Saturday, October 14, 2006


Over 25 years ago I put tooth picks in an avocado pit and suspended it over a glass full of water. It sprouted. When I moved away Dad adopted the plant and tells me from time to time how it is doing. Ohio isn't the best place to grow avocados but wherever Dad lives is. The little plant I left 25+ years ago is a tree taller than me or my father or even my brother.

Yesterday at the bus terminal Mom noticed a tree and asked me what it was. "That's like your tree. What is it?"

"An avocado tree."

"You should see how big it is. Your elephant ears and schefflera are huge," she said showing how big with her hands. I had seen how big they were. Beanie brought pictures.

In some small way, even though I am missing from family get-togethers I am still there in spirit in the reality of my plants and tree that Dad tends and keeps growing. I wasn't noticed when I lived closer but we seldom notice something unless it is missing and we always looking for it, not content with what we have. The missing factor extends parasitic tendrils to every part of our lives and how we view ourselves.

Seldom happy with what we have or what we are we search for the missing ingredient that will make our lives better, happier, more fulfilled.

In China the standard of beauty was small feet. Baby girls' feet were bound tightly to achieve the ideal of beauty. Pain and beauty were inextricably linked. We think we have evolved beyond such barbaric practices but we haven't. Look around. Women are having their feet surgically altered to fit into Manolo Blahniks. Putting your best foot forward takes on a whole new meaning. Women searching for that ever changing and always elusive perfect beauty are having ribs removed for a slimmer torso, liposuction, tummy tucks and all manner of plastic surgery to get what they're missing--perfection, a perfection defined by advertising campaigns. We buy the next miracle fluid, treatment, cosmetic to bring us closer to perfection while inside we stop growing and maturing. Women have borne the brunt of the pursuit of perfect beauty, but men are following closely behind.

Women like my mother, and female friends I have known, refuse to be seen without makeup, their best clothes and shoes or acrylic nails, even to the point of turning people away from the door or hiding until the unannounced guest is gone, unless they're lucky enough to have someone answer the door for them and offer their apologies for being indisposed. After all, who would want them as they are sans improvements? In some cases they are right.

There is nothing inside them. They have about as much depth as a drying rain puddle. While they spend all their time and money on the latest miracle product or procedure their personality and emotional depth stagnate. To cover for what is really missing they learn to mimic real emotions, keeping the surface calm and serene with occasional emotional outbursts that have more to do with guilt and manipulation than any actual emotional sensibility and feelings. S/he has such a lovely personality and is intelligent have become curses instead of compliments. It all comes down to surface appeal and faking the rest as realistically as possible without ruining makeup and hair. Don't look beneath the surface. There isn't anything there and there is a strong vested interest in keeping the facade intact.

I am reminded of Flavor of the Month by Olivia Goldsmith. The book detailed three women who hide their real identities behind surgical alterations and makeup and costume, something Ms. Goldsmith knew intimately. She died on the table while undergoing a face lift.

One of my cousins, a very beautiful woman, died a week after having liposuction when she threw a blood clot, all in the pursuit of someone else's idea of beauty. We all have our idiosyncrasies and feelings of inadequacy, allowing others' opinions determine our self worth.

In an over exposed, reality TV, tell-all world there is no room for anonymity or for letting our intelligence and words and abilities speak for themselves. We may no longer bind baby girls' feet. Instead we bind their psyches and souls, their intellects and personalities, forcing them into a painful and constricting mold of an ever changing acceptable form determined by those who do not know us and do not care, when what we should strive to achieve is growth.

That is all. Disperse.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Good news, really bad news

While I was at the bus station waiting with my mother and sisters to leave, Carol called Dad. He was just leaving the hospital after his appointment. Dad has been having some pain in his spine and pelvis and his PSA (prostatic specific antigen) has been rising, a sure sign of cancer somewhere. The cancer has metastasized into his spine and pelvis. Dad has a bioprosthetic bovine heart valve and cannot take chemotherapy. He also cannot take radiation therapy because he had XRT when the prostate cancer was first diagnosed. The solution is to remove both his testicles. It's an outpatient procedure and will eliminate the source of the hormone feeding the cancer. The up side is that he will stop losing his hair, so my best guess is that the hormone they're eliminating is DHT.

A local ham, George, died earlier this year from cancer. His primary was prostate cancer and the cancer metastasized into his bones. He was dead within a year of treatment and he lost his testicles, too. The outlook isn't good for Dad. He may surprise us all. I surely hope so.

