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Sunday, August 13, 2017

She died for us

Heather Heyer was 32 when she became one of my personal heros.  

Heather was the young woman who died when a Trump-inspired wannabe Nazi plowed into a peaceful group of protesters, then backed away at high speed, like the coward he was.

I didn’t know her and now I never will but she died doing what we should all be doing, facing down the ignorant, the bigoted, those who claim to represent the best interests of the ‘white’ majority in this country but who fail utterly to comprehend what this country is all about. She went there to lend support and to raise her voice. And I wish I’d been there beside her.

I won’t name the criminals here because they are beneath mention. The people who deserve mention were sprawled across this miscreant’s car hood, writhing on the pavement and in Heather’s case, lay dying. 

For those who said last year that Trump couldn’t be worse than Clinton, please take notice. This is what happens when a person like Trump is elected to the highest office on our country. It is precisely his ‘presidency’ - and that’s a tragically loose use of the term - that has emboldened the worst among us.  They’ve always been out there, hiding in the cultural sewers and cesspools and now, they have a figurehead around whom they can rally.

Shame on all of us until Trump and his ilk are sent packing.


Heather Heyer stood up for us. And now, she has died for us. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Best weekend ever

Got my first rejection on da book.

Someone I love is going through tough times.

It was hot when I left Michigan and even hotter when I got home.

I keep noticing new things that I hadn’t realized the burglars took.

The arthritis in my left thumb is flared up and I keep moving it wrong.


On the other hand (okay, yes, pun intended):

We spent much of the weekend working on the house, fixing the things we need to get done before we put it on the market. I felt I accomplished something.

That someone I love will be okay and has never stopped being one of the people I admire.

Mary and I both got ugly sweaty and dirty as a result of our labors and I was reminded of putting in the landscaping at the first house we owned together. Those were good times, smelly bods and all.

Started main writing (I think, we’ll see how it goes) on the next book.

I threw away half a package of cookies because I didn’t gobble them before they got stale. Score!

I spent the week with wonderful people and in a solitary road trip over the top of Michigan – beautiful state!

This week, I’ll be in conference with a lot of people who work to make the world a fairer place.


As is often the case at Chez McD – life is good!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Stories from the bus

               When you ride the bus as often as do I you tend to see many of the same people over and over, day after day.  And for the most part, you tend to see them doing the same things each time.  Some are readers, some talkers, some gazers (out the window), some gazers (at others) and some just stare at the seat in front of them. A few knit, more in winter than in summer seems to me but I have no data. Some talk incessantly and loudly on their cell phones, as though everyone around them would be interested in the details of their lives even if we could hear both sides.  

               I’m a reader. Occasionally a chat-with-one-of-the-regulars-er but mostly, a reader. I’m sure some of the other riders consider that boring.  The lady with season tickets - and how do we know she has season tickets, you ask? Because during football season she feels we will all benefit from her play by play recapping of the most recent football contest – once asked me what I found so interesting about ‘words on paper.’ This from someone who considers high drama to involve grown men running around on a big lawn, throwing and kicking a misshapen ball and pushing each other down.
          
               I suppose, to her, I am boring. But not, I tell myself knowingly, not as much as the guy staring at the seat cushion in front of him for twenty-five minutes each way, five days each week. And of course, my judgment of him is no more valid than my own inner comments about Football Lady. Or hers about me.  Because we can’t know what the other is thinking, can we?

               Of course, as a writer of novels – which is to say, a fashioner of stories from whole cloth – I enjoy imagining what the stranger might be, you know, imagining. So sometimes, when confronted by a Seatback Starer I find myself taking off on a flight of fancy based at least in part on unmerited judgments I make about the fellow rider. One Seat Starer in particular has actually provided kindling for several stories because he’s truly that rare combination of Everyman and Unique Soul that we all imagine ourselves to be. His could be almost any story, albeit with a few obvious caveats. The ample waistline probably rules out competitive body builder. And the well-embedded wedding band most likely eliminates gigolo from the realm of possibility. He walks with a cane, so I’m guessing not a pole vaulter. But he’s something and therein lies the rich loam in which my story will grow.

                 I wonder about the lives of the people on the bus, wonder what shapes their day. Their lives. With a few, I’ve become friends of the sort you see regularly but not for long and never privately. I know Marsha teaches maritime subjects to mates and captains. Andrea is the CFO who recently survived a takeover to beat out their CFO for the spot. The tablet guy is a lawyer. But for the most part, I don’t know their true stories and that’s the way I like it.

               I like making up their stories for them. Not to worry, I’ll be gentle.


               Usually.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Fast pitch

              I wish you all could have taken part in the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association conference this last weekend. It was far and away the best time I’ve had outside of family in longer than I can remember. Lots of great sessions, good presenters and panels and I learned so, so much. Made some new friends, enjoyed soulful conversations with people who understand the monkey on my back because they have their own simian riders.

              I filled a notebook with my scrawls, purchased several books written by folks I’d actually met and had lunch with a gentleman in his seventies and a woman of forty whose commonality of passion erased the thirty-year experiential gulf. I joined - quietly and somewhat guiltily - in group speculation as to the motives of the guy who showed up dressed as a (Harlequin?), complete with jester cap, mask, robe, lighted wand and a noisemaker. It was a great time because these were my people. Except for maybe jester boy, that was weird.

              Okay, so some of it was stressful. Doing timed cold pitches to four editors and six agents over the course of three hours is not something I would choose to do as recreation. Something like the stress interview I had to go through in the Navy those decades ago. Except that in this case, the interviewers are rooting for you. They truly want you to bring them a manuscript with which they can fall in love. And better yet, sell. And they want you to be someone with whom they’d like to work.

              I prepared for this thing like an Olympic runner. Write and edit and practice and edit some more and practice some more and then get there to learn that a four minute pitch actually means telling the story of your book in ninety seconds so as to allow time for questions. All that prep and training and it’s over in a minute and a half.

              But time after time, thanks largely to the warm generosity of the folks across the table, it was a really good four minutes. It turns out this is my tribe.


