Thursday, September 30, 2004

Zen and Email

      Okay, here's something weird. My email at work was down yesterday most of the day. That's not weird. Our email goes down more often than a Democrat votes to raise taxes and a Republican votes to drill for oil in a nature refuge. (I wanted to make sure I insulted each party equally.) What's weird is the emails that were waiting in my inbox this morning.
      Three hours after the email went down, our tech support sent out an email that said the email was down and that they knew it and were working on and would we please stop calling them to report the outage.
      Then an hour later, they sent the same email again with Urgent in the subject line.
      Then, about an hour before we closed, they sent out another Urgent labeled email saying that the email was still out, they were still working on it, our email would probably be out the rest of the day, and would we please stop calling them to report it.
      Of course, if we could have received the emails telling us to stop reporting the outage, there wouldn't have been an outage to report since our system would have been delivering mail. There's almost a Zen quality to this. What is the sound of one email not being received?

Fountain dedicated to Byrd Mills Spring.
© 2004. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Sometimes you can't

      Sometimes you can post. Sometimes you want to share. Sometimes you've discovered a new thing or a funny thing or a meaningful thing, and you can't wait to tell your friends.
      And then you have those days. The ones that you want to forget. The ones that make you doubt yourself, that make you doubt your place in the world. Those are the ones you can't post about. Maybe you should. Maybe you would feel better to let it all out, the disappointments, the humiliations, the failures.
      But sometimes you can't. And that's just the way it is. Tomorrow will be a better day. Catch you on the flipside.

Orange Glow firethorn.
© 2004. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Starting the plan

      It's easy to say that you're going to take control of your life. But what are the steps? How do you get from where you are to where you want to be?
      First, I think you need to know exactly where you are. You have to take an intelligent, sensible look at yourself and your circumstances. For me, I started with my finances.
      Over the years, I made some terrible mistakes with credit cards. I tell you right now that I think they're flat out evil. And I'm only kinda kidding. I have several credit cards with a lot of unsecured debt. I used this link to calculate how long it would take to pay them off at my present payment schedule. I had never looked at these figures before, and I was frankly depressed to see them. It's going to take way too long, folks. So, my primary financial thrust will be to pay them off and free up my life from those monthly payments. Not having them would open up new avenues in terms of employment. I wouldn't have to keep my job just because I need a salary at that level to keep pace with my bills.
      My secondary thrust is to build up my savings. I have a tiny saying account. I'd like to have six months of living expenses. At present I have two months. Of course, paying off those credit cards will reduce my monthly expenses and stretch the purchasing power of that account.
      Also, something I need to work on is to get some health insurance that I can afford. I currently do not have a plan, and my company doesn't offer one. My IBD makes it nearly impossible to find a health plan that will take me, much less one that I can afford. I need a group policy where they have to take pre-existing conditions. That may have to come with other employment someday in the future.
      There are other financial goals that I would like to work on, such as retirement and investments, but those first three goals will be enough for now. If I take on too much, I will be overwhelmed and give up.
      Next I'm going to look at ways to maximize my income and reduce my outgo. And then later on, I'm going to rid the world of disease ...

© 2004. All rights reserved.

Lovely plant.
© 2004. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 27, 2004

The Things We Have Lost

      It's a nice night. Cool, a bit of a breeze, the air clear, and the few stars I can make out burn bright. I miss seeing the night sky in the country, a million stars, the Milky Way spread above you like a midnight banquet.
      When I was younger, I would look at the stars and yearn for them. They seemed close, reachable. I'd feel something in my chest twist and turn and lift up. More than once I'd run and leap into the air, arms wide, hoping that maybe this time I'd fly into the sky or they'd take me. (Naturally I never did this when anyone else was around.)
      I was never afraid of walking alone at night where I lived as a kid. No bears, no wolves, no monsters. I knew I was the most dangerous thing walking around the pasture. I was young and didn't realize the world could hold the dangers that it did. I miss that innocent kid sometimes.
      It's a night for missing things. My parents, lost friends, loves who once I held so close. It's a night for remembering what was lost.

The Things We Have Lost

These are the things we have lost,
   the passions that have spent themselves
      on small things not worthy of such effort.

These are the loves we have lost,
   the lovers whom we turned away afraid
      of the darkness and more of the light.

These are the breaths we will not take,
   the sweet shared exhalations of lovers
      whose limbs entwine on violet sheets.

These are the darks that we will not enter,
   terrified more of what travels with us
      than of what we finally will discover.

These are farewells that no one should say,
   the last touches of a cherished hand,
      the gentle lips, the soft hair.

These are the things we have lost,
   the small things, the gentle things,
      the worthy things, the only things.

In the end all we have is what we have lost.

© 2004. All rights reserved.

Cotton candy sky.
© 2004. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

A stream of golden light across a darkening sky.
© 2004. All rights reserved.

Going on

      I think it's important in any plan to improve your life that it moves forward and not back. You learn from past errors, but you don't wallow in them. No purpose is served in beating yourself up over your mistakes. You made them. You learned from them. You've moved on. The object is to build yourself up, not tear yourself down.
      This doesn't mean that suddenly you've become perfect or that you shouldn't experience remorse for wrongs that you have committed. I'm a great believer in trying to fix things, in repairing what you have broken. If you've done wrong, then make it right if you can.
      However, there is a point where that is counter-productive. It can sap your strength. You start believing that you aren't capable of anything more. Your past becomes your future because you believe you can't do better.
      So listen to this: You're okay. You're human. You made mistakes. It's not the end of the world. The sun will rise tomorrow and the next day and the day after that.
      I get asked sometimes why a rational, science oriented, intelligent guy like me believes in the "myth" of Christianity. (Of course, I don't believe it's a myth.) Because the central belief and core truth is that God loves us and forgives us. All that other stuff is just man attempting to place finite rules on the infinite. Don't blame God for what people do in His name. But that's not the point, either. The point is that God forgives us for our imperfections. Are you above God? How many universes have you created lately? If you haven't made a galaxy, then you should forgive yourself. It's simple as that.
      Do you remember the story of the sinner woman that a crowd of men brought before Jesus? They told Jesus that the woman should be stoned for her crimes. Jesus agreed with them and then said, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." The crowd melted away. Jesus looked up and then told the woman, "Go and sin no more." No attacks on her past, no condemnation of her life. Just for her to go and do better. She got started on her improvement project that day.
      That's all I'm trying to do. An imperfect me trying to become better. Not a bad way to live. Not bad at all.
© 2004. All right reserved.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Last Poem for Jenny

Darkness, take my sight from me
slowly. Let the light linger.
I would close my eyes if that
would trap a moment more of her
smile, her grace, all that Jenny is.

