Category Archives: Writing

Oh, Woe!

I once had a cat, and when we moved from Louisiana to Florida, he got out of his travel carrier, got under my seat, and cried for hours, “Oh woe! Oh woe!”

That’s how I feel about not blogging much lately.

However:

Real excuses–I got in an auto accident. No big deal, except that when 3 of your cervical vertebrae (neck bones) are bolted together, the other four have to flex a lot more (Ouch).

I’m working on my story.

Things are crazy at work (but aren’t they always?).

Fake excuses:

It’s getting cold, the shift from daylight savings time to standard time is here, and [your turn to fill in the blank].

I’ve rewritten Chapter Two of my sorry a dozen times, at least. I may be done, but paraphrasing George Lucas, Leonardo Da Vinci, etc. “A story is never finished, only abandoned,”

So–and this is your part–if I share my story while it is in development, and it changes, you have t accept that.

Deal?

Deal!

Thank you.

P.S. If I were to publish this after WordPress’s spell checker finished wiht it you would not be happy campers. Too bad they wanted their own (patent pending), cumbersome, crappy, system. I hope they never ACTUALLY PAID ANYONE TO SCREW UP A PERFECTLY GOOD BLOG.WEB SYSTEM! But, hey, that’s juet me.

From Rocks to Fails

In the absence of honest journalism, the media (plural for medium, as “in the middle” such having a C average in school) have resorted to various gimmicks to attract readers–especially if someone is paying for clicks on the web page. Among the traditional gimicks is the unfinished headline, where they try to make it look like they ran out of space:

Political analysts caught by surprise when president signs bill making 

Then there’s the shock/tease headline:

If you thought this starlet was cute in the 1960’s, you’ll be shocked at how she look today!

Gradually we ended up on the rocks:

Fifty year old movie star rocks bikini!

Of course, ending up on the rocks, is another term for failure, so now the media is into fails:

Biggest fails at the gala awards program!

Actually, they might do better if they just made up words:

You’ll absolutely snarzl when you see this!

A Slight Diversion

Just an update —–

I’ve continued to work on my story, but there is my day job, and, because of my interest in electronics, I recently acquired a 3-D printer kit and assembled it over the weekend. That’s the problem with radio–it entices you to keep on wanting to learn new things.

SONY DSC

I’m working on learning the software, so I haven’t printed any three-dimensional thingies just yet.

Don’t worry, I consulted with the key characters in my story, and they approved. They told me it’s what they would have done.

As We Return to the Story

I mentioned that I might not blog as often because I plan on devoting more of my time to finishing a story I began almost a year ago. The characters from that story were most unhappy at being constantly ignored. I agreed to a meeting.

I was afraid that it was going to be ugly –after all I’m dealing with R. Jonathon Wilkinson, whose pretty much dead and doesn’t like being left in limbo–if you’ll excuse the pun.

Rene and Sally are both accomplished professionals who rank somewhere above the top of the genius scale; their attitude is, “Play me or trade me!” which is quite understandable.

Then there’s Zaznoz (the closest I can come to spelling the name in English) who’s eccentric, but extremely powerful. Fortunately, he/it is not prone to using, much less abusing his power, due to the fact that he’s a good person entity. Zaznoz is definitely a human-like life form, but his/its kind do not identify in terms of sex. However, he’s brash, sometimes acts before thinking, and is a bit rough arund the edges, like a guy, so I tend to refer to him/it as him. Since he doesn’t mind, I shall continue to do so.

The meeting started out awkwardly. I let them speak first, and they made a number of reasonable observations and suggestions.

  1. “We are all too talented to spend our time in the literary equivalent of a waiting room reading outdated magazines.”
  2. “We just want to work and tdo the best job we can.
  3. “Working on our story is infinitely better than wasting time watching television–especially the news.”

They summed it up quite neatly and honestly, although it stung just a bit. “This isjust one more case in which management (me) does not have a clear focus on where we need to go and what we need to do. Therefore, there has been no plan and no progress.”

