Thursday, December 22, 2011

Review: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Tony Webster begins his tale at the age of 60, a time when he reflects on the past and his friends, trying to find memories and meaning in what happened to explain the bequest from an old girlfriend's mother, who was once kind to him while the rest of her family taunted him and made him feel awkward and out of his depth.

Forty years ago, his best friend, Adrian, committed suicide, leaving a note that was the essence of the young man giving up his life, in Roman style, and asking that the coroner publish his note. It wasn't a cry for help or a plea for forgiveness, but a rational and studied message that gave his life -- and his death meaning. Shocking as it was for his friends, and especially for Tony, it made sense -- Adrian's kind of sense. 

Now, Tony must revisit that past and those memories to see what was true and remains true, and what was illusion.

It is not too difficult to find books that will blend past remembrance with current struggles, but Julian Barnes does not give Tony Webster anything to struggle against at first glance. Tony doesn't need to bring things full circle, as Victoria suggests, nor does he become maudlin and regretful about his past or his life since Adrian's death. Tony takes life as it comes, so he says, until he needs to wear away at the stones that bar his path, like an insurance company and most especially Victoria, hitting each with letters and emails that slowly, carefully, and thoughtfully wear down their resistance and give Tony what he wants. He is the water that drip, drip, drips until a hole is achieved. That is the essence of The Sense of an Ending, and what makes it work.

The Sense of an Ending is barely a novella but is sufficiently long to tell the story and give up all the details without too much overbearing style or too many bloated words. It is simply a good story told with economy and a subtle richness that makes the story fly; I read it in a matter of hours.

There are echoes of what is coming by the suicide of a school fellow who finds out his girlfriend is pregnant and hangs himself, leaving a quite note: Sorry, Mum. Adrian's death is more thoughtful and yet no one finds out, not even the reader, why he decided to end his life. Was it in typical Adrian fashion because he was finished or because he felt that nothing more could be accomplished after a first at Cambridge and honors to fill his cabinet? The answer to that lies in the diary that Victoria refuses to hand over to Tony, the diary her mother left him in her will, along with a letter and $500.

Tony is as clueless as Victoria claims throughout their relationship and during their struggle over Adrian's diary and that is aptly shown at the ending of The Sense of an Ending, but, in Tony's defense, little was given him and he wasn't curious enough to look farther than what was right in front of him.

What is best about The Sense of an Ending is not just a story told well, but how memory deceives and changes over time and how it can become as clear as clean glass when one least expects it. Although Tony claims to be a peaceful guy who wants nothing more than peace in his life, he is shown as someone who lets life happen to him rather than making life happen. He accepts all without rancor or regret, except when he finds out that Victoria is now with Adrian, and he muddles through without too much effort or thought, even to remaining friends with his ex-wife, who left him for someone else and eventually divorced. When she wanted to get back together, Tony said no because he liked his simple life as it was -- simple and without clutter or responsibility. In a sense, Tony committed emotional suicide in his youth and ghosted through the rest of life.

The Sense of an Ending, no matter its length, is worthy of the Man Booker Prize it won this year and I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Review: The Bone People by Keri Hulme

The Maori legends and culture are the centerpiece in Keri Hulme's The Bone People, Man Booker Prize winner 1985.

The story centers around Kerewin, a wealthy artist estranged from her family and living alone in a tower in Moerangi, Joe Gillayley, widower and foster father of Simon Peter Gillayley, a young boy found at the age of 3 washed up on a nearby beach and a devil of a young man who can't, or won't, speak. He's far too advanced for his age and a regular hellion.

The story begins when Kerewin finds Simon has broken into her home. They begin a tenuous relationship that eventually includes Joe. As the trio become closer, Kerewin discovers what Joe's family, all of whom live nearby, already knows: he beats Simon, leaving scars from the belt buckle he uses. Joe gets drunk, loses his temper when Simon throws something or does something he shouldn't (steal, break into other people's homes, etc.), and the beatings commence. The story isn't so much about the abuse, but about the relationship between the three: a confirmed virgin in her late 20s, early 30s, a man looking for love and acceptance, and Simon looking for a family and someone to accept and understand him, warts and all.

Keri Hulme creates a dream world that shares echoes with reality in The Bone People. She winds the central tale about the internal monologues of the three central characters, and some of the background characters, and adds poetry, songs, and a sense of otherworldliness into the story. The quick side tracks and segues into monologue, legends, and hints at back story are vertiginous at times and heighten the suspense of the central question of who Simon really is.

It took me a while to figure out that the Maori dialogue was referenced in the back of the book since there were no footnotes or links or mention of the translations and that was frustrating. I wanted to know what the people were saying and how it affected the story. It was like being part of a conversation where others are speaking a different language at times.

I did like the Maori legends and the dynamics of family relationships, or the lack of them in Kerewin's case, but not so much the hints at some problem between Kerewin and her own family and why she had no contact with them. There are sections when the story soars and the writing is clear as glass and others where style has overwhelmed the story. Too much was left unwritten and still unclear at the end of the book. Much of what was left out or hinted at should have been tied into the ending and wasn't.

The Bone People is a good book, but not a great one. It allows a peek into the Maori culture and offers some broad hints about the clash between Maori and Europeans that added texture to an already intricately textured book. The style is very different from most books I've read in the literary genre and that's not necessarily a bad thing, but took some getting used to in the beginning. All in all, Keri Hulme did a good job with the book but forgot the main reason for writing a story -- the story. I'm all for magical realism, and this book is definitely in that realm, but I'd have to give the overall effect a C+.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Gift of Silly

A close friend is going through a particularly bad patch of depression right now. She told me she feels empty and I missed the point when I offered some suggestions to ease the depression and get back on the holiday track. I do that sometimes, offer help instead of just shutting up and listening. It's my nature. I'm the fix-it girl.

As I read her post on Live Journal about not wanting pity or sympathy or quick-fixes (guilty as charged), I thought about what she said about not being able to get out and get those little inexpensive gifts for friends that makes her holiday season more like a holiday and less like just another season, and I decided to make things a little better (I hope) by getting her a few fun little gifts to help her find a way to smile again, if only for a fleeting moment.

As I looked through page after page of little gifts, I began to smile. Slinkies and pocket Etch-a-Sketches and all manner of plush toys you can fling from a sling. Those plastic-enclosed pictures filled with iron filings you can move about to make different faces with an attached magnet, Magic 8 Balls, and any number of other little pocket- and stocking-sized gifties from my past, and possibly from yours. The items are all silly in one way or another, but remembering the hours I spent playing those games, making faces, seeing if Silly Putty really could pick up comics from the funny papers (it does), and generally just having fun were the best.

In addition to the usual gifts I give my grandchildren, I'm giving them something silly and fun to create memories for times like these when they need to be cheered up or want to cheer up a friend. I'm still giving them the books and other gifts I've chosen, but now they'll get a little something fun and silly. It's what grandmothers are for -- and what grandchildren are for.

The holidays are hard enough for some people as they scramble around making do with what little money they can afford to spend or making and baking gifts because it's more personal and from the heart -- and hand -- and often because they are lonely far from home in a foreign land or in their own country and isolated by circumstance, health, or whatever reason and not able to spend it with family and friends. One little something, a plastic egg of Silly Putty or a tiny Etch-A-Sketch or Magic Doodle Pad that disappears when you raise the plastic film or a Slinky, can make the difference between another silent night full of sadness and regret or a night of laughter and nonsense. I'm choosing the laughter and nonsense, so thank you, my friend, for reminding me I can't fix everyone's problems, but I can fix my own. It's a wonderful gift.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

One Voice

I don't usually write about politics here, or anywhere, although I have at times become so angry with what is going on that I let myself go and put it out there . . . in writing. That's what writers do -- write.

As I watch the Democrats and Republicans scrapping over the country's votes and Obama gearing up for yet another campaign, as if he ever got off the campaign trail since he started umpteen years ago, I am appalled by what I see and what the elected representatives of the people call working in our best interests, that is the interests of the common man, the people who elected him, and those who did not but must look to him or her as their voice. The only voices those politicians hear are their own and those of the people who lobby for their attention with money, favors, and power. It's called bribes or baksheesh anywhere else in the world.

Had these politicians been paying attention the people would not be rising now, first with the Tea Party movement, which was co-opted by the Republicans and twisted to their own ends, and now with Occupy Wall Street, and the politicians are getting nervous, as well they should. It is just such anger and resentment coupled with the need to know what is being done about fixing this broken ship of state that led to the creation of the United States of America and the colonists' break from England. I'm sure King George was just as appalled by what he considered disrespectful behavior no in accordance with the terms of agreement between colonist and king. The colonists should have been thankful to be British citizens and to provide the mother country with goods and money that it needed to continue looking after them -- and they were definitely not thankful. Why should they be when they were asked to carry a burden of taxes for people who didn't work the land or undergo the privations and conditions of this new world, or allow them representation in Parliament?

