Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Quiet New Year's Eve

Lynda and I are in our reading chairs, each with our laptop, listening to the NY Philharmonic concert on PBS. Right now they are performing Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue", one of my favorite pieces. Since my tax dollars paid for the program, I might as well listen to it.

Earlier, we went out to eat at a Chinese buffet with Lynda's mom and brother (here visiting from Santa Fe). This was my birthday dinner. Yes, I'm 60 years old today. Our celebration, other than the dinner, was to go to Wal-Mart and do our weekly shopping. Yesterday, though, Lynda brought cake and pizza to the office, and everyone gathered for a brief party. That was nice.

So 2011 ends, a momentous year, not to be judged by the quietness of the last day of it. 2012 promises to be quieter than 2012, I hope. Other than getting a new roof next week, some siding repair, inside repainting due to the leakage. Other than giving three papers at a conference in Las Vegas in February. Other than self-publishing at least three books, and five if I can do it.

Yes, 2012 promises to be a quiet year.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Morning

It's Christmas morning. The house was quiet when I got up around 10:30 AM. We are at our son's house in Chicago. I guess he and his partner had been up earlier, but were not when I got up. Now almost everyone is up, the TV is on with some Christmas special, and I hear many voices. There are no young children in the house.

How different from 50+ years ago. In the Todd household we had quite a Christmas ritual down. It started Christmas eve, when we put the tree up and decorated it. Many other decorations went up that day, some after we three kids went to bed.

One thing that had been in place for a week or so was the manger scene, on top of the sewing machine in the dining room. The only figures in it were animals. Mary and Joseph were across the room in one direction, the Magi across the room in another. I don't think we separated the shepherds and sheep from the stable. On the days leading up to Christmas, Mary and Joseph began their trek to Bethlehem, moving across the room. They arrived at the stable on Christmas eve.

Christmas morning we put baby Jesus in the manger in the stable, and started the Magi on their trek. Twelve days later, on Epiphany, they arrived.

That seems to have been a good tradition. It was a somewhat accurate version of what the Bible says happened. I wish we had done it with our kids.

Another part of the routine was that we could open our stockings and one present before going to mass. The rest of them had to wait until after church, after lunch, and until family gathered. Or, if we were going to our grandparents for our evening Christmas dinner, we had our family presents in the early afternoon, then more at the grandparents in the late afternoon. I suppose not many parents these days have tried to train their children to wait on presents.

Once we children were old enough to attend Midnight Mass, the routine changed some. We still couldn't tear into presents, but the waiting time was greatly reduced, not being interrupted by morning church.

Merry Christmas everyone. May the Holy Spirit fill you today, and make it a special day of celebration of Jesus' birth.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Interview: Joe Pote, author of "So You are a Believer Who has been through a Divorce"

Joe Pote is a fellow Arkansas writer who I've come to know over the Internet. He has a book out titled Are You a Believer Who has been Through a Divorce?:
A Myth-Busting Biblical Perspective on Divorce. Let's have Joe tell us a little about his book.
AATTA: Can you give us a brief description of what this book is about?

JP: Sure.  This book discusses God’s heart toward Christians who have experienced divorce. The church has developed a system of biblically unsubstantiated myths encouraging legalistic attitudes toward believers who have experienced divorce.  These myths act as barriers, distancing relationships with both God and fellow believers.

In this book, I address seven of these misconceptions, discussing both the basis for the myth and what the Bible actually says in context of the complete scripture.

Readers will experience the liberating joy of lifted guilt and renewed intimacy with God as each myth is exposed in the light of God’s truth.

AATTA: We would normally expect a book on this topic to be written by a pastor, a theologian, or a Christian counselor.  You’re a structural engineer, one of my professional kinfolk.  Why did you decide to write this book, and what qualifies you to write a book on this topic?

JP: Yes, I am a structural engineer.  I have neither a seminary degree, nor a psychology degree.  I do, however, have a strong background in biblical study and inductive interpretation of scripture.  As a child, I was literally raised in church, attending multiple church services and Bible studies each week, and I have continued to study the Bible throughout my adult life.

Several years ago, I went through a divorce.  It was a devastating experience, at many levels.  As a child, growing up in church, I had been taught that Christians don’t divorce; that Christian married couples find a way to work through any issues, without ever even considering divorce as a potential option.  Yet, here I was, a Christian with deep convictions and a strong love for Christ, going through a divorce.

In processing that reality, I began studying what the Bible teaches on the topic of God’s heart toward His children who have experienced divorce, and was surprised by what I learned.  I began to realize that much of what I had believed about God’s view of divorce was simply incorrect. I had accepted certain myths as truth, based not on scripture, but on words, actions, attitudes and impressions observed as a child, growing up in church.

In the years following that divorce, in conversing with other Christians with similar divorce experiences, I discovered that I was not alone in those misperceptions. In fact, these same myths are widely believed and accepted as truth by many people within the Christian church. For believers who have experienced divorce, these myths directly interfere with our relationships, acting as barriers as we seek to draw close to God, as well as to our fellow believers.

AATTA: There are a lot of books on the market discussing divorce from a Christian perspective.  What makes your book different from any other book on this topic?

JP: The Bible really doesn’t talk very much about the specific topic of divorce of a marriage covenant.  Most books on this topic pull their information from a few of the passages that do mention divorce, while ignoring other passages that don’t support their viewpoint.  Then they lift a few sentences out of context, using them to create an inflexible set of rigid legalistic rules, which they attempt to apply to every situation.

Although the Bible says relatively little on the specific topic of divorce of a marriage covenant, it has much more to say on the broader topic of covenants, in general.  In this book, I draw from this broader scope of rich illustrations of God’s heart in regard to covenant and redemption. 

I also review passages that specifically reference divorce of a marriage covenant, discussing them within the context of the entire passage in which they are presented, as well as within the context of the broader body of scripture.

AATTA: You have titled the first chapter of your book, “Myth 1 ~ Divorce is Sin.”  By calling this viewpoint a myth, you clearly indicate disagreement with the position that divorce is always sin.  Does that mean you believe God approves of anyone suing for divorce, for any reason at all?

JP: No, not all!  In fact, I spend far more pages of this book explaining the importance of honoring covenants than I do explaining that divorce is not sin. 

However, I think it is very important to make a clear distinction between violating covenant vows, and choosing to justly end a covenant that has been repeatedly violated.  The Bible is very clear that violating covenant vows to love, honor, cherish, protect, and forsake all others is sin.  The just dissolution of a covenant that has been repeatedly misused as a tool to enslave or abuse is not sin.

AATTA: I’ve noticed that you use the phrase, “believers who have experienced divorce,” rather than simply saying, “divorced believers.”  Is there something you don’t like about the word “divorced”?

JP: Yes, there is, when used as an adjective.  In fact, I discuss this topic in the chapter titled, “Myth 4 ~ Divorce is a Perpetual State of Being.”  To summarize, we tend to categorize people as being married, single, widowed, or divorced.  Within the church, we often extend these categorizations to also include divorced-and-remarried. 

We affix the label “divorced” to people, and never remove it no matter what happens, for the rest of their lives.  That’s just not scriptural.  Divorce is an experience I have lived through, not a defining characteristic of who I am.  My covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ defines who I am.

AATTA: The very first sentence of the book’s Introduction asks a question, “What does Jesus look like going through a divorce?”  What is your answer to that question?

JP: Well, I obviously wrote an entire book in answer to that question.  It is difficult to answer without first providing all the background contained within the book.

However, as a concise answer to a concise question, I would say that Jesus, going through a divorce, looks much as He did leading the exodus of His people out of Sheol, the place of the dead.  He walks with His child, justly redeeming them from their covenant of bondage, and delivering them through the divorce.

AATTA: In this book you target seven myths held by many people within the church, today.  People tend to hold very strong opinions about matters of faith.  In writing this book, are you intending to stir up controversy?

JP: No, it is not my intent to be controversial; though I’m sure some will take issue with my position.  Actually, as a writer, I am more concerned about whether or not I have adequately explained my position.  If someone understands my position and chooses to disagree, I am completely fine with that.  I just hope they will take the time to first read the book and understand the position, before disagreeing with it.

My intent in writing this book is to share a message of hope and healing with people who have suffered the devastation of a failed marriage.  I pray that God will use this book to liberate fellow believers who have experienced divorce to a greater fullness of joy in the love and redemption of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Author Interview: Susan Todd and "Five Smooth Stones"

My cousin Susan Todd is also a writer. She has both fiction and non-fiction published, and recently started a blog titled, No Rhyme or Reason. She and I have discussed writing for many years, and have read each other's writing. She recently served as a beta reader for me on my second novel, providing me with excellent character feedback in addition to proofreading.

