Monthly Archives: July 2017

Swearing Off

Over the years, I have sworn off various things. Actually, it was more of a worn off than sworn off. Television programs lost quality, although there was a vast increase in quantity thanks(?) to cable. Too many choices, not have enough time to actually follow a series, so now it’s the occasional Netflix.

I do watch the morning news for the weather forecast and traffic report. Unfortunately it seems to be 80 percent commercials, so I have to pay strict attention while shaving or else I miss it.

I used to love computers, which led to a fascination with the internet. Most of what is available online is best left alone. Let’s just say that it’s a bit worse than a naked stroll through a tick infested patch of poison ivy complete with brown recluse spiders and venomous snakes. I admit that I deny reality and look for decent content. Unfortunately, the best I find are things like YouTube videos showing me how to adjust the carburetor on my weed eater.

So, what does that leave? Reading, writing, experimenting, ham radio, guitar, drums, or puttering around the house.

All things considered, much better choices.

Transportation

My grandfather served in the War to End All Wars (the First World War). A popular song back then was How You Gonna Keep Them Down on the Farm (now that they’ve seen Paree?). Many of those who served overseas had never before been outside the county in which they were born.

Today we are so dependent on long distance travel that we will tolerate almost any insult—being treated like cattle, being stuck in traffic for hours, lost luggage, and, of course, bodily intrusion for the sake of security.

We travel for business, education, and for pleasure. We travel in order to accept a job, leaving family and friends hundreds or thousands of miles behind. Home is wherever.

I have to wonder what life would be like today if we still preferred to stay in the county in which we were born.

Infrastructure? What’s That?

We recently returned from a vacation in the New England area. The trip is estimated at 10 hours by plane, once you drive to the airport, check-in, go through security, experience United’s latest brouhaha, have a layover at a hub airport, arrive and retrieve your luggage.

It’s about the same time to drive, plus you have the joy of driving through New York City traffic, half a dozen or more pit stops, gas stops, and just being stopped in traffic.

Either one is likely to ensure you arrive with a generally bad attitude.

Then there’s the train. Coach seats offer more room than first class on an aircraft. You’ve got 110-volt outlets near the seat and access to the internet—a pathetic access, but access nevertheless. You can also go to the café car and buy a snack or a drink. It’s also less expensive than flying.

All three are dependent upon our infrastructure—the airport and access to it, the highways with their ubiquitous construction zones, and the rails upon which the train rides. Just accept that the deck is stacked against you, regardless of your choice.

We chose the train, drove 30 miles to the train station; there’s a local train station, but only some of the trains pass through Norfolk, necessitating either a bus ride (on a particularly nasty bus) or driving to Newport News. Suffice to say, we drove. The train arrived. We boarded, traveled about 50 yards, were told that due to a derailment in Richmond, the tracks were blocked and our train was cancelled.

Now, you have to remember that Virginia has many unusual laws, rules, regulations, and traditions. This is mainly due to our having had various legislative bodies for over 400 years, giving the politicians ample time to muck up the works. One rule is that freight trains have priority over passenger trains, so when a CSX freight train derailed, Amtrak was entitled to equal inconvenience. In a commonwealth, if you don’t have wealth to share, you share frustrations.

Since we had the car, we made a mad dash to Richmond, hoping to get to the other side of the derailment. We got there after our reconstituted original train had left. To make a long story short, instead of arriving at 7:30 in the evening, we arrived at 5:30 the next morning.

The bottom line? Sooner or later, the politicians are going to have to forego the convention centers, the sports stadiums, and other exotica and spend the money on roads, bridges, rails, sewers, flood protection, and other boring things.

Not a chance.

REPEAT, Repeat, repeat, Reboot

As a writer, I try to come up with something different every time I write. Given my education, experience and persona, that still is going to be quite limited. Nevertheless, I feel that I am doing a better job than the pros.

How many King Kong movies have there been? How many Dracula movies? Unless there is a near-rabid fan base (Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc.) remakes, reboots, or recycles just don’t seem to work. Hollywood seems content to dust off an old script, update the slang, change the cast, and expect it to be a hit.

Baywatch, the Movie?

Ghostbusters III?

So, if some of my posts seem less than perfect, at least I’m trying to think up something different.

Who Are You?

A great song by The Who and a great starting point for a discussion.

First, an admission—I have a bias toward St. Francis of Assisi—in fact my middle name is due to him. Francis was born wealthy, a spoiled kid and a great partier until he had a message in which Jesus told him, “My church is broken, fix it.”

Francis was aware of an abandoned chapel nearby that was falling apart, so Francis stole some of his father’s merchandise with the intention of selling/trading it for building materials. His father, a practical and proper businessman, was not happy and brought his son before the local bishop for judgment. Francis’s response was to remove the clothing his father had provided, proclaim that his only father was God, and walk away; fortunately for those in the area, he soon found a castoff brown cloak, a piece of rope to use as a belt, and eventually, sandals.

While his whole life was fascinating, I’m going to skip to one particular aspect. Once Francis had abandoned material possessions, except for the barest of essentials, his followers figured that the rich should be snubbed. Francis saw otherwise. Francis taught that each person should be seen as an individual—regardless.

I try to follow his lead and see individuals.

Unfortunately, we insist on putting everyone into pigeonholes?

Have you ever examined a pigeon hole? A house I moved into had a shed formerly used as a pigeon coop. Pigeon holes? Disgusting!

Why do we take a perfectly good individual and stuff him into the “Polish-German-Catholic” or her into “Scottish-English-Cajun” pigeonholes? What about “Afro-American Baptists” or “LGBT-peanut allergy-clog dancers?” I am quite different from every other person stuffed into my pigeonhole, and suspect the same is true for everyone.

I prefer to do as Francis advised—to see Bill, Mary, John, Joneta, Abdul, Anjali, and Hina each as a person, rather than as part of a category.

And pigeonholes? Avoid them—they are nasty!

How Can You Compete?

As a writer, I tend to empathize with other writers and the challenges they face. For example, if you write technothrillers, how do you compete with the cyberattacks that keep shutting down portions of Ukraine’s power grid? If you write political fiction, it must be hard to come up with a good story line when Russia is putting their thumb on the scale to impact elections in almost every western country.

Even Ian Fleming couldn’t come up with a way to combat a SMERSH leader who kills his adversaries with poisoned umbrella tips or radioactive isotopes slipped into their tea. But, then again, where’s the novelty in throwing political rivals into prison.

Who would believe a story in which democratically elected officials prepare legislation in secret, or who need to vote the bill to find out what is in it? Even George Orwell couldn’t pull that off.

Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s estate would have to change the quote to “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death my right to disapprove.”

When the world is filled with buffoonery, how can you surprise readers with a comedic twist?

Therefore, I’m focusing on specialized niche markets that haven’t received adequate attention in the 21st century. I offer a humble example:

SEE DICK.

SEE DICK GOOGLE.

GOOGLE, DICK, GOOGLE.

SEE JANE.

SEE JANE SNAPCHAT.

CHAT, JANE, CHAT.

The first-grade edition of a modern-day reading primer. By the third-grade, the plot thickens, and includes stalking, illicit cell phone photos, drive-by shootings, opioid addiction, and FBI agents posing as little girls—just like real life, but in small words and short sentences. All aimed to help children love the wonder of reading.

It’s a small niche, though. My publisher advises me that most schools are satisfied when their students read at the third-grade level, so there is no market beyond that.