Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tribe Recognition

You find yourself at a table talking about things that you know would make most of the people you meet and work with on a regular basis roll their eyes or stare at you blankly. Instead of that reaction, you see the people you are with nodding their heads or laughing along with you. You feel yourself drop the hesitation you normally carry around inside you and express openly what you love about what you are doing, what you are talking about, what you want and the direction you want to go. If you find something like that happening, now that you have just located members of your tribe.

The drums are beating. The clans are gathering. My people are coming to Chicago. WorldCon 2012.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

One Million Down...

Last Sunday, August 19th, I posted a tweet about how I had written one million words since November 1st, 2010.  When I noticed myself closing in on a million words I made it a goal to see how fast I could get there.  It was not THE goal, though.  
November 1st was the day I started writing my novel, Spell of 13 Years.  It was part of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month.  The goal in NaNoWriMo is to write the equivalent of a novel, 50,000 words, in a month.  It seemed like a daunting task, but I decided to give it a shot.  I ended up reaching over 75,000 words by the end of November.  I finally finished the novel by the following February, with the first draft coming in at 218,000+ words.  
Posting my work to the NaNoWriMo website to get my official count was what got me started keeping track of my daily word count.  It did remind of a saying that I'd heard from other writers at the various conferences and conventions I go to.  It goes: 
"You need to write at least a million words before you write anything publishable."  
The first question that came to mine after I heard someone say this, or their own approximation of it, was, "Does it matter what you write?"  
I've heard a number of writers say, "any writing is good writing, as long as you put words down on paper."  Or on the screen, too, I guess.  Writing newspaper stories or magazine articles will teach you brevity and compactness, I've heard people with experience in these fields say.  I know that writing comic book scripts taught me structure.  You have to fit a beginning, middle and end in twenty-three pages, or a 1 page splash at the beginning, a 1 page splash cliff-hanger at the end, and 12 two pages "stages" for your action to take place, with a page-turning at the lower right hand corner of the open book.  
For my goal, I counted the stories I wrote, and their rewrites.  My blog.  And my daily Twitter feed.  Anything that I intended for an audience.  I also counted the critiques I gave my colleagues in my online writing group.  I figured it was about writing and stories, even if only for an audience of one, so it counted.  
A friend of mine asked me online once if I counted these words the way the NFL counts a running back's yardage.  If, for example, I cut the words I wrote during rewrites the next day, would I subtract those words from my total?
No.  I don't.  Why would I want to do something like that?  
The best analogy I have heard about writing when it comes to output is from J. Michael Straczynski, the creator of Babylon 5 and the writer of the best version of Spiderman I've read.  He likened writing to drilling for oil.  When you first start, all you get is dirt, then mud, then sludge.  As you keep drilling, you eventually hit the oil that you're searching for.  
When you write, either when you're first starting out or when you first start your newest story, most of what comes out is crap.  If you keep at it, eventually, hopefully, you start getting something worth reading.  
Counting the words is about getting the sludge out of the way.  
Another friend commented on my milestone about the "talent I was born with."  It's this "talent" that makes a person good, he seemed to be saying, and that you get better because of it.  
Hmm...  I don't know.  Talent is a lot like what smut is to a Supreme Court judge.  It's hard to define it, but you can recognize it when you see it.  
There was this one writing class where I saw talent.  Or heard it, as this other student taking the class read her work.  It was about the time I had stopped trying to get work as an actor and returned to writing with the thought of making a go at it.  There was this one girl that I don't remember very well now.  A bit on the heavy side.  Short black hair cut in this cute, curly style.  From the little bit I spoke with her, I had the feeling that she had made the decision that her thing was her wit and intelligence, and that she would get noticed on those merits over her looks.  She was the first person to read what she had brought into class, the first chapter of a novel she was writing.  
