Sunday, December 30, 2007

I'm baaack!

And I'm rested but feeling the pinch of the coming weeks of work before I can take another day (or week) off. The snow was a beautiful sparkling expanse of endless white and the banks of the river edged with ice while the river rushed by in frothy spangled streamers of liquid light and dark. A stand of white pillared aspens naked in the pallid light marched off into the distance and I wandered among them swishing through the snow-covered drifts of seasons of leaves after a breakfast of fresh fruit and hot chocolate delivered to my door every morning. Another cabin stood nearby with a gravel walk that ended at the main house a half mile up the path and no one stopped by during my stay except to deliver breakfast and silently whisk the empty tray away while I walked.

It was difficult leaving but a growing sense of longing for the familiar confines of my own walls and books and furniture brought me back with a sigh of relief. The silence here is not as deep or as all pervasive but it's home and I'm comfortable here. I'll return to the cabin next year, maybe in late spring when the scents of warming earth and budding aspens are as intoxicating as the smoky smell of golden aspens quaking in a faint wind like Midas's coins, and will probably be just as glad to return home as I will be to arrive at the secluded cabin. There's nothing like travel to remind me of how much I enjoy being here among my things and sleeping in my bed where books lie beside me in tumbled disarray.

The silence was soothing and I luxuriated in a candlelit bathtub full of scented foam rising on wisps of steam with a mug of hot chocolate and a book or lying back in the warm waters while music swirled through the air to soothe and excite me in turns. It was a dream vacation that I will dream again and again, looking forward to the long nights and solitary walks as much as to the writing and reading without limits or restraint, often falling asleep with a book in my lap to awaken and pick up where I left off. There is so much to look forward to experiencing as though it is the first time and it will be a first each time.

That is all. Disperse.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Secret Santa

I was so anxious to begin writing this morning I turned on the wrong burner. Nothing like radicchio and micro greens in melted plastic for breakfast when all I really wanted was boiled eggs. The smoke and stench will clean in a week or two.

Santas past are on my mind, but especially the year I played Secret Santa for the vice-principal of Westmoor Junior High. For one week, I made, bought and creatively appropriated gifts for Mr. Spivey, but on the fifth day, the Friday before Xmas break, I was out of ideas. I had painted two pictures of English sailing ships for my mother: one in oils and one in watercolor and the watercolor painting looked the best, so I took it, wrapped it up and slipped it into Mr. Spivey's in box in the office. I also included a tag with my name on it, since that was the day we were to reveal ourselves as the Secret Santa. Mr. Spivey loved his gift. He had made ships in a bottle and loved sailing (I didn't know that) and he had the painting framed and hung it on his wall. Many years later (a couple decades or so) I was told it hung on his wall until he retired. But he isn't the only one who cherished that painting, so did Mom, and she has never let me forget that I gave her painting away. Reasoning with her that she had another one didn't cut any ice with her. She said it wasn't as good.

Well, I knew that, but didn't figure it would matter since she loves the paintings I didn't like. For instance, the large 3/4 length portrait in acrylics I did of Beanie. That's her favorite painting and she has decided that the painting will go to Beanie when she dies because she can't trust me not to burn it.

Still, the experience of being a Secret Santa was a lot of fun and I've enjoyed carrying on the tradition without ever revealing my identity. It's more fun to give a gift anonymously and let the person believe they are special if only for that day, and it doesn't have to remain solely a Yule province either. Throwing a Scrabble game to a game partner on New Year's Eve after they tried for a year to beat you isn't such a small thing to do and it makes them happy. Finding an inexpensive computer -- or putting one together from excess parts -- for someone who doesn't have one is a nice gift. After all, every writer should have access to the Internet if only for the research. A gift certificate for a manicure or massage for someone who needs a little pampering or a food basket for a family who has had a rough year are also nice. Or simply giving a few months of pictures, extra storage space or a paid LiveJournal account are also gifts, and don't forget to check out the virtual gifts.

At a time of year when the days are so short and the nights so dark and long and cold, a little anonymous cheer is a great way to help someone feel special, and it works the same for the other eleven months of the year.

So much of the time we think about all the experiences and people who have scarred us for life, the ones who broke our hearts and betrayed our faith. I prefer to remember the people who, in their blundering and insensitivity, also did me a favor. I can think of quite a few. I think of it as the silver lining to every dark cloud, even though I love dark clouds because they bring rain and snow and cool breezes on blistering summer days.

That is all. Disperse.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Telling tales

A stranger who obviously read my post about Imelda and her clueless husband sent me a link and I followed it to The Story of Stuff. It's not another version of George Carlin's A Place for My Stuff, but the story of a linear system. If you're not interested in the environmental side of the story, skip down to the Consumption tab and start from there. The video takes 20 minutes but it's definitely worth the time to get a good look at what American consumers are doing to the environment, the world and themselves. Don't worry. It's not one of those boring, Green Peace videos. One thing is certain, the stranger who sent it obviously got the message. Nice to know someone reads my posts from time to time.

Tomorrow is the winter solstice and my nephew Cody's 17th birthday. He's Beanie's baby. He's also a regular teenager who's doing all the things most teenagers who collected edged weapons, love fantasy and wear black and long nearly white blond hair do. I wish I could be there to give him a big hug and celebrate his birthday but I'm leaving on Saturday for mountain solitude for ten days. I met someone who wants to help me celebrate Solstice so I said yes and we're getting together to do the Yule holiday up right. Looks like this is the beginning of a really great friendship.

I also decided to send out thank you cards to all the people who contributed articles to the ham club newsletter. It was a last minute thought and my hope is that they will feel better about contributing next year and for however long I decide to keep editing the newsletter. Nothing like a little timely holiday graft. It goes along with the email I received from a major national magazine interested in publishing one of my articles. Hitting the big time is always a great present no matter what time of the year it lands in my lap.

This holiday season has been hard for my family because of Dad's death earlier this year and they don't seem to be able to muster up the energy or the enthusiasm to celebrate the way they did when Dad was alive. Dad would hate it that they're missing the holidays he loved so much, but they all have to grieve their own way. I miss Dad, too, but I don't feel like he's gone. I feel him close to me most of the time like he's been freed from the limitations of his body and can be wherever he's needed and wanted most, like earlier this week when I opened an email from a plant nursery.

The ad offered free upgrades to expedited delivery and discounts on holiday gifts. The magnolia was beautiful with its glossy black leave and creamy ivory petals so I clicked and followed the link. Magnolias, decorated miniature live Xmas trees, holly bushes and a gorgeous Xmas cactus that took me back thirty years.

Dad had just bought a Xmas cactus with beautiful yellow blooms. Eddie, my middle son, was about three years old and he wanted to give me pretty flowers for Xmas, so he plucked all the blooms off Dad's cactus. Dad caught him and went ballistic. Dad was even tempered and calm most of the time, but messing with his plants was grounds for slow torture and a long, painful death. Dad was afraid the cactus would never bloom again and I don't think he ever forgave Eddie. Two years went by and the cactus didn't bloom but Dad never got rid of the cactus. Then, one year at Xmas, the cactus bloomed with gorgeous yellow flowers and it continues to bloom even though he is gone. All the plants he loved and tended and cared for are still alive and part of him lives on in every one of those plants and trees and tales like Eddie and Dad's Xmas cactus.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Dearth and death

I just received Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past in anticipation of nine days of peace, quiet and books, both read and written. For me, reading and writing go together and having no demands on my time and no technological intrusions, other than my laptop, is a long awaited mental retreat.

Proust arrived in a battered and retaped box from Amazon that UPS hadn't managed to destroy. The book was sealed in plastic on cardboard and rested safely within the bulging and opened box about to burst from its hastily applied cellophane tape reinforcement. I fondled the weighty book while reading about much lighter book technology, namely Kindle, also from Amazon (I do hope they protect it if it's going by UPS, especially since it costs $400). The debate from technogeeks, literary Luddites, and everyone in between has been interesting. The geeks decry it's price tag and antique (if anything from 1980 could be considered antique) functionality while the Luddites scream about the death of books and the sensory experience of knowing the heft, tactile sensation and intoxicating scent of dust and cloth and leather bindings embedded between pages that rustle when turned and are marked in the margins with notable quotes and passages. You can't have that with the Kindle. I haven't seen or held one but I do admire the concept of having hundreds of books available anywhere, any time just by touching a few buttons. I'm in the wait and see camp although I do understand and admire the Luddites' position on books while I cringe at the thought of tens of thousands of trees razed and made into books, although no one ever mentions how many trees it takes to made matches or toothpicks or toilet paper.

I want to go back to a time when rag pickers pulled discarded clothing from the streets and alleys and sold them to bookmakers to make the pages on which the classics (and not so classics) were written and survive intact and white as the day they were created instead of the crumbling, yellowed pages of paperbacks that eventually will succumb to the destructive power of the light and the noxious vapors from avid readers whose sticky and salty fingers eagerly turn the pages from chapter to chapter and so to the end. Even the printed word, depending on the quality of paper used, is temporary at best while the impact of the words remain in the mind long after the book is dust or landfill or wrapped around the detritus of life. Kindle may be onto something if it, as some believe, makes reading more accessible to those who prefer the cyberworld to the real world. Reading comprehension test scores, we are told, are declining in the schools and businesses are rife with ignorance. Good thing we have all these tests and measurements of literary ability nowadays so that we can decry the death of literacy publicly and flash the news around the world. Was it so different in the not so distant past?