Sally, who is a lawyer by profession, told me straight, “You might as well be any one of the businesses and organizations out in the real world. You don’t know where we’re going, you aren’t sure where we are, and you have a piss-poor understanding as to from whence we came.”

Zaznoz added, “The only thing worse you could do is to reorganize, with the possible exception of reorganizing and downsizing. See how well you can develop a story with any of us gone.”

Rene pointed out, “Characters can’t just quit and go to another author. It’s been tried and the only place it succeeds is with young people–hence Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. On the other hand, look at Jack Ryan. He’s not the same as when Tom Clancy was alive and actually writing his own material.”

They’re right, you know, so I need to work with them. I’ll try to blog as I can.

 

 

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?

No Pretty Pictures

I often wish that my blogs would lend themselves to more pictures. I’m not a bad photographer, and some blogs are full of sunsets, beach scenes, Grand Lake up in the Rockies, or whatever. Mine—not so much.

I’ve been going through some physical therapy for some old injuries. The therapy has actually worked better than a variety of drugs that have been prescribed in the past. However, for it to work, I need to be consistent in my follow through. It struck me, that if there’s a common theme in life, that’s it.

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Practice! Practice! Practice!

It’s true of music, physical fitness, painting, even math or science. (Do YOU remember how to solve a quadratic equation? We all learned how in high school.)

Calvin Coolidge was not one of our more noteworthy presidents, being known as “Silent Cal.” However, he did leave us with a great thought:

Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

Calvin Coolidge
30th president of US (1872 – 1933)

Practice! Practice! Practice!

Hermione! I Need Your Time-Turner!

Harold Lloyd Modern Times

Harold Lloyd
Modern Times

I’m having a problem with all the important things I’m supposed to do. You’re probably in the same boat, whether you realize it or not.

It takes me about an hour and 45 minutes to get up, shower, shave, dress, eat breakfast, and drive to work. I work an eight hour day and it takes between 30 and 45 minutes to get home. Most nights there’s practice, rehearsal, or something with one of the kids, which usually takes between two and three hours.

The “experts” (whoever they are) are recommending that I get between eight and nine hours sleep per night. In addition, I should work out at least half an hour every day. With changing into workout clothes (and don’t forget to stretch), showering and changing back it ends up being an hour.

Everyone should devote at least an hour praying, reading scripture, or meditating to satisfy their spiritual needs.

In order to eat properly, I really should avoid processed food, so preparing a proper home cooked meal from fresh, locally grown foodstuffs adds another two to three hours between stopping at the grocery for fresh ingredients, followed by cleaning, prepping, and cooking: grilled, not fried; steamed or raw vegetables (after rinsing, spraying with diluted vinegar, and rinsing again in hopes of killing the E. coli, listeria, salmonella, and the occasional frog. I tend to eat fast, so let’s add 30 minutes to eat and after dinner another half hour to clean up, followed by another half hour to put everything away.

Don’t forget, that we need to do what the church mouse said and feed our head; so add an hour of reading the newspaper plus another hour to concentrate on a good book, and maybe an hour to sit with my wife and watch television.

Finally, about an hour to write blog (assume no writers’ block); oops! I need to go online and pay some bills, for another half hour, and hopefully an hour or so to pursue my muse of gadgets and inventions, followed by another half hour to get ready for bed; teeth brushing, thoroughly flossing, taking all the correct medications, and attaching all of the required medical devices that make me feel like Darth Vader (“He’s more machine than man”).

So let’s see:

Task

Hours

Before work

1.75

Work

8.0

Drive home

0.5

Kids’ activities

2.5

Sleep

8.5

Workout

1.0

Spiritual

1.0

Cooking

2.5

Eating & cleanup

1.5

Newspaper

1.0

Book

1.0

Blog

1.0

Pay Bills

0.5

Gadgets

1.0

Prepare for bed

0.5

TOTAL

32.25

All I need is eight or nine more hours per day and I’ll be fine.

