Monday, December 28, 2015

Post-Christmas Post

Christmas falling on a Friday may be the best thing, ever.

My organization gets both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as holidays, leading to an automatic four-day weekend (although, as my boss insists on pointing out every time a holiday comes up, we don't actually have to take the holidays on the day they occur if we don't want to). I like my job, I like the people I work with and the work I do, but I also really like to spend  time away from the office. That's just the way I am.

For me, I added in a full day off on Wednesday last week, which I had requested a couple of weeks ago. After being out sick on Monday, I considered going in at least half a day on Wednesday to make up for things not done, and then considered maybe taking half a day. Instead, I ended up taking the whole day, and it was a good thing I did, too. The Catbird and I had shopping to do, and what I thought could take just half a day ended up being an all-day affair. It all got done, and except for an emergency run to the grocery store early on Christmas Eve for That Thing That Somehow Kept Getting Missed on all the other trips (in this case, a can of pumpkin puree), there was nothing left to do on Christmas Eve except for some pre-holiday cooking, some present wrapping, and enjoying the day.

It's been a loafy weekend for us, spent watching far too much TV (in this case, the Magpie had us watch Psycho-Pass, an anime which reminded me more than a little bit of Blade Runner at times, and Jessica Jones. This is my second run-through of Jessica Jones, and I'm finding it to be just as good the second time around. Yes, folks, there is such a thing as good TV out there!

I am quite happy to say, meanwhile, that I managed to get some writing in here and there. Mostly I worked in dribs and drabs, and found myself going over the same thing several times (though it was kind of new ground, as I worked on a chapter that hadn't been in my original draft). Sunday morning was particularly good; I put down nearly 4,000 words to electronic paper, some of which were all new, some of which were rewrites. Is it any good? Hard to say. I'm into the last quarter of the book and I'm having a hard time seeing the forest. There's yet another "let it sit for a bit then read it all" in the not-too-distant future, but there's a light glimmering in the distance. Best not to look; best to keep my head down and stay focused on the chapters in front of me.

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas, enjoy the week, and have a safe and fun New Year's Eve/Day!






Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Tuesday Take Two: The Mind of a Writer

Because I'm feeling better (though I'm still not sure I could say that I'm feeling well), and because I actually somewhat slept last night, and because I feel kind of bad about yet another post with a title like yesterday's, I figured I'd try this again.

A week ago, I had one of those great "Writer Moments." For those of you readers who are writers, you'll know exactly what I mean; for those of you who aren't, this is a little insight into how our brains (or at least my brain) work, and how ideas start.

The starting point was a story on the website "I Fucking Love Science" which recounted how a town in North Carolina rejected rezoning a parcel of land that would allow a solar installation, then later approved a moratorium on all solar projects. During the public comment portion of the town council, at least one resident expressed fears that the panels would "suck up all the energy from the sun." I kid you not.

My first reaction?

Entirely appropriate, if you ask me. Though we call solar energy a renewable resource, it really isn't that, because renewable would imply that there's a sort of draw down and recharge cycle involved, like a rechargeable battery. As far as anyone can tell, solar is really an unlimited resource--until the sun goes supernova or whatever it will do in five billion years. I suppose, however, it's wrong to assume everyone knows this (it's also wrong to assume the person who made this claim was entirely serious, and not just spouting off. To be fair to the people of that North Carolina town, most of the concerns were centered on economic impacts to the town, and the fear that this type of installation would stifle business and drive down property values. Wonder if they'd make those claims if it were an oil or gas industry looking to tap petroleum reserves under the town). Still, I can't help but wonder about the state of our country when people believe solar panels will deplete the sun. Which brings me to my second reaction, the Writer Reaction. As I pulled the trigger on posting Stevie to Facebook, I thought:

But what if it did?

 What if solar panels really did deplete the sun? What if all of our Go Solar initiatives, all the rooftop panels and solar fields, what if they somehow did hasten the processes in the sun, dramatically shortening its life? It's got the makings of a good story, doesn't it? (Though it could be short: "Oh, my God!" Hero Scientist shot up from his chair, where he'd been poring over the results of the latest computer simulation. "Solar panels really do deplete the sun! I've got to warn everyone before it's too l--" THE END)

I love moments like that, even when I know they won't come to anything. I'm not a science fiction writer, after all, so I don't really see myself running with this. On the other hand, some of you might be, so consider this my Christmas gift to you. Feel free to take this idea and let 'er rip (and Agent Carrie may be tearing her hair out right now if she's reading this. "You can do this! You can do this!" But if I did this, it would probably take me four years to get it to her, by which time editors will be saying, "Well, it was entertaining, but I think the 'Solar panels deplete the sun' market is dead, so, what else ya got?"). Just do me one favor: If you get it published, toss me a mention in the acknowledgments, would you? Merry Christmas!

Other business

Speaking of Agent Carrie, it's time for another of her Query Critiques. Help a fellow writer out! I may actually have enough brain power to get over there now and offer up my own scintillating comments.

According to timeanddate.com, the Winter Solstice occurred (in my area) at 11:49 p.m.--yesterday. We will have nine hours, two minutes and sixteen seconds of daylight, almost exactly the same as yesterday. Tomorrow? Tomorrow will be about four seconds longer. Interestingly enough, the sun will continue to rise a little later each day until next week, when it will hold at 7:30 until the second week in January, but sunset will occur later each day. It is interesting that the worst weather we get occurs even as the length of day is increasing. Forecasters are all calling for a warmer, drier winter here in the northeast due to El NiƱo; we'll see if that holds up.

Being sick and fitful sleeping gave me some bizarre dreams this week. One of the strangest occurred this morning. In short (and it was a short dream), I was out in my front yard and I noticed two or three unfamiliar, white-trash muscle cars in my driveway. I walked over. In the back of one sat a sullen young lady. I said, "Can I help you?" She said, "Stop calling my fucking phone." I asked what her phone number was and she told me, and then they left, and all I could think was, "I've never called that number." How bizarre.

That's it, Merry Christmas, thanks for reading!





Monday, December 21, 2015

Blah

It's 4:30 as I write this. I've been up since four, awake since three, dealing with a cold that should have been kicked from my system by now, a cold I've been dealing with for a week and a day. This is shaping up to be a day where Things Don't Get Done. Including a blog post with any redeeming qualities at all. Instead I'll just wish you a merry Christmas.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Information Age?

I thought this was supposed to be the Information Age.

Last week, I was given what should have been a relatively simple task: find the names of the managers of about forty stores in the county so that we could send a letter about changes in the great state of New York's recycling laws. A volunteer committee had compiled the list of stores, complete with addresses and phone numbers, but had not progressed beyond that.

Being a part-time resident of the modern age, I thought, "Okay, I'll google it." After all, everyone's got a website, after all, and surely the name of the store manager is something you'd want to be available, right? I figured it would be a bit of a pain in the ass, but that it would not take a whole lot of time in the grand scheme of things.

I was wrong.

I was wrong about "everyone's got a website" and I was wrong about having the names of store managers on those websites. My web search turned up five names: three managed separate stores from a single supermarket chain (which also lists the manager's name on store receipts). One national home improvement store listed their manager by first name and last initial, only, which means I would have to address his letter as "Dear Mr. M." One other store listed their manager, but that store is actually part of a franchise owned by someone who is actually local. It took me a while to find this out, and then I spent an hour-and-a-half on the phone, calling every store on my list. I got manager names for about half the stores, grudgingly given out by employees who often sounded too busy to bother talking on the phone.

Information Age, schminformation schmage.

Whether this obfuscation of managers is done as a deliberate corporate privacy policy or is because they figure managers aren't likely to stay in those positions that long, and it's such a hardship to change a name on a website, I don't know. I do know it was an incredibly frustrating way to spend an afternoon. And more frustrating was when I would tell the employee who answered the phone what I was after and why, and they would insist on putting the manager on. Just give me the name! The managers typically sounded about as pressed for time as anyone else. They really didn't want to talk about plastic recycling.

I understand why, for example, radio personalities have moved toward giving out their first names only (our local radio personalities include Gomez and Lisa, Big Chuck, and Leslie Ann; I have been on the radio with Big Chuck and Leslie Ann several times (it's a small pond), have met them face-to-face, and still have no idea who they are). As personalities who reach thousands each day, they stand a better than average chance of attracting unwanted attention than the manager of the local Dollar General. Is it possible that someone's going to navigate through a web page just to do this?




