this is bullshit

I’ve been seeing this particular meme popping up in social media for a couple of weeks now. I generally find this stuff easy to ignore — especially the lightweight pseudo-Zen philosophical near-aphorisms that sound profound but aren’t. But for some mysterious reason I find this particular meme more annoying than most (although, now I think of it, the reason isn’t at all mysterious; the reason is because it’s almost officially winter and soon I’ll be dealing with the reality of snow).

This is bullshit. It stinks of Zen, which is to say it has the appearance of Zen philosophy without the substance. It co-opts the notion of mindfulness; mindful fitness may be a real thing, but it exists outside of a hashtag. It suggests I’m somehow at fault for NOT finding joy in snow. It suggests joy is something I can somehow force myself to experience rather than a spontaneous reaction to the moment. It suggests I’m unwilling to ‘find’ joy in snow, and that my unwillingness is a personal failing. It also suggests joy is quantifiable, that it’s something you can add to or subtract from and measure against some sort of baseline standard.

That’s all bullshit. That’s not how joy works. Joy isn’t an emotion you elect to feel; it’s a natural, unpremeditated experience. Being open to joy can be a conscious decision, but it’s not a response you can compel. You can choose not to be miserable about a given situation — or at least not to give in to misery — but you simply can’t strong-arm or manipulate yourself into experiencing joy.

The idea behind this meme is laudable. It’s saying snow will happen independent of your emotions, that it will fall regardless of how you feel about it, that snow is a natural event over which you have no control, so you may as well get some pleasure out of it. (Well, the real point of the meme is to get you to visit a website and buy snow-related sports products, which will bring joy to the business owners.) I actually like the idea behind the meme — the non-capitalist part, but the meme itself is misleading and it’s bullshit.

There are a LOT of natural events that will take place independent of your emotions and regardless of how you feel about them. Some of them are pleasant. A rainbow, for example, or the way leaves change in autumn. Other events aren’t pleasant. A flood, or a drought. An earthquake, or a mudslide, or a volcanic eruption. Or, if you live in California, a wildfire.

If you choose not to find joy in the wildfire, you will have less joy in your life but still the same amount of fire.

See how massively stupid that is? I’ve been through natural disasters — floods and tornadoes and hurricanes. None of them brought me joy. (That’s not entirely true; I felt a weird fierce joy at seeing a tornado, while still dreading what it could do.) I can honestly say that even while dealing with the ugly aftermath of those events, there hasn’t been a single day when I didn’t experience some sort of momentary joy. 

It’s going to snow here. It’s inevitable. When that happens, I absolutely WILL feel joy watching it fall. I’ll probably feel some degree of joy when I take a walk in the snow. But I can also guarantee you I’m NOT going to feel joy when I have to shovel it off the driveway and sidewalks. There IS a certain meditative contentment in the repetitive act of shoveling, and some emotional gratification in doing it well. But that ain’t joy.

hardboiled

A couple days ago an acquaintance asked me a question and recommended a television show. The show is called Stumptown, which according to my acquaintance, is sorta kinda about a woman private investigator. The question was this:

Are real private investigators actually hardboiled?

The question had to do with the show. I hadn’t watched the show, so I couldn’t say anything about the hardboiled character of the protagonist, other than in my experience television PIs are about a realistic as television doctors or television lawyers. Which is to say not realistic at all. In fact, television PIs are probably even less realistic. TV writers (and viewers) almost certainly have some limited first hand experience with doctors and lawyers, but relatively little experience with real life PIs. So they’re mostly making shit up based on what other writers have made up about PIs.

So, are real PIs actually hardboiled? Before the question can be answered, we have to decide just what the hell that term means. It generally refers to characters who are cynical, jaded, sarcastic, tough, world-weary, wisecracking, violence-prone, stubbornly persistent, but with an unspoken code of honor/conduct.

 

Most of that is nonsense. Most of it. But some of it absolutely applies to real private investigators. How much it applies depends partly on what type of PI you’re talking about. Just like lawyers and doctors, private investigators tend to specialize. The more technical your specialization, the less hardboiled you have to be. A PI who does mostly accident reconstruction or forensic financial investigations probably doesn’t have to be hardboiled at all.