While it seems the golden age of literature is behind us, I doubt there is that much difference. Children in rural communities went to one-room schoolhouses with the same children from their earliest days until they were released from winter imprisonment to work their families' fields. They could read the Bible and do sums but very few had the literary comprehension of a fifth grader in today's world of standardized tests and variable curricula. Yes, more people go to college today than in the past, but there are also more people in the world now than then. Businesses employed clerks (clarks in Olde England) who could add prodigious lines of sums and get them right every time, poring over crabbed lines of numbers while shivering at their elevated desks perched on tall stools reading by candlelight, but few of them wasted their precious light to read at home and lunch hours were unknown at the time. Some of the people went to lectures and symposiums, but they were either hungry for knowledge or wanted to seem fashionable in a world obsessed with class, caste and fashion. The centuries before the nineteenth were even more ignorant. Most people had a rudimentary education at best and only the middle classes could afford tutors for their children. More people read, but probably with average or below comprehension. And yet, the book did not die.

For the first time in known history, there are more literate people in the world. Being literate doesn't mean always comprehending what is read, but for the first time in millennia the written word is available to more people. No longer is literature the sole province of religion and money; anyone can learn and everyone can own a book or pick one up at a library. Kindle is, at this point, not the printing press that freed the written word from painstaking copyists in monasteries nor is it the first working and affordable home computer, but it is the first reading machine that is easy on the eyes if not on the pocketbook. It is doubtful Kindle is saving the written word and books from death or the world from a dearth of literary comprehension, but it is at least a stab in the right direction.

People who want to read will find a way, whether that means saving money to cruise the local second-hand bookstore or buying leather bound books with gilt edges from a company that sells the classics, new and old. It isn't technology that has degraded literary comprehension or hastened the death of books, but it may be technology that makes books more accessible to those who prefer technology to lugging around their own hefty copy of Proust to read at bus stops, restaurants and breaks at work, or just in bed or on the sofa. Granted, the Kindle's hefty price is a strike against it, but the iPod and MP3 players that made it possible to download and create personal musical mixes once cost quite a bit and they're more affordable now. Give Amazon time to build up its literary database, clean up the clunky look, add color and bring down the price and Kindles may start popping up at restaurants and bus stops more and more, but whatever happens the book and reading will never die.

We may end up in an Outer Limits world where books are data easily accessed by a world-wide networked brain implant but there remain a few hardy souls visiting ghostly libraries to run their fingers lovingly along the edge of pages as they turn them and lose themselves in worlds and realms of fantasy and time among the printed word. When you get right down to it, knowledge comes in many forms and books are just one more form, a form I heartily endorse and enjoy. As long as there are people to tell the stories, they will find a way to pass them along because ultimately it's not the book that matters but the story.

That is all. Disperse.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Where Technology Takes Us

Hollywood has always been about illusion, the original dream factory, but somehow over the years people have become the illusion and Hollywood the fantasy everyone wants to make real. It has lost the quality of fantasy and blurred the lines between real and make believe. It's obvious when you look at the movie and TV stars who spend so much money and time on trainers, nutritionists and plastic surgery so they can take their fantasies into the real world. It's the story Rita Hayworth always told, that men went to bed with Gilda and woke up with her, confusing the fantasy with reality and unable to understand the difference.

In a world where fantasy is more real than reality comes Beowulf and we're back to fantasy again where talent is not forsaken in the face of cinematic beauty. That's the one thing that has been lost in the march to Hollywoodize the world, talent. That's not to say there aren't talented actors who look good (and sexy) naturally without plastic surgery, trainers and nutritionists or that there isn't value to treating your body well -- well, except for the plastic surgery -- but movies are all about fantasy.

The star of Beowulf is nowhere near the buff, gorgeous figure of Beowulf. Ray Winstone is overweight and paunchy and getting older. If Beowulf was a live action movie instead of computer generated, Winstone would not have been chosen to play the part, nor could he have done so without at least a year of intensive training and diet and a bit of plastic surgery. That's not to say he isn't talented, because he is, but Hollywood has finally found a way for talent to take center stage alongside real fantasy.

The movie isn't that good, but it's interesting because it remodels the actors' bodies into whatever the part requires (like Anthony Hopkins' huge paunch and bloated face) without the actors having to change their appearance. It is their talent that shines forth and not chameleon changes by knife. It doesn't matter that Winstone is 50 years old and Beowulf is in his early twenties. It works. Granted, the technique needs some refinement before it can take the place of real live actors, but it's getting there. Unlike Looker where models once perfected by plastic surgery were killed so their computer generated clones could take their places or The Stepford Wives where perfect robots made to order with the right bra size and figure killed their living templates, there is no need to walk blindly into the future Michael Crichton envisioned when technology replaces people. Technology can mold the physical without the use of plastic surgery or grueling training and starvation diets or Botox or any of the surface things actors do to fit the part and retain the spark of talent and genius that makes an actor worth watching. It can't be long before computer generated movies move into the realm where fantasy mimics reality without the need for fantasy to take over and supplant reality. Hollywood will have reclaimed the dream factory without sacrificing humans on the bloody altar in the name of money cloaked in the guise of art.

Bottom line? Actors can get old, can succumb to illness, gain a little weight and sport their wrinkles, stretch marks and saggy butts and knees without ending their professional lives and the dream factory can give them immortality, youth and beauty while borrowing their voice and acting talents without using them up and tossing them aside like old Kleenex. Somehow that seems like a much better and healthier world, although the gossip rags will suffer since no one will care about dimpled asses or deep wrinkles. Wouldn't that be a shame?

I'm a realist who knows that talent is not only contained in a plastic package and can be found in even the ugliest creature, as Stockard Channing illustrated in The Girl Most Likely To. Beauty isn't everything and when these plastic beauties die and their bones are dug up centuries from now by some curious archaeologist, their bones will tell a different tale than what was made from them when the actor was alive.

That is all. Disperse.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


When I discovered online bookstores like I was in heaven. Millions of books and all I had to do was sit at my computer and read and choose and buy, that is until I discovered the wish list and other online bookstores. I have dozens bookmarked and visit them regularly, some even send me emails about what's new and exciting and I am always hooked like a greedy catfish biting down on a chewy, misshapen dough ball hiding a double barbed hook.

The wish list is a safe way to save links to all the books I want; mine runs to several pages. I used to store them in the cart for later, but that list was getting too long and I can't search for just books or DVDs or whatever else I have put aside. You can't do that at the bookstore because they frown on you making piles of books and leaving them without paying. I would rather pay for them but that depends on my budget, especially nowadays since I became interested in buying actual food and cooking utensils to fill my empty cupboards. I figured that since I'll soon celebrate my third anniversary in this apartment -- a prodigious feat in itself -- I should begin filling the cabinets and freezer with something other than frozen dinners, which requires that I buy pots and pans and spatulas and all kinds of things to cook and serve the food. The wish list is no essential because it gives me a feeling of having access to the books I want to buy without feeling deprived and cutting into the food budget.

And now I'm going to have to fit bookcases into the budget somewhere since I can't leave all the books I now own in stacks on the floor or in boxes in the living room, bedroom and closets. I don't have that much closet space and it's time I established more than a squatting presence here now that the two-year curse has been lifted. In the past, books were more portable and didn't spoil as quickly as food and pots and pans and cooking utensils just seem sad without food and they have to be washed to be reused. Dried and fly-specked pots and dishes tend to smell up the trunk and draw vermin, not to mention how looking at them turns my stomach into a rumbling cement truck mixing gravel, sand and water just before it spits the brownish-gray slurry onto the ground. People tend to frown on dumping slurry on their shoes or all over their nice clean roads without a permit.

Nothing is more soothing or satisfying than spending hours perusing the descriptions and reviews of books that may or may not make it to the wish list and eventually to the shopping cart before they land on my front porch and all over my floors in serried ranks along the walls so they don't impede walking in the middle of the night when the lights are out. I would probably get more chores done if the books didn't call to me from their shelves and floor spaces to pick them up and dive into their pages for an hour or eight, but nothing and no one has been more faithful and more helpful than my books when I'm sad or depressed or just need to escape for a few hours at the end of a particularly grueling week of work. And they do like company. Nothing is sadder than a lone book on a shelf surrounding by knick knacks or pictures whose pages and spine are so stiff I'm sure they've never been handled, caressed and opened even once, not since they were exiled and left to stand alone and unloved simply because they looked good on the shelf and made people think the owner had taste. Sometimes a dish looks good but it tastes like cardboard sludge. Looks aren't everything and nothing is sadder than a brand new book without a little wear and tear up and down its edges or a crease or two along the spine to show it has been, like the velveteen rabbit, loved.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Winter at last

There's still snow on the ground and on the bare branches of all the trees. Smoke curls up from frosted roofs all over the neighborhood and cars whisper through the streets cutting dark pathways through the white. Winter finally arrived in a hushed whisper and I thought it would never get here. In this sheltered lee, we don't get much snow. While the areas around our little valley get pounded with drifting feet of snow, we get mere inches, but at least we finally got some inches that stayed around all weekend.

