Please DON’T Follow the Sirens

Krem 2 News Screenshot

My drive home tonight was interrupted by about a dozen police cars zipping north with their sirens blaring. As soon as I got home I turned on the local news to see what was happening. All three stations were on full alert, and for good reason: a suspect had shot two police deputies, jacked a car, and sped away northward.

That is a legitimate reason for excitement, but from there things went a little loco. It was as if the insanity of the suspect leeched into the air around the crime scene and particles were inhaled by nosy bystanders.

A message board for one of the news stations featured a post about a woman who was recording the crime scene with a phone – she claimed she was tackled by police who wanted her to stop. One: If officers tell you to stop doing something, they probably have a good reason. Two: What’s more important, shooting a grainy, wobbly video on your phone of some incident you’re not even involved in, or letting the police do their job?

The other idiotic onlooker that got to me was a man who watched the police cars pass him, then drove after them in pursuit to see what was going to happen. The local station featured him as a “witness.” One: No, no, and no. Two: NO!

I think this secondhand insanity might be related to the way social media fosters an egotistical mindset. These people (and others) were concerned mostly with what was happening to themselves. They wanted to be involved in the spectacle of it all. The information they were gathering to “share” wasn’t the primary objective.

KHQ Facebook Page Post

I don’t have anything against social media and sharing in general (this is a blog, after all). Facebook, Twitter, YouTube – all good things. What I do have a problem with is self-centeredness and tunnel vision. If you can’t see why driving after a police pursuit is A BAD IDEA, then you have a problem.

Being a spectator is fine when it comes to specifically designed amusements or entertainments: a baseball game, a concert, a movie. But individuals get it into their heads that the world is specifically designed to amuse them, and a crime scene is just another spectacle to ogle. They might justify it with the “sharing information” excuse, but at some point that falls flat, especially when that isn’t their job.

Just drive home and watch the news. You might not get your amateur video coverage on YouTube, but at least you won’t be tackled by a police officer.

KXLY 4 News Photo

Nonword of the Week: Helpish

Helpish: able to assist to some degree, but not competent enough to perform the task at hand

Example: The new employees were a helpish bunch, managing to get the lane lines out of the pool but in the process entangling them into a hopeless snarl.

Related nonwords: reassist, aidable

The pool opened for the season today, with myself, one other returning lifeguard, and seven newbies. Let’s just say it was interesting.

Have a unique nonword of your own? Leave a comment!
Not sure what a nonword is? Check out my first nonword of the week.

Disclaimer: I do not condone idle word-mangling. Please mangle your words with care. Should not be attempted by the faint of heart or those with reading disorders. Side-effects include peculiar looks, disapproving frowns, essay markdowns, and utter confusion.

Sunday Sketch: Witter T-Shirt

For my Sunday Sketch this week, I thought I’d post my T-shirt design for our lifeguards’ staff night.  I work at an aquatic center called Witter, and our team color was white, which was perfect for doodling.  Five Sharpies and an hour or so later, I had this:

The blue object being towed by the superhero-lifeguard is a pool tarp.  It makes more sense when you know that tarping is an excruciating and difficult process – Witter has nine tarps that are about 3 meters by 25 meters and they have to be towed across the pool at night by swimming lifeguards.  It’s infinitely worse when only one lifeguard is there to do it (as happened to me last Saturday), and as I was musing over my blisters later in the week I thought about how much easier it would be if those blue tarps could just fly themselves across each night.  And yes, I know that “We got this” is awful grammar, but that really is the sentiment appropriate to this case.

Diabolical blue instruments of torture

Ours are similar to these, only there are nine instead of four.

That design was on the back of the T-shirt, a simple V-neck I bought at Target.  On the front of the shirt at the point of the V I drew our pool mascot, a marmot. Witter is outside, next to a river and a park, and there is a family of marmots that live somewhere behind the complex. “Witty the Marmot” has been a fixture for three years running:

Sadly, the Witter Marmots did not win the staff game of capture-the-flag, but we did score twice, which was pretty good considering the other five pools had, on average, double the amount of lifeguards that we were able to muster.  Witter Marmots – small but mighty!

For those curious, I did use references for the superhero-lifeguard and the marmot, though of course I modified them in my drawings.

Saturday Snapshot: Spring Tulip

It felt like summer at the pool today, but there are still six more days of spring left!  I wanted to post this spring picture before the seasons changed. This is a photo of a tulip from our front yard, taken in the second week of May.

Why I Still Like “Holes” 13 Years Later

Holes by Louis Sachar

While I was retrieving my Mary Poppins books from my library-in-a-box (more like library-in-fifteen-boxes, actually), I also came across Holes by Louis Sachar.
The Disney movie adaptation had recently aired on TV, and I remembered liking the book better, and wouldn’t it be a good idea to reread that one again too?

And of course, I liked it again.  I think the movie did a decent job of translating the book into that medium, but to me, Holes-the-story works best as a novel.  My favorite parts – the style, narrative voice, and wordplay – are native to that form.  There’s good reason for Holes to have won the Newbery Medal in 1999.

Of course, I was the target audience when this YA novel was released (I was nine and the book is labelled Ages 9-12), so maybe I’m a little biased.  But I also loved the Wayside School book series from Sachar.  While reading Holes I remembered the charm of that series, so perhaps I will be digging those out of my collection as well.  I will say that I haven’t read Small Steps, the follow-up novel to Holes.  By 2006 I was out of that age group.  I decided that I would get it sometime in the future…and I’m still planning to do so.