Among Sue's books is one titled Five Smooth Stones. It sounds like it would be a non-fiction work about a biblical theme, but let Sue tell you about it.

AATTA: Give a short summary of what book is about.


ST: It’s about five women who start out thinking that they are each unique in their own way, and they are. But they soon learn through an unexpected prolonged stay at a Bed and Breakfast just how much they have in common and the commonalities bond them together.

AATTA: How did you choose the characters?

ST: The characters really chose themselves out of a rich abundance of human nature. Just looking around us at the variety of people we meet, friends and often times family, we probable know someone like these ladies.

AATTA: What was your intention is writing this book?

ST: It was an interesting challenge personally to interact with characters that I had to create with personalities that differed from my own. I started out, as I hope the reader will, having likes and dislikes in the beginning. After all, not everyone is our cup of tea. But the more I got into each quirk the more I began to shelve some of my own judgments. As I wrote I began to see a link between their differences. I began to write from the perspective that possible what one saw in the other, that they didn’t like, was either a similarity or something they lacked. Then I began to wish these charming characters could see what I was seeing. And so they did.

AATTA: What do you want the reader to take away from Five Smooth Stones?

ST: I hope that if they see themselves or someone they know acting like these five, and that they will take another look. . Because in the end we are not really all that different in the area of basic needs. There is something to be said about reconciliation. Everyone has some redeeming quality. I once worked with a very contrary lady that I thought that God had not given one good quality. Even though I could not find one on a personal note about her, I came to appreciate the fact that she knitted beautifully!

You can find Five Smooth Stones at CreateSpace, an Amazon company, and on Amazon as well.

Her other published books are:
God said, "Tell Them I Am"

Eternity's Portal

Whales in the Pond

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Almost Ready for Christmas

The Christmas rush is not so bad this year. A lot of this may have to do with not putting up Christmas decorations, as I discussed in this post. We don’t seem to have as many seasonal events to go to, and all but one are completed. Tonight I plan on putting up the string to drape Christmas cards over. Based on the few coming in so far, I doubt I’ll need the second string this year.

So we are in better shape at this point in the Christmas season than normal. Or at least I am. Today we got the van back from the shop, a number of maintenance items done, including one that might have been a disaster (very worn tire) on the trip we will soon take. The insurance company replaced the cracked windshield, which is good. Also the insurance company is going to make major repairs to our house due to hail damage. The adjuster and the designated contractor are duking it out now over a couple of items the contracted feels are needed, but which the insurance company at first didn’t authorize. It should all work out.

Our Christmas letter is written. Tonight I’ll print it. Lynda said she would address the cards this year. I hope she will start tonight so that we can mail them by Saturday. That might be a first: to have all our cards out before Christmas.

Writing is taking up a lot of time right now. Or maybe I should say my writing career is. I’m not actually writing much at present. I’ve had some issues with the Amazon listings for my book. At first the e-book and print book versions for Documenting America were not linked. Through the CreateSpace help system I got that taken care of. But the print version page shows four people as translators of the book. How did that happen? So I’m trying to get that taken care of, through the CS help system again.

Today I spent a little time at Goodreads, editing and expanding my author profile. When I did that, then went to my author page, and it included a dozen books, none of which were mine! So I went to Goodreads tech support and contacted them. The auto responder said it might take three to five business days to address my issue, but I’ve already had an email saying the problem is fixed. Sure enough, my author profile now shows my two books, and only those. Note that the URL may not work, as they are going to change my author name to David A. Todd. If that happens, I'll come back and edit in a proper link.

This Goodreads thing is going to take hours to figure out. Actually, I’m not sure I’ve ever properly edited my CreateSpace profile or my Kindle profile. And I think an Amazon profile is a separate critter. Meanwhile I read some advice recently that said I should be using LinkedIn as a professional social media. I’m not sure I have the brain power left to join one more place.

Christmas is nine days away, and I’m more pleased it is, this year, than any year in recent memory.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

"I Love To Tell The Story" by Susan Barnett Braun

I met Susan Braun at the Write-to-Publish Conference in Wheaton, IL in June 2011. We are writers more or less in the same place in our careers: struggling, trying to find an agent or publisher for a completed book, unsure of our place in the market. At that time I had already made the move into e-self-publishing (though still hoping for commercial publishing for other works), and Susan was not far behind me.

She has now published her memoir, I Love To Tell The Story: Growing Up Blessed and Baptist in Small Town Indiana. It is available as an e-book and as a paperback at Amazon.com.

But let's let Susan tell us something about the book.

AATTA: Give us a one sentence summary of what your book is about.

SBB: It's possible to grow up in a Baptist church and emerge unscathed (and actually blessed) by the experience.

AATTA: Why did you decide to publish your memoirs rather than just writing them down for your kids?

SBB: I enjoy reading memoirs. However, I noticed a pattern in so many memoirs where the protagonist has a terrible childhood, full of abuse or events that she later construes as very negative. Looking back at my childhood, I have wonderful memories. I wondered why no one was telling the positive stories, and I decided to publish mine as a way for those of us who've had happy childhoods to celebrate our heritage. A pleasant childhood, by the way, doesn't necessarily mean a childhood with no conflict. A happy childhood can also be pretty darn humorous.

AATTA: The title of the book, and of each chapter, comes from a hymn. How does music play into your memoir?

SBB: Growing up Baptist, we sang a lot of hymns. They didn't mean a lot to me at the time: they were just a fact of life. But now that I've grown up and go to a church that has largely given up on hymns for "praise and worship" music, I've come to realize just how meaningful hymns were and still are in my life. Their lyrics and melodies are so rich, and many of the words sustain me to this day. Each chapter in the book is titled for a hymn that ties in with the theme of that chapter -- it just seemed appropriate.

AATTA: I notice lots of references to things you remember from the 1970s -- TV shows, music, etc. What was it like to relive those years?

SBB: It was cool and groovy, to be sure! As I immersed myself in my childhood again, I mentally lived for months with The Love Boat, The Flintstones, bell-bottom pants, President Nixon, and baloney with the red strip along the edge ... it was nostalgic, and also made me think about how much has changed in our culture.

AATTA: Groovy? I guess that's an expression that's coming back. Many of the memories you document are pretty specific. Do you really remember those things in such detail?

SBB: Actually, I do remember my childhood in more detail than many others do, perhaps ... I've spoken to folks who say they have no memory whatsoever of who their second grade teacher was, for instance. This floors me, because I most certainly remember Mrs. Gebhart :) Seriously, though, I'm not sure why I remember childhood details so well. Part of it is probably that I kept diaries for a decade or more during childhood, and I still have those. Also, I'll admit to a bit of creative license: perhaps I moved an event that happened when I was 12 to age 10, just so the story flowed better.

AATTA: What do you hope a reader will take away from your memoir?

SBB:I hope he will come away feeling good about life! I hope she will have memories that return from her own childhood, and that there will be many "Oh yes -- I'd forgotten about that!" moments. I hope that any reader would see the book as a pleasant escape to a time that was simpler in many ways, and that, really, it's okay to have had a happy childhood!

 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Muted Christmas this Year

That’s the best way I can describe out Christmas season so far: muted. We have put up no decorations. We attended one party so far, of our adult Life Group at church. I wrote the first draft of our Christmas letter that will go out with our cards, but so far Lynda hasn’t reviewed it. And we will significantly reduce the number of cards we send out. We have done no Christmas shopping.

The reasons? Busyness. Health. Apathy.

I’m still working through the whole rheumatoid arthritis outbreak that hit me in July. I’ve seen a rheumatologist twice, and actually all affected body parts seem much better. I’ve been able to resume walking for exercise a little, and can sleep mostly pain free. Lynda has been taking physical therapy for bound-up muscles that don’t want to work the way they did twenty years ago, or even five. I think she’s marginally better than she was at the beginning of the summer. Meanwhile, we aren’t particularly excited about the physical effort involved in decorating. We may yet do some.

We won’t have much of a Christmas here this year. We’ll drive to Chicago a few days before to be with our son and his partner in their new house, and will return a couple of days after. Lynda’s brother will be in town, so we’ll have some quiet times with him and their mother. Rumor has it that we will possibly have a visitation of grandchildren and their parents over New Years, but we’ll have to see if the rumor is true.