To some modern day scholars, it was the rich that flung the fortunes of all at the King of England and his Redcoats just so they could pay fewer taxes, and yet it was the common man killed in the streets of Boston during the massacre and the average colonist who bravely withstood the Redcoats until this country was free of foreign rule.

Once again, we have the rich on the spit for our problems and the rich are the wo/men elected to do our bidding, to be the voice of the common man, but the common man doesn't have the sense to know how to wheel and deal in the halls of power, intrigue, and bartering for favors that passes for legislation. They no longer have any connection to the majority of Americans who are marching, assembling, and angry about what is being done to them and to their country. How could they when they no longer live and work among us, intent only on the acquisition of power and wealth?

America's government is not a democracy but a republic, which is defined as:

a (1) : a government having a chief of state who is not a monarch and who in modern times is usually a president (2) : a political unit (as a nation) having such a form of government

b (1) : a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law (2) : a political unit (as a nation) having such a form of government.

When asked what kind of government the first constitutional convention Ben Franklin said, "A republic, if you can keep it."

There is no form of government or power that cannot be twisted and turned into something other than what it was designed for. There have been benevolent and thoughtful rulers among the despots and good presidents who have had what is best for the whole country at heart. By and large the rulers, and a president does rule in a sense, as one friend puts it, as the face of the franchise, have been drunk on power and their own importance and the common man suffers. The excrement always rolls down hill due to gravity and its own weight and now the excrement has hit the oscillating blades and the power brokers are shaking in their shoes.

It is about time, too.

Okay, so why should anyone pay any attention to me -- or to anyone with an opinion (and there are a lot of people with a lot of opinions out here)? To get a different perspective, to hear and pay attention to the growing roar of the angry and disenfranchised Americans who have been cheated, lied to, and treated like dirt. (I think there's a song in there somewhere.)

I am the canary in the coal mine telling you the air could be dangerous. You should worry when I no longer sing because then you're dead and it's too late to get out, to clear the air, to breathe.

The Democrats are determined to put the world right by any means necessary and save us from ourselves, rescue our world and the people in it from extinction -- or worse. They are the ones who slowly made cigarette smoking nearly a crime and want us all to drive hybrid or electric cars or gas up at the alternative fuel station and to pay for the privilege on both ends.

The Republicans meanwhile are busily engaged in the usual sleight-of-hand while they substitute politics for sticking their noses into everyone else's private business and bedrooms and calling it Right.

Both parties are out of step and out of line. They are supposed to be the voice of the people not to dictate morality and who can or cannot marry, serve in the military, or dine out in public while they hide their barely post pubescent mistresses, receipts for prostitutes and toy boys, and various schemes for keeping power and money in their hands while wrecking the world around them. They are the Neros who continue to fiddle while Rome burns and looking for someone to take the blame while they're still sending out troops to set the fires.

America no longer produces much of anything except contempt and a growing unemployed mass of people who can no longer keep up with the Joneses -- or the Muhammads and Krishnamurtys -- any more. It isn't just the rich getting richer, but a small fraction of rich who got their wealth by taking it from the very people necessary to create the wealth they covet and beg, borrow, and steal to maintain. Who actually needs or can spend in ten lifetimes $200 billion dollars, or even $50 million dollars? Okay, anyone who wants a gold toilet seat encrusted with precious gems and wired for WiFi and iPhones, but there aren't that many people out there who ever feel comfortable sitting on a toilet seat that would feed, clothe, and house a family of five for ten years. Those that do are called masochists -- and looters with very poor taste.

The bottom line is that America is slowly slipping into a top-heavy pyramid of excess that is poised on its head and ready to crash and destroy everything around it. There's a reason the pyramids were built with their broad bases resting solidly on the ground and not on their pointed tops. It's time to clean house and get rid of every Democrat and Republican and president and politician who is out for themselves and replace them with Daniel Boones and Rosie the Riveters who know what the people and this country need.

I've said it before and I will say it again and again. It's time to throw the looters out and get back to what America did better than any other country -- produce. It's time to stop worrying about whether or not same sex couples want to marry and have children and whether or not gays want to serve in the armed forces. Anyone in this country willing to wear the uniform and do the job should be able to do so -- and the pay should be commensurate with the risk and the danger. If someone wants to make serving the people a career, let him work for the fire department, police and sheriff's departments, and in other service jobs, but not in the legislature.

It's time to focus on fixing this broken republic and put it back on course. The current slate of candidates will not do the job, as we have amply seen in the past three years under the leadership of Obama and his ilk, who have subverted the Constitution and the will of the people under the guise of hope and change. Well, we hoped Obama would change the policies, and he did, but only to make further inroads into the destruction of this country and for personal gain. He has no clear objective, other than destruction, and no clear policies. It's time for a real change and so far I'm not liking what's out there.

It's time to take back our country and put it on a paying -- not borrowing -- basis. People will make their own choices and that is as it should be. It isn't the rich we have to fear, but the greedy. If we want change, it has to come from the people and from the wo/men with vision willing and able to produce a product or service that will bring change, not from legislation and back door deals.

It's time for the sheep to become proactive and extend the reach and power of movements like Occupy Wall Street. The time for asking questions is over. It's time to roll up our sleeves and clean house.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hand Over the Fruitcake, Please

Shopping for fruitcake has been an interesting experience and I've come across quite a few variations on the fruitcake theme, including a monastery in Oregon that sells 6 slices of fruitcake covered in chocolate for almost as much as a whole tinned fruitcake. Maybe not. Don't think the fruitcake is like Boston brown bread steamed in a tin but one of those lovely tins that Gram used to save buttons in with holiday pictures and traditional holiday and Jacobean pattern paintings. There was one tin, which I still have, that was covered in a classic Wedgwood pattern in blue and white, that lovely Wedgwood blue that is so indicative of real Wedgwood china. The paper's torn in a couple of places, but the tin is still good and full of buttons Gram collected and I inherited, some of which are gone because I used them on outfits I made here and there.

What I don't get are the jokes about fruitcake. Yes, it's heavy (weight-wise) because of all the fruit and nuts (my favorite always had pecans) packed inside, and the cake itself is dense, but a good fruitcake that's aged in whiskey or brandy is a rich and delectable treat that spells Christmas for me as surely as flaming plum pudding does for some Englishmen (and women, too). Our holidays when Gram was alive was not complete unless there was fruitcake, great thick slabs of it glistening with glaceed fruit and redolent of brandy. I don't know that Mom was so persnickety in those days because she even had a piece, despite her no alcohol in the food stance. Eating the whole fruitcake wouldn't have been even close to enough to get anyone drunk, not even a newborn, if the child had the teeth and taste buds to be able to enjoy the treat, but that's a story for another time. This time it's about fruitcake.

I guess because of all the nuts and fruit, that's why fruitcake became another word for a score sheet full of gutter balls or a few bricks shy a load. Just another way to call someone insane -- or nearly there.

And then there are the jokes about fruitcakes so heavy they were used as bricks to build a grill outside after years of fruitcakes had piled up in the basement, still inedible and fireproof to boot. Or that someone threw a piece of fruitcake and knocked out their spouse, as if that is even possible. Talk about hyperbole. It's all about taste, and a good fruitcake is packed with taste, and those that love fruitcake will agree, it's not Christmas without it.

It wouldn't be human without contention and disagreement, choosing up sides to fire off against opponents. What is it about people that they just can't enjoy themselves and allow others to do the same, even if what they enjoy isn't what you enjoy? There are so many things in life to choose that it is a waste of time to sneer at others who choose something else. People able to afford cashmere give the cold shoulder to someone wearing a polyester blend sweater or a cardigan someone knitted or crocheted as a gift. Drivers of BMWs thumb their noses at drivers of Mercedes and Volvos who in turn look down their noses at anyone who drives a Ford Taurus or Chevy Cavalier, and all of them look enviously at the couple with the top down driving the vintage Ford Mustang or classic Jaguar or Spider. It's plain to see they like what they bought, so there's no reason to denigrate someone who either couldn't afford or preferred another type of car.

We're all about contention and disagreement. My mother is famous for it, calling me up just to argue because no one in Ohio will argue with her and she knows I will -- or rather I did until I figured out that was her game. She picks and pushes buttons until I -- or anyone else -- respond and push back, verbally of course. Luckily, I live far enough away so that it doesn't matter if I decide to make or buy a fruitcake. It's too late to make one, although I have the cheese cloth and the liquor store isn't far away, because I don't have a month or two until Christmas to age the fruitcake properly in the closet soaking in rum or brandy or whisky. It takes time to make a fruitcake the right way, the traditional way.

