Monday, June 19, 2017

Mental Health Day

That's what I'm on.

I work a lot of weekends. Sometimes, the work is just for a few hours, such as when I lead a nature walk for my organization, or take a table full of displays and 'stuff' to some event and talk to people all day. Other times, it's an all-day sort of affair, such as when we're the ones running one of those events. In the last three weeks, my Saturdays were as follows: nature walk on the third (only 3 hours worth of time, total), festival on the 10th (I was "on the clock" basically from 8 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.), and a fundraiser beer pouring at a concert on the 17th, where I was "on" (and on my feet) from 3:30 to about 10:30.

I call this a mental health day, but it's also about physical well-being, too. The nature walk is easy: two miles on a mostly easy trail. The event and the beer pouring, however, were physically demanding, draining. Setting up tables, lugging our own display materials around, being responsible (okay, that's mental) for the smooth running of the event or for wrangling nearly 70 volunteers--that's draining. And depending on what's going on, I'm not guaranteed getting a Monday off for working a Saturday. Sometimes, you just can't swing it, and that's okay. We don't get overtime, but I've got a boss who is humane. As long as the work gets done and gets done well, we have the flexibility to take time when/where needed.

Long-winded way of saying there's not much of a post today. I'm hopefully going to catch up on my assignments for the online writing course I've been taking. Technically, I've already completed the requirements to 'pass' the course, but there's more to learn; it behooves me to complete all the assignments. The good thing is it's getting me going on my RiP again (Carrie will be glad to hear that!) and I may also have picked up another beta reader, hooray! Once the course is over, I'll try to sum up my experiences here. The University of Iowa will be running another beginning on July 17 aimed at poets and playwrights. Also, somewhere down the line I'll explain what the beer pouring fundraiser was (besides fun and exhausting!). EDIT: Oh, and maybe I'll add in my reactions to Wonder Woman, which we saw on Wednesday (Quick reaction: Really good film).

So, I'm out of here, hoping to write, relax, and just enjoy what will hopefully be a good day, weather-wise (had great, great weather for the beer pouring and Father's Day; got deluged last night). In closing, I'll leave you with this song that has been absolutely stuck in my head the last week and a half. Posting it on my personal Facebook page has done nothing to get rid of it, so maybe this will. I'm also pretty sure this same song got stuck in my head last year, too. It's got a great groove. Have a great week, everyone!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Monday Musing: No Real Theme Edition (and no political commentary!)

Random bits and pieces from over the last week, because I've been too lazy/busy to get an actual post!

-Penguins won the Stanley Cup last night. This was a good game, an entertaining series, and a lot more fun to watch in some ways without a dog in the fight. Congratulations to Pittsburgh on the win, and Nashville on a great series.

-In an era where coaching and systems have become so dominant, it's comforting to see talent as the deciding factor. Though the deciding goal wasn't some sort of rink-length, dipsy-doodling rush finished off with a diving backhander tucked up under the crossbar, Pittsburgh's overall talent superiority was evident in them having most of the really good scoring chances. It would be nice to see coaches fill out the bottom six forward lines with more talent over "grit," because the talent is out there.

-A couple of weeks back, I joined a Massive Online Open Course (MOOC; I think that's what the letters stand for) through the University of Iowa. The theme of the course is "Writing Identities and Social Issues in Fiction and Nonfiction" (I always want to hyphenate 'nonfiction'). It's been pretty interesting, good food for thought, good exposure to other writers. The 'discussions' we're supposed to be participating in, however, seem to be mostly individual responses to a question posed by an instructor instead of actual discussion. And there's a lot of quid pro quo critique going on. Of course, there are a lot of people in this course, with a lot of assignments being posted: how many can you read (and thoughtfully comment on) in a week?

-I used a piece of my WiP and a piece of my RiP for a couple of assignments and got some useful feedback. It also got me looking at my RiP, which means I'm actually one step closer to finally doing something with it.

-Downside of opening the windows to let cool night air in? Skunks. Last night, the smell just sort of wafted in, growing stronger and stronger, though it never quite reached eye-watering levels. Pepé le Pew was on the prowl!

-Hit the middle eighties yesterday. I think maybe we're clear of the threat of frost and snow--finally!

-Am I the only person who gets annoyed by this "Focused Inbox" thing that Microsoft is trying to shove down my throat with Outlook? Just show me everything and let me decide what's important, thank you very much.

That's about it for me, what's new with you?

 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Public Writing

When I was a kid, I loved to draw. I drew pictures every chance I got, and I was told by some tat I was pretty good at it, though in hindsight, I think I heard that mostly from my mother, so maybe I wasn't that good. Somewhere along the line, I stopped. When did I stop? More important, why did I stop? Drawing was something I enjoyed, though I can also remember ripping my paper to shreds, or scribbling out something so hard it tore jagged lines through the paper, and being so frustrated that the picture wasn't coming out the way I wanted it that it drove me to tears. Maybe that's why I stopped.

Photo © Teddy Llovet/Flickr/CC by 2.0
During the brief period where I liked to draw, I had no trouble sharing my work. I'd show it to my parents, my friends and classmates, my teachers. They could look at it when it was finished, but one thing I could not handle was having anyone watch me while I drew. I'd encircle my paper with my arms, hunched over like a hawk protecting its prey, nose nearly touching the paper. If I knew someone was trying to look over my shoulder, I'd stop. I just did not want anyone watching me do this.