But, as it turns out, we have one other very good reason not to decorate right now. Back in April or May we had a hailstorm—enough pea to grape-sized hail to cover the deck like snow. Then, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, we had another hailstorm of similar size and intensity. At some point in the Spring one of our skylights began leaking, allowing a trickle of water to run down the skylight well then along the ceiling then down the adjacent wall. I couldn’t remember if this leakage was before the first hailstorm or not. At least four times since then, in heavier rains, water has come in.

It suddenly occurred to me over the weekend that maybe the two hailstorms had caused roof damage. And maybe, though I couldn’t remember for sure, the hailstorm had damaged the skylight. If so, this would all be insurable loss. So Monday I called the insurance company and initiated a claim. I asked them, while they were at it, could they assess damage from a couple of blown off and loosened pieces of siding up at the top of the chimney, 30 feet above the ground in an inaccessible place. That happened in a different storm, I told them, but would they please evaluate it.

Yesterday the adjuster came out, and by the end of the day we had a sizable check in our hands. Of course, I left the house today without picking it up to deposit it. We will be getting a new roof and new skylight. They will re-do the sloped ceiling in the large room where the damage took place. They will paint the stained wall in that room. And they will even fix the siding on the chimney, all as one claim (even thought I did not represent it as one claim). Today the restoration company called me, wanting to come out today to look it over. I think the repairs will move quickly.

What does this have to do with Christmas decorations? The room where the damage is is the room where we put our Christmas tree, and most of the other decorations. If we had put the tree up before Thanksgiving, and the Christmas village and the garland by the fireplace and along the banister, and the manger scene, and the many Christmas knickknacks as we usually do, these would have been more things to protect. I probably wouldn’t have bothered calling the insurance company until January, if I remembered to call at all.

I find that Christmas decorations might help with the Christmas spirit, but I’m good not having them this year. Christ in my heart is decoration enough.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Christmas Plot

I am so tired of the Christmas plot. Maybe it’s because of the TV channels we are watching this year. Normally, I don’t watch much television except for news and a little sports, maybe an occasional movie. But this year the wife wants to watch some of the Christmas shows. So we’ve been watching Lifetime and ABC Family and Entertainment network shows, seemingly made-for-TV movies. I normally try to multi-task by reading or writing or working on crossword puzzles, but I’ve actually watched a couple.

Here’s the Christmas plot on these channels: A early-30s career woman with a non-committal or philandering significant other has a chance to go somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas, or at least do something new, where she meets a virtuous hunk who works in a charity. She has trouble completing her mission, falls for the hunk, leaves the skunk, and winds up with the hunk. At some point she wishes upon a star or a Christmas tree or…something.

Case in point: An Indianapolis newspaper reporter, who has been limited by her boss to writing fluffy features, is sent to a small town in Indiana the week before Christmas to unmask a secret Santa who anonymously does a good deed of expensive charity each year. She goes to the town, quickly focuses on the richest man in town as the secret Santa. He’s out of the country but then comes back. He’s a hunk, his wife dead, no kids, and devotes his attorney skills to saving the rain forests. Just before she left for the assignment her significant other left her for a woman with whom he had a one-night stand. She falls for the rich guy, who she finds is not the secret Santa. Her S.O. comes to the town trying to make up since his new girl was a fraud, but she dumps him. She finds the secret Santa, an unlikely candidate given the size of the charitable gifts, but decides not to unmask him. At the end she leaves the Indianapolis paper to take over the editorship of that small town paper, and will certainly wind up with the hunk. Oh, yeah, since there was no room at the inn she was staying at the local rest home, which happened to have been run by the secret Santa.

Case in point: A career woman who is mistress to her married boss has a minor auto accident in front of the house of a hunk with two kids. In the accident an electrical shock changes everything. That man who lives there says they are husband and wife of ten years, and they have two kids. They all think she is wife and mother to them. Except she’s never seen them before, has never been married, and certainly has not had two children younger than ten years old. Various friends say she is married to him. The show progresses and she comes to terms with the problem. Oh, yeah, his job is running some kind of neighborhood charity. Eventually she finds being this man’s wife is much better than being the mistress of a philanderer. At the end of the program she relives the accident, wakes up as who she was. But it’s still the house of the charity-running hunk, whom she meets for the first time but knows all about him (not because of the ten years she didn’t spend with him but because of the five days she did, or didn’t) and will end up with him. We never learn if the two kids are in the house, the product of a former wife.

Case in point: A trust-fund 30-ish woman is about to be cut off by her jet-setting parents, unless she finds a job or husband. This one doesn’t have a philandering S.O., but has played the field. She’s on the street window shopping when a letter to Santa, dropped by a postman, blows in front of her. The girl asks for a new wife for her father, since his wife (the girl’s mother) died. The letter gives an address. She stalks him, learns he has a multi-truck snow removal business but seems to spend more time running a struggling soup kitchen, the charity of his dead wife. The woman begins volunteering at the soup kitchen and both the daughter and the man begin to like her. But he’s dating another woman, a cold-fish he knew somewhat in college, and is planning on marrying since his daughter needs a mother. The trust-fund baby falls for him, but is exposed as a fraud, then uses her last trust fund payment to rescue the soup kitchen from eviction—on Christmas eve of course. At the end of the show the cold fish is out and the trust fund baby is in.

And on it goes, ad infinitum. Is there no originality in these script writers that they have to use such limited plot lines? Or, is it more that the audience of these few channels are 30-ish career women with philandering SOs, or women who were there once, and so this is what they will tune in to?

We all want to see a happy ending, and character arcs that show growth in the good guys (or girls), and perhaps some movement or the bad guys toward the good side, or at least remorse at them having been bad. So perhaps the script writers are giving the broader American audience what we want.

It’s December 1st. Only 24 more days of the Christmas plot to get through. Must concentrate harder on the multi-tasking.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Another Memory About Edward

[from the eulogy I gave]

Edward's entrepreneurial spirit first showed itself at scout camp. His first year at Camp Yawgoog was 1966, the year after my first year. He went to the commissary and made a very important discovery: They didn't sell gum. I suppose this was because gum on sidewalks, under tables, and under chairs can be messy. Not being a gum chewer, I didn't notice this my first year.

The next year, Edward came prepared, his footlocker containing lots of gum, of all flavors and varieties. He sold gum by the stick, no doubt earning as much from each stick as he paid for the entire pack. I hate to think about how much he made, and what he did with it. I suspect it mostly went to the commissary.

That wasn't enough, however. Edward also realized that the thing other boys were most likely to forgot to bring to camp was soap. So he also stocked up on soap. He sold these, also at a sizable mark-up. A worthy service to his fellow boy scouts, no doubt.

But even that wasn't enough. From time to time Edward would go to the washout, look for soap left behind by someone, and confiscate it. Then when a boy would come to him to buy soap, he would say, "I've got new soap for such and such a price, and I have used soap at such and such a price." I wonder how many times he sold the same bar of soap to the same kids.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

R.I.P. Edward Oscar Todd 1st

On October 30, 2011, my brother, Edward Oscar Todd 1st, died at home after a long illness, at age 57. He fought excessive weight for years, then diabetes, then numerous complications therefrom. He was cremated and his ashes will be scattered at sea. That seems a suitable disposition for a commercial fisherman who made his living from the sea until his illnesses advanced to disability.

I want to put one of his childhood pictures on this post, but don't seem to have it electronically. I'll get it and add it later.

I asked to say a few words at his funeral mass, and was granted the privilege. My topic was the growing up years. I spoke without notes, but want to get the stories in writing so that others in the family could read them and have them. Here's the first installment.
=========================

I want to share memories of Edward during our growing up years. I know many of you knew him as Ed or Eddie, but in our family we never used diminutive names. It was always Norma, David, and Edward.

The first memory isn't actually a memory, but rather a story Mom and Dad told. I imagine Edward was around two years old when this happened, so I would have been four. At the Church of the Epiphany, our Episcopal church in Providence, RI, the baptismal font was at the back of the church. Whenever an infant was to be baptized, the priest would invite all the children to go back to the font to watch. We sat in the front pew, left side, so the three of us made the walk all the way to the back of the church for a baptism. One Sunday we were back there to watch. The priest held the baby, dipped the sea scallop shell in the water, and baptized by pouring. At the end, Edward ran from the back of the church to the front, and yelled at the top of his lungs, "Mommy! Daddy! They washed the baby's head!"