It was FANTASTIC.  I remember being in awe.  So much so I couldn't even be jealous.  It was humorous.  It was touching.  By the end of her chapter I wanted to buy the book.  I was going to finish the class just so I could hear her read this work and be able to tell my friends that I heard its rough draft after it became a best-seller.  When she finished, everyone applauded.  I didn't read that week, because I didn't want my hack-schlock-piece-of-crap compared to what she had done.  
The next week, she brought her second chapter.  It was good.  Really good.  Not as good as the first chapter, though.  There were flashes of the brilliance we had heard the week before, but something was...  Off.  The pieces weren't fitting together right.  We talked a lot about the chapter, we all wanted to help her find the way to get back on track.  They weren't big things we gave her.  Someone that talented only need a clue or two, surely.  She nodded and thanked us for our feedback.  
The following week, she didn't show up.  She didn't show up the week after that, nor any of the subsequent weeks.  I was disappointed.  I wanted to hear more of her words.  She was a bona fide talent, and I was hoping some of it would rub off on my, maybe.  
For a while after that class, I would check the book shelf stores or the N.Y. Times Best Seller list for her name or the title of the novel she'd given us.  After a while, I stopped looking out for her.  Today I can't recall her name or what her story was about.  
I have another story that involves the word, "talent."  It comes from the first time I attended Comic-Con, the largest comic book, science fiction, fantasy and popular media convention in the country.  It was back in 1995 or '96, I think.  I've been to so many now that a lot of them blur together.  It was before the San Diego Convention Center expanded beyond the Sails Pavilion, about half its current size.  Attendance was measured in the tens of thousands, not the 130,000+ that go these days.  
While at the convention, I made a point of going to every panel on writing I could get to.  It's something I still do.  I sat in one of the "spotlight" panels, where some well-known artist or writer talks about his work and answers questions, usually about how to break into the business, from the audience.  This particular writer wasn't anyone I recognized, but he was a writer making his living as a writer, so I was willing to listen to him.  He turned out to be intelligence and articulate, and gave a lot of good advice that I dutifully jotted down in my notebook.  
Toward the end of the hour the panel was scheduled for, someone from the audience stood up and asked something like this: 
"How can you tell if you have the talent to make it as a writer?"  
The Spotlight Writer paused for a very, very long time.  We all sat there, not talking or moving, waiting for him to respond.  This was a question we all wanted the answer to.
"Well..."  The guy bobbed his head back and forth.  He blew out his lips.  He tugged on the beard from where it grew from his chin.  He then straightened up all at once.  He nodded and looked back at the guy that had asked the question.  
"Let me ask you a question..."  He wagged his finger at the guy.  "What if I were to tell you that I could absolutely guarantee that you would 'make it'," he made the finger quotes, "as a writer, but first you had to write...  Ten million words of crappy stories that absolutely would not get sold.  Would you do it?  Would you write those crappy ten million words?"  
The guy that asked the question hemmed and hawed.  He shook his head.  He lifted his shoulders and let them fall.  "I...  Dunno."  
The Spotlight Writer extended his had toward him.  "Well, there's you answer.  Or...  Your answer is in there..."  He went on to elaborate, but I wasn't listening to him any more.  I was thinking about my own answer to his question.
Before the guy from the audience started his reply, right after the Spotlight Writer had asked his question.  Yes, I would write the ten million crappy words.  I would write a hundred million crappy words.  I would keep writing until I had no more crappy words left to write.  
After the panel was over, I went into the hall and sat against the wall.  I took out my notebook and wrote out what I had just learned.  Ten million words sounded like a lot.  A huge amount.  Maybe an impossible amount.  But I would do that.  I would write them out.  
It took me a year and about 9 1/2 months to write a million words.  At that rate, it would take about 17 years and three months to get to ten million words.  Sigh.  
But, wait a second...  If you count all the words I wrote from 1996 to 2010...  Adjusting for the fact that my daily average is probably higher now...  That puts me about three and a half years left to go!  Wow!  That's just around the corner. 
That's how I see it, anyway.  It's all about putting in the time and putting down the words.  
And with this blog, I've got 8,990,874 left to go.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

