Am I Preaching to the Choir?

When I was taking my ESL Part One course this fall, one of the questions we were asked to consider was, “Are students who may be reluctant to talk in class in front of others more comfortable engaging in electronic “conversations”?”

As the Technical Resource Teacher in our school, my answer is a resounding, “Yes”. Computers do assist with learning on many levels, from delivering a variety of content, to practicing skills, to enabling communication, to teaching responsibility. Computers do not teach, nor do they solve all problems, but they can help us to look at curriculum in a different way; they also encourage us to create a layered way of thinking.

Computers, on a very basic and practical level, force us to think sequentially. Just think about all of the steps you go through to find that file you need to upload to your blog. For ELL’s and every other learner, using a computer requires that you can follow written, oral or visual instructions. Often, the path to creating a document, editing a photo, or finding something online is not always as straightforward as you would assume if you knew nothing about computers. Simply creating a document in Word is a good way to test students’ comprehension. Either they do it, or they ask for help.

While on vacation this Christmas, I’ve had ample opportunity to consider how computers can also assist with the creative process. The question came up when my sister asked me what on earth I was doing on my laptop, iPad and iPod for so many hours in a day. (Honestly, I didn’t realize that I was glued to my devices for that long. I have gone skiing, attended 2 bonfires, a book making workshop, made 5 wreaths and several other gifts, watched a couple of movies, indulged in many interesting conversations with real people, and even gave my dog a haircut.) However, in comparison to a sibling who spends relatively little time on computers, I guess the question is valid.

As a writer, I can honestly say that I would not want to go back to the pen and paper method of recording my thoughts. Yes, I do jot notes and sketch diagrams of ideas but when it comes to the nitty gritty of painting an image or developing an idea it’s the computer and nothing else for me. I love the swiftness of recording my thoughts, the satisfying click of the keys and (a little anal here) the cleanliness of the white screen. Unless I choose to use mark-up in Word’s review pane, I experience the absolute joy of an untouched document. Visual perfection.

Another added benefit to working on a computer is, of course, the value of saving multiple drafts. Of course, with that privilege comes great responsibility. Experienced drafters will shake their heads when I admit that I committed the ultimate sin when I first started work on my novel last year. Yes, I created more than one draft but if took a while for me to remember to number and date my work. It didn’t seem like such a big deal until I took a 6 month break from the work, and then tried to pick up where I left off yesterday. Needless to say, I spent a fair bit of time sorting my files into folders. I know. Computer Survival School 101. What can I say except that I was so caught up in the creative process that my usual neat-freak went on vacation.

Lately, I’ve been sampling and following a lot of blogs. Also, to my pleasant surprise, I have found that people have been following me. In spite of my sporadic posting it would appear that I have something to say that other people want to hear. Although I do enjoy a great dystopic novel, I must admit that I am a fan of a computer driven society. Where else would I be able to meet, carry out a conversation, share ideas, and learn from others with the click of a button?

Essentially a logical/sequential platform, computers teach layered strategies of thinking, creating, communicating which can add to our understanding of being.  I would even go so far as to say that my imagination has grown because of the interactive nature of computers and the internet.

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My 250 Word Challenge

The Door

Only in the dark, could a glimmer be so bright. Or so Davis thought, when the door swelled beneath his fingers then burst through the grass like a budding mushroom. It drew him to his feet. Beneath his aching hands, the cool metal pulsed with the promise of release.

(Continue reading at Indies Unlimited, Flash Fiction Entries and vote here for your favourite.)

On Christmas Day, I read a blog by Martin Crosbie, whom I met at the Rural Writers’ Retreat in Smithers this fall. He reminded me through his article on Charles Dickens’ self publishing journey for A Christmas Carol  that even those “greats” began somewhere. That those classic authors we teach in school succeeded because of hard work, confidence, and a belief in their creations. Most of all, I guess, our writing and artistic heroes make it because they make a point of creating and publishing. Thanks to my Christmas lesson (even though I thought I was on holidays), I joined the writing site Martin recommended called Indies Unlimited, AND, my first New Year’s Resolution to publish comes in the form of entering a flash fiction contest. Learning to tell a story in 250 words or less is quite an experience! Although it was a bit painful to slash 100 words from my story I decided that it was worth the experience of (1) actually sitting down and writing and (2) putting myself out there in a competitive context.

