Category Archives: Writing

The Virginia Blizzard of 2018

Okay, I must admit that even I—who grew up in the snow belt south of Lake Erie—am appropriately impressed.

Schools are closed. Most businesses and government services are shut down as well.

Normally I report to CoCoRaHS, a National Weather Service sponsored program—the acronym stands for:

The procedure is to measure the depth of the snow on the ground, then to bring in the measuring cylinder, let the snow melt, then pour it into the rain gauge to measure the actual water content. Out west, in the high plains or the mountains, this is critical, since it is required for the weather service to predict the snow pack. When this melts in the spring, it flows into the rivers the following spring and summer. That water is carefully controlled as to who gets how much. Agriculture needs a lot, which competes with people, so it is important information.

Too much snow, so I’m staying indoors—I have my day carefully planned:

Coffee and writing

Nap

Working on the class I start teaching Saturday

Nap

Finish a few radio procedures I’ve been working on.

Nap

Hmmm, there should be room in there somewhere for at least one more nap.

I’ve Been Busy—Not Ignoring You

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been preparing the materials for an emergency communications course. It’s amazing that when someone else has prepared over 600 PowerPoint slides (with notes) that it would take so much time to update. Why? Because what we know today about dealing with disasters is more than what we knew before Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Personally, I believe that being better prepared for the future is a good thing.

On the other hand, I’m working on my short story—which has become at least a novelette (a short version of a short book? Huh?)—continues to develop. The more I learn about the characters (and more characters keep popping up), the more complex—but interesting—the story becomes. However, if a new character appears, a whole lot of the backstory changes. As a writer, I have a certain duty to the characters. Without me, they are doomed to shrivel away to nothingness, through no fault of their own. They deserve better, so I try to tell their stories. So far, the characters include a not-quite-dead aged business multi-multi-billionaire, several lawyers, most of whom are self-serving, but one of whom has a national security background, a distant relative who can see how the pieces fit, and someone (thing?) who seems to have many of the answers, but who is known as Zaznoz (sounds like a new drug or a new exercise routine to me).

Then I do need to devote time to the day job.

Not to mention that we celebrated Christmas with close friends, followed by my daughter-in-law and the grandchildren, who drove ten hours (I think she was being nice and understated the journey length) to visit us and to make for a wonderful time.

Oh, and my older son used his 3D printer to make my Christmas gift—a full size, accurate replica of Han Solo’s blaster. (Is that cool or what?)

Han Solo’s Blaster (Let’s me shoot first).

 

So, as you see, it’s not lack of interest in blogging, just lack of time.

I Cannot Say It Better

Gary Varvel [garyvarvel.com], the editorial cartoonist for the Indianapolis Star [www.indystar.com] is a genius who can draw a picture that is truly worth at LEAST a thousand words.

In this day of fewer and fewer newspapers, and inevitably, even fewer quality dailies, it is a wonderful gift to still have some publishers and editors who understand how humor can convey a stronger message than even the best written article—and as a writer, saying that does not come easily.

As a Christian, I wish you a Merry Christmas. As a member of this melting pot we call America, I wish you Happy Holidays. As a human, I wish peace on earth to all  people of good will—and I advise everyone to celebrate any and every holiday that reminds you that we are all in this together; there is no “them,” only 7.53 billion of “us.”

Newspapers

When I was growing up,  it seemed that every city had several newspapers—often a morning paper and an evening paper. In Toledo, they were owned by the same company, so there was not a lot of divergence of opinion—the biggest diversity was in the comics.

In the 70s and 80s, many cities began to lose newspapers, only offering one. (I remember reading Sherlock Holmes—written during my grandparents’ lifetimes—in which there were multiple editions of multiple newspapers. Wow!)

Over time, in many places, local reporting waned and most of what they printed came from the news services to cut costs. (Sorry Peter Parker and Clark Kent, we’re not hiring.)

The number of news services dwindled as Associated Press overtook and bought part of United Press International. Today, much of what you read in the morning newspaper you already read online.

Newspapers got smaller, and the cycle continues.

Is it better or worse than when I was young? Probably neither—just different. However, I appreciate a well-written article. After it was written, the author probably re-read it and made some changes. An editor tweaked it—or sent it back to the author for another rewrite. Written news is polished, at least a little. It took a significant event to “Stop the presses!” and change the headline—an expensive operation.

A news video, on the other hand, has no style and certainly no cachet. It’s kind of thrown together, with too many stories labeled as “Breaking News.” To add insult to injury, the talking head’s intro, repartee, and smile, of course, is as much a part of the story as the content.