ACME Corporation Will See You Now

For today's posting, I'm going to take you along my process of putting a story together.
My process today is based on one story creating method I use, called "Three Things and a Belief."  Click on the quoted title to go to the blog entry where I describe it in detail.  
Some time ago, I heard something that became the First Thing for this story.  It was: 
"Corporations are People, my friend."  
This was something spoken on the campaign trail by one of the candidates for president.  It was also something affirmed by the Supreme Court, specifically in reference to campaign financing.  In it's decision in the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission case, the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions.  The statement made by the candidate running for president was made subsequent to that decision.  
I have my own opinion about this decision which I'll get to below.  But this 'thing' has been kicking around in my head for a while now, since that supreme court decision.  The kicking around got its own kick in the pants when the presidential candidate in question, responding to a heckler at a rally, phrased the decision more succinctly.  
Thing Two is something else I've been noticing and thinking about for a while now: 
"Group analytics and Crowd-Sourcing are changing decision making."
This is a combination of different things.  Crowd-sourcing is a form of outsourcing where a task is given over to the public to do.  Galaxy Zoo, for instance, is a website where people can help classify galaxies photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope.  It makes use of a human's pattern recognition capacity, honed over millions of years of evolution, which is in many ways superior to that of computers.  
We are at the beginning of how group analysis and participation is changing our world.  We get suggestions from websites on what to buy based on what our friends purchased.  Our postings on Facebook and are Tweets on Twitter are being studied in real time.  Scientists have already predicted stock market fluctuations based on tweeter feed analysis.  We are a collective.    
The best recent example I've seen on projections of this type of activity comes from the science fiction author David Brin's new novel, Existence.  I haven't read the book yet, but I did hear an excerpt he read at Renovation, the WorldCon held in Reno last year.  In it, one of the characters, a reporter faced with a crisis, consults with a 'group mind,' a collection of experts and followers whose opinions are combined into a single gestalt, a "posse," that she consults with on what she is facing and how to solve it.  This posse speaks to her with a single voice, but is made up of all the people in the circle of followers.  As certain points of view increase, as the number of people in the gestalt increase, the voice speaks with great confidence.  Imagine talking all the tweets and postings of your friends, using analytics to combine them into a single opinion on a subject.  If you have particularly smart friends, this could be something valuable.  
Thing number three happened more recently.  
In the city of Anaheim, famous for being the home and headquarters of Disney Corporation and Disneyland, there have been some police shootings that have been deemed questionable by sections of the public.  Since I don't know all the facts involved, I'm am taking particular care to not take sides.  
My interest is one one particular protest, when a group of protestors wanting police department reforms marched not on City Hall, but on Disneyland.  From what I heard of the report, the idea behind the march was that since Disney was the single largest employer in the city, pressure should be brought on the company in order to bring pressure on the city government to change the perceived culture of the police department.  
There has been a growing distrust of government in this country in recent years.  And since the financial crisis, a growing lack of faith in the government to solve problems.  The march on Disneyland, though small and dispersed by the police before it could have any real impact, seemed to stem from that distrust and lack of faith.  Why march before City Hall when government can't do anything?  Why not march on the one entity in the city that has genuine power, the corporation that employs most of the people that live there.  
There's a disturbing logic to it.  
After I heard this story, it began to dance about with the other two Things I'd collected.  Corporations are people.  Groups of people forming a single consciousness to consult and advise.  People turning from government to corporations for the solutions to the problems they face.  There were connections between these three things, I felt.  
But to be a story, there needs to be a Belief associated with it.  Mine is: 
Corporations are NOT people...  Yet.  