              As a kid, I was far and away the worst player on my little league team. Never could hit to the fast pitch. This time, I think I made the team. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

He must go


"It sounded bad to me. Digital. They have digital. What is digital? And it's very complicated, you have to be Albert Einstein to figure it out. And I said -- and now they want to buy more aircraft carriers. I said, "What system are you going to be-- "Sir, we're staying with digital." I said, "No you're not. You going to goddamned steam, the digital costs hundreds of millions of dollars more money and it's no good," Trump said.

This is the Commander-in-Chief discussing the aircraft catapults aboard the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier. You see, the USS Gerald R Ford incorporates an electromagnetic launching system to replace the steam catapults that have been in use since the 1950s. As is often the case with new technology, the new system has had its share of failures in early tests. And as is also usually the case, improvements are underway.

 Trump heard of the early failure rates and jumped to uttering the words quoted above. I’m not surprised but I am horrified.

Forget (if you can) the lies, the misogyny, the racial bigotry, the playground-bully attitude toward anyone who incurs his wrath. Set aside his demonstrated belief that it’s okay to mock persons living with disabilities or other challenges. Give him a pass, if you must, for the nepotism and cronyism that brings a wide circle of incompetents and malefactors into his sphere of advisers and employs a cadre of liars and frauds to provide a defensive ring around this Klown Kar collection of self-righteous nincompoops.

At the bottom line, this is a person who has no sense of his own limitations, which are profound. And this is a person whose reactive temperament has already created a rift between our nation and our longtime allies. He is the embodiment of the old saying about ‘he who knows not and knows not that he knows not.’ This is a man (term used loosely here, but that would be another whole essay) whose deficits are both legion and utterly unimportant to him, so long as he can continue to feel powerful.

This is a person who knows no more about electromagnetic propulsive technology than he knows about international diplomacy but who makes and tries to enforce his decisions with the confidence of a fool. And there is no buffering effect to be found in the people around him. He surrounds himself with sycophants, the same crowd of nodding, guffawing buffoons who can be seen in photos of the worst despots of the modern age.

He must go. But for the moment his position is protected by the calculating, agenda-focused enemies of the people who have taken over the Republican Party. Now, many of you know me as a lifelong, fairly conservative Republican. I don’t apologize for that – you vote where and when you find yourself with the information then available. But my allegiance has been to ideas, never to the party. And the party has become a cabal that put Donald Trump in office and continues to shore him up so long as he provides cover for their agenda. And make no mistake, they are using him as a stalking horse – the true horror is in the machinations of the party power brokers.

I’m not a fan of many of the actions of Democrats over the years. But I do consider myself a pragmatist. And I always go back to my first aid training when responding to a crisis: breathing, bleeding, bones. Concentrate first on the things that can kill. In this case, that means depriving Trump-Ryan-McConnell-Breitbart of their stranglehold on policy.

I don’t like either party having total control. We have a lot of repair and rebuilding to do – in our social policies, education, infrastructure, international relations and our treatment of the environment in which our grandchildren will live their lives. The Trump-Ryan-McConnell cabal has done obscene damage to us as both state and symbol. We have to fix this, for ourselves and for the world. And we can’t make a start when one party shamelessly deprives all others of a seat at the table. We can’t make things better for all when the people who decide who gets a seat and what gets discussed are driven by selective, misinterpreted readings of the Constitution and the Christian Bible.

As a recovered former Christian and a recovering Republican I readily admit to having my own agenda. But whether we agree or not as to policy, surely we can agree that the current trajectory is not leading us in a direction the framers envisioned or that we should embrace. In the 2018 Mid-term elections, 33 of 100 Senate seats and ALL 435 House seats will be filled by the voters. Please, if you’ve a soul and a brain, vote Democrat in the next round of congressional elections. Deprive the evil giant of his legislative power and Ryan-McConnell of their rubber stamps.  


And whether you agree with me or not, keep in mind Trump’s own words: “What is digital?” This guy has the launch codes. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Paddling

I’ve been busy this week, working with the folks at a non-profit in Boston, which involved a great deal of preparation, three long flights, nights in a sub-par hotel (sometimes you guess wrong but what the hell, the sheets were clean) and working on some editing evenings in bed.

My mind has been well occupied with my day job and also my writing. Even so, my thoughts keep returning in idle moments to the day last weekend when our whole family was together for an hour paddling kayaks on Lake Union. It was one of those mornings when the water is calm, not much traffic and the weather perfect for paddling. And of course, the really perfect thing was all of us being together.


I know everyone has their own favorite pastimes and each family has those special things they do together. But I can’t imagine any better memory than the one I’ll have of that morning on the lake with four people about whom I care deeply and in whose company I feel at home.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Whattup

While da book is out making the rounds of folks who are able – and might be willing – to help it find an audience, I am turning my sights to the next one. The challenge for me is never finding something about which I’d like to write, since I’m curious about most things and dearly love lying… er, making up stories. The problem is choosing a next plot and character set. Too many floating around in my noggin and if I open up my ‘Writing starts” folder in the old confuser, I am led to recall too many possibles.

When I started my second book back in (1980?) it was based on an apocalyptic vision of what would happen to the world and its organisms in the months and years after a major nuclear exchange. ‘Nuclear exchange’ was a ridiculously benign term in vogue at the time for describing the detonation of many thermonuclear weapons at various locations in the Northern Hemisphere. I had written my first full length book, By Other Means as a cautionary tale of the ramp up to nuclear war and this follow-on with the working title Winter was to be the tale of life in the aftermath. But since BOM was never published I was not pushed to finish Winter. Then with the collapse of the former Soviet Union, it seemed moot and I moved on to other writing projects. The current political and international climate have convinced me that the time is ripe for just such a cautionary tale. So-o-o-o, one of the books I’m considering for my next major project is an updated version of Winter.

Another plot crying for attention in my pea brain is a story about two young people, one male and one female who are aging out of the social welfare system (read: foster care) and how they face life without a safety net or really, any support system. This is a major problem in this country and with the catastrophic shift toward a less caring society – yeah, don’t even try to argue – the future prospects for kids caught in this situation will be less than deluxe. So, anyway, that’s another idea that really wants me to listen and give it voice.

