Mashed Up Musings

Rambling Thoughts on Genre Mashups

Puzzling.jpgYesterday over at The Write Practice, the subject was genre mashups, something I’d never hear of before — at least not by that name. The concept of taking a story and retelling it in another genre is familiar. For example, telling the story of Cinderella as a news report.

In this Write Practice post “The Magic Violinist” is suggesting mixing genres like fairy tale + sci-fi, romance + thriller, classic + contemporary. Oliver Twist meets his Mafia Godfather. That type of thing.

I read a book recently where one of the main characters is an author and in her novel Jane Austen is captured by space aliens. The title of the book will give a clue as to how successful she was at getting it launched. The Rejected Writers Book Club (Southlea Bay) by Suzanne Kelman is a funny, though none-too-believable, tale with a mixture of zany and normal characters. I found it delightful.

Mixing genres is an intriguing thought. Even in straight fiction, there are some tales I think would benefit from a dash of something else thrown in. For example, Wuthering Heights — one book I disliked extremely. I read the thing all the way through, hoping poor Heathcliff would get a grip, but there was just no improvement.

It’s billed as a romance — but I saw no actual love anywhere in its pages. Jealousy, greed, snobbery, obsession, fury, cruelty, revenge, yes. Love, no. I think Healthcliff might have benefited immensely by a visit from those three Spirits of Christmas who brought Ebenezer Scrooge to his senses in A Christmas Carol.

I think a lot of mashups of the old classics have already been done a zillion times. There are many contemporary, sci-fi, fantasy, and western versions of Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Pride + Prejudice, Romeo & Juliet, and Hamlet floating around.

Just for the fun of it, here are a few mashups I came up with:

Lord Peter Wimsey is sent to investigate the assassination of the King of Scotland and the murder of Banquo. He deduces from various clues that MacBeth is the guilty party…
or
Miss Marple, a good friend of Banquo’s widow, does some snooping and uncovers Lady Macbeth’s duplicity in the assassination of the king.

The Three Musketeers could be three university roommates who join together to prove their favorite professor, accused of being a spy, is innocent.

I’ve never read The Great Gatsby, and the synopsis doesn’t at all inspire me to start. However, one of the three male characters could meet up with the three spirits of Christmas and come to see the error of his ways, improving the sad outcome of that story.

On the humorous side, Bertie Wooster could meet up with Ebenezer Scrooge’s three Christmas ghosts and resolve to atone for his former self-indulgent lifestyle. He tries in his inept way to donate time + talent to some worthy cause, but Jeeves has to sort things out when they go awry.

Notes:

Cinderella, an old fairy tale, was recorded by French writer Charles Perrault
Oliver Twist is a classic novel by Charles Dickens
The Little Mermaid was a Hans Christian Anderson tale
Wuthering Heights was Emily Bronte’s only novel
Ebeneezer Scrooge is Charles Dicken’s notorious curmudgeon and tightwad
Pride & Prejudice was penned by Jane Austen
Romeo + Juliet, Hamlet and MacBeth were written by William Shakespeare
Lord Peter Wimsey was Dorothy Sayers’ famous detective
Miss Marple was Agatha Christie’s very successful sleuth
The Three Musketeers was written by Alexandre Dumas
The Great Gatsby was an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel
Bertie Wooster + his valet, Jeeves, were created by P. G. Wodehouse

Impressionism and Haiku

We were together with friends on Monday for dinner. Ruth is a writer and Ray is an artist. Read his bio here. We got to talking about his artwork, and art in general, ending up in a discussion of Impressionist paintings. He was saying that impressionism shows something the viewer can identify, but nothing too detailed. General colour and/or detail indicate the subject, but it’s not meant to be a clear picture. Rather a scene the viewer gets as they view it from a distance.

Before I went to bed last night I spent a good hour reading various haiku at Troutswirl, the blog of The Haiku Foundation. * I had a good long read in the section on A Sense of Place: The Shore, verses all about the sounds of the seashore. Oodles of them! And then read over Haiku Master Alan Summers comments on various verses. I found this altogether so enjoyable and enlightening! (If you’re reading this, Alan, I really appreciated your long commentary.) Check out Alan’s blog here.