Maybe. But it seems to me most issues are going to come after someone meets or sees the manager in the store, where their name is likely to be up on the wall, or emblazoned on their chest in hard plastic.

There's an irony here in a guy who uses his first name only complaining about not being able to find out information about store employees off the web. I get that, I really do, but there's a difference, I think, between what I do here and those other people. I'm not asking for anything other than a name, and while names have power (as just about every mystical fantasy type of book tells us), I'm not looking for home addresses, personal e-mail, or how many kids they have. Just give me a name.

***

On an unrelated note, last week I noticed something rather stunning:


This weekend, we took a drive to do some shopping, and what amazed me was how green the lawns are getting again, and the fact that, here it is, mid-December, and I was able to go out with a light jacket on. I might actually have to get the lawn tractor out before Christmas!

Have a nice week, all.



Monday, December 7, 2015

The Big Fear (About Writing, that is)

On the first Wednesday of each month, many writer-bloggers participate in the "Insecure Writer's Support Group," an opportunity to share insecurities and fears with sympathetic souls and offer encouragement to others. I learned about this great idea early in my blogging life, but declined to participate. Not because I don't have insecurities, but because I have a hard enough time sticking to a schedule. And, what if, on the appointed day of the month, I wasn't feeling especially insecure? Or what if I was feeling especially insecure on the second Tuesday instead? So I sit it out, except as a reader and commenter.

Which is not to say I don't feel insecure about writing. Of course I do. I worry that no one will like it. I worry that people will read it and think, "What's wrong with that guy?" I worry that I'll never get published, or that if I do, no one will notice. But what worries me more than anything? That I'll run out of ideas.

To me, running out of ideas while still having the desire to write would be as horrible as watching a favorite athlete take the field when it's clear that his body is no longer up to what his heart and mind wants. It's one thing to wake up one day and say, "Meh, I don't feel like doing this anymore"--if that happens, it won't matter because I won't care, right? But without ideas?

And here's the thing for me: I'm not a big idea guy. I see people all over the internet talking about how ideas are "a dime a dozen." Even today, over at PubCrawl, Jodi Meadows states "You're a writer. You have lots of ideas." Guess what? I don't. While I do have a document on my computer called "Ideas" (very original, eh?), it's not an especially long document. And I don't know that I've ever actually gone back to it and pulled something from it and started working on it. I'm also not the sort of writer who generally has so many ideas in his head that he's not sure which to work on at any given time, or who works on all six (or ten, or twenty-five) all at the same time. As I've said before, ideas for me are things that develop slowly, over time, with multiple inputs that coalesce at just the right time. In the past, these ideas have hit just when I've needed them, just at the point where I've either finished or been close to finishing one project. Maybe my subconscious deliberately keeps things trapped in the back room until it determines there's going to be enough front room space to deal with it. The fear is that I'll get done with a project and then...nothing.

I am glad to say that the back room hasn't stopped working just yet. Though I'm still wrestling my current bear (and actually getting closer to jamming it into its cage), and have a year-old idea I'd like to work on at some point, a new idea came stumbling out of the back room last week. As is typically the case for me, it started with a question, and my question now is, "Could this be The Next One?" We'll see. I still have that other fat fish to fry first (cheers for alliteration!), but at least the ideas are still coming. Have a great week, everyone.

How about you--do you have a lot of ideas kicking around at a time?

NOTE: It's not posted yet, but since Carrie put out the call last week for submissions to her Query Critique, she might be posting the query today. Keep an eye on her blog and help a fellow writer out!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Recovering

Where am I? Who am I?

It was a great weekend, don't get me wrong, but it ended as it began on Tuesday (though that wasn't the beginning of my weekend; I had to work on Wednesday), with ten hours of driving to collect two little birds from two different college campuses. The good thing is that they ended up in schools that at least are in line with each other, and not in opposite directions. The unfortunate thing is that we ended up dropping off the Magpie about 2-1/2 hours before anything--and I mean anything--opened up on her campus. Dorm? Locked. Campus Center? Locked. Library? Every light in the place was on, but locked. She got into the foyer of her dorm, but couldn't get beyond that. At least she was not out in the cold. The good news is we got a text about an hour after we left her that someone let her in. I don't know if it was a staff person or one of the students who stayed over break (I guess they re-code the locks so only students who are approved to be there can get into the buildings), but she didn't have to wait too long. All's well that ends well, and all that.

It was nice (well, that's too mild a word, really) to have them home, nice to hear their voices and their laughter and the way they sing together, and now the house is quiet again and it's time to settle back into the routine, until it's time to collect them again in about 3 weeks. But my routine is all fouled up again. I was struggling along with my current project, writing at night for a couple of hours, but this weekend I found once again the joys of morning writing, particularly on Friday and Saturday. The problem for me is that I am a slow starter in the mornings; sleeping late on those two days ('late' meaning 6:30 one day, 7 the other), I probably didn't actually start writing until closer to 8. The fact that I'm writing this post about 20 minutes after getting up is encouraging, but I feel pressure also to shower, make lunch and get to work a little early. Still, maybe I can disappear into the zone for a little bit each day.

I think that's all I'm going to say for today. I hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving, a nice weekend, or a nice week since the last post. Off to the zone for a little bit!


Monday, November 23, 2015

Monday Musing

Part I: Teaching an Old Dog a New Tick

As you may know from reading this blog, in what has shockingly-become my distant past, I used to live here:

How many times can I possibly use this picture?


"Here" was in a 1600-acre state park on Long Island's north shore, a wonderland of woods and fields and seashore. The primary job was to take groups of schoolchildren, mostly from New York City, out and teach them about the environment. As a result, I became quite familiar with several tick species, those rather annoying, blood-sucking arachnids that can make people quite miserable. I thought I was pretty knowledgeable about ticks, and I could teach the kids enough so that, if we found one on a kid, they didn't freak out too badly.

Despite having to know this stuff, I found rather recently that I didn't know everything. Last week, in forty-degree weather, I spent about fifteen minutes on a trail in a shrubby wetland investigating a report of giant hogweed, a noxious and potentially dangerous invasive plant. I didn't find any (it was wild parsnip; remember that one?). What I found, instead, were ticks. Deer ticks, i.e., the kind that transmits Lyme disease. This prompted some more investigation on my part, and I learned that adult deer ticks, which have a pretty darn high chance of carrying the Lyme-causing bacteria, actually become active in September/October/November, but they'll be active throughout the year if a) they haven't fed; b) the ground is not frozen; c) the ground is not covered in snow. In other words, if you live in the northeast, where Lyme disease rates are high and the deer tick population is growing, keep your eyes peeled.

 I should have known this already, but now I do. Lesson learned.

Part II: Thanksgiving!

Tomorrow, the wife and I set sail for a marathon day of driving where we will pick up the Catbird at her school, then pick up the Magpie at hers. We'll probably spend about ten hours total behind the wheel, which is not fun, but it will be the first time since late August that both girls will be home at the same time (it will actually be the first time since late August that the Catbird will be home at all; she's a little far away for a weekend visit. The Magpie took the bus home for a much-needed mental health break in mid-October.). On Sunday, we'll reverse the process. This is probably the most-anticipated Thanksgiving for us in quite some time.

Part III: What Do YOU Do?

On Friday night we went to our local Audubon chapter meeting, which is always a nice time (and despite our advancing ages, my wife and I are still among the youngest in attendance!). This week, we arranged to meet a guy and his wife for drinks after the meeting. My wife worked with this guy on a big website project this summer. They attended the meeting but I did not meet them until after; it was kind of a busy meeting. We met at a nice little bar and ended up sitting with them for about two hours, and had a very nice time.

What's interesting to me is how often things like this end up becoming about work. "What do you do?" we ask each other. What we really mean is, what is your job? What is your career? How do you earn your living? I'm curious about why we do this. Is it just because it's easy conversation, a way to find common ground? (Hell, if nothing else, we can always grouse about work, right?) Is it a way to try to establish some sort of pecking order? (MY job is better-paying than his, therefore I'M better) And, I'm curious if folks who live in other countries are as hung up on "what do you do?" as we are. Perhaps it's something rooted in our culture, that what we do somehow equals who we are.

At any rate, perhaps it's because my wife and this fellow worked together that those questions weren't asked. They already know what each of them do. As a result, I knew what he did, and he probably knew what I did, and neither his wife nor I were all that much interested in asking each other that question.