More’s the pity.

I think I’ll go listen to Don Henley’s “Get Over It.”

To Err Is Human—To Really F*** Up, You Really Need a Computer

I admit that life demands a place over blogging. I admit that faith, family, friends, work, and keeping up with laundry, mowing, etc. get in the way, too. However, over the past few weeks, I have actually written a few blogs, but my computer would not let me post them, and then they disappeared.

Eventually, I realized the truth.

Whenever I arrive home—early, late, whatever—Louis (our dog) expects to eat. Whenever Adam, my son is gone, his cat demands attention from me—lots of attention—just so long as I don’t try to actually pick her up and hold her.

OMG*, my computers have developed similar traits. If I don’t pay them adequate attention, they act out—obvious passive aggressive actions.

First, it’s a slowing of all functions followed by lost files. Something like:

Me: “Open blog May 2, 2017”

Computer: “                                                                                        Huh?

Okay.”

Then the computer moves to:

“I can’t locate the file.

What application do you want to use to open the file?

The file is corrupted and cannot be opened.

Ooops! The dog ate my files—I mean file not located.”

I’ve been busy looking at new computers online—using the offending computer—but it has such an inflated opinion of itself, it doesn’t seem to care. It just might be in for a big surprise. Feel free to castigate my offensive hardware.

 

 

*Others May Question (my sanity)

 

Complain, Complain, Complain!

I haven’t written much lately, or at least not much for the blog. (I have been working on a story, though. For some reason, writing fiction has become more satisfying than writing about reality).  I try, when I write, to focus on the silver lining rather than the cloud. Lately, this has become most difficult.

We’ve already discussed how the news media obsesses on all things negative—or meaningless (What’s wrong with Richard Simmons? Will Johnny Depp survive the breakup? Will Caitlin decide to become Bruce once again?). Every trend dies sooner or later, except, apparently for this one. I suppose it’s because they pick the stories that sell the most erectile dysfunction prescriptions, thereby financially benefiting the media, your physician, Big Pharma, venture capitalists, and investment firms.

I propose that we start anew. First, let’s hold a memorial service for journalism. It had a short and tragic life. The first American newspapers were all opinion pieces, but there was one brief shining moment—a century or so—when factual reporting became the gold standard. Many were thrilled at its demise.

My favorite magazines—National Geographic, Wired, and Smithsonian, and National Public Radio have begun to beat me over the head with more doom and gloom. I don’t care who just wrote a book to announce that they’ve come out as gay; I’m sorry that peasants hack down the rain forests because they need to plant food; I regret that there’s a controversy in reintroducing wild wolves into areas where cattle are raised; and I find it unfortunate that while developed countries used coal in the nineteenth century, we balk at twenty-first century countries using such antiquated (but economically viable) methods.  The difference is that rising sea levels today threaten ninety percent of the world’s population because they live near the coast.

In the 1960s we had a saying, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” Complaining, even if you’re a well-known television newsperson, accomplishes nothing. How do you plan to solve the problem? Like the ghost of Freddie Prinz the response seems to be, “Not my problem, man!”

So?

Schizophrenia as an Aid to Writing

Writers of fiction need to be a bit schizophrenic; they live partially in this world and partially in the world that doesn’t exist except as printed words. It’s the characters that are to blame. As I’ve mentioned before, when I’m writing, if I know my character—and for clarity’s sake, let’s stick to just a single character—when that character is placed in a certain situation, it’s easy to write, because I know what that character would do. I can even anticipate when that character is going to do the opposite of what would it would normally do.

As a writer I unconsciously develop the character’s back story. In the story I’m working on now, I’ve got a pretty good understanding of what the protagonist’s life has been like up till now. I may not have thought through details, but since I have the overview, the events that led to a particular trait reveal themselves fairly easily when I need them.

I wrote one column for nearly twenty years, and I knew one character intimately. On the other hand, these stories included a narrator—think Dr. Watson to Sherlock Holmes. The difference was that I never really knew who this narrator was. Was it me? Was the narrator male? Female? Caucasian? Ethnic? To this day, almost 33 years after I first began to write that story, I can’t tell you.

Why? I don’t know. Perhaps it encouraged everyone to identify with the narrator. It might have been that as a character, the narrator was merely a mechanism—like the plucky comic relief character in a movie. The narrator might have been the human version of Alfred Hitchcock’s McGuffin. Hitchcock explained that a McGuffin was something like the microfilm that all the characters tried to get; what is on the microfilm is unimportant.

For that matter, the narrator back then might even have been named McGuffin. Who knows?