The apartment is cold and the space heater is running almost all the time, keeping the little green shoots in the sun room, otherwise known as my office, warm and comfy while they reach up through the dark, moist peat toward the sun streaming through the windows, and they are growing quickly now they've broken through the surface. I decided to plant a little herb garden so I'd have fresh herbs all the time and have anxiously watched for he first signs of life. I have not been disappointed.

Six little peat plugs with their green burdens remind me of the rows of clay pots and flats of seedlings that sat in the living room of the cabin in front of the deck windows during winter's cold that yielded all sorts of herbs and greens and pretty flowers now dried and in dark glass jars in the medicine cabinet of the bathroom. The chamomile is long gone, the honey scented blossoms still faintly perfuming the empty jar that remind me of fleeting summers when hummingbirds swarmed at my whistle in the morning to dip their darting tongues into the sugar water of their feeding station or perched on the picnic table on the deck where I ate my breakfast in golden dawns. In about a month, I'll begin to harvest some of the fresh herbs and the apartment will smell like spring and summer while outside the world is frosted in white. At least I know the seeds are still good and its time to get a planter or two and some soil to fill the sun room with chamomile and herbs and flowers growing in terra preta in the middle of winter.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Let's play 20 questions

Actually, it's Common Ties that is now devoted -- for now -- to 20 questions. They have suspended all poetry and essay submissions until further notice. If you're into art and would like to submit something for the Orphans they have quite a few waiting. Orphans are stories that have no art. CT even offers descriptions to give artistic creativity a boost. Looks interesting and if I had the supplies I would give it a shot. I might consider putting together some friends and acquaintances and doing a little photo shoot -- if I can find the time between now and Yule week since I'm going to be out of town and incommunicado for a week or so.

I did check out the questions and came up with eleven answers this morning. Since I've published with them before I have a very good chance of having a few of my submissions selected. The really hard part was telling a story in 50 words or less. Talking about paring down prose.

After a few weeks of dithering and letting the creative juices flow, I've decided to try a bit of flash fiction since there is a wide open market and the chances of being published are greater than with full length fiction and novellas. It's also a great way to make a first sale to a tough market as long as a story can be told in 500-1000 words (sometimes even less) and still retain the descriptive impact and flow of the story. I have a couple of stories kicking around in the back of my brain that have been nudging me and telling me they're flash fiction. I guess we'll see. One more thing to add to my writing to-do list during my vacation.

I have found that making up a To-Do list with deadlines, subjects, etc. is a great way to kick start the creative engine by giving me deadlines. I only put paying markets on my list and most of them are high paying markets. It's the high jump of writing and publishing, but you never get over the high bar without quite a bit of practice and perseverance, and the list provides that. As it nears the end of the year (I started the list a few months ago), I have made more submissions in the past six months and sold more stories than I have in a long time, so at least it works for me. Now it's time to get back to the reading. I have more reviews to write this weekend and I might even come up with a couple more submissions for the 20 questions.

That is all. Disperse.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Let it snow

A little fell last night and now it's snowing again, soft bits of down and sugar sifting out of the sky and covering everything. It's about time. I've waited for this for a couple of months and I'm glad it finally arrived. I'm definitely a swan when it comes to the cold.

For the first time in two years I'm getting comments about the newsletter. There were two corrections -- I can always count on those coming in first -- and more positive comments about the latest issue. It's a big one at 42 pages, but that's only available through E-mail and as a download on the web. The print version is a much smaller (only 12 pages and two are throw aways) issue. One ham wrote to thank me for cleaning up his grammar and making the article flow. It's what I do. I clean up everyone's articles, even the president's monthly column. These are hams (engineers mostly) and not writers so their command of written English is not up to par -- at least not on my course -- which is why the newsletter has won national awards and recognition over the past two years. Nice to know someone is reading it outside the city and the local ham club group. From what I've been told, there are more people downloading the newsletter than ever before, probably to see what I'm up to each month. I stayed in the background until recently and have written more articles and profiles and have begun writing a monthly column to let readers of the print edition know about the changes and differences between print and online versions, and also to make some much needed points about volunteerism, responsibility and recognition. One comment mentioned my inciteful and insightful editorial, writing that what I wrote needed to be said and couldn't have been said better. Nice to know someone was paying attention.

This month will be a month of birthdays and deaths once again. Beanie's oldest boy turned 21 on the 2nd, the same day my granddaughter, Savannah, turned six. The 21st is Beanie's youngest boy's birthday and he will be 17 and already more than a handful. will celebrate her birthday on the 17th and I don't want to forget her or a one-time friend who moves deeper into 40-something territory. Any birthday, even a frenemy's birthday, should be celebrated and remembered, especially in the wake of the alternative.

My brother-in-law, Tommy Baker, just 68 years old, died yesterday and I got the new by email. I haven't seen him in years and probably the last time was at a funeral, which seems to be the only time our families get together any more. Tommy's death leaves his brother Jerry the only one of their family still around. Tommy was the good one, the smart one, and Jerry was, well, Jerry. Tommy will be missed and it's sad to know so many of my family are falling prey to time and tide this year.

As the snow sifts silently down and covers everything in a hushed white blanket of cold, it is a reminder that at another time and in another place it would be life giving rain nourishing crops and providing drink. The water is locked in delicate crystals but will eventually change beneath the sun's warmth and become water once again, swelling rivers and creeks in a rushing white wake that will take it back to nourish field, flock and folks where it will be recycled over and over again as rain and eventually as snow, ever changing and ever living, a prism to reflect the light in colored arcs or white field struck with gem bright sparks.

We don't need you...

...and we're not sure we need you either.

An old friend mentioned something yesterday that made me stop and think. He said more and more women are staying single because they don't need men to support them. I guess you could say that marriage is a buyer's market and the buyers have changed. Too bad men haven't changed, and that may be the whole point.

Women have put men through their paces since they became financially independent and the whole women's movement in the sixties seems to have disenfranchised men in a lot of ways. What it all comes down to is that men probably aren't much different now than they ever were and women are willing to put up with less since they don't need men to support them, making women the buyers instead of men. Once upon a time, men were the buyers choosing which women would give them the best chance of propagating their species -- or continuing their line, if you prefer. Rich men wanted not only a good breeder but a woman who looked good, a beautiful ornament for their arm or their table. Now the tables have turned and women want someone who looks good, a beautiful ornament for their table or on their arm, and a good income sweetens the pot. They also want men who make them feel good and don't give them too much trouble. Kind of puts things in a different perspective.

Since divorce is not only legal but fairly easy to get, it's like the sword of Damocles over a couples' heads and hovers dangerously over the head of the weaker partner in a relationship, except the weaker partner isn't always the one with control of the purse strings. Makes an interesting situation, no? Definitely something to think more about.

That is all. Disperse.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Tin Man Lacks More Than Heart

I'm a little behind in my TV watching but that always happens when I'm busy and it's only part of the beauty of downloading shows to my laptop because I can watch them when I have the time. I'm not chained to a network schedule. Anyway, I watched part one of Tin Man this morning before the first yawn of doom dawn. The show is interesting but lacking.

Tin Man turns L. Frank Baum's Oz on its ear and unzips its head, metaphorically and actually, that is, if Oz actually had an ear or a head. Dorothy Gale has become D.G. and the familiar trio of companions (scarecrow, tin man and cowardly lion) have become a head case, tin man and basket case. The basket case sees the past and the future, a hairy psychic. D.G., played by Zooey Deschanel (yes, her name is actually Zooey) has the emotional range of someone on Thorazine whose face was recently injected with Botox. She's active and physical in a mousy way, but her facial expressions and vocal range of emotions are barely perceptible and blunted. She is pretty and petite, but looks aren't everything, especially in this role where someone with real presence is needed. She is not, after all, playing a patient in a mental ward strapped into a strait jacket in a padded cell and shot full of Thorazine, or at least she shouldn't be.

Other than that, the landscape, characters and props are worth watching, especially Richard Dreyfuss as the Mystic Psychic, aka the Wizard of Oz.

That is all. Disperse.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Unraveling patterns

It is said you never realize what you truly have until you've lost it. That's not necessarily true. I knew even before I took my laptop in to be fixed what I was about to lose and the least of it was just the computer. It was the familiarity and the comfortable feel of the keyboard, the weight of it on my lap, the heat from the CPU on my left leg just above the knee and knowing where everything is. It's smaller than the loaner and some of the decals are worn away from all the typing I do, but it's mine.

I crave change -- shaking up the ant farm as my ex-husband would say -- and am not comfortable doing the same things the same way and at the same time every day, and yet I am a creature of habit like everyone else. I fall asleep reading a book in bed and wake up in the middle of the night, still half asleep, to turn off the light, sometimes still dressed. There is something almost alien about getting into a bed that is made that makes me feel like I'm a guest in someone else's house. I don't wear my contacts unless I'm going somewhere. If I'm going out, I wait until a couple hours before I have to leave to take a shower. I go barefoot most of the time but will put on shoes and socks to go downstairs to check the mail. I live alone so there's no one else to accommodate but the reluctance to shake up the ant farm and move away from the comfortable and familiar is obvious because it imparts a sense of being in the right place, and it's amazing how even the most difficult and uncomfortable situations can feel safe and familiar.