At least there is some good news. I have been asked to contribute photos to a book on Colorado and for covers of some other books. I will get credit and cash. I will be rephotographing some sites photographed several years ago on my high resolution digital. This may also lead to some other jobs photographing local wildlife and scenery. I wouldn't consider myself a professional photographer, but it is possible I'll get better with practice. I've been told I have a good eye for composition. That's half the battle?

Well, the landlady just brought up a food bag and I sent her back downstairs with a few pieces of Beanie's oatmeal cake. We're both really happy, especially with elk soon on the menu. One of the neighbors offered fresh killed elk to the landlady and she asked me if I know what to do with it. Boy, do I. Fresh elk meat and a lovely landlady for a neighbor. Add a new baby next door at the Lon Chaney house within the next day or so and there's quite a bit of good news coming down the pike.

I want my parents to live forever, or at least until I'm gone. I know that isn't possible or even probable at this point but it doesn't stop me wanting them to hang around, even when Mom is in one of her evil moods. As there is a cycle of seasons, so, too, there is a cycle of life--and death. I know this and I accept the inevitability of death. Like the baby being born right now who will soon come home next door, life goes on. The elk nourishes many people, giving its life for continued life and health. My father and mother will die and there will be new lives to take their places, new lives that might even touch mine in some way. I can live with that.

Friday the 13th

It's probably appropriate in some alternate universe that my usually commercial-free television is haunted by commercials on this of all days. Beanie just can't stand missing her programs.

How cool is it that Friday the 13th comes during the month of All Hallow's Eve/Halloween/Samhain? Technically, Samhain is on the 21st, but I won't quibble about that. This is my favorite time of year. Caramel apples, popcorn balls and trick or treaters roaming the twilight streets in search of sugar rushes, trees and houses to TP and windows to soap. Unfortunately, there will be no bonfires and that is sad. I miss the bonfires and dressing up like goblins and ghouls and vampires and such.

This week has certainly been a long one. Beanie can't seem to sit still, which is probably why she has lost so much weight. Mom has been evil and Carol fixated on Starbuck's. Mom has been eating pancakes all the time and threatening to toss her pancakes at every opportunity. We didn't go up the cog railway because Mom couldn't get out of bed yesterday. They did find a local secondhand bookstore with plenty of books to look over and buy. They also took a quick tour of the shops in Manitou Springs and I showed them Miramont Castle in Manitou Springs (known around here as Witch Central). I also took them by the cottage I almost rented, the last house on the left in Manitou Springs. For dinner yesterday we ended up at Perkins. Mom did her usual near cookie toss routine at the restaurant, saying she was full "up to here" and couldn't eat another bite--until we passed a Dairy Queen. Mom wanted a hot fudge sundae to "cool her froat". I don't understand how hot fudge (or, in her case, extra hot fudge) can cool a sore throat, but we were past it. Mom did her usual whine and dance until I pulled into a gas station to turn around. "Oh, you don't have to go back there." I told her that if I turned to go back to the motel I would not go back to the DQ. She changed her tune quickly. We went back to the DQ for hot fudge with a little DQ soft serve for Mom and a small chocolate cone with sprinkles and a cup of extra sprinkles. I dropped Mom and Carol off at the motel and Beanie and I came home.

Today's the day though. This afternoon they board the bus for Denver and the Amtrak home, but not after a long trip to the antique mall downtown. I can hardly wait.

There is scarier news. The ham radio club has elected new officers. Even though the VP had another year to go on his term he is now the president and his wife is secretary. I'm so thrilled. Talk about your scary propositions. Mike and Susan (Pres and Sec) are the ones who gave me all the grief about cutting the deadline so close when sending out the newsletter, even though they are the ones who pick it up from the printer and mail it. I moved the deadline the 25th of the month and have the newsletter at the printer's and ready to be picked up by the 1st of each month but somehow they never seem to be able to get it out before the weekend before the club meeting, which they said was cutting it too close when I had the newsletter was printed and ready by then in months when the club meeting was on the 8th. The members had their copies of the newsletter two days before the meeting but it wasn't good enough. Club meetings are the second Wednesday of the month and some months that's very early in the month, the earliest being the 8th.

Oh, well, at least now they will have to talk to me directly instead of telling someone else who has to tell me. I hate all that backdoor crap.

