Archive for July, 2010

ghosts in my dreams

I awoke early this morning. As I had stayed up way too late last night, I knew I was up way too early, so I went back to bed.

I had been up too late because I watched a movie I had recorded. In the movie there was a woman who reminded me of my friend Jerry, who passed away last fall. Too little sleep, accompanied by that memory, was enough to set the stage for dreams.

I am in a cabin in the woods. Other people are there and one man wants to know where I took my two pheasants by bow and arrow. We walk outside and I show him the first place and we discuss how the hunt unfolded. After that, we are somehow back in the cabin again, sitting on a couch with a coffee table in front of us. There is another man sitting in a chair across from us. My friend Jerry comes into the cabin carrying a box full of little containers that are partially filled with water. They are all sorts of little glasses, pitchers and vases. I recognize them as trophies from the club that we all belong to.

Jerry says, “I figured we might as well get rid of these.”

I am shocked, because this means that Jerry has given up on the club. I start pouring all the water out of the containers into one larger container, incredulous that he could really be serious. As I’m doing this, my emotions are building and finally I run out of the room saying, “No, I can’t do this, I can’t do this.”

It is time to wake up, and I do, sobbing.

Dreams are memories seen through fun house mirrors. Things that are small suddenly become huge, while other things diminish to the point of invisibility. What was plain and simple becomes distorted beyond belief, and the complex falls into simple facets. Some dreams reflect the world around you, but some reflect what is inside you. This was one of those.

I never got to say goodbye to my friend, Jerry, even though I had plenty of warning and plenty of time. Diagnosed with cancer, the prognosis was certain; maybe ten months to live but gone in six. I had put off the difficult call to my dying friend and missed my opportunity. There is no second chance. Jerry will not arise from the dead just to hear my confession of avoidance. I have to live with both the loss of my friend and my abject failure as a friend.

Then again, perhaps a dream like this is my second chance.

bookmark: winesburg, ohio

Winesburg, Oho – by Sherwood Anderson

This is certainly not a book for everyone. Indeed, even when it was written at the beginning of the last century, many critics panned the work and readers called the author all sorts of names. It is odd to see the stories in Winesbug, Ohio described as dirty, disgusting and too full of sex, but one must consider the mores of the time, which were far different from today. This book wouldn’t even deserve an “R” rating if it were made as a movie now.

It is not the criticisms of yesteryear that will put some people off on this book, but the nature of the stories. It is not an uplifting, happy book, or some quick, breezy potboiler, but a study of the darker side of people. It is a look into the souls of everyday people, and the author does not tend to see the cheery side of those souls. If you like Dostoevsky, you might like this book. I happen to like both.

The book is a series of short stories, or vignettes, examining the inhabitants of the fictional town of Winesburg, Oho. Based on people the author knew in his own hometown, they are psychological profiles. At the beginning of the book I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy it. The writing style took a little getting used to and I think that the later stories in the book are the stronger stories. I’m glad I stuck it out through the first few stories, though, because the book really developed into the kind of psychological study that I appreciate.

If you are looking for the latest in vampires and werewolves, don’t bother with this book, though I might put the people in these stories up against those creatures when it comes to dark thoughts.

(Finished 7/24/10)

bookmark: the bradbury chronicles

The Bradbury Chronicles – by Sam Weller

Like many millions of other readers, Ray Bradbury has been – and is – one of my favorite authors. Sam Weller does an excellent job of covering the details of Mr. Bradbury’s life in this biography. Well worth the reading.

(Finished 7/20/10)

bookmark: the poisonwood bible

The Poisonwood Bible – by Barbara Kingsolver

As I began this book, I thought it was going to be a story about a missionary family in the Congo. It was, but it was much more than that. I doubt that any missionary society will assign this as a training manual. It is not really as much about the mission work, per se, as it is a study of African culture, international machinations and the way the different people in the family grew to deal with their individual situations.

(Finished 7/17/10)

sixty ahoy

Tomorrow I am sixty years old. Today I am fifty-nine. A day passes and a decade turns.

I have been in my fifties for a lifetime. Each day passes so swiftly that it seems a ghost, but having passed, the days intertwine and become a rope that anchors me to the past.

