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Great Movies About Writers and Writing

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A few years ago I went looking for a movie list to both inspire and instruct me about writing and being a writer. There are such lists, but there are no good lists. Over the last couple of years I've made my own list. And, it's good. These ten are perfectly on point, grade A awesomeness. There are a dozen others that almost made the list, but didn't. The Man Who Invented Christmas Charles Dickens wrote 'A Christmas Carol' in six weeks to release it for Christmas, because he was broke, even though he was famous. Also, no one would publish his weird ghost story, so he self-published it. That was 1843. I'm not a huge Dickens fan, but this little book is genius, and I liked seeing the story behind it. Dickens talked about how his characters were more real to him than real people. It's hard to show that kind of creative writing process in pictures or film, and they do it superbly in this show.  Mary Shelley Both of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley's parents

Jeff Invents a New Necktie Knot

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A few days ago I was watching the movie 'Gabriel's Inferno'. In one scene Julianne is fixing Gabriel's tie in a car. It annoyed me that the rich, sophisticated, intellectual was both bad at tying a tie, and that it was a simple and bad looking knot. It just seemed incongruent. So, I paused the show. I grabbed a tie and looked up knots. I learned the notation system, which is pretty simple. I went through the 13 most common knots from the book 'The 85 Ways to Tie a Tie'. I determined that the knots that I think are decent are the: Small, Victoria, 11-3, Nicky, Half-Windsor, Hanover, Plattsburgh, Cavendish, and Balthus. Then I started playing around. I thought I might be able to invent a new tie knot. That's not an easy task to do. There are mathematical academic articles written by physicists on working out all of the different ways to tie a tie. The first knot I thought I invented ended up being number 34 in the 'Encyclopedia of Tie Knots'. I also th

Fighting Local Government Corruption - Part 20 of ?

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This election will change things throughout the United States, and in Dalton Township. Predicting what that change will be is more difficult. In Dalton there are three possible directions. Vaclav Havel led the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. He points out in 'The Power of the Powerless' that when you start to live in truth you put pressure on those in power. Government officials that have become overly controlling only have two ways that they can respond when people start taking responsibility and demanding recognition of their unalienable rights: repression or adaptation. If the current regime stays in power in Dalton Township they will have a choice to make. They can either repress people more, and gather more control unto themselves. Or, they can adapt to some of the proposals I've made to limit their own power and make themselves more transparent. Those are the first two options. The third option is to choose change via the ballot box

Why Authoritarian Governments Hate Small Farms

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Authoritarian governments have a tendency to limit or even collapse the food supply. At first that doesn't appear to make sense. People get angry and desperate when the food supply is limited, especially when their kids start starving. That's often when the king, queen, pharaoh, president, emperor, or empress is overthrown and killed. History demonstrates that over and over again. Yet, authoritarian governments keep doing it. It's a contradiction I've been thinking about for years. And when you think about it long enough and hard enough, it makes complete sense. Imagine there's a nice family living in a house with a yard. They decide to plant a few things. The things grow. They eat them, the food is good. They have a few extra things. They give some to a neighbor. The neighbor likes them too. The family needs a shed built. The neighbor is a carpenter. They trade. Everything is good. What's missing? The government. From a civilian's perspective this se

Three Deathbed Realizations

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There are certain situations that approach the limit of what it is possible for us to experience as human beings. In December of 2015 I was laying in a hotel bed in Mombasa, Kenya. I had been poisoned. Then I had my money coerced from me at the beach on the Indian Ocean. Somewhere along the way I had picked up an unknown bacteria that was destroying my entire digestive system. Things weren't going that great. The philosopher Karl Jaspers came up with the modern concept of the limit situation. He talked about four things that can bring it about when taken to extreme levels: fright, guilt, finality, and suffering. The thing is, these all go together. I was going in and out of consciousness. My ability to walk, or even to stand, had left me. I had been vomiting. I remember rolling over and vomiting off the side of the bunk bed I was in, and seeing blood in the vomit. I thought, "That's not good." It's not the only place that blood had been coming out of. I