The next memory fast forwards several years. I suppose Edward was maybe 8 years old, or at most 10. It was a quiet weekday night. Dad was at work at his night job in downtown Providence. Edward and I were watching TV with Mom, and Norma was somewhere in the house, probably in her room. It was getting close to bedtime, when Edward asked Mom, "Why do women wear bras?" Then, before she answered, he added, "Is it to make their breasts look bigger?"

Knowing Mom, I'm surprised she didn't answer, "Sometimes." But she didn't. She gave a good answer of the purpose of this particular woman's undergarment. Edward was satisfied, and trotted off to bed. I had the privilege that two extra years of age gave of staying up a half hour extra. So I told Mom that I would talk to Edward, straighten him out about what types of questions he should be asking. Mom said that I would do no such thing, that what he had asked was totally appropriate.

More to be added another day.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

My First Real Earthquake

Monday night we were in Oklahoma City, the final night on our trip to Rhode Island for a family funeral. At some point during the evening, maybe a little after 9 PM, we felt the house shake and the rumbling of an earthquake, along with the sound of it.

This was my first real earthquake to be in. I say "real" because I've been through two previously. Both were small. I don't remember where they were on the Richter Scale, but certainly less than 3.0 and maybe less than 2.0. The first of those happened a couple of years ago while I was driving in or near Bentonville, Arkansas, and I never felt it.

The second happened perhaps a year ago. I was at home in Bella Vista, Arkansas, on a Saturday, I think, when hear a loud, sharp SNAP like sound. It could almost have passed for an odd thunderclap, except the skies were clear that day. I thought it might be an earthquake, went to the computer, and soon found it was. There was no movement with that—only the sound.

So Monday evening when the house began moving and we heard the rumbles, we had to think for a moment about what was happening. Five or so seconds later and it was all over. Or at least I did. Our son-in-law said they had a much larger one Saturday evening, clearly moving the earth, lasting for about 30 seconds. Plus there were after shocks between that big-ish one and the one we felt. So had was more ready than we were. These all took place around Prague, Oklahoma, a small town between Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

Last night, just after midnight, there was another earthquake in about the same spot. 3.0 on the Richter scale, they say. I guess I should have felt it, but was either asleep or rolling about trying to sleep. And, looking at the USGS site for earthquakes, I see there was one we slept through early Tuesday morning, a 4.7 intensity one, and even one we drove through at 7:05 PM Tuesday evening, a 3.6 intensity one. When I say "drove through", we were already 60 miles past the epicenter, and didn't feel a thing in the car.

So, one more thing to check off the bucket list: "Live through an earthquake". Not that it was really on my bucket list. And not that I really have a bucket list. I was scheduled to be in San Francisco at a conference way back in 1989 when the earthquake hit SanFran, but had cancelled the trip. I notice the USGS website with the best map scale doesn't show a couple of these yet. Once they do, I'll update this blog post with a link.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Life is a Whirlwind

This is one of my favorite metaphors to describe life: a whirlwind. Every day is packed with activity, some days almost to the breaking point. The whirlwind isn't a tornado, with its damage. Perhaps it's more of a waterspout, a whirlwind over water. It throws up a lot of spray, but in the absence of a man made object it doesn't cause damage.

Of course, the whirlwind is to some extent our own making. We crowd life with all kinds of non-essential activities. Young parents make sure their kids are involved with team sports and gymnastics and dancing and church activities and...whatever else you can think of. Teens continue the practice, adding dating to it. Club sports become school sports. Naturally when they become adults they continue the cycle of endless activity.

I have done the same thing. I don't remember my childhood years being a whirlwind. We came home from school every night. The only evening activity was boy scouts, which began in 5th grade. I didn't start school sports until sophomore year in high school. Didn't even try out in junior high. In college the busyness began, mainly due to working to pay the college bill. Even the early adult years weren't all that bad. Lots of church activities, and raising kids, but not really a whirlwind. Even the overseas years, in retrospect, seem leisurely. Maybe not right at vacation time, the planning, packing and going, but the day to day life was a breeze.

Now the kids are out of the nest, and the last way I should describe life is as a whirlwind. But that's exactly what life has become. It's all my own doing. Wanting to be a published author has added complexity to life that is most easily described as a whirlwind, two orders of magnitude added to what could otherwise be a leisurely life. The writing isn't too bad. It's more the promotion that adds to the to do list. I'm not handling it very well.

Of course, many other things dare to tread on the path I've established for myself, such as funerals in southwestern Kansas one Saturday and in Rhode Island the next. Kind of hard to get any real writing work done in the car, or on a plane. Concentration at those times is rather difficult.

So I think that is an apt metaphor. Not a simile. Life is not like a whirlwind, it is a whirlwind. Possibly this poem somewhat describes it.

Conflicted

I long to live that day when I will rest,
and cease to tax my brain. Then I will die
and stand before my Maker. Yet, I'm blessed.
I long to live! The day that I will rest
is somewhere out there, far beyond the quest
that now demands I try, and fail, and try.
I long to live that day when I will rest
and cease to tax my brain. Then I will die.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Book Review: "Mr. Baruch"

Among the 2,100 or so books (give or take 100) that were in Dad's house when he died was Mr. Baruch by Margaret L. Coit [1957, LOC no. 56-10289]. The book was republished in 2000, and maybe in 2005 No doubt that was updated. Baruch died in 1965; hence the book I read was written during his lifetime. I think it could be considered an authorized biography, as Coit appears to have had access to all of Baruch's papers.

In the Preface, Coit compares her work of writing Baruch's biography with the earlier one she wrote about John C. Calhoun. Both were South Carolinians. The two lives together spanned almost the entire American period from the American Revolution to the Cold War. Both men had an impact on America, in Calhoun's case as an elected official and in Baruch's case as a capitalist, advisor to presidents, and elder statesman.

I had vaguely heard about Baruch, in my adult life, as he was mentioned in a novel I read, but I could not, before reading this book, have told you anything about him. His parents were Jewish, his father a doctor who began practice during the slavery days in South Carolina, but who moved the family to New York City shortly after Reconstruction. Bernard, upon graduating from college, became a Wall Street speculator, though primarily in commodities rather than stocks. In sugar, copper, mining in several areas, and knowledge of industrial processes, Baruch made millions several times over between 1895 and 1915.

When America joined the belligerents in World War 1, Baruch was tapped by President Wilson to run the War Industries Board. Tasked with making sure American industries put out enough war materiel to supply our troops and aid the French and British in beating the Germans and Austrians, Baruch successfully tackled the problem. By the end of the war, his was a household name, the rich Wall Street man who had organized the war production effort, supplied the troops, and made the world a safe place again. He was part of the US delegation at the peace talks in Paris.

Given his close association with Wilson, it was understandable he was not tapped by later presidents. A lifelong Democrat, the three Republicans who followed Wilson had little need for him. He and Roosevelt didn't see eye to eye over the public debt, so Roosevelt used him sparingly during the New Deal days and then in World War 2. Baruch chaired study committees and drafted recommendations, but took no administrative positions. Truman used him early on as an advisor, and then as the chief US delegate to initial talks on controlling atomic energy.

Despite his relatively thin government service in later years, those who remembered him from WW1 seemed to have latched on to every little piece of news about him. His legend and reputation grew. By 1948 he was as popular as Truman. He was considered America's leading citizen, called her "elder statesman", and had the good opinion of the entire nation.

Coit does well to show all this in accessible language that is, at the same time, scholarly. Her many footnotes, all of which deal with sources and not extra explanations, are impressive. My only gripe is that she sometimes went off on tangents. Who cared how the office of a senator with whom Baruch worked was decorated? She did that quite a bit, which slowed down the work. On the other hand, she did a good job of showing important and essential information about with whom Baruch dealt. If she had just avoided the tangents, I think my praise of the book would be unqualified.

This book cost me nothing, except travel expenses round trip from Arkansas to Rhode Island (which, spread among 2,100 books, isn't much) and the 10 square inches of shelf space it's occupied these thirteen years. This is a keeper. I'm going to use it to write some articles on Baruch, then it will go on my shelf. Perhaps one of my descendants will, some day, discover this volume among my possession, and learn about this great man from it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Life is Like...A FEMA Floodplain Project

These always start out slowly. You begin by gathering data. Survey the landscape. Understand the rainfall and run-off patterns. Learn the design criteria and how to apply it. Get your act together, access FEMA's application, fill it out, get a higher authority to sign it, and send it off with a steep check for the fee.