In my last decade my mother and father have joined their mothers and fathers. My son, though still my child, is now a man half my age and gaining on me by percent each year. The lie in thirty-nine years of marriage was exposed; a wife who molded her ways to mine in the hope that it would someday redound to her benefit, not seeing that the longer she stayed in that mold the less likely that would be, sought solace in another and finding only an empty promise, she returned, released from the mold but also released from me.

The latter half of these ten years has been spent in a new relationship that finds me in the same place at the end of the decade as in the middle – nowhere, wondering what is next, and doubting if anything is.

I know that in this next decade losses will most likely exceed gains. Friends and relatives will likely pass and it is entirely possible that I may face my own mortality. Life will no longer maintain itself; it will take more attention and effort just to see the next day. I will no longer be able to make the assumption that the sun will rise.

I struggle to see the bright side of this coming decade, overwhelmed by a sense of loss than rather than imbued with hope. Appreciation should be the keyword of the day; appreciation that I have come this far in my life with as many riches as I have. I do, indeed, acknowledge that, but somehow the boons of yesterday do not balance my dread of the future.

However, my choices are limited, and I would still rather check off one more day on the calendar than check out. So, tomorrow I will cross that invisible line and become sixty, sure in the fact that it is all downhill from here, but unsure of the speed of the trip. I hope that I can write at the end of my sixties that it has seemed like a long decade, not because of the trials and tribulations, but because of the triumphs. Somehow, I am skeptical, but stranger things have happened.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – by Stephen King

Believe it or not, I think this is the first book I have read by Stephen King, and wouldn’t you know, it is non-fiction. If you are interested in writing, this book is more of a rough guide to writing than a complete textbook, but that’s a good thing. Enough of Stephen King the teacher comes through to get you on the right track and enough storyteller comes through to keep it interesting. If you want to know more about Stephen King’s writing, there is good background information on the things and people in his life that encouraged and influenced his writing. It was an enjoyable book. Now I’ll have to read some of his fiction.

(Finished 7/9/10)

nasa to lift up the muslim world

Rustling through the news and the talking-head programs has been the story of comments made by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in an interview with the Al Jazeera news network. The reports I heard stated that he said “his ‘foremost’ mission as the head of America’s space exploration agency is to improve relations with the Muslim world.”

That seemed like a pretty stupid thing for the head of the United States space agency to consider as any part of his mission, but last night I actually heard the audio of his comments. The way it has been reported really does not capture the true essence of his comments. His actual words were, “When I became the NASA administrator — or before I became the NASA administrator — he [President Obama] charged me with three things. One was he wanted me to help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math, he wanted me to expand our international relationships, and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science … and math and engineering.

As far as I’m concerned, his actual words have nothing to do with improving relations with the Muslim world. In fact, if I were a Muslim I would be greatly insulted by his actual words. My reaction would be, “Who the hell do you think you are to suggest that as Muslims we are not proud of our historic contribution to science, math and engineering? You are going to help us feel good? Stick it up your ass, you pompous windbag!” Hell, I’m not a Muslim and that is still my reaction.

No one should be surprised by this kind of thinking from the Obama administration. It falls right in line with their elitist attitude that they know what is best for everyone and that anyone who thinks any other way is beneath their contempt. I guess it’s not just the citizens of the United States who are expected to bow down and worship his eminence, Lord Obama; now the Muslim world is also to thank His Holiness for making them feel good about their own culture.

Americans don’t much like people who consider themselves to be superior to the “unwashed masses.” You really have to wonder how Obama has gotten away with it so long. I hope that the answer isn’t that the majority of people in the U.S. really are capable of being hoodwinked by a smile and the ability to read off of a teleprompter. I have to admit that my hope appears not be well founded.

right time to write?

When I was in junior high school I had an English teacher who stood out from all the rest. Mr. Whitmer is probably long dead by now so I’ll never get a chance to thank him in person, but not only did he make the subject come alive, he was the first teacher who gave me the confidence to think that I could be a writer.

It was in his class that I developed a love of Robert Service’s poetry. His was poetry to be read out loud, and Mr. Whitmer obliged, possibly satisfying a frustrated dream to be an actor. He read The Ballad of Sam McGee with a drama that I remember to this day. I have several volumes of Service’s work sitting on my bookshelf. It may not be up to Shakespearian standards of excellence, but it certainly captures the mood and spirit of his subject matter.