Part IV: Coffee

In my sleep-addled state this morning I botched the coffee brewing process. I am drinking what has to be the absolute worst cup of coffee I've had at home since the last time I ran out of 'the good stuff' and was forced to drink 'the bad stuff.'

Part V: Music

When I'm alone in the office at work, I often live-stream a radio station I used to listen to when I lived somewhere else, far away. It plays a more preferable mix of songs and artists than either the classic rock station or the today's best hits station that is just about all the radio we can get here. On a regular basis, I grab a scrap piece of paper and scribble down the name of the artist and song playing so I can remember. And then I can't find the paper. Today, I found the paper, so here's one. Enjoy Andra Day, and have a Happy Thanksgiving!



Monday, November 16, 2015

On Retaliation

NOTE: I'm stepping into a potentially dangerous zone of commentary here.

The easy thing to do is to hit back.

The 2011 Stanley Cup final was a brutal affair that made for great television and drama, even as it threatened to set hockey back 20 years. There was an unpunished incident of one player biting another, three players were knocked out of the series with serious injuries, and there was almost as much back-and-forth sniping in the media after the games as there was ankle-chopping and 'face washing' during the games.

Late in game 6, with the Bruins comfortably ahead, a series of scrums broke out on the ice. Boston 'superpest' Brad Marchand grabbed Vancouver superstar Daniel Sedin and did this:


The reaction of the person who recorded that was echoed across the hockey world.Sedin was ridiculed for not being tough enough, for not having 'grit' and 'heart' and all the sort of stuff that hockey fans in Canada and the US value over everything else.

Last Thursday, Marchand was on the receiving end of a bad hit to the head by Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog. Marchand, who had already missed two games earlier this year due to a concussion, was pissed. He picked himself up off the ice and did this:

Landeskog received a match penalty for intent to injure on the play. It meant he was tossed from the game and Boston would receive a five-minute powerplay (he was later suspended for two games by the NHL). However, Marchand's punch earned him a roughing penalty, negating two of Landeskog's five minutes. Boston did not score on the three-minute powerplay they ended up with and ended up losing the game 3-2.

Had Marchand not reacted the way he did, would things have worked out differently? We'll never know, but the reaction of the hockey forums I check out indicate that most people didn't blame him (and that's saying something; Marchand is popular pretty much only with Boston fans). After all, it's about "sending a message" to the other team, "sticking up for yourself", showing others that "you can't mess with us." It's the way of hockey.

Looking at the two incidents, though, Sedin's reaction is actually the harder road to take than Marchand's. There's almost no thought process to Marchand's; it's a straight-up reaction. Meanwhile, Daniel Sedin, even though he's no fighter (not that Marchand is; he starts trouble but rarely fights), surely had to want to sock Marchand in the jaw. Instead, he took the punches, trying not to put his team at a disadvantage, or potentially get himself injured in a fight with a Stanley Cup-deciding game coming two nights later. Having been in both positions while playing hockey, it's far, far easier to react, to let your temper get away from you, even if it costs the team.

Having been both Marchand the instigator and Marchand the reactor, I can tell you that goading an opponent into taking penalties is satisfying. I can also say exacting some form of 'frontier justice' with a cross-check, a two-hander, or a punch to the chops is also satisfying, in the moment. However, when you've been tossed from the game or you're sitting in the penalty box watching the other team score on the powerplay, you realize your short-term satisfaction can hurt the team.

In the wake of two horrific attacks last week that killed close to 200 people in two cities, it's easy for people to react like Marchand in the second instance and look for someone to hit. We're already hearing a lot of noise about refugees in Europe, and immigrants here. My fear is that we're going to see vigilante--or worse, state-sanctioned--acts carried out against Muslims in Europe and America. Will we see crackdowns and brutality? Bombings of mosques and beatings of Muslims in the streets and in their homes? I surely hope not. Aside from the potential loss of innocent lives, acting out will only serve to drive more people toward the Islamic State. It might actually be a better recruiting tool for them than mass killings.



My heart goes out to all who lost their lives or had them disrupted forever. I don't know what the solution is to the mess in the middle east, but I know it's not throwing a punch at the nearest target.


Monday, November 9, 2015

Redirect

Folks, it's time for another entry in the query critique over at Carrie Pestritto's blog. Check it out, help a fellow writer out!

That's it for me, I really got nothing else this week. I started a post this morning but never got anywhere, then all day at work ideas were floating around but now that I'm home? Gone. Anyway, hopefully you've all been well and more productive than I! Be well.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The NaNo Train is Rolling

And I'm not on it. Again. As it turns out, given the way my yearly writing calendar works (not that I really have one), I don't always seem to have a draft to produce when November rolls around. This year, I fully expected to either be A) somewhere in the publication process for one of my completed projects or B) somewhere closes to wrapping up the drafting process of a new, new project, while C) the project I completed my first draft of last spring was either on submission or getting a final fine tuning before going on submission somewhere around the end of the year or early the next.

Man plans, and God disposes, as they say, and my plans are completely feshittled. In the case of being on submission, there's really no news since the last time I broke the "What happens on submission &c." rule, so, sadly, I'm not in the publication pipeline. As for B, unfortunately, C has gotten in the way. Regrettably, I'm not near to fine-tuning that manuscript. It's proven more difficult than expected, and while I've seen some good progress in the last few days (Saturday and Sunday were both very good for me; I think I may be turning into a morning person), there's still a long way to go. I also have not really learned how to be a person who can really write two projects at the same time.

What it comes down to is that there is no NaNo for me this year, but that's OK. Maybe I'll be able to finish this mule of a manuscript once and for all. I do suspect this is at least partly responsible for my extra-cranky blog posts over the last couple of months. I'm working on getting out of that funk.

How about you? Are you on the NaNo train this year?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Weekend Update

Good morning! Disorganized rambling from me today....

-Went to visit the triplet nieces this weekend. They turned four a week ago. Last time I saw them (1-1/2 years ago) they pretty much ignored me. By the end of that weekend, I think I was able to sit on the floor and have them play around me, but they didn't play with me, they didn't pay any attention to me at all. This time? Whoo, boy, I'm exhausted, especially after doing a couple of sessions as Uncle Jungle Gym. What a lot of fun!

-We were visiting about 4.5 hours south of here. What a difference it makes in the weather! We are past peak here in terms of foliage, had two brief snow squalls on the 17th and 18th, and woke up today to 25 degrees or so. Down there, foliage is just coming to peak, which made for a  beautiful drive. When we left yesterday afternoon, it was sunny and warm and felt like it was in the 60s. Yes, I'm a trifle jealous!

-I didn't realize Stephenie Meyer's Twilight...update? was coming out so soon. When I read about it, just a week or two ago, I figured it was due out next year. I'm not sure how I feel about this. The cynic in me says it's the quick grab for cash, or the mark of someone who's shot her authorial load. Here's something of a review from the folks over at Operation Awesome. I should note here that I've tried never to be one of those people who bashes Meyer for her books. I confess I read--and enjoyed--Twilight, even while recognizing some of its shortcomings in writing and what constitutes a healthy relationship (however, I will also suggest it's potentially less damaging than some would make it out to be--it's a fantasy, for God's sakes. More on that some other time, perhaps.). The fact is the woman told a story and she told it pretty well, and she tapped into something that people obviously needed. Kudos to her! Anyway, I may read this book some day, just to see what it's like, I don't know.

-I missed two days of work last week because of a bad cold (oh, it was bad), then was out Friday to travel for the weekend. I'm not so sure I'm going to be able handling being in the office all week!

-Time to get really, really serious about my current manuscript, which feels like it wants to wither on the vine. Or like I want to spray Roundup all over it and kill it. Maybe I need to go back and read last week's post about what I write and see if I need a refocus.

-I don't think I've posted this video before. Really like the sound of this band, or at least this song.


-That's it for me--how are you all?

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Thought On Theme, Or What It's All About

Here I am at five in the morning, posting because I can't sleep, not sleeping because I picked up a cold with a really bad sore throat over the weekend. Here I am also writing about my writing for the first time in forever! My apologies for all the rants lately, and thanks for sticking around.

One of the unexpected discoveries of my birthday bash/reunion weekend last month was that one of my old friends is/was working on a novel of his own. This came up when someone asked me, "How's the writing going?" and the almost-inevitable follow-up, "What do you write?" This second is a question that I stumble badly with, as I think I've mentioned before. After stammering my way through a plot summary and trying to find a way to define it ("It's not a genre, but it's not quite literary, but blah, blah, blah"), my friend mentioned his novel, something he started working on a few yeas back when he was commuting via train. He said his novel was currently 400 manuscript pages, that he expected it to top out around 800 (!) when he was finally done--and then he would cut it from there. The problem for him, he said, is that he is no longer commuting, so he's not really writing.