All Right! I Confess!

I admit it. I’ve been trying to write blogs lately, but:

  • There was Christmas.
  • My son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren drove 12 hours to visit.
  • My daughter, who has started reading my blog, says all my blogs are the same.
  • I keep coming up with ideas that are incomplete—which got me thinking.

Some of the Beatles songs, including much of Abbey Road were actually the parts of songs that had never fully developed. Therefore I tried to piece together ideas:

My New Year’s resolutions. After “I will never be a staffer for Donald Trump,” I got stuck.

I tried to write about the era of Downton Abbey and how people were once born into wealth and/or married into it, and how that is rare today.

Then I thought of:

  • The Bushes
  • The Clintons
  • Miley Cyrus
  • Jaden Smith
  • Colin Hanks
  • Drew Barrymore
  • Prince Charles

Which brought me back to square one, so, attempting to steal from the Beatles, using the tune from “She Came in through the Bathroom Window”:

My son and daughter trashed the bathroom,
I think they lost my silver spoon,
So I sat there and I pondered,
I should not get mad so soon.

My kids have always been expensive,
Cost me more than I could know,
But I wouldn’t change a minute,
So now I have these joys to show

Is it any wonder?

Let me close this year with my thanks to God for my NORMAL family (the emphasis is there to remind me that despite the condition of their bedrooms and bathroom, my kids are normal; on the other hand, given their outstanding academic, athletic, and musical accomplishments, I owe it to them to differentiate between normal and average).

For you, may 2015 be the year that was just before when everything became wonderful.

Mystery!

 

1891 Sidney Paget Strand portrait of Holmes for "The Man with the Twisted Lip"

1891 Sidney Paget Strand portrait of Holmes for “The Man with the Twisted Lip”

I don’t watch a lot of television—the news and weather, NCIS, and Elementary. At least two are mysteries. The weather is usally a mystery, and the news—well, to be a real mystery, you need clues, and most newscasters are clueless.

Elementary, BBC’s Sherlock Holmes, and House, MD are all essentially the same genre with the same skeletal structure. The hero is a brilliant man, addicted to opioids, who is able to quickly solve mysteries, but only takes on cases that interest him. His roommate is a doctor who served in Afghanistan, but was wounded. Dr. Watson is an intelligent and educated man, but is amazed at Holmes’s powers of deduction.

Holmes originally appeared in installments as a column, to use the modern vernacular, in The Strand, a monthly magazine. Having written monthly articles, I can understand Conan-Doyle’s fascination, and the dread of dealing with recurring deadlines. He eventually tried killing Holmes off—plunging to his death over a waterfall along with his arch-rival Moriarty—but the public wouldn’t stand for it. With a lame excuse of Jiu-Jitsu, Homes reappeared, to Conan-Doyle’s displeasure, but the approval of the readers who didn’t care HOW Holmes escaped–just that he did.

As a writer, I’m intrigued by such circumstance: a great lead character, a narrator who’s also part of the story, and an ensemble from poor Inspector Lestrade to Holmes’s smarter brother, Mycroft. And, yes, “The Woman,” Irene Adler.

I was going to write more, but instead I’m going to go and re-read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes yet again.

 

The Plight of a Blogger

For several years now, I’ve been writing this blog. My original intent was to stir up debate—to encourage people to think and respond. Sometimes, I’d write strictly to get a reaction, because I LOVE critical thinkers. Somewhere, deep inside me is a teacher, but one who unfortunately lacks patience with young people.

However, even though I speak of great thinkers, I confess, if I could, I’d be the next Dave Barry, except that he and I are almost the same age. I love his ability to look at any normal situation and point out how it’s actually insane. Well, maybe not insane, but nevertheless, totally funny.

So, after careful analysis, I’ve concluded that real people—like you and I—are too tired at the end of the day to engage in meaningful Sophratic intercourse, because we’ve used our last pathetic brain cells to tell our children why they must (X) or cannot (Y).