As they are today, corporations are entities run by people.  People who are allowed by the First Amendment to state their political views freely and support by monetary means those candidates that share and espouse those same views.  I believe that by giving the corporations they run the same right to free speech everyone else enjoys, you've effectively doubled the rights of those people that run those corporations.  They already can use their personal means to get their beliefs into the market of ideas, often greater means than the average individual.  Now they also can have those views expressed by the corporation that they run, which will probably have even greater means at their disposal than they.  Unlike a married couple who are, for tax purposes at least, seen as a single entity, a corporation will never have a disagreement over how to spend its money with the people that run it.  
Unless, somehow, it were to acquire an identity of its own.  
I've heard it said that healthy corporations make a point of picking people with diverse backgrounds to join their boards, in order to bring in new, fresh ideas.  Stockholders have votes they can cast to select, promote, or cast out directors not taking the company in the direction they want, or for simply not making the company profitable.  They will gather periodically to meet and confer, make decisions and impact the corporation they are tied to.
Now imagine a time in the future, when all the members of a corporation's board of directors and stockholders are required to join the same online social circle.  Instead of taking time to actual meet face to face, their opinions, their beliefs on the correct course of action, are gleaned by analytics and used to create a single voice.  The data is weighted based on the amount of stock they hold.  This voice, this entity becomes "The Corporation."  It is the conscious of the company.  It can speak for itself.  It can't run the company on a day by day basis, but it does advise those people hired to do so, and it does have the power to hire and fire those people that do.    
Also imagine this being a time when government has failed.  Starved by lack of funds (who would want to give money to anything so ineffectual), government's only job is to create the laws, the statements of right and wrong that the people collectively hold true.  Even enforcement is out of their hands.  People police themselves, either by hiring the security they want and can afford, or by direct observation of those around them.  Do something wrong and you might not get a ticket or be arrested, but your face will be plastered all over YouTube for everyone to see.  Public humiliation replaces incarceration as the primary means of punishment.  And where humiliation is insufficient to curb wrong behavior, the civil court remains for those groups and organizations, those collectives, that put themselves up as watchdogs.    
It is in such a time period, I'm beginning to see someone.  He's a guy.  What we would call today a "working man."  He's one of millions of people that get up, go to work, do their job, love their wife and kids, drink a beer at night, cheer for the local team on weekends, and hopes to leave a better life for his children.  
But something is wrong.  I'm not quite sure what it is, yet.  Something that is beyond his means to solve.  Something impacting him and everyone in his neighborhood, and by "neighborhood," I mean all of those people he's linked to: his circle, his network, his co-workers that may live hundreds or thousands of miles away from him, but who impact his life on a daily basis with greater force that those people that live in proximity to his domicile.  This is another reason why government has failed, its inability to manage social structures that are increasingly no longer related to lines on a map, but more strongly tied to electro-magnetic lines that wind across the globe to bind us.  
This guy, Joe I'll call him, in his desperation, has approached the only entity he knows with the power to solve it.  Not his congressman or mayor.  Joe doesn't even remember who those people are, though it would only take a second to do a search.  He's come to the company whose interest in this crisis is as great as his.  Companies rarely grant requests from people outside their circle to meet them, his friends have told him through their messages, tweets, postings and direct communications.  It's a waste of time.  
But incredibly, Joe's request has been granted.  And so, I see him waiting.  Appropriately enough, in the waiting room of the company he's come to meet.  There is an air about him, like some serf from medieval days waiting for the lord of the castle to grant him an audience.  A communication damper, part of the company's security, cuts Joe off from his constant influx of communication with his circle.  He is as alone as he's ever been since the day he was born.  
The door opens.  A woman, tall, impeccably coiffed and styled, regards Joe for a moment.  She purses her lips for a moment and Joe gets the feeling she doesn't really want him there.  He gets to his feet, feeling uncomfortable in his best suit, which he knows cost less, in its entirety, than the shoes on her feet.  
The woman, as if responding to a voice whispering to her via the small earpiece with the tiny blue light in her ear, smiles and nods at him.  
"Mr. Stateman...?  Acme Corporation will see you now."  

