Monday, January 26, 2015

Hanging in Inlay Lake, Myanmar (Burma)

I’m going through pictures of Inlay Lake, Myanmar, and remembering what turned out to be the highlights of our Burma trip. We hit five major destinations in Myanmar, and Inlay Lake was by far the most interesting and fun.

There are over two hundred towns and villages around and on the lake. Many of the towns, temples, hotels, and restaurants are built on stilts over the water, so the best means—sometimes the only—of transportation are by long boat. Even crops are grown over water in what are called the Floating Garden. 

Tourism is an upcoming mainstay of the economy, but fishing, textiles, cheroot cigars, and farming are the traditional industries.

We all loved our time on the lake, and were sad to leave it only after three days. So much more to see, we will trek back soon.

Above was our hotel, below is one of our favorite restaurants.

Friday, January 23, 2015

My Time In Myanmar (Burma)

We took a trip to Myanmar with Malcolm and Pic, Sandy and Jim and Ben, and Michael and Denis. It was a wonderful time and we all enjoyed ourselves. Our guide, Myu Myu was fantastic, and made sure we not only saw all there was to see, but gave us enough time in each temple, pagoda, and market to insure we saw it all.

In eleven days, we visited Yangon, Golden Rock, Bagan, Mandalay, Inlay Lake, and back to Yangon. Myu Myu kept us moving, and we saw all the major tourist sites. Next trip, we will visit the smaller towns and out of the way sites.

I’m a bit upset I didn’t make posts while we were there and it was still fresh in my mind, but we were constantly on the move. There was simply no time of energy left for any kind of writing.

Herman, however, took a billion pictures so I will use the ones he posted on FB to try and reconstruct what we did and what we saw.

One of the most memorable things that happened was at Inlay Lake. It was not a matter of what was there, it was what wasn’t there. We stayed in cabins built over the water, a long way from shore. The only way to get there was by boat, and after sunset, the boat traffic died down to nothing. I remember noting the quiet before going to bed, but in the middle of the night, I woke to the strangest sensation: a deep silence; a total absence of sound. There was no motors, no electric appliances, no wind rustling leaves, no snoring, only the beating of my heart. I can’t remember ever experiencing such a profound stillness. I listened for what seemed hours, but the silence was unbroken. I was afraid to even move because I didn’t want to disturb something that seemed sacred. I finally nodded off to sleep again, and awoke to the sound of rain pulsing on the roof tiles.

What a shame we all can’t experience that kind of holy silence on a regular basis. I believe people would become more at peace, more loving and forgiving, if they could. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Writing Tip: Secrets

Secrets are at the heart of many plots. In fact, if you study nearly any romantic comedy, you’ll fine that all the comic situations are built on secrets or lies, usually both. 

I have long believed that a good writer will allow his characters to keep secrets, and the secrets must be revealed before the end. But the question is when and why to reveal them. 

Something that I learned in a screenwriting class is, the best way to disclose a secret is when disclosing is the lesser of two evils. That is: if a character reveals a secret, s/he will lose respect or love or something worse. But, if s/he doesn’t reveal the secret, then something far more devastating will happen. 

So characters reveal secrets only when forced, to prevent something horrible from happening. A writer will do this to heighten the drama. 

Also, by having secrets, the reader knows that the truth will eventually be found out. So by introducing these secrets early on, it keeps the reader in suspense of when the truth will be revealed, and what the fallout will be when that eventually happens. 

Once a character withholds information, then the plot should twist the story so that the longer the character holds his/her secret, the more devastating the results will be when the information is finally exposed. It’s like a harmless little white lie that begins to build on itself, taking on bigger meaning and more damaging consequences until it will have a huge dramatic effect over everyone’s lives. 

Like any literary device, characters keeping secrets is a powerful tool in the writer’s hands.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Trekking through Myanmar (Burma)

I just spent eleven days trekking through Myanmar (Burma) with a group of ten travelers. We had a number of interesting experiences in this lush and beautiful land. Now that I’m back in Thailand where they have relatively speedy Internet access, I’ll post some pictures over the next week or two.

One of the highlights for me was a small training monastery in Heho, near Inlay Lake. This monastery building is over 200 years old, and has been taking in orphans for over a century.

