Saturday, October 31, 2009

Writing Contest

Writtenwyrdd has an October contest in honor of Halloween. Write a horror story in 1,000-words or less. The details are here. And here is a picture of the grand prize. I wouldn't mind winning that. So, even though I am not a horror writer, I wrote a horror story and submitted it.

What Can One Expect

This is my third go at writing a post, so clearly I have nothing to say. Well, not true. What is true is that I have too much to say, but nothing of interest.

That's the problem with maintaining a blog in which one offers nothing to readers. It gets dull in a hurry. My son had a blog, but he quit posting to it three months ago. What's depressing is that I have six blogs and if I add up the visits for all six they fall short of my son's blog - and he isn't even posting anymore.

This blog was started as a place for me to write what I was thinking and feeling. That worked great while I had no followers. Then people began to follow and I suppose that put some kind of pressure on what I would post about. But I don't follow routine very well and I can be all over the place in what I write. But through it all I seldom write anything meaningful. That's just not my style.

In many ways this has been a rough year. No big deal. The past seven have been quite bad. But financially this has been the worst. We lost the house and we only made the rent for November because Son gave us some of his saxophone money. We have no money for food or medicine, which is a shame because I will need to replace my blood pressure medicine in about two or three weeks. It probably isn't going to happen. Had to cancel my echogram for my heart, too. I may even cancel my appointment with the heart doctor. Already canceled the dentist appointment. The missing filling will have to wait.

So, it's been rough. But I know of others who have had it worse and are having it worse. Not that I feel any better about that, but I don't want to give the impression I am unaware that there is plenty of misery to go around.

At the same time this has been the most prolific twelve months of my writing life. I did some investigation and found I have written more than a million words in the past 12 months. If you're interested in the details visit The Great Sea (see sidebar for link).

So with the bad comes the good. But just as I think I'm as tired as I can be, I find that that just isn't true. As low as we fall it still isn't the bottom. Perhaps that should be encouraging, but I must confess that it is not.

Oh, well.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Sleep - My Wayward Friend

A long time ago, when I was young, Elizabeth dealt me a blow to my heart which I thought would kill me. I vaguely remember running to my car and driving away, hoping that speed would make it all not be true, but knowing the pain was real and it wasn't going to go away.

I didn't know where I was going but I found myself stopped at Stephen's house. I knocked and his mother called for me to come in. I hurried to Stephen's room so she wouldn't see I was crying.

Stephen was listening to Pink Floyd. He was always listening to Pink Floyd. He saw my face and knew where I had been. He wasn't surprised. He had tried to tell me for a long time.

He said nothing. He just indicated the bunk bed and I climbed up top. He switched off Pink Floyd and put on Moody Blues. Threshold of a Dream.

I slept and woke and slept again several times. Every time I woke I looked and saw him at his desk, waiting for me to recover. There was nothing else he could do. When I finally sat up he smiled and asked if I felt better. I said no. Then he told me I was a 'scab picker'. "You are not one to just let things be. You have to keep checking things, reopening the wounds and delaying your healing."

Then he took me to Keno's Pizza and I ate spaghetti. Salve to a wounded heart.

Stephen was right about me. I am a scab picker. It is impossible for me to leave the past behind. Wherever I go I bring it with me, and when the memories rise the same feelings rise with them. The wounds are never healed.

I am becoming so old, and some days the memories get awful heavy. I should have been asleep three hours ago. I may not be asleep for several hours hence. I sure could use that bunk bed now.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cardinals, Orioles, and Indigo Buntings

We were watching To the Manor Born this morning and something Audrey fforbes-Hamiliton said made me think of something a manager once told me.

The manager was a strict conservative, meaning he was all in favor of rights, as long as they were for people who looked and thought like himself. It also meant he was very interested in money. How to get it. How to keep it. And how to avoid having to spend it and still reap the benefits of wealth.

He wasn't wealthy when I knew him, but I expect he is now. He strikes me as the type.

He also very much wanted me to be like him, and while we did have a lot in common, I think it was a great disappointment to him to realize I can never side solely with the Conservative point of view any more than I can ever side solely with the Liberal. Both viewpoints have things that appeal to me and both have things I find offensive. And having never been one to believe I have to 'belong' to one side or the other, I don't belong to either. Which is probably why neither the ultra liberals or the ultra conservatives are much impressed with me. (But then is anyone? [smiles])

Anyway, during one his hopeful indoctrination sessions he showed me an advertisement he had received in the mail. It was from some investment firm bragging that for the past 18 months all of their financial predictions had come true. He asked me if I ever got anything like that. It was all I could do not to laugh in his face. Money and I have always maintained a very casual relationship. It shows up in small quantities and then disappears quickly. I've never been any good at investments. Hence my current status.

But RC (I've got to call him something, so I chose RC - Real Conservative) was being indoctrinated by someone who was well-established in the investment world, and that someone told him a trade secret.

The way these investment firms work is this:
  • They set up a mailing list of 500,000 names (or whatever the number).
  • They mail out flyers to 250,000 names advising investment in something, and different flyers to the other 250,000 warning against the same investment
  • Time proves one or the other correct
  • Now they mail 125,000 flyers to the 250,000 who got the good advice, reminding them how they were 1-for-1 and advise for something else. They send the other 125,000 the opposite advice, but with the same reminder of their success.
  • Time proves one or the other correct
  • They keep repeating this process of only sending repeat mailings to those who got the good advice, but splitting them into two groups: advise to do and warn against doing.
And this is how they are able to honestly tell recipients that they haven't been wrong in 18 months. As their 'track record' extends they look more and more credible to their mail recipients who, in turn, begin using their company to make investments.

At some point in time their mailing list becomes too small to generate the kind of income they want and they start all over again.

And people wonder why I'm so mistrustful of the financial world.

Who can you believe?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Sky is Grey and the Snow is White

Searched through some online job banks yesterday and today. Examined more than 1,000 listings. Are there jobs to be had? Oh, yes. Plenty of jobs. And not all crummy pay, either. The problem is, out of those 1,000 jobs I found three that I might be able to apply for.