Writing in public is different. I've written in public before. Sat down with my notebook and pen in coffee shops, on park benches in parks and right on Main Street. It's never bothered me to do it. Several years ago, I occupied a table in the back of a coffee shop for an hour or so every Tuesday evening for three months while the Magpie took a course at a local college. Maybe it was because I had a story I was working on, but I could shut out the conversations, the people passing by with their steaming lattes and overpriced pastries and it didn't bother me that people might scoff at me, the emobdiment of the "writing in a coffeshop" cliché. It never occurred to me that anyone would really even look at me--why would they?

Yesterday, my writing group met in a local coffeeshop instead of in our usual place, and it was different.  Awkward. Uncomfortable. Neither of us wrote particularly well, and he skipped both the out loud reading of a prompt and the out loud reading of our work, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it was the size of the table, which was far smaller than the ones we usually write at in our usual meeting location, small enough that we had to cock our notebooks at angles so they could fit without overlapping, small enough that, if we had both bent over to protect our work, our heads would have cracked together. Maybe it was the fact that this is a very local sort of space, where we were more likely to encounter people we know. But I almost think the reason is this: no one really  gives a single person writing in a coffeeshop a second glance. But two people? Two people writing in a coffeeshop is different. Unusual. Who writes together, after all? Two people writing together is enough to attract attention, while not being large enough to confer anonymity through mass. At any rate, when we were done, I think it was with a shared sense of relief as much as satisfaction.

I'm curious if any of you have experienced this. Do you write in public, and does it bother you? Does it make a difference if you're alone or in a group?

One other update for the week: On Satuday, I cut the grass, and stopped by to take a look at our old friend, the American chestnut tree. Here's how it looks.


Not a bad start! See you next time!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Whatever it's Called, it Worries Me

The world of the Grand Theft Auto series is populated with memorable...vehicles. Banshees and Bobcats, Sentinels and Schafters, Intruders and Inernus (Inferni?)--there are literally hundreds of cars, motorcycles, trucks, helicopters, boats and bicycles to steal in the course of the game, and these vehicles have more personality than the random citizens walking the streets of Liberty City. Car spawning, i.e., where these cars appeared, seemed to be rather random, though some models were more frequently found in certain neighborhoods. One thing I noticed when playing Grand Theft Auto III many years ago, however, was that certain cars would seem to be very rare when you were looking for one, but once you found one and started driving it, they'd be everywhere.

Some have suggested this is a glitch, but I've noticed it in every GTA game I've played, and I suspect it's just the game developers and designers having a bit of fun with us. Years ago, a friend of mine acquired what was then his dream car (and, indeed, this was a dream car for a lot of young men at the time): a Camaro Z-28. He loved that car. Once he got it, though, he had an unerring ability to see (and a somewhat annoying habit of pointing out) Z 28s everywhere. "There's a nice Z," he'd say, while we were on our way to a hockey game, or the mall, or a friend's house. And he had a great ability of finding parking spaces--you guessed it--right next to other Zs.

Psychologists have a name for this (of course, they do); I'm just not entirely sure if it's Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, frequency illusion, selective perception, or some variation of confirmation bias, but it seems to be rooted in our tendency to look for patterns, which in itself is probably rooted in some ancient survival mechansm from the days when we were swinging in the trees or seeking shelter in caves.


I'm thinking of all of this because of the recent shenanigans of Greg Gianforte, who won a special election in Montana last week for the state's only seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. A few days before the election, Gianforte apparently body-slammed a reporter who had the nerve to ask Gianforte a question about Trumpcare. This follows on the heels of reporter Dan Heyman's arrest on May 9 for trying to ask questions of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Presidential Advisor Kellyanne Conway, and the forcible ejection of reporter John Donnelly from an FCC meeting on May 18. And, on May 2, a reporter in Alaska was allegedly slapped by a state senator.

There is no question that the tone has been set by our president. Whether it's calling into question the truth of everything reported (unless it comes from Fox, Breitbart, or Alex Jones), or using dangerous phrases like "enemy of the people," or suggesting to then-FBI Director Comey that he should arrest reporters for publishing leaked information, Trump has been waging war against the mainstream media for at least as long as he's been a candidate, and we're starting to see the results of that war.

Or are we? Maybe this is really just coincidence, or Baader-Meinhof, frequency illusion, selective perception, or hyper-sensitivity to what is potentially a serious problem, I really don't know. What I do know is that Gainforte's victory, combined with House Speaker Paul Ryan's weaksauce disapproval of Gianforte's behavior, and the continued rhetoric and behavior out of Washington concerning the press should set the alarm bells ringing. On this Memorial Day, it would do well for us to remember that the sacrifices made by so many over the last 241 years could be lost if we're not careful, and one of the first things to go would be the free press.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Semi-coherent Thoughts on Reading and Time

For the better part of the last four days, I've been thinking about time, and books, and reading. Last Thursday over at Writer Unboxed, Ray Rhamey posted the first page New York Times bestseller The Handmaid's Tale in his "Flog A Pro" column. If you're not familiar with it, in "Flog A Pro," Rhamey posts the first page of a current bestseller (minus title/author) and asks his readers, "Would you turn the page and keep reading?" There's a little doodad for voting and viewing the vote tallies, and Rhamey continues by identifying the book/author, and analyzing the opening, explaining his own answer. It's an interesting exercise, well worth the time, in my opinion.