Take prisoners who have been incarcerated for a long time. Once the routines that define their limited lives is gone prisoners feel lost and out of place. It's hard to establish a new routine and many freed prisoners will find a way to either get back inside or develop relationships with controlling people in order to get back to some semblance of what they consider order. Even captives fall into this same mind set called the Helsinki syndrome, but it's just a human need for familiarity.

The reason this is on my mind this morning is because of a pattern I recognized and talked about with Beanie yesterday. She shares the same pattern and for the same reasons, and all this was stirred up by a post written by one of my LJ denizens. If I were in therapy, this would be called a breakthrough. I begin to see that therapy is a directed probe designed to spotlight patterns so they can be changed if they're destructive and reinforced if they're positive. Writing and talking with others is my therapy and I see all kinds of things to change, enhance and accept.

Breaking out of the pattern, shaking up the ant farm, is a good thing, sort of like spring cleaning when you move all the furniture, take down the curtains and drapes to wash them and dust the woodwork they've hidden, clean out closets and throw away anything that's not useful or doesn't fit, dust the ceiling fan blades and root out the cobwebs wherever they are.

Yesterday, I broke out of my pattern and stopped downtown at Poor Richard's. As I walked up the street I recognized someone coming from Poor Richard's, Tommy from Mountain Mama's deli. "I know you," I said as we walked closer to each other. "Yes, you do," he said.

"I have something for you and Robin."

He told me he had forgotten when I said I was coming in on Tuesday that he was off that day, so what a pleasant surprise to find him when I had the books I was loaning him and Robin in the car. We walked back to the car and I gave him two of the books, showed him my address label inside and told him he could swap the books with Robin when he was finished and give them back when I came into the store. He was pleased with the books and I'm glad I could share them. When I got to Mountain Mama's I gave the other book to Robin and told her I had seen Tommy downtown and explained about the books, and all because I changed my pattern.

The beginning of the month I pick up the ham club newsletter at the printers, park near a mailbox, put on the labels, stamps and mailing disks and put them in the mailbox, drop off a few copies at Mike's house, go to Mountain Mama's to pick up a few things, to the grocery story to shop and then home to put everything away. Yesterday, I went from the mailbox to pick up my laptop then downtown and then to Mountain Mama's, but the changes didn't stop there. I did not go to the grocery store and I stopped off to get a bacon cheeseburger for a change of pace before I went home. It seems like a small change, but any change is a good one if it clears the cobwebs.

Even though my life little resembles a rut, I can get stuck in patterns that don't seem like patterns from the outside. They are still patterns, but at least I know they're there and can change them when I exert myself, something I am often unwilling to do since the familiar feels comfortable and safe. Just like forgetting where the delete button is on my laptop and reaching for where the delete button is on the loaner that I had to use for a month, it's easy to get into a rut, form a habit even in such a short time as four weeks. It will take a few days before I no longer have to stop myself reaching for the wrong key to delete something and the old pattern settles back into place. Learning to type without looking at the keys or stopping to think where a certain letter is on the keyboard is a pattern, one that has been reinforced daily for nearly forty years, like the 20+ years I spent keypunching on machines where the numbers were in a certain sequence and using the keypad on computer keyboard that is upside down. I have to stop and remember (just for a nanosecond) that the 1-2-3 is at the bottom and not the top before hitting the keys, overlaying muscle memory developed by decades of daily use. It slows me down and I am not comfortable at slow speeds, at least not where typing and keying are concerned -- or even reading.

Most of the books I review are fluff and I receive very few literary novels. A literary novel forces me to slow down to savor the dense imagery and word play when I am more used to racing through the pages and writing my review shortly afterward. What usually takes a few hours or even a day becomes a whole week with a literary novel. It's like wading through mud as opposed to skimming over a hard-packed, well traveled trail and can be daunting, the difference between literary and fluff posing as literary patently obvious. I enjoy a good literary novel but I am glad to get back to the familiar fluff when I'm finished because I don't have to work as hard or think as much, and I'm not sure that's a good pattern yet. Maybe I need more fiber in my diet and fewer literary calories taken from junk food books, and yet the junk food tastes so good.

That is all. Disperse.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

In passing

Yesterday, I received an email from someone I didn't know and almost deleted it, but something told me to read it -- probably the subject: Benson Wolman. The email was from one of Benson's colleagues at the ACLU in Columbus, Ohio. He died yesterday. I was contacted because I interviewed Benson for an article about a case he had coming up before the U. S. Supreme Court. He was defending the Ku Klux Klan. What was most surprising to me is that Benson was Jewish. The time I spent interviewing him was delightful and we ran well over the 30 minutes he originally offered, neither of us willing to end things. He was my first professional interview, but not my last, and the newspaper ran the picture I took of him in the conference room at the Columbus ACLU in front of a poster of the American flag.

Benson was in his late fifties at that time and had decided to go back to college to get his law degree. He retired and wanted to do more with his life, so he studied law. He made Law Review and was hired by the ACLU, making his dream come true. I asked him why a Jew would consider defending the Ku Klux Klan, especially considering the Klan's stand on where Jews fit in the scheme of things, and he told me what his rabbi told him.

The thing about democracy and freedom is that it entitles everyone to their own opinions and politics. It is the most aggravating thing about democracy and freedom of speech, but it's also the most wonderful thing. Freedom of speech means everyone is allowed to say what they want, whether you agree with them or not, and only in a country like ours will you find people at opposite ends of the political spectrum defending each other's right to speak.

Benson Wolman was a remarkable man and a champion for freedom and justice. I am proud to have known him and to have interviewed him.

I had no idea Benson Wolman had kept up with my writing or that his colleagues at the Columbus ACLU read my articles, stories and books. Now I know.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Nothing matters

Everybody gets angry but it's what you do with your anger that makes a difference in how it affects you and the people around you. It's all right to get angry. It's just an emotion after all, like love, fear, excitement, lust, etc. It's no worse or no better than any other emotion; it's just another emotion, and emotions are like power, neither positive or negative, neutral until you use them. Like everyone else, sometimes my emotions control me -- and then I get smart. Reading Ayn Rand reminds me of what is and isn't important. In this case, it's emotions.

Whether or not I publish another story or book or even get paid for my writing, I am first and foremost (and will always be) a writer because I write. I was a writer when I was eight years old creating stories and writing books based on the world around me and on the authors I read. I was a writer when I wrote essays and won prizes in my pre- and adolescence. I was a writer when I kept a diary and wrote in it every day. I was a writer when I stopped putting my thoughts on paper and kept them in my head like screenplays of dreams. I am still a writer and I will always be a writer as long as I continue to write. Nothing and no one can change that, not even being a successful writer whose stories and books are bought and published. Everything I do that pertains to writing makes me a writer -- even my dreams where characters use my unconscious state to their advantage and tell me where I'm wrong and right and where I need to go to make their stories real. Sometimes I forget and lose sight of these facts, allowing others to determine how I view myself when they attack out of anger and I become angry in turn.

Anger, like fear, comes from a feelings of inadequacy, jealousy and not wanting to be discovered as a fraud. Anger is a protection mechanism, a drive to fight or flee in order to maintain the status quo. In a metabolic and physiological sense, anger and fear serve important functions. They accelerate heart rate, fuel adrenalin secretion and provide the energy necessary to fuel the actions of fighting or running away. When anger and fear are turned inward they poison the waters like the seeping gases of a volcano unable to erupt and vent heat and gas to avoid total destruction. It's like putting a cork in an anus when you have explosive diarrhea; the result is never good and inevitably damages more than if it had been allowed to run -- metaphorically and actually. Pent up emotions, even love and lust, always create more problems when they're unleashed, especially for the one who's holding them in. Look around and you will see daily examples in every walk of life, and even in your own household. Controlling emotions instead of feeling them is never a good idea, which is not to say that dumping your feelings on whomever happens by is a good idea either. Emotions are meant to be felt and used in constructive ways, but they are meant to be felt and used.

In the past, I've allowed other people's opinions matter to me. They don't. The only things that matter are what I think of myself and what I achieve with my talents and skills as I learn and grow. It's hard not to allow negative opinions and the slings and arrows of jealous and angry people bent on protecting themselves to affect your life, but it can be done. And it should be what everyone does. It takes courage and turning a blind eye to ill-wishers, and that's not always easy. It gets easier with time and practice, like anything else worth doing and learning. In the end, nothing else matters.

It's nice to get a pat on the back from people who admire what you do and it can hurt -- if you allow it -- when others criticize and demean your work and you. Opinions are strictly subjective and are personal, but they don't have to be taken personally.

For instance, I read and review a lot of books. Some of them I don't like and feel are poorly written and I say so, but it is ultimately only my opinion. Others will disagree, including some of the authors. That's not the purpose of a review. A review is like sticking your toe in the water to check the temperature. If you have a fever, even warm water will feel cold. If you're freezing, cold water will feel warm. A review is one person's opinion and the fact that I get paid for my opinion doesn't change the fact that it's still just one opinion and is related wholly to my own experience, education and expertise. I don't understand some kinds of art, but that doesn't change their value or their intrinsic worth. The same is true for my detractors. Their opinion is completely subjective and based entirely on their own views and personality. In the end, the only thing that matters is the work, my work, and my vision and how I express that vision.