Monday, August 13, 2012

Story Ideas from the Olympics

The Olympics ending yesterday.  Sunday, was the final day of competition.  I've watched the London 2012 games with greater interest than I've had previous games.  Here's what I've gotten out of them.
I am very much the Nationalist.  Now, I've never thought of myself as a "Citizen of the World."  I have not been one of those people who bemoan the coverage of the Olympics, how whichever network had the rights to the games in a given year was only showing the United States athletes, and only those events that we were good at.  But neither have I thought of myself as being particularly nationalistic when it came to things like this.  Sure, I would like to see my fellow citizens win.  But I'm not going to be bothered if they don't.  They are, in essence, professional entertainers, who are probably being well compensated for what they are doing.  
Well, the 2012 games helped me discover my inner flag waver.  With each event, I found myself find the American and willing them to win.  I watched China get the early lead in the medal count and seethed.  I watched our players in the team sports, Basketball, Volleyball (Indoor and Beach) Soccer and Water Polo, march through the early rounds, offering promises of ultimate victory.  Eventually the two Basketball teams, women and men, the women's soccer team and the women's water polo team brought home gold.  Our two women's beach volleyball teams brought home gold and silver.  When I learned that the women's indoor volleyball team lost to Brazil, I turned off the television, too upset to watch the replay of how that happened.  I wanted "us" to win.  
Would it have changed anything had I watched it live?  Would my psychic energy had imparted something to them?  Given them a little extra strength?  That would be an awesome power if one had it.  What if I did have such a power BUT couldn't prove it to anyone?  I would feel my force reaching out through the TV screen to make the ball fly that much faster, to make the Brazilians that much slower, but everyone else would not see anything odd or unnatural, just the play of two top ranked teams.  Hmm...
Athletes are becoming more and more like Race Cars
Oscar Pistorius is the South African runner known as the "Blade Runner."  He's the guy who had his lower legs amputated before he was a year old due to some infection he contracted.  He learned how to walk on prosthetics.  He was able to compete in the Olympics after proving scientifically his prosthetic blades gave him no greater advantage than normal feet and ankles.  They actually return 2% less energy than flesh and bone feet and ankles do when we run.  He reached the semi-finals of the 400 meter dash, but did not qualify for the finals.  He did run a leg of South Africa's 4x400 meter relay team, where they finished 10th.  
When I heard the story about Pistorius, and his efforts to prove that having artificial feet was no advantage, I thought about my Mom.  A couple of years ago she had one of her knees replaced.  She had injured it years ago, and it had deteriorated over time.  It was extremely painful for her to walk.  
Since her replacement surgery, everything is fine.  So much so that she's begun talking to her doctors about getting the other, still healthy knee, replaced.  She thinks that having two fake knees will allow her to walk and move much more smoothly.  
I think Pistorius is the first, earliest example of what Olympic officials will have to face.  Olympic athletes are already tested for performance enhancing drugs to make their muscles bigger and stronger, their heart and lungs bring more oxygen to those muscles and to ease the pain and discomfort they might feel from pushing themselves as hard as they do.  Pistorius was given artificial feet in order to give him a chance at a normal life.  How soon before someone decides to get artificial feet, or replace his or her injury prone knees, in order to get a performance advantage?  Even if the replacement body part were shown to be "normal" in terms of performance characteristics, as the Blade Runner's feet were proven to be, isn't there an advantage to be had in a body part that couldn't feel pain, that could be replaced in a quick procedure rather than half to heal in days or weeks or which could be guaranteed to not fail even if extra force or pressure were put on it.  And if joints can be treated in this way, how about muscle or bone?  
Maybe one day track and field stars will have stickers put on their uniforms and bodies, from the manufacturers of the prosthetic parts that they use.  