In the meantime, I'll keep looking and avoid the place where I bought one last year. I got a tiny fruitcake, hardly more than 2 good slabs, for $30 and I want fruitcake to spare for the holiday, or until the new year, whichever comes first. Mock me if you will, call me names, and snicker when you read this, but I will enjoy every morsel and crumb of my holiday tradition and you can enjoy yours, even if it does involve a liquor-soaked flaming plum pudding.

Come to think of it, I need a good old-fashioned mincemeat pie, too, just like the one Mrs. Jonathan Frake won the blue ribbon for at the Iowa State Fair.

Happy holidays.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Who's a Bully?

The only person who ever bullied me was my mother. Bullies come in all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds, which is something I was reminded as I watched The Big Bang.

I was talked into watching the show and I love it. Last night's show was about bullies.

Leonard got a message on Facebook from one of the high school bullies who made his life hell. He wanted to meet and Leonard finally agreed to do so -- with his friends. Penny, Bernadette, and Amy were trying on clothes and having a little hen party and Amy and Bernadette talked about their bullies. Penny had no bullies in her life because she came from a nice place where no one bullied anyone else, but they did play pranks on each other. That's when it came out that Penny was the bully.

As I watched these adults work their way through the demons of their past, or realize they were the demons of the past, it dawned on me that Sheldon is a bully. He hides behind his intricate rules and ways of doing things and makes everyone's life miserable until they fall in line. Bully. That reminded me of another bully, a woman who was a close acquaintance and who bullied everyone in her life, but not with pranks or tricks. She bullied with her intellect, which wasn't all that great, but definitely above the average.

Sheldon and my acquaintance are bullies of the intellect, using their intelligence to make everyone else feel smaller and less accomplished, and that is just as bad as some big brute or beautiful girl who uses their assets to make everyone less brawny or cute to feel just as small, even when they don't stuff them into a locker.

When you get right down to it, bullies are basically narcissists, among other things, and they feel inadequate so they must knock everyone else down to feel superior. Come to think of it, I've known a lot of bullies in my life, and they were often people I looked up to (for a while) or called friend, but not for long. Their true natures eventually came out and I walked away, not without some emotional bruises and scars, but I walked away all the same.

Bullying happens in writing and publishing, too, but the only bullies seemed to be traditional publishers. They are no longer alone. Bullies crop up every day in indie publishing and among the writers, too. It still comes down to the same equation. If you feel inadequate or small, make everyone around you feel small, and sometimes the bullies are a little hard to detect because they seem to be doing you a favor or telling you some truth. Let me give you a hint: Even bullies know a few things and they're not shy about sharing -- or making you feel stupid and small.

Any time someone cuts you down or denigrates your choices, you may be in the presence of a bully. Any time you feel like your success has been turned to dross, a bully was likely behind it.

The only way to exorcise bullies and weaken their influence is to walk away and ignore them. Take what's useful and discard the rest. If someone makes you feel stupid for going the traditional or the indie route in publishing, ignore them. It's your choice and you're the only one who has to live with it. If it doesn't work out, then choose something else, but do not allow anyone the power over you to make you feel small or question your choices. All questions should come from inside you and not from some bully.

Life is difficult enough without being bullied, and there are plenty of bullies in every walk of life. Keep one eye on the bullies and the other on your path. Make your own choices and ignore the rest. It's your life after all, and bullies seldom change. They just switch games.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Marking Time

I was shopping (well, browsing) and I saw the signs for a 2012 calendar. I'm usually figuring out budgets and when I can afford to get my 2012 calendar, usually some time in January when they go on sale. This year, even with the lapse in paychecks (fired and then hired and then waited for a month to get a check), I bought my 2012 desk calendar two months ago.

For most people, a desk calendar is a way of marking days. For me, it's mini version of my journal with birthdays, anniversaries, and notable moments along the year's path. It's also the place where I keep a record of paying bills and buying food and appointments. A glance through any desk calendar will give you a quick view of what I did that year.

Yes, I keep them to refer back to for details, as a goad to memory when I know I did something at a certain time but just cannot remember when, and as a way of reminding myself how full -- or usually empty -- my days were of writing. Book launch days, personal appearances, the road to publication and the marketing and struggle to get people interested enough to buy and review my books, it's all there on the page, and I don't have to read through hundreds of pages of writing to find it. It's quick. It's simple. It's there.

I did get smart, though, about the time I found Levenger's metal page markers. Little pointed arrow-like metal clips that fit over the page to mark a passage. I began using them in books I was reviewing when highlighting text I would use in the review and then decided it was a good idea to use them in my journals to mark the spots when I was writing through problems with a book or fleshing out characters or themes or whatever in books I have yet to write. Again, it's better than having to read hundreds of pages to find one little moment when I had a brainstorm. My journals have a glint of gold about the pages in various spots, pages I marked with the little metal arrow-like thingies. Now I need to find a way to note what book the passages mark, so I don't have to read all the pages with markers on them.

There are paper arrows with space enough to write on, but that's not going to work. Paper gets torn and crunched up when they sit on the shelf, and the glue gets old and the arrow drop off if I don't get around to it for a while. The metal thingies work perfectly. I guess I'll have to work with what I've got and take those trips down memory lane more often until I memorize which journal, which year, and which months (a journal lasts me about 2-3 months) to look in. I have hundreds of journals written day by day over more than twenty years. If only I could turn them into books or, better yet, they would turn into books. Alas, that's not likely.

Maybe I could make a notation on the desk calendar about that, too. Some pages are awfully blank. Then again, some are pretty full, just like life. Some days, nothing, and then days when there aren't enough hours to get it all done. And so it goes.

I'll figure it out, but suggestions are welcome.

How do you use your desk calendar -- if you have one. If you don't have one, why not?

By the way, the little picture up on the right is of the page nibs (arrow-like thingies) and they're available from Levenger's. They make good bookmarks and great gifts for the writers and readers on your list.

Economics 101

Occupy Wall Street has gone global. People are angry and they're not sure why or to whom they should direct their outrage. It's really about economics and what should be going on and isn't. Take a lesson from the King of the Elves in the following cartoon. He sets the shoemaker right. This is Economics 101. It's not difficult and it's not about power or grabbing as much money as possible, but about using resources intelligently to make a product to sell that people want and/or need. In this case, it's shoes. Pay attention. There will be a test. It's called life.

That is all. Disperse.

Nothing to See, Lots to Write

The water is running in the bathroom and kitchen and the water bill will be higher than usual because of it. I don't care. I can't, not when the alternative is frozen pipes and no water for a few days. I went through that at the beginning of the year and I don't want to go back there again. No toilet, no water, and bitter cold. So I'll pay the extra because of the subzero weather and be grateful for the water.

It's amazing what makes me grateful these days. Running water and heat. Being able to buy a book or indulge myself with a pizza instead of the usual round of frozen and shelf stable dinners. Being without a paycheck for six weeks will do that. I'm back and the paychecks have started up again and I'm doing all right, except that I can't figure out what OASDI is on my paycheck and why it's deducted from my pay, so a quick check was in order. It's the new name for Social Security: Old Age Survivors and Disabilities Insurance. Okay, so it's descriptive, but what was wrong with Social Security? More useless labels, just what everyone needs, and I can do without.

Nothing like reminding me that I am getting older and should be closer to the end than the beginning, and I would be if I weren't going to live another 96 years. Yes, I plan to live to a ripe old 150. I can dream, can't I? It's where it all begins -- dreams.

I still have dreams about writing lots of books and getting paid for them, of people talking about my books and getting what I put into them, of living a life different than the one I live now where I'm grateful for breezes around the windows and doors because it keeps out the specter of carbon monoxide and running the water all night, and all day if necessary, keeps the pipes from freezing. I don't like having to rely on other people and, as long as I rent, that's what I'll have to do. I'm at the mercy of a landlord who doesn't care enough about keeping this house up, like making sure it's insulated, everything works, and the roof doesn't leak like a sieve. He's too busy on building his other properties while this one deteriorates at an increasily rapid rate. I'd buy it, except he wouldn't sell and I can't afford it right now, not until my books sell more than they have.

That's the way it always is, dreaming about what you don't have so you don't enjoy what you have. I get that way sometimes, but only when the weather is below freezing and the water is running. It's the way of things, the need to focus on the bad and forget about the good, like reading there could be a cure for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's in the lichen used to create the red dye so prevalent in junk food. No wonder my mother is still around. She eats nothing but junk food. She forgets things sometimes, but that's just atrophy in a brain that's used for little more than arguing and demanding her children (that would be me and my siblings) see she's right when we all know she's wrong. She has no good memory of things but she insists that she remembers. It's the usual dichotomy of someone who spent all of her life controlling the people around her, mostly Dad, and is suddenly cast adrift because her favorite focus of abuse is now dead, and we all deal with her in various ways.