I should also mention Cattails, the journal of the United haiku and tanka society. Another of my favourite haiku haunts. 🙂

It dawned on me while we were listening to Ray’s artistic experiences that haiku is much like impressionism. The goal is not to produce a detailed description but rather give a few words to paint concepts and call to the reader’s imagination a scene, a thought, or feeling.

A paragraph in the introduction to the book, Japanese Haiku, © 1955 by Peter Pauper Press, says this:
One final word: the haiku is not expected to be always a complete or even a clear statement. The reader is supposed to add to the words his own associations and imagery, and thus to become a co-creator of his own pleasure in the poem.

For example, Issa’s verse — translated by David G Lanoue:
one man, one fly
one large
sitting room

Just words, until you recall your own experience of what a pest one fly can be. No matter how big the room, especially if you’re sitting quietly waiting that one fly with be a constant annoying buzz and/or it will find you and pester you no end!

Though I’m just a learner myself, I know what I like and what I don’t when it comes to haiku. The verse shouldn’t be so detailed the whole picture is there. I’ve seen some verses called haiku that may have the three-line form but are like one long sentence. Straightforward; no layers of meaning. I’ve written two verses as examples:

red and blue flashers
accident on the highway
traffic rerouted

A reader might make something of the idea that an accident reroutes people’s lives, but it still doesn’t say much beyond the initial words.

the cricket crawls
over the ripe pumpkin
a long journey

My thought is, “Oh, thrills!” However, if this says anything profound to you, please let me know.

Here’s a delightful verse from Chosu, a poet from ancient Japan.* Can’t you just picture this scene?

broken and broken
again on the sea, the moon
so easily mends

*from HAIKU HARVEST,
© 1962 by Peter Pauper Press
Verses translated by Peter Beilenson and Harry Behn

Here are two of mine: senryu, actually, dealing with people and their feelings. I hope you can find some layers in them. Critiques welcome.

the war is over
soldiers go home
to strangers

Sometimes I get into quite a dither over one word and how the meaning might change. For example, I could have written the verse’s last lines as:
soldiers go home
as strangers

Would it have made the poem better or worse? I need a second opinion. 😉

escaping
into my tears
memories  of you

Since I doubt any of the “One-word Challenge” prompters will give us the word HAIKU to write on, I’ll post these thoughts and hope some of you will find them interesting. Coaching comments and other good examples welcome. 🙂

Is Honesty Always Best?

Today’s Word of the Day prompt is CANDOR

Here I am rattling on this keyboard in hopes of conveying some thoughts on this topic. HONESTY; TRUTH. Deep subjects!

According to Merriam-Webster candor is the free expression of one’s true feelings.
Adjectives: honest, open-hearted, truthful, direct, forthright, frank, plain-spoken, straightforward, blunt.

How candid can you be in your relationships? How much open sharing do you think is okay between spouses, friends, family? How honest are you with your competitors and antagonists? And when do you just keep quiet and hope for the best, letting others make their own choices and learn their own lessons?

How much candor can you handle from others? If you have a fault, do you want to know about it? Are friends allowed special privileges in this department? Do you expect more gentleness or less frankness from your spouse than close friends?

I can look back on a few times when a friend has been very forthright with me about one of my faults. I sure didn’t appreciate it at the moment, but later on I thanked them for what they said. I’d fallen into a rut and their words put me back on track again.

And I remember a time when I wrote a candid reply to a friend. Her letter informed me that she’d discovered her husband was cheating on her. She was deeply wounded, insulted, and furious. She referred to the “other woman” as “That…that SLUT!”

Do you blame her? I didn’t. Yet I sensed that the fountain of fury I saw splashed across her letter, if she kept bathing in it, would finally drown her. As they say, “Acid corrodes the container it’s in.”