Three out of one thousand. That's a pretty lousy hit rate, I would say. And do you know what my search criteria was? Well, after getting ZERO hits on jobs I might like to apply for, I changed the search criteria to simply be my zip code. Show me ALL the jobs within reasonable distance of my zip code.

It's interesting how search engines interpret that. Got one hit from Houston, Texas. Got another from Michigan and a third from Pennsylvania. The one in Houston was interesting. It was a management position that I'm totally unqualified to apply for. But it pays $70,000 a year. Wonder what the cost of living in Houston is? Is that like poverty row down there? Would be in Los Angeles. It'd be great pay in Duluth. Wish I lived in Duluth. Sometimes. Now when it's cold. Like now.

Over half the jobs offered were in the medical field. I not only do not have any interest in the medical field, I am wholly unqualified to take a job in it. The only thing I have in common with the medical field is that I'm sick. Mostly in body, but I've had people assure me that there's more wrong with my head than outward appearance.

The first job I found looks like a Whack-O outfit. If they were to hire me I would be a "Street Team" member, promoting events as gas stations, retail stores, fairs and outreach events. Duties would include handing out gospel tracts, one on one evangelism, soliciting support, and praying with those in need. I always thought those people were volunteers.

I am a Christian. And I do believe in promoting the Gospel. However, I've never been comfortable with street ministries. A friend of mine brought me along to Como Park one day so we could harass people about God. She thought it was great. All I saw was that we were ruining everyone's day at the park. Getting paid to be a pain in the ass? Guess I'm not a good Christian.

The second job is for seasonal snowplowing. It pays very well, and it's likely to draw in about a zillion applicants. I have a Class A license, but I've never driven a snow plow. Still, it means a lot of money - when it snows. Which hasn't happened that often in Minnesota the past few years. We're in a kind of a drought mode.

The third job is probably the most sensible of the three. It's working in a Blockbuster Video Store. What I find odd is that they're requiring two years experience. How odd. But I'll apply anyway.

We need the money. We may be able to make November rent on time.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Now I'm Pissed

I got away from posting more than once on the same blog in a day, but I'm annoyed enough now that I'm going to do it anyway. Besides, my other post was more of a driveling mess than this one. In the other I was amused. Now I'm kind of torqued.


Because I just read another post about how men CAN'T multitask and women can.

What a load of CRAP!

Anyone can multitask. Especially if they're being paid for it.

Cook supper while on the telephone and holding a baby? I've done that. More times than I can remember. When Son was a baby I did most of the cooking, and I shared diaper duty and baby amusement time.

I can work on five stories at the same time. Yes, I know. You don't consider that work, or even tasking. Up yours. I bet you can't do it.

DO men multitask?

Not nearly so often as women. Why not?

Men don't give a rats ass about hardly anything. Unless they're my brother, men could care less about a clean house, dishes in the sink, a dirty floor, an unmade bed, or unwashed clothes. These are things we will do - in time. And if we're feeling ambitious we'll even do them all at the same time. (I have been motivated to do all of those things at the same time. Mother hit much harder than Daddy. And when it was two hours before she got home one learned to multitask in a hurry. Another point of motivation.)

Put a man on a ball field and watch him multitask. Can he watch a ball, swing a bat, and aim for "where they ain't" all at once? Yes, he can. Why? Because it's important - to him.

Pay a man to multitask and he will do it. Tell him to do five things he loves doing and he'll multitask.

Tell him to do one thing he hates doing and you'll be lucky if he ever finishes.

People who test things things are assholes. If they knew Jack Shit (Not a bad fellow. Met him after the news this morning.) they would understand that anybody can multitask at things they consider important, and less so when they consider the things a waste of time.

Spouse can multitask - when she wants to. When the tasks are things she doesn't want to do suddenly she has to do them one at a time. Maybe this indicates women can't multitask? Baloney!

Both Spouse and I have: cooked a meal, done the laundry, talked on the telephone, and played a table game all at the same time. Why? Because we wanted to. But when I don't want to do these things I am very much like Spouse. I do them one at a time. The idea is that, hopefully, something will come up and prevent me from having to do the unfinished tasks.

Sometimes it works.

Remember - You Heard it Here First

Okay, so I was watching the news this morning before bringing Son to school. No big deal. Most of the time I only half watch it anyway. There just isn't that much going on that I care to hear about.

One of the newsworthy events I have been marginally following has been the incident where a NW Airlines air bus overshot Minneapolis by 150 miles. Although I do not (can't afford it and have no place to go) fly, I found the idea that a commercial airline could miss its destination by 150 miles intriguing. What could cause such a thing? Turns out the pilots were so engaged with their laptop/s they ignored everything else. What a comforting thought!

They were alerted to their error when one of the flight attendants came to inquire about the estimated time of arrival. That was when the pilots realized they were now in Wisconsin air space and took steps to get back to where they belonged.

So the news is on this morning, and one of the anchors announces proudly, "We have an exclusive interview with the flight attendant who brought the mistake to the pilots' attention."

Generally, these kinds of things are pretty pitiful. I mean, don't you just love it when something happens in Japan and the local news people interview someone who knows someone who had a cousin who heard of someone who went to Japan back in 1977? But this, I thought, just might be good. After all, the flight attendant was actually there. She was the one who got the pilots to turn around before they entered Canadian air space and had to be shot down as a terrorist threat. So this is how the interview went. The flight attendant was smiling and nice (that training pays off) as she was entering her house.

Reporter: Did you know what was going up there?

Flight Attendant: No.

Reporter: Did they (pilots) tell you anything?

Flight Attendant: No.

End of interview.

Wow! Had I been watching any other news this morning I would have missed that. I thought it was worth passing on to the world. After all, breaking news like this shouldn't be hidden under a bushel.

Next comes the interview with the woman who's sister's brother-in-law has a friend who visited somebody someplace who actually flew on an airplane back in 1966.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Six Days With the Sun and a Root Beer Float

Have you ever, or do you now, keep a diary? I've lost count over the years how many times I've tried to maintain one. I guess it's my love of history - true history - that inspires me to keep trying.

One of the things that made Ken Burns' The Cival War so wonderful for me to watch was all of the first-hand documentation from the people who had lived it. At the time what they wrote may not have seemed like much to them, but more than one hundred years later it becomes fascinating reading.

