and Mr. Pickles, and home.
Hell in a hand basket, she thought to herself. The city was getting so bad a demi-god couldn’t even feel safe on the subway any more.
â€œYou finished your homework?â€
Wilfred glanced at Agatha, who nodded her confirmation. She touched her napkin to the side of her mouth. â€œHe finished it after dishes and before listening to the radio last night.â€
Taking a sip of coffee, Wilfred looked with a slight smile at his son, who sat in his pajamas and scooped the last bit of oatmeal into his mouth. â€œWell, perhaps the son I had last year, who was so willing to let his work and grades slide, is starting to become a young man I can finally be proud of.â€
â€œI want to do well,â€ Edwin said earnestly as he concentrated on scraping the bowl clean. He looked up. â€œTo make you proud of me, yes, but also because we were told that only the students with the highest grades will be chosen for the clubs.â€
â€œAnd those who show particular enthusiasm and ability will no doubt be selected as the leaders,â€ Wilfred confirmed. The boyâ€™s eyes lit up with aspiration.
The family returned to its breakfast routine. The clinking of cutlery on plates was all that broke the silence for long moments.
â€œHave you heard any more about the transfer?â€ Agatha asked.
Wilfred shook his head as he took the last bite of egg and toast. â€œNothing yet,â€ he finally said. â€œIt would probably still be out east, if anywhere.â€
â€œI hope so,â€ Agatha said. â€œThatâ€™s where the Beckers moved, you remember?â€
â€œIt would be wonderful to see them again. Mindy and I could restart our Bridge club. Maybe with new members from the neighbourhood. Iâ€™m sure there must be Bridge players out that way.â€
Wilfred nodded automatically. â€œIâ€™m sure of it.â€
She took a small bite of her eggs, pensive. â€œSo they said by the end of the week?â€
Wilfred sighed, sagging slightly in his pajamas, tired of days of the discussion. â€œYes. They said they would know for sure whether or not Iâ€™m getting transferred by the thirteenth, the end of this week, and would let me know either way by shiftâ€™s end Friday.â€
He remembered something and checked his watch. â€œBlast, Iâ€™m late.â€ He stood up and hurried to his room.
â€œLate? For what?â€ Agatha asked. She got up and followed him, nervous. Edwin leaned slightly in his chair to be able to look down the hallway of their small house and see his mother standing at the doorway to his parentsâ€™ bedroom.
â€œThe meeting,â€ Wilfred said from within. â€œI told you about it last week, remember? The managers wanted to meet with lead supervisors to go over the lagging turnaround time weâ€™ve been having the last few months. Our numbers are way down, and theyâ€™re none too happy about it.â€
Edwin slid from his chair and made his way down the hall.
â€œBut the meeting is now? This morning? So it wonâ€™t keep you tonight?â€ Agatha asked.
â€œYes,â€ Wilfred said, forcing patience. â€œThatâ€™s why Iâ€™m late now.â€
â€œWell alright,” she said, still anxious. “But call me if youâ€™re going to be late for dinner.â€
He sighed. â€œOf course.â€
She smiled and smoothed the front of her dress, turning and walking back up the hallway, stroking Edwinâ€™s crew cut hair as she passed by him. He got to the door of the bedroom and looked in, having always enjoyed watching his father get ready for work.
Already in his pants and starched shirt, Wilfred threw his jacket onto his arms and leaned down to pull his boots on, polished to a shine visible even in the early morning light.
Looking at himself in the full-length mirror, he stood up straight and did up the buttons down the front of his jacket before he saw the reflection of the boy in the doorway. Wilfred smiled and turned to him, flawlessly official, even the leather of his snapped holster buffed to perfection.
Knowing what his father was expecting, Edwin stood at emphasized attention and clicked his slippered heels together, saluting his right hand at armâ€™s length upward in front of him.
Wilfredâ€™s expression became serious and he clicked his boot heels together and saluted back the same way, holding the pose for a moment before smiling and breaking form. â€œGo on and get changed and get your books, or youâ€™ll be late, too,â€ he said with a gesture of his head. â€œAnd keep up the good work at school.â€
A wide smile on his face, Edwin nodded once and ran into his room to gather his books, wanting to do well. Wanting, as every boy does, to make his father proud.