At this point, he gave us a good, solid plot summary (and it sounded pretty interesting, I have to say) and then talked about what the book is actually about--"It's about personal responsibility," he said, and then some more that I don't quite remember, but he was very clear, and I was very jealous because I still find it extremely difficult to talk about what I write without feeling overly self-conscious and a little pretentious. And, there is a certain degree of mushiness in  there. He's writing a book  that's themed around personal responsibility--what is my theme?

Well, as it turns out, there are themes that run through my writing. Looking back over the manuscripts I've completed--and even the one I didn't really finish (my first NaNo) and the one I haven't really started yet, I can see a couple of themes running through. The trend is for main characters who are--or feel like--outsiders. They're trying to find acceptance, trying to find their place in the world, whether that world be within the confines of society at large, a small, somewhat insular town, or their own family. It's not, I suppose an uncommon theme, and maybe I can drill down a little deeper and define it even more than that, but maybe it will be enough, and the next time someone asks, I'll be able to answer without sounding like a fool.




Editing to ADD: Critique Time Over at Carrie's! Submit your query for a chance to be critiqued! Great opportunity!

Monday, October 12, 2015

And Again...The Chestnut

Here in this corner of America, Memorial Day marks the start of summer, Labor Day the end. Yet Columbus Day is, in many ways, the real end of the tourist season (though to be fair, fall foliage is just peaking now, and then there's hunting season--but neither of those things really do a lot compared to the summer). With that in mind (and because, quite honestly, I just didn't have the brain power for a *real* post today), I bring you...the chestnut.

Four leaves this year!




Well, as you can see, this wasn't exactly a banner growing season for my little American chestnut. This was the last photo I posted, back in May, when it was just starting to bud. This is not a great picture, granted. The new main stem did not put a lot of growth on this year; perhaps an inch, if that. From what I understand, however, this may be the year. The little tree should have been putting most of its energy into the root system. Next year is the critical one. Next year, if all goes well, the energy put into the roots this year (and last, to some extent), should fuel a pretty big growth spurt. Let's hope so.

In other news, I'm happy to say I spent my Columbus Day doing a lot of writing, probably close to 5 hours total time between this morning and early afternoon. Sadly, I spent some time listening to the Bruins' game this afternoon, and that was a mistake. It's early in the season, but things are looking mighty grim for them right now. After the front office made some head-scratching moves this summer that left the team with questionable depth, especially on defense, the team got hit with three big injuries right out of the gate. I shall try not to be pessimistic.

I hope you all had a nice weekend! Anything interesting happen?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Enough Already

I feel like I've used this title once already for something very similar. If so, that's sad--not that I'm repeating myself, but that I have to.

On Sunday, after watching a flood of anti-Obama memes fly across my Facebook feed, I posted the following (this is verbatim, except for one spelling error, and a link that was not in the original):

Since Thursday, my Facebook feed has been flooded with comments and shares and likes related to the terrible shooting in Roseburg. Unfortunately, most of these are not about the mass murder itself, but about President Obama's reaction and statement about it. Most of THOSE comments have been negative (which is putting it mildly).

I get that you don't like Obama, but here's the thing: THIS IS NOT ABOUT OBAMA. Put your hatred for the man aside and look instead at yet another pile of bodies—do you want to see that again? I get your concern about anything that may infringe on your constitutional right to bear arms, but don't you think this stuff has got to stop? Instead of firing off the usual, knee-jerk statements (you know how they go: "guns don't kill people..." and "when guns are outlawed..." and "It only takes one good man with a gun...", etc.) let me ask you this: WHAT DO YOU SUGGEST? Because what we got? It's not working. Status Quo? Not an option. Archie Bunker-style "Pass out the pistols"? Not an option.

Stop making it about Obama and start offering up ideas.
I don't necessarily subscribe to the idea that we should gather all the guns and melt them down--the vast majority of gun owners are, I'm sure, law-abiding citizens who would not take a life unless they felt they absolutely had no choice. And I don't know what the solution is. As I said, what we're doing now is not working.

I'm glad to say I actually got a couple of reasonable responses from people, one of whom is definitely anti-Obama (though he also pointed out his anti-Obama position is the result of what Obama as done, which is fair) and decidedly pro-gun. I didn't necessarily agree with all he had to say, but I respect the fact that he (mostly) kept to the issue, and that he didn't retreat to the "You'll pry my gun from my cold, dead hands!" position that so many others take. Let's hope more people in government can do the same. Something's gotta give.




Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Reflecting on Change

"I feel just like somebody else
Man, I ain't changed, but I know I ain't the same." -- Jakob Dylan 

Change has been much on my mind lately. Aside from the fact that we are now a week into what is that most transitory of seasons, at least around here, my personal life has been in upheaval, too: kids have gone overseas and came back, last child graduated high school, we're dealing with the empty nest, and, most recently, I hit one of those life milestones, a birthday made more significant by the roundness of the number. Pulling back from me a bit, our nation is on the cusp of an election that could result in a significant change in the direction of the country, and our world is similarly embroiled in political and military struggle, while the changing climate looms over all. And, of course, I'm in the process of revising a novel, and since I don't write Hardy Boys mysteries, it's important for my characters to change, too. You can see why I've been consumed with this.

This past weekend I spent four days in a large rental house with 14 people I've known, in some cases, since kindergarten, people I've been tight with since junior high school. These people are my core friends, my closest friends, the ones who have my back and are there when I need them. The event was organized by someone who realized many of us had not seen each other in a few years, and that we are getting to the point where we'll most frequently see each other at weddings and funerals. It was time, he thought, to do something about it.

What amazed me about the weekend was how, even though some of us haven't seen each other for several years, even though time and relationships and children and jobs have conspired to separate us, we fit together, just as we did in the past. Also interesting was how quickly we slipped into the same roles: The Party Boy. The Mother Hen. The Production Manager. The Snarky One. On one level, it could be depressing to see that no one has changed (except for the weight and the hairlines). Yet change--some obvious, some subtle--was evident, both in my relationship to these people and in the general outlooks on life expressed by my friends. And as comforting as it is to see you can still laugh your ass off at the same silly stuff you laughed at 30 years ago (and the same kind of silly stuff as 30 years ago), it was even better to see how those people have grown and matured and changed.

In a book, a character's transformation typically occurs in a few hundred pages that most usually represents a time frame of days, weeks or months (exceptions abound, of course). This transformation is the result of a series of events that cascade off of one thing, the fabled "inciting incident". Unless you're writing Nancy Drew or, maybe, Jack Ryan (it's been a while, but I'm pretty sure Jack Ryan doesn't change much from one book to the next, except he gets a better job), the character is going to be significantly different than at the start--otherwise, why read? But what about real life?

I know for me, on first glance I don't feel much different than I did at 40, 25, 20, but as Jakob Dylan said, "I know I ain't the same." Unlike a literary character, however, I can't point to one episode and say, "That's what made me who I am today." Rather than a Mount St. Helens-style explosion that flattened everything for miles and utterly transformed the landscape, change in my life has been gradual, subtle, like continental drift. Even the big events--marriage, the births of my children, the deaths of my parents--as important and impactful as they've been, did not create instant, massive change. Instead, it's been the result of one thing after another, piling up slowly over time, building like a river delta. Writing a book about my life would no doubt provide a reader with some amusing anecdotes and poignant stories, but it would lack the drama and trauma to make it a worthy read. I'm not complaining, though; I think I like it better this way. Thank you as always for reading.

And, since we invoked the song at the beginning, here's The Wallflowers with One Headlight:

 




Monday, September 28, 2015

Help A Fellow Writer Out...

...and head on over to agent Carrie Pestritto's blog. Leave a critique on the posted query and help the writer potentially receive a 100-page critique from Carrie. I can tell you from experience that Carrie does excellent critiques. And as I've said ad infinitum, critiquing queries is an invaluable experience for the critiquer as well as the critiquee.

I am exhausted after a long, eventful weekend (a very positive long, eventful weekend). If I can get my act together on this, I will post about it tomorrow. See you then, and stop by Carrie's. Thanks!


Monday, September 21, 2015

A Short Quiz

A short quiz for today--no Googling, please:

How many of you non-football fans out there know why New England quarterback Tom Brady was in the news all summer?