And so I have tried to keep diaries and record things that don't seem like much to me. Unfortunately, they seem like so little I easily forget to write them. And I'm such a perfectionist about those things that if I miss a few days in a row I just give it up.

The exception to this rule is my son's diary, which I have maintained for him every day since the day he was born. There are 4,376 entries now. I'll let you do the math to figure out his age.

I have missed a few days, but with the exception of three days seven years ago, I have always been able to make them up. I suppose it comes down to what is interesting and what is important. Generally, filling in his journal is one of the first things I do every day. You would think I could take that opportunity to write about myself, in my own diary. Tried that. It didn't make my life any more interesting to me.

In a way the blogs I keep kind of serve this purpose. They just aren't daily and they don't always reflect what's actually going on.

Which reminds me. I'm working on creating a new blog. This one will force me to draw upon my programming skills - long dormant. About twenty-five or thirty-years ago I had written a software program for myself. I lost it when the tape it was stored on became corrupted. Almost every year since I have tried to rewrite the thing. Never managed it. Came close the one year when I created a version in Excel. That worked nicely. Until a virus struck my computer and I lost everything. But I'm giving it another go, and I've made it further along than I have since that Excel success of a few years ago. If I ever finish it I will have a new blog. How many will that make?

I guess I just like to write.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Preying on the Poor

It's amazing what desperation does to a person. Even otherwise intelligent people suddenly become fodder for every scam artist who happens by. And after a few burns the warning flags begin flying high even when no scam is involved.

Got a telephone call last evening. I forget who the guy identified himself as, or his organization. But he said he was calling because we were finalists for a Home Makeover. Had I been thinking clearer I should have kept him on the line and tried to get more information from him, such as how and why we became finalists in something we never signed up for. Instead, I just informed him that we no longer had the house. We lost it about forty days ago. And what a pity, because the house certainly needs a makeover.

He seemed quite depressed and apologetic, and with an apology he said goodbye and I hung up.

Could it have been real? I don't know. I know of the show but I never watch it. Don't find that kind of thing entertaining. But it didn't matter because we no longer have a house.

We've received many calls from people saying they represented organizations which very much wanted to help us. Ultimately, they would ask for money. Now let's examine this rationally. I tell you I have no money. You wish to help. So what do you do? You ask me for money. What's wrong with this picture?

And yet it is hard not to believe these people. Why? Because in a desperate situation one is willing to suspend all disbelief in order to make things better. Rational and logical effort have produced nothing. Why not try the ridiculous? At some point in time you get the feeling you have two chances to die and only one chance to live. And if that one chance is a one-in-a-million chance, so what? What other hope do you have?

Scamming people who are safe and secure (in their own minds and emotions) is difficult. It requires great charisma and quality acting with believable accoutrements. Scamming the poor only requires tapping into their desperation. They know they're being scammed, but they're too desperate to care anymore.

What kind of person does this to the poor? The financial rewards certainly are pitiful, so it has to be something more. Simply proving how foolish people can be. That needs no proof. You might as well try proving the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

Politicians use this tact to get elected and reelected. They keep telling us why we need to be afraid of what will happen should they not be elected. That the dire consequences they predict are no more likely to occur than the wonderful promises they offer does not enter most voter's thoughts. They're just desperate not to have things 'go bad'.

We have all been desperate at least a few times in our lives. Some times with high stakes and some times with low. But we all know what it is. And I doubt that any of us like it.

And we're not keen on the predators, either.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Sound of Words

Recently, a few email exchanges between myself and a dear friend brought to my attention how often we talk about how a person sounds in their writing when, in fact, whatever sounds we are 'hearing' are solely in our imagination.

Imagination is a powerful thing. We hear sounds that aren't there because we read feeling into words. It's not aways accurate. More than once I have been involved, or witnessed, an email exchange in which one person becomes very angry at an insult the other never intended.

There was a time when letters through the mail were the best way to keep in touch with friends and relatives living at great distances. Then came telephones and letter writing became a thing of the past for many. Now we have email, telephones, twitter, facebook and who knows what else, and we're back to writing.

Except we seldom writing in sentences anymore. Not that I'm the best at sentence structure and spelling, but I remember when I worked in an office and received business correspondence from customers. I was often embarrassed for the people who were sending supposedly professional letters in which spelling errors abounded and sentence structure was non-existent.

The main cause of poor spelling and grammar, I think, is due to the costliness of texting. I have never done texting, but my understanding is that every letter costs something. And so "I Love You" becomes "ILU", and "Talk to you later" becomes "TTYL". You save the cost of seven letters in the first example and 13 in the second. Money becomes the incentive to write poorly. What a shame. And there's nothing to be done about it.

But back to my original thought. Isn't it funny how we just can't read a thing? We have to put sound to words. It comes as naturally as breathing. And when writers talk about their writing, or someone else's, we frequently talk about our "voice". Voice becomes more than just sound. It's also the words we use.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Think About Trees

Don't normally post a lot of poetry here, but this came to mind just a bit ago.

Do you ever think about trees
Have you ever sat back and just watched them
I remember this big ole tree in our yard when I was young
It stood there proud and strong
Sometimes it looked like it wanted to talk

I think it did – in tree language
They way it moved in the wind
It seemed to whisper thoughts
What it reminded me of was one of J.R.R.Tolkien’s Ents
Especially when it stomped mean ole Jessie T into the dirt

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

One Plus One Plus Three Minus Four Equals One

Took another dose of humility yesterday. Went to the food shelf to get our allotment. My first time. And just when I thought I didn't have any pride left. Turns out I do. I know, because it took a hit and I felt it.

We're only allowed to use the shelf once a month. Other food shelves may have different rules. I don't know. I expect it's kind of based on how much food they have and how many people are coming to get it.

Got some bread stuffs, canned vegetables, cereal, meat, milk, and canned juice. I also took an acorn squash. I like acorn squash. Baked with butter.

There was a time, and it doesn't seem that long ago now, that we used to bring food to the shelf. In fact, we brought some with us. Spouse had gone to the store and bought a bag of sugar only to come back to the apartment and discover we didn't need sugar. So we donated it.