I wrote back to sympathize a bit, yet told her as kindly as I could that she had to let go of that anger or it would destroy her. And as for “that SLUT!” where was she coming from? Though this affair was wrong, maybe the other woman was a hurting, confused person, dealing with self-esteem issues too. I reminded my friend of her own teen years when she had such negative feelings about herself and what this led her into.

(My friend’s mom died young and her dad was abusive to them. One day he decided she needed to work on her math, so he sat her down at the table and sat down across from her with a textbook in one hand and a ping pong paddle in the other. Every time she gave him the wrong answer, he smacked her face with the paddle. As a teen her need for love and approval drove her into a relationship with a married man, which led to an abortion.)

It was a hard letter to write. Honesty stings. She might well hate me when she read it. But my conscience wouldn’t let me just pat her on the back, say “Poor you,” and leave her to drown in that acid.

I didn’t hear from her for a long time, but finally we did resume correspondence. She told me all her other friends were full of sympathy. When she read my letter she raged, “How can she? She’s supposed to be my friend!” But then she wrote, “In the end your letter helped me more than all the sympathy I got.”

Having seen people flounder for years in bitterness, I do believe that sometimes, to help a friend in need, you simply must be openhearted and call a spade a spade.

What do you think?

Preserving the Daily Prompt

A Quick Look at Six Word Prompt Sites

As most WordPress bloggers know by now, WordPress Daily Post has bailed and bloggers have been left in free-fall. There are oodles of writing sites that offer word, topic, and sentence prompts, but they lack the interaction that the blogging community enjoyed through The Daily Post. Some bloggers have become frequent back & forth visitors, even good friends over time. But wait! Parachutes of different cloths and colors have been popping up to fill the gap. Our Word of the Day Challenge has not been left to fall by the wayside.

Up From the Rubble

The Daily Post may have become estranged from its blogging community — it died, actually — but a dozen or more bloggers like Scott and Fandango have done the honorable thing and offered their services. Vehemently refusing to be disconnected from each other in what was once the Daily Post community, a number of them have set a precedent, starting a new blog offering Your Daily Word Prompt.

I only wish one of today’s prompt words would be ANALYTICAL — an adjective a friend once applied to me. Another word suitable for this particular post, would be OPINIONATED. But poets would sigh in frustration and haiku writers would abandon all hope. There’s not much you can add when the prompt word uses up five or six of your seventeen allowed syllables.

And in my opinion, this is the tendency of the new prompters. A challenge it may be, but my brain is too indolent to conceptualize stories about collaboration and camaraderie. Give me simple any day. Nevertheless, many thanks to all of you who’ve dished up this great sampling to suit everyone’s palate.

Need a New Word? Check Here:

Daily Addictions word for today:  RUBBLE
This new blog, only for word prompts, has a nice front page with a lot on the sidebar including a list of other writing challenges. Uses InLinkz to connect contributors.
Prompt words last week: indifferent, dub, authority, respect, gasp, ancient

RAGTAG Community word for today:  PRECEDENT
The Home page header image was chosen to fit ragtag theme of this new, only for word prompts, blog. For some reason it’s duplicated, giving the blog a quite ragged up-front look. Home page is one where Recent posts plus pic are displayed. Seven bloggers each offer a word prompt on their day. Bloggers connect through pingbacks.
Prompt words last week: rejuvenate, heart, pond, Italian, check, shaken

Fandango‘s word for today: ESTRANGED
If you’re a person who doesn’t like clutter, Fandango’s busy Home Page is disconcerting, especially those two eyes staring at you. 😉 This blogger has added a daily word prompt to his repertoire, but has kindly listed One-word Challenge in his top menu so you can pop into it easily. He’s been faithfully posting words this month and bloggers have definitely rallied, connecting by pingbacks.
Prompt words last week: allegiance, artifact, cerebral, preposterous, almost, stark

Over at thehouseofbailey, Scott’s daily prompt: PARACHUTE
This is his blog, so his own various posts are mixed in. A clean home page, easy on the eyes, the prompt word found as a tab on the far right in the top menu. Most of his word prompts are versatile and easy for poets to use. Bloggers connect by pingbacks.
Prompt words last week: commemorate, deport, hid, perceive, love, employ.