How many of you non-hockey fans out there know why Chicago forward Patrick Kane has been in the news since early August?

One was accused of masterminded a scheme to tamper with game equipment.

The other was accused of rape.

One was the focus of an exhaustive league investigation, which resulted in a 100+ page report and a suspension.  He appealed, lost, and took the case to federal court, where his suspension was set aside.

The other was welcomed to training camp this week.

One was no doubt targeted at least in part because his team has a history of stretching, finding loopholes in, and out-and-out breaking the rules. This is, of course, an affront to the integrity of the game and must be punished.

The other was not targeted, despite having a history of bad behavior, which includes an arrest for assault, a weekend in Wisconsin that is the stuff of frat boy legend, and now a rape accusation. But hey, it's okay, he's only 20/23/26 (his age at the time of the respective incidents), right? I mean, boys will be boys, right?

Granted, in the one case, the investigation turned up actual wrong-doing, while the rape case is still at the grand jury stage and no charges have been filed. It says something, however, that screwing around with footballs is much bigger news than rape.

Now you may Google away.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Insensitivity

Years ago, when I lived here...
...we received permission to throw a party. We sat down to plan and arrived at the only weekend date between Thanksgiving and Christmas that was available. That day turned out to be December 7, Pearl Harbor Day, which commemorates those who died in the Japanese attack in 1941.

The people I lived and worked with at the big house there were all shaped to a certain extent by World War II. We all had relatives who fought in the war or grew up during it. My father was 5 when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Two of my uncles that I was close to served in the US Navy; so did my grandfather. Another uncle flew combat missions in the Army Air Corps. I have three close friends whose fathers fought across France and Italy against the Germans. And, it turns out, my future father-in-law (though I did not know him at the time) was a Pearl Harbor survivor.

We knew our history, and we knew, at least on an intellectual level, the horror of Pearl Harbor. It did not stop us from capitalizing on the day. The invitations we sent out said "Come and get bombed at our Pearl Harbor Day party." We decorated the hall with cutout airplanes and falling bombs on the walls. No one complained. If they had, we might have told them:


There was no harm in it, as far as we could tell. We were young, and full of the insensitivity and tactlessness that young people can be famous for. The party was a blast, and that house was every bit as good for a party as you might imagine.

Flash forward 20-something years. On Friday, while Rapi-scrolling (TM) through endless images on Facebook of the Twin Towers intact and the Twin Towers burning; of dust-covered firemen, and flags tattered and whole; a post from my cousin caught my eye. It showed the Twin Towers, with the Statue of Liberty in the background. But what really got my attention were the words. Said my cousin:

"I was surprised, angered, and disappointed when somebody called out 'Happy Remembrance Day!' this morning. Before I could stop myself I blurted out 'What's happy about it?' Later on, driving through [town name redacted for privacy] I saw an electronic billboard that was listing all the victims 9/11 by name. Most appropriate."

Honestly, I had no idea what Remembrance Day was, or even if it was. In looking it up, I came across something I did not know: in December, 2001, Congress declared September 11 to be Patriot Day (not to be confused with Patriots' Day in Massachusetts, which commemorates the Battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775). Furthermore, each year since 2009 President Obama has signed a proclamation declaring September 11 as "Patriot Day and National Day of Service and Remembrance." I guess I'm just not up on these things.

September 11 was a world-changing day, our generation's Pearl Harbor, and needs remembrance. Ironically, as my cousin's experience indicates, giving it an official designation on a calendar may actually make people think about it less. After a while, it just becomes another blip on the calendar, like National Boss Day or National Frozen Food Day--or, worse yet, a day that everyone looks forward to because they get the day off work and stores are having sales. I can envision a cheesy animation of the Twin Towers falling while a Crazy Eddie-style announcer shouts, "Our prices are COMING DOWN!"

A story I heard on NPR on Friday afternoon made a surprising point. "9/11 is already ancient history on some level," said Alice Greenwald, director of the National September 11 Memorial Museum. The story noted that approximately 25% of Americans now living either weren't born yet on September 11, 2001, or were too young to remember it. Time marches on. And I suppose I have to get used to the idea that there will be those in the near future making jokes about September 11 because the impacts to them will not seem visible. It doesn't make them bad or wrong or stupid--it just makes them young, without the same frame of reference and emotional response that those of us who lived through it have. I note that for myself, my own level of respect and reflection for Pearl Harbor Day, Veterans' Day and Memorial Day has increased over the years; I suspect it will for them, too.


Monday, September 7, 2015

And Now...Deja Vu

Three (!) years ago, I wrote a piece here called The Second Week Blues, in which I chronicled how The Magpie had done great at school for the first week plus, then hit a bump. What I didn't tell you is that there was more to the story. Yes, she had picked up a nasty computer virus which kept her up late into the night, but around the same time, there was something else that kept her up all night as well. And I woke up early (as I tend to do) on a weekend morning and found a message on the answering machine from her, a very unhappy message that was left after a very unhappy incident involving one of her suite-mates that pulled The Magpie in because the walls are thin in those dorms.

Flash forward three years. Yesterday morning it was The Catbird leaving an early-morning message, again due to an incident involving a dorm-mate that began around 3 a.m. and left her a little shaken. The good news is no one was hurt as far as I can tell. Alcohol was involved in this case, as it was in the incident in The Magpie's dorm 3 years ago, as it is in so many things that go wrong on college campuses these days. How this one will play out remains to be seen, but it raises a question: How do you know the difference between being homesick and knowing that a place is not for you? (This is not The Catbird's question; despite the incident, she's still pretty solid)


The person in the incident in The Catbird's dorm has a very bad case of homesickness and has declared her intention to leave school. My wife and I are in agreement here: one week is not enough to know (in most cases, at least); you need to give it more time. But how long is long enough? How much time do you need to power through to the other side? At what point do you go from saying, "Give it more time, you'll get over it" to "Okay, come on home"? Everyone is different, so the answer will vary for each person, but it IS a good question, an important question. Some people are not ready for life away from home at 18, and some people are not suited for every place. I do not envy this person, or her parents. Withdrawing from a college is a big decision, one that should not be made lightly, and I hope they make the right decision.


And now, music. Something melancholy, I think, given the mood.


Finally, I should point out that Agent Carrie is once more open to submissions for her Query Critique Contest! If you've got a query ready to go, check out her blog and find out how to enter, and then check back to critique the query when it's posted. Critiquing queries is a great way to hone your own skills at writing those oh-so-difficult beasts that are oh-so-necessary.

That's it, have a great week!

Monday, August 31, 2015

And Now We're Empty

One week ago today we left home to take the Magpie to her penultimate semester at college (no telling if next year we'll be taking her to grad school, but I seriously doubt it). This was an easy trip, as her campus is a little over an hour away, and easy also because by this time, she knows what to bring, what NOT to bring, and how to pack it. We moved in, helped her get partly set up, went out for lunch and to pick up a few more items, and that was it. The tough part was the fact that we just got her back after her year abroad, but at least we got to spend a couple weeks with her before she left again.

Thursday was the Catbird's turn. The Catbird is going to college about 4-1/2, 5 hours away, in a whole other state! We had to board the dog for the night (never a fun thing) and leave at 7 a.m. to get to campus at the appointed move-in time of between noon and 3 (the Catbird's college decided to stagger the arrival time, presumably to ease congestion around the dorms. I'm not sure I would follow that rule again, knowing what I now know, which is nothing bad. Just that, with orientation activities for students beginning somewhere in late afternoon, the kids arriving in the morning had more time to put things to rights and maybe relax a little.).

The Catbird's school had 2 days of "activities" aimed at parents, so we stayed overnight, which we might have anyway, because who wants to do 10 hours of driving in a single day? In hindsight, the 2-day "orientation" for parents really wasn't all that necessary. We ended up missing the one session that might have actually been useful because we were dealing with a problem with our motel, which amounted to this:


Apparently, every school in town decided to have move-in day at approximately the same time, and the motel ran out of rooms. I'm promised a reimbursement check for the room they ultimately found me in another hotel elsewhere, and I'm hoping I don't end up having to go through a big runaround on this. We'll see.

At any rate, despite some concerns over what and how the Catbird was packing, things went smoothly there as well. As we waited at a traffic light to turn into the campus, we were greeted by a small cadre of students on the sidewalk, jumping up and down, cheering the incoming students and calling out things like, "Welcome home." The freshman class is ~500 students; there were at least 100 upperclassmen on hand to help move in (they were on our car like ants on a cracker), to lead new students to and in orientation activities, and to help everyone feel welcome. It was a great way to start.