In a related thought, I noticed how a number of the participants had opportunities to be the first in their discipline to win a third gold medal in a row.  When I was younger, my impression was that it was rare for an Olympian to appear and be truly competitive two Olympics in a row, let alone three.  The advances in sports medicine, and in training sciences in general, plus the overall professionalization of the sports, allow for longer careers.  How much longer could they participate if the Olympians could upgrade their individual body parts?  
Emotional Moments
The Olympics are filled with emotions.  It's one of the things that make them interesting.  Even the hard to watch moments, the terrible losses and the unexpected accidents have qualities that make it hard to turn away.  
Shin A-lam had one of those moments.  She was the South Korean fencer who lost due to an error by the timing judge watching the clock on her match.  I heard from one report that the judge was a 15 year old girl that was called upon to fill in at the last minute.  An extra second incorrectly added to the clock, plus a slow start, allowed A-lam's opponent to score a point after the match should have been over.  
Shin A-lam's coach protested.  By rule, if you leave the strip or piste you're competing on you are accepting the judges decision.  She had to sit there, on the piste, in front of the other competitors and the entire crowd, crying as she waited for them to rule on the appeal.  When it went against her, security personnel helped her to her feet, still weeping, and escorted her out.  
The hardest moment for me to watch was Morgan Uceny.  She was American's best hope for a medal in the 1,500 meter race.  On one of the last turns, she got tangled up with another runner and fell to the track.  She knelt there, pounding the track in frustration and sobbed.  At the start of the event, NBC played a flashback moment showing Uceny in the World Championships for her event last year.  Just like this time, as she was about to make her move to the front of the pack, someone clipped her ankle with her foot, causing her to fall.  At the World Championship, Uceny got to her feet and finished the race.  She ended up in 10th place  
This time, though, she stayed on her knees, face down, until the race was over.  She then got to her feet, her leg bleeding, and walked into the medical area without talking to reporters.  
The American basketball team won their gold medal as expected, beating Spain in a close contest.  I didn't watch any of the competition except for the gold medal game.  I'm not a basketball fan, and the expectation of an American victory was so great that a loss would have been bigger news that the win. 
After the win, the American players, wealthy stars of the sport, started laughing and hugging each other.  They doused the coach with water from their bottles.  They looked like little boys winning for the first time.  It made me reconsider, somewhat, the notion I had of them being jaded professionals.  Something of the little kids we all were must stay alive inside you when you play a game for a living.  
Other Things
In no particular order, here are a few other things I got out of watching the 2012 games.  
The most attractive athletes come out of the water.  The divers followed by the swimmers have the most ideal physical shapes.  
I now know what a libero is.  
The mountain bike track looked like it was designed to make people fall and go splat on their faces.  I think its amazing that more of them didn't do it.  
Expectation is a real buzz-kill.  There were many instances of someone jumping up and down, getting hugs from their teammates, screaming their heads off after just winning a bronze medal while someone else a few feet away was glum, angry or pounding their fists at getting silver.  
The exception to my attractive athlete opinion above were the Rhythmic Gymnasts.  Not only were the long-limbed, graceful and much more elegant that their way too young cousins, the Athletic Gymnasts, that got all the attention; they could catch bouncing balls with parts of their bodies I didn't think balls could be caught with.  Woah.    
The badminton scandal made me think that the Olympics are something of a reality show.  The only thing missing is the audience being able to cast their votes as to who should be kicked off the island.  Winning would give people immunity.  I don't think the competition would change all that much.  
Here's to the Winter Games in 2014. 