I could not see all her life --
I knew her too late. Let me
watch these last precious moments.
Fragile she lies, her hair black
river against white pillow.

The doctor blocks my view. I move
so that I can see. Jenny's
eyes might open, and in the fading
light, she would see my face,
my lips whispering all my love.

© 2004. All rights reserved.

Sunset on the clouds.
© 2004. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 24, 2004

This and that

      I don't have much to blog tonight. I did a lot of errands today and took some new photos for the blog, including the cloud photo below.
      A friend of mine attracted a troll to his blog. If you're not familiar with the term "troll," it's a person who leaves obscene or insulting comments on a blog. I've only had that happen twice to this blog. I deleted both obscene comments cheerfully. I won't debate or attempt to reason with a troll. I just delete and move on. My friend has chosen another path, and more power to him, but I find trolls to be tiresome and immature.
      In other news, I picked the book back up. The break helped. It flowed better tonight. I wrote over 1,000 words that didn't make me want to throw up.
      I think I left the most important tip out of my diet suggestions yesterday. If you fall off the wagon, get right back on. A lot of people give in to their craving and decide that they can't lose weight so they stop trying. Your diet will fail only if you give up. So you slipped; big deal. You'll do better tomorrow. As long as you don't quit, you can't fail.
      I read five books this evening. Don't be impressed. They're not large books. They were The Venetian's Wife, Griffin & Sabine, Sabine's Notebook, The Golden Mean and Morning Star by Nick Bantock. They're mystical, sensual, interesting books with their stories mainly told by postcards, letters, diary entries and art. Worth looking at. I'm glad I found them at my local library.
      And that's the way it was today. Good night.

Clouds lit by the sun.
© 2004. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

The night off and a few diet tips

      I confess: I gave myself the night off from the book. I feel deliciously lazy. It's sitting there on the table, expecting me to pick it up, but I'm not going to. I walked by it twice, not even glancing at it.
      I'm tired and not feeling great. Bad day at work. Too much stress. As I was driving home, I thought, Hey, I'm just not gonna do it tonight. And I haven't. I'll pick back up tomorrow. I'm off in the afternoon to do a few things so I'll will have a couple of extra hours to devote to it.
      But it doesn't know that. It's sitting there, yearning for me. I think it's good for it to miss me a bit. Maybe it will be a little more helpful tomorrow.
      Now, to prove my resolve, we will talk of other things. First, let me recommend some music.
      Big&Rich. They're progressive country with the flavor of pop and rock. Go to their WEBSITE and enjoy three of their songs. "Wild West Show" is a powerful song. And I love the sheer fun of "Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy)." I purchased most of their songs from a music service. "Live This Life" is a great song.
      The Indigo Girls. Folksy and alternative with a political slant (lethal liberal, my conservative friends, just to warn you), but a lot of beauty in their music when they're not pounding the soapbox.
      What else?
      I mentioned in a comment in Frenzied's blog that I've lost 54 pounds with Weight Watchers. I still have a way to go to reach my target weight. But I was asked what helped me lose this weight by a couple of people. (Note: You should see your doctor before beginning any weight loss program. I did, and he checked me out and made sure what I was planning wouldn't hurt me.) I don't claim to any particular dieting expertise, but these tips -- drawn from Weight Watchers, other diets and my own experience -- helped me.
      Substitute. Exchange the fat version of your foods for the low-fat version or no-fat version. Some examples: Change your whole milk for 1 or 2 percent milk or even skim. You can find low-fat, no sugar ice cream. Eat fruit instead of drinking fruit juices. (Juice is loaded with sugar without a fruit’s fiber. If you must drink juice, find no sugar juice with pulp added. Limit yourself to eight ounces a day.) Use low-fat sandwich cheese.
      But don’t think that you can eat twice as much since you’re eating low fat foods. Many low fat foods are only low fat when compared to their full fat versions. Be sensible. Don’t increase your portion size.
      Drink your water. Drink at least 64 ounces of water a day, but there’s a trick with this. Drink at least one glass of water 15 minutes before you eat a meal. In a restaurant, drain your water before you receive your meal. Water works as an excellent appetite suppressant.
      Increase your fiber intake. Choose whole wheat bread and pasta. You might consider adding Metamucil or another fiber drink to your diet. Why is this good? Fiber slows down food absorption in your digestive tract as well as functions as an appetite suppressant. Be sure to follow the directions on any fiber drink you get to avoid an upset stomach.
      Eat at least one salad a day. But skip the dressing and replace it with a spray of lemon or lime juice and a dash of pepper and salt. But chef salads are a no-no. That meat and cheese adds so much fat that your salad ends up as bad as a bowl of ice cream. Acceptable veggies for your salad are: lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, broccoli, cauliflower, celery bits, raw spinach and carrot shavings or any other non-starchy veggie. If you have to have meat on your salad, use low-fat turkey or ham.
      Give up soft drinks. Soft drinks are nothing but melted candy with a bit of carbonation. You’re probably thinking that it’s okay if you drink a diet cola, but study after study have shown that caffeine and most sugar substitutes trigger your sweet tooth. Try to drink ice water with a dash of lemon or lime instead.
      Don’t eat just because you’re bored. Only eat when you’re actually hungry. Learn to tell the difference. Mindless snacking adds pounds quickly.
      Exercise. You don’t have to get crazy on this. Park further away from the stores when you go shopping. Walk around the park. Do one extra chore. Volunteer to clean your church on a Saturday afternoon. The point of this is to increase your activity beyond your normal level and burn a few extra calories.
      Don’t get discouraged. You didn’t gain weight overnight so you won’t lose it overnight, but you will lose it.
      Well, I think my book has learned its place. I don't want it to suffer all night so I think I will do a bit of editing. It needs to know that I still love it best.
© 2004. All rights reserved.