For my own part, the emotions I expected to cause problems were pretty under control. This is one of the benefits to being busy, I suppose: it's hard to dwell on the changes in life that are coming if you're running around doing a bunch of things. The kids were kept busy, too, with meetings and trips and group activities. Last night we had our first 3-way Skype session, which was an oddity to say the least, but both my girls look happy, and that's the best I can hope for.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Droning On and On

When I was a kid, one of the coolest things anyone could get was a free-flying, radio controlled (RC) airplane. No one I knew had one, but I recall one of my friends was building a model airplane (one of those made out of a forest of balsa wood, covered in tissue paper) that he was hoping to outfit with an engine and controls. I don't recall if he ever finished it or not; if he did, I was not around for the flight, because I'm sure I would have remembered that.

On the way to the beach we used to go to was a town park. Almost any time you drove past that park you would see RC planes flying around over the treetops from the parkway. There was a club of some kind that met down there, or maybe that was just the only place you could find sufficient open space to actually fly the things.

You never saw those things flying around in the neighborhood. You couldn't fly those things around the neighborhood. While the streets we lived on had plenty of room for take-off and landing, the big trees, telephone poles and electrical wires overhead were a serious obstacle. The big park was wide open, so you didn't have to worry about that. But even if someone had been making an RC helicopter (and I don't remember seeing any of those back then; the closest we got to that was this), I don't think we would have been allowed to fly them around. You see, those airplanes, they were noisy. Imagine a team of landscapers arriving next door at 6 in the morning. Now imagine them flying back and forth over your house. Common sense of the day was that you didn't disturb the neighbors like that. If we had, the neighbors would have gone to our parents to complain, and I think it would have been an easy decision for parents to make: keep the peace in the neighborhood. Fly the planes in the county park.

Fast forward forty (!) years. Now we have drones, which are glorified RC helicopters. They take off and land vertically, so no need to try to find a gap in the ever-increasing traffic on suburban streets. They're noisy, but not as noisy as those RC planes. And they're relatively cheap--I just found a model available for $80. And they can be equipped with nifty little cameras, which means everyone and their uncle in the YouTube generation has yet another means of striking gold with a viral video.

Is anyone restricting these things right now? Last month, a Kentucky man was arrested after using his shotgun to blow a drone out of the sky over his backyard. He says it was hovering over the yard where his 16-year-old daughter was sunbathing. Last week, I read a story in the Washington Times that stated pilots have reported nearly 700 instances of close encounters with drones. Earlier in the year, a drone was used to drop contraband in a prison yard. And finally, there's this video, which shows people largely harassing animals with drones.



As kids in the time and place I grew up in, I believe we never would have gotten away with the kind of crap . The first time a neighbor came to our parents and complained about us hovering the drone over their house, outside their bathroom window, or buzzing their pool, that would have been it. We would have lost our drone privileges. And probably been grounded, AND had to go and apologize directly to the person or people offended. In many cases, however, these are adults who are flying--and abusing--these things, and the sense of entitlement trumps and respect at all for the people or animals around.

Drone technology allows us to do some great things. Last month, I saw a presentation in which a drone was used by a grad student at a local university to make maps, and to monitor things like stream bank erosion and sedimentation in a lake. There are a lot of good things they can do. They can also be used for fun, but we've got to show more sense in doing so, because there's also a real potential that someone's going to get seriously hurt.


Have you had any close encounters with drones?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Monday Musing, Full Nest Edition

Well, it's been a while.


When I posted last, I kind of thought I'd be back last week, but time and circumstance worked against me. It was rather low on my priority list during the week.

The big news is we picked up the Magpie at JFK airport on 8/7. After almost a full year in Japan, she had finally returned. There was much rejoicing. We spent the night with some friends who live near the airport and were gracious enough to once again open their homes for us, and then we drove out to the east end of Long Island for a long weekend with family. Our relatives throw an annual bash called Lobsterfest, which involves much eating, drinking and socializing. It was a bit of a whirlwind, I think, for the Magpie, who had to deal with the effects of jet lag and didn't get the luxury of having a few days of recovery before being dropped in the middle of all of this. A splendid time was had by all.

And so now our nest is full, though that is a temporary state of affairs. I'll be back at work today, we have all this week with both girls home, and then next week (either Sunday or Monday, I'm still not quite sure which) the Magpie is off for her senior year. Late next week we take the Catbird off for her freshman year, and the house will be empty. It will be a bigger adjustment for us to make for sure.

Funny thing, after sending the Magpie off on her Japan adventure last year, I said to my wife, "Albany is going to be a big come down after spending the year in Tokyo." I don't really know what the campus looked like at her university there, but I know what U Albany looks like--quite frankly, it's hideous. The campus is loaded with buildings that would be perfectly at home in Stalinist Russia. It's a dystopian future world as envisioned by a campy 1950s sci-fi film. And, of course, she will not be surrounded by Japanese people and Japanese culture. I know she'll work hard to retain her Japanese, but it will be a lot tougher to practice the language skills she's worked so hard on.

One thing I had not thought of when she departed last September is that she wouldn't want to be here. Neither of my girls are party animals (and this is not just me being a naive parent). Both have been perfectly content being homebodies. But now that the Magpie has tasted life in Tokyo, I think it will be much harder for her to want to be around here. Our little pocket of central New York is beautiful, but it doesn't necessarily have a lot to offer young people right now--especially someone with a major in Japanese. We've known for some time that she's going to have to move eventually to get a job. I just don't think we (okay, I) imagined that she'd really want to. Now, I can't imagine her wanting to stay around here.

It doesn't make me sad. Not yet, anyway. This is part of the natural order of things. Children grow and become their own people with their own lives, separate, yet intertwined with their parents. For now, I'll enjoy the nest while it's full.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Inescapable Cellphone

Back at the beginning of May, I worked with a group of 9 girls from one of the local colleges, organizing a clean-up along the trail at a local state forest. It was part of an effort called "Into the Streets," where teams of students go off and do community service projects throughout the area.

The group was very nice and energetic. We spent a chunk of time hauling a fallen tree out of the picnic area (the forest ranger had cut it into movable chunks but had not had time to move said chunks out of the area), and then we walked a 2.5 mile loop, trimming back some overgrowth, moving the occasional tree detritus off the path, picking up a stray piece of litter. When we broke for lunch, they still had a couple of hours left on their day, but there wasn't a whole lot left to do.

The group's leader--I don't know if she was the official point person for the group, or if she just assumed command--asked me what the plan was for after lunch, and I told her honestly that there was another section of trail, but I had no idea what condition it was in (I had not had time to get up there and pre-scout it). I gave them the option: we can walk that next section of trail, or you can call it an early day.

She said they would discuss it, and we sat at the picnic table. The girls were amusing to listen to. They all had their cell phones out and were checking out Facebook and e-mails and the like, sharing pictures with each other. After about 20 minutes, the leader says to me, "We decided. We'll go home early."

In the time we sat at the picnic tables, there had been no discussion at all.

How had they decided? Was it just a given that they'd knock off early if given the chance? Had they talked about it in their cars on the way up to the forest? "Hey, maybe we can go home early, let's see." Did they have some sort of telepathic link that they were beaming messages back and forth into each other's heads while we ate lunch?

Of course they did. They all had cell phones.

What amazed me about their decision is not that they would make it via text message, but that they could have that discussion via text message and I would have no clue that they were having it. There was never any sense at all that a discussion was taking place: no verbal tip-offs, no changes in behavior or direction of the conversation, nothing. I was completely in the dark on this. It made me wonder a little what else they might have been talking about behind my back--"What's with the cheesy mustache?" "Get a load of that hair!" stuff like that.

Despite knowing how useful they are, I have long resisted entry into the cellphone era. Oh, I've had two previous phones, but one contract we dumped when we moved up here because AT&T was only able to provide us a signal if you stood in. Just. The right. Spot on the front lawn, and that was about it in the entire county. A second one...I don't know what happened with that one. But 3 years ago, my wife jumped into the smartphone era, a necessity for her business, and hasn't looked back. I continued the resistance, even though there were lots of times when it would have been great to have one. Now I have one.