Though it has been several years since I read The Handmaid's Tale, I knew by the second line that that's what I was reading. Apparently, Margaret Atwood's opening stuck with me over the years, and I voted 'Yes' to the question, "Would you turn the page?" and I commented as well my belief that the opening page was outstanding. At the time I voted, the overwhelming majority (though in an admittedly small sample size) was also voting the same way. Both commenters before me were similarly impressed.

Later in the day, I went back to see what others were saying, and found the tide had turned: the no's outvoted the pro's (at last look, it was 78-70 in favor of nay). And while those who bothered to comment still mostly extolled the virtue of Atwood's first page, several of them noted the book might have a hard time getting published or gaining traction today (The Handmaid's Tale was originally published in 1986 in the US), while a couple stated plainly that they did not like it.

And I'm fine with that, really. The fact is, not everything is going to please everyone, and Atwood's style is much more literary than the novels Rhamey usually features. But there was one comment that especially stuck with me (and it wasn't the one that dismissed the opening as "pretentious twaddle". Okay, maybe that one stuck with me, too). The one that has really stuck with me said, "Books 30 years ago could take their time and if I was on vacation maybe I would have continued but today? No time."

No time.

At this point, I can see a friend of mine raising his eyebrow, looking at me over the top of his glasses, and saying something like, "Last time I looked, we all have the same time. Twenty-four hours, right?" And it's true. We all have the same amount of time in a day, the same amount of time in a week. The only difference amongst us, ultimately, is how much time we have on this earth. That's the big unknown.

But what I find myself wondering, more and more, is what's so much more precious about our time now than thirty years ago? A lot of people read The Handmaid's Tale back when it first came out--enough to make it a bestseller, enough to get it printed in many countries, enough to help Atwood win or get nominated for a number of prizes, enough for it to get turned into a major movie in 1990. (For an intersting perspective on what the success of this book did/meant to Atwood, see this article). So, why did so many people have so much time in 1986, and why do we have so little of it to this day? As far as I know, we still have twenty-four hours in the day, right?

According to the website Reading Length (readinglength.com, and just know before you go my antivirus flagged it as 'suspicious,' though it seems perfectly fine), The Handmaid's Tale is 311 pages long, 96,000 words, and will take 6 hours, 25 minutes to read from end to end. Wow. In comparison, Cross the Line, the latest in James Patterson's Alex Cross series, is a whopping 400 pages, 124,000 words, and will take 8 hours, 16 minutes to read. In other words, the latest Patterson potboiler will keep you from reading more books than Atwood's. Which one don't you have time for?

Of course, the "no time" comment doesn't mean the person literally doesn't have time to read Atwood--we've all got the same amount of time in a day, right?--it could mean (probably means, in fact) this person just doesn't enjoy this style of book (and, despite my use of statistics, it probably does take longer to read a 300 page Atwood than a 400 page Patterson) And that's okay. Again, not all things appeal to all people, and quite honestly, I suspect most of the readership of Writer Unboxed leans away from literary fiction. But using time as an excuse rings a little hollow. We're already making a commitment of time by picking up a book. What difference does it really make if this book takes eight hours versus that one's six? If a person is an avid reader (and someone who is reading Writer Unboxed probably is), they're just going to open up another book once they close this one for the last time. Reading doesn't come down to not having time: it comes down to how you choose to spend the time.

Does it matter to you how long it takes to read a book? Do you feel an urge to burn through books fast, or are you okay with taking your time?








Monday, May 15, 2017

Weekend Update: Old Friend Edition

Waking up once again exhausted and unprepared for Monday. It's been that kind of a spring, and the weather hasn't helped much, with a lot of rain and colder temperatures than normal. Our little corner of upstate is normally a couple of weeks behind the weather I was used to growing up on Long Island, so the "lion" typically makes it's entrance around the second week of the month (which, this year, was when the big lake in our county finally froze all the way over for the first time, followed by three feet of snow); likewise, the April showers and May flowers are similarly late. This year, however, the April showers seem to have been saved for this past weekend.

The weekend started for me on Friday afternoon/evening, where we were, fortunately,  blessed with good weather, for the dedication of a boat wash station. What's a boat wash station, you ask? Exactly what it sounds like. It allows boaters to use a high pressure, hot water spray to clean off their boats before launching into a water body, and to clean off their boats before leaving one lake for another. The purpose is to help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. My organization worked with another non-profit and a local government to get funding for the construction of this boat wash, so I got to make remarks on behalf of my organization. We had about forty people on hand, which was not surprising. The man the boat wash was named after was just one of those people, the kind who left people smiling, the one who devoted himself to making his community a better place. My comments focused on the fact that, though I didn't know this man well, he always treated me like an old friend. It was a nice event, and a very fitting tribute to a good man.