My brother, the Mushroom, stays away from her and keeps his life and himself to himself. Beanie avoids her, except at the beginning of the month when she has to give Mom her B12 shot and whenever she blows up Beanie's phone while she's at work. Hoity-Toity lives with her, but spends all her time at work so she doesn't have to deal with her too much. Well, that and because she doesn't have a man in her life for a change. He got tired of Hoity-Toity's controlling ways and constant niggling about how cheap he is and gave her the gate on Valentime's Day over a year ago. I heard he's come back with a motorcycle and plans to take her out again. He's either addicted to the nagging and belittling or he is a classic masochist missing his daily dose of sadistic treatment -- probably a bit of both. And then there's me.

I keep my contact with Mom brief and usually talk to her on Thursdays, unless she calls me to ask who this actor or that author is because she can't remember. Like Tom Wingo, I am her memory -- on everything but my own life, about which I cannot be trusted to remember. I used to argue with her about that, but gave it up when I realized that was mostly the reason she started the argument in the first place. She knows my buttons and she pushes them with gusto and unholy glee. I've learned to just tell her she's right (not very often) or say I have to go to the bathroom, which gets me off the phone and gives me time to realize she's pushing my buttons again. She lives for confrontation, which is why all of us, my siblings and I, have an aversion to confrontation . . . in varying degrees. I, less so, because I have had to fend for myself by myself a long time. Mom lives to argue and I have been her favorite opponent even before Dad died. It took me a long time to figure that one out, and that is one thing I had that I do not miss now that I don't have it -- or at least avoid it most of the time.

But, without Mom and my estranged siblings (except for Beanie) and my lack of luck with man-woman relationships, I'd have nothing to write about. It would be all sunshine and flowers, sweetness and light, and who wants to read about that? It does get boring after a while, which is why I write what I do. Oh, well, life's a mixed bag of tricks and each comes with its own warning -- most of which we don't understand until they land on us full force -- like the water bill when it comes. I'll have at least nine months to recoup. Meanwhile, I'm thankful for budgets on utilities that take the financial kinks out of what could be a disaster, but a small disaster compared to replacing pipes and hiring plumbers when the pipes freeze from the lack of insulation, old works, and absentee landlord, except when the rent is late 5 minutes. That's life in the big city.

And, yes, I still miss the cabin. I do not miss the owners of said cabin who dropped in whenever they liked without a phone call or the balloon payments on propane and paying twice for something that was on the budgets. Yes, more stories, and stories upon stories, from the highway pile-up that sometimes resembles my life.

There are shining moments when a helping hand reached down to me or I was able to reach down for someone else, but those are best left untold. In that at least I prefer to remain anonymous.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

M. Eve and Spartacus

The M in M. Eve is for mitochondrial. Mitochondrial Eve is one of the clan mothers, the first clan mother, who had at least two daughters who lived to have two daughters who had two daughters and so on up to the present time. Mitochondrial DNA is a circular spiral that has a neutral section that collects mutations, about one mutation for every 10,000 years, and is used to track connections between the generations. It is accurate and stable and it comes down to us through our mothers, the one parent we know without a doubt is the parent. Fathers? Not so much.

During conception, the sperm sheds its tail and his mitochondrial DNA when it enters the ovum during fertilization, which is why mitochondrial DNA can only be tracked through the maternal line. How do I know all this? I just finished reading The Seven Daughters of Eve, a book about the seven clan mothers, mitochondrial daughters of M. Eve, who are the progenitors of the peoples of Europe. Their DNA is in a large percentage of the European population and has been used successfully to determine whether or not archaeologists are correct about their assumptions regarding how people moved from continent to continent, where they came from, and what they did (hunter-gatherer or farmer). The book also shed light on some fascinating facts that turned archaeologists and historians on their ears.

There have been two camps, for instance, in determining where the polynesians came from, and it wasn't the Americas. They came through SE Asia and Tawain across the Pacific Ocean and against the prevailing currents to settle the islands between Asia and the Americas. Sorry about that, Thor Heyerdahl. His epic voyage on the Kon-Tiki was indeed a marvelous achievement, but it was wrong. The polynesians actually did come from Asia. The inclusion of yams, or sweet potatoes, in the diet was as a result of trade and not because they came from Chile or South America. Good guess, but wrong, although there is DNA that proves some females came from South America on a few of those trading expeditions and became part of the polynesian DNA. That's there, too.

As for Europe, it seems that the farmers did not push out the hunter-gatherers. They're still in Europe and they are the predominant population. They weren't pushed out; they adopted agriculture because they knew a good thing when they saw it. Historians and archaeologists were wrong about that one, and that was a hard fought realization in scientific circles.

The Seven Daughters of Eve is fascinating and even shares a bit of fictional fancy when reconstructing the lives of the seven women whose DNA is visible in the European population. I'd have to say the science is just as fascinating with its in-fighting and battling publications about the veracity and efficacy of using mitochondrial DNA. I enjoyed it thoroughly, so much I decided to begin another nonfiction book, The Spartacus War, something I haven't been able to do much of (reading, I mean) for years, not with my book review load.

I began The Spartacus War last night and dove right into the deep end of the pool. Spartacus was a Roman trained soldier who, for whatever reason (bandit, brigand, thief, or insurrectionist) was sold to a gladiatorial school. He was not a poor and ignorant slave, but a free man who was taken by the Romans and thrust into warring for them after Thrace was conquered. That's the way they did things back in the Roman days.

No wonder the Romans so feared Spartacus. He was a trained solider and a gladiator from a race of war loving people who knew how to fight a guerilla war, strengths that kept Rome from capturing and killing Spartacus for two years, while Spartacus freed rural slaves and wreaked havoc against Rome, while Rome fought two other battles, one with the Silesian pirates and the other with Mithridates. I haven't gotten very far into the book, but I already know it's going to be riveting.

I shouldn't be surprised that Stanley Kubrick took the facts, such as they are, and made a Hollywood movie, a movie, I might add, that I have enjoyed for decades. That's the way Hollywood does things. They take the facts, twist them into what they believe is a better story, and pass them off as entertainment. It worked -- to a point. I was entertained, but my interest has always been more for Spartacus's son and what his life was like after his father was crucified. I doubt I'll find out about that, but I can still dream there's a book out there that will shine a light on his son's life.

Or I can write one.

As much as I enjoy fiction, I often prefer a good nonfiction book on science and history. I haven't read a mathematics nonfiction book that really held my interest, but I keep hoping. Give me DNA and ancient history, astronomy and archaeology. Give me quantum physics and medicine once in a while and I will count myself content. Besides, all that nonfiction is fodder for fiction in helping the reader suspend disbelief and get into the story because there is a ring of truth. In the last case, the ring was mitochondrial DNA. I'm not sure what the ring is with Spartacus, but I'm sure I'll find it.

That is all. Disperse.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Humpty Dumpty Fell Off the Wall

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;

All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

Humpty Dumpty should have been more careful and it's his fault he fell off the wall. Eggs, especially big eggs, have rounded bottoms. Without some kind of support, they fall over and roll all over the place just like they do on the kitchen counter -- and anywhere else they tend to be. It was Humpty Dumpty's fault he fell off the wall. He should have been more careful since a broken egg is not something that can be put back together with the insides intact, unless they were hard boiled, which negates Humpty's living existence, and we're back to the main point. It was Humpty Dumpty's fault he fell off the wall.

As in everything else in life, we are responsible for what happens to us, even when random violence strikes, because nothing is really random. It's all about behavior and foreshadowing and the choices we make. Had he not been walking down an alley in the middle of the night in a bad neighborhood to cut short a long walk or taking the garbage out at 3 a.m. because she forgot to do it earlier in the day when the sun was up, neither would have been harmed. Of course that does not negate the situation where someone drives a car through the front of the house, but, honestly, how often does that happen? 

It's like this morning. I have 10 days until the next VE session and have to send out emails to make sure we have a room, ham radio operators wanting a license or an upgrade, and the volunteers for the session are informed or there will be no session. Since we hold our licensing exams at Colorado Technical College and since they tend to change the person I need to request a room from changes quite often, and the person currently in charge does not respond in a timely fashion, I chose to send out the email this morning instead of waiting until Saturday, the way I have done in the past. I don't like surprises when I don't have time to fix the situation, so it was a no-brainer; do it now or get surprised and maybe not have a room. Good thing I chose to do it this morning because the person I've been reporting to recently is not longer at CTU. Luckily, there are always other people copied on emails, so I send out a group email to all of them so that someone will respond. Now, I have asked many times for them to inform me when they are no longer in charge of assigning rooms, but no one listens and I am never informed. This is my last exam session to arrange before someone else takes over, and I'd like to go out with a quite whimper and not a chaotic big bang, hence my need to be careful.