It's a hand-me-down, which is fine. And on the very first day I had it, it proved itself useful, as the Catbird wasn't where I was expecting to find her following graduation rehearsal. Two minutes out on the road, my phone chimed with an incoming text from my wife, alerting me to the Catbird's new location. While I was glad not to have to go traipsing all over town in search of her, I also did a silent curse--think Seinfeld saying, "Newman!"


Don't get me wrong, in just a month the cell phone has proven quite convenient, quite necessary. What's amazing--and alarming--is how easy it is to start relying on it for everything. I've already used it as a watch, a camera, a flashlight, a document scanner. Oh, and I've made a few calls with it, too. It's almost insidious, really, how you can get by fine without one, until you have one. Once you've got it, you can't do without it. Not surprisingly, as much as I'm glad to have the phone, I'm trying to avoid complete dependence on it.

Are you totally reliant on your cellphone? Do you even have one?

 

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Mockingbird Sings A Different Tune

Of all our feathered friends, the northern mockingbird has one of the greatest, most descriptive names ever: Mimus polyglottos. Rather than have some awkward Latinized name to memorialize the person who discovered it (see: Bachman's warbler, Vermivora bachmanii), the mockingbird's name pretty much sums up what the bird is all about: "Many-voiced mimic." Here's a sample:



Of course, the mockingbird is also famous as the central metaphor for Harper Lee's renowned 1960 book, To Kill A Mockingbird. Never out of print, taught in high schools all across the country for years, held up as a condemnation of racism (at least among white Americans) , the book is once again on the minds of many people after the release last week of Go Set A Watchman, and a lot of people are not happy.



First, a caveat: I have not read Go Set A Watchman. It's also at least 4 years since I last read Mockingbird (one thing I miss about my girls being out of high school is they're not bringing books home from English class that I want to read--or re-read; I have to find them on my own!). Specifically, people are not happy about the portrayal of Mockingbird's hero, Atticus Finch. In Mockingbird, he defends a black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman in a 1920s deep south town. Finch is revered among a large segment of (white) America: he is portrayed as brave, honest, tolerant, and, presumably, free of the racism that pervades his small town of Maycomb, Alabama.

Not so fast. Again, without having read Watchman, based solely on the reviews and criticisms and reactions that have been rolling in for the last week or so, it seems that Atticus has another side, one that was not revealed in Mockingbird, and this has sent shockwaves through the legions of Atticus admirers. Atticus, it turns out, is a racist who supports segregation. The result is a lot of hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth over how this could happen, how could Ms. Lee tear down this amazing hero in such a way? And again, I say, Not so fast.

Though Watchman is set some 20 years after the events of Mockigbird, though it was published some 50 years after Mockingbird, it is not a sequel. It looks like a sequel, yes, but it was not conceived of as a sequel by Ms. Lee. For those not familiar with the story, Go Set A Watchman was written by Lee first. She submitted it to her editors, who instead guided her through a re-write process that resulted in Mockingbird, a very different story with a very different approach. Those of you reading this who are writers know how much a story can change from one draft to another, even when you're not setting out to make huge changes. For non-writers who may be reading this, the short answer is: a lot. Lee changed a third person point of view in Watchman to first, and put herself squarely in the head of a 6-8 year old girl to tell the story, instead of a 20-something looking back. Changes of this nature are going to lead to all kinds of changes throughout the manuscript, whether intended or not. It's a literary version of the butterfly effect. Atticus in Watchman is not the same Atticus from Mockingbird. Same name, yes, same house, same law practice, but not the same man. He's more like "Alternate Universe Atticus," and his presence should not stop you from enjoying what we might think of as "the original Atticus Finch."




Monday, July 13, 2015

Carrie's Query Critique

For those of you who may have a query in need of perusal, get thee to Carrie Pestritto's blog for a chance to get critiqued by an agent (and the chance to get 'the Carrie Treatment' your first 100 pages!). Good luck!

It's Invasive Species Awareness Week!

Yesterday marked the beginning of Invasive Species Awareness Week here in New York. The purpose of  this week is to promote awareness and understanding of invasive species and to help stop their spread. Invasive species are plants, animals or other organisms that can cause harm to the environment, the economy, and/or human health. They are usually not native to the area in question and have high reproductive capacity. You may remember a few months back I linked to a short article I wrote for our local newspaper on a species called the emerald ash borer; last month I had another run on steps boaters and fishermen and women should take to help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. That article can be found here. I should have another article running this week, on efforts in New York to keep the Asian longhorned beetle in check.

Invasive species are an issue that can affect us all, with potentially enormous costs. Check with your state and local resource agencies to find out which ones are in your area and what you can do to help keep them under control. And here is a video that was put together by some good friends of the organization I work for:



OCCA - Clean, Drain and Dry from Blue Water Studio on Vimeo.


Monday, July 6, 2015

Monday Musing: Hugs and Brain Cramps

Over the last few weeks there's been a flurry of hugging going around. It's a natural consequence of high school graduation--people suddenly come at you with arms open, as a way of saying both "Congratulations!" and "I understand the emotional whirlwind you're going through, I'm there, too." It's not unpleasant, but it's a little strange considering that some of these folks are people I would not classify as great friends. Friendly, yes, but not friends.

At any rate, because my mind works the way it does I found myself in one of these clinches (oops, better be careful there, that gives it significance that it didn't have) wondering how it is that we don't have more head-on collisions with people we don't know well when we hug. What I realized is there seems to be some sort of hug protocol where the default is to lean to the left (Interestingly, thinking about it some more, we seem to tilt our heads to the right to kiss); you don't generally see people leaning to the right when initiating a hug. I'm not wrong on this, am I? Do you notice this, too? I'm curious if this is a universal approach or more of a western culture thing.

***

Major brain cramp last night. I went to brush my teeth before going to bed, looked at the toothbrushes lined up in the bathroom--and had no idea which one was mine. They're all the same basic model except for color. "Is mine the green one or the orange one?" It was a strange moment, a piece of information that either went missing from my brain or where the information retrieval system broke down for a minute. I actually had to ask my wife. It was more amusing than disconcerting, but definitely a strange thing. Every have something like that happen to you?

***

The two men who escaped from the maximum security Clinton Correctional Facility last month have been recovered, one shot and killed, the other shot (just 3 miles or so from the Canadian border) and now back in prison. From the beginning, this breakout captured the public's attention and imagination, with it's Shawshank Redemption-style breakout. It was an audacious plan, we can admit that, but before we start writing books and making made-for-TV movies about it, let's remember this: the two men who broke out were (are) killers, plain and simple. They're not heroes; let's not lionize them.

That's about it for me today, how's things by you?


Friday, July 3, 2015

Done

It took longer than expected, but the latest manuscript is off to Carrie. Can I go to sleep now?

Monday, June 29, 2015

We Made It...Now What?

Each year, our local high school holds its graduation ceremony at one of the loveliest sites in the area, a sloping sweep of lawn overlooking the lake. For the 12 years we've been here, I can't remember a day when the weather is bad--not that we were in the habit of attending graduation, mind you. When the Magpie took the walk, it was sunny and hot. Last year, when the Catbird had to be there for the ceremony as an usher, it was sunny and REAL hot. To my understanding, they haven't had to go to Plan B--holding graduation in the high school auditorium--in our time here.
Graduation day

Yesterday, they nearly had to go to Plan B. It rained Saturday afternoon. It rained Saturday night. It rained (heavily) Sunday morning. By the time we took Catbird up to the school at noon to get ready, it was still raining. But the weather service radar showed a hole in the clouds and the hour-by-hour forecast showed a window of non-rain. Apparently it was the students of the Class of 2015 who made the decision to go on with the show.

When we got to the site, the rain had turned into a mist. By the time the school buses arrived with the kids, it had stopped completely, and while the sun never really came out, it tried, and the day warmed up enough to be comfortable (except for the occasions when the wind blew), and it was fantastic. I am proud of my girls, and as much as I lament in a way the passing of this era, I look forward to the next one. We've already seen remarkable changes in the Magpie, whose self-confidence has soared in the last three years (and particularly the last 10 months when she's been living in Japan); now it's the Catbird's turn, and I can't wait to see her continue to grow.

This last week we spent a lot of time around the kids and parents of the Catbird's classmates. Some of them, like us, watched their last child graduate this year. Others have one, two, three or more to go. I find myself wondering how our relationship with these people--and with the community as a whole--will change. So much of our lives is centers around our kids and their lives. It always will, I suppose, but now the focus is a little different. Onward!