On Saturday I wore a different hat at another event. This time, I was wearing my 'member of the Audubon Society' hat (and, perhaps more important, my 'spouse of an Audubon Society co-president' hat) at a bird festival event at a state park. This was the first bird festival for this park, and the weather was not at all cooperative, with rain throughout the day no doubt holding down attendance. The good thing is the parks people had put up several tents a few days in advance of the event, so it was relatively dry beneath (though the ground was quite wet; chairs would sink an inch or two into the soft ground when you sat on them). Not a whole lot of people came out, but the people who did were enthusiastic and very nice. And, I got to see an old friend:

Yes, that's Morty the turkey vulture. For those of you who don't know, my wife and I ran an environmental education business for a number of years; 'Morty' was (is) a permanently-injured bird we had in our care and used for programs. When we ceased operation, we transferred him and several other birds to a group in the region. I'm happy to say that Morty is this man's star attraction, and he very kindly let me hold him for a few minutes. Did Morty remember me? Hard to say. He didn't bite me, and he didn't puke on me, even though my bird handling skills aren't what they used to be. It was a nice visit, and good to see Morty doing so well and in good hands.

On Sunday, we watched Prometheus, which was a sort of prequel to Alien. I was not impressed. I think they tried to pack a lot of meaning into the story, but characters were poorly developed and behaved in ways that didn't make a lot of sense, the dialogue was terrible, and everything felt kind of rushed. Ah, well.

That's it for me for this week. How was your weekend?




Monday, May 8, 2017

Stanley Cup Favorites--Or Not



The National Hockey League playoffs are rolling along, more than halfway through round two. As I write this, eight teams have already been eliminated in the first round, one has been taken out of the second round, and another could be knocked out by ten thirty this evening. As always, the playoffs has provided drama, thrills and controversy in equal measure, heroes and goats, and further proof that no one really seems to know what goaltender interference is. 

My own Bruins went down in the first round, losing to Ottawa in six games, which means I can actually enjoy watching the games for a change (playoff hockey is probably the most excruciatingly exhilarating thing in the sports world. It's only when you don't have a dog in the fight that you can truly appreciate the game as a game.). Still, it's always more interesting when you're rooting for someone; I just need to figure out who. With that in mind, I'll list out the remaining teams, and some pros and cons of rooting for them. Maybe by the time I'm done, I'll know who to root for.

Anaheim Ducks

Pros: Well, uh, there's…hmm. Can I come back to this?

Cons: Ryan Kesler. Ryan Getzlaf. Corey Perry. The fact that the team, originally owned by Disney, was actually named after a movie franchise. Coach Randy Carlyle reminds me an awful lot of Dean Wormer. Maybe that's a pro?


Pros, part deux: Honestly, I still got nothing. As far as I can tell, the Ducks have no redeeming qualities at all. That was easy!

Edmonton Oilers

Pros: A Canadian team hasn't won the Stanley Cup since 1993. They practically invented the game, for God's sakes. Let 'em have one.

Cons: They switched to those awful orange jerseys. That's unforgivable. Sportscasters on Hockey Night in Canada insist on calling Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 'RNH.'

Nashville Predators

Pros: A Cup victory for P.K. Subban will give the management of the Montreal Canadiens an ulcer the size of Tycho. As a Bruins fan, anything that does that is fine by me (and I like Subban, now that he's not on Montreal anymore).

Cons: With 46 games played for the Predators, it's possible that Mike Ribeiro gets his name on the Cup.

New York Rangers

Throw it into Mount Doom, Master Mats!
Pros: A win means they can finally stop talking about Mark Messier and 1994. They were my Dad's favorite team, and I have a lot of friends and family who would be really happy if they won. Mats Zuccarello would be the first hobbit to get his name engraved on the Stanley Cup. 

Cons: New Yorkers are insufferable when their teams win championships. A deep playoff run means having to look at an ever-increasing number of bandwagon celebrities in the Madison Square Garden crowd.

Ottawa Senators

Pros: See Oilers, Edmonton. Also, the original Ottawa Senators won 11 Stanley Cups in the NHL's early days before moving to St. Louis and folding in 1935. As such, the Senators, who rejoined the NHL in 1992, would be the first "Zombie Team" to win the Cup. That'd be kind of cool. And we'd get two more rounds of Coach Guy Boucher doing stuff like this:


Cons: The Senators have a bunch of sneaky-dirty guys who are jerks. And not just because they eliminated the Bruins. Since the NHL is a league of copycats, a Senators Cup win might set the NHL back about 20 years, as everyone decides to employ a boring system with a bunch of marginally-talented players. We'd have two more rounds of Guy Boucher, and frankly, Guy Boucher scares the bejeebus out of me:


Pittsburgh Penguins

Pros: There hasn't been a back-to-back Cup champion since Detroit in 97 and 98; it's time we had one. A second consecutive Cup for Phil Kessel would be a giant "FU" to the Boston media who savaged him when he left the Bruins and might earn him some of the respect he deserves.

Cons: A third championship for Sidney Crosby would make listening to NBC coverage of the Penguins even more insufferable than it is now--and it's pretty insufferable.