Vera and the Disappearing Squirrel

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The stories we consume affect how we view everything. With a nine-year-old girl in the world today, the movie 'Frozen' has a good chance of coming up. - - - - - - - Once upon a time in the kingdom of Arendelle lived a King, a Queen, and the Princesses Elsa and Anna. On a stormy Tuesday they decided to play a game. But the window wouldn't fully close in their room. They wanted to play with snowballs. Elsa had magic in her hands, she could make snow or ice because of her magic hands. Just as Elsa was going to make a pile of snow in the room the window slammed open with a loud Bang! In jumped a squirrel that looked very cold. He turned around and shut the window. "Elsa," said Anna "what a big storm! Please close the window. It is so scary!" "Do not worry Anna!" said Elsa. The squirrel looked at Anna and said, "Hey, I already shut the window. You have no idea how cold it is out there." "A talking squirrel?" sai

Vera and the Girl Who Became a Mermaid

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Transformation is a common theme in literature. Sometimes we transform and then enter a new world, at other times we enter a new world and then transform. Sometimes, it's both. Mermaids are interesting creatures that I've never looked deeply into. That idea of an entire underwater world is intriguing though. I remember scuba diving at the bottom of a lake and thinking, 'If it was logistically possible, it would be cool to live down here.' In ancient Greece mermaids were sirens that seduced and devoured men, in comic books they are heroes, in Harry Potter they are intelligent monsters. No matter how they are portrayed, mermaids have always been enchanting to the minds of humans. - - - - - - - Night on a lake can be dark. With clouds blotting out the stars above, the sky looks black, and the water below looks black. Angie sat alone, in a little boat, surrounded by darkness. Then she heard a big splash and she saw a tail. She thought that this tail belonged to a

Vera and the Raccoon that Caught a Fairy

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Fun, funny, and serious can often go together. One can change to the other in a split second. That happens in life, and sometimes it happens while you're writing. Pay attention near the end when Vera changed this to a serious story. I was a little surprised, but it was good. - - - - - - - In a forest lived a girl with a dog. The dog was clever. Next to the girl and the dog lived a raccoon. The raccoon was clever too. The raccoon helped the girl and the dog eat. The girl's name was Gigi, and the dog's name was Bim. "Would you like some more grapes?" asked Rocko the raccoon, holding out a handful of grapes toward Gigi. "Yes, please!" said Gigi, and she made that sound, of being satisfied with food, and wanting more too. Bim walked away from the table in the woods to a tree. He curled up in the soft grass, and was soon asleep in the mid-afternoon shade. "He is so tired!" said Gigi, "he needed a nap!" and she smiled. But

Vera and the Talking Dog in the Forest of Many-Colored Trees

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I've put some of the stories that Vera and I have written together up on my blog over the last few months. She likes it. You can see that in the ending of this one. I like fairy tales. They are allegories, meaning they are full of hidden meanings. But that idea can grow into something more. Myths, legends, and epic fantasy tales abound both now and throughout history. This reminds me of that. - - - - - - - "Why?" said Devan, looking at the trees surrounding him, "Why would they make all of the trees different colors?" "I do not know?" said Allie. Devan thought for a moment, bringing his hand up to his mouth, in the way that he did. "I think," he began, but then trailed off. Still staring at the trees. "Let's go home!" said Allie. "But where is home?" replied Devan, without a moment's hesitation. He turned and looked at her, in a serious way, but with a slight smirk. "Do you remember which trees w

