Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Deafening Silence

Long ago someone told me that in order to be heard above a noisy room full of people was to address them as a group in a quiet voice. Rather than slamming a gavel, blowing a whistle or shouting above the din, using a quiet voice would instill quiet among the noisy people, and those making the most noise would soon follow.

Now that almost two weeks has gone by without any noise herein, I'm fresh out of apologies. It's not that I meant to be an absentee owner, nor was it my intention to stop contributing here. Rather, I've had so much on my plate that by the time I realized I needed -- wanted -- to stop by, I never made it in. Until now.

As for what occupied my time thus far, there's no one thing to which I can point as the culprit with an Agatha Christie-esque "a-HA!" However, it's more five distinct things which have kept me from fulfilling my end of this writer/reader dichotomy.

First, for the past month or so, I've been toiling for 45 to 60 minutes on the treadmill. That in and of itself isn't an excuse, nor is it meant to be, but I've increasingly made a concerted effort to get that thing unfolded, powered up, climb aboard and then do my thing for 45 or so minutes. Initially I wanted to work out in the morning, say, around 6:15, and then hit the shower before work. But I decided I'd rather get to work earlier, get home and then work out sometime in the middle of the evening, after dinner, and then wrap up.

Why is this significant? The main reason is that I usually get home between 6:30 and 7, and intellectually I'm spent until I recharge, say, around 8 or 8:30. By the time I endeavor to swing by here, it's workout time, and as much as I'd like to commit my ruminations on life to electronic print while I'm working out, it's not nearly feasible. I am proud of the fact that I've only missed one day working out since I got the thing here, but if the upside is a major increase in fitness and weight loss, the downside is that it really screws up my nights.

The second thing that has played havoc with my HoB visitation is the immense load of work I've been handling. I'm trying to bring stuff home from the office, either physically or electronically, and while some people have deadlines and the requisite quiet periods, it's increasingly clear I have and will never have any such deadline/downtime. Pretty much every week introduces new things that need to be addressed immediately, and even when things are quiet there's always a cauldron bubbling quietly but menacingly right below a placid, calm surface. In essence, it's controlled chaos. We're doing well, we're always busy and we're relatively efficient, but being a lean, taut machine has its drawbacks -- like no vacation, no "mental health" days and, for sure, no days where there aren't a half-dozen things needing significant attention in and outside the office.

Third, I've been -- I'll admit sheepishly -- addicted to a game for the PC called Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter (GRAW). It's quite a mouthful whether referring to it properly or by its acronym, and what it is, essentially, is an intensely accurate simulation of modern urban anti-terror combat. Granted, I wouldn't know to what degree or how accurate it is, but I will say this: the game features you as a captain leading a team of soldiers into hot zones, and it's so realistic that the sound of incoming sniper fire -- with direction and volume thereof playing significant roles -- can mean life or death. For the most part, the opponents are incredibly sneaky, and each of the game's missions -- broken down into four or five mini-objectives -- require hours of intense, careful attention to detail. It's not just about clicking a mouse to kill a bad guy; it's so intense that you find yourself on the edge of your seat and recoiling when a bullet slams into your character and leaves you with a view of the world that no longer includes you. It's almost surreal in its breadth and its intensity, so much so that I limit myself to less than an hour at a time simply because my character dies so frequently that it's actually exhilerating when a mission is completed but frustrating and unnerving when your character dies and you're left with a view of your killer running over your virtually lifeless form.

Sound uber-geek? I'll confess, I felt a bit like Vince Vaughn's character in "The Break-Up" as I knocked out hours trying to solve the missions. However, in my own defense, had Kaia been floating around nearby, I know -- hope -- that I would have the good sense to turn off the game and spend my nights with her.

Next up on the agenda, of course, is Kaia -- she's been planning for an election for chairperson for the board on which she sits, and things have been heating up. Tonight is the unofficial wrap-up, and it's an important culmination of all her efforts. Most of the people on the board are aware she's going to be moving to NYC soon, and I hope that she gets elected despite their knowing she'll be vacating the position sometime in the next four or so months. Based on tonight's activity at the meeting, where she and her opponent squared off -- sort of -- she's likely to be the organization's next chairperson. But all of the energy and focus that she's expended has obviously had me on this ride along with her; luckily, the ride is nearly finished, and, as they say in the massage business, it will likely feature a happy ending.

Finally, I finally recommitted myself to writing fiction. Several years prior to 9/11, I'd been fomenting the pillars of a story surrounding a major terrorist attack on US soil, although my story didn't merely include Jihadi elements but also some mercenary aspects as well. The notion of nuclear proliferation has been and will continue to be a reality in the modern world, especially the (blech) post-9/11 world, and that, I believe, will be a copilot (the other being al-Qaeda and groups with similar goals) towards where we -- as a planet -- move in our quest for survival and self-destruction.

It's not a pretty contemplation, but if it worked for Tom Clancy, it can work for me. Besides, he's just an over-rated former insurance salesman; I've killed over 1,400 bad guys, overthrown a general staging a coup in Mexico with the aid of a former US General, and I've nailed snipers in the dark from 500 yards out. So I have a lot of first-hand experience at what passes for combat these days. Let's see Tom Clancy counter that.

Oh, um, did I mention that the full title of "GRAW" is "Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter?"

"Heading to position, captain. Over."

In all seriousness, I pondered whether to leave the HoB on semi-permanent hiatus, shift gears or fully concentrate on fiction. But inasmuch as I know that what I include here might find its way into the pages of my work, I also know that whenever I encounter something in a work of fiction that smells preachy, I'm put off in a major way. Whether it's on film or on paper, unless it's one giant statement -- a la Syriana -- I catch little snippets of personal politics seeping into everything from Clancy to Grisham to Baldacci to Silva, and while it's difficult to keep these stories rolling without some sort of personal statement, it's more often noticeable and undesirable. More importantly, how I write -- for better or worse -- is to start with a premise, toss in some key elements and incidents surrounding the action -- and then sort of wing it.

That might sound unprepared, but I never delved into writing workshops beyond the communal work I did in high school and college that fostered creative writing, so I don't know if Stephen King sits down at a PC with an entire story in his head and just pours it out, or whether he basically has no idea where his story or his characters are going. I know that David Chase, the writer of The Sopranos, indicated that when he writes he has absolutely no idea what's going to happen within the scope of the story, so as I put together scenes, ideas, concepts and bits of flash and scenic significance, I'm somewhat reassured that I'm doing it right. Which makes it all the better when I reach milestones, which I do here and there.

The problem, of course, is that you can't create -- not in any meaningful, legitimate way -- if you're focused on your girlfriend, killing bad guys from 350 yards from behind a masonry wall across a corpse-riddled town square, or pumping along at 4.2 miles an hour. But as long as my mind is functioning -- granted, it's a relative term -- I am regularly plotting, tossing around ideas and wondering how best to build the layers of my story until I'm ready to finish the icing and slice into the thing.

So while this should not serve as an apology, I hope it at least suffices to explain where I've been and what I'm doing these days. I'm sure I'll be a more regular visitor here, if for no other reason than the Rangers are out of the hockey playoffs -- not unexpectedly -- and the Yankees are still a long way away from October baseball.


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