So, the best I can offer is that after work today, both my teenagers came out and helped me repair my ham radio antenna, which had been downed by a very large dead branch. I tried out the radio and lo and behold, everything worked! Neither is fond of ham radio, but neither complained about helping.

My antenna. Can't see it in the trees? How about that!

My antenna. Can’t see it in the trees? How about that!

Life is not usually about the grand victories, just little, precious, and important ones.

So—thanks, kids. You made my day.

(If you were expecting great thoughts—re-read the above. Kids helping parents is a great and wonderful thing.)

Excused Absence

Please excuse Steve from his recent failure to regularly write blogs as he has been suffering from TCD (time and creativity deficiency). This is not a well-known condition because no celebrity has taken ownership, even though it is obvious from today’s movies, television, and music that the entire entertainment industry suffers severely from the same malady.

Some physicians and the CDC claim this condition does not exist, along with chronic Lyme disease, Gulf War Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and health problems due to Agent Orange, but I assure you that it does.

As a lifelong voracious reader, I promise that I will work with Steve to help him start writing more regularly.

(signed)

Steve’s Mom

P.S. I apologize for the fact that I couldn’t physically sign this myself due to the fact that I’m currently deceased.

John Scalzi, Andy Weir, et al

There are certain authors whose works deliver me from the responsibilities of my reality to another plane, after which, batteries recharged, I can return and work more effectively than before.

Then there are people who create hate and discontent.

Okay, let’s figure it out. On one hand we have people who make me enjoy life.

On the other hand, we have creatures who attempt to make everybody miserable (presumably because they are).

Pick a side.

Oh, and if you’re having trouble, try this….

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3659388/

Rare Artisans

quill-pen

I refer to myself as “esoteric.” You might prefer to say that I’m “odd” or “different.” I’m okay with that.

Being esoteric, I sometimes find that I need the skills of certain specialists. While many guitarists have their instruments repaired or tweaked, I give credit where due and refer to Doug, who takes care of my instruments as a luthier—the appropriate name for an artisan skilled in making or repairing stringed instruments.

I write with a fountain pen, and have a collection of six through which I rotate. The oldest of my pens, going back about thirty years, has traveled with me everywhere, including through Afghanistan and Iraq. Unfortunately, after returning home, it fell and landed right on the nib—the part that carries the ink to the paper. The manufacturer couldn’t repair it, but under their lifetime warranty, replaced it. Since the original had sentimental value they returned it as well. The replacement was very nice, wrote very well, but was, well, a replacement. Even worse, a stapler fell off the top of the desk, landed on the pen, resulting in a huge dent. The manufacturer repaired it, but it, unfortunately, looked like a badly dented replacement pen that had been repaired.

I found an interesting site online—Pentiques.com—and decided to try them out. They have since repaired both of these pens, the original and the replacement. The original looks and writes better than it did the day I bought it. Wow!

Artisans such as Aaron and Kim Svabik at Pentiques are few and far between, but if you find one, take advantage of the skill, the precision, and the unique capabilities that they offer.

 

Pentiques.com
PO Box 7361
Goodyear, AZ 85338
Aaron@Pentiques.com

Write? Right? Rite? Wrong!

English is certainly a strange language. I was taught the language phonetically, which must have been someone’s idea of a very cruel joke.

Spell “tough.” Now spell “though.”

“But I don’t know how to spell them.”

“Well, then look them up in the dictionary.”

“But if I can’t…never mind.”

Sincere and insincere are opposites. Flammable and inflammable mean the same thing even though dealing with fire should be the one area in which there should be no room for confusion.

Then, of course, you’ve got all of those weird plurals: a pride of lions, a gaggle of geese, a murder of crows, and a shitload of politicians.

As if it isn’t confusing enough, every single group comes up with its own jargon.

Then, people have the nerve to complain that, “No one understands me.”