Washington Capitals

Pros: A win for the Caps might just shut up some of the unfair criticism directed at Alex Ovechkin, who has only scored more goals by a long shot than anyone else since he entered the league. It would also mean Justin Williams is still perfect in his career in game 7s. They have a guy named Beagle--who doesn't like a beagle?

Cons: I still hate Braden Holtby for almost single-handedly knocking out the Bruins in 2012. Tom Wilson is a dangerous player who needs to stop leaping into hits. I'm not real happy with anything from Washington these days.

The verdict
 
Well, that was very helpful. As expected, writing all this out has helped me figure this out. So, who do I want to win the Stanley Cup now that the Bruins are out? Well, um...err...Bruins in 2018!

Can you root for anyone when your favorite team is out of the playoffs? How do you decide?

Monday, April 24, 2017

Monday Noneday

Today finds me struggling to wake up for work after a grueling weekend (my organization put on an Earth Day event on Saturday that takes up a LOT of energy). Next weekend, my organization is running a garage sale on Saturday and Sunday, which requires a lot of heavy lifting and hauling and moving of things around. The older I get, the more I find it's not so much the day after events like this that get me, but the day AFTER the day after.

WHICH is a long way of saying don't expect much from me here next week, either!

I don't have much else left in the tank this morning, so I'll leave you with this nifty, slinky little bit referred to, for reasons unknown, as "Orange Tango Jam." Usually, pieces like this are best listened to in full context, but that would take about a half an hour. See you on your blogs, and maybe here next week!



Monday, April 17, 2017

Story Cubes

Back at Christmas, I found a package under the tree for me from the Catbird that was the approximate size and shape of a deck of cards. When I picked it up, however, it was clear that it wasn't a deck of cards. This felt a little heavier. Denser. And when I picked it up, things moved inside. Shifted. When shaken, the box sounded a little like a box of Good & Plenty or Tic Tacs.

It wasn't candy, though. It was Story Cubes. Have you heard of them? I'm sure that, somewhere out there in this writing world I've immersed myself in, someone must have been talking about them on a blog, or Absolute Write, or somewhere, yet I can't quite remember hearing about them before. Even though I couldn't remember having heard about them before, I knew exactly what Story Cubes were, and how they worked, without really having to open the package (and I love the package, by the way; it's a clever little box that looks to be quite sturdy).

The idea behind Story Cubes is pretty simple. The box contains nine six-sided dice in the box, but instead of little pips for numbers, there are symbols, pictures. Throw the dice, look at the symbols that come up, and use those words in a story. That's pretty much it right there. The Catbird suggested that I could use the cubes when and if I got stuck.

Now, anyone who's been reading this space for a while may know that I'm not really big on the concept of writer's block. My approach has been, when stuck, to keep banging my head against the wall. This is the best approach, most of the time (for me--your mileage may vary), though I do know there are also times when it's best to get up and redirect the brain by taking a walk or a shower, doing the dishes, or vegging out in front of the television.

I confess, the Story Cubes sat unused for a long time. It's not something I would use in the course of a normal writing session, where I already have a starting point from the last writing session, and my desk is too messy to use them, anyway. I'd either lose them in the mess or have them fall off all over the floor. Recently, however, I took them to my writing group. Normally, we start our writing group off with someone reading a short prompt, followed by free writing that's supposed to be inspired by the prompt. I thought maybe we could use the Story Cubes as the prompt. Sounds like a perfect job for it, right?

The first time I brought them, no one else showed up. I knew this was a possibility and wasn't overly upset--I had to go to town for some shopping anyway. This just meant I got done that much earlier and we had dinner at a normal time. When it was clear no one else was going to show, I gave the cubes a shake up, tossed them on the table. Here are the symbols that came up: question mark, flowers, airplane, beetle, eye, fire, cane, house, bridge. Five minutes later, I had this 'story' (cube words underlined; note, this is completely unedited, and, as I look at it now, really kind of silly):

"I questioned the pilot's ability to fly this airplane. He lingered up the aisle, supported by a white cane, a heavyset, beetle-browed man with a lazy eye and a flower-child's hair. But he said in a voice full of fire, 'This is my house and I'll brook no disagreement; follow my every order and this flight will be no more trouble than walking across a bridge.' And he was right."

Does it make much sense? No, not at all. Is it a story? Not exactly, but it could be the beginning of something. And at this point, I need to say something about Story Cubes: the makers offer no explanation for the symbols, for what they mean, and that's a good thing. I used the question mark not as an object or a word, but as a concept (the narrator questions the pilot's ability). Meanwhile, the six-legged creature on one of the cubes was anatomically accurate enough for my naturalist's brain to call it a beetle; others might see it as 'insect,' 'bug,' 'cootie' or something more conceptual.

I did take the cubes back with me last week, and we used them again. I had a lot more trouble this time, scratching out another three paragraphs over forty minutes or so, nothing I'd care to share here (though I did manage a nice turn of phrase that maybe I'll use for something else). The others enjoyed it and had better writing success than I.

All in all, the cubes are a lot of fun. I may not use them as a regular part of my writing routine, but I'll keep them handy all the same, and I'll keep bringing them to my writers' group. Hey, you never know when they'll help unlock something big.

Have you ever used Story Cubes or something like it? What did you think?

