My cold remedy

Most people think this is somewhat batso, but it seems to at least keep me from getting as acute a version of the annual pestilences.  Woke up this morning with my throat feeling like I had been singing/shrieking death metal love ballads all night after attending a Husky game.  When it became evident that I was going to get sick, I engaged my cold remedy.  Cold, flu, don’t know and don’t care which; if it produces congestion, this is what I do.

My first act is to pick up the telephone.  I call Round Table Pizza, and instruct them to send me immediately two extra large pepperoni pizzas with chopped garlic and jalapeños.  If I’m pretty nice to them, they may put on a little extra (yet another reason to tip pizza guys and gals).  When it arrives, I consume as much of the pizza as possible (I’ll heat it up and eat off it for two full days).

I also make green tea with lemon, and steam myself in the shower, and Nyquil myself to insensibility at night.  If I cough, just plain Robitussin, no antihistamines.

The pizza achieves several things.  For one thing, I’ve done it enough times that it’s sort of a conditioned signal to my system:  call out the reserves and mobilize for battle.  We aren’t taking this lying down. For another, it’s good for morale; the pizza is good, and it feels like I’m doing something about it, which is better for your attitude than ‘yuck, I’m sick, I’m so miserable, I hate my life right now.’  The jalapeños are just about sure to clear out my sinuses, and while garlic’s mild antibiotic properties aren’t really in play against a virus, it does generally boost your immune system and is quite healthful.  (It’s also good for others’ health, as no one will get within five feet of you after eating all that garlic.)  What is more, you just poured a remarkably noxious substance over the system invaders.  Gonna hang out here a while, eh, you little varmints? Okay, fine.  Have a drink on the house! I can almost picture the viruses saying to each other:  “You idiot!  Why did we ever let you book this trip? I’m never using that travel agent again!  We’ve died and gone to Naples!”  Yeah, enjoy.  Come back if you ever need another toxic sludge lesson chez moi.

What I don’t do is suppress symptoms, except to sleep at night (rest being essential), or unless there’s a severe fever.  As I reason it, the symptoms are your body’s way of fighting back.  Why hamstring your body? Hell, fuel it up for heavy fighting.  I go through a lot of handkerchiefs (I have about thirty, so it’s not like I have to reuse them, and they don’t chap my nose as much as dead trees).  I drink lots of milk, eat lots of cheese, everything that is supposed to make you have to blow your nose more.  My body’s playing bouncer and I certainly am not going to bar the door from the outside.

Does it cure it? Of course not.  Does it lessen the acuity? It certainly seems to.  Does it make it more bearable? Yes and no.  I might feel less lousy during the day if I suppressed the symptoms, but I think I’d stay sick longer.  I’d rather have three days of major suck than five days of medium suck.  I just seem to rebound quicker with less chemicals and more just fueling up my body and letting it do what it was designed to do.

My bride thinks I’m a lunatic.

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Alestorm, and piracy

My friend Jennifer turned me on to this Scottish pirate metal band not long ago.  A lot of metal bands can’t sing, so they seem to just smoke about eight packs of cigarettes and then sort of yell/croak.  Alestorm’s better than that, and their instrumental work is quite good.  While their lyrics are up and down at times, they’ve really grown on me.

If I had to pick an Alestorm tune to win you over, it would be Keelhauled.  If you have anywhere within you a streak of the buccaneer, you may enjoy the video and tune.

Most pirates, by the way, met pretty ugly ends.  The pirate game had very few winners.  A lot were surprisingly incompetent.  Pirate trivia:

Blackbeard (aka Edward Teach) once raided the Tidewater coast for VD meds.

William Kidd was railroaded in a miscarriage of justice.  In a fair court of law, he would have walked rather than hang.

John Taylor, a calculating sort, actually won at piracy.  In 1721 he took the Nossa Senhora do Cabo with a retiring viceroy and a fortune in diamonds, then had the sense to buy a commission in a South American navy.

While the skull and crossbones was a common motif, most pirates designed their own flags.

The sickest pirate in history might be either Edward Low (probably hanged by the French; merci) or Jean-David Nau, aka François l’Olonnais (put to a messy death by Central American Indians).  Both were prone to the kind of brutalities that would make a Gestapo interrogator wince.

The Age of Piracy was in fact a rather short one, from about the 1690s to the 1720s.