That is all. Disperse.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

When authors aren't professional

If you're interested in professional and unprofessional publishing drama or want to read the review and the comments and make up your own mind:
The review in question.

The ancient forms of astrology have more to offer than a guide for every day living. Astrology can help you or hinder you as a writer.

Sun Signs For Writers promises to do just that: make the best of your astrological sign to be a better and more productive writer. Fulfilling that promise proves to be harder than it looks.

Bev Walton-Porter combines her in-depth knowledge of astrology and her success as a published writer in Sun Signs, taking the basics of each astrological sun sign and offering tips and exercises to make the most of strengths and bolster weaknesses. The mix of writing how-to and astrology is a natural in theory. In practice, there are far too many gaps.

Sun Signs repeats the same information in several places, as though the author ran out of material and needed to fill the space to be consistent. The overall execution is inconsistent. Walton-Porter is methodical and steady in everything but the details, mixing metaphors and failing to link Dos and Don’ts with several of the signs, opting instead to recycle generic writing tips that apply to every writer regardless of astrological sign. In some areas the focus is too narrow, as if writing about a specific person, but opts for a scatter gun pattern in other areas, filling up space with repetitious information and tips.

In one section, Geminis are characterized as having difficulty with concentration and focus. Walton-Porter suggests moving from one subject to another to get through writer’s block, which would add fuel to the fire when it comes to lack of focus. Brainstorming is a good idea for signs that tend to be more rigid, like Virgo, but not quixotic and changeable Gemini. In the same chapter, Geminis are urged to focus on one task at a time and not allow their minds to wander, the opposite of brainstorming.

The graphics and art work are beautiful. The chapters are set up in logical and easy to read order, everything a reference book should be. Sun Signs for Writers has the ingredients of a solid resource but needs work to tighten up the gaps and broaden the viewpoint.

Personal asides offer a friendly bridge between author and reader but dull the point of a book meant as a general reference. Treasure Sun Signs for Writers for its art work and recycle it when a less flawed resource comes along, or when a revised edition of this one comes along.

The author's comments are copied directly from her Live Journal page verbatim. The full post has been edited to prevent further claims of copyright infringement and so that the terms of "fair use" can be met. The comments here pertain only to the review.

As per nocturnalmuse / elementalmuse: "...although there have been 9 top-rate reviews of Sun Signs for Writers, I find myself fixating on the one review written by a former friend who, for some reason, is on a vendetta to hurt me whenever she can find a way. I don't mind if you don't like the book, because there are many people who won't and I accept that. People are different and they have different opinions. However, trashing a book just to get to the author because you have a personal vendetta that you JUST WON'T GIVE UP FOR SOME REASON is beyond abhorrent. However, despite this person's prolonged venom toward me, I wish her well. I don't know what I ever did to her to warrant this crap. It's okay if you despise me, but if you cannot review my book without allowing personal prejudice (that has nothing to do with the book) color your review, then please be honest with yourself (and everyone else) about your intentions and don't review it. I expect some people not to like the book...but I hope it's because they don't like it for what it is and not who I am in my personal life. were busy trashing me as a person and a writer. Trashing me as a writer is one thing; trashing me as a human being by using lies is quite another."

Nobody does it better

With a nod to Carole King for the lyrics, what she says is true. Nobody does it better, and writers are no exception.

Despite Shakespeare's enduring language, being the perennial subject of movies and inclusion in the curricula of nearly every university in the world, J.R.R. Tolkien despised him and considered Shakespeare a hack.

One of my favorite books, a birthday gift from Don, is Fighting Words. Even when the venomous quill pens of famous, and infamous, writers are employed in trashing their fellow writers, gems are dropped.

Excerpts from the book:

"The more I read him the less I wonder that they poisoned him." Thomas Babington Macauley on Socrates

"Aristotle invented science, but destroyed philosophy." Alfred North Whitehead on Aristotle

"Aristotle was famous for everything. He taught that the brain exists mainly to cool the blood and is not involved in the process of thinking. This is true only of certain persons." Will Cuppy on Aristotle

"Virgil's great judgment appears in putting things together, and in picking gold out of the dunghills of old Roman writers." Alexander Pope on Virgil

"As great a poet as Dante might have been, I wouldn't have had the slightest wish to know him. He was a terrible prima donna." W. H. Auden on Dante

"Chaucer, notwithstanding the praises bestowed on him, I think obscene and contemptible: he owes his celebrity merely to antiquity." Lord Byron on Geoffrey Chaucer

"Dr. Donne's verses are like the peace of God; they pass all understanding." James I on John Donne

That is all. Disperse.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Once more into the breach

I have been informed that a review I wrote doesn't sit well with the author. That happens. I have said, and continue to say, that that one man's trash is another man's treasure and that reviewing anything is very subjective. I am by no means the last authority on anything other than my opinion based on my experience. However, there were some comments aimed at me that are not subjective and those I will answer.