Life is full of small moments like this, moments that can be tracked back to me when someone decides to assign blame. If I had followed the usual method of emailing CTU the same time I email the volunteers and the public at large, then I would have been in a world of trouble and would have had to go into last resort measures to get things done. When the volunteers don't respond, all I need to do is add a dash of guilt and another feminine plea edged with tears welling (metaphorically speaking) and they respond. I can't do that with CTU and whoever is in charge this month. I get it. I need to plan better, and so I do.

My sons are always asking why me when trouble finds them, as it inevitably does. I have no sympathy for them. It's always them because they set up the situation. When they spend their money on frivolous things instead of paying the bills, then they are going to get caught short and have to scramble to keep the lights and phone on and not have to move. I learned that one a long time ago when I was a live now and pay later kind of gal. I was immature and irresponsible and always running one step ahead of trouble. It's what happens when a child goes out into the adult world without the proper preparation, and I was not prepared. I learned and I eventually figured things out, like sending emails ahead of time and being ready for trouble or putting off buying more stationery when the phone and utilities have to be paid. I've learned a new one, which is not all that new, and that is to put some money aside in savings every week so that when trouble comes, and it always comes, I will be prepared and the phone, utilities, and rent will be covered. It's another one of those no-brainer situations.

Everything happens for a reason, just as in a novel, television show, or movie. If you read and watch carefully, there are signs that what you see is not what is actually going on, that there are clues peppered throughout the book or show or movie that lead to the big ah-ha moment, like last Sunday on Dexter. It shouldn't have been a surprise that Gellar was dead and that Travis was actually doing the work and setting up the tableaus. Yeah, we saw Edward James Olmos doing the work, but it wasn't really him; it was Travis. He had taken on the persona of his mentor and his personality had split. He was still fighting that part of his personality, but one of the first clues should have been a dead giveaway. Dexter found a piece of parchment like Travis uses to restore old manuscripts that was used to repair the angel's wings. Why would Travis repair the wings if Gellar was the one who made them? Bingo! And there were other hints.

Another big surprise shouldn't have been a surprise on The Walking Dead. Shane is a jerk, a big, honking, Neanderthal, gun-toting jerk. He shot Otis and left him for the walkers so he could get away and he nearly killed his best friend and partner, Rick, when he rejoined them up in the mountains outside of Atlanta, so it should not have been a surprise that he would've have taken control of Herschel's farm with a gun in his hand. It's why Dale was going to sink the guns so that Shane would not have the firepower to do what he did at the barn. Dale was right when he said Shane was made for the world of the walkers. He's a violent man with no conscience, a law unto himself, and the zombie apocalypse freed him to be all he was and was meant to be. Dale should have killed Shane when he had the chance.

That's the thing about life and creative works. Even though it is said that what happens in real life would not fly in a novel, it's not true. It would fly because it does fly. Novels are the mirror image of life, pared down to the essence of things, but a clean and shiny mirror that shows everything, good and bad.  You just have to know where to look.

Unless you had the key, what you see in da Vinci's Last Supper or one of Ellis Peter's Cadfael mysteries is all a mystery. Look closer. All the clues and the evidence is there, just as in life. Set aside the emotions and outrage and look with clear eyes and a clear mind; you will see that it all tracks back to choices.

Why me?

Why Humpty Dumpty?

Isn't it clearer now?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Real Meaning of Thanksgiving

We tend to forget what Thanksgiving is in celebration of. It's not about the food, although there was food at the first Thanksgiving, and more about giving thanks after a brutal period of time when there was little food and people died from privation, cold, heat, and disease. Many of the plants and seeds they brought with them wouldn't grow in the soil and their stores quickly dwindled. They were unfamiliar with the land, with the food growing all around them, and with the diseases and pests that took them down one by one. If it had not been for the natives, the Pilgrims would have died altogether, or disappeared like they did at Roanoke not many years before. When the second year came, the natives had taught them how to grow and harvest the new crops and how to survive.

That first thanksgiving dinner when the pilgrims thanked the natives and their god for bringing them through the year wasn't lavish by our standards. Game was plentiful and there was fish in the sea, but much of what was harvested had to be prepared and stored for the long winter months, and yet enough of it was left for them to share with the natives who made living in this land possible. It wasn't the food; it was the the chance to celebrate a good harvest and good friends.

Thanksgiving is a time to harvest the crops and celebrate the trials and tribulations and the triumphs of the year. I've a lot to celebrate.

This year I went independent and published a novel in print and ebook form. Sales have been iffy, but it's selling and I'm proud to have written the book, although there are still some problems with formatting and conversions I need to deal with.

I also lost a job that has caused me no end of heartache and frustration, a job I have worked for 6-1/2 years. While it seems like a mark in the negative column, it's really a blessing because I no longer have to be raped and pillaged by that company ever again. It also gave me a chance to find a better job, and that I did 2 weeks later, except that led to problems of its own. I had to wait a month to be paid, so that was 6 weeks without a paycheck and my previous employer made sure I didn't get unemployment. I fought her on that and the results of that fight are not in.

I finally got paid, which was enough to catch up the bills, but not buy the turkey dinner I was dreaming of for Thanksgiving, and I have to work the holiday since hospitals don't close and I don't have enough time saved (I actually get to see how much now) and didn't have 30 days to let them know I'd be taking the holiday. On the up side of that, I get paid time and a half for my time, and that is going to look good come the yule season since that's when I'll savor the fruits of this particular harvest. Pay is always 2 weeks behind the earning. My next check will be a tidy sum and I will be able to do something good with the money, like buy my granddaughter Savannah a birthday gift and that turkey dinner I was hankering for. I'll have a frozen Marie Callender turkey dinner for today, suitable thawed and nuked, but it will be alone at my desk in the chair that makes working a whole new level of ache.

I still have the new job to be thankful for and being back to regular paychecks with a place to view my earned vacation time and the occasional bonus for holidays. I get another benefit this year since Christmas and New Years are both on my days off and I will get paid and be able to enjoy the fruits of my labors and the changes in my life with a little peace, holiday music, and that turkey (or goose or ham) I've been waiting for.

All in all, this has been an interesting year with lots of changes and more changes to come in the new year. There will be tough times and times of joy, but mostly days I will have to get through one way or another. It hasn't been all good this year, but it hasn't been all bad either. I have friends. I have work. I have paychecks. I have lots to be thankful for, and that's what this holiday is all about -- the thanks. I give thanks for it all and for the chance to sit here and write my thanks for all the people who have made my life a little bit more interesting, a little bit tougher, and a whole lot richer.

Happy Thanksgiving.

That is all. Disperse.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

'Mike & Molly,' Season 2, Ep. 8

What's worse than Peggy Biggs showing up unannounced at Molly's house bearing gifts? Showing up at school behind the lunch counter and in Molly's classroom bearing brownies -- and gossip.

'Mike & Molly,' Season 2, Ep. 8

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Veiled Racism

We didn't think of Veronica or Dora as anything more than people who worked for us, at least my parents didn't. My father admired Dora's dark beauty and graceful movements and he liked Veronica's easy manner and the way she fitted into our family as though knit there by design, a dark bright thread running through the fabric of our lives. To me, Veronica was someone I could talk to and Dora a young woman who understood what it was like to be nine going on twenty-five. Veronica was kind and warm and welcoming and Dora was understanding and showed me a respect I never got from my mother. These two women were a fixture in our lives and it seemed as though they were as much a member of the family as my brother and sister or my parents, and yet they weren't. Dora and Veronica were our maids in a place where servants were cheap and the need not at all visible.

We lived in a two-bedroom apartment that was small by today's standards. My parents had a smaller room with a bathroom separated from the larger bedroom by a curtain. The kitchen was a corridor between the bedrooms and the living and dining rooms where plastic strips hung from the door frames to keep the air conditioned air in the bedrooms and front rooms. Another bathroom was off the dining room and that's the bathroom we children and the maids used. Mom and Dad's bathroom was separate and theirs alone.