Roark tells Ellsworth Toohey in The Fountainhead that he doesn't think of him even though Toohey has gone out of his way to destroy Roark's work in the public's eyes. Roark can't get work and no one in New York City will hire him even though he is undeniably a genius and the most talented and innovative architect around. Toohey revels in his power to destroy Roark's professional life, but Toohey only has the power Roar is willing to give him, and Roark doesn't give Toohey any power. Men and women who can think for themselves and are not slaves to Toohey and his kind go out of their way to find and employ Roark to build for them and eventually Roark is back in New York City with a thriving business at the top of his profession. He never gave in to Toohey and narrow-minded people who follow him in worshiping mediocrity.

Professionally or personally, genius and talent and ability will, like cream, rise to the top as long as fear and anger aren't allowed to gain a foothold. The person may not be liked or even accepted, but they do not exist for the masses or with the rest of those wallowing in mediocrity. Genius and talent, real talent, will not be denied.

Being liked is nice. Staying true to who and what you are is better. Using your gifts without regard to public or private opinion is all that matters.

I keep The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged on the shelf and I reread them every couple of years to remind myself that no one and nothing matters except the work -- for me, that's writing. What I have accomplished and continue to accomplish is out there for anyone with eyes and a mind to see and my work will stand the test of time. Fame and fortune are nice and bring with them comfort, but the real power comes from the work, the writing, and being who and what I am. As long as I keep that in mind, nothing anyone says or does can touch me or destroy me. Nothing else matters as long as I can write -- on paper, on a computer or even in my head. I write, therefore I am.

That is all. Disperse.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Do you really know me?

Uncle Bob called again yesterday and we talked. He wanted to thank me for the stories I sent him and to let me know what he thought of them. "This one story sounds a lot like your mom with the migraines."

I knew which one he meant. "It is Mom."

"Sounds just like her. I was just rereading the story about Brandon. I didn't cry when Mom and Dad died because they were old; they had lived their lives. When your mom called and told me about Brandon I broke down and cried. Reading your story took me back there."

He meant, The Phone Call. I wrote the story about Beanie's first child Brandon who died of SIDS. It's a story I haven't sent my mother because she still can't handle talking about Brandon let alone reading about him.

Uncle Bob and I talked about Dad and he said he wouldn't have stayed with Mom fifteen minutes and that Dad was a special man. "There will never be another Jim Cornwell," he said. He's right. Uncle Bob told me about how he never changed a diaper or bathed any of his kids. "I babysat but I told Lois I wasn't changing any diapers." And he didn't. He's not that way with his grandchildren and he's changed a few diapers since then. He has mellowed with the years. "Jim bathed you kids and washed and curled your hair. Virginia called and said she hadn't bathed any of you."

Knowing my grandmother as I did, I wonder how both of her children could have failed to learn how to or want to care for a child since she was so nurturing and loving. Then again, Gram did everything for her children and didn't make them learn what she knew. That is a shame.

I didn't know Mom didn't bathe us or shampoo and curl our hair. I did know Dad did all those things because I remember sitting still while he curled my hair around his thick, work roughened hands making banana curls like Shirley Temple. I can still see him changing Jimmy's and Tracy's diapers and walking the floor singing and talking to them when they were teething or colicky or just plain fussy. I knew Mom burned water when she boiled it because both my parents told me about it -- so did Grandma -- and that still surprises me because Grandma was an excellent cook.

We talked about Grandma's cooking and Uncle Bob told me how he called her one day to get her recipe for beef and noodles and asked how she made the noodles, which she always made from scratch. When his kids got home from school and found dinner on the table they asked if Grandma had been out. "No. I made dinner." His kids didn't believe him so they called Grandma and asked. "No," she said, "your dad made dinner. I wasn't there."

"I never saw Mom look up a recipe. She kept them all in her head," Uncle Bob said as we talked about our favorite recipes and finding we had several in common: lemon meringue pie with golden peaks piled high over a sweet-tart lemon filling, creamed chipped beef on toast and her pies. "Mom used lard in her pie crust. Said it made them flakier," he said. Gram's cooking wasn't heart healthy but it was filling and better than ambrosia of the gods, which she made.

By today's standards, Gram's cooking was pedestrian fare but when I think of holidays and crave comfort food, it's Gram's food I want. One of these days I'll perfect her peach cobbler and I think I can do it now. What's missing is lard for the double crust and it's something I never considered before. My brother Jimmy bakes a good peach cobbler and even makes it in a cast iron skillet, but it's not the same. The crust isn't right. Now I know why.

I remember Gram picking green beans and tomatoes from the little garden plot she had in the back yard wherever she lived. She grew beans and corn and tomatoes, radishes, green onions, and peas in the early spring, planting them as soon as she could push a seed into the frozen ground. We strung beans with newspapers on our laps sitting on the porch and we talked. She taught me to pit cherries with a bobby pin and how to make grape jelly from the grapes that grew on the arbor in the back yard when we lived on Terrace Avenue in Columbus. I learned to strip corn off the cob, can tomatoes and preserve the harvest in freezer and jar and I learned to love simple food that lingers in the memory long after I can no longer taste it on my tongue, food that takes me back to the warmth of Gram's kitchen and the joy that comes from making jelly rolls with leftover pie crust she gave me to practice on.

At times like this, I long to return to familiar places and times, but most surprising is what my uncle said before we said goodbye last night. "You should move home and be close to family. If something happened to you who would take care of you?" After losing so much of our family, I understand his concern, but there is no going back for me or for any of us. The people who held our family together -- Grandma May and Dad -- are gone. They were the homemakers, the nurturing warmth that welcomed and cheered us and we miss them. I miss them. I miss talking to my uncle, too, but we are no longer the close-knit family we once were. We have grown up and moved on and out and we miss those familiar golden times when we gathered together at holidays or for a Sunday dinner and shared our lives and our food. I am blessed because I can remember those times and keep them alive in the stories I write and the food my grandmother taught me to make. I have surpassed her in some ways and fearlessly tried new foods and recipes, but I always return to what she taught me for comfort and to honor her memory, but most of all to bring back those times with the scent and taste of home.

There is much about my family I don't know and much they don't know about me, but at least they are willing to read my words and get a little closer, sharing their memories of the people and places I write about and teaching me what matters to them and what they keep close to their hearts.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The count is in...

I still have a few more thousand (or so) words to write, but it is official. As of 9:42 a.m., Sunday, November 25, 2007, my count on
NaNoWriMo 2007
was validated as 92,453 and I am a ...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I feel so good about getting so much done in spite of a harrowing work schedule and writing articles, reviews and editing a much, much meatier newsletter that I am going to start on another book for December, one I will finish during my holiday retreat. Who knows? I may do what a friend once told me I could do -- write a book a month. Anything is possible right now.

That is all. Disperse.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

And then came the rains...

After two years of slogging uphill alone, people are finally starting to catch on and send in articles and requests to write columns for the local ham club newsletter. I have beaten the bushes for two years and managed to buttonhole only a few people and now the flood gates are opening. I have two new columns in the December issue and a new format for the web version that has been applauded as innovative. I don't know why they're surprised since I mentioned changing things months ago. All I needed were the articles and features that would work well on the web and I finally found them. Editing a club newsletter is nothing like editing a magazine and dealing with professionals who at least know how things work. It looks like my article about free lunches and keeping the lights on had an impact on people and they realize how close they came to having to find someone else to edit their newsletter. Sometimes it takes a wake-up call and a blast of cold water in the face when asleep to make people realize what they could lose.

The up side of all this is that I've managed to dissuade the club members from buying my Xmas dinner at the annual party or giving me a plaque or award. I think they finally understand I don't want recognition but input because that tells me they want to be involved. It's so easy sometimes to sit back and let someone else do the job, especially when the job they're doing is so good no one feels like they have anything to contribute, but if there is one thing I think I have proven it's that everyone has a story to tell and that the story can be interesting and enlightening. The readers have seen how something they thought was insignificant can be made significant and give people something to think and talk about. If this trend continues, I won't have to write too many more editorials and can stick to interviews, profiles and articles.

Out of all this hassle came a couple opportunities to break into completely new markets. A staff writer on the Wall Street Journal suggested I send my work to him to give to his editor to be published. He said I am a very good writer with a flair for profiles. Not too shabby considering it was his article that got me asking questions of one of his profile subjects and getting a different take on the story, but my focus was ham radio and Morse code and his was only peripherally so. He told me he was impressed. Not too shabby.

I also offered a longer version of the article, with pictures, to QST which is the ARRL's magazine and I'll get paid for that, too. One of the things I love most about writing is how accessible some stories can be if you change the slant just a little. I've gotten quite a bit of mileage out of an idea when I turned it around just a little bit or took some information and dug around in a different direction.