Since Holes was created for young adults, it is a very tightly-written narrative.  Many writers will tell you that, contrary to popular belief, writing for a younger audience is more difficult than writing for an audience of adult peers.  The word economy in Holes is remarkable, and I am desperately jealous.  Sachar compresses a chronologically challenging, multiple-storyline, character-driven narrative into a mere 233 pages.

The Impossible Cube Illusion

What the physical manifestation of the “Holes” narrative would look like.

Handling multiple storylines is always tricky, and often they don’t interlock very well.  However, each piece in Holes links with all of the others. The present-day problems of Stanley Yelnats, the love story of Katherine the school-teacher and Sam the onion man, the robbery of Stanley’s ancestor by Kissin’ Kate Barlow, and the no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather all manage to fit together in some impossible object.  While this book features many holes, plot holes are not among them.

Yet even with this masterful plot-weaving, Sachar’s charm shines through.  Wordplay and names are a fun feature of the Wayside School stories, and they show up here in spades. Stanley Yelnats IV, Zero, and Kissin’ Kate’s names are not just memorable and recognizable, but crucial to the narrative.  It matters that Stanley is the fourth bearer of that name. The story would be different if he wasn’t. It matters how the reader is introduced to Zero, the outlaw, and even the Warden.   Naming is even a feature when it comes to the supporting cast.  Each boy’s nickname serves as an important identifier: X-Ray, Magnet, Caveman, Zigzag, Twitch.

That’s probably enough of my blathering on about how much I like this little book.  You should reread it too – or try it out for the first time, if you haven’t yet.

Just watch out for yellow-spotted lizards.

Practically Perfect “Poppins”

Mary Poppins (Musical)

Last night I went to see the musical Mary Poppins at the INB Performing Arts Center in downtown Spokane.  The byline reads, “A Musical Based on the Stories of P.L. Travers and the Walt Disney Film” – in that order.  So I of course had to go dig up the two Poppins books I own, Mary Poppins (1934) and Mary Poppins Comes Back (1935), which are also the first two published in the series.  The musical also borrows from later books like Mary Poppins Opens the Door (1943), which I haven’t read.

I can’t remember the last time I read those two books (sometime in the 1990s), so I definitely needed a refresher.  For books that pre-date both The Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia, and are set in contemporary London versus a timeless imaginary land (for the most part), they hold up remarkably well.  My favorite outdated style technique is to capitalize nouns that aren’t necessarily proper, from eating Baked Custard to dodging the Holy Terror Herself.  It’s rather charming and now I want to do it all the time, for instance: “To-morrow I shall be Guarding at the Pool to Ensure that no Unruly Children splash or engage in Other Disreputable Behaviors.”

I was pleasantly surprised by how much material the musical incorporated from the books, with characters like Robertson Ay and Miss Lark and scenes like the statues coming to life.  I was more impressed with how they were blended together into an entirely new sort of narrative.  For example, the song “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” is entirely a Disney creation, but to introduce it, the musical uses the character Mrs. Corry, who is the one selling gingerbread in the original novel, and the purchasing of Conversations, which happened in the second book with the character Nellie-Rubina Noah.  The end result is so natural that it seems odd to think of them as what were originally completely disparate stories.

This patchwork narrative manages something that both the books and the Disney movie never quite grasp.  The books have exuberant, imaginative magic that was difficult to translate in a 1960s live-action film, as well as a more powerful and mysterious Mary Poppins.  The Disney movie did an excellent job of humanizing the characters, softening Mary Poppins and allowing the Banks family to transform and grow closer, which was never a storyline of the 1930s books.  The musical, with stagecraft and lights and well-written characters, manages both.

Themes such as the magic of stars and the importance of fatherhood are carried throughout the entirety, a stark contrast to the vignette-style writing of the books.  But the larger plot never becomes tedious and shallow like moments in the movie (e.g. the entire number of “Sister Suffragette” to explain Mrs. Banks’ absence).  From a writer’s perspective, I think that the musical is the most well-written in terms of character-driven story.

Favorite parts of the play: Miss Andrew, the Holy Terror.  She served as an excellent villain and contrast to Mary Poppins, as well as substantial backstory for Mr. Banks, who lacked that in the film.  In that vein I loved the creation of this version of Mrs. Banks, a character who was completely different in the film and not much of an entity in the books. The character Bert (Herbert Alfred the Match-Man in the books) was also fully utilized as narrator, a movie-borrowed aspect that worked just as well for the musical.  His wirework moment was spectacular, too.  The set design and the ensemble both lived up to the magic of the world of Mary Poppins.

Not-so-favorite parts: I did not like the number “Playing the Game,” an incredibly creepy scene that really didn’t contribute much to the larger story. The end result – Mary Poppins takes the toys – is reversed very quickly and without explanation.  It felt very out-of-place in terms of tone.  I would have preferred a different book scene like the one in which Mary Poppins and Mrs. Corry paste the gingerbread stars to the sky.  I kept waiting for that one since it seemed to follow the way the story was shaping up, but it never happened.  I also missed the movie number “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” at the end – which I think would have been a fine substitute for the slightly-odd, massive spinning umbrella and the little stick-lights that the ensemble waved around. I was hoping for something like the Lion King Broadway number “One by One,” where actors moved into the audience flying birds on poles, a setup that might suit kite-flying. Another minor quibble I had was the renaming of Miss Lark’s Andrew (the lapdog) to Willoughby, the name of a character who is a perfectly good-hearted mutt in the books and delightful in his own right. I understand why (confusion with “Miss Andrew” the character) but it took me out of the play every time the “dog” was on stage.

Overall I had a magical time at the musical and it was easy to appreciate the story work that Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey, The Young Victoria) put into the script.  Go see it if you can; I highly recommend reading the books first but it should be easy to enjoy no matter what past Poppins encounters you may have had.