Into this small living space came Veronica first to clean and do the laundry. Dora came later when Veronica was off having another baby. I cannot remember a time when Veronica wasn't pregnant, her belly round and bulging with life. She was the quintessential earth mother and spent her time producing children, although not while she was working. I don't remember ever seeing more than a glimpse of her husband, a dark sliver of a man so incongruous beside the Amazonian proportions of his wife. I didn't know the names of Veronica's children either. They were a cluster of dark faces with wide and round eyes peering around their mother's ample hips when Dad took me to visit her after she had one of her babies. She cradled the gurgling child in her arms, a swarm of hands clutching her brightly colored skirts. Dora is easier to remember because she stayed with us on Friday nights while our parents went to the NCO club to play bingo, drink, and dance.

I have thought often of those times, but it wasn't until I was reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett that I began to wonder about Veronica and Dora and what their situation was like from their perspective.

I do know neither were mistreated, but as I look back now I see a certain reserve from my mother in her interactions with both women and a pulsating green jealousy where Dora was concerned that no doubt came from a glimpse I had of Dora dancing with Dad and Mr. Kennon from upstairs in what can only be described as intimate. I learned later Dora was teaching them the dirty dog. What I remember most is the look of barely suppressed fury on my mother's face, her lips a tight red line of disapproval and disgust I had often seen when she looked at my hands each night when she painted my nails with Tabasco sauce to keep me from biting them. It was the same look she gave me when I came home from playing with my friends in the jungle that made me bow my head and grip the sides of my shorts or skirts with sweaty hands. I could never mistake that look or the thrashing that followed for not acting like a lady. Mom obviously wanted to thrash Dora but she must not have because Dora continued smiling while she worked and humming some song that made the work go quicker. She told me music made everything easier. I always wished I could find a song to hum that would make dealing with Mom easier. I still haven't found it.

There were little things that made the separation between them (Veronica and Dora) and us more apparent, like when Mom made me put on a dress and my best black patent leather shoes to go with her to the dressmakers down in Colon. I didn't see why I had to go; Dora was riding to town with her. That should have been enough, but it wasn't. I had to go as a buffer between Mom and Dora, but mostly so Dora wouldn't be riding in the front seat with Mom. She was the help not a friend and Mom would not pretend she was anything more than a servant.

There were other subtle things I missed as a child that are all too clear to me now, especially given the numerous arguments Mom and I have had over the years about racism and bigotry. It is a demarcation that children don't understand, or at least I didn't see growing up. Dora and Veronica were friends. They were women who cared for me and my siblings, women who kept our home neat and clean, washed our clothes, and were there to comfort me when I needed someone to hold me or listen to my troubles. How silly I must have seemed with my petty feuds with the neighborhood children or my anguish over being denied some pleasure when I sniffled against their shoulders or was comforted when they put their arms around me, and yet they gave me comfort and love and let me give them teary kisses when we were sent back to the States.

Reading The Help, I know they loved me as they loved all the children they tended, and I am honored to have known them. It was their generosity and kindness that shaped me and not the heavily veiled bigotry I could've learned.

I imagine Veronica surrounded by her own children and her grandchildren and great grandchildren, still the earth mother, and Dora with a small family of her own and a husband who blesses the day she came into his life, as I bless the day both women came into mine.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

What About Love?

The writer's block question this morning was about crying. As I went through all the reasons I cry -- or have cried -- I came to the one where someone I loved so much could still hurt me. I mean the man in my life.

As I wrote, I realized that there is a point beyond which there are no more tears, no more recriminations, no more drama. It's the point where someone has hurt me so many times they have exhausted every vestige of emotion from me and left me untouchable. You don't want to get to that point with someone because no matter what else happens, the relationship is dead.

When you can no longer be irked, frustrated, furious, loving, caring, and every color and emotion in between, there is nothing left. That's where I found myself with the man in my life. After years of tears and pain and frustration and anger, I had nothing left to give. That does not mean there is a limit to love, but there is a limit to how much someone can hurt you. It's like torture. At some point, the body shuts off all conduits to pain and you drift in that limbo between life and death until the torture is gone and there is enough of you to heal, or you die. That's what happens with relationships, especially when there is all pain on one side and all sadistic torture from the other side. Torture ceases to be effective and there hasn't been enough love and caring to balance out the pain.

On one hand, that's a good thing because it means the pain is finite and there will be a way out. On the other hand, it means the relationship is doomed to fail because neither party is paying attention to what's happening. The torturer cannot see that his actions are less effective and the tortured cannot see that there is an easier way to end the pain -- walk away. Getting to the point where the tortured no longer cares enough to cry or feels enough to be angry and hurt is not a good thing. Something inside the tortured dies a little more every day with every strike of the torturer's tools and it's difficult, if not downright impossible, to get it back. Unlike calluses that will eventually soften when the need for the callus is gone, emotions and love take a lot longer to heal, and sometimes never do. It takes love and patience -- a whole lot of love -- to regenerate love and caring.

I see it as adopting or taking in an abused animal or person. Every time you raise your hand for the most innocuous reasons, the animal and the person cringe away just as they would if they had been raped and tortured, which is usually the case. It's not often that an animal is raped, but you get the point.

Let's take rape as an example. A woman -- or man -- has been brutally raped. How close will they let a rapist of the same gender get to them in the days, weeks, and often months after the rape without cringing, crying out in terror, or even lashing out? Different for each person, but I'd say the personal bubble just expanded by magnitudes of distance.

In a very real sense, anyone who has been through an abusive relationship (and, yes, a relationship fraught with drama and pain is abusive) has been emotionally raped. Every time the abusive partner breaks away, for whatever reason, and makes his partner cry or leaves them in pain without communication, their actions constitute a rape of the soul. And the soul develops a callus that grows thicker with every infliction of pain, every silence, every excuse until all that is left is . . . nothing. It's the nothing of limbo where pain no longer has an effect, positive or negative, and the love and caring and softer emotions are gone.

That is what happened to me. Let me clarify that. That is what I allowed to happen to me. After years of moments together that add up to less than a month of continuous contact over nearly a decade, I had reached the point where he couldn't hurt me any more and I just wanted him to be gone. I no longer thought about him or wondered why he didn't call, email, write, or show up. I no longer cared if I ever saw him again. I was done. I wanted nothing more to do with him. I had given everything I had and got very little in return.

My family wonder why I don't date and don't care about finding a man. I've been hurt too many times, and this last time was the worst. I am no longer willing to live on promises and accept excuses for negligent behavior. My world is small, but I know everything in it and there is nothing here to hurt me or cause me anguish. There are no wounds to lick, only psychic scars that need time to heal, and I don't think they will heal any time soon. The longer I live, the more I realize that love does not come to us all, and that is all right. I've known love -- of a sort -- and I've known passion. When you get right down to it, that's all we get -- moments. The rest is slogging through the days and nights working, reading, writing, spending time with friends and relatives, and just living. At least I have a lot to write about and a lot of material to use in books and stories and in blog posts. I've lived.

Now, it is time to write.

That is all. Disperse.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

'Mike & Molly' Recap: Season 2, Ep. 7

Carl needs to stop shaking the whore tree hoping for an angel to fall. Of course the stripper glitter in his teeth is scaring them away.

'Mike & Molly' Recap: Season 2, Ep. 7

Monday, November 07, 2011

Readers Enough For All

There's a writer of my acquaintance who has been touting her traditionally published new book for what seems like forever. She's done this before and now she wants to know if she should self-publish or stick with the traditional publisher, who has purportedly announced the book is not coming out this year, but next year. After having been through this with her several times before in the decade plus that I've known her, I can't say I'm surprised. She has wanted to be published forever and that's not to say she isn't a good writer. She's good in her genre. I just can't get behind this constant push and pull and maybe and maybe not story behind her books. This is the third or fourth one that has been coming out for so long it's almost a joke.

I remember the days when she was telling me how getting published in anthologies, and I've been published in a lot of anthologies over the past four years, was not really being a writer. I don't know why. I got paid and there are books containing my stories. Some of the anthologies carry two of my stories in the same issue, and I've been published and self-published in 18 books in the past four years. I think that's pretty good. She was over the moon when one of her stories was published in an anthology and she was paid 1/4 cent for her contribution, most of which she spent on a case or two of copies to give and sell to her friends and fans. I think she still has a case and a half.

One thing I don't understand is the need to denigrate another writer to make yourself feel better or more professional. It's less professional and petty. I am glad for her successes and, while it's not obvious by this post, I do hope her book is published soon. There is no greater thrill than seeing one's work on a bookshelf, virtual or otherwise, and know that all the hard work, sweat, blood, and tears (always a lot of tears) paid off.