I thought about sending some of my articles to QST but ruled it out because I didn't have the time, but I found out it didn't take that much time. So, I'm going to profile a few more interesting people, like the guy who backpacks with his goats when he takes his radios into the field, and the mini-keyer that went to St. Peter's Island on a DXpedition (that's long distance radio expedition for the uninitiated). I have found yet another avenue to market my work and expand my base audience doing what I do best -- writing about people. And that's just one of the things I am so grateful for having, not just at Thanksgiving, but every day.

In many ways, it's like a crab venturing out of a cramped shell in search of a bigger, roomier shell and finding it no longer needs the shell at all and has evolved past the need of confined quarters.

That is all. Disperse.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Green-eyed vision

I just read an email from NaNoWriMo from a writer that suggests jealousy is a good writing boost. In some ways, she is right and jealousy does motivate people, but sometimes the green-eyed monster can do more harm than good, especially when it comes own to deciding who had an idea first and who helped whom.

Make no mistake, the baser emotions -- hate, jealousy, revenge, etc. -- do have their place but in moderation, as in all things. What usually happens though is that the person who is jealous can take things to extreme, even to the point of claiming someone else's work and ideas as their own and, depending on the forum in which the claims are made, can cause strife, bad feelings and, in some extreme cases, bloodshed. But let's forget about the bloodshed and concentrate on some lesser forms of devastation -- credibility.

Anyone who claims another's idea as their own is a very low form of life on a par with parasites and sycophants. It is possible the only thing worse is making the claim in such a way so that the thief cannot be called out or called to account because the person whose ideas and work have been stolen would end up looking like a liar and a whiny bitch, neither of which are good looks on anyone.

Example 1: Nick is new to a job and he wants to make his mark and show his enthusiasm and abilities. He starts by asking the same questions everyone new to the company asks and gets the same answers. A colleague, Maria, has been with the company for a couple years and has turned her department around. No one tells her she's doing a good job and the few complaints made loudly when she first began the have been silenced by the great work she has done. Nick sees Maria as the person to challenge because she hasn't been with the company long and seems to be a safe target. He attacks, couching his questions and suggestions in such a way that he appears to be merely the messenger and not complainant. Maria, after answering the first few questions begins to see Nick's agenda and she suggests he take the time to go back through the files and read what has already been documented about his frequently asked questions. Nick takes offense and continues to challenge and harass Maria who decides to let the big boss decide whether or not the job she has done merits such scrutiny and abuse, and she offers her resignation if her work is not up to par. Nick, seeing that he is on shaky ground when some of the other department heads descend on him and tell him to pick another target, tells some of the people around him he's going to quit his job, but he fails to tell the boss or his supervisors. Instead, Nick spreads rumors and sloughs off his work, letting other people take up the slack and leaving his department in the lurch. He blames Maria and her offer of resignation as his reason for quitting even though he never actually quits, preferring to stir up discord and spread more rumors. The big boss talks to Nick directly and asks him why he hasn't offered his resignation in writing and Nick says that he has no intention of resigning and doesn't know how the rumors got started.

In a show of seeming conciliation, Nick sends a memo to everyone in the company and to the stockholders to let them know the truth behind the rumors, naming Maria's offer of resignation as his reason for considering quitting. He also goes on to say that he was acting at the behest of other people who had asked him questions about the value of Maria's work and how it benefited the company and the stockholders and that he had suggested several changes, including changes Maria had already planned and implemented before his memo, changes that had been in the works for months before Nick was hired. Nick's revenge is nearly complete. He has hung Maria out to dry to preserve his own back stabbing, Machiavellian tactics and taken credit for her hard work and ingenuity, and Maria cannot say anything because it will only come out looking like she is whining and out to discredit Nick.

Nick has sown the seeds of discord even though he took the time to mention that Maria could not be replaced and that the company would suffer if she resigned because no one could handle her job with the same quality and abilities that she brings to the work and he has held Maria up to ridicule for being the cause of his desire to deliver himself up as a sacrifice even though he takes his job and his position very seriously. Most of the people who read his explanation had no idea anything was going on because Maria kept the situation in-house and only informed those department heads directly involved, but now the stockholders and the rest of the company have a much different picture of what has gone on in secret without access to the memos, discussions and double dealing in which Nick has engaged. There is no way for Maria to win and no way to salvage her credibility. She's boxed in with nowhere to turn and even those people who know the truth cannot say anything because of the manner in which Nick offered his explanation of events.

Example 2: Two very close friends, Jim and Martin, have shared the ups and down of their work and their lives until Martin gets an idea for a new package design. Jim is excited about Martin's design and even though they work together and are friends he wants to see Martin succeed and get ahead. Jim helps Martin fine tune his design and helps him put together the proposal, making it better and more salable. Jim even suggests offering the design directly to the client instead of going through the usual channels because Jim believes that Martin's design will blow the client away.

Martin takes Jim's advice and goes to directly to the client who is excited but has to check with his board of directors first. The new design is cut from the board's agenda because not enough board members are present for a quorum. Martin gets antsy and wants to pull the design and go somewhere else, but Jim tells Martin to hang in and wait because he is certain the board will approve the design. Six weeks go by and Jim keeps bolstering Martin's confidence but Martin prefers to be negative because nothing good ever happens for him and he's going to be stuck where he is forever. Jim tells Martin to wait a couple more weeks and Martin reluctantly agrees.

One week later, the client comes back with a contract; the board approved the design without question. Martin is ecstatic and rushes to tell Jim he was right. Throughout the contract negotiations, Jim offers his support and suggestions but Martin begins to feel that Jim is trying to control him and is jealous of Martin's success. Martin has forgotten how hard Jim worked with Martin to help him succeed. Jim, feeling that Martin needs some space, backs off and goes on with his own work while Martin tells people that he never thought his best friend would ever be jealous of him and starts pulling back from Jim and spreading stories about him -- not about how much Jim helped him but how Jim wants to take credit for Martin's work. Things come to a head and Martin ends his friendship with Jim.

Over the following months, Martin's design goes from drawing board to public debut and he seems to be making friends right and left. He credits his success to some of his new friends and doesn't mention Jim or how supportive and helpful he was when Martin first had the idea for his design. He publicly thanks people who had nothing to do with those early days of collaboration and emotional support and starts spreading stories about Jim and how jealous he is of Martin's success. The stories get wilder and more absurd but Martin enjoys the limelight and how everyone rushes to his defense when anyone with any real knowledge of the events leading up to the board's acceptance of the design calls Martin to answer for his deceptions, omissions and outright lies.

In the meantime, Jim shrugs it off and works on his own designs, each one more successful than the last. Jim racks up several successes and his career takes off like never before and Martin, seeing Jim's designs and mounting contracts, is jealous and angry, reviving old stories and embellishing them to cast Jim in a bad light. Jim is oblivious to most of it until mutual acquaintances point out how Martin has publicly slandered and libeled Jim. Jim doesn't care. He wishes Martin well and wants Martin out of his life so Jim can concentrate on his own work, but every time things get quiet Martin stirs things up. Martin's jealousy of Jim is so strong he can't enjoy his own success. Martin's jealous has taken on a life of its own that slowly and systematically destroys his happiness and his relationships, none of which have really be more than superficial acquaintances, but which Martin believes are deep friendships. As people begin to see Martin's rampant green-eyed jealousy and begin to fall away, Martin blames Jim.

What can Jim do? He can't tell what really happened since Martin poisoned the well. Jim would end up looking like a jerk because his credibility is gone in the wake of Martin's jealous and vicious tirades. Martin doesn't owe his success to Jim but he does owe everyone the truth and that Jim was instrumental in getting his design seen and accepted. Martin will never give Jim the satisfaction and Jim doesn't care because he has his own success and recognition for all his hard work and talent. Still, there will always be those who believe Martin's story because they don't see Martin in the wee hours of the morning when his conscience is plaguing him so much he has to seek out Jim's designs and reread all the press about his successes.

When you get right down to it, both situations are bred in the hearts of people possessed of the feeling that they are somehow less talented and less important than those they have attacked. Their jealousy has poisoned their ability to think and act rationally and instead of owning up to their own feelings of inadequacy they attack those they fear the most.

Jealousy in moderation can be an excellent goad to keep you reaching for success or to help you realize the value of friend, family or lover, but rampant, unchecked jealousy is a destructive force that makes a person miserable and those around them even more miserable. Misery does not love company. Misery needs to see suffering to equal its own and will destroy the very things they once cherished the most. Jealousy is one of those emotions that, like some spices and herbs, must be used with discretion and care.

That is all. Disperse.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Feeling expansive

Last night I went to the grocery store to pick up a few last minute items. When I walked out the door and down the front porch steps a few flakes of snowy down drifted past my face and I smiled. More snow. There was a little accumulation on my windshield and I smiled all the way to the store, reveling in the possibility of more snow.

It's a small thing, snow in the late fall and winter, but it's something I love and part of the reason I moved to Colorado. I also smile when it rains, sometimes going outside to raise my face to the clouds and spin around and around arms out to feel the splash of raindrops. I didn't know until recently it's something I have done since I was a very small child just learning to walk. My mother told me I used to run outside to spin and dance in the rain, a child of the elements. Some things never change.