Mary suggested a book based on my own life experience of having achieved adulthood late in life and by a rather circuitous route. It would be fiction-based-on-real-life-experience and would be a hoot to write. But it would also be a rather difficult trick to turn, as it would involve a series of metaphorical vignettes describing a journey with no real plan. Hm-m-m…

The trouble is that either of the first two ideas I could probably have editor-ready in less than a year, while the third seems to me more of a two year job. And agents and editors being pitched by first-time authors (they care only about what I’ve actually, you know, published so in their eyes I’m a virgin) want to know that a new client’s writing prowess has legs. That is, they want to know that having worked hard for relatively little return to get your first book published, there will be some hope of you actually producing a next book and a next after that, of building an audience over time, and thus earning them money. A reasonable concern but creates more cognitive dissonance than I might have hoped for.


I don’t know which I will start but will likely be deciding before the month is out. Meanwhile, building the website, getting the house ready for sale, hosting visiting daughters, traveling for work. And that’s the haps in Michael World. I hope this finds you well and happy. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Saturday, July 1, 2017

A perfect word

Judder.

I looked it up while editing a piece, just to make certain I’d used it correctly. So happy to confirm I have because I lo-o-o-ove onomatopoetic words. And if any word sounds like what it means, judder is one.

I recall the time years ago when the front landing gear of my plane locked up before reaching takeoff speed. Shook the bejeesus out of the plane and contents, yours truly included. And you can reproduce the sound it made if you say judderjudderjudderjudder… really fast over and over.


It really is a perfect word. 

Of course, the sounds the passengers made that night were of a different nature. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Balance

I’m reading Bag of Bones by Stephen King just now. I’m about halfway through and already dreading the moment when I fall off the end of it. It’s literary and intelligent and engaging – a ‘good read,’ as they say. It’s so good that I found myself this Sunday morning lingering over it when I should have been working on my own writing projects. Hard to strike that balance between my own writing (the dance) and reading (the one who brought me). Especially when the reading is this much fun.

That’s not the only area of my life requiring balance just now. My day job is taking up a lot of my mental resources and I love my work but I’m also very aware of the need to get the writing off the ground if I’m going to make anything of it in ‘retirement.’ And I come home each night of late with my brain fairly well wrung out. What you gonna do?

We’ve begun the process of prepping the house to go on the market. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this place from the beginning. We bought a trasher and gradually rebuilt it over the years. I admit I’ve sometimes resented the family and other time I’ve lost these last two decades-plus as we tore into walls, built new ones, reworked plumbing and electrical, the works. The thing is, now that the time is at hand – we’ll probably sell in the spring of next year – I feel like I’m deserting an old friend. Every nook and cranny from the rooftop to the sub-basement is familiar to me. Much of it built or rebuilt by me or Mary or both. We raised our daughters in this house, hosted family, argued, loved and sat around. A couple dozen Christmases, six Cookiethons, birthdays, new pets, dying pets… It’s been home to our family and now it will serve us one last time by relinquishing it’s equity to our cause. But I can’t help the feeling of deserting an old friend.

I’m in the process of relocating my writing space, having donated the old one back to the common cause as the guest room it was originally meant to be. Relocating forces one to look at stuff. And stuff, I have. Lots and lots and lots of stuff.


Maybe I’ll strike a balance by just ignoring the stuff and continuing my writing. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Summer solstice

Today is the summer solstice which means that where I live, we will have a minute shy of sixteen hours of sunlight. Exactly six months from now, we’ll have only eight hours and one minute.

I love living here. I love the trees and water and mountains and rivers and four seasons and the seasonal changes in length of sunlit days.

I continue to be tied up with other writing but I promise as soon as the website is up (soon, I swear) I’ll be back among the living. Meanwhile, I hope you are one and all enjoying your days as I am mine.


Michael

Monday, June 12, 2017

The haps

Not much going on these days.

Copy editing the book while it's out to a fresh group of readers. 'Copy editing' being a polite way of saying hunting down typos, missed words, redundancies, continuity errors. Rewriting compound sentences, of which there are entirely too many. You know, all the fun stuff.

Helping Mary renovate  the last unimproved room in the house, just in time to put it on the market. And by 'helping' I mean, of course, doing her bidding.

Working on setting up the website that will replace this little blog.

Listening to lute music while typing this. Don't know why you should care about that but every now and then I really enjoy a dose of John Dowland.

And as always, looking out over the green of our backyard and realizing once again how fortunate I am to have made my life here. Alas, time to move on. Not tonight but soon enough.

Dreading my doctor's appointment this week at which this wonderful, caring woman will tell me in her pleasant but firm way that I am fat. Damn! Really?

Marveling at the fact that I somehow convinced Mary to set up housekeeping with me and have managed for thirty years not to drive her away.

Wondering why there's a clothespin on my desk next to my backup drive.

Not much happening in the abode except life. Always, life.



Sunday, June 4, 2017

Stepping over the line

A famous comedian is in the news for holding up an effigy head of D. Trump covered in blood. For this she is being castigated not only by Trumpets but also by many moderates. And she deserves to be.

A commentator is in hot water for using the term ‘house n----r’ during an interview. He deserves all the blistering he gets.

We – and the ‘we’ to which I refer is all of us who are horrified at the current presidency and the insane comet tail of unpleasantness that follows – need to be better than this. Michelle was right: let them go low; we need to continue to go high.

The comedian should have known better. Her career has been made on the edge, barely skirting the boundaries of good taste and fair play in order to get a laugh. I understand that and I get that good satire is necessarily edgy. But if I have to explain here why what she did was over the line, then perhaps we’re no better than Billy Bush.  

I would hope we can agree that the gleeful display of severed heads is the province of terrorists. Beyond that, while the orangutan in the Oval should be able to take his lumps, and richly deserves them, can’t we agree that there are certain lines we don’t cross?  The comedian, missing the message as former supporters and employers back away from her, tearfully attempts to portray herself as the victim. She is not.

The commentator, hearing negative reaction from his live audience made a quick aside identifying it as a joke. And when the reactions heated up over the next hours, he issued a week apology for ‘using that word.’ I agree with the folks who are calling for his firing. Your time’s up, goodbye.

There are lines we don’t cross if we want to be who we claim to be. Holding up the head was not merely a bad choice in an unguarded moment. It took time to plan and prepare for that shot. Time to think about what that imagery would conjure. Time to say, ‘No, that’s not us.’ Apparently, no one in her camp had the good sense to stop and think.