Another flag picture. © 2004. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

      For me, one of the hardest things about writing is that it takes so long. I'm ready for my novels to be done NOW. And instead I have wade through page after page. They pile up, but it takes time. And I'm impatient. One zillion ideas are out there. Not enough hours in the day.
      And the hours I do have, I have to use them to make a living. Money is truly the bane of the creative spirit. And we gotta have it. At least enough to buy food and keep us warm when it's cold. Oh, and I shouldn't forget clothing. (My neighbors always complain when I do.)
      One of the more intriguing aspects of the Star Trek universe is that mankind has grown past the need for money. They interact with alien cultures that still use currency in some form, but mankind itself no longer has an economy based on paychecks.
      They're pretty vague on the details of this, mostly because it's so hard to imagine. How would such a system work? It's described as each person working for his/her personal fulfillment. Artists pursuing their artistic visions, writers writing for the love of the word, chefs cooking to perfect their skill and so on.
      But how would that work? Who would choose to work the sewers or clean garbage or do any of the other mind-numbing, back-breaking jobs that society depends on? How would you create a system that didn't use money or barter? One that encouraged people to choose self-actualization over wealth? I'm trying to wrap my mind around it and having difficulty. Can you?

Does anyone know what kind of plant this is? I liked the
look of its bright orange berries.
© 2004. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

      I'm particularly proud of the flag picture below this entry. It's the flag outside my local post office. The other day, I noticed it and thought it would make a good picture. But that's not the reason I'm proud of the photo.
      Today, after reading Trixie's blog, I needed to go and take the photo. I had to step in the street and dodge traffic to get that shot of it hanging in that perfect blue sky.
      Better people than me have written about our flag and what it means. Freedom. Liberty. Pride. Courage. It holds all those things, but it also holds something else for me. That something else was why I needed to take the photo today.
      We are a flawed nation; I'll admit that. We fight among ourselves over race, sex, gender. We wrestle with a nationwide drug problem. We eat too much. We ignore the poor. We turn aside and put off problems and leave them for our children. We have corrupt politicians and corrupt police. We damage the environment in ways we can't even imagine ever being able to fix. We are not kind to those who are different.
      But we also try to do better. We work at it. We try to learn new things. We go to church, we serve in soup kitchens, we rise up to help hurricane and tornado victims. We risk our lives for people we don't know. We offer program after program to help addicts. We send our children to college and try to give them a better life than what we had. We vote out corruption, and brave officers battle it from within. We plant trees, buy dolphin-safe tuna and recycle everything we can. We walk in parades and hold out our hands and try to meet those who are different halfway.
      And when we fail, we learn from it. We get up and try again. Unlike other peoples and nations, we keep trying. We believe in solutions. We believe in peace. We believe in basic human rights. We're hard-headed in this because our hearts won't let us be any other way.
      We believe in freedom.
      That's a hard thing for a flag to carry. Hard for anything to carry. Probably it wouldn't be able, except for that something else it also embodies:
      Our flag means hope.
      It holds the promise of a better life.
      It's a visible symbol of a brighter future.
      A reminder of glorious possibilities.
That's why I wanted to take its picture today. To remind myself in this terrible world where the innocent are slain by cowardly monsters ... to remind myself, that there is still hope.
      And I tell you now that we will yet rise to greet a new wondrous world.

© 2004. All rights reserved.

Our flag against a perfect sky.
© 2004. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 20, 2004

A hillside in the park.
© 2004. All rights reserved.
      A big shout out to Susan2! She went back and read my entries from the beginning and commented on a lot of them. I had lots of comments to read in my inbox. Awesome! This is not to say that I don't still worship everyone else who has commented all along 'cause I do, but it was a cool thing, and I wanted to express my appreciation. Thanks, Susan2!
      The time is fixed. Hurray for Blogger! I remain impressed with their helpfulness and promptness.
      Thanks to everyone who's complimented the scrolling text. I updated it this morning. Please let me know if anyone has trouble with it displaying correctly on your computer.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

      I went to the afternoon matinee of Rehearsal for Murder, a play that our local theater group put on. It had some excellent moments in it. Made me feel better about being on the board now.
      I'd better call it a night now. Take care all. And someday we will rise to greet a new wondrous world.

Another view of the park's lake.
© 2004. All rights reserved.
      Blogger isn't working right. I'm never sure until after a problem is fixed if the problem was Blogger or with me messing with the template. If you can read this, I guess I know by now.
      No, I'm wrong. This posted, but it's still not working right. Sigh. I love Blogger, but I wish it didn't have these bugs.
      The scroll coding is working correctly, however, and as near as I can tell, it's not causing the problems. I deleted the section and republished without the coding, but that didn't fix it. So I've placed the scroll coding back in place and emailed Bloggers. I've always found Blogger tech support to be helpful.
      All the main items are in place, but I've got a few other things like the scrolling that I'm attempting to launch. They're not working. Still, I'm learning a lot as I attempt these changes.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

      Busy, busy, busy day. No time to breathe. I spend the day writing, running errands, cleaning house, doing laundry, etc. I got a lot done, but a lot is left to be done. Sigh. Never enough hours in the day.
      Lately I've been thinking about time. What I've done with mine. What time I have left. How it rushes by, day after day, year after year, a never-ending blur that makes up our lives. How it all goes so fast and ends so soon and what I'd give for another childhood in the summer when a day seems like a year. And how we want to reach the end and look back and think that it wasn't wasted, that it had meaning, that we made the world better, that we loved and were loved in return.
      There are no guarantees. Our next breath could be our last. Our most perfect joy could be around the corner, down the block, crossing the street or half a world away. We might never meet; we might meet without knowing it. It's a wonderful, terrible world in which we live, equal parts heaven and hell, chance and design. Nothing is certain except uncertainty.
      We are braver than we give ourselves credit for. We get out of bed each day and face all this and do over and over. What amazing creatures we truly are.