The more your work involves human frailty, the more hardboiled you have to be. PIs who specialize in, say, domestic investigations — divorces, pre-marital investigations, cheating spouses, that sort of thing — tend to be a lot more hardboiled. Insurance investigators, folks who missing persons, even PIs who specialize in deep background investigations need to be somewhat hardboiled to be effective. The same is true of criminal defense investigation, which was my specialty.

Where the fictional hardboiled character diverges from reality the most is in being openly sarcastic and making wisecracks. At the heel of the hunt, most PI work is about getting reliable information. You won’t get that from folk you’ve pissed off. Worse, when people get pissed off, they sometimes get violent. That’s fine in fiction, where a PI can get beat up or shot and shrug it off the next day. In real life, getting beat up seriously fucks up your ability to work — and if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. Being a smart ass isn’t just stupid, it’s bad for business.

In real life, being hardboiled is most apparent in your attitude. It’s more about being emotionally tough than physically tough. It’s less about being cynical than it is about losing the ability to be shocked by the shit people do to each other. Some of the most hardboiled people I’ve ever met were emergency room nurses.

Believe it or not, the only television or movie PI I’ve seen who came close to getting the attitude right was Veronica Mars. Not the smart-ass Veronica, but the skeptical and persistent Veronica. She also showed the long-term debilitating effect of being skeptical and suspicious all the time. By the end of the third season, Veronica Mars was pretty fucked up. That was realistic.

The protagonist in Stumptown.

I decided to watch the first episode of Stumptown, the television show that sparked the question. I had low expectations (hardboiled, remember). And yeah, the show isn’t at all realistic. But the protagonist has the attitude down. She wasn’t actually a private investigator, but she was hardboiled. And she was a smart-ass, but not in the usual hardboiled television style. When she was sarcastic, it wasn’t like she was scoring points or showing off or trying to belittle somebody. It was more like she couldn’t be bothered any more…to be nice, to be cute, to be clever, to be friendly, to be anything other than being completely fucking weary of dealing with other people’s shit. The tone of her voice and her flat affect was more disinterested resignation than anything else. We’re becoming used to women characters who say, “I can’t believe I still have to deal with this shit.” We like characters like that. But this woman was more “Yeah, I’ve seen this shit before, I’ll probably see a lot more of it, but it’s your shit, so don’t expect me to care about it.” It made the character, in those moments, believable.

I said earlier that being hardboiled has a lot to do with losing the ability to be surprised. Stumptown surprised me. Not the action (which was over the top, but well done), not the plot (which was predictable), but the protagonist’s attitude. And, of course, she has the one thing that all true fictional hardboiled characters have — the sense that what she’s doing won’t change much, if anything, but might give one person a slim chance not to fuck up their life.

I enjoyed the show. I’ll watch at least one or two more episodes, even though I’m skeptical that any network television show can manage to avoid turning an interesting character into another dull, predictable clone. (Hardboiled, remember.)

at the fair

You know those mornings when you wake up, deal with the cat, and drink your cold brew coffee while you consider the list of things you ought to do, some of which are moderately important, but by the time you empty your mug you’ve decided to skip all those things and go to the state fair instead? That was me yesterday.

Young couple trying to see how many kids they can stuff in the cab of a really big tractor.

I like the state fair. I love the state fairgrounds more than I like the actual fair; I’ve spent a LOT more time noodling around the fairgrounds during the off-season than I have during the fair itself. But the fair is fun too. The noise, the smells, the crowds, the weird tension, the chaos, the confusion — I like all of that.

I like to look at farm technology. Tractors and combines and — okay, I have no idea what most farm tech is called. Or what it does. I confess, I have absolutely NO interest in the purpose of farm tech. But I’m fascinated by 1) how massive some modern farm equipment is, and 2) the fact that there are people who restore or refurbish old tractors. I like to listen to old guys (and it’s always guys) talk about their old tractors, even though I’ve no idea what they’re talking about. I recognize them as nerd-geeks who have a passion I can respect even though it’s entirely foreign to me.

Old guys talking about old tractors.