And for a professional talker to use the n-word on air, even in the flow of repartee, is equally unforgivable. Did he think that his position as a national television commentator makes him immune to the constraints we would apply in a local school board meeting?

These two people – and others we could mention but these are the two in the news just now – are intelligent people. They are both professional communicators who cannot claim they don’t understand context, semantic burden, emotional weight, restraint.

In both cases, they deserve all the vilification we can muster. Because they both knew where the line was, and they chose to step across it. Because in a war for the soul of America, they gave our worst enemies some very ugly ammunition.


Lesson for today: If you stand on the edge, better be sure of your footing. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

(There is no) Golden Mean

               And so, brethren and sistren, down came I from the mountain bearing Truth and Beauty (or such Truth and Beauty as is to be found in my new book, The Patent Desk), fully intending to bestow this cultural gem, this magnificent gift upon a world waiting in eager anticipation of the glories to be found therein.

               There I stood at the last turn, the final promontory and I looked out over the assembled multitudes, drank in their eagerness and love…  And then I turned around and went back up to my cave to go through the damn thing One. More. Time.

                Kindly refrain from asking how many times I’ve repeated this cycle of there-I’m-done-here-it-goes-ready-set-wait-did-I-remember-to… I’ve done it enough times that I’d be embarrassed to admit even if I could accurately figure the sum. The truth is that I’ve been living with these characters, this story, this hopeful/troublesome project for so long that my mental processes have all become skewed in favor of just one more pass. The road to improvement is deeply rutted and not by wagon wheels that rolled smoothly along behind faithful draft animals. This rock-strewn track was ground out one bleeding footfall at a time.

               I’ve lost count of the number of revisions, large and small. At one time this hog ran to 148,000 words and now it’s settling somewhere around 85,000. (After careful thought and excruciating editing, I decided to go with the advice of the agent who said ‘whatever the count, make sure they’re the right words’ over that of the agent who said 60-83,000 was a magic target range.) I’ve added, subtracted and revised so many times that the number of individual taps on the keyboard is lost to the ages. Average 5.5 taps per word – you do the math, I’m afraid to. And through the earliest and longest and now shortest versions of the book and all the revisions in between, every tap was accomplished by one of three fingers, arthritis be damned. Turns out not taking typing when they offered it in high school was a less than stellar decision.

               But, regardless of the work I’ve put into past revisions, regardless how sore my butt or strained my eyes or tortured my hands, up to now I just couldn’t stop. There has always been one more ambiguity to resolve, a run-on sentence to reset, a paragraph to trim.  Does the reader need to know this random fact about a secondary character? No, out it goes. Wait, now it’s not… Back it comes.

               At some point, I can either resign myself that this is not so much a book as a never-ending writing exercise, or call a stop and put it out there. Because there is no Golden Mean in writing, no perfect word count, voice, pace, or anything else that will guarantee people will want to read it and having read it, recommend it to others. In the end, it’s all about the story and whether they care about the characters. I  believe this story is good and these characters compelling. And so…

               Enough, I say.

               But then, there is that problem with Cort…

               Enough, I said!

               Perhaps, if I just…

               ENOUGH!!!!!

               And so, I send it out. And IF this agent takes it on, or the next, or the next, and IF they find an editor at a reputable house who’s willing to read it and IF… and IF… and IF...

               And while I wait, and while I make the edits suggested by philistines who just don’t understand but through whose hands pass my ability to publish, and while I fend off the questions of the friends and family whom I foolishly let know of my position as literary supplicant and the oh-so-compassionate expressions of those who truly don’t believe I'll ever be published but want to seem to be in my corner just in case they’re wrong…

               While I wait…

               I begin writing the next one.


    Because I'm crazy. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Serendipity

Sometimes, things just seem to come together.

I am preparing to submit my book The Patent Desk to agents and editors. The folks to whom I’ll be sending it have varied submissions requirements but mostly, they want to see a synopsis and first fifty pages. So, off I sent the fateful fifty for review by Corbin, the developmental editor with whom I’m working.

I received her edited, comment-strewn version back the other day and planned a four day weekend to make a (final?) pass before beginning submissions. But I glanced through her cuts night before last and I have to say, I was appalled at the very first cut she made.

Doesn’t she understand, I asked my inner self, that this paragraph is essential, that it establishes Max’s love for his craft? That he is lost in the rhythm and timbre of the work? How can she say this paragraph is confusing and too long?

I didn’t read further, steeling myself for what promised to be a teeth clenching, head shaking session of disagreement with my editor, a battle royale to preserve the integrity of my magnificent prose.  The voices of my internal Greek chorus shouted their dismay. How could this heretofore brilliant editor fail to understand how rich, how necessary was each and every one of those golden words?

Then, yesterday, I listened to a couple of TED talks while I ate my lunch. Andrew Stanton was talking about movie making and he said this:
(The opening) makes a promise that this story will lead somewhere that’s worth your time.

 His words made me stop and think. I rewound and listened again and then, again. And I wrote them down to share with you here.

This morning, I returned to Corbin’s edit but I disabled the review function so that I would not be distracted by angst about what she had cut or reordered. And I read what was left behind. And what I read was a promise of something to follow that would be worth the reader’s time and attention. And then I read her comments but still not the cuts and I saw her love of writing come through. My writing.

My words are there, but fewer of them. The best ones.

For anyone who wonders at the true meaning of serendipity, seems to me this is it. As I sat unwrapping my sandwich and TED surfing I wasn’t looking for that quote or even for Stanton, and certainly was not looking for advice that would help me past my writer’s ego. But there it was.

The voices in my head are still arguing, one faction saying read and accept and the other side asking what other gems the evil Corbin might have cruelly excised.

I’m leaning toward read and accept. Turns out, Corbin knows a thing or two. And I have a new personal definition of serendipity. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Respect the experts

                Attending a writers’ conference last week, I was reminded of the importance of respecting the knowledge and skills of the experts in a field. Allow me to explain…

                I started the day nervous about the pitches I’d be making to a couple of literary agents but otherwise pretty confident in my own grasp of the writing game. I understood the roles of writer / agent / editor, the paths to acceptance of a manuscript for publication, my own responsibilities in the process of bringing a book to market, etc.

                Right? I got this, right?

                Turns out, not so much.