Don't much like going to the food shelf. Don't expect many do. That feeling actually contributed to our losing the house. You see, we didn't go, and that meant we were using our money to buy food instead of paying the house payment. But I don't know that it would have made much of a difference anyway. At best it would have delayed the inevitable.

I find it interesting that NONE of the government agencies set up to help the poor and needy have done a single thing for us. Every time we have applied for help we have been turned down. The food shelf is run by a local church. The only thing they check is when you last visited. They don't even care if you need their services. They provide them anyway. I know this because the one man who helped us carry the bags to the car told me so. He told me to 'give myself the pride talk' and come back next month. Probably will. Probably have to.

I expect those government agencies are actually helping someone, but it never ceases to amaze me how people who earn more than we do get all kinds of help while we're turned down time and again. Some people know how to walk the system and others don't.

Regarding the food shelf, we used to donate to it regularly. I remember Spouse didn't want to at first. Didn't see the need. You have to excuse the attitude, though. Spouse grew up in a tightly conservative environment and lived for years under the delusion that people suffered because it was their own fault, so let them suffer. I grew up in a different environment that said not everyone who suffers is suffering because of themselves. But even if they are, you help them if you can. That's how poor people get along. They help each other. Which is why I have also found it interesting that until Spouse sent letters off to the family, the only people trying to help were people from my environment who were pretty much in the same fix we're in.

Life is odd. If I could step back from it and observe it better perhaps I might be able to figure it out one day. For now, I'm just trying to survive. If that means letting the ego take another beating, so be it. Son has to eat.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Doing Nothing Takes a Long Time

Just been listening to music today. Listening to music and wasting time. I've done some reading, but no writing. Worked a bit on something I created for my own amusement with my old computer. But that computer died of a virus and took my creation with it. Remaking it is such a drag I have never got around to doing it. Tried a few times. Trying again lately.

Wasted days seem like such a waste. It's like, why can't I save these off and use the time when I need it? When I've got six things I want to get done and only time for one. Wouldn't it be great to be able to go, Hey, you know what? I had that Sunday back in October which wasn't good for anything. I'll just take that out and use it as a leftover.

Doesn't work that way.

Manna spoils with the dawn.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Living With What I Am

What is it about pain that makes it stick around years, even decades, after the cause has left?

I am, of course, talking about the injuries we suffer within. But maybe not only.

In my life I have broken several bones. On cold days I have two fingers and a thumb which will throb. My knees hurt. My shoulder recalls healing from when it was separated.

The pain is there. All of these injuries took place thirty years ago. Or more. When I was young. Thin. Strong. Filled with endurance. I went to battle on athletic fields, tested myself climbing trees and rocks, and blazed through the obstacle course faster than anyone else because I faced it with reckless abandon. And now, decades after those events have become nothing more than faint memories the pain returns to haunt me.

Still, sometimes I would that pain is nothing compared to the pain I have taken inside.

But what kind of failing is it to suffer years afterward over rejections which no longer matter? Why should it matter now, thirty years after the fact, that I never told VB how I felt until the day we said goodbye? Or that EL basically told me F--- off? Or LB had me convinced we were to be married, only to learn I was something to be played with? Or BN that I mattered, only to learn I was just a possession?

Why doesn't the reality of what I have wash away the pain of what I lost, or never had?

Probably it has something to do with why my fingers and knees ache over failed efforts from just as long ago. Why my skin remains a discolored reminder of my encounter with the sharp object and the searing oven.

Pain is always with us, isn't it? The hurts of arthritis, twisting on our joints. The loneliness of rejection. And something as simple as weather can bring it all alive again.

How strange. But I think it might make me a better writer. I think so. Don't know.

I'm just feeling lonely today.

Peabo Bryson: If Ever Your In My Arms Again

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Another First For Me - Life's Minor Triumphs

I don't normally do memes. For one thing, I'm not entirely sure I understand what a meme is. Apparently it is a series of unasked questions to be answered in sequence on a blog. Kind of like a chain letter. (I don't get into those either.)

But Writtenwyrdd has one on her site which she got from Charles Gramlich who's been seeing it on other blogs. This one is interesting to me because it is exclusively devoted to books and reading. So, I thought I would give it a go.

So, my first meme. Questions in red italics, answers in blue.

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack:
My favorite place to read is in bed, which means snacks and a soda are right at hand. Snacks are anything which can be eaten with one hand. The most common snacks are chips and popcorn, but chocolate, apples, peanuts, and even hot dish qualify.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?
Writing in a book makes my skin crawl. For the longest time I couldn't even write in a blank book. Eventually, I got so I could hi-lite and underline passages in my bible, and write personal thoughts on what I had read, but now when I read it I find myself wishing I hadn't done that.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open?
When I was very young I folded the corners. Then I realized the fold marks never went away. So I began laying the books flat open. But then I found the spines would break. So now I use bookmarks. I'm constantly having to buy more because they get all bent and floppy. I prefer stiff bookmarks. (Although the one I'm using now is made of cloth.)

Fiction, nonfiction, or both?
Mostly fiction and mostly fantasy. However, I also enjoy nature stories. And over the years I have found reading documentary and biographical stories enjoyable. And reading about the stars, the planets, and earth history and science is always fascinating.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of a chapter, or can you stop anywhere?
During a first read I prefer to finish reading sessions between chapters. In subsequent reads I can stop wherever.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop and look it up right away?
It depends. If the book is exceptionally captivating I won't interrupt the flow with a word search. I try to evaluate the meaning based on context. For not so captivating work, or during subsequent reads, I will look up the word.

What are you currently reading?
Lord of the Rings. For about the 250th time. I'm also picking up a Tanya Huff book at the library this afternoon: Sing the Four Quarters. I've not ready anything from her before, but she comes highly recommended.

What is the last book you bought?
The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron. That's been a while now. Ran out of money you know.

Are you the type of person that reads one book at a time, or can you read more than one?
I can read more than book at a time, and I have. But generally, I read so fast that I usually finish a book in one sitting, so I don't give myself the opportunity. I have been known to stay up until dawn reading.

Do you have a favorite time/place to read?
My favorite place to read is in bed. My favorite time is when I'm going to be left alone. I don't like being interrupted in my reading any more than I do in my writing. But I'm usually nice when I am. [smiles]

Do you prefer series books or stand alones?
I don't know that I have a real preference on this. It kind of depends on the story. While I wish there was more with Lord of the Rings and Well-Favored Man (Elizebeth Willey), I'm content that Higher Power of Lucky is stand alone.