Then, you wait to see if your application for whatever it is you want to do to will be accepted by FEMA. Most of the time it won't. After waiting what seems an inordinate amount of time, more often than not your application will be denied until you have given more information, or changed something to match how FEMA wants it matched. So, in order to pursue your goals, you change what was needed to satisfy that higher authority and FEMA, submit it again, and wait. This will go on until you have a submittal acceptable to FEMA. They will then approve your application.

Now you can pursue your real work, the work for which you have to do something in the floodplain. Maybe it's build an $80 million museum of American art with two buildings spanning and three buildings hugging the creek. Maybe it's make improvements to four roads, all of which cross the same creek. Maybe it's improve another road that crosses two creeks, except you find that the floodplain was incorrectly mapped by others of lesser ability, and you will have to fix all their mistakes along with gaining approval for your own changes.

At last, sometime out there, far beyond when you thought it would end, your project will end. You will assemble your files and archive them. You will send your last billing out and receive payment in full for all that you have done.

Yes, life is much like a FEMA floodplain project.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Little More on Thomas Carlyle

I haven't written anything about Thomas Carlyle for quite a while. That's mainly because this whirlwind I call life hasn't allowed me to read him for a long time. Every now and then I pull out a volume of his correspondence with Ralph Waldo Emerson and look up some tidbit I half remember, or just read a pair of letters for enjoyment. Sometimes on a Friday afternoon at the office, when taking a break, I'll go to the Carlyle Letters On-line site and pull up one to read. I find it difficult to read these on-line, for some reason, and so rarely finish the letter I pull up unless it's a short one.

At Suite101.com the topic editor for the Great Thinkers topic posted on the forum asking members to write articles for her topic. I thought that Thomas Carlyle would probably qualify as a great thinker, and that maybe I could write an article or two about him, possibly generating a wee bit of revenue with subject matter I like. So about a week ago I pulled up one of Carlyle's letters, not quite at random. However, instead of reading it on-line, I did a quick copy and paste into MS Word and format for tight printing yet easy reading, and printed the letter. I took it home to read in the evening. Alas, way led on to way, and it was just a half hour ago, at work, that I started reading it.

And very quickly I remembered what I like about Carlyle. He is a phrase maker, a wordsmith, a poet when not intending to be. The letter I accessed was one Carlyle wrote Dec 24, 1834 to William Graham. I'm not quite sure who Graham was in relation to Carlyle, but I the letter was addressed to Scotsbrig, where Carlyle lived for a while. Part of the letter involved remembrances on the death of Edward Irving, who was a mentor to Carlyle and some kind of acquaintance to Graham. Here's part of what Carlyle wrote.
I can assure you, the sound of it sent new life thro' me, like a breath from old true Annandale in the middle of these Babylonian fogs. Surely friends should improve, on far better reason than wines, by long keeping! The very enemy that we might have for twenty years would almost become a friend. While death thins our ranks, mows down our stateliest, oh surely, surely let the survivors rank themselves the closer, and await what is appointed them not single but together!
Now that's phraseology, IMHO. The idea expressed in the middle of the quote, that friendship should improve with age, with better reason than wine improves with age, is a great idea. I don't know if that would be considered profound or not. I don't know that elevates Carlyle into the great thinkers category. But it's a great idea excellently expressed.

And that's why I like Carlyle: for his great ideas excellently expressed.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Metaphors of Life

In trying to figure out how to maintain two blogs, maybe start a monthly newsletter to market my writing, get back to writing an occasional article for two content sites, final editing my first novel prior to e-self-publishing, working on a current non-fiction project, and soon getting back to editing my second novel, I'm considering a theme for this blog.

Taking off from Wesley's "arrow through the air" metaphor, I'm thinking of making this blog a "metaphors of life" site. To do that most of the posts would have to take a situation I encounter, or maybe create, and turn it into a metaphor for some aspect of life.

It sounds like a good idea. The problem is I struggle with metaphors. That's strange for someone who fancies himself a poet, isn't it? I have to struggle to find those situations from which to build metaphors. Consequently the vast majority of my poems are weaker than they could be. My best poems incorporate metaphor and simile.

Well, it's a goal and direction, and I'm considering it. Stay tuned. I won't give up things such as book reviews, but will be trying to incorporate much more on metaphor.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Health Update

They say arthritis pain is dependent on weather. I've never been able to tell if that's true. However, the last few days have been beautiful weather and my pain is less. I was in Little Rock on Wednesday evening through Friday noon, driving back Friday afternoon. I was in quite a bit of pain while there, and the drive back was difficult. It would have been almost impossible if I hadn't been able to set the cruise control and bend my right leg into a comfortable position.

Friday evening and yesterday I took it easy. I worked outside for just 45 minutes or maybe an hour. Rather than tackle larger logs and cut them to length or split them, I decided to get smaller deadfall, 3 to 4 inches diameter, and drag them to my cutting area, then cut them to length. No splitting was required. That short amount of work seemed to help my joints.

The rest of the day I spent doing easy inside things, such as filing months of financial papers, and cleaning various areas in the house, and eating meals, and reading forty pages in my current reading book. By bed time my joints were all feeling pretty good.

While my joints are better, my blood sugar was up last night. Just a few too many carbs during the day. That made me sluggish as I tried to figure out what to write next. I didn't feel like research reading for the next volume of Documenting America. I didn't feel like writing a blog post. I did some research of writing articles for Decoded Science, a web site where I know the owner and she invited me to begin writing for them. But I had a problem accessing the site, something I think I was doing wrong. Unfortunately I didn't have the brain power needed to figure it out. When I left The Dungeon and took my blood sugar, it was quite high. Perhaps that was the reason for my sluggishness.

Today has been a better day. Good life group class, good worship service, good meal at my mother-in-law's, a bit of rest watching football, and all systems seeming to be working well. I'm not sure I'm ready to write a lot, but perhaps that will come tomorrow. Time to write some articles, and research a new book.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Overdoing It

Last Saturday dawned cool and clear, with a touch of southerly breeze. I decided it was time to shake off my physical troubles of late and go outside and do some work. One thing I do for exercise is cut wood, the dead fall on the vacant lot south of us or from the common property east of us. We have lots of downed trees, from 3 inch diameter up to 12 inch that need cutting.

Well, they don't really need cutting, but it seems a good way to get some exercise. I finished cutting a large tree that came down and almost hit the house. The lower portions of the trunk were 12 inches diameter or a little more. I cut it into 24 to 30 inch lengths and piled them, not really planning to do anything with them. Then, last year our daughter and son-in-law in Oklahoma City began burning wood in their fireplace. Not for heat but for ambiance. The bought the starter logs and wood bundles you see at many stores in these parts.

So I decided to take the wood from my wood pile, cut it to shorter lengths, and split it. Then I figured Lynda could take a nice amount each time she went to OKC for grandmotherly duties. Well, that next time was Monday just passed, and Saturday dawned no only clear but also without any wood split. So I dragged out the maul and the wedge and set to my task.

What I quickly learned is my fingers and hands are much too weak to wield the maul with any force. So I got the sledge, a lighter instrument, and tried to split logs with just it and the wedge. I found this worked fine. A few taps with the maul seated the wedge, then a few good blows on the wedge split the log. I worked at it for two hours, resulting in the wood pile you see in the picture.

Now, this may not be much production, or much of an accomplishment, but for me it was great. I felt my hands working more or less the way they should. My knees were not hurting, and the longer I got into my work the less I felt any knee pain (that that, you ehrlichiosis bearing buggies). Of course, I was tired at the end of my work. A brief nap in my reading chair and a shower were most enjoyable. But I felt great.

Until about bed time, and the next day. My left knee felt pretty good, as if I popped something back in place as I mauled. But my right knee was pretty much toast. I got around on Sunday, but with knee weakness and pain. Slowly it improved through the day—faster than the muscles recover after playing baseball for the first time in the spring. I walked both Monday and Tuesday noon to no ill effects.

Then, last night I walked about two miles at a fairly fast clip so I could get it all in before dark. By bedtime I could sure feel it in my right knee, worse than it was Saturday night.

So, what should I do for this RA flare up, brought on no doubt by that useless tick? Exercise is supposed to be good for RA. Maybe just no quite so much exercise, and a little more gentle. I'll try that for a while. I skipped my noon walk today, even though the weather was gorgeous. I'll let my knee heal a little then try it again, at a gentler pace this time.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Health, Wealth, and Happiness

That sounds like a good title for a blog post, doesn't it? Health, wealth, and happiness.