Monday, April 10, 2017

Monday Musing: Delayed Reaction Edition

Hidey-ho, folks, hope you're all well. After enduring a week of cold, rain, and snow, the sun came out on Saturday afternoon, and it was positively balmy yesterday, mid-sixties and sunny. Daffodils are sprouting (though not quite flowering--yet), spring peepers are getting louder in the wetlands, swallows and kestrels are turning up on the telephone wires--it is spring at last! It's interesting that, though we've been living in upstate New York for fourteen years now, in some ways I'm still calibrated toLong Island time. Spring arrives down there much closer to the actual vernal equinox. The weather delay seems to have been compounded the last few years as well, with more snow falling after March 1 than it did when we first moved up here. Weather blip, or climate change? Who can say for sure?

Speaking of delayed reactions, two weeks ago, I received an e-mail from Vestal Review. I've been receiving a lot of notifications from publications about contests and deadlines and such lately, and I figured it was just that, but then I noticed the subject line was "Sunday Drive," the title of a short story I had sent around, so I opened it:

Though your manuscript does not suit our current needs, we wish you the best of luck placing it elsewhere. Sorry for holding it so long.

His desk is neater than mine
I wasn't even really disappointed, to be honest. In fact, I think as I read the e-mail, I had my head cocked like a dog trying to figure out if what you're saying is really interesting or can be ignored: I couldn't even remember submitting "Sunday Drive" to Vestal Review. After miraculously remembering my Submittable password, I found it had been two years, ten months since I submitted "Sunday Drive" to Vestal Review.

Two years, ten months.

As writers, we're told to be patient. We know, if we've done any bit of research at all when getting into this game, that things move slowly. Yes, we all want to get in The Atlantic or Glimmer Train or Ploughshares on that first submission; we want to land the agent and the publishing deal with that first manuscript; we want National Geographic to hire us to do that rain forest story that's been in the back of our heads forever. We also know--or should know--that it's not going to happen. I've resigned myself to this fact, and when I send a completed project to Agent Carrie, or when Agent Carrie starts prospecting my manuscript to editors, I try to immerse myself in something else and forget about it. Sometimes, I'm pleasantly surprised by the speed of a reaction, but mostly, it's just like it used to be when ordering things before the age of the internet: "Please allow four to six weeks for delivery."

Still: Two years. Ten months.

I get that magazines and literary journals are shoestring operations run by dedicated individuals who are understaffed, underfunded, and overworked, but this is a bit much. I'm sure some of you who submit short stories on a more regular basis than I do have horror stories and longer waits. Feel free to share them below. I can't help but feel there has to be some better way.

EDIT (4/11/17): I should point out this is not meant to slag on Vestal Review in particular, or to say they are worse than other publications, or deliberately evil, etc., etc. I suspect the editors have to wade through a great deal of flotsam that comes in over the transom. Maybe, as Nick suggests below, it made a short list (though the form response may or may not negate that), maybe it just caught them at a bad time.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Reading List, 2017 (Part I)

Hey, ho, it's the first post of April, and that means it's time for the Quarterly Reading Report!

I feel like I had a really slow reading period this year so far. That can be attributed to watching too much hockey, playing too much Grand Theft Auto, and actually doing some writing. The Bruins' season may or may not be coming to an end soon (an unlikely, white-knuckle victory over Chicago has put them in pretty good shape to make the post season; a victory over Tampa Bay tomorrow night will almost seal the deal, though they could also drop all three of their last regular season games and miss the playoffs again--isn't this fun stuff what sport is all about?), and I actually haven't played GTA in about a week, so maybe this reading thing will take off again. Anyway, here's the list:

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (2016), Matthew Desmond. Anyone who rolls their eyes at so-called "Welfare Queens" should give this book a read.

Redemption Road (2016), John Hart. Honestly? I don't even remember this book anymore.

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War (2010), Karl Marlantes. Critics really liked it, I was not so enthused, feeling it tried to do too much. And the POV felt much more "head hoppy" than omni.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (2016), J.D. Vance. Speaking of people who should read Evicted. Good book, but shows surprisingly little sympathy for others living in the same kind of situation Vance grew up in.

Men's Lives (1986), Peter Mathiessen. A chronicle of the men who (barely) made their living fishing the waters of eastern Long Island.

Cold Blooded (2015), Lisa Regan. I beta read this for Lisa a couple years back, and really enjoyed it. Finally got to see it all grown up. Great job, Lisa!

The Waste Lands: The Dark Tower III (1991), Stephen King. After being reminded that there's a movie version of some kind of this series coming out, I wanted to do some re-reading. Books I and II are missing from my collection, so I grabbed this one. Always good to slip into Mid-World and travel the path of the Beam with the gunslinger and friends.

That's it. Only seven books since the beginning of the year, and the last one was technically finished after the quarter ended, but I'll count it anyway. Interestingly, three works of non-fiction, which is a lot in one quarter for me; I usually spread them out much more.

So, what's been on your reading list?

Monday, March 27, 2017

Chuck Palahniuk and Emma Watson's Breasts

Hoo boy, that got your attention, didn't it?