Please, check out Indies if you haven’t already. Although I am very partial to my own story I promise you that the other submissions are creative and thought provoking, You might even be inspired to try the next writing challenge.

“Where No Man Has Gone Before”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Satanic Hero is a fearful one because he would destroy everything to gain Something. He is Orc who sets fire to the world and who tears Urizen from his throne. He doesn’t care that Innocents will die to bring about the new world. Out of this destruction arises Albion, a wiser, better leader who is a man of compassion as well as action.

I guess the BIG QUESTION is: Would Gary Mitchell have evolved into Albion given time; and would the destruction of the galaxy be worth that transformation? Or, is Kirk right to finally bring about Mitchell’s death because his Otherness is not leading to regeneration. Is Mitchell Orc? Or is he Urizen?

“The Literature of Change” by Christopher McKittereck struck a resounding chord in me for a variety of reasons, but most specifically because of McKitterick’s definition of science fiction as being a literature of change rather than of science. We use science fiction as a vehicle to explore who we are as human beings, to test theories, to alter our own perspectives about our lives, society, and culture. We speculate. Think about “Where No Man Has Gone Before” for example. STAR TREK definitely fits our popular conception of science fiction because of its futuristic setting, alien beings, and use of technology. I don’t think this TV show would have gained such popularity however, if it had not also speculated about the human condition, social change, and the effects of science and technology on humanity.

In this particular episode, the characters are faced with the question, “What will you do if you are given absolute power?” Mitchell gives in almost immediately to the alien power he is given, practically throwing away his humanity in exchange for something more. You have to ask yourself why he would be so eager to give up all that he is to become something alien.

The transformation in Dehner is not as swift, nor is it an obvious conclusion that she is eager to give up her humanity for power. From a sociological perspective, this is unusual because in the time that this script was written women were just gaining power and one myth tied to the women’s movement is that minorities would not know how to use the power that they were given and would abuse it. Although Dehner’s fall is inevitable, it is surprising the writers choose to mask her changes while allowing Mitchell to tumble from grace so quickly. The first hint of Dehner’s inner transformation is her response to Kirk’s query about Mitchell’s ability to control key ship’s functions through ESP. She responds by saying, “No one’s been hurt, have they? Don’t you understand? A mutated superior man could also be a wonderful thing. The forerunner of a new and better kind of human being” , and thus reveals her achilles heel – curiousity.

Archetypally, Dehner’s character seems to be following the pattern of Pandora, Eve, or Delilah — all women who are connected to the ideas of temptation and deception. In comparison, Mitchell’s archetypal pattern is that of fallen heroes like Adam, Lucifer, or Dorian Gray, all of whom gave up their positions of Grace for personal gain or knowledge and in so doing became monsters. In fact, Mitchell even says that the majority of the crew view him as a monster. Historically, Elizabeth Dehner is echoing Nietzche’s concept of the Ubermensch in his book, “Thus Spoke Zarathustra”. Roughly translated as Overman or Above-Human or most commonly as Superman, the literate reader/viewer of Star Trek would naturally make the connection to Nietzche, and from there to a new Garden of Eden story.

The split between human and other is paralleled by Spock’s and Kirk’s responses to the situation. Spock logically assesses the situation and recommends that Kirk either abandon Mitchell on Delta Vega, an isolated planet or that Kirk kill Mitchell right away. Reasoning that Mitchell’s abilities are multiplying incrementally, Spock hypothesizes that sooner rather than later the helmsman will view the crew as little more than white mice for his experiments. With this future in mind, Spock recommends that sacrificing the one for the many is a viable solution. Kirk, on the other hand, calls for a more compassionate solution and cannot divest himself of his human emotion of “love” for his crew member and former student. Kirk chooses a path taken by many other captains and refuses to leave a man behind, unless the cost to his ship and crew is irrefutable. Further revelation of Mitchell’s deterioration comes when he mocks Kirk’s decision to try and save him, telling Kirk that “command and compassion is a fool’s mixture”.