I miss the rain that loomed like a dark curtain rushing at me from the horizon every day when we lived in Panama. Winter is the rainy season, but it rains all through the year because it's in a tropical rain forest. It wasn't something I controlled, but something I wished I could control, bringing rain to make everything glossy and green and alive. One thing I have learned is that even when you think you're in control, you're not, least of all when dealing with other people.

As a writer, one of the most important things is communication, not just in my writing but with the editors, publishers and other writers. My livelihood and writing depend on things being sent and received on time. There's nothing more frustrating than being told a contract or writing assignment has gone astray even though it was sent in plenty of time. It's even more frustrating when dealing with friends and relatives who swear they never received what was sent or, worse yet, never knowing if what you sent was even read. In part, it's about control, and it's about instant gratification, but mostly it's about being seen, even by email.

When I send out proposal packages, contracts, manuscripts, cards and letters by snail mail I always spend a little extra to get the delivery confirmation. When someone tells me they didn't get what I sent, I can go online, enter the confirmation number and see how long it took and when it was delivered. I cannot, however, be sure what I sent was read, but I know it got there and I have proof. It's more difficult with email because you can never be sure of anything when you send your words and files out into the cyber ether, that is until I found out about email tracking.

It costs a few dollars, but it's definitely worth the expense. I tried it and I liked it so much I bought a year's subscription and I use it for nearly everyone I email, even family, except, however, for Beanie since we talk on the phone as much as we email. She is the one person I know I can count on to respond and she never leaves me hanging in the middle of an email conversation with questions asked and not answered. I can't say the same thing for anyone else.

One friend reminds me how annoying it is to have our emails tracked so that I know at a glance when an email was read, how many times it was read, whether or not to was forwarded, etc., but it is preferable to being in the middle of a conversation and hear nothing for days or weeks on end. It's the cyber equivalent of being in the midst of a conversation and the other person goes to the bathroom and doesn't return. Yes, it may be annoying to them, but email tracking has saved me countless hours (and much paper and ink and long distance charges).

I don't tell everyone I use the tracking program, but I have told a few and they have responded with anger, annoyance and surprise when I tell them I know when they received my communications and how many times they read it. Obviously, I don't tell everyone and keep that information to myself, but the program has been invaluable in showing me who is and isn't being honest with me and exceptionally helpful when proving that contracts and work have been received.

To some people my actions seem like I'm trying to control them or spying on them, but those people are usually hiding something or don't like the idea that someone other than they have a modicum of control, but it's really not about control; it's about communication and information. It's about not being left hanging and clueless. It's also about peace of mind because I know without doubt that my message has been received and read and it doesn't matter so much the other person didn't respond. It's comforting.

One thing about the tracking program is that the receiver can't just click the button to not send a notice and make it go away. With some features, in order to read the email the receiver has to acknowledge receipt or click a link to read the email but there are less intrusive, more invisible features that are activated when the email is opened and read. I prefer the invisible features and use the more intrusive features only when necessary or with someone who needs proof as much as I do, and I have calmed my fears and doubts and confusion with the knowledge I'm not being ignored.

Even when the rain and snow don't come, there is comfort in knowing it's out there and will visit one day and my prayers have not been ignored. There is no comfort or peace in silence or ignorance no matter how annoying the need to be sure seems to others. And it's not about trust either, although trust is a factor with some people. In knowledge there is peace even when the news isn't always good, at least it's more reliable than some people or expecting snow in the desert.

That is all. Disperse.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

In the scheme of things

Since I have four days off, starting tomorrow, and tomorrow is going to be full of food, fun and friends, I've decided to wish you all a happy turkey day and slip quietly off into dawn for a few days, most of which I plan to spend finishing my novel, which is about to go over the 100,000 mark. When I get done, I've decided to strike while the iron is hot and work on a novel I've thought about (and finally ready to write) for a very long time, more than ten years. All I ever had was the first line and a general idea of what the book was about. Now I have the plot points, the characters and a conflict that will drive everything forward. It's almost ready to write itself, so I'm going to climb aboard and let it take me where it's going. A friend got me thinking about getting it down on paper, so that's where I'll be, and will probably finish it during my vacation at the end of the year when there's nothing but me, my laptop (I'll be so happy when it's home) and the solitude.

I'm nearing 100 reviews for Author Link and that's a good thing. I've written more reviews within the past year than I have the whole 4.5 years I've worked for them, but it takes time for these things to happen. Like raises -- which I have been given again, effective January 1, 2008. Now that's the way to start a new year.

It's so dark right now in these last few minutes before dawn and the sound of cars swishing by gives me a tingle of excitement. I washed the car yesterday while I was out spending money on food and it looks like my idea worked. There must be snow or rain or a mix of both out there. Just what I wanted for Thanksgiving, and I got it. I love it when things work out the way I want. Boosts my spirits and and confirms my faith in the weather elementals.

When I was at Mountain Mama's yesterday, I stopped at the deli to get some green coconut curried vegetable soup and talk to some of the denizens. One of them, a lovely young woman who is always friendly, told me I motivated her to get back to writing. She doesn't have Internet access at home, or a computer, and keeps a list of URLs to visit when she's at the library, but she took my advice and started writing longhand and she's been writing every day. She hasn't been to NaNo, but the young guy I spoke with has been and he's working hard on a novel right now, one it looks like he'll finish before the end of the month. She said I motivated him, too. Makes me think I should take the school board up on their offer to join their artists in residence program and teach a couple of classes on writing. I don't know if I want to go back into the work-a-day world because I'm so used to working at home and not having to deal with weather, traffic and politics, but it might be worth the effort just to mingle with children and maybe help them get writing. There can never be enough writers, as far as I'm concerned. I could use some of my writing for good for a change instead of for evil -- like posting here. It's something to mull over.

That is all. Disperse.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Food, glorious food

Since the moment of conception I have been dieting, or at least that's how it seems most of the time. Living in a family full of balos con pelo (sticks with hair), I was made acutely aware that I was different: taller, bigger, more muscular and, at least to my mother, fat, (pictures forthcoming), so I was denied food, which made it that much more important to me. I love food. I like the way it looks and smells and tastes, the way it feels when handling it to make something special (even not so special), and the way it makes me feel -- no longer hungry. I go into paroxysms of joy over sizzling medium rare steaks, onions and mushrooms sautéed in olive oil, salads full of vegetables and fruit, and fresh fruit and vegetables, I dream of luscious desserts and fantasize about simple snacks. In short, I love food. Yes, I know I already said that, but it bears repeating. What's not to like? And I love to cook and bake. Anyone who knows me well has been party to my cooking and baking jags. For me, baking and creating new desserts and meals is therapy for depression and sadness, always perks me up. But I also keep my weight in mind and I do have a tendency to gain weight quickly.

The thing is that I gain weight when I starve myself or my food budget is under funded and I am stretching my reserves of cash and food to the limits. It's a well known fact that most people who are overweight (like Sumo wrestlers) are mostly malnourished and oftentimes don't eat all the time but rather in spurts, activating their survival genes to lay down a supply of fat to get through the lean times. The more lean times, the more fat laid down when available. After years and years of starvation or near starvation diets I have evolved a coping mechanism; I make lists. Lists of recipes, foods, menus, and ingredients culled from food magazines, cookbooks, and tinkering with old reliable recipes to make them healthier.

For some people, reading and rereading cookbooks and food magazines and going through old recipes makes them hungrier, so hungry they can't resist a trip to the kitchen or the nearest restaurant to sate their cravings; it has the opposite effect on me. It quells the hunger pangs and takes me to a place where anything is possible, a place where the foods of the world are at my fingertips and I have an unlimited supply of ingredients. I am -- for lack of a better phrase -- in hog heaven with a world of food at my fingertips in glorious color.

I sometimes spend hours making lists of weekly menus, checking and rechecking ingredients and making substitutions in recipes I want to try out to see if they taste as good as I think they will. Most of the time, my substitutions come up roses and sometimes they come up dandelions -- edible but not good enough for gift giving.

Right before payday when the food budget is stretched the thinnest, I pull out the magazines and cookbooks and make my lists. Then I go through the grocery circular and check for sales, adjusting my list to reflect what is available and least expensive. I mix and match and come up with some pretty good recipes and menus that are pruned and pruned again when I add in the necessities: toilet paper, Kleenex, shampoo and conditioner, soap, toothpaste, new toothbrush every three months, etc. The list is pruned again when I have to buy gas for the car which, luckily, only happens every other month (I work at home and most things I need are within walking distance), but the list takes the hit.

Every once in a while I go off the list to buy pots and pans and bakeware, adding stock to my nearly empty cupboards, but that requires making a new list to reflect diminished funds, knowing the items will reappear in later lists when I buy the ingredients that will require the new cooking utensils.