Is there a specific book or author you find yourself recommending over and over?
Very seldom do I ever recommend books. I just tell people I liked them and leave it for them to decide on their own if they're interested. Further, I have a difficult time remembering author names. I've always been horrible at remembering names.

How do you organize your books?(by genre, title, author’s last name, etc.)
Ideally, I keep my books by author within genre. There are exceptions. I have some Star Trek books written by different authors. I keep these together because they still form a set of sorts. But I keep my Warriors (Erin Hunter) in order by chronological sequence and not title.

So, there you have it. My first meme. Not too difficult. Could have said a lot more. I'm surprised I didn't.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Simplicity is Not all it's Cracked Up to Be

Daddy didn't push us hard to get top grades. His attitude was that kids should be kids. We only get to be kids once without being put away for it. For that reason, none of us were advanced ahead of our grade and none of us were put into special schools for 'smart' kids.

At the same time Daddy did insist we get good grades. Failing grades - in anything - was not acceptable. "We didn't have any stupid kids," he used to say.

Well, I'm not so sure the jury is unanimous on that opinion, but as that is a different topic I will let it be for now.

Because (not supposed to begin a sentence with 'because') Daddy had this attitude, and for other reasons, he was usually fun to have around. When he was around. Most of my growing up years he was an over-the-road truck driver, meaning he would be gone for a day or two at a time. And when he wasn't over-the-road he was over-at-the-bar. Then he wasn't fun to have around. Especially in the later years. He became an angry drunk. He wasn't violent. Not physically. But he would get so - angry.

But even sober there were times when Daddy wasn't that much fun. These times usually began with the same question:

So, what do you think?

I got so I hated that question. On the surface it seemed fair and legitimate. What do you think? Gee, someone's interested in my opinion. But it wouldn't stop there. Once you said what you thought you were required to defend the position. And we learned early on it didn't help to say we thought what we already knew Daddy thought. Although just as guilty of making foolish mistakes as anyone else, Daddy wasn't stupid. Even if you agreed with his position he made you defend it. And he was a master at shooting down your arguments.

The only one who ever won out on one of these What Do You Think sessions was Lynahr. That was when Daddy woke up all of the eldest children (Helvie and I were spared) in the middle of the night to confront them about Mickey's having (several times) slept overnight at his girlfriend's apartment. Nobody dared say they thought it was 'good', but only Lynahr, the shyest member of the family, dared say what she thought.

I don't care!

I don't care is not really a position that needs defending. You don't need a reason. Your reason is in your answer. I don't care.

It can be quite a conversation stopper, and it stopped Daddy that night. He dismissed the family and everyone returned to bed.

What a pity I didn't learn about it until afterward, for Helvie's and my turns were the following morning. We were watching Saturday morning cartoons. Daddy came in and turned off the television. The older siblings (except for Mickey, who had left in the middle of the night) were all gathered around to witness Helvie's and my responses.

Helvie was never a good one for expressing herself in those days, so she wasn't always required to defend her position. Not only that, but Judayl had coached her. Nobody had coached me, so when Daddy asked me what I thought about it I responded honestly.

What are you talking about?

Daddy didn't like that answer. He knew we all knew what Mickey was doing at that apartment. Except, this time, Daddy was wrong. I vaguely remembered being told some time that Mickey had been sleeping over there, but so what? What was wrong with sleeping?

That was not acceptable to Daddy. He couldn't accept that I didn't understand when my younger sister understood completely. So he grilled me, using words which conveyed nothing to me. Daddy didn't use profanity. Even in extreme anger and drunkeness the worse word I ever heard him use was 'bunk'. "That's a lot of bunk." So, without being explicit, he tried to corner me into revealing my attitude on the whole thing. Only to discover through my sincere frustration that I hadn't a clue what he was talking about. He got up and drove to the bar.

Daddy was disappointed in me. He was often disappointed in me. He felt I should understand things that I just did not understand. Sexual things tended to top that list. But you know, he never volunteered any information, and God forbid that I should ask an adult anything about sex. And so I was left ignorant. In fact, to paraphrase M, who was jealous because L was getting all of the attention from D at our college lunch, "You could fill a library with what I didn't know." M was specifically referring to theatre, but it was really a sparring match between two girls hot for the same guy. By college, even I could recognize jealousy.

You know, I still think I'm fairly ignorant about things. That isn't necessarily bad, but it does leave me confused an awful lot.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Tuesday is Writing Assignment Day. Current projects and the like. I think I need to change my schedule. Not only do I not follow it, but I'm mostly doing my posts on writing over on The Great Sea and Tales From The Great Sea.

So what to write about here?

What about model trains?

I like model trains. Way back when I had a Lionel. That one I didn't much care for. Too big, I guess. But it was really when we visited my uncle's house and I saw he had an entire corner of his basement devoted to a model train layout. I was fascinated.

There were tunnels and mountains and trees and buildings. Everything constructed with his imagination. I wanted to have a my own.

A number of years later I did get a set. It was HO gauge, which I still found to be too big. It needed so much space. I never did anything with the set, though. Model railroading is not exactly cheap, and my parents were exactly swimming in the dough.

Later, after I was married, Spouse bought me an N scale set. This was wonderful! The right size. I bought a piece of 4'-8' plywood, a package of Mountains in Minutes, and proceeded to build my railroad community. Not having much of a grasp in how electricity works, I designed an unworkable layout. You see, electricity flows through wire very similar to how water flows through a pipe. You can't turn it back on itself or the whole thing comes to a halt. The only thing I have left from that set are a few cars. Once Spouse realized that model railroading consists of constantly spending more money support for this hobby came to an abrupt halt.

One of the greatest things I saw was when I worked for a small town newspaper. My editor knew of some retired guys who had converted an old pig barn into a model railroading club and sent me there to do a story on it. It was a really cool setup. One guy had even spent something like three months building a monstrous trestle bridge. The building was about sixty feet long and thirty wide. Or something like that. Very rectangular. The far back wall was mountains. The long left wall was countryside with a small village. The long right wall was city and train yard. The close end was where they had set up the control booth.