Vera and the Animal Garden Story

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Dialogue is fun. It's the original uniquely human interaction, talking. And, humans love to bestow that gift upon animals in stories. You would think the dialogue of a nine-year-old would be simplified in a story. But it's surprisingly realistic. - - - - - - - In a garden lived a dog. Her name was Bibbi. She had neighbors, a cat named Tom and a dog named Mark. On a late Tuesday evening Bibbi was feeling bored. She decided to do something exciting. But when she thought about what to do, someone knocked on the door. The doors opened, and Bibbi saw Tom, Jerry, and Mark. Bibbi had never had visitors before, and she was excited. She said, "Well, this is rather serendipitous, as I was just thinking of something fun to do." "Bibbi,"said Tom "we have new neighbors." "It is a snail!" said Mark with big eyes. "Umm," said Bibbi as her face contorted into a mildly confused look, "do snails do anything?" "Snai

Vera and the Flying Turtle

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Stories are kind of like waking dreams. That's especially true when you get into fantasy. Vera has the imagination of an intellectually engaged nine-year-old. I think I keep pace with her well when we're alternating turns in writing. We, of course, go over punctuation, grammar, spelling, syntax, etc. But, the writing quickly transcends those technical skills. And then meaning starts to emerge as a primary focus. We often discover things we did not know that we know in the process of writing. - - - - - - - In a land far away there lived a turtle. She liked eating butterflies, but they were so hard to catch. She looked like a rock, so the butterflies would think that she was a stone. They would land on her, and she would eat them. On a Tuesday evening she was having a casual conversation with a bird, and mentioned that it was annoying to have to wait so long to get a butterfly. The bird recommended that she should grow wings, and then just fly to catch the butt

Vera and the Ice Horse

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Reading and writing stories is an amazing experience. Experiencing what a kid does when continuing a story idea is often quite surprising. The natural symbology that emerges is revealing, not only of the individual, but also of humanity. That's what the psychologist Carl Jung was talking about with his idea of archetypes. These universal images built into the biology of all people. For instance, notice the transformations that my nine-year-old Russian student Vera put into the end of this little story that we created by alternating turns writing. - - - - - - - Once upon a time, in a land far away, there lived a horse that could walk on water. Her name was Vera, and she was 5 years old. One day, Vera decided to walk across the river, to get to the other side. But, on this day for some reason, she dove into the water and saw an octopus! Vera had never been under the water before, and wasn't sure how she had gotten there. She was afraid of the octopus, and ran back

Meditation in Chinese Schools and Beyond

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One of the best parts about teaching is learning. I've had students from a multitude of cultures, different countries, different languages, different religions, different ages, different socio-economic levels. And I try to learn as much as I can. I have an unusually intense connection with meditation because I use it to deal with the chronic pain from my spinal deformities. I studied with an Ishaya monk for a year before my brainstem issues emerged. But still, there's nothing quite like unceasing physical pain to drive learning. I've read dozens of books on meditation, and my personal experiments have the added benefit of my physical pain as a feedback mechanism. A few months ago I was talking with my student Carrie. She's in high school in China, and we started going through how they do meditation at the different age levels in school. It's different in different schools. I have some students in China who've never done meditation. But, in her schools the

Nice People - What does it mean?

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My default perspective of people is that they're nice. That doesn't particularly hold true if you compare things to history, or other cultures, or even all of my own experience. I've had my life threatened many times, I've been shot at, had someone try to stab me, been successfully poisoned in Africa, have had money stolen, been lied to and betrayed, been lied about, and I've been conned a few times. I've largely ignored this contradiction because I didn't know how to reconcile it. But, the last 16 months have held it in my awareness so consistently that I need to confront my ideas about the niceness of people. Today is a good example. I decided to go for a walk at Lake Harbor Park to clear my head. It's been a drizzly day, which I like. With an overcast sky blocking out the sun, the park wasn't too busy, which I also like. I took a trail that isn't the most popular. You walk up a small incline of sand, and then turn down a narrow ravine wit

Fighting Local Government Corruption - Part 19 of ?