Life is full of good stuff and bad. I've had my share of it this week. Here are some examples.

Yesterday I had a low blood sugar attack, late in the afternoon. Since I haven't bought glucose pills yet (will rectify that this weekend) all I could do was hit the vending machines. I had $1.00 so bought some chips for 80 cents. That didn't do the trick. So I borrowed 40 cents and bought a regular, sugared Coke and consumed it. I had to just sit back in my chair for more than half an hour till it all took effect. By then it was time to drive home. The worst part of it was it sapped my energy. After we tried out the new Mexican restaurant near us, I had no energy to write last night, one of my normal writing nights.

My knees feel better. I have good days and bad days, with the bad days getting progressively worse and the norm rather than the exception. One thing I'm doing, however, is paying more attention to how I put my legs when sitting. I find that I have a bad habit of twisting my legs in odd positions. An hour later when I stand up, I can barely move. So I've been trying to recognize when I'm doing that and keep my legs nicely bent, but relaxed. I learned that years ago with my shoulder and with my right leg. Is it helping? I don't know, but today my knees are significantly better. Is it greater awareness about small things such as just mentioned, or is it...

...better eating and slight reduction in weight? I've noticed this through the years: When I'm losing weight I feel better. When I'm gaining weight I feel worse. The exception to this seems to be when weight loss is fairly rapid I don't feel my best. I suspect that might be due to release of toxins stored in fat being broken down, but I haven't found reliable references for that. This week I've lost a couple of pounds. I've eaten well, in that I've cut back on portions for most meals and eaten better stuff. Maybe this is having an impact. Or maybe it's just the cooler, dryer weather.

My novel is only 5000-6000 words away from being finished! If I could have written last night, I'd have different numbers to report. But that is a very good position to be in. I haven't thought too much about the last two chapters—except for the last scene at the hospital (oops!), so I don't know how quickly the writing will go. Plus at this stage of the novel I have the point of view of six or so characters to juggle. But it's a good feeling. And that leads to...

...ideas for articles have been popping into my head. After the novel is finished, I'll take a week or two to write a few non-fiction articles about engineering and literature. I haven't written for Suite101 since February, and a couple of editors are looking for articles in their section. Plus the owner of Decoded Science has asked me to write for them, on a revenue share basis. In those two weeks I hope to get six articles written.

Among the bad things, unless something different happens today, I will have gone the entire month of September without a single e-book sale. I didn't promote much, since I'm sort of waiting on being able to finish the print version of Documenting America. While I see myself as a writer of books, writing articles also had a certain appeal. I'd like to keep both types of writing in my portfolio.

And, a good thing, I'm reading for pleasure again. For whatever reason I did very little reading from May through mid-September. About all I did was reading for my Wesley studies books, which are now on hold, and reading the many periodicals we get at home. But last year I began reading the book Mr. Baruch, about the life of Bernard M. Baruch, Wall St. speculator, advisor to presidents, statesman of another era. It's a scholarly book with many end notes, but an easy read. I've been reading 5 to 10 pages a night, more on the weekends. I still have a couple of hundred pages to go, so at this rate I won't likely finish till late October. But that's okay. I'm enjoying that part of the journey.

Time to post and go exercise my knees a little. I walked 14 minutes at noon, with little pain. As I've gone thither and yon in our office, I find I'm moving faster and with less pain, more like a 59 year old rather than an 80 year old (as I've been of late. It's a good feeling.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Still Trying to Get Healthy

Darn tick!

I don't know when it bit me. Or if more than one bit me. A couple of years ago I had the symptoms of tick disease, but didn't go to the doc and apparently my body fought it off, for all of the symptoms disappeared. Then around Independence Day this year they came back. By the third week of July I was a physical basket case. I went to the doc, got the normal anti-biotic treatment, and slowly got better. That is, the pains in my rib cage went away, my neck loosened up (though still not to pre-tick condition), and the drab feeling went away. The tests showed that I'd had the disease for more than six weeks. So how come it suddenly hit me again?

However, my rheumatoid arthritis has coincidentally flared up to the worst it has ever been, and has been getting worse by the week. I'm now being treated for it, which I never had to be before—except for occasional over the counter pain pills on the minor flare-ups and four steroid shots over two decades. This current treatment takes a month or so to bring relief, and I'm only about two weeks in, with no relief so far.

To contrast my current status, when we went to Chicago June 4-14 for Charles' graduation and hooding, I was feeling the best I'd felt in years. I hadn't had any RA symptoms for five or six years (except for the ring finger in my right hand, which flared up in Dec 2009 and has never subsided), and my weight was the lowest it had been since 2001, and still dropping. I was getting great exercise walking and working in my wood lot. My blood pressure was so low I had to cut my pills in half, then quit taking them all together.

Now, my fingers, wrists, elbows, rt shoulder, and both knees are extremely painful. The knees are the worst. My walking is greatly curtailed, even though we are having great walking weather. I've had to mostly give up my wood lot work. Sleeping has become a cycle of waking and turning to find a non-painful position. OTC painkillers don't seem to work, though I suppose it might be even worse without them. And my weight is back up almost fifteen pounds in three months. My blood pressure is still pretty good, however.

All because of a stinking little tick. At least, that's what I attribute this to. I suspect that sometime between June 15 and July 4 I had another tick bite, getting a fresh dose of ehrlichiosis chaffeensis, with my autoimmune system over-compensating and causing all the joint pain. I'm sure the weight gain is a combination of fluid on my joints and failure to cut back eating to match activity levels.

Today is a beautiful day. I'm going to walk twelve minutes no matter how much it hurts. I'm going to cut my normal lunch portion in half and just be hungry for the afternoon. I'm going to drink my water like a good boy, in the process cutting back a little on the coffee. By Wednesday of next week I hope to report a 2-3 pound weight loss, a little easing of joint pain, an increase in physical activity, and completion of my novel.

Wait, how did that slip in?

Friday, September 23, 2011

All Consuming

[typed this once and lost it all; I'll try to recreate]
Yesterday, at the close of a busy day, I made out a to-do list for when I got home. Nothing fancy, just a list of six items I wanted to accomplish that evening, such as "go through mail" and "return EMB taxes to file". One item was "write at least 500 words on In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People". One, "prep book for mailing", I decided to leave till at work. I also had a few unwritten items on the list.

When I got home, after heating up leftovers for us, I did a few chores that had been accumulating that I wanted to get done before I would allow myself to tackle the to-do list. That took till almost 8:00 PM, at which time I went into The Dungeon. I did just a couple of things on e-mail and Facebook (part of the unwritten list), then went straight to writing.

First I re-read what I wrote the previous night, and made a few edits to it. Then I began new stuff. The characters are beginning to converge on New York City for baseball reasons. By 10:00 PM I had 1,408 words added, a complete chapter, and had finally filled in the gap between a scene I wrote a year ago and all that comes before it. That was a good feeling. I did a little more editing, and headed upstairs around 10:30 PM to relax before going to bed. I read for almost an hour, a most enjoyable time. Then I went to give myself my Lantus shot, and there, next to my kit on the kitchen table, was the to-do list. I had forgotten about it. All I could cross off wast the writing portion. For everything else, 11:30 PM was too late to be doing it.

All my time to work my list had been consumed with writing. Why does it consume me so? Why did I, when my butt occupied my writing chair, forget all I intended to do and focus so exclusively on writing that my plans were not just laid aside, they were forgotten?

Of course, I was writing important stuff. Most of it was scenes that had been playing out in my mind for months, but which I didn't want to write ahead of other text. Other stuff was new, such as how I decided to have the protagonist's parents miss the most important game of his career through an airport going through a security breach. Important scenes should take concentration to write. But, all scenes in a novel are supposed to be important.

There I go again, letting my characters and story overwhelm even this post. Somehow I have to find a better balance, to be able to write yet carve out some time for other needed things, those things that must be done for me to be a good Christian, husband, father, grandfather, employee, churchman, and homeowner. Maybe by the time I start the next novel I'll find that balance. With only ten to fifteen thousand words to go on this one, I don't think I'm going to care much if I find the balance before I write, "The End."

Monday, September 19, 2011

Early Fall Prediction

Lunch: small in volume, calories, and carbs
Temperature: 74 F
Wind: NW between 5 and 10 mph
Sky: not a cloud to be seen
Knees: painful
Blood sugar: feeling normal
Woolly worms: out in force
Characters: in my head

Thus was my noon hour walk, just concluded. It was very pleasant. Even though my knees were aching, they've been worse recently, and the knowledge that the walk was good for them made me mostly forget about the pain. I did only one lap up and down the street of the commercial subdivision. Before the RA pain in my knees I did a lap in about 9.5 minutes. I'm considerably slower now. Although I didn't time it I'd say I walked between 10.5 and 11.5 minutes.