Your Daily Word Prompt word for today: Honorable
This is a new site, prompt words only. Clean look overall. Personally, I don’t care for the chunky header + letters, nor the gray background. I prefer a bit of background color, but never have liked gray. On the other hand, easy-to find prompts + dates are displayed in neat cubes. Bloggers link through pingbacks, as with most of these sites.
Prompt words last week: lake, amicable, perpetual, adulation, wrangle, situation

Word of the Day Challenge word: Vehemently
Four bloggers have combined their talents to produce this new “Alternate Haven for Daily Post Mourners.” I’d give this blog an A+ for appearance, love its colors and open look, the neat header. But I’d drop down to a D rating for prompt words; these gals use the heavyweights. Haiku writers, these aren’t apt to appeal to you.
Prompt words last week: epiphany, possibility, squabble, dalliance, anticipation, camaraderie

Swimmers is just getting into the swim of things and hasn’t offered a word every day yet. This blogger’s new site, designed to fill in for Community Pool as well as offer a daily word prompt, has a nice clean look about it. Time will tell how Swimmers manages to keep fresh water in the pool.

And there you have my thoughts on what I’ve sampled in the smorgasbord of one-word daily prompts. For convenience sake I’ve reworked my BLOG ROLL at right so that for a time you’ll find these listed under Writing Help.

Masked Warblers and DNA

My husband’s cousin owns a nice bit of farmland right by the Saskatchewan River. He raised cattle, but he and his wife also set up some cabins on their yard and called the place Leaning Tree Guest Ranch. Though they’ve retired now, for years they offered guests a place to stay and enjoy the beauties of nature. One of the things they advertised: because no pesticides had ever been used on the land, this property boasted the largest number of native songbirds in Sask.

One summer my husband and I rented one of their cottages for a few days. In addition to enjoyable visits getting to know our relatives, we spent hours touring the lovely woods. Cousin Paul had made a nice lane right beside the river and kept this trail open for guests to wander.

At some places this lane narrowed down to just a foot path. One morning I was ambling along this path watching the antics of the common yellowthroats, tiny warblers that seemed to decorate the bushes around me like little yellow blossoms. Hyper, curious and cheerful, these cute birds are blessed with distinctive black masks somewhat like a raccoon.

I soon noticed that they were as interested in me as I was in them. They flitted into nearby bushes trying to get a better look at this visitor passing through so I sat down on a fallen log for about fifteen minutes and let them scrutinize me. Soon the branches a few feet away were a-flutter with yellowthroats hopping around seeking better viewing points and holding animated discussions about this odd creature. It’s quite a turn-around for me to be watched by the birds — and really unique to be discussed so openly. Being human — and females are very prone to this — I wondered what they thought of me and how I measured up to others of my species they’d observed.

Thinking of their cute little masks led me to pondering the variation in the warbler genetic pool that produces this unique feature. Some types of warbler have only one yellow spot on the tail while others are totally black and white.

My mind hops over to the marvels of the genetic pool in general. Which leads to some serious questions about the theory of evolution with regard to genetics and DNA.

A Simple-Brained Creature Ponders Evolution

According to the theory of evolution, as we were taught it in school, the earth was sterile. A boiling chunk off the sun and totally dead. The basic elements were present in molten form — guaranteed to kill any living organism. Eventually, they say, this sphere cooled and everything solidified. Except the water. Just why the water didn’t all evaporate into space, how it formed an atmosphere, is a mystery to me, but anyway…

Then one day a cell floating in the ocean came alive. Boink! Hello, world.

I lack faith here. I can hardly comprehend that a tiny pebble, a drop of water, or any other basic element of earth, would suddenly come alive. And not just start breathing air — or filtering oxygen from water — but also have the capability to reproduce! Did it divide? Or did it mate and thus reproduce? Mind-boggling.