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Writing Olympic Dreams

I've gotten caught up watching the Olympics this year.  It happened the first day of competition.  I turned on the TV Saturday morning and watched as Alexander Vinokourov, a 38 year old rider from Kazakhstan, won the Men's road race.  Mark Cavendish from Great Britain was the favorite to win.  Great Britain had assembled a "dream team" of racers to put him into position to win.  Throughout the race, the commentators kept pointing out that the British cyclists were setting the pace for the peloton and that it should be only a matter of time before a break-out group, which included Vinokourov, was reeled in.  
I guess Vinokourov wasn't listing to what they were saying.  He and the group he was with worked together to keep ahead of the others.  Even when accidents dropped riders from their group, he carried on.  At the end, he broke just at the right moment.  Vinokourov, who's career as described sounded like an up and down affair, finally won the Olympic gold medal that had eluded him.  He retired from cycling the following week.  
Vinokourov probably though he couldn't write a better sequel for himself.  
I used to follow Olympics closely growing up, but in recent decades my interest had waned.  The games were becoming too slick, it seemed to me.  In 1992, in Barcelona, the "Dream Team," the first Olympic basketball team to have active NBA players on its roster, played in the Olympics.  They beat their opponents by an average of 44 points per game.  A number of my friends and fellow sports fans though this was the way things ought to be, it was how the script should have been written from the beginning.  Me, my feelings were more in line with those expressed by Herb Brooks, who coached the U.S. Hockey team to their "Miracle on Ice" at Lake Placid in 1980, when he said, "I find that term ("Dream Team") ironic because now that we have Dream Teams, we seldom get to dream."  
My favorite Olympic moment from the summer games had that dream-like quality, though.  It took place in 1984, when the games were held in Los Angeles.  I could tell something was very different with the games in town.  Driving through Los Angeles during those two weeks, for instance, I encountered no traffic on the freeways.  None at all.  The companies in and around Los Angeles had changed their employees' schedule to spread traffic around and lower congestion.  As I sped, that's right, "sped," through downtown Los Angeles, I thought to myself, "Why can't it be like this all the time?"  
The event in question was the 4x200 meter men's freestyle relay.  That year, the dominant swimmer in the pool was a West German named Michael (pronounced "Mikhail") Gross.  He stood 6 feet 7 inches tall.  He had an arm span of nearly 7 feet.  He was nicknamed, "The Albatross."  Before the 4x200 team event, he had won the gold medal swimming the same race as an individual.  He was considered by some to be a better swimmer than Mark Spitz had been.  The West Germans put him on the anchor leg of his team.  His teammate, Thomas Fahrner, who had won the bronze to Gross's gold, started them off.  
The Americans acknowledged Gross's dominance by putting their fastest swimmers in the early legs of the race.  Michael Heath, who had won silver behind Gross in the individual event, started them off.  David Larson and Jeff Float (great name for a swimmer, huh?  "Float.") followed him.  Bruce Hayes, who had failed to qualify for the individual 200 meter freestyle race, was the anchor.  Clearly the American strategy was to build up such a big lead that not even Michael Gross could overcome it.  
In the early going, their strategy seemed to be working.  Each of the Americans put a little more time and distance on the West Germans, who were trailing.  By the time Bruce Hayes jumped into the water, he had a one and a half second lead on the West German team.  
But Hayes was swimming against the Albatross.  Just by diving and breaking to the surface of the pool, Michael Gross cut the lead in half.  By the end of the first 50 meters, he had caught up with Hayes.  At the end of the first 100 meters, he'd taken the lead.  The sportscaster, Jim Lampley, who I could never stand due to his superior tone, was reminding the audience that Hayes had failed to make the individual 200 freestyle, where Gross had won gold.  He described Hayes as "helpless in the water."  He was asking his color commentator what, besides a complete breakdown by Gross, could allow Hayes back into the race? 
To add to Hayes's difficulties, Gross, who was swimming in the lane next to Hayes, began swimming as close as he could to the American swimmer, using his wake as an obstacle for Hayes to swim through.  
There is one thing you need to know about Bruce Hayes, though.  During the lead-up to the 4x200, he was described as an excellent "relay swimmer."  He was someone who swam faster when swimming on a team than he did when swimming just for himself.  "He just doesn't want to let his teammates down," the commentator said.  
While Lampley was bemoaning Hayes's efforts, I was going crazy.  Hayes wasn't falling behind.  He was keeping up with Gross, stroke for stroke.  Going into the final turn, he was half a head behind.  And after the turn...  He started...  Pulling...  UP!  Closer and closer...  Just behind...  Just a bit behind...  Pulling...  Even...
Gross touched the wall at 7:15:73.  It was a world record time.  
Or...  It would have been.  Hayes touched at 7:15:69.  Four one-hundredths of a second faster.  I was whooping it up, along with Hayes in the pool and the crowd that had watched him do it.  It had been spectacular.  Hayes swam the last 50 meters of the race faster than anyone else had swam a 50 meter leg in the competition, including Gross. 
They called the 4x200 American team, "The Grossbusters."  
I mentioned that there have been a lot of changes to the Olympics since I started watching the event.  The creation of Dream Teams, and the overall professionalization of just about all the events.  It takes too much time and training for genuine amateurs to compete in any of the high profile sports.  Sponsorships and endorsements give them the time and money to work out, swim, jump, run, ride or do whatever it is we watch them do.  Olympians are entertainers.  Just like any other singer, dancer or actor.  The difference is that they have to write the script for their story as they go.  
And that, thinking in writing terms, is where the hook for the Olympics comes from.  Those moments, which are increasingly rare, but so much more precious for that rarity, when people like Bruce Hayes and his 4x200 teammates, or the Lake Placid Hockey team in 1980, or a 38 year old bike rider from Kazakhstan, write endings to their stories that no one "reasonable" person believes will come true.  
We all should do better at being the authors of our own dreams.  
PS: If you want to see video of the 1984 4x200 meter relay, they have on YouTube.  Just click: HERE.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Got to Carry On

Received a rejection notice today. As usual, I felt the sting. I cursed the editor and his/her staff that made the decision. I thought things like, “Guess you don’t like publishing stories better than you can write, huh?”

Of course that is only the rejection talking. I’ve not read this editor’s work so I don’t know how well they write. My job now is to get over the funk this has put me in and find another place to send this story to. Yeah. Let’s do that.