While Googling for images that would go with my spring break post from a couple of weeks back, I kept running across a recurring image: tucked in amongst the images of bodies packed on the beach, sea to shore, and bodies packed in bars, wall to wall, and overflowing garbage cans and puking, passed out individuals, was a meme, a wall of words that, until I read it, seemed out of place in a Google search for "spring break fort lauderdale" (or whatever it was; I can't seem to duplicate it now):

The quote in question comes from Palahniuk's 2008 novel, Snuff. It struck me immediately in relation to the then ongoing brouhaha over Emma Watson's breasts, which appeared (part of them, anyway) in a photograph that accompanied her interview in Vanity Fair a few weeks earlier (for Watson's interview and to see the photo in question, go here).

The appearance of Miss Watson's in the photographs caused a bit of a ruckus. Watson, of course, has become a leading voice in the current feminist movement. In 2014, she gave a wonderful address at the United Nations on gender equality, became the celebrity spokesperson for HeForShe, and is also the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. She has been quite outspoken--intelligently outspoken--on equality issues for some time. No one could doubt her credentials as a feminist. That is, until that one photograph appeared.

One of the more widely-quoted digs came from Julia Hartley-Brewer, a British radio personality. "Emma Watson: feminism, feminism...gender wage gap...why oh why am I not taken seriously...feminism...oh, and here are my tits!"

Watson was a bit perplexed at the backlash, and handled it beautifully. (I am amazed, by the way, that Watson has not only been able to transcend her career-launching role as Hermione Granger; in many ways, she's become Hermione Granger). Said Watson: "Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with. It's about freedom, it's about liberation, it's about equality. I really don't know what my tits have to do with it." Well said.

And yet, Miss Watson should not have been so surprised at the reaction. Some of it undoubtedly comes from those who just don't like her--haters gonna hate, and all that. But a lot of it is no doubt from those who fear feminism and the prospects of true equality for women. Those folks are lying in the weeds, no doubt waiting for any excuse to start bashing (and, I wonder if those are also the folks who are behind some of the celebrity phone hacking, hoping to get compromising pictures). They are happiest when women are kept down and just smile pretty for the camera.

Watson would no doubt say that her decision to do that particular photograph was just that: a decision. A choice. That it's her body and she can display it--or not--however she wants. That her decision, her choice, makes this perfectly in keeping with feminism. I get that, and I agree. And yet, I can't help wonder whether this helps or hurts women who are not in Watson's position. Emma Watson, because of her role as Hermione Granger, and because she has turned out to be a pretty good actress, and because she is an extremely intelligent woman, has power, and has choice. I suspect, after her recent haul for Beauty and the Beast (reported at only $2 million up front, with a potential huge back end deal), Watson could probably decide to walk away from Hollywood forever. With her brains, she could almost certainly be successful in whatever she sets her mind to. With her bankroll, she could take the time to let whatever she chooses to do develop into success. That's a lot of power. It gives her the opportunity to make choices, to be outspoken, and to not have to really worry about whether it pisses people off or not.


And that's where things get sticky for me. Watson has the ability to choose. Is this a representation of power, as she might suggest, or is she just another damsel who doesn't know she's in distress, as Palahniuk suggests? And what of the women who don't have that power? What of the women who are struggling to make it as actresses and models, who are told to take their clothes off for the camera--or, if they're keeping some of them on, to pose like they want to fuck the camera? Are these women empowered, or are they exploited? And does Watson's photo shoot help or hurt?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Three Feet

That's what fell on our house last week. Three feet. It was kind of a lot. This is the Catbird on Wednesday afternoon, when the snow had (mostly) stopped. Granted, she's short (5' 3", I think). The car she is standing next to is a Jeep Grand Cherokee. It's just about six feet tall--when it isn't covered with three feet of snow. Needless to say, it was an exhausting couple of days--by the time we were done shovelling the driveway, the piles alongside it were about head high.


Three feet wasn't the winning entry in the snow sweepstakes, however. One of the towns in county picked up four feet. I'm glad it wasn't us!

The good news is the snow is already disappearing, though I soaked myself pretty well this afternoon wading through knee-deep snow in pursuit of the hemlock woolly adelgid, an invasive insect pest that is threatening eastern hemlock trees here on the east coast. I didn't find it, which is good news for the trees.

I think that's about it for me. Were you in the path of the big storm? How did you make out?

Monday, March 13, 2017

Spring Break

When I wasin college, spring break was Fort Lauderdale, maybe Daytona. That was where everyone wanted to go, to get away from the grind of campus and the pressure of mid-terms, papers and projects. All anyone wanted was a few days to relax in the sun, kick back for a few days, enjoy the ocean and the beach.....



These guys look like they just realized they spent a week drunk in a hotel room and missed out on all the babes!

...or not.

My spring breaks were always spent on Long Island, U.S.A. I never really had the money to go down to Florida for the week-long debauch, but I had friends who did, friends who had a great time down there--what they could remember of it, anyway. Was I deprived? Maybe. Maybe, like New Year's Eve in Times Square (something else I haven't done, though I did spend on memorable one in the Quincy Marketplace in Boston, so that's kind of the same, right?), perhaps Spring Break is something everyone should do once--although I do wonder how many young lives are ruined by their experience, and I'm secretly (now, not so secretly, I guess) glad that neither of my girls has jetted off to Florida or Cancun or wherever Spring Break occurs these days.