Friday, June 26, 2015

Monday, June 22, 2015

No Post Monday

The title says it all.

Over the last two weeks or so, I've re-discovered the joy of pushing and working on writing in the short hours before I have to leave for work. Since the Catbird's last day of school was one week ago (though, she doesn't graduate for another 6 days, since all the non-seniors are encumbered with the wonderful thing called "Regents exams"), I don't have to worry about making sure she gets off to school in the mornings. No lunch to pack, no need to march up the stairs every 15 minutes and pound on her door. So that leaves me some time in the morning to drink coffee, sift through blogs, and write. It's not a lot of time, but it's amazing how quickly I can wake up, and how much I can get done. Even with all the craziness of the last couple of weeks in terms of school-related things (dinners and banquets and awards and baccalaureates), I'm on track to turn in my manuscript to Carrie by the end of the month.


Here's a good, wake-up tune:


Have a great week, all, I've got an hour of writing to get to.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Monday Musing, Powerless Edition

On Friday, just as I stepped out into the driveway on my way to picking up the Catbird at her job "in town," a storm hit. A wicked streak of lightning landed to the right, on the other side of the hamlet. A moment later, another one landed somewhere over the hill across the street, and a cloud looked like it was boiling up and over that hill. The rain came, and the entire 15 minutes or so on the road into town I was treated to one of the most spectacular lightning shows I have seen in years. By the time we arrived home, the storm had slackened, but the damage was done: my wife and her friend who had come over to binge watch something (they hadn't decided on what to binge watch when I left) were sitting in candlelight. The power was out.

You may know that I've written a novel called POWERLESS, which deals with a world after the power goes out. As the outage stretched on, I thought of that story. In it, the main character has a landline, a real old-school phone hardwired to the wall, with an actual cord that connects the handset to the rest of the device. An old-school phone like that is pretty handy in an emergency, because it always works. They operate independently of the power grid, so when the power goes out, you can always use it to notify the power company of an outage (and, in our case, the automated voice on the other end of the line will tell you how many customers in your area are out, and give you an estimate of when it should be back on--which can be a fast-moving target). It's pretty good to have (note that cordless phones will not work in a power outage, because the base unit doesn't work unless it's plugged into an electrical outlet).

Sometime on Friday, I noticed my sister posted a note on Facebook that said her family no longer had a landline. Presumably, she, her husband and both sons have their own cellphones. She joins a growing number of Americans. According to the Chicago Tribune, more than 40% of Americans no longer have landlines. That story ran last summer, so it's probably even higher now. I'm not sure it's such a good idea, just from a safety perspective, thought that could be just because we exist in a cellphone dead zone.

See below
I wonder how the switch to individual phones changes the family dynamic. Growing up, we had two phones in our house, but only one phone line. My parents did not get an answering machine until long after we kids were moved out. Calling home could result in a busy signal--and there's an entire generation of Americans that likely have NO IDEA what that is--or, if no one was home, the phone ringing and ringing forever. There was nothing worse as a teenager than waiting for an important call (and, when you're a teenager, they're all important, aren't they?) while your sister is hogging the line. Now, there's no need to fight over the phone. And as a parent, do you have any idea who is calling your kids? Or when? Devices bring us together, devices keep us apart.

***

On another note, today is the day. I don't know if other high schools do this--I don't think mine did, but we had 1,000 students to deal with, so probably not--it's the Senior Walk, or as I think of it, The Running of the Seniors. Today, last period of the day, the seniors at the Catbird's school will don their caps and gowns and parade through the halls, accompanied by the cheers of the underclassmen and the tears of gathered parents. It's been a heck of a year, not always in a good way, but she is officially done. I am super proud of her, super proud of both my girls, and I can't wait to see where life takes them from here--and my wife and I!

That's about it for me, have a great week, all.


Note on the phone: the one in the picture is very similar to the one we used to have on our kitchen wall where I grew up. My Mom had a cousin who worked for the phone company who got us an extra long 'strangler cord' so we could have privacy. My bedroom was at least ten feet down the hall from the kitchen and I could stretch that sucker so I could stand inside my closed door to talk to my friends. Woe to anyone who was in the bathroom when I was on the phone. If they came out the door without looking, the cord would be stretched across that doorway, throat high. Good times.



Monday, June 8, 2015

Us & Them

Is it me or does it feel like social media--that great, wonderful tool that is supposed to bring us all together--is becoming more and more divisive?

Maybe it is me. Maybe I just don't like people screaming their political beliefs at me (particularly when they don't jibe with my own, hah ha), or trying to get me to "guilt share" some image or message or status. "Share this if you support..." with the implication being that I'm anti-American or anti-cop or anti-equality or anti-choice or anti-life or anti-feminist if I don't do it. Don't tell me what I am just because I didn't change my profile picture to support your cause, or because I didn't share a status or image or do the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Rant over. Damn, I'm feeling like some cranky old man. Here's some depressing (but incredible) Pink Floyd to cap this post off a on a real cheery note!



Monday, June 1, 2015

Public Service Announcement

A couple years back, when writing was still an idea, something I toyed around with for a bit, I was on my way into town on a fine Saturday morning in early June. The sun was shining, it was warm, the windows were down and I was grooving along. I'd had the idea of a story in my head for months, but I'd never gotten beyond the "Wouldn't that be kind of cool to write about?" stage.

We live in an area with winding, hilly roads. I descended a hill into a little valley, rounded a curve, and there it was, sitting at the edge of the road, just outside the white line: a monstrous snapping turtle. She stared at my oncoming car with that calm, defiant look that all turtles have, her huge head raised up,, and then I was past her. When I glanced in the rear view mirror, her tail was dragging behind as she disappeared into the high grass at the edge of the road. And that's when I had it: the moment.

The whole way into town I was writing in my head. The whole way home I was writing in my head. When I got home, I sat down and wrote a chapter, the opening of a book that soon fizzled and died. I wasn't ready. It wasn't until the following November that I started it again, for my first NaNo. That book never went anywhere, really, not beyond the required 50,000 words, but that moment has stayed with me. And every time I see a turtle on the road, it comes back to me.

It's June. Here in upstate New York, it's pretty much peak time for turtles on the move, especially females who are either on their way to or on their way from egg laying sites (the one pictured below I came across a few years back, laying eggs in the gravel on the road side). Sadly, turtles are not too good at avoiding cars. The shell that makes them so good at avoiding most predators is not much uses against a 2-ton vehicle. If, in your travels, you should find a turtle in the middle of the road and it's safe to help it, do so. But please make sure you move it in the direction it's heading toward. Turtles are stubborn, and turtles know where they're going. Save a life!

Photo by me


Monday, May 25, 2015

Monday Musing, Sleepless in Upstate New York Edition

Here it is, Monday morning, Memorial Day in the USA, a holiday, a day that, in theory, I can sleep in on, and here it is, 5:45 in the morning and I am up. Just like yesterday. Just like the day before.

For the better part of a week, my sleep schedule has gotten totally borked. For most of my adult life, I have been someone who wakes up before my alarm, usually by 10 or 15 minutes. On Wednesday or Thursday last week I woke up ahead of my alarm, convinced it was time to get up, my brain firing at a fairly high level. I was halfway out of bed when I looked at the clock and saw it was only 4. On that day I managed to go back to sleep for another hour or so.

I don't necessarily mind all that much on some levels, except on some of thee days I'm tired when I wake up, and could use the extra sleep. Yawning uncontrollably from mid-morning on at work is not what I want to be doing, but it seems to be where I'm at right now.

For a year early in our marriage, we lived with my in-laws. They were in their 70s at the time and had the craziest sleep cycles of anyone I have ever known. More often than not one of them would be on their way to bed just as I was getting up to get ready for work--around 4:30 in the morning (I had a long train ride in those days). It seems fairly normal for older people to have wonky sleep schedules; I am hardly a senior citizen at the point, so I'm not sure why it's happening.

It's not entirely bad, however. I've written the first four paragraphs of this piece, half asleep, without the benefit of coffee (yeah, I know, it shows) and I'm much more awake than I was before. On Saturday, in the period when I was in bed trying to get back to sleep, I came up with a solution to a minor manuscript problem. Both Saturday and Sunday I got in two to three hours of what I felt like were quality writing time between 6 and 8 in the morning.

I guess all there is to do is to ride it out and try to get something useful out of this while it's going on. My sleep schedule periodically gets out of whack like this, and it always gets reset. Might as well use this 'extra time' well.