I started out writing poetry. I turned out poem after poem, searching through the rhyming section of the dictionary when I got stuck for a word. I kept this up through high school, college, and beyond, though I was not quite as prolific as I was in junior high. Eventually I even thought some of my poems were good enough to be sent off for publication, so I submitted them to all the large circulation magazines which were still publishing poetry and to many of the small literary magazines printed on a mimeograph machine in someone’s basement. Some of my poems have been published, though none in the big magazines, and all paid solely with copies of the magazines.

I also wrote several short stories, including one for a creative writing class in college. The piece for the class actually won second place in the college creative writing contest and was published in one of the college’s publications, though I never got a chance to see it because I had to drop out of college after the semester of that writing class.

I’ve always felt awkward writing fiction. It has always felt strange to put words into characters’ mouths, and the dialogue has never sounded quite natural to me. It’s been some time since I had the urge to write fiction, but lately I’ve been reading a book by Steven King – On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – and he’s got me thinking about giving it a try again. With all these years under my belt I feel a bit more confident that I might be able to create a world of fiction – dialogue and all – that might seem plausible.

Of course, as soon as I consider the idea I hear, “What the hell is wrong with you? Do you really think that you could stick to something like that? Doesn’t King say that you have to commit to writing a certain number of words a day? Do you really think you would do that? And if you really wanted to write, wouldn’t you have been doing it all these years? Not to mention, you’re not a people person, so how the hell do you think you can write about people?” Man, my muse is a real bitch.

All those questions are good, valid questions . . . unfortunately. But, hey, what have I got to lose? There have been plenty of writers who started their careers late in their lives. Why can’t I be one? And while King is a writer who knows his writing, and has actually taught it in a classroom, it doesn’t mean that all his rules apply hard and fast to every writer (though one would be foolish to disregard them entirely). I wear big-boy pants now and can make up my own rules, and pay the price, too, if I don’t follow them. Again, what have I got to lose? If I give up in the end, at least I tried.

Hmmm, where to begin, let’s see . . .

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away . . .

the library? what a concept!

I went to the bookstore today. I didn’t have anything else to do and I was in the area anyways. I also had a coupon for thirty percent off the price of one book – not a bad deal. I haven’t been reading much fiction lately so I wandered over to the “literature” section and browsed the titles. Some of them were familiar but others I had never even heard of the author, let alone the title.

After fifteen minutes of this, I decided to check out a different section of the store. As I made my way over there, I walked by a woman talking on her cell phone to a friend, apparently looking for a book recommendation. The last thing I heard her say (not that I was eavesdropping) was, “Yeah, but you want to like the book you spend your money on.” Bingo! A perfect summation of my feelings about fiction.

I read more non-fiction books than fiction, particularly history. While the writing style can make reading a joy or a chore, in non-fiction the author is obligated to present facts, at least as they understand them, and creative writing tends to take a back seat. As long as an author presents the facts to me in an accessible manner, the non-fiction book is a success. Fiction, however, is an entirely different ballgame.

In fiction, facts be damned; the telling of the story is the thing! It’s hard to find an objective way to evaluate a work of fiction. Each person brings something of their own self to a work of fiction, and a story will resonate with the reader or it will not. While a book being a “best seller” offers a moderate degree of assurance that it is worth reading, it’s not a one hundred percent guarantee. Who wants to spend good money on a book that one may find better suited as a doorstop?

The obvious answer? The library. To me, there is no more practical reason to visit the library than to read fiction. If you find the book you checked out is absolute dreck, you can just return it to the library, out no more money than when you borrowed the book. On the other hand, if you find you like an author enough to want his or her work on your bookshelf, you can hit the bookstore with confidence in your choices.

The only problem with the library is getting fiction that is just hitting the bookshelves. Usually you have to get on a list for the books that everyone wants to read “right now,” but personally, those books are far and few between. If I really want to read a book as soon as it’s published it generally means that I know that I will like it and want to buy it, so I do.

Taking a moment to check my library card, I see that it expired a year ago. I guess I need to stop by and renew it. Might as well follow my own advice and pick up something to read while I’m there, too.

happy fourth of july

Happy Fourth of July to all my fellow American citizens!

While I hope you all have a fun day today, I also hope you take a moment to appreciate the freedoms we enjoy in this country, thanks to the actions of some very brave men two hundred and thirty-four years ago. And remember, you have inherited their fight! Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom – do not fail our founders!