Sunday, May 21, 2006

Latitudes & Attitudes

I have read various sailing magazines, like Cruising World and Sail, over the years, but I never subscribed to one until I discovered Latitudes & Attitudes. The other mags were a little hoity-toity, with their emphasis on super-expensive racing yachts and the promotion of an ultra-rich lifestyle I knew I would never be a part of. But Lats & Atts is the sailing magazine for the rest of us, the people who dream of cashing in our workaday lives for a used, fixer-upper sailboat and adventure on the high seas.

It has been a few years, but I think I was surfing the Internet when I found the Latitudes & Attitudes website (, which offers a free trial issue right on the front page. The rest of the website contained just the kind of sailing information I was looking for, so I requested my free trial issue. I read it from cover to cover, gleaning useful sailing tips and smiling at the mishap stories. I became an immediate fan of the regular columnists, Bob Bitchin, who is also the publisher, Tania Aebi, who is the first American woman to sail around the world alone (at age seventeen!), and Captain Woody, who I relate to most closely, a guy who just wants to be out there sailing as much as possible.

Most of the other articles in Latitudes & Attitudes are submitted by readers just like me. So after Nan's and my ill-fated sailing adventure in the British Virgin Islands two years ago, I thought I would write an article and submit it with some pictures to see if I could get it published. The result was "Where's the Dinghy?", which I serialized here in the Whispering Jesse weblog (2005-04-01 whisperingjesse archive, scroll to the bottom of the page). I sent it off to Lats & Atts on a CD-ROM last August and waited for their reply.

A month went by with no response, so I sent an email inquiry. Editor Sue emailed back that she hadn't had time to read it yet because she was under deadline for their biggest issue of the year. A few days later, Editor Sue emailed me again that she had read my article and enjoyed it but that it was too long and the pictures were too small and too low-resolution. She invited me to trim it down to 1500-2000 words, redo the pictures and resubmit it for possible publication. She finished her message with, "We do appreciate the time you've taken and hope to hear from you again."

I was encouraged, so I started editing the article with the idea of making it more concise, but it's difficult to condense more than 7000 words down to just 2000 without some drastic cuts. I tried to tighten up some of the narrative and managed to get it down to about 6000 words, way short of the goal. My sister Jane is a freelance editor, so I emailed her a copy and let her work her magic with it. It came back heavily marked up, which was a bit of a blow to my writing ego, but when I talked with her about it, she said her goal was not to criticize my writing but rather to make the article shorter. She had marked whole paragraphs as probably not necessary, so I used that idea to eliminate complete sections, like the crazy night at the Bomba Shack and the explanation of how we freed ourselves from a tangled anchor line. It's now just under 4000 words and I'm afraid it would become almost a Cliff Notes version of the original if I kept hacking away at it, so I think I'm going to let it go for now.

Nan and I are planning another sailing trip for next May, to the BVI again with maybe a side trip to Anegada. If we have a "less complicated" adventure than last time, maybe I could write an article that captures everything in 1500-2000 words right from the outset and see if Latitudes & Attitudes would publish it. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Nature of What's Funny

Two weeks ago, Stephen Colbert roasted George W. Bush at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. (Click here to see the video on Google Video.) In the guise of his Comedy Central "Colbert Report" character, he took sharply critical potshots at Bush, the press and just about everything else. The thing that made it so outrageous was that Bush was sitting just a few feet away with his wife Laura watching the whole thing, at first with an expression of mild amusement and later in a condition of frozen-faced discomfort.

Since it first aired live on C-SPAN, the video has been watched by thousands on the Internet, myself included. I have read many of the articles and blog entries that followed, and I have some observations:

The first is that I can't believe this hasn't been more widely publicized. It's as though the embarrassment felt by the press at some of Colbert's remarks caused them to ignore this obviously newsworthy event, remarks such as: "Write that novel you got kicking around in your head, you know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know, fiction!"

The second is that many of the more conservative blogs have criticized Colbert's roasting of Bush as "not funny." Huh? I thought it was hysterical, mostly because it was so surprising and harsh. The nature of what's funny is always relative. If Colbert's remarks cut a little too close to the bone for some, then I understand why they would think it wasn't funny. But that doesn't lessen the impact or automatically dismiss those who applaud Colbert for having the guts to make light of what many consider a seriously flawed administration and the fawning press that covers it.

One of my favorite jokes goes, "How many feminists does it take to screw in a light bulb?" The stock punchline is "That's not funny." Once when I told it in mixed company, a woman didn't wait for the punchline before saying, "I'm offended by that." I burst out laughing because that's an even better punchline than the original. The point is that people need to get over themselves, to stop taking everything so seriously that they can't find the humor in everyday life. It's like Dennis Miller once said on his Friday night HBO show several years back, before he went over to the conservative side: "You can't tell me that when the tall magi smacked his forehead on the cross-beam while entering the manger that Joseph didn't take his mind off wondering who had impregnated his wife for just a second and laugh his little carpenter's ass off."