In the end, however, compassion is what saves the day. Dehner listens to Kirk’s plea to hold onto her human self long enough to defeat the monster that Mitchell has become. What makes her listen to Kirk? Is it the psychiatrist, who has witnessed the nightmares of humanity? Is it the woman who feels for those who are weaker than herself? Is it the “mother” who will fight to the death to protect her children? Nevertheless, without Kirk’s influence, her response would not have been the same as she had already admitted that, “Earth is really unimportant. Before long, we’ll be where it would have taken mankind millions of years of learning to reach. “

Christopher McKitterick ends his article with the line, “Science fiction is a discussion about what it means to be human in a changing world, and everyone is invited. Welcome to the conversation”, which inevitably brings to mind many late night conversations with fellow Trekkies as we dissected each episode. If I were to identify with a character on the Enterprise which character would I be, is a question that I’ve asked myself more than once. I remember watching, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, as a teenager in the 1970’s and I must admit my sympathies lay with Gary Mitchell. There was something compelling about the acquisition of power, especially the power to control things with your mind. His alpha male persona, obvious connection to a male hierarchy, and his good looks swayed my sympathies, I’m afraid, and I spent many an hour re-writing the ending to the episode. To my credit, however, my new ending did include a complete character transformation in the helmsman turned god. Heart of Darkness  comes to mine as I  ruminate upon the quandary of the characters in “Where No Man Has Gone Before”. Literally, the entire crew journeys each week into the heart of darkness and is tested like the Knights of Arthur’s Round Table for courage, loyalty, faith, love, honour, truth, generosity and goodness. Star Trek explores the chivalric code in modern terms, sometimes upholding the values and sometimes debunking them when they become too rigid and the “knights” lose sight of their purpose for following the code. I feel for Kirk in his position as captain, simply because the final decision regarding Mitchell’s fate is his alone to make. He can take Spock’s counsel, and listen to Dehner’s as well but in the end Kirk is the only one who can decide if Mitchell must be saved, killed or exiled. In the same way that King Arthur must lead with strength and judge with compassion, so too must Kirk.

This role of wise king can be compared to the Freudian theory of Id, Ego, Super Ego. When all three constructs work together then their roles in the psyche are balanced. For example, when Mitchell is performing his normal role as helmsman, and Spock is doing his job as Science Officer then Kirk is free to perform his duties as captain. The routine of the Enterprise runs smoothly. However, when one of the constructs is given too much power, as happens when Mitchell’s ESP capabilities are boosted then chaos erupts. Spock, the Super Ego, counsels dire measures to contain or eradicate the out of control Id (Mitchell). Kirk (Ego) must balance Spock’s advice against his personal relationship with Mitchell. Only when it is obvious that there is an irreparable imbalance can Kirk (or the Ego) act to destroy the out of balance Id. If the story were to end at this point, however, Kirk would never regain his position as wise king or balanced Ego. The Super Ego, Ego, Id relationship must be restored in some way. This is accomplished when Kirk makes a notation in the ship’s log that Mitchell died during the performance of his duty, because he didn’t ask for what happened to him. Spock takes on the role of Id when he agrees with Kirk by saying, “I felt for him too”.

So … what do I personally learn from “Where No Man Has Gone Before”? Maybe that power is a force that must be respected at all times, and that there is a strong need for balance in our approach to life. Thought becomes action; action creates thought. If I consider my need to balance my spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical needs then I am more likely to make wise decisions rather than spontaneous reactions to random stimuli. When I ignore the signs of one sphere being out of balance, then resentment will build and arguements/fights/alienation will occur. Have I experienced a Spock-like desire to execute an errant thought or irrational act. Yes. At times, this decision was the right one, and like Kirk I managed to save my “ship” by sacrificing the out of balance construct.

Thoughts become actions.
Actions become thoughts.