Human cells divide all the time, according to the direction of the DNA. Any living cell —even a one-celled life form — must have DNA. So where would the DNA come from?

And then, could this new one-celled being contain in its DNA enough variation to produce a man, a dinosaur, a kangaroo, a mouse, a bird, a butterfly, an octopus, a reptile, a tree, a flower, a melon? According to evolutionists, all these and more eventually evolved from that one cell. I turn this thought over in my mind and come up with another question:

If the DNA to produce such variety were present in this initial one-celled creature, why did it take millions of years (according to the theory) to show up? These days if you have in one couple the DNA for red-hair and black hair, you’ll see this variation in the offspring — and definitely in the grandchildren, where other DNA is mixed in to produce an amazing display.

However, if the DNA to produce all that variation didn’t exist in that first living cell, from where did it come? It must have been added to the mix as time went on — but how? Can DNA that wasn’t initially present in a cell — like the DNA for scales or feathers or fur — somehow come into it from the atmosphere? More mind boggling concepts.

Some talk about genetic mutations and we see this happening today. We see mutations producing dwarfs, albinos, people with a sixth toe, etc. A child may have a harelip just like great-grandpa, but we never see a baby born with a beak, red eyes, a mask, a forked tongue, or talons. The DNA just isn’t there to produce this kind of variation.

According to most religions there is/was a Creator — in English we say “God”; French all him “the Eternal One.” Believers say this Eternal God designed all the creatures of the earth and gave each the particular genetics of their species, with potential for some variation. He also gave every species the ability to reproduce after their kind. And we see that He gave each species a DNA capable of some variation. And He gave them life — because life was his to give.

Now this concept is easy for me to grasp. Nothing mind-boggling here — if we can accept that God always was, even before the earth was.

sometimes it seems the whole theory of evolution is a cloak for “We will not accept that there is a Creator, an Eternal God.” Yet this is a theory its originator, Charles Darwin, tried to play down before he died. He advanced it as a theory, not as an unquestionable truth.

A Stress-Full Language

Have you ever wondered why English is so hard to learn?

Comedian

If you’re laughing because you think I’m funny, that’s great.
But if you’re laughing because you think I’m funny, that’s not funny.

It’s because English is such a stress-full language.

Without stress on the right words, the caption under the speaker makes no sense at all. Just why English evolved this way no one knows, but most other languages (I’ve heard) don’t add this kind of stressing to change the meaning of a phrase.

“Amber’s going to play the part of Lady MacBeth in the school play?”
(Amber? I don’t believe it)

“Amber’s going to play the part of Lady MacBeth in the school play?”
(Why on earth would they give her that part?)

“Amber’s going to play the part of Lady MacBeth in the school play.”
(No, not in the movie, not on a stage. just in the play at her school.)

So let’s have a little compassion for the brave souls who undertake to learn this flexible, but quite complex, language of ours.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

PS:
If you’re new to blogging,, you might like to know that WordPress has provided us with the ability to stress certain words. If you want to leave a comment on someone else’s blog, you can emphasize words  by typing in <em> then your words to be italicized and then finish with </em>.

This can come in handy at times, especially if you want to quote someone, but you must remember to do both sides of the command or else you’ll end up with <em> or else </em> in your text and everyone will see you forgot the other half.

Bold is made by typing in <strong> then the words and then </strong>.

 

The Swallows Are Back!

“When the Swallows Come Back to Our Exhaust Fan…”

Did you know that tree swallows have seriously decreased in numbers here in North America, especially in areas where English sparrows have multiplied. Non-native birds, English Sparrows are miserable, aggressive neighbours. They’ll chase adult tree swallows away and hog the food and best nesting sites. They will also invade swallow nests, kill the adult birds, eat their eggs and destroy their chicks. Heartless things, they lay their own eggs on top of the corpses and pick away at the remains.

Swallows may find a remote abandoned building where sparrows don’t hang out, or they may find humans who are blind enough —or kind enough— to let them live close by, where sparrows and other predators won’t venture. All the better if there’s an opening easy to defend. At least that’s what one pair of tree swallows must have thought in the spring of 2010, when they found the cover of our exhaust fan missing.