I also like that things I don’t understand are being judged by standards I also don’t understand. Like horses and sheep. Or cabbages and turnips. Or sewing and crafting. I look at the prize cabbages and I have no idea why one cabbage is superior to the next. I have no idea why this cow is better than that cow, or why the way that horse trots surpasses the way this other horse trots. But there are folks out there who DO know those things, and I find that notion wonderful. (By the way, I don’t need — or want — an explanation for why one horse’s trot is superior; I’m just happy that folks who DO know and care about such things exist.)

Some sort of horse judging thing. Or maybe a riding judging thing. There was definitely judging going on.

I like the people I see at the fair. Not just the folks like me, who show up and eat the deep fried vegan peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and marvel at the size of the biggest boar, but the folks who move to the fair for a week or so and show their animals. Again, I don’t know dick about farming or farm stuff. But I’m always impressed by the people — and especially the kids and younger folks — who spend their fair days washing and drying their cows or goats, or shoveling animal shit out of stalls and laying down hay (if that’s hay — what do I know from hay?). When I was a kid I had to do the usual chores — wash dishes, maybe mow the lawn, that sort of thing. These farm kids? They’re raising livestock and acting like it’s no big deal.

Blow drying a goat.

Kids. A tangent here. As a rule, I don’t photograph kids. I think kids going about their daily kid lives doing kid things are eminently photographable and interesting, but photographing kids these days is just a pain in the ass. It’s not the kids; it’s the parents. I have, in the past, been accosted by parents for shooting photos in the general vicinity of kids. Not photos OF kids, mind you; just photographs of stuff in a park where kids are playing — stuff with zero kids in the frame. Nothing is more embarrassing and frustrating and infuriating than being waylaid by an irate parent and basically accused, in public, of being a pervert. So I just don’t photograph kids anymore.

Except at the fair. I will occasionally shoot a photo of a kid engaged in some farm/fair related activity. Like blow-drying a sheep. I’m not photographing the kid, you understand. I’m photographing the activity. But sometimes there are moments when a kid is being so perfectly a kid that you have to make an exception. So I photographed a kid. I am NOT going to feel guilty about it.

Woke up from a nap, got chores to do.

Actually it turns out it’s almost impossible to shoot a photo at the state fair without including a kid. They’re everywhere. Which is as it should be, since fairs are all about being a kid. Sometimes when you’re taking a photo of a kid, you’re also shooting a photograph of somebody being a good, caring, thoughtful parent.

Cooling mist on a hot fair day.

When I got home I was surprised that almost every photograph I shot had a kid in it. Or an old person. Or a disabled person. Old folks and disabled folks on mobility scooters zipped around the fairgrounds like hornets, like pirates, like…well, kids. They probably shouldn’t have been eating funnel cakes or deep fried Twinkies or bacon-wrapped BBQ ribs, but they were. They probably should have been napping, but they weren’t. They probably should have headed inside when the sky got dark and it began to sprinkle, but they didn’t. They faired (and yeah, I know ‘fair’ isn’t a verb, but there ought to be a term to describe the act of enjoying a fair). Those folks faired like bosses. It was great to see.

Leaving the fair just as it began to sprinkle.

That was the fair. I saw a cabbage bigger than my head. I saw a massive horse with hairy hooves that looked like it ought to be pulling a Russian sleigh and escaping a pack of wolves. I saw farm tech that looked like mooncraft. I saw a sleepy young cowboy who’ll almost certainly look exactly the same in forty years. I ate a deep fried  peanut butter and jelly sandwich on a damned stick. I walked six and a half miles (unless my Fitbit is lying to me).

I faired moderately well.

knuckles hits fifty

A couple days ago I posted the 50th photograph in the Knuckles Steals the World project — which isn’t really called that. In fact, isn’t really called anything at all, but I felt a momentary need to give the project a title, and that’s what immediately came to mind. As a reminder, this explains the origins of the untitled project.

GSV #22

Fifty seems like it ought to be some sort of project milestone. Milestone is, I suppose, a weirdly appropriate term, given the project is sorta kinda grounded in imaginary travel. Because it’s a sort of milestone — and because it’s a Monday and I don’t feel like doing the stuff I ought to be doing — I thought I’d piss away part of the morning nattering on about the project.