 

 

 

Follow the White Wolf (Excerpt)

Technique:     Developing setting by using spatial organization; developing background plot

Intention:     To create a clear image in the reader’s mind of what the bridge of the Destiny looks like; to increase understanding of the background plot; plant a hook into the next scene

Genre:     Science Fiction

The bridge was a hum of activity dominated by a forward view screen that had been set to show the soft velvet of space strewn. Mitchell Ogawa bent over his console oblivious to the intriguing sight, while to his right the science officer also ignored the glittering spectacle. Only the captain spared the time to contemplate the screen as she waited expectantly for Liam and Kineu to arrive. Lorok had discovered a small star system that looked too inviting to pass up.  No sign of Nexus but she thought the delay would be worthwhile. Destiny was still in need of repair after their battle with the Rojans, and stocking up on supplies was always a concern now that they were so far from known space.

The lift doors hissed open. Finally, someone had arrived. She swung about in her chair to greet the new arrival, but was halted by the look of horror on Mitchell Ogawa’s face. His rich complexion had paled to grey with shock. To her left, she heard a quick intake of breath from Lorok. Her body completed its revolution, and her eyes recorded what had so shaken her two seasoned officers.

Kineu lay on the floor of the turbo lift. His back was arched in an impossible U, while his fingers spasmed against the grey carpet.  An eerie moaning emerged from his bluing lips.

She leapt up.

“Mr. Ogawa, displace him to Sickbay, at once.” Sinkiewicz’s command cut through the confusion holding Mitchell Ogawa mute at Communications. He pulled himself together, and forced his eyes away from the convulsing figure. His fingers raced over the control panel, transferring the flicker of energy needed to displace Kineu to the waiting doctor.

“Mitchell, you have the bridge. Lorok, join me in Sickbay.” As the lift’s doors closed Mitchell moved from his position at Communications, down the two stairs to the command chair. He practiced the calm expression that usually graced Kineu’s face in troubling situations. Judging from the other officers’ faces he had failed. Five years on Destiny still hadn’t prepared him for the shock of seeing a commanding officer down and writhing.

Follow the White Wolf (excerpt)

Technique:  Point of View and Stream of Consciousness

Intention:    To develop the character, Kineu, through the techniques of introspection, dialogue, action and interaction with other characters.

Genre:    Science Fiction

His breath pooled in his chest, then puffed passed his lips. A meditation stone cooled the palm of his hand. In and out – forget about crystillium thrusters, spatial anomalies, crew squabbles, duty assignments, and Nexus attacks.

Kineu sighed. When he was a boy, his grandfather had told him that meditation was the path to the peace of his ancestors. Too bad his butt hadn’t paid attention to the lesson. He shifted to relieve the cramp and tried to focus. How do you think about nothing and still stay alert? Why couldn’t it be like his dream last night? Kineu tried to dismiss his errant thoughts but it was too late. The images flow, as clear now as they had been upon awaking that morning.

A gleaming white wolf nudges his hand in greeting. Kineu honors its welcome with one of his own, stepping lightly through desert air to sit by a pool of water. Ripples of memory disturb its surface only briefly.  He brushes the thoughts away … brushes the pool


turns his palms skyward

rests them

open

on crossed knees cupping gently the meditation stone

of his father’s father

given to him in ceremony

a seeker

of  light

he opens his heart

to greet his soul …

Into his vision stalks a jaguar. Black muscles ripple past the moon silver wolf. Soft pads whisper near the sinew of the seeker’s shoulder. The jaguar’s tongue laps at the clear water, while yellow eyes

narrow and suspicious

furtively study -in quick fearful glances –

the leather clad Anishnabeg.

Deliberately he remains silent.

Muscles struggle to remain still.

His breath, so regular at first, catches in his throat. The big cat is unexpected…

The cat growls, soft and menacing, in Kineu’s ear. Its breath, hot and sweet, brushes his cheek. Already he can feel his hair stirring in response. He readies himself for the attack, and reaches for a gun he knows isn’t there.

“Brrrrt.”

Kineu’s cellcom chirped. Automatically his hand reached for the device clipped to his belt.

“Sorry for interrupting, Commander.” Mitchell Ogawa’s voice was a cheerful interruption in the silent room. The young officer had been on duty for several hours already, but nothing could put a dent in his enthusiasm.