© 2004. All rights reserved.

Another path at the park.
© 2004. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 17, 2004

     Interesting thing happened in my fantasy novel. One of my characters veered into discussing religions, specifically the failure of the various gods to actually address the needs of people. Bitter and eloquence in her anger, she rejected the gods. As she put it, "I can't deny they exist, but I can ignore them and wish they didn't." I hadn't realized that she felt that way until I started writing it. Unfortunately it didn't help move the plot along, but it was a short enough segment and so telling of her thoughts that it works in the novel. Finding out surprising things about the characters makes me feel like a real author.
     I've noticed in various novels that religions don't exist, or if they do, they're always characterized by some madman who murders people because God told him to do so. Curious and unrealistic.
     Many, many, many people in this world cling to their faiths and don't go around burying their neighbors in the back yard or serving them in a casserole. Their faith is part of what shapes them. Admittedly, many people don't have any faith -- or more usual, only have one around Christmas or Easter -- but even then, their lack tells a lot about their character. What is going to fill that void if not a religion? Love, sex, booze, commitment to a cause, a career? It's said that nature abhors a void. Something is going to grow there.
     I suspect most novelists avoid dealing with religion because it's one of most controversial subjects out there. Why give people a reason to shoot at your novel?

© 2004. All rights reserved.

Stone table at the park.
© 2004. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

     What to blog, what to blog ... Hmm. Let's see. The book is proceeding on pace. I increased my daily wordage so that it can be finished by the middle of October. That's taking up most of my time. It's amazing the pressure that I can put on myself. Who needs imposed deadlines? I drive me crazy quite nicely all on my own.
     What else? I got elected to my local theater board. Should be interesting as a lesson in small town politics. Some of the people on the board take it way too seriously. Too seriously enough that there have been shouting matches and broken friendships. I guess the drama on the stage isn't enough for them. We'll see how it goes. I went into it knowing that my writing is more important and that I can't let it interfere with what I treasure. Don't get me wrong. It's a good, worthy cause, but I will not let consume me as it apparently has some of the members.
     Been reading a writing book Dojo Wisdom for Writers by Jennifer Lawler. She doesn't say anything that I haven't heard before, but she says it well. I need all the creative inspiration I can get lately so I'm enjoying it. It was worth the $13.
     I went to the park today to take more photos. I didn't realize that my memory card only had six shots left. I will have to go back Saturday and take some more. I'm trying to take as many pictures of green foliage as I can before the fall browns everything.
     People keep asking me just who I'm going to vote for this November. Some of them are quite insistent. Let me just settle the issue once and for all. I'm voting for one of them. :)

© 2004. All rights reserved.

Reflections in a stream at the park.
© 2004. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

     The mail just came. I’m holding a camping and outdoors catalogue in my hand. It’s addressed to a dead man. I pause for a moment and look at that name.
     Tracy used to date a former secretary here. He and she had a few things delivered here, and so we still sometimes get mail addressed to him. He was charming, bright, loving -- our secretary's dream man except for one thing: he was an alcoholic.
     It took her a while to realize that. Oh, she knew he drank a lot and was most comfortable with a drink in his hand, but he was funny and attentive to her. Surely he couldn’t be an alcoholic.
     I don’t remember exactly what happened, but something opened her eyes. She told him that he had to join AA or they were done. He said he would and joined her in dumping out all the liquor in his house. He told her that he wanted to attend the meetings alone because he was embarrassed. And he talked the talk and walked the walk for a while, or so it seemed. Until she found vodka hidden in his underwear drawer. She then found out that he hadn't attended the meetings.
     He tried to convince her that he could handle it. That it was okay for him to have a drink once in a while. That he could control it. And it seemed like he was controlling it, but her instincts told her the truth. She told him that it was like a man who was saying it was okay for part of his body – his hand, for instance – to be on fire because, after all, it wasn’t his whole body that was engulfed.
     She grew away from him rapidly. He kept trying to win her back, kept making promises that he wouldn’t keep. Finally he showed up drunk at her house and embarrassed her in front of her sister. She called his dad to pick him up. There was a scuffle and the police got called. That was the end of it.
     "I realized that he loved to drink more than he loved me," she told me. "And he didn't want to change."
     He pursued her some more, but she had gone on and she wasn’t going back. She cared too much about her life to throw it away. She finally moved to a new town for a new job and a new, better life. I still had business with him, but he stopped making payments, and the account closed.
     One afternoon as I was driving home from work. I saw him walking by the side of the road. He wasn’t quite staggering, but he was weaving. I stopped, rolled down my window and asked if he needed a ride home. He said sure, stepped next to my car and then threw up on the hood. I closed my eyes and waited. Eventually he got in the car, apologizing, his voice so slurred that I couldn’t understand most of what he said. Beer doesn’t smell that great in the bottle, much less after it’s been thrown up. I dropped him at his apartment and then went to the car wash. It was weeks before the odor went completely away.
     I lost track of Tracy for a while after that. During that time, he got arrested for drunk driving, driving without a license and few other things. He was ordered into a treatment program and seemed to do well on it. He dropped by my office to ask if I ever heard from my former secretary. I said I did and she was doing well. He didn’t ask for her number, and I didn’t offer it. (I found out later that he had called her anyway, but she had found someone else now.) He’d grown a beard, lost some weight, looked good if a bit strained. He got a job. Built a new life. Was dating again. It seemed like things were finally working out, but somewhere in there, he decided that his life was better with a drink.
     This time he dived into the bottle and didn’t come back out. People began to notice him staggering down the sidewalks. The few friends he had left attempted to intervene, but he fought them. He lost his job, his license again, went through another treatment program, appeared before two different judges, got counseling from various pastors and ministers. Everyone kept throwing him ropes, but he kept swimming away.
     The summer before he died, I stopped at an intersection and saw him walking home. He was clutching a bag with a local liquor store’s logo on it. He could barely walk. I watched him until the car behind me honked its horn, and then I went on.
     Two months later, I got a call from a lady who had been appointed by the court to settle his affairs. Tracy was dead and buried. She had found an old bill and wanted to know if he still owed us money. I told her that the amount had been written off months ago. She told me that she was a neighbor and about how Tracy kept showing up at their house drunk and crying. Her husband had to take him home and put him in bed. They tried to get him help, but Tracy wouldn’t cooperate, wouldn’t enter any program. When Tracy didn’t come around for a few days, they were relieved. But when a week passed, her husband walked across the street. The door was unlocked. A foul smell hung in the air. He went in. Tracy was lying on the floor in the living room.
     The police investigated. The autopsy revealed he had choked on his own vomit. Tracy’s father was dead by this time, his mother in a nursing home and so far gone that she didn’t even remember having a son. The neighbors buried him. There was no obituary in the paper. They were the only ones who attended.
     I think about the terrible waste of a life for a moment, then the phone rings. I drop the catalogue in the trash and answer the call.