GSV #25

It’s been amusing and interesting and fun (in a very quiet way). I’ve yanked images of windmills in the Netherlands, chickens in a Turkish yard, a woman hanging laundry in some remote Brazilian village, people doing yoga in an Utrecht alleyway, a ruined castle in Andalusia, a small sunlit farmhouse in rural America, an abandoned car in Belgium — all ordinary moment and mundane scenes snatched from Google Street View (as mediated by Geoguessr) and extracted from context. I’m about six months into the project, and it’s still holding my attention.

GSV #34

I’ve actually had a few interesting conversations sparked by the project, mostly about the process and practice of appropriation. One friend, who is also engaged in an appropriation project, said he’d almost abandoned photography. “[I]t got to the point where everything looks like stuff I’ve seen before, and that was in 2005. Curation is the new photography.”

I don’t entirely agree with that last line, but he’s got a point. The unanticipated problem with the notion of the democratic camera is that once we hit the intersection of Everything Can Be Photographed and Ubiquitous Cheap-ass Automated Digital Imagery, it’s only a matter of time before almost everything HAS been photographed.

GSV #38

As I noted when I began this gig, Google Street View has amassed imagery of over ten million miles in 83 countries.

“In that ten million miles, there are bound to be a LOT of things worth looking at. So if you are stupidly persistent and pathologically curious and live a moderately well-regulated disorganized life that allows you to piss away a few hours now and then in an endeavor that has no real value except your own amusement, there’s a decent chance you’ll get to see some of those things.”

GSV #46

I have seen some of those things. That’s where the curation kicks in. Rummaging through all those miles of unedited images and finding a few things that are, at least in my opinion, worth looking at. And of course, because I’m me and I tend to overthink all the unimportant stuff, I’m struck by the fact that ‘curation‘ comes from the same Latin root as ‘cure‘ and originally referred to the act of attending, managing, or restoring health. Art curators attend to the health of the art world — or at least are supposed to. I’m not going to pretend that this project is attending to the health of photography, but it most certainly attends to the health of my interest in photography — so there’s that.

GSV #50

Anyway, here we are at fifty images, deliberately and semi-thoughtfully culled from who knows how many possible GSV images in the world. It’s a ridiculous and pointlessly complicated project. I don’t know how much longer this project will last. I don’t have any end point in mind. But the sheer immensity and randomness of it continues to hold my interest, so I expect it will go on for a bit.

NOTE: If you’re interested, all the equally pointless Knuckles projects — GSV, My Feet Double Exposed, Things on a Table — can be found here.

it wasn’t bad

It wasn’t bad, the final episode of Game of Thrones. It was, as always, beautifully filmed; there were some wonderful, genuinely touching emotional moments and it provided a sort of emotional closure for most of the major characters. I can’t say enough about the acting of Peter Dinklage, particularly in the second most critical scene in the episode, and especially because that entire scene made no sense whatsoever.

It wasn’t bad. But let’s remember what Cersei told Eddard Stark in Season One:

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”

It wasn’t bad, the final episode. But it tried for the middle ground. It didn’t try to win; it tried not to lose. It tried to be safe. And the result was — not bad. The result was insipid.

It wasn’t bad, but the behavior of the characters lacked internal consistency. They behaved in ways that contradicted seven earlier seasons. Let’s start with the scene I mentioned a moment ago, in which Tyrion, shackled and unkempt, addresses ‘the most powerful people in Westeros’. Remember, he was imprisoned for betraying his queen and was only spared immediate execution because she was assassinated.

Why was Tyrion addressing anybody at all? The context of the scene suggests they ordered Grey Worm to bring both Tyrion and Jon Snow to appear before those powerful people, but why was Grey Worm following their orders at all? Why did Grey Worm even allow those powerful people into what was left of the city, when they were, for all intents and purposes, beseiging the city? It makes no sense. It was clear Daenerys wanted Tyrion executed — why didn’t Grey Worm just execute him? And why, when Tyrion tells those people they should choose a king or queen, did Grey Worm support that decision? The entire scene makes no sense whatsoever.

Condemned Prisoner Decides Future of Westeros.