Writing isn't, or at least I don't think it should be, a competitive sport. We are all writers together. We may not write the same things or appeal to the same audiences, but with nearly 7 billion people on the planet, there's room for all of us, and buyers and readers for all of us, too, even if only a handful ever know you existed. There are more people born every day and that means more people who will grow up and may choose to read your book or mine. It's not a competition -- except when it is -- and it's not worth keeping score. It is, however, worth making sales, and I hope your sales and mine are always the best.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Dungeon of my Black Despair

What is it about Bach and organ music that makes it seems like Halloween? Or is it the tonal shadings and the image of Lon Chaney as The Phantom of the Opera? I don't know, but I bought an album with over 50 Halloween sounding classical pieces, and most of them are written for the organ.

When I think of organ music I think of Bach and church and the holidays, not necessarily Halloween, ghosts, goblins, and darkness. I must be wrong. Okay, I could be wrong.

As I listen to the fugues, cantatas, tocattas, elegies, and requiem masses, I feel a definite stirring of the sublimely dark and other worldly that is just perfect for invoking the spirit of a muse to help me finish my Victorian morality and murder tale. That was the whole point of buying the album, to play while summoning the muse, an invocation to the creative spirit to help me be inspired and creative. The only reason I chose music was because I was asked during an interview what music I listen to while writing. None?!

I decided to shake up the ant farm and give it a whirl, especially since until now I used music to inspire me to clean, making of the chore a dance, a performance. I danced and sang and the house got cleaner. It's an idiosyncrasy, but it works.

So far, except for Night on Bald Mountain, I don't really feel the whole Halloween spirit. Maybe I need to listen to more -- and I will. I think In the Hall of the Mountain King from Peer Gynt is among the selections and that is appropriately spooky, as are The Mephisto Waltz and the Ride of the Valkyrie.  I'm less sure about Carnival of the Animals and a selection from Romeo and Juliet where the Montagues and Capulets fight. The fight would be rather more exciting and not exactly reminiscent of death and ghosts and goblins and all things that go bump in the night behind children's closet doors or under their beds.  Then again, I'm not trying to scare children but journey to the heart of darkness that spawned a serial killer, a man who butchered women, to discover why and what led him to that pass, and why he spurned love and passion and happiness for the pit of hell where his soul becomes trapped. All I'm getting is Lon Chaney at the organ in Phantom of the Opera and church, neither of which really answer my need. I can see I'll have to pare down the list.

In the meantime, I am transported on the rills and white water of classical organ music between the banks of fantasy and darkness and wondering where the journey will lead.

Did I ever mention I once lived next door to Lon Chaney's old house?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Dealing with Mom

My mother is 81 years old and not in great condition. To hear her, she is as good as when she was 30 or even 25, just not able to do as much housework, and this from a woman who has two leaky valves in her heart (tricuspid and mitral), one remaining kidney full of tumors and hemangiomata (blood tumors), liver riddled with hemangiomata (more blood tumors), reflux, a hiatal hernia (hole in esophagus), needs frequent blood transfusions (don't know where the blood is going -- probably to the expanding hemangiomata), iron infusions, monthly B12 shots (her body no longer makes its own B12), protein-calorie malnutrition (body does not absorb nutrients or vitamins), a raging sweet tooth and she eats constantly, weighing in at 105 pounds (usually less), wrecked intestinal tract from decades of laxative abuse with resultant constipation and need for disimpaction (don't ask), truncated small bowel (15 inches because of strictures and adhesions from previous surgeries), incompetent bladder, and I could go on with hypertension, arrhythmias and more. Yeah, she's in great condition.

The above litany of problems means she is as healthy as a horse -- that has needs to be put out to pasture -- and then there are the balance problems and constant falling, one time taking a close-up look at a sidewalk from a prone position resulting in enough bruises to qualify her for going one-on-one with Muhammad Ali in his prime and then letting George Foreman use her face as a punching bag. She also has TIAs (transient ischemic attacks that leave her cold and barely consciously of her surroundings or actions for longer and longer periods of time) and vomits for days at a time.

I had THE TALK with her this evening after she got home from a 5-day stay in the hospital about her options. None of my siblings is willing to discuss this, although they have talked about it among themselves. I wasn't included. I live in Colorado and nothing I say is germane to the issue since they live in Ohio and are dealing with the issues, except they are not dealing.

I told my mother that she has three options: a daily caregiver while Hoity-Toity is at work, adult day care while she is at work, or an assisted living facility. You can imagine her response. She is great. (She just had an iron infusion and a blood transfusion today, the vampire after a feeding all full of blood and warmth. How long will that last?) She doesn't need any help. She said that after she picked herself up from yet another fall. I told her having two canes, a motorized wheelchair, and a walker do no good if you don't use them.

She is adamant about not needing help and she isn't going to pay for it either. She doesn't want to waste her money, and yet she will waste money on jewelry she carries around in Ziploc bags and seldom wears. She's failing. She's 81 years old. She is no longer the best judge of her own situation or her needs.

"I'm healthy. Nothing wrong with me," she said. "No one can believe I'm 81."

No, I think. That's because they're sure you're 101 or even 120.

I broached the subject of going to court to have a guardian appointed, probably Hoity-Toity or The Mushroom, to make these decisions for her and her response was a threat to commit passive suicide by no longer eating or drinking. I don't take that seriously. She'd never give up the bags of peppermint patties she goes through every day or the Bit-o-Honey, Tootsie pops, or circus peanuts she devoured by the bagful. Besides, we'd just wait for her to pass out from her sugar coma and take care of business.

It's difficult dealing with an intransigent parent bent on destruction and unmindful of her own safety and needs. She still thinks she is able to make these decisions and I can see that is not the case. I know she's terrified of being bed-bound and left to die in a nursing home like she did with her mother, not that there was much choice since repeated strokes had destroyed half of Gram's brain and she was a vegetable -- a vegetable in pain with no access to speech or language or reasoning functions in her brain. Mom kept her in the nursing home so she would get the care she needed and kept her alive by begging Gram not to leave her alone. Mom doesn't believe in karma, but I can see that she knows a great big old free-for-all is coming and she doesn't want to face the music.

I understand my mother's need to direct her own care and her own fate. I also understand that she can no longer do so with any reliability and needs someone to take care of her or to be taken care of during the day. Hoity-Toity's house is out in the country far from the city. It's picturesque with its surrounding farm land and semi-built-up housing development, but it's still the country. There are no services that far out of town. As lovely as it is, it's not longer safe for Mom to be there along for 10-12 hours a day, not with her falling and the TIAs.

My siblings are not willing to make the hard decisions, which is why I had THE TALK with Mom tonight. She needs to be aware of what is coming, and so do my siblings. They're going to have to put on their big kid panties and deal with this. They can no longer wait until some day. That day is now.

It's never easy telling Mom anything and even less so now that I have to hit her with the bad news. She's not safe. She says she has her cell phone, but cannot grasp the reality that if she is hurt and not able to reach her cell phone, she could die or be hurt badly and no one would know until Hoity-Toity made it home.

I don't relish this moment. I know that in not too many years it will be my turn to face these realities and I hope someone love me enough to make the hard decisions. Someone has to.

The Price of a Life | JM Cornwell | Blog Post | Red Room

The Price of a Life | JM Cornwell | Blog Post | Red Room

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Out of Sight, Not Out of Mind

Have you ever avoided places online where you might have to write? I've been there -- and am still there often enough to know how it feels. It isn't as though I have nothing to say. I have lots to say -- and write -- but, for some reason, getting lost in the words is not where I feel I can go right now, not with a new job I'm learning and a new scheduled I'm doing my best to get used to. My haven -- writing -- seems unattainable right now because I'm afraid of getting lost in the words and lose all sense of time (the way I usually do) and miss clocking in for work. That's the new way of keeping track of transcriptionists working remotely, a website to clock in and out of work. Being late is not something I am every comfortable with, not with memories of sitting in the girl's bathroom in a stall with my feet up on the door so no one will know I was late for Sunday school again

I hate being late. Comes from having a mother who was never on time for anything and will doubtless be late to her funeral. I know that is possible because my ex-husband's mother was late to her own funeral due to some mechanical failure on her coffin cart. I wrote about it once and it ended up in a Chicken Soup anthology. I've no doubt my trials and tribulations -- of the minor sort right now -- will also end up in an anthology or provide the seed that will grow into a book or screenplay. Anything is possible when a writer is involved, and everything is food for the writing mill.

Not only am I worried about clocking in late, but I'm also on my toes because my ex-boss is still trying to suck the last vestige of life, soul, and money out of me. A call from the unemployment insurance rep here in Colorado earlier this week was because she was doing her best to deny my claim. I don't need much, just the monies that are due me for the weeks I was off work before I started the new job, from which I will not be paid until the end of November. The new job pays twice a month, the 4th and the 20th, and they hold back the first pay. Lovely.