A privateer is a sort of legal pirate, essentially a hired commerce raider in wartime.  Kidd was one.  What makes a pirate a privateer is a Letter of Marque.  I think the US last issued Letters of Marque in the War of 1812, though the Confederacy handed them out like samples.  It is rumored that during World War II, at least once, someone asked President Roosevelt for a Letter of Marque.  Ron Paul (and no, I am not on his bandwagon) has seriously suggested the issuance of Letters of Marque as a way to combat Somali pirates.  Personally, I think it would be a great idea.

Survivor: Redemption Island, episode 2

Still not sold on this Redemption Island concept.  The strings of Survivor are really showing.

I have a high school friend (pretty small number that can claim that) who works in Hollywood.  It was his dream, and I give him major credit:  he made it happen.  He’s mostly film crew and lighting.  Anyway, I asked him about this reality stuff, and he explained that it was mainly about money.  It’s cheaper to film pre-law students from Mississippi than to hire Jennifer Aniston.  Okay, understandable.

What too much of the audience does not realize:  these days, a good percentage of Survivor players are recruited.  Now, why would they do that? It’s like this.  Average typical Joes and Janes are a pain in the butt from Hollywood’s standpoint.  They don’t always realize that their job is to create good TV, and they may not be tractable.  But if you recruit a couple of semi-notorious past contestants, and a bunch of people with at least some hope of making a mark in show business (rather than winning a mill and then finishing law school in Mississippi), they’ll play ball with the producers.  Sure, producers can create a Frankenbyte to make people say anything, but it’s nice when the cast is tractable.  “Could you do that one again?”  “Sure, no problem.”  As opposed to:  “Are you kidding? You filmed me taking a leak.  Go to hell.”

At any rate, that’s where we are at.  Oh, we have the obligatory old white redneck, plus all the other stereotypes.  Lots of young women in bikinis, can’t even tell them apart, don’t even care.  It’s wandered far afield from the original concept, and as ever, the producers don’t realize that the original concept was what made it interesting, and that all that is needed to keep it fresh is new crops of players with new behaviors.  Nope, just have to mess with it.  Hollywood, once again running true to form:  the longer Hollywood holds anything, the more it cheapens it.

Writing: my hardest day

I’ll tell you a story of my most difficult writing day.  I’ve never told anyone every detail.  Maybe it’ll help me to do so, and if not, maybe it’ll interest you.

About four years back, I was working on Armchair Reader: World War II.  It was at once challenging and invigorating:  about thirty articles in forty days, with respectable research.  For some I had to blaze through three books.  As fate had it, my topic listing hewed to two general concentrations:  conspiracy theory/controversy topics (Rudolf Hess, the Rosenbergs) and atrocity-related subjects.

Now, I am not easily shocked.  I can be disgusted, or angered, but not shocked.  A side effect of the research I did for the articles on this book was the cumulative impact of the images one sees in the course of intensive research.  Had you asked me in advance, I’d have worried I would become desensitized.  I was pulling 12-14 hours days seven days a week during the holidays, I was anxious to please my editors…you might say I was pretty strung out.

It happened about 7 PM one December evening.  I was digging for details on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (“Juden Haben Waffen!”, pp. 151-53), specifically wrestling with the unending debate over the degree to which the Armia Krajowa (Polish Home Army) assisted the Jewish fighters in the Ghetto.  To this day, that one gets ugly, and my best assessment is that both sides have fair points.  I suspect the AK gets less credit than it deserves for the help it did give; I also suspect that there were many in Poland who didn’t really see Polish Jews as Poles, or even as people.

As I read through yet another account of the way Nazi soldiers laughed at the ‘paratroopers’ (Jews leaping from burning buildings to their deaths), I came across a photo I would wipe from my mind if I could.  I hope you never locate it, and I’ve at least forgotten where I did.  Bear in mind, I had seen many very sorrowful images this day already.  The photo was of three captured ghetto fighters under the submachineguns of the SS.  All almost surely died within the hour, or were shipped somewhere to die.  One was a young woman or teenage girl, nude, attempting to cover up but at the same time standing in a certain degree of proud defiance.

I flipped the page in haste, but I couldn’t unsee it.  As I kept on with my work, I felt a growing sense of a deep melancholy I’ve only experienced twice.  Once was at Andersonville, Georgia (Civil War POW camp), as I washed my hands in Providence Spring.  The other was at the Famine Graveyard in Skibbereen, Cork, Ireland.  About half an hour later, my research ground to a meandering halt in a mire of melancholia.  It came to me that I was nearing emotional collapse.  Professionally and personally, I didn’t have time for an emotional collapse.  And I realized:  I must finish this article tonight, while I yet can.  However I do it, I mustn’t go to sleep until it’s fully drafted and I’ve resolved my questions.  Tomorrow it will be too late, and I will fail in this assignment, almost surely damaging my future prospects.