© 2004. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

     I've been checking out the blogs of other writers. Most of them talk about how many thousand of words they write. Recently I chanced on one in which the guy talks about writing 14,000 words in a day.
     How does he find time to just live? You know, go to work, do laundry, eat a meal, gas your car, see a movie with a friend, etc. I love writing. I do it more than I do anything else, but I don't think I'd be happy if I gave it every single moment. Admittedly, I'd like more time to write, but those other things keep a roof over my head and food in my stomach. I think if writing is your only friend, you need to get out more. Moderation in all things, as Paul says.
     Does this mean I lack commitment? Some would probably say so. I don't think so. Writing has been my constant companion since I learned how. I have journals, poems and stories from my sixth and seventh grade. (I spent a lot of time calling various people "stinky." What a grasp of language I had even then.) Give me a pencil and paper, and I'll write something, be it a letter, play dialogue, a character sketch, random musing and so on. So I know that I'm committed to writing. Reading those other blogs give me pause, though.
     I was sharing this with a friend of mine, and he says those other writers are lying dogs. That's comforting, but I'm not sure I buy it. I know I could produce more if I didn't spend eight to nine hours a day on an emotionally exhausting job. The job, however, allows me to keep pace with my debt as well as gain a bit on it.
     I just don't know. It all seems to be a juggling act, stealing time from one love to give to another. Such is life, I guess.

© 2004. All rights reserved.

Walking toward a bridge in the park.
© 2004. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 13, 2004

      Bah on writing in general and my fantasy novel in particular. I swear I hate the characters so much that I would damage the grillwork of my car to run them down on the street were it possible for me to see them there. Yes, I know they're good people, I know their story is interesting, and I know they stand the best chance of getting me published in novel form.
     However, I'm tired of fighting with them. A friend of mine suggested that I have a pretend conversation with them. I can see that: Me and Stefan and Maladora in a small, locked room ... and I have a gun.
     Of course, I just feel this way now because the words are refusing to flow. Most of the time I care about them and root for them even as I throw peril after peril in their path. And it's not their fault that they're in love and working so hard to have a happy life while I'm busy trying to destroy them.
     I just had a disquieting thought. I was thinking that I'd be a god to these characters. Now I wonder if they would consider me the devil.

© 2004. All rights reserved.

Yet another stream at the park.
© 2004. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

     Dee pointed out to me that for a writer who writes mysteries and fantasy, I hardly ever mention either in this blog. I'll take care of that right now and will do better in the future.
     Recently I came across the website for Andre Norton. Ms. Norton has published an incredible number of fantasy and science fiction novels in a career that spans over 50 years. I remember quite well coming across her novels in the library and eagerly devouring them when I was a pre-teen (back in the Dark Ages).
     The Science Fiction Book Club has several of her novels in hardback. I've started buying them to add to my collection of Norton softcovers. I have about thirty of her books total, and I've barely started. Her imagination and work ethic were equally amazing. I don't know how she did it. Admittedly some of her books aren't great, but none of them are bad, and many of them are wonderful. Her Witch World® Novels are fan favorites. For starters, I recommend Forerunner Foray and Star Rangers.
     Even though her health isn't great now, she's still active in collaborations with other authors and occasionally a novel of her own. She was 91 this February. How's that for amazing?

© 2004. All rights reserved.

Inviting path in the park.
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Saturday, September 11, 2004

     Been looking at the sky lately. Watching clouds as you might have noticed by the photos I've been posting. No particular reason. It's just caught my interest. I like the deep blue against the white of the clouds maybe. Or perhaps I just like looking up. I don't think I've really looked at clouds since I was a child.
     I remember sitting under a huge sycamore tree in one of our pastures for hours, watching the sky. Watching the white and gray shapes. I even checked out a few books from the Carnegie Library to learn more about them.
     Cumulus, stratus, cirrus. The three major types of clouds. Cumulus are fluffy clouds that look like tufts of cotton. Stratus clouds look like they're flat sheets. Cirrus clouds are high feathery clouds, often seen in wispy rows. (A lot of cirrus clouds together make a mackerel sky, so called because the clouds look like the overlapping scales of a fish.)
     Ancient peoples used the sky to tell the future as well as the weather. You can find mention of cloud shapes that foretold good or bad harvests, the rise of certain kings, the death of rulers.
     Science has taken all the magic out of clouds for most people. We look at radar pictures on the news or listen to reports on the radio, but no one expects a cloud to tell them anything.
     That's probably a relief for a cloud as it's a lot to expect from dust particles and water vapor or ice crystals. Still, I am told in certain parts of the United States, Central America and Africa, shamans and holy ones still read the sky with awe and fear. I wonder what it says.

© 2004. All rights reserved.