Tyrion tells the assembly, “There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story.” He then says, “Who has a better story than Bran the Broken?” It’s a good line, and Dinklage delivers it beautifully. But it makes no sense. It’s not just that Bran’s story isn’t as powerful as Arya’s story, or Sansa’s, or even Sam Tarly’s story. It’s that Bran’s story isn’t even Bran’s story. He was just there for it. Bran’s story is the story of Hodor, and Osha the wildling, and Jojen Reed and his sister Meera. Bran’s story is the story of all the people who helped him escape and kept him alive. It wasn’t his fault, but Bran was just a passive passenger in his story. To say his is the best story makes no sense.

And let’s not forget that when Bran became the Three-Eyed Raven, he apparently became at least semi-omniscient. He knows what has happened and, it seems, what will happen. He doesn’t try to influence events. Or maybe he can’t influence them; we don’t know. But it means he knew thousands would be slaughtered at Winterfell, and tens of thousands would be slaughtered in King’s Landing. He knew all those folks would suffer and die in order to create a situation in which he would be named King of the Seven Kingdoms. He knew all that and said nothing to minimize the slaughter. And despite that, none of those powerful people had a problem with him as king. It makes no sense whatsoever.

In his speech, Tyrion states, “From now on rulers will not be born, they will be chosen on this spot by the lords and ladies of Westeros to serve the realm.” Why is Tyrion, a condemned man, deciding by himself how the future rulers of Westeros will be chosen? He asks Bran, “If we choose you, will you wear the crown?” If WE choose you? Why does Tyrion have a voice in the decision? Yes, he’s presumably the head of what’s left of House Lannister, but he’s also a condemned prisoner. He not only murdered his father (and his lover, but women characters have been pretty expendable in this show), he’s betrayed two queens–his sister and Dany. These are not commendable qualities. It makes no sense whatsoever for ‘the most powerful people in Westeros’ to let him make such important decisions. The entire scene makes no sense.

Survived Joffrey, Survived Cersei, Survived Littlefinger, Survived Ramsey, Got Her Crown.

It’s not just that scene, though. Throughout the episode, several primary characters behave in ways that simply aren’t internally consistent with their character development to that point. Consider Ser Brienne (whose story is more powerful than Bran’s, by the way). The one defining characteristic of Brienne is her rigid adherence to a code of knightly honor and duty. She swore fealty to Sansa (“I will shield your back and keep your counsel, and give my life for yours if need be. I swear it by the old gods and the new.”) and Sansa accepted it. But Brienne abandons her duty to Sansa and becomes King’s Guard to Bran. It makes no sense.

Sam Tarly (whose story is also more powerful than Bran’s) only wanted to read books and learn stuff. As a member of the Night Watch he was sent to Oldtown to become a maester, but absconded from the Citadel with some stolen books. Why? To travel (with Gilly and a baby) all the way back north to Castle Black in order to inform Jon Snow that he was actually the true heir to the Iron Throne. Sam also insisted Jon tell Dany who he really was. But despite his friendship with Jon Snow, despite the fact that his insistence that Jon reveal his rightful place on the throne, despite all that, in the last episode Samwell suddenly decides NOT to stand up for Jon as the rightful King of the Seven Kingdoms? And, in fact, is the very first to cast his support for Bran as King? It makes no sense.

Bronn (another story more powerful than Bran’s) is a low-born, whore-mongering, duplicitous sell-sword who openly supports whoever will pay him the most. He’s given Highgarden (for betraying Cersei by not assassinating Tyrion and Jaime), the castle once belonging to House Tyrell. Okay, that makes some sense in the context of the show. But in the last episode he’s also made Master of Coin and given a seat on the Small Council? No, that makes no sense whatsoever.