First of all, I love nearly everything Stephen King writes, almost all of which I have read, but even he hits some clunkers from time to time. J. K. Rowling, other than being a bit long-winded at times makes up for her wordiness by engaging the reader so much you forget you just read over 500 pages. I have never found fault with either writer and I look forward to their books like I looked forward to Xmas morning as a child. I don't care for Tom Clancy's writing but I'm not much into male escapist fantasy. I have the same problem with Clive Cussler, which the writer didn't mention. I adore the first chapter of Clive Cussler's books for the history he illustrates so realistically but he loses me down the road. A close friend and well known writer adored Cussler's books. I don't. I don't consider any of these writers hacks or sell-outs. I never have. I wish I had been as lucky and were as well read. And, yes, luck plays a very big part in being published.

Contrary to what the author says, I do not consider her a hack. I consider her a very good writer who has worked hard for what she has achieved. A lot of that shows in her current book, which I reviewed honestly. The structure of the book is easy to read and well planned. The execution, in my opinion, leaves a little to be desired. The focus was inconsistent, sometimes chatty and personal and other times vague and generic as if the author were filling up space because she had locked herself into a specific number of entries. I did not see, nor did the author relate, how some of the list pertained to a specific astrological sign and I gave an example. There were many examples, but I keep my reviews short and to the point so I don't belabor any specific point. Knowing the author's nonfiction articles as I do it was easy to see where her experience filled in the blanks but the author was writing a book for a specific purpose -- how to optimize your astrological pluses and minuses -- not publishing or writing in general. I see that as failing to follow through on the purpose of the book and the implicit contract the author has with the reader. I could go on.

I don't review books where I cannot separate my personal relationship from my professional opinion and that was not the case here. I did not publicize the review because I have not had time to do so, but the author commented (and then deleted her comment) hours after the review was posted. I guess my opinion mattered to her, just not the one I gave. I have given similar reviews to authors I have known for years, writers I respect. They have treated me with more professionalism.

The author also says that I should be writing my own books instead of criticizing those writers whose books are on the shelves. There she has a point. I spent the past fifteen years writing other people's books and allowing them to put their names on the books, taking my check to the bank and spending it. The words are mine but the fame and recognition is not mine. Does that mean I'm not good enough to get my own work published? Obviously not since the words were mine, as were the proposals that earned the contracts.

My review of the book was not a rave nor did I turn my thumb down. The book has a lot to commend it but it needs work to be the best it can be and I know it can be better. It is not sour grapes to yell tripe when tripe is served. The book is unique in its approach and its subject matter but it will not remain unique unless the author is willing to take a good hard look and see where the book could be better instead of descending to personal attacks and checking her opinions with friends willing to jump on her band wagon instead of looking at the review and my criticisms with a neutral and unbiased eye. Maybe the author would not be so "...fixated on this one review..." if she didn't see some truth. In fact, the author should have followed the advice given to writers under the sign of Aquarius and avoid self-indulgent run-on sentences with fifty cent words when shorter, punchier sentences would have been better.

The author also mentions holding out the olive branch of friendship as if it was a selfless act. Coming as it did after she found out I was going to review the book that olive branch could be seen as self serving. I have returned politeness for politeness, but it is this very attitude that keeps me from taking hold of the proffered olive branch. Honesty is not tolerated whenever it offers anything other than slavish compliments like those the author cites from her friends and those who say they know me and how I am.

I was willing to let the review remain unpublicized until now. Get the book from a friend or the library and read it for yourselves. Make your own judgment. Don't take my word for it. Don't take my word for any review I write because it is only my considered opinion. Remember only that it is my honest opinion and that I have no axe to grind. More prolific and better known authors have thanked me for my less than stellar reviews adding that while I pointed out some flaws I got what they were saying better than anyone else.

That is all. Disperse.