Cloud shore.
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Friday, September 10, 2004

     It's always the casual things, the throwaway things that change your life. You take a different step, drive down a new road, turn a strange corner, all done on a whim, done without thought, and then you are somewhere you never expected, looking around at new wonders and terrors.
     This is not necessarily a bad thing. Our lives can be set in bad patterns. We choose to live in ugly rooms simply because they are familiar to us. Because they are safe. We know the rules in our little fortresses of solitude. We're in control. And now, because we were unthinking and life has a vicious sense of humor, we're somewhere else.
     The somewhere else might not be a bad place. It might not be a good place. We won't know unless we look around, but one thing is certain: It's different. We don't know the rules. We're not in control. And that's scary. We're outside the fortress wandering in the dark woods. Unfamiliar sounds and shapes flirt along at the edges of our vision. We find ourselves wandering down a path, a path that obviously leads somewhere, but nowhere we've been before. (Or maybe it does. We don't know.)
     So our steps falter. We stop for a moment and ask ourselves, "What am I doing? Why am I out here in the dark and unknown? There's a perfectly safe fortress back there, with tea and cookies and books. What am I doing?" And we either choose to go forward or back or just stay where we're at or even go sideways since we're not in our fortress and any direction is possible.
     It's easy to say that we shouldn't go back, that it's cowardly to do so. But that's not true. If we were walking into a forest fire or into quicksand, going back is the smart thing to do. It's easy to say that going forward is brave and noble, but suppose we're only going forward because we don't have the strength to face what is behind us. Even sideways carries its own risks, perhaps more than forward and back, because we at least have some idea what is ahead (success or failure) and we know what is behind (comfortable ugly room).
     So there we are. A little clearing on the path to somewhere else. We stand quietly, searching for a hopeful sign, a favorable omen. We want to take the risk, but we want reassurance, too. We want to hedge our bets, load the dice, stack the cards. We're still hoping for safety. The sounds of the owls and crickets are unhelpful. The moon doesn't care. The stars are blind.
     What we do next ... that's the thing. What we do next.

© 2004. All rights reserved.

A piece of cotton in the sky.
© 2004. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

     A while ago, my secretary wanted to know how I get so much done with my various writing projects, my crafts and, of course, my job. I told her, "I work at it."
     She thought I was being flip, but it's the truth. I work at things. I stay after them. Day by day, little by little, I nibble away at them. And eventually they get done.
     Writing is like that for me. I just work at it. It's not so hard to write a page a day or maybe a few paragraphs, a couple lines of dialogue. I don't look at the whole book. All those blank pages in front of me would swallow me in their whiteness. Instead, it's just the page, the article, the craft, the project in front of me.
     I know many people who are more talented than me. They can produce excellent writing with an ease that I have envied in the past. But I don't now. They depend on inspiration and mood and so they rarely if ever finish anything. I plod along, one page at a time, but I get there. (We won't talk about those who write easily and have good working habits.)
     And that's what I think writing is: work. It's good work. It's rewarding. I wouldn't give it up for almost anything else. But it's work. Most people look at the bestselling author and say, "I want to be like her/him." They want to have written, without ever having had to write. And so they never get published because they never apply the seat of their pants to the chair. If I have any secret, it's simply that I don't shy away from work and think that joy is in the journey as well as the destination.

© 2004. All rights reserved.

Cloud dragon.
© 2004. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Another view of the fountain at East Central University.
© 2004. All rights reserved.

Porch plant.
© 2004. All rights reserved.
     Some time back I read an unpublished novel by a friend of mine. Not a bad read. It's an action/adventure novel that shows promise, so much so that I forgot to edit it a few times and just got caught up in the story. What kept jarring me out of the world he created was reading nothing words. You know, those words that add nothing to the adjective, adverb or noun they are modifying. "Very," "really," "pretty" and "somewhat" were the most prominent. She was very beautiful, he was really tall, it was pretty awful, the slope was somewhat steep, he was really mad, she was very sad, the mountain was pretty tall, the pain was very horrible, she was somewhat upset, the sight was really terrible, she was pretty nice, and so on. On one page, I circled 10 instances of "very."
     Once I pointed this out, he said, "I was trying to increase the impact."
     Increasing intensity is a good thing, but nothing words won't do it. To punch up your writing, choose strong verbs and precise adjectives and telling adverbs. Nothing words sap a sentence of its strength and flow. Don't use them.
     I know it's hard to do. I struggle daily to free my prose of nothing words, but you'll find your writing flows faster and cleaner without them.
     What nothing words or phrases do you struggle with?

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

     Got to watch a Godzilla movie yesterday afternoon. Don't know why I like those monster movies so much. They're cheesy. They're bad. They've got no redeeming features. But I likey mikey! And they're still making them in Japan so others must feel that way. Perhaps mostly children, but enough that the last movie made millions, which is a great profit since it probably only cost a dollar eighty-five at most.
     I have several Godzilla movies on DVD. Some of the originals and some of the remakes. But no matter how much better the special effects are, there's still a guy in a rubber suit who goes around and crushes model buildings. It's great fun.
     I have a friend in Dallas who told me that he couldn't understand how I could like those movies. I told him that I don't make fun of his religion so he shouldn't make fun of mine!

     Well, Blogger won't let me post this. So I guess I'll just add some to it while I wait. Sometime back, Blogger didn't let me post for three days. It's strange about how much pressure can build up when you can't publish. After all, it's not like any of us get paid for this. But still ... I feel that need -- increasingly urgent to get the words out there.
     Still won't publish. Guess I'll call it a night and try again tomorrow morning.