The men took turns operating the trains. They had a schedule in which certain cars needed to be delivered to certain places at certain times. They kept written records of what they did when they were in charge. At the beginning they had to manually unhitch cars. Now they were in the process of wiring in automatic de-couplers. It looked like so much fun.

Some day, if money ever decides to live with me again, I may just set up another train layout. I'll work off a schedule, too. But if it goes anything like this blog, I'm going to be off schedule in short order.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Young and Childish Humor

We're watching Young Frankenstein as I write this post. It's a wonderfully funny movie I first started watching back in the fall of 1975 at the Varsity Theatre on the UofM Campus. The theatre is still there, but it looks like it's live shows now, instead of films. Back in the 1970s it was a dollar theatre. Saw lots of good movies there. I didn't actually attend the University, except to go to movies and eat pizza at the Green Mill in Dinkytown. Great pizza, but always busy.

Anyway, there is the scene very early in the film where Gene Wilder, in a fit of emotional frustration, stabs his leg with a scalpal. It reminded me of something Stephen did shortly after we graduated from high school.

Stephen was an artist. Mainly, he painted with oils, and he often purchased his supplies in bulk. It was ultimately cheaper and he spent less time running to the art stores. One of the things he purchased in bulk was paint. They came in soft plastic bags, like plasma.

Stephen had recently been hired at a leather and luggage retail outlet. Life was dull there. Everyone was so serious. He decided what they needed was a bit of humor to lighten things up. So, he tied a bag of red paint to his thigh, inside his pants. Then he went to work.

While at lunch a female co-worker sat down beside him. The lunchroom was small and there was only the one table. Stephen very casually withdrew a large syringe from his lunch box. He then proceded to stab his thigh and withdraw a full supply of red liquid. The girl screamed and ran out.

Stephen was fired on the spot.

I laughed when he told me and I laugh every time I think about it. Stephen probably suspected he might get into some trouble, but I doubt he realized he would be fired. Stephen often had trouble envisioning the consequences of his humor.

Once he nearly got us both arrested as pedaphiliacs. I was driving and he was sitting with his window down, bored to death. There was this young girl sitting at the curbside. Don't know what she was doing, but she was minding her own business. Stephen sees her and tells me to slow down. Dumb old me hasn't figured out what's about to happen and so I do. As we near the poor little girl Stephen sticks his head out the window and, in his best (worst) Peter Lorre voice says, "Want to go camping?"

He thought it would be funny to scare her. She was scared. She was also bright enough to get up and run into the house. Needless to say I not only burned all othe rubber off my tires getting away from there, but Stephen had to listen to my anger for the next two hours. When I got too tired to yell at him anymore I drove us to Chris's house and told him. Chris could stay angry at Stephen much longer than I could. And he was much better at yelling.

Poor Stephen. He just couldn't understand that some things just aren't funny.

But in my book, the paint and syringe thing was funny. I wouldn't have fired him.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

When the Snow Melts and the Sun Won't Shine

Just finished playing Texas Hold 'Em with Son. He learned to play it at school last year and so we got him a version for home play. The three of us played a lot at first, and then it was just Spouse and Son. I'm not that keen on card games. Generally, they aren't kind to me. I just don't get what I want. This includes games like, Go Fish, Old Maid, Rummy, and Hearts.

Actually, the card games I've been most successful at have been poker. But I've never gone up against anyone really good. Most of the time I've managed to come away with more than I went in with, but not always. Last night Son hammered me. He was doing so again today when my luck suddenly shifted. I went all-in three times in a row and he came just short three times in a row. He had a pair of aces. I had three tens. He had two pair. I had a straight. He had a pair of kings. I had a straight. It can change quickly.

We weren't playing for money. I don't like playing cards for money, and neither of us has any anyway.

A long time ago I remember playing cards for money at Chris's house. It was Chris and Stephen and I. We were playing "guts".

Guts was a pretty simple game. At least the way we played it. An ante was put into the pot. Two cards were dealt to each player, and to "the hole". Beginning at the dealer's left, players announced whether they would 'stay' or 'fold'. Staying meant you either won the pot or had to put as much in as was already there. To win, you had to stay and have the best hand. With only two cards dealt to everyone a pair of anything was considered an excellent hand. Ace high and king high were good, too.

We had an added dilemma. If no one else 'stayed', the dealer was required to stay. And since "the hole" was part of the game, it was possible for everyone to stay and nobody win.

This happened continually that day when Chris, Stephen and I were playing. We kept dealing pairs to The Hole. Six hands in a row! And on the one hand, it was amazing, all three of us had a pair. Chris's pair beat Stephen's and mine, but The Hole had a pair of aces. Eventually, we had run out of pennies and were tossing in I.O.U.s. Finally, Chris won. I not only had lost all of my money, but I owed another twenty dollars. Stephen owed about thirty-five. Not much in today's thinking, but back then I suppose it was like two hundred and three hundred dollars. A fair amount of money for three people working part-time minimum wage (about two dollars an hour).

To pay off my debt I was forced to hand Chris my penny collection. He let me keep my two silver quarters. The rest all went to him.

Since then I have been leery about playing cards for money. I certainly won't borrow to gamble, like I did then. How stupid can one get? No matter what hand we were dealt it was a possible losing hand. Even a pair of aces. For we did not acknowledge suits, and ties went in favor of The Hole.

But it's fun to do something different. Life in an apartment can be pretty dull at times.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

What Would You Have to Say, Stephen

Just an update regarding my last post. I did finish The Sweet Girl (but not until this morning), but it did NOT surpass Shadow People in word count. Came about two hundred words short.

My friend Stephen was an artist. He could draw, he could paint, he could sculpt. What he wasn't good at was telling stories. Not on paper anyway. Just to sit and talk he did fine. He had a wonderfully vivid imagination.

Stephen was a gentle sort. I cannot remember a single instance where Stephen was ever cruel, or deliberately hurt anyone. His humor could be acerbic, and sometimes people did feel bad. But when Stephen realized he had hurt feelings he would take steps to undo the damage he had caused.

He was an honest person. Gentle. Honest. Kind. What wonderful attributes to possess.