Although this temple houses a half-dozen museum-quality, Shan-style Buddha images, it is the novices that really steal the show. They were friendly and respectful, and as you can see, they carry the beauty that the Shan people all seem to have.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Leaving Chiang Mai

After seven weeks in Thailand, we are leaving tomorrow for a ten-day trek through Myanmar (Burma). While in Myanmar, I will be out of touch, as internet and email access is not permitted in that country (at least it wasn’t when I was there five years ago, so I’m assuming it is still the case.)

I will miss Chiang Mai. This time of year is high season, so the city is teeming with tourist all taking a hundred selfies per minute, but it is still a charming place to hang out. This time of year, there are Buddhist festivals going on at all of the major temples, which is why I love being here in December and January.

This city is a visual paradise, leaving lasting impression wherever you look. I’ll post a few pictures below to give an example of the rich colors, textures, and culture of this remarkable place. Luckily, I’ll get to spend one more week here on my return to the USA, later this year.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Writing Tip: Active vs. Passive Voice

With active voice, the subject performs the action expressed in the verb; a direct action. Sentences with active verbs are generally clearer, more direct, and more concise. 

With passive voice, the subject is acted upon. Who performs the action may appear in a “by the...” phrase or may be omitted. Passive voice always includes a form of to be, such as am, is, was, were, are, been, or of course, to be in the verb construction. Overuse of passive verbs is often overly wordy, flat, and slows the pacing. 

Active voice: The dog bit the girl. 
Passive: The girl was bitten by the dog. 

Active: Alan will submit his manuscript to the publisher. 
Passive: The manuscript will be submitted to the publisher by Alan. 

Active: Scientists have conducted experiments to test the theory. 
Passive: Experiments were conducted by scientists to test the theory. 

Rules of thumb 
To avoid overuse of passive voice, I do a search on the word ‘was’ if writing in past tense and ‘is’ when writing in present tense. I try to limit the number of times I use these passive voice words to three per page. 

What is really confusing is when a writer starts a sentence I in active voice, then changes to passive, as in: Many regular customers found the coffee too weak to enjoy, but it was still ordered frequently. Edited: Many customers found the coffee too weak to enjoy, but they still ordered it frequently. 

Changing passive voice to active voice 
To change voice from passive to active, consider who or what is performing the action. Make that who or what the subject of the sentence and change the verb accordingly. 

Passive: The movie is being reviewed by every reviewer. 
Active voice: Every reviewer is reviewing the movie. 

Using passive voice effectively 
The passive voice is effective when the subject performing the action is obvious, unimportant, or unknown or when a writer wishes to postpone mentioning the subject until the last part of the sentence or to avoid mentioning the subject at all, thus highlighting the action rather than who performs it. 

Active: “Authorities make rules to be broken,” he said defiantly. 
Passive: “Rules are made to be broken,” he said defiantly. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Petty Ignorance Over Marriage Equality, And The Perfect Answer

I’ve been reading on the web this last week that Courthouse Clerks in some Florida districts are choosing to not perform any weddings at all, so that they won’t have to perform any same-sex marriages. I find this behavior very sad indeed.

To me, this goes beyond sour grapes. This smacks of the bigots in the South who, rather than let black kids in the same public swimming pool as white kids, filled in the pools with dirt so nobody could swim. The same bigots who closed down schools rather than allow black kids in the same classroom as their little white darlings.

This behavior is not brought on by religious doctrine; it is hate in its purest form. Hate growing from the seed of fear. Although why these people fear gay and lesbians who love each other is beyond my understanding.

Yes, I know these people wave their Bibles and quote scriptures, just like my parents in the ’60 used their Bible to justify their loathing of black people. They were very fond of saying that Cain was marked with black skin before God chased him from the Garden of Eden. And that, amazingly, somehow justified in their minds keeping African Americans in slavery.

But in all this quagmire of ignorance, I also read something very uplifting by John Romano that I would like to share:

"All the forms and documents that will no longer mock them. The benefits and laws that have been denied to them. The simple courtesies and respects long withheld from them. These are the tangible benefits of marriage that are about to change for gay couples, but those are mere details compared to the rest of the story. For it can be argued that approving same-sex marriage in the eyes of City Hall is a game-changing step toward removing the stigma of a person's sexuality." - John Romano.
And that, dear readers, is, in a perfect little nutshell, why I post so often about marriage equality.