Monday, September 06, 2004

     I have been asked how I reconcile my religious beliefs with writing fantasy that has magic in it. The Bible plainly states that witchcraft is wrong, no ifs, ands or buts about it. "Do not suffer a witch to live ..." comes to mind. Aren't I encouraging people to try witchcraft? (The Harry Potter books received some of the same criticism.)
     First, I have a good grasp of reality. I know what I'm writing is a story. It's not true. I expect my readers to understand that. I've discovered that fantasy and science fiction readers are among the most skeptical people in the world.
     Second, my magic system isn't based on anything in this world. I deliberately left out such things as pentagrams and demons, etc. It's not a primer, in other words.
     Third, my novel is meant for adults. I expect adults to exercise wisdom and restraint.
     Fourth and most importantly, I don't base my beliefs on what I read. I don't base them on what other people believe. And the fact that other people believe differently than me doesn't rock my faith. I don't expect the fact I believe differently from them to rock theirs.
     Is this sort of a "live and let live" creed? Yes, it is. Don't get me wrong; I've got some definite ideas about evil and what will get people to God. (Hurting other people, for instance, is a flat-out sin. Loving each other is good. Don't gossip. Don't destroy anything that you couldn't create. Intelligence is a gift from God. Protect children; they're precious. Laughter is a gift that you should use. Be kind.)
     However, preaching against something is a sure-fire way to get it to spread. You just have to look at the early Christian church and see how persecution caused an explosion in its population to see this is true.
     I have a couple of friends that are witches. They're peaceful, funny folks. A bit too much tree hugging and nature worship, but overall, good solid people who are trying to make their way in the world as best they can. Do I think their faith is right? No, but they don't ask for my opinion. They know where I stand. I know where they stand. I can't see what use it would be to fight about it. I'm not going to be able to force them to change. They're not going to be able to force me. I pray for them; they pray for me. We get along. And really, I think that's the essence of learning to love your fellowman and woman. To accept their differences, to not be threatened by them, to live in peace. That's what God intended all along.
     Afternote: A friend read this and asked me how I could ignore the verses in the Bible that advocate stoning a witch.
     I asked her how she could ignore the verses in the Bible that say women should never cut their hair and that they should be silent in church. She said those verses don't apply now.
     And then I asked who gets to make the decisions about what does and doesn't apply now? Perhaps God really expects women to have long hair; maybe cutting it is a major sin. The thing is, we have to each work out our way to God. We have to work out what we really believe and what really is important.
     My friend said she'd have to think on it, but she'd never be friends with a witch. I said that would probably work out okay since I doubted they'd ever want to be friends with her, either. I think she was offended by that.

© 2004. All rights reserved.

Another stream at the park.
© 2004. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Let Silence Sing

Sometimes it's not thinking
that lets me survive. That
keeps me from raging, keeps
my traitorous heart beating,
keeps letting me rise and
go to work each day, that
keeps me from screaming
my soul into darkness.

Don't try to understand. Don't
look back. Behind every hope
there is blackness. Every
love hides emptiness. Keep
your face turned. Sometimes
it's all too much so don't think.
You can't turn to the future
because you couldn't bear

what you would see. You just
keep your feet moving, one step
after another, one second at a
time, one breath at a time, not
daring to ask what you will do
if this pressure doesn't let up,
if you can never again draw
a breath without struggling.

You don't dare pray. You don't
dare vent the anger, the rage
that makes you want to tear
the heart out of Heaven, shatter
the world into pieces and pound
the remnants into dust. You
swallow it all, and it's bitter,
but it's yours. Tomorrow you'll

be better. You just need sleep.
Or a laugh. Or a drink. Or
anything at all. And if not
tomorrow, then the day after.
Or the day after that. Or
even further. Don't think about it.
Don't think anything at all.
Just sleep. Just close your eyes

and let it all fall away. Let
it all fall. You are more than your
sorrows, more than your failures.
This world still has joy in it.
It still has joy for you as
impossible as that is to believe.
But for now, just curl up.
Close your eyes and don't dream.

Let silence sing you a lullaby.
Let silence sing.

© 2004. All rights reserved.

A swirl of clouds.
© 2004. All rights reserved.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

     World building is a problem in fantasy novels. How much to include and how much to leave out requires a constant attention to the most telling details. I wrestle with it daily.
     If you're unfamiliar with the term "world building," it's exactly what it sounds like: building a world based on particular assumptions. For instance, if your world has dragons, certain things had to take place to allow such a creature to exist. If your society has magic, then it's going to develop differently from a society that doesn't have it.
     Some authors spend quite a bit of time in developing their world. They have religions, nations, races, complicated systems of magic, politics, languages, foods, and so on and so on, until their books teem with details. In lesser hands, this becomes a travelogue of an imaginary place rather than a story. I don't like books where I have to wade through pages and pages of fake history and a cast of thousands. In those books, the world building has swallowed the story.
     Almost as bad is when the world building has created such strict rules that the characters are trapped by their society into predetermined roles. A good writer will break the characters out and have a romp. The poor writer will make us slog step-by-step to the characters' dooms. (But not me because I have freed myself from the obligation to finish every book I start reading.)
     The secret is in carefully choosing the most telling details. The ones that allow the reader to make certain assumptions about the society without the writer having to use precious story space to explain. Example: If you have a Lord or Count in your story, the reader is going to start making assumptions about how your world's society is organized politically. If you have magic, your reader will assume that there will be wizards or witches or shamans. If you mention that a person's clothes are stained and torn, then the reader will assume the character is poor (or just poorly dressed). In a sense, a writer is using clichés -- or better word -- assumptions that the reader holds about our world in order to create the new imaginary world.
     Another example: My characters refer to the passing of time as candle marks. I don't explain that my society doesn't have watches or clocks or the terms "hours" and "minutes." I just let the reader know casually that the society measures time in this fashion. This means the society of my world hasn't quite mastered the art of the gear and lever and the intricate metalcraft required for watches. (However, the Empire is experimenting with huge wooden clocks, mostly in the larger cities; but they still call the divisions of time 'candle marks,' not hours.)
     So I'm trying to choose the most telling details in my story. I want to give the reader enough info so that he/she understands the world, but not so much that it overwhelms him/her. That's the plan. We'll see how it turns out.

© 2004. All rights reserved.

You wander a path through the trees and come upon this
unexpected sight: the amphitheater at Wintersmith
Park. It's only minimally maintained as the city doesn't
have the funds to restore it (or to pay for insurance for events
in it) so it's slowly falling into ruin.
© 2004. All rights reserved.