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Life is full of choices. Sometimes it's hard to know which choice is correct. Still, a path must be chosen. In Dalton Township, the choice is clear. Everyone is asking themselves, "What do I want to see happen in Dalton Township?" Here's what I think needs to happen. Real Choice We won! We have a real election happening this year. That hasn't happened in Dalton in a long time. Elections are one of the most important checks and balances in politics. A balance of power, and checks upon that power, are essential to protecting and defending individual rights. In Dalton, that will start with a choice by the people about who will be in office. Making that choice available is a civic duty. A burden that must be carried by a willing volunteer. Sixteen months ago I said that there would be a choice in this election. And there is. Restore Checks and Balances Make transparency and the Open Meetings Act a priority by broadcasting and recording meetings. Bef

Tima and a Terrifying Story

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If you're writing a story without a plan, and you're writing it with someone else, you never know which way it's going to go. After I finished my class with Tima I sent the story we had written to a friend. She read it and responded that it is a "terrifying story", and she's right. Tima went a little wild, and I let things escalate. - - - - - - - Jed sat upon the mountain cliff, looking down over the thick treetops below him. And saw there a big and bad bear. Jed remembered the words of his father, "If you see a bear, take out your knife and kill it." But bear already had his own knife, and attacked. This bear was a terrorist. Jed dug his feet into the ground, adjusted the knife in his hand, and then leapt forward to meet his destiny. At this moment he slipped and fell into the mouth of the bear. And the bear ate Jed. Arnold the bear put his knife away. He always wanted to use it, but never seemed to need anything other than his claws

'I Have Seen Many Moons' - A Poem About Perspective

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From one perspective you see a thing. From another perspective you can see the same thing, and it looks completely different. This applies to all of existence, even in total. (For those who want more on that, you can read this poem, and you can also lookup Viktor Frankl's concept of dimensional ontology.) Read it, then I'll explain, just a little. - - - - - - - I have seen many moons, or rather; Fortuna has opportuned me, with such a possibility. But I, in my infinite imprudence, have largely failed to notice the passing. Worlds turning, Time's twisted fate, weaving a single thread, from disparate fibers all asunder. Chaos in the details, and order above, or rather; I have seen many moons. - - - - - - - Many moons refers to the passing of a lot of time. Fortuna is the ancient Roman goddess of luck, and a lot of time is a lucky gift. If we're not consciously aware then this time passes us by. Planets turn, whic

'I Saw a Tree at Night' - A Poem of Symbolic Mysteries

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Our minds and souls are mysteries. To others, yes, and even to ourselves. There are different ways of penetrating that veil. They often involve peering through our own darkness, to symbols hidden within our depths. One day, laying alone in bed, I had an unusual vision of a tree. There was obviously something special about it, something magical, but I wasn't sure what. So, this poem popped out. - - - - - - - I saw a tree at night, not with my eyes in some failing light, but bright with dark illumination, in my mind, a thing both eerie and ripe with divine inspiration. But, what kind? A world tree, giving birth to both you and me? A tree of knowledge, taking us to the brink of wisdom's edge? A tree of life, giving us the gifted opportunity of confronting strife? Or a tree of good and evil? Symbolic mysteries abound, rising up around us, rising up within us, why do we force them down? Revelations are revealed, if we look with unseeing eyes, thro

'I Went for a Walk in a Book' - A Poem for Readers

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Words are magical. They can transport you, inspire you, crush you, revive you. They communicate love and hate. And they communicate the experience of love and hate. You can live another life in a book, you can experience an entire range of emotions in a poem. This is a fun poem about experiencing a book. - - - - - - - I went for a walk in a book, over fields of description, and forests of exposition. Narration lulled my sense of unease, metaphor and analogy played and did tease. I took a wrong turn at alliteration, lost my way at rhyme and had some hesitation. Two devices I did see. They distracted while dialogue took a bite at me. I flashed back in time, and sprung forward again. I was dazzled by sensations, tickled by character revelations, and thrown by the thrills of plot innovations. To walk through a book is no easy task, the point is not the finish. The point, is to bask. - - - - - - - There are two basic sets of devices that you can think ab

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