That's not enough walking to make a major dent in any health issue I have, but every little bit is good. If the weather stays like this, and my knees show just a little more improvement, I hope to be up to two laps by the end of the week. Then maybe I can drop a little weight, and get back to where I was in early June, before the combination of ehrlichiosis and 110 F temperatures sidelined me.

And yes, the woolly worms were crossing the sidewalks in front of me. I didn't count them, but surely I saw between 10 and 20. I resisted the urge to squish some of them. In fact, I'm not sure exactly what woolly worms are. Are they a beneficial species, or a bad one? Are these the early form of the beautiful moth, but which destroys decorative plants during their growth? People say you can predict how bad the coming winter is going to be by observing the woolly worms. I haven't read that book yet, so I'll make no prediction. Maybe I'll make an post on Facebook, and see what responses I get.

And Ronny Thompson, Tony Mancini, Colt Washburn, John Lind, and Sarah Jane Riley, and a host of their acquaintences, friends, foes, and three dead people were all in my head, kind of swirllng around. Each of these has another 15,000 to 20,000 words to make their big splash in the world. Mancini still has to say the words from which the book title comes: "I'm going to kill him in front of fifty thousand screaming people." Washburn still has to...have something happen to him, or do something stupid to someone, so that he pays the penalty as the bad guy he is.

Sarah Jane has already figured out her life is a mess, and that she can straighten it out, but has yet to take that step. John Lind has been silent for a few chapters. What will he do after it was his investigative reporting that threatened to bring ruin to the Cubs quest for their first World Series victory in more than a century? Can he make it up to Cubs' Nation?

And how will Ronny Thompson be reconciled to his parents and his girlfriend? Will he be? In the last thousand words he discovered his girlfriend has been lying to him, and he's cut off all communication with his parents. Yet tomorrow he has to pitch the biggest game of his life, and then a bigger one right after that. How will he handle it?

Last night I wrote the scene that is the "second plot point". This is the moment in the protagonist's life where something happens to him, perhaps in part his own doing, where he makes the decision to carry the quest to completion. This scene, on the Brooklyn Bridge, has been consuming some of my gray cells for over a year, but I refused to write it ahead of time. I finally got to that point last night. It came out pretty good, I think, almost exactly as I envisioned it.

I don't know what the woolly worms are predicting as far as winter is concerned, or if they really have any true prophetic value. But I make these predictions: These incessent characters will continue to haunt me until they have had their denoument. I will continue to be obsessed about finishing the book. And In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People will be finished in three weeks, give or take a couple of days. Then let the editing begin!

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Silence of Friday

I came to the office at the usual time today. I found someone else already here and the coffee made. So I was at my desk, lunch in the fridge and coffee in my mug, at 06:50. I read the Bible and prayed, started my computer then pulled up the three Word files I work with in my pre-work hours, and continued my routine. I printed my daily log to the printer not too far outside my office, and nothing happened. The icon said it went to the printer, but nothing came out. The printer was turned on, but nothing came out. Figuring it was the network printer server that was down, I ignored it.

As other people began to arrive for their work day, I couldn't help but notice how quiet it was outside the office door. Normally I would hear pages being emitted from that printer/copier. Normally I would hear the plotters just a little farther down the hall whirring and drawing. Normally I heard conversations begin. But today, nothing. I checked my desk clock and computer clock and cell phone clock to make sure I wasn't an hour early, but no, it was just a very quiet morning. The department head who occupies the office right next to mine was gone, so the conversations he usually has, which I can't help but overhear, were also contributing to the silence.

A few minutes ago I found out the printer server isn't down, only that one printer, lacking a part that won't arrive until Tuesday. Since we have flex time, and some people work four 10-hour days, we have a few less people here on a Friday. Why no one is using the plotters I don't know, but presumably those will begin their whirring before the day is out.

The quietness, though, is unnerving. How can I get any work done in such total silence? Even the downspout that's on the exterior of the building, just four feet from where my ears are, which was conveying some water as I arrived at work, has gone silent. I've got to edit and add to an important floodplain report that has to go out next week. Where is the background noise that fills in the gaps when my eyes reach the end of a line and my brain must tell my head to shift, my eyes to move, and begin reading the next line? I have a radio I could turn on, but the reception is lousy with this receiver in this building.

It's strange how much we don't notice ambient noise. I suppose that's true everywhere we go, not just at the office. It's probably true with all our senses, not just hearing. There's background seeing, smelling, tasting, and feeling. Take away that background, and how noticeable is the missing!

I'm trying to think up a clever analogy-ish closing for this, but one escapes me for now. I've typed over an hour, with numerous breaks in between. The ambient noise has crept up a little. I hear footsteps behind me in an amongst the cubicles. There's someones computer beeping, a voice being cleared, a door being closed. All very faint, but still audible, still welcome.

I suppose I could train myself to work without the background stimuli, but suspect it would be a difficult retraining.

So, I have made a useless blog post on a difficult Friday, when I should be working but can't due to the extreme quietness. Let the retraining begin.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Letters from Saudi Arabia

Regular readers of this blog, not so much recently but over the years, will know that I love letters as literature. I keep hunting books of letters, over the Internet, in used book stores, wherever I can find them. Today on my afternoon break, after I taught a brown bag class, I opened a PDF file I downloaded some time ago of Martin Luther's letters. I only read about 1/3 of the introduction and the first letter in the book, but I enjoyed it.

Every morning at work, in my before-starting time, I spend a little time formatting the letters of John Wesley. I downloaded these as MS Word files from the website files The Wesley Center website, year by year, volume by volume. I'm currently formatting volume 6 for better printing, putting footnotes where they should be, italicizing references, watching for those odd optical scanning things that the webmaster never corrected. I figure I'll be at that another year or so, then I'll have all eight volumes.

About six or eight years ago, maybe even longer, various relatives began returning to us the letters we had written to them from our years in Saudi Arabia (1981-83). We got them from my mother-in-law, her sister, my dad's house, which included those to my grandmother, Lynda's dad's house, and from her grandmother's estate. I quickly saw the value in these and typed them into MS Word files and saved them. Alas, that was at least two computers ago, and we haven't had that computer on for several years.

I thought those were all the letters we had sent that we were ever going to get back, but a couple of weeks ago Lynda was wanting to find a particular childhood picture that her brother had a question about. In looking for that, we searched through a box we took from Lynda's mom when she moved into her retirement apartment. In it were letters and from various people over a forty year span. I looked through them, and to my surprise found a bunch of letters of ours from Saudi Arabia.

One of those I immediately recognized, the first one Lynda wrote from there. I knew I had typed that, so I thought these must have been duplicates. Then I looked at the salutation on the letter: "Dear Mother, Dad, Norman, Grandma, & Grime,". What I looking at was the original. Had I typed from one of these duplicates? A couple of nights ago I found the originals that I had originally typed from copies. We now have the original of that letter plus two of the copies we mailed. Three out of five aren't bad.

As I began going through these newly discovered ones, I found it as fascinating as reading letters of Wesley from the 1700s, maybe more so, as the Wesley letters give me information, but these give me memories. Here's an excerpt from a letter Lynda wrote to her mom.
June 23, 1982 Wed
Dear Mother,
...The sewer backed up again last night. I got to spend some of the AM cleaning the bathrooms. Hope it doesn't happen while we're gone. The dryers are still only working half the time in the laundry room. I still have a load in drying and it's almost 5 PM after washing this AM. We are now told BVA doesn't have the money for washers & dryers & we've heard nothing more of phones.

Next day: Well, Dave got home early from work yesterday, the kids got up from their naps & we went o laundry room to get the last load of towels. Later we went to Hardee's for dinner with the Jacksons. We hadn't been out for about a month & so it was good. Karen is flying with her kids to the states tonight....

We are excited about flying out the 30th. Charles is sure anxious "to go see Grandma."....
I'd almost forgotten about that sewer backing up so often. What memories that brings up. Or, from the older batch, here's one I wrote. The location isn't given, but it would have been either my office in Al Khobar or our apartment at Palm Meadows Village just outside of Khobar.
Friday
16 October 1981

Dear Dad,
Just have time to write a quick note. I'm leaving for Riyahd in the morning to spend 2 or 3 days. I was supposed to go Sun-Monday, but just got a message today that I am to be there tomorrow.