“Is there a problem, Ensign?” Kineu’s voice rasped uncomfortably in his ears. Their ship, Destiny, hadn’t encountered Nexus since leaving Commonwealth space three years ago but circumstances could change in a hurry.  To date, their explorations had resulted in few friendships and more than a few squirmishes. Folks in this quadrant of space weren’t particularly friendly with strangers

Ogawa understood the first officer’s concern. Even though Destiny had found no sign of the Nexus homeworld, there was always the hope (and the fear) that today would be the day.  “No sign of Nexus sir, but sensors have detected a new star system.  Captain Sinkiewicz wants you on the bridge.” Mitchell’s voice reassured the first officer.

“I’m on my way.” The words were barely out of Kineu’s mouth before the whoosh of the door signaled his exit. He padded quietly down the grey corridor, his body a compact study in muscle. Crewmen stepped from his path, aware of the strength held beneath passive facial muscles. Black heels clipped the carpeted corridor. Spine straight and eyes direct, only his hair proclaimed he wasn’t totally military. It hung straight down his back, held in place by a simple leather knot.

 Even after three years, Danu La Fey thought, Kineu still had the air of a Midewewin… of a freedom fighter. If anyone had asked her four years ago about serving aboard a Commonwealth ship she would have laughed. Now? Well, even Midewewin principles had to give way to practicality. The Nexus was too great an enemy for the Midewewin to fight alone, and the Commonwealth had finally decided that diplomacy wouldn’t end the war. Kineu had agreed to merge the best of his crew from Raven with the best that the Commonwealth had to offer. The result was Destiny and their mission to hunt down the Nexus.  “Hey, have you tried that new virtual reality program I wrote for you?” Her crisp voice cut through Kineu’s preoccupation, while her strides matched his purposeful gait.

Kineu glanced down. Danu, as always, looked frailer than she was. A human might have mistaken her for a blue pixie, but her species was far more ferocious. “Not yet, but I’m hoping that your program will help me with my meditation exercises.” None of his disappointment peeked through the mask he wore for the crew. It was no secret that he was searching for a way to harness the telepathic powers of his people but not even Danu knew how much it meant to him.

He forced a smile and changed the subject. “So, how are you feeling? Is Liam looking after you?”  The first officer made an effort to keep his voice even. Even though Liam Tennyson had proven himself a loyal member of Destiny’s crew, Kineu couldn’t forget that years’ earlier the younger man had almost destroyed the Midewewin council. Maybe Danu’s husband wasn’t the fool he had been, but Kineu still wondered.

“Liam is driving me crazy,” Danu sighed. “Every day he reviews the food groups’ chart and quizzes me on my eating habits. If he isn’t trying to feed me, then he’s questioning my hours in Engineering. If he had his way, I would be lying down in our quarters right now!” Danu’s voice quivered with disgust. Pregnancy had softened her Gael physique but hadn’t touched her temper.

Kineu halted abruptly. Catching her shoulder, he steadied her against a stumble.  “Can you blame him? Not only is the Nexus killing and enslaving most of free space, but they’ve also figured out a way to arrest fetal development. You and Liam are an anomaly. Your baby is actually going to make it to term.”  He softened his voice. “Sure he’s being over zealous but with good reason. Just be patient.”

Lips quirking over her testiness, Danu nodded and resumed walking. “You’re right. I’ve got to remember the big picture. He’s just so annoying at times that I forget.”

Kineu paused at the lift, and raised an eyebrow. “Bridge?”

“No,” she chuckled at the irony, “I’m meeting Liam for breakfast.”

 Kineu stepped onto the waiting platform. The lift silently propelled him towards his destination. For a moment, as the floor moved beneath his feet, Kineu swayed. Vertigo, swift and hushed as death, swirled past his eyes. His black and grey clad shoulder protested his sudden stumble. Fingers splayed against cool metal –

gold eyes wink at him out of the mists

menacing and alien,

he stuggles to stand

to assess the threat, but low growls rumble in his ears

push him further from his objective …

his uniform and the colours of blood and fur

mix,

and gold watches him

–        feral –

fear tastes bitter in his mouth and bile

presses against his teeth …