                Turns out, the publishing world has changed while I’ve been off living my life and writing my little blog posts. And if I am to be successful – assuming that ‘successful’ means a book published so that real people can read it and then does well enough to make my next submission attractive to the people who decide whether I get another turn – it behooves me to learn a few things. Facts of life, you might say. Things like the tighter word count limitations, platform, shifting genres, methods of submission… the list goes on.

                Never fear, I will learn these things and more. Because when you come into someone else’s world intent on fitting in the smart money is on, you know, fitting in.

                I think this is a lesson that needs to be learned, and soon, very soon, by the new guy in the Oval Office. He came there assuming that what he already knew would be enough and further, that his presumed great cachet of being this business mogul with a popular TV show and a series of trophy wives (as ever, more a statement about the man than the women he married) would make all bow down before him. He came to the halls of power with neither a road map nor a trustworthy guide. He brought lackeys and minions and miscreants to a team sport.

                He needs to learn the lessons of the field.

                He won’t.


                Idiot. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

-30-

                In the old days, which is to say when I still had red hair, it was customary to use the code ‘-30-‘ to signify ‘end of message.’ It was used by the newspaper industry and in some telegraphy codes. The origin of this bit of shorthand has become clouded as the Internet and wiki-compilations encourage anyone with an opinion to sound authoritative. Ah, well… A discussion for another time, perhaps.

                As a young writer (and I do mean young, as in grade school) I was intrigued by this particular custom. Couldn’t tell you why but on many of my early school papers and especially my personal essays I used the ‘-30-‘ mark to signify that a piece was finished. And yes, it annoyed some but not all of my teachers.

                Why not just write ‘The End’ as did everyone else in those days?

                I’ve thought about this quite a bit and especially now, when I’m approaching completion of the final pre-submission edit of my current book, The Patent Desk. For this book, it is particularly appropriate not to say The End. To understand why, you’ll have to read it.

                ‘-30-‘ seems to me a gentler sign-off. Not so much farewell as see you later. End of message but not the close out of our conversation together.

                Thirty – the number, not the copy editor’s shorthand – is in my mind for a wholly different reason today. Exactly thirty years ago as I type this, I was leaving a hotel room with my friend and best man Mark, on the way to the Asian Gardens for my wedding. Mark’s sister, Mary was at our house with her sisters and Mark’s wife (also one of my buddies from our musical theatre days) finishing up her own preparations.

                Thirty years ago today Mary and I embarked on our life and lives together. And looking back from this vantage point, I can assure you it is not The End.

                The conversation will continue, perhaps in new dialects as I transition from my current career to life as a writer and Mary plans (yes, she is in charge) our life as a couple after raising and educating offspring.

                Perhaps in the sense of the contrast between our family-creation years as opposed to our denouement together, ‘-30-‘ is the appropriate symbol of our completion of the first thirty.

                And, maybe I’m just stalling with odd thoughts while I try to figure out how to fix that one pivotal chapter in the book.


                You be the judge. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Imaginary people

The characters that inhabit my book are selfish.

On this rewrite, one gets a new love interest (but no explicit sex, na-na-na-na). A couple of others get hugely expanded parts. One stays about the same as to word count but becomes (gosh, I hope) much more interesting.

One bad guy becomes more baditudinous (my blog, my grammar – get over it) and yes, I do believe some people are simply irredeemable. Another becomes more forgivable or at least, we can better understand how he got to be who he is.

Each and all of their stories and sub-plots are improved, or so I believe.

The thing is, while each of them is probably happy with her/his enhanced position in the story, none of them seem to give a thought to how much work I’ve had to do to give them what they needed.

I took out several scenes and others I scaled back - I want to say sharpened but we’ll see what the readers think. One major story arc is gone completely. Lots of my many months of hard work hit the cutting room floor. Okay, so it’s the archive file in my computer but same concept.

All this sweat and tears by yours truly and do you think the characters appreciate my labors? Not on your tintype!


I think I’m beginning to hate imaginary people.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Alan Branch

I’ve been away from these pages much of the last month or two while I finish editing Da Book but while checking the news feed during a break I came across an item that caught my attention and drove me to offer this.

In an interview for CNN this week, football player Alan Branch expressed why he declined to go to the White House with his team to be congratulated by Donald Trump. Apparently, it has become traditional for the winning Super Bowl team to make this pilgrimage. But Branch is the father of three daughters and a son and it seems that his duty as a role model for his children is more important to him than a photo op in the Oval Office.

“I’ve got to go back home and look my daughters in the eye,” he said in part, “and I don’t want them to view me in a different light because I did that. I would miss two softball games with my oldest daughter to meet this person. So for somebody to have me miss family time, which I don’t have during the season, that’s somebody I would have to respect. I don’t have enough respect for him to take time away from my kids and my wife just to shake his hand. That’s not me.”


Mr. Branch, thank you. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Home Friday

I’ll be home Friday and when I walk through the door – okay, make that when I’ve unpacked my go bag and put away my travel stuff – I will officially be on leave.

Lots of things I intend to do over those nine days.

I have to get the book in final shape for submission because I have my first round of agent / editor pitches in early May. In narrowly selfish terms, this is a big priority but not the only thing I’ll be focused on.

 I’m working on the concept for my new website, which I need to have up and running by the end of May. Speaking of concepts, I’m working on planning the next book and a couple of other things.

I will be spending time in the gym, but that’s not a new thing.

Daughter One is moving into a new apartment so I will likely be helping her prep for the move. Over the last two years a lot of her ‘stuff’ has become intertwined with ours.

I will spend time with Mary. Some of it active, as in going places together, maybe doing some yardwork. And some of it more passive, just being in the same room together. Nine days of being able to look over and see her there.

Coming up on thirty years and I couldn’t dream of a better way to celebrate our lives – our life in common. When we first got together, all I needed was time with her. And next week – 1500 weeks later - that’s still all I need.


I’ll be home Friday, and I can’t wait. 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Not a good time

This is not a good time to look like me.

I spent the last week in a non-wealthy area of a minority majority city. I pretty much shuttled between the work location and my hotel, in part because we were way too busy for sightseeing and in part because the sights I did see were troubling. And sometimes, even scary.