Friday, September 03, 2004

More clouds.
© 2004. All rights reserved.
     Recently I got complimented on my acceptance of other faiths. I'm a Southern Baptist, but my best friend is a Mormon. I've dated and are good friends with several Catholics. I also number some friends who are various other faiths, including one who worships the Goddess and a handful of Buddhists. They're all good people, they treat me and others well, they're all spiritually minded. I don't agree with a couple of them (For instance, every time I hear about dancing nude around trees, I first want to laugh and then I wonder about mosquitoes and chiggers) but they're all trying to be better people and they're all trying to bring the infinite into their life. I just have to believe that God honors their efforts and is leading them and me to truth. None of us have a lock on it. But I've been thinking about that compliment and what it implied.
     The speaker's subtext to that compliment was that most Christians are not tolerant, that I was somehow a freak among them. I don't think that to be the case. Yes, I know you can't turn the news on without Pat or Jerry condemning someone somewhere for not believing as they do. But the news is misleading. They carry reports about what they think is going to interest the public, however terrible or twisted or slanted that might be. Pat and Jerry make news, but I don't know anyone who has become a Christian from hearing them. (I'm not saying that such people don't exist, but it's odd in my life that I've never met anyone who said either man led them to become Christians through their preaching.)
     However, I know many Christians who practice their faith quietly, who love their fellow man and woman, who work in soup kitchens, who give money to orphanages, who volunteer in hospitals, who give their time and hearts to hospices, who go overseas to work with AIDS victims, who generally live their lives in a truly Christ-like manner.
     Sadly enough I have met so many people who casually dismiss Christianity, who have equaled mean-spiritedness and hypocrisy with the church and who have "moved on" without ever filling that void in their hearts. It's hard to blame them as you hear their stories of pastors who let them down or churches who turned their backs to real needs or church leaders who behaved inappropriately. Many of my Catholic friends have been rocked by the sex abuse scandals that their church continues to deal with. It's difficult to distinguish God from His fallen servants. I understand where they're coming from when they reject Christianity or worse, never even give it a chance.
     So this is my attempt to let you know that God didn't want any of those things done. The worse and greatest thing about God is that He chose to work through people. And people fail. They fail miserably. Sometimes they don't even try. Sometimes they do such horrible things that you get angry that God doesn't stretch out a huge hand and grind them into dirt. I do all the time. But this is why God is God and I'm not. Oh, the world would be a better place in some ways if I were God. There wouldn't be starvation, there would be no disease, and peace wouldn't be a choice, it would be required. However, I doubt my subjects would grow or learn or discover their true potential. Dictatorships are like that: They stifle growth, they strangle love, and they swallow freedom.
     Instead we have this imperfect world. This strange, sad, wonderful, depressing, joyous, bizarre, hurting, healing place filled with all these incredible people who make us crazy, who give us love and pain, who help and hinder. We have a place where we can grow and where we can make a difference. A place that needs us to volunteer and give to charities and help our friends and neighbors and share who and what we are so that we can make this journey a better one for everyone.

© 2004. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

No one promised you anything

You have to remember that
as you hold her hand
as you kiss her lips
as you walk down the aisle
as you fall together.
No one said it was forever.
No one promised that.

Drink deep her lips, feed upon them.
Warm yourself in the fire of her body.
Cling to what is there now and give no
thought to the emptiness that might be
consume your love tomorrow -- might for
doctors are wrong sometimes.

But if that unholy day comes
unthought will be how you survive.
It will be how you get up the day after.
You will not make it if you let
yourself think of what is not there.

Time, now your enemy, will be
your friend again in that dark time.
And if we do not complain to God
about our joys, how shallow would
we be to curse our sorrows?

All I can tell you now is that she
loves you and you love her. In this
world of empty           that feeds upon our joy,
you have a brief time to touch
love's infinite grace. Take her hand.

© 2004. All rights reserved.

Approaching storm clouds.
© 2004. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

     A friend of mine who is a nurse sent this ghost story to me some time ago. I thought it was interesting, even if you don't believe in ghosts. What ghost stories do you know?
     I never saw the ghost nun, but here's the story. The hospital has been doing a lot of remodeling, and I was working one night on a floor that was scheduled to be next for renovations. We weren't taking new patients on our floor as we would be moving the next day. I only had to take care of three patients, but since they never leave anyone by themselves with patients, I had an aide working with me. She was an agency aide, not a regular employee of the hospital. Anyway, about 3 a.m. she went out to walk around the hall to try to stay awake. She came back a few minutes later, with all the color drained out of her face.
     She said, "Is anyone allowed in the stairway at the end of the hall?"
     I said, "No, it's a fire escape. If they open the door an alarm will go off."
     She didn't say anything for a minute and then she said, "I think I just saw a ghost."
     I said, "What?"
     And she said she had walked to the end of the hallway to the exit door. It has a little window in the corner of it. She turned to come back toward the nurses' station when she felt like someone was behind her. She was about ten feet from the end of the hall. She turned around and saw a nun's face through the little window of the exit door. It had no expression on it. She stared at it and thought she could see through it but wasn't sure if that was just a trick of the light on the glass. She decided not to find out and to come back to where I was instead.
     We went back down to see if it was still there, but of course, it was gone.
     Another hospital's cancer floor is haunted. One night I was standing in the hallway late at night doing some charting on the cancer floor. Before that hospital went to computers, they had little things that pulled down from the walls so we could chart on them. Anyway, I was charting, not thinking about spooky things at all, when I felt a cold chill come over me and the hairs on the back of my neck raise. I stopped what I was doing and went to the nurse's station.
     By the time I got there I was feeling a little foolish but I told one of the nurses about it and she nodded and said, "Were you standing across from Room 356?"
     I said yes, and that's when they started telling me about the angry young man who died there.
     About 10 or 15 years ago, a man in his twenties was diagnosed with cancer. He had just got married less than a month before his diagnosis. Some of the nurses that work there now took care of him and they're the ones who told me about him. They said he was extremely angry the whole, short time he was there and never got past that stage. He was angry he was going to die and had just got married and was so young and he talked a lot about how unfair it was. After his death, numerous sightings of him have been told. One of the nurses claimed she has seen him sitting in a chair in his old room on more than one occasion. Another one says she has seen wall fans being moved to point to the chair. I have no doubt something paranormal is happening there.

Detail of East Central University fountain.
© 2004. All rights reserved.