Daenerys. Throughout the show, she’s been a wonderfully complex, multi-faceted character. At times utterly pragmatic, at times compassionate, always driven, always concerned about the less powerful. Until the final episode, when she inexplicably turned into a Harlequin romance character. She’d just spent a few hours riding her dragon, immolating tens of thousands of people — which I suspect is hot, dirty work. But somehow she appears relaxed, clean, her hair perfect (who dresses her and does her hair post-massacre?). The fierce woman who’d always tried to protect ordinary folks is suddenly channeling Cersei Lannister: the ordinary people don’t get to choose what’s good for them. You can make an argument that Dany deliberately chose to slaughter an entire city in order to convince the rest of the realm to stand down. That would be horrible, but internally consistent to the character. We saw her do something like that when she crucified the Masters of Meereen. But in this final episode, she decides the little people of the world shouldn’t have a choice in their lives? It makes no sense whatsoever.

A Girl Has a Ship and Heads West.

Jon Snow, born to brood. Loved two women and a dire wolf; betrayed both women for the sake of his personal notions of duty and honor. He was the most consistently inconsistent character. I was okay with that, because he seemed completely unaware he was being hypocritical. He encouraged Mance Rayder to bend the knee to Stannis, saying the survival of the wildlings was more important than his pride. But he himself refused to bend the knee to Stannis because of his duty to the Night Watch. He also refused to bend the knee to Dany — until Cersei said she’d only support the war against the Dead if Jon Snow, as King of the North, agreed not to choose sides. Then he bent the knee to Daenerys, at the worst possible time, because of his own notions of duty and honor. His inconsistency is annoying, but completely in character.

The same is true of the other remaining Starks — Sansa and Arya. Sansa stands up for the North and demands it be an independent kingdom, and Bran agrees (an immediate display of royal nepotism that doesn’t seem to bother any of the others). Arya sets off to go someplace nobody has gone before. Those were wonderful story arcs, and they remained wonderfully consistent and in character.

Betrays Two Women, Gets Re-united with His Direwolf.

Most folks, I suspect, aren’t going to care if the final episode made sense or not. They’ll mostly either hate the ending because it wasn’t what they wanted, or they’ll love it because it was predictably bittersweet. Sure, Dany gets murdered by the man she loves and trusts, but it’s presented in a way that’s supposed to make us feel sad for poor Jon Snow.

But the Iron Throne got melted, and that was nice. Tyrion is Hand of the King for the third time, which is nice. Sam gets the maester gig at King’s Landing, also nice. Brienne gets to write Jaime’s name in a logbook and fudge his record so it doesn’t reflect how reliably awful he was, and that’s nice. Bronn can afford the best brothels, nice for him. Jon is reunited with his direwolf, very nice. And, of course, Sansa and Arya get to fulfill their dreams, which is exceedingly nice. So it’s not an unhappy ending. And did you notice, as Jon is leading the wildlings back north of the wall — a blade of grass growing through the snow. Winter, it seems, is over.

It wasn’t bad, the final episode. But it could have been much much better. And as insipid as it was, the final episode can’t diminish what was a powerful and compelling television series.

Mount Doom and the Tuscan Sun

It’s not always this simple:

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

It sounds like good advice, and if you’re a White Rabbit giving testimony in a jurisdiction in Wonderland, it apparently works quite well. It may also apply to some writers when they’re working on a story. But it doesn’t work that way for me.

Begin at the beginning. Yeah, that bit works. The beginnings of stories are always easy. Always. A cool idea or premise for a story pops into your head, you’re excited by it, you’re enthusiastic and engaged, and you bang it out. Then, of course, comes the long, dull, grunt work of actually writing the middle of the damned thing. Doesn’t matter if you’re working on a novel-length manuscript or a short story, the middle chunk is like Mordor without the dramatic scenery. Enthusiasm isn’t going to get you to Mount Doom. The middle is a slog. It’s work. The middle is where most stories give up, curl into a ball, die a slow lonely death, and are never heard from again.

But hey, if you can gut your way through the middle, you can usually cobble together some sort of ending for your story. A lot of writers (me included) like to come up with an ending before we actually start writing. We may not actually use that original ending, but having an ending in mind when you begin can give you direction and a bit of momentum, which is handy when you’re wondering how much farther Mount Doom is.

But endings can be tricky too, because there are almost always a LOT of possible endings to any story. I mean, after you’ve hauled your story all the way to Mount Doom, do you just chuck it into the first fiery chasm you come across? There may be a better, more satisfying fiery chasm just down the path, right?