And so it was with great surprise when one day he shows up at my house all depressed. Turns out he had gone to a local Target store with Chris, and Chris had convinced Stephen to do something Stephen had never done before in his life: steal.

I forget what it was he stole. I think it was a piece of fishing tackle. Anyway, it had taken Chris an inordinate amount of time and effort to convince Stephen to take the thing. All of this back and forth debate had attracted the attention of the store's security. So of course when Chris and Stephen left the store they were caught, apprehended, and brought to the local police station where they were booked.

The incident left a lasting impression of Stephen, and it showed in some of his ad-lib comments. He had a great gift for exaggeration and sarcasm. He liked to tell stories of the poor slob who stole a pack of gum and ran out of the store, only to be gunned down by a 37-member S.W.A.T. force. Then he would pose as the dead criminal, laying spread out and holding the cheap piece of swag, and say, "Was it worth it?"

It probably isn't funny at all to read, but when I see and hear him in my mind I can't help but laugh out loud.

And do you know the funny thing about it? That was the only time Stephen ever shop-lifted. His younger brother did it all the time. And never got caught. The truth is, I always felt Stephen was lucky because he was caught, and I often told him so.

Exaggeration and sarcasm was how Stephen dealt with all of his disappointments.

He rode motorcycles. Harley-Davidson models. Back in the 70s Harley-Davidson wasn't doing so well. There weren't many shops around. Here in Minnesota the only shop Stephen knew of was thirty miles away.

One summer in June, Stephen was driven off the road by a jerk in a pickup truck. Stephen always referred to drivers of pickup trucks as "hockey pucks". It was a term he picked up from his motorcycle driving instructor. But in driving off the road Stephen's motorcycle was damaged. Two of the spokes on his front wheel snapped. Now he probably could have continued to ride his bike with the missing spokes, but he felt it was too dangerous to risk. So he called the Harley-Davidson shop and ordered the spokes. (They didn't have any in stock at the time.) He waited the stated four weeks and borrowed his father's car to pick up his spokes. They weren't there.

Two weeks later he asked me to drive him. I agreed.

He was depressed the entire way there. Calling the store didn't seem to work as they seldom answered the telephone. (He may have actually gone to the store and placed his order in the first place.) When we reached the store he had to wait about fifteen minutes before anyone would treat with him. When they did they informed him the spokes still had not arrived I thought Stephen was going to break down and cry. Then he got angry. Angrier than I had ever seen him.

When we got back home he wanted to do an audio skit. These were all ad-lib so I had no idea what was on his mind. He began by pretending he had come in to the Harley-Davidson shop. I was to be the clerk.

ME: May I help you?

STEPHEN: Yes. I was here about - three years ago to order a spokes for a motorcycle wheel.

That was Stephen. I still smile to think about him. He made me laugh. Often when I desperately needed to find humor in my life.

I would like to believe that, were he alive and with me now, he would be pleased with the writing I have been accomplishing. He wouldn't read any of it, but he would be pleased. I know I am.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Expanding, or Just Blowing Up

I've been productive with my writing over the past six weeks. More than 138,000-words written in five stories, one poem, and one Evil Editor exercise (see September 20, Pirate Speak Exercise). The shortest piece was the poem, 192-words. The longest was a novel, Shadow People, 64,664-words. My current work, The Sweet Girl, has a slight chance of passing Shadow People. It's currently at 60,099-words. I'm finishing it up tonight or tomorrow.

Been thinking of trying my hand at something else: drawing. It's something I have thought about often over the years. I really wish I could draw as well as I desire. The problem I have had is that to draw as well as I desire requires years of practice. (How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice. Practice. Practice.) In order to achieve my goal I have to accept my first efforts will hardly resemble what I ultimately want. I have the same problem with my bass. Damn, I wish I could play it, and play it like a pro. But that requires practice. And that means time.

I suppose it comes from being older, but lacking the wisdom of real age.

But I have this artist's sketchpad. Bought it years ago with a book on how to draw cartoon figures. Actually filled in a page before I became disgusted with my efforts and set it aside. Too impatient. The four drawings of men are supposed to be the same man, and the four drawings of women are supposed to be the same woman. The woman wasn't supposed to look like some ditz, either.

So I'm tempted to give drawing another go, despite the fact that my handsome men and beautiful women are going to look like the images above. But if I could only draw, even to the point where I could actually repeat an image so that it was clear it was the same person, I could generate my comic strips: Decca the Brave, about a fat and lazy horse (based on horses Spouse and I used to own); Hotshot Reporter, about an idiot small town newspaper reporter who was so tall you never got to see his head (based on my time as such). I also might be able to draw images for my Hero stories.

The problem with trying to draw, or play the bass, is that it has to take time away from my writing, and that is going so well right now I hate to do anything to jeopardizing it. Still, I'm feeling creative. Maybe now is another good time to at least think about it. I'm great at thinking about things. I do it better than anyone. Pity I can't get paid for that.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Cold Wind is Blowing

There's a new lock on our door. Kind of symbolic.

The wind has changed. During August and September the wind would not come into the apartment, even with both windows and the sliding door open. Now, for the past week, the wind has been coming from the southwest and blowing directly inside. And, because it's been raining and cold, the smokers aren't out to force us to close those windows and the sliding door.

I'm not a cold weather person, despite living in Minnesota. However, it has been several years since we've had what I would call a "normal" Minnesota winter. When I was young we often had nasty cold snaps strike around Christmas and last about a month. Then we would get a "thaw" in January followed by several weeks of extreme cold. In the last ten years I think we've actually had a couple of winters in which nature was not able to maintain a snow cover through the winter.

But it's cold now. For me. Once it falls below sixty I think it's cold, and we haven't had sixty degrees in quite a while.

I'm not looking forward to this winter. If it's this cold already in September and October, then perhaps we are in store for a "normal" winter this year. Cold. Snow. Ice. Yuck.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Had a couple of interesting events yesterday. One was kind of disturbing and the other just kind of interesting.

It was mid-afternoon. I was soon to head over to the school to bring Son back to the apartment. About a half hour before I was to leave I lay down on the bed. The cat jumped up on my chest to take a nap. That was interrupted be the telephone. Another computer calling me up and telling me to "Please hold". How rude! Call someone up and immediately put them on hold? What kind if crap is that? If you're going to put me on hold - even for five seconds - don't bother calling me because I'm going to hang up. I don't care who you are.