I didn't figure that into my budget because I counted on unemployment, for which I have duly filed, and yet the ex-boss is still hot to save a little money by taking it from me, as she took it from me for the past 4 years. The story is too long and sad and, yes, I stuck it out because I had so much time in and didn't want to lose what I had gained. The problem with that is that I gained nothing except lost time in servitude to a greedy and vindictive employer who is still hell bent on keeping me broke. It's why she kept hounding me for the past 2 years to resign -- so she wouldn't have to pay unemployment.

Do you really see how I could be a little gun shy and wary of clocking in late on a new job with such history behind me? I feel like someone who has been in an abusive relationship for years, finally got free, and is wary of anyone who wants to begin a new relationship. It's called baggage, and I have my fair share of it.

And yet here I sit writing when I know that if I keep going -- and I can keep on going for hours, maybe days -- I will miss clocking in on time. The clock is ticking and I'm already getting sweaty and nauseous at the thought, still the little girl sitting in the bathroom stall with my feet on the door waiting to hear the sound of Sunday school over so I can slip quietly -- and early -- into church for services so no one will notice me.

Funny how time does that, pass and still not pass. I'm 56 years old and yet I'm still 11 years old and late for Sunday school sitting in the girl's restroom with my feet up, worried someone will come in and find me. The only good part of that scenario is hearing all the things that other people hide when they're avoiding being seen.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Cure for Lack of Inspiration

There are often times when there is nothing to write about and the thought of putting down nothing or some nonsensical stream of consciousness doesn't sit right with the writer, and so they don't write, waiting for inspiration to strike or a job to come along that will foce them to write. What they should have done was just write. A writer's slogan should be the same as Nike's: Just Do It.

Inspiration may not strike. The muse must be coaxed and cajoled, forced out of hiding by the sheer weight of what may seem like nonsensical verbiage, like this. I have nothing, except for two novels to finish and a deadline on a recap of Mike & Molly, a Monday night television show I agreed to write about for The Celebrity Cafe. It's nothing special, just a retelling in words of what is seen on the screen, a sort of reverse engineering of a television show that began as words before it was filmed and is now to be rendered back into words. All writing begins with -- words. Not brain surgery that, just words and more words.

One way to Just Do It is to join NaNoWriMo and begin the quest for words that make sense, even if it means writing words that don't make sense to arrive at the end of the month with 50,000 words and a novel, a rough beginning of a novel most of the time, but a novel all the same. I've used NaNo a few times in the past to work through writer's block, writer's stasis, and writer's fear of writing stupid and it has worked. I've retooled one novel that became a sort-of romance, Past Imperfect, and worked through a few other novels that didn't quite work and need much more work to be novels, and will work through my writing balking on two more novels -- or at least one of them. I need to get them back on track and out of my head so I can move on to other works, like the sequel to Among Women, which is Among Men. (Seemed like a fitting title to the sequel to Pearl Caldwell's wrongful incarceration and journey of the soul.)

In the end, when writing isn't coming and the muse stubbornly refuses to answer the call to inspire, NaNoWriMo is a good way to put things back on track and write. Deadlines are good, and not just when they go whizzing past.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Saturday coming down -- with something

It is Saturday, which is unnoticeable from any other day of the week, except that the post office is closed earlier today and there will be no mail pickup or delivery tomorrow. I have often thought the post office should work seven days a week during the holidays to keep from falling further behind in delivering the mail. Letters and cards I mailed earlier this week have not shown up at their destination, at least as far as Ohio is concerned. What once took two days now take 3-5 days. This is unacceptable and, if having Sundays off and working a half-day on Saturdays is the reason, they need to work a full seven days during the holidays.

I've a pile of letters and cards to be mailed. T'is the season -- Halloween of course. Did you think I meant Sukkot? No, I'm not Jewish. I call Halloween Samhain (Sow-en), but am not averse to calling it what most people use to refer to that end of the harvest time when the walls between the living and the dead is thinnest. Okay, that might be a little long to put on holiday cards. They would have to be bigger, which would be good for the card companies so they could charge more and for the post office so they could charge more, but not feasible. Most people barely get through the usual simple greetings: Happy (insert holiday) and many more. They don't even add the last line or your name. They are just so cheap, except where I get my cards.

When I look at cards in the store and see anything priced over $1.99 (usually $0.99), I put the card back as being too much to spend on a simple greeting or remembrance. I don't feel that way when I look at cards on Papyrus. I don't even look at the cost, except when there's a sale and there's a card or box of stationery I want. Their cards are lovely -- as some of you can attest -- and are worth the money, even with extra postage. I have become a connoisseur of greeting and correspondence cards and my only regret, now that I'm temporarily unemployed, is that I cannot afford to buy more. I'm running low on correspondence cards and will soon have to restock. The box under my desk is getting emptier.

This week and next are busy weeks. My Uncle Bob's birthday is tomorrow (card and gift already sent), Nonny's birthday is next Saturday (card and gift ready to send), and Uncle Bob and Aunt Lois's anniversary is next Saturday (card ready to send, but no gift). It looks like I'll also be going back to work next week. I start training on Tuesday and will finish out the week on Saturday with a Tuesday-Saturday work week (shorter hours, better pay, and cheaper benefits). I think I need to get back to work to provide some structure to my days. I don't do well without structure. Too much time on my hands is too much time on my hands and nothing gets done. Okay, I did a few loads of laundry and cleared off my desk, took out some trash, heated up some meals, and otherwise lollygagged around reading books and playing games with friends. Sue me. I said I needed structure.

Going back to work might also give me the frustration my muse obviously needs to inspire me to write. She's been elusive this past two weeks and give me nada, zilch, zip, nothing in the way of encouragement, inspiration, or time. She must think this is her vacation, too, except I don't remember firing her when I got fired. Oh, well, maybe she'll return when I am back to being miserable. Anything is possible.

In the meantime, that is all. Disperse.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Literary Therapy

Today has been an early day of uploading book reviews. I should have done them earlier, but got caught up in all the work drama that now seems to be sliding slowly toward a new path. There are worse ways to spend my life, but making more money with better benefits and a whole lot less stress doesn't seem to be one of them. These are the times I go back to basics, one of those being the comfort of an old friend -- a book.

The book is Andre Norton's Moon of Three Rings about a Free Trader (space faring free trader) on a new world caught up in that world's intrigues who ends up wearing fur for a while. The fur is a barsk, a dangerous and violent animal not easily tamed, dying from abuse. The Moon Singer, Maelen, finds and saves the barsk and ends up putting Krip Vorlund in the barsks body, shoring up both spirits since his body has been beaten. Thus begins an odyssey into the interior of Yiktor among the Thassa and a price that Maelen must pay for her actions.

I read Moon of Three Rings for the first time nearly forty years ago and I find something new every time I read it, picking up little details and bits of writing that I missed the first few times. Each time it's a new book, not because I don't remember the story, but because I am coming to the book a little different, older, hopefully wiser, but most definitely changed by time and experiences. I bring a different me to the book each time, as I do to other books I reread. My experiences change me, but they also change the way I view the world and the world within the books. Good books just get better with time, and I was in need of a good book, although I almost opted for the next Disc World book from Terry Pratchett.

I flirted briefly with another Jasper Fforde, likely The Eyre Affair, the first in the Thursday Next series, but decided a good old book was exactly what I needed.

I often wonder if doctors ever think of library therapy for what ails their patients. It should be a required treatment for depression, ennui, high blood pressure, and stress, among other ailments that have accumulated with our modern age. Sometimes the best treatment is slowing down with a good book, not just any book, but a really good book, a golden oldie if possible. There's something to be said for a trip through the pages of a well loved book where the characters are familiar and the environs comforting. It's the literary version, at least in my opinion, of stopping to smell the roses. A vase of fresh cut roses wouldn't go amiss while sitting down and reading and you'll have time to smell the gentle fragrance while you read. Two birds. One stone.

The world changes so quickly and times begins to feel like it's traveling past at mach speed. The vistas change and so do we, but at the core we are the same people who fell in love with a story or an author as children and need a little reminding. I may even dig up a copy of the very first book I ever owned and read it again, imagining myself lying in the sweet hay on clean sheets in the loft looking up at the stars shining into the attic with Heidi. Or I could journey back in time with John Carter or swing through the jungles with Tarzan or even go on an adventure with Conan the Barbarian.

What I really need is a box full of vintage comic books and a Creamsicle or a bowl of popcorn and a stack of fairy tales or 1001 Arabian Nights. Sometimes the world looks better from a fantastical perspective. Thoreau did say to simplify and fairy tales, comic books, and fantasies are the simplest and best pleasures I know.

Simplify. Find a comfortable spot with good lighting and read a book. You can enjoy your lunch in a comfortable chair as easily as at the table or a counter, but bring a napkin so you don't mess up the book. Don't forget the roses.