We are all pretty well. Sara had an eye infection that has cleared up after we began medication. Chas. has had a cough, but does not appear ill except for that. My cold has been lingering for three weeks now – persistent cough & congestion. So far I have not missed any work.

The weather is cooler—below 100 deg F & not as humid. We have been swimming twice at the pool and once in the gulf. today we left the children with a sitter after church & at[e] at chinese [sic] food —it was excellent.

Enclosed are two checks to cover expenses. Say hi to all.
Love,
Dave & Lynda, Charles, & Sara
It was mailed at Rochester NY on 21 Oct 1981, and Dad endorsed the envelope "Received Oct 24, 1981 Saturday answered Oct 29, 1981. Nothing earth shattering but good to read, and to remember that anything below 100 degrees seemed cool to us back then.

So, I have lots of pleasant reading ahead of me. Maybe it's good that we didn't have a phone. We had to write all these letters, and so the memories live through them.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

More on Time Management

This last week I wrote over 9,000 words on In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People. I'd say that was effective time management. In a comment to my last post, a good friend, Gary, asked if documenting my time management was a good use of time. I replied that for my engineering work it was close to a necessity.

Since I came to Arkansas, I've been involved in nine (give or take 1) lawsuits. Sometimes it's us being sued by a client or a third party. Sometimes it's our client being sued by a contractor or a third party. I've also been involved in three mediations, generally between a client and a contractor, with us supporting our client. The last six or seven of these have happened after I began doing a fairly good job of tracking my activities. How good was it in court to be able to say, "I first met Mr. Finch on November 1, 2006, and his wife on March 12, 2007." Those people had both said they had never met me, but in my diaries, contemporaneously recorded, was a record on those days of meeting them. One point scored for the good guys.

Writing doesn't involve lawsuits, of course, though I suppose questions of copyrights could possibly arise. Professional writers say always data your drafts, either in manuscript or on the computer, and save everything. They say keep a diary of progress on a book. I don't exactly do that, though I might jot down on paper what my word count is at the end of each day that I work on it.

So what's the purpose of talking about managing time? Of documenting time spent? For the first question, I suppose it's my way of giving myself an incentive to get off my lazy butt and do something—of sit on my butt in front of the computer and write. If I talk about doing it, I'm more likely to do it than if I don't talk about doing it. As far as documenting the time I spend on writing, part of that is to show the IRS, should I ever be audited, that I'm serious about this second career, despite the relative lack of earnings. I suppose I also have a dream that someday, perhaps a century from now, a researcher will research my writing life for a thesis or dissertation, and will be interested in the day-to-day attempts to carve out time and write.

Dreams are good, so long as they don't immobilize you from pursuing them.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Time Management Problem

The older I get, especially now that I'm certainly closer to death than I am to birth, I have come to realize that time is our most important asset, and our most nonrenewable resource.

At work I'm currently trying to close or offload all my study, design, and construction projects so that I can be a full time trainer. We've grown to the size where I should be spending almost all of my time on training. Yet, I have these nagging projects that just won't go away or won't resist coming to closure. Today I'll be dealing with four projects that fall in that category.

In addition, I'm planning a new training course that I’ll teach at brown bag sessions stretched out over three or four months, between 5 and 8 sessions. Plus I'm working on two of the three papers I'll present at a conference in February (the third is done). Plus I have to make presentations to two different engineering groups on Sept 26 and Sept 27. Plus I'm trying to write some standard specs and change some standard details. It's a lot of small balls I'm trying to keep in the air, every now and then catching one and tossing it in a nearby basket. Except if I miss the basket the ball comes back for more juggling.

So what I'm finding is I don’t do multiple task management as well as I used to. Twenty years ago I would have been bored if I didn’t have fifteen tasks to juggle each day. Now four or five prevents me from adequately focusing on any of them. So I spend a little time on one, see that I can’t really finish it, or even take it to the next level closer to completion, so I shift to another one with the same result, then to another one, etc. By the end of the day I’ve worked on ten tasks, got a few things done, but feel incredibly unsatisfied with my performance. Some days are better, but still nothing is getting closed.

With writing it seems to be the same as with engineering, except maybe I'm doing a better job at compartmentalizing. On a typical weekday, I spend 15 to 20 minutes working through my Harmony of the Gospels. This might not seem like much, but since this is a non-commercial project, one that is more for my own benefit than for selling, I can't justify a lot of time. And the type of stuff I'm doing on it now is easily done in small junks of time. Then I spend 15 to 20 minutes in the letters of John Wesley. I consider this research/development for future writings. Again, what I’m doing right now—formatting volume 6 of the letters—is easily done in small chunks of time.

Other free time at the office is mainly dedicated to writing research. Sometimes I read agent/editor/writer blogs. Sometime I research books similar to mine, sometime I do hard research into any number of things. Occasionally I'll read something about the art and craft of writing.

At home, dedicated hours for dedicated tasks is harder to set up. This week has been good. I get home about 6:15 PM, finish eating by 7:15 PM, either walk for half an hour or watch TV while multitasking (maybe a crossword). At 8:00 PM I go downstairs to The Dungeon, and am there till close to 11 PM. During that time I write, review what I wrote the day before, work on coordinating plot elements, perhaps do a little research, and take as much of that time as possible to work on my most prominent work-in-progress, currently In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People. For the last month and a half this has been working, as the book has gone from 26,500 words on August 2 to 57,600 now. I would say my net actual writing time for the last three days has been about an hour and 15 minutes each day, and my production was 4,400 words. Those aren’t polished words, finished words, but they probably aren't too bad.

But, in all of the above, I have not once mentioned blogging. That has suffered. I went from 3 times per week updates for this blog to about once per week. My other blog, my "official" writing blog, is about the same. I'm going to try to improve on the during the rest of September, but carving out the time to think about a post, draft it, proof it, edit it, and actually publish it has been difficult.

Bare with me, loyal readers. I will return to more frequent posting, once I get my time resources in better working order.

Friday, September 2, 2011

More on Lit Crit

After my previous post on literary criticism, my friend Gary comments, then we exchanged some e-mails about it. Gary is, among other things, a literary critic. Not for a career, but he does this. Where I would critique a poem or book of poetry, he would provide a traditional literary criticisms of it, interpreting the poem or book according to how it spoke to him.

They used to have us do that in school It seems for several years in a row we studied Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening". Each year the teacher would say how this was a suicide longing poem, or a death wish poem. The narrator—whom they always said was Frost speaking autobiographically—wanted to lie down in the woods and die instead of facing his heavy responsibilities. Well, I don't see that in that poem. I see a pretty picture, a farmer, laborer, or businessman in olden days returning home late from some engagement, taking a moment to enjoy a thing of beauty. That was never good enough for those teachers, however. If you didn't see the suicide wish in it, you were stupid. That killed poetry for me for thirty years.

Then there were the questions on the quizzes, or in class. "What was the poet thinking when he wrote this?" Or, "What is the poet's intent with this stanza?" Hey, stupid teacher, the poet's dead. He died before I could talk to him. How the hell do I know what he was thinking or what his intent was? I can't know that. All I can do is say what the poem says to me. I guess that kind of questioning was another thing that helped kill poetry for me for those several decades.

So where does that leave me relative to literary criticism? The teachers wanted me, the whole class, to write our answers with certainty. "This is what the poet was thinking...." "This is the poet's intent...." "The poet added this hidden meaning...." And I think that certainty is what bugs me most. Interpret the poem all you want. Unless you talked with the poet, or unless he left a documented trail of explanations, it's all personal interpretation. It's a guess. You can't state it with certainty. Yet, that's exactly how you are supposed to do it.

Confidence is one thing. How you state that confidence is something else. To say, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" is a suicide poem seems to me not confidence but hubris. To say, In "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" I see a man contemplating suicide" is confidence. The critic is confident in what he sees in the poem. To say what the poet mean, in terms of absolute certainty, is wrong—again, except when the poet has left a paper trail saying "this is what I meant in that poem."

I suppose this applies to all lit crit, not just poetry. I've seen interesting things in my own poems. When I post them for critique, not criticism, I often get critiques that are more like criticism. I was especially amused when one critter described one of my poems as referring to death. As the poet, I know what I meant, and it was far, far from being about death.

Have I sufficiently flogged this horse? I hope so. Maybe on to other subjects with my next post.