Another set of computer calls goes this way, "This is something insurance companies don't want you to know!" I always respond the same: "Well, I guess I'd better not listen then." And I hang up. What a pity it's wasted humor. Computers don't give a damn if you hang up on them.

I hate those commercials. You know them. "Doctors don't want you to know this." Of course not. They want you to stay sick. According to advertising, nobody wants you to know anything. Bullsh*t. Nobody gives a damn what you know. Why? Because Americans are too lazy to use the information anyway. They'll continue to go to the doctor (when they can afford it) and buy the pre-packaged stuff and whatever. That's what we do. It's easy. Someone went to a lot of work to make life easier for us. Why not take advantage of it?

Anyway, I lay back on the bed and start to doze. I'm waking myself up every minute or so because it's less than twenty minutes before I have to leave. Then I hear the noise. Sounds like the door. I open my eyes. The cat has his head up and is staring toward the door. His eyes are wide. I'm assuming Spouse has come back early. Then I hear someone say "whoah", or something to that effect. Didn't sound like Spouse.

Now I'm uneasy. I get up and walk to the bedroom door and look down the hall toward the ktichen. I don't get a good view because of the clever wall which serves no real purpose. I wait. Spouse should be heading to the bedroom to make sure I haven't fallen asleep. No Spouse. So I walk down the hall to the main living area. Still no Spouse. I look at the door. It's locked. I check the entire apartment. Nobody but Cat and me. I leave the light on and start up some music when I leave.

On the way back with Son I asked if he wanted to check on the house we just lost. It's been raining steady for about four days now and I wanted to see if the dining room ceiling had completely fallen down and if the basement had flooded. The last time I was there plaster from the ceiling was all over the dining room floor from a leak in the roof.

We get there and the keypad doesn't open the garage. Maybe they've shut off the electricity. If so, it's a safe bet the basement is flooded. The sump pump ran almost constantly in that house all twelve months of the year. We got to the front door and I see remnants of the door handle laying on the step. The door has a new handle with a security lock. BUT - the door is open. We push it wide and go in. There is a sign posed in the foyer stating the house has been winterized and no water should be run. That would be a good trick anyway as we had it shut off back in August.

But now I'm thinking I may have just broken the law. If my key no longer fits the locks in this place then I probably don't have any business there any longer. So I tell Son that it seems someone else is looking after the place - and doing a right lousy job of it, too - and so we are leaving.

Didn't see if the ceiling had collapsed or if the basement was flooded.

I guess it doesn't matter.

Oh. I called the apartment office and they're having our locks changed today some time.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Electric Meals

So, my mother purchased an electric skillet for us, and then sent money so we could buy meat to cook in it. All because I happened to mention I cannot cook worth a damn on an electric stove. I need flames. Flames of inspiration for my writing. Flames of passion for my love life. And flames of fire for cooking. But Mother assured me that electric skillets aren't far from a gas stove in that they distribute the heat evenly.

I gave it a go. Cooked two meals of chicken quarters. Bought a package of six quarters (that doesn't make sense, does it) and cooked three at a shot. The skillet does have a nice temperature setting and I had no alternative but to trust it. But the meat did cook all the way through. Covered the quarters with spices and cooked, turning them every couple of minutes because Spouse kept telling me the way I was doing it was wrong and that the meat was going to stick. (I didn't use oil. We didn't have any. Don't like cooking in it anyway.) The meat didn't stick, and I added two cans of cream of mushroom soup. (Minnesota's #1 spice.) Then Spouse peeled some potatoes, cut them into small pieces and dumped them in, too.

Came out well. I liked it anyway. So I made it again last night. Went to the meat market today and spent the rest of the money Mother sent on a good-sized sirloin steak. Going to make steak pizzaiola. I like it and so does Son. Spouse thinks it's okay. Basically, the meat is cut into pieces, about a quarter pound each. They are hammered kind of flat and then covered with a flour and spice mixture. Cook them in the skillet until they are brown through and through and then add tomato sauce with garlic, oregeno and few other things. Serve over choice of pasta. I didn't buy pasta, but we have one small box left, so I win. We can get one, maybe two meals out of that box yet.

I like cooking. I'd do it all the time if we could afford it. And if I wouldn't be the only one eating what I made most of the time. Spouse only tolerates my cooking. I use too much garlic, marjoram, and fennel to suit her. Son is only now beginning to tolerate meat. He eats chicken nuggets, steak on the grill (we won't be having that for a while), and now steak pizzaiola. He doesn't like mushrooms, though.

So while I make a fantastic lasagne (people have raved to me about it, seeking second and third helpings - and even asking the recipe), great roast, pasta fajioli, shrimp florentine (Spouse likes this one, but shrimp doesn't come cheap), chicken wild rice soup, chili, goulash (tomato or mushroom soup variety), and even pizza, I don't do a lot of cooking. Virtually none since I lost my gas stove. If it can't heat up in a microwave, stuff it.

Well, I have this electric skillet now. Used it twice now and I've been happy. But I'm missing my kitchen with the center island and all the counter space and cupboards. And one of my favorite pans was ruined by that blasted electric stove. Burned a grid mark right into the bottom. That's happening to my pasta boiler, too. Yeah, I know. If we could afford real pots and pans that wouldn't happen. But one real pot or pan cost more than my entire cookware. With the exception of my lasagne pan. Got that a long time ago. It's great. It's huge. I never use it anymore. But I refused to let Spouse sell it at the garage sale. It costs enough that we'll never get another one if we sell it.

Anyway, it's probably going to be a bit before I post again. I just - don't anymore. I haven't the emotional energy to keep up anymore. If you are feeling especially incoherent, you can check out The Great Sea. Whenever I post here I've also posted there. I would like to post to the other four: Cat in the Buff, Legion of On-Line Super Heroes, Tales From The Great Sea, Faith in Forgiveness. The problem is, whenever I think about it for more than a minute or two I start to break down and cry. Just not ready yet. It takes enough out of me just to post one a week on two.

Don't know when I'll post again.