This and That

WE picked up the Catbird from school on Friday and had a marathon day of driving there and back again. Though we keep vowing that she should take the bus, we never actually make her do it (maybe this weekend....). It's nice to have her home again, even for just a week.

OVER the weekend, I managed to add about 5600 words to the WiP--I'm not quite sure how I managed that, but I did. No progress on the RiP, though. Maybe I should change it to the RiS, as in "Revision in Stasis"....

THE continued actions of the Trump Administration and the GOP majority in Congress should make it clear to all by now that their motto is "Business uber alles." Anything that filters on down here to the rest of us is just a bonus.

SEND HELP!



The winter storm watch is now a winter storm warning. Twelve to eighteen inches possible. Good thing the Catbird is home to help shovel!

That's it for me; how are you?

 




Monday, March 6, 2017

Weekend Update: Themeless Edition

Greetings! Hoping this Monday morning (or whatever time it is wherever you are) finds you well. I find myself this fine Monday with no cohesive post, and no 'seemingly random thoughts that are actually part of a theme' kind of thing happening today, so here are some truly random thoughts.

-The RiP and the WiP are not making a whole lot of progress. Actually, yesterday afternoon, I had a good run of thought about a near-end-of-the-story event for the WiP that turned into about 1,600 words or so, so that was good, but overall, these projects continue to millimeter along. Time to get serious.

-The Weather does what the weather does at this time of year. On February 23, we did a program for kids in a state park, and it was near 70 degrees out. This past weekend, we did what was supposed to be a snowshoe hike in the same state park. There was no snow (at least, not enough to warrant the snowshoes), but it was cold. Five-ish miles on the trail with high temperatures in the teens and wind chills below zero. After three hours of hiking, this was me (hang on to your breakfasts, folks):

That's all water, folks.

Yes, it really is water. Warm, exhaled air gets caught on the mustache, condenses, and freezes. I knew there was some ice there; I had no idea how much ice there was. After a very cold weekend, we're due to pop back up into the forties the next couple of days, so this scene will hopefully not be repeated--until next winter, if we're lucky.

-The Bruins made one minor deal at the NHL's trade deadline last week, adding depth forward Drew Stafford to the team for the cost of a mid-round draft pick. Sometimes, the benefit of adding a player is less what that guy brings to the team and more that he's able to push a guy further down--or out--of the lineup. In Stafford's first game, he got more shots on goal and created far more scoring chances for his line than the guy who had been there before. Will the Bruins swoon as they have in March for the last two seasons, or will they solidify and hold onto the playoff spot they currently occupy? Time will tell, but as of today, the playoff spot is theirs to lose.

-Some music! Why do songs get stuck in my head? I don't know! This one has been rattling around all week, an oldie, but goodie. Joe Walsh, Life's Been Good. How's life been for you?




Monday, February 27, 2017

Monday Musing: Is it on, or off?

I have strange thoughts that come to me seemingly at random. In this way, I suspect I'm not all that unusual; most people, I suspect, have oddball, random thoughts about the world around them. Hell, some people make themselves a nice living off of these things:


Once in a while, I wake up with these things. Last week, for example, I woke up with the odd realization that, in the Grand Theft Auto universe, there are neither children nor pets. No dogs or cats running around, and definitely no kids. It's odd that I had never noticed it before, and it's odd that I woke up with that in my brain, as I wasn't even thinking about Grand Theft Auto (though, perhaps, it's an indicator of the addictive level of game play) at the time--at least, not in my front brain. Something must have been happening in my back brain, though. I suppose having players be able to mow down, shoot, blow up, and beat to death innocent children and pets is a line the folks at Rockstar Games just did not want to cross. (SIDE NOTE: Just a few days after waking up with this thought, an in-game version of comedian, Katt Williams made the same observation. Said Virtual Williams: "I ain't seen a dog, or a cat yet. Hmm, just thought about it didn't you? Go ahead, think back. No, that wasn't a dog. That were probably a short person like myself, bending over to pick up something." I found it rather amusing, given how close on the heels of my own revelation it came)

Later the same week, during dinner, I said something about a timer going off, and that just made me stop right in my conversational tracks. Why do we say things like, "The timer went off" or "The buzzer went off" or "The smoke alarm went off" when what really happened is those things actually went on?  Think about it for a second: you're cooking your dinner, you leave the pork chops in a little too long, and there it is, a house full of smoke, and then the awful sound of a smoke detector shrilling in your ear--but it's really not the sound of it going off, is it? It's the sound of it going on. The sound of the smoke detector going off is actually silence--blessed, wonderful silence.

Thinking about it logically right now, since I'm making this post up as I go and have no end in sight, I wonder if the phrase comes from the days of wind-up timers. When the timer stops running--when it goes off--you get the single stroke of a bell: Ding! That's a timer going off. Clock radios, electronic timers, those just keep running until you stop them; it's just a different phase of the operation.

I'm hoping I haven't inadvertently plagiarized someone's comedy routine here. It seems like the sort of thing that must have been covered, but I don't remember hearing it. Anyway, that's all I've got for today. What about you? Do you ever have these oddball moments of observation about our world? Please share!