Here’s the thing: you’re probably never going to find the perfect fiery chasm. So usually you pick the one you think will work the best, and you chuck the ring in, and go on to your next story. Unless you’re like me. Sometimes you’re just not really happy with any of the fiery chasms; there’s nothing particularly wrong with them as fiery chasms, but they just don’t feel right. So you just park the ring in a drawer and forget about it, hoping that some day you’ll think of a better fiery chasm. So to speak.

An almost entirely unrelated image from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (because I feel like I need to include an image in every blog post…sorry).

Why am I nattering on about this? Because back in November of 2017 I couldn’t come up with an ending I liked for a short story. And I wrote about it (sorta kinda, in a rambling blog post). The story is about a part-time burglar who steals a Leica and later gets in trouble with the police for shooting photos in a park where kids are playing. Since it was just a short story and I wasn’t in urgent need of funds, I set the story aside and forgot about it.

Until earlier this year, when I got involved in an online discussion that tangentially related to a scene in the movie Under The Tuscan Sun. After that discussion, I took a walk, and on that walk I realized that what my old burglar-turned-photographer story needed was a connection to that movie. Which, okay, I realize sounds nuts. But I thought about it, went home and rewrote much of the story with a totally new ending, and tossed the ring into the fiery chasm.

Yesterday I got a note from the editor of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine saying a contract for that story will be showing up in my mailbox by the end of the month.

The moral of this story? The King’s advice to the White Rabbit isn’t always good advice. Sometimes you need to begin at the beginning and go on until you decide the fiery chasm is all wrong, then wait for Diane Lane to invest in real estate in Italy.

window treatments of winterfell

Look, it wouldn’t solve all the problems of Westeros, but a LOT of the pain and suffering and angst that takes place in Game of Thrones could have been avoided if the Starks had installed window treatments in the keeps of Winterfell.

A nice set of pleated drapes, maybe a panel pair with a modest valance, a simple opaque panel — hell, even an old tarp would have enough. It would have prevented Bran from peeking in the high window on the First Keep. If he hadn’t peeked in the window, he wouldn’t have seen Jaime shtupping his sister. If Bran hadn’t seen that, then Jaime wouldn’t have had to push him off the window sill, plunging him (okay, how far did he actually fall? Let’s see, the books say the First Keep was the original stronghold of Winterfell, so it likely wasn’t the tallest keep in the castle — but it still would have been taller than the walls, and according to the books the inner walls were 100 feet tall, so let’s say Bran had to have fallen at least 115 feet — holy crap, that’s a LONG fall) around 115 feet to the ground.

Oh c’mon, you’d have peeked too.

Because he survived that long fall (which is improbable but certainly possible; when I was a medic I had a patient who’d fallen about that same distance off a water tower, and he survived…well, for a while), Bran was a threat, because he might tell folks he’d seen Jaime and Cersei boinking. Which meant they had to send an assassin to whack him in order to protect their secr…wait. Wasn’t it Littlefinger who sent the assassin? Why would he do that? I mean, how would he know Bran saw the Lannister siblings making the beast with two backs? And how would whacking Bran benefit Littlefinger? That doesn’t make any sense.

Never mind. Ignore that whole assassination business. My point, if you can call it a point, is that if the Starks had just tacked up a ratty old tarp or bodged together a pair of shutters in the First Keep, then they’d have saved themselves a LOT of fuss and bother.

A nice set of drapes and this wouldn’t have had to happen.

Like I said, it wouldn’t have solved all the problems of Westeros. Ned would have still gone to King’s Landing. And regardless of Winterfell’s window treatments, he’d still probably have lost his head. And yes, okay, the curtains wouldn’t have made a lick of difference with that whole Daenerys–Dothraki–Mother of Dragons business.

But there’s a pretty good chance that if the First Keep had a pair of curtains, Hodor wouldn’t have found himself north of the Wall and eaten (wait, does the Army of the Dead eat the folks they kill? No, I don’t think so; I think they just sort of tear them to death, which is pretty nasty, isn’t it) killed by dead folks. So there’s that. That’s worth the cost of a pair of curtains.

And yes, I know this is silly and a waste of time, but it was either this or think about Comrade Trump and his attacks on democracy and rationality.