For me, lists are a great way to diet because they keep me from eating and keep me focused on the delayed gratification of a slimmed down recipe in the future. Hours pass quietly while I nibble on celery stuffed with chicken liver pate studded with pistachios and rich with organic chicken broth, Marsala and sautéed shallots or sip a cup of cocoa made with almond milk, 85% cacao and agave nectar. Butternut squash soup sprinkled with toasted pumpkin seeds and made with organic vegetable stock and coconut milk instead of cream is soothing and delightfully warming. I made big pots of soup and freeze individual portions, stock up on unflavored almond milk and organic vegetable or chicken stock when they're on sale. I hoard sugar for months for when I make cheesecake for special occasions, keep a few bottles of organic key lime juice and buy pumpkin puree (or make my own when pumpkins are in stock and on sale) for the future. The foods on my lists aren't always bought when I want them but they are bought eventually and as long as I have paper and ink, I'll keep making the lists and culling magazines and cookbooks for the future. For me, it's a great way to deal with food and my weight. Unfortunately, it hampers getting out and walking a couple of miles, but there's always a trade-off. Walking makes me hungry. Cookbooks keep the hunger at bay.

Beauty shot

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Bouldering in the Black Forest

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My German gang -- I'm the one with Mohawk hair

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Everyone's a clown but me and my dog, Rinnie

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Girl Scout fashion show with Debbie Nelson in the lead in her paper towel dress held together with staples and me in my hillbilly garb peeking out from behind

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Opening presents with Beanie at Gram's

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As you can see, I was very much in need of a ton of diet pills and a case of anorexia.

That is all. Disperse.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


This is the first day for a couple of weeks I haven't had to get up at 3 or 4 a.m. to work. Instead, I woke up at 5:30 and I feel positively lazy. When I looked out the brightening windows I was awed by a cooling molten copper sky stretching between the peaks. Across the horizon, the copper was hot and blazing, cooler as it rose toward the peaks and spilled over the craggy facade touching everything with fire and lighting the shadows. It's been a long time since I've looked out the windows of my office and enjoyed the sunrise; I've been too busy with my nose to the grindstone -- and it's paid off.

I'm ahead at work but that won't last long. I've completed more than 50K words for NaNoWriMo and I still have some to write; I have a whole four-day weekend next week to do that, three if you don't count Thanksgiving since I'll be celebrating with friends and cooking at least part of the day. The rest of the cooking will be spaced out between now and Thursday, a little bit each day because I'm also working on Yule gift trials. I've decided, since it was so well received last year, to make food baskets and give them as gifts to my close friends. My family, however, will have to be satisfied with more mundane gifts since the food baskets won't travel well and would cost a fortune and I plan to use that (small fortune though it is) for my winter retreat when I hope to have my laptop back in my hands and on my lap.

This week has thrown some curves and offered a few disappointments but nothing serious and nothing I can't manage -- like my laptop not being fixed. Well, it is partially fixed. They replaced the CPU fan but they did not install a new CD burner/DVD drive. I had a bad feeling when Scott told me they fixed the fan. I asked about the drive and he said it wasn't on the work order. The bad feeling moved to my stomach. I asked him to check the drive and he did. It wasn't fixed -- and that was the whole reason for letting them have it in the first place. So, I didn't get it back and I'll have the loaner for two more weeks. They only send service jobs out on Monday and I had missed the miniscule window of opportunity so I have to wait two more weeks. Lovely. At least I finally figured out where the WiFi switch was on this laptop and got it working. I downloaded my shows after downloading some programs to download and play the shows and I was back in business only two days later than expected. I also discovered a faster download program (uTorrent available at MiniNova) and that made the whole snafu worthwhile. You don't get rainbows without rain.

I surpassed my own goals at work and discovered a new level of stupidity in management. I had an inkling there was a deficiency but I wasn't sure it wasn't just a fluke and me not explaining things sufficiently. It wasn't a fluke and I explained the situation the same way to people who don't work with medical records and they got it right away, so the fault is in management. Nothing like brains at the top.

I broke 50K with NaNo and was surprised I had so much left to say -- and write. It's like an adventure to a place where I thought I knew the contours and found there were hidden springs full of fresh, untainted water, dens, and surprising glades and depths. That's what happens when allowing something to evolve and let the characters take over even when it's based on fact. I love journeys like that and they are always worth the trip, especially when they encompass other stories and possibilities, like another foray into Alzheimer's territory.

Two nights running I have been nagged and plagued with dreams of a three-generation story centered around Alzheimer's and the quality of memory. The real shock came when I asked what two of the women feared about the disease. There were the usual fears about losing control of bodily functions and actions, but the real deer in the headlights moment came when deeper reasons came out under questioning. The story is still evolving and I'm making notes, but it looks like it's going to be a rich and engrossing journey into the hidden places behind the fear with a side trip into wonder and delight. That's always a good place to be.

In the meantime, there's lots to do: laundry, cleaning, dishes (I hate that part) and cooking, lots of cooking. I'm making pumpkin cheesecake with gingersnap cookie crust studded with finely chopped bits of crystallized ginger. I'm still undecided about trying a cheesecake version of my sweet potato-pecan pie, but it's worth more than a thought. I still have to figure out how (and when) to apply the glazed pecan topping so that it doesn't sink into the semi-liquid cheesecake while it's baking and I may have to opt for the last few minutes of the baking while the cheesecake is cooling for the usual sour cream topping. I do so love experimenting with food, but that one definitely won't be ready for T-day -- maybe Yule.

That is all. Disperse.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A little Saturday night ramble

I'm way ahead of schedule on NaNoWriMo and have finished the books I planned to review this week so my mind has been flitting around like a butterfly and keeps landing on the same subject: vampires. I know. It's pretty much a given that vampires are in now and will be out later and will come around and be popular again in a year or two -- or do they ever really go out of style? I blame my ruminations on Ray Bradbury and reading his short stories (I got a new book: One More For the Road), which always send my mind following thoughts of all kinds, and we're back to vampires again.

Part of this is also due to the new prime time vampire show, Moonlight. The two stars aren't even American, but they do great American accents (Sophia Myles is British and Alex O'Loughlin is Australian) and they are very nice to watch. Sophia isn't a stick insect and Alex is delectable.

The show also has *gasp* an American playing Josef Kostantin who is a very young (25) vampire over 400 years old who is the dark force in the show, except that he does have morals and rules and is very adamant about keeping a low profile -- or as low a profile as a multi-billionaire vampire who loves fast cars and beautiful women can have. He is also Mick St. John's friend and employer on occasion (Alex O'Loughlin). There is also the lovely and bloody-minded Coraline (Mick's ex-wife who was killed in a fire -- Alex killed her for kidnapping and trying to turn Beth (Sophia Myles) when she was a child) who is a dyed-in-the-wool evil vamp, in all senses of the word. The actress playing Coraline is also American, and until last night was seen only in flashback. Okay, back to the subject that has been on my mind -- vampires.

It occurred to me when Josef asked Mick when he was going to stop hating himself and wanting to be human again that there is definitely something wrong in the ocean city (LA) and everywhere you look where there are vampires. They are either demons with souls who dream of being human after a centuries-long run and hate who they are or romantic demons doomed without the love of a human woman to rescue them from hell and despair. What's up with that? There's also the whole afraid of crucifixes but not other religious symbols, but that's a whole other subject for another time. Considering humans are writing about vampires, I guess there is no other way to see them except as fiends, demons and evil with a hidden potential for good as long as they loathe who and what they are.

I get the whole killing and feeding on humans angle and how that can be disturbing, but in a very real sense isn't that what humans do to animals? Okay, most humans are not comfortable with the idea of being nothing more than an animal to feed another species, but I'm sure elands and zebras don't particularly care for being chased, killed and eaten by lions and hyenas and jackals either. It's all a matter of perspective (where have I heard that phrase before...?).

Despite seeing vampires as more of a religious construct designed to bring people fleeing back to church (in the Xian sense) to save them from damnation, and the idea that a soul can be lost, sold or bartered, vampires are just another species, another step on the food chain, predators who prey on humans to keep the population down -- and to give lonely women a visceral thrill. Vampires are a symbol of wish fulfillment, a chance to live beyond the short years granted us by nature (and degradation of the genetic code) and be more in the world than we as human with our blunted senses can be. Vampires are beyond the usual constraints of work, responsibility, duty and the humdrum everyday life. They are rebels that don't have to apologize for being different, except if a vampire longs to be human again, taste a steak and eat French fries, and get off a perpetual liquid diet (that alone is enough to make a vampire want to be human -- or at least bite something someone), to sink their teeth into something solid that just happens to be a human. Of course, rats, puppies and kittens are also on the menu when times are tough or food is scarce.

Vampires are another evolutionary step in Nature's whimsical --and possibly darker -- plan. After all, Nature created the platypus. Like so much of history that historians and archaeologists and scientists will remake in their own image, vampires are cursed, not with the loss of a soul or providing housing for a demon, but with humanity's idea of them as fiends and romantic figures that but for the want of love and a soul would be better, would be human. And yet we long for their powers to see more clearly, feel more deeply, experience the world more fully and be above and outside human laws, to be able to ignore Death's touch (unless there's a stake, fire or loss of head involved) and to remain ever young drinking from Countess Bathory's bloody Fountain of Youth while sneering at Time. It's no wonder we paint vampires in such clashing colors since we cannot reconcile our own feelings of love and hate.

Are vampires Nature's agents preying on humans to keep our numbers in check? Are we any better than the government being paid to decimate and eradicate the only check on over population, like the planned hunt of gray wolves in the northern Rockies? Do we need, and would we accept, vampires as another species instead of cursed agents of evil? Or do we need to see ourselves in a more honest and realistic light?