To be sure, I did have some nice but brief encounters with local folk. It won’t surprise you to learn of my penchant for striking up conversations with total strangers. One younger man was six months into his marriage and we spoke of the challenges of new couples melding dietary habits and preferences. He’s a lover of animal proteins and his new bride is near vegan so good luck with that.

It was a nice oasis of friendliness in a sea of worry.

Every business and almost every private residence has some form of bars denying unauthorized entrance. The Garmin lady took me to five grocery stores in succession before I came upon one at which I was comfortable parking and getting out of the car. Is this because of legitimate fear or simply a function of my own ingrained prejudices? A bit of both, maybe?

Anyway, I got a really good dose of being the face that stands out in the crowd. Can’t say I much cared for the experience.

This experience of being the alien in the inner city got me to thinking about my otherness in a wider sense. Most of the people I consider friends outside of work are women. Which means my Facebook feed is chock full of posts that celebrate strong women and identify men as the enemy in one way or another. And as the father of daughters, I can’t say I resent the women doing the posting. I get it. But it is difficult to be identified even tacitly as one of the enemy.

I’m a conservative, in the sense that I strongly believe the best government is the least possible, effective government. I would never single out Planned Parenthood for defunding, but it does fall into the category, along with hundreds of other in-some-way-taxpayer-supported organizations that I do not feel lie within the legitimate province of government to fund or regulate.

I think I would choose a single payer approach to health care, but not while Mitch McConnell and his ilk have a say in what that means. And even if we’re successful at the mid-terms, there’s always another Mitch McConnell arising from the ooze.

I’m white, male, non-religious, looking over my shoulder at middle age and generally conservative.
In the eyes of many people whose opinions matter greatly to me, this description makes me one of Them. I don’t blame my friends for this label. They’re mostly just reacting understandably to the upwelling of bigotry in all its forms that brought the current occupant to the White House (when he’s there, that is).

I blame the guys who look like me who created this situation. I am assumed to be a member of the club but it’s not a club I would have voluntarily joined.


I do not like this, Sam I Am. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

My skills...

…do not include web design.

I first learned this sad fact when I took on the chore of designing a family website to which we could post pics and share stories of our adventures during our 2001 trip around the perimeter of the mainland US. We called it the Ball of Twine Tour and it was epic! Somewhat less epic was my attempt at building the website using an application that I was assured any idiot could master.

Apparently, I didn’t qualify as any idiot.

After two months of trying, I gave up and asked Daughter One and her friend – both then twelve years of age – to take a whack at it. They required all of about two hours to complete the task.

Now, I’m engaged in building the website that will supplant this blog and as the good people at the hosting site assure me, do o-o-o-oh, so much more. I’ll be able to post blog entries, share my short fiction, make announcements, stream videos, link to other writers’ sites, the list of functionality I’ll be able to apply goes on and on.

The thing is, now that I’ve paid for the first year and set up my username and such, I have to be able to figure out how to log in and, you know, actually use the functions I’m paying for.


Anyone know a web savvy twelve year old?

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Man caves

Can we talk?

I want to start with a question (okay, another question). What the (insert expletive) is a man cave?

Sure, I know it’s a room or outbuilding set aside and fitted out for the sole use of the ‘man of the house.’ There are actually web sites devoted entirely to helping, er, men design their caves. And there has arisen a whole sort of orthodoxy about what goes into a man cave. So, I guess my real question is, why?

There are as many styles of man cave as there are man cave owners but looking at photos of them on the web or perusing the guidance to be found under the guise of ‘104 of the best man cave ideas,’ a definite thematic direction begins to emerge.

The decorating style seems to revolve around sporting events and the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Dark woods and subdued lighting set the tone, while neon and task lighting call attention to the owner’s favorite – you guessed it – beverage or sporting team logo. The more fantastic examples include revolving banks of seating to allow viewing on multiple media screens, or full bars replete with draft brews and back mirrors. Several I’ve come across included single lane bowling alleys.

Cigar smoking seems to be emblematic of man cave culture. As do billiards and car racing themes. Large companies are also well represented, companies like Harley-Davidson, Budweiser and Porsche. Dead animals grace many of the walls, serving as proof of the man in question’s prowess with weapons and passion for violence.

I don’t get the whole idea of man caves but then, I’m not really a man according to generally accepted theories of man caveliness. I don’t watch sports or smoke seegars. I have to admit I don’t really care all that much for many of the leisure pursuits that our society seems to consider manly.

Which is not to say I don’t have my own retreat within our house. Mary and I each have a room we consider our office. Mine is used for my writing and includes my reference books and some favorite other books, the shelves holding some of my favorite keepsakes, that sort of thing. I suppose it’s my cave. If caves have windows to the back yard.

I have nothing against man caves, per se. I guess the thing I don’t get about man caves is that they seem intended to provide a place for a man to escape but from what? His wife? Children? Pets?

I go to my work room to, you know, work. When I want to relax and enjoy life, I want Mary in the room. Even if we don't speak a word, having her in the same room is part of being married, isn't it? A really good part, yes? 


I enjoy just being around Mary. And Mary does not like cigars. 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Gathering tables

Mary and I have begun thinking about retirement. Not that it’s going to happen this year or next but we tend to be planners. Okay, make that dreamers, for those who know us well and have smirks on your faces.

We watch a lot of home shows, particularly those that involve fixing up older properties. We have always been DIY types and as we get older it’s more fun to watch someone else do the heavy lifting.

One of the trends I’ve noticed over the last several years is the practice of ‘antiquing.’ And while that term used to refer to going forth in search of furniture that was actually antique, more and more these days it refers to the practice of taking sandpaper and screwdrivers to perfectly good wooden furniture and cabinetry, roughing edges and creating dings and gouges in the attempt to make the piece appear old and well used.

Which, of course it is not and the fakery is easily discernable to anyone who actually knows anything about woodworking or who simply appreciates old wood furnishings. I admit to being perplexed at this whole idea of ruining perfectly good finishes in an attempt to make the new appear old.

Anyway, all of the above is background to what I really wanted to share.

A book I was reading made reference to a gathering table and it reminded me of a piece I’d seen being built for the client on one of the shows we watch. True to form, the TV woodworker made this gorgeous table of reclaimed (old with gorgeous, widely figured grain) wood, really fine work. And then, at the behest of the designer – the TV host – he applied his tools of destruction to make it appear old and worn.