Decisions, decisions and windshield wipers

Ever make a decision and wonder if you did the right thing? Of course you have. I know I have. I did yesterday. I decided to walk down to the motel... the rain...

...without stretching first.

Can't take it back now.

The Nike running shoes I bought made my feet feel so good and they didn't hurt even after walking a mile or three. Can't say the same thing for the rest of me. My calves hurt. My legs hurt. My ankles hurt. Today my head and sinuses hurt. My feet don't hurt. Who said that if your feet feel good the rest of you will, too, obviously didn't know much. If your feet hurt, the rest of you is bound to follow, but the rest of you can hurt even when your feet feel good.

I walked down to the motel to get a little exercise. I got a lot. Mom decided she wanted to go get something to eat but the KFC down the street was not open yet. There used to be an open KFC there. I ate there once or twice. They're revamping the store, so now it's closed--for a while. Mom and Carol had to check out the hole-in-the-wall bargain mart and found cough drops for 75 cents. I don't know what else they got. I stayed in the car. I am missing the shopping gene. When they came out Denny's was next on the list.

Before we got started I had to walk back home to get the car because Carol and Tracy couldn't get it started even after detailed instructions. I told Mom before I left that as soon as I got in the car it would start. It did. My car doesn't like other people driving him. Thieves wouldn't have a chance. Sometimes he won't start for me, but that's just to slow me down. There have been times when the delay he caused kept me from being in an accident or slowed me down when I was anxious or in a rush that would have put me in harm's way because cops were crawling all over the place and out for speeders. Speeding is why I have a car with cruise control. Keeps me from speeding because I do so like speed and it sneaks up on me the minute I quit paying close attention.

Since the driver's side windshield wiper arm still doesn't work Beanie kept jumping out of the car at stop signs and red lights to sweep the arm across the windshield to clear it for a minute. The rest of the time I was leaning over toward Mom's side of the car to see out a clear windshield. Yes, it was definitely fun times yesterday. The rain was a light mist when I walked to and from the motel but it rained more and more the minute I got into the car and put him in gear. Oh, well. I still think Beanie should have hung onto the roof of the car and worked the wiper arm. She had on a raincoat and she wouldn't have gotten very wet.

So, Denny's for dinner and then over to Wal-Mart so Mom and Carol could shop and Beanie and I could get the ingredients for oatmeal cake (she's doing that one) and salmon patties for Mom (I'm doing those). Mom offered to buy groceries for me but I don't like Wal-Mart and I don't know where anything is. It would have taken hours. I'll take the car over to the mechanic by the King Sooper's and get it fixed today and then go over to the store to buy some groceries now that I have a partial paycheck. They screwed me out of pages again. I'm just so thrilled to work my butt off only to get stiffed time and again. Still, it's a paycheck I can count on at least part of the time.

Tomorrow we go up Pikes Peak on the cog rail at 9:20 AM, providing Carol and Mom can get out of bed in the morning.

That is all. Disperse.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Pain, agony and Sundays

My right thumb is swollen, bruised and stiff. It hurts to move it and since I'm right handed that makes things interesting.

If I hadn't cleaned out the trunk and inside of my car I wouldn't have dislocated my thumb. Thank goodness I don't have to use my thumb to type. Thank goodness I don't have to work this week. Thank goodness my thumb went back in as quickly as it came out. It looked strange and happened so fast I didn't realize what happened. I thought I was seeing things. Looking at my thumb swollen all the way down to my wrist I know it was no dream, no optical illusion and no mistake. I dislocated my thumb. I guess the intense pain afterward and all last night should have been a clue.

It's cold and white outside. Yesterday's sunshine and warmth are gone and I can feel rain in the air. We're going to be stuck here in this apartment watching movies and talking and watching Mom dig through her things like an upscale bag lady hung with gold chains and gems demanding salmon patties. That reminds me I need to make a list and go to the store after I take a shower and put on some warmer clothes.

After Beanie took her shower yesterday she complained it was difficult getting clean because she didn't have a wash cloth to wash her stuff. I said she should have used my puff. Carol said, "You don't want her washing her stuff with your puff." Carol also called and told our brother Jimmy about Beanie washing her stuff with my puff.

Last night Carol called because she wanted Beanie to walk over to the motel so she'd have a smoking buddy. I have a strange family. This will be an interesting, albeit, very strange week, and it's only Sunday.