There’s a small hole in the outside wall of our mobile home just below the roof, where the bathroom fan is vented. It’s supposed to have a covering but this fell off sometime, leaving the recessed pipe about one and a half inches in diameter with one end open to the great outdoors. Tree swallows checked it out and found an entry just their size in a wall warmed by morning sun and a nice interior ledge with ample room for a nest. Thus began our own personal experience with swallows.

They set about furnishing their digs. We took note of their presence when a few straws started falling onto the bathroom counter but since we never used that bathroom fan anyway–it was far too noisy and rattling–it seemed a worthwhile nature lesson to observe this process. (Beside which, there was no way on earth we could get them out.) We taped the switch so the fan couldn’t be turned on by unsuspecting visitors and watched the swallows make forays past our window as they built their nest.

In time we heard tiny peeps coming from behind the fan. We dusted shreds of grass from our bathroom counter and smiled at the baby racket we heard when lunch was served — an all-day affair. Our cat was intrigued but helpless to disturb the birds — as were the outside cats. Weeks passed and peep volume grew.

One day I was in the bathroom brushing my hair when the peeping suddenly hushed. Then I heard the unmistakable tones of marching orders; it sounded like a parent bird laying down the law to indolent offspring just like human parents sometimes do. Followed by tiny feet scrabbling on wood, then the bathroom was silent.

I hurried to the kitchen and looked out the window just as the air exploded with swallows. Back and forth the young birds swooped and dived, getting their bearings in this new world into which they’d been shoved. They still called the nest home and for days after, whenever we passed that side of the trailer, we saw a tiny black head poking out the hole as someone prepared for takeoff.

Then the offspring moved out for good. For the rest of July we watched them zip through the sky or balance on wires, learning the ropes, feasting on mosquitoes and other insects. Swallows are entertaining acrobats and can clean up a fantastic number of bugs, especially mosquitoes, every day.

Shortly after their babies left, Ma & Pa Bird were back behind the bathroom fan scratching around. New peeps started coming through the wall and the cycle repeated itself: comings & goings increased; the peeps got loud again. I happened to be there again when another set of marching orders were issued. I could almost hear a harried parent insisting, “It’s time you were on your own. Get out there and feed yourselves!”

Repeat explosion of swallow swoopers. Repeat dives, twirls, and other aerobatics to strengthen wings. More birds on the clothesline.

The bathroom fan is vented not far from our outside tap, so we were often near their nest, but they never minded our coming and going. One or the other would often have its head out watching as I turned the tap on or off. I’d even talk to it from about two metres (6′) away and it never moved.

The next spring I learned an important lesson: don’t put out inviting bird food (i.e. sunflower seeds & nuts) for larger birds like grackles anywhere near the swallow nest. Our bird feeder, hung on a post in the lawn, was too close to the bathroom vent and the swallows were obviously distressed by the presence of bigger birds at the feeder. Several times I saw them dive at grackles sitting there. That spring the swallows raised only one batch of babies, then left.

The swallows used the exhaust fan vent for two summers, then moved on to other nesting sites. We’ve put up several more swallow nest boxes over the past six years, all of which are claimed every spring and new broods raised.

Our yard can be bad for mosquitoes, but we’ve noticed that as long as the swallows are around, the mosquitoes aren’t as plentiful. Nice! It would be worth the price of a dozen birdhouses if we’re spared West Nile Virus. The swallows usually leave us at the end of July and head over to the sloughs to feast on the multitudes of mosquitoes there. After that we  have to look out for ourselves mosquito-wise.

In the fall of 2010 I read in a gardening magazine that “swallows produce one batch of young every summer.” Well, ours must not have read the rules. Or they felt so secure in their cozy home that they decided on a second family. The ones who occupy the nest we mounted on the garage have raised two broods some summers as well.

Yesterday at leas one family of swallows returned, twittering around and all trying to get into their old nest box just outside my sewing room window. Welcome home, friends!