I just don’t get it and this gathering table is a perfect example of the reasons for my disquiet.

You can google ‘gathering table’ if you like but the first several pages of offerings will simply add to your confusion. You might be led to believe the term embraces a multitude of styles, materials, periods and price points. The offerings you’ll see are either high or low, round or rectangle or square, fancy or plain, ready-made or some-assembly-required. And of course, there’s the question of finish. Fine or fake, smooth or ‘antiqued,’ paint or stain or even (Gawd, I can hardly even type this one without cringing) anodized aluminum.

There are those who will themselves cringe at what I’m about to say – those who believe words carry the evolving meaning of the moment and that I should just get over myself. In the hope that you’ll forgive me, I admit to believing that words and phrases have inherent meaning and even though they change over time through usage they still retain the core elements of that meaning.

A gathering table is what it sounds like. It is a piece of furniture with a flat top around which people gather to do work together. Work such as assembling a communal dinner or sorting things. Or the more usual meaning, that of a table used for gathering signatures in books. They can indeed be quite different in size and shape, material and finish. So for example, a turn of the century (1800s-1900s, that is) farmhouse gathering table would be large and sturdy and working height (counter height rather than desk height in modern terms). A gathering table that served people signing guest books and dropping off gifts for a wedding reception might be lower, smaller, and more finely crafted. Still, they are gathering tables, tables for gathering.

The pieces that I imagine when I use the term may indeed show their age but if so, it’s from long use rather than artificial scoring. The bumps should be from heavy items set down awkwardly, not by application of screwdriver or peen. And the missing finish should convey the story of thousands of touches. Human touches, not sandpaper. I know, I’m an old Fudd and you can almost hear the ‘Harrumph’ following that last sentence. And after all, who anointed me the king of gathering tables?

I suppose I’m on this rant in part because of the penchant these days among politicos and others for egregiously misusing language. Where do we get terms like ‘alternative facts?” And no, this is not aimed at any person or group in particular.  

Emerging meanings and usages should add to the precision and beauty of language, not detract from it.

Antiques are old things, facts are demonstrably true things.

Words have meanings.


Harrumph!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Tall tales

Lots of things I could have been.

When I was a pre-teen and while the other kids on the block were playing baseball, I was dissecting preserved specimens. I guess at that point I might have become a mass murderer but my life has been about nothing if not twists and turns. I just had to know how guts worked and so I had a collection of dead things in formaldehyde on one of the shelves in my room. Thought I’d grow up to be a doctor but it turned out I didn’t have the right kind of studiousness for the formality of a medical education.

Wanted to be a singer at one point and actually thought it might work out but it turns out you have to have the fire in the gut and I was more interested in filling mine with tacos and chocolate. But I performed in a lot of shows and sang in small clubs with my high school buddy and later with my erstwhile girlfriend. She went on to actually make a moderately successful solo CD and sing with John Lee Hooker and I went on to the next thing.

I thought I might be a woodworker at some point, actually had a small business making items for children’s bedrooms. Taught myself how to make dovetailed joints and built a few sticks of furniture. But then being a dad and needing to actually make a living wage sort of put an end to that aspriation. As a job, not as a hobby. I kept on building things but never again as more than a hobby. You can see evidence of my woodworking in our mantelpiece, in our daughters’ ‘big girl beds,’ and a few other items around our house. It was a fun diversion but as it turned out, only a diversion.

I was always interested in accommodating the needs of folks living with disabilities. Don’t know if that came from my mother’s polio or my own early leg deformities or the deaf friend of my early school years. I was just always comfortable around people living with differences and after decades of working small manufacturing startups, I settled comfortably into my current role as an adviser to nonprofits that train and provide jobs for people living with challenges. Love my job and I seem to be decent at it.

Tried taking up this and that over the years. But through it all, I’ve loved making up stories. Yarns. Tall tales. Charming fabrications and outright lies. It seems that no matter what else was going on in my life I’ve never been able to get by without pencil and paper. (Or typewriter or word processor or laptop, as both technology and the tremors in my hands progressed.) Wrote my first full length novel in my mid-twenties. Enjoyed the process of writing, of making up stories. I became an accomplished fictionalizer, much to my chagrin at times when my tall tales were exposed, but that’s another story.

While I could share a number of reasons why I like to make up fictions, I’m not sure I could explain why I need to do so. But I do.

To me, the two most promising and intriguing and exciting words in the English language are ‘what if.’

So, I’m a writer. Not because I’m literary or brilliant or even sharp-witted.


I just like a good story.   And I’m not above making up my own. 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Sad words and phrases

I came across an item in the webisphere today with the morbid title: “10 of the Saddest Words (or Phrases) in the English Language.”

Their list included: back to school, goodbye, heartbroken, if only, might have been, lonely, love (in reference to the unrequited variety, one might assume), melancholy, terminal, and what party?

I’ll admit that some of these words and phrases do seem unalterably sad. Melancholy, for example. Not sure how one might put a positive spin on melancholy. The sheer Eeyoreness of the word condemns it to the realm of the other-than-mirthful.

Other terms from the list require context to frame their claim on misery. Back to school is not always and evermore a sad concept, is it? I said, is it? Might-have-been’s position depends on the nature of the ideas immediately preceding or following – the ‘this’ that might have been.

Anyway, there certainly are sad words and phrases in our lexicon. One of the saddest for me is ‘I wish I’d known.’ While I suppose there are less-sad contexts for it (If I’d known you were coming I’d have baked a cake), in my world this phrase is usually associated with missed chances to do better, be better, find better.

I wish I’d known then what I know now. Fairly mild.

I wish I’d known (s)he liked me. Less mild, heading for melancholy.

I wish I’d known in time to stop him/her.  Ew, let’s not go there.


Sometimes ‘I could have’ or ‘I should have’ are seen as sad. But for me, there’s no phrase quite as damming as ‘I wish I’d known.’ 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Ana Vidovic

Yes, I’ve been listening to music again. (What else do you do for background while you slog through re-writing a book?) And yes, once again I found myself listening to Ana Vidovic, who is hands down the best classical guitarist I can name. Her expression, her phrasing, her mastery of every aspect of her instrument produce a listening experience that is simply glorious.