While it’s not the ideal way to get through pain, there’s a reason people sometimes decide to have a drink.  I went to the liquor cabinet and got something; don’t remember what.  I drank some of it (not sure how much), sipping steadily through the evening.  I don’t remember when I turned in or how hammered I was, but I did get the research and draft done sometime after midnight.  What I edited the next day was surprisingly all right considering the circumstances, and I moved on to the next topic, something far tamer.

Unfortunately, to this day I still see the image too clearly.  Am I proud of the way I dealt with it? Yes and no.  Yes, that I did my job anyway.  No, that I wasn’t strong enough to do so without ethyl assistance.  But either way, I am reminded by it of a quote and a song.  The quote is Kurt Vonnegut’s from Slaughterhouse Five:  “So it goes.”  The song is Voodoo (Godsmack), and I can’t tell you exactly why this Goth tune associates with the experience in my mind.  Just that it does.

© J.K. Kelley, 2011

Qaddafi

There’s a name our media can never agree on how to transliterate.  The reason is a combination of the many Arabic dialects (Egyptian is sort of the standard, but that’s like saying Castilian is the standard Spanish) and general western media inability to comprehend other languages.  It is spelled in Arabic Q (a deep K), DTH (as in ‘that’), A (an aaaah sound), F (that one at least is not confusing) and Y (‘eee’).  The vowels are indicated by marks.

Anyway, how some of those consonants are articulated varies by region.  All though the first Gulf War, they butchered ‘Dhahran’ on a daily basis.  It would be Dtha-rahn, with the ‘th’ as in ‘that’ (same as in Qaddafi’s name).   But to give you an idea of regional variations, you’ve all heard of Abu Dhabi (same pesky ‘dth’ letter), except in that region that letter actually sounds like a ‘z’:  Abu Zabi.

Anyway, today our old buddy Qaddafi goes:  “I will fight this rebellion to the last drop of my blood.”

His people:  “At least we can agree on the end result.”

Why ‘lancers fail

There’s a lot of work out there for freelance writers.  While my editors don’t slather me with details about my competition, I’ve divined some reasons why people who think they could do it, really can’t:

1) Some just do not have the writing chops.  Editors can edit but they don’t want to have to clean up all your work.  You must be able to write in the way they want.

2) Some don’t comprehend deadlines.  You have to have your work in by the deadline.  No one cares why if you fail.  Business is business.  Do your work on time.  Do not have crises.  Do it anyway.

3) Some can’t deal with being edited.  Sorry, but you will be, and it’s probably for the best.  Sometimes not; I have had ‘fact checkers’ insert errors into my work.  But as Kurtis Blow teaches us, ‘that’s the breaks.’

4) Some do sloppy research.  Editors don’t want ugly surprises.  If you don’t have the research skills, and especially if you rely on Wikipedia or other fragile sourcing, they will get letters.  Back it up.

5) Some bitch.  It’s that simple.  Just don’t bitch.  People prefer to assign work to people who want it.  Be a pro, cheerfully confident and eager for assignments.  If you don’t like to write, you picked the wrong line of work.  Plus, if you always produce, eventually your editors will do what is easiest for them.  “Let’s see.  I could try and send this to Joe and Susan, and deal with their excuses and crap.  Or I could send this to my trusty Julian, who never fails, is eager for the work and obviously likes it.  What is to my best advantage?”

The distilled essence of ‘lancing is simple.  Be the easiest option.  If you are not the easiest and most attractive option for editors, you are doing it wrong.  You should adjust your attitude and habits as necessary until you are the preferred writer.  Be easy to deal with, be professional, be reliable.  You think it’s overrated? I ended up writing about 70% of a whole book just because I was the only one who could cut the mustard, and kept yelling for more work.  I did pretty well that year, owed a lot of taxes.  Keep on message:  “Or you could just assign it all to me, and just have it done and off your plate.”  Say so often enough, and you’ll get your wish.  And if you produce, it’ll come back to help you.  Because thereafter, when you say “I can,” they’ll believe you.

Blogging freelance writing and life in general.