If you wonder what I’m going on about, please Google her playing Asturias by Isaac Albeniz. The clarity – the cleanliness of each and every individual pick and strum – is truly remarkable.

We could stand to have more people like Ana Vidovic in our world.

I’ve been trying very hard to stifle the temptation to allow the distractions of writing short stories and blog posts while I am on deadline with the book and need to keep shoulder to stone. But really, this guitarist just forced me to pop in here and share.

I readily admit this is a selfish exercise. Between Trump and MS and ailing friends and dogs and looming retirement for which I’m not fully financially prepared, I’ve found a lot to worry about of late. Seems like the world has been turned upside down and I struggle to find examples of good news. I do find them close to home in both my daughters of whom I am justifiably and immeasurably proud. But I sometimes have trouble finding such uplifting examples in the wider world.

Ana Vidovic’s music is such an example.


Seriously, Google this music video. It’s seven minutes out of your life and it’ll make you feel good. 
Perhaps even encouraged. Promise. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

People you see at the DMV

              I finally gave in to the demands of the fascists among us and went in the get my driver’s license ‘enhanced.’ Which entails proving my citizenship by proffering my passport and answering a series of questions that felt distinctly invasive. Ostensibly, this is all for our protection from terrorists. Which of course seems specious when one considers the number of terrorists currently residing in Congress.

              After wending my way through the entrance line and once I had received my ‘number,’ I decided to cease my reflection on the indignity of the situation that brought me there and began watching people. I love people-watching as a recreational activity and as I often do I pulled out my ever-present notebook and started taking notes.

              So, what did I see?

              First, I have to say the Washington Department of Licensing has really improved the customer service experience. While I was there, on a very busy Saturday morning, the system was efficient, the workers competent and friendly. This is NOT my father’s DMV.

              The folks in the long line when the door opened were mostly patient and polite. I say mostly because the guy in front of me clearly thought he’d pulled a fast one when his girlfriend cut the line, although they arrived in separate cars and she showed up some time after he did. What are you going to do?

              The oblivious texter was well represented, including an immaculately coifed and expensively dressed woman who was clearly not impressed with the replies from the person on the other end.

              Children with electronic games added to the background noise. One little boy stomped about, fascinated with the little light that flashed on his sneakers in time with his footfalls. He drew quite an audience.

              Boyfriends and girlfriends – not sure why this would be seen as a dating opportunity. You don’t see older husbands and wives coming together to renew a license. Must be a young thing. And of course, I’m making assumptions as to the relationships involved.

              So many teenagers getting their first licenses, proud and worried and impatient. And several proud younger sibs, “My (brother/sister) is getting a driver’s license today!”

              The guy with the yard-long dreads and multiple piercings. I don’t get it. Don’t mind, really, but don’t get it. In much the same way I don’t get sagging, stretch pants or dressing up like furry animals. And that’s okay – they probably don’t get me, either.

              One guy was online and on his phone, purchasing a used set of wheels while he waited to apply for his driver’s license. Now, that’s confidence!

              If you’ll excuse me a bit of profiling, it seemed to me that the most patient customers were recent immigrants. I guess they’re accustomed to being inconvenienced by bureaucracy. I’m glad to report that they were treated with respect.

              One mother / daughter pair cracked me up, the daughter leaning almost out of her chair every time the lady at the take-your-photo-and-pick-up-your-temp-license window called out a new group of names. The daughter was on toes and chair front for each new list of names, only to sag back deflated upon not hearing her name, making her mom laugh each time this sequence played out. I was sitting next to them and we got to chatting. Turns out they had been watching me watching people and the mother bet the daughter I was a writer of some sort taking notes on the people I watched. Then they mentioned they were listening so intently for the name to be called because they have a French surname - the mother having grown up in the Alps - that is frequently mangled by English-speakers. Just then the daughter's name was finally called and as we wished each other well, I told the Mom to say hello to Jean Claude Killy. Turns out, the mother is Killy’s daughter’s friend. Small world.

              I got a lot of noticing done this morning. The DMV turns out to be a rich well for a writer.


              Who knew? 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Trust

This question: Who do you trust most in this world and why?

Mary. My wife and best friend and life partner.

I suppose this seems a bit too Hallmark for some of you. Fair enough. But it’s true, nevertheless.

She is the one person in this world of whom I can say without reservation that I would trust her with my self-image. Oh, I know the standard measure is a person you would trust with your life but for me, there are too many of those. My siblings, several close friends, my daughters, perhaps a few others.

Self-image is another thing entirely. Wholly personal and closely held.

Although you might not know it from my posts here, I am a very private person. Perhaps to extremes. And I learned early and have confirmed again and again over the years that Mary is the person I can trust with my most private thoughts.

We’ve been married going on thirty years and there has never been a time when I was unsure she had my emotional back. Which is not to say we haven’t had our fair share of brouhahas, we have. But through all of it, the thick and the thin, long and short and in between, Mary has been my go-to person for feeling secure.

She is trustworthy. And that is – has to be – the foundation of a good marriage.

I learned the hard way when and whom to trust. And of course, in meeting Mary I was lucky. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

What do you say?

What do you say to your daughter who has just been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis?

‘Everything’s going to be all right?’

Probably not. Because the thing is, it won’t. It will be what it will be.

Over the last few weeks she has dealt with an episode of paralysis, blood tests, scans, pokes and prods and through it all, uncertainty.

And of course, expressions of hope and love from folks who mean well but don’t get it. Because they can’t.

I can’t know what it’s like to be a twenty-seven year old woman absorbing this diagnosis because I’ve never been a twenty-seven year old woman absorbing this diagnosis.

Believe me, being the father of the twenty-seven year old woman sucks enough.

MS is a bully that we can’t have kicked out of school. It is a condition of life that will now become part of my daughter’s normal.

She has us on her side. Mary and me and her sister and a large family. We will never step away from her, never abandon her, will always be with her.

Still, the fight is hers. And for this reason I am thankful today that she is who she is.

Angela will find her new way of being. She will adjust, she will fight, she will persevere.

Because she is Angela. It’s a hard thing but my daughter has dealt with hard things before.

I am, of course, frightened on her behalf.

I’m also proud beyond belief. Because she’s Angela.


What do you say? You say, ‘I love you and I’m here, no matter what.’